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On Monday, Matsuoka went to work without getting much sleep. No amount of thought helped him see an end to this tunnel. All he did was go round and round like a Moebius loop, arriving back at the same spot.
The beginning of the week was always a drag for him, but this was the first time that he didn’t want to go to work.
He stayed at the office only long enough to attend the morning meeting, then burst outside as usual where the snowflakes occasionally swirled in the air. He braved the freezing weather and dashed from one sales visit to the next, shivering. His clients, however, seemed to somehow sense that his mind wasn’t on his job, for he had a hard time getting contracts. Close to evening, he finally garnered one new client. He returned to the office to find a memo pasted to his computer.
‘1:00 pm – phone call from Mr. Hirosue of Koishikawa Lab.’
As soon as Matsuoka read those words, he felt all the blood rush to his feet. Just yesterday he had turned things over and over in his mind and finally decided that he was going to keep a distance from Hirosue, who was apparently angry at him. But now Hirosue was trying to contacting him.
“Hey, did Mr. Hirosue say anything?”
The handwriting on the memo belonged to Hayama. Hayama stopped typing and turned around.
“He only asked if you were here. I told him I could take a message, but he said he wasn’t in a rush and hung up pretty quickly.”
“Alright,” Matsuoka said, then went back to his desk. He sat down, but all he did was stare at the computer screen without moving his fingers.
“Matsuoka, don’t you need to write up the contract by today?” his senior said in the next seat over, and only then did Matsuoka hastily begin working. He managed to finish the contract, but he looked it over again and found typos and numbers off by the digits. He was still rewriting it when his section manager left the office for the day, and Matsuoka was forced to defer the task to the next day. It was past six by the time he finished fixing the contract. Matsuoka could have gone home, but he stayed behind. He had acc.u.mulated a lot of paperwork. Although none of it was urgent, he didn’t want to go home and be alone. Everyone around him began to leave while he stayed behind for an hour or so, and by the time Matsuoka got up to leave, there were only two people left.
He stepped onto the elevator and descended to the lobby on the first floor. The receptionists had gone home, and the lights in the lobby were turned off. Footsteps and voices bounced off the high, cavernous ceilings.
“I think he’s gone home. A lot of people in Sales go straight home from doing rounds.”
The irritating voice belonged to f.u.kuda. Matsuoka hadn’t had a proper conversation with f.u.kuda since spilling the beans about his girlfriend, Okabayashi, to him at the beef rice shop.
“So, how are you doing yourself? Isn’t it tough being in a department that’s out of your field?”
f.u.kuda was talking to someone behind the round pillar. The man he was speaking to was tall, but Matsuoka couldn’t see his face because the man’s back was turned to him. He couldn’t catch what the man was saying, either, because of his small voice.
Matsuoka walked right past f.u.kuda, pretending not to notice them. He thought he could get away while the man was conveniently in the shadows of the pillar, but unluckily, he was caught.
“Hey, is that you, Matsuoka?”
It would be too rude to ignore f.u.kuda now. Matsuoka had no choice but to turn around with a smile.
“Oh, hey, f.u.kuda. You’re here late today.”
f.u.kuda strode quickly over to him. “We had a meeting. Aren’t you around pretty late for someone in Sales?”
“I had a lot of paperwork to do,” Matsuoka explained. f.u.kuda laughed.
“Well, even if you work overtime, at least you get to take it easy during the day. It evens out in the end, right?”
f.u.kuda’s tone grated on his nerves, but Matsuoka knew that losing his temper would only make him feel worse. So he smiled and smoothed it over.
“Yeah, you can say that, I guess. Well, see you then,” he said, trying to leave.
“Wait,” f.u.kuda stopped him.
“Someone wants to talk to you. Hirosue who used to be in General Affairs. Remember him?”
Matsuoka’s body stiffened when he saw the man appear from the dim shadows. Hirosue was looking at him with a mixture of nervousness and anger.
“It’s not really our first time meeting, but… I don’t think I’ve introduced myself properly. I’m Hirosue from Koishikawa Laboratory.” Hirosue bowed his head slowly in front of Matsuoka. “I gave you a phone call, but I was told you were out.”
“Oh, right.” Matsuoka’s voice trembled.
“I have something I want to talk to you about. Would you be able to spare me some time right now?”
In no way was Hirosue’s tone forceful or obliging, but Matsuoka felt like refusal was not a choice. He followed after Hirosue like a prisoner being taken to the gallows. The only difference was that, unlike a prisoner’s, his heart wasn’t prepared to take the outcome awaiting him.
Hirosue went into a coffee shop close to the station. The place was famous for its delicious coffee, but Matsuoka had never visited because it was on the opposite side from where he usually entered the station.
They sat down across from each other, but things were silent at first.
“Will you have anything?” Matsuoka was asked. A gla.s.s of water would have been enough, considering how he was feeling right now, but he ordered an americano anyway.
“Did you approach me at the station before?” the man asked.
“I might have,” Matsuoka bluffed, though he knew what the man was talking about. He was unbearably thirsty, despite the cold outside. He reached for his gla.s.s of water, but his fingers shook so much he couldn’t grasp it well. He ended up giving up.
“I know this might be rude, visiting you suddenly and asking you such an intrusive question when we barely know each other but… well… what kind of relationship do you have with Ms. Yoko Eto?”
Matsuoka didn’t understand the question. He tilted his head. Hirosue paraphrased.
“Are you dating Ms. Eto?”
“Aren’t you in a romantic relationship with her?”
Matsuoka had no idea where Hirosue had gotten this notion.
“I don’t know who Yoko Eto is,” he lied. Hirosue’s face twisted slightly.
“You live in Suite 502, Brides Apartments, Ogawa-cho, am I correct, Mr. Matsuoka? I looked it up on the employee list. You’re living there with Ms. Yoko Eto, aren’t you?”
Matsuoka could finally see where this was going. Hirosue hadn’t realized yet that he and Yoko Eto were the same person.
“The other day, I happened to pa.s.s by Ms. Yoko’s place, and I saw you go into her apartment. I was surprised because I always thought she lived by herself. At first, I thought you were siblings, since you have similar appearances and mannerisms. But your last names are different. That’s why I thought you two must be living together as a couple.”
It was clear now why Hirosue was angry. Matsuoka felt his clenched palms turn sweaty in his lap. Anyone was bound to get angry if he found out that a woman who was supposed to be his only lover, someone whom he had even proposed marriage to, was actually living with another man.
“To be honest, I’m in love with Ms. Yoko,” Hirosue continued. “But it’s almost a one-sided feeling, and I don’t know how she really feels. That’s why I think I’d be able to grasp things better if you explain to me what kind of relationship you have.”
Matsuoka felt rescued when his coffee was brought to the table. At least he didn’t have to talk while he drank. Matsuoka pretended to be occupied with his coffee while he thought about how to manoeuvre through this situation. Hirosue hadn’t found out that Yoko was actually him in drag. Instead, the man was under the impression that Yoko had a boyfriend. As a priority, Matsuoka wanted to sort out the misunderstanding about the boyfriend, but had no idea what excuse to use.
The easiest excuse was to say they were siblings, but their last names were different. Suddenly, the word “cousins” emerged in his mind. If they were close cousins, it would be normal for them to visit each other.
“I’m actually Yoko Eto’s cousin.”
Matsuoka was sure Hirosue had heard, but there was no reaction from him.
“We’ve been close since we were kids,” he continued, “so we still visit each other. Something came up, and she had to move out of her place on short notice. She’s staying at my apartment until she finds a new place to live.”
Matsuoka panicked. Here he was explaining that they were cousins, but the suspicion in Hirosue’s eyes showed no signs of fading.
“And how long have you been like this for?”
“About a month?” Matsuoka said uncertainly.
Hirosue bit his lip and looked down.
“I don’t think a woman would normally move into her male cousin’s apartment, even if she had to move out on short notice.”
The man was right, now that he mentioned it. But since Matsuoka couldn’t think of any other reason why Yoko Eto might be in his apartment, he had no choice but to stick to his lie.
“We’re really cousins. And…”
“You’re contradicting yourself,” the man said, quietly but with finality. “At first you said you didn’t know who Yoko Eto was, but now you’re saying you’re actually cousins and you live together. I can’t trust what you say.”
There was nothing Matsuoka could do about that.
“I won’t be surprised to hear that you’re dating Ms. Yoko. I figured you were, and I’m prepared to hear it. Please don’t lie. Tell me the truth. Please.”
If I were to say we were dating, would this guy give up? Matsuoka thought on a whim.
“Do you love her that much?” he asked.
The man’s face coloured slightly. “I think she’s a wonderful person.”
“She can’t talk, you know.”
“She might have a handicap, but she certainly doesn’t act like it. She’s a strong woman.”
“She’s pretty careless, and she’ll flirt with anyone.”
After a slight pause, Hirosue replied.
“Everyone has a selfish side of themselves. I have no intention of rejecting that. If that is part of what makes her who she is, then I’d want to love all of her.”
Matsuoka’s back burned in embarra.s.sment to be told he was loved. He looked down to hide the blush creeping up his face. The man’s frank words. .h.i.t him straight in the heart.
“You really don’t care what she turns out to be?” His voice trembled slightly.
“I can love her as long as she is who she is.”
Matsuoka closed his eyes. They needed to draw the line. He reseated himself deeply in his seat, and let the tension leave his body.
“Why don’t you talk about that kind of stuff between the two of you?”
Reluctance suddenly clouded Hirosue’s face. After a short silence, he mumbled his answer.
“I don’t want to get into an argument with her. If I can find out the truth, and if I can accept it, I don’t plan on seeing her again.”
Matsuoka hunched his shoulders.
“You might be fine with that, but what about Yoko? You say you don’t want to get into an argument, but you’re just avoiding direct contact with her. No one likes getting into disagreements, but sometimes you need to.”
Matsuoka stood from his seat.
“Talk the rest of it out with Yoko. That’s all I can say.”
Matsuoka put his coffee money on the table and left the shop. Hirosue did not come after him. Matsuoka clutched his cell phone the whole way to the station, and even after he boarded the train. When he got off at the station closest to his apartment, his phone finally rang. Matsuoka couldn’t even wait to cross the road, and read the e-mail under the traffic light.
‘It’s been a while. I hope you’ve been well.’ Hirosue’s e-mail began in a somewhat distant manner. ‘I’m sorry for sending you home the other day without even a decent conversation. Thank you for coming all the way to my house because you were worried about me. I want to ask you something very badly. Will you meet up with me?’
What he had set into motion as Yosuke Matsuoka appeared directly as results. He immediately moved to send a reply, but stalled. Back at the coffee shop, he had thought it would be okay because Hirosue had confessed his love so many times. But would Hirosue still profess the same love if he revealed that he was Yoko Eto?
His swelling confidence evaporated at once.
Matsuoka put his cell phone in his pocket and returned to his apartment. While he brooded over his thoughts, he got another e-mail from Hirosue.
‘I know you might be angry at me. But all I ask is that you to see me just once so we can talk.’
Matsuoka had been ready to confess just seconds ago. But he quailed in the moment of truth.
‘There is something I have been hiding from you,’ Matsuoka wrote. ‘I know I have to see you and talk to you about it, but I’m so afraid that if I tell you, you won’t love me anymore.’
As soon as he sent the message, he received a reply as swift as an arrow.
‘No matter what you tell me, I won’t be able to stop loving you.’ The e-mail looked like the picture of Hirosue’s unshakable feelings. But Matsuoka still pressed his point.
‘I know that it’s my fault. In my mind, I understand that there’s nothing I can do if you stop loving me because of it. But I’m still afraid.’
He received another immediate reply.
‘No matter who you are, even if you’re a criminal, I don’t think I could bring myself to hate you. If you’re hiding secrets in your heart―whatever bad things they may be―it won’t change the fact that I want to be with you. I want us to work through it together.’
Maybe things would be alright with this man. He loves me, loves me so much… and since he does―maybe he’ll forgive me.
‘I’m often fortunate to be told that I’m beautiful. Is it the same with you as well? Is it my face that you like?’ Matsuoka knew he was being a little too persistent, but he sent the e-mail anyway.
‘I think you’re a beautiful person. But I’m attracted more to your heart than your appearance. I’m attracted to your just, resilient, and gentle heart.’
Matsuoka read the e-mail several times, slowly and with great care.
‘I love you, too,’ he wrote back. ‘If I were an eighty-year-old woman, or a little child, or someone who doesn’t deserve you, would you still love me?’
Matsuoka smiled a little at the reply.
‘Ms. Yoko, even if you grow old, or turn into a child, no matter what form you take, I will probably still end up searching you out and falling in love with you.’
Urged on by the man’s many, gentle words, Matsuoka sent an e-mail.
‘I want to see you, too. Please meet up with me. When we do, I’ll tell you everything truthfully.’
They agreed to meet in a hotel lobby. Matsuoka chose the place. He had a room reserved upstairs, but he decided they would meet downstairs first.
They had agreed to meet at seven in the evening, but Matsuoka couldn’t wait and was down in the lobby at six-thirty. Taking a seat on the sofa didn’t make him any calmer, and every time he sensed the main doors of the hotel opening, he turned around to look. At first he had been filled with antic.i.p.ation at Hirosue’s arrival, but the closer it got to their meeting time, the more he began to dread it.
I don’t want to see him. Maybe I should just go home. The thought circled round and round in his head. Matsuoka rose halfway out of his seat, but ended up sitting back down.
At five minutes to seven, his cell phone suddenly rang. It was an e-mail from Hirosue.
‘It’s taking a little longer to finish my work. I’ll be about thirty minutes late. I’m sorry,’it said.
‘You don’t have to rush. Be careful on your way here,’ Matsuoka replied, sinking deeply in his seat. This is the last time I have to pretend I’m a woman in my e-mails,Matsuoka thought absently. He had reserved a room partly because he would rather talk about crossdressing in private, but also because he had in mind what was to come.
If Hirosue accepted him for who he was and still wanted Matsuoka physically, Matsuoka was willing to have s.e.x with him. He had prepared everything that was needed for s.e.x between two males. He was exasperated at himself for being this way, but those were his honest feelings, and there was nothing he could do about that.
Matsuoka had a feeling Hirosue would accept him. The man had said it didn’t matter if he was an old woman or a child, as long as he was “him”. Hirosue seemed like the last person to go back on his word, but Matsuoka couldn’t help but harbour a fragment of doubt in his heart.
At about fifteen minutes past seven, he heard hurried footsteps in the lobby. Matsuoka turned around to see Hirosue running in his direction. The man anxiously glanced around at the chairs in the lounge.
“Good evening,” Matsuoka called out to Hirosue, who was now pacing uncertainly, unable to find Yoko Eto here.
“You’re meeting up with Yoko, right? I’ll take you to the room.”
“Oh. Alright.” Hirosue was still out of breath as he followed Matsuoka. The man was still panting after they got on the elevator. It was cold outside, but a thin sheen of sweat coated Hirosue’s brow. Just knowing that the man had come running in a hurry just for their meeting filled Matsuoka with tender yearning.
“Is Ms. Yoko in the room?”
Matsuoka did not answer. Once Hirosue sensed that he was being ignored, he didn’t try to press any further. Matsuoka got out of the elevator and led the man to the hotel room. Once inside, Hirosue took a sweeping look at the room, then turned around to Matsuoka, who was standing behind him.
“Where’s Ms. Yoko?”
Matsuoka knew it was only natural for the man to do this, but it wasn’t very pleasant, to say the least, to see Hirosue search for Yoko Eto in such an obvious manner.
“I want to talk to you. Please have a seat.”
Hirosue did as he was told and sat down in a nearby chair. His gaze was clouded in uncertainty as he stared at Matsuoka.
“I’ll jump right to the conclusion. The Yoko Eto you’re thinking of is not coming today.”
The man stood from his seat and practically lunged at Matsuoka.
“Why not?” he demanded. “She and I agreed to meet here today.”
“Calm yourself and just sit down, alright?”
Matsuoka pushed Hirosue by the shoulders and forced him to sit back down.
“I had a bad feeling about this,” Hirosue muttered. “I was worried, really worried about whether I could really see her…”
Matsuoka patted him lightly on the shoulder, purely as a consoling gesture. But the man lifted his face and looked at Matsuoka almost angrily.
“Who are you?”
Matsuoka was stuck for words.
“I came here to see Ms. Yoko. Why are you here instead? Did she say she didn’t even want to see me or talk to me directly? Is that what she said?”
“No, she didn’t. But―”
“Then, why are you here? Are you her lover, after all?”
Matsuoka had planned to take more time to talk about himself, but Hirosue’s confusion seemed to be getting worse.
“I’m going to tell you, but can you take it calmly?” Matsuoka asked.
Hirosue’s lips moved to say something more, but pursed together vaguely. The stage was set. Matsuoka took a slow breath.
“Yoko Eto doesn’t exist.”
“You’re lying. I’ve met her several times―”
“I’m Yoko Eto,” Matsuoka interrupted.
Hirosue tilted his head, his brow still furrowed.
“It was me. I dressed up as a woman and called myself Yoko Eto.”
Hirosue’s mouth gaped open. He wore a disoriented expression, like he had just woken up from an enchantment.
“I happened to be dressed like a woman the first time we met,” Matsuoka said. “And I was never able to bring up the fact that I was a man until we got this far.”
“That’s absurd,” Hirosue murmured. “Your faces are different.”
“They’re the same. I probably look different because I don’t have makeup on.”
“And the length of your hair…”
“That was a wig. I couldn’t grow out my actual hair. That’s why I told you not to touch it, remember?”
Hirosue stared intently at Matsuoka and shook his head. “No, you’re lying,” he said adamantly. “She’s smaller, and soft, and her voice…”
“You’d be able to tell I was a man by my voice, so I lied and said I couldn’t talk.”
Hirosue’s face contorted as if he was about to cry. He put his hands on the table and cradled his head.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe anything anymore.”
“You might not be able to, but it’s true.”
Hirosue slumped over in silence. Matsuoka went on to talk in great detail about their relationship, from when they first met to the present day. He kept talking, figuring that Hirosue would begin to accept that he was Yoko Eto if he talked about things only the two of them would know.
Yet, gradually Hirosue even stopped grunting in reply, and Matsuoka was left at a complete loss.
“If you still can’t believe me, I can turn into Yoko Eto right here. I’ll have to put on makeup, so you’ll have to wait for me to bring my makeup kit from my house.”
“It’s alright,” Hirosue declined feebly. “I understand that you’re Ms. Yoko. That answers everything I’ve been baffled about. It makes sense.”
So he had managed to make Hirosue understand that he and Yoko Eto were the same person.
“I didn’t mean to trick you. But how things were and the way we met―I just couldn’t find the right time to tell you the truth. I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out I had such an embarra.s.sing hobby like crossdressing. I didn’t want you to think worse of me.”
Hirosue did not lift his bowed head.
“I’m really sorry,” Matsuoka repeated. “But I’m serious about how I feel for you, Mr. Hirosue.”
Matsuoka’s confession was not met with an answer.
“You know, just because I crossdress, it doesn’t mean that I’m transs.e.xual or that I’m gay. There was just this point in my life when I was just really exhausted from work, and I used to let off some steam by dressing like a woman.”
“Can I…” Hirosue lifted his face. “Can I think about this alone?”
Matsuoka exited the room, leaving the man inside. Since he couldn’t just stand in the hallway, he went down to the lounge cafe on the first floor and sipped on a coffee.
Matsuoka had expected a degree of damage, but Hirosue seemed to be taking it harder than he had imagined. Well, he has to deal with the fact that someone whom he thought was a woman was actually a man. It’s only natural, he consoled himself.
If their positions had been reversed, he knew he would have felt the same way. He wished he could get the man to accept the truth soon so they could move on to the next step.
Matsuoka spent about thirty minutes in the lounge cafe before returning to the room. He was shocked at what he saw. The room was dark, and there was no one there.
When he realized that the man had left without him, he was overcome with a sense of futility. He look at this cell phone, but there were no new messages. He hastily gave Hirosue a call. The man picked up after five rings.
“This is Matsuoka speaking,” he said, and the man was silent for a few moments. “If you were going to go home, I wish you would’ve at least said something to me.”
“I did leave a…” the man faltered on the other end. “I did leave a note on the table.”
Matsuoka searched and found a note left behind on the hotel memo pad, saying, ‘I hope you’ll excuse me, but I am going home. I’m sorry.’
“I’m really sorry,” the man said as Matsuoka read the note. “I knew it was a bad thing to do, but it was hard for me to talk to you face-to-face.”
“Goodbye.” The line went dead.
Matsuoka had initiated the call, but Hirosue had hung up without even waiting for him. Even if their conversation was over, it was still a rude thing to do.
Matsuoka was angry, but he also understood that the man needed to come to terms with a whole new set of facts. Matsuoka decided to let it slide out of consideration for him. The guilt of deceiving the man weighed just as heavily on him as well.
After the confession, Matsuoka received no word from Hirosue that night apart from the phone call that he had made.
The next day, he did not so much as get an e-mail. He considered calling the man himself, but decided against it. Judging by the man’s helplessness at Matsuoka’s confession, it would probably only upset him more if Matsuoka contacted him again. So Matsuoka restrained himself and waited.
Two days pa.s.sed in that manner, then three; soon, Matsuoka began to feel uncertain. He had decided to tell Hirosue in the first place because the man had said he would love Matsuoka even if he was an old woman or a child. But Hirosue’s att.i.tude was nothing like he had imagined.
Finally, on the fourth day, Matsuoka was unable to wait any longer. He sent a casual e-mail saying, ‘It was cold this morning, wasn’t it?’. He sent the e-mail in the morning, but did not receive a reply for the whole day.
On the fifth day, Matsuoka called Hirosue at around eight in the evening. No one picked up after ten rings on the line. When he waited about thirty minutes and called back again, he was sent straight to voicemail.
He sensed that Hirosue had turned his voicemail on because he knew Matsuoka was calling. Matsuoka was hurt, but at the same time, angered.
‘Are you not answering your phone on purpose?’ he wrote in an e-mail. He figured he would definitely get an answer this time, but there was no response.
On the sixth day, Matsuoka arranged his last sales visit to be close to Koishikawa Lab. After finishing work, he called the office to say he was going straight home, then headed immediately to the lab. It was past six, and the reception desk was deserted. Matsuoka waited for Hirosue outside the entrance, where a dusting of snow had started to dance in the air.
He snagged a man who looked like a worker on his way out of the building.
“Is Mr. Hirosue from General Administration still in there?” Matsuoka asked him.
“Yeah, he’s still staying behind,” the man answered. Once Matsuoka knew for sure that he would be able to see the man, waiting in the snow didn’t seem so unpleasant.
Past seven o’clock, he sensed someone come out of the building. An awkwardly-fitting coat and the strange cowlick on the back of his head―it was Hirosue, no doubt about it.
“Good evening,” Matsuoka called out to him. The man stopped in his tracks. When he recognized Matsuoka, he made a clear grimace. Matsuoka was hurt, but made none of it show as he approached Hirosue.
“I e-mailed you, but you didn’t answer.”
The man stared at his feet. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“I don’t know what’s going on inside your head, Mr. Hirosue. So I was expecting some kind of response.”
“I’m sorry.” The man apologized over and over, but no other words followed.
“I think we need to sit down and have a proper conversation about it. Are you free right now?”
Hirosue looked at his watch. “The bus,” he said in a small voice. “The last bus is coming soon.”
Matsuoka felt a jab of irritation at his excuse.
“You’re saying you can’t talk to me because the bus is coming?”
“N-No, it’s not that. The transportation around here isn’t that good, and the taxis don’t come around often, either. That’s why―”
“I’ll take the bus back, too, then. Partway,” Matsuoka snapped quietly. Hirosue made a troubled expression again.
“I’ll take the bus back to your area. That’s more convenient for you, right?” he insisted forcefully. Hirosue did not fight back. They walked to the bus stop nearby, and arrived just as the bus was pulling up. True to Hirosue’s word, this bus appeared to be the last one, and was crowded with riders. They started out standing close to each other, but the moving throng gradually pulled them apart.
Even inside the bus, Hirosue’s gaze remained directed out the window. After about a thirty-minute ride, they got off. Matsuoka could see Hirosue’s apartment from where they were.
“Would you like to go into a cafe or something?” the man finally asked cautiously, after the stretch of silence on the bus.
“I’m hungry, so I’d like to eat something.”
“There’s a family restaurant nearby, so we can go there.”
Matsuoka knew where the family restaurant was without Hirosue telling him. He had gone there with the man a number of times before, as Yoko Eto.
They started out walking side-by-side down the road to the restaurant, but before Matsuoka knew it, he was walking ahead of the man. He slowed his gait a little, but the gap between them did not close. When he had been Yoko Eto, they had walked snugly beside each other, even holding hands. All of it seemed hard to believe now.
They went inside. Matsuoka ordered grilled ginger pork set, and Hirosue ordered a grilled fish set. They sat across from each other, but Hirosue did not make eye contact with him. He either looked down or looked aside.
“You still don’t want to acknowledge that I’m Yoko Eto?”
Hirosue finally looked at him. He was chewing his lip lightly.
“It’s not a question about acknowledgement. It’s the truth, so I don’t think I have a choice.”
Over these six days, Matsuoka had felt like he had been accepted. But the way Hirosue said “I don’t have a choice” got on his nerves.
“I usually don’t like to complain after the fact, but it would’ve been nice if you replied to my e-mails,” Matsuoka said icily.
“I’m sorry,” Hirosue apologized.
“And with the phone? I wish you would’ve told me that you didn’t want to hear my voice instead of avoiding me like that.”
“I’m sorry,” Hirosue apologized again. Matsuoka could not detect any sincerity from his flat tone. He’s just apologizing for the sake of apologizing, he thought.
“Do you hate me, or something?” Matsuoka asked frankly. The man shook his head ever so slightly.
“It’s on a whole different level from hate or anything like that.”
“No, it isn’t. You either like me or hate me, am I wrong?”
Hirosue lifted his face. “I can’t understand you.”
“I can’t understand why you were… wearing women’s clothes, or why you kept lying to me, or why you told me you loved me in that last e-mail…”
Their orders were brought, interrupting the conversation momentarily. Hirosue started on his meal. Unable to pressure the man to keep talking, Matsuoka started to eat as well. He had been famished until moments ago, but now he was so occupied with Hirosue’s next words that he found it difficult to eat.
“Your chopsticks―” the man murmured. Matsuoka looked up. “I feel like the way you use your chopsticks and the way you eat is like Ms. Yoko.”
Matsuoka felt a twinge of irritation at being called Yoko. No matter how much he told the man Yoko was gone, that such a woman never existed, Hirosue still searched for signs of Yoko Eto in Matsuoka’s mannerisms.
When he realized that he was being looked at not for himself but for the way he ate, Matsuoka lost his appet.i.te even more, and ended up leaving most of his meal uneaten. Hirosue finished his meal and looked at Matsuoka, who had put his chopsticks down quite a while ago.
“Are you done?” Hirosue asked. Matsuoka nodded. “Let’s leave, then,” the man said without pause, getting out of his seat.
“I don’t think our conversation is finished yet.”
“I don’t think we should talk about it here,” Hirosue murmured hesitantly. He was right; it certainly wasn’t good idea to talk about love and crossdressing in public. Matsuoka got up and followed Hirosue. They ended up not speaking a word to each other on the street until they arrived at Hirosue’s apartment.
Hirosue’s discomfort showed in his att.i.tude. Even though his room was familiar to Matsuoka, he felt strangely restless after he had taken his seat in front of the kotatsu.
Matsuoka felt like he could use something to drink, but Hirosue showed no signs of preparing anything. He remembered how back when he was Yoko Eto, the man would constantly ask him, “Would you like tea? Or coffee?” to the point that it was annoying. The thought made him feel forlorn.
Hirosue took off his coat and sat down across from Matsuoka. He did not enter thekotatsu.
“I told you back at the restaurant that I don’t understand you,” Hirosue said. “At this point, that’s all I have to say.”
“What don’t you understand? My crossdressing?”
Hirosue nodded vaguely. “As for crossdressing, I think I can accept that some people would have… abnormal tastes. I think I can understand that much. But what I don’t understand is your att.i.tude―”
“What about my att.i.tude don’t you understand?”
Hirosue clasped his hands tightly in his lap.
“I was convinced that you were a woman, so I was active about getting close to you. But you already knew how this would end, didn’t you? Why didn’t you dump me the moment I told you I loved you?”
Matsuoka thought it was unfair of him to bring that up now. Hirosue had said he didn’t mind if Matsuoka was in love with someone else.
“It’s true that you tried to distance yourself. But you approached me again and you were kind to me. I thought you finally felt the same way towards me, and I was happy. I was happy, but―”
“I’m sorry about that. But I really couldn’t bring myself to say―”
“Did you think I wouldn’t be shocked at finding out you were a man?” Hirosue accused. “It was my first time falling in love with someone who loved me back. I was giddy. I even seriously considered getting married. I thought about buying a house, how many children we’d have. Nice way to make a fool out of myself, isn’t it?” His tone was quiet, but simmering with anger. “If you knew this was going to happen someday, why did you kiss me? Why did you look at me like you really cared for me, act like you enjoyed my attention? You even told me you loved me.”
Matsuoka bit his lip. “You’re right. I did.”
“Were you teasing me? Making fun of me?”
“Of course not!” Matsuoka exclaimed angrily.
“But you said you aren’t gay or transs.e.xual, so there’s no way you can love me. That means your talk about love is all a lie. Right?”
The e-mails with no reply. The voicemail. Matsuoka finally realized that these were embodiments of Hirosue’s anger. Hirosue was angry at him. Angry that Matsuoka had tricked him, angry that he was a man. About everything.
“I know what kind of person you are, Mr. Hirosue. How could I make fun of you, knowing that?”
“My feelings―!” He overrode the man’s voice with loud words. “All of my feelings are in the e-mails I sent you before I confessed to you. I’m not lying. I wore women’s clothes, but I never wanted to become a woman. I’ll never crossdress again. And I’ve never fallen in love with a man before. So you’re special, Mr. Hirosue.”
They both looked down in silence.
“You’re neither gay nor transs.e.xual, but as an exception, you’ve fallen in love with me. Isn’t that too convenient to be true?” The question sounded more directed at himself than at Matsuoka.
“Remember what you said in your e-mail before I confessed that I’m a man, Mr. Hirosue? ‘I’d probably fall in love with you, even if you were an old woman or a child.’ That’s why I made the decision to tell you.”
Hirosue cradled his head. Matsuoka knew his words bordered on threatening, but he couldn’t help but say them.
“It’s true,” Hirosue said weakly. “I did say that I could love you no matter what form you took. I really did feel that way, and there’s no lie in how I felt then. But…”
Matsuoka’s heart trembled in fear at what was to come next. But silence wore on without Hirosue lifting his face. Matsuoka was forced to deal with how wrongly optimistic he had been―and what reality was like.
“Let’s start over like we’re back at square one.” That was all Matsuoka could say. “Yoko Eto never existed. Let’s start from there.”
There was no answer, as he expected.
“―Say something, will you?”
The man’s answer came after a pause. “Dunno.” It was apathetic. They remained sitting across from each other, but it was starting to become painful to converse with an unresponsive man.
“I’m going home.”
Hirosue lifted his face when Matsuoka stood up, but that was all he did. He said nothing.
“I’ll e-mail or call you.” You don’t have to feel pressured to answer, Matsuoka was about to say, then didn’t. He was afraid that the man would really stop responding if he did.
He left the apartment, and felt the door close when he pulled it behind him, which made him almost cry. Back when he was Yoko Eto, he would never have gone to the station alone. The man always insisted on walking him no matter how much he refused. In fact, he did it so enthusiastically that he probably would have followed Matsuoka home if Matsuoka didn’t say a firm goodbye at the station.
He was heartbroken by Hirosue’s change in att.i.tude, but he consoled himself by deciding there was nothing he could do. They were probably at the lowest point right now. Things would start getting better from here. He and Yoko Eto were the same person. They looked different, but they were the same on the inside―if he and Hirosue could get to know each other more, he believed Hirosue would someday realize that.