(photo of an onnegata (male kabuki actor in female role) from weheartit.com)
As some of you know I have been working on A Samurai for Aoki the third in my samurai trilogy. (Previous books: Flying Fish and Blind Love. If you’ve read them, then you’ve met the beautiful kabuki actor Aoki who longs to find the samurai who will be his true love. Aoki is a wonderful character, kind and sweet and a good friend to those in his life. But he has not had good fortune in finding the man of his dreams, in spite of how lovable he is and how willing to love.
I realized it was time for Aoki to find his Happy Ever After. And it will come in what is, for him, a most unexpected place. He just has a lesson to learn first that he had no idea he needed to learn. But isn’t this the story of our own lives? Which is what, to me, makes this story universal even though it is set in feudal Japan between a young samurai, Toho, (whom we also first meet as a boy in Blind Love but who is now grown into a handsome young man,) and an onnegata (male kabuki actor who played female roles). I hope you enjoy the snippet I’m posting here. Please bear with me the long time it is taking me to finish the story. Since I also am a publisher, I don’t have as much time to write.) From my work in progress, A Samurai For Aoki (unedited. Final version may differ):
Toho dreamed again about Aoki. It was the same dream he always had. Aoki’s beautiful face with its delicate features smiling down at him. Warmth sparkled in Aoki’s eyes, a gaze full of love and sweetness, dark liquid pools in which Toho felt enveloped, wrapped in safety and unending compassion. Aoki’s long hair curled and flowed, tresses that gleamed like liquid ebony with sunlight glinting off of it. Toho smiled up at him, as Aoki himself were the warm sun, bathing him while he slept. He could feel the teasing brush of Aoki’s hair on his cheeks. Aoki held out his arms, inviting a protective embrace. Aoki’s embrace had always made him feel as if he’d be all right.
Only this time the dream changed. Aoki’s smile faded. Distress filled his pale complexion. Lines ringed his eyes and deepened across his smooth forehead. His reaching arms flailed and he began to fade, as if made of mist. Toho gasped and reached out to him, grasping desperately. He got handfuls of Aoki’s kimono but Aoki slipped from his grasp. The more Toho reached, the more Aoki faded. Until he was gone…
Toho fought for breath. His chest heaved. What he’d thought were Aoki’s sleeves in his tight fists was, in reality, his own bedding. He sat up. Sweat made his kimono cling to his torso and odd tingles coursed over his skin and through his thigh and calf muscles. While the ghostly whispers of the nightmare ebbed away, he raked a shaky hand through his hair. With a long breath he lay back and stared up at the ceiling. The faintest light of dawn stole through the window slats. The brazier had burnt out during the night, allowing hints of the crisp autumn air to cool his sweaty skin.
On the other side of the brazier, his fathers stirred on their futons. He listened, hoping he hadn’t woken them. They worked hard and needed their rest. He’d have been happy to stay in the one of the dojo’s sleeping rooms with his father’s students but neither Hirata nor Sho would allow that. They were fiercely protective.
Toho took another deep breath. Usually he awoke from his dream feeling refreshed, calm and happy. Not today. Something was wrong. Aoki was in trouble. Toho felt it in his bones. Guilt flashed through him as it did several times each. He’d not yet kept his promise to Aoki to return to him. Both his fathers had made him promise to wait until the first day of his eighteenth year. Well, that day was drawing close, but if his nightmare had any truth in it, then he couldn’t wait until then. Aoki might be in trouble…
A shadow loomed over Toho. In the next breath, Sho was kneeling beside him. His father could move as silently as a cat or a ninja.
“Toho, are you unwell?” Sho, who’d been trained in the arts of acupuncture and herbal healing as well as massage, picked up Toho’s wrist. Immediately, Sho’s fingertips pressed into his pulses.
“I’m fine, Father. Just a bad dream.”
Sho nodded and continued his careful listening. When Toho was a child whose parents had been brutally slain before his very eyes, Sho was the one person in whom he’d been able to take refuge. He couldn’t expect Sho simply to give up his protective ways and let go simply because Toho was now a grown man. And yet, he had never quite gotten used to Sho’s razor-sharp perception. There was no keeping any secrets from his father. He listened another moment to Toho’s pulses and then set his hand down. “You dreamed about Aoki-san again?”
Toho sighed. “Yes. But this one was different. It wasn’t good. Something was—“
“Toho, are you all right?” Hirata came over and knelt beside Sho. His dark gaze fell on Toho. Hirata too, fussed over him too much sometimes, but after what Hirata had recently revealed to Toho about his own past, Toho could easily forgive him his over-protectiveness.
“Toho had a nightmare. About Aoki-san.”
Toho sat up. “In my dream nothing really happened but Aoki-san looked so troubled, so frightened. That’s never happened before. Maybe he needs me to go to him. I did promise I would return to him. And…” Toho hesitated before finishing. “I’ve missed him so badly.” When he looked up, both his fathers brows were furrowed, as if Sho and Hirata knew at once what he would say next. “Please, let me go to him. Let me keep my promise.”
Sho and Hirata were both silent. Toho felt their tension in the very air and his heart sped up. “We’ll go with you,” Sho said.
Toho felt a wave of shame, something he hadn’t expected. For some reason, he’d always assumed that when he returned to Aoki, he would do so as a proud samurai, not the damaged peasant boy he’d been when he and Aoki had parted. How could he do that with his two father, both accomplished swordsmen, surrounding him? “But, Father, how can I ever prove myself to you if you are always protecting me?”
Finally Sho cleared his throat. “You expected to make this journey alone? If it’s about keeping your promise to Aoki then what does it matter if we’re with you?”
“And since when would you need to prove yourself to either of us, Toho?” Hirata said. “You’re our precious son.”
Toho bowed his head again. The cool air in the room had dried his sweat and he pulled his kimono tighter, squaring his shoulders. “I want Aoki to…be proud of me.”
“I have no doubt Aoki would be proud of you if you showed yourself with us beside you,” Sho said. “Just to set eyes on you again and see what a fine young man you’ve grown to be would fill him with joy.”
Toho felt his back muscles clench. Both his fathers had proven their strength and merit as swordsmen and as human beings. Why did they insist on depriving him of his chance? “But Aoki adores samurai. Even as a child I noticed his preference, we spent so much time together.” Toho even remembered the little alcove at the entrance of Aoki’s home, across from the tokonoma, the altar that held the statue of the Buddha, where a weapons rack provided storage for the weapons of samurai who came to call on Aoki. Samurai loved kabuki actors, especially Aoki, who was exceptionally beautiful and graceful.
“Aoki loved you before you were ever a samurai,” Sho said, his voice tight. “Before Hirata ever adopted you, you were Aoki’s special boy.”
“Sho-chan,” Hirata said, his hand on his partner’s shoulder, “In all fairness to Toho, I do understand what he’s saying. I can understand how Toho would wish to prove himself. After such a prolonged absence, he’s worried that Aoki will hold him to a new standard.”
The furrow in Sho’s brow deepened. “And what indications has Aoki given in his letters of such a change in attitude? Every time he’s corresponded with us he sends only love and well wishes and hope we’ll all see each other again before too long.”
Toho looked down. He had no answer. Sho was right, of course. Aoki had never expressed anything to him except complete love and acceptance. It was himself who’d changed. As he grew older and his body became a man’s body, he’d noticed the change in his thinking and feeling. He was no longer that little boy Aoki had loved and helped to heal. That’s the person Aoki loved. The beautiful graceful man he looked up to as a motherly big sister had never met Toho the samurai.
“Toho.” Sho broke the silence. “Please, understand my position. No matter how old you are, how skilled you are, you’re my little boy. I’m not a samurai. I don’t think as a samurai. You don’t prove your worth as a human being by living the laws of Bushido.” Sho sighed, his brow deeply furrowed. “You’re asking me to let go. To let you go…to let you…grow up.”
His father’s words moved Toho to rise and go over to him. He knelt down by Sho who immediately covered Toho’s hands with his. “I’m sorry, Father.”
Sho pulled him into an embrace. The bond between them had formed the moment Sho had first come to treat Toho. In the wake of Toho’s parents’ murders, Toho had lain on a mat in his uncle’s tiny hut, staring up at the ceiling, paralyzed by the trauma of what he’d witnessed. Sho had been the first person he’d looked at, spoken to, trusted when he’d come back to life. He knew that Sho would keep him by his side the rest of their days if he could. When Sho finally ended the embrace he sighed again. “All right. But I expect you to post a message to me every few days, to let me know what’s happening and that you’re all right. Promise me.”
“I promise, Father. Thank you.”