CHAPTER 11: CONVERSATION - The park seems to be a place for fateful encounters; this particular one will start Eiri on a path which might ultimately lead to a reckoning with his past…
He had begun without knowing he had begun – without knowing he was looking for someone, let alone who it was. He had just begun wandering, without consciously realising the significance of the places he was wandering to.
He had told himself it was just a need to reacquaint himself with the city he thought of as home. He was back to stay; he acknowledged that with relief. He had not told Mika or Tohma of his decision; or the decision he had reached, quite amicably in the end, with Ayaka. For once husband and wife had found unity through shutting out the interference of others. They would tell their families when they were good and ready and not before.
He wandered the street he had once driven down only to have a soggy pink-haired brat leap out in front of him; then suddenly found himself on the road he had been living on when he had taken another man as his lover, and found his eyes wandering hungrily over every passer by.
Tokyo was a huge, populous city. It was completely ridiculous to think they would meet.
But a little nostalgic wander surely couldn't hurt…
Or could it?
For six years he had avoided nostalgia. Had avoided photographs. Had avoided memories. Tohma in particular seemed to like to tease him with recollections of their time in New York, perhaps hoping to reach the boy Eiri had been. Eiri had never allowed himself to be drawn in.
Now memories were everywhere. Memories of Shuichi. Memories… of Yuki. Images blurred and mixed in his dreams until he was not sure who belonged where. It made his head hurt. But this time he had come back to the centre of the disturbance instead of running away to safety. Running away would make no difference this time. What he had said to Mika and to Ayaka was true – it was too late for that.
Maybe it was even too late before he had opened his mouth to insult Shuichi's song. Maybe the sight of him, mulling over his lyrics, so innocent, so optimistic… so… enchanting... would have been enough.
It was too late to go back, of course. Even if Shuichi still cared for him – even if he might consider forgiving him – it was out of the question. The only good thing he had ever done for Shuichi was to leave him. The gods alone knew what sort of mess the kid's life would have been in now if Eiri hadn't thrown him over.
He ought to go home and finish that damn novel. He knew he was putting off writing the ending because he did not want to decide which ending to use. They were both clear enough in his head - one happy; one sad. Not that the sad ending was as sad as it might have been, though with a little work it could be his most gloomy so far. Part of the problem was that the novel had linked itself too closely to the turmoil in his mind. It almost felt as though to decide the ending would be to condemn himself – to force life to imitate art. He had no faith in the happy ending – yet he did not want to surrender to the sad one.
Shuichi wouldn't hesitate. He'd tell me to go with happy one. But what the hell does he know about writing?
This is stupid. I must be going nuts. Go home and get on with your work, moron.
Tokyo is full of Shuichi. If everything in New York might be Yuki, everything here is Shuichi. Yet I'm not afraid of it. I want to be within it.
Eiri looked around him.
The park was just as it had been the last time they had walked through it together. Shuichi liked to come here, just at this time of night, as if to relive their first meeting. Shyly he would slip his arm through Eiri's; Eiri would make a face but wouldn't shake him off. How many times had they done that? Probably only once or twice, when Eiri was restive after a day behind his computer and Shuichi was talking too much. He always became more quiescent in the park. If he was particularly well behaved on such nights, Eiri might even deign to kiss him. Shuichi's lips would be cold from the night air... but his mouth would be warm.
A bittersweet memory was almost forming into a pleasant little fantasy when Eiri caught sight of something and froze in his tracks.
A figure stood in the distance, cloaked in shadows.
Was he hallucinating? Was he finally going mad? Eiri felt his heart squeeze so painfully he thought it might actually be about to fail. Every muscle in his body grew tight. He closed his eyes and then opened them again.
Yes. There it was. A short, slender figure but quite definitely male. Eiri didn't have to see the face to know the eyes were fixed upon him.
Shuichi had known. Had come here because he knew Eiri was looking for him. Eiri felt a sudden surge of some emotion he could not identify, though it seemed to have elements of longing and of excitement. Love, perhaps? But then again, who the hell knew what that was supposed to feel like?
"Good evening, Eiri-kun!" The apparition of Shuichi spoke cheerfully to as it approached. "Or do I have to call you "Yuki-san" now?" It hesitated, as if considering the idea. "No, I don't think I like calling you that… yeah, that's right!" The apparition held up what looked like a stuffed rabbit. "Kumagoro says it's kind of creepy… so I'll just call you Eiri-kun, like I used to. Hey, Eiri-kun… did you see Hit Stage the other day?"
"…No…" Eiri whispered. "How – how the hell did you…"
"Oh well, it doesn't matter… come on, Eiri-kun… let's sit down for a minute." Eiri heard a soft, furtive chuckle. I've got a secret to share…"
"Eiri-san!" There was genuine pleasure in Seguchi Tohma's turquoise eyes as he stood up to greet his brother in law. "It's good to see you… it seems so long since we've had lunch together…"
Eiri was about to make some mildly sarcastic reply when he realised that Tohma was right – they had not spent any time alone together since Eiri's marriage.
And, he noted, he had missed the older man's company. Tohma was one of the few people in his world who would refrain from judging him, yet was not afraid to tell him the truth. But more than that, he was the only person Eiri was still in contact with who had shared his time in New York – who remembered Kitazawa Yuki. Even if Tohma's opinion of Eiri's tutor could not be called unbiased, he at least remembered events more clearly than Eiri could – and had viewed them through the eyes of an adult, not an enamoured, hormonal adolescent.
As Tohma read the restaurant's wine list and asked him if he was ready to order, Eiri became aware of that same feeling of returning home which had touched him since he had first returned to Tokyo. He was only beginning to realise how much besides Shuichi he had lost when he had fled to Kyoto.
But this was not the time for pointless nostalgia. His last little trip down memory lane had landed him even deeper in hell than he already was, and the more he pondered the strange meeting which had ended it, the more he was beginning to wonder if he had just been welcomed home by the devil.
He ordered without thinking, waving away the waitress impatiently when she began chattering about the soup of the day. "Is it true?" he demanded of Tohma without preamble, "about Bad Luck? About Shuichi wanting to quit the band?"
Tohma looked genuinely alarmed. "Who told you about that?" he asked in a low whisper.
"A little bird."
Tohma's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "That little bird wasn't by any chance chewing on the ear of a stuffed pink bunny when he told you…?"
"I don't care if he was swinging naked from the trees," Eiri hissed, "I want to know if it's true."
Tohma frowned. For a moment he remained silent, carefully unfolding his napkin and spreading it out before him. "I regret to say that it is. And before you start railing at me, Eiri-san, it was entirely Shindou-san's decision."
Eiri regarded him with heavy scepticism. "That damned brat would sooner be castrated without anaesthetic than give up on Bad Luck."
Tohma continued to play with his napkin. "That might have been true once, Eiri-san, but a lot has changed."
"Don't bullshit me, aniki," Eiri growled, laying heavy contempt on the honorific he so rarely used. "I know him. I know him. Nothing could have changed him that much!"
"I grant that you know him better than I do as a person…" Tohma's tone was infinitely patient. "As… a lover. But I flatter myself I know him better as a musician." When he finally met Eiri's gaze, his own seemed troubled. "As a matter of fact, I have developed a great deal of respect for Shindou-san in these last few months. Apart from a few… unfortunate moments, he has proved he can be a dedicated professional even under considerable pressure."
"You mean because after everything that happened to him he still didn't turn into a miserable, jaded fuckup like me?"
Tohma politely ignored that. "The problem is not with NG or with Bad Luck, Eiri-san… the problem is with Shindou-san himself. I believe," he continued softly, staring down at his hands, "he has lost faith in his music, and he knows that those working with him can see it. He is still a good enough vocalist… good enough, in the way that Aizawa-san is good enough. As things stand, Bad Luck will enjoy a reasonable amount of success for a few years. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have gone ahead with the plans of K and Sakano-san for the band's national tour. They will do well until their fan-base outgrows them and the world forgets them. But that isn't what Shindou-san wants. If you claim to know him that well, you know that isn't what he wants. He's not prepared carry on when he can't give one-hundred per cent to his music and I respect him for that."
Eiri said nothing. He watched the waitress lay plates of steaming, aromatic food before them and felt his stomach heave. He gulped down the expensive wine she poured into his glass without tasting it, feeling it burn its way down. He knew he was only waiting for Tohma to say the wrong thing – to insist what was happening to Shuichi wasn't his fault and that given his current health problems he shouldn't worry uselessly over it – just so that he could let his temper loose and tear every excuse his brother in law offered for him into tiny shreds.
But Tohma knew it too, and he said nothing; merely exchanged polite small talk with the sycophantic manager who had bustled over to greet his "honoured" patrons and wax lyrical about how wonderful it was to have both Seguchi Tohma and Yuki Eiri in his humble restaurant again after so long.
"So," Tohma said when the man had finally gone, picking up his chopsticks and eyeing his food with pleasure, "how is Ayaka-san? Mika says she's in Tokyo. I have to admit I was surprised…" His smile was the epitome of angelic innocence. "Have you managed to work through your… problems?"
"In a way," Eiri answered, looking down into his wine glass. "I'm filing for divorce." He smirked. "I told her she should do it - the gods know I've given her enough grounds – but she doesn't want to upset our families or see the Uesugi name dragged through the courts. Personally I don't give a flying fuck about the Uesugi name, so I'm doing it. Something simple like irreconcilable differences… I'll make sure she gets a generous settlement and she can keep the Uesugi name if she likes it that much."
"I… see," Tohma said slowly.
"You don't seem that surprised…"
Tohma gave an elegant shrug. "After what you told Mika-san about your reasons for marrying, I have to admit I didn't hold out much hope. I have to admit I'm a little shocked that you've acted so quickly…"
"Yeah…" Eiri took up his own chopsticks and began to pick unenthusiastically at his lunch. "It's not like me to do anything so decisive, is it? What I told Mika was the truth. I married Ayaka so I'd stop fucking up Shuichi's life, but all I've done is fuck up Ayaka's as well. She kept saying it was her fault," he recalled with a frown, "that she should have refused my proposal because she knew I was in love with Shuichi... but then again, I always did wonder if the girl was a little unbalanced. I mean, anyone who claims to be in love with me has to be mental, right? Just look at Shuichi…"
"Eiri-san…" Tohma frowned.
"There's something I want you to do for me. One last favour, for old time's sake." Eiri put down his chopsticks and pushed his plate aside, giving up all pretence of eating. "It's something I should have asked you to do almost a year ago."
"Eiri-san, if this is to do with Shindou-san or Bad Luck…"
"It isn't. It's about Ask." Eiri met Tohma's gaze squarely across the table, his voice dropping instinctively to whisper. "I want you to bury Aizawa Taki."
"I don't care how you do it. I don't care if he's caught shooting up on coke with a couple of prostitutes; I don't care if he's accused of downloading kiddie porn or dressing up in women's clothes or spying for North Korea. Just bury him!"
"But – Eiri-san…"
"We owe Shuichi, Tohma. Me for breaking his heart and ruining his dreams; you for not dropping Ask the moment that fucker hurt him. I'm a coward and you're a mercenary, but we both owe him."
Tohma shook his head. "Eiri-san, for God's sake…"
"If you can't do that," Eiri pressed on relentlessly, glad Tohma couldn't see his clenched fists under the table, "then recommend me a good criminal lawyer or some tart who'll give an alibi for a few million yen. Because this time it will be premeditated murder and I'm no longer a minor."
He rose to his feet. "One more thing. I'm going away for a while and I don't want either you or Mika chasing after me. I mean it, Tohma. Try it and there's a good chance you'll never see me again. But wherever I am, you can bet I'll be watching the news." He was about to turn and go when he caught sight of Tohma's stricken expression and felt an unexpected twinge of compassion. "Thanks for lunch," he mumbled and made a quick exit.
"Could I speak to Mizuki Kanna?"
"…Yeah… hold on…. Kanna-chan… I think it's one of your writer fellows…"
"…Hello…? Mizuki Kanna speaking…"
"Mizuki? It's me."
"…Yuki-san! It's terribly early…"
"… Can't you tell him to at least call back when it's light…?"
"Shhh…! He'll hear you! Go back to sleep, I won't be long… What can I do for you, Yuki-san?"
"Sorry about waking you up, but my plane leaves in four hours."
"Plane…? Yuki-san… if you're planning one of your strategic withdrawals…"
"Relax. The book's finished. By the time you've finished the corrections I should be back. At least… that's the plan."
"Well… that is good news! So you managed to decide the ending after all?"
"Sort of. I actually wrote two down – the happy one and the sad one. But right now I'd go with the sad one. It's more in keeping with my style… and it strikes me as rather more realistic. Those two could never make one another happy."
"For a romance writer you're an incorrigible cynic, Yuki-san…"
"You're the one who labels my stuff "romance," not me…"
"Even so, ill sorted though your lovers seem to be at first, it does rather feel as though they were destined to meet…"
"Yeah, well that's the mark of a good writer – hiding the art within the art…"
"…And… somehow… that they're destined to be together…"
"Enough of the destiny talk, Mizuki! You're starting to sound like my father! He always said that our destinies were predetermined by karma, and I've spent the best part of my life trying to prove him wrong!"
"…All right… then may I ask where you're going so suddenly, Yuki-san?"
"Hell, Kanna-san… I'm going to hell!"
"…I… only asked…"
"And I only answered. Oh by the way, I thought of a name for the book."
"Yeah. I've decided to call it Cursed."
TBC: – It seems as though Shuichi is also due for a strange encounter in the park… or is he? Sadness replaces anger, but is that really an improvement?