The lights dimmed all around them there was darkness and then a spotlight. One so bright she couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the person it fell on.
He moved closer towards her and her breath hitched in her throat as she reached for the rope that hung from the ceiling. He gulped and shook as he edged towards the chair. The conflict in his mind so vividly present in his body. As if he knew, that this was not what God or he had intended for himself. Yet there was nothing he could do to stop the way his feet slowly climbed up the chair, the way he slowly pulled the rope around his neck and lifted his feet in that ominous motion.
She understood though, and she felt him from across the room. The pain. He wanted it to end. He imagined the way she looked underneath someone else and his resolve only got stronger. How was this in any way right?
He finally sighed deeply and looked straight ahead, right at her.
Then he kicked the chair away.
There in the room full of people…was a doll which had lost the life in its eyes.
That was the end.
Erika was the first person to stand up immediately and clap, she loved the play. The beauty of his thoughts, the way the actor moved, absolutely everything about him she loved. The perfection with which he played the hauntingly beautiful character but most of all she understood the character. She related so deeply to his character.
She’d tried to run away twice, and finally last night she had tried to shoot herself in the head with her father’s gun. They had locked her away in her room.
Anything was better than constantly living under someone else’s orders. You became but a puppet and a shell of what you want to be when you do only what others want you to.
The curtains closed and she knew what was coming next. As the curtains reopened, he stepped out with his fellow actors and took a bow, and the applause only grew. Soon the applause died down and the actors started clapping around the actress who was crying with happy tears. She saw the stage crew come up with a bouquet of flowers for the lead actor and actress, and they shook hands and the girl paused to blow a kiss to the audience.
Erika felt the twang in her heart that reminded her that she could have been loved by people like that. If her dad wasn’t so darn sure that all entertainers were prostitutes. She supposed it said something about his taste seeing as he was almost continually cheating on mother with actresses, but for the past year or so it had only been one, Meisa-chan.
Erika wasn’t dumb. She knew about it. She just shut her mouth and pretended like she didn’t. Meisa was her only friend in this estranged world, her only key to leaving, escaping to where freedom existed. If she ever admitted out loud that she knew about Meisa’s relationship with her father then she would have to break any ties with Meisa. As selfish and hurtful to her mother as she was being she couldn’t cut off the tie because freedom was so appealing.
In fact if Meisa hadn’t been there then Erika would probably have been unable to come out of the house numerous times.
Like tonight, she turned sideways to glance at her company, Meisa and Jin both of whom were yawning and stretching. In her mind she imagined them together quite often, all her problems disappearing if they would simply realize how perfect they were for each other.
Erika wasn't foolish. She knew how much in love Meisa and her father were...Meisa would never leave him for Jin. Still the two of them had quite a lot in common and had funny conversations with each other when Meisa felt bad about Erika refusing to acknowledge Jin's presence in her life.
Like today, her father suggested a ‘date’ atmosphere for them to get closer to one another.
“I didn’t get it,” Jin spoke directly at her and Erika could not stop the way her face contorted snobbily that he didn’t understand the significance of the final scene on the overall effect of the play. She turned to Meisa quickly.
“Chotto neh?” Erika grinned widely.
“Hai Hai, go on I know you’ve been waiting to go speak to the actors and director.” Meisa yawned again stretching and continued babbling on with Jin about something insignificant.
She raced to the front of the stage immediately. Today was the last day the play was being performed in Tokyo and she had to go offer her gratitude for being able to see such a piece of work. Every time she came back it just grew better and better, each performance more powerful, more touching than the last.
As she reached the stage she looked at the lead actor was unbuttoning the top of his shirt leaving the front billowing probably from the high heat that was on stage with all the lighting and he still had his make up on. Just as she reached the stage he started off backstage and she followed him, with all the frenzy around the lead actress no one really noticed her go into the staff only area.
“Ano sa!” She yelled out and he turned around to face her.
“Yes? Can I help you with something?” He questioned now coming closer but Erika simply stayed somewhat afraid as he made his way towards her. She found surprisingly that it was hard to speak in front of people who you looked up to. Someone of his caliber, she found herself intimidated. She didn’t know what it was about him, but the way he was…it just signified his importance.
But she couldn't stand there looking like a fool forever so she attempted speech. “I just wanted to say-“
“I think I remember you.” He interrupted her quickly before she could continue. She smiled and shook her head. That was impossible.
“Muri desu yo.” She told him so and he shook his head smiling. She couldn’t believe that out of all the faces in the audience, he would remember her.
“No no… I do remember you…oh my god you’re first-up-girl!”
“First-up-girl?” She’d never been called that before. She wasn’t sure if it was a good nickname like sweetie pie or more mocking. Like Kaka Erika. (Translation: Poopie Erika)
“We’ve nicknamed you backstage. You’re first-up-girl.”
“Oh…” Erika gulped. Was her over-enthusiasm a bad thing? “Is that a bad thing?”
“Not at all! You know I should be thanking you. The first night I came on stage was my acting debut and when I first kicked the chair out I thought I’d actually choke not hearing applause and when you started clapping I knew I was supposed to have my eyes closed but I couldn’t help but look. I actually struggled to play dead after that. You have no idea the relief I felt when everyone followed your solitary claps.” His eyes held sincerity so great that Erika was a bit staggered, how could someone normal have eyes that were so expressive?
She found herself shocked and a woman of few words in this man’s presence. She was like a star struck teenager.
Thankfully she didn’t have to worry too much about saying something. Meisa chose the right moment to come retrieve her.
“Shota! Baby baby baby!” Meisa shouted from behind her and immediately ran up to him and hugged him tightly. Erika had always felt awkward around such moments. Almost as if she was an intruder. Meisa always hugged men she never knew while they were out together, mostly they’d talk for five minutes then leave each other and Erika would ponder as to how many men exactly Meisa knew?
And how many of them she knew as she knew her father.
“So you’ve met Erika. She’s positively obsessed with your work.” Meisa winked at her and Erika could only try not to let her jealousy through that Meisa could have ever been involved with this man in front of her.
“Well considering that this is my first job I've ever gotten enough time for apart from my duties I gather she’ll have to wait longer to become truly obsessed with my work.” Shota turned to grin at her and Erika gulped once more and just looked away. Where was Jin? She was sure seeing him again would turn her back into her normal loud expressive state of absolute hatred towards him.
Shota looked at his wrist and sighed speaking directly to Meisa only pausing to look at her once, “Well I have to go to the closing party with Mayuko…but I’ll see you again Meisa. I have to go get dressed.”
“All right now. Don’t have too much fun; our nation is depending on you!” Meisa giggled, leaning into Shota’s cheek to give him air kisses on the cheek and then grabbing her hand. Erika wanted to stay rooted to the spot though and look at his articulate pace, and the swing of his symmetrical arms as he walked away from her.
There was something so perfect about the way Shota was formed. There was something in her that craved after that perfection in his body.
No wonder he had fallen from the chair so beautifully.
But in the end she turned around almost sadly and slowly paced her steps back to her mobile prison cell, an awkward car ride with Jin and Meisa.
“Ano sa!” As the words reverberated through the hallway she couldn't help but turn around just as quickly as he started towards her, even if he was addressing Meisa she couldn't stop the eager smile on her face. He came up to her faster than she could blink. He bent downwards and grasped her hand, pausing to kiss it and Erika gulped.
She was going to choke on all the saliva she’d been gulping like this.
He wasn't good for her.
“It was nice to finally meet you first-up-girl." She tried to reply. She really did.
But she'd been knocked breathless and so she could only blush weakly as he winked at her walking away once more.
Her head whirred with fantasies never lived as she wished he would whisk her into his arms and kiss her silly. Erika felt herself pulled away from him by Meisa who was looking warily at him. She could hardly keep up with the pace with which Meisa pulled her out of the theater.
“Are you mad?!” Meisa lectured her and Erika frowned turning away.
“Why would I be mad?”
“You’re engaged! To be married to Jin! And you’re not even wearing your ring! And something like that. In such a shady area.” Erika looked away she agreed that she hadn’t worn her ring but there was nothing shady about the backstage area. It was where magic was created and wasn't that where Meisa herself spent most of her time?
She wanted to say so to Meisa but instead settled for, “You sound like my father.”
“Let’s just get you home before Jin notices-“
“Jin notices what? I’m not in love with him? LET HIM!"
“Why are you so against this? You know it’s not all bad right? Arranged marriages can be romantic! Think of it as a discovery, a mission.” Meisa attempted to calm Erika down but it wasn’t working.
“I’m done. I just…I wish I was on that chair. I wish I could kick it out from underneath my feet so that I could just- end this farce.” Erika stared at the chair; to most people it symbolized disgust and self-hatred. But to her it signified freedom, and choice.
Something she’d longed for her entire life.
“Jin’s in the car, let’s go Rika baby.” Meisa wasn’t sure how to react to her words, Erika could tell in the way she tried to change the topic.
No one ever was. But today she’d found someone to relate to. It wasn’t the actor but the character he had portrayed so beautifully. Every time Erika grew weak she would think of him and his beautiful end. Others may call him weak but Erika saw him as strong. It took guts to end pain that you knew never would unless you resorted to the worst option.
She understood how much strength had coursed through his veins.
"We shouldn't keep him waiting too long. It is cold." So she walked somewhat dejectedly out of the building, turning around just once to look at the actors who had piled onto the stage now.
Shota glanced up at her and for just a second she felt appeased seeing him in her eyes. She smiled and then felt the door shut between their gaze. Neither blinking away until the last possible second.
"I can’t wait to see the bride!"
"I heard her father got her one of the most expensive wedding garments in all of Japan!"
"Out of the two families the Toda family definitely has more money."
"Well the Akanishi family did just move back from China!"
Gossip. Gossip. Gossip. Was that all the women from her family knew how to do?
"Meisa," She said sighing in exhaustion. Meisa looked at her with an annoyed look in her eyes. She’d been dealing with this version of Erika for about three months now. It was getting on her nerves. She couldn't keep the words from pouring out of her mouth as she reached her best friend and gave her a quick slap. The girl's eyes opened wide and in shock as Meisa began her reign of tyranny.
"Erika enough. There is a man out there, who seems quite nice, I agree this is not the ideal situation for you to get married in but its not the worst. He’s not going to beat you up, he’s not going to hurt you, he may even come to love you but honestly not when you’re as down as you are right now! I know the idea of this marriage isn’t attractive and for heavens sake I don’t want you to suffer so please if not for your sake then mine! Try and be happy!" She finished without taking a breath and Erika looked at her in shock as she placed the veil upon her head and straightened out the back of her long white dress. Meisa was so much like a sister to her.
"You’re beautiful Eri...and you have no idea how lucky you are to have everything prepared for you. Out there when most of our country is suffering from the mistakes made by our stupid government. Americans coming in and out pillaging our culture, destroying our Japan, ruining one of our prettiest sights and you sit here crying about a nice guy who wants to marry you!" Suddenly Erika found things to look a lot more logical and she felt far more guilty about her behaviour. Erika looked like she was throwing a tantrum. It was true. She should have been thankful that her life was relatively undamaged by the rough times Japan had gone through but a mere few years ago. Meisa probably had first hand experience with it and resented Erika for her flighty attitude towards the plights of their nation while she had everything given to her.
"I’m sorry," She said softly and Meisa shook her head.
"That's not what I want from you. Just...try to enjoy getting married...and being married." With that she grabbed her best friend's hand and so they walked with each other hand in hand towards the location of the ceremony. Erika’s father stood waiting for her arm. She offered it and resisted the urge to squirm out of his grasp for being the hateful man he was.
She watched him admire Meisa's figure in the slinky red and blue number that Erika’s mother had picked out as the bridesmaid dresses. Instead of holding flowers they were holding simple fans with elaborate designs. To be honest it made Meisa look more like a goddess than she ever would.
Even on her wedding day Meisa outshone Erika.
As her best friend left them she knew very soon her own steps to her future would be upon her. A future she detested, did not want, but now willingly threw herself into as she followed her father's footsteps.
She could become like her mother.
For the sake of life, and continuity...she could attempt to sacrifice her freedom.
Mao sat quietly pondering her mother’s situation for a moment. For her it was almost a distanced perspective. She knew she should have felt more at the relay, at her mother’s feelings of being forced into a marriage but all she felt was-
Disgust. Had her mother really been that weak a woman? To pick up a hand gun press it to her forehead and hope for freedom that way rather than fight through the trials and tribulations thrown at her. She couldn’t let go of the idea.
"May I have the pleasure of this dance?" The words brushed past her skin as if they were velvet and Mao immediately without a moment's hesitance replied keenly.
"No," She recognized who it was now. Matsuda Jun-sama. She bowed her head for a moment. "Sorry, ouji-sama." She added realizing she probably didn’t want to piss of royalty.
"I apologize as well because I was not asking you," Mao couldn’t stop the bubble of embarrassment in her chest. "Yui-sama, will you do me the honor?"
"Ouji-sama, I’m an old lady." Mao turned to look at her raising her eyebrows. When on earth did Yui let anyone think she was old and frail? The beauty of the forty-five year old resembled that of a twenty-four year old. Seriously. If anything she was trying to play with Mao.
Mao narrowed her eyes as she realized the next words out of Yui’s mouth. "You really would be better off taking my dear Mao-chan here with you." Yui gave a mean smirk as Kumi came to sit down beside her.
Okay the option of being away from that bitch for three minutes was far too attractive to get away. Kumi seemed to look at her as if she was worse than the dirt under her shoe.
"She’ll have to suffice won’t she? May I ask what relation she is to you?" He sat down easily beside the previously unoccupied seat beside Mao and she turned to glower at him. How dare he speak of her in such undertones while she was still present?
Had he never taken an etiquette class?
"We’ll be off then won’t we?" She grinned brightly as she grabbed the prince’s hand without another word from him and pulling him onto the dance floor where the world was lost within a waltz. Great now she’d have to ballroom dance. How long had it been since she’d even touched her ballroom shoes?
"Do you know how to dance?" He asked her breaking her thoughts and she pretended to fake it. It would be fun to step on the prince’s toes. She couldn’t help but feel direct animosity to him, someone who probably knew her mother intimately as a child.
"Not really..." She placed the expression of fear on her face. The one boys would throw themselves in front of fires for to protect her and Jun was no different she saw. He offered her a comforting smile as if trying to reassure her it wasn’t that bad. If only he knew how conniving she was he would never have given her that gorgeous glint in his eyes.
"Don’t worry...as long as you just follow whatever I do it’ll be fine." He held out his hand for her to take it and Mao couldn’t help but feel reluctant even as she knew she was the one who brought him out here. Just as soon she touched her fingers lightly upon his open palm he whipped her into his arms and with one hand safely secured in his and the other lying directly under her arm pushing it up.
For a moment she went back to her thoughts earlier in the evening. With his arms pulling her closer it was easy to fall back into those fantasies that were never going to be realized.
"On the shoulder." He pushed her arm and it landed on his shoulder and Mao felt flooded with embarrassment. He was definitely a better dancer than she’d expected. She felt her own feet struggle to keep up with his until she remembered she wasn’t supposed to be attempting to dance.
Apparently he'd noticed too as he threw her a cheeky grin. "You sure you don’t know this?"
"You’re an easy guy to follow. It’ll help when you become leader of the nation." She replied shortly keeping her movements’ stoic so they wouldn’t look natural.
"I’m not sure that was a compliment."
"Take it for what you will." Honesty flew out of her mouth as he lifted her suddenly and dropped her onto the other side just like all the other men in the room had done with their partners. Mao had to admit. The feel of the air above them and the beauty of all of the women being up at the same moment felt nice, landing into the arms of her partner felt kind of nice too.
She'd missed having a reliable partner. Her old partner Kato Shigeaki had broken his knee and after that she had not bothered to start dancing again.
"You remind me a lot of someone." She hated the velvet sound of his voice as it caused her heart to react in the most particular ways. She reached back in his arms and they glided quickly her feet almost slipping but he kept a quick hold on her, smiling at the fumble. "Toda Erika. Have you heard of her?" Mao froze in his arms. Almost knocking them into another couple until he pulled her along again and Mao had to admit she was right. He was easy to follow, even in situations of stress.
"I’m-" she was what? The daughter of the bitch who had probably ruined this guy’s life? Left him without a father? Made his mother feel inadequate for her husband?
"I’m writing my graduation paper on her, I’m in the process of developing a good thesis. Why do I remind you of her?" She struggled out the question that was stuck on her tongue, trying as hard as possible to make it seem reasonable. Trying not to make it personal however it may be.
"Something about the way you’re so biting, so resourceful. Look you didn’t even know how to dance and now look, it looks like you’ve been doing it for years!" The way he looked at her, like he was happy she reminded him of Erika made Mao's eyes water reflexively and she tried to keep back her hysteria.
"I lied. I do know how to dance!" She attempted to shake it off as a joke but the idea she was like her mother made her movements look faked, and forced. "I’m nothing like her SEE??" She let go off his hands and moved towards the fountain towards the edge of the room. She brought her hands to her heart and attempted to calm her breathing.
God she hated being so affected by his words.
No, she thought in between deep breaths, she was nothing like that woman. She refused to be. She composed herself for a moment feeling Jun come up in front of her.
"Hey- are you feeling okay? Did I say something I shouldn’t have?" Mao could only shake her head in response as she felt Jun’s eyes stare at her in a way she couldn’t describe.
She brought her hardened gaze to meet his eyes. Could that be pity for her? She didn’t need it.
"Say Ouji-sama," It sounded strange but Mao could think of no other way to speak to him. "Do you think I could come to the imperial palace in Tokyo. I think it would be really helpful if I could understand people’s perspectives on her." Jun knew it wasn’t really allowed. Having a visitor like this, she could possibly be media and how would he know? Their family was secretive, they sure as well wouldn't approve of the arbitrary permission left out.
The desperation in her voice left him no choice however. He couldn't bear the thought of hurting a lady. "Sure." The smile that grew on her face left Jun wondering if this was really just a project. There was something about the way she acted that reminded him so much of Erika-san.
"I owe you one prince. I really do." She smiled laying a soft hand on his arm. There was the way her gratefulness seemed to mean so much more Jun thought as he stared her down attempting to release an answer from her. As she attempted to move away from he grasped her arm within his own hand and looked to release forth the pressing knowledge he wanted.
All he got back was the sight of a heart-stopping beauty. Perhaps that was the similarity that she shared with Erika-san. They both seemed unearthly beauties.
Her hand fell back to her own side as he let go of her and she offered him the tiniest of smiles and left his side.
Jun could not explain the urge to pull her fingers into his own and keep her beside him.