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I'm Going Slightly Mad

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Ruki was delicately unfolding the mauve dresses they had just received at the store. Their fabric was of exceptional quality, and they had been sewed by some of the greatest Italian masters. Their price was mostly thrice his salary, and only one tiny snag on them could make him lose his job. After having them hanged on a clothes rail, his manicured fingers tried to smooth the folds, and he used the steamer next to him to take care of the worst of them.

When the cardboard boxes were empty, he stored them with the others in the backroom he was in, and checked the ten dresses one last time. They looked perfect. He was just about to go back to the store to ask his manager if she wanted to display them immediately, but she beat him to it by suddenly showing up, as if she had appeared out of thin air.

“Takanori, come, there’s a lot of people in there, I need your help!”

He complied immediately. He followed her quickly and noticed that, indeed, the store was already packed with customers, even if it was quite early in the morning. He put on his most gorgeous smile and went over the first persons who seemed in need of a helping hand. He advised like this for a good hour, bending over backwards for rich young women who wanted to treat themselves, using and abusing of his charms and good looks the best he could.

I hate that job…

After checking out the last customer with a big smile on his lips, he sighed loudly. His boss noticed it and slapped him gently on the head.

“Aouch! What was that for?”

“You can sigh all you want in the backroom, but in the store, be perfect, please!”

“But nobody’s around, Yuya…”

At the very same time, the bell on top of the front door rang, and a young woman entered, flanked by a man who seemed to be her boyfriend. Yuya raised an eyebrow while looking at him with a smirk on her lips, clearly stating that he was going to be the one to help those young people. Ruki nearly rolled his eyes and walked towards the couple. The young lady was particularly attractive, certainly a professional model or an actress, and was very well (and expensively) dressed. The man, on the other hand, hadn’t taken off his scarf, nor his knit cap and his sunglasses, and didn’t even flinch when the seller accosted them.

“Hello, my name is Takanori, and I am at your disposal. How may I help you?”

Both of them ignored him beautifully, which only resulted of taking his anger up a notch.

Some people have literally no education…

He managed to keep his fake smile on and followed them, ready to propose his help when it would be needed the most.

“D’you have that in blue?” the young lady asked, apparently without remembering what polite manners were like.

“I am really sorry but no, everything is expo-”

“And this?”

“Neither, miss. Sorry.”

She sighed excessively and put back the top she was looking at.

“Find me something blue. A dress. And it better be a pretty one.”

Ruki’s eyes widened slightly, surprised to hear someone speak to him that way, but obeyed nonetheless. When you worked in the luxury industry, you learnt to shut your mouth pretty quickly. He rummaged through the sections and found a dress that he thought would be perfect… but she wasn’t happy with it. At all.

“Are you kidding me? What’s this?” she shouted, taking it from Ruki’s hands. “You call that ‘pretty’? It’s horrible! Find me something else!”

After those inspiring words, she threw it on the floor, right in front of the young man, before storming off to look at some shoes. Ruki picked the dress up, which price was approximately of 300 000¥, and checked if it was undamaged. He then went to put it back on its rail, barely restraining himself from clutching it too hard. He was furious. That crazy chick was unbelievable… and her boyfriend who behaved as if everything was totally normal!

Ruki breathed deeply and slowly, and then tried to find another dress that could suit the young woman so she could clear the fuck off. He finally came by a very lovely garment and hoped she would be satisfied by it.

He presented it to her with a big smile and she looked at it during what seemed to be an eternity before nodding and taking it, still without any form of politeness, from his hands.

“What do you think?” she asked the man who accompanied her.

He was examining absent-mindedly a blouse exposed on one of the rails but stopped to look at her. He observed the dress for a while and then shrugged, before returning to whatever he was doing.

“Tch… Useless as ever. Okay that will do. But I need shoes to go with it.”

“Very well… What do you think of these?” he proposed, handing a nice pair of golden high heeled sandals.

“… I’m not going to a beach party, but to a charity gala, thank you very much.”

… What’s a scum like you going to do at a charity gala…?

“All right, then maybe this pair would suit you better?”

He picked up black stilettos, with glittering heels.

“Sober, but with some charm nonetheless.”

“You don’t understand it, do you? Do you think I want to be discreet? No, I want everybody to notice me, got it? Now you better show some inventiveness, sir.”

Ruki clenched his fist without letting his smile flicker. He put back the shoes he was still holding and the next half-hour was only made of try outs and very rude comments from the young woman. She ended up letting everything on the counter before leaving the store, thanking him for making her loose her time, her boyfriend right behind her.

Ruki couldn’t take it anymore. He went to the backroom to yell and kick some empty boxes until he could calm down[1]. Yuya’s head appeared a bit later through the door and she offered him an apologetic smile.

“If I had known it would be such a catastrophe, I promise I would have taken care of it myself…”

“Don’t apologize… How such human beings can exist is beyond my understanding…” he sighed before sitting on one of the full boxes that were, them, spared. “Her, for starters, and him, saying nothing, as if her behavior was impeccable!”

“Yeah, I’ll never understand… Alright, let’s go, we have a lot of work to do. And take the mauve dresses with you, we’re going to put them with the new collection and present one in the window display.”

Ruki took his head between his hands for a few moments before complying. The day was going to be long… and he was desperately in need of a cigarette.

♦ — ♦ — ♦

When came the time to close the store, he hurried to tidy everything so he could leave as quickly as possible. The sooner he would be in the streets walking towards his apartment, the better. Feeling his irritation, Yuya quickly took care of counting the money in the cash register and the tidying of the backroom. Soon enough, they turned on the alarm, closed the door and lowered the metal gate. They left then in the same direction, chatting a bit.

“I’m sorry about your crappy day… I hope it’s going to be better tomorrow.”

“Me too… but I only work on the morning, and we have a rehearsal scheduled on the afternoon. If it goes awry, I will borrow Yutaka’s drumsticks and have a go on his drums. Mh… Gonna bring back some memories…”

“Hahaha! Oh, by the way, when is your next concert?”

“In two weeks, in Shibuya. I’ll send you a text with the name of the club and the time, if you want.”

“Totally! Last time was great. And who knows, maybe you’re soon going to be able to quit this job you hate to live your dream!”

“Oh my God, I would love to, but we both know it’s not gonna happen anytime soon…”

She smiled nonetheless and left him at the corner of a street to go and take the subway that would bring her back home. Ruki stopped moving for a moment and raised his eyes to the sky. It was already dark, but he still could make out some big, darker clouds, hinting that it was going to rain, or snow. He buried his nose deeper in his scarf and started walking again. He was glad he lived to a reasonable distance from his work on foot. Actually, it was the other way around. He applied there because of the proximity, and the fact that he liked the brand.

He arrived fast, and was pleased to feel the warmth of the building entrance tickling his cheeks when he opened the door. He took the stairs, opened the door of his apartment and announced “I’m home!”. He closed it and took off his boots, his coat and his scarf. A blond head appeared through the ajar living room door.

“Ah! We were waiting for you to start eating! … You look like shit, are you okay?”

“Yes, Akira… Well, actually, no, I had an awful day, but I already feel better now that I’m here!”

“Glad to here that.”

His roommate smiled at him and disappeared behind the door. Ruki sniffed and noticed a nice smell of food in the air. He entered the living room, where the dining table was, and spotted both of his roommates already seated.

“Come, quick, I’m starving!” his second roommate cried out, a young man with long brown hair.

“Calm down, Kouyou, it’s not even eight o’clock…”

“Exactly, it’s late. Come on!”

“Buzzkill…”

They kept teasing each other while eating, and Ruki told them about his disastrous day, ranting once again about rich people who believed they could do whatever the fuck they wanted.

“That’s insane… I mean, we have our share of weird people at the cafe, but nothing that… extreme…” Reita explained, ruffling through his bleached blond hair while leaning against the back of his chair. “Or it’s just like once a year or something. I have the impression that you, on the other hand, deal with that kind of people all the damn time…”

“Yeah. But I assure you, they reached new heights, those two…”, Ruki grumbled again as he stuffed a piece of pork in his mouth. “That crazy bitch as well as her asshole of a boyfriend who doesn’t flinch.”

“Calm down, you’re gonna end up choking yourself with your meat,” Uruha sighed, amused nonetheless.

He added that it would be a shame since he worked hard to make that meal, and Ruki teased him by replying that, indeed, it was way better than usual. He dodged the tap his friend wanted to give him, making Reita laugh, who couldn’t help but think that he was incredibly lucky to have such wonderful friends.

♦ — ♦ — ♦

The following day, when Ruki arrived at the store, smoking peacefully and clandestinely[2] his cigarette, he was surprised to see someone already leaning on the wall next to the gate. When he got close enough, he recognized the man from the day before, still wrapped in his scarf and his knit cap, his sunglasses on his nose. He felt his anger that had disappeared come back in full force and decided to take advantage of the fact that he wasn’t technically at work yet to have a little… chat with him

“Didn’t stood out enough yesterday, did you? Wanna piss me off today too?”

The man jumped, he obviously hadn’t felt Ruki’s presence earlier. He looked at him for a few seconds before responding:

“I’d like to buy what she tried on.”

Ruki saw red.

“Because you think I’m going to let you in the store after the total lack of respect you demonstrated yesterday? I don’t think so. Now, fuck off.”

Ruki stuck his cigarette between his lips and started to unlock the gate, wanting to ignore the man, before jumping too when a fist punched the metal next to his face.

“I’m not asking for your opinion. You sell me those items, right now, and I’m off. Unless you want to get me angry…?”

The man’s tone was threatening in his ear and a fearful shudder ran down his spine. He prevented himself from responding “So what?”, in order not to take the risk of shortening his own life, and finished unlocking the store. That voice seemed atrociously familiar, but he couldn’t remember where he heard it. The day before, the man had been particularly quiet (and that was the entire problem), so it couldn’t come from that. What a weird feeling…

“Wait here,” Ruki said, without any honorific before heading to the backroom.

He put his belongings in the little room for the employees, stubbing out his cigarette in one of the ashtrays. He came back, still furious, and caught the items. He turned on the cash register and scanned them.

“I hope you have your credit card. I don’t want to rush into counting my change fund for your sorry ass.”

The man entered the store by the doors Ruki had left opened even if it was freezing cold outside and gave him his credit card without answering, apparently wanting to get this over with just as much. He didn’t even react when he saw the very high amount and just paid before taking the dress and the shoes and storming out without another word.

“What a dick…”, Ruki sighed, leaning against the wall.

And it wasn’t even opening time yet… He tried to compose himself and after closing the doors until it would be time to open them for good, he went to fetch the cash to prepare the change fund.

The first hour went smoothly, and Yuya eventually showed up, her nose reddened by the freezing temperature.

“Oh my god, it’s going to snow soon, I’m sure of it…”

“Hello to you too.”

“Ow… Something happened again, is that it?”

“Yesterday’s dickhead came back. But without his bitch of a girlfriend this time.”

“Oh. To appologise?”

Ruki snorted.

“Are you kidding me? He came back to buy what she nearly threw in my face.”

“Seriously…?”

The young man told her what had happen and she shook her head, flabbergasted.

“Well… At least, there’s a very big chance we’re not going to see them anymore.”

“I hope so…”

With this, the young woman dashed to the backroom to get ready to start her day. The following hours were uneventful as well, and finally, Ruki’s second colleague showed up around one pm, setting him free for the day.

“Hi and bye, Sako! Have a good day girls, and good luck!” he shouted after having fetched his stuff, while leaving quickly.

He wanted only one thing: to get back to his friends and his passion, music. They had a gig they needed to prepare for, which gave him a very strong motivation, even if it was a small show. When he reached the small place they managed to rent with their five mediocre salaries, his four friends were already there.

“Really Taka, you just don’t know what being on time even means!”

“It’s a bit rich coming from the man who’s, like, always late…”

“Hey! No! I was on time today!”

“No, Kouyou, you were just less late than Taka, nothing to brag about…”, Aoi teased him with a wicked grin playing on his lips.

Kouyou pretended to pout while Takanori settled in. Then, the fifth member rose from his chair and clapped his hands.

“Right! Let’s get to work! We need to be perfect!”

“Wait! Can I have a round on your drums first before we start?”

“And why’s that? We don’t have time for this…”

“Pleaaaase, Yutakaaa…”

Kai frowned, hands on his hips, and then gave in.

“All right, go ahead…”

Ruki didn’t need to be told twice and bounced to the drums, picking up the sticks. He always loved this instrument, even if he liked singing even more. Well, this was a case of emergency, so… He started and played nearly all of Kai’s part in one of their songs. At the end, his friend was watching him, impressed.

“Well damn… If I break my arm one day, at least I know that you can replace me without any problem…”

Ruki beamed, out of breath, but happy. He then stood up and they started practicing once his vocal cords were warmed up. The musicians were focalized on their respective instruments, external or internal, completely immersed in their art, and gave, as always, their best, despite the lack of an audience. But it was that devotion that made them improve themselves, they were certain of it.

♦ — ♦ — ♦

The days parting them from their next performance seemed as if they were extremely long and incredibly short at the same time. The hours they spent doing a mediocre job were drawing out, but rehearsal times seemed too few, and cut short. And now that they were in the tiny dressing room at the back of the club, they were all overwhelmed with stress. Reita was pacing, Ruki smoke cigarette after cigarette, and Uruha was drinking his third beer. Aoi was only chewing on his nails, not caring about his nail polish, but you could see he lacked self-assurance as well. Kai decided to take the matter in his own hands and try motivating them a bit.

“Aki, stop pacing, you’re making me nauseous. Taka, put down that fifth cigarette, what are we gonna do if you can’t carry a tune on stage, huh? And Kouyou, I hope you’ll still be able to see your guitar strings when you’ll be completely drunk.”

They all stopped moving, watching Kai with widened eyes. The drummer sighed.

“I’m stressing out too, of course. But we’re about to do what we love in front of a public, and in a club that is, even if it doesn’t seem like it, quite known in Shibuya. We have a chance a lot of bands can’t even begin to dream about… The least we could do is do our best and believe in us, don’t you think?”

They all appeared to be a bit ashamed for a little while. Then, Ruki put his unlighted cigarette back in its pack, Uruha went to empty his glass in the sink, and Reita sat back with them. Aoi stopped biting his nails and examined his nail polish which was, fortunately, still impeccable. Kai was thrilled his little speech had the desired effect. It was absolutely vital for them to keep a cool head. Stress was their worst enemy… If they didn’t give their best when they had the chance to perform in front of an audience, they’ll never catch the right people’s attention.

Minutes passed by, and then it was time. They left the room and headed for the stage.

♦ — ♦ — ♦

[1] Certified by, probably, every seller in the whole world… (or, at the very least, by some of my colleagues…!)

[2] Quick reminder: it’s forbidden to smoke in most of Tokyo’s streets, outside of clearly delimited areas where you can find ashtrays.