We were halfway through the game, which my father was losing, when the doorbell rang.
“That must be Shouji and Reika,” my mother said as she walked out to open the door.
If anyone ever met Shouji and me at the same time, they would think we were brothers. We shared most of the same features, and we were both tall and had athletic builds. The only difference now was that he’d gained some weight, probably because he was happily married.
“Shoei!” he exclaimed as he walked into the living room.
“Shouji!” I smiled and we hugged. “Look at you!” I laughed.
“Yes… my belly’s growing out really well, don’t you think?” he laughed.
“I was going to say that you looked more distinguished, but never mind,” I laughed.
“You remember Reika,” he said as he introduced his wife.
I’d missed their wedding, and I’d only met Reika once, back when they were still dating.
“Yes,” I smiled. “Is that Arisa?” I said, referring to the baby in Reika’s arms.
“Yes,” Shouji said. “Meet your niece, Arisa.”
“Would you like to hold her?” Reika asked me.
“Sure?” she smiled as she transferred Arisa into my arms.
She was so little; her features were so exquisite, and her skin so soft and fair. I was in love with this baby. It made me want a child of my own.
“Shoei’s always been good with babies,” my mother said wistfully.
“Yea… I’m 2 years older and he used to take care of me,” Shouji laughed.
“That’s because I’m responsible,” I said. “Your father was such a klutz,” I whispered to Arisa.
“Can you not spoil the impression my daughter has of me?” Shouji said.
“She has to know the truth,” I laughed.
“You boys go ahead and chat, I’ll take Arisa with me,” my mother said.
I handed Arisa over to my mother. Anyone could see from the gleam in her eyes, how much she wanted to hold the baby, and we dare not deprive her of it.
“Would you like some tea, Reika?” my mother asked.
“Sure,” Reika said. “I’ll help you make the tea.”
“I’ll be in my study, reading,” my father said. “You boys catch up.”
Most people must be wondering what sort of a Japanese family I’d come from. My family was one of the rare, westernized sort of family. My mother respected my father’s position as the head of the family, and he respected her role in taking care of the home, without stereotypically oppressing her, as most people would expect a Japanese man to. This was the same with my uncle, Shouji’s father, but during those days when my grandfather was around, he expected my grandmother to be the obedient, submissive wife, as most Japanese men used to and many still do.
My aunt and my mother enjoyed a freedom that my grandmother didn’t during her youth, and my grandfather never really approved of it, but had no choice since my father and uncle persisted on behaving in that manner. As such, Shouji and I were brought up with the same mentality; while women may never be equal to men in the eyes of the society, we should do our best to take care of them and allow them room to grow as individuals, and in our eyes, they are our equals. Because of this mentality, Reika still works as a newspaper editor, instead of staying home to cook and clean.
“How’s life as an idol?” Shouji asked me.
“It’s gets dull after awhile,” I laughed. “But I’m enjoying it.”
“I can remember those days when we used to plan on working side by side at the firm when we grew up, find ourselves beautiful wives, play golf together.”
“And then I decided I wanted to be a singer.”
“I always suspected that you had something gay going on with you,” he joked.
“Hey… watch it. Singing is not gay.”
“Whatever,” he laughed, and I punched his arm. “You look good.”
“I’m paid to look good,” I replied.
“Right you are… I heard your band is doing really well.”
“We’d finally hit the jackpot this time. Our album is finally selling the way the company wants it to.”
“You must be really busy?”
“I am. I’ll be heading back to Tokyo first thing tomorrow. I have a shoot with Mika Nakashima.”
“She’s pretty hot,” he said. “Can you get me an autograph?”
“I’ll tell Reika you said that,” I threatened.
“Aww… come on. It’s really for Reika.”
“Right…” I smirked, and we laughed.
Shouji had been my best friend all my life. I’d been a lonely only child and he’d always been there with me. It’s hard to imagine my life, my childhood, without remembering the times we spent together.
Yume was Shouji’s sister.
“She’s having fun, backpacking around Europe.”
“Still backpacking? I thought she was backpacking since last year.”
“She came back for a few months and left again.”
“My father paid for her air ticket, and that was all he paid for.”
“She’s crazy,” I laughed.
“Tell me about it. I don’t know how she manages to support herself while on these trips.”
“She has her ways. She’s always been independent.”
Even when we were children, when the 3 of us played together, you could see Yume’s strong, independent character. She would want a part in all our activities, be it cycling around the neighborhood, taking walks through the woods near my grandfather’s estate or even our basketball games with the other boys. But you couldn’t call her a tomboy, because when she cleaned up and put on a dress, she was always feminine and poised. I guess this was something you had to be born with.
“So… how about that girl you’ve been trying to win over? The one in your emails,” Shouji said.
“I think I’m ready to let go,” I replied.
“You? Let go? That’s not like the Shoei I used to know.”
“If you saw my competition, you would.”
“What’s one guy?”
“There are two,” I said grimly. “And she has a history with the both of them. I can start finding myself a new love to pine for.”
“Right… I guess you should. If it’s just you or the other fella, you have a fair chance, but to have one more in the wings, that’s a bit tricky. Unless…”
“You intend to marry her or something, then she could be worth fighting for.”
“Even if I win her now, we won’t get married. I see no point in forcing her to change her mind, cos when I do, then what? What am I supposed to do after that? Where are we heading to? Our futures are vague at the moment, and all we can do now is to focus on our careers.”
“You have a point,” he nodded.
“I always do,” I smiled.
“But if you really want her, I would still advise you to try again. Maybe not now… give it sometime, and if you still feel the same, try again. That way, you won’t have any regrets since you’ve tried.”
“I’ll think about it. Thanks, Shouji,” I said.
“Hey… what are brothers for,” he smiled.
The next morning, I had to leave for Tokyo at 6am. My mother woke up at 5am and prepared breakfast for me before I left.
“Eat more,” she said. “It’s going to be sometime before you come back again.”
I felt like crying when she said it. Now I know why nuna never wanted to go home. It was harder to leave when you came back after such a long time. When you stay away, you make do with the homesickness, and the feeling dulls away. Coming back reminds you how much you missed home, and how painful it was to leave it again.
My parents walked me to the gate and watched as I got onto the taxi.
“Take care of yourselves,” I said as I hugged the both of them.
“Take care of you,” my father said. “Your mother and I will be fine.”
“Come back whenever you have the time,” my mother said, her eyes slowly tearing, just like she had when I first left home 6 years ago.
“I will,” I smiled, and I got into the taxi.
Tears flowed down my cheeks as soon as the taxi departed. I missed my home and family, but I had never shown them my tears. Someday I will be back. When I’ve had the success and career I wanted, I will come back to Japan, and hopefully, by then, I would have also found someone to love, and who loved me back.
“Call me every day, araji?” Hae Rin said as we walked towards the departure gates.
She’d sneaked out to see me off today, since I wouldn’t be around for a whole month, even though I would be coming back to attend certain events, but would probably be too busy to meet up with her. Shoei had left on an earlier flight, and I have about 2 hours more before boarding mine.
“Are you sure your manager’s not gonna catch on with you running out like this?” I asked her.
“You’ll be long gone by the time he finds me, it’ll be fine,” she said as she hugged me around the waist.
“If you say so,” I smiled, and I pinched her cheek.
“Yah! Appuh!” she grumbled as she rubbed her cheek.
“Take care of yourself, alright?” I said as I turned to face her.
“I’ll be fine,” she smiled. “It’s not like you’re around me 24/7. I can cope without you.”
“So you don’t need me?” I asked her as I raised my eyebrows.
“I do… I need your love. But I don’t necessarily need you to be with me physically, all the time. I’ll be fine.”
I felt bad leaving her on her own. True, I’m not always physically there for her, but I would love to be. And she wasn’t like nuna. It's not that nuna wasn’t independent, but she allowed you to see that she needed you. Hae Rin was the kind of girl who would never let you see her vulnerabilities, unless she wanted to. Right now, I know I would miss her, and I know she would miss me, but she was being brave about it.
“Sometimes… I wish you would be a little more needy,” I laughed.
“To stroke your ego?” she giggled. “Fat chance! Your ego is big enough as it is. We don’t need you exploding.”
“At least allow me to feel like a man, your man, once in awhile. You’re making me feel like the girl just cos I wanna be with you more often.”
“Hey… I’m here today, aren’t I? You make it sound like I’ve never said that I wanted to see you, ever.”
“Yes, yes… it’s my fault. It’s because I do it automatically, without you asking, so I’m blaming you. You need to be a bit quicker you know,” I said, and she stuck her tongue out at me.
“You’re crazy,” she said, and she sat done on a nearby bench.
“You’ll have to forgive me today,” I said. “I’m a bit emotional since I’ll be leaving Korea for such a long time.”
“Didn’t you use to study overseas?”
“That was so many years ago.”
“You’ll be back at interval…”
“Yea… but it sucks.”
“You’re gonna do a show with Vanness Wu. I would kill to go in your place.”
“Aha! So you’re admitting that you like how he looks. You want me to look like him.”
“Of course not, oppa. I love your body, I love your face, I love your hair… I wouldn’t trade you for a million Vanness’,” she laughed.
“Good,” I laughed, and I kissed her.
“You’d better go,” she said. “Or you’re gonna miss your flight.”
“Come with me,” I said as I dragged her with me towards the departure gate.
“Sure… and then the management would know and split us up for good,” she replied.
“Party pooper,” I grumbled.
“I’ll see you soon,” she smiled and she stood on tiptoes, while I bent down so that we could share a kiss.
“Take care of yourself,” I said as I hugged her tightly.
“Araso…” she smiled.
I walked into the departure hall, towards the customs. Halfway there I turned to wave, and she waved back. The next month is going to be difficult for me.