Disclaimer: Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenoh belong to Naoko Takeuchi/Toei Animation. All other elements in this story belong to me. Kindly inform me if any kind of art/literature/stage play/video/inspiration was produced from this fic. I won't discouraged as long as they are performed/exhibited for nonprofit purposes. As a matter of fact, I'd be glad to link unto your work in any way I can.
This story is written from Michiru's POV. But the last scene of every chapter will be seen from Haruka's POV. (I remembered awhile back that some wrote about wanting to know Haruka's perspective. So, I'm using this approach with this story for obviously… sadistic reasons. Heh. No~ I'm not that cruel. The reason, of course, is for the sole development of the plot.)
With that said, please enjoy.
Chapter 01: Meet My Girlfriend
"And this is Kaioh Crest Tokyo Hotel! The most luxurious taste of paradise within the city. 500 room capacity, 5 dining locations, 24-hour room and valet service, overall wifi, day spa, 24-hour fitness gym, 2 tennis courts, 3-acre garden, complete with 5 swimming pools."
I forced a smile at the probably fifth fancy introduction. Somehow, Fukuzawa Yuu, the hotel's resident manager thought that the hotel's name was a kilometer-long of adjectives and me needing an animated sign language to understand his explanations. Mari, my newly introduced secretary looked apologetic. The embarrassment for Yuu, a probably long-time colleague, plagued her face. I smiled to her; this time, assuringly, that she needed not to worry for the reason that we were absolutely on the same page - couldn't wait to get out of his grasp.
"So, how was it, Ms. Kaioh? Do you like it? Your father and mother take high regard of this hotel compared to the Kaioh Crest in other prefectures. After all, this is the flagship and you will be maneuvering this establishment from now on."
"I'm impressed." I didn't lie.
We were finally back to where we started-in the golden-lit lobby with a million-dollar chandelier hanging above our heads and polished granite beneath our feet. An attentive or might as well term them properly, a curious bunch of hoteliers were peeking at the sidelines to get a glimpse of my presence, their new General Manager. I silenced my gulp. Yuu's words were ringing in my ears. My first venture in the business world was managing the Kaioh Crest flagship, the first hotel that my mother and father built from scratch, from their own sweat.
"How's Mr. and Mrs. Kaioh, by the way?"
"They're in Kyoto; finalizing the purchase of Tsugi Inn."
"Ah!" He clapped. "That's the one that got bankrupt last year? Perfect. Perfect. Another Kaioh Crest!"
Kana, my personal assistant residing at my other side opposite Mari, chuckled at the ten expressions sported by the Resident Manager in a matter of seconds. Was I going to be animatedly accommodating like him just because I was in a service-oriented establishment?He was preposterous. I cringed at the thought. There was absolutely no way I would become such. Can you even imagine it? I shove the thought.
"The board saw that the inn was strategically located." I responded professionally, returning a calm atmosphere against his hyperactive mode. "If I may say, it was never supposed to be a doomed one. On the contrary, the historical atmosphere and the cultural manifestation of Tsugi Inn already provide enough competitive advantage. A shame though, it was managed poorly." Of course, half of said declaration was to show myself off a bit. The first day was always about making a lasting impression. I did not want to exude an image of an out-of-place violinist trying so hard to blend into the corporate jungle. Besides, I did not get a MBA in Harvard for nothing.
Yes, I did not want to be someone who tries so hard. But I was never been the type to do something mediocre, proven by my track record of being the country's violin prodigy since junior high and going international in my career while finishing college. The scholarship in Music School was more like a series of competitions, performances, and all about bringing pride to the school and the country. Thankfully, I never experienced the joys and pains of an ordinary student. Not like I cared or regretted. My classmates resided in campus' dormitories; I stayed in the finest suites in Milan, Vienna, Taipei, and Seoul. They had friends; I had a whole stage crew. Their Friday nights were parties of beer and dancing; mine's a quiet soiree of classical music and foliage. Violin was my life. It was all I need.
"You live up to the expectations, Ms. Kaioh. You really know what you are doing."
"I..." My eyes got caught at the men carrying studio photo paraphernalia walking through the lobby doors. "They are..."
"Ah! They must be the crew for the photoshoot."
"Yes. The Marketing department is creating a new set of brochures and they're taking shoots of our facilities."
"Is something wrong, Ms. Kaioh?" My secretary seemed more sensitive to my silent offence.
"Shouldn't they be taking the back entrance instead of just waltzing through the front door? Or are they that desperate to let our guests see their unsightly gears parading Crest's shiny grounds? Hm. Let me guess, they want to show them off like an exotic safari of mud-stricken elephants and lanky black giraffes?" I resumed my smile. I didn't want to appear strict... hopefully.
Yuu picked my gist rather quickly. He immediately wiped off his hour-long fabricated grin and directly went to the HD aka hotel detectives or commonly referred by other business establishments as security guards. A few feet away, his again animated gestures gave his instructions off. His scowl was evident; the same scowl that rubbed on the HD who followed his command on which the rest of the photoshoot crew lingering at the mouth of the lobby doors retracted and were escorted to the back entrance.
"I'm truly sorry about that, Ms. Kaioh." Yuu finally came, his smile now looking sheepish. "I didn't know what had gotten over them. I completely told them that equipment, materials, and supplies should be brought through the back door. It's very demeaning to let our guests see these things."
Over my shoulders, I swore I saw Mari's eyes roll.
"Do you want to see the photoshoot, Ms. Kaioh?" Yuu paused, eagerly waiting for my response, like a child asking permission.
I nodded for good measure. It seemed it was his way of apologizing for that small blunder earlier.
We sauntered through the lobby and he took us to one of the pools, the U-shaped. At its side was a bar, where a bartender was busying himself serving a guest or perhaps flirting was the word. The woman seemed to enjoy the attention though. I made a mental note about the behavior. The least thing I wanted to do was settling a case of indecent assault in my hotel. 'Got to remind my hoteliers of their place from time to time.
"Here we are." Yuu stopped, meters away from said photoshoot. "They're doing the pool today."
"Mr. Fukuzawa!" A man in his thirties was at the other side. He waved before coming over; DSLR hanging around his neck. "How are you? What a fine weather for picture taking, isn't it?" Ah! The small talk. I forgot about that one. Small talks are usually engaged to expand the network of acquaintances which of course are prerequisites for future benefits. I could care less about it during my music career. My agent usually did all the talking.
"Ms. Kaioh, I want you to meet the owner of Digz Studio, Horabe Jun." He turned to me. "This is our new General Manager, Ms. Michiru Kaioh."
"Ms. Kaioh! I'm a huge fan!" I couldn't even respond when he immediately gotten hold of my hand. "I have all three of your albums."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I must have appeared rude." He retreated and restarted. "It is truly an honor to meet you."
I was about to return the pleasure when Yuu interrupted. "He's the photographer and director of the shoot as well."
I affirmed. He smiled shly.
"I trust you boosting Crest's image even more?"
"Of course. We are making sure all facilities are covered and taken at their best angles."
"Have you finished with the gym?" Yuu interrupted yet again.
"Uh." Jun became irked. "Just a few more locations."
"Ms. Kaioh, how do you feel about posing?"
"Oh, I don't know about that."
"C'mon. It'd be one of the hotel's publicity. It's going to be great."
"I am... not really... that position..."
"The clouds are dimming, Jun." He looked up. "Maybe rain's coming?"
I got relieved at Yuu's timing, stupid but perfect. The sun was bright.
"I think you should continue on the shoot before it pours."
Jun scratched his head before slumping back to his stage; his face no doubt looking irritated at all the interruptions.
"He can be pushy." Yuu smirked.
My eyes followed the poor guy back to his paraphernalia where he resumed snapping pictures of that blond model whom my eyes lingered longer than I intended.
"Anyway, I'm going to send all documents needing your signature and information of the hotel's upcoming events to Mari. If there are other things you need..."
I nodded half-mindedly at Yuu's words about what could be my responsibilities. Somehow, I was able to mute out his voice, surprisingly something I didn't normally do while I fixated my gaze to the photoshoot itself. Across us, I could hear instructions, 'turn more to the right, walk here, pose there' while the model followed unfailingly, making the pool furniture looked suddenly... umm... sexy? She was blond, short hair, slender, tall. For the life of me, I couldn't strip my eyes away from where she was. Maybe because of the bikini she was wearing and how she wore it. It was a white Sauvage Moncheri Mesh, if I remembered correctly. Her curves were teased by a white fully-opened dress shirt that hung barely on her second hip, the cuffs and sleeves, semi-wet, stuck to her skin. Her limbs were long with deer-like grace and so fair, it even glossed under the near noon sun. She was a model indeed. I became conscious all of a sudden of my own legs. Under my lids, I glanced at my pencil skirt and saw its cut made sensually, yes, that word being the one used by my seamstress, above my knee. And it dawned on me - mine was nothing like hers. I couldn't possibly compete with those. Those were just too gorgeous.
I let my attention on her body ascend up, deciding not to inflict anymore self-pity and clear the envy; but it just gotten worse. My brows automatically rose while I shamelessly gawked at her belly. Are those abs? It was so unfair. Couldn't she be any more perfect? I was about to survey her face and plead to discover a flaw when her gaze suddenly met mine. There was a hint of surprise before her eyes smiled, followed by a slight bow. I couldn't remember what reaction I sported. But knowing I had trained myself immaculately from my endless pursuit of achieving consistency in my facial expressions when facing fans, I couldn't be any more than stoic.
I probably might have been staring at the book atop my desk for a good half an hour. If someone would happen to walk on us (me and the book), I'm sure he'd properly akin the whole sight to a duel in the old west. The air tensed. And both parties waiting for the other to draw or in this case, make a move, or in this case again, I would make a move to open it. It would be ludicrous if the book's going to open on its own.
I heaved and accepted defeat. The book was as thick as my violin case. I surveyed the label. Kaioh Crest Tokyo Hotel Standard Operating Procedures. Do they really expect me to read all of this? I sighed and began the tedious task of scanning the pages; my eyes giving disturbing glimpses at the 'Incoming Documents' inserted at the side of my desk. Yuu said, they were for review and signature. That time management course should better be effective, I hope.
"Ms. Kaioh?" There was a soft knock before it opened. "Here are the Banquet Event Orders for the next three months, the Daily Revenue Report for the past six months including the performance ratings, and finally, these are the Contracts for your review. And oh, I want to remind you also that the morning briefing tomorrow will be back at its scheduled 8:30 since you're already here."
"I'm here? What's the difference?"
"When the former GM retired, the department heads felt that the regular 8:30 morning briefing is too early, so they moved it to 10."
"From eight-thirty to ten, huh? Ah, rules do get bent at the notion of the majority." My hand landed on the page of the SOP which stated the schedule time of meetings. Kaioh Crest put much emphasis on punctuality. The introduction said that what good is service to guests if not timely. A phrase my father used to stress a lot. Figures.
"That's fine. Thank you, Mari."
I took on the ardent task of familiarizing and scrutinizing the documents on my table, when my phone cut the silence of my room. It was my mother.
"Michiru, darling, how is your first day?"
"Excellent, Mother. The hotel's exquisite. You and father are amazing. It's still surreal to see the whole thing on the inside. It's huge! The ground's vast, what, five football fields? Six? And the garden... I love it. It's a beauty! I'm speechless, actually."
"Right~ speechless would be the most proper word. Well, if only you're not too busy with your international tours, then, you could have seen the whole transformation. But I guess, it's not too late to bond with Crest now. You didn't babysit when she was growing up."
"Yeah." I chuckled. She and my father used to tell me that Crest was like my younger sibling - lots of demands and needing utmost care. "Honestly, she's very beautiful mom. You and father did a great job. I'll do my best to learn everything about her."
"You don't have to push so hard, dear. Do it in your own pace. We are not pressuring you or anything."
"I know. I just want to... you know." I can't say the word. "How's Kyoto? How are you, two?"
"The deal went smoothly. We're coming back tomorrow."
"And there's someone your father and I want you to meet."
"Someone? Oh no, it's not going to be another blind date, is it?"
"It is! Mother, really, I'm fine! I really don't need to meet someone."
"Michiru, we're just wor... umm... concerned. You have never been with anyone.. uh... ever. Are you sure you don't want to date? You're 25."
"I'm absolutely sure, Mother."
"I don't really get it why you don't socialize. You're beautiful, talented, and I remember even having a couple of guys courting you. They were even written throughout the papers. You need to find someone."
"Are we going to start this again? And over the phone?"
"Right, right. We're not talking about this over the phone. You'll just have to meet him tomorrow."
"Yes. He is Mr. Tsugi's oldest son. Your father's with him right now. Hmm... Probably selling you off to his parents..."
"I know. I know." She was chuckling. It was not even funny.
"But aren't they supposed to be bankrupt or something?"
"Darling, love is not something that run on assets or status."
"I'm not judging him, if that's what you're saying."
"Of course not. So, I'm bringing him tomorrow, alright? I'm hanging up now. Bye."
"Mother! No, wait! Uh-"
She totally escaped from the conversation. This was definitely a bad habit of hers. Another blind date. My head hurt.
"Ms. Kaioh?" Mari peeked in.
"Horabe Jun wants to see you."
"The photographer? Now?"
"Yes. He is..."
"Ms. Kaioh!" He glided. Can't he be any more excited?
"Mr. Horabe. How are the shoots coming along?"
"Right on schedule." He gave a pair of thumbs up. "We're moving to the Lobby Lounge tomorrow. And I'm wondering..."
"Please be in the frames." He bowed low.
"It's only for one location shoot. Only the Lobby Lounge. I want you to be in them. Appearing as your usual self - elegant, graceful, refine..."
I giggled behind my hand. "Flattery won't get you anywhere, you know." Totally false. Every girl always melts with a little bit of flattery.
"Please, Ms. Kaioh. It's only a small thing. And it'll only take less than an hour and you'll be sitting most of the time. There's nothing to worry about."
"Don't you already have a model to do that with?"
"Yes, both of you will be in the frame."
"Hm. I'll think about it."
"Please do consider it, Ms. Kaioh. You're the embodiment of Kaioh Crest itself - the beauty, the luxury, the sophistication, the talent, the..."
"Yes, yes, I get it. As I said, flattery still won't get you anywhere."
"I understand. But can you shoulder the guilt of abandoning the hotel without the grace of your beauty? Think about it." He stood up. "I'll see you tomorrow. Shoot starts at nine."
I smiled, leaving my answer to his imagination. He seemed confident though. Is it just me or do people nowadays can't take no for an answer? - Escaping a conversation, just like my mother.
The offer was tempting. But I couldn't possibly dillydally with photo shoots. I was no longer a musician. I had no time for artistic endeavors. I glanced at my piled up paper works towering a foot high. My brow creased.
That sound. I looked up seeing exactly the person I expected to see, I wanted to see.
"Latte?" A tray.
"Thank you, Kana. What will I ever do without you?"
8:12. My first day at work and I was still glued to my desk, twelve minutes passed eight. I let Mari go home at a time due her. She was in her forties. I couldn't possibly push the woman with me. She must have kids waiting for her. Kana, on the other hand, stayed past seven until I dismissed her which she was utterly reluctant to do. She was my assistant for five years during my world tours. Though, we were of the same age, she kept her distance and respected all my decisions and privacy. But the girl had uncomparable loyalty. She was my silent pillar of support.
I flexed my fingers and put away the last stack of contracts. I glanced at my desk clock. 8:23. This time of the night I would be in my second piece if I was on stage. I sighed. There was no use of reminiscing. It was not like I was forced to surrender to corporate lifestyle. All of these were from my own accord.
I gathered my things to my purse, phone in one hand, ready to press for my driver when the door just slammed.
"Goodness gracious, Rika, do you want to give me a heart attack?"
"You have high blood pressure?"
"Then why would you be having a heart attack?"
I pursed my lips. My cousin and her corny remarks.
"Wow! Neat place! Oh~ you have your paintings hanging. Hm... these? Are these real crystals?"
"You can touch but don't break anything."
"What am I? Five?"
"Ouch. That's harsh."
"What are you doing here?"
"Can't I visit you in your... oh so brand new office, Ms. General Manager?"
"Shouldn't you be in a recording studio?"
"Can't a woman take a break?"
"How's the recording going along?"
"Finishing my last track!" Her cheesy grin flashed. She was always this outgoing girl eversince music school who thought everybody was her best friend. I never got to know her before college. During family affairs, I thought she was just one of those snobbish brats. I guessed I was wrong.
"You're down on your last track yet your voice still sounds..." I paused at the sight of her grin, widened even more from ear to ear. I raised a brow.
"Yes? Com'on, Michiru, say it."
I hushed, defeated. "...amazing."
"Of course." Rika loved her compliments very much.
"So, what are you doing here?"
"I'm taking you to dinner. You still haven't taken dinner, right? Knowing you? Ha! You probably forgot about dinner already." She didn't give me time to object as she quickly wrapped her hands down my arm and lead me out of my room. "Let's celebrate your first day, Ms. GM!"
Kobe steak on my plate. I glanced at Rika across the table. She just had this goofy smile on her sometimes. Very endearing to look at, actually. Her features took in the majority of the genes from my mother side – brunette, long straight hair and stood an inch shorter than me. I mostly took after my father's. My hair being the most evident, long and wavy with a dark seagreen hue. It always made me stand out. I didn't know if it was a good thing. I didn't really mind.
"So?" I munched.
"Did you meet a prospect in Kaioh Crest?"
I choked and coughed. "Where did that come from?"
"It should be expected, shouldn't it? You're finally done with all those world tours. So you have all the time in the world to get yourself a beau."
"It's easy for you to say. You have your Italian boyfriend."
"Giovanni? Heh, we broke up last week."
"You two broke up? How many months did you date him again?"
"Two." She stuck her tongue. "I can't help it. Once tasted, it gets boring the next."
"Oh my goodness, Rika. If I'm not mistaken, Giovanni is already your third boyfriend this year."
"And you're looking for another one?"
"Correction. I'm moving to the next... umm... prospect." She cut a lamb chop.
"I suppose this 'prospect' is going to be future husband material?"
"Nah~ it's just still going to be about sex."
My jaw dropped, my fork frozen mid-air. She laughed. I couldn't even dare myself to comment on her unconventional lifestyle. Does she know that she's acting like a prostitute? It was not my place to say. I resumed.
"So, enough about my love life. How's yours? Well?"
"Wine, ladies?" Perfect timing. A bottle was offered.
I eerily looked at the Cabernet label.
"She only drinks Chateau d'Aquilon." Rika explained.
"I apologize, miss. I don't think we have that sort."
"No problem." She reached for the paperbag she had been carrying the whole time, pulled the bottle and let me examined it.
"How did you?"
"I know this is the only wine which your taste knows. You didn't think I won't bring your favorite wine for this celebration, did you? I had to scavenge this everywhere. Thank god for the internet." She handed it to the waiter. "Chill it."
"You really didn't have to." I was amused.
"You can cut the formalities, Mich. I know you want it."
She saw through me perfectly. I first tasted Chateau d'Aquilon in a soiree in Paris. I was never fond of alcohol in the beginning. But after tasting, it just changed my whole perspective and molded my new preference. I didn't know why Aquilon. Perhaps it was the flavor, the texture? I was no expert to give a critic but what I knew was that I loved every drop of it. The fact that the wine's so luxurious not to mention too expensive, reached only a number of restaurants all over Europe so much less in Asia, made me crave for it more.
"It would be a shame that I'm bringing you the finest wine direct from Bordeaux and not get something from you." She feigned hurt.
"What do you need?"
She smiled devilishly. "Then let's continue, how's your love life?"
I resigned. "You know better than that."
"It's so quiet you can hear a cricket chirring." I mocked a British royal-like exasperation.
"I guess it's better than last time."
"What do you mean, better?"
"Oh c'mon. Ice Princess? Violin-wielding vampire?"
"Don't remind me."
"That was a huge mess. The tabloids were feasting on you. I don't blame them. Leaving your date in the middle of the desert while you get picked up by a chopper. Or that time when your dinner date got thrown off the cruise ship."
I gently massage my temple. Horrible memories. "Sean ran out of gas. And Tsuyama accidentally slipped and went overboard."
"You say it so casually. Figures."
"In the end, you don't feel anything for them. The tabloids were writing the surface but they're still right, you know. You're cold."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"Why do you close yourself?" Rika looked serious.
I stared at her, partly collecting my thoughts and partly weighing whether telling would be a good idea. "It's not that. I just can't... afford... to have someone. It's too distracting."
"Hm. I can understand. You're not the average girl growing up after all. Perfecting your violin, the hectic schedules..." She shrugged. "You were practically good at it. So, I guess that was attributed to your no boyfriend policy, hm?"
"You can say that. I loved it and I worked so hard. You know the feeling when you love something that you won't be looking for anything else?"
"'Can't really relate, darling." She snickered.
"Right. 'Cause you change boyfriends faster than you change your wardrobe."
"True." Oh my~ She was even so proud of it.
"Chatea d'Aquilon?" The waiter came. We paused and let him fill our glasses. As expected, the scent was intoxicating and the liquid left a lingering fluidity in the throat - like floating in the middle of the ocean waiting to drown yet for some reason the waves kept buoying me up effortlessly.
"So, if you worked so hard on your violin, not to mention loved it like a boyfriend as I gathered, then, why resigned?"
"I needed to trudge my path."
"What path is that?"
"To succeed Kaioh Crest."
"That's BS, Mich. You're throwing away what you love because of a path to trudge? Let me guess, your parents didn't even force you to do this, right? You're doing this all to yourself. Are you training to be a martyr?"
"Look, it's not like I don't want to be in the hotel business. I love it there. I love taking care with my own hands the fruit of my parents' hard work. I saw their efforts. I saw how they strived. I am an only child, Rika. And I don't want to see my parents' work slipped to some careless, manic investor because I'm being selfish with my music career.
"My father is the chairman of the board; not to mention my parents are the major stockholders of the corporation. It's my call. It's my duty as a daughter." I sipped. "I'm not lying when I say I love being a hotelier. 'Needs some getting used to but 'definitely loving it."
"If you say so, then, I believe you. You are one heck of a perfect daughter, Kaioh Michiru."
Early morning and I didn't know how I ended up in front of the vanity mirror. A make-up artist powdering my nose and a stylist helping my hair cascade. Horabe Jun. That man really had some convincing power in him. Well, it was not like it could take away my whole morning. What's with eight to ten shots. It couldn't be that bad.
They signaled all done. Kana brought me my morning cup of coffee. I gestured pass since I didn't want to ruin my lipstick before the shoot. Besides, I just want to get this over with. I stood to a full-length mirror and stopped to examine myself. I changed. One day in an office and I already changed. There were no traces of a world renowned classic violinist in silky long white gown and chaste makeup. Staring back at me was in a word an executive. My black CK sheath cut above my knees. 4-inch Prada stilettos. And my make-up? It was mature. Sophisticated. Fierce. I was not a damsel. I was a woman.
I strolled to the location of the shoot. The Lobby Lounge. I was about to turn to the corridor in that direction when muffled voices paused my tracks.
"Yes. She is."
"Really? Well, you can't expect her to be like her parents, you know. Besides, she's just a violinist. What does she know about running a hotel."
I slipped an eye. If I'm not mistaken, they were the Front Office Manager and Food and Beverage Manager.
"You're right." He laughed. "Like a sheep mingling with the wolves. A hotel's no place for a musician. She's better off playing classical music in the lobby. It's the only thing she knows, I'm sure."
"Have you heard?"
"Her second day and she passed on the early morning briefing for a photoshoot."
"See~ I told you. Musicians, Artists... they're all alike. All inspiration, no comprehension. I bet she's doing it for popularity sake. You know, they're all vain."
"Tell you what. Ten thousand yen, I say she won't last a month."
I cleared my throat, loud enough for them to hear. I passed through them... intentionally. These pigs!
I let my heels clicked in utter authority as I left them, quiet. What a bunch of losers! They were not worth the worry. Their words... yes, their words... it was nothing... trash... it was nonsense... and it hurt.
My chest felt heavy. It was the first bashing from my own subordinates. It was inevitable. But now was not the right time to get depressed over something so trivial. I took a deep breath and picked up my pace. I was still the ruler of the castle, whether they like it or not.
I tugged on my tie a bit, careful not to mess up the collar. I glimpsed at my blurry reflection on the glass window. Absolute butch was not exactly my style-well pressed black Armani suit and black leather shoes. The General Manager was going to be in the frames today. Horabe instructed that I should be taking a male persona opposite Kaioh's feminine visage. I was not entirely fond of this thing but if they said that it'd look great, then so be it.
I saw Michiru Kaioh, the new General Manager yesterday at the pool. The daughter of the Kaiohs was a perfect beauty. She was exactly the woman I imagined from hearsays and magazines. I was partly worried to meet her, actually. I tried being friendly yesterday and only gotten a cold glare. She had a reputation to be a taskmaster, austere and condescending. I only hoped we would get along, even if it was for the sake of the shoot.
Not long, she appeared at the lounge's entrance. Breathtaking. The dramatic indoor lighting made her look ethereal. Beauty without argument. Her black dress accented her porcelain white skin and was literally radiating. I felt nervous all of a sudden. My throat, dry. Must be the stupid tie. Horabe gave her instructions and later on, he beckoned.
"Ms. Kaioh, this is Haruka Tenoh. She'll be working with you in this shoot."
"Pleasure." I extended my hand. Oh gawd! It was the cold glare again. My smile pasted frozen as her eyes pierced me from head to toe.
"You... you're the model from yesterday, right?" She towered almost reaching my height... almost.
"Ah, this?" She must have been confused at my attire.
"I asked Haruka to wear male clothings to complement your femininity. See... What do you think? Don't you two look like a lovely couple?"
She examined me one more time. "I suppose. It's nice to meet you, Ms. Tenoh." She had an astonishingly soft hand.
"Well then, shall we start?" Horabe clapped.
I followed their steps; my gaze glued to a pair of perfect calves working out the stiletto heels... and those ass. I wet my lip and swallowed a lump, pulled myself out of the trance and looked around if someone had noticed me ogling at the general manager's... umm... physique. She carried herself with so much grace, I felt so primitive around her. I shook myself awake and looked straight at the back of her head and tried to wait for Horabe's directions. Her hair was like waves of the sea.
The photoshoot generally was harmless. We, humans, were more like the backdrop for the lounge. We raised a toast. We pretended to enjoy each other with our meal. And lastly, we had a bit of a drama... the story was that we were lovers ignoring each other and seeking refuge in the corners, me near the window, she in the bar. I didn't know if the last part was even necessary. I mean, are they actually going to include it in the brochure? How exactly are they going to sell a lovers' quarrel? It's weird.
The whole thing ran for a good hour, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Kaioh who recently arrived and pulled their daughter out of the shoot. They stayed at a corner table while Horabe continued to let me finish the shoots on my own. I glanced at the Kaiohs from time to time. The young woman, in particular, began to appear distraught in her seat.
"Haruka!" Horabe called. "Focus! Hold unto that glass."
"Sorry, Jun." I resumed.
We were finishing the last shots when Ms. Kaioh came and dismissed Horabe.
"Hi." I quickly greeted.
"I need a small favor from you, Ms. Tenoh."
"Sure. What can I do for you?"
"I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend to my parents."
"Sur... wait, what?!"
"Look." She got hold of her temple, obviously trying to explain it as rationally as she could. "They are setting me up with..."
"...some guy and you don't want to meet him so you need to show them that you're already involved with someone."
"Oldest cinema plot."
"So, is it ok? You're already dressed for the part. And didn't Mr. Horabe say that we acted like a couple convincingly?"
I glanced back to the elder Kaiohs' who were looking rather anxiously at us.
"Ms. Kaioh, though I look much of a man with this suit... leaving aside that I am quite excited to play that role of a boyfriend for you, but... your parents, Ms. Kaioh, know I'm a woman. No matter how you look at it, right?"
"Nonsense. You look handsome. Come. Only a quick introduction. 'Just follow my lead."
"Huh? Wai-" She clasped on my hand and dragged me to her parents' table. She's got to be kidding me.
"Father, mother, this is Tenoh Haruka." I felt her hand tightened around my fingers. "We've been seeing each other for three months now."
"It's good to see you, Mr. Kaioh, Mrs. Kaioh."
Both parents examined me with raised brows. I tell you, it was freakishly awkward.
"A woman?" The question was directed to their daughter.
My hand squeezed hers in Morse code that I was sure only we could understand: See, I told you they know I'm a woman.
She replied: Shut up.
"Yes, I'm gay."
My eyes widened. Her hand held me tighter than before. I tuned my mind. Please tell me she did not fake coming out to her parents. I braced myself for the nuclear bomb. One normally wouldn't tell her parents she's gay to have peace of mind. On the contrary, this was usually a prelude to World War X. And to think that I was in the middle of it all. Gawd, what is she thinking?
There was a moment of silence. The Kaiohs were asking each other with their eyes. Then Mr. Kaioh stood.
"I see. Well, well... glad to have you on board, Haruka." He patted my back. "You take good care of Michiru, alright?"
What just happened?
The sloppy Morse code again: 'Told you it'd be fine.
From the author:
Hi y'all! How've you been? I hope readers of my past fics are still lurking around here. I checked that it has been roughly five years since I wrote a decent plot. Honestly, I had no more intention or whatsoever to write another story eversince joining the working class. You know what I mean. But then, the harsh reality of life pushed me to seek temporary entertainment and leisure in the quiet sanctuary of fiction. I realized that it has been so longed since I last lingered around ff and found out that a lot of the incomplete stories in the past had already been completed and a lot of talented writers just kept on creating these interesting AUs. Vulnerable as I am, I quickly got inspired to writing one on my own. To all writers out there, thank you for inspiring us with your works. This is a little payback of that inspiration. To all readers, continue to read coz you are the reason why we write. So, please enjoy to your heart's content.
Becoming Woman is a modern romance story which encompasses the observations, realizations, and experiences I have gathered for the last five years. And I hope this story will come out as mature and entertaining as I have planned. Certified angst-free! No worries! Will it be too much to ask for a little bit of feedback/review? Just something to pocket for motivation. winks. And oh yeah, I'll do my best to give responses, too. It's the least I can do.