It had taken the better part of 20 minutes to calm his body down after exiting the limo. The longing was still ever present but he’d managed to keep it in check by focusing on where he was going and why.
Now, however, Asami had managed to surprise him again. Akihito stared at the ten-thousand yen bill. He’d found it in his front pocket, a small folded piece of paper that wasn’t there before. Asami must have slipped in there while he was in the car. His stomach growled.
“I won’t use it. I don’t need your charity, Asami,” he said out loud. He put the bill back into his pocket. He was walking down the street away from Headline Magazine. Crowds of people walked past him. It was almost late afternoon. He’d had an uncertain but pleasant meeting with the magazine editor. The editor had told him they were revisiting their budget and to come back early next week. He would have some work for him then.
“Come back, Takaba-kun. We’ll do some good work,” the editor had said.
He was encouraged by this meeting though it meant that he would have to wait longer before getting paid. He would have to think of something else.
His cell phone rang. It was the woman from the agency who sometimes gave him jobs. She had a job for him and could he come by in the morning? He quickly took down the details of the job and hung up the phone. He smiled. Things were finally looking up.
He passed by a ramen cart. He stopped and slipped his hand back inside his pocket. It wouldn’t hurt if he bought himself some noodles, would it? He fingered the ten-thousand yen note. No, he wouldn’t use it. Asami would just say it meant Akihito owed him even more. To Asami it was all about how much he owed him. True, he’d saved him many times but only because it was a benefit to him. He could have just let him be sold off or killed. Akihito shuddered at these thoughts. He didn’t think either scenario would have had any real effect on Asami, right?
“Right?” Akihito asked out loud. It was true that Asami took an enormous risk to get him back from Feilong, even trading an extremely valuable deed for him. Asami had said the only thing that mattered was that he came back but the risk and danger had been huge. Perhaps that’s why he felt that he, Akihito, should move in with him now. It was merely a debt to be repaid.
Akihito shook his head. It didn’t make sense. Sex, even regular sex, was one thing but to insist that someone live with you was something else entirely. Living with someone is about…well, it should be about building a life together, he thought. He didn’t want that and he couldn’t imagine why Asami would want it. He wondered why they fought all the time. We’re nothing alike and we don’t have anything in common except a physical connection, Akihito thought, coming to the inevitable conclusion.
His thoughts drifted to his earlier actions in the car. He had willingly thrown himself into Asami’s arms. He felt the blush rising into his cheeks again. He frowned remembering with shame that he’d wanted Asami to force himself on him and then there was that strange moment of silence, of gazing into Asami’s eyes. Someone bumped into him. Akihito glanced up at the man and apologized, not realizing he’d stopped walking on the crowded sidewalk. The man nodded at him, pushed up his rectangular glasses then disappeared into the crowd. Akihito looked up at the clear blue sky and at the tall buildings surrounding him and started walking again. His emotions and reactions were making no sense.
Asami’s “make sure you’ve grown up before you come see me” remark had cut him to the core. It was just further proof that Asami saw him as nothing more than a child and a piece of meat at best. He tried not to think of how Asami had pushed him away. He lowered his head, wincing at the pain welling up inside.
His phone rang again and without looking at it, he answered.
“Akihito.” The sound of Asami’s voice stopped him in the middle of the sidewalk again.
“W…Why are you calling?” Akihito summoned his anger, “What do you want?!”
“Where are you?”
“Like I’m going to tell you! You’re probably having me followed and ALREADY know where I am,” he snapped. He was almost shouting and people were looking at him. He stopped at a crosswalk intersection and leaned against a street lamp off to one side. The familiar slow chirp-chirp of the “walk” signal barely registered as people crossed the street.
“I need to talk to you,” said Asami. His voice was slightly tight. Akihito could envision Asami sitting in the car, eyes closed, hand on his forehead, smoking. He’d photographed Asami late one night in his office while he’d been having a stressful phone conversation and had seen him like that.
“No. I don’t need to be insulted again. I DON’T need to be reminded of all the things I owe you! And I don’t need your 10-thousand yen bill!”
There was a very long pause. Akihito could hear Asami breathing. He knew he should hang up but he couldn’t. He felt that odd silence again, similar to the one he felt in the car. The silence felt strange but not uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry I said and did those things to you,” said Asami. The words tumbled out quickly. His voice was very low.
Akihito inhaled sharply, dropping his phone. It clattered on the sidewalk. He stared down at it, wide-eyed, like it might turn into some large beetle and crawl away. He couldn’t imagine Asami apologizing like that and yet he just did.
“Akihito? Are you there?” He heard Asami’s voice coming out of the phone but was almost afraid to pick it up. He picked up the phone and slowly brought it to his ear.
“I want to see you…” Akihito squeezed his eyes shut. He realized he wanted to see Asami too even though he was still angry. He closed the phone quickly and stood with his fists clenched, breathing hard. The phone rang again and he switched it off.
Something inside was hurting but he didn’t know why. It felt like a painful squeezing in his chest. He was unnerved by Asami’s behavior. Asami was the kind of man who went through life never apologizing to anyone for anything. Why would he apologize now?
The limo pulled up next to him. He thought later that he should have run away but the thought never occurred to him at the time. The door opened and he got in. Asami’s expression was dark but no longer cold. He thought he should yell at him for having him followed but didn’t. Akihito just looked at him, his heart already pounding, unable to stop what was going to happen next.
Asami reached for him, pulling him into his arms.