She wasn’t ready for this. Her heart beat furiously in rejection of the prospect that Shota had presented her with and she wanted to race away from her fears. “Meisa…I need to go home.” Her words were fluid but Meisa wasn’t looking at her or indeed even seeing her. Meisa was enthralled by the person who had sat beside her all evening and this certainly wasn’t changing as the play finished its term on the stage.
However she wasn’t that much of a bitch that she wouldn’t introduce her best friend to the man who had captured her attention entirely this evening. “Ah Erika, this is Mukai Osamu-san. He’s Shota’s religious advisor.” The man in front of Meisa was alarmingly beautiful. So much so that Erika was afraid to look at him directly for fear of her shock seeping through.
“Nice to meet you Erika-san,” He held his hand out to Erika who nodded and bowed.
“Ah that’s true. The Toda’s are a very traditional family.” Osamu bowed low as well. “I am a Shinto practitioner and I’m aiding the royal family with some personal business until I have to go manage my family’s own shrine.” He added to Meisa’s introduction with a sheepish sort of grin on his face as he looked at the exotic beauty in front of him. Sure, he may have been talking to Erika but his eyes couldn't stray away from the face of-
“Ah…where is your shrine located? If I’m ever in the area I’ll stop by. I have a feeling I might have to turn to religion soon.” Osamu’s raised eyebrows were all it took to make Meisa feel like she’d just said something really stupid. She giggled nervously as he curled his lips in to his mouth so that the slightest sheen of saliva was present when they let out as a smile.
“Ano I mean…” Erika decided to save her friend the embarrassment as she smiled at the advisor.
“So how long will you be working with the royal family?” She couldn’t help but nudge her friend lightly to act more logically.
“About a year I think. I perform all the religious ceremonies in the imperial palace for now, this is my temporary post. It was nice meeting you Kuroki-san, Toda-san. I have to go back and do a blessing for our newest addition to the royal family, Jun.” Osamu tilted his head in greeting and made a move to leave them. Erika could barely hold back her laughter. She wished he could just leave so she could make fun of Meisa.
Meisa had no such plans. “Erika has a child too!” Meisa suddenly burst out loud so that Erika turned to look at her with a completely indignant expression. Seriously?
Now she just wanted to punch her best friend. “Is that so?” Osamu inquired but did not judge as he bowed low. It was obvious though that as he raised his head he grazed his eyes past her body analyzing it for signs of birth.
Erika suddenly felt highly conscious of her figure again.
“If you would ever like a blessing done for your child, feel free to contact me Toda-san.” He offered her a simple card with his number scrawled to Erika but it was Meisa who snatched it away.
“Arigato gozaimashta!” She grinned widely and Mukai looked like he could barely hold back his laughter as he brought his hand to Erika’s and lifted it to press a kiss. Meisa looked like she was eagerly awaiting her turn but he simply smiled and walked away from her. “Incorrigible these men of god.” Erika heard her mutter and stifled a chuckle as he smiled with his eyes at both of them leaving the doors of the room.
Within moments Erika grabbed her friend’s shoulder and twisted her around to face her. “What was that about?”
“Nothing.” Meisa tossed the card her way as if she had not a care in the world and Erika rolled her eyes.
“I don’t want that! You keep it. You’re the one interested in a priest.” She pointed out factually and Meisa laughed nodding along with their private joke.
“A hot priest.” She added with the slightest bit of a mischief reaching her eyes.
Erika couldn’t hold herself back from chastising her best friend. She was being ridiculous! Priests did not- well…how did priests get married anyways? “MEISA!”
“ERIKA!” Meisa shot back and the two burst into laughter as they walked down the stairs. Meisa’s shoulders slumped just the slightest bit as she turned back to look at her best friend as they made their way down. “That card is no use to me.” Her admittance was soft as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear as she remembered the man who had sat beside her the entire play. Offered her such insights into the conflicts of the characters she could hardly remember the play itself but really only the movement of his hands as he explained something or the other. He was the most decent man she had ever met. His eyes had never once strayed from her face to look at anything else. He had been so entirely consumed with discovering more about her opinions, her perceptions, her ideas that he had never once let his eyes linger away from hers. She had never met someone like him, someone who she could not make turn around and love her at first sight. It had been the first time her heart fluttered in her chest like a school girl, that she remembered the innocence of it all. She remembered her life before Takuya, before she had turned into the hateful woman she was now.
The purity of the experience with the priest had scarred her more than she'd thought.
She turned to look at her best friend with conflict present in her eyes as Erika's brows furrowed in confusion. "Why ever not?” Her only friend asked of her.
Meisa faltered for a second, the old Meisa wanted to cry and scream and throw things around. The Meisa she showed to the world had come to accept her place in society. Meisa let out a bitter laugh as she let a hand rest on Erika’s wrist. “No priest is going to marry Toda Takuya’s mistr-“Her eyes suddenly widened and she turned to look at her best friend clasping a hand over her mouth at the realization of her almost admittance. What she’d been ready to say in good humor suddenly made their situation grave as quick tears seemed to touch both their eyes for different reasons.
Erika felt her fists tighten as she imagined her father with her best friend and shut her eyes tightly. She gulped as she felt the underlying issue. That had always been there throughout their friendship. Without her father she may have never met her best friend…but god she wished that Meisa would find someone who was worth her, someone better than Toda Takuya. Toda Takuya was a despicable man...and he had never done anything for anyone who's life he had touched.
Erika still couldn’t address their relationship openly of course but she could not stand there watching her friend crumble underneath the strain of her title, the gossip, the looks she got so frequently just for feeling what she did towards her father. So Erika simply laid a hand on her friend’s hand and removed it from her mouth and lightly caressed her hair. “Don’t you dare say a word more…” She started softly and Meisa’s eyes hardened as she felt the meaning of the words differently as how Erika meant them. “Any man, priest or not, would be lucky to have your Kuroki Meisa. You are phenomenal…” She felt Meisa soften under her watchful gaze and the girl looked as if she was going to burst into tears any second now. “And you are worth far more than what you usually settle for.” It was all she could say, but she hoped to god it was enough.
Meisa couldn’t hold it back anymore as she leaped onto her best friend and hugged her. “You’re not so horrible yourself Toda Erika.”
Eri...when you trust, and when you touch. It comes from the heart in a way I’ve never ever seen with anyone else. Akanishi Erika...I don’t care if you want to take my heart out and stomp on it.
Erika felt the words wash over her with such a calm that she had not known she could feel when remembering Jin. He had given her one thing she would never lose, he had given her confidence in herself. For that she could never hate him. “I know,” She was soft as she looked into Meisa’s eyes as they backed off each other. “Can we go home now? I need to see Mao.” She admitted worriedly as she took in her best friend who sniffled as she wiped her tears away with the back of her hand.
“But what about-“
“I don’t think I’m up to much else tonight.” She didn’t want to explain why Jin wasn’t with her, she didn’t want to explain why she couldn’t stay out late, she didn’t want to explain the reason she felt like the most lonely woman in the world. Especially not to a Prince who seemed to make her heart beat as erratically as it had when she was so much younger, so much more foolish. She couldn't take it. Not tonight.
Meisa gave her a small smile and clutched onto her hand. “You don’t have to be. I’m just glad you enjoyed it. Shota was amazing wasn't he?” She pressed a small kiss on Erika’s forehead and Erika acted grossed out as Meisa laughed out loud. “Shut up you love it! Now let’s go. We’ll go grab some food and then get home okay? I’m starving!”
Erika was going to say no but then her stomach growled and betrayed her. So she shrugged and walked along with her best friend relieved that she didn’t have to speak to Shota today. But as she turned around to look at the stage she saw him come dashing out of the wings as he took in his surroundings.
If she wanted to flatter herself and create a romantic fantasy in her head like the old Erika she would have dreamed that he was there because he was racing to find her. His chest heaved with love that was in his heart for the woman he had not seen in so many years. His every thought was occupied solely with the girl who was snatched away from him before he could capture her in his arms and keep her there forever. He would breathe life into her and convince her not to leave him a second time.
Not to leave him. Her thoughts rushed back to the hospital room and the tears tinged her eyes again. She couldn't get away from him, no matter how hard she tried...and alone without Mao it was harder to look away from the memories that sprung up in her heart.
But he left anyways didn’t he?
She shook the thought out of her head as she turned around and shut the door behind her catching Shota’s gaze at last as she offered him a weak tear-filled smile as she stalked out of the play hall, her heels clicking on the marble floors.
Exactly in time with each sob that begged to be released from her chest.