It was such a simple question, innocent enough. Curiosity would be an obvious reaction to the change. But when Mitsuru asked Ritsu why he didn’t wear kimonos as often anymore, he was a loss of words. “What?” he responded, immediately cringing at himself.
“You haven’t been wearing the kimonos as often. Are they uncomfortable?” Mitsuru asked, adjusting the sleeve on her blazer. She grasped her teacup with two hands, letting the steam escape before taking a sip. Ristu watched the movement, stumbling to find words, trying to remain calm.
“No, they are quite comfortable,” he decided was the most appropriate response. Mitsuru eyed him over her teacup before placing it back on saucer.
“And you cut your hair,” she said, pursing her lips for a moment. Ritsu scanned his eyes around the café they were seated in, watching people casually converse around them. He lifted a hand to brush through his hair, wishing they would catch on his familiar long locks. “Ritsu,” Mitsuru said, interrupting his running thoughts.
“Did someone pressure you to change yourself?” she asked, leaning forward on her elbows, her voice quiet and even. Like she had practiced asking this question in the mirror. Ritsu swallowed and shook his head no.
“I-I just,” he paused. Mitsuru’s fingers twitched before she reached her hand forward to touch his. Ristu took a breath, his lips trembling for a moment before he caught himself and bit his lip punishingly. He started again, “I just thought I should stop, y’know?” He looked at her hand, bravely letting his fingers weave with hers for a moment. “If I want anyone to take me seriously, like,” he swallowed again, “like you’re family. I just thought it was time.” He connected his eyes with hers, looking at her concerned expression and doing his best not to apologize. They’d been working on that together—his excessive apologizing. Mitsuru had been helping him turn his “I’m sorrys” into “thank yous”. She’d been helping him feel less like a burden. He didn’t want to lose her because of something like the clothes he wore. Mitsuru squeezed his hand.
“But you love those dresses,” she said, a smile turning her lips. “And your hair is beautiful. Ritsu—my family won’t care about all that.” She raised his hand off the table, holding it up between the two of them. “The fact that I would be confident enough to introduce you to them is all they need. And I love the way you look when you dress feminine. Do you even like what you’re wearing right now?” She gestured to his button down shirt and the jeans he’d been tugging at all day. He blushed, taking a breath that could have easily escaped his mouth as an exaggerated apology for her noticing his fidgeting. He looked at her face and felt his shoulders simultaneously stiffen and relax.
“I don’t hate it.” He held his own teacup for a moment, lifting it to take a quick sip. “Shigure said I looked alright in it last time I saw him.” Mitsuru rolled her eyes.
“Please, anything that man says is always a twisted insult—he lives to torture,” she said, bitterly folding her arms against her chest. Ristu held a nervous laugh in his lungs, watching Mitsuru mumble to herself before she settled in her seat, returning her eyes to his. “I just want you to be yourself, Ristu. And if you feel more yourself in a kimono or in slacks, it’s all fine with me—and it will be fine with my family.” She gave him a smile.
Ristu looked out the window for a moment before returning his eyes to hers, disbelieving. “I don’t think your parents will like you dating someone like me.” Mitsuru shook her head at him, resting her chin on her hand. Suddenly, her face lit up, her smile a grin, and she leaned close to him over the table.
“Ristu, come to meet my family with me tomorrow night.”
Blood pressure instantly raised, Ristu sputtered at her, but she ignored his action. She stood, walking to him and grabbing both of his hands. “It will be a perfect way to introduce you,” she said more to herself than to him. Still stumbling over his words, Ristu allowed her to bring him to stand next to her. “Tomorrow will be amazing, Ritsu—please come meet my parents.” His face went red and his hands in hers trembled. She tightened her hold on them. Looking around the room one more time, Ritsu nodded to her, and she grinned, raising one of his hands to place a quick kiss on it and looking back up at him. His face went even redder and yet, as it always was with Mitsuru, he felt his shoulders begin to relax and his tension start to ebb. And when she blessed him with another smile, he squeezed her hand back.
Mitsuru told him to wear whatever he was most comfortable in, but every time he reached for the few kimonos he didn’t give back to Kagura, he felt entirely conflicted. He wanted to feel most himself, but he didn’t want to give her parents a bad impression. He decided on a casual button down with a pair of pressed pants. When he finished buttoning the last golden button, he looked at himself in the mirror, finding a respectable man staring back at him. Someone who a girl would be happy to bring to her parents. Someone who so very much wished he still had his long hair. Ritsu felt his fingers twitch and tap against his palm, and he gave them a quick shake before leaving the room to meet Mitsuru.
When he arrived at the address she gave him, he was confused. He begged the cab driver to drive him to the correct address, but the man gruffly told him that this was the correct spot. Only when Ritsu saw Mitsuru standing outside of the building did he get out of the cab. She was wearing one of her casual outfits—some comfortable jeans with a baggy t shirt. He always liked seeing her outside of her work clothes. She seemed less stressed. Like she was in her element.
Ritsu was confused why she looked in her element outside of a gay bar.
He waved as casually as he could at her, and she gave him a grin that knocked him back a step. She held his hand and dragged him to the building, saying “My parents and brother are already inside.”
“They’re in here?” Ritsu stammered. Mitsuru nodded at him, and casually talked with the bouncer at the door before he let them both inside. Ristu was thrust into a space full of people, all dressed colorfully and confidently. There were women wearing perfectly flowy wigs, men in tight fitting clothing and smiles comfortably on their faces. Lights danced around the room, leading the eye toward a stage in the back. Ritsu tugged at his shirt. Mitsuru dragged him further into the building until she stopped in front of two of the older people in the bar.
“Mother, father, this is Ritsu Sohma,” Mitsuru said, gesturing to him. Ritsu immediately stiffened, staring intently at the people in front of him. The woman looked like a matured version of Mitsuru while the man looked anything but stern. He greeted Ritsu with a hearty clap on his shoulder.
“So you’re the boy Mitsuru’s been talkin’ about. Good to finally meet you,” he said with a wide grin. Ritsu nodded quickly before bending to bow at the man.
“Thank you for having me,” Ritsu said, stumbling over his words. Mitsuru’s father laughed, pushing Ritsu back to fully stand.
“None of that, now, kiddo.” Mitsuru’s mother shook her head at her husband’s behavior, a slight smile tugging at her lips. Ritsu turned to her, opening his mouth to speak but she cut him off.
“So you’re here to support Mitsuru’s brother, I see? That’s very kind of you, Ritsu.”
Ritsu looked back at Mitsuru for a moment, and she smiled and nodded at him to continue. He turned back to her mother and loudly said, “I am very happy to be included.” Suddenly the lights dimmed, and people started heading toward the small stage and sitting in a row. Mitsuru, her hand still in Ritsu’s, tugged him through the crowd and found them all a piece of floor to claim as their spot. They sat together, And Ritsu played with the hem of his shirt, watching the others in the room sit behind them. Leaning to Mitsuru, he asked, “Where is your brother?” She turned to him and smiled.
“Watch the stage,” she answered, and Ritsu gulped.
Suddenly all the lights dimmed, and Ritsu heard a single woop from Mitsuru’s father before music started to sound. A familiar tune with a strong beat. Ritsu clenched his hands when a woman strutted out on stage, her hands on her swaying hips. The crowd suddenly cheered, Mitsuru joining in enthusiastically. The woman tossed a lock of her long blonde wig over her shoulder, giving the audience a sultry look and crouching low to the ground. And as she lowered herself to their eye level, Ritsu noticed the slight angle in her jawline. The strength of her shoulders. And he gasped when he watched the person on stage—the man on stage—confidently strut in the beautiful gown. Mitsuru whispered in Ritsu’s ear, “That’s my little brother,” and Ritsu whipped his head to look deeply in her eyes. She gave him a calming smile, and he felt the tension of the night inexplicably melt in her gaze. When the singer began, Ritsu watched her brother dance so expertly to the song, lipsinking to the words and timing everything perfectly. Mitsuru’s father enthusiastically bobbed his head to the music while her mother snapped pictures like paparazzi. Their overwhelming support for their son flooded out of them, and Ritsu felt tears prickle at his eyes. Mitsuru leaned against his arm, watching her brother with a large smile, and Ritsu felt more at peace than he ever had before.
When the night was completed and the dancers retired, Mitsuru insisted they wait until her brother was out of his outfit so they could meet him. “He doesn’t like it when we see him when he’s getting out of his drag,” she explained, and Ritsu silently nodded, his hand still holding hers. They sat at the bar until a voice called out for Mitsuru, and they turned to see what looked like a college aged boy jumping off the stage, a duffel bag swung over his shoulder. He ran over, practically leaping into his sister’s arms.
“You really don’t have to come to every show,” he said, shaking his head at her when they separated. Ritsu awkwardly stood behind them, shifting from foot to foot until Mitsuru turned to tug his sleeve, dragging him closer.
“Ritsu, this is my brother,” she said, and Ritsu tried his best to project casual confidence when he bowed at him.
“So, this is cousin of the awful writer, right?” he said, raising an eyebrow at Ritsu. Ritsu nervously nodded, fingers twitching.
“Yes,” he answered, before opening his mouth, closing it, and opening it again to force out, “Your performance was amazing.” Mitsuru’s brother shrugged at him.
“I missed the beat a couple of times—last months was better,” he said, shifting his bag on his shoulder. Suddenly, words were flooding out of Ritsu’s mouth.
“Did you make your dress? My cousin is a dress maker, and I have never asked him to make me a dress quite like the one you were wearing. I like to wear more traditional clothing—but yours was really well made and flowed so beautifully when you danced. Did you have to wear a corset to make your waist look so slim or—I’m sorry I’ll stop,” he said, placing his hand over his mouth to stop more words from dribbling out of his mouth. Mitsuru hugged his arm, pinching the fabric of his sleeve.
Her brother’s eyes widened for a moment before he let out a laugh. “Jeez, you talk just like Mi-chan over here when you get excited.” He then answered every question in detail, and Ritsu nodded enthusiastically, soaking in every word like he was mentally taking notes. Mitsuru watched him, a smile growing on her face.
When Mitsuru’s brother left the two of them to find his parents, Ritsu stood silent in the room, feeling Mitsuru standing close next to him. The room was still colorful, the lights still blinking and painting to walls, and when Mitsuru asked him how he liked the show, he turned and tugged her into his arms. She brought her arms around his shoulders, squeezing him closer.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” he mumbled into her hair, and she sighed.
“You know you can be yourself around me,” she said back, and his arms tightened. And as she kissed his cheek and held him close, for the first time in his life, Ritsu really and truly believed that he finally could.