Akihito and Maseo sat eating their ramen with gusto. Though it was dinnertime, they had the ramen cart to themselves. Akihito had decided to use Asami’s ten-thousand yen bill since he was treating a homeless man to dinner. When Akihito asked him how he became homeless, Maseo shrugged.
“I lost my job as an engineer and ended up on the street. I take it one day at a time,” was all he said.
“Do you have a family?” asked Akihito, pouring more soy sauce on the ramen.
Maseo stopped eating to look at him. “You ask a lot of questions, Akihito.”
“Sorry. I’m a news photographer. It’s a habit,” he said.
Akihito went back to eating. He was glad he had someone to talk to. It was a relief not thinking about Asami all the time though he still longed to see him. The feeling was uncomfortable.
Maseo picked up his tea cup and drank from it, eyes closed, his right elbow on the counter. The steam from the tea cup briefly fogged up his glasses. A quiet contemplation seemed to pass over him. Akihito felt another jolt. Maseo reminded him of Asami again, bringing back memories of Asami sitting next to him with his glass of whiskey while he, Akihito, had eaten ice cream with lavender and honey. Akihito had tried to act older by ordering his own whiskey but had gotten stupidly drunk. That happened so long ago, before the chaos in Hong Kong. Akihito felt a sadness stealing over him. Everything seemed so much simpler then. He pushed the sadness away and thought he must be overreacting.
“Akihito,” said Maseo, interrupting his thoughts, “finding your place in this world sometimes means where you thought you were going to end up isn’t the right place after all. Sometimes it means the right person for you is someone who seems wholly unsuited and contrary.”
“I’m not interested in romance,” said Akihito. He went back to finishing his ramen. The sadness hadn’t gone entirely away. He focused on his food to distract himself.
“Clearly that doesn’t matter,” said Maseo, “These things happen when you least expect it.”
Akihito turned to Maseo, “Since you know so much about these things why do I still want to see him? He’s…impossible to get along with. Why do I want to be around him when he’s an arrogant bastard?”
“Bastards need love too,” said Maseo. He pushed the empty bowl away and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms. “Thanks for the food. Much appreciated. So what are you going to do, Akihito, with this compelling problem you have?”
Akihito frowned, slightly annoyed with Maseo’s flippant attitude. He realized Maseo had been using his name as if they were close friends. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before. “I need to get far away from him. We’re completely different. Our worlds are different. It’s a lost cause.”
“Far away,” Maseo echoed. Akihito could see his comments reminded Maseo of something because he looked down for a moment, frowning. Then he seemed to shake it off for he resumed his flippant attitude and smiled. “Giving up already, are you?” Maseo leaned with his chin on his hand, another familiar gesture.
Akihito gritted his teeth. “I’m not giving up! I’m being practical about this situation.”
“And what if he gave up on you? What if he walked away and left you alone?” asked Maseo, watching him closely. Maseo seemed very interested in his reaction.
Akihito stared at him, feeling his stomach drop. “He…he would never do that. Not after everything that’s happened. It’s gone too far for him to just…walk away.” It never occurred to him that Asami might leave him. Akihito looked down at the counter. He felt slightly faint. Did he just think that thought? That Asami might leave him? They weren’t together in the first place. There was no relationship yet the thought was terrifying.
His cell phone rang. Akihito pulled the phone out of his pocket so fast he almost dropped it. It was Asami, of course. Relief flooded him as he watched it ring. He switched off the ringer, realizing he was gripping the phone too tightly.
“Not going to talk to the love of your life, eh?”
“Shut up!” Akihito said, still feeling a little faint. He glared at Maseo who was chuckling.
“Don’t you think he wants to know where you are?” asked Maseo.
“He already knows. He has me followed all the time. Safety thing, I guess,” said Akihito. He took a deep breath trying to get himself together. He pulled out Asami’s money and handed it to the man behind the counter.
“Sounds like a dangerous situation if he’s having you followed for safety reasons. He sounds like your guardian angel,” said Maseo, laughing a little too loudly.
“I don’t need a guardian angel,” said Akihito. His phone was vibrating. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it, sure that he’d switched it off. He was relieved to see it was Asami calling him again.
“Hmm. Sometimes we need help and protection even when it’s not wanted,” said Maseo, watching Akihito pocket his phone.
“Seriously, it’s nothing I can’t handle. Don’t think I can’t take care of myself. I can live in his world. I’ve already been through some difficult situations,” said Akihito, surprising himself. The man behind the counter handed him the change.
“You said your worlds were too different,” said Maseo. He sounded relaxed, almost sleepy.
“But you just said you could handle living in his world,” said Maseo.
Akihito suddenly felt restless. He needed to go for a walk by himself. “Maseo-san, I appreciate you wanting to help but I don’t think I can talk about this situation anymore. Do you mind if we leave? I need to take some time alone to think,” Akihito said.
“I don’t mind,” said Maseo. They left the ramen cart and stood together on the street. The setting sun was throwing orange and red hues on the buildings surrounding them. Akihito handed Maseo the change from Asami’s ten thousand yen bill.
Maseo shook his head. “No, I don’t need your money, Akihito.”
“It’s not mine, it’s his. I’d feel better using his money to help you. And consider it a thank you for listening to me go on and on,” said Akihito.
Maseo took the money, putting it into his pocket. “Thanks. This is where I leave you, Akihito. Good luck with your guy. Everything is going to be fine, no matter what happens. I promise.”
“Thanks,” said Akihito. Maseo began to walk away.
Akihito frowned. “Wait.”
Maseo looked back at him. “How do you know everything is going to be fine, no matter what?” asked Akihito.
Maseo smiled and shrugged, not replying. He waved and walked away in the direction of the park. A large crowd came towards him and when Maseo walked into it he seemed to vanish in front of Akihito’s eyes. He waited to see if Maseo would exit the crowd but he never did.
Shaking his head, Akihito walked in the other direction. Maseo was an odd person, no doubt about it. He told himself he needed to think some more but as he walked he realized he was going straight to Asami’s penthouse. When he arrived, the sun had already set and it was getting dark.