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Author Topic: Love x 2 (the entire series) [easy navigation on 1st page] Complete  (Read 42978 times)

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #40 on: May 30, 2007, 01:35:49 PM »
Chapter 19 of 35

For the second time that evening, the phone rings and jolts me out of my mind.  I stare at it angrily, but I go over and pick it up.  The only thing worse than an unwanted phone call is having to reply to a message recorded on voice mail.

"Hello?" I ask, not bothering to hide my annoyance.

It's Shibata.  Now there's someone I haven't seen in a few months.  We've managed to stay friends.  Not extremely close, but we have some things in common that somehow have us e-mailing each other every now and then.  She's been off doing some studying in one of those African countries.  Maybe Kenya.  I keep forgetting because she's been there five times this year already, each time a different country. 

Funny thing is that even though she entered university five years ago and then started working on her doctorate, she didn't (and still hasn't) given up singing.  She still records albums and does the occasional small performance.  We've worked together exactly once in the years since Hello! Project ceased to exist.

She's going to make the most interesting singing anthropologist when she finishes up her final paper.

She asks me if I'm free next week.  She's back in Tokyo and she wants to talk to me about some things.  I pull out my schedule and flip to next week's pages.

"I have some time on Wednesday," I suggest.

I have the whole afternoon and evening off.  That's what I call extreme luck.

"That doesn't work at all for me.  Monday morning?" she asks.

I shake my head even though she's not in the room.

"Impossible."

"Any time before that? "

I turn to this week's pages.  There is one free day this week, but I can't give my time to her.

"Um, well..." I hum negatively.

"No free days at all?" she asks.

I hesitate for a second.

"I have tomorrow off, but..." I trail off.

There's a brief silence.

"No, it's okay.  How about the week after next?"

She understands immediately.  She doesn't have to say anything.

We see that late nights work best, so we decide to meet next Thursday in the evening after work.  It might be late, but we won't be long.  Just some coffee and chatting.

That done, I quickly ask her how she is, and she replies,

"That's part of what I want to talk to you about."

I can hear her eyes sparkling from over the phone.  Something really good must have happened.  I bet that she's getting married.  I bet her boyfriend popped the question recently and now she has to gush to everyone she knows.  I hold my tongue and don't ask, though, because whatever it is, she seems to want to tell me in person.

We decide to hold off our updates untill Thursday and we say good night.

I hang up.

It's a wonder we've been able to stay friends all these years.  She's always been Aya's friend, not my friend.  I suppose circumstances change.  It's still all very weird, though.

I settle down on my couch and close my eyes.

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #41 on: June 01, 2007, 05:21:33 AM »
Chapter 20 of 35

It took me two days to realise what I had done.

Part of me wanted her to keep trying.  I wanted her to keep coming to me to talk.  I wanted her to message me or call me again.  Anything that would indicate that she was actually interested in being friends again.  I don't think she understood how much I wanted to forgive her, though.  I had probably been too awful to her.  I don't think she understood how much I wanted her to forgive me.  That had been my goal, though, so I should have been happy that it worked. 

I couldn't stop brooding.  I got in trouble at work.  I made some of my other friends angry.  Nothing seemed to work to pull me out of my miserable mood.  If the rest of my life was going to be like this, I may as well have been diagnosed with a brain-wasting disease and given a week to live. 

In her face, though, I had to be strong.  I found out that she'd taken some sick leave, but I knew she wasn't sick.  She rarely got sick.  She was probably too angry (or maybe too embarrassed) to face me.  It looked like even the strong ones (such as Aya) sometimes ran away from their problems, too. 

When she came back, I ignored her when I saw her at lunch time.  I forced myself to stare blankly at something else and chew my food like a robot.  I didn't care what anyone thought about it.  In my mind I wondered if she was really okay.  There was a small chance that she had genuinely been sick.  I wanted to ask her just to make sure.

Of course I didn't because I had a mission to complete: hate her.  Have her hate me.

"Hey," Yossi said to me one day a week later.

I'd been going through my routine on autopilot.  I'd barely spoken a word to her outside of work, and I realised this when I snapped my head up from its comfortable resting spot on my arms and saw her staring down at me.

"What?!" I asked, alarmed.

I'd fallen asleep almost instantly at a table in the foyer.  I'd been waiting to meet her for lunch.  We'd been filming the same show but two different segments, and I had gotten out earlier than her.

"Are you ready to go?" she asked.

I scrambled up and looked in my bag to make sure I had my things.  I had forgotten my cell phone.  I muttered a curse and told Yossi I had to go and get it.

"No, don't bother.  I have to go up and get my wallet.  I'll grab your phone.  Where is it?"

I apologised for the inconvenience and told her that it was in the main drawer.  She was off in a flash.

The night before, I had received an e-mail from Aya.  It had been simple.  She asked if we could talk.  I hadn't written her back until the next morning.  I didn't know what to say.  I knew what I wanted to say ("Yes!"), but what I had to say was a little more complicated.  I settled on a very plain "No, I don't think so".  She hadn't replied yet.  I doubt she would, but I needed to know if she by chance did.  I needed to know the second if she did.

Yossi came back down a few minutes later.  She looked a little surprised and she gave me a questioning look.

"What?" I asked, rubbing my chin and the corners of my mouth in case I'd drooled on myself while sleeping.

"Uh, nothing," Yossi said with a shake of the head.  "Let's go."

We went to lunch quietly.

At the shop, Yossi put her chopsticks down and looked at me.

"Are you and Aya-chan still arguing?"

I almost choked on a mouthful of noodles.

"What?" I asked after swallowing them down with difficulty.

She gave me a pointed look because she knew I'd heard her perfectly clearly.

"Umm..."

"Don't you want to talk about it?" Yossi asked.

I couldn't tell if she was dying to hear a new piece of gossip or if she really wanted to help me.  Maybe both.

"No," I said a bit coldly.

"Did you know that everybody knows?"

I choked again, this time on the rush of words that tried to get out of my mouth.

"WWh-g- what?!" I hissed.

Yossi shrugged at me.

"It's really obvious, Miki-chan.  I think even the little kids know," she said to me with a pained look.

I bowed my head down and stared at my bowl of ramen.

"It shouldn't be anybody's business," I mumbled.  "My private life is my private life."

"Not when it affects everybody's work," Yossi stated firmly.

I looked up at her with a frown.

"You might not have noticed it, but you have been really cranky and really difficult to work with the past two weeks.  At first I thought it was just that bad time of the month, but this is ridiculous.  What's going on with you?"

I couldn't believe I was getting a Yoshizawa-style scolding.  She was supposed to scold the younger members, not me.  They're the ones who needed to be kept in line.  I was so embarrassed, though, that I didn't fight back like I normally would have.

"If you have issues that you need to work through, you'd better work through them.  Either that, or call it quits.  So you had a fight.  We all have fights," Yossi said, making a small gesture to everyone around us (two people).  "And we all recover.  Do whatever you need to do to make up or get over it, but please don't drag the rest of the group down with you."

Being scolded by a friend was like a slap in the cheek.  It stung.  Aya's words and actions dug deeper into me like a knife, but sometimes a hit on the surface was enough to make me want to cry.  I didn't cry, but I didn't feel warm and fuzzy either.

"Okay, Yoshizawa-san.  Sorry," I said quietly with a bowed head.

I felt her hand on my shoulder suddenly.

"If you need to talk, you can come to me. As a friend, not a leader.  Okay?" she said.

I didn't look up, but I nodded.  I'd never talk to her about me and Aya, but it was nice to know that she was there for me.

Things got a little awkward after that.  We talked about the afternoon schedule and laughed a bit about some of the things we'd done in the morning, but it was forced laughter.  I didn't really mean anything to me.  We went back to our building after lunch and I went and holed myself up in my dressing room for the last fifteen minutes of the break with the excuse of having to call my mom.

When I got into my change room, I noticed a definite change.  There was something in the air that hadn't been there in the morning.  I studied it from the doorway as I closed the door slowly.  I know that Yossi had gone straight to the drawer to get my phone.  She knew I kept it there and wouldn't have had to rummage around. 

I looked at the chair by the table.  It was pulled out.  The pillow on it was half falling off of it.  As if someone had come in and sat down and not fixed it the way I'd left it.  I tried to remember if I'd tucked the chair in under the desk or if I'd been the one to leave it like that. 

I walked over to the chair and sat in it, trying to remember my actions in the morning.  Then I caught a whiff of something.  A smell that was familiar, but not mine.  It was like soap - shampoo or conditioner.  Maybe perfume?  Deodorant?  I didn't know.  But it wasn't mine.

It took me another minute to realise whose it was.  It's not that I didn’t know what she smelled like.  It's just that it was the last person I'd expected to be in my dressing room.

I wondered if it was my guilty imagination playing tricks on me, or if Aya had actually been here.  If she'd been here, what for?  Had she left something before and had to pick it up?  Then why would she sit down?  I was pretty sure I hadn't left the chair like that.

Maybe she'd come by to talk to me.  Maybe wait for me to get back.

Then why had she left?  Had she chickened out?  Had she received a phone call?

Maybe she had to go and discuss the future of her career with her precious Shiba-chan, I thought bitterly.

But that was assuming she'd been in my dressing room at all.  I didn't know.  I was too confused.  I caught myself inhaling deeply, trying to catch the last remains of that fruity, soapy smell that reminded me of good times.  I got up quickly, gathered the things I needed and left my room fast, frazzled out of my mind and wishing that I could jump off a cliff and fall without hitting anything, free falling for eternity just so that I could think about something other than her.

She tortured me without even being there.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2007, 08:39:02 AM by OTN1 »

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #42 on: June 01, 2007, 05:21:51 AM »
Chapter 21of 35

I stand up to get that glass of water I've been meaning to get for a while now, but I become distracted by a dirty spot on my floor.  I take a detour and grab some paper towel.  I wet it with water and scrub at the spot.  It's soy sauce.  I clean it all up, getting some on my hands, and throw the paper towel away.  I look at my hands and decide that they can use a good wash, too.  I go to the washroom and turn on the water, lathering up with soap.  The second I smell the soap, the things I have just remembered become even clearer.  This is the exact smell I had noticed that day in my change room.  It's amazing how I can remember something like that.

I remember that Aya used to use this kind of soap all the time.  When we had started staying over  at each other's places more often, I had become obsessed with the soap and had started using it.  A few years later, she had stopped using it, but I had continued.  It was body soap, but I used it as hand soap, too, putting it at the washroom and kitchen sinks.

It's funny, the things that remind us of our pasts.  The things that make the pictures in our heads so vivid.  One simple smell opens up so many memories.  I smile and go back to the couch, sitting down and crossing my arms and legs.  I smell my hands once more and close my eyes, leaning my head against the wall.

A lot had happened the day after I smelled her soap in my room.  Maybe it had been some sort of premonition - some sort of hint - of what was to come.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2007, 08:39:22 AM by OTN1 »

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #43 on: June 01, 2007, 08:40:04 AM »
Chapter 22 of 35

I should have technically been excited to have a day off on a week day.  There was nothing to film, nothing to practice, no meeting with any authorities.  I was completely free, but I was still miserable because that just meant I'd have more time to brood on my own.

I woke up at ten in the morning, and after a quick shower and breakfast, I decided I had to get out.  I needed to go and do something that would distract me.

I would go shopping.  It would be therapeutic.  I ignored all thoughts in my head, and I surprised myself by becoming so involved in my shopping that I forgot about Aya for a few hours. 

This was bad, though, because I immersed myself in my shopping with such aggression and concentration that I ended up buying too many things.  I spent a lot of money.  Far too much. 

I got home at half past five and dropped my bags in my room.  I didn't have the energy to go through them.  I went and fell onto my couch lazily, grabbing the remote control and turning the TV on.  Nothing interesting was on, so I left a variety show on for background noise.

I thought back to what Yossi had said to me.  I'd been dragging everyone down?  I hadn't realised.  How could I be such a key factor in the mood of the entire group?  I tended to keep to myself and I was serious about my work.  I gulped at what a bad situation I was in.  I was apparently so far gone that I didn't even notice my behaviour.  I had to be told by an outside person that I was basically being a pest.

If you have issues that you need to work through, you'd better work through them. Either that, or call it quits, Yossi had said to me.

How could I work through them?  I had to make Aya hate me, and as that happened, I grew more and more depressed.  But it was the only way.  There was no other way to do it than to be depressed.  If I forgave her, then... then...

I couldn't remember.  What would happen if I forgave her?  We'd make up and maybe be able to be friends again.  I wouldn't be so depressed.  We could both be happy.

For about twenty seconds, I wondered what the hell I was doing trying to make Aya hate me.  What was that going to accomplish?  Was I momentarily insane when I thought up that plan?!

I covered up the feelings by reminding myself that I was doing this to protect myself from getting hurt again in the future.  She didn't deserve my trust anymore.  She'd trample all over me again if I let her in too close. 

I shook my head and sighed angrily out loud.  It felt like there was a traffic jam in my head.  I needed someone to come and help me sort it all out.  The only person who could have helped me before was Aya.  I couldn't ask for her help.

I turned my attention to the TV.  I'd spent so much time thinking that it was just past six o'clock and new TV programs were starting.  I flipped through the channels.

"Koalas!!"

I jumped up in delight, dropped the remote on the floor, and then bent down to pick it up.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to steady myself and I slipped, doing a face-plant on the floor.  I didn't stop there because the rest of my body needed somewhere to do.  As luck, angles, and celestial forces would have it, my body went up and over.  My final resting position after my somersault was on my back, staring up at my ceiling.

"OWWW!" I yelled to nobody but myself.

I got up and pouted, rubbing my head and my shoulders.  I grabbed my remote and looked at it angrily.  It looked like it was laughing at me.

"You think you're so funny, huh?" I said out loud to it.  "Well you're not!"

I stuck my tongue out at the inanimate object and sat back on the couch. 

I had a secret from everyone: I loved animals with a passion. I watched documentaries and read books about them.  Whenever we did any work with animals, I was always at my happiest.  Sometimes I thought that I liked animals more than most humans.  They made me happy, and whatever mistakes they made were forgivable due to the whole "animal nature" thing.  They were lucky.  We weren't able to use that excuse to such an extent.

The documentary playing was going to show highlights from an observation of a family of koalas over the course of two years.  I recognised the names of the observers.  They were very famous in the biological anthropology circle in Japan.  It was my dark, embarrassing secret that I followed their work.  I mostly just liked to watch their documentaries or look at the photos in their books, but I'd inevitably picked up on some familiar names and terms over the years.

The only person who knew my secret was Aya.  She'd known for a long time that I loved animals, but a few weeks ago in Kobe, I'd told her how much of a geek I was about them.  How I went to the library and looked through the National Geographic magazines and used the computer to look up information on good places in the world I could travel to in order to see as many animals as possible.  In fact, it was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn English so much.  If I could become comfortable in English, I could go almost anywhere in the world and observe different animals.

I felt happy for the first time in quite a few days.  I forgot entirely about the name "Aya" and any bad thing that had happened to me lately.  I ran quickly to my room to get some paper and a pen, and I settled down in front of the TV to watch and take notes.

One page of notes and thirty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang.  As that happened, a commercial break started up.  I bit back an annoyed growl and I quickly shoved my notes under a pillow.  I couldn't let anybody catch me taking notes on an educational program on TV. 

I walked over to the door quickly, hoping that the visit would be thirty seconds long.  'No, I don't want to join the Society of Jesus, but thanks anyway', or 'I take part in NHK's Kouhaku every year.  Why do I have to pay for the service?' would be short and polite answers, wouldn't they?

I opened the door.

The word "Aya" suddenly had meaning once again.  I hadn't expected her to come all the way to my place to see me.  What did she want?  I retreated into my shell and stared her down.

"Are you busy?" she asked.

I need to watch my koalas! my mind screamed desperately.

"Yes," I said.

At least I was being honest, if not polite.  She then looked over my shoulder.

"Watching something good?"

I broke out into a cold sweat.  I didn't want her to see what I was watching.  I didn't want to show any weak side of myself to her.  Loving cute, fuzzy animals was weak.

"What do you want?" I asked her quickly.  I wanted her to say something so that I could have an excuse to kick her out.  She squared her shoulders off and I had a sinking feeling that this would take a while.

"I need to talk to you because it's very unfair how I haven't had a chance to explain anything.  I know that I was supposed to say brilliant things to convince you to let me have a chance, but I really have nothing. I'm not a brilliant person when it comes to matters of you, so you're going to have to put up with that," she said in her determined tone of voice.   "Right now I want five minutes. If you have no interest after that, you can kick me out - literally if you want - and I'll never ever bother you again for your entire life."

She sounded serious.  She sounded like if I didn't give her those five minutes, she'd kick my butt.

Strangely enough, I wasn't worried about that.  I was mostly worried about getting her out of my apartment as quickly as possible so that I could watch my program in peace.  I debated what to do and then decided that a few minutes wouldn't hurt.  It's what I really wanted.  I couldn't resist.  I let her in and moved off to stand a few metres into my apartment.  She took her shoes off and we stood facing off at the entrance of my home.  I had my usual blank expression on.  I wanted to make her a little uncomfortable.

She, however, was the one making me uncomfortable.  She looked behind me and I thought she might burst into laughter.  I heard the narrator of the documentary start up again, and I bristled up slightly in embarrassment.

"So talk," I said loudly to remind her I was standing in front of her.

She looked scared and then focused on her words.

"Miki, I lied to you, but only once. Only about one thing. Nothing else. Ever," she said firmly. 

I didn't change my expression, but inside, a storm ripped through my innards and tore everything apart as I questioned her statement.

"And I did it because I didn't want to cause you any concern or pain. I didn't know how to tell you what I was thinking," she continued.  "I wasn't exaggerating when I told you I feel insecure around you. You put me up on this pedestal that I can't possibly get down from, so I try to be perfect in order not to disappoint you.  I'm afraid to be less than that because then you'd see through me and stop liking what you see."

"That's absurd, Aya. You don't have to act perfect. To me you're just as good when you mess up as when you're faultless," I said.

I didn't mean to really compliment her, but it was hard not to.  I wanted to, but it was also the simple truth.  She was perfect even when she wasn't.  My mind screamed out for an opportunity to push her away.

"Then why are you so angry at me if you know I'm not perfect?  Why is it that I make one mistake - I withhold some information from you - and suddenly I'm a monster?"

I wanted to scream at her to stop trying to confuse me and recognise the wrong things she'd done.  Instead, I answered her question.

"I told you already before. You stopped trusting me. It wasn't just that you didn't tell me you wanted to leave H!P," I said.

It wasn't the result.  It was the means.  Or some sort of thing like that.  It didn't matter what information it was she was withholding.  It was the act of withholding it that mattered.  The trust had disappeared.

And she finally looked guilty.  She looked down at the floor.  I didn't smile.  I felt that I should smile in order to make myself an even more vile character, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  I just wanted to touch her shoulder and tell her to sit down so that we could talk more comfortably.

"That's not really how I meant to come off sounding..." she trailed off.

"Yeah?  Well you did." 

"It's not what I meant."

I laughed in my head.  This was going nowhere.  Maybe it would be better to just kick her out.  I couldn't keep up this charade any longer.  In all honesty, I didn't know what I wanted.  I wanted her to be sorry.  I wanted her to realise what she'd done to me.  I wanted her to hate me.  I wanted to hate her.  I wanted to scream at her and then touch her hand and tell her to never hurt me like that again.  Make her promise.

"Is this going to go around in circles?  'Cause we could stay here all night and argue back and forth like this, but it's not going to fix anything," I sighed bitterly.

I'd forgotten all about the koalas.  When Aya was in the scene, everything else became a secondary concern.

"So what will? What will fix everything? If I tell you that you can trust me without a single doubt, will it make things better?"

Yes.

"If I tell you that I'll never keep something like that from you again, will you stop hating me?"

I don't hate you.

"If I tell you what I've told you before - that you mean so much to me - will it all be okay?"

Yes.

"Will you believe me?"

Yes!

I wanted to answer her questions, but nothing came out of my mouth.  I was still struggling to figure out what was best.  Make her hate me and depress myself for life... Make her like me again and get hurt again... Or maybe I could make her like me again and somehow not get hurt.  Yossi told me to solve the problem.  What was the best way??

"Don't ask me something like that," I said shakily and quietly.

I couldn't come to a decision this quickly.  I wasn't smart enough to do it on my own.

"Why not?" Aya demanded of me.

"Just don't," I repeated, getting angry.

"Miki, why not? I want to know."

She just had to say my name.  She had to let my simple name pass out of those perfect vocal chords of hers, through her perfect neck, and out of her perfect lips.  I hadn't looked at her closely in a while and my heart was starting to ache because I was remembering all the things I was missing.  If I wasn't careful, I was going to forgive her and quite possibly try to drag her into my room to make up for all that lost time.

"I think you should go," I said quickly, getting ready to usher her out before I did anything I would regret.

She was about to fight it, but she gave in quietly.

"Well, thanks for listening to that much."

She sounded so disappointed.  She backed away and went to the door.  I let myself frown as I followed her closely to the door.  I didn't have any reason to follow her so closely.  She bent down to slip on her shoes and I stared at the door.  It was unlocked.  She could easily make her own way out.  But no.  I had to be there to let her out.  She straightened up and was about to open the door when she whipped around to face me again.

"Just tell me why. Please," she pleaded.

I looked into her eyes and all that I could see was pain and sadness.  All this hurt that I had caused her by being mean. 

Perhaps it was my nature, a special Fujimoto Miki nature, but I couldn't let her go.  Not that easily.  I needed her by my side to make me normal.

"Because I don't hate you," I rasped out before that stupid side of me tried to say something rude. "And because if you say those things to me, I have no choice but to believe you."

Instead of looking happy, she looked confused.  I was offended.  Hadn't I just said something she wanted to hear?

"I don't understand.  Then why did you say those things to me the other day? Why did you insult my entire character if you don't hate me? Why are you so quick to change your mind?"

Oh.  That's what she didn't get.  How could I explain what I had been thinking?  How could I ever ask her to forgive me for my outburst?  I couldn't.  I couldn't dare ask.  But I could try to explain, if that's what she wanted.  I didn't know where to start.

"I didn't- I didn't mean them," I admitted.  "You made me say them."

It was cryptic, but I didn't realise that she couldn't quite read my mind.  She looked shocked.  I had to explain it all.

"I don't see-" she started, but I cut her off.

"Aya," I started, knowing that once I finished my first sentence, there was no turning back.  "I love you more than air or water or whatever. More than myself. I don't want to tell you that too much because it's weird and creepy and you can't possibly feel the same way even if you say you do."

I watched her eyes carefully.  They were wide, almost in wonder.  And when I told her that I loved her that much, something flashed in them.  I didn't know if it was good or bad.  I just hoped that if it was bad, it wasn't too bad.

"So when you hurt me, it's like I die. I don't like dying..." I continued sadly.

I couldn't look at her anymore because I felt too bad.  I looked down at the floor between us.

"I said those things because I wanted to hate you. I thought by saying them, I could believe them. And maybe you'd hate me for talking to you like that. Then it would be easier to learn to hate you. Then if I hated you, I wouldn't care so much if you hurt me.  And then I thought that I'd no longer have to cut off or at least suppress any part of me that you didn't like or that wasn't useful."

I kept my eyes on the ground.  I didn't want to see her reaction.  She was probably very angry at me for doing that to her.

"I don't hate any part of you.  All your personalities, all your sides, are what make you you. And... I like you," Aya said. 

I heard her perfectly clearly.  She didn't hate me.  She didn't hate any part of me.  How was that possible?  Not even I could stand everything about myself.

"I don't see how you can," I mumbled.

She must have been being nice.  She must have felt sorry for me.  There was no other reason to speak like that.

I felt my shirt being grabbed, and I panicked. Maybe she was changing her mind and was about to beat me up (or try).  It was a silly thought, but I had lost all sense of judgement.

"Even that stupid part of you that makes you say dumb things like that. Even that part I like," Aya said firmly to me.

"That's the part I can't stand," I whispered with a wince.

I tried to pull away.

"I say things at bad times and ruin things. I can't control it. I'm unreliable."

"Then you should learn to trust and like yourself before trying to trust me," Aya suggested in a soft tone.

I looked at her to see if she was mocking me.  She wasn't.  She looked absolutely serious.

Learn to trust myself? I thought.  Of course I already trust myself.

"I trust myself," I echoed my thoughts.

Aya shook her head slowly.

"I don't think you do..."

My eyes widened open in despair.  Was she right?

Maybe she was...

I looked right at her, not trying to hide any of my feelings anymore.  They poured out through my eyes and I finally understood something - I didn't trust myself enough.

She let go of my shirt and I breathed in deeply.  I'd stopped breathing for a while.

Aya started to talk about my past.  How I'd been a soloist and how I'd been let down and put into a group.  How I'd lost my confidence, how I'd been held back by a bunch of fifty-year-old men in suits.

I thought back to the time when everything was new for me.  TV performances, concerts on a real stage, talk shows, private rehearsals... I'd felt like I was on top of the world back then.  Then I thought of when they'd suddenly announced my joining Morning Musume.  I'd cried in secret.  I'd even called up Aya and ranted for hours about it.  Eventually I'd swallowed it down like a painfully enormous pill and gone with the flow, and I somehow ended up enjoying it (or convincing myself I enjoyed it) more than being a soloist.  I'd forgotten the happiness I'd originally had and replaced it with another, maybe lesser happiness.

I stared right back into Aya's eyes as she psychoanalysed me on the spot.  I couldn't protest because she sounded like she was right.

"Do you really believe that? Do you believe that you're not good enough? Do you let it get to you whenever you say or do or decide things? Do you question every move you make because some people didn't need another soloist in their company a few years ago?"

I didn't answer for a long time.  I didn't want to answer because then I'd be admitting something scary to myself - that my life the past few years hadn't been as great as I'd thought.

"Yes," I said hollowly.

Admitting it to myself hurt more than admitting it to her.

"Don't.  Don't let them convince you that you're anything less than outstanding," Aya said angrily to me.

My natural instinct was to protest, so I tried.  She cut me off.

"Miki, what happened to that overconfident, funny, stubborn soloist that I met?  Was she defeated by a change of situation?"

I told her no, but that I didn't think about it.  Then she told me to start thinking about it.

"If you don't believe in yourself, as stupid and cheesy as that sounds, then you can't believe in other people. Not properly, at least. It's fake. And if you don't like yourself, then you can't like others properly."

I thought about it.  How could I have not noticed?  How could I have tried to give myself to her when I didn't even understand myself?  As a result, I acted so foolishly when there was a misunderstanding, which led to me saying all those hateful things to her...

"I'm sorry," I apologised, looking at the floor again.

"Don't apologise to me for it. Just be-"

"No, not about that," I said, shaking my head.

Again, she wasn't a mind reader.  I'd jumped from Point A to Point C without explaining Thought Process B.

"I mean for yelling at you last week and... saying those things and just being... really rude to you."

Part of me didn't want her to forgive me.  I felt so bad that I thought she should be angry at me for a long time to come because I didn't deserve any better.

"Just promise me that you'll try and let the past be the past and learn to trust yourself," Aya said quietly, her voice full of something that sounded like forgiveness.

It made me feel warm again, hearing that voice from her.  I relaxed a bit.  One of her charm points was that she relaxed me - disarmed me - completely with that exact tone of voice.  I never knew if she knew that particular tone worked like a charm on me and therefore used it, or if it was just the kind of tone that came out naturally when she spoke with me.  Nevertheless, it worked.  I looked up at her

"It might take some time," I said honestly, unsurely.

She reached out a hand and touched my hair.  I wanted to cry because she hadn't done that to me in far too long.

"You have plenty of that."

No, I told her.  "Life's too short."

I didn't have nearly enough time on Earth to live.  Even if I lived until I was over one hundred, I would never have enough time to do everything I wanted to.  More importantly, it wasn't enough time to figure out how to tell Aya everything I wanted to or to do all the fun or simple things with her that I wanted to do.

"Mmm. Maybe," Aya conceded.  "But there's no sense rushing through it and messing up everything when you can take it slow and get everything right."

I felt my lips curve up in a small smile.  I guess that made sense.  If I lived till I was three thousand and did and said all those things poorly, it wouldn't be worth it.  I wanted to get it all right, even if I couldn't finish it.

I felt Aya's hand run through my hair and then touch my cheek.  I became a little dizzy because I wasn't sure what she was doing.  Two weeks was a long time.  Maybe she also felt some sort of uncontrollable urge.  She put her hand on my shoulder and drew her face to mine, and I think I gulped a lump of nervousness down.  I watched her move a bit to the left, and she then planted a kiss on my cheek.  She drew back with a calm expression on her face, taking her hand away from my shoulder so that no parts of us were touching at all.

I looked at her and tried to figure out what she was thinking.  It seemed like a final kiss.  Like this would be our last meeting ever.  And there I had been thinking that things were going to be okay between us.  Then she went and did something confusing like that.

Then right before my eyes, she winked.  Winked and smirked.  That was her silly, 'chill out' face.  The face she made whenever she told me not to worry about something small and trivial.  The face conveyed to me that everything was okay and that I should not look on the dark side.  With that look, I knew that she wasn't saying goodbye.  I wasn't quite sure what she was saying, but it wasn't the worst thing I could think of.

"Best friends, right?" she asked brightly.

Best friends?  Really?  But what about anything else?  Did that include everything, or was it just regular best friends, the kind that good friends all around the world claimed to be?

No.  No more.  I could tell that we weren't back to where we were a few weeks ago.  We were back to a pre-Kobe level.  In all honesty, that was disappointing.  I couldn't just stop my feelings for her.  I couldn't look at her without remembering what she felt like and how she touched me - my heart and my skin.

But wait, I thought.  She's right.  We had to cut that part out because I wasn't ready for it.  I knew that she also wasn't ready.  I wasn't entirely to blame, but I did have more issues to work through.  Issues about myself.  She could help me, but I had to make the biggest effort.

"Yeah," I agreed.

We were best friends.  We'd just gone through some hellish times and things still weren't entirely okay between us, but our job as best friends was to work through it in a civilised, rational manner.  I had to quit with my hypersensitive, paranoid way of thinking and she had to stop holding back important things about herself that were okay to tell just to me.

I smiled at her, this time bigger and happier.  She smiled back.

"Well, I'll get going now," she said, and my heart sank.

I'd thought she'd stay and that we could talk.  I could skip a koala documentary if it meant getting to talk to her.

"Oh, okay," I said out loud, trying not to show my disappointment.

"Yeah, it's getting late.  I'd better prepare for tomorrow," she said with a hint of nervousness in her voice.

It could have just been my hope, but something made me think she also didn't want to leave.  She ended up taking off, though.  We said goodbye to each other, and we agreed that we should get together soon to talk.  I let her out and watched her walk down the hallway until she turned the corner, not looking back at any point.  I closed the door quietly and rested my forehead against it.

I hadn't succeeded in my mission of making her hate me.  I was glad because I didn't want to ever have to hate her back.

For the first time in years, I felt inspired.  Truly inspired.  Aya was on my side.  She believed in me.  If she could believe in me, I could believe in myself, too.  I could make myself better and stronger.  It wouldn't just be an act anymore.  I'd outshine my current self.

I had forgotten what self-respect was.  I demanded respect from everyone around me, but I never gave myself any.  But now that I was remembering the past, I could feel that confidence coming back.  It wasn't an instantaneous thing, but I could almost taste it, it was so close.  I had forgotten that it was there.  I could see that it wouldn't be too hard to get it back.

I locked my door and walked away from the door, back to the couch.  The koala documentary was in its final moments.  The narrator was making a conclusion.  I smiled and watched the last minute, turning off the TV when it was done.  I sat on my couch and looked through my notes.  They were messy and mostly just doodles.  But I liked to think of myself as having some sort of deeper layer that nobody (except Aya) knew about.  I picked up my pencil and it hovered over the paper, wondering why I had an intense desire to write something.

I let my hand go naturally.  A-YA.  I wrote out her given name neatly at the top of the page.  I drew a very poor smiley face beside it.

And then I put the paper down and went to prepare dinner.

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #44 on: June 01, 2007, 08:40:20 AM »
Chapter 23 of 35

I feel warm thinking about that moment.  The relief I had felt after Aya's visit had calmed me down for days.  Yossi noticed a change before I even opened my mouth to say hello when I walked into the studio the next morning.

"Time flies," I say out loud to myself.

The times I'm thinking about happened so long ago.  I can hardly believe I'm over thirty years old.  I've experienced so many things since I was twenty.  So many amazing things.

I sigh and begin to remember more good things.  I need to pull myself out of the dampened memories and think of all the good that has happened. 

We had that talk that evening.  The next few days we chatted a bit on the phone, and a week later, we were able to go out for coffee.  I remember the whole time I wanted to tell her that no matter how many issues we had between us, I just wanted to bring her home with me and make us both forget anything bad had ever happened.

I waited about a month to tell her that, though.  I knew we needed to chill out.  I knew that we couldn't jump into anything right away because we had to mend ourselves.  We did that well.  We apologised countless times to each other.  In fact, we almost started arguing because we wouldn't stop apologising.

So on a night a month later, I let her know that I had never stopped thinking about her in the way I did before our rough times.  I had been pretty certain that she felt the same.  The way she looked at me and acted around me was my hint.  I could tell when her heart started to beat fast and when she got nervous being close to me.  I knew that she wanted more, and so I was the one to take that step.

And it worked.  That Hokkaido trip was one of those pivotal points in my life.  It was so refreshing.

I sigh, and for some reason, that memory reminds me of another great time about a year later.  June twenty-fifth.  Her birthday again.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #45 on: June 01, 2007, 08:40:55 AM »
Chapter 24 of 35

I woke up that morning and automatically turned onto my side to hug Aya.  I'd developed the habit over the months, and it was a hard one to stop.  Even on mornings after we'd argued (which were thankfully few and far between), I'd do the exact same thing.  I think it actually helped us.  No matter what the situation had been the previous day, the new day would start positively.  With a hug. And if I was lucky, more.  But the hug was important.

So I did that again.  I reached out and didn't feel her, so without opening my eyes, I started to inch towards her.  I kept going and kept reaching... until I fell off the bed.

CRASH! 

It hurt so much that my eyes never had a chance to open.  They stayed closed as I winced.

"Fujimoto-san...?" asked a husky voice from above.

I freaked out, opened my eyes, and scrambled up to see Niigaki looking down at me from an extra bed that I didn't know I had in my room.

No, wait.  I wasn't in my room.  I wasn't in Aya's room.  I was in a hotel room in Fukuoka and I was partnered up with Niigaki.  How could I have forgotten?

"I'm fine," I groaned, getting up and getting back into bed.

"What were you doing?  It's like someone put a piece of candy on the end of a string and taunted you with it while you tried to grab it," she laughed.

Or rather, rasped out.  She had been sick for a few weeks.  She was all better now (no longer contagious, or else I would never have slept in the same room as her), but her voice was still affected.  It sounded sexy, but it didn't really go with her image.

"I... ugh."

I didn't have to explain myself to her. 

"I was sleeping, stupid," I said lightly, turning around and burying myself under the covers.

I heard her snort and then I heard the rustling of paper.  A page turning.  What a freak.  She was reading at - I checked the clock - six-oh-six in the morning.  We didn't have to be up for another twenty minutes.  I closed my eyes and sighed.

It was Aya's birthday.  On a day like this, we were supposed to be able to spend the whole day together just having fun, me spoiling her... but she had two concerts and I had to work, too.  We wouldn't meet until later in the evening.

I smiled, though.  It had been one year since her nineteenth birthday.  One year since I'd made the trip down to Kobe to go and see her concert.  We'd gone through a lot in that year.  Lots of bad at the beginning, and then pretty much perfection for the rest of it.  I'd grown up a lot and gained so much confidence.  She'd levelled up in just about everything and opened up her heart completely.

I snoozed for twenty minutes before our alarm went off.  Niigaki turned it off and I got up to shower and get ready.  Once I was dressed, I started packing my bag.  My roommate joined me in packing (her own stuff).

"You talk a lot in your sleep," she said casually.

"What?" I asked sharply.

Oh great I thought.  What kind of secrets had I spilled?  I couldn't remember my dream from last night.

"Yeah," Niigaki smirked.

I wanted to wipe that look off her face with a slap, but I restrained myself.

"This time I think you were trying to chop up a chicken."

"What?!"

"You kept telling someone you had to slash its neck, drain the blood, and then pluck it before you could take out the guts."

That was disgusting.

"Ew!  I said that?!" I asked in disbelief.

"No," she laughed and I glared.  "You didn't say anything. Hahaha!"

I rolled my eyes and kept packing.  Revenge would be swift... as soon as I thought of something good.

Once I was finished packing, I sent a message to Aya.  She was probably just waking up, too.  It wasn't anything fancy.  Just a good morning, a happy birthday, and a reminder that I'd see her later that evening.

We met up with the rest of the girls for breakfast.  I found Yossi and we had a serious conversation about the future of Morning Musume.  We didn't usually play up to our roles as leader and sub-leader, but lots of things were happening in the project lately and we were wondering what kind of things we could do to become more active in how we were managed.  We got through a lot, although Koharu kept interrupting us because Sayu kept daring her to do it.  Yossi was starting to get a little annoyed, but I didn't mind.  Koharu felt like a little sister to me.  She was cute, and the fact that she adored me certainly helped my opinion of her stay high. 

The minute I got back upstairs I checked my phone.  I had a message from her.  Nothing fancy.  A good morning, a thank you, and a smiley... and then something I'd rather not repeat.  I blushed and looked around quickly to make sure Niigaki wasn't around.  She was in the washroom so I was safe.  I quickly fired off a message and told her not to send me mail like that because if anyone ever saw it, it would be so bad.

Niigaki came back out as I sent my message, and I quickly put my phone away, trying to look composed.

The rest of the day dragged on.  We had so much to do - take the plane back to Tokyo, go to some studio, go here, sit there, dance here, put on this costume.  It didn't stop.  Lunch time was twenty-five minutes.

Justice was self-served when Niigaki spilled milk all over her shirt and skirt during lunch break.  She'd flown into such a panic that I figured watching her scream about how cold it was counted as sweet enough revenge.  After that brief interlude, however, the craziness continued.  I barely had time to breath until they let us out at ten past seven.  I'd reached my limit.  I was exhausted.

I said a quick goodbye to all the girls.  They all wondered where I was off to in such a rush.  I hadn't told them I'd be hanging out with Aya that night.  They didn't need to know.

I ran out of the building and made my way straight to Shinjuku, trying to avoid the heavy crowds (which was impossible).  The trains seemed to take forever, but there was nothing wrong with their scheduled arrivals.  They were all on time.

I got to the concert hall.  I went in through the back, presented the pass I'd gotten my hands on before, and headed for backstage.  They all knew who I was, and they let me be.  I watched the very last minute on the monitor in the back.  Aya waved to the crowd, the curtain went down, and it was over.  My heart fluttered when I saw her.  This time she was wearing her own concert t-shirt and cute pants.  Casual yet still really really (really really) nice.

I thanked the guys at the monitor and then went to her change room to wait.  I let myself in and sat down on the couch.  This one was even more spacious than the one in Kobe.  I hadn't gone to wait for her backstage since then.  I didn't feel so bad intruding on her space.  We had an agreement.

I rummaged through my bag and made sure my present for her was in there.  It was nothing like what I'd given her last year.  It was a bit less flashy, but I thought of it as better.

I started to nod off after fifteen minutes of waiting when the doorknob turned.  My head snapped up.  The door opened slowly, and a tired and sweaty, but happy-looking Aya  walked in.  She closed the door behind her and sighed, satisfied.

"Good work," I greeted her.

She jumped up and looked right at me, a huge smile coming to her face instantly.

"What are you doing here?!" she asked.

I grinned and stood up.

"I got out a little earlier than I thought I could.  Unfortunately I couldn't see the show."

She skipped over to me and initially took my hand before bear-hugging me.

"Happy birthday!" I cried out cheerfully, wrapping my arms around her.

She jumped up and down excitedly and squealed that she was so happy to see me.  I laughed and lifted her up.  Well, I tried.  It kind of flopped.  No matter.

"Thank you for coming."

And then despite all the singing she had just done and how thirsty she must have been, she kissed me.  It was delicious.  We continued for a few minutes until I pulled back, patting her on the head playfully.

"Go get changed.  We're going to get out of here."

"Yeah, yeah, okay.  Wait a minute," she said impatiently.

She then pushed me down and got on top of me.  My head banged against the carpeted floor and I winced, rolling my eyes at her hasty apologetic look.  She started to kiss me again, and I honestly thought for a moment that it was my birthday and that she was spoiling me.  And it occurred to me that we were in an old change room at a theatre.  Was that really a nice place to be all close?

I grabbed her wandering hands.

"Don't you want to save this for later?" I asked.

Stupid me.

"Why?" she asked breathlessly as she shook my hands off of hers and continued to try and take my clothes off.  "We can do it again later."

But... I thought.

Then I realised she was right.  We could always do this again later.  I had thought briefly that it wouldn't be so "special" if we just lost control on the floor of such a place...

But it was thrilling.  On the floor of a change room in Shinjuku, co-workers nearby, thousands of fans just outside... She and I were in our own little world, light years away from anyone else.

In the end, it didn't really matter where.  It didn't even matter when (such as occasions like a birthday).  All that mattered was who

My mushy thoughts made me want to want to crack my own head open like a coconut and scold my brain for thinking like that.

"Miki," Aya whined, peering into my eyes, "since when have you been like this?"

"Huh?" I asked, genuinely confused.  "Like what?"

"Not in the mood to jump me no matter where we are.  Usually I'm the one who has to make you control yourself."

I laughed.  She was right.

"Okay, okay," I said, grabbing her.  "I'm back to normal."

"I'm sorry.  It's just that concerts get me all..." the trailed off.

I knew exactly what she meant.  All that moving and dancing and sweating... It could get to anyone.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," she breathed out.

Hmm, I thought as she started to get all over me again.

"The feeling's mutual."

We didn't really need to tell each other that anymore, but it was nice to sometimes hear.

"Miki?" she asked in a small voice.

"Yes?"

"Don't ever leave."

She sounded so shy that I actually pushed her away so that I could get a good look at her face.  It had an unreadable expression on it.  Maybe it looked a tad like relief.  Relief that she'd finally said something she'd wanted to say for ages.  Maybe she'd been thinking about it all day - even all week.

"Okay.  I promise," I replied in my trademark casual way.

I added on a big smile.  Then I pushed her off, much to her protest.

"Get off me," I laughed.  "This isn't my birthday.  Hang on."

I crawled over to my bag and reached in, pulling out the present I'd painstakingly wrapped for her. I crawled back to where she was.  She had sat up and was looking on curiously.

"Here," I muttered. 

Giving presents to her made me feel very weird.  Like I was bribing her to be my friend and to stay interested.   But on the other hand, I liked giving her things because I loved seeing her happy.  It was an annoying dilemma - to give or not to give.

She took the package from me.  Although I'd spent lots of time finding the best way to wrap it, it was still very messily done.  That was because the thing inside wasn't a smooth shape.  It was all lumpy.

"You want me to open this now?" she asked.

I nodded twice.  She carefully peeled the paper off and then shrieked in delight.

"Mr. Monkey!"

I laughed at her reaction.  She held the stuffed toy animal in her hands and looked at me in disbelief.

"You can't give me him.  He's... he's your favourite."

She was right.  I'd had Mr. Monkey since I was seven years old, and he'd ended up coming to Tokyo with me.  He always sat either on my bed or on my shelf.

When Aya had first come over and seen him, she'd fallen in love with him.  Maybe it was his big, innocent eyes.  Maybe it was his cute, long arms and legs and furry head.  Every time she came over, she made a point of greeting him, too.  She'd beg forgiveness for her intrusion whenever she slept over.  She always loved that monkey.  More than she loved me, I suspected.

For her twentieth birthday I had decided to give her something she loved and was familiar with so that she had something to hang onto while entering a new territory of her life - official adulthood.  It was also a part of me (having been with me for thirteen years), so giving it to her was a bit like my own promise.  A gift full of cheesy symbolism.  I hoped she wouldn't ask.

"You love him, Aya.  I've wanted to give him to you for a long time," I replied calmly.

"Won't you miss him?" she asked sadly, probably wondering how I could give him away so hastily.

"Come on, I'll see him all the time," I laughed.  "You and me practically live with each other."

She looked up at me, her eyes twinkling, her smile big and grateful.

"Thank you," she said simply.

Words were almost useless to us.  It was a nice feeling.

"You've given me a lot more than just a toy."

She set Mr. Monkey down on a chair and crawled over to me, pushing me back to the floor.  Without another word, we finished what she'd started, Mr. Monkey watching us from the chair.

It was oh so good.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #46 on: June 01, 2007, 08:41:21 AM »
Chapter 25 of 35

I need action.  Like, desperately.  I have all these sexy memories that I can't forget, and they torture me, dangling something in front of me.  Kind of like that candy on a piece of string that Niigaki mentioned all those years ago.  I can reach and try to get, but I just can't have.

I check the time.  Far too late.

But Aya's still on TV.

I flip to the channel she's on and torture myself some more by watching her chatting and singing and doing all that stuff that we had had opportunities to do together. 

As I watch her, I start to become angry.  Despite all the good memories, I can't help but feel rage at how it has all turned out in the end.  I'm sitting alone on a couch and watching TV.  This just shouldn't be.

I think back to the day when it all went wrong.  That day was eight years ago, autumn.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #47 on: June 01, 2007, 08:41:49 AM »
Chapter 26 of 35

The day started off brightly.  I woke up, brushed my teeth, and went for a walk.  I called Aya and asked her what time she was going to come over.  She had a meeting in the late afternoon, but she said it wouldn't be more than an hour.  She'd come over right after.  I said okay and we hung up.  Simple and sweet.

I did some mundane shopping and some cleaning at home.  Then I puttered around, doing nothing interesting until I heard a soft knock at the door.

"It's open!" I called out.

Aya walked in and she locked the door behind her.  I sat on the couch and waited for her to take off her shoes.  I watched as she walked slowly towards me and I smiled.  I took a look at her face, though, and she seemed to be pondering something.  Something big.  There were no opening pleasantries.  No "how was your meeting?"  No "how are you?"  No playful banter.

"Miki," she said, looking right at me and sitting down beside me on the couch.

I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but for some idiotic reason, I grinned at her and kissed her on the cheek.  I pulled back and saw that she hadn't reacted at all.  My grin dropped, but I kept a soft expression on my face.  I wasn't going to get worried quite yet.  My days of paranoia were long past.

"Miki..." Aya repeated quietly as if I'd forgotten my name and she was reminding me.

"Yeah?" I asked in a purely curious, quiet, and ready-to-listen tone.

It was my innocent voice, but it wasn't just an act.  It was real.  My gentle voice that existed only for her.  She sounded like she had something important to say, and I wanted to give her my full attention.

"They're sending me to Italy," she said in the same voice.

"Oh," I replied with a smile, thinking how nice it would be for her to have a small trip overseas.

Of course she'd be working and probably have a busy schedule, but there was something refreshing about being out of the country, seeing the sites of a foreign land, eating the food, shopping at the brand name stor-

"For three months."

My thoughts simply cut off when I heard that.  The Colosseum, fettucini, and Versace never seemed so trivial before in my life. 

Three months?  But...

"But..." I said aloud.

And that's when she finally reacted.  She sighed, frustrated, and wrung her hands, letting them fall into her lap.

"I know," she groaned.  "I thought it was just going to be for a short time, too, but no.  Three months.  Three months..."

It had to be a mistake, right?  Maybe three months on and off?  Commuting between here and there?  One week there, one week here...?

"How- why?" I croaked.

She'd be away for three months?  I wouldn't see her for three months?  Three days was annoying enough.  Three weeks was painful.  Just barely doable.  But three months?

"Voice training.  They say I've reached a plateau.  They found a school that's going to take me in as part of a special TV program.  They're going to do intensive voice training with some of the world's greatest singers," she mumbled.

And that was where I lost all that calm that I'd perfected over the years of knowing her.

"What?!" I exploded.  "Plateau?!  If everyone was at your level, we'd all be billionaires!  What the hell do they think they're saying?!  Do you have to go?  Don't you get a choice?!"

She would normally try to calm me down, but this time she was too affected.

"I have to go.  Miki... my company practically owns me.  They tell me where to go.  It's like a job transfer in any other company.  Besides, it's pretty much a done deal.  I can't back out.  I can't even quit my company.  There's this really weird catch in the contract..." she trailed off and started to cry.

The last time I had seen her cry had been a year ago when her grandmother died and she was under tremendous pressure at work. 
Correction.  We watched a sad movie two weeks ago and she'd become a bit misty-eyed... but that was different.

I reached out and squeezed her shoulder with my arm, forgetting my own anger and trying to calm down so that I could calm her down.

"Okay," I said soothingly.  "I understand."

I didn't know what to really say, though, because underneath my skin I was irritated.  Not with her.  She didn't seem to want to go.  I was annoyed with the unfairness of life.  Three months was a long time.  I was selfish, and I would readily admit it: I wanted her to stay.  I'd be lonely without her.  And the look on her face when she'd told me she'd be going for three months made me want to lock her up and make her miss her flight.

So I just hugged her.

"Three months, Miki.  Three months," she said in disbelief.  "I don't even speak English, let alone Italian."

I almost laughed.  It seemed ridiculous to be worrying about what language she'd have to use when it was obvious that the problem that lay at the forefront of our minds was that we'd miss each other like crazy.

"I can help you, but I'm really not good at both languages either."

And I think she probably almost laughed at me because she knew how I could barely hold a basic conversation in English, let alone Italian.

"When do you leave?" I asked, scared.

If she said it was tomorrow, I'd scream and go kill someone.

"A week and a half," she replied with a sniff. 

A week and a half was better, but still too soon.

"And that's it?  You just- you just go?"

She breathed in deeply and let her breath out slowly, unsteadily.

"Seems like."

We just sat there, no longer talking.  Three months.  I started to think about the dumbest things.  How much would my phone bill be?  What would I do with all this free time after work?  What would I do when it got cold at night in November and I had nobody to hug?

"I don't want you to go," I said out loud what we were both thinking.

"I don't want to go," she replied blankly.

I looked at her and saw that she was still crying.  One and a half weeks?

"Come on..." I said, trailing off.

I had been about to say that it wasn't so bad, but I couldn't lie.  It was pretty crappy, to say the least.  There was no way I could go with her.  Instead of continuing, I gently put my cheek against hers and let her tears fall on my face.  I didn't want her to know, but when I pulled back a minute later, it wasn't just her tears that were on my face.

But I had to be strong.  She was the one being shipped out of the country for a quarter of a year.  At least I got to stay in my familiar surroundings.  I wiped at my cheeks with the sleeve of my shirt and then wiped her tears away, too.  I stood up and got her a glass of water, which she took a few sips from.  Then we watched TV together.  It wasn't what one would think of as a healing, calming thing to do, but there was nothing else we could do.  We found a semi-amusing program and watched it while talking and trying to forget that she'd be halfway across the world soon.

We ate dinner, watched more TV, took a bath, and then sat on my bed and talked.  We hadn't just talked like that in so long.  Maybe months.  It especially reminded me of years ago when we first became friends and had sleepovers.  We had ended up staying up all night talking up a storm so many times that we tried to refrain from having sleepovers because we didn't know how to shut up, and we really needed sleep in those busy idol days.

That night we stayed up until four o'clock in the morning nattering on.  We didn't try to avoid talking about her leaving.  We talked about every aspect of it, from the technicalities (I was surprised to learn Shibata and Masae would be joining her two weeks after her arrival.  I hadn't thought it possible for two less popular, former H!P members to join the Matsuura Aya on such an adventure), to the experience of living in a foreign country, to the wistful "I wish we could just stay together" mush. 

At four o'clock, she fell asleep.  We'd laid ourselves down side by side and facing each other.  I'd been watching her eyes droop over the past minute, and it had made me sleepy.  Finally, she murmured something about flying custard that hadn't made any sense and then was quiet.  I watched her breathing slow down until she seemed to be completely out.

"Good night," I whispered, and I closed my eyes, joining her in dreamland.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #48 on: June 01, 2007, 08:42:15 AM »
Chapter 27 of 35

I think about it now and I still believe that week and a half passed by too quickly.  Much too quickly.

We had realised what big babies we were being, and we realised that three months would go by quickly.  We cheered up considerably, and we decided to see the situation as something good for the both of us, especially for her.  What a lucky opportunity to go on a free trip to Italy for vocal training.  So we couldn't touch each other for three months.  That was okay.  We'd live.  Besides, she'd have a couple of familiar faces there with her.  Shibata and Masae would be doing their own things, but they'd be able to meet up all the time.

An uncontrollable itch makes me start scratching my calf.  I look down and swear.  It's a mosquito bite.  The cold weather hasn't completely defeated the pesky insects yet.  I pull my sock up over it and suppress the urge to scratch. 

I keep thinking about that last week and a half.  Of course nothing could stop me and Aya from going nuts that last chunk of time we were together.  We were barely apart.  We stayed up very late each night, making sure we didn't forget a single thing about each other.  By the end of the week, I was jokingly praying for her to leave quickly because I was so exhausted.  We giggled about it and then just kept staying up late at night.

I helped her finish packing up the night before.  I stayed overnight at her place.  Her flight was in the evening, so we had a little time to relax the next day.  She gave me instructions on how to take care of her apartment (it was my goal to keep her plants alive so that I could laugh at her and say "I told you I could do it" when she got back).  Then we went to bed and cuddled up under the covers.  It was getting a little colder outside at night time.  I faced away from her and let her hug me from behind, and a few silent tears ran down my cheeks.  I didn't want her to see me crying, so I stayed quiet, not uttering a word.  The tears dried up quickly, and maybe half an hour later when I turned to face her, I felt much better.  I didn't want her to cry.  I wanted her to be happy on her last night.

I sigh heavily, eight years later, sitting here, cold, alone.

That next day was the real beginning of the end.

I think back in detail...

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #49 on: June 01, 2007, 08:42:36 AM »
Chapter 28 of 35

The dreaded morning finally came.  It started off in a very funny way.  I had turned around in my sleep so that my feet were on my pillow and my head was at the foot of the bed.  I somehow managed to kick Aya in the jaw before waking up.  She didn't get angry at me, though, and I guessed it was because it was pointless to get angry (even if it was a joking anger) on our last day.  I turned myself around and made it up to her by hugging her.  We fell asleep.

Three hours later, I woke up again.  Aya was already out of bed.  I got up and looked for her.  I heard the water running and my mind was filled with devious thoughts.  She was taking a shower.  I needed to take one, too.  Easy solution. 

Just as I put my hand on the doorknob, my cell phone rang.  I struggled for three rings, my hang on the doorknob, wondering if it was worth answering the phone or not.  I finally sighed and went to my phone.  I had been expecting an important call for work.

I answered and was irked to find out it was a co-worker calling to gush about a date.  She didn't even usually talk to me that much, but for some reason she was my best friend that morning.  I listened for four minutes and then quickly interrupted, telling her I had to catch a train.  I told her to write me an e-mail about it later, and left her hanging in the middle of a sentence.

When I hung up, Aya walked in.  I swore I'd strangle my co-worker if she ever called me again.  She made me miss my chance.

The atmosphere between me and Aya wasn't sad or depressing.  It was a little heavy and a little pensive, but we weren't bawling our eyes out.  We seemed to have come to the point of acceptance, and we exchanged smiles as we went about our morning routines.   I helped her pack up the rest of her things.  Everything ready to go, we put her luggage by the door and went out for lunch. 

It all seemed so normal.  We talked and joked around like we always did, we went and did purikura at a nearby arcade, we ate crêpes loaded with all sorts of unhealthy ingredients, and then we went back to her place.  We sat on the couch and waited.  We had a bit of time left before the airport taxi would be at the front to pick her up at five o'clock.  More than an hour.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #50 on: June 01, 2007, 08:43:03 AM »
Chapter 29 of 35

My cell phone rings.  I'm surprised because I thought it was on silent mode.  I check the message.  It's from Shibata.  She asks if we can meet an hour later than we've planned.  She adds in a ridiculous amount of smiley faces, hearts, and stars, and I become angry.  Why does she have to suck up to me?  She acts all nice, but it's probably not because of my personality.  It's like she's guilty of something.  It's like it's got to do with Aya.

I scowl and put my phone down, wishing Shibata had never existed.  Maybe my life wouldn't be a mess if I didn't have Shibata there to remind me of everything bad that has happened.

I hug my knees to my chest and immediately feel guilty.  I'm a dreadful person.  Shibata might not be perfect, but she's far from the monster I've just painted her to be in my mind.  She's human, and no matter what, she can't help it if I associate my bad memories with her.  That's my problem, not hers.  I guess I just get so riled up because I see her enjoying her life.  She gets the good deal.  I get the crappy one.

I apologise to her in my mind and send her back a really nice e-mail saying that it's no problem, we can meet an hour later.

My stomach growls and I get fed up.  I have to solve this hunger problem.

I get up and make rice.  It takes a while, but it's well worth the wait.  I watch that special TV program.  Aya's still on it.  That girl has always been able to be everywhere simultaneously.  Invade the minds of everyone.  When she used to do all those commercials all those years ago, I swear I saw her on every vending machine and billboard in the city.

My rice is finished cooking. 

Bowl of rice in hand, I go back to the couch and eat and think about that last hour we spent together before she left for Italy.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #51 on: June 01, 2007, 08:43:27 AM »
Chapter 30 of 35

I hadn't meant to start the goodbyes so early, but I couldn't help it when the words slipped out.

"Aya, I'll miss you."

I took her hand and squeezed it without looking at her directly.  Out of my peripheral vision, I saw her look at me.  She squeezed my hand back.

"Don't start with that already," she teased me gently.

The corner of my mouth twitched upwards, and I looked at her with a half smile.  My smile dropped when I saw her face fall and her eyes start to water.

"No, don't cry.  I'm sorry," I said desperately, wiping away her tears carefully.  "Your makeup will get smudged."

"I don't care about that," she said bitterly.

"Don't cry, Aya-chan," I repeated, trying to make her smile.

I scooted out and lay my head on her lap, looking up.

"Don't cry."

I reached my hand up and wiped away more tears.  She smiled grudgingly.

"I know," she sighed with a sniff.  "I just can't help it.  I'm leaving so much behind.  It feels like I'm leaving for three years, not three months."

"If you were going for three years, I'd move there with you!" I laughed. 

I succeeded in getting her to stop crying.  If she had continued, I would have started, and it would have all been one big mess.

"Did you call your parents?!" I cried out, abruptly terrified.

She'd asked me to remind her in case she forgot.  We seemed to have both forgotten.  Something had reminded me.

"Yes, I did that last night.  When you fell asleep on the floor," she replied with a hint of a glare. 

Lately I'd been unable to control where and when I fell asleep.  I was usually pretty good at keeping awake at key moments, but in the past few months I'd gotten bad at it.  Maybe it's because I was getting old.  I was already twenty-five!

The previous night I'd passed out for about half an hour in the middle of a conversation.  It wasn't that she was boring or anything.  It was more like her voice was so soothing.  We were sitting side-by-side on the floor, backs against the couch.  I was warm and tired out from the day, and I just closed my eyes for a few seconds... and had woken up to Aya smacking me, yelling things about how I was a horrible excuse for a friend.

I coughed embarrassedly.

"Oh, yeah.  So how are your parents?"

"They're fine," Aya smiled.

She liked it when I asked about her family, and I liked asking her about her family because she loved them so much.  It was nice to watch her face light up when she talked about them, especially her mother.  "They're going to miss me, but it's a little easier for them because I don't see them for months at a time anyway."

That was true, but there were still things that would make it inconvenient to keep in touch.  The big time difference, for example.
 
"I'll go and visit them next month and make sure they're getting on fine without their precious star of a daughter," I joked.

Aya hit me lightly on the cheek.

"You're the best."

I hadn't expected her to say that.  I thought she'd have an insulting comeback.  I laughed as I thought maybe she actually expected me to keep my word about visiting.

"You tell me that so much.  I can only believe it if that means I can say you're better," I replied with a wink.

She didn't deny it, but her smile told me that she thought I was being silly.

And so this was how we spent that time.  Just chatting.  Maybe anybody else would have expected us to do something else, but chatting was enough.  We never actually said "good bye".  We didn't want anything to seem out of the ordinary.  It was just a business trip.

At four-fifty-five pm, after we looked out the window and saw the black taxi that would take her to the airport just pulling up outside her apartment, we looked at each other solidly one last time and smiled.  She put on her jacket and shoes and then stood at the doorway.  She handed over her key to me.

"Don't forget to water my plants."

I laughed like a maniac because it seemed like the funniest thing to me.  My nerves were a bit frayed, which could explain why I was a bit of a spazz.  I grabbed her and hugged her tightly, squeezing my eyes shut and trying to feel everything I could with every sense I could use.  I opened my eyes and studied her, remembering the clothes she was wearing and how she smelled and what she felt like.  I kissed her to remember what she tasted like (melon, according to her lip balm) and then I opened the door and shooed her out.

Well, not really.  But she wouldn't let go of me.

"You're going to miss your flight," I insisted, trying to shake her hands off of me.

She grinned foolishly at me.

"Then I can stay here."

"Come on, just go already!" I laughed.

She pulled me to her and hugged me again.

"Don't forget me!" she cried out with a hyper laugh, and I wondered briefly if she had been possessed by an insane spirit.

"Stupid, of course I won't forget you.  I can't."

I said it seriously because I meant it.

She sobered up and slowly let go of me.  We checked my watch.  Five-oh-six.  The driver would be growing impatient.  Aya took her bags from the ground and stood out in the hallway as I stood at the entrance of her apartment.

"See you, Miki," she said with a longing look.

I smiled and waved.

"Take care, Aya."

She turned around and went to the elevator.  Once she was in, I waved at her and she waved back.  The door cut us off.

I went back inside, locked the door, and went to the window.  A minute later, Aya appeared.  I watched as she greeted the driver.  My heart swelled up.  I thought I'd cry as I watched the driver help her with her luggage. 

Then just before she got into the taxi, she looked up.  She knew I'd be watching her from the window.  She gave me the most loving smile and then got in.

I watched the car drive off until it turned a corner.  Funnily enough, I didn't feel like crying anymore.  She wouldn't have wanted me to be sad, so I respected that wish.

That evening I had no plans.  I went out for a short walk and then went back to Aya's apartment.  I'd stay there for the night since it was a bit late and getting chilly outside.  An hour later, my phone rang.  I scrambled up to get it and was not disappointed.  It was a message from Aya.

Just wanted to say thank you for helping me pack all my things.

Silly.  She didn't have to thank me for that.

My plane takes off soon.  This is the last chance to contact you before I get to Milan.  Behave yourself.  I promise to call you tomorrow.

I laughed at the little intimidating smiley that she added on.

And water my plants!!

I snorted out some more laughter.

Goodnight, Miki.  Talk to you tomorrow.

And a big red heart.

I smiled giddily (despite knowing her for so long, mail from her always made me giddy) and wrote her back while muttering my message out loud to myself.

"I'll be good if you send me cool souvenirs.  Take care.  I look forward to your call tomorrow.  Call at four am if you want to.  No matter how grumpy I get, you know I still kind of like you."  I laughed at my joking understatement.  "Later."  Big red heart.

I put my phone away and that was that.  I went to bed feeling happy and calm, looking forward to the phone call.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2007, 10:35:56 PM by OTN1 »

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #52 on: June 01, 2007, 08:43:44 AM »
Chapter 31 of 35

I never got that phone call the next day, and I'm filled with anger again because of this.  Aya left me hanging.  She broke her promise.  She didn't care enough to overcome whatever big problems that forced her away from the phone.  She didn't care enough to contact me.  I clutch the remote control tightly and curse her, looking at her happy face on the television screen.

I want to call her now and tell her how pissed off I am at her.  I want to scream at her for ditching me, leaving me in a world of sadness.  I want to yell at her until she replies.  Until she acknowledges that she understands my heart is broken.  I want her to know that for all these years I've ultimately been miserable because of her.

I want to call her up and tell her all these things.

But I can't.  I don't have her number and there's absolutely no way to get it.

I don't think anybody knows the number for heaven.

I've dropped some rice on the carpet so I pick it up and mash it between my fingers, subsequently wiping it up with a napkin that I toss on the table.  I continue eating.  The rice is a little hard because I cooked it on the fastest setting.  I hate hard rice, but I'm too hungry to care.  I chew well.

After the accident I didn't speak to anyone.  Well, no, that's not true.  I did speak to someone.  I spoke to Shibata.  Funny, she and Aya had this huge, deep friendship going on and I barely knew the girl.  I felt bad about that. 

We talked and cried together.  It was weird because she comforted me so much, but the only way she really knew things about me was through Aya, who must've complained about me a lot.  We both knew that I was the more broken-hearted one.  We'd never say that out loud, though, because it sounds so cold to brush off someone else's sadness.

Shibata had known about me and Aya for a long time.  She was never clear with me whether she figured it out before she was told or not, but it seemed like she knew how Aya and I felt about each other long before Aya and I even knew.  I could see what Aya had seen in her.  Shiba-chan, as she was usually called by Aya, was thoughtful, well spoken, and simply brilliant.  I don't think many people we worked with knew that.  Saddled with the job of being the looker of the group, she and her intelligence went around inconspicuously and unpretentiously as nobody paid much mind to her brain.

The first time we talked was a painful but liberating experience.  It followed three dark days where I thought the lights had been turned out all over the world permanently.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #53 on: June 01, 2007, 08:44:02 AM »
Chapter 32 of 35

I sat in my apartment still in shock.  It had been three days since I'd learned that Aya would never be coming back.  Never was a long time.  I didn't think I could hold out that long.  I ignored my phone and didn't eat for those three days.  I didn't do anything.  I couldn't read or watch TV or videos because everything reminded me of her.

It's not like we hadn't been apart for long periods of time.  We had our jobs that took us to different places.  We went overseas to different countries, and did stretches of crazy filming that messed up our hours. There had been entire weeks when we were both in the same city but couldn't meet because our hours didn't match up.  I was no stranger to sleeping in a bed or eating dinner alone.  And that was fine.  Those were our tests.  Our challenges.  It injected reality into life.  It made the times we were together just a little more special.

But it was different this time.  I knew that she wasn't filming a drama or gallivanting around Hawaii.  I knew she wasn't coming back.  I knew that this was it.  This was life without Aya.  It started suddenly three days ago.

And it would never end.

It hurt so much that I wanted to rip my heart out and scream and cry and destroy the world for taking her away from me before we'd had enough time together.  I wanted to stand at the bottom of the mountain three days ago where the plane went down and catch her, saving her from a fiery death and giving us a bit more time on Earth together.  I wanted to go around to everyone I saw and tell them what I'd lost and what a wonderful person she'd been.

But most of all I just wanted to see her.  One last time, at least.

I wasn't even able to do that.  They couldn't display the body.  There was none.  Just some teeth and other fragments.

I slammed my fists down on the floor, curled up, and cried.  I didn't bawl.  I didn't scream and shriek.  It felt as though my throat had hardened like a block of cement.  The tears forced their way out.  I tried to stop them but I gave up.  They had wills of their own. 

I felt thirsty. I had dehydrated myself the past few days, and I would soon be in actual danger if I kept it up.  I forced myself to drink water.  I choked on it, but kept going until I had downed half a glass.

And the doorbell rang.  I reacted by throwing my glass at the door, spilling the remainder of the water all over my apartment floor.  The glass didn't break, but it made a satisfying crash sound against the door.

"Fujimoto!" called out a voice desperately.

Who was that?  It sounded familiar.  I scowled.  I didn't want to talk to anyone I knew.

"Please.  Open."

Her voice was unsteady and I knew who she was.  I owed it to her - to Aya - to open the door and talk.

I forced myself to stand up and walk to the door.  I moved the glass out of the way with my foot and unlocked the door, opening it slowly.

Shibata stood there.  Her usual thoughtful expression was replaced by one of anxiety.

"Can I-" she started.

"Come in," I said before she could finish.

I made way for her.  She walked in and took off her shoes.  I closed the door, locked it, and turned to face her.

"Miki..." she trailed off.

I nodded, and then we burst out crying.  We hugged each other tightly and sobbed.  We must've stood in the entrance hall for a good fifteen minutes just hugging and crying.  I hadn't cried this hard since... ever.  I'd cried plenty in the past three days, but seeing a living being who had known Aya was the last straw for me.  It was the final proof.  It converted all my remaining rage into sadness and then made it burst forth from my eyes in the form of tears.

It was strange because we'd never truly hugged before.  We hadn't been close at all.  Death brought us to an understanding, and suddenly the most important thing in the world was to be touching someone else that had known Aya.

We broke apart and I told her in a shaky voice to come in and have a seat, offering her some water.  She declined the drink, but she came in.  She sat on the floor and I sat across from her.

"When did you find out?" she asked me.

"Three days ago.  On the way to a morning meeting."

"I just found out last night.  I was away..." Shibata trailed off.

Right.  She had been on a rare overseas vacation with her family.  Nobody could have reached her.

We were silent for five minutes.  All that was heard was sniffing.

"What are you going to do?" Shibata asked.  She sounded so lost. 

I laughed bitterly.

"What can I do?  I can't do anything.  I can't bring her back.  I can't see her body.  I can't- I can't do anything..." I choked up and the tears fell down my cheeks silently.

I tried to wipe them away but there were just too many.

"Miki-chan, I know how much she means to you."

No you don't! I wanted to scream, but I didn't.  It was not her fault.  And she really did understand in her own way.

I nodded silently.

"She told me about you.  About you two."

"I know," I replied.  "She told me she told you."

A silence that would have been awkward in any other situation was just filled with sadness.

Shibata looked right at me.

"She was crazy about you," she said softly with a nostalgic smile on her face that overshadowed the tears that had been falling minutes before.

"I know," I replied in the same tone as her.

"No, I mean, crazy.  She never stopped talking about you once the subject of you was brought up.  Your opinion mattered so much to her.  Your well being... Everything.  She was a truly spectacular human being."

Hearing this just made me sadder and angrier.  How could such a person be erased from existence just like that?

"She was.  I was a better person because of her.  Now I'm nothing.  Nothing's ever going to work.  It's broken forever.  I don't even think my heart works anymore."

Shibata came and sat beside me, putting a hand on my knee.

"It's not going to work for a while.  Maybe a long while," she told me honestly, piercing me with a freakishly intelligent look.  "But it will get better," she said slowly and so confidently that I almost believed her.  "It will.  If Aya-chan taught us and the people on this world how to do something, it was to love and how to use our hearts.  I think you've learned the most out of all of us.  Don't let that knowledge go to waste."

A few tears made their way down my face as she said Aya's name.  I didn't know what to believe.  All the insecurities that I'd battled and put behind me for good were starting to creep up on me.  Aya had kept me strong and I always knew that, but I guess I had never realised how much I had depended on her.  She was really the happiest thing in my life.  The best thing.

Shibata and I talked and cried for a bit more before she decided to leave.  She had to go to her boyfriend's house before going home.  She'd taken some days off from work and the Italy tour had been cancelled.  She would be sticking around, and she told me she'd call me later.

From the moment she left, I did something for the first time in three days.  I put on some music.  Not Aya's music.  I couldn't handle that.  But I listened to some generic pop music that we'd listen to together when we were lounging around doing nothing in particular.  I lay down on the floor beside my stereo and closed my eyes, imagining she was right beside me and doing the same.  Just like we always did.

I listened to music for hours on end, remembering everything I could about us.  When a CD finished, I'd pop in a new one.  They were all randomly selected, but I made sure to steer clear of the little section devoted to her music.  I couldn't listen to those recordings.  They were made for her fans.  For the people of Japan and other parts of the world that had heard of her.  She may have been singing with me in mind during some of her later songs, but they weren't as special as having her right in front of me and singing something to me and only me.

"Never leave my side..." sang some unnamed singer.

I repeated that phrase over and over and started to cry again.  Aya had left my side.  She hadn't meant to, but she did.

She'd never be back.  Never.  Never was too long.

I sang along with the music.  It was all that made me feel alive.  If I stopped singing, I'd die.  I'd forget how to breathe.  I'd wither up and disappear, but I couldn't let myself.  I had to live for me and for her.  I had a double responsibility.

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #54 on: June 01, 2007, 08:44:21 AM »
Chapter 33 of 35

I put my empty bowl of rice down and stare forward at the television.  I've muted the sound, but I can still see Aya's face.  She's smiling.  It's an old clip from her twenty-fourth single.  My favourite of her Hello! Project singles. 

The pain in my heart feels as fresh as it did eight years ago.

After that first meeting with Shibata I'd really got it into my head that music was the answer.  I became obsessed with it.  I bought immeasurable numbers of CDs and DVDs, and I was either listening to something on my headphones or watching something on my TV whenever I had a free moment.

I threw myself into my work with mixed results.  I improved so drastically that they promoted me at the big company I'd been taken into after Hello! Project had disintegrated.  But I didn't fit in anymore.  I was too affected to be a carefree pop idol.  My boss was surprised when I went to him to discuss resignation, but he said he understood and let me go without a fuss.  He was so surprised because he said he would never have guessed I was unhappy with my job.  I guess I've always been and always will be good at hiding things.  It's my special point. 

I didn't go to work for another big company.  I settled for small, and I have had a steady career ever since.  I've gotten out of the big spotlight.  People don't bother me a whole lot.  A lot of my fans at the time of my quitting were sensitive to how I must have felt losing my good friend.

They had no idea what it was like, and for a while I hated them all.

But hating wouldn't bring Aya back and it wouldn't make them understand.  And it certainly wouldn't honour her memory in the least.  I dropped the hatred and just distanced myself from them.

I turn the volume up on my television set in time to catch the narrator's words.

He concludes the two hour special with a solemn soliloquy about the tragedy of Aya's premature death.  I watch sceptically as he says that the world today misses her, and that she was one of the greatest women of our time, and blah blah blah.  Shut up.

The title of the two-hour special that has just finished flashes across the screen. 

Matsuura Aya Memorial: Thank you for the memories, "Ayaya".

I turn the TV off.  I had always sworn not to look to the media for information about her.  I have indulged myself for one night.  The night before the anniversary of her death.

I wonder what the world would think if they knew everything about Aya.  How she really reacted.  How she thought about me.  How she was perfectly happy in her life because she could keep her two most important things close to her - her music and me.

But no, wait.  Me and Aya- we weren't perfect.  Not always.

Sometimes we were far from perfect.  We had our arguments.  We were two hot, stylish girls.  Of course we were going to argue.  But we always made it a point to resolve our disputes before bedtime.  We didn't like going to bed angry whether we were spending the night together or not.

There were a few times when we argued overnight while staying in the same apartment.  What usually happened the next morning was we'd wake up and face each other awkwardly and try to figure out what we'd been thinking, apologise for being too harsh or for not listening, and then snuggle into each other, laying there peacefully and forgetting that we had to go to work.  We had to make up for lost time.

But there was one night where I got genuinely angry and took it out on her.

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #55 on: June 01, 2007, 08:44:39 AM »
Chapter 34 of 35

We'd been bickering all evening.  We were both running on very little sleep and too much work.  It had been a really bad idea to stay together that night, but it was one of those colder December days where sleeping in a bed with a friend must have been a warming thought to many people in the country.  We met after our respective rehearsals and had gone over to my place because I had a better heating system. 

On the way there, we started snapping at each other about everything - what to eat, what side of the street to walk on, who got to sleep on the right side of the bed (it was further away from the window), and other stupid things like that.  We ended up not buying or cooking anything for dinner despite being hungry. 

We got to my apartment and she accused me of being too messy (I'd left a bunch of CDs spread out on my floor), and I shot it back at her because the minute she came in, she'd thrown her bag down in the middle of the floor and just left it there.  We took baths.  We were barely talking by the time we got to my room.  Aya raised a fuss about the mess.  I'd left clothes from the other day on the ground.  We got into bed, stomachs rumbling with hunger. 

Then out of the blue, Aya started complaining about things.  Not just things about me.  She hated this new dance teacher, I was a slob, and blah blah blah.  I was fed up with listening to her voice so I told her to shut up already and to just go with it, we'd had worse instructors, I wasn't a total slob, and so on.  She got so offended that she shot back that I shouldn't talk about things I haven't experienced.  I laughed wryly and told her I'd had plenty of sucky dance and vocal teachers.  I told her to just be quiet if she had nothing good to say, and to stop criticising every one of my imperfections.  She was getting on my nerves and I really did want to sleep. 

I could feel the anger boiling inside her, and she told me that I should be the one shutting up.  I whipped around in a rage and yelled at her to quit it already and to go to sleep.  She shushed up but she looked really pissed off.  She had that angry pout.  The one that made me almost unable to take her seriously when she was genuinely angry.  It annoyed me at first, but then I fell for it.  I reminded myself I was still angry. 

I stared at her for a while, and she noticed.

"What?" she asked rudely, rolling her eyes and starting to turn away, but I grabbed her shoulder and pushed her back where she'd been and kissed her.

It was like I was trying to asphyxiate the both of us.  I broke off and she gasped for air, giving me a "what the hell are you doing?" look.  In a way it made me angrier because, well, what the hell did she think I was doing?  Kissing her.  Duh.  We usually did that at night or in the morning... or really at any chance we felt like during the day when there was nobody around.

I got on top of her, really close, and held her arms down, kissing her again.  She tried to move, but I didn't let her.  Gravity once again assisted me. She tried to struggle a bit and made little sounds of complaint, but she didn't try in earnest.  She kept kissing me back.

We slept together, and it was different.  It wasn't like that time I completely brutalised her (I'd made a promise never to do that again), but it wasn't our normal exchange of feelings.  It was a bit harsh.  Grown up - too grown up -  and not gentle in the least.

The next morning we woke up and looked at each other awkwardly.  Neither of us wanted to say anything or apologise about the previous night because we felt stupid for having let it happen.  I started the apology and she finished it.

"Um, Aya-chan..." I said quietly as she was brushing her hair.

"Hmm?" she asked, looking up expectantly.

"About last night," I said hesitantly.

She put her brush down and listened.

"I was, um, not really..."

I stopped because I wasn't sure what to say.

"Me too.  I'm sorry," Aya said suddenly.

I looked at her and we exchanged knowing looks.  I smiled a small smile and looked down at the floor.

"I'm sorry," I echoed.

We didn't need to say much more than that.  I just told her that I'd been a bit cranky the night before, but that it was no excuse to treat her like that and tell her to shut up.  She accepted it and told me she, too, had been cranky and shouldn't have gotten angry at me for wanting her to stop complaining. 

We were once again okay as usual, and the rest of our brief time together that morning passed by much more smoothly and pleasantly.

The things we usually argued about were in a way trivial, but in a way things that really showed we loved each other.  My usual complaint was that she was working too hard and that it was bad for her health.  Her complaint was that I wasn't being aggressive enough in trying to get what I wanted out of my career.  We wanted to help each other so much that we fought about it.

It was funny, but I rarely got jealous.  I actually mellowed out quite a bit the year after Kobe.  I was never upset when Aya spent time with other friends, I never got jealous when I saw her talking in her flirty way to the stagehands and cameramen (I knew it was just the way she was and that she wasn't actually propositioning them; but I also just felt better about myself so that even if I knew she was ever flirting with them purposely, I'd feel confident that she'd remember and come back to me because she couldn't lose me for anything).

I actually apologised to Shibata, too.  We didn't talk much, but a few months later I ran into her alone during a big meeting and I pulled her aside for a few minutes to apologise for abruptly interrupting her and Aya's conversation.  She said that she understood perfectly, and she apologised to me, which I refused to accept.  She owed me no apology.  We shared a laugh and we were okay with each other ever since. 

And then when Aya died, it was like we grabbed on to each other to keep from falling into a deep trench.  We helped each other because I don't think anybody short of her family knew Aya as well as the two of us did.

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #56 on: June 01, 2007, 08:44:54 AM »
Chapter 35 of 35

So here I sit, eight years after my life was ruined.

What have I done with my life?

Well, I've got a good career singing, and I am doing a bit of acting.  I've matured and grown up.  I live alone.  I've got myself a nice condo in the heart of the capital.

I have a few friends, some from the Project, some from my work nowadays.

I don't date.  I ignore any advances because I can't bear to let go of a precious memory.  How could I explain myself?  How could I explain the depth of what I had and what I lost?  It wouldn't be fair anyway.  I'd be able to give nothing.  All those cute boys who wink at me at bars or on the street?  No.  They get nothing out of me.

I've lost love.  I can't love.  At least not anything new.  I can only love memories.  I'm only half alive.

I check my watch.  It's late.  I've been reminiscing all evening.  I should go to bed.  Tomorrow is going to be a long day.  A sad day.

I go through my simple routine and smile as I snuggle into the warm blankets.  I like going to bed.  Bed means sleeping means dreaming. 

Aya often comes to me in my dreams.  We meet halfway between the real world and the world of death.  I always think it's the real her at the time, but when I wake up, I know it's just my memories and senses playing tricks on me.

One of these days I'm going to meet up with her, hug her, and not let go.  Maybe on that day I won't wake up ever again.


-The end of story 4

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #57 on: June 01, 2007, 08:46:23 AM »
This story requires that you to suspend your disbelief for a bit.  This is an alternate version of events that take place just before Aya is slated to go to Italy.

Love x 2 = ∞
story 5


Chapter 1 of 16

"Happy birthday to you... Happy birthday to you...  Happy birthday dear Aya-chan... Happy birthd... a...ghhh..."

I woke up to the sound of muffled singing.  I groaned and opened my eyes.  All I knew was that it was too early to be waking up.  What in the world?

I turned my head sideways and was surprised fully awake.  Lined up with my head, rested on the pillow beside mine, was a pair of bare feet.  I slowly followed the line of the legs up (down?) the body until I reached the end.  The end was a neck.  Beyond the neck was a pillow, under which, I assumed, was the head that was attached to that neck...

The off-key singing started again.

"Happy birthday... you to... Happy... Thursday... to... s... snuu..."

I groaned and rolled up.  I grabbed the pillow and pulled it away from the head revealing a sleeping, muttering Miki.  A sleeping, muttering, drooling Miki.  I scrunched my nose up and considered wiping her chin with a tissue before waking her up.  She was such a messy sleeper, although turning all the way around was a new one for her.

"Hey, wake up," I said solidly.

I poked her neck with my toe, aiming carefully so I didn't stick my foot in her mouth.  Ew.

"Maammpph," she muttered.

She turned her head away from my foot.  I poked her again with my whole foot.

"Wake up," I said a little more loudly.

"Uhhhh."

Miki rolled over onto her side and pushed my foot away.

"I said wake up!" I repeated with a laugh, grabbing her foot in my hand and tickling the sole.

This turned out to be a very bad idea because she suddenly woke up, kicking out her foot with a yell and clocking me violently in the jaw.

"Agghh!"

"What-?!"

"Owwwww..."

"What are you doing?!" Miki cried out, scrambling up.

I was nursing my chin and not paying attention to her.  I curled up on the bed in a tight ball and groaned in pain.

"You kicked me," I managed to say.

"What were you doing?  How'd I get here?" she asked in confusion.

"You were sleeping the wrong way," I complained, looking up.

"That's ridiculous.  No I wasn't," she scoffed, wiping at her chin.  "Why would I do that?"

She looked at her hand, scrunched up her nose, and wiped her hand on the sheets.

What was ridiculous was that she was trying to convince me that she had been sleeping the right way while she knew she had woken up the wrong way...

I shot her a look.

"Okay, so I was sleeping a little funny," she conceded.  "What were you doing to my feet?"

"I was trying to wake you up.  You were singing."

She became quiet and frowned, trying to remember if she had been singing or not.

"What was I singing?"

"Happy birthday to me."

"I was?!" she asked in surprise.  I nodded.  "It's not even your birthday for another- uh, I can't do math this early..."

I shrugged at her.

"Don't tell me that," I sniffed.  "Now get back up here.  It's still early.  I want to sleep."

Miki grinned, happy that I wasn't angry at her, and quickly lay herself down the proper way, snuggling into me and kissing my jaw carefully.

"Sorry for kicking you."

I patted her head and played with her hair.

"It's okay.  I should know better than to shock you awake like that."

"You don't think it'll bruise, do you?" she asked worriedly, inspecting my face.  I laughed and pushed her head away playfully.

"It wasn't hard enough to bruise me.  I was more surprised than hurt.  I'm okay."

She snuggled into me again, putting her face on my neck and closing her eyes (I felt her eyelashes softly brush downwards against my skin.  I lived for subtle sensations like that).

"I've never seen you turn around in your sleep like that before," I commented.

"There's a lot you don't know about me," she replied mysteriously.

I laughed nervously.

"That's not exactly something I like hearing..." I said with a bit of apprehension in my voice.

Miki lifted her head up and opened her eyes, staring directly into my eyes.

"I was joking," she said in a monotone.

I cracked a smile and let the worry slide off of me.  I reached a hand down and grabbed a hold of her leg, squeezing it gently.

"Good," I mumbled as she kissed me.

She then rested her face in the crook of my neck again, putting a hand over my stomach and rubbing it, holding on to me possessively. 

"Go to sleep," she whispered.  I closed my eyes and smiled.

"Mmhmm."

We held onto each other until sleep came.

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #58 on: June 01, 2007, 08:46:47 AM »
Chapter 2 of 16

When I woke up again, she was gone.

"Miki?" I asked aloud, turning around and looking for her.  "Miki-chan!" I called out again.

There was no reply and I sighed, wondering where she had gone off to and if she would be returning anytime soon.

Checking the clock, I decided to stay in bed.  It wasn't time to get up yet.

Twenty minutes passed before I fell asleep.  I woke up much later.  Miki had left bed again.  I had been hoping she would be around when I woke up.  It was better waking up beside her so that we could both be lazy together

I didn't want to wait, though.  I was getting antsy and hungry.  Despite not wanting to travel thousands of kilometres away from home, I was a bit excited (and a bit nervous) about going to a new country.  The light streaming in from the window also made it difficult for me to fall back asleep.  In the end, it would be better for me to get a head start on final preparations.

I left the comfort of my room and padded over to the kitchen.  No signs of Miki anywhere in my apartment.  I took out some tea from the fridge and put it on the counter.  I looked over at the entrance and noticed that Miki's shoes were gone.  I wouldn't have thought this unusual had I not noticed her bag was also missing. 

"That's strange," I said out loud to myself.

Maybe she had gone out to the store for a moment.

I walked over to the entrance and double checked.  Nothing.  I walked back into my room and saw nothing of Miki's.  The clothing she'd worn last night had been taken away.  Oddly, my clothes were still piled messily in a corner.  Usually when one of us got up before the other, the least we did was throw the clothes in the laundry hamper or at least neatly arrange the clothes that could be worn again without a washing (it had taken me a year and a half to teach her to do that).   Maybe she'd been in a hurry this morning to get somewhere.  Maybe she'd come back.

But wait, she would have told me the night before if she had to go off and do something early in the morning.  And I knew for a fact that she didn't have any appointments or business to attend to that day anyway.  If something had come up, she would have woken me up (and pissed me off) and told me.

Which led to the question - where was Miki and where was all her stuff?

Slightly bothered but not yet worried, I went to the washroom to splash some water on my face.  Cold water first thing in the morning usually helped to wake me up completely and to start thinking more efficiently. 

As I was reaching for a hand towel to dry off my face, I noticed something else a little off.  Everything in the washroom belonged to me.  The toothbrush, the toothpaste, the hair products, the contact lenses...

Usually Miki kept some of her stuff here (and I at her place) because we commuted a lot between our places since we spent a good chunk of our time together.  We had an agreement (and this was for a while since before anything remotely mushy happened between us) that it was easier that way.  Why would she suddenly take everything away?  There was no need to.  I was leaving for three months, so she could have taken over my entire apartment with her things if she had wanted.

Frowning, I put the cloth down and went back into my room, opening the doors to all the closets and drawers.  I looked through all my remaining clothes.  Things were missing.  They were Miki's things that I had borrowed and conveniently "forgotten" to give back or just clothes that she had brought over to store here.  All of it was gone.

Starting to breathe a little faster, I went over to my bookshelf.  Miki had bought some books last week and hadn't taken them back to her apartment yet.  I sought them out.  They were not there. 

Panic set in.  Where was Miki?  Why had she taken all her things and run?  Was this a bad dream?  A joke?  It wasn't funny.  I had to leave that evening.

I searched my entire room and then my living room for any hint - a note, a strand of hair, a footprint - that Miki had just gone home for a bit and would be returning.  I started to have horrible visions of people kidnapping her while I lay oblivious and sleeping.  I wondered if they had her bound and gagged somewhere, waiting for the ransom money to come in.

I found that panicking wasn't helping, so I urged myself to calm down.  There was a reasonable explanation for everything.  Miki had not been kidnapped.  Kidnappers wouldn not have made her collect her toothbrush and hairspray.

That left me with very few reasonable explanations.  I tried not to think about it, but the thoughts came to my mind like an unstoppable flow of water. 

What if this was it?  What if it was over?  Between us.  What if this was her way of saying "so long" to me?  Three months was too long to ask her to wait?

My heart broke to think such things.  I felt weak and sick.

No, that couldn't be it.  I would have seen it coming.  I would have noticed a change in her behaviour.  In our chemistry.  I had noticed no change at all.

Or was it that simple?  Maybe I'd been so smitten, so head over heels and lost in this fantasy world for years, that I didn't notice something bad happening.  Maybe I'd created something in my head and let real life go winding along a path angled downwards.

No!

I shook my head furiously.  There was a simple way to find out.  I took my phone from my bedside table and wrote a quick message.

Hey, where did you go?

I typed in the address and pressed "send" as soon as it was ready.

30 seconds passed and my phone started ringing.  I sighed in relief as I flipped it open and checked the message.

Invalid address.  Message sent: October 2-

The phone dropped out of my hand out of my own volition.  Had she changed her address on me?  Or had I just typed it in incorrectly?  I picked up my phone again, going into my inbox where I knew I had messages from Miki.

Sister, sister, mom, manager, manager, Maki, Tomoko, Maki, Tomoko, Sayaka... Where was Miki?  I knew she'd sent me at least a couple of messages yesterday.  They should have been displayed on the first page of messages.  I went into the address book and looked up her address, but there was no entry for her.

Had she erased her address book entry in my phone?

I was starting to become furious.  There was no need to be so cruel.  Breaking up and walking out was one thing, but erasing your existence was an entirely different thing.  How could she be so... so horrible?

Livid, I punched in her cell number.  At least I knew all the information off by heart.  The phone rang three times before it was picked up.

"Hello?" asked a high pitched voice that sounded like it belonged to a ten year old.

"Uh, is Miki there?" I asked stupidly, not expecting this.

"I'm sorry, you have the wrong number," the reply came.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

I repeated Miki's number into the phone and asked if that was the number I was calling.

"Yes, but there's no Miki here.  I'm Nao."

"Oh... okay," I said with a tremor in my voice.  "Sorry about that.  Bye bye."

I hung up.

What the hell was going on?!

I dialled Miki's home number next.  There was no answer for many rings until an answering machine finally picked up.

"You have reached the Katsuragi residence," said a loud, gruff-sounding man in an unrecognisable dialect.  "Leave a message after the tone."

The tone sounded and I just sat there, shocked.  Where was Miki?  Why had her presence been erased?  I lay down on my bed.  I didn't know what to do next.  I had no other way of contacting her from here.  I turned onto my side and looked at my bedside table.  There was an envelope there.  I had forgotten about it until now.  It was full of the purikura we had taken last month.  I reached over and emptied the contents of the envelope in front of my face.

Despite the desperation I felt, I smiled at the happy pictures of me and... Abe-san??

I shot up to my feet and grabbed the tiny pictures, studying them.  That was Abe Natsumi all right.  No sign of Miki anywhere.  What the hell was going on?!

I had this sinking feeling that I was going crazy.  I tore out of my room and went to my bookshelf in the living room, grabbing my latest photo album.  A quick look through revealed no pictures of Miki at all.  For all the pictures I could have sworn we had taken together, another person stood in her place.  Sometimes it was Shiba-chan, sometimes Maki, sometimes Ueno, sometimes my mother, sometimes some other friend.  But no Miki.

What had happened?  I soon became convinced that Miki couldn't have done this.  There was no way anyone could have done this. 

I was going crazy.  That had to be it.  I was still asleep.  I was dreaming.  Nightmare-ing.  Whatever.

But when I didn't wake up, I got scared.  I scurried back to my room and grabbed my phone, hitting speed dial.  Maki.  Maki would know what to do.  We had stayed pretty good friends since H!P fell.  I could talk to her about almost anything.

"Hello?" asked a tired-sounding voice.

I sighed in relief.  It was Maki's voice for sure.

"Maki-chan, it's me," I said quickly.

"...Aya-chan?  What brings you to my receiver this- not fine morning?" asked the girl.

She sounded like she had a hangover, and I didn't doubt that she did.

"Have you heard from Miki-chan at all?"

There was a pause.

"Um, no."

"So... she hasn't called you or mailed you this morning?"

There was another, longer pause.

"I'm sorry... but why?  I haven't spoken to Korenaga-san in years.  Did you even know her?" Maki asked.

I started to shake but I held it together.

"Not Korenaga Miki.  The other one."

"I only know one Miki in common with you... Oh, and then there's Miki who used to be the assistant manager at studio C6, like, five years ago..."

"If you're messing with me, Goto-san, I swear to god you'll regret it."

"I'm not messing with you," Maki replied harshly in a genuine show of truthfulness.  "Maybe it was the alcohol last night that's making my mind fuzzy now, but I haven't a clue who you're talking about."

I gulped.  She sounded dead serious.

"The name Fujimoto Miki means nothing to you?" I asked in a small voice.

"No," came the blunt reply.  "Should it?"

I wanted the world to swallow me up because it would be easier than trying to figure this out.

"Uh, no?" I stuttered, trying to strengthen my voice.  "Sorry to have bothered you.  I think I'm really out of it this morning.  Like, waaaay out there," I said with a fake laugh.

Maki made a sound of agreement and we said goodbye. 

Once finished on the phone, I collapsed on my bed and curled up, hugging my arms around myself for comfort.

What was going on?  Why didn't Maki know who Miki - Fujimoto Miki - was?  Why were all of my pictures different from what I remembered?

Where was Miki?  I refused to get on a plane and leave the country before I found out how this had all happened.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2007, 08:27:40 AM by OTN1 »

Offline OTN1

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Re: Love X 2 (the entire series)
« Reply #59 on: June 01, 2007, 08:47:12 AM »
Chapter 3 of 16

I had one more thing I could do before I gave up hope.  I dressed myself hastily and set out for Miki's apartment.  I'd called her, but maybe the lines had gotten crossed. 

I can't remember how I got there, but it was a success.  I arrived at the door feeling positive that Miki had to be home.  There was no other choice.  However, deep inside I felt a fluttering, sinking sensation.

I rang the doorbell and waited, holding my breath.  I heard footsteps - slow, lazy ones.  Was it...?

The door creaked open and an old lady popped her head out, peering into my face curiously.

"Yes?"

Lost for words, I took a step back and looked at the apartment number.  I was at the right place.

"Uh... Is there a Miki living here?" I asked.

The old woman shook her head.

"No, not here."

"Um... Are you new here?  I mean, how long have you lived in this apartment?" I asked, trying to be polite.

"Twenty years.  I moved here from Kawasaki with my son.  Dirty city is what that place was.  I thought here would be cleaner, and it was initially.  But lately, things have been getting loud and dirty, and young people are always disrespecting everything that came before-"

"Oh, I see," I said loudly.  "I'm very sorry for disturbing you, then.  I'm in a rush.  Excuse me." 

With that, I left as quickly as I could, most likely leaving the lady with an impression that I was one of those disrespectful young people.  I didn't care about images, though.

I got back out onto the street and I knew I should have been hearing the sounds of traffic, but all I could hear were the thoughts in my head, the rushing of my blood, and the pounding of my heart.  What the hell was going on?

There was only one last thing I could do at the moment.  I pulled out my cell phone and dialled a number, praying that the girl existed...

"Hello?" she asked.

I almost started to cry when I heard the familiar voice of reason and good advice.

"Shiba-chan, it's me," I croaked into the phone.

"Aya-chan?" she asked in surprise.

"Are you busy right now?" I asked outright.

There was a brief pause.

"Nothing I can't do later.  What's up?"

"I need to meet with you."

"Right now?  Don't you have a flight today?"

"I do... but I have to see you if possible."

There was another pause and a rustle of papers.

"Okay.  Come on over," Shibata said.

"Really?" I asked, relieved.

"Really.  How long will it take you?"

"I'm close.  About fifteen minutes."

"See you then."

We hung up

Twenty minutes later I knocked at Shibata's door.  I heard footsteps and the door swung open.

"Come in," she said immediately, making room for me. 

I said hello and went in.  Her apartment was familiar to me.  I often went over to chat and have tea.  It struck me how housewife-like we acted, while neither of us remotely resembled housewives. 

She gestured for me to sit at the table.  I did so, and she brought over tea that she must have just made.

"What's on your mind?" she asked, sipping her tea.

I took a deep sip and let the hot liquid pour down my throat.  I wondered how to open up the topic.

"Shiba-chan... What happened on my nineteenth birthday.  In Kobe.  After our concert.  What happened?"

She screwed her face up in a strange expression like she was thinking hard, but confused about why she had to think so hard about such a question.

"Um... That was more than five years ago.  I don't remember exactly.  We ate cake, we went to the hotel, hung out at the restaurant upstairs, and then went to bed.  That's it.  Er, I think.  Nothing special? Oh, well, Hitomi gave you that crazy whatchamakalit with the yellow legs... I remember that.  It was funny," she related.

I gulped.

"So nobody visited me?  Nobody came to see the concert?"

Shibata frowned.

"I think you mentioned your old teacher from elementary school went.  Oh, and I know that Tsunku-san was there."

"I see..." I muttered.

"Aya-chan, what's going on?"

"Uh.. Em..." I stuttered.

What to tell...

"What if I told you that the world today is very different from the world yesterday?"

"I'd say you've got it right!" Shibata laughed.  "The world is always chang-"

"No," I interrupted quickly.  "I mean... It's like a whole different world.  The people aren't the same.  Our experiences are not the same.  Do you think that's possible?"

"Um..." Shibata tread carefully around my topic.  "You mean like we've travelled to another dimension??

"Yes!" I cried out, suddenly getting it in my head that that explanation sounded perfectly reasonable.  "That's exactly what I mean!  What if that's happened?"

There was a mystified pause.

"Aya-chan, have you been drinking?" Shibata asked seriously. "Smoking?"

"No," I said, frustrated.  "But really... Can I tell you something that you promise not to laugh about?  Or think I'm crazy because of?"

"O... kay..." Shiba said tentatively.

"There's this girl that I know.  That you know, too.  Her name is Fujimoto Miki.  She's an idol like us.  She used to be in Morning Musume, although she was first a soloist.  She and I are the best of friends," I said calmly and evenly.  "This girl... There is one."

It took about a minute for this to compute in Shibata's brain.

"No there isn't," Shibata said with a frown.

I smacked my hand on the table.

"Yes there is.  She and I, we're like this," I said, crossing my fingers.  "There is no way I made her up in my head.  I've known her for more years than I care to count.  We sang in units together back in our H!P days - just the two of us.  We've made DVDs together.  We hang out every day of the week.  It's just that nobody today seems to remember her.  Her cell phone and home phone numbers connect to different people, and some grandma from Kawasaki is living in her apartment!"

"Okay, Aya-chan.  Let me get this straight.  You have a friend who worked with us in H!P, but we've all somehow forgotten who she is?"

"Yes!"

"Except you remember her."

"As clear as day!  We were just together this morning, even!" I cried out, and then wished I hadn't said that.

"So what happened?  Did she just vanish in front of you over breakfast?" Shibata asked with no trace of mocking in her voice.

"No," I mumbled.  "I fell asleep and when I woke up, she was gone."

Shibata tried to piece it all together.

"So what clued you in that she was gone?"

"Well, all her stuff from my apartment was gone, some purikura we'd taken recently were all changed, and the more I looked, the more I didn't find her."

"...And then?"

"I went to her apartment, but the lady had been living there for years.  I called her home, but some weird family's answering machine picked up.  Her cell phone number is owned by some twelve year old.  Maki-chan doesn't even know who she is."

"...And did I ever know her?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed.  "You weren't best buddies with her, but you talked with her sometimes."

"...Okay, Aya-chan.  As good as a friend you are, I think there's something really weird going on with you."

I held my hand out to stop her from saying anything else.

"I know you're going to say I'm crazy, but I'm not.  She does exist.  She did exist.  Anyone who knows me knows of her.  She's-" I was going to say "my life", but I decided not to use such a strong phrase as it might worry this clueless Shibata, "-she's my best friend in the whole world.  And she's somehow disappeared.  I need to find her."

And then I did the worse possible thing - I started to cry.  Shibata patted my shoulder and comforted me.

"I don't know what's going on and I can hardly believe it, but I'll help you.  Whatever you need, I'll help you with it."

For the next two hours we talked about what was going on.  We reached no conclusions, but after hearing me relate several stories about Miki in detail, Shibata was convinced that something strange was going on and that I couldn't possibly have made up or dreamt it all up.  I think the final kicker was when I sang selections from Miki's songs and we did a search on the internet for the lyrics.  No search results turned up, and Shibata had never heard any of the songs.  I couldn't have written them all on the spot or in a state of insanity.

"If she doesn't exist, then who in the world is my best friend?" I asked suddenly.

If Miki didn't exist to the rest of the world, I wanted to know who the world saw me hanging out with most.  Was there anyone that important in my life?  In a way I didn't want to know because I was scared of what I would hear, but the other part of me that needed to know was stronger.

Shibata looked a bit confused and a bit offended by the question.  I had a sinking feeling I'd just insulted her in the biggest way.

"Well, I kind of thought that I was," she started.

Shiba-chan wasn't one to lose her temper and get angry easily, but with a blow like that, I'm sure it was a little hard to keep smiling. 

"You really get along with Tomo-chan and Ueno-san, too.  But if I had to choose one, my answer would be me."

I gulped.  I felt terrible.  How would I feel if my best friend suddenly asked me in an oblivious way who my best friend was?

"Sorry, Shiba-chan," I said quietly, staring at my hands.  "I do know that we're good friends.  I just can't-  I don't know.  I can't remember everything."

"It's okay," Shibata said in a tone that was trying to remain calm, but I could hear that she was a little let down.  "Um, but don't you have a plane to catch?"

I suddenly remembered Italy.  I'd been so engrossed in our conversation and so obsessed about finding Miki that I'd forgotten there was one thing I had to do.   I swore out loud and stood up to grab my things and put on my shoes.  Shibata asked me where I was going.

"I'll get in touch with you later.  I'm not going to Italy," I told her, and before she could reply, I ran out the door, dialling a number on my phone.

I heard her calling my name, but I ignored her.

I cancelled Italy.  I called my manager and told him I wasn't going and that was final.  He thought I was joking until I told him that it was his problem how to figure out how to tell the TV show producers.  I was out.  I hung up.  He called twenty-six times after that.  I ignored my phone twenty-six times.

I hurried back to my apartment and opened my suitcase.  I tore through everything and found what I was looking for.  A small box wrapped in a plastic bag tucked neatly between a stack of skirts and a pair of jeans.  I all but tore the plastic from around it and took out the small card that was stuck to the box.  I opened it up.  I read the card out loud.

"Dear Aya-chan.  Good luck in Italy.  You'll do fine.  You're a shining star that could make anybody proud.  Thinking of you."

It was signed by four people, all friends of mine.

I'd never received this card from those four people.  Miki had given me a card with the same message (she was really bad at writing meaningful things, which made it even more meaningful) a few nights before, along with a present - a cheap Pingu clock (she was also the antithesis of a romantic when it came to random presents, which I loved because fun was better).  On the back of the card she'd written her reason why she gave me such a present.  I turned the card over.  Blank.

Miki was gone.

I dropped the card and went into my room, looking around.  I was lost somewhere.  I had no idea how to get out.

I took off my clothes and got into bed.  I swore that if I woke up back in my world, I wouldn't question this strange dream.  I would make myself forget about it. 

I closed my eyes and wished myself out of there.  I wished myself to wherever Miki was, even if it was hell on Earth.  At least we would be in it together.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2007, 08:35:20 AM by OTN1 »

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