Chapter 29: Where Home Is (5)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
“—It’s all right. Please don’t worry about it. If there’s anything in the future, please let me know. Yes. Yes, of course. Thank you. Goodbye.”
Ushio hung up the phone. He got angry at himself for sighing and stared at the computer screen.
“…Why now after all this time…?”
He was talking to himself, so of course there was no reply. Ushio placed his elbow on the desk and pressed a hand to his forehead. He had to think about what he was going to do next. And what he would do for the future. He didn’t know the reason for it, but the current state of affairs was probably extremely bad. He had to work out a plan for what to do next. But what came to his mind were all things from the past.
Such as all the times his mother repeatedly told him, Become an outstanding figure like your father, okay? Or how she grieved, I can’t face your father like this, when he brought home report cards that excelled only in subjects unrelated to academic studies. How he raised his fists at that father of his only to be struck back. How he ran away from home. Ushio shook his head to chase away the memories, and for a few seconds, the back of his eyelids went blank.
Oh, it’s snow. No, maybe it’s fog.
It gradually grew so bright that the area bordering his optic nerve and his brain throbbed with pain, but it soon receded and only Kei remained in his mind. Kei was obedient and a little stupid. He was a little coward and yet was so bold and daring. He could be lazy as hell and the hardest working person ever. He sulked and was so easy to read. He loved Ushio and Ushio loved him.
Kei had told him, You wouldn’t be you if you don’t create things.
If I don’t create anymore, if I can’t create anymore, then what would I become?
When Kei returned to his apartment, Ushio was waiting for him.
Of course, Kei didn’t dislike it. Ushio made him dinner; he cleaned and did the laundry for him; he changed the sheets for him… Uh, no, Kei wasn’t treating him like a housekeeper. He was simply happy to see Ushio’s face. Maybe it was because he had to be extra vigilant on his way home, but it relieved him that he wouldn’t have to be alone in his apartment.
But somehow things felt a little off. Maybe it was because up until now, the proportion that Kei went over to Ushio’s house was far larger than the other way around. And Ushio had mostly worked on his projects for his clients: fiddling on the computer, maintaining his equipment, or filming on his sets. There were times he was so involved in his work, he didn’t even notice Kei, but Kei did what he liked there—watched TV, ate, and went to bed—and that was fine with him.
Oh, so that was it. Having Ushio working nearby had become so natural to him that it felt strange not seeing him work. The thought eased Kei’s mind, and yet it wasn’t enough. Maybe sleep had lost its grip on him, because he suddenly woke up at dawn with this thought on his mind. When Kei shifted his gaze on the sleeping back next to him, he was startled to hear the question, “What’s wrong?”
“You suddenly started talking and scared me… How did you know that I was awake?”
Ushio answered without turning his back around. “It just kinda felt like it and guessed.”
What are you, a martial arts expert?
Ushio asked, “Did you have a scary dream?”
“I didn’t. I was just…”
“…I was just thinking that you can bring your work over here to work on if you want to.”
Maybe Ushio was holding back because he was worried about Kei’s tendency to get anxious over little things, but it wouldn’t be a problem if he had work that he could do on a laptop or storyboards that he could work on. Ushio could do more of his own things. Kei wanted him to.
“I don’t really feel up to it.” In the darkness, the shoulder blades moved like they were speaking. “I think I’ll recharge for a bit.”
As far as Kei knew, this was the first time Ushio had said something so passive and withdrawn, but there was an emotional connection that was required to do his work, and there was the possibility that maybe Ushio just never showed this side of himself to Kei before. With Ushio facing away from him, Kei’s thoughts turned unintentionally dark (like maybe Ushio was in a severe slump). But then Ushio suddenly turned around to show his face.
“Quit reading my mind all the time!”
“You’re just too easy to read.”
There was no trace of any distress in Ushio’s smile. It was his warm and generous smile as usual. He gave this smile and called out, “Kei.”
“Can I kiss you?”
There was no logical connection to the jump in conversation that Kei could find. He wondered if Ushio had left some things out, but with the two of them squeezed next to each other on the bed, there was nowhere for Kei to run, and his breath grew hotter.
“No… No way.”
“Oh, that hurts my feelings.”
It was unruffled expression, too ridiculous to jab a Liar at him.
“That’s because you said something weird so suddenly!”
“I remembered the trauma from a long time ago when I did it without permission and got slapped for it.”
“That was a really long time ago.”
It was when Ushio hadn’t found out about Kei’s true identity, and they weren’t dating at the time.
“Oh? Then kiss me.”
“Come on, come on.”
Ushio closed his eyes and urged Kei on. It was too embarrassing to get angry after all this time and refuse, and so Kei called him an idiot and dropped a kiss on his nose.
When he did, Ushio wrapped his arms around Kei’s body, squeezing him as he rolled them over 90 degrees.
“Haha,” Ushio laughed from under him.
“Quit it! You really surprised the hell out of me!”
“Did it make your heart race?”
“Probably not in the way that you want it.”
It was bad for his heart, and the sudden movement flipped open the covers and it was freezing. The warmth of their skin pressed together did nothing to dampen the way that his heart raced. They listened to the sound of each other’s heartbeat, and Kei softly covered Ushio’s lips with his own.
It surprised Ushio that he still remembered the cell phone number of his father’s closest confidant, but it surprised him more that it hadn’t changed.
“Because it is far too troublesome notify all my contacts of the change. But I have gone through plenty of different cell phones. Take a look.”
He held out a smartphone screen to show Ushio, and it probably contained some several thousand contacts in the address book. Nevertheless, someone who had worked for his family—a family that Ushio thought he had long thrown away and abandoned—was at his house right now sitting in front of him. It was a strange feeling. Like a dream, and a bad one.
But in any case, Ushio said to him, “Sorry for calling you out here. Aren’t elections coming up soon?”
“Being in the House of Representatives means being battle ready at all times.”
Ushio had tried to lead him into revealing some information, but it was easily sidestepped with a cliched phrase.
“It has been a long time since I have last seen you. You have really grown.”
It was strangely embarrassing to be told those words at an age far past when he had finished growing.
“You too, Saijou-san, you’ve matured in your years.”
“Feel free to say that I have become old.”
“No, you feel like you’re shrewder than before. It made me think that you’ve probably gone through a lot.”
“Well, I am sure that it goes for us both.”
When Ushio was young, it mystified him to no end that none of his friends had someone like Saijou at their house. Someone who was neither their father nor their mother. Saijou lived with them at their house and followed his father like a shadow. His mother also relied on him in one way or another. She would always ask him for his opinion—Was this kimono okay for the upcoming tea ceremony? How did the message on the note cards enclosed with the mid-year or year-end gifts sound? As for Ushio, he remembered that he would discuss the topic of his school research projects with Saijou and Saijou would attend parents’ day at his school. He had thought that other people’s families also had someone who would support them with their work and day-to-day activities. Someone who wasn’t family or a relative but wasn’t really a servant either. Ushio might even say he was like a cat-shaped robot whose secret weapon was to fix pretty much everything.1 He laughed a little at his imagination.
“Was it something that I said?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“I see that you have made quite a name for yourself with your work.”
“Not really. Especially not recently.”
“What do you mean?”
“Clients have been cancelling projects left and right, and business is pretty much dead. When I ask them for the reason, they only hem and haw and give me vague answers. And so I’ve been feeling pretty down about it.”
“Well, I suppose there are ups and downs with any business.”
“This is the first time it’s lasted this long… It’s like someone is interfering with my clients.”
Ushio gave Saijou a meaningful look, but Saijou made no reaction to it whatsoever.
“Maybe you are feeling fatigued. You have worked so long on your own that it is not unreasonable. Why don’t you come back home for some rest?”
“Are you seriously saying that?”
“Of course. You are returning to the home where you were raised. Is there a problem with that?”
“A problem?” Ushio scowled, turned his face away, and soundlessly seethed at his words. “That’s rich of you to say. You’re the one who’s interfering with my work. I don’t know which one of you did it, so don’t ask me to show you any proof.”
Saijou’s cool and pleasant expression on his face didn’t falter. This was the only expression that Ushio had really ever seen from him.
“If that much is clear to you, then we can cut straight to the chase. It is about time that you quit that playtime that you call ‘work’ and return home.”
“That is what it is, is it not? It is a short bout of amusement to entertain people’s eyes. I do not mean to call it unnecessary, but you have a more important duty to undertake.”
“I’m not gonna succeed the family line. Not for that family, I’m not. And after all this time? There’s gotta be something wrong with you and the old man.”
If only I had the genius to come up with insults like Kei, Ushio thought. Something that pulled no punches but was funny too. Then maybe he could get the better of this guy for a change.
“Not that family? Not that old man? Not that job? No matter how much time passes, you sound like a child in his rebellious phase. How much do you understand of your father’s work? Try spending a month, no, a week, following your father around, and you will no longer use that language.”
“I didn’t cut ties from the family because of a rebellious phase.” Ushio was no longer able to suppress the clear anger from his voice. “I couldn’t deal with him anymore, so I left.”
“It is not quite that easy to cut the ties between parent and child. After all this time? Please don’t be absurd. Almost the same amount of time has passed since the time you were there before you left. It is about time to come back. You have been satisfied with the nearly 15 years of freedom that you were granted, correct? You have fully enjoyed your twenties, and now it is about time that you have some awareness for your responsibilities. Please do not counter with a childish argument such as ‘I wasn’t born into this house because I wanted to.’”
“What? So he let me graze outside up until now out of the kindness of his heart?”
“Now, no one has said anything like that. Why don’t you calm down a little?”
Saijou was right. The one to lose their cool would lose. But Ushio erupted despite himself because he was witnessing before his very eyes the value system of the house where he was born and just how firmly entrenched it was. And because he feared that they had already grasped his Achilles heel.
“You may continue your current ‘work’ as a hobby. It would be more advantageous than those who list singing Candies’ songs at karaoke as their pastime. I believe it may garner popularity with the youth vote. The party may even ask you to work on their political ads. I cannot guarantee that they will pay you a commission, however.”
“Even I feel pride in feeding and supporting myself with that work up until now.”
“There is also a saying that you cannot feed yourself on pride alone.”
“Listen here.” Ushio leaned his body forward slightly. “I don’t like the fact that you’re treating this matter like it’s set in stone. To begin with, do you seriously think I can even do the job of a politician?”
“Of course, I do.”
“I have no education, no academic background. I don’t have the smarts for it. You’ve seen my report cards; you should know.”
“Well, yes. In the comments section, your teachers would always write, ‘Has a kind and lively personality and makes friends with others easily.’”
Ushio was the one who had brought up the subject, but unexpectedly, the clear sounds of his mother’s disappointed sighs haunted his ears and it was not a pleasant feeling.
—Ushio, please try harder. Otherwise, it will be an embarrassment to your father.
“Personally, I have never once thought that you were stupid or had no smarts. Rather, I found you to be incredibly perceptive when it came to a variety of matters. You are the type of person who has no need for manuals and can quickly absorb things with hands-on experience, and that was why you never did well with textbook-type learning. In any case, it is not a significant obstacle. There has even been a prime minister who only completed his lower secondary education.2 You can leave the elections to the strategists and any questions or answers during the Diet sessions to the other officials. A polished appearance and a charisma that attracts people’s attention are natural talents that one cannot acquire in school.”
“So you’re telling me to become a puppet who just wears a badge?”
“Of course you will have to complete some very thorough training. First, you will work for your father as a private secretary. I will drill everything into you from how to carry his bag to how to hold his umbrella. There is a fundraiser right after Golden Week, and I believe we can start introducing you as his eventual successor.”
Ushio released a sharp laugh in desperation.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he spat. “This my life. Who are you to tell me what to do with it? I won’t have anything to do with any of you, so in return, don’t go sticking your nose in my life.”
“Unfortunately, that is not up for discussion.”
“Who the hell came up with this ridiculous plan? Was it the old man’s idea?”
“I believe that it includes some of my own conjectures, but yes, I have asked for his opinions on the matter, and at no point did he stop me. Is it such a terrible proposal?”
Saijou’s hands were clasped together in his lap, and his fingers moved back and forth in a kneading motion. Staring at them made Ushio feel like he might become hypnotized.
“I am not saying that you need to become self-dependent in a day or two. If you do what you are asked, then I can guarantee the maximum permitted level of freedom that can be allowed. As long as you act with some degree of restraint, you can maintain your confidentiality—including your private affairs.”
The tone of voice was laden with implication, and it was a confirmation of Ushio’s worst fears. Ushio roughened his voice and questioned, “What do you know? Spill it all, right now. Tell me everything that you investigated about me.”
Saijou looked unruffled and replied, “Oh, there was not too much to find.” It was like he was talking to a child. “You have visitors who frequently come over, and you will also sometimes visit an apartment building nearby in the neighborhood. There are two people who regularly come over: a slightly suspicious-looking man who wears a facemask and glasses and sometimes a man who wears a proper suit, someone who appears quite often on TV. Apparently, they both live at the same residence—the apartment building that you will sometimes visit. It is quite the mysterious coincidence.”
Ushio stood up despite himself. He had a headache and he was feeling dizzy. His head was a mix of It can’t be and I knew it.
“The two people appear so different that it is difficult to tell at a glance, but they are the same person, correct? Kunieda-san from Asahi TV. He is quite young, but he has gained an impressive reputation.”
“So it was you.”
It was shameful, but his voice nearly shook. Pull it together, he told himself. He had to do something, otherwise everything could all fall apart. Everything that he had built in the past 14 years and everything that Kei had protected up until now.
“You were the ones who spread the rumors about him running for office.”
“I did nothing of the sort. I just asked if there was anyone in mind who would be suitable for office. Someone similar to Kunieda Kei. The media seems to have run wild after several rounds of hearsay, but I am truly sorry if it has caused any problems.”
Even though he didn’t mean a single word of it.
“Wherever I looked, there was not a single bad thing that was said about him. He is quite a distinguished figure. I truly think that. Regardless of his appearance when he is not on camera, there is no denying that he is a person of great merit. There are plenty of talented people who get talked about in private circles around Nagatacho. If his private appearance were publicized, perhaps his popularity would rise even further, make him seem more down-to-earth.”
Saijou looked up at Ushio and gave a slightly wry smile.
“With how drastically your expression changed, it appears that you two are not just simply good friends.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I could not seem to find any friends who are especially close to Kunieda-san. It appears he is not the type of person who gets needlessly close to others. However, you seem to be special, Ushio-san. Somehow you have apparently gained his trust. So much so that he allows you to see his private appearance and constantly frequents your home.”
“Like I said, what are you trying to say?”
“I have no qualms about homosexuality. But you will have to hide it completely from the public. I believe it would be in Kunieda-san’s best interest too? He would face a level of scrutiny different from an ordinary citizen.”
“And if I refuse? Will you leak something about him in another paper again? You probably already have pictures of him.”
“I leave it to your imagination.”
“Fuck you.” Ushio was so angry, he was about to grind his teeth into dust. “He has nothing to do with this.”
“Now that is a heartless way to describe your relationship with him. He is your romantic partner, is he not? Could it be that you have not yet disclosed your heritage to him? That is not a good thing to do. Humans cannot run from where they were born and raised. No one can sever their shadow from their body after all.”
“Shut up.” Ushio clenched his fists and glared at the man who was once almost like family to him. “I’ll kill you if you get him involved in this.”
He was serious. However, it was returned equally without any hesitation, “Please go ahead.”
“If I have to die for Wakamiya Homare, then I will do so. But is that what your boyfriend really wants from you? Fine, you can kill me to keep my mouth shut, but you won’t be able to hide the story of a politician’s son killing the secretary. Your father’s reputation will be ruined, and maybe that will satisfy you, but what about Kunieda-san? Would he not do everything in his power to find out what happened? And when he finds out, he does not seem like the type of person who can pretend like nothing happened. Am I wrong?”
“…What the hell do you know about him?”
“I may not know anything about Kunieda-san, but I know you very well, Ushio-san. Someone who you treasure so much could never be a bad person.”
Saijou’s voice softened. He always played dirty like this, Ushio thought. Ushio could sacrifice himself if it meant taking down his father; he didn’t care if his reputation was shredded to pieces. But if it meant that blood would splatter onto Kei in the process, that was the one thing that Ushio never wanted as long as he lived. Ushio sat back down and sank into the sofa, weakly breathing through both hands as he covered his face.
“Hey, how’s it going~”
“Hey, thanks for coming.”
It was after the show’s live broadcast, so it was late at night, but Tatsuki had as much energy as ever. Ushio wondered if it was because he was still young. Maybe it was because Ushio was exhausted, but he felt like the luster and attraction that were particular to people who appeared on TV were sucking all the stamina out from him.
“Want a beer?”
“Oh, yes, please! What’s up~? Did Senpai hit his head again?”
“You were just with him.”
“I just felt like drinking with you.”
“What? Seriously? That makes me happy~! Tsuzuki-san, how about we go to Osaka to play some baseball next time?”
“What’s that about?”
“You can pay by the hour to use the Kyocera Dome. It’s really cheap late at night, and if we share the expenses, it won’t be more than 10,000 yen3 per person.”
“Hmmm? So are you going to do the play-by-plays?”
“No way. As the ace, I gotta take the mound.”
Tatsuki looked so serious that Ushio laughed. “Sounds pretty fun,” he commented.
“I know, right?”
“You should invite him too when you go.”
“Huh? You mean Kunieda-san? He won’t come even if you hold his parents hostage.”
“That’s true… So how’s it been lately?”
“What do you mean?”
“Hmm, just in general. Has Kunieda-san been doing well?”
“You should know best. You’ve seen him.”
“Well, I don’t see Kunieda-san when I’m with him.”
“Ahhh, you’re such complicated couple~ But there’s nothing really—”
That was when Tatsuki suddenly blinked.
“Maybe there’s this one thing.”
“Just a feeling that Kunieda-san has changed a little. We were chatting one day, and I said something like, ‘If I get arrested, the show will be done for,’ and he said, ‘I’ll write your resignation letter for you.’”
“Well, before Kunieda-san would probably say, ‘So what if it’s done for.’ Don’t you think? It wouldn’t matter what happened to the show, there are plenty of producers who would want him for their own show.”
“…Oh, I see.”
“Lately, he’ll go to Asou-san to ask him questions, and the way that he treats the staff has changed too.”
“Huh? Is he hurling insults at them?”
“No way~ But maybe you could say it’s in a similar vein? It’s like he doesn’t hesitate to make smaller detailed requests now… For example, I didn’t think he would be the type to ask someone to use paper clips instead of a stapler to keep his script together. I would always ask people to do things for me, but Kunieda-san is probably the type to do everything himself, since he’ll get mad if the person messes up and wastes his time.”
“I get that.”
Kei generally didn’t trust other people. There weren’t many people in the world who worked as hard as Kei or delivered results as well as him, and if there was, it would probably bother him. But Ushio loved this troublesome, closed-off part of him too.
“It’s just a little bit, but he’s starting to outsource things to others more, and it makes the staff happy. Like they’re glad that Kunieda-san can rely on them. It feels like the show is running smoothly, and I just love that.”
“I wonder if it’s because he’s satisfied in his private life~?”
Ushio was glad to hear all of this. Probably because Kei would never realize this himself. And in the future, he would likely use all the experiences where he had worried so much and pushed himself so hard—to learn and grow from it, and Kunieda Kei as an announcer could only become a larger and grander existence across the country.
—If I hadn’t talked to you on the phone, I might have run away.
—It was the first time that I felt so alone. And it was the first time that I felt that I wasn’t so alone after all.
Ushio thought that it was probably no longer the case for Kei.
You can do anything by yourself. And you can do it even if you become alone. If Kunieda Kei decides to become serious, he won’t lose to anyone.
When they said their goodbyes, Tatsuki repeatedly told Ushio, “Seriously, let’s go play some baseball.” Ushio just smiled and waved at him.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.