When I returned home after work the next day, I felt beaten down. Everything with Hideki had happened so fast, especially after being void of touch from another human being for so long. I didn't plan to let it continue, but I was fooling myself by thinking I could stop myself from going to see him. Whether I wanted to or not, I was bound to meet up with Hideki again, especially now that he had a connection with me through my work partner. I couldn't hide forever, and I was bound to slip again once he showed up. What had drawn me to him in the first place? He was good in his trade...perhaps I wasn't used to being lured in like that. Perhaps I was used to having no control, and rolling along with whatever came my way.

I sighed into my pillow as I remembered one night out at the bar with Takeshi, my ex. He was dressed to the nines as usual, wearing big sunglasses to shield his dilated pupils. At the time, I wasn't aware that he was high, but later on he handed me a tablet and told me he had taken one himself. Although I hadn't experimented very much with drugs at all, I knew that Takeshi led a little bit more of a luxurious lifestyle than me, and I thought it would impress him. Therefore, I willingly took the tablet and swallowed it, smiling afterwards.

Drinking largely took precedent over drug use in Japan, but nonetheless it slipped its way into certain nightclubs. The largest problem was that school and work life tended to be jeopardized by one's behaviour outside of the workplace. In high school, students were commonly not allowed to have jobs, and if it was found out that they were working, expulsion was one of many consequences to follow.

Well, my reaction to the drug was beyond what I had expected. It seemed that I had little control over the things I was saying, but not necessarily doing. Meanwhile, Takeshi seemed cool and collected in his corner of the bar, a few other men sitting down to drink with us hanging onto his every word – of which there were many. At one point, a very attractive friend of Takeshi's was making strong advances at me. For the first little while, I didn't catch onto what he was doing, but he soon put his arm around me and started whispering sweet nothings into my ear. It was then that it suddenly seemed much more personal and invasive. Every few seconds, I would glance over to Takeshi, worried that he would make a scene and throw the man off of me in a fit of anger. However, he didn't even seem to notice, and instead continued to chat up the flock of adorable young ones surrounding him.

The next morning when I woke up next to Takeshi in bed, I shot up and pulled at my hair. What had I done? I had sucked off one of Takeshi's friends in the washroom, and I was going to get Hell for it. When he woke up and turned to face me with a closed-lipped grin, I hardly had any words to explain what I had done. Whatever came out of my mouth, thinking of it now, must have sounded ridiculous and juvenile, but he simply laughed it off and told me not to worry. If that wasn't one of the first signs that Takeshi thought of our relationship as polygamous, then I don't know what was. However, I didn't seem to understand the implications of his reaction. At the time, I was simply worried about saving my ass from losing who I thought to be the love of my life.

"Hayashi-kun!"

I cringed, knowing that all Ichiro, the same co-worker that had taken me out to the bar to meet Hideki, would have to say would be something about him. He ran over and threw his arm around me. My knees buckled and I dropped several wooden planks on the ground, sighing. I could see my supervisor glance over in suspicion, but thankfully he headed around the corner to another section of the construction site. Ichiro looked slightly guilty for a moment before giving an awkward laugh. He twisted me sideways to face him head-on. Unimpressed, I folded my arms.

"Hey! Ahh, how did last night go?! I called Hideki but he wouldn't say anything due to 'confidentiality' or something along those lines...so?" he asked expectantly.

"You know, you shouldn't go poking your nose into others' business like this," I scolded.

Frowning, he shook his arms in the air as some sort of half-apologetic gesture.

"Don't be like that! I'm your friend, aren't I? I knew you would enjoy Hideki's company. He's a very nice guy!" he tried to assure me.

"Yeah, yeah," I mumbled.

Although I knew it was likely that Hideki was a nice guy, I just wanted to get my mind off of the guy and get my work done. However, Ichiro didn't seem ready to stop talking about the previous night, so I knelt down and picked up the several planks of wood I had dropped moments before and turned back to him with a half-smile.

"I appreciate it, but let's look busy, shall we?"

Just then, the supervisor headed back our way and began to shake his fists at Ichiro, who had been hassled already a few times about visiting other workers when he wasn't on his break.

"Heey!!" the supervisor shouted, "Get back to work, you two!"

Standing up straight, Ichiro nodded furiously at the supervisor and grabbed the nearest toolbox, pretending to fix up some bolts on a large orange support beside him. He coughed and shrugged at me as if he had been working the whole time and didn't know what our supervisor was talking about. Grinning, I carried the planks off and delivered them to a truck down the gravel path ahead. When I set them down, I stared at the purple marks the handcuffs had left in a semi-circle around my wrist. I tried to rub at them to relieve the ache, but nothing seemed to do the trick. It was a constant reminder, just like Ichiro. Just like all those seductive glances that seemed to stick in my mind like cheap Polaroid photographs.

When I got home to my dark apartment, I switched on the lamp that sat atop my kitchen counter and saw the familiar green light flashing on my answering machine. Tentatively, I pushed play, and the sound of my mother's voice filled the small room.

"Kaede-kun, please call your parents back...we're very worried about you and want to hear what you've been up to. Hopefully you're not so busy with work that you can't call us back? Your father and I are thinking of coming to visit on the seventeenth...take care until then."

Inevitably, their course of action was to come attack me with a surprise visit. If they were that determined to hear from me, then they could go right ahead. There was no stopping them, anyhow. Once my parents had made up their mind about something, there was no turning back – especially because they would ask what was so bad about coming to see their most precious son. What was I hiding from them that was so bad that they couldn't even see my apartment?

I pulled out my futon out from the hall closet and laid it out on the floor. Collapsing on it, I grabbed my pillow from the floor in front of me and tucked it under my arms. I smoked cigarettes and watched TV until some ungodly hour of the morning and began to doze off until I felt my cell phone vibrate in the pocket of my work pants. Startled, I sat up and pulled it out. On the bright screen, I was even more startled to see the words: Calling...Takeshi. I began to panic and stared out the window at the dizzyingly tall buildings of Shinjuku. The lights in most of the large department buildings were off, but here and there were squares of yellow light streaming from office windows or lobbies. I wondered if Takeshi was sitting in one of those offices, late at night, thinking of me. Yeah, right.

Ignoring the call, I placed my phone back in my pocket and reached for my pack of cigarettes. Upon opening it, I was disappointed to find a lack of white cylinders inside and a heap of black and white remnants in the ashtray on the floor. I smoked a few cigarettes butts, a last resort that always came in handy when I had no cigarettes left at that time of night.

Until I fell asleep, I was left to wonder what Takeshi had been calling for. It encouraged me to do something that I had neglected doing for quite some time – erase his number from my contacts list.


For the next week until my parents' visit, I did little other than work, smoke, and sleep. Ichiro continued to tell me I should see Hideki; sometimes he pushed it so much that I wondered if he was Hideki's manager in disguise. Finally, I gave in and decided that at the least I could pay for a dinner with him since I had paid him so little for his services the last time we had met. He seemed pleased with this, and we set up the date at a small sushi restaurant that Hideki said I would like very much. In the end, the food was tasty and delicious, albeit a little expensive, and the 'date' for the lack of a better word went over pretty well. I got to know him a little better, even though I wasn't sure that's what I was after, and briefly, I mentioned Takeshi, whose name he instantly recognized.

"I'm sorry," he said upon hearing about our breakup. "I thought it was funny when you said you two were dating... he didn't seem like the kind to want to be tied down."

"You know him?" I asked, lifting my head suddenly from poking around at the sushi left on my plate.

"Yeah...I see him around at clubs sometimes. Usually with a flock of young ones."

"Hm," I smirked. "That sounds like him."

I tried to disguise my disappointment by showing further interest in my dinner, popping some sashimi in my mouth and sipping at my beer. He didn't seem to notice, and forked himself a few mouthfuls of food as well. While I should've kept my curiosity to myself, I had to ask.

"Have you slept with him?"

For some time, he ignored the question and requested that our server fill the tokkuri with more sake. I waited until she left and Hideki had finished another drink. The sake didn't seem to affect him as much as it would have affected me, and I came to the conclusion that he always drank this much when others were paying, which was probably quite often.

"He was a fairly regular client of mine about a year ago, but I stopped seeing him... my boyfriend got tired of me cancelling nights with him to go see Takeshi. I tried working as a bartender at the same place where you and I met, Toxic, but it didn't last long. Had to pay the rent, you know?"

I nodded but didn't say anything. I held no anger against Hideki for seeing Takeshi; I knew that he was completely unaware of us dating, and that even if he had known, business is still business, and some of his clients were married with children. I couldn't imagine what he had to go through – receiving calls from angry wives or girlfriends who wanted to kill him despite that he was only doing his job. Maybe if I had known that Takeshi was his client, I would have done the same thing – naively believed that some stranger was responsible for having sex with my boyfriend, who had paid him for his services.

In my head, I cursed Ichiro for ever introducing me to Hideki, even though he wasn't that bad of a guy. It suddenly felt as if he was just another link to Takeshi, and my past, which I wanted to forget altogether and shove into a box somewhere instead of dealing with it. In fact, that was basically all I had done. I had brought up memories of Takeshi only to serve the purpose of tormenting myself even more and spring up a self-hatred that I had never felt before. I hated myself for ever having loved a man like Takeshi, and I hated myself because I still loved him despite all the things he had done. What was worse was that I knew I couldn't place the blame entirely on Takeshi; I had been naive to put all of my trust in him so quickly, to have fallen head over heels for someone who didn't even care about me.

When we finished dinner, Hideki decided to cover the tip. I think it was his way of apologizing, because he knew that Takeshi never would. I smiled and thanked the sushi chef, heading out into the chilly night with Hideki trailing behind me. He thanked me for dinner and startled me by wrapping his arms around my shoulders and hugging me tight. He rested the side of his face on my collarbone.

"I'm sorry about Takeshi...I know what it's like to lose someone."

With that, he quickly walked down the sidewalk, not looking back once before hailing a cab and driving off in it. I was left not knowing what to think or feel, but in the end, my instincts led me back to the apartment again. Another message was on the machine, probably from mom and dad, but I ignored it and promptly collapsed on my futon. Flipping open my cell phone, I was intrigued to find that I had a new voicemail message. Assuming it was from Hideki, I put the phone to my ear.

"Kaede, it's Takeshi..."

Quickly, I closed my phone and threw it at the wall. Why the hell did he keep calling me? What did he want? He had several boys to keep him company; he didn't need me, especially if he had never given a shit about me in the first place. I cursed and lit a cigarette, considering going out to hit the bars so that I wouldn't have think about him for the rest of the night. Instead, I pulled out a box that I kept in the closet and lifted several papers and scraps to reach my goal underneath, a tiny rolled joint that I had been saving for a time when I needed an alternate method of falling asleep. When I had finished my cigarette, I turned out the lights and lit the joint. It filled the room with a sweet scent that reminded me of how my older brother's clothing sometimes smelt when he was a teen.

I didn't feel the effects of using the drug until I was done the joint, at which point I felt much more mellowed out and all of my thoughts seemed laughable compared to the worry and anxiety that moments ago had a hold on my mind. I was able to simply let go for a short while, tugging my blanket over top of my shoulders and falling asleep.

When I awoke feeling slightly dazed, my eyes darted to the alarm clock on top of my counter. I had overslept until it was already noon, something that I didn't do very often at all. Quickly, I folded up my futon, tossed it in the closet, and ran for the washroom. I had no time to fill up the bath and soak, so I let the searing water from the shower drip over my skin. Hurriedly, I rubbed the bar of soap all over myself, careful not to drop it despite that I did so a number of times. As I rinsed off, I rubbed shampoo in my hair and let it foam up.

I prayed that my parents would be late so that I would have time to clean up the apartment a little bit. Never mind that my fridge was just about running on empty and that its contents were most likely spoiled, but my walls were basically bare, the entire place smelt of cigarette – and now weed – smoke, I had next to no furniture, and certainly no decorations to give my place a homely feel. My parents would wonder what on earth I was doing with my money – which wasn't much other than spending it on escorts, cigarettes, and food. However, living in the city meant that rent was worth a leg and an arm, anyway.

When I got out of the shower, my parents had already called to confirm that they were on their way and would be at my place within the hour. I pulled the table out from against the wall, placing cushions out on the floor and dusting them off. I grabbed a tea pot from one of the cupboards in the small space attached to my living space that was my kitchen and started the kettle. From the closet, I took out a portrait of Takeshi and I and hung it up on the wall to keep up appearances that I wasn't alone and miserable. I stood with my arms folded and stared at the photograph, now about a year old. I looked so happy that my smile was stretched out to my ears in a frightening grin. Well, in truth, I was just smiling, but nonetheless, I looked happier than I had looked in months. Takeshi simply wore a smirk on his face like he usually did, but I remember him being fairly uncomfortable with the portrait scenario despite that it had been his idea.

I took a quick trip to a local supermarket to pick up a few decorations, dishes, and groceries to spice up my apartment and impress my parents even more. As well, I bought an espresso machine, some new sheets, and, of course, cigarettes – a king sized pack of Hope, and another one as a small gift to my father. On the bus ride home, I watched other patrons sitting quietly in their seats. A few of them were sick, with medical masks fastened tightly around their mouths; others looked sleepy or bored. At any given time during the day, the bus was full of such people; businessmen reading newspapers, young girls applying lip gloss, holding their bags in their laps, writing messages on their phones, students nodding off early in the morning when I was headed for work, and mothers or middle-aged women bringing groceries home. It was a strange blend of well-lived, wrinkled folks and naive, young citizens just as I had been not long ago.

I quickly put the apartment together when I arrived and prepared myself espresso. The road ahead was going to be tense with my parents in what felt like a place that not even friends had entered yet. I poured some tea from the kettle into the pot and placed it on the table. Next, I prepared some soba with the new kitchenware I had purchased. It was strange, cooking again – the last time I had cooked for anyone had been when I was with Takeshi. We enjoyed spending nights at home, curling up on the couch eating dinner after both going through a long day at work, and one of his favourite meals in the summer was cold soba noodles with sauce, so I made it at least once a week and gradually improved the sauce over time.

Of course, now I was making hot soba, hoping that my parents would be back in time for it to still be warm. Thankfully, they arrived in only minutes, and I put on my best smile as I answered the door. My father smiled, looking weary from traveling. For some reason, he always insisted that he drive on trips from the village into the city, and my mother made no complaints. In a few years, they hadn't changed at all – my father still had crow's feet grooved into the corners of his eyes and deep wrinkles that smudged down from the corners of his mouth to his chin. Mother was beautiful as usual, all dressed up in a knee-length blush dress with a thin, translucent shawl around her shoulders. In her hands, she carried a tied up package, probably with some home-grown vegetables inside. I could tell that she had been gardening, because she had begun to develop a slight hunch.

My father wrapped his arms around me and patted my back before stepping into the apartment ahead of me. While most parents worried about the safety and well-being of their children, often it seemed that a trait common between Japanese parents was the desire for their children to be overly successful and to break their backs in a large office building somewhere. And over what? Their possessions, their appearances, and their furnishings. I searched his face for an expression of interest or disappointment, but as usual he was pretty hard to read. Fortunately, he didn't appear to be unimpressed, and craned his neck to peer at the soba in the kitchen. The smell of the bitter, salty sauce had filled the apartment, hopefully covering up the stale stench of cigarette smoke.

"Ahh, my thin boy!" my mother grinned, opening her arms for me to bend down and hug her.

Her perfume smelt of lavender, a scent that I despised, but somehow it seemed to suit her and complimented her tidy appearance. I smiled and ushered her inside, closing the door. As soon as I let her go, she wandered into the kitchen, tending to the soba noodles as if I needed help with them.

"This sauce smells delicious," she commented. "But don't you think these noodles are done?"

"Mother, please..." I sighed.

After much convincing, she sat down at the table to enjoy a cup of tea, and poured one for my father as well. I could hear them talking about the portrait on the wall and how happy I looked in it. They made guesses about what kind of family Takeshi came from and what kind of person he was. I was beginning to worry they would get too carried away, so I finished the soba as quickly as I could and served it to them at the table. It was a slight relief to be able to sit down and eat with them after such a rush of preparation, but I knew that I still had to face the awkward questions that were about to come up.

"Itadakimasu..." the three of us chanted after one another.

"Mmm, how tasty," my mother commented, and my father nodded. "So, you seem to have a fairly nice place here...how did you get the time off for us to come visit? You haven't even had the time to call your poor parents!"

"Sorry, mom," I murmured. "I've been busy, you know, with work and...and my partner. We've both been working very hard, and when we get time off together...well, you must know what it's like."

"Ahh, yes, I remember when your father was managing the garage...some days he would come home, eat dinner, and go to bed!" she smiled.

For a while, we slurped loudly at our noodles and my father would occasionally stare at me as if something was written on my face; it was probably guilt.

"So tell us a little bit about this partner of yours. When do we get to meet him?" he asked.

I nearly choked on my soba, my spine straightened up so quickly. Clearing my throat, I looked down at my dish and along the surface of the table as I tried to come up with an answer. I found none.

"Meet him?" I asked sheepishly.

"Yes! It's not every day that we come down here! We'll all go out to the bar and I'll buy a round of drinks; how does that sound? By the sounds of it, you two deserve it. Well, call him up when we're done dinner."

If I could have just then, I would have sent my parents home, stretched my futon out on the floor and downed a bottle of sleeping pills. What had I gotten myself into? I should have guessed that my father would propose an idea like that, and that I would have absolutely no way of getting out of it. My parents innocently ate their soba, completely unaware that any relationship I ever had with Takeshi had completely untangled itself months ago, and that I was still broken up over it.

"Of course," I said. My lips felt numb as the words were forced from them.


"Takeshi," I started, as I could feel all of the air escape my chest, "I need to talk to you."

"Ah...I thought you would never call. Now you need something from me?" he asked.

"That's what it looks like."

"Kaede, darling, why don't you come back and live with me? I've got an even larger suite, but it feels so empty now. You probably feel the same way about your apartment, don't you?"

More than anything, I wanted to drop my apartment, leave everything behind, and go live with him. I wanted to make love with him in our bed, eat breakfast with him in our kitchen, and curl up our couch together to watch stupid kid's cartoons. But I also knew that it would be one of the biggest mistakes of my life to go back with Takeshi, so I snapped out of it and sighed.

"Thank you for the offer, but I'm not interested...I'm seeing someone, anyway," I lied.

"Ahh, I hope it's not that Hideki guy...you do know that he's an escort, don't you?"

"Yes, I know," I snapped. "And no...it's not him. It's someone else. But let's cut to the chase, here...I need you to do me a favour, and if you really want to see me all that badly, you'll do it for me."

"Hmm...I'll consider it. What is it that you want?"

I told him about my parents visiting, and how my parents were under the impression that we were together. I didn't tell him about the photo of us that I kept stored away in my closet that I had brought out simply for this visit. Thankfully, he didn't make fun of me or ask many more questions. He simply let the idea sink in and told me he would call back in a matter of minutes. As I waited, smoking a cigarette, leaning against partition around my doorway, I hoped that he would call back and say that he had some previous engagement to tend to that he couldn't cancel; something important like a business meeting with one of his clients or soon-to-be clients. I wondered if he used his great charm and appeal to lure in business partners the way he had with me. Suddenly, my phone rang, and I jumped to answer it.

"I can do it, but what's really in it for me?"

"Like I said, if you really want to see me so bad, you'll do this for me."


The bar was a tiny, crowded joint, but we managed to get our own table underneath a crude print of a geisha weeping beside her window in some particular okiya in the middle of a bustling town that never really existed. My father ordered a round of sake despite that Takeshi had not yet arrived and made up a few small lies about what Takeshi and I had been up to all year. We had gone to visit a couple of fancy shrines, he had taken me rooftop golfing with one of his co-workers (a very luxurious and exclusive past-time in Japan), seen a wonderful kabuki performance were always fed until our stomachs were about to burst, which was laughable considering how much weight I'd lost since we had parted.

After a few minutes the curtains flapped at the entrance and Takeshi entered, dressed in all black with large sunglasses on, a sign that he was probably high. I stood up and smiled despite that my chest was tightening and my heart seized up inside my chest. He nodded curtly at the bartender and made his way over to me. He rested his hands on my waist and planted a firm kiss on my lips. I wanted to push him away, shove him off of me, spit in his face, but I just closed my eyes and waited for him to back away.

"It's good to see you," he said.

"This is my father, Mister Hayashi. Father, this is Yoshida Takeshi."

The formalities were killing me, so I let them bow at each other and we all settled into our seats.

"A pleasure," Takeshi grinned.

"Ahh, the pleasure is mine," my father replied. "I appreciate that you took the time out of your busy schedule to come meet an old man such as myself. Kaede is very lucky to have such a successful man at his side."

"Oh, please, you flatter me..."

The two went on like this back and forth for a short while until they had some sake and got to know each other a little bit. For a while I wondered if they would make a better match than Takeshi and I, continuously congratulating each others' efforts in the working world.

"So," my father began. "When is it that you two are going to move in together? Surely, you can both afford a place..."

Takeshi chuckled and drank some more sake while I sat uncomfortably waiting for him to lead the conversation. I hadn't expected him to completely trample all over me in doing so.

"Ahh, you would have to ask Kaede-kun about that. He's a rather private person, even with me, you see. I think he enjoys having his space."

My father seemed suddenly interested, and turned his head to me to give me a tight-lipped smile that only begged to ask what on earth was wrong with me.

"Is that so?"

"It is, Mister Hayashi...I have invited Kaede to come live with me on several occasions, but he simply refuses."

I broke the awkward silence by offering the two cigarettes, but my father avoided my question and gave me a stern look of disapproval.

"Kaede-san, why is it that you refuse Mister Yoshida's company? He will take great care of you, I am sure!"

"Please," Takeshi interrupted. "There is no need to worry. I don't want to rush Kaede if this isn't what he wants."

Takeshi gratefully accepted the cigarette and I lit it for him, promptly lighting my own afterwards. My father seemed to be sitting under a fog of disappointment, and the rest of the evening ended up as him ignoring me and instead discussing Takeshi's business life with him in great detail. After a while of their ongoing conversation, I left the table to have a cigarette outside and the two didn't even appear to notice. However, Takeshi followed suit after only a few minutes and stalked after me. He lit his own cigarette and I was sure that behind those glasses he was giving me bedroom eyes.

"Your father is right, you know. I would take very good care of you if you were to come live with me."

He turned from against the wall to face me, blowing his smoke out onto the sidewalk. He narrowed in against me, pressing me against the wall, his lips wavering close to mine. I struggled to shove him off, but he held me there, his hands clenched in my hair. He was close enough that I could smell the old, familiar scent of his cologne, and for a moment I felt myself weakening in his grasp, longing to go back to that time.

"Kaede..." he whispered. "It's so lonely in my large suite, in that bed all by myself. I realize now that no one else can replace your company."

"Yeah," I agreed, coming out of my daze. "That's because no one else is foolish enough to actually stay with you. I'm not interested. Goodnight, Takeshi."
Shoving him away, I fled back into the bar and paid the bill. The walk home with my father was a mix of silence and him bantering about what an idiot I was for not staying with Takeshi. The entire night had been one big mistake and I didn't want to deal with the aftermath of any of it despite knowing that it was no one's fault but mine.


A/N:

Hey, everyone. I'm sorry for the long wait on this...this chapter was a long haul for me and I had it nearly finished god knows when but I was whisked away to work off of the island and I never really got around to finishing it until now. Life has been somewhat of a crazy mess, but I know that you're not really here to read about that. I guess what I mean is that yet again, I'm feeling some of Kaede's pain. My own partner just left me about a week ago and I'm missing him terribly. However, I'm doing just fine, and trying to move on and do something with my life. Lots of drawing, so far. :P Anyway...I hope you enjoyed this chapter and I'm looking forward to your reviews! Pass it on to others if you know of anyone who might be interested. Thanks again.