Kouta opened the door to his home, feeling apprehensive about who would be on the other side. No matter how nervous he was about the situation, a day that would have a great impact on his life had arrived.
Greg, Alexis and Natasha were waiting, a mixture of excitement and uncertainty in each of their eyes.
“Hey, we’re glad you’re here!” Ryuu exclaimed. He was standing beside Kouta, keenly aware of how his partner felt. As a result, he’d given an even more energetic greeting than his usual.
After everyone was settled, there was relative silence. No one knew how to start a conversation. Chatting casually on the internet was much easier than sitting in front of each other. Natasha and Kouta’s pets eventually broke the ice. Shortly after sitting on the couch, she’d slowly slid off it and moved closer to Aki and Nami, who were curious about all of the visitors. They tentatively circled Natasha, making her laugh. She plopped down on the floor next to them and her happiness with Kouta’s pets helped to push the tension away.
Ten minutes after meeting Greg, Alexis and Natasha in person, Kouta was relieved. He could see that Greg and Alexis were happy. Alexis was due in three months and Greg was quite attentive to her. Everyone also paid attention to Natasha, who continued to be delighted with Aki and Nami.
“I’m not sure they had us in mind, when they talked about blended families,” Greg joked. His kind grey eyes held a hint of mischief.
“You’re right,” Ryuu admitted, laughing.
“I know we’re able to take this lightly,” Alexis said to Kouta. “Still, I imagine it must be awkward for you. We spoke on the web but having us in your home must stir up some interesting feelings.”
“You’re quite straightforward, just like my sister,” Kouta noted, as he chuckled.
“Babe, I thought you’d be on your best behavior,” Greg teased.
“Some things about Alexis haven’t changed,” Ryuu said drily, as he chose a piece of cheese from the bread, cheese and fruit platter that Kouta had set out.
Alexis gave Ryuu a sheepish grin. She was about to make a retort, when Natasha spoke.
“Can I have some fruit please?”
“Yes but let’s wash your hands first,” Alexis replied. She looked at Kouta. “If you don’t mind, can you please show me where we can wash her hands?”
Kouta stood to lead the way to the nearby powder room.
“I want Daddy to take me,” Natasha said.
“Sure,” Ryuu responded.
“Okay,” Greg said at the same time.
Silence filled the room. Natasha’s eyes moved from her mother, to Greg, to Ryuu and then to Kouta. She wasn’t sure what it was but, even at her young age, she sensed that something was wrong. Her lower lip started to quiver and her eyes began to fill with tears, as she became confused.
“You’re so lucky!” Kouta exclaimed, trying to salvage the situation. “You get a mommy and two daddies! I’m jealous.”
Natasha stared at him wide-eyed for a moment and then giggled; her tears were forgotten. She walked over to Kouta and peered shyly at him.
“Let’s go wash your hands,” he said.
“Okay,” she readily agreed.
When Kouta returned from helping her and went to sit down again, she motioned that she wanted to climb into his lap and he picked her up. She ate the slice of apple he offered her from his plate. Then, she leaned back against him and hummed in-between eating more fruit.
“We’re going to have some growing pains,” Alexis noted.
“Yes but we’ll get through them,” Ryuu told her.
“There are her teen years ahead of us,” Greg joked, causing the other adults to laugh. “I figure we might as well start working together.”
Kouta and Ryuu had been visiting with Alexis, Greg and Natasha for more than an hour. The conversation was flowing easily between the adults. Natasha in the meantime, was allowed to wander to different parts of the house, as long as she stayed in sight of her parents. She was enjoying that Aki and Nami were following her.
There was a lull in the conversation, when Ryuu went to the kitchen to get more snacks. On his way back to the living room, Greg motioned to him.
“Hey Ryuu, would you mind if just you and me have a quick talk?” Greg asked.
“Sure,” Ryuu responded slowly. “Is this the part where we go outside and fight?”
“No,” Greg said, chuckling, understanding that Ryuu was joking. “I only wanted to run something by you.”
“Great. Let’s go.”
“This won’t take long,” Greg assured Alexis.
“I’ll be back in a little bit,” Ryuu told Kouta. He led Greg out of the house and into the backyard.
Kouta shifted in his seat, aware that it was just him and Alexis, with Natasha off to the side chattering to his pets.
“This must be awkward for you,” Alexis said.
“It is,” Kouta admitted to her, after clearing his throat several times.
“How did you react when Ryuu told you that he had a child?”
“I’m not sure I want to go into all of that right now,” Kouta responded, remembering the painful conversations he’d had with Ryuu.
“I understand…I hope things work out for you two.”
“He really is a great guy.”
“Then why did you cheat on him?” Kouta blurted out.
Alexis sucked in a breath at the stinging inquiry.
“So he told you everything?” she asked.
“Yes.” Kouta had surprised himself about being so straightforward. However, now that the topic was out in the air, he wasn’t prepared to back away from it.
“I was lost for a while,” Alexis said. She stood and began to pace, avoiding Kouta’s eyes. She found the intensity of his stare to be too much to handle, while replying to him. “I made some poor choices.”
“You lost a wonderful man, as a result,” Kouta pointed out.
“I know,” Alexis responded, her voice strained. “But I’m happy for him.”
“Even if you weren’t, it wouldn’t matter.” Kouta was again surprised at his blunt words but he didn’t stop. Instead, he added, “And you’re fortunate to have Greg too. I can tell that he cares very much about you and Natasha.”
Alexis sat down again. She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them.
“I only want Ryuu to be part of Natasha’s life,” she said, after a few moments. “I understand that you might have some resentment but—”
“I do resent what you did,” Kouta told her. His voice was calm and cold, as he expressed his deep-seated frustration. Even as he spoke, he had doubts about his actions but he’d kept too much inside for too long. And so, he continued. “Ryuu missed years of his daughter’s life. I’m angry for him and for her. He was in limbo about what to do when he found out about her. It would have been easier for him to reach out to you, if things hadn’t ended so badly between the two of you. He was a shell of himself for months. And I pushed him to get answers because I was upset with his indecision. I tried but I couldn’t even understand the truth depth of his pain. And that almost caused me to lose him.”
Kouta’s emotions hung in the air and he stared at the floor, uncomfortable with how much he had confessed.
“I’m so sorry,” Alexis said earnestly. “I hope we can move forward, if only for Natasha’s sake.”
“I do think we can.” Kouta looked over at Natasha, who was still mesmerized by his pets. “Ryuu’s very happy to have her in his life. He spends so much time looking at her artwork you’ve sent to him and the pictures of her that you’ve emailed. He’s really in awe of her. And I want things to work out. It might have taken you a while but I appreciate that you’re doing the right thing. So, in the end, that’s all that matters.”
Though he and Alexis had come to terms, Kouta was glad when Ryuu and Greg returned. The two men were laughing, with no signs of apprehension between them. It was in direct contrast to how Kouta and Alexis were feeling. Ryuu sat down next to Kouta and gave his thigh a quick squeeze. His eyes asked his partner if he was alright. Kouta nodded and gave him a small smile. Across from them, Greg and Alexis were having their own nonverbal communication.
A short while later, Greg and Alexis prepared to leave, with promises to invite Ryuu and Kouta to the new house, once they were settled. Ryuu scooped up Natasha, who protested about not being able to take Nami and Aki with her.
When he was alone with Ryuu again, Kouta sighed as he leaned against the closed front door.
“What’s wrong?” Ryuu asked.
“I might have been a little rude to Alexis,” he confessed.
“What do you mean?”
Kouta explained, wondering the entire time if Ryuu was going to be upset with him. After he finished talking, he fidgeted a bit. When the silence stretched between him and Ryuu, Kouta grew more nervous.
“Are you angry with me?” he asked quietly.
“No, love. I wasn’t sure what to say at first. You were looking out for me. I couldn’t possibly be upset about that.”
Kouta grabbed Ryuu’s hand and led him into the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Ryuu asked, as Kouta rummaged in the pantry and then the refrigerator for a few items.
“I’m making you tortellini,” Kouta answered. “Everything won’t be completely from scratch like the last time but…”
“Still, you remembered,” Ryuu said, pleased by how Kouta wanted to care of him.
“Yes. You need some comfort food right now.”
As Kouta began to cook, he didn’t speak, giving Ryuu the space to process how the day had gone. While the water for the tortellini was put on to boil, he leaned against the counter and studied Ryuu, watching for the sign when his partner would start to release the stress he was feeling. The water had gone to a rolling boil before Ryuu spoke again.
“I won’t pretend this is easy for me either, Kou,” he revealed. “I feel bothered every time I think of the days I’ve missed with Natasha. Plus, even now, it will be Greg asking how her day was and then tucking her in at night, or a thousand other things fathers do. Still, the current circumstances are best for Natasha. I don’t know if the media has found out about our situation. I hope that never happens. But I’ not naïve; it’s only a matter of time. So, with our careers, she’ll have the most stable life with Alexis and Greg. Plus, she has a sibling on the way. As long as I’m part of her life, I’ll be alright.”
“We’ll be alright,” Kouta told him.
“Absolutely,” he agreed.
Kouta stirred in the tortellini, as he thought about how to broach his next question. He was ambivalent, wondering if he should leave the day’s interactions alone for the time being. Ryuu had sounded overall pleased about what had happened and optimistic about what the future held. However, Kouta knew him well enough to see that some insecurities remained.
“What is it?” Ryuu asked. “What else is on your mind about today?”
Kouta laughed softly. He sometimes forgot how well Ryuu knew him too.
“How was your talk with Greg?” Kouta questioned, after a few moments. “I mean, when you two went outside.”
“It was fine. He wanted to make sure we could handle the situation. He said that he knows this is tough for everyone. He promised he’d do his part to take care of Natasha and told me I don’t have to worry when she’s not with me. He grew up without his Dad; his father passed away when he was about nine. He said it became very important to him that Alexis let me know about Natasha. I thanked him for that mattering to him so much.”
“It sounds like he’s a great guy,” Kouta said. “I think we’re all doing the best we can. Overtime, Natasha will visit more. We could set up a bedroom for her.”
“We’ll end up telling her to pick up her toys, to eat her vegetables and not hide them in her napkin.”
“Or feed them to Aki and Nami,” Kouta added, laughing.
“Yes…” Ryuu admitted.
Kouta went around the kitchen island to stand in front of Ryuu. He kissed Ryuu a few times until his lover smiled.
“You’re acting quite upbeat but I know you’re hurting,” Kouta told him quietly, noting that the smile had been a shaky one. “You don’t have to keep so much inside.”
Ryuu looked away, as tears shimmered on his eyelashes. Then, he suddenly pulled Kouta to him, hugging him hard.
“I’m kind of raw from all of this,” he whispered to Kouta. He was shaking in his lover’s arms and Kouta held him tightly. “You don’t think I’m weak for feeling this way do you?”
“No. I’d be angry if you acted like it all rolled off your back.”
“Thank you for your support, Kou,” Ryuu said. He gave Kouta a gentle kiss.
“Let’s not talk about all of this for a while. We need to recharge.”