Story 3: This Little Light of Mine
Author’s Note: The title is taken from the name of a beautiful gospel song. This story is about a rare date Ushio has outside with Kunieda-san. I feel like Ushio knows a lot of people who have all sorts of restrictions that limit what they can do in public.
First published in the Yes, No, or Maybe Half? Drama CD booklet.
Translator Note: This story takes place in the aftermath of Volume 1 of Yes, No, or Maybe Half?
Ushio called to say that he’d be back Saturday night.
“My plane arrives at Haneda after 10:30, so I’ll probably be home a little before midnight.”
“You have terrible timing,” Kei complained. “Why does it have to be this Saturday of all days?”
“That’s the night we have our year-end party for the show.”
From the on-air presenters, the staff members, the network executives, the production company people whom they normally never saw, to even the representatives who managed their taxi contracts, in any case, it was a huge party for everyone who had a hand in making the show a success. His attendance was absolutely required.
“Isn’t it a bit early for that?”
“There are New Year’s parties in January, and we have to work around all the old men in upper management. Their schedules are already full with drinking parties, and we have to make adjustments to accommodate everyone.”
December was always jam packed with end of year and new year specials, making it a very busy time of the year for people, and so an executive decision was made to set the year-end party farther out when schedules were less hectic.
“Anyway, why do we need year-end parties anyway? Are they really that necessary? Why do we need to get together as a group to drink and go through all this hassle to do it?”
Not only did Kei have to pay his share of the party expenses, he had to find a gift to bring for the raffle and prepare himself to spend at least 4 hours at the main venue, wasting his precious Saturday putting on his outside face to mingle with work colleagues. It was pure agony. If only he could order a life-size cutout of himself and make it attend the party for him instead.
“Don’t ask me. So where will it be?”
“Remember the hotpot place we went to with Minagawa? It’s the same building on the first floor.”
“Well, you’ll have people drinking with you, so at least you won’t feel lonely.”
“What do you mean, ‘Huh?’”
“What do you mean by lonely?”
“Just that with people around, you’ll be too distracted to feel lonely while waiting for me.”
“I don’t feel lonely!”
Crap, this is starting to sound like last time. He’ll probably pretend again and give me that “I feel lonely” bit. I should just snort and say “Oh really” back at him. Piece of cake. I can do this.
“Oh, okay then. As long as you’re good.”
I’m ready with my guard up, but what’s with this weak response!?
“Follow the damn script!”
The one in my head.
“Anyway, I’m being serious here. I’m crashing at someone’s house so it’s always pretty lively with people around, but it’s not the same for you. I feel a little bad at how unbalanced it is for you.”
“I don’t need your concern.”
Kei wasn’t a child, and Ushio knew fully well that other than Ushio, people caused him more stress.
“But when I left you alone, you surprised me at how fast you tossed me aside.”
“You can’t use that against me anymore! It’s been long enough!”
“No way, it’s still far too soon… Anyway, I guess this means I’ll get home before you. What time do you think you’ll be done?”
“Dunno, depends on how it goes.”
He’d flee before anyone got him to stay until morning, that was for certain.
“Okay, let’s keep things flexible. Come over if you can, and if you can’t, that’s fine too. Good night.”
Ushio hung up, and Kei looked down at his phone for a while, regretting the way the conversation had went. He flopped face down on the bed he’d been lying in, Ushio’s of course.
How dare he hang up so easily.
His mission seeing Ushio off at the airport had been a big success, and so this time Kei was thinking about going to pick him up. It would be a million times more fun picking up than seeing off. It wasn’t like they had been separated for a year or two, but it would have been nice if Ushio had sounded more disappointed that he was busy that day… And then Kei’s dissatisfaction turned into anxiety. Personality-wise, Ushio probably preferred solitude more than Kei. Maybe what he really wanted was to get away from the people he’d been living with and retreat back to being alone by himself? It wasn’t that Kei doubted Ushio’s feelings, but just like how he kept up an act in front of other people, there could be sides to people deep down inside that were hard to change.
I wonder what he really thinks.
But if he were to ask, Ushio would probably dodge the question (or use his body to distract him).
While Kei was turning back and forth in bed, he noticed the flashing of the incoming message light from the corner of his eye.
Ah, a new text message. Yes, yes, I bet it’s not anything mushy this time. He’ll probably try to pull the rug out from under me, texting something stupid or whatever— Or maybe he anticipated me thinking this, and he’ll change it around on me? Which one is it?
His heart raced as he turned on his phone.
“I forgot to tell you.”
…Starting a message this way means…?
“Saturday, before you go out, put my blankets in the dryer for me.”
“…He just wants to fucking sleep when he gets back!?”
Dammit, I’m gonna put frozen gel packs under your covers and inside your pillows too!
Ahhh, I’m so glad Minagawa’s here.
It was probably the first time Kei ever thought such a thing.
“Attention! Please excuse me for interrupting the lively conversation! But we’ll be starting the gift raffle that everyone’s been waiting for! If anyone still hasn’t submitted their names for the raffle, please bring your business card to the box located at the entrance of the reception hall.”
Kei could shove all the MC duties at him and relax.
But he still had to sit down, pour sake for people, have it poured for him, and dodge the subtle (but not really) flirtatious looks that people gave him. It kept him busy with no time to breathe, but it was better than holding a mic and working his throat all night.
“We have a 10,000 yen1 gift card from the folks at the Weather Center! And the winner is… Director Uemura from the Sports Corner! Congratulations~! Please treat me to something later~!”
“I keep telling Minagawa to fix the sloppy way he drags the last syllable of his sentences, but he never does it.”
See, and he gets criticized by everyone in the room too.
“He does a terrible job at keeping each sound nice and sharp.”
“Let’s give him a break? Today’s a party after all.” Shitara smiled wryly as he tried to steer Asou away to a different topic. “Next year Kunieda will whip him into shape for us, right?”
“I’m not so sure I’d be able to handle such a job.”
Leave me out of this, Kei thought as he gave a vague smile.
“I already have my hands full with all of the work I have.”
“But you always look so unfazed to me?”
“That’s probably not the case.”
The one expressing his doubts with a strange, knowing confidence was none other than Asou.
“I think given Kunieda’s personality type, he’s probably having a harder time than he’s letting on.”
What was that supposed to mean?
There was a bewilderment in his voice that wasn’t just an act. For a brief moment, Asou sent a sharp gaze that seemed to pierce him right where he had let his guard down. But then he softened his face and said, “He’s such a good student, it’s tough finding new assignments for him.”
“Oh, no, you’re too kind…”
Was that innocuous-sounding comment what Asou truly felt? But if Kei tried digging into it too much, it might stir up unnecessary trouble for himself.
“Next we have bath goods from the Wardrobe Department! And our winner is… Oh, it’s Kunieda-san. Kunieda-sa~n!”
“He’s calling for you.”
“Oh, right. I’ll be right back.”
It was half a pain in the ass and half a sense of relief to be called for the raffle. Kei didn’t think they had figured anything out, but as he went to accept his prize, he resolved in his heart to be more careful around these two middle-aged men next year. Accompanying his gift was a card that read, Please enjoy a relaxing bath time experience. Inside the gift bag, there were… bath salts and a bath light? It was gonna be a pain to dispose of these things. Someone who would put in the effort to draw a bath to soak in this fancy stuff probably wasn’t all that tired. Kei looked at his wristwatch. It was just past 10. Ushio would be home soon.
The gift raffle ended, and all the courses plus dessert had been served. Next up was probably a speech (a long one) from the News Director, followed by some closing words from Shitara (probably really only a few words). He would guess it’d take 15 minutes to wrap up here, and then people would move to the next venue… What should he do? It would probably be smart to show his face at the next place before leaving. Anyway, a certain someone was probably asleep at home right now. Kei could go bother him in his sleep in the middle of the night later.
After settling on his plans, his cell phone started vibrating from the inner pocket of his jacket. After checking the caller, Kei excused himself to go to the bathroom and sneaked out of the restaurant.
Was he calling to let him know that he arrived at the airport? It’d be pretty late if he was.
“Oh, hey, perfect timing.”
Ushio was standing right in front of Kei’s eyes. He had his cell phone up against one ear, and it was calling the cell phone vibrating against Kei’s chest.
“…Why are you here?”
“You saw me off last time, and so I thought I’d come get you,” Ushio answered lightly. “Let’s go,” he said and started walking.
Kei followed him without a second thought. He didn’t even think about the next venue for the party, or even his coat hanging up against the restaurant wall. Ushio stopped in front of a car parked at a meter on the side of the road and pulled out a card.
When did he get a car?
When he repeated his question aloud, Ushio replied, “I signed up for a car sharing service. I picked it up from a lot in the neighborhood.”
The card apparently acted as the key for the car. Ushio got into the driver’s seat and unlocked the front passenger door. Kei quickly slid into the seat. Before they were able to take off, this time Kei’s work phone started vibrating.
“Who is it?”
“Minagawa… He’s probably looking for me.”
Kei wondered what he should do, but he really didn’t want to go back to the party.
While Kei hesitated not knowing what to do, Ushio suddenly took the cell phone from his hands and answered it.
“Hello? Yeah, it’s me. Can I ask you for a favor? It seems like Kunieda-san got a little too drunk. He suddenly wasn’t feeling very well, so I decided to take him home. …Yeah. That’s right. Alright, thanks, bye.”
Kei wasn’t able to get a word into the conversation, but somehow everything was resolved without him. He was able to handle everything in such a levelheaded manner, he didn’t need to keep using what Kei did against him anymore.
“He said he’d take care of everything for you. He’ll explain why you left and keep your coat for you until Monday. Anyway, what’s that you’re holding?” Ushio glanced at the paper bag sitting in Kei’s lap.
“I won it in the gift raffle. It’s supposed to be bath goods, like a light and stuff.”
“It’s a terrible prize. I don’t need any of it.”
Now that their problem was resolved, Kei thought that they would return straight to Ushio’s house, but the route seemed to be taking them farther off the direct path home.
“Where are we going?”
“I thought I’d take the opportunity to kidnap Kunieda-san for a while.”
“Wherever you plan to go, I’m not getting out of the car.”
The car stopped at a cluster of warehouses sitting along a canal. At this time of night, there was no sign of people around.
“Nothing, that’s why I picked this place. Kunieda-san gets too nervous when there are people around.”
Ushio unbuckled his seatbelt, reached into the backseats searching for something, and pulled out two stainless steel insulated travel mugs.
“I brought coffee for us.”
Oh, is this a date? But you know, it’s a dreary location full of concrete and stagnant water. And it looks like I might witness the mafia coming to conduct their business here.
But it’s a date. Every time I let my guard down, you come up with something new and surprising.
Kei didn’t speak and just sat next to Ushio sipping his coffee.
“Let me see your bath goods.”
“Don’t open it up.”
“But you’re not gonna use it anyway, right?”
Ushio carefully unwrapped the box that was in the bag, and inside there was a small light about 10 cm2 in diameter.
“Oh, there are already batteries inside.”
There was only a small on-off switch, and there was no need to read the instructions. Ushio switched it on, and the narrow car interior was suddenly filled with distorted dots of light.
“This is nice.”
Shutting off the interior car light, the front windshield of the car turned completely dark, and tiny spots of light floated through the darkness, slowly rotating like they were wandering through the night. Whether they had trapped the light inside, or they were trapped inside the light, he couldn’t say. Everything overlapped and blurred together.
Ushio let the light roll onto the floor of the car and twisted his body to drape over the front passenger seat.
Just on the verge of kissing, a small light shined on his lips like a beacon.
I’m home, he said, the light passing over Ushio’s face; Welcome home, he said, the light passing over Kei’s face. It wasn’t very bright, but it made Kei scrunch up his eyes. Ushio was finally home.
And later when they returned to the house together, there were warm, fluffy blankets waiting for them.