“It’s almost February,” Shige says one stiflingly dull Saturday afternoon, over the phone. “It’s already almost February.” He adds particular emphasis on the word February for the second go around, just in case Koyama doesn’t realize how much righteous indignation he’s feeling at the moment.
“Are you looking forward to Valentine’s day? It’s coming up!” Koyama chirps on the other end, after a deliberate pause.
Shige sighs. “Valentine’s is all I have to look forward to.”
“Shige, I have to go,” Koyama says after a moment, clearly full of regret at having to cut the conversation short. “They’re making me go on a boat for this segment. It’s so cold outside! You’re lucky you get to stay in today, ne.”
“Go work,” Shige answers obligingly and hangs up. He stares at the far wall of his bedroom while wondering what he should do today. Part of him just wants to crawl back under the covers and go back to sleep, thinking mildly uncharitable thoughts of Ryo and Yamapi until he’s s asleep again.
He could also go to the park and take photographs today, he supposes, or call up Tegoshi or Massu or somebody (anybody) to see if they’re free and want to hang out. So many days of just being cooped up inside is insupportable. Shige thinks his mother is beginning to worry about him becoming eccentric…or unemployed.
He ends up spending the day aimlessly walking his dog and trying out a new pasta recipe he found on the internet.
“We’re all doing what we can,” Tegoshi says offhandedly when they next see each other for a magazine shoot. Koyama and Massu will come in tomorrow for their segments, and Ryo and Yamapi will come in for theirs god-knows-when, maybe when they remember there’s NEWS work to do at all, or when someone reminds them what NEWS is, whichever comes first.
“We do what we can and smile because the fans want to see us smile,” is all the comfort Tegoshi can offer up when Shige starts complaining about this indefinite, unofficial hiatus and how it’s worse than when they’d actually been suspended, because at least the suspension had seemed permanent enough, had kept him from feeling this false sort of hope at the start of every day, only to be bitterly and wildly disappointed at the end of each of them.
“Besides, I’m not doing anything. Least of all what I can,” Shige says, thinking about an embarrassingly blank two month calendar hanging on his wall at home. Well, that and the fact that everyone expects him to have some sort of smart-ass retort to Tegoshi’s fluffy optimism.
Tegoshi smiles in a way that’s perfectly balanced between sympathetic and not at all. Tegoshi the kind of guy who believes in compassion on the one hand, but on the other hand also believes in hardening your resolve and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps no matter what it takes. Tegoshi is admirably determined that way, even if the flame of his resolve is not necessarily something that will earn him the most friends at the end of each day. Then again, that might be why Tegoshi always seems so busy despite NEWS constantly lurking at the very bottom of Johnny’s success ladder, just above undebuted juniors past age twenty-two and sempai so old no one remembers them anymore, except in their bit roles as a grumpy-old-man of some sort in Yamada’s or Matsumoto’s latest hit drama.
“Maybe Shige should do something only Shige can do, then,” Tegoshi offers in that blasé, it’s-really-that-simple way he has about him, as if Shige can magically pull some life-changing work out of his own ass without the agency’s help and make people like it enough to like him.
“It’s not that easy,” Shige says. “You sound like you actually believe that it’s that easy.”
Tegoshi blinks, guilelessly and in a way that tells Shige he has about two more minutes before Tegoshi will be forever done with this topic because he’s already talked about it as much as he knows how (or cares to). “Why wouldn’t it be? Shige’s smart, isn’t he?”
Shige grits his teeth. “My intelligence has nothing to do with it! It’s not as easy for me as everything seems to be for you, you know.”
Tegoshi beams. “That’s a nice compliment, Shige.”
Shige flushes slightly at the hundred-watt smile Tegoshi is flashing, the kind that makes fans’ hearts flutter across the globe regardless of whether Tegoshi is their favorite Johnny or not. Shige may have been in the entertainment industry since he was in primary school, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to that kind of attack just yet. He averts his eyes a bit shyly and tells his heart to stop pounding because it’s freaking embarrassing. Instead, he focuses on the point of this conversation and not on the fact that Tegoshi is flattered that Shige thinks he’s good at everything.
“Anyway, how the hell am I supposed to magically pull some life-changing work out of my ass without the agency’s help and make people like it enough to like me?” He says exactly what he was thinking a moment ago out loud, mostly because he’d liked the sound of those words in his head. And, given that this is Tegoshi, he realizes belatedly that he really doesn’t have any reason to censor himself. Tegoshi certainly doesn’t censor himself ever, which has always been something Shige’s admired (and at times envied) in him: the astounding ability to say and do whatever he thinks or wants only to end up charming his way into everyone’s good graces regardless.
Or maybe Shige is just biased.
In the meantime, Tegoshi laughs in pleased surprise at Shige’s words, nose wrinkling and eyes crinkling cutely in the corners. “That was a funny mental image, Shige. Maybe you should write it down somewhere. I bet Daisuke-san would use it in his work if I gave it to him.”
Shige blinks. “If anyone is using it for work, it should be me, shouldn’t it? Since I thought of it.”
Shige’s brow furrows. “Hmmm.”
“Hmmm?” Tegoshi says.
“Maybe I should write it down somewhere and use it,” Shige repeats, and feels the gears start to turn and the lights go on upstairs. It was a pretty neat turn of phrase, if Shige is being immodest (which, he supposes, he is). “Or write something down somewhere,” he amends, as the gears start to whir just a little bit faster now.
He also grudgingly supposes that Tegoshi is right. He should do something for his group that only he can do. And maybe it can be that easy, if only he hardens his resolve, grabs his bootstraps (whatever those are), and forces himself to take a step forward, out of the depressed funk of not having any work and not having any hope.
And if doing that means pulling work magically out of his ass and making people like it regardless of what it is, well. Maybe he has benefited from spending so much of his career with Yamapi after all.
Shige starts writing a novel later that day.
He read once somewhere that all the most brilliant novelists have suffered in some way, or been mistreated, or lived in horrible circumstances.
Shige isn’t saying he’ll be as good as those brilliant novelists.
But given the way NEWS has been the past two years, he thinks his novel should come out pretty decent, all things considered.
“I can’t come out with you. I’m working on a novel,” Shige tells Koyama a week later, when calls to say he has a free afternoon and asks if they should go get paninis and coffee together at that little shop by the promenade they like so much.
“You’re working on a novel!” Koyama echoes, voice full of wonder rather than disappointment at not being able to see his best friend. “Shige, that’s amazing.”
Shige blushes a little at how enthused Koyama is about it. He hoped someone would be, if only to dull the nervous butterflies in his stomach he’s had about the thought of writing a novel only to have everyone absolutely hate it once it’s finished. It’s been seven days since the idea hit him and he’s already had nightmares about his book being something the other Johnnies yank out every time they see him in the jimusho hallway, just so they can read dramatic excerpts from it and laugh at him as he passes them by. NEWS already gets laughed at in the jimusho hallways enough.
“What’s it about?” Koyama asks, always ready to talk but doubly ready to listen.
“So far? It’s about two friends who grow up together trying to make something of themselves,” Shige hedges.
Then, “Shige, Shige is it about us?!” Koyama crows, sounding blubbery. He might be clutching at his heart with his free hand (or if he’s not, Shige can still imagine it with perfect clarity). He sounds like a girl waiting for the boy she likes to ask her to be his first official girlfriend.
“Of course not it’s not about us,” Shige says. “This is a work of fiction. It’s not autobiographical at all.”
“Still. I bet there’s a little bit of me in there,” Koyama insists, sounding sly. Shige can imagine his friend’s fox-like eyes narrowing into creepy slits as he laughs to himself knowingly on the other end. Koyama is his best friend, so Shige knows it’s okay to have those kinds of unflattering mental images of him.
“Okay, then I’ll leave you to write, ne,” Koyama says magnanimously. “I’ll call Tego and see if he’s free.”
“Probably not,” the two of them say at exactly the same time, in exactly the same way. They probably grin identically to each other over the phone while they do it, too, Shige imagines.
He hangs up first and supposes that yes, there probably is a little bit of them in the characters after all.
Thirty pages into his novel, Shige realizes that he doesn’t have a story. Nothing is happening. Which is all good and fine for a lot of modern day Japanese literature, he supposes, but definitely not good and fine for a novel marketed to the types of people who are NEWS fans. Especially given that nothing has been happening for them for a long time. He thinks (not unreasonably), that unless something starts to happen for those poor NEWS fans, even if just in his novel, they will start to flip tables and go to the dark side by buying Akanishi’s US release CDs out of spite and inflating the value of the product beyond what it really is. It’s basic economics.
This constant worrying about his plot gets him unbelievably stuck before long, particularly in the scene where Kawada and Suzuki join the soccer team together, hoping it will make them popular. The only thing he knows so far is that Kawada and Suzuki are lovable underachievers with dreams much bigger than they are and no means of making them come true. Mostly, they spend their days speculating to each other about their grandiose futures and not doing much of anything else.
He gives what he has of the novel to Koyama for critique first. Ten minutes after that, he realizes doing so is probably a mistake.
“This is so good, Shige!” Koyama gushes, rolling around on Shige’s bed in delight as he holds the printout over his head, just now only three pages in. Koyama is a slow reader and he likes everything, which probably makes him the least ideal story editor of all time. Shige figures he should have known.
“I like the details about the curry rice,” he says dreamily. “Your description was so good. Kawada Mama made me want to eat curry rice right now.”
Shige shakes his head, a mixture of flattered, bemused, and speculative all at once. “You always want to eat curry rice, stupid,” he says offhandedly, still staring at the blinking cursor on his computer screen and the entire two sentences he’s written today.
“Well, I especially want curry rice now,” Koyama says with a sniff. “Can we order some in?”
“Sure,” Shige answers, while Koyama goes back to reading.
Shige finds out that day that everything he does is amazing and inventive and full of intelligent description, even though it’s nothing but thirty pages of the two main characters staring up at the blue skies over the rooftop of their school and talking existentially about their fleeting youth, girls, and what they’re going to do with their lives once they’re old enough to leave home.
Shige knows Koyama loves him at least as much as Shige loves Koyama. He supposes that giving his best friend his unedited manuscript is similar to kids giving crappy drawings to their mothers and their mothers beaming and putting those crappy drawings up on the fridge, simply because love makes everything beautiful and nothing hurt.
Shige thinks that if this novel is going to be any good, he should probably give it to someone less in love with him to critique, as well.
“Well?” Shige asks, swallowing nervously as Tegoshi puts down those thirty ridiculous pages. He’s much more anxious about this judgment than Koyama’s for some reason. He supposes it might be because Koyama is his best friend and Tegoshi is a different sort of friend altogether.
Tegoshi opens his mouth to answer, but gets interrupted by a big, puppyish yawn, one that he has to cover with two hands because it is so overpowering.
Shige sighs and hits his head on his desk. “That bad?”
Tegoshi shrugs one shoulder lazily, stretched out on Shige’s bed along the diagonal, flexing his toes every few moments because he can’t sit still, has never been able to sit still in all the years they’ve known each other. “Not that bad,” Tegoshi says honestly. “Shige has good descriptions and funny lines. So Shige’s writing is good, at least.”
“But?” Shige presses, anxious to get to the point.
“But,” Tegoshi obliges, not like Koyama at all, “I don’t get what your story is about, ne. It’s hard to care when it’s thirty pages of what they do all day and nothing about why they do it.”
Shige winces. He figured as much, but, as a writer, it still stings hearing it come from someone else’s mouth. He bites back a defensive retort about how people read Yamapi’s blog even if it’s just pages and pages of what he’s been doing all day and not much else. Rationally, he knows it’s because the fans care about Yamapi, so everything he does is magic. He has to do the same here, and make the characters people that the audience will care about first.
“You need conflict,” Tegoshi suggests, carelessly dropping the printout back onto Shige’s bed. “Maybe Suzuki and Kawada should be rivals instead of friends. Like in a sports movie. They need to act towards goals instead of talk about reaching goals. Pushing each other is the best way to do it, isn’t it?”
Shige frowns. “Just because they thought about joining the soccer team doesn’t make this a sports movie, Tegoshi.”
“It would be so much more interesting if it was, though,” Tegoshi answers, with no ill-intentions. It makes Shige grit his teeth, but again, in that rational part of his mind, he also knows Tegoshi is right. Conflict is the key to any story.
“I don’t know anything about sports, though,” Shige reminds Tegoshi, after an unsuccessful moment of brainstorming. Maybe Tegoshi will offer to help, or, at the very least, let Shige pick his brain. Soccer can’t be that complicated strategically, can it?
Tegoshi lets out another one of those adorable yawns, this one more kittenish than anything else. “Then write about something you do know,” he says flatly. “That’s what writers do, right?”
Shige doesn’t know what writers do; he’s pretty sure writers are all different.
But again, it makes sense.
Thoughtful, he turns to the cursor on his computer screen.
He hits delete a lot and thinks that if Koyama is the one who coddles and protects him, then Tegoshi is the one who never bullshits him.
Two days later, Kawada and Suzuki have moved on from middle school and into high school. They are now both aiming to be idols. It’s like a sports movie, in that success in show business, like success in athletics, is fundamentally determined by luck, hard work, and a random mix of whatever natural born talent and innate intelligence an individual might have. Then all those things are pitted against all the same things in the other individuals also trying to reach the same goal. Sports and entertainment are interchangeable in those ways.
Unlike sports, however, the process of breaking into show business actually has rules that Shige has come to understand, first from many years of direct exposure, and then again, with many law classes at Aoyama teaching him about how the industry works on an internal level (i.e. how it makes lots and lots of money). He’s a miraculous fifty pages in all of a sudden, and he thinks he can see the thread of conflict developing as Tegoshi had suggested: friendship turning into rivalry but attempting to stay—in some form or another—friendship. He adds a love interest or two, and some family members for color, as well as a mix of teachers and fans, managers, instructors, agents, producers, and sempai. He builds a world more chaotic than the simple one he had his characters in before, and after an entire day (and one epic migraine) of poring over it, he thinks he finally likes where the story is taking him.
At the eighty page mark, Shige belatedly realizes that what he is now writing amounts to a love story. Not just love between his characters and the girls they like, but an all encompassing love story. Even as Kawada starts to resent Suzuki bitterly for his myriad successes, he can’t help but cheer his friend on at the same time, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s complicated, and turning the tone of the story more tenderly angsty than philosophical, as Shige originally intended. In summary, he’s not sure if it’s heading towards a happy ending or if it’s an out of control locomotive powering towards a fiery, murderous wreck at the end of a collapsed bridge.
They often say that works take on a life of their own, though, so there it is. And, hey, if there’s a train wreck at the end, maybe they’ll want to make a movie based on his story one day. Then he can say that at least he accomplished that.
He gives his novel to Tegoshi and Koyama again, to find what they think. Naturally, he gives it to Koyama first. Optimism is always a nice place to start.
But Koyama, unpredictably, gets nervous and wide-eyed halfway through the new pages, stopping every few minutes to give Shige sideways looks that Shige once saw kids at his school give the boy whose father had been rumored to be a serial killer. Shige remembers how the teachers hadn’t let that boy use scissors unsupervised.
“What?” Shige demands, when he can’t take those furtive glances anymore.
“Shige,” Koyama whispers, voice hushed just enough to make it a whispered scream instead of an outright scream, “are you angry about something in NEWS?”
Shige slaps a hand to his forehead. “This is not about us,” he insists, and will keep on insisting, because those sideways, cockeyed looks are exactly what he does not want to get upon finishing his novel. “These characters are not based on anyone we know, least of all our group.”
Koyama “hmmms,” at that, as if he doesn’t quite buy it, but gamely keeps reading anyway.
Twelve pages from the current stopping point, at the moment when the rift forms between Kawada and Suzuki as one career skyrockets and one middles along, he starts to light up again, as though he’s finally starting to understand Shige’s complex and chaotic psyche through the words he’s written.
“What,” Shige demands.
Koyama grins. “This is very therapeutic, Shige,” he says knowingly. “And of course I think it’s really good, ne.”
Shige sighs and grabs the eighty pages out of Koyama’s hands so he can give them to Tegoshi on Monday.
“I don’t have time to read it right now, Shige,” Tegoshi says with no ill-intentions when he breezes in for a crosstalk interview, presumably hot off the heels of some ItteQ filming or another. “But Kei-chan gave me the summary,” he adds, as though that makes it better. It doesn’t.
“Well, okay,” Shige says, feeling a little dejected.
Tegoshi smiles at him and touches his arm. “It sounds like it has lots of conflict that you know all about, though,” he says encouragingly. “So keep going.” He pauses to add, suddenly smiling more brightly than usual, “I particularly want to see where the love story between Kawada-kun and the gravure model goes. Kei-chan says it’s mysterious.”
Shige isn’t sure if everything Tegoshi just said to him constitutes a compliment layered on top of a backhanded compliment and smothered in guilelessness or whether it’s Tegoshi just being vague in the ideal warm-hearted idol sort of way. Regardless, he feels slightly encouraged. Such is the power of the ideal warm-hearted idol.
He ends up giving the eighty pages Tegoshi doesn’t read to Massu instead, because while Massu probably won’t want to read it, he’ll be hurt if he isn’t asked all the same.
In the meantime, Shige keeps writing.
“So one of your characters is you, one of your characters is Yamashita-kun, one of your characters is Tegoshi, and one of your characters is Koyama,” Massu theorizes when he finishes reading.
Shige turns a little red around the ears. “What makes you say that?” he asks, with a frown.
Massu points to the manuscript. “Well, one of them is a super idol, and one of them only gets funny bit parts, and I think Tegoshi and Koyama are the girls. Tegoshi is clearly the cute gravure model Kawada likes and Koyama is the childhood friend that likes Suzuki.” Massu pauses and frowns as he comes to a sudden realization. “Where are Nishikido-kun and I?”
“This isn’t based on reality!” Shige says hotly.
After that, he decides not to get Massu’s input anymore. He also adds a gluttonous pet dog for Kawada and a tiny, angry chinchilla at the gravure model’s apartment. The chinchilla does nothing but glare at Kawada throughout the book and work hour after hour unsuccessfully trying to build itself the perfect nest without actually stopping to sleep comfortably in it.
Shige is already one hundred and thirty six pages into the book by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around, and he thinks it might be a world record of some sort.
Feeling romantic, he gets to a scene where Kawada wants to ask out Yuri the gravure model, who is a celebrity completely out of his league. She smiles at him, though, and agrees to go out with him but only if he cooks her a homemade meal. He agrees and ends up making her Carbonara at her apartment. After that, they spend the evening watching cheesy romance movies together on the TV until Kawada has to get home to his parents because he still has class the next day.
Shige finishes the scene feeling deeply satisfied with its realism. It’s very true to the feelings of a young man who wants to impress the person he likes in a simple way, with just a warm meal and good company.
“Didn’t you make homemade Carbonara for Tegoshi at your place once?” Koyama asks after Valentine’s Day, when the two of them are getting ready to tape Kei-chan News for the evening.
Shige blinks. “So?” Tegoshi advised him to write what he knows, after all, and what better a teacher than personal experience?
“I’m glad you’re writing a novel,” Koyama says simply and reaches out to squeeze Shige’s shoulder somewhat randomly. “It must be nice to get out all the words Shige has in his heart, ne.”
Shige is not sure he likes what Koyama is suggesting.
Massu asks about the book again the next time they see each other, and Shige, feeling kind of guilty, agrees to e-mail the file to Massu when he gets home.
He keeps his promise, because Shige knows what it’s like to be the last to know anything. To his surprise, Massu obliges him by e-mailing back just a few days later.
“Hey Shige,” Massu writes, completely serious, “do you like Tegoshi?”
“PS,” Massu adds at the end of that single question, “Do you hate Yamashita-kun and Nishikido-kun?”
Shige sighs and deletes the message without responding.
“Massu can’t seem to grasp that these characters aren’t modeled after us,” Shige complains the next time NEWS has a magazine shoot, while Massu is off getting solo shots done. Tegoshi, lounging around in a ridiculous, froofy yellow crepe dress and a ridiculous, froofy wig in brunette curls, just blinks up from the couch, where he’s reading a script for his latest drama while waiting for his turn for his turn.
“I wouldn’t mind being Yuri-chan,” he says brightly, eyes looking especially big because they’ve been lined in mascara and eyeliner and something shimmery and gold. “She’s athletic and cute and I bet everyone likes how she looks in a bikini.”
Shige sputters. Koyama chuckles and tells Tegoshi to go get touched up for his cross-dressing super moe photo segment before Shige blows a gasket. “Plus, if we get out of here in time, I’ll be able to meet Yamapi for drinks tonight, ne,” Koyama adds, in a sort of hushed-tone. “He said he wanted to talk to me about something very important.”
Shige glares at Koyama as Tegoshi skips off to get his picture taken. “You’re meeting with Yamashita-kun?” he asks, feeling strangely riled at the thought of some last-minute covert meeting between his best friend and the MIA group leader.
Koyama nods, very seriously. “If I can make it during his window of opportunity, ne.”
Shige snorts. “What is that, like five whole minutes?”
Then Koyama reaches out and touches his hand to Shige’s shoulder again, just as he had during that mysterious taping of Kei-chan News.
“If you want to talk to me about anything,” Koyama tells Shige, his voice quiet even though they’re alone at the moment, “I’m always here for you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Shige snipes back, and hunkers down in his chair with his laptop to keep writing. If his next few chapters involve models in frilly dresses and awkwardness between friends, he doesn’t tell anyone.
The next morning is the first of March, and Shige wakes up at six am to a ridiculously inconsiderate e-mail message from Yamapi.
“Shige, are you mad at me?” it asks. “Koyama thinks you’re mad at me. Is it because I want to do solo things?”
It is followed by an angry e-mail from Ryo that says, “Yamapi e-mailed me at four in the morning whining about how you hate him. Do you know how little sleep I actually get? This is your fault!”
Shige groans in disbelief and erases the messages without responding. He tells himself he’s going to punch Koyama the next time they see each other.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean he wanted to do solo things forever,” Koyama hedges unconvincingly the next time they meet. He rubs his arm where Shige punched him just now.
“Ugh,” Shige mutters, and orders a double shot of espresso and some cake for Koyama to make him feel better.
“So? I want to do solo concerts and albums one day, too,” Tegoshi says when Shige brings Yamapi’s e-mail up again, after the failed coffee shop outing with Koyama. “At least he’s finally being honest with us about it, right?”
Shige considers this.
He doesn’t punch Tegoshi, even though the look of polite disbelief on Tegoshi’s face when Shige complained about Yamapi’s and Ryo’s selfish inconsideration for other people’s time made him want to.
Knowing the truth doesn’t necessarily make him feel better though.
Two hundred and fifty pages into his novel and one week after receiving that message from Yamapi, Shige writes about Suzuki leaving school to be a full time celebrity while Kawada’s career flounders on the edge of obscurity. On top of that, Kawada’s dog Miku is sick, and Kawada is pretty sure Keiko, the cute childhood friend of his who is not-so-secretly in love with Suzuki is mad at him for giving up on his friendship with Suzuki. In the meantime, Yuri the gravure model is seen by the gossip magazines talking to some handsome rock stars at a club party that Kawada is too insignificant to be invited to. Speculation runs rampant that she went home with one of them afterwards. Nothing more happens with Yuri’s pet chinchilla, though, possibly because even if the thing is kind of evil, Shige feels bad for it for being trapped all day and night in a fancy prison, working its ass off building that nest all the time.
Shige realizes that maybe he isn’t writing a love story anymore. Maybe he’s writing a farce instead, or even something true to life. It’s hard to tell the difference at this point.
Koyama reads these chapters of the novel with increasing expressions of dismay and asks if Shige wants to spend the rest of the day out together, away from writing. “Maybe you need a break, Shige. Maybe you’re over-thinking things.”
Shige declines, saying he feels like he’s on a real roll here. He fancies himself a bit like a mad scientist who is ripping his creations apart after they failed to produce the results he’d wanted time and time again.
“I met Ryo-kun for lunch today,” Tegoshi chirps to Shige when they’re supposed to be talking about Shige’s book.
“What the hell?!” Shige barks, because Ryo never has time for anything these days. This includes food and Tegoshi. Shige would be madder at Ryo for this blatant act of favoritism if he didn’t look so tired and pathetic in all his magazine photos. Shige does have a conscience, despite having gone to law school.
“He fell asleep on my shoulder during dessert and I took lots of cute pictures of him and his half-eaten piece of chocolate cake,” Tegoshi says with a chuckle. “I’ll send them to you.”
Shige answers that offer with a sincere, “I don’t want them.”
He feels both strangely guilty and incredibly irate after that call ends.
He doesn’t know why, and, mostly, he doesn’t care to find out.
After that there is an earthquake, and a consequent national crisis, and so many things more important than the fact that Shige’s friends are worrying about how much of himself he’s putting into one stupid book that takes place in only one era of some stupid characters’ lives.
Shige puts the writing away for a while and volunteers with the agency and with some local charities and tries to gain some perspective. He doesn’t see his groupmates outside of Koyama very much in that time, but it’s okay.
Tegoshi calls Shige approximately two hundred and seventy pages into the book, when he finally remembers that they were supposed discuss the novel the last time they talked. “I forgot to say,” he tells Shige breezily, as though he’s talking about the weather or the latest stock market prices or what he had for lunch, “even if Yamashita-kun leaves, even if Ryo-kun has scheduling conflicts and no energy to use on us at the end of the day, and even if I want to do solo concerts and albums one day, that doesn’t mean NEWS will be gone. As long as even one of us holds on to it, then it’s still there, right? I’ll definitely hold on to it no matter what, so you don’t have to worry, Shige.”
“Uh,” Shige responds dumbly, not sure what exactly Tegoshi is getting at, or why Tegoshi’s randomness makes Shige’s chest hurt. It still has nothing to do with Shige’s book. He feels as if he should be more irritated about that. “Okay.”
“Okay, bye,” Tegoshi says, just like that, bright and hopeful as he hangs up without waiting for Shige to answer him in a coherent manner.
Shige puts his phone away and looks at where he is in his writing. Kawada is about to give up on everything and return to life as a normal young man by washing away all the parts of his life that have to do with show business.
Shige hits delete and Kawada manages to hang on to his dreams by the skin of his teeth.
“I’m not mad at you,” Shige messages Yamapi on March 20th. Twenty days after Yamapi had first messaged him. “And I don’t hate you anymore.”
Yamapi doesn’t ever respond, but that’s okay.
In his book, Kawada asks Yuri to marry him. She says “Not right now, but maybe someday,” and just with that, Kawada is so happy he could cry. Keiko and Suzuki keep in touch through sporadic phone messages and even more sporadic e-mails while Suzuki travels the world filming movies and music videos and TV shows in increasingly exotic locations. Kawada’s dog Miku ends up okay (just a severe case of doggy indigestion, the vet says), and Yuri gives her chinchilla away to a kids’ home in Osaka. The children there are lively and sweet and can keep the little guy occupied with more than just constantly worrying about the state of his nest.
Kawada gets a column in an entertainment magazine and spends the rest of his life writing about whatever strikes his fancy in movies, music, and TV. Sometimes, he and Suzuki even manage to meet up for drinks, when Suzuki has the time. The paparazzi usually cut those meetings short, though.
At two in the morning on March 21st, Shige finally writes “The End” on page three hundred of his novel, and it feels like a huge, unexpected weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
He immediately sends the file to Koyama.
Koyama reads the whole thing in three days and cries at the end because he’s happy and relieved that Shige is okay after writing out his feelings. Shige grins at him and has to reiterate, “None of this is based in reality!”
Koyama doesn’t seem to believe him, which says a lot because Koyama has always been the one in NEWS with the most faith.
Tegoshi reads the whole thing in two days and, at the end, looks at Shige and says, “Shige is a good writer.”
Shige scowls even as he feels his ears go red with embarrassment. “That’s all you have to say about everything you just read? Seriously?”
Tegoshi laughs and tosses the three hundred page printout back at Shige. “Tonight you’re cooking me pasta for dinner in return for getting through your book so quickly,” he says imperiously. He flops on his back on Shige’s bed with his arms folded behind his head. “Then we’re watching your Ashita no Joe DVD.”
Shige sputters. “Who says?”
Tegoshi doesn’t deign to answer, just looking pleased and expectant at Shige, eyes warm with mischief and an infinite, overpowering fondness.
“Fine, fine,” Shige sighs, and gets up to start cooking.
That night, they eat until they’re fit to burst, then watch Yamapi’s stupid boxing movie and end up crying through the ending because they’re so touched by the sentiments, by the expressions on Yamapi’s face, and maybe by the knowledge that Yamapi will be fine like this, just as they’ll be fine like this, too. They’ll continue to be fine as long as what remains of NEWS can still sit down together for meals and cry together and lean against each other’s shoulders after they’re too drained to do anything else.
“Yamashita-kun is so cool,” Tegoshi murmurs with an edge of hero worship in his voice that, somehow, hasn’t changed a bit from age fifteen to age twenty-three.
“Yup,” Shige admits from beside him, staring at his TV screen and thinking the exact same thoughts without a hint of bitterness at all, maybe for the first time in a long time. The wine might be partially to blame, or the fact that Tegoshi is warm and sleepy and happily pressed against his side as they sit on his sinfully comfortable overstuffed gray couch, the one he had to save up for months to get because he’s not an A-list movie star or anything.
And, hey, maybe one of these days, with things going the way they are, Ryo will actually have enough time to come over and try sitting on his very nice couch. Shige might be okay with that, all things considered. It’s looking like a possibility now, after all.
That night, after he finally turns off the DVD and lays an unconscious and softly snoring Tegoshi along the length of his couch, he goes to his room and turns on his computer.
He logs on, opens up his e-mail, and writes a message to both Ryo and Yamapi that says nothing more than, “Good luck in whatever you’re doing next.” He sends it.
Then he opens up his novel one more time.
It’s two minutes into March 26th when Shige resolutely deletes the entire first draft of his novel to begin the whole process over again from scratch. It’s not nearly as hard as he thought it would be.
He thinks maybe it’s because he’s starting to become an expert at starting over from nothing.
And, unlike the first time around, this time he knows exactly how the story is going to go and exactly why events will happen as they happen. He wants to transform the narrative completely from what it was before, wants to rip up the old and bring a new force and energy and power to his ideas that he might not have had the courage to do in previous years. But he’s a different person now than he was when he started it.
He’s a new Shige.
The results might not end up being better than what he had before, but, either way, he’s going to put his whole heart into completely transforming it, for better or worse.
Because he can.
Besides, he figures that the unexpected happy ending he found in the first draft is no one’s business but NEWS’s.