Married Man

by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
illustrated by amei

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/47845.html)

“Um, sir? Excuse me, is that ‘The Detective’s Legs’ by Tamura Hiroshi?”

The boy standing in front of Tamura is pale and skinny, with wispy red-blonde hair. He wears the uniform of a nearby high school, with the top button of his shirt undone. His face is vaguely feminine, but not so much as to be made fun of by other boys; the sort of face teenage girls are drawn to. He is looking at the book in Tamura’s hands with a barely disguised covetousness.

“Yes, it is,” says Tamura.

The boy bows his head. “I’m sorry,” he says, very earnestly, “but may I please buy that book? I need it. I’ve been looking for it for a long time… it’s out of print, and nobody could order it in for me…” His voice grows more and more urgent as he continues. “It’s the third book in a trilogy, and it won’t be any good to you unless you’ve read the first two!”

Tamura gives him the book. “I hadn’t been planning on buying it,” he says, which is true. It only caught his eye on the shelf. He doesn’t even know what compelled him to stop at the used bookstore in the first place; the coffee break he allows himself isn’t long enough to browse.

“Thank you so much,” says the boy, beaming. He has a nice smile. The book fits neatly in his hand. “Now I’ll have all three. …Do you like detective novels, then?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Social school, or new orthodox?”

“Both are good.”

“You’d like these, then, they’re sort of both too. They were written in the… mid-eighties? The detective is a private eye, in a wheelchair, and he’s a genius, and the plots are really surprising sometimes.” The boy smiles sheepishly. “But I don’t think this author wrote anything else, so maybe you’re out of luck. I’m sorry about that.”

Tamura shakes his head. “He didn’t.” Then he doesn’t know what to say. He feels uncomfortable, not knowing whether he should let it go, or tell the truth and risk being late returning to work. Finally he decides they can do just as well without him for another five minutes.

“Actually, I wrote those books,” he says. “When I was in university.”

“No way,” says the boy. Tamura produces his business card and has the pleasure of seeing the boy’s face light up once again, with surprise this time. “Seriously? What a coincidence!” He looks at the book, then at Tamura. “Hey, uh, would you… sign this? It’s… it’s okay if you don’t want to. I mean, I guess you wrote it a long time ago. It’s just that I thought the first two books were really good… so, if you don’t mind…”

“No, of course I don’t mind,” says Tamura, with a little laugh. “I’m flattered.” He had signed people’s books when they were first published, when people told him they knew he would become a big name, but of course he never did. At that time it had mostly felt awkward, but now, somehow, he feels okay about it. He takes out a pen. “What’s your name?”

The boy bows awkwardly in the manner of a teenager used to introducing himself to adults. “Uh, Murasato Ren. I’m a Kaisen High School First Year. Pleased to meet you, Tamura-san.”

“Same to you,” says Tamura pleasantly. He writes his name on the title page, and then adds, ‘for Ren-kun.’ “Here. I hope you enjoy it.”

Ren takes the book back. “Thanks,” he says, “I will,” and then, “I wish you could do the other ones, too, but I don’t have them with me.”

“My office is near here,” says Tamura, without actually considering what he is saying. “And I’m on my coffee break this time pretty much every day. If you want to meet here tomorrow, I’d be happy to sign them.”

Too late he realizes this might sound bizarre, even creepy, and wonders why he said it. But Ren doesn’t seem to find anything strange. On the contrary, he looks more pleased than ever. “That would be perfect! Thank you so much! …I had better go buy this. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Tamura-san?”

“Of course,” says Tamura.

“Alright.” Ren waves, the book still in his hand, and smiles one last time. “Well, bye, then. Tomorrow!”

Tamura finds himself watching Ren’s back as he walks away, and then turns, embarrassed.

He’s only five minutes late back to work. It’s so short a time that nobody even comments, and he finds himself nearly disappointed. At the time it had seemed longer.

Kaede is awake when he comes home that night, and they eat dinner together for the first time in months. “You’re in a good mood today,” she comments, very mildly, as he takes his dishes to the sink.

“Am I?” he asks, surprised. “I suppose I am.”

***

Tamura got married soon after joining his company, when the division head began to hint gently that it was about time he should do so. His friend Kaede was also starting to be teased by the other secretaries – “you know what they say about women and Christmas cakes,” she said one day, staring glumly in the mirror. And all their other friends were newlyweds; half of them had a baby, or more than one. There was no point in resisting any longer.

So, without ever actually talking about it, they started having sex. Everything else was downhill from there.

He had first met Kaede in university, when she was dating his best friend. The two of them broke up a few months later, but she and Tamura had hit it off, and had continued to be friends all the way through university. At that time Kaede was studying psychology. She was a second-year a little bit wilder than he was, prone to partying and drinking. She always had a steady stream of boyfriends at her door. Even if Tamura had wanted to date her, she was very clearly not his type. But they were good friends.

It was Kaede who persuaded him to write a novel in the first place. “I know you can,” she said. “And you’re always talking about detective novels, so why not make one yourself?” And it was Kaede who had not been surprised at all when ‘A Pomegranate and the Detective’ was released.

Eventually she left university and became an office lady – she never talked about this. Tamura had been fairly sure it was because she hadn’t had the money to continue. They were still friends after she left.

People often remarked that they should just start dating already. Honestly, though, before their marriage, even the idea of being involved with Kaede had never crossed his mind.

“Kaede,” he said, one day in bed, “let’s get married.”

“Of course,” she said, and turned over to face away from him. That was all.

Things happened gradually, but inevitably. They got married, moved in together, bought a little house. They had a baby of their own, a boy, whom Kaede left work to raise. Tamura was promoted once, twice, eventually made chief of Editing, and then there was no point in Kaede returning to work. Meanwhile, Haruto entered kindergarten, then primary school, and finally junior high.

Kaede is everything one could want in a wife. She never complains that his hours are too long or the housework is too much, and she’s always there for Haruto whenever he needs his mother. Tamura hopes that he has been tolerable as a husband: certainly he tries to help out around the house, when he’s home, and he has made it clear to Kaede that she has complete control of their finances.

They are still very friendly to one another, especially around Haruto, but the closeness of their original relationship has evaporated in the course of their marriage. Tamura assumes this is what happens to all couples at some point. Over the years, then, despite an abnormal beginning, they have become like everyone else.

He’s never analyzed his marriage to Kaede. It seems better not to think about it at all. There is nothing wrong with it which can be fixed.

***

It is only as he enters the bookstore the next day that he wonders if Ren will even bother to show up. Presumably teenage boys have more important things to do with their time than get their books autographed by has-beens. But Ren is already there, crouched on the floor in the mystery aisle. He jumps up when he sees Tamura.

“Ah!” he says. “Tamura-san! I brought the books. …If you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I wouldn’t have come if I did.”

As he signs them, Ren shuffles his feet and looks back and forth down the aisle. “Sorry to put you through all the trouble,” he says, almost shyly.

“No trouble at all,” says Tamura gently. “Always happy to help out a fan. Well, not that I have any, of course.”

“Actually, I really thought you might not come. But I had brought the books, so I thought I might as well see if you did after all, and-” Ren is interrupted by a brief rumbling sound from his stomach. He flushes bright red. “Uh, s-sorry!”

Tamura remembers suddenly that teenage boys are always hungry. Certainly Haruto seems to be eating all the time, and Ren’s slim body seems like the type with low blood sugar, which would make it worse. “Do you need some food?” he asks. “There’s a coffee shop down the street.”

Ren appears surprised. “That’s good,” he says, then stops. “…But I don’t want to bother you. Do you need to get back to work?”

“No, not really,” replies Tamura. This is true. “There’s not much work today.” This is not true, but he can always just finish later in the evening, when he comes back. This will also give him an excuse not to go out for drinks after work, an activity that he finds boring, or go home early and see Kaede, which would be worse.

“If you’re sure,” says Ren, but he appears rather pleased.

At the coffee shop Ren selects a muffin from the display case, then Tamura pays for it before he can object. They move to a table at the back. Ren is careful with his food: instead of stuffing the whole thing down his throat, like Haruto would, he breaks small pieces off and pushes them between his lips, licking the crumbs off his fingers.

“…You stopped?” he asks, and Tamura’s gaze abruptly leaves his mouth. “Writing books, I mean. That is, your card said you work for Shirabara’s mystery division, so…”

Tamura nods. “I became an editor after university,” he says. “It was my choice. I just didn’t have any more good ideas for books.” The memory of this – sitting in front of a computer with nothing to write – still aches. “In any case they didn’t sell that well. I’m surprised you ever found them.”

Another bite of muffin. “I really like detective stories,” says Ren. “If I have money, I always spend it on books. I found ‘Pomegranate and Detective’ at a used store near my house, and then somehow or other my brother got me ‘New Moon Suicides’ for my birthday two years ago, but up until now, I wasn’t sure I would ever find ‘Detective’s Legs’… I’m halfway through now. It’s really good.”

“I’m glad you like it,” says Tamura, mildly.

“Yeah. I think your detective is really cool.” Ren laughs and looks slightly awkward. “Actually, I wanted to be a detective when I was little, but then I realized that all detectives do nowadays is investigate married people’s affairs. Now I think I want to be an investigative reporter. I, ah, I’m on my school’s newspaper. Although it’s not very good…” He stops, and his eyes drop to the table, shoulders slumping. “Sorry. I’m boring you, aren’t I.”

Tamura shakes his head. “No,” he says, “you’re not boring me,” and it’s perfectly true. Meeting Ren is the most interesting thing that’s happened to him in a long time.

“But, I mean,” Ren says, looking worried, “I don’t have very anything interesting to say.”

Without warning, Tamura’s hand reaches across the table. He pats Ren on the shoulder before he can bring it back under his control.

“Say whatever you want,” he says. “I’ll listen.”

***

Neither of them says anything about meeting again, but the next day, when Tamura walks into the coffee shop for no particular reason at all, Ren is sitting at the same table in the back, smiling nervously in his direction. This happens every day for the next week, and continues after that. Tamura drinks coffee. Ren drinks tea, or sometimes hot chocolate.

They talk about detective novels, Ren’s school, Tamura’s work – “it’s very boring,” he says simply, at first, but Ren keeps asking, so eventually he talks about editing. They talk about Ren’s family: his parents are together, and he has an older brother and a younger sister, with whom he seems to get along very well. They even discuss current affairs; Ren is unusually knowledgeable for a teenage boy, and fairly opinionated.

“Because if I want to be a reporter,” he says, “I have to know what I’m reporting about. Otherwise I won’t enjoy it at all, right?”

The day Ren finishes ‘The Detective’s Legs,’ he shows up early, panting for breath.

“Are you alright?” asks Tamura.

Ren grins. “I’m sorry…” he gasps. “I just finished reading it last class… and I really wanted to tell you… that was so… cool. I can’t believe… I totally thought that he was going to… I’m so happy I found this book!”

Stunned by Ren’s excitement, Tamura shakes his head and smiles. “You ran all this way?”

“Y-yeah,” says Ren sheepishly.

“Well, come on, then. You must be thirsty.”

His coffee breaks get longer and longer. He completes his work when he comes back, which means missing the chance to go out for drinks with his subordinates, but he doesn’t particularly enjoy that anyway.

“She must be very demanding,” says his secretary playfully as he leaves one afternoon, “the person you’re meeting.”

“Not at all,” replies Tamura.

The secretary laughs. “Then you must just really like her. Lucky girl!”

Tamura can’t think of an appropriate response to this. It’s the same when the guys in the office joke about it. Kaede has commented, when she sees him, that he seems to be in a good mood recently, but he has said nothing to her, either. In short, he hasn’t told anyone about his meetings with Ren.

Not because it’s a secret – he just can’t think of anyone he knows who would understand. It’s not as thought they have any reason to see each other; there’s no connection between them, other than a shared love of detective novels. He doesn’t ever know Ren’s phone number. People would think it was suspicious, a man approaching forty having coffee with a high school boy.

He supposes it is quite suspicious.

“Exams are coming up, aren’t they?” he asks Ren one day. “You must be pretty busy.” It’s a subtle way of measuring if they should meet less often. To see if Ren needs an out.

But Ren just smiles. “Well,” he says, almost shyly, as though he’s not sure he should even be saying it, “I have enough time to be here, anyway.” And his fingers settle around the cup of coffee Tamura bought for him.

***

Tamura has always prided himself in being faithful to his wife. Most men his age have mistresses, or affairs with secretaries, or go to prostitutes for the things their wives don’t give them anymore. Tamura does none of these things. He has cheated on Kaede twice in their entire marriage – both times with men, although this doesn’t bear thinking about – and has no intention of doing so again.

Of course he expects none of this self-denial from her. Tamura wouldn’t judge her for cheating on him; actually, he hopes she does. It would ease his conscience somewhat. He has the sneaking suspicion, though, that Kaede is as determined to stick it out as he is, and between the two of them they will be grimly faithful for a long time.

In any case, before he meets Ren, sex is the last thing on his mind.

At first his friendship with the boy is relatively normal. He’s flattered to have a fan, and surprised when he finds he can relate to him on an adult level. Ren is special, different from the other people in his life. He doesn’t fit into any easily recognized category. Tamura likes him. And it’s only natural for them to talk, since they get along so well. But it doesn’t end there.

Ren is a genuinely beautiful boy; Tamura thought he was skinny at first, but he’s merely slender, all long angles, with a swan’s neck and a pink mouth. More and more often Tamura finds himself uncomfortably aware of these things.

“Tamura-san,” says Ren sometimes, “Tamura-san, you’re not listening, are you?”

And he isn’t, because he has been distracted by the movement of Ren’s hands, or the way his hair brushes sensuously across his neck.

About a month after he meets Ren, Kaede is awake when he slips into bed. Wordlessly, almost mechanically, she strokes his cock until he’s hard, and then straddles him without even taking off her nightgown.

It’s always like this when they have sex: a meaningless physical interaction between two bodies, barely even pleasurable. They don’t kiss, or touch each other beyond what is necessary. Kaede looks like she might be reading a newspaper. There’s a hopelessness in her movements that makes him almost sick at heart.

Blearily, he thinks back over his day, the highlight of which was, as always, his meeting with Ren… and then it is someone else he sees above him, someone else’s slick heat around him, someone else’s perfect mouth opening to call out his name.

He comes, suspended between guilt and desire.

Lying awake that night he promises himself that he will never see Ren again. Things have changed; he is treading on forbidden ground, and he should go no further. But at the same time he knows he will break that promise. Ren matters to him now, and it’s no use to pretend it’s so easy as that. To give him up abruptly would be unbearable.

He decides to simply wait until Ren gets bored of him. There’s no chance of actually hurting the boy in the interim. Tamura has nothing if not self-control, and he can keep his feelings in check; Ren never has to know. In time, he will find a girlfriend, or something else to occupy himself with after school, and everything will be fine.

He recognizes this as the justification of an addict, but there’s nothing for it, it’s the best he can do.

***

“You should write another one,” says Ren one day.

Tamura looks up from his coffee. “I’m sorry?”

“Another detective novel.” Ren looks slightly embarrassed now, but continues nevertheless. “Because, the ‘Detective’ books weren’t just supposed to be a trilogy, were they? There were some plot threads that weren’t resolved, and the characters didn’t get closure, either.”

“That’s right,” says Tamura. He thinks back to finishing the third book, shortly after graduation. “I had planned to keep writing them. But I told you before, didn’t I? I didn’t have any more good ideas.”

“Writer’s block?”

“Well, something like that.”

Ren bites his lips. “But,” he says, very awkwardly, “maybe it’s gone by now. You could always try again.”

“I don’t know if I could.” Tamura sighs. “After all, it’s been a long time. And I’m not young anymore.”

“…Do you want to write another one?”

Tamura doesn’t say anything. The truth is that he hasn’t thought about it. After all, he couldn’t write one whether he wanted to or not, so it had seemed best to leave it alone. At the time, certainly, he had wanted to very badly. Not being able to do it had been hard.

“I’m sorry,” says Ren. “I didn’t mean to bother you about it. I just thought, maybe… you know…” He shakes his head. “Never mind. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Recently Tamura hasn’t touched Ren at all, because it’s dangerous, but he decides that just this once is okay. He covers Ren’s hand on the table with his own; very lightly, very casually. That should be fine, he thinks. “I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’ll give it some thought-”

But Ren is no longer looking at him. His eyes have turned to the window, and the two boys outside, walking past the coffee shop, holding hands.

Both wear the Kaisen uniform. Other than that they couldn’t be more different: one is small and scrawny, with glasses and dark hair, while the other is taller, fair-haired and athletic looking. Even without holding hands it would be obvious that they are on a date. Clearly they are talking about something fairly important to both of them, and they aren’t even watching the street, only each other.

Tamura thinks it will be a miracle if they don’t hit a telephone pole sooner or later. He is about to say as much, but the look on Ren’s face stops him.

“That’s Fujimoto,” says Ren, dumbly. “Fujimoto Nozomu. He’s in my year. He’s in the photography club. A-and Ijima… Ijima Seiji, I think. In, in third year…”

He stares at their hands, transfixed. Then he looks back at the table.

Tamura removes his hand instantly. But that instant is too late; Ren’s face flushes deep red, and he trembles as though a shiver has run down his spine. He reaches for his tea, but knocks the cup over and spills it onto the table. Then he grabs a few napkins and puts them down quickly, awkwardly, to sop up the mess.

“I need to go,” he says. “I should, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” and he is out the door before Tamura can say a word.

***

That night when Tamura gets home – around one AM – Haruto is sitting at the kitchen table. There is homework in front of him, but it looks unfinished.

“You’re up late,” says Tamura, trying not to sound judgmental. He is somewhat unsure of how to act around Haruto now that he’s growing up: it was easier before, when he knew that his son would be pleased regardless of what he said.

Haruto nods. “Sorry. I wanted to talk to you.”

Tamura sits down on the chair beside him. “All right,” he replies. “You know you can always talk to me. Is something bothering you?”

“Dad.” Haruto looks somehow very nervous, and he repeats the word. “Dad. You and mom…”

Tamura waits quietly for more, but there doesn’t seem to be anything else coming.

“Yes?” he asks, finally.

But Haruto has lost his nerve. “…No, it’s nothing,” he says, and gets up, taking his homework with him. Tamura doesn’t believe him, but he doesn’t press him, either.

***

Ren doesn’t show up for coffee the next day, or the day after that. Tamura isn’t particularly surprised. After all, he had specifically counted on this happening eventually. He’s only glad nothing happened between them, and that any infidelity to Kaede was exclusively emotional.

Now his life will return to normal.

The world has never seemed as colourless as it does right now. For the entire week he moves from home to work to home again in a kind of daze. He throws himself into his work, acts distant at home, and is absolutely miserable the entire time. Of course, before he met Ren, he had been living his life exactly this way. But it’s different now that he knows what he’s missing.

Kaede gives him more space than usual; which is difficult, considering how gingerly she treats him the rest of the time. In fact, she withdraws so completely that Haruto takes notice and starts to do the same. Even his co-workers know that something is wrong.

“You broke up?” asks his secretary one day. “You and that person.”

Tamura thinks for a moment. “Yes,” he says finally. “Although it wasn’t much of a relationship. I knew it wouldn’t work out from the beginning.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “You were really devoted to her, weren’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well,” and here she bites her lip, “I don’t mean to sound rude, but… most men don’t think about their women when they’re not together. But you, you’ve been thinking of her all this time, haven’t you?”

“You may be right.”

He appreciates her concern. He knows that people are being very accommodating of him, and he intends to repay them as soon as he possibly can.

It was really a very small thing. They just had coffee together, and talked. There was no real reason for it. Because of the age difference, you couldn’t really even think of them as friends, and it certainly wasn’t an affair. The people who saw them together probably thought he was Ren’s uncle, or maybe a tutor.

It’s been almost half a year since he met Ren. In the grand scheme of things, though, that’s not a long time. Soon he’ll find a way to live without those things he had started to take for granted; then, eventually, he won’t remember them at all. He only need wait.

***

Tamura is sitting in the coffee shop, late one night, stirring his coffee absent-mindedly with a paper stick. He hasn’t come here because he expects to see Ren. He knows that won’t happen. It’s only force of habit. It’s only been a week; he can’t be expected to change so quickly, he needs a little more time. After today he won’t come here anymore.

Eventually he gets up to leave. He is just outside the door when he hears someone running down the sidewalk.

“Ta… Tamura-san…?”

At first he thinks he’s imagining it. It’s only been a week since they last met, but to Tamura, that week has been an eternity. He had already accepted that Ren was gone for good.

“I’m… I’m so sorry…”

So why…

Ren stands in front of him, head down, face red. His breath is visible in the night air. He looks horribly, dangerously young. Tamura directs his focus inward and wills himself to be calm; he can do this, it’s easy.

“Ren-kun? Why are you here?”

“I’m sorry,” says Ren. “…that I haven’t been meeting you.”

Tamura reminds himself to smile. “There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“I failed a few of my exams,” he says. “Because I haven’t been studying hard enough. And I’ve been skipping club, and the president says if I don’t come more often, I’ll have to leave… so I’ve been going to cram school and working on the newspaper and everything, and I just haven’t been able to make it over here…”

“That’s fine,” says Tamura. “Of course that’s fine. You have your own life, you certainly don’t have to bother-”

But Ren continues as though he hasn’t heard. “I know you probably weren’t worried or anything, but I wanted to call and explain. And you gave me your business card, so I thought maybe I could do it… but when I called, your secretary picked up, and she asked who it was, and all of the sudden… I couldn’t say anything. I know that sounds weird, right?”

“Of course it’s not weird.”

Ren shakes his head, raises his eyes to meet Tamura’s. He looks absolutely terrified.

“But it is,” he says. “Because I wanted to see you.”

Tamura had been prepared for many things, but not this. Ren’s eyes tell him everything. His gaze is clear, steady, and pained: it is the gaze of someone who knows exactly what they want, and knows that they can’t have it.

It undoes him. He reaches out and tilts Ren’s chin very gently upwards.

“Ren…”

illustrated by amei

And for a moment Ren relaxes into his touch. But then he seems to realize what he’s doing, and he takes a careful step backwards.

“Tamura-san,” he says, his voice shaking slightly, “you have a wife, don’t you? And a child. They’re probably waiting for you. So you should go back home.”

“That’s not-” Tamura starts to say, and then stops. That’s not what? That’s not so? But it is. That’s not important? But of course it is. There’s no way he can reply. Anything would sound like a lie, no matter how much he meant it.

Ren bows. “I’m sorry,” he says, again. “I… I should go.”

And he does.

Tamura stands there for a long time, watching Ren become smaller and smaller as he runs down the sidewalk. His shoulders are hunched. He looks like he might be crying. Even when he can’t see him anymore, Tamura keeps standing there, thinking.

***

The next day he calls Kaede from the office for the first time in years. He asks if she’s doing anything at lunch, and if not, would she mind if he came home and they ate together. She sounds shocked, but says that she’s not busy, and that would be fine. He comes home. They sit across from one another at the kitchen table.

He asks her about her day. She gives him a skeptical frown.

“What is this really about?”

“…I’m sorry,” he says, after a moment, although he knows that sorry isn’t good enough after so long. “I haven’t been a very good husband, have I?”

“That’s not true,” replies Kaede, and he can see her struggling to find the right words, trying not to lie. “You’ve always been very kind. You’ve taken good care of us. And you know how much Haruto loves you.”

“But it’s not enough.”

Kaede says nothing. Tamura takes a deep breath.

“Kaede,” he says, “let’s get divorced.”

The expression on her face transmutes to shock, then disbelief, then to a strange, queasy joy. He can understand how she feels. He doubts that she has ever seriously considered it. Neither has he, until now. After all, there was Haruto to consider… but more than that, divorce would mean a chance to begin again.

For a long time, he didn’t think he deserved that. Kaede may have felt the same. That’s how they ended up here in the first place.

After several moments, she smiles at him. It’s a lovely expression. For a moment she looks like the Kaede he first met: the one who wasn’t meek or afraid, who knew that she was destined for good things.

“Of course.”

***

The people they know are surprised. ‘You seemed so good together!’ is what they all say, and Tamura has to bite his tongue to keep from replying.

They all agree, though, that it’s the most amicable divorce they’ve ever seen. In fact Tamura and Kaede try to outdo each other in who can be the most generous. They’re getting along better than they ever did during their marriage.

Early on in the proceedings they sit down together in Haruto’s room and talk to him about it. Actually, Kaede does almost all of the talking, gently explaining to Haruto that the two of them can’t stay together any more, glossing over the more uncomfortable parts of the story. She assures him that they both love him very much, and that nothing will change that.

“Yeah,” says Haruto, finally. “I know.” He sniffles and tries to make it into a cough. “I knew this was going to happen,” he says, a sob escaping his mouth. “I just knew it.”

Kaede takes his right hand, and Tamura takes his left; the three of them sit there on the bed until Haruto stops crying. After that he seems mostly all right.

Things get settled. It’s a no-fault divorce. Kaede gets half their assets, the house, although she offered it to him, monthly alimony, and custody of Haruto. Tamura gets unlimited visitation rights. He considers this to be more than fair.

“What are you planning to do now?” he asks Kaede as they leave the courthouse.

“I was looking into going back to university,” she says. “After all, Haruto doesn’t need as much care anymore. I could take a few courses…” She laughs. “Maybe it’s impossible.”

“No, of course it’s not impossible,” says Tamura. “I wish you luck.”

“And the same to you.” She pauses, then adds, “Hiroshi-san,” and they both laugh. Tamura feels a little more of the tension between them dissipate.

The divorce occupies much of his time for the next few months, and the rest is strictly devoted to work. He tries to keep his mind from any other subjects. In keeping with his original promise, he no longer goes to the coffee shop. Now is the time to focus on the future, not get sidetracked by regrets about things that didn’t happen.

But one night, heading home from work, he passes by the used bookstore.

Of course it’s closed already, so he doesn’t give it a second look. He has almost passed it completely when he realizes there is someone standing there, slumped against the door. He turns around.

It’s Ren. He’s wearing a fleece jacket and jeans, and Tamura can see his breath in the air. He looks like he’s been standing there for a long time. They stare at each other for a while: Ren makes as though to say something several times, but can’t seem to find the words.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he says finally, helplessly.

Tamura hadn’t expected this to happen. Somehow, though, now that it is happening, he isn’t surprised at all.

“I got divorced,” he says.

Ren’s eyes widen with shock. “I’m so- I’m so sorry,” he says, his voice breaking in the middle of the sentence. He looks so fragile, so distressed, it nearly breaks Tamura’s heart. “That’s terrible, I – I never… should have… why would you…?”

“My wife and I got married,” says Tamura, choosing his words carefully, “because that was what people expected us to do. There was no other reason for us to stay together. I didn’t have any objection to that, until I met you.”

Ren takes a tentative step forwards.

“I love you, Ren.”

“Tamura-san,” Ren chokes out, face flushed. He reaches for Tamura’s hand, awkwardly. “I… I love you too.”

“Ren.” With a deep, contented sigh, Tamura puts his arms around Ren and holds him, oblivious to anyone who might see them there. People can think what they like. He doesn’t care any more.

They go to Tamura’s new apartment. Ren calls his parents on his cellphone and tells them rather haltingly that he’ll be out with some friends tonight, he doesn’t know when he’ll get back, but don’t worry, he’ll be fine. His face betrays his guilt for lying to them, but when Tamura asks if it’s really okay, he smiles. “If it wasn’t okay, I wouldn’t be here.”

Then they kiss. It’s actually the first time Tamura has kissed anyone in a long time, and Ren seems inexperienced, a little clumsy at first. But his mouth opens like a blooming flower, and he leans eagerly against Tamura as they make their way into the small bedroom.

“Wait a moment,” says Tamura, and goes to the bathroom to search for condoms. He takes lubricant, too, just in case. When he comes back Ren is sitting naked on the futon. The moonlight coming through the window makes his skin glow. He looks like something from a dream.

He blushes and looks away. “You’re… you’re staring.”

“Of course I’m staring.” Tamura kneels down beside him, takes his hand. “Ren, you need to know, we won’t do anything you don’t want.”

Ren meets his eyes. “I want everything.” Moments later he is in Tamura’s lap.

Tamura had forgotten how good it is to be with someone out of real desire. He feels like a teenager again; he has the pleasure of watching as Ren gets off in front of him, making little half-whimpers at the back of his throat. He shudders as Tamura slides a finger inside him, then two, and Tamura almost stops, but Ren shakes his head and spreads his legs wider.

“No, it’s okay, it’s good,” and he actually comes impaled on Tamura’s fingers, bucking against them with a little cry.

Moments later Tamura is inside him. He forces himself to go slowly at first, stroking Ren’s cock back to hardness, and waiting until he feels Ren relax around him. Then he thrusts a little harder, still slowly, but it’s incredibly good. His blood is pounding in his ears. He comes just before Ren does.

“I love you,” says Ren, very quietly.

Tamura kisses his forehead. He can’t believe, now, that he’s lived his entire adult life without knowing this feeling.

***

“Kaede-san,” says Tamura politely, as he takes his shoes off at the door. “It’s very good to see you.”

Kaede laughs. She’s cut her hair since the last time they met, and the new style makes her look more confident. “Hiroshi-san, good to see you too. How’s your novel coming?”

“Very badly. And your classes?”

“Worse, I’m sure.” She looks to his side. “And you must be Ren-kun, isn’t that right?”

“Mph,” says Ren. Tamura had assured him earlier that he didn’t ever have to do this, but he had been determined to meet the family. Now he looks as though he would rather melt into the floor. He bows so deeply it’s almost comical. “Murasato Ren, First Year Kaisen High School. I’m very… very pleased to meet you…”

With a smile, Kaede bows a little bow of her own. “And I’m Sagyou Kaede. I’m happy to meet you too, Ren-kun.” She takes a look at him, brief enough not to be threatening. “That’s a very nice coat.”

Ren bites his lip. “I… um… Tamura-san bought it for me.”

“I’m not surprised. After all, he has excellent taste.” Kaede pats Ren reassuringly on the shoulder, and winks. Ren blushes but seems to relax, if only a little bit. Tamura makes a mental note to thank Kaede later.

They all go into the kitchen, where Haruto is setting the table. When he sees Ren he puts the plates down and takes a step forward. The two of them stare at one another with equally uncomfortable expressions on their faces.

“I’m not calling you mom,” says Haruto. Then he grins. “Hi.”

Ren laughs, freely, and the rest of the night goes very well.



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