"One is the loneliest number
That you'll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It's the loneliest number since the number one "
One by Aimee Mann, Magnolia Soundtrack
Kouyou was sitting in a dark corner of the hotel's empty bar. He had chosen this place on purpose, since it allowed him to watch people coming in and out of the hallway without being noticed.
He had arrived at the hotel in the beginning of the afternoon and since he wasn't expected at his parent's before tomorrow for a not-too-welcome family lunch, he decided to just stay there and enjoy his alone time. Not that he had no alone time usually, actually most of his time out of work was alone time to be honest. But he didn't see any good reason to arrive earlier at the family reunion. He knew this was going to be nerve-wrecking enough, as the whole thing had only one purpose : his sister was going to marry her oh-so-perfect boyfriend and become Mrs Perfect, and she wanted to introduce him and announce it to her entire family, and throw her sickening happiness to the universe's face.
Kouyou's father had called him three weeks ago and asked him to take some days off for the meeting, and as Kouyou showed little enthousiasm for the news, his father's tone has been icy cold. « You should maybe try to still be a part of this family, and rejoice for your sister. At least, she managed to be happy with a decent man, and now maybe if we have a bit of luck we'll someday have grandchildren. I can't understand, Kouyou, how you always make us feel like you are not involved in anything as far as family is concerned. Your mother is expecting you, do not disappoint her as usual. I won't take no as an answer. »
Kouyou knew better than to argue with his father. He had taken some days off, as requested -well, more as forced to- and here he was, soothing his sour mood with some beer.
It was a bit early in the afternoon to drink alcohol, but he was planning to also spend the evening there anyway. He felt already drained by the upcoming meeting and tried to distract himself looking at the people around, trying to guess what their lives were like, the reasons why they stayed here. A young couple walked in by the main door, the woman carrying a small suitcase, her face wearing a deep frown, while her husband followed with the rest of their luggage, looking pissed off beyond belief. They waited silently in front of the elevator, careful of not touching each other. Kouyou sighed internally. What's the meaning of being with someone if you don't even want to touch them ? He couldn't help but feel sorry for the both of them, seeing how disenchanted they looked. Bitterness and exhaustion were written all over their faces. Even if loneliness was bringing him down more often than he would like to admit, he would never in the world want that kind of relationship, to be with someone just to avoid being alone. He was kind of old fashioned in a way, but he thought only love, true love, could make you feel like living with someone and sharing every bit of your life with them.
Only love could ask for this ultimate sacrifice. Because seriously, having to endure someone's swing of mood, someone's eventual sickness, someone's disorder, antics, food's preferences and sleeping schedules, THAT was surely hell if true love wasn't implied, in Kouyou's opinion. Not to mention the hygiene aspect. Urgh... Of course he had tried to make things work with some of his previous lovers, but he stopped trying somehow, feeling that none of them were worth the pain, because none of them were the ONE.
He motioned to the bartender to bring him another beer, while a short woman on unhumanly high heels entered the hotel's hallway, asking with a stern tone the young woman working at the reception desk for a room. The woman's voice was haughty, as she seemed absolutely certain that she worthed a thousand receptionists at least...
Kouyou was a bit distracted by a blond man entering the bar, his phone on his ear, talking in a low a soft tone.
« Yeah, I know... Don't forget to get some rest, ok ? You're working too hard when I'm not around...Yeah...I miss you too. I promise to be as quick as I can. I'll text you first thing in the morning...I love you too sweetheart. » The man hung up, putting his phone back in his jean's pocket, and ordered a coffee at the bar's desk.
Kouyou felt something churn in his chest. He wondered if someone would ever talk to him like this...If someone would miss him someday. To be totally honest, he wished that special someone to appear in his life rather sooner than later, because he was beginning to lose any hope that it would never happen.
He downed his third beer, and was about to order another one when another client made his way into the bar.
And Kouyou's world stopped.
He froze, his eyes widening, forgetting to breathe, his deafening heartbeats thumping like crazy in his hears, his jaw agape and his head spinning. The man who just walked in was ... Slightly shorter than himself maybe, wearing a black denim jacket on a white tee-shirt and black slim jeans, dark hair, lightly taned flawless skin, high cheekbones, and oh-my-goodness these lips... Kouyou just couldn't understand what he felt at the only sight of the other man. What was happening here? He decided to blame it on the beer, and on the stupid feeling of envy he got when hearing the blond man speaking on his phone. Yes, that was it, alcohol and loneliness. Right. Right ? Because it couldn't be his innocent wish from two minutes ago became true, that made no sense, things like these never happened in real life...
Breathe, you moron !
He kept on staring at the newcomer, the way he walked to reach the bar, the way the light was shining in his hair, and when the man took off the sunglasses he wore to order some coffee in a deep, low voice, his legs felt like jelly.
Kouyou swallowed. Hard.
Under the shades, circled with heavy shadows were the more beautiful, dark eyes he ever saw. His mind was refusing to work. How could someone with such eyes could ever look this sad. Kouyou would have happily given one of his kidney to see what the man's smile looked like. More like, he wanted to be the one to make this man smile more than everything.
A sudden ring made Kouyou jump slightly on his chair. The spell he was under seemed to dissipate a bit, and the other man checked on his phone with a frown. He didn't answer and put the phone back in his jacket's pocket where the device stopped to ring a few seconds later. He sighed, seemingly relieved, but the phone began to ring again after some seconds. The man tried to ignore it, letting the melody -Knocking on heaven's door- ring endlessly, while drinking his coffee -dark, no sugar- . Kouyou registered as many informations he could get. When the phone stopped finally, only to ring again almost instantly, the dark haired man seemed to understand that he wouldn't be able to avoid the call. He sighed again, this time Kouyou could read anxiety in these captivating eyes, and he finally gulped the final sip of his cup before he took the call.
« I thought we said no more phone calls » he said in a tired and dead voice. « No, we don't need to talk. We talked enough already. No...No...Please. I'm going to hang up now... Don't call me again, please. Goodbye. » He hung up, put the phone on the desk, and took his head in his shaking hands. Kouyou had never felt like comforting someone else so much before.
« Is staring at strangers and listening to their phone calls a hobby of yours? » The stranger shot him a deadly glare when he took off his hands from his face, anger filtering in his voice.
Kouyou thought he was being subtle here. He wasn't, obviously.
« I...hu...didn't mean to...hu... » The stranger shook his head, annoyed at his stuttering, and walked abruptly out of the room, tsking when he passed in front of him.
As Kouyou finally could breathe normally again, (even if his legs still felt like he was made of yoghurt,) he began to regret his stupid attitude. He had to think of a plan to get to talk to the beautiful stranger again. Quickly. Without getting on is nerves. Or stuttering like a dumbass. That seemed to be quite a challenge.
He swallowed his fourth beer, and decided to go back to his room. If the man just arrived at the hotel, that probably meant that he was spending the night here too, right ? So he needed to think this through. The sun was still shining brightly, it was only five pm, but he thought a shower and fresh clothes would do him no harm. Maybe it would help him to have ideas on how he was going to approach the Dark Stranger...He smiled at he thought about the name he called him.
Seriously, Kouyou ?
He let the almost-too-hot water run down his tense body, wondering about the other man's name...He decided to put aside the reasons of the strange infatuation he felt for the guy. He just needed to talk to him. No big deal, really.
When he got dressed, ready to look for the stranger, he decided to get another beer, this time in the little terrace outside the hotel's bar. The air was still warm, and smelled like the wysterias that hung all around the area. It was soothing and for the first time since he arrived here, Kouyou thought that maybe he would not hate the trip as much as he feared. He looked at his phone, wondering if he should call his mom to confirm he would be there on time tomorrow, but the device vibrated in his hand suddenly. He read the message, smirking slightly.
Taka : I miss youuuuuuuuuuuu !!!
Kouyou rolled his eyes. His friend was such a drama-queen...
Kouyou : We were together just last evening, dude.
Taka : Yeah I know ! But I'd like to have a beer with you and talk about our day as usual...
Kouyou : You mean have a beer with me and talk endlessly about Yutaka, ne ? What has he done today ? Did he touched your hand ? Gave you the sweeeeetest smile ever ? Or did he wear that special shirt that hugged him in the best places and showed his precious toned arms oh-my-god-I-swear-I-almost-died-when-I-saw-him ? Ah, no, I forgot, he wasn't even working today. So you must have missed him sooooo muuuuuch !
Taka : Fuck off Kouyou ! God I forgot this special shirt and now I'm all upside down, seriously ! And I don't talk endlessly about Yutaka. But...Maybe I can call you now ? If you're not busy, I mean ?
Before Kouyou could even reply, his phone began to ring softly, his friend's name appearing brightly on the screen. That was useless, because he had attached each of his friends to a special ringtone.
« I'm not busy, Taka, how was your day ? »
« Hey Kou ! The day was okay. But Akira had to get back home early because Mako got a fever and Haruko panicked a bit. So I was alone at the office, and it's been a bit boring alone there...Until Yutaka showed up. »
« Yutaka showed up ? I thought he was resting after the meeting he had last night with the management about the new boss they're sending us. »
« Yeah, that was the plan. But Akira called to inform him that he couldn't be there with me for the afternoon, and suddenly Yutaka was there. He said he didn't want me to get bored to death here, and stayed with me the whole afternoon. He even took time to prepare me some pancakes before coming. Isn't he the cutest and softest boy you ever met ? Do you think that means something ? »
Kouyou laughed softly, rolling his eyes once again. Akira was such a conspirator sometimes...
« Damn, Taka... Of course that means something !!! It's been years since he first began to let you hints here and there, years, Taka ! He talks Akira's ears off about you each day, just like you do with me about him... He's head over heels for you, and you've had a crush on him for as long as I can remember, but you're both too immature and insecure to do anything about it ! I swear you look like schoolgirls... But schoolgirls usually have the guts to ask their crush for the prom ball somehow. You...You two... You've been turning around each other for so long... »
«Haaaaa...Shut up, Kou ! I haven't call you to be lectured, you know ? »
« I know, I know, you've been calling me to gush about your prince in shining armour, who brought you pancakes and came to your rescue... »
« You're being tiresome, now !... »
« And you're being ridiculous, Taka. Why the fuck won't you just tell Yutaka how you feel and go with it ? »
« You know I cannnnnn't... »
« Listen to me now. What if the new boss isn't a fat bald man like the previous one, but a handsome guy, funny and charming ? And what if that guy had a crush on Yutaka too ? What if he is bolder than you and ask him out ? »
« Why are you doing this to me now Kouyou ? I won't sleep until I see this guy! Oh my god what if this happens ? I'm hyperventilating now !»
« That's exactly the point, honey. What if ? You'll be left alone, mourning about the almost-relationship you could have had with Yutaka, imagining him in another man's bed, with another guy's hands on his perfect buttocks. Now that would be a shame, don't you think ? »
A weak voice came from the phone.
« I guess so... Did you just call me honey ?»
« So now, you're going to act. You're going to find a way to woo Yutaka-no, forget it, Yutaka is already wooed, you're going to sweep Yutaka off of his feet and make him yours before somebody else does it, right ? Because it could be the new boss, but it also could be a man at the conbini, a client, everybody could find Yutaka attractive, because he is, right ? »
« Damn sure he is » Takanori mumbled
« So you're going to do your best to win him over, okay ? »
« But...What if he doesn't like me that way ? » Takanori's voice was so unsure, Kouyou could almost see the angst in his friend's eyes. He sighed.
« Taka... You're the sweetest guy I know, you're smart, talented, funny and you're gorgeous. And you have the nicest ass of the area. If you weren't so much like a brother for me, I'd date you. I'd probably even marry you and make you a ton of babies if we could. »
This earned him a weak laugh at the end of the line.
« Is it a confession, Kouyou ? … Thank you. Really. You're the best. I will think about it, seriously. »
« Don't think too much, act ! And I'm warning you here, if you hadn't made a move on him when I come back, I will take the matter in my hands, and you won't like what's coming. Because if I have to lock you both in a room, I'll do it ! »
« Okay, okay, you're creepy, going from cute to threatening in less than a minute ! I will do my best ! »
« Here you go, that's my boy ! Have a good evening, Taka. Oh, I miss you too by the way ! »
« D'night, Kouyou. I'll call you tomorrow, okay ? Try not to kill anybody at home, right ?»
Kouyou hung up, a grin still lingering on his lips... Hopefully, Taka would do something... Then Kouyou's eyes were attracted by a silhouette resting his back on the wall behind. The man was smoking, looking at him, and judging by how small the terrace was, there was no doubt he'd heard his conversation. Without thinking further, his mind refusing to function once again, Kouyou spoke.
« I see we have the same hobbies, you and I. » He didn't know how much of this his poor heart could endure. He thought maybe tachycardia would probably kill him before the guy could answer.
The other man shrugged, adverting his eyes.
« It wasn't like I had any choice, this is the only smoking area here. »He paused. « I've been a bit rude at the bar earlier, I'm sorry. » He was still serious, but his expression was softer now.
« It's okay. I'm sorry too. Maybe... I could offer you a drink as an apology ? »
The Dark Stranger looked surprised. He shook his head.
« You don't have to, it's ok, really.»
«Hu... It's not like there are many things to do around here, you know. And as tomorrow will certainly be a terrible day for me, I could use some distraction by chatting nonsense with someone... » Kouyou used his best smile, he couldn't possibly let the man go away. Please-please-please-please...
« I'm not the best person to have a nice conversation with, sorry. I don't like talking too much. Besides, I'm not really in the mood... » He crushed the butt of his cigarette on an ashtray, clearly preparing to leave.
« Wait, wait … I'm sure a drink could relax you, really. Listen, if you can just bear with me I promise I'll do most of the talking, and you'll just have to go with it, ok ? »
The Dark Stranger looked at him, a bit confused, and shrugged.
« I don't know why you're insisting so much, but I guess one drink wouldn't be that bad. »
Kouyou's smile threatened to split his face in two.
They took place at one of the little tables on the terrace and ordered some beers. Silence was a bit awkward between them, the other man looking uncomfortable, until Kouyou's phone vibrated. He ignored it, trying to find something-anything- to say to the man in front of him before he could finish his beer and go.
« Aren't you going to check up your phone ? »
« No, hu, I mean... that would be rude. »
For the first time, something seemed to tug at the man's gorgeous lips. Holy fuck.
« What if your friend needs some more advice now ? I would not want to interfere in a blooming love story, you know... » Oh, so he really listened his talk with Taka...
« What ? Oh, yes, you're right, I should check... » He took his phone.
Taka : Hey. I invited Yutaka over. I'm dying waiting for him. My hands are shaking so much. I don't even know what I'm going to tell him. Or if I'm going to tell him anything at all. Help. I'm a mess.
Kouyou's exasperated sigh made the other man look at him with a questionning stare.
«You were right, it's him. As you probably understood everything that was going on, he didn't lose time, and invited the boy he likes to come over. But now he is freaking out and calling for help. »
«Are you always the guy all your friends turn to for their sentimental issues ? »
« Haha, no, not really. And I haven't that many friends actually...Taka's probably the only one asking me for advices. And if I were him I wouldn't listen to anything I said, considering I'm not the best person to take advices from... As far as relationship matters are concerned, I mean. »
He typed a brief answer.
Kouyou : Hey, chill Taka, breathe. Just be yourself and tell him how you feel. Make it short and simple. Think about the new handsome boss :) .
He was distracted as his guest took a strand of his black hair and tucked it behind his ear. Kouyou just stared at the delicate hand, the long fingers, and tried his best to not think about how it would feel to touch it...or to be touched by it. Damn.
Taka : Kou...What you said about me and marrying me, you meant it?
Kouyou : Yup. I meant everything. Don' worry, you'll rock this.
Taka : He's at the door. God help me.
Kouyou laughed. Drama queen, right ?
« You've said really nice things to your friend. He should be full of self-confidence now. So, what's happening there? I'm sorry, tell me if I should mind my own business, right ? Just...I'm a bit curious, and it's funny, to watch this from afar, it's like a tv show but in real life...»
« Actually, his crush just came at the door and my friend is about to faint... » Kouyou was glad he peaked the man's interest with Taka and Yutaka's almost-relationship
« You must be a very close friend , to take this so much at heart. »
« He's one of my two closest friends. Well, now that I think about it, I guess I should not help him to get with Yutaka, because once it will be done, he won't have time anymore to hang out with me... My evenings are going to be lonely without him. » He stopped to take a sip from his beer. « What about you ? How are you spending your evening when you're home ? »
The man 's face darkened at his words, and he stiffened on his chair.
« I'd rather not talk about myself...There's nothing interesting to say, anyway. And I almost finished my beer, so I'm gonna go soon-
Kouyou's phone began to ring with Taka's tone before he could say a word.
« Excuse me, I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. Don't go already. Please ?... Okay ? » The man in front of him made a quick nod.
« So Taka, how is it going ? »
« I don't understand Kou ! I haven't had the time to say anything, he's gone ! »
« Wait, what ? He's gone ?But what happened ? »
His friend was screaming hysterically in the phone :
« NOTHING happened, your hear me ? I let him in when he arrived, we sat down on the couch for a few minutes and chatted a bit, and I left him alone to get us some beers and to give me some courage before I could ask him for a date...And when I came back he was completely different, he was pale and his eyes looked like he was about to cry, he was clearly distressed. He just left me abruptly, saying he had things that needed to be done, and just like that he was gone. He must have guessed what I wanted to ask and he freaked out. I told you he'd never want someone like me ! Why would he ? I wouldn't want someone like me neither ! »
« Taka, calm down, okay ? I'm sure he had his reasons to act this way, and I'm also sure he's in love with you.
« I'm so depressed, Kou. What am I going to do if he doesn't want to see me ever again ? »
« Okay, I'm going to try to call him to see what it is all about. You just stay where you are and wait for me to call you back, right ? »
«Taka ? »
« Yeah... » his friend was crying. He shouldn't have push him to confess while he was away. He felt so much guilt right now.
« Hey dude, I'm sorry. Don't give up, okay ? I promise I'm going to help you to fix this. I'm sure it's a misunderstanding. »
When he hung up, Kouyou met a pair of dark brown eyes who were staring at him.
« Are you ok ? Did anything bad happened ? »
Kouyou explained him the situation, and he was barely done when his phone began to ring with Akira's tone. He sent an apologetic look to the man, who shrugged and almost -almost !- smiled.
« Go on, there's obviously something going on there ! I don't mind, but only if you tell me after.»
Kouyou smiled and answered. And was taken aback by Akira's fury.
« Kouyou ! Godamn motherfucker ! Do you have anything to tell me, you bastard ? »
Kouyou was dumbfounded.Never in his whole life had he seen Akira angry. He could get upset, yes, but mad and yelling at him like a madman ? Never in the world. He watched the stunned man in front of him with wide eyes. Akira shouted loud enough for them both to hear it clear.
« Wow, Aki ? Are you crazy ?What is this about ? »
« Did you think you could go on like this and never tell me ? Why didn't you warn me ? I wouldn't have encouraged poor Yutaka all these years if only I had known. He's actually in my kitchen having the worst heartbreak ever. It's your fucking fault and I am soooo mad about you right now, I would punch you in the face if you were here ! I thought you trusted me enough to tell me these things, Kouyou ! You're like my brother ! »
« I don't understand anything Akira ! What the fuck are you talking about ? Why is Yutaka crying in your kitchen because of me when he should be with Taka right now, thanks to me ? » Kouyou was lost.
« Yutaka was at Taka's earlier. He was overjoyed because Taka called him for the first time to spend time with him alone. He sent me a message and told me he was going to make things move forward between them. And as Taka went to prepare some drinks, Yutaka looked at Taka's phone which was on the coffee table and he saw your texts. Do you get it now ? You're so stupid! »
« I still don't get it now, and I promise to kick your ass to death if you don't stop calling me names ! I only texted Taka to give him some confidence to confess to Yutaka. Nothing more ! I don't see where I've done anything wrong ? »
« Maybe when you didn't tell us you were going to marry Takanori ? » Akira all but screamed in the phone. Kouyou's mind went blank.
« WHAAAAAAT ? What the fuck-marry Taka ? Wait a minute-oh-my-god-... !!! » Kouyou suddenly remembered the last texts he exchanged with his friend, and everything clicked in place. He began to laugh so loud, his nerves taking control while relief washed over him.
« I'm really happy you find this funny. Really. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sick baby, a panicked wife and a mourning friend in my kitchen- »
« Aki ! Chill ! Let me explain and don't interrupt me, okay ? » Kouyou told Akira everything, and the Dark Stranger understood in the meantime.
« Hu, Dude, this is really weird. I ...hu...am sorry for calling you names and all. I was so mad you were going to marry Taka without having never told me about it. What are we going to do now ? I mean, for Yutaka ? »
« You go tell him the truth. The whole truth, beginning with Taka's crush on him. I didn't want to interfere until now, but too much damage has been done, and if we let them wait to have enough self confidence again to do something, I bet we will have to wait for a decade at least. Tell him that Taka is as much devastated as he is right now, crying his eyes out and thinking Yutaka doesn't want him. He should go there and fix this mess himself. Because if he hadn't been a nosy idiot, he would never have looked at someone else's texts ! Damn, these two dummies... »
« Okay, I will. Again, I'm sorry, Kou. I owe you a beer... And, hu, if you plan to get married someday, I'd really like you to tell me, okay ? »
« I'm not marrying anyone soon, you can relax ! And you owe me a whole beer night, and I'm looking forward to it ! » Kouyou hung up -again- after he asked about Mako's fever and Akira told him it was just a bad cold.
« Sorry about this. As I said, I don't have many friends...And you can see why ! »
The man shrugged again, but this time he looked more relaxed.
« It's okay. It was kinda funny and entertaining ! Now I hope your friends will have their happy ending. Thank you for the beer. It was nice. »
« We...haven't even have time to talk...at all. Would you maybe like to eat something ? I saw they had homemade pizzas, noodles and finger food at the bar. You're going to have to eat anyway, right ? »
The other man seemed puzzled at his offer.
« Well, I told you I wasn 't good for small talk and -
« Okay » Kouyou interrupted him. « No small talk. Maybe we could try something ? I'm not going to ask you anything. I'm going to try to figure you out without any clue. And it's up to you to tell me if I'm wrong or not, and to tell me the truth if you want. It's up to you to build yourself someone you'd rather be, if you like. I'll never know anyway. If you're not comfortable with something, you tell me and we go on with another theme. I won't even ask for your name, I'll give you the name that suits better to you in my opinion. And you can do the same. Sounds fun, hu ? »
Kouyou's speech had been done with such expectant eyes and so much enthusiasm, and his smile was so cute, the other man couldn't find the will to say no. His every being was indeed screaming at him how much this was wrong, to let his guard down in front of a total stranger, but somehow he craved to have something to do to keep his mind busy, and not let it spiralling down in hell. He nodded and said in a soft voice :
« I'm gonna give it a try. Olives, cheese and mushrooms on my pizza, then. »