It's pouring down with rain unexpectedly. Aoi curses low between his teeth as the sudden horrid realization that he ran out of cigarettes hits him. And he just has to fuel his addiction. Now. All his resolutions to quit forgotten as he lights the last cigarette and braces himself out for the store. Luckily enough it's close- just a few minute walk.
Aoi´s mind already wondering to the sheets of music he left scattered on his desk, some of it might have even slipped onto the floor, he smiles to himself. He imagines the bewildered face Reita would make if he saw his home studio right now, in startling contrast to the orderly meticulous Aoi everybody is used to- umpteen tabs of the new ProTool application open, random files saved on the desktop, the guitars in disarray, empty coffee cups, the unavoidably full ashtray and even the black bunny slippers his sister gave him last Christmas that he sometimes wears because they remind him of home. Sometimes the mess is comforting.
Spinning the handle of the black umbrella helps Aoi´s mind to flee to the thoughts of how music has become such a big part of his life, and how he wouldn´t really change a thing about it.
In the early days he felt being the most responsible out of them all - even though he mostly sported the jester role to mask all his worries and insecurities that made his stomach churn each and every day, wishing for the best of luck but also preparing for the worst. He wasn't like Ruki- hell-bent on making their music shine- to make them shine. And he wasn't thinking fame. Not in particular, that is.
Aoi remembers the first time he painted his fingernails black and put the white powder for the geisha make up on his face - how he felt like another side of himself emerged to the light suddenly. He rather liked it, the edge everything flowed on when shielded. Looking back on it now, Aoi wonders whether in fact it was still himself and whether the costumes still make for a strong armour, if behind that armour he was allowed acts of courage that, eventually, shaped him. An on-stage persona dragging out a real person.
It seems like such a long time ago and at the same time it feels like yesterday. Why does he feel like something is missing? Sometimes the last cigarette makes a way for some unexpected thoughts. He shrugs and enters the store.
Inside it's too warm. Aoi finds himself fumbling with the umbrella, the wallet and now with the long scarf that he tries to untangle from his neck. Eventually, he spots the cigarettes rack and even the corner where his favourite brand is usually displayed. He reaches distractedly for the last pack of menthol Marlboro only to find that another long fingered, black manicured hand just like his own seizes the turquoise cardboard square first.
He looks up, slight annoyance starting to form on his face, shaping into a frown made out of invisible eyebrows. All traces of it are washed away by the sight of a bright face, a huge smile and a slightly rough voice, apologizing, and by the fact that the hand retreats from the pack of cigarettes at the same time as his.
The gentleman inside him swipes first place from the grumpy under-smoked music maker.
It´s a woman, and her face seems familiar, and Aoi tries to remember where he´s seen it before as he offers sheepishly:
"We could split it - if that doesn't sound too weird to you?"
The woman's laugh bubbles up as she answers:
"Really? I guess it's fine! It might even become a treasured moment of my life - splitting a pack of cigarettes with Aoi-san, the guitarist of Gazette!"
She sounds so light-hearted and so serious at the same time that Aoi doesn't know if he's surprised or if he should really trust his first impression - one of comfort. Is he really that nicotine deprived?
All of a sudden, Aoi feels shy like a teenager. Maybe because he's flattered the woman recognized him without all the make-up they usually pile on his face. Or maybe it's the warmth in her voice.
It's then when Aoi remembers. She's a guitarist too, in a band called Danger... something. He's so bad with names. It could be Danger Gang. What he does recall is that they're pretty good, he saw them at festivals while waiting for his own band's turn to play. The dread!!! He doesn't know her name! His embarrassment doesn't pass unnoticed, and she saves the day by holding her hand out:
“We've never been properly introduced, I'm afraid. I'm Hiko, nice to meet you!” All topped with a dazzling smile.
Aoi enjoys the firm shake just as much as the smile and he bows back:
“Nice to meet you too!”
And they stroll down the aisles, talking about small nothings as Hiko buys some paper tissues and tangerines. Aoi concludes she lives close by, and he wonders if she just moved in and if not, how come they have never met before.
They're already at the cash register and Aoi is not quite ready to leave behind the unexpected pleasant feeling that surrounds him, so while she is putting the groceries into her eco cotton bag, he blurts out:
"I know this might sound ... sudden… but would you mind going out for a coffee with me? My favourite cafe is right around the corner!" He pauses. "I mean of course if you don't have any other plans for now - or another time then...." And it´s here again, the shyness he hates and that he thought he left behind a long time ago.
"I'd like that!" Hiko answers simply.
They both walk under Aoi's umbrella since rain is still pouring down, and the streets are empty. So is the cafe and he leads Hiko to his favourite table at the window.
She orders a tea, and Aoi is amazed how easy it feels to talk to her; - first about the common things they share: life as a musician, guitars - that one topic takes a lot of time actually. Then discovering they have the same sweet tooth for tayiaki. And suddenly, tobacco doesn't feel like such a bad thing to be addicted to. Taiyaki either.