All roads and sidewalks imaginable were congested on a Monday morning in Tokyo. On a crowded intersection in downtown Akihabara, a huge clock ticked at half-past seven as the wide screen below it featured the morning news.
"Discovered dead in his car last night is Satoshi Takeda, one of the six major stockholders of the multimillion enterprise, Matsui Freight. The scene of the crime was believed to have occurred at the Matsui Tower in Shinjuku at 10:30 in the evening..."
A young, brown-haired girl in a high school uniform looked up from the crowded intersection below.
"Authorities confirm Mr. Takeda's death as the fourth assassination since the murder of three other executives in Tokyo last month..."
"Akemi, do you mind? We're crossing the street," Her companion whispered to her. "We're blocking the way."
"Oh, sorry," The girl named Akemi blinked, quickly continuing on her way. They arrived at the other side of the street as they paused in front of a magazine stand.
"Ooh, the latest issue of Layla is out," Kasumi picked up a magazine from the rack. "Hey, it's a special edition! Hold on, I'm going to buy this!"
After her purchase, they waited by the stoplight as the other two girls began reading behind Kasumi's back in piqued interest.
"I knew Tomoki Kurokawa would make it to the list," Kasumi nodded. "He was so hot in his latest movie!"
"Totally," Yukari raised her eyebrows. "He only ranked number nine though..."
"What's that?" Akemi creased her forehead as they began to cross the street.
"Layla magazine's April special," Tsubame answered. "Featuring the most eligible bachelors of the year."
"Oh," Akemi disinterestedly blinked. "I see."
"Who got number one?" Yukari curiously asked.
"... Takeshi Ryuuzaki?" Kasumi creased her forehead. "Who's this guy? He sounds familiar."
"If I'm not mistaken, the Ryuuzakis are one of the richest families in the country," Tsubame put a finger to her chin in thought. "I wonder if he's one of them?"
"Wow, he looks really hot," Yukari's eyes widened. "Hey, isn't he the guy that's being linked with that actress Mika Matsumoto...?"
Akemi finally saw the long lane of blooming, cherry blossom trees in front of their school and sighed.
Today was going to be another day.
Akemi could hear her own breathing as she picked up on her feet. Her eyes locked on the soccer ball in the distance as she collided with the other players in her pursuit. A careless kick sent the ball rolling closer to her favor.
Narrowing her eyes in determination, Akemi raised her leg and kicked with all the strength and accuracy she could muster. She ended up missing the goalkeeper's net by a small margin.
"Time out!" The teacher bellowed with a shrill whistle as she ushered the students to assemble before her. "Morisato! Get that ball!"
Akemi groaned, sprinting to retrieve the ball when a boy in a baseball uniform appeared and picked it up.
"Hey!" she called out. "Wait!"
The boy turned around and raised his eyebrows at her. "Oh hey, Akemi. What are you doing here?"
"I'm supposed to get that ball back," Akemi blinked.
"Oh, this?" he smirked, raising his hand from her reach. "This is your ball?"
"Very funny, Makoto," She put a hand to her hip. "But I'm not in the mood for games right now."
"You kicked this ball, didn't you?" The boy named Makoto grinned, raising his hand higher when she tried jumping for it. "Now why didn't I see that coming?"
"Shut up!" she snapped. "Just give it back! I'm in a hurry!"
"Whatever," he laughed. "Die trying."
"Damn it, Makoto! Coach will get mad at me!"
"Hey, what's going on in here?" A tall, dark-haired man in regular uniform appeared as he put an arm around Makoto's shoulders.
"Hey Ryuuichi," Makoto grinned. "I was just dealing with my stupid girlfriend here."
"I am not stupid!" Akemi exclaimed. "And I am not your girlfriend!"
"Sure," Ryuuichi drawled, smirking. "Come on man, give it back to her."
When Makoto didn't budge, he tipped the ball over from the boy's grasp as Akemi reflexively caught it beneath him.
"Don't mind this idiot, Akemi," Ryuuichi grinned.
"Thanks, Matsuzawa," She beamed with the ball in both hands. "I owe you one."
"A movie on Saturday sounds good?"
Makoto slapped him at the back of the head. "Like hell that's gonna happen!"
"Hey!" Ryuuichi angrily exclaimed. "Like you have a say in it!"
"Oh..." Akemi uneasily laughed. "Sorry, I..."
"Don't mind it," The taller boy grinned as he began wrestling with Makoto and successfully pulled him into a headlock. "You know I never give up."
"Let me go!" Makoto growled.
Akemi had only turned to leave when she faced them again. "Oh by the way Makoto, I need those textbooks. I have a test in two days."
"Sure," Makoto grunted as Ryuuichi finally released him. "I'll drop them off later then."
"Okay," The girl shrugged and left without another word.
"Man, how can you crash her place just like that?" Ryuuichi muttered with a shake of his head. "What I'd give to come over..."
Makoto patted him on the shoulder. "Well, just happened to know her seventeen years before you, chum."
"Hey, Yukari. Do you still plan to return that to me?"
Taking a sip of the chocolate shake in her hands, Akemi averted her gaze from the window and looked at Kasumi beside her.
"I'll be done in a minute," Yukari sipped on her milkshake from across the table, still reading the same magazine from that morning. "You know, this special they've got on the bachelors is really something."
"And that's my magazine, if you haven't forgotten," Kasumi interjected. "Give that to me already. I haven't even finished reading it yet."
"Wow, this guy's really got it going for him," Yukari completely ignored her. "27 years old, Marketing AVP of one of the biggest shipping companies in the country..."
"I know. He's quite something, isn't he?" Tsubame nodded beside her, taking a sip of her latté. "Pretty accomplished at such a young age."
"And look at all these companies his family owns! No wonder he ranked number one on the list."
"Please, I don't even know who that guy is," Kasumi snapped in annoyance as the waiter finally came and served her slice of crepe. "Nobody beats my Tomoki Kurokawa. Give me that!"
Kasumi immediately snatched the magazine from Yukari, who loudly protested in response.
Akemi finally took a glimpse of the page. It was a paparazzi-taken photograph featured on centerfold. Walking beside another businessman, Takeshi Ryuuzaki had jet-black hair and a distinctive set of hazel brown eyes. He had a well-defined jaw and high cheekbones, his lean frame embraced by the designer suit he was wearing. His unusual features made her wonder if he had foreign blood or not.
"I still think Tomoki Kurokawa is hotter," Kasumi muttered, despite her gaze lingering on the photo.
"Whatever you guys say," Akemi sighed, sipping on her milkshake again as she returned her gaze to the window.
Akemi was working on her homework in the living room that evening when her older sister sat on the long couch beside her.
"You should do that in your room," The woman said, turning on the television. "Has my show started yet?"
"Nope," Akemi replied as her sister changed the channel to the evening news and momentarily returned to the kitchen.
"As for business news, the merging of Fukuda Cargo and Ryuuzaki Navigation was officially announced in a press conference in Shinjuku today..."
"We're very glad that the merging was successfully able to take place," A clear, male voice sent Akemi looking up from her homework. To her surprise, it was the face of the man in the magazine as cameras furiously flashed before him.
"We're looking forward to our future endeavors with Fukuda Cargo, and we are thankful to finally have them with us..."
Her sister returned from the kitchen, a bowl of potato chips in her hand as she placed it on the table beside Akemi's books.
"Call me when my show starts," she said. "I'll just finish with the dishes."
"Okay," Akemi grabbed a chip as she continued watching Takeshi Ryuuzaki on her screen.
Akemi exchanged morning greetings with her classmates as she arrived in class the following day.
"Morning, Akemi," An auburn-haired girl made her way over to her desk. "Did you study for Chemistry?"
"Hey," she blinked. "Chemistry? What for?"
"The other class says they got a surprise quiz yesterday. I didn't study at all!"
"Me neither," She creased her forehead. "You think we'll get one too?"
"Shouldn't matter," A boy sitting next to her piped up. "It won't be a problem for Akemi-san, that's for sure."
"You're right," The girl nodded. "I forgot this is Akemi we're talking about."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she laughed.
"You can fail the test and still be one of the top in class!"
"That's not true!" she grinned.
The first period teacher finally arrived. The students rose from their seats as Akemi merely shook her head with a smile.
"Tell him I can't go. I have a meeting today."
Tilting his chair as he faced the wide windows of his office, a young, dark-haired man in a business suit held his cellphone closer to his ear and crossed his legs in his seat.
"Yes I know, but my hands are tied," he said, looking at his wristwatch. "I have a conference in half an hour."
He stood up and walked to the clear glass window. He placed a hand in his pocket and kept his gaze to the city thirty-eight floors below him.
"Alright, very well," he sighed. "Thank you."
His secretary entered the room with a knock. "The meeting is about to begin, Mr. Ryuuzaki."
"Has the client arrived?" he asked, playing with the mobile in his hand.
"You know what, tell Hiroshi I can't make it," He returned to his desk. "Tell him I have a prior engagement."
"But Mr. Ryuuzaki," The woman stammered. "Mr. Katsuragi has personally requested for you to be there..."
"I'm sure he'll understand, Aya."
"But Mr. Ryuuzaki..."
His secretary could only stare at him in despair as he waved a hand to dismiss her and disappeared to an adjoining room in his office. He took off his clothes and stepped into the shower, indulging in the relaxing heat for as long as he could.
He stared at the draining water at his feet and put a hand to the marble wall, closing his eyes at the feel of the heat running down his body. He combed his hands over his hair and let out a heavy sigh.
Takeshi turned off the glass faucet and stepped out of the shower, steam following him as he reentered the room wearing nothing more than the towel around his waist. It was a handsomely decorated room that looked more like a suite than an office retreat.
From across the bed he looked at his reflection in the mirror. A man with dark hair and a tall, lean build stared tiredly back at him. He sat on the edge of his bed and dried his hair with a towel.
After changing into a black dress shirt and white pants, he went down to the building basement and stepped inside his silver Corvette ZR1. He slipped on his sunglasses and entered the main road, pausing at a stoplight as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel.
The signal turned green as Takeshi stepped on the accelerator. He didn't exactly know where he was going, but as long as he could get away, anywhere would do. The city with its buildings, cars, and crowds only reminded him of long, dreary meetings and his bothersome seniors at work.
Finding himself breaking away from the busy, urban scenery several minutes later, Takeshi tiredly sighed to himself as flowering, cherry blossom trees showered petals past his window and to the sakura-covered road ahead.
The catcher returned the missed ball back to the pitcher as the batter prepared herself once more for the next hit. With a raised leg and an outstretched arm, the pitcher gave one fast throw, and the batter failed to hit the ball again.
Akemi looked at the padded glove in her hand with a sigh. It had been a long, busy day, and although she just wanted to go home, she still had half an hour left before baseball practice was over.
There was suddenly a loud crack. The girl beside her was suddenly shouting, "Akemi! The ball!"
"Huh?" She rapidly blinked in surprise. "What?"
She looked up, spotting the ball flying in the air as she instantly broke into a run. She outstretched her arm up as the ball plummeted down...
Until her face ungraciously hit the field screen.
The other team ecstatically roared as the grinning batter sprinted on her way to a home run.
"Morisato! Get that ball back!" The coach shouted.
"Yes Coach..." Akemi groaned.
Takeshi was only about to continue on his way when his cellphone began to ring. He fumbled for the bag on the passenger seat beside him, temporarily averting his gaze from the road.
Only several hundred meters away was a baseball in the middle of the street. Akemi stepped out of the school gates, breathless as she put her hands to her knees. She sorely stared at the ball and groaned. That batter sure had a lucky strike to send a ball this far out...
Takeshi let out a low scowl when he finally found his cellphone, only to discover it was one of his seniors calling him. With a shake of his head, he reluctantly answered the call and returned his gaze to the road before him, where a girl materialized in front of his speeding car.
to be continued