Toting his cold glass of Coke, Koichi sat down on the dining table even though it was too early for a meal. After school, he usually wound down in the living room, which was in a mess when he got home that afternoon. It was only the first of May, but Megumi was already busy preparing for their trip to see Hikaru Genji in Yokohama. He had a feeling the weekend was going to be wasted on Hikaru Genji this and Hikaru Genji that. He thanked his lucky stars his school wasn’t closed for Golden Week. In exchange, there were club activities, which meant he had all-day baseball practice tomorrow, though Koichi wouldn’t have even minded going for traditional lessons to escape her.
His mother brought out a plate of sweet-smelling baby carrots to snack on and his sister grabbed the chance to sit next to him with her idol magazines. There was no way he was going to memorize all the photos and articles like he knew she would like him to. Powered up by the high concentration of sugar and caffeine in his body, he asked for the hundredth time, if only to soothe his own suffering, “Why do I have to go?”
His sister looked at him with ire and started to wade through the magazines; she had given up answering the day before. Koichi turned to his mother. “Mom? Why do I have to go? Can’t you go with her?”
“I think you’ll enjoy it more than you think,” she said, smiling. “As for me, I will be having dinner with your father in Tokyo. We haven’t had a night out in a very long time and I’m looking forward to it.”
Koichi nodded into his tall glass. He didn’t want to argue with that. “Then why can’t one of her friends go with her?”
“If I could take them, I would,” Megumi said, giving him a look. “But there are only two tickets and one of them is reserved for you.”
“I told you, I don’t want it.” He tipped the glass to catch the ice left at the bottom.
“Don’t be ungrateful,” she said. “You’ve been invited by one of the most important men in the idol business. Maybe the most important.”
Koichi squinted. He couldn’t remember who Megumi was talking about and he knew it wasn’t a good idea to ask her so he approached his mother instead. “That foreigner who called the other day, what did he say?”
His sister rolled her eyes. “Ko-chan, haven’t you been listening at all to what I’ve been telling you?”
“It’s Koichi,” he said. “Koichi. Not Ko-chan.”
“Fine, then, Koichi-kun.” He could see her smiling to herself. “Since you’re now old enough, you can escort me to the concert.”
He bit down on the ice in his mouth, looking at the idols’ smiling faces with distaste. “I don’t want to!”
“It’s for your own good,” she said, exasperated. “Mother, tell Koichi-kun it’s for his own good.”
Koichi waited for the verdict. When his mother looked up from preparing the tea tray with those little creases on her face she thought no one could see, he knew it wasn’t going to be in his favor. “Your sister has gone to a lot of trouble for you, Koichi.”
He munched on a handful of carrots that were of no particular interest to him. “It’s not for me,” he said after swallowing a particular hardy one. “It’s for herself.”
“I think we’ll all have a lovely time this weekend,” his mother said. He knew she had heard him and chosen to let it slide. It was one of the things he liked about her, but she treated everyone in the same manner and in his opinion, she should be a little less forgiving of some.
“Tadao-kun says I can sleep over at his place if I don’t have to go,” Koichi said. “He is doing the science project with me. It would be good for us.” His mother smiled and poured some tea for everyone at the table, holding the pot up a little crooked. She had to be covering something close to a yawn with her other hand. Koichi had seen her sending his father off in the morning, standing by the gate afterward to watch the coming sunrise, or perhaps his retreating back. “Father gets out of these things all the time,” he grumbled. “I don’t see why I—”
Megumi jammed her foot down on his. “Shut up.” It hurt like hell.
The embarrassment was worse than the pain, however. He couldn’t look at his mom. He ate more carrots and gulped down his scalding tea.
She went around the table and rubbed his back. “Koichi, why don’t you get started on your science project? You might be too tired after the show to do any homework. You better get a head start on it,” she said, in the soothing voice he never tired of hearing. “I’ll bring up some food in a little while.”
Out of all the pure sciences, Koichi liked physics best. After reading some Japanese history and finishing his math worksheets while digging into the promised snacks, he took his science book to bed. He knew the project had to be simple, with colorful charts and a solid step-by-step walk-through of the experiment. But a little spectacle couldn’t hurt anyone, he thought. He pulled his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. In the blurry world of one, he soon fell asleep.
He walked down several alleys, two, three and then four large city streets wearing only sports shorts and a regulation club tee-shirt. The sun seemed to be flickering instead of beaming down upon him, but he soon got used to it. Without any vehicle traffic to worry about, he enjoyed the breadth of the lanes and the forbidden median.
Straight ahead, an open space in between the tall blocks of glass and steel seemed to beckon to him. He made the decision to walk towards it, though he saw a parade of small forest animals on one side of the street going in the opposite direction.
Soon, he came upon a bridge spanning a large river of cars bobbing up and down in nothing he could recognize as water, not even as he peered far over the railing. He heard footfalls and spun around. A boy – the first human he had seen so far – was running from the other end.
“Where are you going?” Koichi walked away from the edge and stopped him.
He didn’t seem surprised at all to see Koichi, nor to hear the question. He pushed a lock of hair back, though Koichi couldn’t tell what the purpose of it was. “Nowhere,” he finally replied, panting a little.
He wondered if the boy was some kind of forest spirit who had been left behind by the lively procession. There was something odd about his eyes. “Then why are you running?”
“To get a head start, of course.” He looked back over the red steel bridge, but Koichi couldn’t see anything.
“You’ll see.” The boy’s smile was rueful. “You can’t miss them. There are too many of them to miss.” He regarded Koichi for a moment. “And they won’t miss you, either.”
Koichi, alarmed by his tone, let the boy go. “They’re coming for me, too?” He felt his pockets for something, money, keys, a baseball, just something in case there was an emergency. “Well, are they?”
The boy didn’t answer, not with words anyway. He made a strange noise, like a little sing-song moan, and turned into a plump white rabbit.
That was what had been so odd about his eyes, Koichi thought. His eyes were made for a rabbit, not for a human. The rabbit started to hop away, a giant ball of fluff on muscular legs, and Koichi wondered whether he would be fast enough to catch up. Megumi would want to cuddle with it, but Koichi would rather stuff it into his mouth. It looked tasty.
As usual, when he woke up the next day, he wouldn’t remember anything about the dream.
On Saturday, however, as the taxi drove past Yokohama Arena in the morning and he marveled at its size, Koichi was more than a little surprised when a ravenous growl erupted in his stomach.
Domoto Yoko smoothed her skirt suit and checked the updo she had set for the night. She glanced at the television her daughter had turned on after a swim in the hotel pool.
Yokohama boasts a number of attractions… Modeled after Madison Square Garden, an indoor sports venue in New York City, Yokohama Arena was opened in 1989 and seats 17,000 spectators. It is within easy reach of commuters on the JR/Yokohama Municipal Subway. As one of the largest concert venues in the Kantou area, the arena has played host to a number of famous concerts. Both international and national acts make the arena a requisite stop in their tours. Along the…
“That’s where we’re going tonight,” Nozomi said, looking up from the brochures and transportation pamphlets laid out on the lacquered coffee table.
“What a wonderful venue for a concert,” Yoko replied, seeing indoor footage of the arena as she passed behind the sofa.
Nozomi told her about the route she intended for Tsuyoshi and herself to take, and reread the instructions they had been given by Johnny & Associates. She also showed her mother the backstage passes that had greeted them downstairs upon arrival at the hotel two days prior even though Yoko had seen them at the time and again, very early in the morning.
The door to the adjoining room opened. “You look nice, Mother.”
Yoko smiled. “Thank you. So do you.”
“Do you think so?” Tsuyoshi looked at his feet. “I forgot to bring the shoes I wanted to wear.”
“I think the new ones look good,” she told him. He looked handsome. So young and yet so handsome, on his way to being an adult man. Of course, she recalled with fondness, when he was sick, he transformed into her baby, the runny-nosed runt with a bad temper and a worse appetite.
“Oi, why are you watching that?” Tsuyoshi leaned over the cream-colored cushions and poked his sister. “We’re going to be there soon enough.”
She put her summer coat on and the clasp on her handbag clicked into place. “Do you have time for a short walk, darling?”
“I don’t know.” He asked Nozomi, “Do I?”
Nozomi scanned down what seemed to be timetables. “We should leave in an hour. No later that that.”
Before the door closed behind them, she heard her daughter call out, “Not any later than that!”
Tsuyoshi seemed absorbed in the distractions the hotel gardens offered even though he kept on talking about nothing and everything. Yoko knew he was displeased about having to miss a day of playing with friends in Nara, but his spirits had been lifted by a few hours of shopping in trendy Aoyama and now, a quiet stroll among the hollyhock and sasanqua. Sometimes Yoko wondered if it was unfair of her to raise him to enjoy such inconsequential things, but her father had advised that a creature with Tsuyoshi’s predilections needed to understand where to look for life’s simple pleasures.
They soon came upon the pond visible from their hotel room on the fourteenth floor. “Are you excited?” She asked when he mentioned Yokohama Arena.
“About the concert?” He bent down, presumably to spot some fish along the chestnut outline of the water.
“You always have fun with your sister,” she said, walking closer to the support of the wooden bridge. “I suppose I don’t have to worry.”
Tsuyoshi smiled. “It’s my first ever concert. That already makes it exciting.” He stood up to approach her. “I hope there won’t be too many people stepping on my foot and trampling all over us, though.”
“You might have to get used to such large crowds, darling. They could be coming to see you soon.”
“I really don’t think so,” he laughed.
“And meeting Mr. Kitagawa?”
He shrugged. “You said he sounded nice on the phone.”
Yoko knew her son could endear himself to anyone, but this was Tokyo after all; no one was who they portrayed themselves to be. And Tokyo was where his life was heading, whether he knew it or not. She wanted him to survive all the troubles to come. “You might meet new friends, too.” She took his arm and walked alongside him on the bridge. “Boys you might work with and play with in the future,” she said. “Boys you might even live with someday.”
She could feel Tsuyoshi squirm as he stole a glance at her. “I like living at home.”
“I know you do,” she said. She stopped to regard him. His eyes misted less and less often, but she could still read the melancholy in them. “And I like you living at home with me.”
He turned to point down across the length of the bridge, but not before she could see the blush on his soft cheeks. “Do you see that bird? It’s almost the same color as the wood planks.”
Tsuyoshi laughed and covered his mouth in a flash. “I think it’s a skylark, Mother,” he said in a whisper. “Do you think it will fly away if we come closer?”
A skylark seemed out of place in the middle of a city. Under the sun and without the gold of wheat to overcome, its colors were striking.
Yoko hesitated before stating she would prefer to remain where they stood, over the cooler half of the bridge, even though heat had never been a problem for her. In a moment she would later regard as irrational, she was certain that without the distance, the rufescent solitary bird would catch his eager heart. She could not bear for their time together to end so soon.
Koichi’s father left to make a phone call and there was finally room for them to sit comfortably at the table in the restaurant carriage of the train. He wolfed his fried chicken set down.
“He asked if I wanted to skate on stage like Hikaru Genji,” he told his mom. Her face showed pleasure at his words. Koichi smiled and grabbed his soda.
“And you do, don’t you?” His sister jumped in, her eyes peering out of her chemistry textbook. “Don’t lie, I saw your face brighten up to match the strobe lights.”
He made a face, feeling a little embarrassed. He didn’t know how his sister could’ve seen his reaction the previous night. It had been dark behind the stage and, for her at least, there had been many distractions. He decided she was making things up. “Anyway, Mom, you won’t believe this, but there was another guy from Kansai backstage and guess what, his last name is Domoto, too.”
His mother laughed. “Is that so? And is he one of the juniors?”
Koichi waited for his sister’s input, but she didn’t seem to be listening. “No, I think he was just invited to watch the concert,” he said. “Like me.”
“He looked too square to be part of our family,” Tsuyoshi said from the deep sofa across the room where he sat. He was still working on the glass of orange juice he had started on during lunch even though the room service cart left hours ago. “There’s no way we’re related. Not even if you trace the lineage back to the Heian era. Not even if you check the annals at the temples in Nara.”
Yoko knew his son loved to exaggerate for the sake of a good story. She turned to her daughter, who seemed to still be reeling from the concert. “Was the boy charming?”
Nozomi nodded, smiling. “Shy, but a beautiful boy. He’ll be very popular.”
Rustling came from the direction of the sofa. “The stage was really high and it wasn’t always lit,” Tsuyoshi said in a loud voice. “I wonder how they didn’t fall off.” Then he started to guffaw. “Now, that guy looked like the type who would fall off the stage.” He sat up and made circles with his fingers, pushing them back against his eyes to illustrate a person with thick glasses.
Nozomi shook her head, but Yoko could see she was stifling a laugh, amused. “You weren’t rude to him, were you, Tsuyoshi?”
“They were laughing together at something,” her daughter told her. “What were you laughing at?” She asked Tsuyoshi.
Tsuyoshi shrugged. “I can’t remember,” he said. He stretched and looked away. Not a minute later, he turned to ask, “Can I go for a walk downstairs? I didn’t get to see the pond very well yesterday.”
“Only if you stay within the gardens,” Yoko said.
After they were left alone, her daughter launched into a discussion about Tsuyoshi’s bright future with the agency. Yoko thought Nozomi’s optimism was founded on reality, but she knew her daughter was also eager to see Tsuyoshi be part of the entertainment world she had admired and loved for a very long time.
For Yoko, Tsuyoshi’s success as a child actor was good enough, but no matter what he decided, she expected the full support of her husband. He was famous for his stubborn character, but she knew the love he had for their children.
Before Nozomi went to take a bath, she asked Yoko to see where Tsuyoshi had gone to since they were going to have lunch soon.
The swaying tree branches obscured the view from the window, but she could see her son standing over the bridge.
When she got to the elevated foyer leading down to the gardens, he was still there. He had ceased to pay attention to the water, the drifting petals, and even the wildlife he had been curious about, but she didn’t think it right to disturb him. She'd never seen her son so still before, not even when, while taking her down to the shops as he often would, he had caught sight of the neighborhood girl he seemed to have developed feelings for.
She remembered that stance, however; the gaze towards the horizon, hands clasped across his chest, his aloofness hiding strong emotions. A bough of loss nestled in her chest. He had chosen, she thought, but she wondered for what or whom his choices would from now on be made.