Accepting a New Life
There is a huge problem when we get to the ten story building housing Tokyo Girl Production’s offices. We find out about it only when we reach reception, where a small woman in large rimmed glasses says she’s sorry but only one of the five rooms meant for workers who spend the night are available. Immediately I try to open my mouth and tell Maki I can spend the night at my hotel and be here at the early hour required for practice, but someone behind us has other ideas.
“They’ll take the room!” The voice is that of a preppy woman, one I’m not too familiar with. Maki obviously has dealt with this character given the roll of her eyes the moment the voice invaded her conscious.
“Ms. Ishikawa, can you not make decisions for us? We’re adults.”
Turning around I find myself face to face with a black haired woman in a business suit, her nose centimeters from my own. There’s a grin on her face as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s.
“You must be The One!” She says in that sing-song voice.
“You took the pills right?” She whispers, hiding her mouth from Maki with her hand.
I nod hesitantly.
“It’s a reference to The Matrix. I thought you’d laugh. I like to lighten the mood, you know? My brother calls me the comic relief character, but I just like to think I hate not smiling. Everyone looks better with a smile on their face! Especially Maki. But she has this perpetual scowl that might as well say “I’m unapproachable”. Which is weird for a cutesy idol who acts like a total extrovert on stage.”
“I can hear you Ishikawa and I can also tell your brother you’re messing with me.” Maki gives Ms. Ishikawa, who I assume is the sister of Mr. Ishikawa, a cold glare from those beautiful violet eyes.
“Don’t worry Maki, my brother already knows how much I love messing with you. Otherwise he wouldn’t have put you in my care for the next couple days.”
“What?” Maki put her face in her hands.
“My brother’s headed to Osaka for a few days to set things up for a big summer concert. So he’s left you and Shane in my care. And my first decision as your interim producer and manager is to have you guys share the room and get to know each other. You can’t have an idol duo who hate each other!”
“A boy and a girl can’t share a room like that! This is getting really freaking weird!” Maki is blushing which I can’t help but find absolutely adorable.
“Don’t think of him as a boy. Think of him as a girl! If it helps you, call him Nico Yazawa.”
I feel my eyebrow shoot up. “Nico…Yazawa? Why was that name on the pill bottle? Nico?”
“Pill bottle?” Maki asks.
“Your Japanese name, as a part of the new idol culture, is Nico Yazawa. Things will make sense in due time but for now, just trust your big sister and get to know each other. The only one making anything weird or dirty out of it is you Maki.” She winks at Maki who turns red as a tomato.
“Sh-shut up. C’mon Shane. Let’s get this over with.” She grabs my arm and drags me to the elevators. As the doors shut on the lobby, I see Ms. Ishikawa giggling to herself like a madwoman.
“I can’t stand her! Ever since I started here she’s been screwing with me. I think she hates me.”
“Maybe.” My eyes dart to her hand on my arm. She notices and quickly backs off, her face red for the third time in five minutes.
“S-sorry. I just had to get away from that woman.”
The ride to the eighth floor continues in silence. The spot where Maki had been holding my arm feels very warm for some reason, probably just my brain wanting to hold onto that feeling of her soft hand on me. Deep in my brain I feel some reservations about what is about to take place. Spending the night in a room alone with a girl like Maki is probably horrifying for her and the last thing I want to do is ruin my already rocky relationship with my idol partner. I’m not some savage animal who would do anything dirty to her or try anything at all, I’m just scared I might do or say something she’d construe as offensive or creepy. If nothing else, I wouldn’t be opposed to just sleeping in the hallway or something.
“You’re not going to sleep in the hallway.” The door slides open and Maki looks at me. Did she read my mind? “As embarrassing as it is…Ishikawa’s right. If we’re going to be partners…we should be friends.”
The room we wind up in is not particularly spacious, but it is comfortable. There’s a main room with a table, a sofa, and a television. Against the wall is a tiny kitchen area and beside that is the door to a bedroom with a bathroom attached. It’s like the tiny Japanese apartments I had seen in movies and anime before. Standing in front of the sofa are two suitcases, the red one is definitely Maki’s and mine is a nondescript black. Wondering how Ishikawa got it from my hotel to this room so fast is probably beyond my comprehension…like most of what has been going on.
“Did you expect to be here tonight?” I ask, kicking off my shoes and stepping into the room.
“I was told I’d be spending most of my Golden Week here. I guess it’s preferable to staying at home.”
“Why’s that?” I ask, taking a seat on the sofa.
She looks away from me, toward the bedroom. “Empty house.”
Wait a second. Could that be the reason she’s so cold and distant, so seemingly distrustful of most people? It’s obvious even telling me that much, opening herself to that capacity, took a lot out of her. Are her parents dead? Are they neglectful? Or have they left Maki alone, to fend for herself? Just creating theories in my head is making me want to hug her.
“Your parents…are they home with you?” I can’t think of a really graceful way to ask the question.
“They own a successful clinic. They’re slaves to their work so I pretty much live alone. I know they are working hard but—“ She trails off.
“You miss them?”
Which is it?
“Now I have a commitment to my job and I’m able to live here with the other idols and the managers. None of them really talk to me or anything, but at least there are people around, you know?”
“This room…” I had noticed the bed was unmade when we came in. “Is this your personal room here?”
Maki’s eyes wander away again. “Yeah. I stayed here yesterday night and the night before. I don’t think the other girls talk to me or like me because they see me as the golden child or someone special. Ishikawa gives me special preference, lets me have this room…I don’t like calling it my room around other people. And I leave it open so others can use it but…this room is always empty. I know Ishikawa is letting me have it and the lady down in reception only pretends it’s the only available room in case any of the other idols are down there and hear…”
“And Ishikawa’s sister?” If she actually hates Maki, she could have announced to reception that this room was already Maki's. But she'd gone along with the whole "open room" idea.
“Ms. Ishikawa screws with me because she knows I’m her brother’s golden girl. I’ve heard him talk about me when he doesn’t think I’m listening. I’m his fast ticket to becoming a major producer. He already is planning for me to do international tours in the next year. It’s why it was such a surprise when he told me you’d be my partner.”
Thinking back to the conversation with Ms. Ishikawa, I have the distinct feeling part of the idea to make me Maki’s partner came from her.
This entire situation is getting more and more bizarre and confusing.
Nico. The name on the bottle, the name Ms. Ishikawa told Maki to call me, the name that keeps infiltrating my conscious, wiggling its way in like it’s a part of my identity or something.
“I’ll be your friend if you let me. I mean, a working friendship…”
“Tell me about who you really are? I get this feeling like you’re just as Japanese as I am…” Maki is actually looking directly at me for the first time, something that makes my heart soar. At the same time…this all feels forced. As if there is some compelling magic or something that is making her open up to me. Or like...I'm a girl like her and she isn't quite as embarrassed to talk to me about things...
“I was born in…” I’m feeling a massive migraine coming on. My thoughts are totally blurry and the more I try to remember my home the more distant it seems. The more…I don’t feel like myself. The faces of my parents and friends back home are somewhere in my mind, but I can’t reach out and grasp them. It’s like remembering a dream I had, there are bits and pieces of the dream that enter my consciousness but I can’t piece together the whole picture.
And now there are thoughts that are definitely not mine. A busy bullet train. A clubroom on the third floor covered in posters of idols and there’s a bookcase full of books and CD’s. And a face, a motherly face. Not my mother…I don’t think.
“Are you okay Nico?”
My eyes fly open and I stare directly into Maki’s eyes for the first time.
“My name is Shane Dearson. I was born in…” Goddamn it!
My name is Nico Yazawa. I was born in Tokyo, Japan. My father passed away when I was young.
“What pills?” Maki asks.
“Did you take anything Ishikawa offered?”
“He gave me water after the concert…what are you talking about? Should I call for help?”
“He drugged you too…”
I always wanted to be a girl like Maki, a girly-girl idol.
Ms. Ishikawa knocked at the door to the apartment where I lived with my mother and three siblings. I was working on dinner while my mom was at work. Opening the door I find Ishikawa.
“Nico? I saw your performance at school. I was wondering if you have any interest in being an idol?” She proffered a business card which I took and read over carefully.
“Honoka is part of your idol club right? She suggested you. I must say, I couldn’t believe how polished you are for someone doing this for fun. You must practice quite a bit.”
“M-maybe…” I hid my embarrassment by standing confidently and looking Ishikawa in the eyes. “I know deep in my heart I’ll be the number one idol in Japan!”
“That’s the confidence I want to hear!” She bends down and puts her face close to mine. “I heard you already have a catchphrase. Honoka told me everything.” Her grin was as wide as a Cheshire Cat’s.
“You want to hear it?” I cross my arms and puff out my chest confidently.
“Go for it!”
“Nico Nico Nii!” While I say it with a smile, my hands make a sign with index, thumb and pinky finger extended. I raised my left hand up and wink with my left eye then raise my right and wink with that eye until both signs frame my smiling face.
Ms. Ishikawa laughed.
“You’ll be the yin to my brother’s yang.”
“Nico?” My body is being shaken. “Nico? Are you okay?” Ms. Ishikawa’s worried eyes greet mine as I realize my head is on her lap.
“What the hell is going on…”
She leans down and whispers in my ear. “Exactly what you wanted. Girlhood and idoldom is yours. The more you fight, the more it will hurt and the more you could potentially lose. If you accept it, you’ll know that you became what you wanted. But if you fight it…I can’t be certain what will happen.”
“That’s right. Nico. My brother gave you the pills and approached you but you’re my responsibility. And I want you to be the happiest, best idol in Japan. Just like you told me when we met a few days ago.”
“Uh uh uh! We did meet. Even if we didn’t, you wanted us to. Even if you didn’t want us to meet, destiny had us meet anyway. Deep down inside you aren’t Shane. You never were. Shane was a fleeting dream. Once Nico was but a dream, a character in your head you pretended to be when you knew you’d never be an idol. But now the roles are reversed. Quit being afraid of what you want and take this opportunity before it swallows you.”
“Is she alright?” Maki sounds genuinely concerned for me.
“Just fatigue.” Ms. Ishikawa smiles at me.
I nod. Fatigue.
Black bangs cover my vision, something alien but yet…normal. My brunette hair is so pitch black…but that’s right. And my hair is supposed to be this long. After all, I’m Nico Yazawa!
Ms. Ishikawa whispers in my ear.
“Your body is going to change. Your mind is going to change. But you’ll be cognizant of the fact you were once Shane. Everyone will know you and Nico but you and Maki’s relationship hasn’t changed. She still doesn’t know you too well. You’re our newest performer and you and Maki will have to learn to get along. And given your personalities, it might be hard. But because you're both girls, it will be much easier than it would have been otherwise.”
“What are you whispering over there?” Maki asks.
“I’m telling Nico it’s perfectly normal to get stage fright. She’s going to be on television with you tomorrow and she’s nervous. You need to support her tonight. Don’t do your usual thing and be cold.”
“Exactly what I don’t want you to act like.”
Looking down at myself, I feel like I’m shorter. Short enough that Maki has room at the other end of the sofa to sit without my feet near her. And my clothes look awfully baggy on my body.
I right myself and stand. “I…need to use the restroom.” I pass through the bedroom’s and go into the tiny bathroom, closing the door behind me.
My stomach tingles…my whole body tingles.
In the mirror, I see my longer hair and notice how short I’ve become.
And I know this is only the beginning.