As the alarm went I slammed on it and continued staring at the ceiling. I had been pretty much awake for the past hour anyway. You know, considering that we spend half our lives looking up at the ceiling, that is, of course, if you are with home and a bedroom, most people haven't actually given thought to how their ceilings should look like. I mean, I know you aren't really looking at the ceiling when you're asleep, but when you're awake or insomniac, shouldn't the ceiling have some kind of pretty pattern to occupy your thoughts, other than the thought that one has kissed a rock god, say, about five hours earlier?
Oh wait. That's just me. Sorry.
But seriously. You would think that my mind would stop running on repeat already and picturing . . . Kenji's . . . face when we were. . . kissing. Who knew that I would use 'we were kissing' and 'Kenji' in the same sentence? Anyway, back to my mind. It has been running on loop playing said scene like a demented tape player ever since I woke up.
As I remembered what I said yesterday, I felt a mixture of emotions at once. Such as embarrassment, and feeling twitchy at how bold I acted yesterday. I FULLY blame the lack of sleep. And Masataro. And my highly-strung nerves. And that song he wrote. All of which have compounded the emotions at the moment. Then there was the unbelief. You know. Like, I cannot believe he kissed me. I cannot believe I kissed him. I cannot believe that . . . well you get the idea.
Most of all, though, was this sense of absolute, unbelievable contentment and happiness that I hadn't felt in a long, long time. Who knew that the idiot I bumped into so many months ago could have that kind of effect on me?
Well, it's not like I haven't said it, but I'll say it anyway.
Life sure was strange. Yesterday was strange. Five hours ago was strange.
Looking into each other's eyes after kissing for about, um, fifteen minutes (not that I timed it – it was just an estimate) was really, REALLY, strange.
That strangeness is particularly noticeable if you've just spent, say, the entire week knowing that you liked the other person but he was 'dating' someone else, and then you catch them in the act of goodness knows what it was the day before yesterday. After getting a display of that the night before, you spend the earlier half of yesterday avoiding said liked person, and then the later half of yesterday catching up with a first love/best friend. Not to mention, you get upset by the video of one's own mother in the hospital, and then you wake up in the middle of the night with a nightmare just to find one of your managed charges telling the person you liked that he was going to lose you if he wasn't careful, and then listen to him write and dedicate a song to you. Later, you are so overwhelmed with feelings that you just march up to said person and demand to know whether he likes you or not, now. When it turns out he does, and he knows you like him too, you two kiss for a very, very long and slow moment in time.
I'm sorry to have such a limited vocabulary, but if that wasn't strange, I don't know what it was.
Well, okay. Maybe it was a little sweet.
But mostly strange.
What Kazuya said to me after the kiss, though, was more sweet than strange. It was made all the sweeter because I know he wasn't just flirting, but had meant every word of it. Then he made me go back to sleep and kissed me on the lips, saying that he'd be right there until I fell asleep. Of course, I was very self-conscious and kept sneaking glances at him, and it was only when he threatened to sleep in my bed with me if I don't fall asleep that I quickly closed my eyes. When I sneaked another glance at him he seemed a bit perturbed that that suggestion had caused me to go to sleep immediately.
Hmm? What's that? What Kazuya said after the kiss, right until the moment I finally fell asleep? Oh, come on. You don't need to know a blow-by-blow account.
Okay, fine. You've twisted my leg. I'll tell you.
There we were, kissing away until we were both sitting on the floor, and then I felt a tear roll down my cheek for reasons unknown. I mean, I know, how dorky of me to cry from a kiss, but I was just so overwhelmed with feelings that they had all manifested themselves into a tear.
Kazu . . . Kenji (oh boy. Now this was going to be hard.) must have felt it too (well, we were kissing) and he pulled back to gaze tenderly into my eyes. So tenderly, in fact, that I almost felt like crying again.
"Well, I don't think I'm that bad of a kisser for you to cry over." He said in a perplexed voice. My urge to cry went away. I looked balefully at him and was about to step away, when he suddenly pulled me close and hugged me tightly, with my head buried in his chest as he did so. I could feel his heartbeat against my eardrum.
"Ka. . . Kenji?" I asked in astonishment.
"Say my name again."
"Okay, okay, I was joking." Hesitantly I hugged him back, feeling myself relax when I did so. Hmm, he did smell nice. ". . . Kenji."
"You hear that?"
"Remember what I sang." He chided me softly. "The sound of my heart skipping a beat faster when you say my name."
"I don't exactly recall ever calling you by your first name before." I said, puzzled.
"Doesn't mean that I haven't imagined it before." I blushed as he said that. "And various . . . other things." I decided not to ask what various other things were. Don't spoil the moment and all that, right? "I can't believe that I'm holding you like this." He murmured further. "I haven't held you in a long time. And never like this." He said softly, stroking my hair. "I didn't think this was possible."
"Why?" I asked, pulling back and looking into Kenji's face. My hands reached out for his as I asked. "Why didn't you think this was possible?" I had my doubts too, but I wanted to know what he thought.
"You were never ready for a relationship after your break-up." He reminded me. "You seemed like you wanted to shut out the world, and you were so jittery. I could see it in your eyes how you didn't want to ever let someone else into your world again, until they could hurt you. I mean, you were in the presence of Lucy's Wish, and there you were, being sarcastic and all prickly. Most girls I know lower their defenses when in the presence of five famous and handsome guys." Well, modesty was definitely not his trait. "And then, when I thought you were opening up, there was the . . . first kiss incident . . . in which you seemed to have retreated into your shell." I grimaced at him. "Not to mention, there was Yoshida." Kenji said softly.
"Masataro?" I asked with astonishment. "What does he have to do with . . . oh."
" I could see that he was attracted to you, that perhaps on some level that he could see Yuri in you. And I was right, what with everything that had happened in Beppu. I remember . . . that I almost kissed you in a moment of weakness. But I . . . didn't want to take his second chance at happiness, because I could see that he really liked you." Kenji looked away by that point, but I made him look at me. I wanted to hear him, see him say it.
"So I decided to stay away, thinking that maybe that all I had on you was just a fancy whim. You certainly never did anything deliberately to attract me, and that whole 'fake-date' thing with Midori seemed like a good way to conceal my feelings." He looked embarrassed. "And you know how that turned out. I actually turned down a beautiful woman when she was about to proposition me a night of . . ." I grimaced at him. I didn't need to hear the sordid details, thanks. Kenji got the hint.
"Well, you know." He said hastily. "All I could think of was you, and how you stomped on my foot when you accused me of sexually harassing you, and walking away with your nose held high in the air." Oh great. This was my greatest impression on him? "Then I knew that I had really got it bad, and even Midori knew it. Even Masataro knew it. I guess, even the rest of the gang knew it. I was just the only one who didn't even realize it, by trying to suppress my feelings for so long."
"I also . . . had an inkling that you were attracted to me at some point in your life. I mean, who wouldn't, right?" I aimed a punch at his upper arm. "But all those moments seemed fleeting, as though you were trying to suppress your feelings as well. You didn't even react when I told you about my 'dates', and I was more convinced than ever that you were not interested in me. To be honest, I never had a girl tell me to 'please continue' when another girl is trying to seduce me." It was my turn to gaze elsewhere.
"Anyway, after you left for your bedroom, I was about to go after you when Midori made a remark about how the one I really liked was you, after all. I apologized to her, but she said that even though she wasn't the one who I liked, she had fun on our dates. And then she told me something amazing." Kenji shook his head. "She told me that you told her that you . . . liked me, and that she could see it too. Then she cheerfully said that we were both a bunch of idiots when I sent her home, and wished me the best of luck in getting you." Oddly enough, I could almost see her doing that. I do not take kindly to being called an idiot, though.
"I drove around for quite a while after that." Kenji admitted. "I had to clear my mind and thoughts about you. There were so many things to consider, so many factors to weigh in. What if Midori was wrong and that you weren't attracted to me at all, for example? I could be making a fatal mistake here, by pushing you backwards into the shell you had been hiding in for so long."
"The next morning I tried to talk to you, but you got out of the penthouse so fast, you could have gotten into the Olympics and train with Usain Bolt, no problem." Kenji said wryly. "I thought I'd give you the best part of a day to calm down by doing work so that you could talk to me calmly later on, but you were still jittery after an entire day. I thought, right, it was now or never, and was about to haul you off someplace private to talk when . . ."
"Aidan showed up." I completed his sentence.
"I could see how much you loved him, and all my convictions about letting you know about my feelings and letting you decide whether you wanted me or not flew away. I could see how much he loved you, too, and I was appalled to find myself actually jealous." Kenji admitted. I tried to hide a smile, but I couldn't help it. He just looked so adorable admitting that he had a feeling that he wasn't accustomed to having. And he was jealous! Of Aidan! Over me!
I had no idea that was such an ego booster.
"Still, I just wanted you to be happy, and if your happiness lied with Prince Charming sleeping down there, then so be it. Then I was feeling angry at myself for not telling you sooner, for not realizing sooner that you liked me, and was just about to give up hope when Yoshida came up and told me off. I mean, Yoshida Masataro, of all people." Kenji shook his head. "I can see that you were very precious to him, very dear to him, and there he was, saying that I'd lose you. Not him losing you, but me. It was quite a shock." Kenji looked at my face. "You don't seem that surprised." He noted. I blushed fierily. "Oh." I nodded. "So you've heard everything then." I nodded. It was his turn to turn slightly red.
"I didn't realize that he was talking about me at first." I said, looking down at my fingers still clasped with Kenji's. "Then when I did, and that you were singing a song about me, I just . . . wanted to know that if you really felt that way about me too."
"And so here we are." Kenji lifted my hands and kissed them. "You know, Lucia, you are the first girl to have baffled, mystified, made me feel so many facets of life and feelings, and made me think about you all the time. No words can express how happy I am to hear that you are in love with me." I blush a little, but looked at Kenji seriously as he said that. There was a small pause, and then I spoke.
"Just now, what you were saying . . ." I said slowly. "Are you saying that you were going to give me to Masataro? I'm sorry that you lost first prize, but here, have the second one?"
"I wouldn't put it quite like that." Kenji said with a pained expression on his face. "You are every bit a first prize to me as Yuri was . . . is . . . to Yoshida." I tried not to let his flattery detract me from the original topic.
"So that was it? You were going to hide your feelings if Masataro wanted me?" I said, feeling a bit hurt. What was I, a football?
"He loves you, you know." Kenji said slowly. "And if you were in love with him, yes, I would have hidden my feelings. I didn't talk about my feelings earlier, because, well, I also thought that you liked him, if not on his magnitude yet. I had thought that maybe, over time, your feelings would have blossomed for him. That was also the reason why I hid my feelings. I didn't want to stand in your way, or, to sound a little selfish, be rejected by you." He said softly. I looked at him. What an idiot. "That's what you did too, isn't it?"
"Me?" I asked in astonishment.
"You hid your feelings." Kenji reminded me. "If not quite for the reasons I had. Maybe you were afraid of being involved again, afraid of being involved with someone from the workplace, afraid that I was in love with Midori, afraid of being rejected. So you see. . ." He smiled beatifically at me. "We're both in the same boat." I thought over what he said. I guess if it wasn't for a whole host of other people, we might have spent our entire lives hiding our feelings from each other, too afraid to do anything about them because we were scared to be hurt.
"All right." I admitted. "So maybe we both are idiots, like Midori said."
"Don't you know?" Kenji said, stroking my face now. "Only fools fall in love." I laughed a little. "And now it's my turn to ask you something serious." He looked seriously at me. "Do you . . ." I braced myself for whatever serious question he was about to throw at me. "Love Aidan?"
I stared at Kenji, shocked. That was his serious question?
"I do, yes." I said slowly, a moment later. I mean, I wanted to laugh, but he looked so earnest, I tried not to. "He means a lot to me. And, if in the sense of love that you mean, the love between lovers, I did once, but he did not. Thankfully, our friendship is still going strong, even until today. I love him, yes, and I always will, but as far as developing our relationship to the next level, this is as far as we both will go." I smiled prettily at Kenji. "Besides." I said mischievously. "Like I said, it's hard to beat the guy who wrote a song for me, who hides his feelings from me, and who is the person who has introduced me to so many new aspects of living and appreciating life." I paused a little while, still smiling mischievously. "And is also a pretty good kisser." Kenji laughed as well.
"You're not so bad yourself." He said, his face coming closer to mine.
Right, you don't need imagination to know what happened later. Again.
"Just one more question." I said, after he pulled away. "When did you first realize you were attracted to me?"
"From the moment I met you, of course." Kenji said matter-of-factly. "The moment I swore at you and you stood your ground by yelling back at me was truly a magical moment. Not to mention the next magical moment, when I pushed you against the wall and you responded by trying to kick me where it hurt most." I grimaced. "I remembered feeling a bit pissed, but mostly intrigued by the girl in the Burberry coat, who didn't recognize me as the leader of the hottest rock band around."
"I think it was the 'didn't recognize you' bit that got you the most." I said wryly.
"Maybe." Kenji said, clearly unabashed at this. "But for someone who didn't recognize me, you sure did a good job as a manager, but an even better job at getting to my heart." He kissed me again. "Time for bed." He said, getting up. "Come on." I stared up at him, flummoxed. He couldn't mean . . . could he? Kenji rolled his eyes as he took in my expression.
"Don't worry." He said dryly. "I'm not exactly the type to make a girl do what she doesn't want to do, especially when it comes to matters like that. But I do think it's time for bed for you, since it's extremely late. Come on. I'll hold your hand until you fall asleep, and I give you my word of honor that I wouldn't touch you, okay?"
"I didn't think you had honor." I teased him, as he pulled me to my feet. At that, he pulled me in for a kiss. Laughing at my slightly stunned expression, he held my hand and pulled me in the direction of my bedroom.
"Don't tempt me." He said as he pulled me along. "But just so you know, Lucia," He looked at me. "I do want to do so. With you." I gazed back, startled, at him.
Well. That was. Straightforward, to say the least.
Plus it was also extremely blush-inducing.
"Wh-what?" I stammered. Kazuya laughed.
"Someday." He said seriously. "I'm willing to wait for the day you're ready. After all, I've been waiting for so long already, what are a few months more?" A few months more? What did he mean, a few months more? "Just so that you're prepared, Lucia Constantine. Tonight, though, just sleep tight. Good night, sweetheart."
Well, how could I sleep after a proclamation like that?!
I think I slept approximately four hours last night. How unhealthy.
Still, I reluctantly got up blearily at seven in the morning, blearily made my way to the bathroom, blearily brushed my teeth and blearily changed into my clothes. I was still putting the finishing touches on the summer bonanza concert Lucy's Wish was to attend. It was a huge event, what with live broadcasting and tens of thousands of people attending the summer festival to listen to some of the hottest bands and singers in Japan serenade them with their songs. I had to keep going over the slightest details with sponsors, props people, sounds system people, stage settings, and so on and so forth. Very tiring, but I looked forward to it. The next nice thing about it was that it was held the day before my birthday – after that I could rest for about a week.
When I got downstairs everybody was awake and drinking coffee at the table. Kouhei was in the kitchen, most probably whipping up breakfast.
"Morning, Lu." Aidan greeted me, stopping a conversation between him and Masataro. I wondered what they were talking about. I'm glad that Aidan was settling in with the band, though. I was a bit afraid that they wouldn't take to him, but perhaps, for my sake, they tried to accommodate him. The plus factor was that Aidan was a very likable guy, so much so that he made most people feel comfortable in under three seconds flat. He was the only one the grumpy cafeteria lady smiled at back in high school, after all. "You still look a bit sleepy."
"I hardly slept last night." I muttered. Masataro smiled knowingly at me. I wondered if he sort of realized what happened after he left last night. I blushed slightly and looked around the table. Wait a minute. Someone was missing.
"Where's . . . Kazuya?" I asked. Well, I didn't want to shock them by suddenly using his first name. Slow and steady does the trick, and all.
"Still having his beauty sleep, probably." Touya said, snorting. "I heard him go up to the studio last night. Not sure what time he got back to his own bedroom, but most probably late." Oh. I can tell you. He went back at about four, the time I fell asleep. And then I woke up at five thirty with a sudden vision of his face in my head, the face he had when he was about to kissed me.
He kissed me!
Ahem. Moving on.
"That's the only way he knows how to work off his caveman attitudes." Naoki agreed. "By writing songs about them."
"Hey." A voice behind me said suddenly. "Do you all have this habit of badmouthing people when they are not around?" I swung around. Oh. There he was. He looked as sleepy as I felt, but wide awake enough to, without waiting for a reply from the others, ask me a question. "I thought you were going to call me by my first name from now on."
"Um." I said, most probably going pink. "Well. . ." Before I could finish that sentence, though, he looked mischievously around, and then stepped forward to kiss me on the lips.
I uttered a shriek of surprise and tried to step away, but his arms shot out and held me closer. It was but a pale imitation of yesterday's kiss, just a meeting between two lips, but it had every bit the same effect on me as yesterday's kiss did. My mind went blank for approximately two point one seconds, before I finally recalled that we had an audience. Unable to pull away, I did the only thing I could do.
I stomped on his foot.
"Ow." He said, stepping away, but he grinned. "Well, that was marginally less painful than it was six months ago, at least. Good morning, sweetheart." I ignored him and glanced around. Kouhei was standing in the kitchen doorway looking at me in total, utter shock. Touya was staring at Kenji. Naoki was grinning to himself, while Masataro and Aidan looked completely unaffected.
Um? Hello? How about defending your best friend's honor?
"Lucia and I are dating." Kenji announced to the gobsmacked crowd, not to mention the apathetic crowd. "So all of you with designs on her, lay off. She's my girl since last night." I raised an eyebrow at him. I don't exactly recall agreeing verbally to that. Kenji just grinned at me, and based on that grin, I decided to let it slide. I couldn't help but wonder, though, what Aidan was making of all this.
"I thought there was something between you two." Aidan said matter-of-factly when he caught me looking at him. He then sipped on his cup of coffee. "Congratulations, Lu, on your new boyfriend."
"Um. Thanks. I think." I said uncertainly.
"It was kind of obvious that you were attracted to him." Aidan explained further. "Did you know that you kept sneaking glances at him when you thought no one was looking? I caught you at it at least five times yesterday." I turned pinker. See, this is what happens when you are best friends with someone for two decades and slightly more. THEY KNOW EVERYTHING. Kenji grinned at me, having absorbed this new tidbit of information.
"And then I had an enlightening chat yesterday with Mr. Yoshida here, when I heard him come down the stairs." Aidan added. I glanced at Masataro, who looked inscrutably back at me. I wondered what he said to Aidan. "I'm very happy for you, Lu." Aidan smiled warmly at me. "I wish you all the happiness in your relationship, and remember, whatever happens, I will always be there for you."
"As will I." Masataro added. I smiled gratefully at the both of them. Life may not have always been kind to me, but I certainly struck gold in the 'good friends' department. "If you ever have problems in your love life, I'll always be willing to listen." Masataro finally grinned at me.
"That wouldn't be necessary." Kenji said, loking a bit miffed. "I'll always be there for her too. And besides, there wouldn't be any problems in our love life." I raised both eyebrows at him now. Okay, now I should be seriously worried. Did he really think that relationships weren't fraught with problems? Kenji caught my look. "Because," He added. "Whatever problems that may crop up, I'm sure that we can both handle them. Together." He said, putting emphasis on the word 'Together'.
So that was what he meant.
"Looks like your brother is all grown-up now, Kouhei!" Naoki said wickedly. Kenji glared at him, but Kouhei only laughed.
"I guess so." Kouhei smiled. "At the very least, I don't think he'd be going along with Ichiro to spy on women in the women's bath back home anymore." Now Kenji glared at his own brother.
"Have a little respect for your older brother why don't you." He said irritably.
"But wasn't it true that you went along with Touya to spy on naked women as teenagers, Kenji?" I said innocently. He looked anguished.
"That was because I hadn't met you then as a teenager, Lucia." He said. "If I had . . ."
"You would probably have died from being hit on the head with my dictionary too many times." I said dryly. Aidan laughed as he heard that.
"Well then. Perhaps it is a good thing that you both met as adults, after all. Lu doesn't have her dictionary around when you annoy her."
"Ooh, but I do have a full file on management." I said, going along with Aidan. "Maybe I could use that. . ."
"Or I could use this." Kenji said. I was wondering what he meant when he kissed me on the cheek. "A pacifier for my alleged annoyingness." He grinned again.
"Idiot." I said, feeling a little light-headed, and then I caught Touya looking at me with a sorrowful look on his face.
"What?" I asked self-consciously. Was he unhappy that I had somewhat 'taken' his best friend away from him?
"Why am I the last person in the band for you to refer to by their surname?" He asked, looking dismayed. Kenji smirked.
"You lose the bet, man." He said to Touya. "Pay up."
"Huh? What bet?" I asked, feeling confused now.
"The bet as to who you will refer to first by the first name." Naoki informed me dryly. "They've started it since you started calling Masataro and me by our first names."
"Oh." I thought about it for a while. "That's a stupid bet."
"They do thrive on stupidity, after all." Naoki agreed smoothly.
"Hey!" The two who thrived on stupidity said. Then Touya looked speculatively at me.
"Seeing as that you are referring to most of us by our first names, how about calling me by my first name too?" He grinned. I thought about it for a while, and opened my mouth.
"Nope." He looked crestfallen. "You look more like a Touya to me than an Ichiro." I explained as best I could.
"That doesn't make any sense." Touya said, looking perplexed.
"What she means is yelling 'Touya!' in anger is so much easier than yelling 'Ichiro!'."Naoki explained with a bright smile on his face. Gee. I wonder how Naoki suddenly became a mind reader. Not that he got it right.
Well, okay. Partially.
"Aiko refers to you by your surname too." I reminded Touya. He looked pained.
"Is this one of those female solidarity things again?" He asked sorrowfully.
"Well, if you started treating Aiko with more respect, I might feel compelled to call you by your first name." I said sweetly. Touya muttered something to himself inaudibly, but he smiled as he seemed to have thought of something. I gazed at him distrustfully as he looked innocently at me.
"So much for not planning to fall in love with any of us." He said wickedly. "Come on. Admit it. You love us all now, don't you?" I recalled the words I had spoken on my first night here. So much had happened since then, and I realized what Touya said was at least partially true. I had come to love my new life, and, all of the new people I had come to meet. I smiled a little, and then looked at Touya.
"I do, yes. Of course, I love some of you more than I love the others." I said, just to wipe the smirk off Touya's face.
"And the one she loves most is me, of course." Kenji said modestly.
"Well, I don't know about that. . ." I teased, and then I shrieked as Kenji chased me around the penthouse threatening to tickle me merciless.
For the rest of the days leading up to the summer concert, life was a pretty big happy fest. I had never felt happier, with the band and Aidan with me, although Jed insisted on teasing me about my new relationship with Kenji, and claiming that it was cause for celebration by assembling me a 'girlfriend of a rock god' wardrobe.
I guess the upshot was that I got a brand new wardrobe. Although . . . it did seem to have a suspicious amount of frilly dresses in it. Is that really how girlfriends of rock band leaders dress? I don't buy this 'opposites attract' theory of Jed.
During those days I also found out that it was a bit unnerving working for the father of your new dating partner.
Okay, a lot unnerving.
When Kenji announced to his father that he was dating me and throwing off the whole 'fake-dating Midori' thing, Mr. Koji only looked at him without saying a word. Then he slowly turned his gaze to me.
"You're dating Ms Lucia and not doing the publicity stunt thing with Ms Midori anymore." Mr. Koji finally said. It seemed to be a loaded statement, and I nervously looked back. I felt slightly comforted, however, as Kenji held my hand.
"Yes." Kenji said slightly rebelliously. There was another uncomfortable pause, and Mr. Koji sighed.
"Mr. Morioka called me yesterday to let me know that the publicity thing was off, and his company will be issuing a statement to the press that you two have stopped dating due to 'conflicting schedules' but still remained very good friends." Mr. Koji said. "I suppose your 'break-up' will generate a bit more media frenzy for a while. I would advise you two to keep your relationship a secret from the press, though."
I felt a bit perplexed at that. I mean, why would I want to announce to the world that I was dating someone? Mr. Koji, however, had a different motive in mind.
"The press could easily turn against the both of you and use your relationship as the real reason why you aren't seeing Ms Midori anymore." He explained. "While there is the idea that any bad publicity is good publicity, this could turn away your fans that were initially Ms Midori's fans. Also, you may be hot enough to outburn Hell itself, but you would want to keep Ms Lucia safe from the public scrutiny, don't you? Let's face it, some catty commentator out there could comment on your taste, such as preferring a ham and cheese sandwich to Beluga-caviar baguette."
Wait a minute.
Was he seriously comparing me to a ham and cheese sandwich?
"But I do prefer ham and cheese sandwiches to those fancy stuffs." Kenji replied.
Er? Hello? That's not the point.
I AM NOT A HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICH.
If I have to think of myself in terms of a sandwich, I prefer to think of myself as more of an Alba Quercus Reserve ham and Caciocavallo Podolico cheese sandwich. You know. Expensive and hard-to-get, but totally worth it.
Ahem. Excuse me. Don't mind me. Really. It was just a tad insulting to be called a ham and cheese sandwich, that's all.
Then Mr. Koji smiled at me. Caught off for a brief moment, I was wondering whether Kenji would grow up to look like that. Distinguished, and wearing a business suit. I looked to my left, where Kenji was sitting, and dressed . . . in typical rock garb. Lots of (faux) leather, let's just say.
Well. I guess I'll find out if our relationship lasts so far as to when he turns over forty.
I suppose by then we'd be marr- wait a minute. I just started officially dating this guy less than twelve hours ago. And I'm already thinking of marriage?
Sick, I tell you. I am sick.
I need to see a doctor.
"On a personal note, I'm glad that you're both together." Mr. Koji said briskly after that smile. "I'm sure my wife would be happy. She's been dropping hints and wanting to know if there were any progresses, and was completely outraged when she heard that you were 'dating' Ms Midori. Of course, not to mention, there's my ex-wife, who seems to have really taken to you, Ms Lucia." I gaped at him. So did Kenji. "Did you two think I didn't know anything?" Mr. Koji laughed. "I'm not old and senile yet, you know."
He looked ruefully at us, which was a good sign. At least he wasn't angry. I swallowed down a gulp that had been threatening to rise.
"I had a long talk with Leonora the day she flew back to Italy, and she told me what happened." Mr. Koji explained. "And whatever our past, I do agree that it shouldn't interfere in my children's lives. So if you want to keep in contact with your mother, I wouldn't stop you. Although I'm a bit worried as to the day when the wedding arrives. Leonora has been hinting at a beautiful Italian villa wedding, while the wife has been hinting at a Japanese-style wedding for both her sons back home . . ." I stood up quickly at that and said goodbye to Mr. Koji while he was musing about weddings.
Well. At least I wasn't the only one who thought of marriage. Although Leonora and Mrs. Kazuya seemed to have gone a bit overboard in planning . . .
Relatively, the days since Kenji first kissed me were happy and as normal as they could be. In fact, it was just like how life was before feelings got in the way of complicating things, except that Kenji kept finding excuses and private places to hug and kiss me, which made me feel all the much better about life. Then there were the roses placed outside my door, and even a note penning down the full version of 'my' song.
I'll say this for him – he is very, very good.
Of course, with life being the way it was for me, when I was at my happiest, the Universe had to send something along to test me. That test came exactly three days later.
Oh well. I guess those were blissful three days, at least.
Precisely on the day of the summer concert, the day before my birthday, I was rushing around on the beach checking out if everything was in place for the concert. I was flushed, and the band was in rehearsals. The area had been cordoned off to fans and outsiders until five o'clock, so we had basically pretty much the entire beach to ourselves. Celebrities, assistants, and pretty much everybody involved in the concert/festival were milling about, all excited about the concert. I had sneaked Aidan in, too, and nobody complained. In fact, I could see one of the B-list starlets eyeing him like he was a snack she wanted to devour.
And then I received the phone call.
"Lucia?" I heard the voice of Aidan's mother saying, as I was gesturing at the band to rehearse on the large stage early in the morning, at seven. The lighting was done to perfection, and I just knew that this evening would be their big break. They were the opening act at precisely five fifteen, many people would throng the place, and with it being broadcasted live and billed as the biggest event of the year, it was Lucy's Wish chance to shine as bright as they could.
"Aunt Theresa?" I asked back in astonishment. "Why are you calling me? Do you want to speak to Aidan?"
"No, no." She said, seeming to hesitate. "Is Aidan next to you?"
"Yes, he is." Aidan had already looked up at the mention of his mother's name. "Is everything all right?" I paused where I stood. I had heard the note of urgency in her voice.
Then it got worse.
"I'm sorry to break this to you, Lucia, especially since just before your birthday," She hesitated. "But . . . your father had a heart attack earlier this evening." I nearly dropped the phone as I heard that, and my face turned pale. Aidan watched me with concern, as did the band.
"What?" I whispered.
"He was complaining of chest pains." Aunt Theresa was saying, but she sounded very faraway, even though the phone was right next to my ear. "We thought it was just a hangover since he and Harry were having their usual evening wine-drinking session yesterday, but then his symptoms got worse. I'm now outside the hospital, but Harry's inside with the doctors."
"How's . . . daddy?" I whispered, my hand shaking. This couldn't be happening to me. I heard Aunt Theresa sighing.
"He's alive." She said.
"But?" I felt my heart squeeze, knowing that there was something more to that brief sentence.
"The doctors jolted his heart to beat again, but . . . he's now in the Intensive Care Unit. He's in a coma, sweetie. The doctors aren't sure if he's going to wake up, but they are doing their best in monitoring him." The phone fell from my hand as she said that. Aidan quickly picked it up, and I heard him urgently talking to his mother while I just sat on the sandy beach. The tears rolled down my eyes. Why do things like this happen to me? Don't parents usually only start having health problems when they are seventy or eighty? Dad was barely fifty. I already lost one parent. Was I about to lose another?
I barely noticed as Kenji pulled me gently to my feet and held me to him, stroking my hair without saying a word. I just stared blankly at the sky, mentally communicating with my mother.
Mom. Let him live, mom. Surely we could bargain with God, a Higher Being, the Universe, anything, to keep dad alive? What could they want? What did I do to deserve this? What did dad do to deserve this? He's a nice man. Do the good really die young?
Over and over again the words ran through my mind, and I was only brought back to reality when I heard Aidan saying goodbye to his mother. He looked grim, and, when Masataro asked him, he explained briefly how my dad's excessive alcohol consumption and what the doctors identified to be high stress levels caused his heart to stop beating temporarily.
"He always seemed so jovial." Aidan concluded grimly. "But I guess he took the news of his bankruptcy harder than I thought. I did think that he was drinking a bit too much when I went back home at Christmas, but I just thought it was because of the holiday."
"I have to go." I said dazedly. "I have to go to him."
"Lucia . . ." Kenji began, but I barely heard him as I abruptly stood up.
"I need to see him. He's my only family left. If he's gone, I'm all alone in the world. Even if he's not conscious, I need to be by his side." I said blankly. "I'm sorry, I can't stay. I'm going to book the next flight back home." I started walking towards the entrance, my legs and arms feeling like they had turned to lead. Oh God. Please, please, just spare my father. I cannot lose him.
"Lucia!" I heard Kenji coming up to me. "You can't just go off like this, in your state of mind!"
"Don't worry, man. I'll be with her." Aidan said curtly as he walked right up to us. "I'll make sure she's all right."
"You?" Kenji said agitatedly, while I looked at Aidan.
"I'm sure I'll be able to catch one of your concerts someday, on my next holidays." Aidan shrugged. "For now Lucia's dad and Lucia is my utmost priority. I'll make sure she reaches home safely." Kenji blanched slightly upon hearing that, as though he was being reprimanded. I looked at him. I knew how important his work was to him, and I knew how important today was. Besides, I really wouldn't ask anyone, including Aidan, to accompany me on this. I can't just be selfish and expect someone to drop their work and plans for me, even if a small selfish part of me wanted them to.
"It's all right, Kenji." I said gently, holding his hand. "You should stay. In fact, I insist that you stay. I'll send you a message when I get back home. And . . ." I hesitated. "I'm not sure when I'll be back here, so I think . . . if you think you need to find a replacement manager, you should do so." I let go of his hand and smiled at him, with tears in my eyes. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn't supposed to be happy after all. Still, for what it was worth, I was still happy, even if only for a brief period in time. "Goodbye." I said with finality, looking back at the band, all of whom looked concernedly at me.
"Take care of yourself." Masataro suddenly said.
"And we'll pray for your father." Kouhei added, looking sorrowfully at me. Naoki and Touya nodded solemnly as well. The concern and care in their eyes nearly made me cry again, but I took a deep breath. Now was not the time to break down, I reminded myself sternly. I took one last look at Kenji, who was still looking anguished, and kissed him goodbye.
Then I practically ran all the way to get a cab.
What happened next passed by in a whirl. Aidan stoically got the cab to bring us to the penthouse, where he reminded me our passport were, even though I just wanted to go to the airport straightaway. He even helped me pack a little, and I placed my penthouse keys on the dining table with a note. There was no point in holding on to something if I wasn't sure I was going to be back. No company was going to employ someone who was going to be gone for long, and in another country, surely.
As for my relationship with Kenji . . . I didn't know what was going to happen, especially since it was so new, but I didn't want to worry about that. My father was my utmost priority, and his wellbeing the most primary thought on my mind. I don't think I heard a word Aidan was saying to me on the plane (luckily, we just managed to bag seats on the next plane, and boy, were the tickets expensive), and, agonizing long hours later, I was in the hospital dad was in. I felt a sense of déjà vu – this was the same private hospital my mother had been sent to when she was diagnosed with leukemia. It seemed as though this hospital had a lot of history with us.
I shuddered as I smelled that familiar disinfectant smell found only in hospitals. Not too far away from me, family members were mourning as their relative had passed away just moments earlier. I tried to ignore the frenzied crying and grieving. That's not me, I tried to remind myself. My dad is still alive.
I tried not to add the thought that he could still possibly leave at any time.
When I finally walked into the private room in the Intensive Care Unit with Aunt Theresa and Aidan (Aidan's exhausted father was resting at home), the nurse looked briefly up from where she was sitting. The hospital curtains cordoned off where the bed was, and I tried not to think of how my father looked like, lying in there, probably hooked to lots of IV drips and so on and so forth. I took a deep breath, trying to gather the courage to see him, and looked briefly at the nurse. She looked very familiar.
"Nurse Natalie?" I said in a squeak, as I recognized her. There was another huge sense of déjà vu. She was the woman who had taken care of my mother three years back. She had gotten so close to my mother, she even showed up at the funeral and cried buckets.
"Hi, sweetie." She said sympathetically, having recognized me as well. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine." I replied automatically. "How's dad doing?"
"Not much change from when he was first wheeled in early last night." She said. "But that's a good thing, sweetie. At least he isn't getting worse."
Huh. Were those words supposed to console me? If they were, they were frankly not doing much of a good job.
"Why don't you talk to your dad?" The nurse suggested. "They do say people in comas can hear when people speak. Maybe your voice can reach him." I nodded mutely. Aidan held my hand and Aunt Theresa held my other hand, as the nurse pulled back the curtains. I took another deep breath, trying to calm myself.
It didn't work, though. I still cried at the sight of my father, my shoulders heaving as I stepped forward. It was a silent kind of crying, the worst kind, when tears fell down your cheeks but you can't utter a sound. I shook off their hands and stepped forward to take my father's hand in mine. I didn't know if it was him that was cold, or me. It was definitely my hands, however, that shook with fear. It was the fear of abandonment, fear of loss, fear of being alone.
I also got a shock when I saw my dad. Normally he looked so full of life and chatted animatedly about how Aidan would make the perfect son-in-law. The only time I ever saw him looking close to death was when my mother passed away, though he tried not to let me see him like that too much. The person lying in the bed barely looked like my dad. He was pale, with needles sticking into him, an oxygen mask on his face, and had on a hospital gown. Hospital equipment beeped around us, signaling that his heart was beating. It was the only sign I had that he was alive, if barely.
I was the sort that tended not to think about death too much. It happened, that's it. But to have it happen to people close to me in the vicinity of five years? Now that was really, really cruel. Not for the first time I wondered why it was so hard to live life, and what was the point of life, if we were only here to suffer. I mean, really. We live so short a life, and then, you don't even know what happens next, while your body rotted underground, infested with maggots and your skin rotted away. Really. What was the point?
"Lucia." I heard Aidan break into my morbid thoughts. I gazed at him. "You haven't said a word to your dad." He said to me, a knowing look in his eyes. He had probably realized that I was retreating back to the dark side, a time when I could not see any of the joys associated with life, and just thought disgustedly about why live if life was going to be fraught with loss.
I squeezed my dad's hands tighter, hoping that he felt it. I also reminded myself that though joys in life were few, they were worth the boredom, pain, and monotony of life. I used to find joy in a cone of ice-cream when I got good grades. Somehow, I had lost that child along the way, gained her back a little within the past few years, and now, with a looming loss, seemed to be losing her again. Right now, I had to be strong, if not exactly for my sake, but for my father's.
"Hi daddy." I began, as I sat in the chair next to my father's bed. "Whatever happened to celebrating my birthday tomorrow? You can't sleep forever. I flew back especially for you. It'll be my birthday in about twelve more hours. You have to wake up soon, or you'd miss midnight." I nattered on. I didn't know exactly how long I sat there, but I vaguely heard Aidan asking the nurse to 'pull a few strings' and allow me to remain in the hospital next to my father for the rest of the night, even though staying in the Intensive Care Unit beyond visiting hours was strictly verboten.
Due to the fact that my father was placed in a private room and the promise that I wouldn't bother any of the other patients, Natalie agreed to it after taking one look at my face. For the rest of the day, or what remained of it, Aunt Theresa and Aidan made me eat and drink a little, not to mention chide me when my voice grew hoarser and made me rest, not to mention making me go to the hospital room bathroom to shower and clean myself up after the long journey home. I could only stand blankly under the shower as the waters gushed down my face.
Natalie shooed Aidan and his mother home at eight o'clock at night, though, saying that only I could stay, despite Aidan's best efforts to charm her.
I didn't really mind, either way. In the cold quietness of the hospital room, with only the beeping to accompany me (Natalie had bade me goodbye earlier, having finished the evening shift at eight too) I chattered on and on to my father on my own, telling him about life in Japan, apologizing for not telling him that I wasn't attending college anymore but was quick to assure him that I was definitely happy being the manager of a rock band. My voice faltered a bit as I described the members of the band, but I managed to talk on and on.
It was the only thing I could do for my father at the moment. I could only hope that, despite his lack of reaction, he could hear perfectly every word I said.
I think I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up, I found a blanket draped around me. Probably the nurse, I thought, and I glanced at the clock. It was eleven o'clock, fast approaching my birthday. Funny how just a mere day ago I was excited about celebrating my birthday, when now it was the last thing on my mind. I suppose that technically, in Japan, it was already my birthday, but I tried not to think about that too much.
"Well, daddy, it's an hour to midnight." I chided, my throat sounding hoarse. I glanced around, but the water bottle that had been on top of the hospital drawer was nowhere to be seen. "Are you sure you want to miss the moment to be the first person to wish me a happy birthday?"
"Ah, you're awake." Someone said. It wasn't my father, but my head bolted up in shock anyway. It was a distinctive, sultry voice, extremely recognizable. "You sound hoarse." The voice chided. "I bet you didn't have anything to eat since this morning. Or should I say, yesterday morning? And you didn't even message me like you promised. It was Aidan who did."
"When? How? What?" I stammered, staring up at a familiar silhouette in shock. "Kenji?" I said disbelievingly.
"You didn't really think that I was going to let you be alone by yourself now, did you?" He stroked my hair. "I'm sorry that it took me so long."
"How did you get here so fast?" I asked, still feeling in shock, my mind racing. "You had to depart at most six hours after I did. Then there's the drive from the airport to the hospital. That would mean that you missed your own concert!"
"Correction." A smile tugged at his lips. "I ran out on my own concert, just before it began. I was standing on the stage, and even though thousands of people were chanting my name, I realized I really would rather be nowhere but here. With you. So I explained the situation to the crowd, walked out, called Uncle Yoshida for favors, and next thing I know I was sitting in a fast private jet plane at precisely six thirty pm with my passport and a small luggage heading towards your home. I don't really want to know how he had access to the penthouse or my passport, either. Then I arrived, called your cell which Aidan picked up, then he picked me up, drove me straight here, and so,here I am." I slowly processed what he said.
What? It's the jet lag. And the shock. I can't be expected to be on the dot like I usually was.
"You explained the situation to the crowd?" I finally asked, baffled.
"Yeah." He said, unperturbed. "I said that I didn't belong here, that I should be with the girl I love, that you were having problems at home and really needed me by your side, and then I walked off the stage. Last I heard was Ichiro taking to the stand and explaining to the crowd what I meant."
"YOU WHAT?!" I half-shrieked, half-whispered. Seriously. He what?!
"Shh!" Kenji stepped forward hastily, pulling the curtains behind him. I saw him put the bottle of water down on the table. Oh. So that was where it went. He went and refilled it. "Aidan went to all that trouble distracting the guards and nurses so I can sneak in here. You don' want to undermine his good work, do you?"
"Yes. And he asked me to bring his mother's homemade sandwiches for you. They're here, in this box." He gestured at a lunch container on the table. I blinked. Odd. How come I didn't notice that in the first place? "Now eat! You don't want to collapse next, do you?" He said bossily.
"Okay! I will!" I said, a little miffed and taking a sandwich to eat it, just to please him. How come I feel like I've been through the Cold War and back, especially due to that long plane ride, but he still looks as fresh as a daisy even though he just got off the plane?
Maybe it's true that rock stars are just different from ordinary people like me.
"Good." He grinned at me. For truly the first time, I felt slightly comforted since the long day began, not to mention a little warm. I mean, he skipped his own concert to fly all the way over here for me. I didn't know about the consequences of doing such a thing, but at the moment, I didn't really care. It was enough that he was right next to me. Speaking of which . . .
"How long are you . . . staying?" I asked hesitantly.
"Do you mean in the hospital or right next to you?" He replied. "If the former, I'll stay until the morning with you, and I don't care what you say, when Aidan comeshere you and I are going back to his house for breakfast and a bath while his mother stays with your father. You aren't going to do your father any good by smelling and starving, you know." I grimaced at him. "If the latter," He leaned downward and stared straight into my eyes. "As long as you need me, I'll be here." He said quietly.
"But what about your . . ."
"Work? It's okay. Dad has given me a time lease of a month, which he will explain away as 'creative time' for the band." Kenji said, smiling a little. "By which time I'm sure your dad will have completely recovered." Not for the first time, my eyes filled with tears. How could he be so idiotic at times, but so . . . so nice at times like this? Abruptly I stood up and kissed him on the lips. He looked surprised, but in a pleasantly surprised kind of way.
"Thank you." I said softly. A few moments later what transpired was Kenji sitting in the chair I was just sitting on, I sat on his lap (really, how come hospitals only allow one chair per hospital bedroom? How utterly primitive and odd) and it felt like the most natural thing in the world as he hugged me to him. I warned him that his legs would feel numb, but he said he didn't mind, so . . .there I sat, feeling sleepy, worried, anxious, stressed, but also comforted at the same time.
It was an unusual feeling, to be sure.
I think I fell back asleep again, on his shoulder. It was a light sort of sleeping, though, and I awoke at times to hear Kenji speaking to my father. I caught a few words here and there, and then I fell asleep again. What I could hear, though, seemed to be about Kenji telling my father how he met me.
"You've raised a fine daughter." I heard him began.
"She was so brave and so vulnerable at the same time . . ."
"First girl I've known to really stand up to me . . ."
"A dear friend and manager, always hardworking . . ."
"So beautiful and lovely . . ."
"Sometimes annoying, but her heart is in the right place . . ."
"The moment I fell for her, I fell hard. . ."
"She has a very special place in the heart of Lucy's Wish . . ."
"Can't imagine life without her now . . ."
"Has the most beautiful smile . . ."
I think I fully woke up at the moment he was saying something about not believing that I actually liked him too.
"The feeling's mutual, you know." I murmured sleepily. "Statistically speaking, rock band leaders don't usually fall for prudish spitfire sarcastic girls, do they?" I semi-teased him, using the words he had called me before.
"Well, then." He replied, smiling slightly. "I guess that we're that one in a million, then." He glanced at my father. "I'm usually the kind of guy mothers warn their daughters about, you know." He said semi-seriously. "You should really wake up, say, right about now, if you ever want to keep your daughter from the clutches of an evil man like me."
"Idiot." I said, going a bit pink again. "Are you trying to wake my dad up or give him another heart attack by saying things like that? Besides, you aren't evil." I said sincerely. "No evil man would do such nice things for me."
"Oh, Lucia." He gazed at me tenderly. That gaze was quite familiar. It was the pre-deep kiss gaze. And, okay, even though it was a bit wrong to want to kiss someone when you're sitting right next to your father who's lying in a coma, a small, wanton part of me wanted to kiss him back.
It was very small, though.
I just looked at my dad who was lying there, raised an eyebrow at Kenji, who only shrugged back at me.
"I wasn't thinking what you were thinking." He said innocently.
"Well, I wasn't thinking what you were thinking I was thinking, either!" I said indignantly.
"Well, then I'd be interested to know what you were thinking I was thinking you were thinking . . ."
"Stop thinking and act." A voice mumbled slightly. My heart nearly jumped out of my body in shock. It was like a role-reversal, or something.
"Dad?!" I said, standing up hastily. "Dad?" I whispered again, for the second time, trying to affirm I wasn't dreaming. Behind me I heard Kenji slamming on a button calling for the nurse. A few moments later, it was just like how it was in the movies. The nurse came in, took one look at my dad who was smiling a little at me, called the doctor, and he came in and shooed us out of the Intensive Care Unit in order to look at dad. He didn't even ask what I or Kenji was doing there (I was in the room under . . . false pretences, remember.)
I managed to call Aidan, and told him that dad seemed to be awake. He promised to rush to the hospital as soon as he could. Then I paced up and down outside in the corridor in a frenzy, wondering impatiently what could take the doctor so long. I didn't really want to get my hopes up yet, but I could hope a little, couldn't I? I glanced at the clock as I paced. It was a little after midnight – two minutes, to be precise. My dad had been in a coma for the past twenty six to twenty seven hours, and I hoped, no, prayed hard that he would fully regain consciousness and bodily parts, instead of what he said being a fluke.
I would worry about the implications of what he said later – just as long as he was all right.
Finally, the doctor came out. I rushed to him, demanding to know what happened. He took a look at me, asked if I was related to the patient (Gee. I don't know. I could be some kind of Florence Nightingale, staying up with a complete stranger. WHAT DO YOU THINK?), and then his face broke into a smile.
"I'll keep your father in the Intensive Care Unit for observation for the night, and if his symptoms remain fine in the morning, he'll be transferred out to the normal wards soon. His speech and movement is a bit slurred, but otherwise he seems to be on his way to recovery. Also," The doctor looked sternly at me. "You are not supposed to be in the ICU at this hour, you know." I gulped slightly. "And two people at that. I'll overlook it this time, considering that your father says it was your voice that brought him back, and I'll let you see your father for a brief moment, but you will have to leave the hospital soon after fifteen minutes. Deal?" I nodded frenetically, desperate to get in. "Your friend, however, will have to remain outside. I can't have you disturbing my other patients." Then, quite as suddenly, the doctor smiled at me. "Well then, I wouldn't keep you from your father. Congratulations, Ms Constantine, on the recovery of your father." I nodded once more at him to be polite, then, when he finally went away, I practically bolted into the ICU and into my dad's room.
Dad cracked a pale imitation of a smile at me as he heard me rush in. He looked tired, and haggard, but there was a trace of amusement on his face. The oxygen mask was gone, and there was a tube in place of it. Still, a small progress, I guess. I also guessed that the amusement on his face was at my expense, but I didn't really care at the moment. "You're back." I said with relief.
"I've never been gone, you know." He said, his voice sounding less scratchy. "I heard every word you said to me. Not to mention, every word your friend said." He added. I turned slightly red, and then decided that it was no time to play coy.
"Boyfriend, dad." I said, holding his hand. He squeezed my hand back. "That's my boyfriend."
"That's new." My dad said, closing his eyes. "Sounds like a nice enough guy, though. I've never had a girl fly halfway across the globe just for me. You certainly were engrossed with him. I twitched my fingers just like in the movies and the both of you never even noticed until I said something." Then he cracked an eye open at me. "I'm guessing this means that I wouldn't be in-laws with the Silverstones, then." I rolled my eyes. Honestly, he just wakes up from a coma, and this is the thing he says to me?
"No, dad. I guess you wouldn't be. Not that you ever had a shot at that." I added.
"Oh well. We'll still be good friends." He exhaled deeply again. I looked at him concernedly.
"You should rest, dad." I said. "I'm so glad you're back." I said, with heartfelt emotions. "Don't push it, okay? I'll see you in the morning." I kissed him on the forehead. "I'm glad to see you again." I told him, meaning every word of it.
"I'm glad to see you too." My dad said. "You've grown, baby girl. But you'll always be my baby girl, you know?"
"I know." I said, reluctantly taking a step back. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. I promise to be back really early tomorrow in the morning, dad. I love you."
"I love you too." He said, yawning slightly. "Geez. I've been sleeping for twenty over hours. How can I be sleepy?" He joked. I rolled my eyes. Well, that was a sign he was recovering, definitely. "Anyway. Happy birthday, darling. See, I didn't miss your birthday after all. I promise to give you your present when the doctor finally says I can get down from the bed." He scowled slightly.
"You've already given me my present, dad." I said softly. "Your being alive is my best present. Don't have another heart attack again, okay?"
"I'll try my best, Luce." He said, his eyes closing again. "Still, heart attack or not, you should introduce me to your boyfriend tomorrow. I trust that your taste in boyfriends wouldn't give me a heart attack." I rolled my eyes again.
"Goodnight, dad." I said firmly. "See you tomorrow. I love you." Then I walked out of the room, my heart feeling lighter, even if I had to restraint myself from rolling my eyes at the ceiling as I thought of what my dad said. Glad to see he was back to normal, I guess.
Aidan and his parents looked a bit disappointed that they couldn't see my father even though they got up especially at midnight to drive thirty minutes to the hospital, but they cheered up when I told them that dad was perfectly fine. They even cheerfully wished me a happy birthday as they drove me and Kenji back to their house. Kenji started looking uncomfortable and made noises about finding a hotel, but with the combined force of Aunt Theresa and Aidan, one of who immediately objected to the idea of her 'beloved non-biological daughter's boyfriend' at staying in a cold hotel room, and Aidan, who threatened Kenji that his passport and luggage was at his home, Kenji kept quiet for the rest of the journey.
And I? I just rested my head on his shoulder, glad that he was staying with me, at least. I suddenly felt very, very tired. I didn't even realize when we got to Aidan's place until the car came to a stop and I woke up, still feeling bleary. I cracked an eye open to breathe in the nice country, suburban air. It was all so . . . familiar. I couldn't believe that I had been gone for a year and more, since being back here brought me right back to my childhood.
"That used to be my house, you know." I murmured softly, as I saw the familiar red tiles of my old home over the garden walls that separated Aidan's house from mine. "And right at the bottom of this garden, near the gate, is the tree house which Aidan made with his dad. And . . ."
"Shh." Kenji said softly. "You can give me the tour when you're fully awake. Right now, you have to go to bed."
"Okay." I said sleepily, too exhausted to argue anymore.
Aunt Theresa put me in the guest bedroom, where dad had stayed before. My throat closed up a little as I saw traces of dad around the room, such as his wardrobe, and his tendency to arrange his books by alphabetical order on the shelves. Thankfully, Aunt Theresa kept my mind off how dad was doing by clucking around like a worried mother hen, fluffing out the pillows for me and making me brush my teeth and into pajamas.
"You look thinner." She said, looking at me properly for the first time as she sat down on the bed with me. "Aidan told me all about how you weren't attending college anymore. Why didn't you call home, you silly girl?" Without waiting for an answer she moved forward to hug me tightly. "Still, I suppose I can't blame you. It's in your genes. You and your mother have that same, stubborn pride." She said. "Not to mention the same good taste in men." She added slyly. Somehow, I had a feeling that Kenji was standing right behind me in the doorway, and, when I turned, there he was.
"Why, thank you, Mrs. Silverstone." He said, smiling.
"You've got good taste in girls too." She replied.
"Well, I'll leave you two to it, then. Good night, Lucia." She kissed me on the forehead. "Good night, Kenji." She closed the door behind her as she left. All of a sudden, I felt very conscious of the fact that I was in pajamas and alone in the room with Kenji.
"Your good friend Aidan seems to have said something along the lines of having me sleep in the same room with you, a suggestion to which his mother seems to have agreed. Apparently, they've even dumped my clothes in this room." Kenji said dryly as he watched me. My heart skipped erratically at the thought of that. "Don't worry, though. I saw a nice couch in the living room on my way in. I am just checking in to see if you're settled in." He walked forward to kiss me on the lips. "Goodnight, Lucia. See you in the morning. Oh, and happy birthday. I was going to take you out for a romantic dinner, but, as it is, I suppose I'll have to postpone it." I watched him walk away towards the door, and, as he opened it, I suddenly found out why Aidan had proposed the idea in the first place, knowing me as he did.
I felt very, very alone all of a sudden, especially when I was watching that door close. It may be irrational and stupid, but at that moment I just wanted someone next to me, instead of the other way round, when I was trying my best to be there for my dad. I also suddenly realized how much Kenji coming here had helped eradicate a majority of my negative feelings, such as feeling helpless, alone, depressed. It was the same kind of feelings I had back when my mother was having health problems, and eventually, her death.
At that moment I finally realized how much I had moved on from Aidan. It used to be Aidan's presence that helped me get over the negative things in life. Now, he still does, of course, but it was with Kenji's presence that truly made me forget, even if only for moments, all my troubles in life.
"Wait!" I heard myself say, before the door completely closed. Kenji poked his head back in, looking concerned. "Stay." I said softly. He looked surprised. "Please."
"Are you sure?" He hesitated a little before coming back into the room.
"Yes." I heard myself saying as I hugged him, feeling a sense of relief. "I trust you." I added, before going to sleep, with Kenji coddling me to sleep, holding me to him as I breathed in his scent.
It was . . . a very nice feeling.
For the next few weeks life was all about getting dad to recuperate. I reprimanded him severely on his alcohol consumption, and he listened meekly. He took to Kenji immediately, actually dropping hints about how I wanted to be married in the chapel my mother had married in before I bustled in on him. I rolled my eyes and then said something about how if he wanted to hold his grandkids, he had to stop feeling stressed and taking alcohol about it. Then dad said to Kenji about how I was just like my mother, always keeping on and on about things he should do, to which Kenji said that he perfectly understood the feeling.
Well. I guess I should be glad that they were getting along, at least.
In the nights Kenji still hugged me to sleep. He was a constant source of comfort, and though it may not be very feminist of me to say this, I felt happier with his presence. He accompanied me on all my trips to the hospital, talked to my dad, helped around the Silverstones' household, and just basically was . . . perfect. I felt loved, and I felt like I owed so much to him, even though he assured me that it was his duty to just be there for me. With each passing day I felt myself falling more and more in love with him, as sappy as it sounds. But you know what? I didn't really care if I was being sentimental. I was happy, and that was all that mattered.
Finally the day came for my dad to be discharged from the hospital. I tried to keep back a worry that had blossomed within the past few days, about dad's hospital bill, which I knew had to be a humongous amount. I couldn't pay that kind of money, and I doubted dad could, either. As the doctor had not said a single word about the bill to me, I guessed that the Silverstones' were paying for it. I didn't want to take the Silverstones' kindness any more than I already had, but I pretended everything was all right as we held a 'Welcome Home' party for dad.
Later that evening, Kenji dropped another bombshell on me.
"I'm going back to Tokyo tomorrow morning." He said, as I was busy cleaning up plates of cake. I nearly dropped the plate as he said that.
"You . . . are?" I said, turning to look at him.
"Yes. It's been three weeks and more since I've been here. Dad has been calling, asking about your dad's progress, and now that your dad's fine, I think it's time for me to go back to my real life. Apparently, my comments at the concert last month have sparked quite a media frenzy." Kenji explained. "And dad says they are speculating a lot about me, so I guess I'll have to go home to fully clear things up." I looked at him guiltily as he said that. He caught the look.
"Don't be ridiculous." He said, stroking my hair. "I'm here on my own free will. And if my actions have cost me my career, I wouldn't have changed my decision regardless, when I decided to go after you. Besides, I refuse to believe that all my fans are my fans because of my looks and relationship status, instead of my music." He touched my face gently. "Come back when you feel ready to come." He said softly. "There can be no other Lucy Wish's manager but you." A tear fell down my face as he said that. How could he be so nice to me?
"I'll be staying at a hotel tonight." He said, abruptly getting up. "Since your dad is back. My flight is at seven in the morning tomorrow, so if it's too early don't bother coming to send me off." He reeled off. "Well," He said awkwardly. "I guess I'll go check-in in the hotel, then. The cab has been waiting outside, but I didn't know how to tell you . . . until now." He suddenly grabbed me and kissed me gently. "This isn't goodbye, Lucia. I'm sure I'll see you again someday soon. I'll call you when I get back to Tokyo."
I ran to the gates as I watched him get into the cab. A large part of me wanted to go with him, but then I reminded myself I had an ailing father to look after, not to mention having to work off my debts. At least I was home; I consoled myself, which was my original plan in the beginning.
Somehow, I felt empty, though, as though Kenji had taken a part of me away with him as well.
"You should go with him." A voice behind me said. I turned, startled. It was my dad, Aidan, and his parents. I smiled briefly.
"Don't be ridiculous, dad. I have to look after you, remember?"
"We'll be here to look after him." Aunt Theresa piped up, while Uncle Harry nodded. I shook my head.
"Oh, no, Aunt Theresa. You've all been doing a lot for him, and, there's the hospital bill, you know. I know you don't want me too, but I'll definitely work on paying it off." I promised. "And besides, I can't just go rushing off to Tokyo when I want to. My visa's going to expire in half a year's time. Better not risk it." Aidan looked at me thoughtfully.
"Well, if you want to pay off that hospital bill, you better go back to Tokyo. The person you're indebted to is going back there tomorrow morning, after all." Aidan said conversationally.
"He asked us not to tell you, but really. How could he expect us to keep that to ourselves?" Uncle Harry tutted as he watched my gobsmacked reaction. Dad, apparently, didn't know either, and he stared slack-jawed at the Silverstones as well. "He also wrote you a cheque." He said to my dad. "He was saying that you shouldn't take your health for granted – and that Lucia would grieve her heart out if anything happened to you again."
Stunned, I sat on the gravelly floor. In a flashback, I remembered everything Kenji did and sacrificed for me. And now, paying for my dad's wellbeing without even telling me – I could feel, more than ever, how much he loved me.
"You should go after him, Lucia." My dad urged. "Guys like that don't come in busloads, you know. And besides, the least I can do for the man who gives me money knowing that I can't pay him back is to give my daughter to him." I didn't even want to roll my eyes. I just stood on my feet, feeling dazed.
"Ready to go?" Aidan said to me.
"I don't even know his room number." I objected, still feeling dizzy thinking about the amount of things Kenji had done for me. Perhaps, it was my turn to do something for him – and for myself as well. But then again . . .
"Suite number 239." Aidan promptly reeled off. "I also took the liberty of applying for a five year work visa for you in Tokyo, which has arrived back today. You're approved. Funny how I can still forge your signature, and use your old medical records. Really, it should raise questions about the bureaucracy and its effectiveness, but still, never mind. I guess that works in our favor, anyway." Aidan remarked cheerfully. "I've also booked a flight for you tomorrow. It's the same flight as he is on, by the way." I stared at him. "Well, now. Stop looking so shocked, a fly might fly into your mouth. I'll get the car running, be ready in thirty minutes with your bag."
"Wait!" I turned to look at my father. "Are you sure?" I asked urgently. I didn't even know why I was looking for reasons why I couldn't go after him. Maybe it was just that innate part of me that didn't think I could be happy, that I deserved to be happy.
Maybe . . . I was just afraid to go after my own happiness, in case sorrow comes after it.
What a bummer.
My dad looked at me carefully for a very long minute. Then he sighed.
"Do you remember what your mother said to you, in the video?" He asked gently. I nodded. Of course I did. How could I forget? "She asked you to follow your dreams, and to follow your heart. Now, I don't know about you, but it seems pretty obvious to me that your heart is now trundling away right therein that cab with Kenji. Don't you think you should go get it back?" He said gently. "Don't let an old man like me stand in your dreams. I'll be fine. I'll be even finer when my daughter sends me an invitation card to the wedding." He added. I half-laughed and half-cried. Same old dad, I guess.
"I'll miss you." I hugged my dad violently.
"I'll miss you too, baby girl." My dad smiled at me. "Call when you get there, Luce."
I said little in the next hour, but flew about throwing things into bags and getting everything ready. Aunt Theresa kissed me goodbye on the cheeks, as did Uncle Harry, and soon Aidan was driving me towards the hotel where Kenji was staying. Aidan hugged me after he helped me unload everything from the car.
"It's your turn to be happy now, Lu." He said to me, before he drove away. "I wish you every happiness life can bring."
"Thank you, Aidan." I said, feeling like I was about to cry. "How can I repay you?" Aidan half-smiled.
"Find me a nice Japanese girl." He joked. "Love you, Lu. And remember, I'll always be there for you." He hugged me, and then he was gone. I watched as the car drive out of sight before I pelted into the hotel. It was a nice five-star hotel. Why am I not surprised, I thought wryly. The bellboy took my bags and helpfully loaded them into the elevator. The elevator man even helped me with my three bags as we arrived on the 23rd floor, and wished me a good night.
Then I pressed the doorbell for Suite 239.
There was not a sound from within.
I pressed the doorbell again, impatiently this time. I just really, really wanted to see him. So I pressed the doorbell again.
"All right!" I was rewarded with a familiar voice from inside yelling. "I'm coming!" I smiled to myself. What a surprise he'd be getting.
It turned out, though, that I was the one who got the surprise. Kenji opened the door dressed in nothing but his boxer shorts. I could feel my face turning scarlet as I stared at him, and then I made myself look at his face only. He seemed surprised to see me too, and could only stare at me as I stood there.
"I hope you don't normally answer the door to strangers dressed only in boxers." It was the only thing I could think to say, as I looked rigidly at his face. Ow. I was getting a crick in my neck.
"Lucia?" He finally said, in surprise.
"My dad says the least he can do for the man who paid his hospital bills and also gave money for his recovery is to give his daughter to him." I said dryly, so that he knew that I knew about the money.
"Lucia . . ."
"If I didn't go on about repaying the Silverstones, I would never have known, I'm sure." I said, as though I didn't hear him interrupt me. "Were you going to tell me, ever?"
"If I did, you would probably go on and on about repaying me too." He replied wryly.
"Of course. It is a huge sum of money. How can I accept that kind of money from you, even if you are my boyfriend?"
"But you can't just . . ." I was silenced, as he put a finger to my lips.
"Do you remember what you said, almost a month ago? You said, and I quote, 'I need to see him. He's my only family left. If he's gone, I'm all alone in the world'." I flinched as I remembered that terrible day, the anxious waiting, the blankness that filled my mind. "That really stuck with me, you know." Kenji said conversationally. "And if a little bit of money is enough to keep you from going into that tangent of thoughts, I will willingly give that up. And if you really want to repay me, I want you to be as happy as you can be. That's the best repayment you can give me." He looked down at my bags. "And why are there two large bags around you?"
"I'm going to Tokyo with you, of course." I said, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. "I told you. Dad gave his blessings, in fact, practically made me come after you." Kenji looked at me. "In fact, I want to." I added. "Dad isn't my only family now. Lucy's Wish is my family. And . . . you are a part of my family too." I added self-consciously. Kenji looked at me, with an unreadable expression on his face. Then he picked up my bags and beckoned me into the room. I followed, feeling a bit bereft that he said nothing in response to what I said. I mean, it took me a lot of courage to do that, you know.
Kenji closed the door behind him as I walked into the suite. Wow. It was seriously beautiful and luxurious. Then again, it was a five-star hotel. It reminded me a little of the other hotel that Kenji and I was in last time, when I threw a glass of cold water in his face for kissing me while drunk. How different things were now.
"Lucia." Kenji said, from behind me. I turned. He was coming closer, with an intent look on his face. No drunkenness this time around, and this time, the way he kissed me made my knees feel like melting. Along with other parts.
He continued to kiss me deeply, passionately, and I was getting lost in pleasure with the intensity of his kisses when I felt something against my legs. My eyes widened at that point. There was no doubt what that was. He wanted me. He looked into my eyes and broke off from kissing me.
"I think . . . I should go take a shower. I was about to, just now, before you came." He said awkwardly. My body protested at what he was saying. So did my head, for the rare first time. I wanted him too, I realized. My head, normally usually the most reserved of all, told me that it was all right to want him. I was just a girl in love, who wants to be with the man who also loves her enough to pull back even when he wanted her.
So I shook my head and pulled Kenji back to kiss him. His eyes widened at this unLucia-like behavior.
"Are you sure?" He asked, softly yet urgently. "You don't have to feel obliged to do this." I responded by kissing him even more, loving him all the more for being so considerate of me. Now was the time, my head was saying. All those fairytale stories about waiting for the right one, all those warning stories about waiting for the right time – well, I know for sure this was the right one, and that this was the right time. After all, I was an adult girl now. Officially so, even, for the past three weeks.
Kenji unwrapped me like I was a present, slowly, but surely. He carried me to the bed, kissing away my inhibitions and uncertainty, from my forehead to my fingertips and everything else. I felt a little bittersweet pain, but mostly love for this man.
I went to sleep with my head on his chest. I felt secure in his arms, and I knew that there would hardly be another pair of arms that I would feel so safe in. At that moment, all our problems didn't feel as omnipresent to me as they had before. I was in love and that was all that mattered, as selfish as it may sound.
On the flight home, Kenji kept smiling contentedly at me, as though there wasn't a media mess he had to clean back home. He told me that as long as I was with him, he was sure that even if his career had taken a dent, he would soon rise again. I believed him, too. He wasn't one to take a step backwards badly.
We arrived at the airport at three o'clock in the morning in Tokyo. He had told me that his dad had sent the van to the airport to pick us up, and I felt excited to see the rest of the band again. I seemed like years since I last met them.
Imagine our surprise, however, when we were pushing our luggage out, to see a whole bunch of journalists and media people camping out there for us. There were even several security people, and when Kenji and I were spotted, some handlers immediately rushed up to take our bags off us and said same security people rushed up to us, talking in walkie-talkies, just like in a spy movie. I recognized some of them as K Talents staff.
I glanced at Kenji, who looked as baffled as I was. What was happening? Was news seriously so slow, the entertainment media people even took to waiting in the middle of the night for us? I mean, the only people who knew that we were arriving back home at this time was Mr. Koji, the band, and, presumably, Jed and Tara. Why was an entire bunch of entertainment reporters waiting for us?
Grimly, Kenji took my hand and held it in his as we were ushered down the security line. All that felt was missing was a red carpet. Or, in the case of how I felt, a circus tent.
Then the questioning began, as reporters pushed to get to us while the security people glared back at them.
"Mr Kazuya Kenji, look this way, please!" One of them yelled. "When did you realize that you loved the woman next to you?"
"Miss!" Another one yelled. I braced myself for the questions like how I was a 3rd person in Kenji's relationship with Midori or how I single-handedly destroyed his career. "How does it feel to be a modern-day Cinderella, and the girl most girls see themselves in?" Huh? What?
"On a poll conducted by an entertainment tabloid, Lucy's Wish, and particularly, Mr. Kazuya Kenji's popularity seems to have shot up in the charts after your comments have been broadcasted live last month. How does it feel like to be a modern Prince Charming?" Excuse me?
"The most popular Japanese forum on the web has been calling you the latest 'It' couple, and ordinary girls around the world have been writing on websites about how your story is a modern fairytale." A reporter called out. "How does it feel like to inspire people to believe in true love again?"
You know what? This is madness. Madness, I tell you. However, it seemed like madness Kenji liked. When I glanced sideways, he smiled and mouthed that he loved me, even as the security guards bundled us into the van, where the other band members were sitting in. Even Jed. Even Mr. Koji.
"Welcome back." Masataro said, as I stared at their familiar faces. I couldn't help it. I burst into tears as the van sped away, leaving people in the dust.
"Okay, okay, don't get emotional." Jed said to me. "Seriously. The press is nicknaming you Cinderella and you get sappy about it."
"I've missed you too, funnily enough." I said dryly to him.
Over the course of the next few hours until the morning, Mr. Koji, along with the help of Lucy's Wish and Jed, explained to me and Kenji that the public scrutiny was on Kenji after the comments he made at the concert. It was further propelled when Midori said that she wasn't the girl Kenji was talking about, and she said that he did the right thing and hoped that the both of us had the happiness we both deserved, without giving names.
The office had been deluged with calls as to who Kenji was referring to, and without confirmation, they could not name me. So the press had been running wild by calling me 'Cinderella' in their stories, and by the help of anonymous sources here and there (as I looked at Jed and the gang, I had a sneaking suspicion that the anonymous sources were them, they looked like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths) they pieced the story together, if with some inaccuracies (I do not, for example, remember crying silently in the background but still had been totally supportive when Kenji 'dated' Midori for a brief moment before he finally 'figured out' who he was 'really in love' with. Good grief. What was I, a sap?)
"I guess I was wrong." Mr. Koji said to me. "The public loves you." I grimaced at him. Well, I guess the public prefers ham and cheese sandwiches to Beluga caviar-filled baguettes, after all. "Mr. Morioka has even been calling me about using your story as the backdrop for a brand-new drama, and a magazine has been asking for exclusive rights to your story, that is, if you agree."
"No." Kenji said firmly as he heard that. "I will not have the press hounding Lucia any more than they can." I smiled gratefully at him. I was definitely not one for the public eye, especially since I usually had strong tendencies to want to brawl with reporters who ask stupid questions. I mean, I was really refraining myself back there.
The upshot was the over the few weeks, I hid out in the penthouse while the band worked on their new second album, and slowly, but surely, the news died down (thank God, or I would have been seriously worried for the world) about Cinderella and Kazuya Kenji. When they finally released their second album three months later, it was as though I had never been away as I rushed around trying to promote their second album, which proved extremely popular, especially 'my' song, which Kenji had fine-tuned and edited. I still get chills whenever I hear it on the radios, and in a good way.
The only difference was that I moved into Kenji's bedroom, which, of course, Ichiro (yes, he finally convinced me to call him by his first name on a day when I was having a particularly good mood) teases me endlessly about. He only shut up after Kenji made allusions to his single status and how Aiko broke off their engagement and was being good pen friends with Aidan (a stroke of genius on my part). He is now trying hard to not be a playboy as much as he was, while Jed and Naoki were still together, and Kouhei had tentatively started to date a nice girl. Masataro, on the other hand, said that he was perfectly fine being single, despite his mother's efforts.
Midori, surprisingly, had started to go out with Wolf, who had mellowed against Kenji since. Wolf and I are pretty much good friends, too, considering that I was the one who told him Midori loved purple flowers. He still loved to tease Kenji by things like standing a little too near to me, though, but Kenji knows better than to take it personally now. Dad was getting better by the day, and just the other day was telling me enthusiastically about the new business. Aidan was still playing in Carnegie Hall, though he has made plans to pop over to Tokyo for Christmas (when I will slyly bring Aiko to meet him at the airport too, of course).
And as for me, well. Life goes on, I guess. Sometimes I argue with Kenji, sometimes he does sweet things for me, sometimes I call him an idiot, sometimes he kisses me at unexpected moments, sometimes his parents (and mine) drop marriage hints, sometimes I get teased about falling in love for an alleged 'idiot', sometimes we want time to ourselves, sometimes we can't get enough of each other, and sometimes we make plans to visit Leonora in Italy one day when we could take a week off work (which seems like in the next July of never). You know. Just normal, mundane routine stuff, which I was perfectly fine with.
But the most important part was that I was finally, perfectly, disgustingly happy. And, as Kenji tells me, I deserve it. Just as everyone in the world deserved happiness, in the face of other emotions, trials, and pain. After all, that was life. Ever-changing, ever spinning, ever colorful. Especially for the girlfriend of a rock band leader. I've seen more neon lights than I've ever wanted to see, thank you.
Still, wherever life may take me, one thing was for sure. These days will remain the very best days of my life.
I hope that you find the happiness that you deserve, too. After all, if I could find it, an ordinary, everyday girl like me, you can too.
I am pleased and proud to present the extremely long last chapter of Of Love & Lyrics, and I hope you liked reading the story as much as I have enjoyed writing the story. As you can see, the last chapter is all about how much Kazuya Kenji loves Lucia *sappy mode*, not to mention vice versa, of course. I'm guessing that it's a lot of action but I didn't really feel compelled to separate it, preferring to emphasize on how much he will do for her under one chapter.
To all my reviewers, thank you for your kind words, compliments, and even the not-so-kind ones. Your comments all inspire me to improve and to strive towards my goal of working in the novel/book/publishing industry. I, too, hope that one day in the near future I'll be able to be professional acknowledged as a novelist. I guess you can say Of Love & Lyrics is my training pad for future novels to come. =)
Most importantly, I would like to dedicate this story to the memory of my maternal grandmother, who passed away last year on 18th November 2008. I hope that you are happy wherever you are.