[Narise Konohara] Of Beauty – Part 18
(Of Tenderness – Part 9)
Continued from Part 17.
Hirosue bought Matsuoka’s ticket in the train car. Matsuoka had to go to work the next day, which meant as soon as he arrived at Hirosue’s station, he would have to promptly head back the way he came. He insisted that the ticket was a waste of money, but Hirosue didn’t mind as long as they could be together.
They sat side-by-side in their reserved seats. They barely spoke throughout the two-hour trip. Matsuoka stared out the window for the whole time. But just watching his profile, just knowing that he was beside him, made Hirosue feel like he was fulfilled.
Once they got off the bullet train, Matsuoka gazed inquisitively at his surroundings.
“I’ve never been around this area,” he said. Then, he perused the schedule for the train going back. Just seeing him do that made Hirosue’s chest ache. He wondered if Matsuoka was in a hurry to get home. Even though he knew the man had work the next day, Hirosue still wondered if he was the only one who wanted to spend time together.
“Are there any shoe stores around here?” Matsuoka turned to him and asked. Hirosue didn’t know much about this station, either, since it was only a transfer point for him. He paused to think for a while.
“I think there was a department store close to the station.”
“Maybe there’ll be a shoe store inside, then. Would I be able to see it as soon as I get out?”
“I’ll go with you,” Hirosue offered.
“But―” Matsuoka looked at his feet. “I’m wearing one of your shoes.”
“It’s alright. I have socks on.”
Despite his protests, Hirosue ended up being left behind on the waiting room bench. His last transfer to the local line was leaving in about ten minutes. As he expected, Matsuoka was still gone when the train eventually left. But he had never intended to get on. From the moment he had bought Matsuoka’s train ticket, Hirosue had intended to stay with him right up until the man’s return train left for the city.
Hirosue started to feel somewhat lonely by himself. He kept his eyes trained on the station entrance, wondering if Matsuoka would come back soon. When Matsuoka returned about twenty minutes later, he was wearing a pair of dark sneakers on his feet.
The shoe he had lent out also came back to him. He saw Matsuoka look up at the train schedule again.
“Do you feel like going out to eat?” Hirosue suggested hastily.
“I don’t mind, but don’t you have a train to catch? You still have a while to go from here, don’t you?”
“I’m alright,” Hirosue lied.
“I guess I am a bit hungry,” Matsuoka murmured, looking apprehensive nevertheless. They agreed they didn’t want to roam too much in an unfamiliar area, so they went into an izakaya close to the station. It was crowded inside, no doubt due to its good location and perhaps the hour of the day. They were shown to counter seats.
Here, they also barely talked. But Hirosue was still satisfied. He was happy enough just to have the man with him, to watch the man eat out of the corner of his eye.
When it passed eight o’clock, Matsuoka broached the topic again. “It’s getting late,” he began, “I think we should be going soon. I have my bullet train to catch, too.”
“I don’t want to wait until the last minute and have to make a run for the train.”
Hirosue’s attempt to stop him was unsuccessful, and they left the izakaya together. Matsuoka once again refused to let Hirosue pay for the bill. They had gone into the restaurant with the light of the setting sun lingering about them, but now it was pitch dark outside. It was hot and humid in contrast to the air-conditioned restaurant. Matsuoka pulled off his tie as he walked, rolled it up, and stuck it in his pocket. They could see the station right before them.
“Are you really going back?” Hirosue asked.
“Yeah,” Matsuoka answered. “I have work tomorrow. You’re going home, too, aren’t you?”
“I’m thinking of staying overnight somewhere close by.”
Matsuoka’s face tensed slightly.
“The local lines aren’t running anymore,” Hirosue added.
“Back there you said you were alright with the time,” Matsuoka said accusingly.
“Yeah, well… the last train was already gone by that time, so.”
Matsuoka stopped dead in the middle of the road.
“I knew something was off,” he said in frustration. “You were too relaxed for someone who had to transfer trains. You must have missed your chance to go home because I was buying my shoes. I’m right, aren’t I? Then you should have told me. You didn’t have to wait for me. I could have gone on barefoot to buy shoes if I had to.”
Hirosue remained silent.
“Will you say something?” Matsuoka demanded, his hackles raised angrily. “I don’t know what the hell is up with you today, Hirosue. Putting me on the train when I don’t have a ticket, bringing me all the way over here. I came because you insisted on it, but it’s not normal, you know, taking a bullet train all the way here just to U-turn and go back.”
Intimidated by Matsuoka’s outburst, Hirosue lost his ability to speak. Matsuoka pursed his lips into an angry line before aggressively scratching his head.
“What is it that you want to do, Hirosue?”
It was a question Matsuoka had uttered many times before.
“You’ve brought me here, kept me from leaving―what do you want to do? You say you’re going to stay the night here. Does that mean you want me to stay, too?”
“Oh, um, if you can.” In the end, he had ended up making Matsuoka say everything.
“But I told you, didn’t I? I have work tomorrow. Time-wise, I could probably make it back on the first bullet train in the morning, but I don’t know if I’d be able to change. So I can’t stay here overnight.”
“I know, but…”
“If you know, then I’m going home, alright?”
Hirosue could not give his assent. If he did, Matsuoka would go home. A look of irritation remained on Matsuoka’s face as he glanced at his watch, then directed his gaze at the station. They had less than ten minutes until the last bullet train left.
“If you want to say something, spit it out. Don’t just clam up because you’re scared of how I’ll react.”
Matsuoka’s impatience forced Hirosue to open his mouth and speak.
“I―I think I love you.”
Matsuoka whirled around to look at him.
“Oh, I mean, not ‘think’. Um―I love you.”
“What… the hell was that?” Matsuoka’s lips trembled as he wore a look of disbelief.
“I wasn’t sure before,” Hirosue continued. “But when I met with you again, I felt like this must be it.”
“Why the hell are you saying this now?” He could see Matsuoka clench his fists hard. “I knew something was off ever since you put me on the train. You’d touch me even though I told you not to, and you kept staring at me. I wondered if that might be it, but if I let my hopes up too much I’d feel worse when I was wrong, so I tried not to think about it. Anyway, enough about me. That doesn’t matter. But you had all this time in the bullet train, and in the izakaya. Why are you saying this now? You’re being unfair.”
Hirosue had no idea why he was being called unfair.
“Besides, all I’ve been doing is telling you to go away or that I don’t want to see you. Why would that make you say you love me?”
Matsuoka’s voice was loud, and other passersby turned around to look at them. They were clearly drawing attention to themselves, arguing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the station like this. Hirosue took Matsuoka by the arm and moved to the edge of the sidewalk. Matsuoka’s lips were pursed firmly, and his head was down.
“And… so…” Hirosue continued. “It’s going to be long-distance, but I want you to go out with me.”
Matsuoka did not answer him. Hirosue began to feel anxious at the lack of a response.
“I’ll come to visit you as much as I can on my days off,” he insisted. “I’ll call and e-mail you every day.”
Matsuoka lifted his face. Hirosue was surprised: the man looked like he was about to cry.
“Why?” Matsuoka demanded, grabbing the front of Hirosue’s shirt and looking ready to throw a punch at him. “I haven’t done anything. I’m not trying hard like I used to. Ever since we stopped seeing each other, all I’ve been doing is trying to forget about you.”
“Then I’m glad I found out how I feel before you really forgot me.”
The strength left Matsuoka’s fingertips, but he still looked like he was on the verge of tears. Hirosue gently stroked Matsuoka’s head.
“You said you didn’t try, but I think it’s because you loved me all this time that I was able to realize how I feel. It’s―it’s hard to explain, but…”
Matsuoka pressed his palm to his forehead.
“Can I sit down somewhere?” he said quietly. They took a seat on the bench at the bus stop in front of them. There was no one there since the last bus had left.
Hirosue watched Matsuoka attentively as he sat cradling his head. After a while, he heard a soft “oh” as Matsuoka lifted his face.
“My last bullet train…”
It was long gone. Matsuoka glanced around in a panic like a child who had been left behind. After some moments he seemed to calm down, for he lowered his head and exhaled weakly, wearing an expression of resignation.
“Do you really love me?” Matsuoka said quietly, without looking at Hirosue.
“I see,” Matsuoka murmured. He said nothing more.
They stayed at the bus stop for about an hour before he and Matsuoka began to look for the day’s lodgings. Since the information kiosk at the station was closed, they went to a business hotel nearby instead, only to find out that there were no vacancies. They tried the other hotel that was in the vicinity, but it was also full. Hirosue wondered how there could be no vacant rooms on a Sunday night. The man at the front desk informed him that there was an outdoor concert going on at a baseball stadium nearby.
“There aren’t many hotels around here, so when events are going on it’s usually like this,” he said.
Their timing was so astoundingly bad, it was enough to make one dizzy. Matsuoka had apparently been listening in beside him, for he spoke up once they exited the hotel.
“We could go into a manga cafe or something,” he said with a shrug. They could even afford to sleep outside, since it was summertime, but Hirosue figured it would be physically straining. Another option was kill time at a twenty-four-hour family restaurant, but in that case, a manga cafe would be better in the sense that they wouldn’t feel guilty about overstaying. Hirosue felt apologetic. In a childish fit, he had kept the man from going, yet he could not even give Matsuoka a hotel to stay in for the night.
They started out by heading from the station to the shopping district in search of a manga cafe. Since Hirosue did not know the town well, he headed in a direction where the lights were most concentrated. On the way, Matsuoka bought a pack of cigarettes from a vending machine in front of a convenience store. It looked like he could not do without them.
Soon, the colour of the neon signs around them began to change. Hirosue tilted his head in perplexity until he soon realized that they had wandered into the love hotel district.
When he hastily made to turn into another street, he heard a voice beside him.
“I don’t mind going into a love hotel.”
Hirosue felt his heart skip a beat.
“Yeah, but…” He was a little hesitant at the suggestive air of a love hotel, but when he thought of how Matsuoka had spent the night before on the hotel floor, he wanted to let the man sleep in a bed tonight.
“You’re right.” Hirosue smiled brightly to ward off any lewd implications. “I guess it doesn’t really matter where we go if we’re just going to sleep.”
“Are you sure you just want to sleep?” Matsuoka asked.
“You don’t want to have sex with me or anything, Hirosue?” Matsuoka said in a penetrating way, looking him in the eye. Hirosue felt his face burn.
“But… um…” The words faltered on his lips. To be honest, he did want to try it. He wanted to try and touch the man. But to say that now, in this situation, seemed all too materialistic. He felt like Matsuoka would think he had made him stay behind for this purpose.
“Um… but I’m sure you’re tired today, so…” he made a feeble attempt to regain his footing.
“I don’t mind doing it,” said Matsuoka, dropping a verbal bomb. Hirosue swallowed hard.
“I want you to decide what we’re going to do, right here, right now. ―I need to mentally prepare, too.”
He had dragged Matsuoka around for the whole day today―no, since yesterday. The man was probably quite exhausted. But…. His pulse thudded almost painfully in his ears, and a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead. He felt lightheaded as if he were drunk, and he almost fell over. When he hastily took a deep breath, he felt his emotions settle into place.
Hirosue set his mind and took Matsuoka’s right hand.
“Is there anything I need to get?”
Matsuoka tilted his head.
“Anything we’d need to do it. ―I’m not very well-versed.”
Matsuoka’s face flushed slightly. “I’m sure a love hotel will have almost everything,” he said.
Hirosue walked down the hotel district, still holding Matsuoka’s hand, and entered the closest love hotel. It had one vacant room, so they decided on that.
The room was sleekly co-ordinated with cream-coloured walls and dark brown furniture. There was nothing visibly erotic―other than the one large bed in the middle of the room.
“I haven’t been in a love hotel in ages. It’s nice. Looks like a business hotel.”
Matsuoka sat down on the bed. Hirosue stood frozen at the entrance with nervousness. Matsuoka paid no mind to him as he opened the cabinets, checked inside the drawers, and otherwise explored various parts of the room. After he had completed a round of that, he asked, “Can I take a shower first?”
“Um… sure,” Hirosue answered.
Matsuoka disappeared into the bathroom. Hirosue cautiously approached the bed and perched on it like a guest. He was excessively rattled and restless. Even his fingertips were shaking. Fifteen minutes, twenty… after thirty minutes had passed, even he began to feel concerned that Matsuoka was taking too long. But he hesitated to speak up. He felt like if he did, the man would think he was overly eager to have sex.
He was still immersed in his thoughts when Matsuoka finally came out. Hirosue slipped past the man and half-fled into the bathroom, careful not to make eye contact. He couldn’t bring himself to look straight at the man, who looked alluring fresh out of his bath. Matsuoka had left the tub filled with warm water for him, but Hirosue only took a shower before exiting the bathroom. He reckoned a bathrobe was enough, but since Matsuoka had put all of his clothes back on after taking his shower, Hirosue also decided to wear his clothes as well.
Matsuoka was lying on his back on the bed. Hirosue had a feeling he had fallen asleep. He decided to blow-dry his hair for the time being. But even after he came back, Matsuoka did not so much as twitch. Hirosue cautiously climbed on the bed and crawled towards Matsuoka. When he peered into the man’s face, he saw that Matsuoka’s breathing was slow and regular.
His slumbering face was beautiful.
“Are you asleep?” he whispered. Matsuoka’s closed eyes opened slowly, startling Hirosue.
“Are you sleepy?”
“Not really.” Matsuoka covered his face with his hands. “―When I was in the shower, I kept thinking you were going to leave.”
There was no answer to his inquiry. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, Hirosue felt a bittersweet and sensual impulse stir within him.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked, stroking Matsuoka’s cheek.
“Would you stop if I said no?”
Maybe he doesn’t want to kiss, Hirosue thought hesitantly as he looked down. Matsuoka propped himself up a little and kissed him first. His lips were soft, hot, and dizzying.
They exchanged kisses as they took off each other’s clothes. Hirosue unbuttoned and opened Matsuoka’s shirt, exposing his thin, flat chest and his small nipples. They were the same parts as his own, yet Matsuoka’s definitely exuded an erotic allure.
They were so small, he had no idea to do with them. Hirosue gently touched it with his palm, but the sensation was too slight to grasp, so he tried pinching the blushing bud with his fingers. A breathy whimper rang in his ears, sending a shiver up his spine.
When he rubbed it with the flat of his finger, the undetectable bud darkened and hardened into a point. As if mesmerized, Hirosue kissed it and wrapped his lips around it. Matsuoka’s thin chest rose and fell in large motions, and he could hear him emit small gasps. His voice was so arousing, Hirosue sucked his nipples over and over.
Their bodies were practically pressed up against each other, and Hirosue could feel the other man’s arousal directly through the fabric. Matsuoka was probably aware of Hirosue’s desire as well, which was embarrassing, but in that sense they were equally guilty.
He was curious to see the part which showed the man’s arousal so honestly―the desire came naturally to him. But when Matsuoka noticed Hirosue’s hand on his boxers, he resisted so vehemently that Hirosue hesitated.
“I don’t want to take my bottoms off,” Matsuoka said flatly.
Matsuoka looked down. “I don’t want you to see.”
“But I want to see.”
“It looks the same as yours.”
It was hard to get any more blunt than that.
“Yeah, but I want to see what yours looks like, Matsuoka.”
“You’ll just get disgusted.” Matsuoka was stubborn.
“―Then just show me a little bit. If I feel like I can’t handle it, I won’t take them off.” Matsuka resisted, but Hirosue managed to reason with him and pull his boxers down. It was his first time seeing someone else in this state. It was very vivid and was even somewhat formidable. He felt no disgust. And, although he knew he was a horrible person for feeling this way, he was strongly aroused by the sight of Matsuoka, embarrassed and covering his face with his hands so he wouldn’t be seen.
Hirosue soothed Matsuoka and took off his underwear. His penis, freed from its restrictive cloth confines, was already half-erect. Matsuoka was adorable, with his head bowed and his blush reaching up to his neck. And so was his member, which showed its pleasure honestly. When Hirosue touched it, he was startled at how hot and hard it felt.
“D-Don’t touch it!” Matsuoka grabbed Hirosue’s wrist. “Don’t feel like you have to do me any favours.”
“I want to touch it,” Hirosue insisted. “Just seeing it like this is―overwhelming.”
Although Matsuoka resisted, Hirosue touched his member anyway. He rubbed it slowly like he did with his own, and watched it swell before his eyes. Matsuoka’s spine shuddered. Hirosue only had to stroke it a little before it completely took shape―then, he tightened his grip slightly.
Matsuoka cried out.
“Sorry, did it hurt?” Hirosue hastily withdrew his hand. Matsuoka covered his mouth with his hands.
“I’m sorry for holding it too tight,” Hirosue apologized hesitantly. “It’s hard to get the hang of it.”
“It didn’t hurt.”
“It really didn’t hurt. I was just a little surprised. ―I think I feel worse when you’re leaving me hanging like that.”
Encouraged by his words, Hirosue closed his hand once again around the man’s engorged penis. Despite insisting that it didn’t hurt, Matsuoka kept inching away from him, so Hirosue slid his opposite hand behind his back to support him. When he used that hand to pull the man close, Matsuoka hesitantly circled his arms around Hirosue’s neck.
Matsuoka’s ecstatic gasps touched Hirosue’s ear as he continued to slide his hand up the man’s member. His moans gradually became more tense.
“Let go, I’m almost coming,” Matsuoka said breathlessly.
“I don’t want to.”
“Just do it.”
“No. I don’t want to get your hand dirty.”
Although Matsuoka kept telling him to let go, Hirosue did not listen. Matsuoka released his heat into Hirosue’s palm, drenching his hand.
“I told you to let go. You think it’s gross, don’t you?” Matsuoka looked on the verge of tears. Hirosue found his expression so seductive that he drew the man close and kissed him. He continued kissing the man as he slowly pushed him down onto his back.
Even a socially ignorant man like him had a little knowledge of how men had sex with each other. He had done it once, though he had no memory of it. But he had been drunk that first time, and to be honest, he wasn’t sure of the proper steps. He wondered if he should loosen it up a little, like with women, and he reached to touch Matsuoka’s nether part. He felt Matsuoka’s body instantly seize up under his.
“You don’t like being touched here?”
“I don’t mind,” Matsuoka said quietly, and implored, “but I want you to use gel.”
Hirosue did as he was told and used the lubricating gel that came with the hotel. But even with that, the body pinned beneath him stiffened as soon as he laid a finger on the tender-looking opening. They were both men, after all; perhaps Matsuoka had an aversion to this kind of act. Hirosue withdrew his hands.
“You can go ahead,” Matsuoka said.
“Do what you like with me, Hirosue.”
Hirosue was still concerned about Matsuoka’s reaction.
“Are you sure you want to do it?”
“It kind of hurt the last time I did it, so I think my body just does that on its own. It’s not like it actually hurts now.”
The last time I did it. The sentence scratched Hirosue’s chest like a fingernail. He could not hide his jealousy, and his question came out in an accusing tone.
“Last time? With who?”
Matsuoka widened his eyes in astonishment. Then, his face crumpled as if he were about to cry.
“With who…?” he said in a raspy voice. Suddenly, Hirosue remembered.
“Oh… with me…”
Matsuoka shoved Hirosue away and curled up on his stomach. His head and back trembled.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Hirosue gently embraced Matsuoka, who had started crying. “I’m so sorry.”
Hirosue barely remembered the one time they had had sex before; that was why it didn’t really sink in for him that he had already done it once with Matsuoka. But he could see from Matsuoka’s reaction that the way he had done it was far from decent. His touch was enough to make Matsuoka’s body shrink back in fear―that was how painful and unpleasant his experience had been. And Hirosue had done this to him.
“I’ll never do such horrible things to you again.” He gently ran his hand over the man’s head. “I promise I never will.”
He stroked the man’s trembling body and embraced him from behind.
“I’ll be good to you,” Hirosue said, his lips against Matsuoka’s neck. There was no answer. No answer―but Matsuoka twisted around, entwined his arms around Hirosue’s neck, and hugged him tightly.
Hirosue woke up to see the bedside lamp turned on. In the soft pool of light near his head, Matsuoka was lying on his stomach smoking a cigarette. Enticed by his languid expression, Hirosue reached out and gently ran his hand along the man’s shoulder. Matsuoka flinched.
“It’s rude smoking in bed, isn’t it?” Matsuoka said, putting his butt out in the ashtray. “I couldn’t help it.”
When Hirosue drew him close to kiss him, Matsuoka squirmed away.
“I smell like smoke right now,” he protested.
Hirosue chased the reluctant man and kissed him. It was true; it tasted a little bitter inside Matsuoka’s mouth, but it became sweeter the more they kissed.
He remembered how it felt like squeezing into Matsuoka. He had taken his time to loosen the man up, and had carefully inched his hips forward. Inside, it was tight, closed, and hot―and it enthralled Hirosue completely. As they kissed, he came inside Matsuoka over and over. He refused to pull out of that comfortable crevice until Matsuoka pleaded with him to do so.
Matsuoka’s lips, glistening from their kiss, stirred his desire again.
“Did it hurt?” he asked as he stroked the man’s cheek. Matsuoka’s gaze flitted down.
“You don’t have to pretend it didn’t, okay? You sound a little hoarse. Do you want a drink of water?”
Matsuoka nodded, so Hirosue climbed out of bed and took a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. When he passed it to Matsuoka, the man held it in both hands and took small gulps like a child. He was dribbling a little bit from the corner of his mouth, so Hirosue pressed his fingertip against it gently. Matsuoka flushed and thrust the bottle back at him.
“You can have it back.”
Hirosue went on to touch his ear.
“Why’re you touching me?” Matsuoka asked.
“Would you rather not be touched?”
“That’s not what I meant, but…”
When Hirosue touched the edge of his eye, Matsuoka screwed his eyes shut, hunched his shoulders, and grew small. The sight of his face was so endearing that Hirosue brushed his lips against both of the man’s eyelids.
He took Matsuoka in his arms. He was warm, and his heart was beating rapidly like a bird’s. It was still the middle of the night. Hirosue wondered if he could keep cuddling Matsuoka like this until morning, but the man put both hands against his chest and pushed him away. Maybe Matsuoka didn’t like being touchy-feely after the act. It was admittedly a little lonely for Hirosue, who didn’t want to break the physical contact. But if Matsuoka didn’t like it, there was nothing he could do. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to let Matsuoka go, and longingly tugged at a strand of the man’s short bangs between his fingers.
Matsuoka shrank away as if to avoid Hirosue’s touch, and began dragging himself up. He had an odd expression on his face.
“I want to go home,” Matsuoka said woefully. Hirosue sprang up in bed at his voice.
“Wh-Why?” he stammered.
“I don’t like this.”
“You didn’t like doing it with me?” To be honest, Hirosue wasn’t very confident about his skills in bed. The sex had been good for him, but in the end he could not tell whether or not it had been the same for Matsuoka. He knew the man had climaxed along with him a few times, but…
“Did I do it in a way that you didn’t like?”
Matsuoka shook his head. “But you’re being nice,” he said.
“Can’t I be nice to you?”
“It scares me when you’re nice.”
Hirosue did not understand what he was trying to say.
“Everything’s going too well,” said Matsuoka. “I was positive you wouldn’t be able to sleep with me. No matter how much you were in the mood, I figured it was all in your head and it wouldn’t work out. That’s why I invited you to bed. I thought if we actually slept together, you’d finally learn the hard way that it wouldn’t work.”
“You told me so many times you couldn’t do it with men, but here you were coming inside me, and looking really happy. Even while we were doing it, I was wondering when you’d stop and say, ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘This isn’t what I expected’, and the whole time I was on guard, trying to prepare myself for it, but it never happened. Partway through, I got swept up, too and… even now, I’m all giddy in my head and it feels weird, and… I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore. Oh, right, so I thought maybe I could ground myself if I did something I did regularly, so I tried smoking, but…”
Matsuoka stuck his hand in his hair and ruffled it furiously.
“I’m happy, but I don’t like this. Everything’s so perfect right now, and I’m in a really good place, and I’d rather die than hear you say ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I’ve had enough’ right now. And I’m scared of that. So I’m going home.”
Matsuoka tried to get off the bed, and Hirosue lunged to stop him.
“I won’t say anything like that.”
“I can’t be sure about that. I can’t trust you, Hirosue.”
Matsuoka’s harsh statement made Hirosue feel like cold water had been splashed over the romantic afterglow between them.
“I love you, Hirosue. I love you a lot, but I know what you’re like. You’re insensitive, and you have mood swings, you’re indecisive, and you say you hate lies but you lie yourself. You’re nice to people you like, but cold to those you don’t like. ―I asked myself so many times what I loved about someone like you. It would’ve been so much easier if I picked a girl. There are girls who tell me they like me, too. I kept telling myself, there’s no reason to…”
Matsuoka broke off.
“No reason to choose someone like you.”
Hirosue’s heart felt raw with pain. It was difficult to have his own shortcomings―of which he was well aware―laid out before him. But Matsuoka was absolutely right, and Hirosue could not argue back. And it was probably his own fault that he was making Matsuoka say this―Matsuoka, a man who said he loved him so much.
“After you dumped me in March, I was depressed for weeks. I couldn’t eat properly, and I started to smoke more, and at work I started taking it out on my juniors. I was a total jerk. But I thought, if things weren’t going to work out anyway, it was better that it ended this way. It was better that I had no idea where you went. I didn’t want to go through hell like that again, so I decided I’d go out with a girl next time. So I changed my phone, I moved out, and just when I thought I was getting over it…”
Matsuoka’s uncertainties overflowed one after another.
“I know I’m saying horrible stuff, but I’m not going to apologize.” He compressed his lips into a thin line, looking like he was about to burst into tears. He edged away as if in fear.
“You don’t have to apologize. And I’m not angry, either. So you don’t have to be scared,” Hirosue added. “I’ll do my best not to make you feel insecure anymore, Matsuoka.”
He caught the man’s slender body as he shied away, and embraced him.
“I’ll make sure you’ll never be scared of being treated nicely again.”
He ran his hand carefully through the man’s hair. For some moments, Matsuoka stayed still in his arms. Then, he hesitantly slid his arms around Hirosue’s back. He gave a large sob, and then, pressing his nose against Hirosue’s shoulder, Matsuoka burst into tears like a child.
Night turned to day. In the early morning hours, while darkness still lingered about them, Hirosue and Matsuoka left the hotel together. The streets were deserted like a ghost town, and they used it as a convenient excuse to hold hands on the walk to the station. The first bullet train was scheduled to leave just after six o’clock. Hirosue followed Matsuoka to the platform to see him off. There weren’t many people here, either. Hirosue took Matsuoka in a tucked-away corner of the vending machines and gave him a furtive kiss. Even though they had been in each other’s arms until morning, it wasn’t enough. No amount of physical contact was enough for him anymore.
He hadn’t wanted to let Matsuoka go home yesterday. He didn’t want to let the man go today, either.
“Are you hungry?”
“I usually don’t eat breakfast.”
“Want something to drink?”
“I’m fine for now. If I get thirsty, I’ll buy something on the train.”
“Does it hurt to sit down?”
“I’ll lie down if the seat beside me is free.”
In the end, Matsuoka began to laugh at Hirosue’s bombardment of questions.
“You’ll go bald from worrying too much.”
“It’s nice of you, but you can keep the worrying in moderation.”
The bullet train pulled into the station. Matsuoka was the very last one to board. He had been smiling the whole time they were talking, but the moment the doors closed, a sorrowful look spread over his face. Matsuoka gave a small wave. The bullet train pulled away out of sight.
After the rumble of the train faded, Hirosue was overcome with loneliness. He felt like half of him had been torn away. He yearned to see the man again, even though they had just parted. He seriously considered jumping onto the next train to chase after him.
An incoming e-mail interrupted his thoughts. It was from Matsuoka.
‘Are you coming down this weekend?’
That was all it said. It was a question, but Hirosue couldn’t help but feel like it was a plea for him to come. Of course, he had full intentions of doing so. Now, with the relationship they were in, the two-hour trip by bullet train and forty minutes by local line seemed an unfathomable distance.
He returned a short message like as if they were in conversation. He waited for a little while, but there was no reply. If he stayed on the bullet train platform any longer, he felt like he would really find himself jumping on the next train. Hirosue walked briskly to the platform for the local line.
It was perhaps ten minutes after he had boarded the train. When he emerged from a tunnel, he heard his cell phone ring as a new e-mail arrived. It was from Matsuoka, and the subject line read, “Don’t mind me.” That only made Hirosue even more curious, and he rushed to open the e-mail.
‘I want to see your face. I want to be treated gently, to be told I’m loved. I’m sorry. I know I’m being weird. But I wanted to say this. I’m sorry. Don’t mind me.’
Matsuoka was a man who was never selfish, and never insisted on getting his way―but Hirosue could tell that these were his honest feelings. His chest burned with emotion, he felt choked up, and his breaths shook. If love was going to make him choke up like this all the time, he’d never be able to do anything else.
But at the same time, that fact made him so happy he was almost brought to tears. He was completely hopeless. How many more nights until the weekend? Hirosue counted the days on his fingers like a child before Christmas.
End of “Of Beauty”
Thank you very much for picking up Utsukushii Koto Volume 2. For those of you who have been waiting since the magazine publication for this to be compiled into a volume, as well as waiting for the second volume to come out, I’m sorry to have kept you. I can finally write “End” with a flourish. Two volumes of roving around in circles, all over romance. It was a long, long journey.
Now that their relationship has sorted its problems out, it’s time for Hirosue to thoroughly take his time falling madly in love with Matsuoka. As for Matsuoka, I’d imagine he’d be clumsy at handling such a Hirosue, especially because he, too, loves him back very much. I’d want him to be pelted with Hirosue’s love beams and become head-over-heels.
In the delusions inside my head, the two have begun living happily together, and have become the kind of hopelessly sappy couple that people roll their eyes at.
I always think that a man who’s gentle but self-demeaning and a little insensitive is a really bad combination. I don’t know how many times I muttered, “Ugh, what a jerk…” to myself while thinking of Hirosue’s lines. But I do feel like these types of people are common in society.
As I also wrote in the afterword for the first volume, this story is driven by romance and ends with romance. What surprised me while I was revising the scripts published in the magazine was that there was no mention at all of the name of the company these two worked at, nor the specific kind of work they did.
Back then, I suppose the company didn’t matter, as long as there was love. Maybe I was the one who’d turned blind to my surroundings because I was too occupied with love. I thought, if I’d come this far, I might as well keep going. So the story drew to a close without the company name ever coming up. Haha.
To Ms. Shoko Hidaka, who handled the illustrations: now I can’t wait to line up the two beautiful covers of the first and second volumes. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different versions of Matsuoka: crossdressed; normal; short hair, glasses, and a goatee…. It really fuelled my wildest imaginations. Thank you so much.
To my editor, who always takes good care of me: finally all of the serialized parts of the story have been novelized. I’m relieved as well that Utskushii Koto, which was the most difficult work for me, is over. I still have plans, so I hope we can continue to work together.
Thank you for reading until the end. I hope to hear from you about any comments you might have.
Hoping to see you again in another book,
Written one day in December
Continued in “Of Love”.