As weeks went by, Kouta opted to shut out much of the world. His friends and family gave him the space to do that, whenever they could. Periodically, they would contact him or stop by his house to make sure he was alright.
Though it was difficult, Kouta made sure that he kept his duties to the band. Polaris was supposed to perform on a variety show soon and the band needed to practice. No amount of turmoil in Kouta’s life was going to change that. So, he took a shower, wishing Ryuu was there to massage his shoulders, wash his body and then slip inside him. He berated himself for having that need and for using Ryuu’s favorite body gel. The scent of it wrapped around him, further reminding him of Ryuu.
“Kou, you’re fifteen minutes late,” Hiro greeted him, when he arrived at the rehearsal.
“I’m here,” he grumbled.
“Well, thanks for gracing us with your supreme presence,” Toru joked.
“How are you?” Hiro asked.
“Not enough sleep again?” Shinji chimed in, with his ever-tactful self. “You look like chaos shit on you.”
“I’m fine. Let’s just do this.”
The band began to play but Kouta’s mind quickly traveled elsewhere, even though he wanted to stay focused. He knew he wasn’t at his best but there wasn’t much he could do. He was hoping the others would understand.
Polaris took a break from practicing and ordered a snack. Kouta wandered off to a corner to eat his food, not because he was hungry but because he needed something to help pass the time. When their mealtime was over, the band returned to rehearsing. Kouta’s frustration with his situation slowly grew and he lost patience with his mates. The mood in the room turned foul, when he began picking at Hiro because of a violin passage.
“You’re out of tune!” Kouta snapped. “It’s supposed to be a C sharp, not a C natural. Do you remember how to play the violin or not?”
Everyone paused and stared at him.
“What bug crawled up your ass?” Hiro responded.
“It’s all about Ryuu,” Toru said.
“Of course,” Shinji added. “No one else gets him this pissed.”
“I don’t want to talk about him,” Kouta muttered.
“Why don’t you just apologize?” Toru asked
“There’s no need to apologize,” he bit out.
“Oh! I suddenly have an idea for a song,” Shinji said, beginning to play an infectious beat on his drums. “It’s called Stubborn. I even have some lyrics for it. ‘I was wrong and I know it now. I should apologize but that’s beneath me. My, my, my…my name is Kouta. I’m full of angst today. Watch me be emo all over the place. Just remember my name. It’s Kouta!’ Hmm, well, that’s all I’ve got so far but it will be a hit when it’s finished. Yeah baby.”
Hiro and Toru started laughing.
“Shinji, I know you’re not making fun of me,” Kouta sneered. “Didn’t Yoriko just dump your ass? Well then, stick to playing your drums and doing fan service.”
Shinji swallowed hard, his eyes opening in shock. The previous day, Yoriko had ended their relationship of almost seven months. It was the longest time Shinji had dated anyone. Had Kouta been in a better frame of mind, he wouldn’t have made the hurtful comment. Kouta knew he was pretending to be unaffected by the relationship ending. The moment he saw Shinji’s reaction, he regretted what he’d said.
“Fuck you, Kouta,” Shinji shouted, throwing aside his drumsticks and standing up. “I don’t care if you’re having problems with Ryuu. You don’t get to treat me like this.”
“Shinji, I didn’t mean to—”
“Yes you did. You arrogant asshole.”
“Whoa, Shinji, relax,” Hiro said, handing him his drumsticks.
“No, I’m not going to relax,” Shinji snapped, turning his attention to Hiro. “Kouta has problems with Ryuu and wants to take that out on everyone else. He was completely out of line. Just because you’re his best friend doesn’t mean he should get a pass. Have the balls to call him on it, Hiroshi.”
“Look, we all have rough spots and—”
“Exactly, Hiro. Why does he get a license to be a prick? Go ahead, answer that.”
“Maybe if you wouldn’t tease him—”
“I tease everyone.”
“Well everyone’s not always in the mood for your shit,” Hiro said, putting down his violin. He went to stand toe-to-toe with Shinji. “Know when to shut up.”
“Kouta’s selfish and insecure,” Shinji vented. “He feels things should always go his way. It’s no wonder Ryuu left him.”
“Oh you should talk,” Hiro mocked. “Think about why Yoriko dumped you!”
“Enough,” Kouta said, pushing the two of them apart. “I’m sorry I caused this. As a leader, I should be doing a better job.”
“It’s going to be fine you guys,” Toru said, looking at each of his band mates, needing confirmation.
“Yeah. We can put this behind us,” Kouta assured him. “In fact, let’s knock off early. I need some time by myself.”
“You need to get laid,” Shinji jabbed.
“You have been a jerk to us lately,” Hiro told his best friend.
“It’s like you don’t love us anymore,” Toru complained in a high-pitched voice, to lighten the mood.
“I’m really sorry guys,” Kouta said, sitting down and putting his head in his hands. “I just miss Ryuu so much!”
“Maybe you should go talk to him,” Shinji suggested.
“I don’t feel like doing that,” Kouta said. “He’s such a difficult man. Arrogant, stubborn—”
“Who does that sound like?” Hiro snorted, making Shinji and Toru chuckle.
“I’m glad you’re all enjoying this,” Kouta muttered, his shoulders further slumping.
“It’s obvious you’re regretting the argument,” Toru noted. “One of you has to take the first step.”
“Not me,” Kouta scowled.
“Alright, just don’t bring the heavy down on us,” Hiro told him. He began packing up his violin and guitar. “Oh, and I was in tune…all the damn time.”
Polaris was performing on a music variety show, Freshly Cut. Each half-hour episode featured an artist or group presenting a song for the first time, followed by a brief interview. At the end of the show, the performer would closeout with a second older song of the audience’s choosing. The band had chosen to do Regret & Pride, a new single.
As Kouta sang, he realized how much he’d infused his relationship issue into the song. There were several times when he struggled, as his voice filled with emotions that he strained to keep at bay. Hiro, who knew him quite well, moved closer for encouragement and began singing with him.
After the group finished, it did a short interview with the host, Tamiko Higa.
“Kouta, your vocals on that…I can’t even find the words,” Tamiko said. “It really affected me. I can’t help but wonder if your life influenced what you wrote, how you sang it.”
“Many of our songs have a connection to what has happened or is happening to us.” Kouta cleared his throat, not quite out of the forest of images the song had created. “Um, we…we…”
“We feel it makes our music that much more real,” Toru offered, no doubt aware of his lead singer’s condition. “We want our fans to know we go through all kinds of things, just like they do.”
“We think that’s a big part of why people enjoy our music and we’re very humbled by the support,” Hiro added.
“Well, it’s clear why your band is so popular,” Tamiko said. “Not only are you talented but, as a bonus, you’re all quite handsome too.”
“Please keep making comments like that,” Shinji told her, causing the audience to laugh.
“Would you like me to focus on you Shinji?” she teased. “That would be even better right?”
“Well, I’m not going to beg but flatter me freely, if you wish.”
It was times like these that Kouta was really thankful for his mates, even Shinji with his goofiness. They’d given him the room he needed to pull himself together, instead of breaking down on national television.
Kouta was over at his parents’ home, talking with his mother. It was obvious to her he wasn’t in the best condition and she was trying to be helpful.
“Honey, how are you?” Mom asked, pouring him some tea.
“Sweetheart, are you sure?”
“No, I’m not. I drove Ryuu away. I don’t know if we’ll get back together.”
“Have you tried talking to him?”
“Because you’re being stubborn,” she stated. “Perhaps you both are.”
“Yes.” Kouta sighed. She squeezed his hand for support.
“Well, I imagine you’ve had your break up on your mind forever. Let’s leave this subject alone for a while. We should go out.”
“Alright. Do you have any place in mind?”
“Perhaps…” A small, smile began to spread across her face.
“Mother, what are you thinking?” Kouta looked at her, warily.
“Your father is visiting a friend of his for a few days. That’s how our marriage has survived for so long. I know when and how to get rid of him,” Mrs. Sasaki said, making her son laugh. “So, you and I should go to a club.”
“Nice try,” Kouta told her.
“What? Is your mother not ‘cool’ enough for today’s clubs?” she asked, pretending to be offended.
“Seriously, Mom. Tell me what you’re up to now.”
“Stop worrying about it. Go home and dress nicely. Meet me back here. I want to go somewhere classy with my son.”
“Okay,” Kouta said, still wondering about her plans.
After returning home to get ready, he picked her up a short while later.
“I was lonely without your father,” she said as he helped her into his car. “Yuki and Takeshi are on vacation with the kids. And you’re usually so busy. I’m glad we can spend some time together.”
“I should visit you and Dad more.”
“It’s alright sweetheart,” she said, patting his hand. “How about we go to a restaurant? I suggest La Primavera.”
“Mom, you know that’s Ryuu’s place. I’d feel awkward there, especially if he shows up.”
“Son, you’ve gone against society by sleeping with a man. Surely, you can put aside your cowardice and go to your lover’s restaurant.”
“Mother!” Kouta exclaimed, feeling his face go a very deep red.
“Oh my little Kouta,” she said, laughing. “You really can be so timid. I remember the first day I took you to the deep end of the swimming pool. You were about three. You wouldn’t jump in for the longest time. You just sat on the edge and cried. I swam back and forth, saying, ‘You can trust Mommy. Mommy will catch you.’ Eventually, you believed me and took the leap. As I’d promised, I caught you, held you close and gave you a ton of kisses. I was very proud of you. You’ve given me so many reasons to be proud over the years. I hope you’ll add another to the list. Try to work things out with Ryuu.”
“Mom, what if he and I don’t—”
“I won’t think less of either of you. I just want to see you two happy.”
“I know,” Kouta said.
They drove to La Primavera and he parked but didn’t move to get out of the car, stalling for time.
“Dear, they don’t bring our meals out here.”
“Fine,” he murmured. “We’ll go inside. Maybe this is the first step to getting in the deep end, Mom.”
“I believe so sweetheart…”
They entered the restaurant, with Kouta still having mixed feeling about being there.
“Welcome,” Stefano said, bowing. “Would you like to sit at your usual table?”
Kouta wasn’t sure what to say; the usual table was Ryuu’s.
“Would that really be alright?” Mrs. Sasaki asked, beaming up at Stefano. “It is truly in a wonderful location.”
“I doubt that would be a problem, Mrs. Sasaki,” Stefano responded, laughing softly. “Mr. Kobayashi says you and your family are welcome to do so at any time, providing he doesn’t need it.”
“Oh yes of course,” Mrs. Sasaki said, chuckling.
Stefano directed a waiter to show Kouta and his mother to Ryuu’s table. They chose their beverages and chatted, as they thought about what they might eat.
“Thanks Mom,” Kouta told her. “I wasn’t sure what to say when Stefano asked about sitting here.”
“Don’t worry; I’m your mother. I have all the answers,” she told him, winking.
Stefano came over to speak to them, asking if he could personally get them anything.
“Well, do you know if Ryuu is going to be here?” Kouta questioned. Just asking caused his stomach to churn with nervousness.
“Actually, no. Would you like me to notify him you’re here?”
“We’d love to see him,” Kouta’s mother cut him off. “Only if it’s no trouble though.”
Stefano looked at Kouta for assurance.
“Yes, please let him know,” Kouta told him. His mother reached out and gave his hand a small squeeze. Kouta smiled, glad for the encouragement.
“Then I’ll do that, Mr. Sasaki.”
A few minutes later, Stefano returned to let them know that Ryuu would be arriving in about half an hour. They decided to postpone their meal until he came. In the meantime, they went outside to enjoy the spring air. Cherry blossoms fell around them, the gentle breeze sending the petals fluttering in the air. Mrs. Sasaki commented on how beautiful they were, then used them as a way to pass on more of her wisdom.
“You know Kouta, Spring is a time for renewal,” she said in a singsong voice.
“Mom, you’re not so subtle,” he responded, laughing.
“When I’m seeing to my children’s happiness, I am never subtle,” she said, grinning up at him.
They strolled in silence for a short while, then made their way back to the restaurant. Ryuu arrived about five minutes later.
“Hello Mrs. Sasaki, I apologize for having kept you waiting,” he said, bowing to her.
“Ryuu, it’s so good to see you,” she said, giving him a warm hug. She then straightened his tie. When she realized that she was grooming him, she laughed.
He smiled at her, then turned his attention to Kouta.
“Hello Kou,” he murmured.
They ordered their food, having a quiet conversation about the weather, work, about everything but the most important issue. Often, Kouta locked eyes with Ryuu and so much raced through his mind. There were many things he wanted to say. He sensed Ryuu was feeling the same. This wasn’t the time or place. Yet that didn’t matter to Kouta. Right now, despite his confusion about their situation, being in Ryuu’s presence was enough.
A feeling of dread was slowly growing inside of Kouta, as he thought about the conversation he’d just had. He’d gone to see Dr. Uchiyama because of his legs. Ever since his accident, they had periodically gone out from under him, causing him to stumble or completely fall. When he was healing, his doctor had explained that there would be repercussions from the crash; some of them he couldn’t necessarily predict.
For quite a few months now, Kouta’s legs had been giving him trouble more frequently. Earlier in the week, he’d had several tests done again. Today, he had returned to the hospital, so he and Dr. Uchiyama could discuss the results. The news hadn’t been encouraging. The tests were inconclusive, just as the last time.
As Kouta pulled into his driveway, he thought about how he’d ended up in his current position. He replayed his accident, remembering how quickly the curves had come, how he couldn’t stop his bike, the weeks of pain and rehabilitation. The only thing that made him smile was the way Ryuu had taken care of him, doing his best to hold off on making love out of concern. Eventually, Kouta had taken control, his body seriously needing Ryuu’s. Images of them together that morning, when he was first able to have sex again, made his smile widen.
The happiness he was feeling drifted away, as he remembered that he and Ryuu were separated. They hadn’t spoken to each other since their last meeting at the restaurant. Kouta had hoped Ryuu would reach out first. He’d considered doing so himself but was hesitant. Things should never have gotten to this point.
He left his car and entered his home, still thinking about Ryuu. His pets greeted him and he looked at his watch, seeing that it was time to feed them. He was putting some food out, when his right leg buckled. The food fell out of his hands, hitting the kitchen floor a moment before he did. He almost landed on top of Aki, since she’d been weaving between his legs.
“Shit,” Kouta cursed, rolling his eyes. “This is ridiculous.”
He started to get up. He couldn’t. His right leg had completely locked up on him, bent at an odd angle. He tried again to move. Sharp, piercing pain suddenly shot through both of his legs, causing the muscles to contract, making him wince. The pain repeated its cycle through his legs several more times. Kouta rested his head against a cupboard, hoping his agony wouldn’t last long. He felt absolutely pathetic, unable to have his legs function and surrounded by dog food with his pets staring at him in wonder. Finally, the pain stopped and he tried again to get up. This time he was successful.
He went to sit down on the couch, trying to come to terms with what had just happened. It had never been this extreme. Until now, the worst problem had happened during his last tour.
“Settle down; I’m fine,” he murmured to his pets.
Nami jumped onto his lap, looking up at him in concern, as Aki yipped frantically. Kouta continued to speak to them in soothing tones, telling them everything was okay. He didn’t even believe it himself but he thought that saying it out loud might help.
At that moment, Kouta wanted to hear the voice of the person who could comfort him the most. He called Ryuu, hoping that his stubbornness hadn’t permanently cut Ryuu out of his life. Ryuu was unavailable, in the middle of a meeting, as the receptionist explained.
Kouta stretched out on the couch, the stress from the past few weeks, and especially that afternoon, sapping his strength. Soon, he fell asleep. A phone call woke him up and he answered it.
“Kouta…” he heard. Deep relief flooded through his body, at the sound of Ryuu’s voice.
“Do you have time to—”
“I’ll make time,” Ryuu said.
“Can you come home please?” Kouta asked him.
“I’ll be there soon.”