Chapter 6: Love Rivals and Irises (6)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Shin started Kotarou’s floor manager training on Monday. Of course, he taught him everything that he needed in order to do the job, but Shin pretended that he didn’t notice Kotarou’s gaze that seemed to want to say something, and he did everything he could to avoid being alone with him. But even without any extra effort, Shin had to cover for his colleague from his production company, and he basically rushed in at the last minute 4 to 5 hours before the broadcast and flew out of the building as soon as he finished tidying the studio. He didn’t actually have to do much in order to reduce the time that they spent together.
Shin showed Kotarou the ropes of the floor manager position for one week, and the next week, he let Kotarou try it out. It was clear that Kotarou struggled more in this position than as an AD. The most important duty for a floor manager on a live broadcast was to communicate two things: there is extra time to fill so stretch it out, and time is running out so wrap it up. That was essentially what the role boiled down to. If at the worst, this was the only information that the managers could communicate, the show would be able to manage itself somehow, but it would of course incur unspoken trade-offs between them and the presenters.
It was not particularly difficult to learn the sequence of the segments or to judge the movements needed to stay out of the frame. But using gestures, body language, and eye contact to negotiate with the performers, staying mindful of their energy and the material that they were delivering while creating and maintaining a mood inside the studio—those skills were not so easy to come by, and Shin was clearly aware of his own shortcomings in the few months that he had been in the role. It would have been weirder for Kotarou not to have struggled given his limited training. Shin of course gave him advice wherever he could, but fundamentally, Kotarou just had to adapt to working on a TV show.
On Friday after the second week was over, Shitara called out to Kotarou in the studio.
“Megumi, thanks for your hard work tonight. Sorry, I know it’s hectic, but next week you’ll train as a broadcast director, so go see Asano for the arrangements. This ends your training for the studio side of things.”
Shin had expected this, so it didn’t surprise him to hear the news, but Kotarou only let out a short exclamation, giving no other reply as he held onto a sketchbook.
Hey, I mentioned this to ya at the welcome party.
“Hmm? What’s wrong?”
“—Um, Shitara-san.” Kotarou seemed to have made up his mind about something. “I haven’t really done a good job as a floor manager yet. Or as an AD for that matter. I’m really very sorry, but may I please stay and train here for longer?”
He couldn’t be more blunt than that. Very rarely would Shitara leave no room for argument in his comments. There was a level-headed sharpness that glinted in his eyes and chilled the air. Shin thought that it was probably Shitara making a judgement that something harsh needed to be said. He would not utter something strict without a conscious decision to do so.
“It’s only natural that you can’t do a good job at anything yet. We could go on forever if we start wandering down that path. What I expect from you right now is to somehow process the top layer of what we do in TV production. That’s it. With just the two short months that you’ve been given, that’s probably the best that we can manage. It’s more of a headache actually, if you get all gung ho and start insisting on mastering everything for your own satisfaction. You don’t even know where you’ll be assigned yet, so we have to make you as well-rounded as possible.”
“But then aren’t you saying that there is no point in trying and working so hard?”
“No, I’m not. I’m saying that you don’t have to become an expert. I want you, as an employee here, to understand that the shows broadcast here under the name Asahi TV are supported by the hard work and efforts of lots and lots of experts. Because there’s the tendency to become an emperor with no clothes due to our positions on the production side.”
Then Shitara completely switched gears and changed his focus onto Shin who had been watching them anxiously. “Nawada,” he said in a friendly tone of voice. “Don’t you still have your other job that you need to go to today?”
“Oh, yes, sir. I need to go to the office to work on some editing.”
“Then you’re free to go.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry for the trouble.”
Shin did feel reluctant to leave, but there was nothing that he could say. And since he still felt some resentment towards Kotarou, Shin ran off like he was ditching him behind.
Shin worked on edits in an editing suite at his production company office, located a couple stations down from Asahi TV. He finished the rough cut around dawn, so he spat it out on a tape and decided to head home. His colleague would be back next week, and he could handle the rest.
Shin rubbed his worn-out, tired eyes as he went out the side entrance. The early morning air was crisp and cold outside. But what really woke him up from his drowsiness was seeing Kotarou standing there in front of him.
It was easy enough to find out where Shin worked by asking a member of the staff. The issue was why he was waiting here for who-knows how long.
“Is somethin’ the matter?”
Actually, Shin already knew the answer. Kotarou wanted to talk to him. But it wasn’t like Shin had completely ignored him these past two weeks. Kotarou didn’t have to come and stake him out.
“…This week while I was directing the floor, I kept thinking,” Kotarou said in a low voice. “When you’re on the floor, Nawada-san, it’s completely different from when I’m on it. Somehow the mood in the studio is mellower, and it seems like everyone can do their jobs easier. Even though I feel like I’ve followed all the same procedures as you… I had spent the whole week trying to figure it out, but I didn’t get anywhere… I’ve been thinking about what Shitara-san said to me and what you had been so angry about.”
Kotarou bowed deeply to Shin in apology.
“I am very sorry for the rude things that I had said. I hadn’t meant to disrespect the work, but it was very reasonable to think so given the things that I said. But I still have so many things that I want to learn from you, Nawada-san, even though you will no longer be training me in the studio starting next week. I will work on changing my attitude, and I will try my hardest to do my best. I won’t ask you to forgive me, but could you please continue to watch over me? That is all that I ask.”
Shin didn’t know how to answer or even what he thought, but he saw a very neat whorl of hair pointed right at him, and he reached out to poke it.
Kotarou covered his head with his hand and retreated about two steps backwards. Shin saw how flustered Kotarou looked, and he broke out into a laugh.
“W-What was that for!?”
“Nothin’, I wasn’t really thinkin’. Oh right, dun ghosts—”
“—scare ya? I was wonderin’ if ya okay.”
This side street was empty, and there were barely any lights out. Next door was a park that was full of dense trees, and even Shin would walk as fast as he could if he was out here in the middle of the night. He was more afraid of being mugged instead of ghosts though.
“Honestly, I was afraid, but I have a charm protecting me.”
“I thought ya said that they were risky.”
“This is my charm.”
Kotarou opened up his hand to show the piece of candy that Shin had given to him.
“…Ya really dumb.”
There were all sorts of feelings that Shin felt at the moment. Surprise, exasperation, embarrassment—and of course, happiness. He was thankful that the word “dumb” was a versatile word with plenty of uses.
“Even if ya dun change ya attitude, I know that ya always workin’ hard, Megumi. I know that better than anybody else,” Shin said. “That was why I was so mad, I guess… I had a director who I really, really admired. I wanted to work for that director, an’ that’s why I went into the industry. My motive ain’t all that different from yours.”
“So were you able to achieve your dream?”
“Yeah, but a lot o’ things happened, an’ the person ended up ruinin’ their health an’ no longer makes shows right now.”
Shin thought that he had left a slight hint of a smile on his face, but Kotarou grimaced wryly like he had been punched in the stomach.
“But it’s all over, an’ right now I’m doin’ all I can for The News an’ havin’ a lot o’ fun. But I still have regrets that won’t ever disappear.”
Shin still dreamed about it in his sleep. He would dream about the set that was now fully dismantled and thrown in the trash, about the staff and performers who would stop and chat with him if they ran into each other in the building but would never share again that frantically intense time that they had spent making a show together. He would dream about that space, the people, and most of all—the one and only “boss” whom Shin had looked up to—working together and taping a show as they had always done. The studio audience would cheer, and everyone would laugh, and Shin loved it so much that he could hardly stand it. But then his boss’s back would sway and lurch silently in front of his eyes. Shin could never reach out, and just before the body fell to the floor, Shin would always wake up.
“I thought that I had worked real hard in my own way when I was there, but I ain’t ever got through to the person. Everythin’ had all been in my own head; I just made it seem like I’d done a lot. That was why when I heard ya say what ya did… I thought it was only me again imaginin’ things up in my head. I thought that I was dumb for gettin’ my hopes up an’ feelin’ so happy to be relied on.”
Kotarou wanted to say something, but Shin gently bumped his fist into Kotarou’s chest, almost like giving it a little knock.
“Can ya promise me just one thing?”
“Yes, I promise.”
That’s a fast answer.
“Wait, ya gotta listen to it first… I wanna see you like this job without it havin’ anythin’ to do with Minagawa— At the very least, I’d like to see ya try to like it. Since ya fortunate enough to be hired.”
“I will,” Kotarou said, nodding his head. “I promise you.”
“…Thank ya, Megumi.”
With timing that could be called incredibly good or incredibly terrible, just below Shin’s outstretched fist, Kotarou’s stomach started growling.
“What? Are ya hungry?”
“Ahh… I-I’m so sorry!! All my nervousness just totally drained away, so that’s probably why…”
If Kotarou had spent the entire night waiting for him, it was only natural. Shin laughed and said, “Let’s go eat.” The sky was already light out, bright enough for Kotarou to no longer be scared.
They walked into a nearby restaurant that served set meals and even ordered beers to go with their food.
“I had always wondered who would order alcohol in the morning, but I never thought that I’d be doing it myself.”
“A beer in the morning after an all-nighter tastes amazin’. It might shorten ya lifespan tho.”
“You’re right. My heart’s really pumping.”
Maybe it was because the alcohol was circulating through his system faster than normal, or maybe he just had a sudden urge to tease Kotarou who looked like an innocent animal devouring his pork cutlet with grated daikon—but Shin rested his chin in his hands and suddenly asked him a question.
“So I hear that all the girls ya liked ended up likin’ Minagawa?”
“Wha? Why are you suddenly bringing that up?”
“Nothin’. I just heard the rumors.”
Kotarou swallowed his mouthful of food with a gulp and reluctantly answered, “Well, I wouldn’t say that it was everyone.”
“Did they end up datin’ Minagawa?”
“They would confess and get rejected. He had a girlfriend back then, so they had to give up. Hmm, I don’t think there was ever a girl who ever had it work out with him…”
“Then wouldna that mean if ya tried, it coulda worked out? It ain’t like ya inferior to ’im even if they compared the two o’ ya.”
Of course, people didn’t fall in love based on stats and other measures, but Shin thought that there probably weren’t very many girls who would be unhappy to find out that Kotarou liked them.
“Hmm… Who knows. Please excuse me for a second.”
Kotarou went to help himself to free refills of rice and miso soup, and when he sat back down, he said, “I suppose that I just changed my mind about them. When I heard or found out that they liked Minagawa, I was just like, ‘Oh, so you’re another one of them.’”
“That’s pretty complicated. So it wouldna worked out just ’cause ya have the same tastes in girls?”
“Could you please not say things like ‘tastes’?”
“Okay, okay, sorry, sorry.”
“You too, you seem to be able to ask me anything that comes to your mind now, Nawada-san.”
Too, huh? Shin thought as he poked at the cabbage in his ham and eggs. That makes it sound like Minagawa’s the reference point.
“This is going to come off as rude, but if you saw a jewel in a display case with a fingerprint on it, wouldn’t you change your mind about buying it? It’s the same thing.”
“But it ain’t like Minagawa went out with ’em?”
“Still, it’s how I feel.”
“Ya girlfriend in the U.S. didna have any fingerprints on her, but ya still chose Minagawa an’ broke up with her. What ’bout that?”
“You’re asking me, what about it? …I would say that for a long time there were a lot of things that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on and different things that we each wanted. I’m sure that she had thought so too. It was kind of like, ‘Okay, it’s over,’ and we went our separate ways. It wasn’t really a huge ordeal for either of us.”
“Hmmm, well, maybe ya never really loved any o’ ’em all that deeply.”
Shin had expected Kotarou to get angry and object, but Kotarou answered, “Perhaps you’re right.” He could be such a scaredy cat, but it was only at a time like this that he had the face of a man who had experienced the tribulations of love, and it strangely annoyed Shin.
“May I get another beer?” Kotarou asked.
Shin bought a ticket from the vending machine and handed it to an attendant. It was a self-service restaurant, so he was handed a beer can covered in condensation. Kotarou pulled open the tab and chugged the beer like it was the first fluids he was getting for the day. He put the can down and said, “Why do you ask?”
“Nothin’… Just simple curiosity.”
Watching Kotarou, the pain of an unforgettable, unrequited love came back to haunt Shin. At the same time, he remembered that Tatsuki had also experienced a time when he had liked someone but they didn’t return his feelings.
Before they had started dating, Tatsuki had told Shin that he had liked a man who already had a boyfriend. The story of his broken heart and rejection was very typical of Tatsuki, but there was something about it that he couldn’t put his finger on. Shin couldn’t gather the extent of the depression or lingering feelings that Tatsuki had felt for the person, but he had said that for a long time he hadn’t felt like finding love after that. Tatsuki must have been quite serious about the person. Shin had only heard that the person was funny, and he had no other description to go by. At this stage, Shin was a mix of regret that he hadn’t asked more about the person back then and regret that he even knew what he did.
What kinda person was he? How did ya fall in love with ’im?
It wasn’t that Shin distrusted Tatsuki’s love, but he was too scared to ask him. That was why Shin had asked Kotarou about his past experience with love. He wanted to see if it could shed any light for his own dilemma. But of course, Tatsuki’s experience was far too unique, and what he had heard from Kotarou didn’t help him at all.
“Curiosity? For whom?”
“What do ya mean for whom?”
“For me or for Minagawa?”
What’s with this kinda sharp, but kinda offbase intuition again?
Shin used his chopsticks to break the yolk of his sunny-side-up eggs, and it oozed out onto his plate.
“…Just in general?” Shin answered.
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I think ya question is more bafflin’ than my answer.”
“Huh? …Okay then, you had mentioned that you had a director whom you had admired. Was the person a man or a woman?”
“A man, but whatta ya askin’ for?”
“It’s just simple curiosity.” On top of the word-for-word answer that Kotarou had repeated back to Shin, he added, “Just in general.” Plus a giant yawn.
“…Oi, ya fallin’ asleep.”
“I’m sorry. Now that I’m full, I can barely stay awake.”
“It’s ’cause ya drank the two beers without even pausin’.”
Kotarou looked like he was about to crash his face into the table (was he a toddler?), and with some pestering, somehow Shin made him finish his food, and he dragged him out of the restaurant by the arm.
“Oi, dun fall over, okay? I can’t carry ya by myself.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine. I can go home.”
Shin couldn’t trust him at all, and he tried to find a taxi that he could shove him into but he couldn’t find any in the area. Even if he called for one over the phone, Kotarou would probably go down before it arrived. Shin reluctantly prodded Kotarou to keep walking and brought him to his own apartment, which was within walking distance.
What’m I, a cattle herder?
“Here, take off ya shoes.”
“Keep walkin’, keep walkin’, okay, you’re at the bed. Ya can sleep now.”
Shin was glad that he lived in a tiny studio apartment. Kotarou collapsed onto the bed, and after a beat, it looked like he had really lost consciousness to the dreamworld. The moment Kotarou had resolved his worries, his stomach complained of hunger, and after he filled his stomach, he then started falling asleep. How simple and honest. Not that it mattered when it came to Kotarou, but Shin was glad he had cleaned the apartment beforehand. He suddenly felt drowsy and went to pull out a blanket and foldable mattress from the closet, spreading it out before lying down and closing his eyes.
I dun really wanna dream ’bout the past today, Shin thought. He tended to have those dreams when he was tired. Only when Tatsuki was next to him would those dreams not appear. If it had been a night where they were sleeping together, even if Shin woke up, he wouldn’t feel lonely. And if Tatsuki had been awake, he would surely ask him, What’s wrong, Nacchan? And Shin would be able to answer, I had a sad dream.
“A sad dream?”
“…A dream where I lost all my editin’ data?”
But Shin was sure that he wouldn’t tell him the actual details about the dream. He was fine as long as Tatsuki laughed that it was just a dream and hugged him tight.
“It’s okay, Nacchan.”
Shin nodded at the Tatsuki inside his head and slept with both arms wrapped around his body tightly.
“Nacchan, I’m here. Wake up.”
Welcome back. But I can’t do anythin’ now. I’m super sleepy.
“If you don’t wake up, I’ll get up to no good again.”
“You’re so weak at your neck. What about here?”
Hey, stop that.
Shin wanted to complain, but he couldn’t really use his voice. A warm, soft gust of air blew onto the back of his neck. Just when he registered that it was a breath, in the next moment he felt a familiar touch trail against his skin, and Shin shifted his body in reflex.
“—Minagawa, ya can’t…”
Shin suddenly woke up at the sound of his own voice, slurred and far-removed from consciousness. The feeling that something was not right reverberated through his head faster than his recognition of actual reality. It couldn’t be Minagawa. There was no way that he could be here.
Right now, who was here…
Shin sat up in a flash and retreated from the mattress. Kotarou, who should have been sound asleep in the bed, was right by his pillow.
“—What did ya do just now?”
“—What was it that you said just now?”
The two questions clashed at the same time.
Shin and Kotarou stared off at each other like a viper versus a mongoose or martial artists engaged in mortal combat—a special tension in the air crackled and sparked between them. And like a mirrored reflection, Shin was sure that they had the same expressions of uneasiness and surprise. He felt like he could see a clash of energy halfway between their gazes, fighting back and forth for dominance.
A single syllable uttered from Kotarou’s mouth broke the equilibrium.
This was the first time in Shin’s life that he had ever emitted such a serious-sounding syllable. He was sure it was the same for Kotarou too.
“Weren’t we told that romantic relationships are forbidden between members on the show…?”
What the hell? Oh, that thing that Shitara-san said? Oh, he totally heard me say “Minagawa,” didna he? He couldna’ve missed it, huh?
The line of questioning was completely unexpected, and Shin racked his brain so frantically that he felt like his eyeballs might turn up with spiral patterns.
“I-It’s all my one-sided feelin’s for ’im! I was just sayin’ what I wished for!” Shin answered.
Kotarou’s head slumped forward, losing all strength.
Shin had no time to think about whether his excuse was a good or a bad one. At any rate, he couldn’t let Kotarou find out the full truth. He was completely consumed with how he could hide at least half of the truth of their relationship. It was Shin’s fault that he woke up so completely shaken that he failed to explain it away, and so he decided to defend to the death, by any means necessary, this one-way arrangement.
“Nawada-san, you have one-side feelings.”
“One-sided feelings for Minagawa.”
“Oh my god, give it a rest, how much d’ya wanna say one-sided feelin’s?”
Just as Shin snapped in irritation, Kotarou crouched down on the mattress and screamed, “Ahhhhh!!”
“Oi, dun scream out loud here!”
Kotarou didn’t seem to care and cursed in English, “Shit!” It was just a single word, but the pronunciation from someone who could actually speak it really sounded different, and Shin was strangely impressed.
“Why!? Why does it have to be Minagawa again!? This always, always happens…”
“Whatta ya sayin’ always, always happens?”
“Huh?” Kotarou raised his head warily.
“An’ by the way, ya ain’t answered my question yet. What were ya doin’?”
“What was I doing? Well, I suddenly woke up and saw you sleeping. The back of your neck looked kind of sexy, so I crawled over without thinking, and when I touched my finger to it, you let out an unexpectedly sweet moan, and I kind of pressed my lips…”
Shin smacked the head that had just been raised to look at him.
“Ow… You were the one who asked!”
“You dun hafta describe everythin’ in full detail! It’s embarrassin’! Anyway, I dun understand anythin’ that happened after ya saw me sleepin’!”
“I like you,” Kotarou said.
Shin froze in an instant, and Kotarou grabbed his wrist and leaned in towards Shin.
“I like you, Nawada-san. I’m serious about you.”
Please say ya jokin’.
“Uh, but I’m a man. An’ ya like women, right?”
“It surprises me too, but there’s no other way to describe my feelings. This is just how I feel.”
“Listen here.” Shin glared at Kotarou and tried to free his hand from his grip, but it was like Kotarou was locked onto him. “Lay off on makin’ ya rivalry with Minagawa any worse than it is now, an’ dun get me involved between the two o’ ya.”
“That’s not what it is. I had attacked you before I heard you call his name.”
“Dun say it with a huge grin!”
“I like you.”
“Okay, I know, I heard ya.”
“I am glad that I have your full understanding.”
“No! Uh, I dun know what kinda misunderstandin’ ya under, but I dun have special feelin’s for ya. Zero. Zilch. Yeah, I do look after ya to some extent, but that’s ’cause it’s my job. I ain’t showin’ ya any special favoritism.”
“Yes, I am well aware of that. I was acting without any considerations for your feelings. You haven’t done anything wrong, Nawada-san.”
“D-Dun say it like that. It’s like ya tryin’ to make me feel sorry for ya…”
Shin had no experience rejecting love confessions from people, and he felt guilty.
“Do you feel sorry for me?”
“Well, yeah, it’s sad. Even if ya serious, I can only reject ya.”
“Must you say it so easily?”
“Of course, I do. Come on, let go o’ my hand.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Oi, if ya dun snap out o’ it, I’m gonna get seriously mad.”
“You can get mad at me all that you want. You can hit me too if you want.”
Kotarou seized his other hand, and Shin couldn’t move away. Shin had no choice but to persuade him with words.
“Ya probably still drunk.”
“I sobered up a while ago. It was only two beers.”
“Umm… O-Oh, I see a ghost! Right behind you!”
“What are you saying such childish things for?”
“Wha… Just ’cause it’s light out, ya think ya so mighty! Ya big dumb lug!”
Shin didn’t care about bringing embarrassment to himself anymore, so would the neighbors please notify the authorities?
“Nawada-san, wait! Please calm down.”
“‘Cause ya won’t let go o’ me.”
“But if I let go, won’t you run away?”
“This is my apartment!!”
“Oh, that’s right.”
Kotarou quickly released his hands, and Shin immediately threw a pillow and yelled, “Get out!”
“Is it okay for me to stay?”
“Uh, no, it ain’t.”
Shin couldn’t keep up with the rise and fall of Kotarou’s pace. Kotarou got to his feet, and ignoring Shin’s full wariness on display, he neatly straightened up the bed before heading to the door.
“I apologize for attacking you in your sleep. I am very truly sorry. But I am serious about my feelings. If things were like before and I had heard you call out Minagawa’s name, I think my feelings would have disappeared at that moment—like ‘Oh, so that’s how it is.’ …But with you, it’s different, Nawada-san. I’m upset, but I don’t want to lose you to him no matter what. I’ve never once thought that until now. Even if the name that you had called out wasn’t Minagawa’s, I would still feel the same.”
“I dun like ya like that.”
That was the only thing that Shin could say.
“I ain’t fallin’ in love with ya.”
“I’m tellin’ ya the truth.”
Huh? What’m I gettin’ all desperate for?
Kotarou bent down to put on his shoes and tapped the tips against the floor.
“…Nawada-san, you were the one who said not to bring personal issues into work, right? So please don’t avoid me because I confessed to you. Please continue to look after me from next week on. Take care, and sorry for the intrusion. Please lock up properly after me.”
Despite everything that Kotarou said, Shin couldn’t move from his spot on the floor. He sat dazed looking up at the ceiling, recounting the series of events that had happened. When his brain finished the playback, he flopped down onto the mattress. Maybe he had exceeded his processing capacity because he couldn’t think of what he should do from now on. There was no way he could sleep either.
Shin agonized with his head between his hands.
Seriously, what the hell am I supposed to do?
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.