A day after they returned back to Tokyo from their coaching sessions in Nagoya, Ryu got a call from Ai-chan. She needed to meet him, and she needed to meet him right now.
With a lump of discomfort in his stomach he took the train and subway to Shibuya. Ai-chan had taken a liking to wait by the statue of Hachiko.
When he arrived she sat behind the bronze dog. Her eyes were lined with red, as if she had been crying and tried to mask it with make-up.
“What's up,” Ryu asked.
“Not here,” she answered. “Let's go somewhere where we can be alone.” For once she didn't glare at the other girls giving him evaluating glances.
He nodded and took her hand. For a short moment it felt like she was about to take hers back, but then she lodged her fingers around his. They crossed the great intersection and made their way into the smaller streets on the other side.
“So?” Ryu wanted to know when the crowd had petered out into nothing.
“I'm so angry,” she began. “Dad listened to some stupid rumours, and he said you're bad for me.”
So it was like that after all. “And now you want to break up?”
“No! I don't want to at all. I like you. But I'll have to keep it a secret.”
Ryu shook his head. “Sorry, no can do. I'm never ashamed of those I like. I won't agree to hide that you're my girl.”
He felt he grip on his hand tighten. Ryu squeezed back. He really did like Ai-chan. More than like. In a way he guessed he loved her. “Sorry,” he said. “We're either together and face whatever problems we run into, or we're not together at all.” He was his father's son, and his mother's. They'd think less of him if he huddled in the shadows.
“I… I can't. Dad scares me.”
“Look, Ai-chan, I really like you. I won't force you to make a choice, but I'll never hide that you're my girlfriend. I'm proud of you and honoured you wanted me by your side instead of some other boy.”
They reached the H&M shop Kuri referred to as her first clash with reality since she arrived in Japan. Ryu led them down the street to avoid the people around them. A bit further away the street dug under train tracks, and the noise should block out any unwanted listeners.
“I'm so sorry. I love you, but I don't dare having a fight with my dad. Let's break up.”
Ryu bowed and stole a last hug and kiss. “I have to respect that. I want you to know I'm not doing this happily, but let's break up.”
Ai-chan's lips turned down, and it looked like she was going to cry. “Just once more!” she said and pulled him to her. She tasted of salt.
“Friends?” he whispered into her ear when they hugged after the kiss.
“Friends, always,” she said.
He left her there, under the bridge. His chest hurt, and he didn't dare to turn and look after her. If she still stood there waiting for him he wouldn't have it in him to continue walking.
Now that's a shitty way to spend spring break, he thought when he had come far enough up the street to know he wouldn't be able to see the bridge even if he turned around. For that reason he did just that. Just to see if she had followed him. She hadn't.
He felt a pang of regret, but even though he respected secrets, there were still a kind of them he refused to acknowledge. He wouldn't lie about his girlfriend.
Ryu was about to turn back into the small maze of streets that led back to the station when he ran into Kuri. She smirked and stared down the street he had come from.
“I saw that, you know,” she said.
“Saw what?” He hadn't seen her following them.
“I saw her waiting for you with that look in her face.”
Damn! Is it that impossible to hide anything from you? “So?”
“Make up or break up?”
“Let's have a coffee,” Ryu suggested. He could as well get something out of a day that had already gone down the drain anyway.
They found a table at a rather expensive book café that should have overlooked the intersection but for the lack of windows. Expensive or not, it was well within acceptable range for his wallet. Ryu knew he had it easy when it came to money, and even more so with Urufu's ludicrously well paid stunts. He guessed Kuri made even more given her rising fame.
“So, interrogation time?” Ryu said after his coke arrived together with what tried to be a full lunch.
Kuri started digging in on her own food. She just nodded with her mouth full.
Ryu watched her with some admiration. You're perfectly aware of how beautiful you are, but sometimes you're just so sloppy. Then, as he gave her a second look, he noticed that some of that beauty looked stale. Like someone had made a life-sized statue that moved like Kuri. You're still hurting. Have you given up as well?
“Well,” he continued and tried to pretend he hadn't noticed her lifeless eyes. “What do you want to know?”
“Make up or break up?” Kuri said again.
Ryu sighed. “Break up.”
When did you get that sarcastic? “Maybe I am. Neither of us wanted to.”
With a face turned to stone Kuri met his eyes. “Then you know where I stand. I'm sorry for you, but it's also an opportunity.”
What the hell? “Look, if you're going to behave like a piss ant I'm leaving.”
“Sorry, I apologise.”
“I have a problem, and a suggestion.”
Ryu had a feeling he wouldn't like what was coming. He put down his fork on his plate. “I'm listening.”
“The people at Vogue are trying to pair me up with some kind of idol. I'm less than impressed. Would you like to date me?”