Chapter 3: Love Rivals and Irises (3)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Honestly speaking, Shin was really nervous about going out for drinks with Tatsuki’s friends. But once he met them, everyone was really nice. Even when they talked about old times that Shin didn’t know about, they would make sure to explain things for him. When the conversation turned to old classmates who had gotten married or who had quit their jobs, Shin unexpectedly spoke up.
“Do ya know Megumi Kotarou? He was recently hired at Asahi TV.”
The table erupted at the news, more excited than he had expected.
“He’s still alive!”
“Are you serious?”
“Was he chasing after Tatsuki!?”
“I dun know, I ain’t heard anythin’ ’bout that…”
Oh, he did mention somethin’ ’bout an aspiration. But if Minagawa was his target, wouldna he apply as an announcer?
“Tatsuki, call him over.”
While Tatsuki messaged Kotarou over LINE, Shin asked the others what they knew.
“Just what happened between Minagawa an’ Megumi?”
“Hmm… I wouldn’t say that anything happened.”
“It’s just Kota getting competitive on his own.”
“Tatsuki, did you steal a girl from him or something?”
“What? I never did anything like that. …Oh, he replied. He said, ‘Don’t interrupt me during work, idiot!’ and sent like 10 stickers dissing me.”
“But he replied to you immediately, huh?”
“Kota never changes.”
“Minagawa, what did ya do to Megumi?” Shin asked.
If their problems had stemmed from past love troubles, Shin honestly didn’t want to hear about it, which was why he hadn’t asked Tatsuki about it directly. But it didn’t seem to be the case, so Shin felt okay about asking him now.
“I seriously have no idea. Before I knew it, he had turned all hostile on me. Oh, if no one’s going to eat that roast beef, I’ll have it!”
“Maybe he never stole a girl from him, but pretty much all the girls Kota liked were in love with Tatsuki.”
“Yeah, yeah. There was Kanbara from 5th grade, Endou from 8th grade, and Tanahashi from 11th grade.”
“Huh? I never knew that.”
“You just forgot it all. You said it back then that he told you.”
In other words, they were old rivals locked in a never-ending battle.
“Hmm, but Megumi must be better than Minagawa at somethin’, right?”
“Nah, that’s not how it works.”
Tatsuki’s old friends all shook their heads at the comment.
“Humans aren’t like games, guided by stats and parameters. I mean, Kota’s really good-looking too. It’s just an issue of preference.”
“Yeah, yeah, and this guy here’s loud and annoying.”
“And he still can’t eat eggplant.”
“It’s not that I can’t eat it, I just have no interest in it, okay?”
“Why are you so weirdly stubborn about it? Anyway, Kota was always better at school and stuff.”
“But ya went to the same high school, right?”
Maybe Tatsuki had had enough of eating and drinking because he left the low table and leaned against a wall, and Shin pulled him back into the conversation.
“I had already passed the exam for a private school, so that was where I was planning to go, but I thought as I might as well take the exam for a public one just to say that I did it. The school was a stretch for me, but I tried it, and I must have made a bunch of good guesses because I actually passed.”
That sounded like something that would happen to Tatsuki.
“Kota was totally shocked at the entrance ceremony.”
“He probably never expected to see you there.”
“Yeah, but it’s like, it has nothing to do with me, right? Even if he looks at me as a rival, I don’t really want things to be so complicated with him. Well, it’s enough of a hassle as it is now… I’ll be back. I’m off to the restroom.”
Tatsuki left the table, and someone whispered, “It’s because of that attitude.”
“Tatsuki can be competitive, but he never drags people along. Like he’s fine as long as people are having fun. Kota is probably offended by that attitude or something. Like they’re not on equal terms.”
“Yeah, Kota sees Tatsuki as his rival, but Tatsuki just treats him like a normal friend. That could make him frustrated.”
“Hmmm, it might be harder to take than a broken heart.”
“But if that’s true, what could Megumi beat Minagawa at that would make ’im satsified?”
Everyone pondered Shin’s question and answered, “No idea.”
“I feel like it’s a different problem from who wins more at grades or sports or things like that.”
“If Kota is someone who makes a clutch hit to bring in some runs, Tatsuki’s the one who hits a home run. A clutch hit that brings in two runs is better than a solo home run, but a home run is special, right? People get all excited when they see one, and there’s nothing that can generate that energy like a home run.”
“Um, so kinda like the Hankyu an’ Hanshin lines, but they’ll both get ya to Ashiya either way?”
“Sorry, living in the Kanto region, we don’t really get that reference.”
“Anyway, it’s basically an issue of innate talent or personality. Something that you’re born with. I mean, even now Tatsuki’s an announcer, but Kota’s just a regular employee, right? That’s your answer right there. It’s not a matter of who’s better or worse—just that a difference exists in the first place.”
“And Kota probably understands all this. And that’s probably why it frustrates him so much that he can’t help but always be on edge when it comes to Tatsuki.”
I see. Maybe it’s like he can never seem to get somethin’ that’s just in his reach, an’ that frustration just can’t stop from boilin’ over, Shin interpreted. At the same time, Shin felt like he understood a little of Kotarou’s complicated feelings—yes, he was snippy with Tatsuki, but it didn’t go so far to be considered “hate.” Speaking of which, was he working this late on a Saturday night? Shin had better remind him to rest.
“Are ya still at work? We’ve got an outside shoot tomorrow, so dun bog yaself down on work that ain’t urgent.”
After Shin sent the LINE message, Tatsuki came back to the table. Everyone decided it was time to go home, but Tatsuki wanted to drink a little bit more, so the two of them went over to a bar.
“What’s trainin’ for a new announcer like?” Shin asked, sitting on a stool next to Tatsuki at the counter.
“We work closely with a veteran announcer, who acts as our training instructor. Mine was Higaki-san, who does sports.”
“The one who announces marathons?”
“Was it tough?”
“In its own way, yeah,” Tatsuki answered, tearing a raisin off a vine. “But a lot of announcing is something you have to feel out and have a sense for, you know? If you set aside the honorifics and the accent on words, things like your delivery speed or the length of your pauses, those are all different depending on your instructor. Since my debut, I’ve had other announcers tell me that my delivery is fast or it’s slow… Everyone’s opinions are all over the place!”
“That’s the worst an’ least helpful, huh?”
“Yup. That was why when I first started and I was reading the news, I would check who was on the news floor from the announcer department, and I would match their delivery speed depending on if they would read it fast or slow. That way they wouldn’t yell at me about it afterwards. Yeah, I was worrying more about other people at the network instead of the viewers, but it got so annoying.”
“I see. The instructor really has a big influence over what ya learn.” Shin saw again how big this takeaway was.
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothin’ really. Anyway, tonight was really fun. Thanks for invitin’ me.”
“Yeah? I’m glad.”
A pattern of condensation droplets covered the surface of Shin’s tumbler, and his fingertip immediately grew cold when he touched it.
“They all seem to think that nothin’ goes wrong for ya—like ya born with everythin’ handed to ya.”
“Yeah. That’s what it felt like to me.”
Maybe it was hard to imagine Tatsuki practicing his swings hundreds and thousands of times until he was allowed to stand in the batter’s box—to hit that home run.
“Well, even if people think that you’ve struggled, it’s not like you get anything special out of it.”
Not to mention this laidback attitude of his.
“—But I know how hard ya work.”
It was pretty lively and loud in the bar, and Shin made an effort to make his voice be heard—so that Tatsuki could hear him loud and clear.
“I know that ya dun ever say that ya work hard, but ya always put in the work. That ya sometimes hafta fight down the hurt an’ frustration. I know that ya worked hard.”
The friends who had known Tatsuki for far longer than Shin—even if they didn’t know that about Tatsuki, Shin did.
“I know that you do,” Tatsuki said, looking at the round ball of ice floating in the whiskey glass he was holding. “I know that you know, that you’ve watched me, Nacchan. That’s why I’m fine with it.”
Shin had thought that maybe Tatsuki would be light and cheerful in his reply and say something like “Thanks~” That was why Tatsuki’s voice, so calm and out-of-character, made Shin feel flustered inside.
Nooo, my heart can’t race outta control here. I can’t let it.
It felt like all sorts of things would spill out of him.
His cell phone alerted him to a new LINE message. Shin was glad for the distraction.
“Who’s it from?”
“Megumi. I messaged ’im earlier tellin’ ’im not to work on his days off.”
“You do it all the time, Nacchan.”
“He’s a full-time employee at the network. They’re real fussy ’bout work hours, an’ I dun want Shitara-san gettin’ in trouble ’cause he worked too much.”
“So what did he say?” Tatsuki peered over at the screen.
“I’m sorry, I’m leaving to go home now. I accidently lost track of time while I was editing since it was so much fun. I tried putting together a clip, so please take a look at it when you’re free.”
For a second, Tatsuki’s face appeared extremely expressionless, lit by the backlight of the screen.
“What do ya mean ‘hnn’?”
“Just that you looked pretty happy for telling him not to work so much.”
“Well, there’s nothin’ better than seein’ someone happy to tackle a problem on their own initiative, ya know?”
“You sound like a teacher.”
“I ain’t anythin’ that nice.”
Shin smiled wryly and put his phone away in his jeans pocket. Tatsuki reached for his hand under the counter and squeezed it tight.
“…Dun. Ya can’t.”
Shin wanted to be firm with Tatsuki, but he was too scared to draw attention to themselves and his protest came out as a whisper. But it was only at times like these that Tatsuki replied brightly, his cheerful sunflower mode in full force.
“Huh? Don’t what?”
“Like ya hafta ask. Dun do that here.”
“No one’s looking.”
“I said ya can’t.”
“Okay, I’ll stop if you promise to come over after this.”
“I can’t. …I have an outside shoot early in the mornin’ tomorrow. I hafta go home an’ double-check the shootin’ schedule too.”
It probably wasn’t that Tatsuki distrusted his words, but Shin felt incredibly uncomfortable at how Tatsuki sat there and stared at him. Shin was sure that he couldn’t control the blush heating his cheeks, let alone his face. Shin thought from the bottom of his heart, Ya must know how hot ya are, so please gimme a break.
“…Okay, I guess you can’t help it.”
But still, Shin didn’t look away (he fought really hard not to), and Tatsuki showed him some mercy and released his hand.
“I know, I’ll take you home and then I’ll leave.”
“It’s fine, ya dun hafta do that. I ain’t a girl.”
“Excuse me, the check please.”
Tatsuki hurried to pay the bill, and they left the bar. It was located at a semi-basement floor of a building with a short flight of stairs up to the crowds outside, and Tatsuki took a step up and looked down at Shin.
“You know it’s not like that,” he said, the street lights glowing behind him, illuminating the lines to his shoulders and hair. The lights weren’t that bright, but Shin squinted his eyes.
“I want to be with you, even for a little longer.”
“Then I’ll take ya home.”
“No, no, you said you have work tomorrow, right? There’s no point if you end up with less time to prepare.”
“Oh, ya right… Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. Let’s go.”
The flight of stairs was short, just 3 or 4 steps up, but Shin took Tatsuki’s hand, and his fingers heated up. They took the train and arrived at Shin’s apartment. Tatsuki pulled Shin into a hug at the cramped entryway at the door.
“Nacchan, can I kiss you? I won’t do anything more.”
When their lips met, Shin felt his body go numb.
“…You feel a little cold.”
Shin wondered if it was because of the tin tumbler he had been drinking from. Tatsuki gave him short little pecks over and over again, like he was trying to absorb the chill from his lips, and then he fit their mouths together and pushed his tongue inside.
The first time Tatsuki had kissed him like this was at the entrance of Tatsuki’s apartment. Shin couldn’t help remembering it as Tatsuki kissed him deeply, and the double exposure of the kisses multiplied the heady rush welling up inside of him. It was hard to breathe with his lips sealed, and maybe the body pressed up against him made the alcohol and excitement go to his head, because all at once Shin became dizzy and nearly lost his balance. Tatsuki held Shin tighter as he kissed him deeper; his tongue was sweeter than usual from the alcohol, and it tasted him everywhere throughout his mouth.
Shin was almost robbed of his voice as he protested, and Tatsuki moved his lips over by an ear. He sucked kisses down his neck and under his chin, and Shin could no longer stand up straight. Tatsuki leaned Shin’s staggering body lightly up against a wall.
“T-That’s too much, ya dumb nut…”
“I couldn’t help myself,” Tatsuki replied, but his face said that he had fully planned it from the beginning.
“But I did stick to just a kiss like I said, right?”
Tatsuki pressed a kiss to Shin’s cheek like an extra added bonus and went to reach for the doorknob. “I’ll get going then.”
Shin immediately grabbed the bottom of Tatsuki’s jacket.
Tatsuki turned back and gave him an innocent look that said, What?, and it really annoyed Shin.
“If ya dun mind just sleepin’ here… ya could stay over?”
“Hmm… I feel like I might attack you in your sleep again, so I’ll go home. Good night, Nacchan. Thanks for keeping me company for another round tonight even though you have work.”
After Tatsuki left, Shin rolled onto his bed without showering first, his body still burning.
God, he’s a menace.
Shin couldn’t do any work or even go to sleep like this. He wondered if Tatsuki was that good at things, or if he himself was just that easy, or if this was just a simple phase in a new relationship. If it was the last explanation, then wouldn’t these feelings eventually calm and settle down? Even with no prior experience with relationships, Shin understood the logic that relationships couldn’t always stay as thrilling and exciting as at the beginning, but Shin didn’t feel that he would ever tire of Tatsuki. They spent nearly every day together, what with work and all, and Shin loved every moment of it. But on the other hand, when he wondered what Tatsuki might think of the two of them, Shin became scared.
Shin had forced himself into a light nap, though he really couldn’t sleep, and when the Sunday shoot finished, he went to the editing suite to watch the clip that Kotarou had put together.
“Ah, the lips are off here.”
“I’m referrin’ to the lip sync. Here, here.” Shin tapped the screen to point out the lips with his index finger, and for some reason Kotarou quickly averted his gaze.
“Oi, where ya lookin’ at? Are ya listenin’ to me?”
“Oh, um, yes, I’m sorry. What was it?”
“Like I said, the movements o’ the lips are slightly off from the words he’s sayin’. Did ya play with the video separate from the sound? Look carefully around the 53-second mark.”
“Oh… You’re right. If you stare at it, it feels weird and uncomfortable to watch.”
“Yeah, if ya just watchin’ normally, ya might not notice. There are times these things can make it on the air.”
“I’ll be more careful about it.”
“But for ya first try, I’d say this is pretty good. The flow feels real natural.”
“Thank you very much.”
When Kotarou became shy, he seemed like a little boy. Not that he appeared younger than he was, like the babyface that Shin had, but the vibe that he gave off made his age feel like it had plunged in an instant. Yes, Shin was his instructor, but it was also why he thought that Kotarou could be strangely endearing.
“Um, apparently the ADs will be having a small welcome party for me this coming Saturday.”
Normally, the party would be held with the entire staff of the show attending, but Kotarou was only assigned here temporarily, and everyone was busy with the new fall season, with the specials and the shuffling around. Shin wondered who had been nice enough to notice and arranged it.
“Sorry, it totally slipped my mind. I’m the one who’s supposed to be arrangin’ it.”
“No, please don’t worry about it. Will you come to the party, Nawada-san?” Kotarou asked, looking nervous.
“Of course I’ll go. It’s a given.”
“I’m so glad…”
“Ya makin’ too big a deal ’bout it.”
Shin wondered if maybe Kotarou had no one to go drinking with since he had been away from Japan for so long. It looked like he had lost contact with Tatsuki’s friends. Well, he should be able to gradually form relationships with people. Shin went back to checking the clip that Kotarou had made.
“—Oh, here, this is what ya call a ghost cut.”
The editing suite was a small office that could barely fit two chairs next to each other, and Kotarou suddenly lunged over and clung to him. Kotarou was much taller than Shin, so he draped over Shin as he clutched him, and it spooked Shin quite a bit.
“Huh? What the? What’s wrong?”
Kotarou immediately distanced himself (not that he could move that far away) and apologized, but he refused to meet Shin’s eyes.
“There was a bug…”
“…That I thought I saw.”
“What’s up with that?”
“I’m very sorry for the commotion.”
“…Dun tell me that ya ain’t gettin’ enough sleep, so ya hallucinatin’? Ya better watch yaself, okay? I ain’t ever done that.”
“No, I’m quite all right! Please continue.”
“Are ya really? …See this couple? When they’re walkin’, the man is on the left an’ the woman’s on the right. But in the next cut, their places are switched.”
“Ya gotta be careful ’bout these lil’ details. Especially if it’s a multi-day shoot, where they go around a bunch of different places. Ya gotta watch the footage to make sure that everythin’s consistent throughout the clip, like the clothes an’ stuff.”
“I see… Hmm?”
Kotarou nodded, but then his gaze shifted behind him and he froze. “What is it this time?” Shin said as he turned around too, and behind the window of the door was Tatsuki standing there.
“Sorry to interrupt your meeting~!” Tatsuki announced in an unnaturally loud voice, sliding the door open and squeezing himself into the already cramped room.
“What? Did ya have work today?”
“I had a recording for a radio program… Here, Kota, this is for you.”
Tatsuki pressed a sheet of paper over to Kotarou.
“What is it?”
“The form to order uniforms for our rec baseball team. It’s made to measure, so follow the instructions on the front to take the measurements and return the form to me by tomorrow~”
“Hey, I never said I would join.”
“The full set is 9,980 yen without tax.”1
“That’s expensive! I’m not joining, stupid.”
“If you have a number you want, let me know.”
“Ya gonna join?” Shin interjected in disbelief.
“Sorry, I’ve already taken 55~”
“What? You’re completely shameless, taking Matsui’s number.”2
“Right back at cha~”
“We already have an Ichiro~”3
It was just a rec baseball team. Shin didn’t think that it was a big deal to let people have the same numbers, but Kotarou seemed seriously upset by it.
“Ya seem like ya might take a while, so let’s end here for today.”
“What? No, I’m so sorry. Please continue! Minagawa quit bothering us.”
It was funny watching Kotarou switch his expressions between Shin and Tatsuki. It was impressive.
“Nah, let’s continue tomorrow. I’ve told ya that ya can’t overwork yaself. Ya should pack up an’ go home.”
Tatsuki seemed to want to talk to Shin, and he waved him over. They headed over to a lounge with a vending machine. The building still operated regardless if it was the weekend, but there were still very few people around. Tatsuki walked up to a window, and for some reason, he bent the blinds down with his finger to peer through the opening.
“This the Nanamawari Police Station?”4
“Nacchan-kun,” Tatsuki said sternly.
“Earlier, you were in a closed room with Kota when he clutched you tightly. Do you confirm or deny this?”
“What character are ya supposed to be?”
“Answer the question.”
“He thought that there was a bug.”
“What~!?” Tatsuki returned to his normal self and turned around. “Did he really~?”
“Uh, why would he lie? There wasna any warnin’, an’ he seemed really, really scared. It seemed like he just saw wrong, but I wonder what kinda bug it was.”
“But ya really poutin’ a lot.”
“It’s just CG.”
“What kinda excuse is that…?”
“Another thing, I have a dinner tonight. It’s with a bunch of executives from a movie distribution company. I think they’ll invite some models or other women like that, but it’s just a regular dinner.”
“Oh, okay, got it.”
Tatsuki would always faithfully notify Shin of his upcoming plans like this. He had probably understood Shin’s fear and how he couldn’t bring himself to pry into Tatsuki’s dealings and connections with other people. Networking with others and getting to know industry people on a personal level—they were all to be expected given Tatsuki’s job and disposition. Shin didn’t let it bother him whenever it happened, but he couldn’t bring himself to say, Ya dun need to tell me everything every time. He also didn’t know how to reply to these notices—should he say Thank ya or should he say Sorry ya always doin’ this for me? Every time it happened, Shin always sighed a little at how much of a hassle his insecurity was to deal with. And how petty he was for obsessing over how the girls that Tatsuki had dated had handled this. Tatsuki had cherished him this much—Shin was going to pay for it in karma.
“Nacchan, what’s wrong?”
“You look so serious.”
More precisely, Shin could only treat the matter as if it were nothing. He knew that it wouldn’t make him feel better if he had Tatsuki tell him everything about his past. When someone was so sincere and upfront about himself and Shin could only obsess over the person’s past relationships—that only made him petty and ungrateful. Anyway, Shin felt bad and guilty for making Tatsuki do this. Then maybe he should say Sorry? It wasn’t like Shin worried about these things night and day, but sometimes his thoughts would bind his feet together like creeping vines.
Tatsuki had once told him that Shin wasn’t the only one who could be worried or scared. Shin didn’t distrust his words. But even though Shin always wanted to meet Tatsuki head on and walk shoulder-to-shoulder with him, his doubts and hesitation hindered his steps. Even though he never wanted to revert back to his old self who was satisfied with watching profiles of faces from behind a shoulder.
Tatsuki left to go to his dinner, and Shin returned to the staff room by himself. He found Kotarou there packing up his things to go home. The order form that Tatsuki had given him was sitting on the table, and Shin felt like teasing Kotarou a bit and reached out to pick it up.
“If ya dun need this, how ’bout I throw it away for ya?”
“Hey…! Um, it’s all right, I will take it home and burn it myself!”
Shin laughed at the over-the-top reaction, and Kotarou asked unhappily, “What is it?”
Kotarou was always calm and dependable when it came to his work, and he was such an excellent worker that every day Shin would entrust more and more duties to him. But whenever he was baited with anything related to Tatsuki, he would immediately turn into a petulant little kid. Maybe because of the laughter, Shin had released some of the pointless tension he had held inside of himself, and he felt a little better.
“Nothin’… Megumi, ya really hate Minagawa, huh?”
“Yes,” Kotarou replied without hesitation.
“But dun ya feel excited after listenin’ to him on TV? Before I came here, I didna have any interest in sports, an’ honestly, I still dun really get much of it, but it’s a ton o’ fun watchin’ Minagawa’s sports corner. I dun get anythin’ ’bout sumo wrestlin’, but I think it’s fun in the studio. Dun ya think so?”
Kotarou turned sullen and silent. Shin didn’t rush him for an answer and watched him carefully. Kotarou folded the slip of paper roughly and stuffed it into his bag.
“…That’s why I hate him,” Kotarou said in a low voice, but he immediately shouted, “I’m heading home now,” as if trying to drown out his admission.
“Good work today. Oh, do ya have a tape measure at home? Ya can borrow one from here if ya dun have one.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea! I’m burning this when I get home! I won’t be measuring myself!”
Yes, yes, sure.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- 9,980 yen – Approx. $100 USD.
- Matsui refers to Hideki Matsui, who played for the NPB and MLB. His nickname is “Godzilla.”
- Ichiro refers to Ichiro Suzuki, who played for the NPB and MLB.
- Nanamawari Police Station is a reference to a Japanese detective show called Taiyou ni Hoero (Bark at the Sun).