Masayuki could feel the headache building up into a persistent throb in his temple, and rubbed at it futilely. “I beg your pardon?”
“It’s for the movie?” Wakamatsu winced a little. He probably didn’t intend for that to come out as a question. “I mean--” he sighed a little. “Please, Hori-senpai.”
Fifteen years ago Masayuki had split his time between working for Nozaki-kun, studying, and most of all struggling to keep Kashima focused on drama club. How was it that now, as a grown man and fairly successful background artist, his biggest challenge was still managing her?
“Hori-senpai,” Kashima stepped forward. He could see the moment she slipped back into her prince persona, clasping one of his hands between both of her own and staring into his eyes. “It would be my honour to make you my beloved wife.”
“Not a chance!” he yelled, pulling his hand back. “What the hell, Kashima? Why did you have to drag me into this?”
But now, with an agent and probably a stylist, and her name on more than one hit drama and a few big movies, well. Kashima is transformed, only now she looks the part of the gorgeous lead, and he didn’t know exactly what to do with it.
“Hori-senpai?” She’d asked, once they had sorted themselves out. “Is that you? It is! Long time no see!”
And Masayuki had just sort of stared at her blankly; at her long, gently curled hair, her feminine dress peeking out from under a cute (and probably very expensive) winter coat, cheeks red from the cold or from makeup, he wasn’t sure which.
“It’s me! Kashima!”
“Long time no see,” he’d managed to get out, not sure how to interact with this new, polished version of his kouhai. It was as if she were playing a role. But that wasn’t right - this was her life now. Kashima was a big name.
He’d managed to make conversation for a little while, but it was late, and he’d been drinking, quite a bit really, and eventually he’d managed to get in that he really needed to go if he was going to catch the last train.
“Oh,” Kashima had said, face falling, “I’m sorry, senpai, I didn’t-- it’s already almost 12:30.” And it was. He’d somehow lost track, and they must have been talking longer than he’d thought.
He sighed. “Guess I’ll find a cafe until the morning trains start,” he said, trying to shake himself more awake. “It was nice seeing you again.”
“Don’t--” Kashima bit her lip, mussing the gloss there. “It’s just, I have an apartment near here,” she said, looking almost nervous. “You can have the spare room and catch the train after getting some real sleep.”
Of course Kashima was doing well enough to have a two-bedroom apartment in this part of town. Hori did okay but his little place in Adachi was a bit of a haul when he had to come into the city.
“I wouldn’t want to impose,” he’d said, but really, it was all decided. He didn’t remember a lot else about that night, but if he’d known it would mean marrying a kouhai he hadn’t seen in years, he’d have stuck with the 24-hour cafe.
And Kashima had only made it worse, of course. Asked about her gentleman caller during an interview, she’d smiled as if she had a secret and replied, “Oh, I’ve always admired him. He didn’t know, but I spent all of high school trying to make senpai happy.”
And that was it, that was all the media needed to start talking about how romantic it all was.
“Can’t we just tell them the truth?” Masayuki asked, but it was really a token protest. With Kashima, things had always seemed to just sort of snowball, and it appeared very little had changed there.
Wakamatsu’s office was surprisingly tidy, with a sort of feminine style to it that clearly indicated that though Seo’s photo was on his desk, she’d had nothing to do with arranging this space.
“It’s much too late for that, senpai,” he said, offering Masayuki the contract. “Now if you’ll use your name stamp here, here, and here,” he said indicating several places, we can get started.”
Anyone who had thought Wakamatsu was too much of a pushover to become an agent had clearly discounted the fact that he’d married Seo Yuzuki.
“Get started?” he asked, distracted by the clause about the length of their sham marriage and an amicable but public parting.
Wakamatsu stole the papers back and tucked them neatly away and out of reach. “Yes, we’ll have to start with your apartment, of course.”
“Of course,” Wakamatsu was saying, “You won’t actually move in until after the wedding, but for appearances we’ll have to make sure it looks like you’ve been staying over at each other’s places fairly often. And then there’s the matter of dates. Somewhere cute but low-key to start, I think. You can ‘propose’ in private, and she’ll wear the ring to one of the events later this month.”
Everything okay? Sakura texted him.
Wakamatsu had already strategically placed some of Kashima’s belongings throughout Masayuki’s apartment, including re-arranging his bathroom, and had moved on to surveying his wardrobe, making notes in his phone. “I’ll have the deliveries arranged right away.”
“Deliveries?” he asked, but was saved from a (potentially scarring) response by the doorbell ringing. Surely Wakamatsu hadn’t meant they would start arriving right now.
“Hi Hori-senpai!” Kashima looked more like herself - the self he knew, anyway - is a dark pea coat and with minimal make-up. “Nice place! Are you going to invite me in?”
Masayuki stepped aside to let her in, pulling out a pair of guest slippers. “Welcome,” he said flatly. Kashima didn’t seem to mind, bright-eyed and taking in everything she could see even as she fumbled out of her coat and into the slippers.
“Ho, not much has changed!” She said, bending over some drafts he’d been working on for Nozaki. “Still using briefs, eh?”
He flushed a little, even though it had been a long time since everyone in the room knew he worked for Nozaki. “I was pretty jealous of Sakura-chan back then,” she murmured to herself.
To cover his discomfort, he headed into the kitchen. “Would you like tea?” he asked, already putting water on to boil.
“Yes, thank you!” Wakamatsu agreed for both of them before showing Kashima all the little changes he had made in the apartment before she arrived.
It was strange, having Kashima in his home, his space. She had never been to his house in high school. Everyone had always wound up at Nozaki’s apartment for obvious reasons. He’d also been a lot more careful about his boundaries with Kashima once he’d finally clued in that she was a girl.
Or, he’d tried, anyway. Kashima didn’t really believe in boundaries, it seemed. Or maybe she just didn’t believe in his boundaries. It was hard to tell sometimes.
It was exactly the kind of over-the-top confection that belonged in a shoujo manga: star shaped cookies, delicately sliced strawberries, whipped cream, profiteroles, chocolate curls, the works. He snapped a few shots from different angles with his phone and emailed them off. “Okay, that should do it.”
Kashima’s dark hair curled around her shoulders and her lips with pink with gloss, but that didn’t stop her from taking a spoonful of the parfait and holding it out for him to eat. “Allow me, Darling,” she said, slipping into her prince voice.
He stared at her flatly. “I’m not one of your princesses from school,” he said, but took the bite anyway.
She smiled a little to herself, suddenly looking almost bashful. “Hori-senpai has always been much more important than all that,” she said, taking her own bite. “I’ve always admired you.”
If it hadn’t been for the other customers clearly eavesdropping, he might have almost mistaken that for a confession.
“Then you should call me by my name,” he said instead. “Since we’re,” he fumbled a bit for words, “doing this.”
She beamed at him across the table; no grace or subtlety, no practiced art for the paparazzi; just pure, unfiltered Kashima. “Masayuki-san,” she said and it sounded strange but good. “Or should I make a cute nickname for you? Masa-chan? Yuki-kun? what about--”
He shoved another bite of parfait into her mouth, rolling his eyes. “No nicknames,” he said firmly.
“Masayuki-san,” she repeated again after she’d swallowed. “Okay.”
Masayuki shifted a little, bent over the table in the little room at Nozaki and Sakura’s house that served as a studio. He set down his ruler and rotated his wrist a few times, trying to release some of the tension.
Mikoshiba eyed him warily. “You’re weird today.”
“You’re always weird,” Masayuki replied without hesitation. After all, it was true.
Of course, Mikoshiba flushed, embarrassed. “No I’m not!” He sulked a little as Masayuki ignored him and then added. “Besides,what’s weirder than dating Kashima?”
“Dating Maeno,” he replied without hesitation just to see Mikoshiba puff up again like an angry cat.
That relationship had lasted probably longer than it should have, but at least now Mikoshiba was less uncomfortable about people asking him out. He’d have to be.
“So you’re really dating Kashima?” Sakura asked, setting her ink aside.
“Yes?” he asked. It was all over the news. “Wait, what did you think was happening?”
She thought about it for a second, humming a little to herself. “Oh, I suppose I thought you were just hanging out again. You know, like in school, you never seemed interested in her.”
The idea of dating Kashima in high school was faintly horrifying. “It wasn’t like that back then,” he said instead. “We were both just focused on drama club.”
The look on Sakura’s face said otherwise.
“...Right?” he added.
She fiddled with the edges of the page she had been working on and looked to Mikoshiba, who just shrugged at her before curling up again on the floor, pulling out his phone and loading up a dating sim, the tinny music low in the background.
“Er, that is…”
“I was her senpai,” he added, though that didn’t seem to help. “And the director.”
“But didn’t you put a lot of effort in for Kashima?” Sakura asked. “Getting Nozaki to write special scripts for her. Always casting her as the Prince. Dragging her to practice, that sort of thing?”
“She’s a great actor,” he argued back, though it felt a little hollow. “She’s always been a great actor. I, I wanted the club to succeed. And anyway, she wasn’t interested in me either, so it’s a moot point.”
Sakura only blushed a little and refused to meet his eye. She knew something he didn’t.
“Hm?” She didn’t look up, though she did set the script down and absently tie her hair up in a ridiculous looking knot at the top of her head.
“What did you want to do, after?”
“Act with you,” she said casually.
“With me?” he couldn’t help but be surprised.
She set the script aside. “You’re the best actor I know,” she said easily. “On screen, your height wouldn’t be a problem. I wanted to be your ...partner.”
The Kashima he had known in school had never thought about word choice. It was strange, trying to get used to this new Kashima who was just a little bit careful.
In his pocket, the ring was a steady weight.
It wasn’t fancy, or special, particularly. Wakamatsu had purchased the ring as Kashima’s agent, and she was in her pyjamas, since he’d be staying the night in her guest room again. With her hair pulled up, she looked a little more like the Prince he’d gotten used to seeing her as on stage.
It had been rare for him to think of her as a girl back then. All he’d seen was her acting ability, her natural charm working it’s magic on the girls around them. Her height. He’d thought she had looked androgynous, but maybe he’d never really seen her at all.
This might be the real Kashima.
Unpolished, yes, and still very much the hero, but also a beautiful girl who wanted to act with him. Wanted to face him as equals on the stage or the screen, whatever it took for them to be together.
“Kashima.” He pulled the ring box out of his pocket. “Will you be my partner now?”
She might not get it today, or tomorrow. It was a sham of an engagement for good publicity. But if put enough into it, maybe it might turn into something real after all.