She walked past their kitchen and saw an envelope on the table…it was large. Like Jin’s acceptance letter.
But when she opened it waiting to see something all she could see was a tiny slip of paper sliced into a half with tear driven words scrawled into it.
Are you still Akanishi? Or are you Toda? Were you always Toda? Did I imagine those days when you were someone else? Where we shared a bed together, read to Mao together, and fell in love together?
I don’t know what’s right or real anymore. I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore.
I miss you.
When do you think it’ll all be clear? I’m being taken over by the fear.
That you’ll actually leave me.
Erika…come back to me. I want you here…I need you here.
She woke up. No that couldn’t be real…she raced outside. She had a feeling; she had the strangest feeling that Jin had written her something. She knew it. It had to be there…there would be no other reason she had dreamed of such a thing.
She’d been waiting for this…she had been waiting close to a year now. Mao’s first birthday was here. Her mother had called Mukai to bless her child, Meisa was of course coming as well right after work, and of course Toda Takuya was coming with her.
There was only one person missing from Mao’s blessing and he had-
She reached the door of her house to look down and find the spot where the mail would be uselessly tossed completely empty. She gulped as she felt her heart constrict. Of course not, why would he mail her anything? He hadn’t done so in close to a year. There was no reason-
She’d almost died today, she’d almost left him today.
And he didn’t care. She had to move on with her life at least a little right? She couldn't keep hoping desperately like this right?
She didn't notice that the day's newspaper was already lying clear on the dining table.
“Can I have the child please?” Mukai asked and Erika nodded picking Mao up from her lap and handing him to Mukai who was seated isolated from everyone else. He was focused of course on the materials in front of him that he would use to bless Mao but every so often Erika could see the way he would allow his eyes to pass by the door carelessly.
Still he performed the ceremony to the best of his abilities and when Mao gurgled up spit he even cracked a small smile as he wiped it off with his robes. He tutted her and tickled her lightly so she giggled happily in his arms. Mukai was a good man and that much was clear by the way he handled himself in their house as a guest. He was perfectly gentlemanly even after the ceremony and played with Mao so much that Erika was sure he had a touch when it came to children. When she came to take her daughter away Mao had started crying as she held onto Mukai affectionately.
Erika didn’t want to think about it but she couldn’t help but imagine how Mao would have held onto Jin if he had been here with her. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t keep doing this to herself…even if she was waiting for him she had to stop dwelling on it.
A quick key into the door and all four of them, Mao included as she yelled an incomprehensible hello, heard the door crack open. In entered the most beautiful woman to grace television these past ten years, and Erika's very own restrictive crude and despicable father.
Meisa was laughing wildly at something Takuya had said, clutching onto his arms a little weakly as if she was having the time of her life with him as they walked into the one-year old’s birthday party.
“Mao!” Her father exclaimed and grabbed the little baby from Mukai’s arms and Erika smiled as the little baby spat happily in her father’s arms. At least someone loved Toda Takuya, even if Mao would learn with time that there was no point.
As Erika turned around to greet her best friend she saw Meisa’s mood looked visibly dampened at the sight of the ‘hot’ priest. “Mukai-san.” Meisa bowed low as she greeted the formally dressed Mukai. This time there was no flirtation in her eyes, no mischievousness, no trace of interest that had been present the last time they had seen each other. Just plain and simple greetings, her stance was firm and polite and her posture impeccable. Erika saw the way Mukai fiddled with his hands before loosely shoving them behind his back as he attempted to make conversation.
“Kuroki-san, it is a pleasure to see you again.” He stared at her under his eyes. This time it was Meisa whose breath shook the slightest as she cracked under the pressure of seeing him again. Meisa wasn’t sure why but every single time she saw him she felt unworthy of herself.
She let out a small sound of acknowledgement and walked away to her best friend. Just as quickly she was back to her lively old self as her arms embraced Erika. “Erika! Good you’ve put on some weight darling! Give me a hug! I’m entirely too tired and strung from making that horrible show Takuya wants to produce with me. He- well we decided it’s just going to be something a Japanese audience has never seen before!” Erika’s eyebrows furrowed. She already knew that why did Meisa have to say it again…it had been the talk of the town when Meisa had signed the agreement to do the show. None of them knew the exact details. It was under covers what Takuya was planning but there was no doubt it was necessary, with the network ready to go under. Takuya came home drunk most days and jumped into bed with her mother but Erika ignored it. She didn’t want to imagine her life like this anymore. She had no one to care for but Mao and she was going to make sure she did an excellent job of it. As she leaped apart from Meisa she was sure she smelled the slightest stench of tobacco and alcohol from her.
“Meisa…you didn’t drink did you?” Meisa’s eyes faltered from the fake light in them and she raced away to grab Mao from Takuya not bothering to answer Erika’s inquiry as she gleefully tossed Mao up into the air. Erika’s heart jumped in her throat as she came forward and took Mao away again from the pair of them.
God they were so mutually destructive. When would Meisa realize that there was more to life than being forever linked to Takuya?
She was further shocked when she saw that after for the first time Erika had ever known in her life she saw her mother and Meisa hug, while Meisa loosely hung off Nao’s shoulders. They whispered into each others ears and laughed.
It was a sight truly strange for her to see.
Since when had those two gotten friendly with each other? She decided not to question it as the door bell rang once more. So she handed Mao to her mother and she ran to the entrance from her kitchen opening it quickly to see a little boy standing outside her door.
She hadn’t invited any children. So who could he be? Everyone that was supposed to be here was.
“Hello!” He yelled and Erika couldn’t help but laugh at how he yelled it. He had purpose in his voice even at such a young age. He couldn’t have been older than three or four.
“Hi there! Would you like to come in?” She shot back smiling at him as he shook his head furiously.
“No Daddy said to wait out here as he finishes up some work with Mommy.” The little boy flicked his eyes upwards towards her and shyly turned his foot into the ground. “I'm tired of waiting ...and I'm a wittle scared. Can you be with me please? Is that okay?” He asked softly and Erika couldn’t help but want to giggle a little. Would Mao be like this too?
“Of course it is. Here come hold my hand. I’ll wait till your dad comes in.” It was probably one of her father’s co-workers who had come along to the blessing. It wasn’t really meant to be a big affair. The Todas couldn’t afford that sort of lifestyle anymore. Not with all the productions they were pumping out with hopes of them reaching the masses.
“Thank you!” The little boy smiled thoughtfully as he clutched onto Erika’s long fingers with his own little ones and Erika couldn’t help but want to hold him in her arms.
“Where’s your mommy shouldn’t she be looking after you?”
“Mommy and Daddy are arguing about Toma Uncle’s injury. She wants to help take care of him but Daddy is saying no… she wants our other uncle to come home and make medicine for him. Daddy keeps telling her our uncle is needed somewhere else.”
“Ah why did Toma Uncle get hurt? Were you too heavy in his arms?” She tutted him softly and the little boy’s eyes widened.
“No! Jun-sama is not fat! Jun plays a lot of sports!” He pointed to himself and held his head up high as he looked at her with proud eyes. So proud she was shocked to be seeing them in a four year old.
“Jun it’s not good to not introduce yourself to guests.” The voice of the man was low as he smiled at his child and immediately the little boy in front of her broke into the largest grin.
“Daddy!” He yelped as he let go of Erika's hand and ran towards his father. She could hear the oofs of the man as Jun jumped into his arms and that was when she saw him.
He looked as royal as ever. He had on a white button down shirt with brown khaki pants, his hair falling over his face as he played with his child in his arms and when he turned to hold his other hand out to Erika his eyes widened.“Oh. Erika…I didn’t know Mukai was doing the ceremony for your child. I'm sorry I interrupted."
There he was on her property standing nonchalantly like he was someone normal as he played with Jun’s fingers within his own and Erika gulped weakly as she bowed again.
“Ouji-sama-“ She started making sure her bow was extremely low as she felt him come over and pick her up by the arm again.
“Don’t be stupid you can always call me Shota. I hate the idea of you calling me anything else.” He smiled and set Jun down as they walked into her house together and she left the door open. “Hey big man…go find Uncle Mukai okay? We have to leave soon.” Jun nodded happily seeing that he had received an assignment from his father and leaped towards the stairs. “HOLD THE BANISTER PLEASE!” Shota yelled out and Erika couldn’t help but feel her heart stop at the way he was acting. Princes had the time to be fathers? Jun gave his father a toothy smile back as he ran up without holding the banisters and stuck his tongue out. “Little boys huh?” He shot back at her smiling as if she would understand.
“Mao’s only a year old so I wouldn’t really know.” She spoke softly as she lifted a hand to run through her hair and made a move to grab some of the food that was laying uselessly around her kitchen. “I- I have some food if you want you know oui- Shota.” She corrected herself feeling her mind revert to that of a teenage Erika. She was nervous, of course she was nervous! There was a prince in her house! Standing there looking at her as if she was even at the same level as him! Which was kind of him sure but completely untrue?
“Erika I don’t need any food.” He started but she turned around shaking her head.
“No, no I insist.” What else could she talk to him about anyways? "So-"
She didn’t have to wonder for long as another woman’s voice filtered through the kitchen as she stepped through the door that Erika had left open now. “Shota?” Erika couldn’t help but turn around at the sound of the childish tone and she took into her eyes the image of the most regal woman she had ever seen.
“Maki…this is Erika. I told you about her remember?” Shota smiled as he placed an arm around his wife’s waist who turned to look at Erika with surprisingly kind eyes. She didn’t know why but she had automatically expected Maki to be some form of demon. The reality was quite the contrary.
“Matsuda Maki-desu yoroshiku.” Her grin faltered a little as she took in the image of the perfect royal couple as they stood embracing each other smiling at her.
"MAMA!" Jun rushed back down without holding the banister as Shota yelled at him and he leaped into his mother's arms just as he had leaped into Shota's arms before. "Mukai uncle said he'd be down after he finished speaking with the onee-chan."
She hated the way her heart crumbled at the sight of Shota and Maki holding onto each other as they looked lovingly upon Jun. It was heart wrenching as she saw the faces transform before her eyes.
I'm not here...I'm sorry. His voice was soft as it filtered in...and she knew it was her imagination but god she wished he was here with her.
If only to not leave her alone and defenseless against the most perfect family in all of Japan as Shota's eyes turned towards her with a demanding gaze in his eyes as he asked her the inevitable question.
He probably expected an answer like- upstairs.
Erika couldn't stand the pity in his eyes that came about the moment the words left her mouth. "He's no longer here with me." It was the only answer she could give honestly at the moment as she watched their faces transform. Maki's grew to look increasingly sympathetic as Shota's own features grew into a mixed look she couldn't be bothered to decipher. She bowed low again. "Excuse me. I must go check on my daughter."
So she let her feet make her run away as she crashed into the door of the upstairs bathroom and locked herself in.
She was pathetic.