“How was work today Uta? Busy I’m guessing.” Yutaka was in the kitchen making dinner as Uta came in from work. “It felt like today was never going to end! The holiday shipments are starting to come in…it’s months until Christmas! Not only that, both Omi and Belle quit, not enough hours, blah blah blah.” Uta slumped down on a barstool, dropping his bag next to him.
“That sucks…you’re down two people? I’m sure there will be new hires coming in for the holidays…want a beer?” Yutaka was joking about the beer, Uta rarely if ever drank. “Yes please…maybe more than one!” Yutaka turned to stare at the young man.
“Uta! I wasn’t serious… but if you really want one…please, help yourself!” Uta laughed at the look on Yutaka’s face, almost as if he was just realizing that Uta was in fact, old enough to drink. “I don’t want anymore damned water…that’s all I did today, drink water and pee…it was getting embarrassing!”
Uta had felt a sense of loss in the days following Davina and Yoji’s leaving Japan, with the following weeks of him trying to fill the hole by keeping busy with nothing much more than just working. Go to work, come home, eat, shower and sleep. Repeat for next five days. His job wasn’t as fun as he had hoped, he liked Pamy and Naoto…but they all worked in different areas of the store and only saw each other on break. Uta was starting to wonder if he needed to change jobs. He fought with himself daily…even hourly, thinking about returning to the HBG, to his family of friends and supporters.
Mao would be thrilled with Uta’s return, most likely having to be sedated to keep his happiness contained. He worried about Leda and Tomo, would his return put them out of a job? As always, Uta was concerned with others before himself. There was one huge roadblock, the deciding factor on going back to work at the HBG; Sakurai Atsushi. Uta knew the likelihood of coming in contact with the man would increase by him returning to work, the DCR parties, the special events. How would he handle seeing the man that had ruined his life?
After one particularly restless night, walking into the kitchen, Yutaka and Hide were both shocked at Uta’s appearance, “Ohayo” he muttered as he shuffled into the kitchen, sitting at the table with Hide. “Uta-kun, coffee or tea?” Hide and Yutaka had made an agreement that they would not pressure Uta in any way, involving any part of his life, which consisted of not making a scene when the boy looked tired or worn.
“Coffee please,” He had his head resting in his hands, his elbows on the table. “Plans for your day off Uta?” Hide was reading the paper but glancing over at Yutaka at the same time. “Sleep, eat…sleep some more. Maybe watch TV…nothing really.” Uta didn’t have the energy to do much more.
“Here you go… strong coffee should wake you up enough to shower safely.” Yutaka patted Uta on the head, turning back to making breakfast. Uta drank his coffee slowly, thoughts running through his mind.
“Hey, can I ask for an honest opinion…not a Mom and Dad opinion please?” Uta often referred to Hide and Yutaka as ‘mom and dad’, which secretly pleased the couple. “You know you can… what’s up?” Hide did a dad move, folding up the paper and placing it neatly on the table.
“I’m not happy…if you haven’t already noticed, I think…I think I might want to go back to work at the High Ball Garden…I miss my friends, they don’t call me very much anymore. What do you think?” Uta looked up, Yutaka had taken his seat at the table, pouring another cup of coffee for Uta.
“What are your concerns about going back? Worried that they won’t have an opening for you?” Hide refused to bring Sakurai into the conversation, that had to be Uta’s choice. “I’m pretty sure I can go back…Mao would freak out for one and make Taka … hell he might even force the owner to hire me. But I worry about Tomo and Leda… Tomo filled my spot, I don’t want to put him out of a job. I think Leda would be fine, Isshi-san would probably rather have him home anyways.”
“If you’re not happy at Books Off… then you may want to talk to Taka. It can’t hurt to at least ask…” Yutaka was slowly eating his breakfast, trying hard not to say anything negative or positive. The threesome sat quietly, Hide looking at the paper again, Yutaka eating his breakfast.
“What do I do about him?” Uta muttered. He couldn’t even say the man’s name…not yet. “Well, we would have to speak to Acchan of course, you will have to set ground rules. There’s a chance he would show up at DCR events, you know that. But how many of those are there per year? Four, maybe five at the most. I’m sure Leda would work for you, if you felt uncomfortable with the possibility of running into Atsushi.”
“He’s part of your band, he’s been your friend for decades, how do I justify or ask you to keep him away from me? How long do I run? It’s not completely his fault really… I mean…he did…well, fuck…I don’t know anymore.” Uta sighed, “I’m too tired to talk about this anymore…I’m going back to bed for a while.” Uta got up and left the table, slowly walking to his room.
Hide rocked back in his chair, staring down the hallway, watching Uta go into his room. “Well that was unexpected…going back to the HBG? Asking about Acchan?” Yutaka wore a small smile. “I think he’s lonely…he misses all of his friends, he misses the fun that he had. That bar is his home just as much as our house is, he’s grown up there, it’s not surprising that he would want to work where he felt the most love…and that’s at that stupid bar…under that stupid tower. He can look past all of the pain that he experienced while he worked there… Kyo, Natsu, even Acchan. He’s growing up as well, he knows that he’s going to have to face Acchan eventually…maybe he could even see forgiving him…I’m not sure.”
Uta could hear the murmur of voices from the kitchen, no doubt discussing what he had just announced. How would he stay away from Sakurai? He was worried about the man stalking him again…watching him, following him wherever he went. He also thought about his friends; Kyo…he knew that Kyo would never let Sakurai near him as long as Uta wished. Taka, the man had played a huge role in his life over the years, along with Koichi, Tatsu and Sato. His best friend Mao, Aki and Tora. Uta knew that they would do anything to protect him, but was it enough?
Rolling over to lay on his side, he looked at his uniform from the bookstore, this wasn’t the uniform he wanted, it wasn’t where he wanted to be. He wanted that ugly yellow polo shirt, he wanted to have lemon fights with the guys, he wanted Mao picking him up and twirling him around, Taka yelling, “Mao! Put Uta down!” He wanted to be back at the High Ball Garden! “Guess I’ll call… no, I’m going to call Kyo first…he’s never lied to me about anything.” Closing his eyes, a plan in his mind, it didn’t take Uta long before he was lost in sleep.
“Ojisan, Chashu pork please and a cola.” Uta and Kyo sat in front of Ojisan, Kyo making the suggestion to meet there, so Mao wouldn’t be jumping all over his best friend. “Okay, spill it Uta. Why here…and why not with Mao?” Kyo slurped his ramen, looking intently at Uta.
“I want your opinion on something. I had to ask someone that…” Uta started, Kyo interrupting him after just a few words. “Just spit it out, Uta. You know I won’t judge you.” Ojisan was listening but stayed in the tiny kitchen.
“I think I want to go back to work at the HBG.” The seriousness in Uta’s voice kept Kyo from making a joke. “Okay, so go back to work. What’s the problem?” Kyo knew the boy well, Uta always wanted others input on what they think he should do, he still had little to no self-confidence, less now due to Teiji’s death.
“Do you think it’s a good idea?” Uta looked down at his bowl. “Well, have you though of the pros and cons of it?” Kyo asked. “Yes, more pros than cons…with the one obvious huge con being Sakurai.”
“Young one,” Ojisan saw it was time. “You are happiest with your friends, avoiding your gentleman by working somewhere you are lonely is not the answer nor the solution to your problems. Your gentleman no longer watches you, he no longer follows you. Sakurai Atsushi is no longer a problem, you must live your life to the fullest, even with the regrets you have. To place the blame on Sakurai Atsushi is not the answer, nor is it the truth.”
The mystic ramen man nodded then turned back to his kitchen. “Not the truth? You’re joking right? Teiji’s death would have happened anyways? Is that what you’re saying Ojisan. Please…explain to me how that would have happened had Teiji not been with me!” Kyo reached over and put a hand on Uta’s thigh, “Sshh, let him speak.”
Ojisan walked back over and stood in front of Uta. “Yes Uta, it would have happened, even if you were not involved. The translucent young man had a disturbed mind, he had been waiting for Mistress for some time. The boy was determined to meet Davina, in his mind Teiji was in the way. He would have acted even if you had not been with Teiji. Sakurai’s involvement was incidental, Teiji would have been taken even if you had never met.”
Uta was shocked into silence, watching Ojisan, his mouth hanging open, his mind flooded with what the old man had told him. “Uta?” Kyo patted the boy on the leg again, “Uta, look at me please.” Uta slowly turned to look at Kyo. “Sakurai was a dick bag, he tried to control you. You know these things are the truth as well.” Kyo got off his barstool, facing Uta he pulled the young man into a bear hug.
“What you do with the information Ojisan gave you, is in the end up to you. Please Uta, take what Ojisan has told you and think it over very carefully before you decide to do anything, including returning to the HBG…you know you will eventually run into the man, be it at work or a concert” Kyo stopped and pushed Uta away from him at arms-length.
“If you want my opinion…I think you should go back to work with your friends, your family. You have support from all of us, we all have your best interests in our hearts, you can come to any of us if you need to. You know this is true, can you say the same about the people your work with now? Your boss?” Kyo questioned Uta.
“No, none of that.” Uta mumbled softly. “Do you want Sakurai to suffer…to make his world a horrible place to live? If what Ojisan says is true…will you still blame Sakurai for Teiji’s death? Or can you look at this way; because of Sakurai’s selfishness, his conceit and his desire to control, it forced you out of his home, an into the arms of a beautiful man that loved you beyond the stars, he was your everything and you were his.”
Uta’s eyes flashed wide with the thought it was Sakurai who drove him into Teiji’s arms… but…if Sakurai …no…he caused Teiji…shit. How can I justify…what…?
Uta got up and walked out of Ojisan’s without a word. Kyo watched as Uta walked out, turning to Ojisan “Should I go after him?” he asked. Ojisan sighed, “I doubt it would make a difference Kyo-san.” Kyo opted to stay at the ramen hut a while longer, hoping Uta would return. An hour later, Kyo paid the bill and went home, constantly checking his phone for messages.
Uta was dazed and confused, walking without a thought to where he was going, his mind flooded with images; Teiji, Sakurai, Davina, his friends at work, Hide and Yutaka. Everything was connected by a thin red string, all leading to Uta’s heart. How could he reconcile his feelings for Sakurai after viciously blaming him for Teiji’s death? He truly believed that if Sakurai had just allowed him to live on his own, Teiji would be alive. Now Ojisan is telling him he’s wrong…completely wrong.
He had no idea how long he walked until he ended up in front of Taka’s house, it surprised him because he wasn’t really sure he knew where the man lived. Uta walked up and knocked on the door.
“Uta-kun! What’s… come in! TAKA!” Sato took Uta’s arm, pulling him into the house, holding the man steady as he toed off his shoes in the genkan. “What the hell? Uta why are you here?” Taka was stunned to see his friend, looking pale and drawn standing in his genkan. “Um…I don’t know really, but can I lay down for a while please?” Uta whispered. Sato and Taka looked at each other, weird…both of them thought.
“Yah sure, come on down to the guest room…sleep as long as you’d like.” Taka took Uta into the bedroom, “Here’s a blanket…stay as long as you want.” Uta nodded, got on the bed and pulled the blanket up and closed his eyes. Taka quietly closing the bedroom door.
“What the hell is wrong with Uta? He looked like a zombie!” Taka asked his husband, “No idea, heard someone at the door, opened it and it was Uta. I asked him why he was here…he said he didn’t know, then asked lay down.”
Taka walked to the kitchen, getting out his phone he sat down at the table.
“Hi, Hide…its’ Taka. Well, not so much… Uta’s here, no I don’t know. Okay… no he just showed up, then asked to lay down for a while to sleep. Kyo? Hm, okay. Yah, I will. Just wanted to let you know…”
“Why is Uta here and sleeping in my guest room? What happened between you two? True, would be better. Yah that’s fine. See you in a bit”
“Kyo’s coming over, he said it was way too involved to talk over the phone.” Taka told Sato. “Well that doesn’t sound good.” Sato shook his head, “When is this kid going to catch a break? Do we needed to ship him out of the country?”
“I don’t know but it’s starting to really piss me off.” Taka snapped.
Within the hour, Kyo was sitting in Taka and Sato’s back garden, looking worn and tired as much as Uta had.
“I can understand then why he’s in shock…that’s a lot to digest, it’s a complete turn-around from everything he’s believed for months.” Taka leaned against Sato’s legs, sitting on the patio. “Letting go of that anger is going to be hard for him.”
“If it had been anyone other than Ojisan telling Uta that…I would have told them to fuck off…but I’ve never known that man to be wrong! I know that’s what Uta’s thinking and it just freaked him out. He literally said nothing, got up and walked out the door. I thought for sure he was just stepping outside, but after an hour of waiting…I went home.” Kyo explained.
“Why were you there in the first place? Mao wasn’t with you?” Taka asked. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but at this point it may not matter. Uta called me and wanted to talk to me to get my opinion on going back to work at the HBG…he knew if he said anything in front of Mao, that my overly excitable husband would flipped his shit.”
“Coming back? I thought he liked his new job…the way he talked about it at the party.” Sato was confused, as was Taka.
“He said he missed his friends, he asked my opinion and I asked him if he’d thought it through, he admitted though that the one problem he was worried about was Sakurai. Then that’s when Ojisan stepped in. He said blaming Sakurai for Teiji’s death was not the answer or the truth.” Kyo was struggling to keep his emotions low, anything around or about Uta being troubled, always set the smaller man off.
Before anyone could say anything else, Uta pushed the back door open. “Kyo? Why are you here?” Uta still looked rough. “Uta, I called him because you scared the crap out of me by just randomly showing up at my door and looking the way you did.” Taka said in earnest.
“I’m here because you scared both Ojisan and I by leaving and not coming back. I understand that you were confused, but I wish… well it’s done now. Feeling better after your nap?” Kyo didn’t want to scold the younger man for his choice, wanting to just be supportive.
“Yah, actually I do. I’m sorry to both of you. I shouldn’t have just walked away and not said anything Kyo, Taka I don’t even remember walking here…thankfully I knocked on the right door, I’m sure your neighbors would be a little freaked out if I had missed the right house.” Uta grinned.
“Now, since Kyo already explained everything, I would love nothing better than to have you back at work. I know you’re worried about Leda and Tomo, don’t be. We’re getting into the holiday season in about a month, so we’re going to need Tomo. I’m almost sure that Leda won’t mind either, he only works a few shifts and I’m positive that both Isshi-san and Ruimaru would love to have him home full time. I don’t need anything as far as paper work from you, just a start date and the hours you can work.”
“Ohh, you sound all boss-like… manager-san.” Uta teased, which relieved all three men who were so worried only ten minutes earlier. “I know it’s weird right? I didn’t sound like this four years ago either! But time does that…makes you grow up and shit” laughed Taka.
“I’ll call the boss tomorrow and let him know that you’re coming back…if you are?” Taka didn’t want to assume that it was final.
“Yes please, yoroshiku manager-san.” Uta giggled as he bowed. “Manager-san? Taka?” Kyo busted out laughing. “Hey! Yes, Manager-san… thanks a lot Kyo!” Taka sniped. Uta and the others visited for a little longer, with Kyo finally offering to take Uta home. “I’ll text you a date Taka, I need to still quit my other job. Thanks for everything, all of you.” Taka hugged Uta before he left. “Any time, anything…you know where I live.” As he sent Uta home with Kyo.
“Thanks for going to see Taka, I’m sorry I spaced out and just walked away. What Ojisan said was a lot to take in…I just sort of shut down I guess. Thanks for coming to get me.” Uta was embarrassed, but since it was Kyo, it wasn’t so bad. “You know I’ll be there as well, anytime you need me for anything. I won’t tell Mao at all. I want it to be a surprise for him the first day you work a shift together…I’m going to need to tie him down when he gets home though.”
“I’m sure he’d like that…” Uta said with a completely straight face.
“Uta-kun! Are you alright?” As soon as Yutaka saw Uta, his mom dress came out. “I’m fine Kaasan!” Uta teased. “Kaasan? You little brat! Seriously, is everything okay now? Taka called and I told him you were meeting with Kyo.”
Uta told Yutaka the story, about the decision to go back to the HBG and also all the information about Sakurai that Ojisan had said to him.
“I also never looked at it that way, but then Acchan was being such an asshole, I probably wouldn’t have thought that anyways.” Yutaka answered. “Just don’t say anything to him please, I know I’m going to run into him sooner than later, I just don’t need him coming to work and trying to talk to me…not yet.” Yutaka obviously agreed, then the two of them grabbed beers and headed for the garden, Uta feeling a little lighter than he had since Davina had left the country.