Everyone’s gone home. Even Shimura-san has departed, even though it was his own birthday celebration. They started out at the restaurant down the street, but somehow they ended up here in the game center.
He doesn’t want to know how much money he’s spent so far. He’ll just check his bank balance and freak out in the morning. It was really all Aoki’s fault. She’d dared him to win the little kangaroo toy peeking out at the rear of the UFO catcher, and a few of the crew members had stayed to cheer him on while Aoki teased him.
But now it’s just the two of them. He hadn’t expected Becky to stay behind since she’s already made it very clear she has variety filming in the morning. Here she is though, standing beside him and tapping the glass to encourage him to change the angle for the claw to drop.
“You’ll never win it for her if you keep dropping it there,” she protests, even slapping down a 2000 yen bill. “Come on, let me try.”
“Put your money away,” he complains. This is his kangaroo to win (much as he dislikes them on general principle), and her closeness is making his trigger finger a little too shaky. He can smell her perfume every time she lifts her hand to tap the glass.
She nudges him with her hip, trying to get him to move, and he’s very glad nobody else is around. “Come on, let me try. You’ve spent so much already.”
He nudges right back. He’s got a few drinks in him, and he gets a little competitive when he's tipsy. “I’m going to win.”
Another thirty minutes go by, and he still hasn’t won. She keeps walking around the machine, tapping various spots where he should drop the claw. He puts more coins in and straightens up to grab the joystick again, but she’s right there.
Their hands touch, and now she blushes. After all that, she blushes, and he feels nervous too.
“Let me,” she says defiantly, sliding her fingernail up and down his thumb. He steps aside when he can’t take any more of it.
She wins the kangaroo for Aoki on her fourth try, and on the cab ride home, he doesn’t think about the money he wasted or how Aoki will react when Becky presents her with the toy at their next filming or even how long he’d stood in front of the machine.
All he can think about is the way her perfume smelled and how maybe, just maybe, he should have kissed her.
Matsujun has noticed. He would have expected Nino to pick up on it first because Nino can read people better than any fortune teller. But Nino is busy with movie filming, so it’s fallen to Jun to discover that Aiba is crushing and crushing hard.
“I thought you were like brother and sister,” Matsujun snits when Aiba admits it after some coercion in the green room.
“I don’t know,” Aiba admits. He’s not sure what it is about Becky that never made him crazy before but does now. “It’s like I woke up one morning and wanted to be with her forever. Is that normal?”
Matsujun isn’t even looking up from his manga. “Nope.”
“What do you mean?” Aiba feels his forehead. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“She did get her hair cut. Maybe it’s just that.”
Aiba ponders this. Becky has gone through a bit of an image makeover. But she still teases him in the makeup room and leaves post-it notes in his bag with little doodles of animals munching on a stick-figure version of himself.
Maybe these things just happen. Or maybe it happened a while back, and he was too cowardly to admit it. Maybe she came by for VIP Room filming, and he’d had such a hard time focusing because it was Becky, his friend Becky, dressed up all fancy. And then she’d picked Jun. She picked Jun, and Aiba had never ever been jealous of another member before.
“Figure it out yet?” Jun asks, turning a page.
He looks through his bag, realizes that every post-it note doodle is in the little side pocket. He’s saved them all and hasn’t understood why. He picks one out, looks at the giraffe she’s drawn bending down to munch on his arm. “Aiba-kun, munch munch!” is written in purple pen beside it. They’re herbivores, he wants to tell her. You should know better.
But he smiles and tucks it back into the side pocket. “I think so.”
He sneaks a confession into this year’s New Year’s card. She’d made fun of him on national television for last year’s card. He writes it really small, a tiny little “I like you” on the back in the corner opposite the side he’s doodled on, away from his usual New Year’s greetings.
He supposes he could have been more direct. But the thought of telling her to her face that he’d like to see her outside of work for non-work...things would only be a disaster. She’s too quick to tease him, and he’s too quick to tease back. Things on TV are only a fraction of their usual antagonism.
“I’d never go out with you in a million years,” he expects her to say. Well, if she finds the message at all.
Why do they tease each other? Why do they act this way? Aiba isn’t too sure. He’s liked other girls before, some quite a lot. But this is different because they’ve known each other for so long, and where the hell has all this come from and why now and why did he write that in the card and maybe if he goes to the post office he can get it back before it’s too late but it’s already New Year’s and...
His phone rings. “I watched the Countdown,” is what she says, not even bothering with a hello.
“Oh?” His plane’s leaving soon, so maybe he can forget that he’s gone and confessed to her in the corner of a New Year’s card while he’s golfing. Golfing needs his full attention.
“It looked fun.”
It gets quiet on her end, and he stares at passengers getting off of a different flight. She’s found it, hasn’t she?
“Is it true?” she asks. “Or are you just making fun of me?”
This isn’t really a phone conversation, is it? This is a face to face, at least now that she’s found it. “Ask me when I get back.”
He hangs up like an idiot. He sends her a short mail message. All it says is “it’s true” and try as he might, he plays the worst golf of his life.
They meet for coffee a few days after he comes back. She slides a bright pink sheet of stationery paper across the table. “What happens if I like you too?” she’s written on it, and he feels lightheaded.
She hands him a pen out of her crazy, heavy-looking bag, waits for his response with a rather embarrassed quirk to her lips.
He swallows down his nervousness and neatly writes “I pay for the coffee.”
She takes the paper back and grins, scribbling something quickly. “Today?”
He ignores the little pink pom-pom at the end of the pen as he writes “For as long as you’ll let me.”
He insists on parking three blocks away from her place. There usually aren’t photographers in the neighborhood, and he’s more suspicious wearing the oversized hooded sweatshirt and the baseball cap anyhow.
“We can walk to the car though,” he says as they start down the sidewalk. “Walking is what girls like isn’t it? Walking and talking?”
She grumbles. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have worn heeled shoes.”
He stops abruptly and looks down. “Oh.”
She links her arm with his and urges him forward. “You need to relax.”
But she knows he has to be careful. He wasn’t always in the past, and he doesn’t want to get in trouble with management. She doesn’t either, of course, but they can’t be scared. They just have to get out there and have fun. Getting to this point was scariest anyhow.
She breaks a heel stepping off the curb, and there’s two blocks to go.
He actually carries her to his car, drives her to her house and waits for her to change shoes. Every relationship has to have a beginning, she figures.
“But what if you kept it at a ranch?” he argues.
“Well, then it’s not a pet!”
He frowns. “But if you own a horse, isn’t that technically your pet? And you can’t have them living at home.”
She snatches the brochure away from him. The things he picks up when he’s on location shoots. He gets the strangest ideas. “Aiba-chan, if we have a pet together, that means something. It’s shared responsibility. I don’t think you’re ready for that.”
“I was born ready,” he protests, snatching the brochure right back. “And it’s easy to explain away. Easier to explain away than a dinner date. ‘Oh, Becky-chan and I are adopting him because we want to show our love for animals’ we can say. No cause for gossip. We’re just adopting a pet as friends.”
She sighs and leans her head back against the couch cushion in frustration. “But who is going to take care of the darn thing? I’m busy, you’re busy. I’m not sending my manager to a ranch to ensure my pet llama is in good shape.”
Aiba finally realizes that this is a rather serious undertaking. Adopting a llama had probably sounded like a great idea in his head, but then again, Becky knows most things sound great in his head.
“But I want to show I’m serious about you,” he says quietly, and it makes her breath catch. She can’t let him unnerve her for long though.
“By offering to adopt a llama with me?” she asks, prodding him with her elbow. “Really? Most guys buy jewelry or flowers.”
He lightly thwacks her in the head with the brochure. “I’m not most guys.”
“I’m finding that out,” she mutters as they play the dvd and curl up together under the blanket.
She’s walking down the hall at NTV when Nino corners her. “Becky-san.”
He looks her straight in the eye. “I love you,” he says, completely serious, and walks away leaving her stunned.
“What?” she manages to cry out when her brain starts working again, but he’s already turning the corner.
The next day, she gets a mail from Matsujun full of hearts. It says “I love you,” and he doesn’t send any reply when she asks what the hell is going on.
Ohno’s manager drops off a yellow envelope in her dressing room at Fuji TV. Inside is a drawing, even better and more amazing than the one he’d drawn for her on the VIP segment. Right next to where he’s signed his name, it simply reads “I love you.”
Sakurai-san looks incredibly embarrassed when he shows up at her TBS dressing room with a cake. “I love you” has been spelled out in strawberries. She won’t let him get away, her fingers clamping down around his wrist.
“What is this? What is all of this?” she asks him, trying to sound menacing, although he’s a lot bigger than she is and probably isn’t too terrified.
“I promised,” he tells her, still looking like a tomato. “I can’t tell you.”
But that’s all she really needs to hear to confirm it. Of course, Aiba put his bandmates up to this. But why? Why are they telling her they love her?
She finds out when his plane’s going to land. He’s been gone all week, filming at a zoo in Australia. She doesn’t care about his stupid jet lag, pounding on his apartment door.
He looks exhausted when he opens the door, but she’s holding the cake from Sho, and he perks up a bit. “Oh? He actually ordered the cake!”
She shoves him inside and closes the door. “Why are your bandmates declaring their love for me? It freaked me out.”
“Well,” he says, taking the cake from her hands and setting it on his kitchen counter. “I was gone all week.”
“And what does that have to do with it?”
“I was gone,” he tells her, getting out some plates and forks. “I wanted to make sure someone was telling you on my behalf.”
“That’s...” she tries to protest, but now she’s seeing the blush in his cheeks. Her confusion is melting and getting replaced with the urge to scream in happiness. But she won’t - he might shut her up by shoving cake in her face. He’s always surprising her like that. “That’s sweet, actually.”
He cuts right through the “love” strawberries and shoves a forkful of cake in his mouth. His mouth is full of frosting when he says “I love you” in person this time, and she doesn’t really mind.
He’s let it slip that he likes the way she looks in green. Becky’s image is pink, and that’s what he’s always known. But she wore a green bra with blue polka dots the other night, and now he can’t get green out of his mind.
So when he walks on set for filming, she’s talking with Mami-chan and wearing a green blouse. With blue polka dots. Now that was a specific enough request for wardrobe, he thinks, shoving his hands in his overall pockets.
She comes over, looking a little too proud of herself. “Looking forward to working with you today, Aiba-san,” she says, voice far less polite than her words would otherwise suggest.
“I bet,” he says with a smile. “Cute shirt.”
She tilts her head. “Pervert.”
Becky walks off, greeting staff as though she was only talking to him out of courtesy. Nobody’s guessed. Nobody’s even hinted, and keeping things hidden is rather exciting.
Filming goes as smoothly as it can be, and any mistakes he makes are excused after an apology. After all, he’s expected to flub a cue card here and there because he’s Aiba. But nobody knows he’s been thinking of Becky’s green bra, remembering the way it clasped in the front and how he pulled a strap off of her shoulder with his thumb as he tasted her strawberry lip gloss.
“Pervert,” she says again as she passes him by on the way back to wardrobe, fingers brushing his wrist as if it’s accidental. If liking green makes him a pervert, then he doesn’t really mind.
There’s a train crash on her usual line, and a few people are killed. She hears it on TV when she comes out of the bath. Of course, she’d wanted peace and quiet and had her phone on silent.
So when she opens her apartment door, she nearly goes flying as he rushes forward and hugs her. “Why didn’t you answer?” he’s saying, out of breath. “I thought...well, I didn’t know but...I just had to see you...”
He’s crying, really crying, and she feels horrible. The apartment door’s wide open, and anyone could see, but he won’t let go. She isn’t quite sure she’s ever felt so loved before so she doesn’t feel too embarrassed about being in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.
“Why didn’t you call my manager?” she asks, rubbing his back to try and calm him down. He could have gotten himself killed speeding across town in his car. Had he left a filming or a photo shoot? He’s taken a huge risk.
“I...didn’t think...I...” He’s running his fingers through her hair, moving his hand up and down her spine, trying to make sure she’s there and still real. “I just reacted.”
“I’m here,” she assures him, reaching out the very tip of her foot to try and shut the door. His breaths come heavy and warm against her neck, and she smiles. “And I’m glad you are too.”
He’s perverted and strange and talks about golf constantly and even after all this time, he still sounds like he’s having an asthma attack when he laughs. He makes fun of all the charms on her phone and makes a face when she wears the socks with the little pom poms on the toes to bed. He yanks her pigtails and rearranges her bottles of nail polish because they make his bathroom look too girly.
They can’t decide where to eat that won’t get them spotted. They can’t pick a movie to go see without an argument. They try to have conversations to practice their English, but they always meander until he starts speaking Japanese again in protest.
His smile lights up a room. He squeezes her hand when he’s excited. He won’t say good night without hugging her until breathing’s problematic.
He’s frustrating. But she loves him anyway.
She’s so girly.
She carries around a purse that is heavier than a suitcase he’d bring on a week-long trip. Essentials, she always says. He isn’t convinced that a spare pair of tights and four types of lip gloss (peach, cherry, peach and white peach) and a binder of photos are essentials. She puts little stickers on his toothbrush and has somehow left something glittery in his carpet, and it will not come out.
They get to things late because she spends forever deciding what jewelry to match to her shoes or her hair clips or to the jewelry she’s already got on. They can’t pass a photo booth without stopping to get new stickers. They can’t walk down the street without her nagging him to declare his love in public.
Her eyes are the color of the ocean in Hawaii. She always closes her eyes before he kisses her. She sneaks his favorite snacks into his street shoes when they’re filming.
She’s so girly. But he loves her anyway.