Link to: Part 1
“Wait, take a left here.”
“Sir? The highway is on the right.”
“I know,” Shion said, finally making the decision he had been debating against his entire visit.
His driver changed lanes and turned left, while Shion stared out the window and asked himself again what he was doing. He should be heading back to university – the drive was several hours away, and he had classes early the next morning. He had spent the weekend with his mother on another one of his monthly visits, but there had been someone else in his thoughts the whole weekend. Now that his visit was coming to a close, Shion felt even more restless than he’d felt since a month before, when he’d had his first interaction with the person who’d been lingering, unshakable, on his mind.
“Slow down…okay, turn in here,” Shion instructed the driver, his hands already beginning to sweat. He pressed his forehead against the window, trying to block out his thoughts. Half of Shion was wondering what on earth he was doing, while the other half was desperate to see those grey eyes again, just one more glance.
“The Onaji Hoshi?”
“Yes,” Shion whispered, his breath fogging up the glass.
The driver pulled up to the front of the restaurant. “Shall I find parking?”
“Um, no. I just wanted… a snack. But I’ll be right out! You can just wait here, I won’t be long.” This was good. Now Shion had to come back quickly.
He shoved open his car door without waiting for his driver’s response, knowing he was a few rational thoughts away from changing his mind. As Shion approached the door, however, he realized he had another problem.
His clothes. Since he’d only expected to be traveling, Shion was simply wearing a t-shirt and jeans. The Onaji Hoshi, however, was not the kind of restaurant where one could just wear a t-shirt and jeans. Shion paused on the steps, but figured he might as well try. He stepped forward and ducked through the doors the white-gloved greeters held open for him.
He ran towards the podium where another greeter checked reservations – there was no seating at the Onaji Hoshi without reservations beforehand – and spoke before the greeter could open her mouth.
“Hi! I’m so sorry, I know about the dress code, I didn’t expect to come, I only wanted to check something, and I didn’t make a reservations, but if you could just – ” Shion stopped short, taking a breath, as the greeter held out a gloved hand.
She was smiling. “You’re Ms. Karan’s son, right? Shion?”
“Yes, that’s me,” Shion replied, surprised, although on second thought he realized he had frequented this restaurant so often for so many years that it was probably expected that he would be recognized.
“It is a nice surprise to see you. Please, sir, I’m sure we can make an exception in the dress code for you, I’m sorry you were distressed over this. Your usual corner table is open, if you would like it.”
Shion gaped at the greeter for a moment, then nodded. “O-okay. Yeah, that would be fine. Thank you so much.”
“Of course. Come this way.”
Shion followed the greeter to his table and sat on the edge of his seat, biting his lip. He should leave, before it was too late.
“Your waiter will be right with you,” the greeter said, smiling, before she walked away.
Shion swallowed and stared out the window, trying to distract himself. He would be seeing those grey eyes soon. Any moment now, the waiter would arrive, and he would –
“Hello, Mr. Shion! How nice to see you, I wasn’t aware you made a reservation.”
Shion stared up at the waitress. Ann. The usual waitress. Of course, Shion had forgotten, the grey-eyed waiter had only been covering her shift the last time he had come.
What was this sinking feeling in Shion’s stomach? Why did he suddenly feel deflated, as if his insides were contracting within themselves?
“Are you all right, sir?”
“I’m…yes, I’m fine. I’ll have tea, please. I’ll need a minute with the menu.”
The waitress blinked, then placed a menu on the table and gave a polite nod. “Take your time, sir. I’ll be right back with your tea.”
Shion watched her walk away, then slid out of his seat, cementing his resolve. It made no sense to keep wavering in indecision. He would not get anything done that way, other than continue to be confused. He didn’t understand why he was so determined to see this grey-eyed waiter again, but if the boy wouldn’t get out of his head otherwise, then there seemed to be only one course of action for Shion to take.
Just as he had a month before, Shion retraced his steps to the back of the restaurant, ignoring the stares of other customers – most likely attracted by his casual clothing – and again found the door marked “Employees Only.” Shion did not hesitate as he pushed it open and walked through the kitchen, peering around for the grey-eyed boy, though he wasn’t surprised not to see him. More likely, the waiter was out somewhere in the large restaurant, waiting at some other customer’s table.
Shion did not stop at the startled calls of the workers, and kept walking until he’d pushed through the exit, stopping outside the door to lean against the same wall he leaned against before. He allowed himself to slide down the wall and sat with his head in his hands. He did not know how long he would have to wait for his waiter to appear. He did not even know if the waiter was working at that moment.
Shion, however, did not care. He would wait. He had resolved himself to see this waiter, and he would do so. He had to find someway to stop thinking about him, and this was the only option he could think of. He would be graduating in one month, getting married in two. He would have a job and a family – distractions in the form of a strange grey-eyed boy were simply not an option. Richard had often told him that to be successful, one needed a focused mind. If Shion’s mind had been anything in the month since he’d met the waiter, it was definitely not focused.
A half hour passed. Shion regretted telling his driver to wait, but knew the driver would have decided to park by now.
An hour passed. Shion’s heart had stopped racing. He leant his head against the wall behind him.
Two hours passed. Shion began to doubt his resolve. Was this such a good idea?
Three hours passed. Safu called. Shion stared at her picture in the caller ID, then turned off his phone without answering it. He made a promise to himself to call her back as soon as he was done confronting the waiter.
Four hours passed. Shion got up and paced the alley a few times before collapsing back down, annoyed at himself. What was he doing, waiting in an alley for so long?
Five hours passed. Several waiters and waitresses had passed through the door, either going in to start a shift, or walking out to end one. But not the grey-eyed waiter.
Six hours passed. How long could their shifts last? Wasn’t there some sort of legal limit?
Seven hours passed.
Nine. Ten. Elev—
“Hey, what are you doing?”
Shion startled awake and stumbled up from the ground. He hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep. He stood up, leaning on the wall, and before he had time to begin to recall where he was, he was staring into the grey eyes that had haunted him for a month.
“Oh. It’s you.” The grey eyes, which had been widened, crinkled slightly at the edges. “Back to offer me more mints?”
“You remember me?” Shion asked, before he could stop himself.
The waiter chuckled. “Are you surprised? It’s not everyday I’m offered such a great tip, especially not in an alleyway, as opposed to on the table like a normal customer.”
Shion blushed and ducked his head. His heart had begun racing again, and his hands were shaking. He felt slightly dizzy. Was it possible to feel such things just from being in the presence of this boy?
“On top of that, there’s the whole look you’ve got going.”
“Look?” Shion’s curiosity prompted him to look back up questioningly, wondering what the waiter could be referring to.
“Please tell me you’ve noticed that you have nearly transparent white hair and red eyes. And that scar you’ve got. Does it wrap around your entire body?”
Shion blushed further, wondering at this waiter’s gall. Had he forgotten what class Shion was from?
Immediately, Shion felt ashamed of himself. How could he think such things? What did class matter? Did that mean the waiter wasn’t allowed to treat him as he would any other person?
“What’s wrong, Your Highness? You look a little upset. And you still haven’t answered my first question.”
“What was that again?” Shion asked, peering shyly at the grey-eyed waiter. The waiter had taken off his vest, and the first few buttons of his black shirt were undone, exposing the sharp lines of his collarbone. Shion stared at his smooth, white skin before realizing what he was doing and looking back up determinedly at the waiter’s face.
“Have you brought me more mints?”
Shion stared, slightly transfixed by the waiter’s grin. “Uh…no. Sorry.”
The waiter sighed and rolled his eyes, shifting his weight. “I was kidding, Your Highness. Look, not to be rude, but why are you here? I’ve just been on my feet for eighteen hours, and I’d like to get home and – ”
“Eighteen hours? They give you such long shifts?” Shion nearly shouted, appalled.
The waiter’s eyes widened. “There’s no need to get so upset. And no, I did my shift, then covered someone else’s, and then I did some other stuff.”
“What other stuff?”
The grey eyes narrowed. “Why does it matter to you? Again I’ll ask, why are you here? Are you waiting for someone?”
Shion blinked. Wasn’t it obvious? “Well, yes.”
“Who? Nearly everyone has left, I think I might have been the last to – ”
“You. I was waiting for you.”
The grey eyes blinked slowly. “I don’t understand. Why?”
Shion said nothing. What could he say? What explanation could he give? He wasn’t even sure why. Because I can’t stop thinking about you. Because my mind has been scattered since the day we met, because I can’t focus, because I needed to come and figure you out, figure out why exactly you have this effect on me.
“Did you hear me? How long have you been waiting out here, anyway?”
“I don’t know. A while,” Shion replied. He felt faint. He realized he hadn’t eaten all day. His driver was probably really worried. He was supposed to call back Safu. What was he doing in this dark alley, standing tongue-tied before a stranger?
“I don’t understand you. Why didn’t you just get one of your butlers to wait out here for you?”
Shion blinked, tilting his head. “You’re not better than me.”
“You are disgusted by high society, aren’t you?” Shion challenged, suddenly feeling a burst of energy that dispersed his dizziness. He straightened up to glare properly at the waiter, who watched him calmly.
“Why shouldn’t I be? For many years, I’ve waited on tables for the upper class. For the rich and the grandiose, for the pompous and proper. What have I gotten in return for my politeness, my patience? Maybe it’s forced and fake, the respect I show, but my customers don’t know that. So why does it kill them to show me that same respect back? Why is it so much an insult to their pride to be a decent person? I don’t care about a fucking tip. No, that’s a lie. Of course I care. But I could settle for the great honor of being looked in the eye when spoken to. One of your friends did not look at me once the entire meal, but for when he mocked my name. Do you remember that, Your Highness?”
Shion bristled. “Not everyone is like that! Some people – ”
“Some people sit there and watch as other’s look down their noses at me. At us, all of us, every waiter and waitress, every service person, everyone who can’t afford to eat at a place like the Onaji Hoshi on a regular basis. Is that any better? To disapprove of the disdain displayed by one’s companions, but do nothing about it? Personally, I think that’s worse. At least the people like your rude friend act on their beliefs. They believe anyone lower than their class is scum. A rat,” the waiter laughed dryly, and Shion cringed, his eyes wide. “And so they treat us like rats. But people like…people like you – if you swear you don’t think yourself above me, why do you allow your friends to show me disrespect?”
Shion felt his eyes burning, but he would not cry. He clenched his fists and took a step closer to the waiter, though he wanted so much to turn and run. “I’m not disagreeing with you! I’m not saying I’m better than anyone. I’m just saying, you’re not a saint either – ”
“A saint?” The waiter laughed again, his grey eyes flat. “Did I ever ask to be called such a weak label?”
“You think you show more respect than people of high class? Well, you don’t! You say we judge you because you’re lower class. You judged me from the moment you saw me, for the opposite reason! Before I could barely say a word, you asked why I didn’t get a butler to wait out here for me. You automatically assume I’m lazy, you already assume I don’t think you’re worth my time. And yet, I have been the one standing out here for eleven hours, waiting – ”
“I didn’t ask you to – ”
“I know! I came on my own resolve! But why can’t you hear me out, instead of belittling me with your stereotypes of high class society?” Shion demanded, his heart thundering in his chest. Never before had he spoken to someone in such a way. This was his first real argument. He felt the adrenaline pulsing through his veins, and realized he felt, finally, truly alive. It was as if he was finding a part of himself he’d never known existed, a part that had lain dormant from lack of use in his predictable, high class life.
The waiter glared back for a moment, then rocked back on his heels and shrugged, his amusement back, along with the smirk Shion was beginning to expect was a characteristic component of his expression. “Fine. I’ll hear you out. Go ahead.”
“I…” Shion trailed off and bit his lip. The grey eyes watched him expectantly. He took a deep breath. “I want you to teach me.” The words were out of his mouth before he could remember even thinking them. Shion listened to his own voice, absorbing his own sentence as if he was an outsider. As an outsider, he thought he sounded pretty insane.
“Teach you? Teach you what? Do you want to wait tables?” The smirk grew.
“No,” Shion said, a realization forming. “I want you to teach me how to be…different. Better. The person I want to be.”
“What are you talking about?” the waiter snapped. He shifted again, and Shion remembered how tired he must be, after such a long day.
“We should talk about this later. You must be exhausted.”
“Talk about what later? I have no idea what you’re saying. Are you sure you’re talking to the right person about whatever it is you want to be taught?”
Shion gazed at the waiter for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“What do you want from me again? To teach you what?”
“I don’t want to be… like how I am. I think you can help me change. Show me things from a different perspective.”
“I honestly think you must’ve hit your head or something. Look, I don’t know what you’re asking for, but I do know I’m not the right person to ask – ”
“How can you say that? Of course you’re the right person! Think of everything you just said! You know that a lot of high-class society disregards other people, and that even the people who don’t feel that way still don’t do anything about it. I’m tired of having to agree with what everyone says. I’m tired of living my life under the watch of butlers and maids – ”
“You’re right. Your life does sound so horribly difficult. I pity you, I really do. I know I would personally hate to have a nice, warm bed that I can count on every night, and God forbid someone tries to serve me food on a silver platter. Disgusting,” the waiter bit out.
Shion glared. “That’s not what I meant! I’m always watched! There are always expectations from me – ”
“Right, but from scum like me, no one expects anything – ”
“Stop it!” Shion yelled. The waiter sighed and gazed at him flatly. “Stop acting as if I’m trying to be demeaning! I’m not!”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re trying or not. Are you listening to the things you’re saying?” the waiter snapped, clearly frustrated.
“I’m sorry. This is the problem, don’t you see? I don’t know how to not be…” Shion trailed off, trying to find the right words. “I don’t want to be ‘high class.’ Wait, before you interrupt, what I mean is, I don’t want that to be the only thing I am. I want to be more than my class. Separate from it. I can belong to it, but I don’t want to be it. I don’t want it to describe me solely. I want to be an individual from it.”
The waiter’s expression had not changed. “And what do you want me to do about this? Surprisingly enough, I don’t have any experience with shirking a high-class label. Trust me, I wish I did.”
“I want you to give me a new perspective. The way you think is obviously different from me. I only have the perspective of a guy in high class.”
“Now you want the perspective of a guy from the sewers, right?”
Shion shook his head. “You think I’m looking at you with disdain, but if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t insulted you once. You’re the one who keeps saying derisive things about yourself.”
The waiter stared at him for a long moment, and Shion was slightly worried that he was going to punch him. Instead, after a minute, he laughed – a real laugh, this time.
The sound was loud and warm, unlike his biting tone. Shion felt as if he was being filled with it, his body swelling with its sheer size. His own lips were suddenly turning up in their own grin, his eyes widening brightly. He liked this sound. He laughed too, attempting to echo it, wondering if an imitation of such a laugh was even possible.
“You know what? I think I like you. Fine, Your Highness, I’ll take you under my wing.”
“Will you really?” Shion asked, feeling his smile widen.
“I still have no clue what you want from me, but I’m fucking exhausted, and it seems like agreeing is the best way to get you to finally shut up. You talk a lot, you know that, right?”
Shion shrugged, too happy to let these insults faze him. “I have to go to university tonight.”
The waiter tilted his head at him. “Okay.”
“But I’ll be back,” Shion promised. It was his resolve, after all.
“Of course you will, Your Highness,” the waiter replied, his smirk reappearing.
Shion turned to leave, but turned back around, something bothering him. “Wait, waiter.”
The waiter looked over his shoulder, his grey eyes bright in the dark alleyway. “Yes, Your Highness?”
“That’s not my name.”
“Your Highness. I’m not a prince.”
“No kidding? Because I really did think you were. When I opened that door and saw you lying there in the dirt in your rumpled t-shirt and jeans, I was absolutely certain you were royalty. Don’t try to convince me otherwise, I’ll tell you from now it won’t work.”
“Are you always this sarcastic?” Shion grumbled, irritated.
“Are you always this airheaded?” the waiter countered.
Shion rolled his eyes. “Shion.”
“That’s my name. Shion. Like the flower.”
The grey-eyed waiter gazed at him for a second, then nodded. “My name isn’t waiter, you know. Despite how common that name is.”
“It’s Nezumi,” Shion replied.
The waiter – Nezumi – nodded again. “You remembered.”
“Are you surprised?” Shion asked, mimicking the waiter’s earlier words. “I couldn’t forget you. There’s that whole look you’ve got going.”
The waiter laughed. Shion smiled at the sound. “Look? What look?”
“The grey eyes, the raven hair. Please tell me you’ve noticed.”
Nezumi smirked. “I don’t have much time to spend staring at a mirror.”
Shion shrugged. “Maybe you should one day. You’re pretty beautiful.”
For the first time that night, Nezumi seemed truly caught off guard. “I – what?” he stammered, then laughed. “You really are an airhead, aren’t you?”
“Good night, Nezumi,” Shion called, turning away again.
“Good night, Your Highness,” the waiter replied, his deep voice echoing in the alley.
Shion listened to his fading laughter as he walked away.
Nezumi barely heard the applause. He’d become pretty numb to it, but then, he’d become numb to a lot of things, over the years. His life was a constant cycle, continuous and mundane. He got up, went to work, went home, slept for a few brief hours, then went to work again. His days consisted of serving people he despised, who despised him back. He only continued his rewardless existence because quitting his job would mean starving himself, and he knew the only thing more pathetic than simpering up to high class every day would be allowing himself to give up just because he didn’t have the luxuries they did.
There was one part of his day, however, that Nezumi found himself enjoying, if he was able to forget the people around him, if he allowed it to just be himself and the stage. At the end of the day, an hour before closing, the manager had hired him to sing. He would shed his waiter’s vest and get up on the small platform and sing a few songs, accompanied by another waiter on the piano and a bus boy who could play the cello. It was the only time Nezumi felt truly alive, felt truly himself.
Nezumi walked off the stage and was finding his way to the exit when he froze, his hand on door’s handle. Was it the only time he felt truly alive? What about those few moments, with that one customer with the red eyes…
Nezumi shook his head, trying to disperse his thoughts before they could continue. He opened the door and stepped outside, grateful for the cool night air, like a gentle slap on his face. It was almost as if the night, too, did not want Nezumi thinking again about the strange customer from many weeks before –
Nezumi turned to find himself face to face with the boy he had been trying to avoid in his own mind, standing before him in the flesh. The red eyes seemed even wider than he’d remembered, the shock of white hair even more brilliant in the dark.
Nezumi blinked, wondering if he was imagining the boy. What on earth was he doing there again?
“You? You’re back?”
The boy tilted his head. He looked so innocent. Nezumi wondered how old such a boy could be. He recalled from their first meeting that he was getting married. Nezumi contemplated this fact dubiously. He seemed much too young to be getting married. Maybe it was a strange high-class tradition he wasn’t aware of.
“Well, yeah. I told you I would be.”
Nezumi shook his head, resisting the urge to laugh. He wasn’t sure what was so funny, but just looking at the boy before him was making the corners of his lips turn up without his permission. How strange. “You’re really messed up, do you know that? I didn’t think you were serious.”
A crease formed between the red eyes. “Of course I was serious.”
“Look, kid, I don’t know what you want from me – ”
“Kid?” The boy repeated the word as if it tasted bitter on his lips.
“Yeah. Kid. How old are you anyway? Do your parents know you’re out at such a late hour? Please don’t tell you me waited eleven hours for me again.” What was with this kid anyway? Always waiting for him, even though Nezumi had no idea who he was, nor what he wanted. He was like a puppy, following Nezumi around with that gleeful expression always on his face, as if his tail was constantly wagging. Nezumi was not the kind of person to throw scraps of food to stray dogs. He had no tolerance for mutts.
“I’m twenty-two! How old are you?”
Nezumi stared. This kid was twenty-two? “No, you’re not.”
“I think I would know my own age,” the boy replied sullenly.
Nezumi considered this. He probably would. He was high class, after all. He had probably been born in a nice, sterile hospital, surrounded by the best doctors and nurses the city had to offer. Even before he was born, people had been waiting on him, serving him, attending to him.
Nezumi, on the other hand, did not even know his exact age. He was born in a village that was later burned, along with all of the villagers – except for him. There was no record of his birth, nor anyone to later provide him with a verbal one. Nezumi knew enough that he was decently sure he was in his early twenties. If ever asked, he claimed to be, like the red-eyed boy, twenty-two.
“Fine. I’m twenty-two as well.”
“Then how can you call me a kid?”
“You look like one,” Nezumi replied, turning. The discussion was over. He was tired, and he was not interested in this red-eyed boy’s strange games. Unfortunately, as he walked away, he could hear the boy’s footsteps catching up to him, then following alongside him.
“Well, I’m not. You look tired again. Did you have another eighteen hour day?”
“Why are you so curious? You don’t even know me,” Nezumi countered, irritated by the boy’s constant talking. Didn’t he ever run out of words to say?
“But I want to.”
Nezumi stopped abruptly and faced the kid. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he bit out, angry. What right did this kid have, to go saying things like that? He knew nothing about Nezumi, and now he was saying he wanted to? Did he know what he was getting himself into? But of course not. Kids like him did not need to be cautious, not in their bubble-wrapped lives. They didn’t need to think twice before speaking, to consider the true meaning their words might have.
The red eyes widened further. “Yes, I do! Why are you angry? I didn’t do anything.”
“I’m not angry, I’m irritated. You’re so fucking stupid! And the worst part is, you can afford to be! I’m not going to endanger myself walking around in the dark with an airhead like you.”
“Hey! That’s mean! What are you talking about, you don’t know if I’m smart or not!”
“I don’t care what your teachers mark your papers with at whatever fancy school you go to. You’re an idiot. Look at you, you’re walking down a dark alley with a complete stranger. I could be a maniac. I could whip a knife out of my sleeve and kill you right now. You don’t know me.”
“I don’t think you’re a maniac.”
“And you know everything, don’t you?” Nezumi challenged, rolling his eyes at the kid’s naivety. He had never met anyone quite like the red-eyed boy. He couldn’t tell if he was so irritated he wanted to punch him in the face or so amused he wanted to laugh.
“No. That’s why I want to get to know you. We already talked about this, remember? Two weeks ago? You said you’d help me – ”
“I change my mind. I don’t know how to help you with your identity crisis, I suggest you buy a shrink with your multitude of money. I don’t have time to listen to your high class problems – ”
“You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what again?” Nezumi thundered, angry with the kid for interrupting him so calmly.
“Judging me. Come on, give me a chance.”
“A chance for what? I really don’t get you. I just don’t think I can help you. Maybe you’re not used to being turned down, but I’m not just going to do anything you want because you’re rich.”
The kid sighed. The joyful expression that had been plastered to his innocent face the entire time slipped away, and he looked down, his shoulders slumped. “You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m bothering you, aren’t I? This is the second time you’ve just wanted to go home after a long day, and I’m probably taking away from limited time you have to sleep. I guess I wouldn’t understand, I’ve never been on my feet for eighteen hours. Sure, there have been long days at the university, but – right, never mind, you don’t want to hear about that, sorry.”
Nezumi stared at the boy, startled at this sudden change. He had the irrational urge to reach out, but kept his hands by his sides, surprised by this thought.
“I just wanted… well, I guess I don’t even know. That’s the thing, I don’t know what I want. I feel like I’m stuck, but I’m not even sure what I’m stuck in, so how can I try to get out? And what right do I have to feel stuck, when I have such a perfect life? I must be so annoying to you, constantly going on about wanting a change, when my life is ideal. I’m sorry for wasting your time. I’ll leave, please forgive me.”
Nezumi was frozen as the kid turned and began walking back down the alley. His mind was at war. He didn’t know this kid. The kid was probably completely unstable – all evidence pointed to him being insane, possibly dangerous just by how airheaded and naïve he seemed to be. And yet…
There was something about him. The things he’d said – sure, the way he’d said them was long-winded, exhausting, and barely coherent – but the meaning behind what he’d said, at least, the meaning Nezumi was able to fathom, was something Nezumi had never expected to hear from a customer of the Onaji Hoshi. He was a strange kid, but there was something magnetic about him, something inviting, something that almost seemed like a lifeline to keep Nezumi from drowning in the mundane life he was “living,” if he could even call it that.
There was something about the red-eyed kid that made Nezumi take a step towards him, outstretch a hand, try to recall the name the kid had thrown at him at the end of their last meeting. What had it been? Some sort of plant… Shion. Like the flower.
The kid wheeled around. “Nezumi?”
What was it about the way the kid said his name? He had never heard it said in such a way. Something about hearing it said like this made Nezumi’s stomach do strange things.
“I have something to show you,” Nezumi said, wondering what on earth he was doing. He told himself he was only calling the strange kid back because he seemed to be a reliable source of amusement, something Nezumi could sure use every now and then.
“Well, come on then. I haven’t got all night,” Nezumi said sharply, before turning and walking away. He wondered if the boy would follow, and shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the rushing footsteps as he caught up with Nezumi again.
“What is it?”
“Stop sounding so excited, it’s annoying me,” Nezumi snapped, already regretting his rashly made decision.
“Why would someone’s happiness annoy you?”
Nezumi clucked his tongue and said nothing, irked by the kid’s bluntness. Didn’t he know anything about being subtle? He probably just spoke aloud every thought that occurred in that airhead of his.
“So…where are we going?”
“Stop asking questions.”
“You’re the one who said not to be so trusting,” Shion objected.
Nezumi looked at him sideways. “It’s a little late to stop trusting me now, don’t you think?”
Shion seemed to think about this for a while, and after a minute, Nezumi thought he had finally gotten him to shut up. Of course, he thought too soon. “Do you work every day?”
“Do you ask a question every minute?” Nezumi snapped. He peered over, after a moment of silence, to see that Shion was looking down at his feet. Nezumi sighed. “And yes. Unlike you, if I took a day off and just sat around doing nothing, there wouldn’t still be food for me to eat that night for dinner.”
Shion lifted his head. He seemed to be thinking about something, a small crease present between his red eyes. “I just don’t get it,” he said, after a pause. “If you hate your job so much, and you have to work every day, why not find a new one?”
“Who said I hated my job?” Nezumi countered.
“Well, your job is to wait on high society, and you hate all rich people, so – ”
“ –So my job is the perfect setup. Can you think of a more convenient way to get back at the wealthy than being in the perfect position to spit in their soup?” Nezumi laughed at Shion’s expression. “And I don’t hate all rich people,” he added quietly, after a pause.
“There are exceptions?” Shion was staring at him, his red eyes wide again.
“Who said it was plural?”
“Exception, then. Who is it?”
Nezumi looked away from the questioning red eyes. “We’re here,” he replied, grateful at the timing of their walk, which had taken them to the peer that looked over the ocean. “Come on.”
Instead of walking onto the dock, where Nezumi was certain Shion had been before, he ducked under it, crouching so as not to hit his head on the wood. He poked his head back out after a moment, watching Shion, who had not moved. “Well, are you coming or not?”
“Under the dock? Shouldn’t we be going on top of it?”
“You wanted a different perspective, right? Let’s go.” Nezumi extended his hand, and Shion took it warily. With a grin, Nezumi dragged him under and pulled him at a run.
“Hey! Slow down! It’s dark, I’m going to trip!”
Nezumi said nothing, but slowed marginally so that Shion could catch up. He didn’t let go of his hand, though. There was something warm about the boy’s palm, something pleasant, something that made Nezumi want to hold on, just for a second more.
“Where are you taking me?” Shion asked. His fingers curled around Nezumi’s palm, sending a slight shock up Nezumi’s spine.
“You’ll see. Side step now, there’s a hole,” Nezumi guided. Shion squeezed his hand more tightly. “Good, now stand up here with me.”
“Okay…” Shion stepped up onto the patch of overgrown sea grass next to Nezumi. His bare arm brushed Nezumi’s, and Nezumi saw that the kid was shivering. Why hadn’t the boy brought a coat? He really was an airhead. Nezumi stepped closer to him, hoping his body heat would be enough. He couldn’t have the stupid kid complaining to his rich parents when he caught a cold, then find himself with a lawsuit the next day.
At least, that’s what he told himself.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked, looking sideways at the red-eyed boy.
“This is… where is the water?”
“What water?” Nezumi asked, smirking. He’d known the red-eyed boy would ask this.
“I thought… weren’t you going to show me the ocean?” Shion asked hesitantly.
“How would that be a different perspective?” Nezumi challenged. Shion was staring at him doubtfully.
“But what – ”
“Shh, stop talking for once. Just look.” Shion looked back out. They were standing under the edge of the dock, but not the edge facing the water. Instead, they were facing a wall of boulders, covered in moss and sea grass. Nezumi had seen the sight several times before – it was one of his favorites – so instead of looking out at the rocks, he watched the boy with the red eyes. He smiled as the red eyes widened.
Nezumi chuckled. “Better than the ocean?”
The boy was speechless. Nezumi laughed again. He must have seen a number of incredible things living in his royal palace, and still he could look at such a simple thing – something completely free of charge – with awe? The thought made Nezumi feel suddenly light, warm. He found his smile lingering, even after he’d stopped laughing. He looked away from Shion, hoping the boy hadn’t seen. He was probably just exhausted, and his body had kicked in some sort of high, something that made him feel, at that moment, incredibly happy, for the first time in a long time.
“How does this happen? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Nezumi should have known the boy’s speechlessness wouldn’t last. “How would I know? Something with the moonlight’s reflection on the water that trickles down the rocks.”
“That sounds right. It’s probably the angle of projection that the beams – ”
Shion laughed, and Nezumi looked over. His glee was so apparent, in the shine of his eyes, the wideness of his smile, the lightness of his laugh. The boy wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was so careless, having been sheltered all his life, and he was allowed to be so foolhardy because he would continue to live a sheltered life.
Remember that, Nezumi warned himself. No matter what happened, no matter how many tricks Nezumi showed the boy, he would always go back to his mansion, his butlers and maids and breakfast in bed, his weekly allowance of gold coins and privileged life.
Nezumi sighed and looked away from Shion to the rocks that Shion was still entranced by. They glittered back at him. As waves rushed over the rocks, water trickled down in little waterfalls, coating the entire surface. The moon reflected on this light, but in such a way that it didn’t just gleam – it shined as if implanted with diamonds that were alight on fire. The sight was almost blinding, but it was worth the slight strain on the eyes to catch just a glimpse of it. Nezumi had stumbled across it more than ten years before, and he remembered how his young self had been so amazed.
Not many things could amaze him any more.
“You probably should be getting back,” Nezumi commented, pulling his hand out of Shion’s grasp. Shion looked at him, his eyes still seeming to shine with the reflection of the rocks, as if it’d been captured there.
“Oh, yeah, I guess so.”
Nezumi turned away from him and began leading the way back out from under the dock, not bothering to look behind him and make sure Shion was following – the kid made a surprising amount of noise figuring they were just walking on patches of sandy grass and dirt.
“Is your car back at the Onaji Hoshi?” Nezumi asked, once they were out from under the dock.
“I’ll walk you there,” Nezumi replied, again trying to avoid a lawsuit. The airhead would probably get himself killed walking back in the dark.
“You don’t have to do that. You look really tired.”
“Stop worrying about me,” Nezumi said, irritated.
“Then you should stop worrying about me,” Shion replied smugly.
Nezumi turned to glare at him. “What makes you think I’d waste my time worrying over a rich prince?”
“I’m not a prince! And you’re obviously worrying, otherwise you wouldn’t have offered to walk me back!”
“If you don’t quit being so irritating, I assure you I can easily change my mind.”
To Nezumi’s great surprise, Shion shut up. After a few minutes of walking, Nezumi peered over at him. He had his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets, his eyes wide as he looked around him, as if he’d never seen a back street at night. On further thought, he probably hadn’t.
“So…you’re getting married, right?” Nezumi asked. He didn’t know why the question suddenly popped into his head, but there it was, hanging between them.
“Yeah. In six weeks.”
“Who’s the lucky girl?” Nezumi asked, chuckling to himself.
He stopped laughing as Shion’s lips turned up in a small smile. “Safu,” he said quietly. Nezumi looked away from him, up at the sky. There was something about the way he’d said the girl’s name, something… tender about it. Nezumi could tell this kid cared about her.
He didn’t know why he felt so irritated. His lack of sleep was probably hitting him again.
“Look, on second thought, I’ve got to go. You can find your way back to the restaurant now, right? You take a right at the – ”
“Yeah, I know the way back from here.” Shion stopped walking and looked at Nezumi, still smiling. “Thank you so much for what you showed me tonight. It was really amazing.”
Nezumi rolled his eyes. “Are you always so passionate about your gratitude? You sound like a fool.”
“I don’t care how I sound, as long as you understand a fraction of the appreciation I’m feeling.”
Nezumi felt suddenly hot. What was with this guy? Who talked like this? “Yeah, yeah, I get it, you’re thankful. You’re welcome, Your Highness. I’m so pleased that you decided to grace me with your presence.”
“I feel the same way about you,” Shion replied, not blinking an eye.
Nezumi sighed, his irritation doubling. “Okay, whatever you say. I’m going to go now.”
“Thank you again!” Shion called, as Nezumi turned and started walking away.
Nezumi rolled his eyes again and shoved his hands in his pockets. It seemed that the chill of the night had finally caught up with him, and found himself feeling even colder with every step he took away from the red-eyed boy.