The words blurred, swimming in front of my eyes as I wrestled with my fading focus. Squeezing my aching eyes shut for a moment, I did what I knew I couldn't- what I shouldn't- but I did anyway.
I dropped the script book on the makeshift plastic desktop, slouching down in my seat and raking a hand through my hair, blowing my breath out softly.
Suddenly, something groaned beside me, and a cascade of black hair fell on my shoulder.
I jumped, bumping my knee obnoxiously on the bottom of my desk as I snapped back into a straight-backed, proper sitting posture.
Oh, yeah. Her. Peering cautiously at the face thinly veiled beneath the smooth, shoulder-length hair that fell over my aisle mate's sleeping face. What did she say she was going to Japan for again? I frowned, trying to rummage through the awkward conversation we had managed to plow through before she drifted off.
She had said something about… becoming a Korean-Japanese singer for NiSo? Or was it promoting Korean singers to the Japanese public? Whatever. From the looks of her, she won't last long, no matter what's she's doing. I had more important things to worry about. Case in point- the script I had abandoned minutes ago seemed to be calling my name, waiting expectantly for me to pick it back up. Grudgingly, I obliged, flipping to the page I had dog-eared in a zombie-like stupor.
Mouthing the lines to myself as I skimmed the page, I could feel the tired wheels in my mind squawking with distractions within seconds. Cameras will be rolling the minute you step out of that airport, I reminded myself, allowing myself a quick glance at the tiny display screen embedded in the seat in front me.
Forty-seven minutes, the count-down read.
"Forty-seven minutes left to stuff this thing into your head. Go crazy," I muttered, although pep-talks had never been my forte and this one rang with the single ounce of conviction I could pull out of going on less than two hours of sleep a day for the last week, filming day in and day out on our supposed "high-budget" drama, which would shoot "on location" in Seoul for a month. Of course, that actually meant that we would fly to Seoul for a month, spend the first couple of weeks lounging around while our director and writer argue over the "finer details" of the script, and then cram all the filming in the last week of our stay while working on a couple hours of sleep because our insomniac director planned out each our remaining days "on location" to be a twenty-four hour filming schedule.
Trust me, if I had the energy to be furious about this, I would be.
Unfortunately, that kind of energy has been sapped out of me along with my will to do anything other than jam this freakin' script in my head while I still had the chance so people didn't give me the evil eye when I arrived on set empty-headed and needing a major makeover from the bags under my eyes.
Anger, bitterness, and any emotion that isn't called into use while the recording light is on has faded from mind these past couple of weeks. It's not quite that I've forgotten that I was actually the second-best actor for the job, or that my own manager didn't have confidence in my abilities. It was just that any downtime I had from being Miura, the morose, gentle photographer, I tended to be out cold on a couch somewhere or stuffing my face with food too wildly to get any thinking done.
Less than two hours of sleep. .. Yeah, it just might have something to do with the fact that these lines were just flying right over my head. And the fact that I can't pull something that's dripping with a little more sarcasm out of my head to accent the situation at the moment. I let my mind fall blank for a moment, feeling the full weight of… what is this? Exhaustion? Crush me and pull me under. Thank god I had a little bit of cover up handy these days. It pays to pilfer from your makeup artists on occasion. God, I can't even think straight anymore, I thought, stifling for a yawn for the umpteenth time.
The splatter of paper brought me up in a jolt again.
Shit. The script had slipped through my fingers while I was lost in thought. I could barely summon the energy to bend over and wrap my fingers around it again. Hoping to inject a little life into my limp body, I fumbled with my armchair remote until I turned on the radio, and shoved earphones into my ears, turning the volume up so that the music pounded in my head.
Somehow, after what seemed like hours, I was sitting up, and flipping the page. The first line was mine.
Miura- Ugh! I can't think straight!
That earned a chuckle for me. At least I'll be in character, I thought bitterly. Each time I blinked, it seemed as if a hundred pounds weighed down my eyelids. The roar of the music seemed to dull to a hum around me- I couldn't make out the words… and even the hard, plastic window cover didn't feel as gratingly uncomfortable anymore.
Maybe I'll just rest my eyes for a minute.
Which is what everyone thinks when they are really going to doze off, but really, I didn't have the energy to tell myself the truth…
"Kan-Kanzaki-san?" Ugh. Who's brilliant idea was it to wake me up just as I was falling asleep? I decided to try and put a face to the voice without fluttering an eye-lid, hoping that whoever it was would just bug off. It was a soft, timid voice- familiar, yet I couldn't quite place it. Was it that girl on the airplane? What was her name again?
"Kanzaki-san… we're supposed to start filming now." No, she didn't have that weird Korean accent. Definitely Japanese.
"Kanzaki-san!" a hard tap on the shoulder. Ouch. I flinched reflexively, and heard a satisfied sigh. Ah, damn it. I gave myself away.
Opening my sandpapery eyes, I squinted into a brightly lit room.
Boom mics. Tripods. Staff members dressed in plain black scurrying around the room- the set- like bees in a hive.
"Where-" I began, but two golf-shirt-clad staff members had already come charging my way, yanking me out of the bench I had been lounging moments ago and dragging me towards a makeshift makeup stand. Before I could object, brushes attacked my face with silent fury, while I felt a hand patting down my hair. Within moments, the two staff backed away, gesturing for me to walk a set that I seemed to recognize in the back of my mind.
I approached the cautiously, feeling all eyes on me in the buzzing room as I stepped into the three-walled kitchen, where a short-haired girl knelt at the dining table, skimming over a booklet (probably her lines, I reasoned) while a couple cameramen scrambled from one side of the room of the other, madly adjusting camera angles.
"Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu, please take care of me," I said to no one in particular and everyone, my typical filming-day routine kicking in.
Not that this was a typical filming day, of course.
Although I wasn't quite sure where I was supposed to start the scene, my feet seemed to guide me to the girl's side. She was still looking down- try as I might, I couldn't catch much her face without peering at her creepily. She seemed to be avoiding my eye, I observed. I wondered if I had done something to piss her off- not that I cared that much.
"Alright, alright. We'll start at the beginning of this scene." I located a squat, friendly looking man sitting in the director's chair. His face seemed to ring a bell as well. Where have I seen these people before? His eyes caught mine, and he spoke.
"Kanzaki-san, think of it as if you're comforting your little sister. You're not lovers yet. From your point of view, you're just friends. Close friends, but just friends nonetheless. Act as surprised as possible when she turns around." I nodded obediently at his instructions, wondering how I delivered my lines the last time this scene was shot. Considering I couldn't remember the last time this scene was shot. Or my lines, for that matter.
But for some odd reason, I didn't think to protest as the cameraman started to count off.
And suddenly, it was if the lines rushed to mind. I touched the girl next to me on the shoulder, gently but firmly, my face a mask of seriousness.
"Mitsuki, listen. I know this is hard for you… and I can't say I understand how you feel, because I'm not sure I do." I paused, letting tears fill my eyes. "But I'm sure your father would have wanted someone to give you this." My voice was a soft murmur now, and I leaned forward, standing behind the girl now, and wrapped my eyes around her collarbone. Resting my head lightly on my outstretched arm as I gazed at her delicate profile. "There. It's the least I could do." I whispered in her ear.
Just then, with mere inches between our faces, she turned to face me. It was then that the spark of recognition ignited in my mind.
The bright, deep brown eyes. The soft features. The way her cropped hair bounced at the ends, forming a frame around her heart-shaped face.
There was no mistaking it.
Seira, I opened my mouth to say, only to be silenced as her lips met mine, a gentle, reserved brush that spoke of an earnest longing. We held our faces close together for the camera close-ups, although the magical moment passed within milliseconds.
Finally, I heard "Cut." Ring out in the distance.
And immediately straightened back up, eager to take in my surroundings a second time. It felt like a thin film of plastic had been lifted from my vision as I drank in the view once more, this time with full understanding.
I was on the set of "Everlasting"- the last thing that had ever been labeled a hit in my career.
Well, I suppose it never hurts to reminiscence while you can, now does it? I should be working on waking myself up now, but somehow I felt like reveling in my good ol' glory days. Back when I still felt like I was on top of the world. Back when I was on top of the world, for that matter.
I glanced down at Seira, whose pale cheeks had flushed a crimson red, as if she was suddenly running a fever. I considered being worried before I recalled this was the way she always reacted to any kind of emotional tension.
"That was pretty intense," I teased her. She didn't look at me. I knew she liked me- or had convinced myself that she liked me, at the very least. In my sixteen-year-old mind, I was about as madly in love with her as I could be. This was my first drama as the leading man, and hell if I didn't think my leading lady was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. My first love, of sorts- although sometimes it was hard to distinguish between a skillfully crafted emotion put on display for the camera and the genuine thing- I just wanted to believe that she felt the same way too.
In my twenty-two-year old mind, that kind of puppy dog love had long since faded- we haven't seen each other except for years since the drama was filmed.
"Excellent! That was brilliant, you two. Definitely a keeper." I glanced over at the director, who was positively jumping out of his seat in excitement. I beamed back appreciatively.
A few more scenes and a dozen takes down the road, the director finally called for a fifteen minute break. I had forgotten how hard I had worked for this drama. Even knowing all of the lines by heart didn't help the fact that somehow, my inflection was always a little off, my expressions were always a tad on the wooden side, and that would inevitably lead to take number "until director Nishoda was satisfied". Of course, in hindsight, I really didn't mind Nishoda's perfectionalist personality- in fact, I was even grateful for it. Without him, who knows how well this drama would have faired. Probably not well, considering my amateur understanding of acting at the time, I reflected.
Seira and I grabbed both grabbed a bottle of water, and I watched with fond nostalgia as she headed over to the bench where I had been found dozing earlier- or- at the beginning of my dream. Ever the professional the in the sight of her co-workers, she carried herself with an easy, confident grace that made her look older than her thirteen years. But I headed over to join her, I noted with a twinge of pleasure that she subtly squeezed a space for me on the bench, her face flushing as I sat down next to her. Staring off into the distance, I vaguely remembered the first time this had happened- when it had really happened, and how I had been too worked up to notice that she was as nervous as I was.
"Great work." I offered as a conversation starter.
"Thanks. You too." A three-year age difference between teenagers meant she wasn't always on the talkative side around me. If foreigners are supposed to be naturally "outgoing", it seemed as if the Japanese half of Seira's blood completely taken over her personality, I thought as I observed her. She seemed to willfully lean away from me, making sure that she had as much space as possible between the two of us. And in spite of that, I somehow managed to convince myself that she was just being shy- that she was just waiting for me to make the first move.
Ah, I was a bit dense in those days.
"So…" I chose my words carefully. "You want grab something to eat after the shoot? I'm pretty sure we end around six. I know a really good ramen place nearby." I waited, and for a moment it seemed as if she had been silent for a second too long, that she was sure to refuse, when she looked up, her eyes bright with interest. I had simply been flooded with relief at the time, I recalled- but now, there seemed to be something suspiciously overeager in the look in her eye. This is just a dream, I reminded myself impatiently. I'm overanalyzing.
"Really? That sounds great. My parents won't be back until late today anyway." She paused. "And, I'm not a very good cook, so I'd be in trouble." I pasted a look of surprise on my face, although I had predicted she would say that before she did- this whole reminiscing thing had a way of turning out like a major deja-vu.
Before I could open my mouth and shoot back a clever reply, Director Yoshida's voice echoed around us, snapping both of us back to reality.
"Everyone, please set up for the radio station scene. Scene four of episode five."
Seira's water bottle landed with a dull, squishy thud on the floor, as it slipped through her loose grasp, and I scrambled to erect it before the water invaded too much of the floor. Before I could get up to return the water bottle to her, she had already run off to fetch towels to mop up the mess.
"I'm so sorry," she said emphatically as she jogged back towards me, a rag in her hand. "I drifted off for some reason." I looked on, feeling rather useless as she mopped the floor at my feet, not having bothered to get a second towel for me to use.
"It's alright. Besides, you can pay me back by letting me take you to dinner tonight." I was glad that earned me a light giggle from her. After a moment, she straightened up, seeming satisfied with her handiwork. I offered her a hand, gripping her bare, slender wrist as I helped her up. Her skin felt oddly clammy and rough under my touch.
This was the scene where Mitsuki called the radio station asking for advice about her boyfriend troubles- namely, her troubles with my character, Ryo. I had a couple of off camera lines, but Seira was the star of the show in this scene. I strolled slowly towards the set, keeping an eye on Seira as she studiously went over her lines, mouthing them to herself as she paced back and forth in front of the bench, her water bottle lying forgotten against a back bench leg.
I stood at the edge of the scene while Seira stood in her three-walled, dead-end hallway, a phone in hand. I already knew how this was going to play out. The man at the radio station was actually Ryo, who ran an underground radio station in real life- and oh, the dramatic irony that she would be confessing her love for her best friend- to her best friend- and yet neither would know it! I glanced down at my lines one last time.
"Hello?" Seira said tentatively.
I was about to reply, when another, crackling voice sounded out of nowhere.
"Yes, this must be very exciting for you."
Suddenly, the scene around me began to dissolve, melting away into the darkness. Seira's voice
sounded, like a bell tolling clearly in the emptiness.
"Yes, but at the same time, I'm a little scared." Scared of what? I thought. I could feel myself slowly sinking back into the airplane now, hearing the buzz of activity around me.
"What are you scared of?" It was a male voice that spoke now. I could feel a rigid pressure pushing against the inside of my ears. My eyes fluttered open, and I swallowed, hard. We were descending- almost there.
"I'm scared of growing up, of course- of becoming an adult when I'm twenty. I only have one more year left to be a child, and yet I still feel like I haven't done many childish things." Where was her voice coming from? Reaching up to rub my aching ears, I found the earphones I had left plugged in. Before I pulled them away, the DJ's voice stopped me.
"Everyone has always been saying how mature you were as a child actress, Seira-chan. I guess that could be your excuse to act up now?" he chuckled, as if he had said something amusing. Seira's laugh jingled in after his, as if she was simply following his lead.
So that's why I had dreamt of her, I listened to the friendly banter absentmindedly, drinking in the sound of her voice with a little more eagerness than I was comfortable with. I'm just curious, I reassured myself- I hadn't heard from her at all these last years, after all.
"I guess so! Right now I'm trying to tackle some very young roles, so that I take advantage of my last year of youth at work." The tone of her voice simply reeked of self-advertisement, and sure enough, she followed up with,
"everyone, please watch my new drama, Summer Promise, at nine o'clock every Saturday on FujiTV!"
"Well, it was very nice talking to you, Seira-chan. Good luck on that drama of yours!"
and with that, the outro music blared. I finally rid myself of the earphones, noticing the clamor of passengers stirring in the aisles around me. Tuning in to the harsh grind of plane wheels beneath me, I realized that we had already landed.
A light tap on the shoulder reminded me that the girl who had fallen asleep on my shoulder was still my seat mate. I gave her a nod of acknowledgement, trying to clear my bleary head as I blinked away the fog in my eyes. A half hour wink could not replace days worth of lost sleep, my body seemed to be berating me. I pulled myself up from my slouch, hoping that I didn't look as crappy as I felt after that too-short nap.
"It was nice to meet you," the girl said, offering me a smile I couldn't muster enough enthusiasm to return. "I'm glad my first meeting with a Japanese person is…" she looked up, as if searching her mind for the word, and finally settled on, "friendly."
I would have replied that I hoped she would soon learn enough Japanese to stop sounding like a six-year-old with a speech impediment, but I doubted she would understand- or that I had the brain power to sound any more coherent than she did. I kept my mouth shut.
A slim, navy-suited flight attendant paused at our seats then, and the quasi-six-year-old-with-speech-impediment grabbed a plastic bag (filled with trash, I assumed) and handed it to the flight attendant, who interrupted her and letting her speak in Korean instead. After a slew of incomprehensible phrases were exchanged, the flight attendant left wordlessly with the bag. Ms. Six-year-old turned to me, and said firmly,
"You are garbage on the floor."
To be insulted or not to be insulted? I chose the latter simply because it required zero reaction. Ms. Six-year-old seemed to consider me for a moment, her features twisting into a frown. The words "are you alright?" seemed to be ready to burst from her mouth when suddenly, a red-faced man appeared behind her, yelling my name frantically.
It took a moment to register the slight bulge of his beer belly, and the familiar, tattered gray suit he wore.
It was my dear Manager, Matsumura-san.
"Kanzaki! What exactly do you think you're doing? Get off that lazy ass of yours! We need to get out of here, now. The shoot starts in less than an hour, and it's a half hour drive to… ugh!" He shoved Ms. Six-year-old aside and grabbed my arm, lgging my unwilling body out of the seat almost by force. It took me a second to remember to grab my only carry on, the dark brown messenger bag with my script in it. I couldn't get a word in edgewise as he hulled me along, muttering and cursing- not that I could have spoken a logical sentence at that point anyway.
As I staggered along with him through the now swarming queue of passengers, tripping over luggage and skirting around little midget-sized children, I felt my vision swirl with vertigo.
No good. Was all I could think with any coherence. No good indeed.
Whether it was minutes or hours later, I wasn't sure. All I knew was that I was relieved to feel the icy, cool glass of the window against my forehead, although I could feel the bile rising in my throat as I breathed in the air conditioning in the cab.
Eau de Oil Spill, I thought vaguely to myself. Lovely. I would have made a comment to the sweaty alcoholic next to me (who wasn't helping my urge to puke with the nauseating body odor emanating from his perspiring pores.)
Then, the cab lurched to a stop, and I swallowed my own vomit to keep it from coming up. Car sickness, striking at the best of times, I thought to myself as the door against my head fell open, and I nearly let myself drop onto the pavement. Instead, I lugged myself out of the cab, the ground feeling uneven under my feet.
"You're forgetting your bag, you imbecile," Matsumura-san's voice rang in my ears, and I almost felt like slugging him for making my head hurt more than it already did. Then, out of nowhere, he shoved the brown bag frantically in my face.
"Where's the script?" Even through the mist that seemed to have settled in my mind, I managed to decipher a clear note of panic in his voice.
"The… script." I repeated slowly.
The image of a plastic bag against an empty floor flashed in my mind.
I took a step forward, lunging for the bag that seemed to float in front of my eyes. From the second my foot landed on the floor, I knew it was a step I couldn't take- that I shouldn't have taken- but I tried to grab the bag in front of me anyway.
Instead, my hand closed on empty air, and my legs seemed to disappear from under me.
Trying to blink away the black dots in front me just wasn't working, and as I free fell through the air, I tried to focus on the image of the gravely cement rushing towards me, fighting for focus, but everything blurred in my vision, and then my world was extinguished.
Out like a match.
A/N: I have a feeling the next chapter is going to be pretty long too. I had originally planned for Hiro to meet Azami in this chapter, and then realized that it was a prime opportunity to show how utterly overworked he was- believe it or not, it is not atypical for drama actors to work extreme schedules while shooting is in session- after all, much of the J-drama is shot before it is aired, not as it is aired, like dramas are shot in Taiwan and Korea. Anyway, here we're introduced to his co-star back in his golden days, the shy and slightly mysterious Seira. I realize that it is a bit unbelievable that he notices so many "details" about what happened through a dream, but as the story goes on, we'll see exactly how much of an emotional impact Seira had on Hiro, which is a lot more than he lets on in this chapter. As always, there's a lot brewing beneath the surface.
What do the little things Hiro notices about Seira foreshadow? (her wrists, her eagerness to "go out" with him despite seeming a bit too shy to approach him) and also, what will become of Hiro now that he has lost his script? We can tell that he has been worked to exhaustion, hence his collapse, but his manager doesn't seem to be taking much notice- how will he be treated after he recovers, if he is allowed to recover at all?
I promise to be more prompt with future chapters. Expect the next one next week. The SnN Part II is coming up as well, hopefully tomorrow :)
Please leave comments and let me know what you think of the story!