Remind me again why you're knocking at my door. Hung over with a thin layer of perspiration tickling your upper lip. But I don't have the strength to leave the door closed and instead lift the latch, stepping aside to give you full access. Come inside, how do you do? No answer, that's nice.
It's been four years since you lived here. And even though I saw you last Saturday downtown, and just about every night in the evening rehearsal, we haven't talked since then. Now I pay the rent on my own, the toilet lid stays down, and the smell of your aftershave only lingers in my cruel memories. Without an explanation, you walked into the kitchen and helped yourself to the glass and water. Swallowing noisily.
You had the best
But you gave her up
'Cause dependency might interrupt
"I heard that Spike moved back in with you again." Carpooling. It had seemed like a good idea when Sano suggested it. But Juri leaned closer to the window and stared out at the slower cars that Sano was passing with reckless abandon. The tall kid was chewing on a piece of beef jerky that he'd been worrying for the better part of the commute—superstition kept it there every morning, and Juri had noticed that it was a very effective pacifier for the twenty year-old. "Post Script" was the kid's first play and rumor had it that he was reciting his lines in his sleep, at the grocery store, in the car.
She peered at him out of the corner of her eye. Juri'd only known him for the three months that they'd been working on the production so far. He was tall and gangly thin with brown hair that was so unruly it stuck out in every direction no matter how long Sano tried to tame it. Sano's sister had been with the theater longer, and it was Faye who had secured his audition with Hajime Saitou. Saitou was a tough ass when it came to casting, so the kid had more than a little talent although the director hardly let Sano rest—constantly undermining his best efforts, pushing for the perfect pitch, emotion, look.
Sanosuke Sagara had an apartment in Juri's building, so when he had suggested driving to the theater together—she'd had little reason to refuse. For the most part, he was an agreeable companion and she even liked the rambunctious kid.
Today, however, he was talking just a bit too much.
"Trust those selfish leading actors not to make up their own minds." Sano worked his words around the jerky. He laughed deep in his throat. "But then again, isn't that exactly where I'm headed?"
"How are things going with Saitou?" Juri interrupted forcefully, not liking the kid's goodhearted if misdirected teasing.
Sano visibly flinched, but never took his eyes off the road. "Giving me crap every day, like usual." His voice thickened and lowered as he mimicked the director, "No, no. This character is not happy here. Stop sounding like a paper doll from a Dairy Queen commercial. You can act, can't you? Or do I have to make you very unhappy before you'll portray it?"
Juri mimicked a chuckle, although her body ached and certainly didn't feel like laughing. Saitou certainly wasn't taking it easy on the boy, but he'd be better for it in the long run. It had been a long night, and it was going to be an even longer day.
Idealistic will so hard to please
Put your indecisive mind at ease
Sano tossed the half chewed jerky into the trash before following Juri into the theater. Saitou made a new rule that anyone with the last name Sagara was not allowed to have food in the theater. He couldn't figure out what he did that annoyed the director so much, but complying, he replaced the food product with a toothpick that was in a handy container on the front desk. He wasn't sure why they were there, but he'd test his limits to calm his nerves. "Post Script" was his first big production, never mind his college work.
Underneath his brash exterior he was scared to death.
Juri had darted into the ladies room, so Sano went into the auditorium to see if he could find his sister. Faye worked different hours since she was only an assistant for the stage designer. He spotted her sitting in one of the front rows, or slumped over into one of the seats rather. Her shapely legs bared over the armrest which he noticed as he got closer.
Faye was only a handful of years older than him but she looked like she was born to a completely different family. They had asked their parents about it once and were young enough to be surprised when they got no satisfying answer.
"Rooster head, be a dear and get me caffeine."
"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to listen to Spike and Saitou get into another row."
"So I'm not the only one that he gets pissed at?" Sano guffawed, but the tension between his shoulders started to relax.
"It's different. Apparently Spike and Julia called it quits and it's causing friction and all because she's the biggest backer of this show. Money makes the world go 'round." Faye let one slim arm drape over the face and sighed dramatically.
She'd always wanted to act, but melodrama only got her as far as building the set. "Caffeine makes things work better too." She added suggestively.
Not biting, Sano chewed the toothpick more furiously, "They called it quits?"
"Don't get any ideas, rooster head." Faye warned, "Julia wouldn't look at you twice even if she were single."
"Hey," Sano was hurt, "If she likes the scrawny, curly head pigeon boy—why wouldn't she like a rooster? Nevermind. I'm going to be late for first call, I smelled coffee coming from the kitchenette. Happy hunting."
"Dummy." Faye didn't twitch a muscle as Sano left. It had been a long morning, and tensions were already high.
You broke the set
Now there's only singles
"We've read through this, people. Have we forgotten everything already?" Saitou snapped, dropping his copy of the script and approaching the stage where Sano froze with an expression not unlike a rooster in headlights. Also on stage, Juri was standing near Spike who didn't look much better than he had the night he'd come to her apartment. His eyes were darkly lined, not by stage make-up either.
The scene had been sloppy, and for once, Sano was the least to blame.
Ruka Tsuchiya stepped out from where he was waiting behind curtain for his cue—which hadn't come because between them Juri and Spike had skipped his entrance lines. He watched everything with quiet attentiveness, quite unlike his character which was flamboyant and outspoken. The closest thing he had in common with his character was the desperate love they had for Juri Arisugawa. Desperate and unrequited. He wondered if that was why Saitou cast him for the part of the silent lover—but how could Saitou know? Cruel and honest, even though neither the character or the man so much as verbalized his affections.
He wrapped his long arms around himself and watched as Saitou reprimanded Spike for neglecting not only his lines but a serious of meticulous movements across the stage. For good measure, Saitou criticized Sano's posture and stormed back to his seat in the third row where he shouted some more directions and finally,
Half listening for his cue, Ruka took a moment to watch the quiet playwright, Kenshin Himura, who sat just behind Saitou and a little to the left. Periodically, the writer's wife, Kaoru, would be with him, but since the show only had two weeks left before opening—she'd kept the kids and herself at home. Kenshin kept his opinions to himself, although it was obvious that he liked most of what was being done with his work. Undeniably, Spike Spiegel and Sanosuke Sagara were ideally cast as the leading man and his younger, idealistic brother.
But Juri's role had been undeniably written for another actress, even though she played the part to a perfection . . . the dialogue was clearly styled for Julia. Only Julia had refused the part a month into production and decided to sit out. Juri had stepped up for the part, and to smooth things over with her contract, Julia began to financially support the play.
Undercurrents of bitterness remained, while the crew was incredibly grateful for Juri's efforts. Julia's power overshadowed them all.
Dismissing reality, he sauntered in character onto the stage and grabbing Sano by the shoulders spun him around and planted an exaggerated kiss on the kid's mouth. Twisting, leaning back into Juri's "startled" face he stage whispered the comedic-intended line, "That's exactly what I wish I could do to you, baby."
And the scene continued, as if no deep secrets had been revealed at all.
There's no looking back
This time I mean it
"Good rehearsal today, kids." Utena picked up a forgotten basket of flowers, a bottle of wine, and two glasses—all props and darted back stage to put them in their proper places. As stage manager she missed nothing, and she smiled reassuringly to Sano who had destroyed a half-dozen toothpicks during the rehearsal and had moved on to biting his pencil. He was sitting on the edge of the stage reviewing some of his lines with Ruka and Kenshin. Kenshin had pulled back his mop of red hair and his dark rimmed glasses were sliding down the edge of his nose as he pointed out the emphasized words in the written conversation.
"He's pleased because his brother's married, not that it's to Juri's character, of course. So if you layer that one word the rest of the line about trolley cars will make more sense and . . ."
"And . . ." Kenshin was interrupted by Ruka's quiet enthusiasm. "When I come in and offer you the ticket I meant for Juri, it means so much more. Brilliant."
Utena grinned to herself, absorbing their moment of discovery then maneuvering through the crowded hall and rolling her eyes at the other abandoned and misplaced equipment. She was going to have to have a word with Faye, who had volunteered to be her "assistant." She dropped the glasses, bottle and basket into their places in the prop room and hovered a moment, wondering if she should say something to Juri who was meticulously organizing her things.
"Um," Utena began, "I really appreciate how much care you take in arranging your stuff. It saves me so much work."
"Hmm." Juri didn't look up, but unfolded the multi-colored sweater she carried around in most of Act Two and part of the final act, folding and deliberately refolded it. Adjusting the corners, smoothing down the sides. Delaying.
"Spike's in the foyer. He asked if I'd seen you. Of course," Utena spoke more quickly with each phrase, loathing her obligation to relay messages given the obvious circumstances. "I said I hadn't seen you but that if I did, I'd tell you that I saw him and that . . ."
"I know." Juri interrupted, in order to save the kind girl her discomfort. "I know, I know. It's just, I suddenly don't want to leave this sweater. Funny, isn't it? How different it looks here than it does on stage under all of those lights."
"You're strong, Juri." Utena stated, "I admire how you worry, just remember that you're strong and that you've resolved your obligations in the past." She hesitated a moment longer before offering her opinion, "Do what makes you happy. Forget acting. That's only when you're on stage.
"Besides, you're safe," Utena added, "Don't you usually ride home with the lil' rooster head anyway?"
Are you happy now?
How is it now?
Are you happy now?
Are you happy?
The uncertainty you had of me
Brought clouded shady company
The tenderness habitual
A seldom fading ritual
So differently they moved around each other, sharing long looks but never truly connecting. Four years different. The furniture had changed, the dishes had another pattern, and the large painting of Van Gogh that he had taken with him had been replaced with a large, orange pencil drawing that she'd made in a random art studio class she'd taken one lonely autumn. The gloomy weather had depressed her and the show they were doing hadn't been a happy one either.
Something about a large piece of blank paper and a very small orange utensil had made her world a little more satisfying.
"Good," Spike mumbled sadly, forking another bite of the homemade pot pie into his mouth. She would admit that she liked feeding him if anyone asked. She liked caring for him. She wanted to make everything better, but instead of laughing and sweeping her around the living room into a carefree, off-beat waltz like in her long gone memories . . . he sat on the couch and trembled. Not even the large sweaters could keep him warm. So she fixed him pot pie and did everything except offer her conversation or her body to comfort him.
"Good." She answered, suddenly, again, feeling like a stranger in her own apartment. He ate rapidly, then sat with the plate in his lap, one hand curled under the dish the other resting just over it with the fork still hovering wondering where the nourishment had gone.
"This isn't working, is it?" He finally looked up at her, where she hovered not unlike the fork, between the living room and the hallway where she could retreat for the evening. "I'm moping . . . and this isn't working."
"No." Juri replied, astonished by how incredibly attracted she was to him. Unexpected, unwanted, but attracted. She looked at him sadly, but she had no tears to give him. He'd hollowed her out like he were using a spoon—all those years ago when he'd taken Van Gogh.
You killed the pair
Now only one is breathing
There's no looking back
This time I mean it
"Once more, with feeling." Sano belted out, romping around the mostly abandoned stage with the exuberance of a twelve year-old. He caught Juri up in his arms and spun her around with his reckless energy. She couldn't help but smile a little even though rehearsal had been exhausting.
"Whenever you're finished, Sagara." Saitou said with a slightly louder monotone.
"Why, yes, sir." Sano grinned broadly and took his position with exaggerated stiffness in his limbs, like he were a mannequin waiting to be turned on.
"You're not in this scene anymore." Saitou added.
"We moved on?" Sano stood straight, puzzled.
"If you'd only listen, rehearsal would be finished sooner." Saitou leaned forward with a dangerous gleam in his eyes, which everyone else recognized as affectionate disapproval. As Sano jumped off the platform and bounded into one of the nearest open seats to watch, Saitou continued his instructions. "Juri is waiting for Spike to come back from the meeting with his employer, Anthy—who is absent again this evening due to her doctor's orders . . ." Saitou added the last part ruefully. "Now, Juri, you're brimming with suspicions and doubt and are tempted by the arrival of Ruka. The key for the character is to repress those feelings even though he's obviously attracted to you as well."
"And that's demonstrated when I offer him the sweater." Juri commented. "But he's already accepted Sano's invitation to leave the city and doesn't stay long enough for me to put the idea into words."
Saitou urged them to start by waving his gloved hands, his own personal superstition with the opening night so close, choosing not to overly direct anymore but to trust his actors with how they had grown into their characters. Grown into their characters so much that they might forget when the play ended and their real lives began.
Juri went through the motions, feeling her spirit blend into the personality of the girl written on paper. Feeling the girl wrap her arms around the strings that moved her arms, moved her lips, lifted her chin, lowered her eyes. And there he was, so close. So much an option.
Ruka impatient, gathering his things, getting ready to leave, chattering eagerly about the limitless potential outside of the city. Not noticing that every breath she took was consumed with his presence. Wanting so desperately to ask him if he cared for her, needing his support. Finding that she'd supported herself, so alone, no matter the promises that had been given to her before.
"Will that be all?" Ruka's last line punctuated with a cheerful emphasis. Exit stage left, his last line in the play.
For that one moment, he lifted his smile and for the first time he meet her eyes.
The girl took a deep breath, stunned. For the first time recognizing the naked desire, but not only that. For the first time recognizing that she hadn't been alone. She had been noticed. She had been cared for. Whether it was Sano's loud distractions, Utena's straightforwardness, or Saitou's firm leadership. No one had left her alone to bear Spike's unexpected neediness.
And Ruka. Why hadn't she noticed? Where the acting ended and the man began? Four years and she finally realized that he, along with the others, they could be her friends.
No more leaning on your shoulder
I won't be there, no more bother
If you feel you just might want me
That's too bad, I'm not that easy
The change was instantaneous. After rehearsal, instead of hiding in the prop room until Spike left and Sano finally tracked her down, Juri grabbed Ruka's arm and pulling him off stage toward the others, she insisted,
"Let's all go out tonight, together."
No one protested, everyone was surprised. And everyone said yes.
"I'm coming too. Lil' bro, gonna give me a lift?" Faye nudged Sano with her shoulder causing him to wobble unexpectedly a moment.
"What are you still doing here?" he responded in kind, giving her a friendly shove that tipped her from balancing on one leg to the other. Even though her work was long over, Faye often lingered in the back of the auditorium
mimicking the actors and imagining she could have delivered the performance better herself.
"What's wrong with your car, oh, heck, why not?" Faye leaned back in and had a fist ready to slug him, which he caught in his bigger hand and then pulled her in for a head-lock.
"Hey!" Faye protested, stomping on his shoe with her smaller one and threatening to chew on his arm. The obvious affection made even the more unamused individuals smile. Ruka paid them the least attention, a bit unsettled himself by the fact that Juri was still leaning on his arm with both of her hands, almost protectively. He lifted his eyebrows and pursed his lips in surprise, but eased them into a confused smile when she looked up at him.
Spike who was digging his toe into the theater's ancient carpeting, looked everywhere but at Juri. While he'd given his consent earlier, he was noticeably drawing back from the festivities and falling back between his emotional walls.
Juri swallowed heavily, beginning to worry for him, again. But just as she began to regret the suggestion, she felt Ruka pull forward.
"Hey, old man. You are coming with us, right?" Ruka let Juri's fingers slide off his arm as he used it to reach out to Spike with the invitation.
The contemplator all those years
Now you must adhere
To your new career of liberation
You've been cast all by yourself
You're free at last
"Can I come too?" The new voice hadn't been heard in a while, but was very familiar to everyone there.
Sano quit mussing Faye's hair and immediately let his sister go, clearing his throat and saying, quite unnecessarily,
"Julia . . ."
She was oppressively beautiful and while her clothing and colors were all warm and comforting, her presence brought a little chill through those present. Without a hint of arrogance but brimming with aristocracy, she glanced over them all—nodding now and again to those she new intimately from other shows—and then rested her eyes on Spike.
His carefree personality completely snuffed, Spike hadn't noticed her attention since he was still staring at his feet.
"Watcha doing here?" Sano asked boyishly charming with his over-eager smile. He was the only one who could get away with asking, and Juri would almost swear that he knew it and was taking it to his full advantage, while rescuing everyone else from their curiosity.
The woman pulled her eyes away from the insecure leading actor, and gave Sano a sad smile, "I've been gone too long. I'm forgetting, if I haven't already forgotten, the . . . love . . . I had for the theater."
"Missed me, eh?" The boy continued on, rather stupidly, but they all loved him for it. Even Saitou stopped examining the preliminary, printed programs for the audience and glanced up to observe her answer.
"Sano, silly boy," Julia had such a delicate tiny mouth, "We worked together for such a brief time."
"I make those lasting impressions." At that comment, Faye resumed her attack and whacked him on the shoulder with her left hook. Sano protested with an indignant, "Hey!" And whirled around to keep up his part of the scuffle.
You broke the set
Now there's only singles
There's no looking back
This time I mean it
The transportation shuffling manipulated Faye into Sano's car (turned out that she'd locked her keys in her own car and didn't want to take the trouble of finding some way to break in to get them). Utena's car was more spacious, so Saitou and Julia went with her—taking the opportunity to discuss some of the more business slanted issues that were soon coming. By default, and with no complaints, Juri accepted Ruka's polite invitation for a lift.
Once again, Ruka demonstrated deep generosity moving to converse with Spike while motioning Juri on ahead.
"Some strange things happening tonight," Ruka commented, tilting his head and taking a good look at the unhappy man. Even though they'd worked together for a few years, he didn't know Spike terribly well, just enough to know that he was an intense performer, distant even while being familiar, and consequentially deserved all of the positive criticism surrounding his plays. "Post Script" was no different. Early reports were quick to flatter the city favorite.
"Don't expect that things are going to get any less weird the later this night gets."
"She knows." Spike lit a cigarette even though it was against house rules. No one else was there to object. He took a long drag and lifted his head to study the ceiling. Ruka waited. Before, Spike hadn't shared any information about Julia.
All that anyone knew, even Juri, was that they'd been terribly happy and then they'd suddenly been terribly separate.
"I'm not the right person for her anymore." The older man leaned in a manner which was awkwardly comfortable looking with one hand deep into his pocket. A recognizable habit, Spike was most at ease, most himself, when he stood in such a way. "And I shouldn't get in the way if she's ready for something new."
Ruka's heart paused and his palms started to get a little sweaty. He suspected that Spike wasn't talking about Julia at all.
He kept very quiet, unfamiliar with Spike's sudden confidence.
"Oh bother it. Seeing Julia tonight," Spike took another long haul on the cigarette, and laughed it out, "I'm still wrapped up in her so tightly that I couldn't squeeze in another affection if I wanted to. That's why my bloody love scenes on stage are like crap. Kissing Juri's like . . . well, it's like if I would pull on the wrong end of this cig. It's so hot and painful my eyes leak." He laughed again. "We used to have fun, back in the day. We used to go out without someone having to make a scene or special occasion to loosen our inhibitions after rehearsal.
"I just wanted to catch some of that old sparkle in her eyes. But all I do is eat her food and make her uncomfortable."
Spike laughed again, this time sounding like he actually was enjoying it and not just choking on his own smoke. "You make her uncomfortable, too, you know. Only, it's your time to make it something magical."
"What about you?" Ruka said, uncomfortable with all the attention focused on himself, preferring to stand just behind the curtain and watch.
"Don't bother yourself with me. Just give me a ride to the place, you know. I'll be my old brooding self, but when haven't I been?" Spike crossed his eyes, staring at the cigarette as if he were wondering where the thing went and how it'd burned so low, so close to his fingers. "One thing you can do, buckeroo . . .give Juri something to be happy about. At least then her side of the performance will have feeling.
"Do things right, you've given her the strength to do things by herself." Spike shook his head, "And then all you can do is wait and see if she'll let you go with her."
"And then?" Ruka breathed, puzzled but kind.
"And then, say yes."
You're by yourself
All by yourself
You have no one else
You're by yourself.