No cover yet but this picture is an inspiration for this story I’m working on for an anthology I’ll be doing with hot M/M author D.H. Starr! I’m soooo psyched. Hopefully it will be ready sometime in Winter 2011. But I wanted to share a teaser (the whole first chapter, actually) of one of my stories that will be going into the collection.
Just a quick intro to the plot: Tomohito Nakadai has been in love with his best friend Jun since childhood. Unfortunately, Jun has other ambitions for his life besides returning his friend’s soul-searing passion for him. A successful bar host, Jun wants to live a life of luxury and material success…or so Tomohito thinks…until a tragedy derails Jun’s career, forcing both him and Tomo to face their own hearts and to decide what’s really important: material success and frustrated silence – or honesty and requited passion.
I’m an ordinary man with an ordinary life in every way. Except for Jun.
That’s what I think to myself every night when I watch Jun getting ready for work. He’s everything I’m not. Where I’m larger and full of muscles from doing physical work, my hands rough and callused, Jun is slender, willowy, his musculature lightly etched under his smooth golden skin. While my face is wide, my jaw squarish, my beard heavy and in need of shaving sometimes twice a day, Jun has what women call a “soy sauce face,” delicately-featured with high cheekbones, his eyes the shape of perfect almonds, beautiful, as if a calligrapher had brushed him into being. His lips are soft and voluptuous, as if always pursed for a kiss.
While I wear my hair short, every day guy-like, Jun highlights his and wears it in long perfectly-sculpted spikes that hang down over his forehead, leaving space for his eyes. I dress in t-shirts and jeans while Jun always wears the latest in scoop-necked shirts and heavy silver chains with crosses, long leather duster coats, boots and pants with studded belts, as if he’s just walked off a fashion model’s runway.
We’re so vastly different, I’m convinced we wouldn’t even have become friends had Jun’s mother not been living in the same apartment building years ago when Jun and I were still kids. She worked as a bar hostess nights, leaving Jun alone all the time. Jun’s father was long out of his life, so long that Jun never even remembered what he looked like. My dad, rest his soul, helped her out by having Jun come and stay with us in the evenings so he wouldn’t be alone. He practically lived here for years, so when his mom “left” him to run off with some man and start a new family on the other end of Japan, Jun just stayed.
I’d be happy if Jun just stayed here with me the rest of our lives, in this little apartment we’d once shared with Dad. But Jun has other plans for his life.
Our eyes meet in the mirror. Jun smiles. “Aren’t you bored by now?” he asks. “I do the same thing every night.”
I shake my head as he continues his perusal. He doesn’t seem to mind my lurking in the doorway of his bedroom, watching him make sure his hair is perfectly in place before he puts on the rest of his outfit. Tonight it’s a silver ascot tucked into a black button-down blouse. A silver vest matches the ascot, all atop closely-fitting black slacks. When he finishes and studies the effect in his full-length mirror, I wonder if he sees himself as I do: a human work of art.
I could never be bored by Jun. To me he glows like a star. He’s more beautiful than the pink cherry blossom petals that fill the air when the spring breezes pull them from the branches by the millions.
He chuckles and turns back to scrutinizing his outfit. “Suit yourself.” He strikes a pose, one hip cocked out to the side, a thumb hooked into his pocket while his other hand holds the flap of his vest. The flashbulb of the photographer I imagine he wishes would capture his image on film never goes off. There’s only me, standing a few feet behind him, crowding the doorway with my hulking form, wishing Jun were free to spend the evening hanging out with me instead of hosting women in a bar.
I can’t imagine ever getting my wish. Jun is one of the top hosts where he works and he’s nearly halfway to his goal of earning enough to rent his own apartment in a swankier section of Tokyo. Shinjuku maybe. Or even Ginza if he can save up quite enough.
I suppress a sigh. What will become of us then? Jun so far away in a distant ward, living the exciting life he chases night after night. Year after year. The thought makes an ache in my chest. The ache worsens when Jun breaks his pose and turns with that ready-to-leave air about him.
At an hour when most people, myself included, are coming home from work to have dinner, play with their children go for a stroll and maybe watch some television before going to sleep, Jun is just leaving for work. He won’t be back until early in the morning. Maybe even after the sun is up, depending on what clients come in tonight. There are a couple of wealthy women he takes out to eat after the bar closes because they spend a lot of money with him. Sometimes they even go to a love hotel for a few hours.
I try not to wonder too much whether he enjoys his work. The thought just gets me depressed.
“Can’t be more ready than I am now,” he says. He retrieves the black ankle boots he’ll be wearing from his closet and heads toward the doorway. My heart squeezes as I step aside for him to pass through. He graces me with one of his smiles. “Please don’t wait up,” he murmurs. The fact that I often fall asleep on the couch with the TV on because I don’t want to be tucked away in my room when he comes home makes him feel guilty. I certainly don’t mean to make him feel that way, I just want to see him, if even for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter anyway. I never make it through the night because I have to be up so early for work, which is when I see him often just getting home.
Before leaving, Jun sets his boots down and goes over to the memorial photographs of my parents and kneels in front of the small table that holds them, as he does religiously each day. A quiet air comes over him as he lights a stick of incense. He didn’t know my mother since she died of cancer before Jun and his mother moved into the building, but he honors her memory too, out of respect to me and my father, a Tokyo detective killed in the line of duty by the stray bullet of a thief in pursuit.
I hang back quietly, allowing him his moments with my father who I know he still misses horribly, as I do until he rises, picks up his shoes and heads to the front door.
I follow him there and watch him slip on his boots. “I’ll try not to.” The empty promise I make every night. I can’t help it. My purpose in Jun’s life since I know him is to worry about him. He was a sad-looking boy, leaning against the wall of the apartment building alone while his mother was out working. As a man, the sadness still haunts his eyes even though he covers it with glitzy clothing and work that keeps him up in the wee hours of the night so his sadness won’t haunt him and keep him lying awake.
“Okay, thanks.” At the open door he pauses. His eyes lock with mine, the way they did in his mirror’s reflection. For a moment, words seem to hover on his lips and then he decides not to say them. This is something he also does regularly, leaving me to wonder what he would possibly want to say to me. Perhaps some day he will tell me, although if it’s something I’d rather not hear, then better he stays silent.
“Get there safely,” I say to his lingering form. I have my own ritual of unsaid things, one of which is, “Please stay home, Jun. You don’t have to go to that place. I’ll take care of you.” But I don’t. When I’ve said it in the past, he’s resented it and insisted that he needs to do this. He wants to “be somebody” and make something of his life, according to his own words. Yet, if he saw himself at all through my eyes, even for a moment, he’d understand. Though Jun is a grown man of twenty-seven, to me there’s something so vulnerable about him, I can’t help the eerie feeling that snakes its way through me each night he leaves for work. Tonight it’s especially strong.
“I will. See you later.”
One more flash of his silver and black clad figure and the door clicks shut behind him.
I sigh, listening to his bootsteps on the cement catwalk until the sounds fade.
Alone in the apartment, I go and kneel in front of my parents’ photographs. Smoke from the incense curls delicately into the air in front of their faces and emits a trace of musk in the air, a scent that echoes how wistful I feel. I look at my mother’s face. I was only five when she died and I don’t remember many things about her except seeing her smile at me and making sure I ate and was clean. She never knew Jun as my father did. I turn to his picture, a portrait of him in the uniform he wore before he was promoted to detective and started wearing a suit to work. In fact, this is how I remember him dressed around the time he actually added Jun to our family register as a son, the act which I’m sure really saved Jun’s life. After having been abandoned by both his parents, knowing that someone cared so much about him as to make him a son was very healing to Jun’s heart. I knew that for sure when Jun stopped calling my father “Nakadai-san” and started calling him “Dad.”
So why does he still want to go off and get a place of his own? I ask my father the question silently to his equally silent image. When Dad was alive he used to say that Jun’s demons still haunt him even though being a part of our family had helped to make him happier. He said everyone has deep, driving forces inside them that remained a mystery to themselves unless they took the time to understand them. But, he would add, it doesn’t mean that you can’t always care about Jun. Dad had learned so much about human nature in his line of work. If anyone was aware of the dark side of human beings, it was my father.
Back in my room, getting ready to shower, I also stare at the one photograph I keep on my chest of drawers. To me the image encapsulates the great happiness of my life—me and Jun and my dad during hanami. We’re sitting on our plastic sheet in the park not far from our apartment, under the enchanting canopy of cherry blossom trees. In front of us are scattered the empty bento boxes that had held our meals of rice and barbecued skewers of pork. Dad had been taking a picture of me and Jun when a passing couple had offered to take the picture for him so that he could be in it with his sons. That night after we got home, Dad told me and Jun of his decision to put Jun on the family register.
I owe the fact that Jun hasn’t really gotten into trouble to that one act of love from my father. However, Jun is hosting now, the way his mother used to and nothing I’ve ever said to him makes him realize he can stop. He’s so determined to “make” something of his life that my pleas bounce off him like stones against cement.
I stare a few more moments at the photograph before heading into the shower. My evening unfolds as it always does, even though tonight is Friday and any other regular guy would probably be out on a date or something social, instead of passing the time until his friend gets home from work. Shower, supper of leftovers or a simple stew of nikujaga that I can throw together and have all cooked in under an hour, a walk around the neighborhood, watching the kids tumble about on the complex’s monkey bars and swings, and then checking on my motorcycle parked in its space. When I get in, I watch some TV before I fall asleep on the sofa while I wait up for Jun. I’ve often thought of getting some kind of work that would put him and me on the same schedule, but the job I have pays well and it’s our security should Jun ever come to his senses and give up what he’s doing now. Then he’ll know he really doesn’t have to worry about money. Perhaps it’s all a fantasy in my head, but it keeps me going day after day.
Tonight, I’m in a twilight kind of sleep, the TV droning softly in the background when the ring of my cell phone cuts through the haze. At first disoriented, I hold the phone up and see Jun’s name lighting up on the ID. The darkness outside tells me it’s the middle of the night, not a time when Jun ever calls.
Icy fingers rake through my chest. My sleepiness dispels as I press the button. “Jun, are you all right?” I don’t even bother to say a greeting I’m so alarmed.
“Is this Nakadai Tomohito?” The voice is female. Not Jun’s. My alarm escalates to terror.
“Yes. Where is Jun?”
She pauses. “My name is Michiko. I’m the mama-san of the bar where Jun works.” Her voice wavers. It’s a smoky-sounding voice that without the stress would sound confident. “Something…has happened. Jun was…attacked. He’s being brought to the emergency room at Meiji Memorial. I found your name on his phone as the emergency contact.”
Oh my god. “I’m on my way.” Not bothering to dress, I throw on my jeans jacket over the undershirt I’m already wearing. My pajama pants will have to do. I grab my wallet and keys, shove my feet into my loafers and fly out the door.