The mastermind behind this plot derives no material profit from it. While several people, places, and events exist in reality, everything that follows should be digested with a healthy dose of suspicion.
I cannot write bromance or erotica to save my life.
June Het Drabbles: Recital
Ryka bit her lip as she heard a familiar voice muttering excuses closer and closer to where she sat. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed just as he took the empty seat to her right, breathless but somehow still smelling extremely fresh like musk, cinnamon, and every other scent she attributed to home. He reached for the hand on her lap and squeezed it so tightly that she could feel the outline of a wedding ring worn on one long finger.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his breath grazing her cheek. “Work ran longer than I expected it would.”
With him work ran extraordinary lengths. When they had only started dating the worst part had been realigning their schedules to fit each other’s lives – or mainly adjusting her schedule since they both knew he could hardly control his. That was a management decision, he would often say, just as their dates, their vacations, and even their decision to get married had been. Five years of being Mrs. Jun Matsumoto and Ryka still wasn’t used to it. She hated waking up in the morning to find he had already left or worse, that he had not come home at all.
His hand squeezed hers one more time. “You’re angry, aren’t you?”
That should be a given, Ryka thought. It was drama season for him this spring, which meant his already jam-packed schedule was even crazier than usual. He had been rushing from one set to another, giving interviews left and right that she felt the need to remind him that the kids were having their dance recital in the second week of July. When she had told him that over the dining table he had looked at her with sad eyes as he asked, Why would you think I’d forget that? But then he covered his hurt quickly as any actor would, as he proceeded in calmly swallowing the miso soup that had gotten cold because he had come home way after midnight, as he had said he would.
Ryka shook her head and tried to forget the look on the twins’ faces as she told them Papa would be running a little late to their performance. Javie had gotten so sad that he looked close to crying, but Rei, in her frilly pink tutu, merely went to get her jacket as she led the way to the front door. Papa said he’d go so he’ll be there, she said with full confidence. If only Ryka could share the same blind faith her daughter had in Jun.
“Let’s talk about this when we get home,” Ryka whispered back because the curtains were being drawn out, and the first batch of children in vegetable costumes was already standing on stage. One of the vegetables – a carrot with floppy grass growing out of its head – had chosen that exact moment to squat in the middle of the stage floor and throw a tantrum, much to the amusement of the adult audience. “This isn’t the place for this.”
“You’re right,” he agreed, sounding tired and defeated, and for a moment she felt a stab of guilt for showing her disappointment when he was obviously exhausted and down. “It’s the kids we came here for.”
She couldn’t deny that it made her sad to feel his hand slipping away from hers. The warmth that his fingers afforded – those fingers that touched her first thing in the morning, those hands that like to run through her hair – was immediately replaced by the cold air that permeated the auditorium. Beside Ryka, her husband sighed. She tried not to notice as the little vegetables onstage began to dance.
For all his faults as a father, Jun had at least given his children the best set of genes. Perched on his shoulder as Jun spoke with the dance instructor, Javie looked like a little angel, his large eyes expressive for an ordinary four year old. Beside Ryka, holding her hand as she carried a conversation with one of the girls from her dance team, Rei looked like a bite-sized beauty queen complete with a fancy tiara that matched her tutu. Ryka began to wonder if the twins’ beauty would be a blessing or a curse to them in the future. Jun had always said that for all the doors it had opened, his face had caused him heartaches, too.
Her husband caught her eye and understood that she had wanted to leave a long time ago. He smiled at the twins’ dance teacher. “Thank you for your time, Sensei. We really are very sorry that we enrolled in the summer program late. We hope you can continue teaching our children.”
“It would be my pleasure,” the teacher replied a bit breathlessly. Ryka could tell that even though she tried very hard to contain her excitement, the woman was a diehard Arashi fanatic. It must have been a shock for everyone, Ryka thought, for she had never spread the word that she was married to that Matsumoto. “The twins are talented dancers. It’s a joy teaching them.”
“You’re very kind for saying so,” Jun said with another small smile. Looking tentative, he held one hand out towards Ryka. “Come on, Honey. We’d best go home now.”
With her hand in Jun’s, both of them carrying one of their children, they seemed to part the watchful crowd in the auditorium as they passed by. Jun took the scrutiny with calm grace, holding his wife’s hand firmly, confidently, as he nodded politely at those who caught his eye as they walked towards the auditorium doors. Ryka, remarkably less accustomed to be assessed from head to foot, smiled at all the other mothers she knew and tried to return their enthusiasm at having discovered that their new friend was married to that Matsumoto.
As the two of them walked down the only version of a red carpet that Jun’s agency would allow them to be seen around in public – a long, burgundy carpet that snaked around the auditorium and led towards the doors – Ryka felt a quiet surge of pride that her husband was a fine, upstanding man – a good-looking one at that – and no one could deny it.
When they reached the exit doors, a nervous young woman blocked their way. “Excuse me, Mr. Matsumoto, I’m afraid you can’t go through here.”
The woman seemed to wilt momentarily under Jun’s gaze. “There are a couple of paparazzi who are camped outside, Sir. We’re not sure how they found out you were here, but there are quite a few of them, and they might bother you. You can go down a side entrance, if you want.”
Jun sighed but tried not to look too disappointed as they headed towards the narrow corridor that the woman pointed towards.
They were already a long way down the side exit – the atmosphere so tense that Ryka wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme suddenly started playing – when Jun stopped walking. Ryka and the staff looked at him anxiously.
“Why don’t you head home before I do?” Jun suggested slowly to his wife. “It might be better if I stay for a while to fend the paparazzi off.”
“Why on Earth would you do that?” Ryka bristled. “How are you going to get home then?”
“I’ll just take a cab. I took a cab coming here,” Jun said, and Ryka saw in his eyes that this was one of the spontaneous mad plans he would pursue until completion. “You and the twins can take the car home. I’ll walk through the front gates to distract them, and then I’ll take a cab in the main street.”
Their eyes met, and Jun could only smile at the displeasure on Ryka’s face. “If the paparazzi stay behind even after we leave, they might be a bother to the other parents. It’s better this way, Ryka. Trust me.”
She hated the way he had messianic tendencies sometimes, and how his instincts were almost always right.
Jun kissed and hugged each of the children, promising them he would be home very soon, before he kissed his fuming wife on the cheek and held on to her a second longer than he would have, knowing they were standing in a narrow corridor with a handful of auditorium staff members watching.
“I might have to kill time someplace before I get home,” he whispered as he held her close. “Don’t wait up for me.”
With one last kiss for his wife, Jun turned around with the same determined face he wore in concerts and began to walk towards where they had only just escaped from.
Ryka woke up to find that she had fallen asleep while reading the twins their bedtime story. It wasn’t the first time. Sighing as she fought against her heavy eyelids and struggled to get to her feet, Ryka realized the book she was reading had been neatly placed on the night stand, with the lamp light having been dimmed. Her husband was home. Tottering forward in exhaustion, Ryka struggled to find her way to the living room.
Jun was sitting on his favorite couch with his back to her, his hair unusually standing up in several directions. He looked up slowly as she approached, smiling, and she saw that he had opened a bottle of wine. She was sure they didn’t have that label in their private collection, hinting that perhaps Jun had dropped by a wine bar to distract the paparazzi. Ryka took the opposite edge of the couch and stared at her tipsy husband. “Are you okay?”
Jun nodded, but his eyes bore a mixture of sleepiness and intoxication. He was suddenly pensive as he held her gaze. “Ryka, do you ever regret marrying me?”
The question sobered her instantly. Of all the things she had expected him to say, that was not one of them. She sat up and searched his face for a sign that this was just a drunken question that he would forget in the morning. But he seemed to be serious, despite his half-conscious state. “No. Never.”
“Sometimes I think your life would have been easier if you hadn’t married me,” Jun said, polishing off half of the wine in his glass with a single gulp. “I can see it in your eyes, you know. There are times when you feel that way as well. You’re tired of being with me.”
“You’re drunk, Jun.” Ryka reached for the glass in Jun’s hand. “This isn’t the time to talk about this-”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s never the right time for anything.”
He sighed and turned to face her fully. It was perhaps the most serious Ryka had ever seen him, tipsy or otherwise. “Ryka, I can’t read your mind. You’ll have to tell me what’s wrong so we can fix this together.”
She shook her head. “We’ll talk about this another time.”
“You keep saying that.” Seeing that she had not budged, Jun gripped her arm and shook it lightly. “I’m not drunk, Ryka, tell me-”
“I’m just tired, okay?” she whispered. He opened his bleary eyes and struggled to focus on her. “I’m tired, and I don’t understand why I can’t be selfish once in a while.”
She paused and waited for Jun’s reaction. But he was only listening to her with quiet eyes. Ryka sighed and plowed onward. “Everyone tells me that it’s better to quit work because it’s my duty to look after the kids, but you said we’d look after them together, right? So why does it feel like I’m raising them on my own?”
She rubbed her tired eyes on the back of her palm. “I’m thinking of quitting my work at the agency. Maybe they’re right – I can’t succeed in marketing and be a good mother at the same time. If I focus on the crafts shop instead, maybe I won’t be so tired all the time because Raene will still run operations. I’ll be able to support you, too-”
“But you do support me-”
“It doesn’t feel that way sometimes.” Ryka exhaled and blinked at the ceiling. The first tears were already flowing down her cheeks, and she was too tired to rein them in. “Most of the time I feel like I’m doing everything half-heartedly and nothing gets done. I feel like a bad mother, a bad homemaker, a bad wife – I mean, if I don’t even have time to cook, what’s the point of having a top-notch kitchen?”
Unsure of what to say, Jun gripped Ryka’s shoulder and pulled her in, resting her face on his chest. “I’m sorry, Honey. I thought you were doing fine-”
“Well, I’m not,” she retorted, sobbing onto Jun’s chest and wrapping her arms around him. On his shoulders, too, she could feel a reflection of the tension she was keeping in. They were both exhausted. There was no way out of this unless one of them gave something up. She was sure it would be her.
But then Jun suddenly said, “VS Arashi is ending next month.”
Ryka paused from her crying to ogle her husband. “But that show’s been on television for more than a decade.”
“I guess it’s about time to give it a rest then,” Jun said, although he looked defeated. He reached forward and wiped the tear tracts on her cheeks. “I didn’t want to tell you because the details weren’t final yet. And I know how you love that show. But, see, when it ends, Arashi will only have Arashi ni Shiyagare left and that gives me more free time. I can spend more time with the kids. I can take them to school and cook.”
He held her hand in his and seemed engrossed in it as he rattled off his plans. “I’ve been thinking about shifting to movies, too. I find dramas more hectic to film, so maybe if I stay away from television, I’ll be able to streamline my workload-”
“Wait. Stop.” Jun stared up at Ryka innocently. “Why didn’t you tell me about these plans?”
Jun only smiled. “I couldn’t find the right timing for it.”
They stared at each other before Ryka burst into a sudden fit of laughter interspersed with crying. Jun was suddenly laughing as well. So they had only been waiting for each other to make the first move after all. Maybe they really were more alike than they thought. Ryka wrapped her arms around Jun as he buried his face in her hair and held her close. It was the safest she had felt in the longest time, the warmest she had felt in years. How could Jun ever think that she would be better off without him?
“I didn’t know, Jun,” Ryka whispered into his shoulder.
“We should probably talk more,” Jun said, kissing her hair. It was the last thing she remembered from that night.
The room was unnaturally bright when she opened her eyes in the morning. Ryka sat up immediately. Even with the curtains closed she could tell it was midmorning. She should have made breakfast hours ago. She should have been in the office hours ago. Ryka jumped up from the bed and hurried outside the bedroom.
To her surprise, the children were already fully dressed and playing with Lego toys. Next to them, sprawled on the floor in an almost careless way was her husband. Jun looked up as she came closer and smiled. The twins ran to her and pecked her cheeks distractedly before rushing back to the castle they seemed to be building. At least it looked like a castle – Ryka couldn’t quite tell for sure.
“Good morning.” Jun stood up and kissed her lightly, before cupping her cheek and looking into her eyes as though searching for traces of the previous night. It seemed he could not find any, for he simply reached for her hand. “I made breakfast. Come.”
He gently dragged her to the kitchen, leaving Javie and Rei to play with their Lego in between half-coherent sentences that served as building instructions. For a moment Ryka struggled to regain normal thought. “Jun, I have to go to work-”
“I called your secretary to tell her you’re coming in the afternoon.”
Jun gave her a withering look before he pushed her into a dining chair, her set place on their family table. A plate and a pair of chopsticks were already waiting for her, along with an entire assortment of dishes that Jun always took care to create when he cooked. “Eat first. Then you can leave and do whatever you want.”
He traipsed off into the kitchen, and Ryka could only stare at the food in front of her. Between the two of them, he was probably the better cook, except he never found the time to prepare their food during normal meal times.
When he came back with a bowl of steaming rice, Ryka looked up worriedly. “What about you? What are you going to do today? The children should already be in summer class-”
“I called them, too. I told them not to expect us today because I’m staying with the twins at home.” He caught her worried eye and smiled. “Sho’s coming, too. He’s bringing Shinichi along. You know Rei has the biggest crush on him-”
“You’re staying at home the whole day?”
Jun looked confused. “Can’t I?”
“But it’s your day off.”
He shrugged. “That’s what day offs are for.”
Ryka stared at her husband’s serious face.
Her face broke into a wide smile, and she was suddenly aware she had not felt so light and unburdened in a very long time. Jun smiled as well, softly running a thumb across her cheek, before he stood and carried with him the coffee mug he had brought with him from the kitchen.
“The twins are building a dragon’s nest,” he said matter-of-factly, albeit with the traces of a grin still on his face. “I’m waiting for them to finish because I’m supposed to play the part of dragon.”
“Very impressive,” Ryka nodded sagely. “The character setting could be useful for your next project.”
Jun looked at her quietly as she began to help herself to the fried rice he had made for her. When she raised an eyebrow at him in question, he leaned in to kiss the top of her head.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” he whispered. With his mug of coffee still steaming, he returned to the living room to play with their children. As she watched his retreating back, she acquiesced that some people really did get lucky.
She was one of the few.