Chapter 12: Both For You (4)
Kei received a text from Ushio saying that he’d be back in about a week.
What’s with him? It’s only been a couple of days, but he’s been texting me so eagerly.
Kei got up from his seat in the announcer department thinking that he should move to a more private location and headed towards the production control room used for The News. Darkened monitors covered the monitor wall in a grid pattern resembling a chocolate bar (each one with a different, specific use), and the chairs that were usually occupied by the staff were neatly tucked away. The air conditioning was normally set to accommodate the room under full operation, and with the room empty and everything off, it was quite cold inside. Kei shivered and took out his cell phone.
“Hey,” Ushio answered when he picked up the phone. “What happened? Did that little taste on the phone get you hooked?”
“No, you idiot!”
Kei’s voice carried surprisingly loudly through the empty room. But it was well-soundproofed, and it was a weekend, and so there was little chance that anyone would be in the area. On the off chance that someone did come in, Kei would immediately know by the electronic sound that would play when the security door unlocked. If that were to happen, Kei planned to hang up and give an excuse that he had forgotten something in the room.
Kei said, “You were good and texted me a lot, so I wanted to tell you what a good job you did.”
“Ahh, yes, yes, thank ya, thank ya… Where are you right now? Your voice sounds a little different.”
“Aren’t you off this weekend?”
“The stupid director messed up, and we had to re-shoot something on location. I forgot to settle the travel expenses for it.”
“Doesn’t sound like you at all.”
“Were you so lonely that you’ve been spacing out?”
“Of course not. You’re the one feeling homesick and crying.”
“Yes, yes, it’s true, it’s true.”
Kei hesitated in front of the sound mixer. “Since you’re so pitiful,” he finally said, “when you get back and I have some free time, we can go out somewhere together.”
“Oh?” Ushio showed his surprise in his voice. “Like where?”
“Like a ramen shop?”
“You just want to eat there… Well, it’s fine, when I get back, we’ll go out on a date. It’s a promise.”
Kei hung up with the sound of Ushio saying “date” ringing in his ears. As he paused to take a deep breath, he heard the sound of a dull thud coming from a corner of the room. Directly diagonal from where Kei was standing, there were a number of desks arranged in a group together. It was where they had put the computers used for the graphics and chyrons.
For several seconds, everything played in slow motion. A chair moved away from the desk, and the dark figure of a person crawled out from under the space.
“Ahh… Hi there.”
With the sound of Tatsuki’s voice, the world reverted to its normal speed, and it dawned on Kei that this was not a dream.
“Ummm, I guess you might be wondering why I’m here…”
Kei hadn’t asked, but Tatsuki spoke anyway. “I was trying to get my hands on some concert tickets. They only take reservations by phone, and I heard that the network has a special emergency phone line that gives it special priority over other phones. When I asked about it, someone said the phone in the control room probably worked that way, so I sneaked in here to try and I really got through! I was really happy I could get the tickets! But then I heard the door open, and I ran to hide—”
Kei didn’t interrupt, didn’t nod his head; he just stayed silent.
“—Anyway, I was able get two tickets, would you like to come with me? It’s a Mr.Children concert.”
Kei remained silent while his eyes slowly scanned the room.
“What are you looking for?”
“A blunt object.”
“A blunt object I can use to kill you.”
“What? No way, I don’t want to die!”
“Shut up!” Kei exploded at the playful tone in Tatsuki’s response; the gunpowder was a mix of impatience, regret, and shame.
Kei clawed at his hair with both hands and screamed. He wanted to transform into a gigantic monster if he could, crushing the office building, Tatsuki, and everything with it beneath his feet. “Why did it have to be you!? Seriously, why you!? You fucking piss me off!! Quit following me around and bothering me, would you!? God! If I had a Death Note in my hand right now, I’d fucking write your name in it!!”
Kei screamed in defeat using the true voice that he normally hid away. Any chance that he could fabricate an excuse to pass his behavior off as an act died as he snapped and tossed all sense of reason to the wind. Although his use of foul language had been exposed, the secrets of his private life had not been fully compromised; however, it was game over for Kei the moment that it came to light that he was hiding his true self.
Ahh, I don’t care anymore. I’ll just run away to America too.
Tatsuki widened his eyes and whispered, “Oh my god…” His eyes twinkled as he laughed. “Oh my god, you’re hilarious, Kunieda-san. You’re killing me. A Death Note, really?”
There was no malice in Tatsuki’s laughter, just pure, honest amusement. Kei had expected to face anger and fear, and this reaction baffled him.
“What the hell are you?” Kei knitted his eyebrows, still reeling from his outburst.
Tatsuki said, “And what about you, Kunieda-san?”
It was an understandable response.
“It’s a character that you made up, right? You’re putting on an act for people.”
Kei didn’t like how all of his effort that he had put into his image was dismissed as a “character,” but he reluctantly nodded his head.
“Wow, that’s amazing, but isn’t a lot of trouble? Don’t you get tired of it?”
“It’s my own decision. Leave me alone.”
“I know that we always have to be ready to look good for the camera, but I think this Kunieda-san’s more interesting.”
“Don’t talk to me like you know me from just these few minutes.”
“Hmmm, but it’s not just these few minutes.”
What is he babbling about?
“You know how I talked about the time when I interviewed with you? I had complimented you, but you brushed it off like it was nothing.”
“You had smiled at the time, but it was like, hmm, your eyes were really cold inside? …It had been at point-blank range, so I was like, crap, I think I saw something I shouldn’t have, and I felt a chill go down my spine.”
However, there was no chill in Tatsuki’s voice, and he continued cheerfully, “I was a little bothered by it, but we didn’t really work together, and everyone in and out of the network never said anything bad about you. You were kind, good at your job, and worked really hard; a star that everyone looked up to. All that was fine, but I still wondered about the time at the interview, whether I had imagined things or not. So when I got the order to be on the same show as you, although I had a bit of a tantrum, I also thought it was a good opportunity for me.”
“So that’s why you kept bothering me all the time.”
“I wasn’t trying to snoop around to find out more about you. I just wanted to get to know you better on a personal level.”
“—So now what?” Kei crossed his arms and leaned against a desk.
“What you mean?”
“Your damn instincts were right. This is all an image that I want to project, because I like it when I’m the center of attention! I like it when I’m perfect and charming! It’s not hurting anyone, so why the hell not!?”
“Ah, yes, I think it’s fine, if that’s what you want to do.”
Kei half suspected that Tatsuki was an alien. They didn’t seem to be from the same planet.
“By the way, who was it that you were talking to on the phone?”
“None of your business.”
“Was it Tsuzuki-san?
Having another one of his secrets cracked open in such a short timespan, Kei felt the urge to kill Tatsuki resurrect within him. “What the hell, do you have a camera or a bug planted on me!?”
“I really don’t. Half of it was a random guess.”
“Then where did the other half come from? You’ve only met the guy once.”
“Hmm…” Tatsuki crossed his arms as well and stared at the wall of darkened monitors. “You know how I mentioned my play-by-play practice? It’s kinda weird staring down at people’s heads all the time, but eventually you start noticing a lot of different things. They’re just crossing the street, but you can tell if a person is in a good mood or if a couple looks like they’ve been fighting. It sounds a bit cocky, but it’s what helped sharpen my observational skills. That night we had dinner together, I saw you walk next to Tsuzuki-san when we left the restaurant.”
“But we were just sharing a taxi because we were heading in the same direction.”
“Yeah, but there was something just watching the two of you from behind… You weren’t talking like you were very close, but I didn’t get the feeling that you had no point of contact between the two of you either. So that probably meant you had talked beforehand about pretending not to know each other very well. That you two shared a secret or something.”
At long last, Kei noticed the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. Tatsuki’s intuition was correct. So was Kei’s, hating Tatsuki on sight. It was a self-preservation instinct. Now that everything was exposed, he had to take urgent countermeasures in order to protect himself, but his head was filled with a litany of shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, and he couldn’t work out anything in his head.
Why can’t you be here to help me?
“Um, you two are dating, right? That’s what it sounded like from your phone call.”
“What? Do you want to become a news reporter or something?”
“Huh? No way. I’m not cut out for it.”
Kei wanted to praise himself for his self-restraint. He really wanted to punch that stupid smile off of Tatsuki’s face.
“I’m not particularly clever when it comes to figuring things out. But I guess you could say that I’ve been watching you for a long time, that’s how I suspected something.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do? How creepy.”
It was too late to grovel and beg him to keep quiet. In any case, Kei would rather die before he did something like that.
“What? How mean. I’ve actually taken quite a shock, you know.”
“Why the hell would you be shocked?”
“Huh? Because you have a boyfriend! And you were being all lovey dovey with him on the phone!”
“I wasn’t being lovey dovey!!”
“Ahh, you’re blushing really hard… Do you have any plans to break up in the near future?”
“…Oi, what the hell are you saying?”
“If not, that’s fine. Chasing after a love affair is also pretty exciting.”
“I don’t care about what excites you.”
“Ahh, that’s the look right there!! I got the chills when you cursed at me earlier too. It gives me a bit of a high to have you fling insults at me when you’re usually smiling so kindly at everyone.”
“Really, what the hell are you saying?”
“Someone’s a little dense, but I like that part about you too, Kunieda-san.”
After triggering his own explosion and taking on two additional bombshells in quick succession, Kei no longer had anything to lose. He smiled brightly and put all his heart into his next words.
“Die. Then die again in your next life.”
“This is the first time I’ve been told to die after confessing to someone.”
“Are you fucking playing with me?”
“If you tell me to play with you, I’ll play with you all you want.”
“And I hate that stupid mouth of yours. How the hell do you expect anyone to take your confession seriously after everything? Especially when you’re known as the damn meetup monster of Asahi TV.”
“It’s just meeting different people from other businesses. I only go for the conversation. But if you don’t like it, Kunieda-san, I’ll stop going.”
“I don’t care. It’s none of my business. Don’t try to use a stupid lie to mess with me. It’s not funny, idiot.”
“Do I look that untrustworthy to you?” Tatsuki pouted unhappily, his expression transforming into the serious one that he had showed on the pedestrian bridge. “I did tell you that I was serious that day I had my interview with you.”
Kei kept his mouth shut and dug his fingers into his arms.
“It was the first time that I’d ever met someone that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I wanted to get to know you better, get closer to you. But you’re a man, and I didn’t really know how it’d work between us, but after hearing your phone conversation, all my doubts went away. Although I’m a little bummed about Tsuzuki-san, but if you’re able to accept him, I think you should be able to accept me too.”
“It doesn’t work like that!”
“Huh? Why not? …Oh, hold on, sorry.”
Tatsuki’s cell phone alarm had started ringing.
“I forgot about the recording session for a narration job that I have at 2 o’clock. I need to go, so please excuse me.”
Tatsuki hurried out of the room without finishing their conversation (not that Kei had any intentions of working things out with him).
Kei eventually uncrossed his arms and counted off on his fingers, curling each one down slowly. Uh, my cover was blown, my relationship with Ushio was blown, the damn idiot confessed to me…
Kei glanced down at his hand that nearly formed a fist. Then he looked up at the ceiling of the empty control room and cried at the top of his lungs, “…What the fuck!?”
“What the fuck!? What can I do!? There’s no way I can fix this!”
Kei wanted to call Ushio as soon as possible, but given the accident that had happened earlier, he didn’t want anyone else finding out about him. He waited until he returned home, checked that the balcony door was locked, just in case, and called Ushio from his cell phone.
“What is it?”
“Everything’s blown.” It was the only thing Kei could say about the situation, but there was a part of him that was frightfully calm under the confusion and agitation.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“My cover, everything. It’s hopeless. I’m gonna hightail it outta here and join you. I’ll live over there and eat a diet of hamburgers and deep-fried foods fried in oil.”
“I don’t think you can fry things in anything other than oil. Anyway, calm down and tell me what happened.”
“Don’t get mad.”
“I haven’t heard what it is yet, how am I supposed to know how to react? …But ok, I won’t get mad, so tell me.”
Kei told Ushio about everything that had happened with the phone call at work earlier—including the confession from Tatsuki.
Ushio paused silently for a moment and asked, “What will you do?” He sounded like he was completely unaffected by the story.
What the hell? Why aren’t you treating it like it’s your problem too!?
“What the hell can I do? That’s what I wanna know!”
Ushio remained calmed and asked, “How do you actually feel about him?”
Is he still jealous?
But Kei couldn’t smirk about it; he tightened his grip on his cell phone and asked, “Why do you keep asking? I don’t feel anything about him. Can’t you tell?”
“No, I can’t tell, actually. I’m asking you seriously here.”
What the hell was he saying?
It was his own home, but Kei couldn’t decide where to sit; he just stood stock still as he listened to Ushio’s voice.
“You’ve been complaining about Minagawa nearly every day. But if you really hated someone, would you really list out every little thing that they did—even the things that were actually nice? The night that I met him, I understood. You’ve never encountered anyone before who could fend off all of Kunieda Kei’s charms, and he was persistent about it. It rattled you to the point that you couldn’t ignore him or get him off of your mind.”
Kei couldn’t help it. Whenever there was an annoying invitation that he didn’t want to deal with, he just smiled apologetically, and people would get the message and back off. Only Tatsuki refused to take the hint and continued to get under his skin.
“…Don’t be stupid.” It was the only thing Kei could say. He was supposed to deny all the points that Ushio had made, tell him that he was wrong, but Kei couldn’t find any words convincing enough to say to someone who he couldn’t see or touch at the moment. Ushio had always understood Kei, so how could Kei try to dispute something that he never even realized himself?
“I thought about what I could do to handle the situation. I knew that Minagawa liked you, it was obvious, but I couldn’t ban you from talking about him. It’d just make you more restless. And I couldn’t tell you to stay away from him… Hey, Kei.”
Kei braced himself in defense when he heard Ushio call his name. “What?”
“I told you that I liked you, both of your personalities included. That it’s interesting, and I like you the way you are. That hasn’t changed. But doesn’t the same apply for him? If so, then what will you do?”
It was a secret that outside of his parents, only Ushio had known. But now it had leaked.
“You had said that there’s no one you could show this side of yourself to. And honestly, I didn’t take the words too seriously, but now that it’s come to this, he’s looking at you the same as me.”
“I told you that I turned him down.”
“Did he back off?”
“…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Ushio laughed almost sneeringly. Kei had never heard Ushio sound like this before. “Then let me ask you a question: what would you do if he told you that he would keep quiet if you went out with him?”
“Huh, I didn’t think of that.”
It was an accidental slip of the tongue. Kei purely meant that he didn’t think of the possibility that he could have been blackmailed and that he was glad that Tatsuki hadn’t tried to do something so shady. However, the words seemed to infuriate Ushio.
“What do you mean, you didn’t think of that? Don’t tell me you want to suggest it to him to save yourself?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
“You can be really stupid sometimes. For how clever you are, you’re incredibly dense.”
“You said you wouldn’t get mad…”
“This is a completely different matter! There’s a limit to how heartless you can be…”
“And what about you?” Kei couldn’t help but argue back. “It’s your fault that you texted me.”
“You’re the one who told me to text you.”
“Ahhh, just shut up! You’re just making me more agitated that I can’t think of anything to fix this! Dammit, calling you was useless! Whatever, I don’t care if you don’t come back!”
The moment that the words left his mouth, Kei knew that he had gone too far. And in the same moment, Ushio replied icily, “Fine, I won’t.”
The cell phone fell silent, and it hung from Kei’s hand as heavy as lead. He didn’t even have the energy to raise his voice.
Heartless, Ushio had said. It was true. He didn’t take the chance to tell Ushio that he loved him, that he felt nothing for Tatsuki.
But at the same time, Kei wanted to hear that Ushio loved him too, that he shouldn’t bother giving Tatsuki the time of day. They were both too stubborn, hurting each other in the process, and his heart just ached.