“For our trip to Italy, is there anything else that has to be done?” Ryuu asked Kouta.
“Nothing that I can think of, besides the packing,” Kouta answered, climbing into bed with him.
“I’m really looking forward to going,” Ryuu told him. “Do you have some places you’d like to visit?”
“Just ones close to where your parents live, like Venice. I want the trip to be more about seeing your family.” Kouta placed his arms behind his head and clasped his fingers together. “You know, it will be great to relax in Italy before my schedule gets busy again. The tour’s only in a few months. Soon, I’ll be on the road.”
“I know,” Ryuu murmured, his tone heavy with sadness. “It will be difficult.”
“Will you miss me?” Kouta looked at him expectantly.
“Not at all,” Ryuu said, turning away.
“I’ll miss you too when I’m gone,” Kouta told him. “You can always come watch me perform.”
“I will,” Ryuu said, facing him again. He propped himself up on one elbow. “When we go to Italy, we probably won’t be able to do it for about two weeks, since we’ll be at my parents’. I really don’t want to because it would be disrespectful, even if they wouldn’t mind. So, let’s take advantage of the time we have before the trip.”
“Great idea,” Kouta agreed.
Ryuu pressed Kouta under his body, teasingly nipping at his ear. He was about to launch a loving assault on Kouta’s body when Aki jumped on the bed. Ryuu shouted in surprised as she ran up his back and positioned her eight-pound body on his head.
“Aki, behave yourself,” Kouta said, laughing.
“I’m convinced you do this kind of thing on purpose,” Ryuu told Aki. He picked her up and held her close to his face, looking her directly in her eyes. She meowed in response and gently pawed his nose. Kouta took her from him and put her outside their room, making sure to shut the door.
“Now Ryuu, where were we…” he mused, as he returned to the bed.
Kouta stretched out and smiled when he felt Ryuu’s weight on top of him again.
“Well, Kou, I believe we were about to do a lot of nasty things to each other…”
Kouta and Ryuu’s flight to Italy had landed in Milan at Malpensa International Airport. After they retrieved their luggage, they left the baggage claim area to find Ryuu’s parents waiting for them.
“Hi boys; welcome to Italy,” Mr. Kobayashi greeted them.
Mr. Kobayashi patted Ryuu on the back. They smiled, their expressions mirroring each other. Seeing them side-by-side made it clear to Kouta that Ryuu had inherited most of his features from his father.
“Sweetheart, it’s so good to see you,” Mrs. Kobayashi said, holding Ryuu tightly. She stroked one of his cheeks and smiled up at him, glad to see him after a year had passed. Mrs. Kobayashi then engulfed Kouta in her arms.
“You are absolutely adorable,” she told him.
“It’s great to meet you,” Kouta replied. He returned the kisses she gave him on both sides of his face.
“Alessandra, you’re going to smother the boys,” Mr. Kobayashi teased his wife. “Let’s at least get them home.”
The four of them made their way to the car. Soon they were heading to the Kobayashi home. The house was located in Brescia in Lombardy, a northern region of Italy. Lake Garda, one of Italy’s main bodies of water, was a short distance from the Kobayashi residence. While they drove to their destination, Ryuu pointed out various sites to Kouta, with his parents also recommending some things the two could do.
They drove through a large, iron gate and headed up a long path that was lined with hedges that were carved into spirals. The path became circular. At the center of the circle was a large fountain where the Goddess Minerva stood with various nymphs surrounding her.
They took their luggage into the house and paused in the foyer, which had a tan marble floor decorated with a black and white mosaic design.
“Mom, Dad, what do you have planned for sleeping arrangements?” Ryuu asked. “I mean, as far as what Kouta and I will do.”
“Well, that’s up to you two,” his mother responded. “You can be in a room together or have separate ones. There’s more than enough space for everyone.”
“Then, you and Dad wouldn’t mind if Kouta and me shared a room?”
Upon hearing Ryuu’s questions, Kouta stood awkwardly next to him. His face became red and he avoided the eyes of Ryuu’s parents.
“No, son,” Mr. Kobayashi assured him, chuckling softly. “Just remember there’s a time and place for everything.”
“Remember that Kouta,” Ryuu said, prodding Kouta in his side. “He means you have to control yourself when we’re not in the bedroom.”
“Ryuu, how could you…” Kouta’s voice trailed off. What had been slight blushing became more extreme.
“Oh, Kouta, there’s no problem,” Ryuu’s mother said, patting Kouta on his back and laughing. “Please don’t feel embarrassed. We’re all adults here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Kouta murmured. “Ryuu and I already have an agreement. He’s just being difficult.”
“Come on, Kou.” Ryuu grinned impishly and picked up his suitcases. “Grab your things and follow me.”
They went up a set of marble stairs and walked down a long hallway, which was lined with family photographs.
“This is my room,” Ryuu said, opening the second door to their left. Kouta went inside and put his luggage near the bed. On a dresser were numerous pictures. He looked at several of them.
“Oh, those are from when I was growing up in Italy and Japan,” Ryuu explained, pointing to some of them. “Playing soccer…at my 16th birthday party…You get the idea.”
“I recognize some of these people,” Kouta said. “They’re in a few of the photos at our house.”
“Our house,” Ryuu murmured. “ I like hearing you say that.”
“Awww, listen to you getting all mushy.”
“Well! That will be the last time I share my feelings,” Ryuu said, pretending to be upset.
“You can tell me your feelings anytime,” Kouta whispered in his ear. He nibbled on Ryuu’s lobe and licked it. Then he stroked Ryuu’s crotch, causing a bulge to appear in his pants.
“Kou, don’t do that,” Ryuu’s said, stopping his lover’s hand.
“I really should torture you,” Kouta told him. “How could you act like that in front of your parents?” Ryuu only laughed and Kouta pinched him on his rear.
“Let me show you around the place,” Ryuu suggested. “That might keep us out of trouble, for a bit.”
Ryuu gave Kouta a tour of the property, which spanned numerous acres. The house had 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a family room, a living room, a dining room, a study and a kitchen. There was also a guesthouse with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. The pool area, which Ryuu’s older sister had designed, was close to the main house. A large courtyard, complete with a maze, was a short distance from the pool.
After seeing the courtyard, the two returned to the primary house, as they were hungry. Ryuu led Kouta to the kitchen and rummaged through the refrigerator. He pulled out an assortment of meats and cheeses for sandwiches.
“Do you have people who help take care of the place?” Kouta asked.
“A cleaning staff comes once a week,” Ryuu explained, as he passed Kouta some bread. “Mom and Dad are getting up in age now and they need some help. When my siblings and I were still at home, we used to take care of everything, besides managing the vineyards. We’ve always had a staff for that but they’re not going to be around for the reunion. During this week, they have their vacation. Oh, Dad and I will show you the vineyards later. This is a great time to see them. The grapes will be ready for harvesting around October.”
“I hope I don’t make a fool of myself with your Dad,” Kouta said.
“Don’t worry love.”
“So, about the family reunion, when is everyone else coming?”
“They’ll probably all be here tomorrow, definitely by Friday evening. We’ll have the big family dinner on Saturday; all of us will take part in the preparation, even if it’s only in a small way. You’ll have a great time; I promise. We’ll put you to work making salad or garlic bread.”
“You don’t trust me with anything more complicated than that?” Kouta asked, laughing.
“No; not when you need to focus on impressing my family,” Ryuu joked.
Kouta chuckled nervously, part of him wondering if Ryuu did have doubts about him. He looked down at the sandwich on his plate and pulled at the cheese sticking out at the edges.
“I was just joking,” Ryuu assured him. “You’ll be fine!”
During the next few days, other family members arrived. Shinsuke, Ryuu’s older brother and his wife, Keiko, flew in from Osaka. A day later, Ryuu’s older sister, Megumi, and her husband, Roberto, a tall, dark-haired Italian, arrived. Along with them came their four-year-old daughter, Hikaru. On Friday evening, Ayami, Ryuu’s younger sister, touched down after flying in from her university.
As everyone reconnected with each other, Kouta found it interesting to compare Ryuu’s features with those of his siblings. His older brother looked more like his father than Ryuu did. Ryuu’s older sister was a solid mixture of both parents. Ayami was a replica of her mother, right down to her bow-shaped mouth, except that she had her father’s brown eyes.
The night before the reunion dinner, Kouta was able to get to know Ryuu’s family better. They were quick to laugh, especially Mrs. Kobayashi. Ryuu’s niece, Hikaru, had also deemed Kouta her favorite. She chatted with him, sometimes speaking Italian. Then someone would remind her to speak to him in Japanese. Everyone, including Roberto, was considerate and conversed in Japanese. He had become fluent after marrying Megumi.
“Tomorrow’s the big dinner,” Mrs. Kobayashi said, standing up and stretching as the grandfather clock struck 11 PM. “Make sure you all get some rest because I’m putting you to work. People who fall asleep while mixing, kneading, baking, and so on, will be flogged.”
“Dad, Mom’s threatening us again,” Shinsuke joked.
“I’ve been married to her for decades. She can still scare me with her threats,” Mr. Kobayashi responded, smiling.
“It’s my imposing size,” Mrs. Kobayashi said.
Except for Hikaru, Ryuu’s mother was the shortest one in the family. Her quip made the others laugh.
“Alright, night everyone,” Mr. Kobayashi said, as he reached for his wife’s hand.
After the pair left, the others continued to talk for another hour. Soon, Megumi and Roberto decided to go to bed. Roberto picked up Hikaru, who had fallen asleep in Kouta’s arms. A short while later, everyone else went to their rooms and settled down.
The next day, starting around noon, the household began to prepare the reunion meal. Ryuu’s parents had decided the menu, combining Italian and Japanese cuisine. There were various choices, including risotto, polenta, strips of grilled beef with sesame seed dipping sauce, rice, ravioli and sushi. There would also be two kinds of desserts: skewered sweet dumplings and Mrs. Kobayashi’s tiramisu, which she would make using her family’s recipe.
As Ryuu had told Kouta, everyone would have a role in making dinner. The kitchen was more than sufficient to accommodate the ten people milling around, each preparing their assigned dish. Mrs. Kobayashi kept an eye on each person, making sure they were on task. Each person had a function, even little Hikaru who helped with the desserts. Kouta’s assignment was to make the ravioli, starting from the most basic ingredients. Mrs. Kobayashi showed him what to do, smiling and encouraging him, as he followed her instructions.
While the food cooked, everyone went to relax and talk in the living room. As they chatted, they snacked on grapes, cheeses, along with salami and crackers. Someone periodically went to check on the dishes, to make sure nothing was burning.
Around 7PM that night, they sat down to a dinner that Kouta thought was impressive. He was pleased that he’d had a part in making such a unique meal.
Before they started eating, Ryuu’s father stood to make a toast.
“Seven years ago, my wife mentioned to me that she wanted to have yearly reunions,” Mr. Kobayashi said. “Over time, they have become larger as more people have joined the family.”
“Grandpa means me,” Hikaru chimed.
“Yes, sweetheart, I’m talking about you,” Mr. Kobayashi said, smiling at her; then he continued. “There’s also Kouta. It’s great to meet him in person, as opposed to him only being a voice over the phone. At our next family get-together, we’ll be having another member.” He looked at Keiko, who patted her stomach. She was almost seven months pregnant.
Mr. Kobayashi raised his glass of wine high, stating, “So, we’ll toast to those who are here and to all those who’ll join us.”
Everyone tapped their drinks—a glass of milk for Hikaru—lightly against each other’s, then took sips. Afterwards, they began to eat. Kouta looked at Ryuu who was sitting next to him.
“Everything okay?” Ryuu asked.
“I’m just really happy to be here,” Kouta told him.
“I’m glad you could come,” he murmured.
While everyone ate, Kouta learned more about Ryuu’s family; vacations, trouble each of the kids had caused and other memories they were eager to share. Kouta’s favorite story was about how Ryuu’s parents met.
“I first saw her in my senior year at university, in the United States,” Mr. Kobayashi said. “We had a class together but we didn’t communicate much. Then, about a year later, after I’d graduated and returned to Japan, the future Mrs. Kobayashi wrote me. In flawless Japanese, she notified me that she would like to get to know me better.”
“I had help from a friend,” Mrs. Kobayashi confessed, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. “I’d never done anything that bold. I was so nervous. I worried that he wouldn’t even reply.”
“When I received her letter, I was intrigued,” Mr. Kobayashi explained. “So, I responded and, as it turns out, she’s not half-bad.”
“Not half-bad? Is that the best you can say?” His wife narrowed her eyes, pretending to be upset.
“You know I keep the highest compliments strictly for your ears,” Mr. Kobayashi told her, his voice a deep, teasing rumble.
“Yes indeed…” she said, sharing a secretive smile with her husband. Then, she continued the story. “We dated for about two years. He had to get the permission from my parents before he proposed. He flew to Cremona and asked for my hand in marriage. Now, 35 years and 4 children later, I’m glad I was bold. He’s a very good husband and father.”
Ryuu’s father coughed self-consciously.
“That’s enough revealing of feelings for tonight,” he said.
“I’ll save you from any more stories,” his wife told him. “It’s time for dessert.”
Ryuu’s mother asked Kouta and Ryuu for help with setting out the dishes. After everyone was served, they continued their conversation, as they ate.
“At Ryuu’s restaurant in Tokyo, the tiramisu is quite popular,” Mrs. Kobayashi said. “He had to talk me into giving him the recipe.”
“It took a long time for her to agree too,” Ryuu added. “I’m glad you let me, Mom, and it’s very well guarded.”
“Actually, it wouldn’t really matter if someone did find it or even figured it out. Unless a Borghetti-Kobayashi makes the tiramisu, it is not my family’s recipe. Our hands are what make it taste so great. While the people at your restaurant have my recipe, and they do a great job with it, they don’t have the hands they really need.”
“Oh, then all of my begging for the recipe was for nothing?” Ryuu asked, jokingly.
“No darling, you were so entertaining. ‘Please Mom. I’ll even highlight its origins. I’ll be careful to make sure my restaurant is worthy of it. Oh please Mom, please.’ That’s almost word for word.”
“Is that really even close to what I said?” Ryuu asked, smiling.
“Do you doubt your mother? After all my hours of labor?” A teasing glint, like the one Kouta had seen many times before in Ryuu’s eyes, showed up in his mother’s. “That recipe keeps the restaurant afloat.”
Everyone laughed at the shock that passed Ryuu’s face.
“Well, it’s the truth!” Mrs. Kobayashi exclaimed, continuing playfully to taunt her son.
“Kouta, do you think that’s the case?” Ryuu asked, drawing Kouta into the lighthearted atmosphere. “Do you think my restaurant would fail, if I didn’t have that dessert?” Various sets of eyes looked expectantly at Kouta.
“I’m thinking that your mother is always right,” Kouta responded, clearly picking a side.
“Good answer!” Mrs. Kobayashi explained.
“Yes, Mother, of course,” Ryuu said, chuckling.
A little while after having dessert, everyone separated into smaller groups. Mrs. Kobayashi wanted to get out into the fresh air and she requested that Kouta walk around the courtyard with her.
“Kouta, will you lend an old lady your arm?” she asked.
“I don’t see any old ladies here, Mrs. Kobayashi.”
“Oooh, you are such a smart boy,” she said, laughing. “That’s your second great response of the night.”
Kouta held out one arm and she slipped her hand around it. They walked outside and headed towards the courtyard, enjoying the pleasantly cool night.
“I’m glad you are with my son, Kouta,” Ryuu’s mother told him. “Before you, he hadn’t been with anyone for a long time. He just focused on his work. I was happy to hear he was dating. Now that I’ve found out more about you, I’m even happier.”
“Thank you…I know what you mean by him focusing on his work. A few times, I’ve had to remind him that I existed.”
“He has always been that way, even more so when he became seriously interested in animation. When he latches onto something, it gets most of his attention. He is very much like his father.”
They strolled a little longer, speaking more about Ryuu, Kouta’s family and Kouta’s career. Kouta found that Mrs. Kobayashi was easy to talk to; her calm voice stirring him to get his feelings out.
“I worry about how my career is affecting him,” Kouta admitted. “He’s very supportive. It’s just that, if I wasn’t in entertainment, he wouldn’t have such a spotlight on him. He gets attention from his animation business. It’s just with me being in music and us as same-sex couple…I don’t want him to change his mind; I don’t want all of this to be too difficult for him.”
“I’m glad you’re perceptive enough to see how your career affects him,” Mrs. Kobayashi shared. “He did have some trouble, at first. If it was still a problem, he would have mentioned it to you. I think that—”
Their conversation was interrupted by two agitated voices. Kouta and Ryuu’s mother turned a corner to see Ryuu and his father having a heated discussion in Japanese. The upset pair wasn’t aware of the presence of others. Kouta couldn’t hear everything that was being said but Ryuu was pleading for something. His father stood with his arms crossed, steadily shaking his head. The stance was familiar to Kouta. Ryuu often did it, as he was strongly rejecting something Kouta keenly wanted. Kouta imagined that their first heated discussion about him getting another bike had looked similar to this.
“Should we leave them alone?” Kouta asked.
“Oh goodness no,” Mrs. Kobayashi said, laughing. “Otherwise they might be out here forever. I’m just going to bluntly interrupt them.” She began to walk faster and Kouta increased his pace too.
“Darling, I want you to escort me back inside,” she said, when she reached her husband.
“Mom, could I just have a few more minutes with Dad?” Ryuu asked. “Please.”
“Is that really wise?” she replied. “You’re quite upset already. I can see it in your eyes.”
“I know, Mom, but—”
“Ryuu, please leave the matter for another time,” she said, gently stroking his cheek.
“Son, we’ll finish this discussion later,” Mr. Kobayashi told him.
“Yes, Dad,” Ryuu murmured.
His parents left to return to the house. Kouta looked at Ryuu, wondering what had caused the argument but he decided not to pry. He thought that, if Ryuu wanted him to know, he would explain.
“Come on, Kouta,” Ryuu said, walking off.
Understanding that Ryuu just wanted Kouta’s presence, Kouta didn’t try to start a conversation. He followed Ryuu, as they strolled in silence around the courtyard.
The next day, in the early afternoon, the family had a picnic in the backyard.
Ryuu dove gracefully into the pool, treading water and teasing Kouta with his eyes. Kouta sat at the edge, dangling his feet in the water. He watched Ryuu, willing himself not to get hard from the sight of the water and sun on Ryuu’s skin.
“Go get your swimming trunks,” Ryuu said. “Then, come on in.”
“Alright,” Kouta told him. “But I know how you can be. You have to promise not to do anything crazy.”
“Like pull off your shorts in the water?”
Hikaru, who was treading water near Ryuu, heard him and giggled.
“Uncle, that’s not nice!” she exclaimed.
“You tell him, Hikaru,” Kouta said, laughing. “Ryuu, you’d better behave.”
“I won’t guarantee that,” he responded, smoothly backstroking away from Kouta. “You might become bait for this shark.”
Kouta shook his head at Ryuu and went to change into swimming trunks. By the time he returned, more people were in the water or were getting ready to join the fun.
“Alright everybody, Keiko is coming into the pool. Make room for her stomach,” Megumi teased her sister-in-law.
“You be quiet,” Keiko said, laughing as her husband helped her. “Or, I’ll get my man to pick on you.”
“And I’ll do it too,” Shinsuke said, scowling comically at his sister.
He continued to trade barbs with his sister, with the others good-naturedly joining in the joking. Everyone spent most of the day out in the backyard, even having dinner on the patio. When it was well into the evening, Hikaru, who had tried to fight sleep, was taken to bed, amidst a yawn-filled protest. The others stayed outside to chat and enjoy the night air.
“So, Ayami, is everything going well at school?” Ryuu asked.
“Yes…I can’t believe I’m a junior already,” she said.
“How’s university treating you?” Shinsuke wanted to know.
“Pretty well. I made more friends this year.”
“You’re not there to make friends,” Megumi joked.
“Especially if they’re boys,” Shinsuke added. “I don’t want to have to hurt anyone.”
“Boys aren’t on my mind…that much,” Ayami said, laughing. “But I do need some excitement; I’m thinking about getting a motorcycle.”
Ryuu, who had been resting languidly in his chair, instantly changed his demeanor.
“Ayami, that’s simply not safe,” he told his sister.
“I’ve wanted one for a while,” she replied. “If I do get one, it’s not a decision I would have made lightly.”
Ryuu turned to his parents, imploring them to intervene. They opted to stay silent for the time being, interested in how the siblings would handle the matter.
“You have a car, Ayami,” Ryuu said, sounding a bit forceful. “You don’t need a motorcycle.”
Kouta closely monitored the exchange, noting that frustration was beginning to show on Ayami’s face.
“Well, let’s just talk to someone who would actually know best,” she said, curtly. She turned to Kouta, squarely putting him in the center of the disagreement. “You have a bike, don’t you?”
“Not currently,” Kouta responded. “Mine was destroyed in my accident.” Even as he became involved in the conversation, he had a feeling he would regret it.
“Oh, I forgot…” she responded. “You’re fully recovered now, right?”
“I still have problems with my legs,” Kouta admitted. He made sure to look at Ayami and keep her attention. He wanted her to understand that having a bike wasn’t simply about joy riding. “Honestly, it’s important to remember that having a motorcycle isn’t all fun and games. There’s, of course, the regular maintenance. Plus, if you have an accident, it could be fatal. When I crashed, I broke some ribs, damaged my legs and pierced a lung. I have a 13 inch scar on my chest because the doctors had to operate.”
“Wow,” Ayami said, leaning back in her seat. “I mean…I did know about what happened. Still, to hear it from your mouth…You were in real danger weren’t you, Kouta?”
“Yes. With that said, I’m not trying to scare anyone away from getting a motorcycle…”
“Well, you’re doing a good job of it,” Megumi told him, shuddering slightly.
“Then the pictures of me after the accident should push you over the edge,” Kouta joked. “Being hurled in the air and landing like a ragdoll is definitely not orgasmic…” Kouta paused, realizing what he’d just said. Then his face went red as everyone, besides Ryuu, began laughing.
“Kouta, you have a great sense of humor about all of this,” Roberto told him, still chuckling. “I like that.”
“Well, in all seriousness, it’s not exactly a laughing matter,” Ryuu’s mother said, giving Kouta’s hand a squeeze.
“No, it’s not,” Ryuu clipped out. Everyone looked at him, his bad mood causing a shift in the mellow atmosphere. Despite this, he continued. “For someone who went into a coma, you’re extremely blasé about what happened. I’d really prefer that you not talk to Ayami about owning a motorcycle. Having an accident doesn’t make you an expert.”
“Ryuu, I…” Kouta’s words fell away as his embarrassment and his anger rose.
“Son, that was not necessary,” Ryuu’s father intervened.
Ryuu bristled under his father’s rebuke and then glared at Kouta. Kouta stood and excused himself to keep from making the circumstances worse.
“Nice job,” Ayami told her brother. “You’re driving Kouta away.”
“Hey now, you don’t have to leave,” Keiko said.
“No, I think it’s best that I do.”
Kouta returned to the room he was sharing with Ryuu, who he didn’t want to see at the moment. He closed the door and lay down on the bed, still in disbelief about what had happened. He kept on replaying in his head how Ryuu had spoken to him, especially in front of his family. He understood why Ryuu was annoyed about the bike issue but he felt that there was no reason to act the way he had. Kouta needed to make a few things clear to Ryuu. Before he did that though, he wanted to calm down.