Story 1: JUST LIKE HONEY
Author’s Note: This takes place right after the YesNo titled story, when Kei is still hesitating over lots of things between him and Ushio. And Ushio only becomes happier the more troublesome Kei is to handle. I fondly remember how happy I was at how incredibly cool Ushio looks on the cover.
Illustrator’s Note: I personally really like covers featuring a single character, and I got really excited to make a pin-up type cover of Tsuzuki-san… But it looks like I made it so similar to a photobook cover that it even captures the feeling where it’s trying hard not to be one…? I made the design so that it looks like packaging for honey.
First published in 2015 in the doujinshi JUST LIKE HONEY.
Translator Note: This story takes place in the immediate aftermath of Volume 1 Chapter 8 of Yes, No, or Maybe Half? Ichiho-sensei includes the lyrics of “Hachimitsu” by Spitz (Honey) in the doujinshi version as inspiration for the story.
The morning after was okay. As long as he hadn’t blacked out drunk or anything, it felt like any normal sequence of events. It was just that after leaving the house, getting ready for work, and spending the rest of his day as usual, he wondered what would happen afterwards.
He wasn’t interested in the minutiae per se. Everything felt like a reset, and he wondered, when he rebooted, would his adventure continue from where he had left off?
“Good night. I’ll be heading off.”
Kei left the staff room to the chorus of Good work tonight! behind him. After the elevator doors closed with no one else around, he could finally release the facial muscles he had used to maintain his smile.
Following the premiere special, their show had proceeded under the normal program format that the producers had developed. Today was in a way their first day of the show, and in the review meeting, they had discussed things like camerawork and operations at the switchboard and identified areas for improvement such as equipment changeovers and positioning during the commercials. In no time, the clock had hit 2 am. Strictly speaking, Kei was a presenter, and the stafflings could hold these discussions without him, but it was an incredibly critical time with the startup of a newly revamped show. Anything he did would probably leave a lasting impression on the staff, and so with petty motivations in mind, Kei had decided he would show some solidarity and build up his brownie points. Plus, the network would pick up his taxi fare at this time of night.
When he climbed into the taxi, he hesitated a little as he tried to give his destination.
Which place should he give? —Wait, there was only one place that was his home, of course. But should he take yesterday’s route or not?
Yesterday he had a clear purpose for seeing Ushio at his house. But did he have any purposes to see him from now on? He no longer needed to help Ushio using his fake identity, and when he had left in the morning, Ushio didn’t tell him to come over again, but he didn’t say not to come over either. Uhh, what was he supposed to do in this situation?
Kei ratcheted his brain cells up to full operation, more than he would use for work during a broadcast. It took just one second to come to a conclusion: shelve it. And so he promptly gave the driver the address to his apartment building. They lived in the same neighborhood anyway.
Kei could go home, take a bath, examine the recording of the show, check the other news shows… And if he still wasn’t sleepy, he could head over there as part of his walk. In the meantime, Ushio might try to text or call him.
Wait, of course he’ll text or call. Wait, he better do it, dammit.
…He would, right? He better would. Ugh, now my grammar is messed up from using my head too much.
Kei turned off the TV. And evidently the cell phone that he kept next to him had remained dark the entire time.
Even though it was just yesterday. No, wait, was it because it was just yesterday that he wasn’t calling? Up until Kei had arrived home, he had been full of energy to take action. He had settled into his regular routine and worked through his tasks, but by the end, he had lost all of his willpower. He was tired, sleepy, and hungry, and now it was already 5 am. At this hour, it was probably more efficient to stay up to check the morning news and papers before going to bed. If he headed into work at 3 o’clock, he would be lucky to get 5 hours of sleep.
Kei sprawled out on the floor. He stared at the silent cell phone next to him and sighed.
I’m a very busy person, okay? I’m a popular figure nationwide with incredibly huge responsibilities, and I don’t have time to think about you all the time. So give me a damn call or a text. Well, maybe you’re waiting on your end too, and I suppose you could be busy with work. I’ll overlook it for just one more day.
Kei settled for grumbling to himself as he magnanimously granted him some mercy and fired up his work engine once again.
Today he would hear from him, he was sure of it.
“All right! Looks like we were able to wrap up our first week without any huge mishaps. We did have some small mistakes here and there, but generally, I think we worked hard to pull together a great start for our show. It’s all thanks to everyone here—from the staff to the presenters. Make sure you rest well over the weekend, and we’ll work hard again next week. Good work, everyone!”
“Thank you! Good work!”
Did a week really just pass? Without any contact from him?
In his mind under the bright studio lights, his head slumped over so much it could probably snap.
What the hell? Maybe it was like that song? Sunday he’d go to the market, Monday he’d draw a bath, Tuesday he’d take the bath—every day he’d have a different task, all tyurya tyurya?1
Ugh, forget it. I can’t come up with a rant that can make me satisfied.
Seriously, do you really think I’m going to contact you? Don’t make me laugh. You can say: Oh, my parents aren’t home today. Or oh, I rented a really funny movie. Or oh, I just got some great wine. Or I made too much curry. Or I caught a giant stag beetle. Or I’m serving chilled noodles. I don’t care what stupid excuse you come up with, just call me. I won’t even guilt trip you about it. I wanna make a newsflash—Tokyo man arrested on the scene under charges of abandonment and negligence.
Kei left the studio and waited for the elevator. A few familiar faces headed in his direction, chatting happily as a group. It was the staff from the evening news. It looked like maybe they were having a party in a conference room somewhere, because they were carrying plastic bags from the convenience store with beer and paper bags with delivery.
“Oh, Kunieda-san. It’s good to see you!”
“I watch you on the nightly news. The show is really great.”
It was best to let others chat during small talk (it was easier that way), and so Kei gently offered up some interest and asked, “Are you having a party here?”
“Oh, no, not here. We’re about to drive over to Tsuzuki-san’s place.”
Kei almost responded with an outraged What!? but he somehow stopped himself in time. Why did they bring up that name?
“We were saying that we should have a party to celebrate the wrap up of the filming, but we haven’t been able to make time for it.”
“And there’s lots of stuff we want to talk to him about.”
“Oh, Kunieda-san, would you like to join us?”
“Unfortunately, I still have a meeting after this.”
“I see. Oh, but we still have the welcome and farewell party for the evening news this month, so we’ll see you there!”
“Yes, I look forward to it.”
Kei watched as the elevator went down, and then he entered the elevator going up. He typically refrained from using his normal voice inside the network, but he couldn’t hold himself back this time. He could feel his eyebrows knitting together.
“…What the fucking hell!?”
Why the hell did he have a reservation with those worthless idiots? And they had to say, “Kunieda-san, would you like to join us too?” Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi! Am I fucking afterthought? An extra add-on? So they have lots of things to talk about? I’m the one with— No, wait, I don’t really. Nothing worth mentioning anyway. Anyway, you seem to have plenty of free time. What’s the big idea, huh? You have time to drink with them, but you ignore me?
Kei fumed so hard that the elevator could have gone over the weight limit.
But once the elevator reached his floor, he immediately changed gears and walked towards the staff room with a quiet elegance.
It was a two-hour meeting summarizing the week, analyzing the viewership numbers, and discussing the plans for next week’s broadcasts. By the time it was over, Kei didn’t care about anything anymore and went home. He wasn’t going to contact him no matter what…but as soon as he made his resolution, his cell phone rang.
What the hell. Is he too shy to express his damn feelings?
Kei answered the call just before it went to voicemail.
“What are you bothering me for?”
“Hmm, you’re in a bad mood.” Ushio’s voice was completely normal. “I have a ton of leftovers here. Want to come over and help finish it?”
“Those are totally leftovers from your party!!”
“Huh? How did you know that?”
“I’m not a damn trash disposal for your leftovers!”
“No, no, I’ve separated out the parts that no one touched.”
Was that the problem here? Kei was pissed off as hell, but he did say he would forgive him for any excuse. Plus, he was hungry… Those were the excuses that he made to himself. Then he took a quick shower, got dressed in his normal clothes, and headed out.
Was it okay to enter the house with his spare key? Yes, he knew it was strange to be hesitating to use it after all this time.
I mean, we did it. But just because we did it, does it necessarily give me free rein over things? Like calling without a reason? Or going over without a reason?
At the very least, if anyone did that to Kei, he would hate it.
But he’s different from me and different from the other partners I had (the very few for a brief period of time)…
The more he thought about it, the less he understood. He wondered if they had truly become closer that night they had spent together.
He stood there in front of the door with the spare key in his hand. That was when his cell phone rang again.
“Nothing, just that you’re not here yet. Oh? Did you arrive already?”
Maybe he had heard Kei’s voice because the door opened from the inside. In an instant, Kei could detect the smell of Ushio’s house. He could only describe the smell as woody and the hint of something like paint and basically Ushio’s house. It was something he had noticed when they slept together.
“Were you thinking about a gift to bring me?”
“In your dreams.”
For the time being, it was a relief that they could hold their conversations as usual.
“…What happened to everyone?”
There were no extra shoes in the entryway, but Kei decided to check with him anyway.
“They’re upstairs sleeping.”
“Obviously, I’m joking. Everyone left already.”
Ushio grabbed Kei’s hand as he made an about-face and towed him up the stairs with him. Kei’s fingers jerked in reflex, and Ushio tightened his grip even more.
But when they reached the second floor, Ushio casually let go of his hand and started rummaging through the refrigerator as he called out, “Is beer okay?”
What the hell, dammit, Kei cursed at both Ushio and the racing of his heart.
Kei sat down in front of a neat plate of hor d’oeuvres, and he couldn’t tell that they were even leftovers. Ushio raised the cans of beer as he walked over.
“What do you mean ‘what?’ Don’t you know what a toast is?”
“For the end of the week or something. Anything really. We’re drinking here together after all.”
If you care enough to share a toast, then don’t leave me alone for a damn week! The words were on the tip of his tongue, but he wouldn’t say it. He couldn’t say it. He didn’t have the personality that would allow him to openly say, Pay attention to me.
“Here’s to the end of the week.”
Ushio bumped his can against Kei’s motionless one and started to drink.
“I watched the show all week. So you’re not going to have another panel discussion?”
“Hell no. It’s terrible for my heart.”
“I think you should hold them every spring and fall. Maybe I should suggest it to Shitara-san.”
“God, he would probably consider it too, so don’t you dare say anything.”
“But you’ll do it if that’s what you have to do.”
“Of course, dammit.”
“Just watching you over the week, you can handle everything so smoothly. I feel like I worried about you over nothing your first day.”
“Huh!? You gotta be kidding me. Do you know what I…”
“Well, as long as you feel grateful to me, that’s all I need.”
“I see, I see. Want some pizza? I can heat it up for you in the frying pan.”
Kei was grateful to Ushio. Of course he was. But the nuance was more that if he had to call it “grateful” then sure, but it was a bit different from needing to say thank you out loud… Because Ushio didn’t think that Kei needed to thank him. For some reason, Kei knew that clearly and instinctively. However, he wondered if it was really okay to always give these types of responses. Kei had no experience acting true to himself in front of anyone but his parents. But his parents were his parents, and they had long abandoned all sorts of thoughts and expectations out of him, but Ushio was a complete stranger.
But there had been a great number of times when Ushio would anticipate Kei’s answer and tease him back. And he had said that he wanted Kei to stay the way that he was—that he loved both sides of him.
He did say that right? It wasn’t all a dream? Or his imagination?
Kei chugged his beer and stared at Ushio’s back. There was no worry that Ushio would read his gaze and his expression, and he could relax like this. He wished he could just sit here staring at him without bothering about what would happen next. But Ushio soon turned off the stove and brought a plate with him to the table. Kei saw his face, and he figured that everything was fine as they were. It was okay to be as they were.
…This was worse for his heart than appearing on TV.
“Huh? Did you already finish this?” Ushio shook Kei’s can of beer. “You’re really chugging it. This is half a liter, you know?”
“Well, I guess it’s fine. It’s the weekend.”
Ushio brought over a fresh, damp can and pressed it to Kei’s cheek.
“You’re all red.”
“Because I’m drinking.”
“Yeah?” Ushio laughed. “Don’t use my back as a side dish for your drinking.”
Kei couldn’t help but become indignant even though it was a clear message that Ushio had guessed right.
“—Oh. Sorry, it’s a work call. Feel free to keep drinking.”
Ushio brought his ringing cell phone and his can of beer with him downstairs. Kei decided to turn on the TV. After flipping through a few channels, he settled on a late-night variety show. He could hear Ushio’s voice in between the orchestrated cheers from the show. Things like Piece of cake or I’d totally go for it. His speech was incredibly casual for a work call. And he sounded like he was enjoying himself—laughing and interjecting Seriously? over the phone. Kei wasn’t very happy about it. Especially since he came all the way here to see him. But the crispy pizza and chilled beer tasted far better when he wasn’t eating it and drinking it by himself.
Kei downed his second beer just as quickly as the first. When it was empty, he slumped his head down with one cheek against the table.
Hurry up and come back, stupid.
“Hey, it’s already past noon.”
Ushio shook Kei’s shoulder, and Kei blearily opened his eyes to see Ushio looking down at him.
“You can stay and sleep if you don’t have any plans, but I have to head out of here for work.”
When Ushio asked, “What will you do?” Kei thought a little with his brain that wasn’t functioning just yet and answered, “Tonight I have a party for new hires at the announcer department.” So, uhh, he had come over to Ushio’s house last night after work—apparently he had fallen asleep and Ushio had carried him to bed. He did sleep incredibly well though. The staff and technical team had been on pins and needles with the new show not knowing what to expect from it. The jittery atmosphere naturally whittled down his own HP and MP, which stressed and wore him out. But now he felt completely refreshed, as if he had stayed at an inn that fully restored his points like an RPG. But he still had a work party to attend later.
“So I’m gonna go home.”
“Okay. Here, take this with you.”
Ushio handed him a plastic bag from a convenience store. Kei looked inside to find three rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed.
“I was going to leave these here so you can have them for lunch if you were going to sleep. But you don’t have much time, right? You should eat these at home.”
Are you my mom? Actually, he’s nicer than my mom.
Kei nodded his head silently. He remembered that Ushio had once yelled at him that people who couldn’t say “thank you” or “sorry” were worthless, but Ushio didn’t seem all that bothered about it in practice. Regardless what Kei did or didn’t do, Ushio took everything into stride just far too smoothly, and Kei couldn’t figure out what attitude to take with him. Kei could relax more if Ushio could be more forthcoming about that night and just say that he was the mood to be generous towards Kei at the time…
No, wait, that just pisses me off. I don’t want that.
Ushio didn’t seem like he put up a front for people, but maybe the reason Kei couldn’t get a read on Ushio’s feelings was because of his own twisted personality.
There was a folded-up blanket resting on the downstairs sofa. It hadn’t been there when Kei first came in.
“…Did you sleep down here?”
“Because someone had the bed all to himself.”
That was true, but it wasn’t like they couldn’t sleep next to each other on the same bed. It didn’t bother Kei anyway… Well, he hated cramped spaces, but they had already slept together in both senses of the expression…
But if he were to put his hesitation into words, it would somehow transform him.
“I don’t sleep that terribly.”
“No, no.” Ushio shook his head. “I would call it very Cirque du Soleil.”
“Well, anyway. For now, I’ll say this.” Ushio suddenly clapped his hands in a pose at Kei. “Thanks for the meal.”
“Well, I didn’t think that you wouldn’t wake up~”
“Oi, what the hell did you do!?”
“I only marked you a little.”
Kei looked down at his body to check himself in a panic, but he was fully dressed and couldn’t see anything. Wha? Where the heck was he supposed to check?
“Kidding, kidding. Obviously, I’m just joking.”
“For real, for real.”
“Don’t look away when you say that!”
“Anyway, all jokes aside, I’m going to be out of the house a lot more for a while.”
Don’t suddenly switch over to such a serious face. You have more talent at this than I do.
“I’ll be gone on the weekends pretty much, and weekdays I’ll be out filming from night until morning. But you can still come over if you want.”
In other words, Ushio’s schedule during the week would be the complete reverse of Kei’s. For the time being, Kei’s weekends were also fully packed with parties and dinners for work—just like today. He had the welcome and goodbye parties for each of his shows, the ones for the news department, the ones for the news center highlights on the daytime talk shows, a get-together for cohorts that joined the same year of his hire, and an appreciation banquet with outside presenters and previous producers. They were a pain in the neck to accept, and even though it was part of his job, he thought that the concept of “drinkommunication” was pure bullshit and he wanted to hang the damn idiot who came up with it from a radio tower.
Kei answered brusquely, “If I feel like it,” and went home. He took a bath before heading out again. He checked his body just to be sure, but there didn’t seem to be anything unusual (like kiss marks and stuff). He sunk into the bathtub until the water reached his chin, and he didn’t know if the sigh he released was one of relief or not.
Kei had never really liked sex that much. Why should he have to put on an act even after he got naked? He realized that it was his own decision to do so, but it was ridiculous and such a big hassle. It was so much easier to stay home and get off on his own. He never really fantasized about things like groping breasts and whatnot, and so he never doubted his belief that nothing beat flying solo when it was cheap, fast, and easy.
But what he had experienced with Ushio.
That heat, that desire, that intensity. His voice, his breaths, his weight, the feeling of the sheets against his skin. It was the first time Kei had ever had that done to him, but it wasn’t just simply the position that blew his mind, everything about it did, and he attained an understanding that went beyond reasoning.
So this is what sex is all about. I see.
What about you?
When you said that you could never do this with anyone else, were you serious?
Crap, he remembered too many things, and it made the heat go to his head. Kei got out of the water and as he briskly dried his skin off with a towel (apparently Ushio hadn’t done anything like he said), he repeated over and over in his head, I’m not disappointed. I’m not. Definitely not.
Although Kei had said, If I feel like it, the week flew by as he was swamped to his neck in work. His work required him to throw away and update the most important news stories in his head every day, and it felt like time had sped by at a bizarre speed. Like it might have accelerated his aging.
It didn’t have anything to do with his ability to go over or not, but Ushio had said that he wouldn’t really be around. And when he had said, You can still come over if you want, he meant it would be no trouble if Kei came over or not. Like the chance of precipitation was 50% and Kei should decide if he wanted to bring an umbrella with him.
Kei didn’t need an excuse, even a lie would be fine… That he wanted Kei to come over. That he wanted to see Kei, even for a brief visit.
Kei knew that he only needed to say I wanted to come over so I did or I wanted to see you even for a little while, and that would solve his problem. And he should have been the type of person who could say those words all cool and composed. For any kind of human relationship, he only needed to choose the right course of action that would please the person he was dealing with, and it would all go smoothly.
But he couldn’t do it when it came to Ushio. It wasn’t that Kei wanted to treat him coldly or to make him feel bad, but at any rate, he couldn’t do what he couldn’t do. Or rather, maybe he was too inexperienced when it came to communicating with others without any pretense and he just didn’t know how to do it.
Even though he could always do everything perfectly up until now.
Saturday was Saturday, and he wanted a damn shift schedule for all the parties he had. After attending parties all day and all night, he returned home irritated and exhausted and slept well past noon on Sunday. He had a welcome-farewell party for the evening news later that day too. Although there would be a great deal of attention paid to the staff changes and transfers for the show, it was Kei’s sendoff that was the main highlight of the party, which meant that he would have flash his smile to his surroundings even more than usual and suffer through all the alcohol that he had to pour for people and accept in return. The only saving grace was that he could make the excuse, I have work tomorrow, and leave in the middle of the afterparty.
In order to reduce his work burden on Monday even a bit, he threw himself into his morning paper reading more intently than usual. It was impossible to predict when or what news could happen, but he still had to put in all this work.
The bell on his intercom rang, but he ignored it because he let his packages get dropped in the delivery locker. When he finished his reading, he went down to get his package and saw a box from his parents. He thought that it was pretty heavy and found 5 to 6 glass jars inside. They were all filled to the brim with honey-soaked kumquats, and Kei immediately called his mother and complained, “This is way too much.”
“Your father won a huge basket of kumquats as a prize in a golf competition. It’s supposed to be good for your throat, so make sure you eat lots of it.”
“Uh, I can’t eat all of this. It’s too much.”
“Why don’t you share some of it with your colleagues at work or with friends? Oh, wait, you don’t have any. Sorry about that.”
“Leave me alone!”
I do have someone, but he’s not a friend. Yeah, I could give him some.
He was sent all these jars that he didn’t ask for and couldn’t finish himself, so he could just use the time-old tradition of sharing it with others. Plus, he could give something back for the rice balls that he got earlier.
Kunieda Kei obtained an excuse! And cue the sound effects.
Even if Ushio wasn’t home, Kei could leave the jars in his refrigerator and Ushio would probably call later to say something about it. He decided to drop off the gift before heading to the party and went to get ready all excited. Two jars should be good.
He carried his perfect excuse over to Ushio’s house, and this time he had no reservations about using his spare key. He didn’t see the owner of the house, but his shoes were there.
Then he heard a voice from upstairs.
“I know right? I’m really glad then.”
Kei softly walked over to the bottom of the stairs to listen closer, and it was unmistakably Ushio’s voice. It seemed like he was talking to someone on the phone again.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it… Oh? What?”
“No way, you gotta go with the OL.”
OL? Office lady? So he’s not talking about work? He does sound a little too happy.
“I love OLs. Like really really love them.”
…Hnnn? He’s talking about himself?
“Hmmm, they’re just a simple preference. I can’t help but get handsy. I do sometimes regret afterwards though.”
The paper gift bag hanging in his hand suddenly felt ten times heavier, and Kei staggered a little.
Wonderful, so you like OLs. I never knew that. Would you like to go on a singles meetup? You can have your choice of receptionists, HR representatives, accountants, business managers, compliance officers, staff attorneys, and administrative assistants.
Kei tottered back over to the front door, and as he was putting his shoes on, there were footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Huh? When did you get—”
The mellow-sounding voice was like a finger pulling the trigger, and Kei thought that his head exploded. He gripped a jar his hand, turned around, and chucked it at Ushio. Then the other.
The jars were heavy and weren’t moving very fast. Ushio caught one in each hand, but everything had happened so suddenly, he was completely taken aback.
“That’s dangerous. What’s wrong?”
“Drop dead!!” Kei yelled. “What do you mean you love OLs!? You didn’t have to lay your fucking hands on me if you love them so much!! Damn liar, sweet-talking me with that adding it up makes it double bullshit!!”
Kei ran out of the house, grabbed a taxi, and gave the address to the restaurant for the party. His voice was calm with no signs of trembling. Pretty damn impressive, he sneered at his perfectly trained mask.
So I’m just going to the party like this. I should just pretend to be sick and skip it. That my stomach hurts or I have a headache.
Or that his chest was in pain.
He didn’t even say anything about dating, his aching heart whispered. They had done it once—so he thought it wasn’t all that good and that was enough for him, huh? Even though he had said he was in love with Kei and had fallen for him, maybe he was just used to saying it to pretty much anyone. Maybe the phone conversation from the other time wasn’t related to work either.
Piece of cake? I’d totally go for it? …Who were you talking about?
He wasn’t that type of guy. He definitely wasn’t that type of guy. But everyone had inner thoughts and feelings that they would never show to others. Kei couldn’t tell if he brought any level of objectivity to his thoughts or if he just wanted to believe in Ushio and tried to steer his thoughts to where he wanted them. After all, Kei knew nothing about Ushio. There was nothing wrong with dipping a toe in and deciding afterwards that it wasn’t what you had imagined. Speak nothing of marriage, they hadn’t even agreed to date each other.
His thoughts and emotions felt like they had been tossed inside a washing machine, spinning around in his head until he almost became carsick.
This is a damn pain in the ass.
That was the only thought that Kei was certain about. Here he was, the only one running in circles, tying himself into knots over him. If he had chosen to stay by himself from the beginning, he wouldn’t have wasted his time over this.
But I wouldn’t have been able to stand in the studio by myself. I couldn’t have done it without you.
What about you?
Although Kei was in no mood to act as the guest of honor at the banquet, ironically enough, the party was the perfect place to escape from his thoughts. He was pretty sure that he had said “Thank you. I really enjoyed working together” about a hundred times now. And of course, he remembered to give a personalized comment every time such as “Thank you for always preparing the newspapers for me” or “You always made the cue cards easy to read.”
As he engaged a group of producers in some meaningless conversation, the restaurant lights dimmed and the room darkened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, sorry to interrupt the lively chatter. Announcer Kunieda, who was with our show for two years now, has recently started a new role at another show. We would like to thank him for all of his contributions and have prepared a brief video of his achievements during his time with us. Let’s take a look at the video!”
“Oh, hey, it’s the centerpiece for tonight. Kunieda, you should sit down to watch it.”
“Thank you. Oh, may I please get a copy of the DVD later?”
“I’m sure an AD has it ready for you.”
It was probably footage from when Kei first started on the show. It wasn’t like they could compile a blooper reel because he never made mistakes, so Kei expected it to be a dull and boring video. But he made a face like he was looking forward to it.
Sure enough, in lieu of a screen, a clip of Kei’s first broadcast starting playing on the restaurant wall. Cheers of “So young!” filled the room.
Shut up, I’m still young.
Short clips played of him covering soft news stories and trying out popular new trends, summarizing his time on the show.
See. What did I say? Even if I get the DVD, there’s no way I’ll ever watch it.
Eventually the video cut to a new scene, and suddenly a chalkboard appeared—a common one that could be found in any school classroom.
What the hell is this?
White chalk lines extended on the chalkboard. Vertical lines, horizontal lines—and all of a sudden they formed a drawing of a television set in the center of the chalkboard. A retro-looking one with a cathode ray tube. Real news footage of Kei played in quick succession on the screen portion of the TV. Cherry blossoms in pink chalk bloomed one after the other around the TV, but then before his very eyes, they formed a drawing of a summer sky over the ocean. The TV looked almost like a doodle, but in contrast, the background had a depth of tone and detail. The difference made the entire composition stand out and come to life.
“This was shot one by one, adding to the drawing, wasn’t it?”
“It must have taken a ton of work. Did the ADs make this?”
“No way. They must have contracted it out somewhere.”
Before Kei knew it, he had stood up out of his seat. The scene changed to the colored leaves of fall, to a snowy landscape of winter, and finally back to spring again.
“Thank you very much for the past two years. I will continue to dedicate myself to my work as an announcer.”
When the video showed Kei’s farewell from his last broadcast, a message appeared on the chalkboard in large hand lettering: Thank you for the great work. Kei looked around the circle of people applauding him, surveying the scene—searching for him.
The applause in the restaurant was very much like the applause he had received after the premiere of the nightly news, and he knew that this had to be an indirect present from Ushio who wasn’t here at the party.
“And now Kunieda-san will offer a few words to everyone in attendance.”
“Kunieda-san, please give us a few words,” an AD who came to attend him said in a low voice.
“The video just now…”
“Oh, Tsuzuki-san was the one who made it. Could you tell that it was him?”
Of course he could tell.
“We asked him if he had any ideas to surprise you for your farewell party, and he offered to make something for you. He said he wanted a normal looking chalkboard for the video, so we helped secure an empty classroom for him to use. The school was still in session during the day, so he was only allowed to film there from night until morning. He also handled all the editing. We gave him all the footage, and he had free rein over the entire video. I never imagined he would make something like that. I was really surprised.”
“Yes, I am too.”
Kei didn’t want to describe what he saw with a cheap-sounding word like “surprise,” but he didn’t know of any word that could fully encompass everything.
When I’m with you, there is so much I don’t know or understand.
Kei was given the microphone, and he took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry, I’m a little overwhelmed at the moment, and I can’t quite find the words that I wish to say…”
No one in the room knew this, but it was a very rare moment where Kei truly expressed his feelings in front of others.
Kei had left his private cell phone at home, so he didn’t know if Ushio had tried to contact him or not. But it didn’t cross his mind to stop at home first to check it.
He went to Ushio’s house. He headed upstairs after unlocking the door and found Ushio eating kumquats with a toothpick.
“These are really good. Where did you get them?”
“From my mom.”
“Oh, tell her thanks.”
Ushio closed the lid on the jar and turned to Kei. “So. Do you have any questions for me?”
“What do you mean by OL?”
“Overlap,” Ushio answered easily. It was a technical editing term that Kei knew—a dissolve that overlapped two shots. A cross fade. It didn’t refer to what he preferred in his partners. Kei turned red in an instant and stood as stiff as a board.
“You’re an idiot.” Ushio burst into laughter. “I was wondering what kind of misunderstanding you had…”
“When you say OL, everyone thinks of Marunouchi, okay!?2 There’s not even that big a difference between OL and overlap! What’s the point of abbreviating it!? Just say it normally!!”
“I didn’t even think of women at all. I was wondering what had you so enraged, and I couldn’t figure it out. Well, I now see how easy it is to misunderstand the expression. That’s just too funny.”
“It’s not funny…”
Kei sat down on the bed, completely drained of strength, and Ushio came over to sit next to him.
“Were you worried?”
“Did it really shock you?”
“I told you to shut up!”
So you apologize just like that? Even though you’re totally ridiculing me while you’re at it. But you know, I was prepared to be yelled at.
Ushio ruffled Kei’s hair. When Ushio’s fingertips brushed his forehead, that was when Kei first noticed that Ushio’s skin there was incredibly worn and rough.
“Oi, what’s this…?”
“Oh, it’s because I worked directly with chalk,” Ushio answered like it was no big deal. “I tried wearing vinyl gloves first, but my fingers just didn’t feel right in them. And they got all clammy.”
“Make sure you claim an extra fee for the trouble when you invoice them.”
Why can I only make stupid comments like this?
“The kumquats were really good, so that’s enough for me.”
“I’m being serious here.”
“I’m the one who asked them to let me do it, and I’m supposed to charge them for it? That’s a novel way to do business.” Ushio chuckled wryly.
“You’re a professional. Don’t undersell yourself.”
“It’s fine. I wanted to do it, and they let me make whatever I wanted. I’m happy enough with that.”
“It’s not fine!”
It wasn’t worth the calories to play a video like that in front of a small company party that didn’t even have a hundred people in attendance. Why would he put in all that work for that? Kei frowned unhappily and didn’t say a word.
“Are you mad? Why?”
“I’m not mad.”
But maybe he was mad. It was a feeling similar to irritation, like something was stuck in his throat and he needed to get it out.
Ushio lightly pinched Kei’s cheek with fingers that looked badly sunburned.
“You always amaze me when I watch you. I mean, you decide you’re going to work hard, and you do it. You’re so incredibly cool. Even though our jobs are completely different, I don’t want to back down either. And so I wanted to make something. Something that would surprise you and make you happy. It was all for my own self-satisfaction, so that’s why it’s fine.”
Kei whispered, “When I’m with you, I find myself not liking who I am.”
“Because I start thinking that I’m a liar, and a coward, and a stupid, little child.”
“You’re all those things. You never realized that until now?”
“Well, excuuuse me!”
“So what? It’s fine.”
This time Ushio caressed Kei’s cheek. The skin was rough and dry, but Kei didn’t hate it at all.
“I’ll love you two times, even ten times more to compensate.”
Kei couldn’t hold himself back and clapped Ushio’s face between both his hands.
“Hey, that hurt.”
“Goddammit! That’s the part of you that—!! Argh, that’s the part of you that—!!”
Somehow you’re the only one I can’t say any of these words to, not even if I spend a hundred years trying. And you have absolutely no trouble saying them to me.
“What? That you love?”
Kei was desperately trying to deny it, but Ushio just smiled back all calm and unconcerned. Ushio clamped his hands over Kei’s, brought his face up to his, and captured his lips. It tasted of honey and kumquats.
It was like a lock had come undone inside him, and Kei could finally spill a few honest words.
“You need your hands to do your work, right? Don’t treat them so roughly…”
“Okay, I’ll be more careful.”
Kei closed his eyes. Ushio pressed two, three more kisses and smoothly toppled Kei down on the bed.
From the flow of their actions, Kei had no doubt of the things to come, but Ushio simply lay there on top of Kei, all strength drained from his limbs, and didn’t move.
“…Oi, you’re heavy.”
“…I can’t do this…”
“What the hell do you mean!?”
“No, stupid, I’m about to fall asleep.”
Ushio barely managed to slide his body over next to Kei’s and buried his face in a pillow.
“I’ve been pressed like crazy, finishing the filming and editing… I can’t stay awake any longer…”
“…You’re an idiot.”
“Shut up. If I had known it would be like this, I should have just done it when you got wasted that night. You had looked tired, but here I am, missing out for showing some kindness…”
Ushio left a few deeply frustrated complaints, and then his breathing gently evened out. Kei saw that Ushio had dropped off into a deep sleep. He sat back up and said one more time for good measure, “You’re really an idiot.” Ushio just slept. He made no reaction when Kei picked up his hand, and so Kei placed a kiss on his fingers like a prince.
Kei could see Ushio smirking in the morning and asking, Did you do something? He planned to answer back, Yeah, stupid.
It would be nice if his voice could melt into Ushio’s dreams.
Good night. Thank you.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- This is a Russian folk song popularized in Japan called “One Week.” Apparently, it’s not very famous in Russia, but it’s incredibly famous in Japan. Tyurya tyurya could possibly be similar to tralala tralala, but I also saw that tyurya is a traditional bread soup?
- Marunouchi is the biggest office district in Tokyo.