"That's that," the director called. "Go on home; you all deserve it. Be back early tomorrow for the shooting of the next scene."
The lights in the studio brightened so that the set no longer seemed like a nostalgic oasis in the void. Spotlights lined the ceilings and video cameras surrounded the replica Meiji Era village, wires sprawled all across the concrete floor. Masaru narrowed his eyes to adjust to the brightness, but he kept his attention focused to the beautiful actress in the center of the "village": Katsumi Aiaki.
The kimono-clad actresses laughed over some joke one of the actors made, but once Katsumi's and Masaru's eyes met, Katsumi said something to the cast and waved "bye" to them as she made her way over to him.
Masaru smirked and tightened his grip on the bouquet of flowers he held behind his back.
"You did pretty good," he said as she approached him.
"This kind of acting is easier than the kind you're doing," she replied with a smile. "You guys weren't shooting today?"
Masaru shook his head. "We did; we just got off early. Orikasa-san wasn't exactly pleased that I had to run off so quickly though. I swear, her role is rubbing off on her." He laughed.
Katsumi giggled. "Orikasa-san was probably just joking around. Was Takada-san also upset?"
Masaru put his forefinger on his chin in mock contemplation. "Come to think of it... ah, I must be popular with the girls."
"No, it's Tenchi who's popular with the girls; you're just the voice behind him," Katsumi pointed out. "I don't think I can ever handle voice acting."
"It does take a lot of skill," boasted Masaru, "which I have."
"Sure you do, Masaru."
"So--" Masaru began, but Katsumi promptly cut him off.
"Tonight Hikaru is introducing her boyfriend to the family, right?" she asked.
Masaru sighed. "Not exactly what I wanted to talk about, but yes, it is. I'm not sure what to make of the 'other world' stuff she and Umi and Fuu talked about, but I have no choice but to believe her once she brings this man home. He has the weirdest name that I forgot what it was. Oh! Speaking of which, I nearly forgot!" He handed her the bouquet. "I know you hate clichés, but I love them, so I came to a compromise."
Katsumi grasped the flowers gently. "Daisies, not roses," she murmured before she broke into laughter. "Ah, Masaru, always have to have things your way even if you have to improvise."
"You don't like sweet things," said Masaru, "so I couldn't get you chocolates or cookies or anything, and I am a little low on money ever since Mother made me pay rent."
Katsumi arched a brow. "How much did these cost?"
Masaru shrugged. "Eight thousand yen."
"You could have gotten me a cheap piece of jewelry for much less. Flowers die quicker."
"Well, I did get you something else, but before I give it to you--" Masaru took a deep breath. "--what's your answer?"
"To the question I asked you last night on our date," he replied, shifting his gaze to the refreshments table sitting next to him. "If you need more time, completely understandable, but I'm losing faith by the, well, second now."
Katsumi grabbed his shoulder and pecked his cheek. "Do you want a straightforward answer or a speech?" she whispered in his ear.
"Straightforward. The speech might hurt."
Masaru widened his eyes, turned his head, and gaped at Katsumi. He fought off the elation that rose his heart to his throat. "Really?" Katsumi nodded. "It isn't because I gave you flowers?"
"I almost said 'no' because of the flowers," said Katsumi with a giggle.
Masaru smiled. "Thank goodness you didn't," he murmured before he leaned down and kissed his new fiancée.
Yuujirou Chuutei narrowed his eyes and bent his knees, concentrating his focus on the oversized pearl Kakeru held in his hands. Yuujirou's hands tightened around the large wooden club as soon as he saw his friend pull his arm back and thrust it towards him.
Yuujirou swung at the air.
"Strike!" said Hidehiro as he threw the ball back to Kakeru.
Kakeru caught the ball easily in his raggedy mitt. "Call it a ball, Hidehiro. Yuujirou doesn't know that when the ball is below your waist, you don't swing."
Yuujirou scowled. "Shut up."
The sun loomed over the western horizon as if it were ready to give way and fall beneath the mountain range of Japan without giving crimson shades a chance to show off their brilliance. The blue sky had only begun to show signs of a golden color, and with no cloud in the dying spring heavens, the afternoon was brighter and warmer than usual. Kakeru called it the perfect day for playing baseball, and he literally dragged Yuujirou and Hidehiro to the university's baseball field for a little practicing.
He was the pitcher of his university's baseball team, and Yuujirou had to admit, one of the best the campus had ever known. If it wasn't for Kakeru's undying devotion to the sport of soccer, Yuujirou would place half of his life savings that before Kakeru was twenty-five, he would be playing for either the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the American Major League.
Yuujirou didn't understand why he had to be the batter. If anything, Hikaru's boyfriend should be the batter, considering the great velocity put in each of Kakeru's pitches. Hidehiro could be the umpire instead of the catcher, and Yuujirou could be the catcher.
Unfortunately, Hikaru's boyfriend wouldn't be arriving until dinnertime, and Yuujirou became more and more convinced that there was more than one reason that Kakeru wanted to play baseball.
It was a dangerous subject to tread on, but Yuujirou decided to take his chances. Hey, what was the worst Kakeru could do to his best friend?
"So, Kakeru," said Yuujirou as he repositioned himself, "if Hikaru gets married to this boyfriend of hers, don't you think you ought to make amends with your father before the wedding?"
Yuujirou had almost no time to react as Kakeru fired the ball, and Yuujirou could almost swear that it was faster than a bullet. On impulse, he staggered back and tripped over his own feet as the sphere flew right in front of his nose. The bat impacted the white home base bag, and Yuujirou caught a glimpse of Hidehiro using his glove to shield his face from becoming a crater. Luckily, he managed to catch the ball.
Yuujirou panted, "I... really... shouldn't have... said that..."
Hidehiro peeled the glove away from his face and stared at Kakeru, terrified. "Th-that was a ball," he sputtered. "That was a ball, but I'm afraid to say it."
"Call it a strike, Hidehiro," said Yuujirou. "Please call it a strike."
"Whoever said that she was going to marry that jerk?!" snarled Kakeru. "And there is nothing to talk to that bastard about!"
Jerk equals Hikaru's boyfriend; bastard equals Kakeru's father, Yuujirou told himself as he picked himself up from the dirt. Two subjects that I need to stay away from the next time I talk to Kakeru.
"Either way," said Hidehiro, the ball still in his hands; he knew better than to give Kakeru's only weapon back to him, "it's been two years. I have never known you to keep grudges for so long. Don't you think it's time to at least get on speaking terms with your father?"
Kakeru glowered like death at Hidehiro. "Did Masaru put you two up to this?"
"No," said Yuujirou in quick defense for himself and Hidehiro. "I only figured that since Hikaru is ready to get married--quit glaring at me like that; you're scaring me--you would like to give Hikaru the best day of her life truly the best day of her life by not creating such a dark atmosphere during the wedding."
"This is only her boyfriend! Nobody said anything about an engagement!"
"Yet," muttered Hidehiro. "Come on, two years. That's fourteen years total of hallucination."
"What hallucination?! There's no hallucination, damn it! And I'm sick of hearing about my father, so leave me the hell alone! Give me back my ball."
"Not if you're going to kill us with it," Hidehiro counterattacked. "Besides, you're going to have to go to your home to meet Hikaru's boyfriend, right? So why don't you--"
"Not my home," said Kakeru as he stormed towards the two. "My home is an apartment, and Hikaru is bringing the jerk to her home, which is a traditional kendo house."
"Regardless, you're going to be in the same room as him," pointed out Hidehiro.
Yuujirou nodded, and although Kakeru's menacing glare tried to prevent him from saying it, he knew he had to. "You don't want Hikaru's boyfriend to get uneasy, do you?"
"Maybe I do."
"There goes the end of that conversation," muttered Hidehiro, and all Yuujirou could do was sigh and run away from the steaming Kakeru.
It was the evening of the end of the working week, so the parking lot across the street from Tokyo Tower wasn't as crowded as it normally was. For that, Fumiko was more than happy. However, when she made the big mistake of offering Sera a ride home and let it slip that she was going to meet Hikaru and her boyfriend at Tokyo Tower, Sera insisted on coming. Fumiko could not force Sera out of the car when they arrived in front of the Araki mansion, and she refused to be late to pick up Hikaru.
So, against Fumiko's will and Hikaru's wish, Sera was present in the Tokyo Tower parking lot, more giddy than ever about the wonders of Hikaru's first boyfriend.
Needless to say, after waiting for about ten minutes, Fumiko was getting annoyed.
"I wonder what he looks like," Sera mused in the passenger seat left of Fumiko. "I don't know Hikaru's type; I don't remember her ever having even a simple crush on anybody while we were in school."
"We went to an all-girl's school, Sera."
"So? She has three older brothers with a lot of friends. She could have easily fallen in love with Kyousuke-san or Yuujirou or Hidehiro--even though Rei is going out with him--or even one of Masaru-san's actor friends. But if Hikaru is Hikaru, she won't care about looks. Oh dear, what if he's fat and ugly?"
"You seem apathetic."
"You really need to shut up! I swear, you can be worse than Rei sometimes. I thought geniuses like you were supposed to be shy and quiet and not talkative at all."
Sera shrugged. "So I go against the stereotype sometimes. What's your point?" Fumiko groaned. "Has Hikaru told you anything about him?"
"Only that he's out of this world," said Fumiko.
"He must be really special, then." Sera sighed dreamily. "Poor Kakeru. You know how overprotective he is over Hikaru."
Fumiko sighed, too, but out of annoyance. Oh, if only Sera knew how special Hikaru's boyfriend was! Fumiko had a hard time believing Hikaru at first, and Fumiko still only barely believed it, but Hikaru's boyfriend literally was out of this world. He was in the world of Cephiro, soon to be in Tokyo, and his name was one of the strangest Fumiko has ever heard: Lantis. That was all Hikaru really told her, and that was all Fumiko really cared to hear from Hikaru--everything else she'll find out from Lantis, or she'll judge for herself.
"What?" she snapped.
"You went off in space when I mentioned Kakeru," Sera teased.
"I was trying to ignore you," said Fumiko angrily in quick defense. "I knew I should have never told you that Hikaru had a boyfriend."
"Don't act like I'm stupid in social situations," said Sera, sounding just a little irritated. "I know you have a crush on him, and that's why you're meeting Hikaru right now."
"I'm meeting Hikaru because she asked me to pick her up."
That was true. Hikaru told Fumiko that she normally went to Tokyo Tower by bus and train, and she didn't want to risk losing Lantis in the Tokyo metropolis. Her other two friends that normally went with her to Tokyo Tower didn't have cars of their own, and, after all, Fumiko was Hikaru's best friend.
Somehow, though, it got a little warmer in the car. Fumiko reached for the air conditioner, but Sera's oh so tactful remark stopped her.
Fumiko clenched her fists and said through gritted teeth, "No, I am not!"
"Yes, you are."
"If my face looks red, it's the sunset, damn it."
"Then why were you going to turn the air conditioner up? It's not hot in here at all."
"I was going to turn it down," Fumiko retorted... and lied.
Sera rolled her eyes. "Sure you were."
"I swear you switched personalities with Rei today!" growled Fumiko.
"You still aren't denying the fact that you're in love with--oh, look! Here comes Hikaru!"
Fumiko turned and stared out the window, and sure enough, stepping into the parking lot was Hikaru with two other girls and a, Fumiko had to admit, very handsome man. He made the three girls accompanying him look like elementary kids, for Hikaru only barely reached midway up his chest. He seemed like a dark man, which Fumiko would never suspect Hikaru would go for, only because he had raven hair and wore completely dark clothing with black boots. There was nothing too strange about his clothes otherwise, but Fumiko felt that he really was from another world.
"Wow," breathed Sera, "Hikaru really does have good taste!"
Fumiko sighed. "Watch. I'm going to end up not liking him. He's probably a jerk when he's not around Hikaru--or even with her around."
"I think I'm beginning to understand now why you and Kakeru would make such a cute couple."
"Something is keeping me from seriously hurting you," growled Fumiko, "and I want to know what it is."
"Fumiko-chan!" called Hikaru as she jogged towards the car. Fumiko rolled down the window, to which Hikaru stopped and peered inside. "I'm glad you could make it. Ah, Sera-chan! What are you doing here?"
"Good evening!" Sera chirped. "When I heard that you had a boyfriend, I had to see for myself!"
Fumiko rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry, Hikaru," she said. "I really shouldn't have told her..."
"That's okay!" said Hikaru. "I'm not ashamed to hide Lantis from anybody. Does Rei-chan know?"
Fumiko shook her head. "Rei doesn't know, and--" Fumiko dropped her voice to a whisper. "--I didn't tell Sera about Cephiro. She thinks Lantis is just a normal Japanese guy despite the weird name."