Chapter 31: Where Home Is (7)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
It was exactly one week after Ushio’s surprise visit to the studio. Kei left the announcer department to head to the pre-show meeting, and what was when Tatsuki called out, “Kunieda-san,” and caught up to him.
“Did Tsuzuki-san happen to break his cell phone and changed phones or something?”
“Pass this message to him for me: Tell me if you’re gonna change your contact info, okay!? Geez, I didn’t expect him to be so cold~!”
Kei stopped in his tracks to stare at Tatsuki and wondered, What the hell is he saying? But it looked like Tatsuki was just as confused as he was.
“The last time I went drinking with him, I suggested that he come play baseball in Osaka with me. So now I’m in the middle of gathering people and setting the day for it, and I wanted to ask when he’d be free—” Tatsuki pulled out his cell phone and showed Kei his screen. “But I got this.”
It was an error message from LINE that said, This member does not exist.
“I thought it was really weird, so I tried sending a text to his cell phone, but that didn’t get through either… Um, Kunieda-san, I take it that you don’t know anything about it?”
“No… He said he would be holed away for work, so I haven’t heard from him.”
There were a few times that Ushio stayed over at a studio somewhere working non-stop, and generally Kei never bothered him with calls or messages when it happened. The last message that Kei received from him was last week, the same as the last time that Kei saw him. When Ushio said, I’ll see you later, just before he left the hotel room, he seemed perfectly normal.
“…Senpai, let’s get in the elevator for now.”
Tatsuki seemed to have noticed Kei’s quiet agitation and led him past the doors for some privacy. He asked, “What does the screen on your LINE account say?”
“I only have my work phone with me today.”
“Well, maybe he really did drop his phone in some water or something, and he felt like changing everything over. Like maybe he thought his number was too hard to remember and wanted a new one.”
Yeah, that could be it. And Ushio would contact him after his work was done. Maybe the explanation was really that simple. He could see Ushio calling him up, listening to Kei complain, and then teasing him, Oh, did I make you worry again? And then that would be that.
“Even if he wanted to break up with you, I don’t think he’s the type to be a coward and ghost someone without an explanation.”
“Don’t say things like that, dammit!”
“Huh? I was trying to make you feel better.”
“Well, it backfired!”
This isn’t funny. I didn’t see any signs like that at all. Was he unhappy with the cows and tuna? Ugh, but I can’t think of anything but that surreal bedtime story conversation.
The elevator arrived at the staff room floor before Kei could sort out his feelings, and when the doors opened, Ushio—of course, he wasn’t there, but in his place, which didn’t really sound right, a stubborn old geezer was waiting there for them.
Kei had already lost his composure, and he gave a short cry at the unexpected surprise. Eba scowled and said, “How rude.”
Damn idiot, how about you have some consideration for my delicate heart!
Tatsuki asked, “Are you taping today, Old Man Eba?”
“Yeah, but I also had something I wanted to ask, so I staked out the elevator here.”
“You could have used the PA system to call us over.”
“It’s a personal matter, and I didn’t want to involve other people.”
Kei said, “Is there something that you wanted to ask me? If it’s about the elections, I have already given you my answer and it has not changed.”
Damn persistent old man. I don’t have time to think about that right now!
Kei was fed up with the subject, but he answered with the utmost benevolence. However, Eba shook his head and said, “No, it’s not about that.” Kei couldn’t think of any other business that the old man could have with him.
“Well, maybe strictly speaking, it’s a little related— Wasn’t that Wakamiya’s son who was with you last week?”
“It made me think that you were building connections in order to make the jump over.”
“Are you referring to Tsuzuki-san?” Tatsuki asked in lieu of Kei’s dumbfounded reaction.
“Yeah, that’s the name of the guy we were with last week. He’s not called Wakamiya, so maybe you mistook him for the wrong person?”
Yeah, he must have mistaken him for someone else.
Kei had never heard Ushio mention that name before. However, his heart was beating restlessly in his chest.
Wakamiya Homare. Kei had only met the man once. At the time when their eyes had met, Kei didn’t know why it had unsettled him so much, but now he finally understood it.
It was because he looked a lot like Ushio. It was like Ushio had given him a stare void of all warmth and feeling and it scared him.
To begin with, why was Kei singled out to host that event in the first place? Was it really possible for a member of the Diet with as much standing as him to stop by their little function and offer his greetings? Kei desperately tried to calm himself down as he asked Eba a question.
“Do you have a close relationship with Representative Wakamiya?”
“Yeah… Well, more with his father, actually. We used to drink until morning in Akasaka together. So the kid would be the son of the son of a close friend, I suppose. I had a hunch that he recognized and avoided me, which I made me pretty sure that it was him… Well, I haven’t seen the kid in a long time, so maybe I’m just going senile in my old age. Even though it’s my job to remember faces and names.”
“How long ago was it?”
“It was at the funeral for Wakamiya’s wife, so more than 10 years ago. He was probably in junior high or so at the time. I’ll never forget how he stood all alone holding his mother’s portrait, not shedding any tears. Tragedy just seems to fall on that family a lot…”
The old man trailed off in a quiet voice that was completely out of character. He offered a final “Sorry to bother you” and left.
Tatsuki poked Kei with an elbow and pointed at the empty studio in front of them. As soon as they entered, he asked, “Who is Representative Wakamiya?”
“Wakamiya Homare. You should know his name.”
“The politician? Huh? Are you saying he’s Tsuzuki-san’s dad?”
Tatsuki fell silent for a moment, and then for some reason he patted Kei gently on the back.
“Don’t let it get to you.”
“Why should it!?”
“I hear it’s tough to fall in love with someone with a much different social status.”
“Are you dissing the Kunieda family name, you bastard!?”
“Huh? Do you come from a special lineage?”
“We’re a long and noble line of commoners, dammit! Anyway, nothing’s confirmed yet. But if it’s true, it would mean he’s a rich, spoiled brat from a line of politicians, how dare he… God, the name Wakamiya even sounds fancy, like it’s better than everyone, ugh…”1
“Um, you two are dating, right?”
Was Tsuzuki just a pseudonym? …It probably wasn’t, because the grandmother who had sent the letter had the same last name. So that would make her from his mother’s side of the family…but there was nothing to support that claim either… Ugh, this line of thinking could go on forever.
“You say that nothing’s confirmed yet?” Tatsuki looked slightly shocked. “Normally after dating for a few years, you would have talked about your families, right? Oh, but I guess you’re not normal, Kunieda-san.”
Yeah, it had weighed on Kei’s mind, but it wasn’t like they were going to get married and had to follow all the proper procedures. Kei and Ushio’s relationship belonged only to Kei and Ushio after all. Kei was the one who didn’t want anything from the outside world brought into their relationship, and he didn’t want Ushio to show him any of it either. That was why he knew nothing concrete about any of Ushio’s friends and acquaintances. He didn’t know where Ushio had gone for work, and he had no idea who to ask to find out about it. No matter what happened, no matter where he went, Ushio had chosen Kei and he would be there waiting for Kei when he came home.
It had to still be true.
“—…Oh, I just remembered something…” Tatsuki said suddenly.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s relevant, but a little while ago… maybe two weeks or so ago? When I grabbed a drink with Tsuzuki-san, he asked how Kunieda-san was doing lately.”
“How I’ve been doing…? What did you say?”
“That you’ve opened up to people a bit? Kinda?”
“Oi.” Kei grabbed Tatsuki by the lapels. “What the hell are you blabbing about? I haven’t opened up a damn bit.”
“Hey, it’s just my personal impression.”
“So what did he say?”
“Nothing really. Just an ‘I see’ and that was the end of it.”
What the hell? Why would he ask something like that? Kei was frustrated because he wanted to ask Ushio about it, but he wasn’t around and it looked like no one could contact him either. Kei didn’t understand it, and it made him wonder how much of Ushio did he truly understand about him, and it made him anxious. He wouldn’t say that they had disclosed every little thing to each other, and it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted either, but they had talked and discussed plenty of things with each other and they had seemed to be fine. But was it all in Kei’s mind?
When Ushio said, Thank you, Kei believed that it wasn’t a lie, but was it really?
When the broadcast ended, Kei flew out of the studio, left his wardrobe disheveled on a hanger, which was completely unheard of for him, and headed down to B1. He didn’t even think to leave an excuse that he had urgent business. First, he would go home and check his cell phone. Then he would take his spare key and search Ushio’s house, and if it was all a misunderstanding then— No, it was all Ushio’s fault for the misunderstanding, so Kei would chew him out for it. Yeah, that was what he would do. Kei spent the entire taxi ride working out his plan.
Kei didn’t care to check for any ambushes from reporters tonight. He rushed into his apartment building and repeatedly pressed the button for the elevator. His feet were restless as he rode the elevator up to his floor, until finally he arrived at his front door, unlocked it, and pushed it open.
Kei froze into place. The lights were on in the apartment. Ushio’s sneakers were at the entryway. He remembered seeing a similar scene like this before. That when Kei was on the brink of exploding, and he wasn’t happy about it because he knew he would vent his anger on Ushio the moment that he saw his face.
But now the circumstances were different. Maybe Ushio was here because he was anxious to see Kei and his work was finally done. That would be great.
And yet, why couldn’t Kei muster up any happiness or relief? If he just removed his shoes, opened the door to the living room, and called out, I’m home, to Ushio, then everything would go back to their normal, regular routine—but Kei couldn’t move. He felt his heart, his stomach, his lungs trembling. As if something terrible was about to happen. That perhaps if Ushio walked over and opened the door separating the two of them, then that something terrible would happen.
“—Welcome back.” Ushio opened the door to the hallway.
Kei couldn’t say, I’m home. Instead he said, “Wakamiya Homare.”
Ushio’s face clouded over, and Kei knew that Eba had been right. Tsuzuki Ushio was actually Wakamiya Ushio.
“Old Man Eba was asking about you.”
“…Oh.” Ushio heaved a sigh. “That’s pretty incredible. He scared me for a second there, but I didn’t think he would figure it out since he hadn’t seen me in ages. I remember at my mother’s wake when he finished offering incense, he suddenly came up to me and ruffled my hair. It surprised me, but it also made me happy.”
There were too many things that Kei didn’t understand, and it made it harder to know where to start asking questions. Instead, a giant invisible balloon expanded over his head—like one of those balloons used on the variety shows. Unless he gave the right answer, the balloon would pop, but what was the right answer? Kei couldn’t help but panic at how he couldn’t grasp a single thing.
“My mother died during the winter of my third year in junior high school—” Ushio started saying, but then he said, “No, wait,” frowned and scratched the side of his forehead. It appeared as if Ushio’s head was still unsorted.
“It’s hard to arrange my thoughts when talking about myself… My old man’s a politician, and my mother was a politician’s wife. They didn’t really act like parents to me. I probably only had a handful of conversations with my father… The one I remember the most is from the time when I was in first grade. I had received an award for a drawing I had made over summer vacation. My father happened to be home, and when I went to show it to him, he said extremely calmly, ‘Ushio, you don’t need to do those sorts of things.’”
The tip of his fingers tapped the side of his forehead as if dislodging the memory.
“I think I would have understood him more if he had said that it was terrible or that he was busy and to stop bothering him. Then I could say that he was in a bad mood. But I kept wondering what he meant by ‘those sorts of things.’ Was he telling me not to draw anymore? Not to come and show him anything? Don’t try to talk to him like a normal parent and child? …I still don’t understand what he meant.”
“…What about your mom?”
“Hmmm, everything that came out of her mouth was ‘your father this’ and ‘your father that.’ If you do that, you’ll be an embarrassment to your father. If you can do this, your father will be happy. One time I asked her, ‘Mom, what do you think?’ and she gave me a puzzled look. I think she really didn’t understand what the question meant. Even as a child I thought, ‘She’s entirely a politician’s wife.’ Her eyes glinted more than my old man’s whenever there was an election. Day after day she would go around greeting people, making mountains of riceballs for the election committee people and bringing them over—it was pretty impressive.”
Ushio’s last words sounded awfully distant, as if he had observed something that he had watched on TV. Maybe he realized it himself, because he shook his head and said, “I can’t explain it very well.”
“My parents worked incredibly hard to provide the life that I had. And because of them, I lived in a huge house, went to an exclusive, elite private school—I knew that my life was incredibly privileged. I would be walking outside, and people would come up to me and say, ‘Please give your father my regards for me,’ or that they had their pictures taken together recently. And well, I guess I did feel a sort of sense of respect for him. There was a constant stream of people that would come to the house. We had maids and helpers, and my old man had a private secretary. Even if my parents didn’t pay much attention to me, I wasn’t particularly lonely. But I knew that I never wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a politician when I grew up. I wasn’t being rebellious; it just simply wasn’t for me.”
Ushio talked about how he hated studying and how he would always draw flip book cartoons in the corner of his textbooks. It was easy to imagine how constricting a life in a well-known political family was, no matter how wealthy they were.
“During the winter of my third year in junior high, the dissolution of the lower House was announced right at the start of the new year. The election campaigns went into full swing, and I was thinking how the house would turn into a battlefield again, but then my mother collapsed and died.”
The abruptness in his words probably mirrored how Ushio had felt at the time.
“She had been out in the snow, spending far too much time outside, and it aggravated her cold, which then turned into pneumonia. She probably pushed herself far too hard. That winter was really cold, and we were facing headwinds in the elections. There’s no such thing as an easy election… That’s what my old man’s secretary liked to say. My mother was pregnant at the time. I wonder which I would have had, a brother or a sister.”
That was a new family member who should have been born. What if his mother had rested more when she was sick? What if there weren’t elections that winter? What if they weren’t a political family? Kei didn’t know how Ushio thought about all of this.
“I was just a kid, but the campaign work went on as usual even though my mother had just died. I was thinking at the time, couldn’t they take a leave of absence like I did from school? But of course, they couldn’t. During the wake, I heard people grumbling. ‘Don’t do this to us when we’re so fucking busy.’ ‘Yeah, but it could also be a gift for Wakamiya.’ ‘Votes fall from the sky when you vow to run on behalf of a fallen family member’— … Don’t look like that.”
Kei realized that his face had twisted up.
“It was odd, but it never really angered me. Not even when all those old men who I didn’t know laughed and said, ‘I’m when in a pinch, I should get my wife to croak for me too.’ It was like I was watching someone else’s dream instead of my own life. But then I don’t know why it changed. After winning his election, the papers ran a photo of my father visiting my mother’s grave… It was a beautiful photo. A pristine snowy landscape, covered in a pure white… And I couldn’t forgive him for it.”
For the first time that Ushio spoke, his eyes flashed with anger.
“It felt so dirty how he could use my mother’s death like that for his own gain. He could have told the reporters to give him some privacy when visiting her grave, but he let them take the pictures anyway and even let them write an article about it. It was the first time in my life that I ever flared up him, but he barely even looked at me. He just hit me, and when I fell over, I thought of my mother for some reason. I was pissed, but would my mother feel angry or sad about it? …No, she wouldn’t. There was no denying it. I hate putting it this way, but it was what she would have wanted.”
Ushio’s hands had been clenched tightly into fists. With that amount of strength, it could pop the balloon suspended above Kei’s head. But Kei didn’t know what words or actions he could use to loosen the tension in his fists.
“That was the first time that I ever felt lonely,” Ushio said. “I was lonely, and that house wasn’t a place where I belonged. That was why I ran away after I graduated from junior high. My grandma took me in after that, and I took a bunch of part-time jobs. I went to a vocational school to get my high school qualifications, and I finally felt relieved once I turned 20. I could support myself without relying on anyone else. Eventually I made it to where I could support myself on a single job—and so here I am today.”
Today—that was right, he had met Kei, and here he was today. As long as Ushio was here today and in the future, everything would be fine. He couldn’t speak with the Ushio from the past, nor could he touch him.
“…That was all about the past, right?”
“And here you are today, and everything is over, right?”
But this time, Ushio didn’t reply with a Yeah.
“I had a really bad feeling when the rumors started circulating about you running for office, but I thought it could also be a side effect of your job. When my projects were cancelled left and right, I thought that maybe it was a bad coincidence… But when I heard that a member from the National Diet had showed up at your hosting job, I went to Asahi TV’s website to look around and found my old man’s name there. And I knew that none of it was a coincidence and that I had to confront someone about it. I hadn’t seen my father’s secretary since my last year in junior high.”
“…So what happened?”
“Ultimately he wants me to succeed him. Even after having nothing to do with me for half of my life. I really have no idea what the hell he’s thinking.”
There was no anger like earlier in the laughter that he let out in desperation. It was like there was no energy left in Ushio to confront this absurd demand.
“You’re not going to succeed him, right?” Kei said in a loud voice, afraid of the answer. “You’re not going to succeed him, so just ignore him.”
“I don’t know” was Ushio’s answer.
“He not telling me to become a politician in a day or two, but in the future… Anyway, I’m going back to my parents’ house. More like, I already went back. For the past week I’ve been going around taking care of things to wind down my old business— The only thing that I know for certain is that this problem with my family will follow me wherever I go unless I do something about it. I thought I could break things off with them forever, but I was too naive.”
“So you deleted your LINE account? And changed your phone number? You’re fully ready to disappear.”
Isn’t this the place that you spent over 10 years creating for yourself? All during a time I was warm at home and never spared a thought about whether I was lonely or not.
But Ushio didn’t utter a single word—he just stared back at Kei with a look like he was mourning over events that had nothing to do with himself, like it was a faraway war fought on the other side of the world. He couldn’t yell, I can’t take this shit, or admit, I don’t know what to do. Kei realized that Ushio couldn’t open up his heart to him, even now.
It was too unbearable for Kei, and so he went directly to the heart of the matter. The one thing that he wanted to know most. The one thing that he was most afraid of to find out.
“…Is it my fault?”
His father had applied pressure not on Ushio himself, but on Kei’s surroundings. That would mean he had a fair understanding of some degree of their relationship—or possibly even all of it. Kei was the one in the public eye, and he was the one who had something to hide too.
Ushio was the one who would always protect him.
What should he say? How could he stop Ushio from going through with this? Ushio had given Kei all of this magic up until now, and Kei wanted to use it for Ushio too.
“Don’t go.” Kei squeeze Ushio’s wrist. He didn’t want to use the word home. “Don’t go. Just ignore him. I would make a better politician. You’re not fit to be one.”
“I seriously think so too.” Ushio softly crinkled his eyes.
Now’s not the time for that face.
“Don’t go, okay?”
“I really wish I could do that, but I can never ever do anything that would bring trouble to you. Not you, you’re the only one I never want to do that to. I’ve thought about it hundreds times, but I just can’t.”
“Why not!?” Kei yelled. “You’re the only one I go to no matter how much trouble I cause you.”
“There’s a big difference in the trouble that I would bring. You understand, right?”
“I don’t understand!”
If I understand, then everything will be over.
“I don’t care what the fuck your dad has on me. If he wants to leak everything, so leak everything! Then I’ll just quit being an announcer. It won’t take long for people to forget about me, and then everything will be fine!”
Let’s live somewhere we can laugh together. Somewhere no one can bother us. We’ll go on a journey and find a new planet. This was what you meant, right? That there’s a continuation, that this isn’t the end, right? I’ll recognize it from now on, okay? The nights when you turn your back unable to fall asleep, the nights when your eyes are dark despite making love to me.
There’s still a future ahead of us, right?
“Why not!? Do you think I’ll be happy giving you up as long I can go on TV and pretend like nothing happened!?”
“I don’t think that.”
Ushio shook his hand free from Kei’s grip and instead clutched Kei in a tight embrace. It was Ushio’s warmth, Ushio’s scent, Ushio’s trembling, and he was right there holding on to Kei.
“I don’t think that, so that’s why it’s not your fault. It’s my own selfishness. …I want to see you on TV for as long as I can. If you’re ever forced to quit, if you can never appear on TV with your exterior image again, I’ll never forgive myself for the rest of my life. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to face you.”
“Because I love Kunieda-san. When I dropped in on the studio last week, I kept marveling at how amazing and cool you were. Maybe you think that you don’t love your job, that you’re just doing it because it’s something that you can do, but it doesn’t look like that to me at all. You love it, including the things that you don’t like very much. That’s why you look so alive at your job. I can’t bring myself to do anything to hurt your image an announcer.”
“Didn’t you say a long time ago that you don’t like me being on TV?”
“Yeah, and honestly, it still bothers me. But it makes me happy too. That the Kunieda Kei that I fell in love with is such an incredible guy. You never run from any kind of responsibilities or any kind of pressure.”
Kei wrung out all of his restraint to keep himself in check. The frustration made him want to bite Ushio right there in the shoulder.
“You were there for me… The night of the premiere, that night of the live report, you were always there… As long as you’re there for me, I can do anything, I can work as hard as I need to… I can’t do this by myself…”
Kei didn’t care if it was shameful, but if he could cry and make Ushio change his mind, then so be it. He just wanted Ushio to change how he felt.
Yeah, I should just burst into tears. Sob until he feels so bad that he can’t tear himself away from here.
So why couldn’t he shed a single tear now of all times?
“You can do it.”
Ushio said the cruel words in a gentle voice.
“You are strong, so you can do anything. You never lose to anyone when you decide to become serious.”
“I said I can’t do it.”
“I’m the one who’s weak. You’re the one who supported and protected me. Kei, you’re the one who gave me a place to belong.”
“No, I don’t like this.”
“I’m sorry for dragging you into this weird mess.”
“I never said anything like that.”
Ushio held Kei so hard that Kei could barely breathe, so hard that he could hardly speak.
“…It’ll be okay. I’ll come see you again. Until then, I’ll always be watching you on TV.”
As Wakamiya Ushio? At a ridiculous ceremony where you’re on a podium all dressed up and we just happen to pass by each other?
“Thank you, Kei. I love you so much.”
The moment that Ushio whispered, “That’s why I have to go,” the balloon above Kei’s head silently burst.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.