Uta sat in front of a mirror, wrapped in a robe. Ruki was almost finished with his set, which meant Uta was up next. His job constantly stirred up conflicting emotions. He hated taking his clothes off and dancing for strangers, but he couldn't deny the money was pretty damn good. It paid for his university and his rathole apartment. It didn't stop him from throwing up before every shift, though.
The current song ended, and Uta groaned because he was up. He stood on shaky legs and removed his robe, not looking at his reflection. Ruki came backstage and caught up with him.
“You're pale,” he said. “Did you get sick again?”
“Ruki!” Their manager called. “Your construction worker is ready for his weekly lap dance.”
“In a minute!” Ruki pinched Uta's cheeks. “That'll get you some color. Just try to lose yourself in the music. And Die and Kaoru are out there. They won't let anything happen to you.”
Uta took a deep breath.
“There you go. Now, I'm off to play with Kyo.” With a wink and a smirk, Ruki sauntered off.
Uta took several more deep breaths as the music started- something heavy, foreign. Toshiya was the dj and he was excellent at his work. He had an amazing ability to find songs that allowed Uta to forget what he was doing- or at least block it out while he was on stage. Toshiya had a playlist for each dancer, and modified it based on their performances on stage. Ruki loved the spotlight, so he loved fast songs that got his audience all riled up. Uta always wanted to disappear, so Toshiya would play thumping, yet melodic music that would allow him to see past the patrons, past the club, into something, somewhere else.
The Garden of Eden was a club that catered to blue collared men, mostly laborers, pretty rough and rowdy. The dancers went by flower stage names. Ruki went by 'Rose', because even though he looked beautiful, he could be harsh- pushing his customers away, demeaning them. They all lapped it up. Uta was 'Sunflower'. Warm, inviting, a promise of happiness and dreams come true. Everyone became more mellow when Uta performed, just drinking him in.
Uta was halfway through his second song when a new customer walked in. He certainly didn't belong among this audience. He wore a charcoal, tailored suit, and what looked like an expensive watch. He had dark hair just past his square jaw. He didn't sit at the stage, but settled at a table a little further back. When his gaze settled on Uta, his breath caught. Intense eyes bore into his as if the man could see through him. He smirked at Uta, who blushed.
Uta kept his eyes on the man, dancing only for him, hoping to entice him to the stage. He was certainly attractive, and maybe he would tip well. The man never moved, only sipped from a flute of champagne (Uta didn't even know the club stocked it since no one ever ordered it), but he didn't take his eyes off Uta, either. Something about this man was making Uta dance in a way he never had before. Luckily, Toshiya followed his lead and played music that allowed him to move his body languidly.
He was breathless when he got backstage.
“What is it?” Ruki demanded. “Did someone try something?”
“There's a newcomer,” Uta whispered. “In a suit, sitting away from the stage.”
“A suit?” Ruki peeked through the curtains. “Damn, he's gorgeous. And is he drinking champagne? I bet he tips well.”
Uta felt an arm on his waist and turned to see their Tulip- Shinya- smiling at him. Uta smiled back. “I don't know. He stayed put.”
“How about all three of us go out together?” Shinya asked.
Ruki grinned. “More tips!”
Uta had to grin himself. Although he didn't get to do it often, he loved dancing with others. It was easier to hide.
The man was definitely intrigued by the three dancers on stage. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. Uta thought he was being watched, but it was hard to tell with the two other beauties on stage with him. Although, they did try to make Uta the focus.
“I can't believe he still didn't come to the stage after that,” Shinya panted once they were backstage.
“Yeah, but his eyes were glued on Uta the whole time, which was the whole point,” Ruki replied.
“Really?” Uta asked. “How do you know?”
“I saw him.” Ruki licked his lips and grinned. “Uta definitely has a new fan.”
Uta dressed quickly, blushing. “You better not let Kyo hear you talk like that.”
Shinya giggled. “Are you kidding? I bet Kyo keeps Ruki occupied all night the next time he comes.” He winked.
“Damn right. And our businessman will be back. Make no mistake.”
Ruki was right. He was back the next night. He sat in the same spot and was uninterested in all of the dancers.
Uta tried his best not to blush as he danced. It was difficult, especially when he caught the man smirking at him. Butterflies tickled Uta's belly and he forced himself to look away.
But still, the man never approached the stage.
It went on like that for a couple of weeks. The man showed up every night, sat away from the stage, drank champagne, and watched Uta. The other dancers finally noticed him as well, but couldn't seem to catch his attention. They often approached him only to be politely turned away.
“He was on his phone during my set!” Cazqui whined.
And then it happened. Uta's businessman (as Shinya and Ruki referred to him) moved to the stage. He waited until he had Uta's attention before slowly strolling over. He held out a large bill, his dark eyes penetrating. Uta did something he'd never done onstage before- he slid down to his knees, and slowly crawled over to his patron. The man's gaze was unwavering as Uta slid closer on his belly. The man dragged the bill down Uta's throat, before letting Uta catch it between his teeth. Uta stood and slid the money slowly into the front of his G-String before moving back to finish his set.
Uta's legs were shaking as he walked up to Shinya and Ruki after.
“That was so hot,” Ruki gushed. “How much did he tip you?”
Uta pulled out a twenty dollar bill. The other dancers looked impressed.
“Just sitting side stage!” Ruki exclaimed. “I wonder what he would tip for a lap dance.”
“Uta!” The manager called. “You've been requested for a lap dance.”
Uta froze, and turned wide eyes to his friends.
“You'll be fine,” Shinya murmured. “I bet it's that businessman.”
“He could be a monster,” Uta whimpered. “And those rooms are sound proof.”
“Don't worry,” Ruki assured Uta. “Die will watch out for you.”
Uta watched as his friend walked up to the redheaded bouncer and talked with him. Die smiled and walked over to Uta.
“Everything will be okay,” Die promised. “If you come out first, I'll know all is well. If he comes out with no sign of you he won't get very far.”
“I'll stop by for a listen,” Ruki volunteered.
Everyone laughed, except Uta. He released a shaky breath. “Okay.”
Ruki smacked Uta's butt. “Go make some money,” he winked.
Taking a deep breath, Uta walked into the small room his manager indicated. Shinya was right- the businessman was waiting for him. Those dark, intense eyes focused on Uta, who bit his lip. But the man smiled warmly, and his features softened.
“Good evening,” he murmured. “My name is Atsushi.”
“Uta,” the dancer blurted out, before it dawned on him that he had given out his real name instead of his stage name.
“Don't worry, little Sunflower. Your secret is safe with me.”
Uta blushed and bit his lip again. The music kicked into another one of his favorites, but he was rooted to the spot.
Atsushi quirked an eyebrow. “Will you dance for me, Sunflower?”
Uta snapped out of it. He closed his eyes and tried to lose himself in the music, moving closer to Atsushi. His eyes fell open, and he noticed the other man watching him.
“Are you alright?” Atsushi asked, sliding a bill into Uta's G-String, his fingers lightly grazing Uta's hip.
Uta straddled Atsushi, resting on his own heels, and not fully in the man's lap.
“You scare me,” Uta whispered as he began to move his hips.
“You don't need to be scared of me,” Atsushi murmured. “I won't crush my little flower.”
Uta closed his eyes again, and sank fully onto Atsushi's lap. The businessman groaned, hard as a rock, but made no move to touch Uta. Uta gently grinded against him, whimpering himself at the delicious friction.
Atsushi shifted and leaned closer. Uta kept his eyes closed and tried to relax. Atsushi brought his lips close to Uta's, but didn't kiss him. There was barely a space between them as they exchanged breaths. Uta slowly opened his eyes, peeking at the businessman demurely.
“You are so lovely.” Atsushi murmured before leaning back in his seat.
Uta exhaled, and the song ended. He carefully eased himself out of Atsushi's lap, noticing his impressive bulge. Uta was sporting one himself.
“One more thing,” Atsushi began, pulling a hundred dollar bill out of his pocket.
Uta's eyes widened.
“Will you turn around?”
Uta did so.
“Will you bend over?”
Uta froze. Atsushi didn't say anything else. After a few moments, Uta took a deep breath, and bent over.
Nothing happened. No sounds, no touches.
Finally, Atsushi murmured a “thank you” before sliding a bill into Uta's G-String once again.
Uta straightened up and leaned against the wall, panting. Atsushi offered a wink on his way out. Uta blushed to himself, and took a deep, steadying breath. That was when he realized Atsushi had gone out first. Uta bolted from the room in time to see a glowering Die making his way towards Atsushi. Uta frantically waved his arms to get Die's attention, and gave him a thumbs up. Die raised an eyebrow, and even Atsushi turned around. Uta blushed to have the businessman's eyes on him once again, and he scurried past him to stand in front of the bouncer.
“It's okay,” Uta rushed out. “Everything's fine.”
Die narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure?”
Uta nodded, smiling. “I was just a little overwhelmed and needed a moment, and forgot I was supposed to leave first.”
Die smiled back and ruffled the petite dancer's hair. “If you're sure.”
Uta smacked Die's hand away with a pout before disappearing backstage. He didn't notice Atsushi's eyes on him, his eyes following Uta's every movement with a small, soft smile.
“I can't believe how much he tipped you!” Ruki exclaimed.
Uta had scored $150 from Atsushi alone that night. That was half his rent in a single work shift. He even had a good amount of money left to tip Die and Toshiya, which he always did anyway. Tonight they would be getting a little more, a thought that made Uta happy. He liked helping others, especially his coworkers who had become his brothers and best friends.
“Is it really so hard to believe?” Uta asked in a small voice.
“Of course not!” Ruki replied hastily. “I just didn't think anyone who had that kind of money would ever come here.”
“If anyone could catch this guy's eye, Uta could,” Shinya said, giving Uta a little squeeze. “Hey, do you think he's a recruiter from a nicer club?”
“No way,” Uta said. “I'm not leaving you guys behind.”
Ruki and Shinya both smothered Uta in a hug.
“Do you guys want to get a cab?” Uta asked. “My treat.”
Shinya shook his head. “I'm going home with Toshiya tonight,” he blushed.
“Are you guys actually getting anywhere?” Ruki teased.
Just then the side door opened, and Toshiya came out. He walked up to Shinya, wrapping an arm around him and smiling. “Ready?”
Shinya nodded and waved to the other two. Toshiya nodded at his coworkers before leading Shinya over to his motorcycle.
Uta and Ruki smiled after their friend before linking arms and climbing into the nearest available cab.
Chapter 2: Two
Uta was pressed against a wall, eyes squeezed shut. The man who had him cornered was young, strong, and reeked of alcohol. Uta couldn't really see a way out for himself.
“Hey you,” a new voice growled. “Back off.”
Uta opened his eyes to find Atsushi standing in front of him. But the businessman wasn't looking at Uta. He only had eyes for the man pinning Uta to the cold brick wall outside the club, and his expression could have burned a hole through metal.
The second man rolled his eyes. “Stay out of this,” he snarled. “I'm playing with my new flower.”
Uta felt sick. That was Atsushi's nickname for him. Now it was tainted, tawdry, and dirty.
“Doesn't look like he's into it,” Atsushi responded.
“He's just playing hard to get,” the man turned back to Uta, grinning. “Aren't you, baby?”
“Uta, are you playing hard to get?” Atsushi asked.
“No,” Uta choked out, trying not to breathe in the man's foul breath.
The next moment happened in a blur. Atsushi grabbed the offender by the shoulder and spun him around. The man took two drunken swings, which Atsushi dodged smoothly. Atsushi landed a punch of his own that sent the drunk sailing to the ground. Certain the man would not be getting up, Atsushi turned back to Uta. “Are you alright?” he asked gently.
“Yes,” Uta replied breathlessly.
“What on Earth are you doing out here alone?”
Uta swallowed, blushing. “I was with Shinya, but the he left with Toshiya. I was waiting for Ruki to finish with Kyo, but-”
He was cut off by the back door slamming open and Ruki stumbling out, giggling. The dancer was followed by a satisfied and smirking Kyo. Uta was about to say something, but Atsushi beat him to it.
The businessman rounded on Ruki. “Where the hell are the bouncers?” he demanded forcefully.
Kyo put himself in front of Ruki. “Don't talk to him like that,” he growled.
Atsushi just stared at Ruki.
“They were breaking up a fight,” Ruki answered, confused.
“And left Uta here alone,” Atsushi finished.
Ruki's eyes flicked to Uta. “Shinya...”
“He left with Toshiya,” Uta rushed. “And I said it was fine because you'd be right out, but then-” he broke off again and looked at the drunk who was still at his feet.
Ruki's eyes widened, and he brushed past the two club patrons to fuss over his friend.
“He's such a mom,” Kyo muttered. The sentiment was softened by a warm smile.
“They're cute,” Atsushi responded. He raised his voice. “Come on, everyone. Breakfast.”
Uta stared at him. “All of us?” he asked timidly.
“All of us. Let's go.”
They were at a small hole-in-the-wall diner. Uta was picking at his food (Atsushi put more on his plate), while Ruki was going to town. It was almost as if he didn't get to eat much at all.
Kyo was watching with a smirk. “Careful, or you're going to get a little pudge.”
“Guess I'll have to find someone to burn some calories with,” Ruki said casually, licking some whipped cream off his milkshake spoon.
Kyo's smirk transformed into a leer and Uta giggled.
Ruki smiled at his friend and nudged him, whispering in his ear. Uta blushed and giggled again.
“What are you two whispering about?” Atsushi teased.
“Yeah Ruki. No one likes secrets,” Kyo put in.
“Sorry, but that's just between us,” Ruki replied.
“Someone wants a spanking,” Kyo answered.
Ruki raised an eyebrow. “You wish.”
“I do wish.”
Ruki rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Atsushi. “So. Businessman. What is it that you do?”
Atsushi smiled. “Atsushi. And I own my own business.”
Ruki put his drink down. “And what business allows you to dress like a GQ model and tip our darling Uta so well?”
Everyone froze. They all knew Sakurai Industries. Their various branches employed at least half of Japan. Atsushi looked calmly at the three stunned faces.
Ruki turned to look at Kyo. “Don't you work for Sakurai Steel?”
Kyo slumped in his seat. “Can you not broadcast to the world that my boss and I were at the same strip club?”
“What's the big deal?” Atsushi asked. “Nothing wrong with relaxing at a club after hours. We're not hurting anyone.”
Ruki sat up straighter and looked Atsushi in the eye. “You need to hire Kyo in an office position.”
“Ruki!” Kyo hissed.
“He's really brilliant, actually. Good with numbers. But because he didn't go to college people often dismiss him, so his mind is going to waste while he does manual labor.”
“What's wrong with manual labor?” Atsushi asked.
Ruki hesitated, but launched into all the improvements Kyo had suggested. Atsushi listened attentively. When Ruki was finished, Atsushi turned to Kyo.
“He's right, you are brilliant.”
Kyo huffed, but a telltale pink dusted his cheeks.
“I'll put the ideas into motion on Monday. I'll know by the end of the week if they work. If they do, which they should, I'll promote you.”
“You can't do that!” Kyo protested.
“Kinda can,” Atsushi replied, taking a swig of his coffee. “Perks of being the boss.”
“I'm not wearing a suit,” Kyo mumbled.
“Dress slacks and a dress shirt will suffice.”
“I'm not driving a company car.”
“I wouldn't expect you to.”
“I have zero desire to be cooped up in an office all day.”
“I'd rather have you on the ground with the workers anyway. Happy employees are productive employees. Productive employees make more money for the company, in turn making more money for the employees, which makes happy employees who are productive employees. It's a vicious cycle,” Atsushi grinned.
Kyo had a small smile on his face.
“And you Ruki?” Atsushi asked. “Shall I find a place for you?”
“Nope,” Ruki tossed his head. “I'll dance forever.”
“Even when you have a saggy bottom?” Uta asked, giggling.
Ruki poked his friend. “Especially a saggy bottom. All the boys will love it. Right Kyo?”
Kyo rolled his eyes. “What about you, Uta?”
Uta blushed. “I'm studying Art History,” he said shyly. “I'd like to work in a museum, but I'll need a pretty high degree, and school is so expensive.” He sighed.
“Maybe you can find a place to work that will let you continue your education at the same time,” Ruki suggested.
“Maybe,” Uta replied softly. “But I still have to pay rent and all that other stuff and nothing pays as well as dancing.”
“We could live together.”
“But what if I couldn't pay my fair share?” Uta asked. “It wouldn't be fair.” A small tear escaped and Ruki held him close.
“I'll just have to find you a rich husband,” Ruki stated.
Uta giggled but stayed curled up against his friend. He didn't notice the sour face Atsushi made at the mention of a husband for him.
Ruki and Kyo did.
At the end of the meal, Atsushi paid for all of them and drove them back to the club. He shook hands with Kyo, saying, “I'll be in touch.”
Kyo smirked and headed off.
Atsushi handed some money to Uta and Ruki so they could take a cab home.
“Atsushi?” Uta said softly.
Uta bit his lip. “Please don't call me flower anymore.” His eyes darted to the area where the drunken patron had been tossed. It was empty now.
Atsushi smiled. “I wouldn't dream of it.” He tilted Uta's chin up, then pressed his lips to Uta's forehead. “I'll see you tomorrow,” he whispered.
Ruki saved his squealing for when they were in the cab.
The next night, after getting sick again, Uta peeked into the audience. He paled. Atsushi wasn't alone. He turned to Ruki and Shinya.
“What is it?” Shinya asked, pulling Uta into a hug. “Atsushi not here? Or is it that bastard from last night?”
Uta swallowed. “Atsushi's here. With a woman.”
Chapter 3: Three
“A woman?” Shinya peeked through the curtain. “Any ideas who she is?”
Uta shook his head, crushed.
Ruki grabbed his hand and squeezed. “ It doesn't necessarily mean anything, you now. She could be a friend.”
Uta looked at Ruki skeptically.
“Come on,” Shinya said. “All three of us together.”
Uta nodded, wiping his eyes. He straightened up, took a deep breath, and walked onto the stage with his friends.
Their routine was similar to the first one they performed for Atsushi. Uta kept his eyes away from his businessman. He was too afraid he'd wind up eye to eye with Atsushi's companion. He felt sick when they walked off stage. He let Ruki and Shinya collect their earnings.
“Atsushi came to the stage,” Ruki said, handing Uta a fifty dollar bill.
“Oh?” Uta asked, folding his money to have something to do with his hands.
“He looked as if he wondered why you were avoiding him.”
“How can I even look at him now?” Uta whispered, his hands trembling. He turned and walked over to his vanity and plopped into the bench, tucking his earnings away.
“You won't know what's going on until you talk to him,” Shinya said softly, tucking Uta's hair behind his ears.
“What is there to talk about?” Uta sniffed. “He's not my boyfriend. He's just... a very good customer... who has spend hundreds of dollars on me.” He knit his brows in confusion.
Their manager walked up at that moment. “Uta, your businessman and his... friend are waiting for you in room three.”
“Both?” Uta asked incredulously, moving shakily to his feet.
“Yep!” The man winked. He loved making money, and the three dancers in front of him were his biggest draws. “Your businessman seemed to have no problem paying double for the two of them. Now don't keep them waiting.” He reached around and smacked Uta's butt, practically salivating. “Go make some money.”
Uta nearly gagged once the man had walked away.
Shinya and Ruki flanked him. “We'll walk you,” Ruki offered.
With Shinya's arm around his shoulders, and Ruki's arm around his waist, Uta walked down to room three. His friends kissed his cheeks, then left him alone. Taking a deep breath, Uta opened the door and walked into the room.
Atsushi and his guest were speaking softly. Each had a glass of champagne in their hands. They glanced up when Uta walked in, their conversation ceasing. The dancer blushed at having their attention on him.
Atsushi flashed a wide, warm grin. “Hey there.”
Uta offered a weak smile in return. “Hey.”
“This is my older sister, Ayako.”
Uta's jaw dropped, but he still managed a low bow to the woman in front of him. On closer inspection, the two elegant beings in front of him had similar features- soulful eyes, wide grins, the same smile lines even. Uta was a mess of emotions- relief, fear, confusion. He noticed Ayako assessing him, and he bit his lip. “I can see who got the looks in your family.”
Ayako laughed out loud, her face becoming softer and warmer.
“Don't frown, Acchan dear,” Ayako said, patting her brother's knee. “That won't help your looks.”
Atsushi stuck his tongue out at her.
Uta bit his lip to keep his giggle in, brushing his hair back.
Ayako noticed and smiled at him. “You are quite lovely, you know,” she said, taking a sip from her champagne flute. “I can see why my brother never shuts up about you.”
Atsushi smacked the back of her head. Ayako immediately smacked him in the stomach, offering a satisfied grin at her brother's 'oof'.
This time, Uta couldn't help hold back his giggles. “Do I need to call your mother?” He asked, trying to sound stern while laughing
Atsushi huffed, then winked at Uta.
Uta blushed and tried to hide behind his hand.
Ayako finished off the rest of her drink, then stood. “Shall we?”
Atsushi stood as well, smiling. “We're going back to that diner,” he explained. “And we'd like you to come with us.”
“Me?” Uta asked.
Atsushi chuckled, making Uta's heart beat faster. “Yes, you. You can bring your friends if you like.”
Uta thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Let me go change and ask them.”
Shinya and Ruki were finishing getting dressed when Uta returned.
“She's his sister,” he blurted out. “They want to take us to the diner.”
Ruki and Shinya looked at each other, and Ruki shrugged. “Sure, I'll take a free breakfast.”
Shinya nodded. “I haven't watched Atsushi up close, and I'd like to get a handle on him.”
Uta smiled gratefully at them before hurrying to change his own clothes.
The three dancers met Atsushi and his sister in the back alley, where Atsushi had rescued Uta from that drunken customer. Ayako tilted her head in a bow, but she smiled warmly and Uta.
“Where's Kyo?” Atsushi asked Ruki, holding the car door open.
“Breakfast meeting with his boss in the morning, so he decided to turn in early,” Ruki replied, grinning.
Atsushi chuckled as they drove off. “He really is brilliant.”
“He is,” Ruki said softly. “Happier too.”
Atsushi caught Uta's eye in the rear view mirror. “I'm glad.”
Uta bit his lip and blushed, although he couldn't say why.
At the diner, Shinya and Ruki sat on either side of Uta, making Atsushi and Ayako sit across from them. Atsushi raised his eyebrows, but Shinya just stared back, unflinching.
Throughout the meal, Shinya, Uta, and Ruki whispered and giggled amongst themselves, stealing food off each other's plates. Ayako asked them all questions about themselves, but Uta was the only one who didn't seem to realize that she was trying to learn about Uta without putting him in the spotlight, therefore making him withdraw into himself.
“How old are all of you?” she asked.
“Twenty-five,” Ruki replied.
“Twenty-three,” Shinya answered.
“And Uta is our baby at just twenty!” Ruki cooed.
Uta pushed him off playfully. “I'm twenty-one in two months!” he huffed.
“Atsushi says you're studying Art History,” Ayako murmured.
Uta lit up. “I am! We're studying the Azuchi-Momoyama period.”
Ayako smiled. “It's a beautiful period.”
Uta smiled back, and they began a discourse on various pieces, periods, and artists. Sometimes they got a little intense. Uta didn't notice Atsushi watching him with a warm smile on his face, his coffee cold.
Ruki and Shinya did.
During a break in the conversation, Uta yawned and stretched, once again oblivious to Atsushi watching him.
Ayako looked at her watch. “Is that the time?”
Atsushi frowned at his watch. “Damn. Time to get going, otherwise I'll be canceling my breakfast meeting.” He grinned at Ruki.
Ruki laughed. “He would be so pissed if he had to skip coming here and go to bed early only to have his meeting canceled. So you should definitely cancel it.”
Atsushi chuckled. “I'm going to tell him you said that.”
Ruki's grin broadened. “Please do.”
It was a sleepy drive back to The Garden of Eden. Once everyone had piled out of the car, stretching and yawning, Ayako turned to Uta. “I run an art gallery, and we need a new intern. It's a paid position, and it's yours if you want it.” She passed over her card.
Ayako Gallery. Uta's heart stopped. He never put two and two together, even throughout their entire conversation at the diner. It never crossed his mind who he could be talking to. The Ayako Gallery waas the premiere gallery to work for. It was every art student's dream to work there, and competition was fierce. Uta hadn't even planned on applying because he didn't think he had the credentials. He looked up at Ayako, who was looking at him with an amused look on her face.
“What time do your classed end on Monday?” she asked.
“Two o'clock,” Uta whispered.
“I'll see you at three o'clock then.” She turned to the car.
“But my credentials!” Uta shouted. “They're not... I don't....”
Ayako turned back. “Uta, I don't care about that. I've talked to you, I know you know art. You'll learn more at your classes and the gallery. A sort of hands-on training, if you will. That's good enough for me. Get some rest, and I'll see you Monday afternoon.” With a wink, she slid back into Atsushi's car and they drove off.
Uta just stared after them, mouth open in shock. Ruki laughed, slapping Uta's shoulder to pull him out of his trance. “Come on, Shinya and I will help you quit this dump.”
Chapter 4: Four
The night after Uta quit The Garden of Eden found him on the couch in his pajamas. He was eating ice cream straight out of the carton and laughing at some game show on TV. He missed Ruki and Shinya, of course, but was relieved that he didn't dance anymore. Ruki and Shinya texted photos through the night- selfies, Kyo, Die, Kaoru, and Toshiya. Uta sent photos of his empty ice cream carton and painted toes.
Kyo thinks you have beautiful feet.” Ruki texted. Apparently he has a thing for feet.
The next text came from Shinya. Karou is impressed that you ate all that ice cream.
Uta smiled, happy that his friends missed him. He made himself a cup of mint tea, and settled into bed with a book. It was something he hadn't done in years and didn't think he would be able to again. He fell asleep quickly.
Monday morning dawned bright and crisp, and Uta stretched languidly. This morning he decided would be spent in his pajamas. He picked up the book he had dropped the night before and began reading. Some time later his belly began rumbling so he sauntered into the kitchen to whip up a quick breakfast. Afterwards, he decided to do some homework. He was making good progress when he was startled by a knock at his front door. Moving quietly, he peeked out of the peephole to see his two beloved friends, Ruki and Shinya, on the other side.
“Come on, pretty boy,” Ruki grumbled. “We know you're awake.”
Chuckling, Uta opened the door to let the two in. Both had their hands full and they smothered Uta with hugs.
“What's all this?” Uta asked.
Shinya pulled a white box out of his bag and opened it. “Good luck donuts,” he said softly.
Uta squealed and the other two laughed.
Ruki held up his bag. “Clothes!”
Uta's jaw dropped.
“I'm going to dress you for your first day.” He took Uta by the hand and tugged him into the bedroom, Shinya following behind.
The outfit was simple- gray slacks and a fitted black shirt. Ruki and Shinya teased him for being suddenly shy about changing in front of them.
“We've all seen each other's bums,” Shinya giggled from his spot on the bed. His head was in Ruki's lap, the latter stroking his hair.
Uta stuck his tongue out. Once dressed, he twirled in front of his mirror. The clothes fit well, but he still felt uncomfortable in them.
“Now I'm going to do your hair,” Ruki declared, nudging Shinya off his lap. Uta sat on the edge of the bed and Ruki stood in front of him. He gathered Uta's hair in a ponytail, leaving some of his bangs down. Uta appreciated the gesture- Ruki respecting his need to still hide. Ruki then pulled a small tube from his jeans. “Just a little bit of gloss,” he murmured, leaning forward to smooth a little on Uta's lips.
“Why am I not surprised you have gloss in your butt pocket?” Shinya teased.
“I would have expected lube,” Uta said.
“Only for Kyo,” Ruki smirked, positioning Uta in front of the mirror.
Uta stared at himself. He looked professional and grown up. He tilted his head. He actually looked beautiful.
“I look beautiful!” he said, turning to the others.
“You are beautiful,” Shinya replied, tugging Uta onto the bed with them.
Smiling, Uta looked at Ruki. “Thank you,” he said earnestly.
“Now what is this about Kyo and lube?” Uta demanded. “Are you sleeping with him?”
“No,” Ruki huffed, disappointed. “But he knows I carry a condom with me at all times. It excites him.” He waggled his eyebrows. All three of them dissolved into giggles.
“You love to tease him,” Shinya said.
“Oh, don't misunderstand. He loves it too- our little push and pull.” Ruki blushed.
“Are you blushing?” Shinya asked.
Ruki snorted. “No.”
Uta and Shinya just laughed harder.
Standing in front of the gallery, Uta had to take several deep breaths. He didn't know what Ayako was thinking when she hired him. He didn't have enough knowledge or training and he was going to fuck everything up.
The front door opened and the woman herself peeked out. Her hair was loose and her smile warm. “Are you planning on coming in or do you need a few more minutes to doubt every decision you've ever made up to this point?”
Uta couldn't help the laughter that bubbled out of him as he ducked inside.
“You look lovely,” Ayako complimented.
Uta blushed. “Thanks. Ruki dressed me.”
Ayako gave Uta an appraising look. “He's got an eye.”
Uta nodded. “He loves fashion and styling. He won't say it out loud, but I think that's what he wants to do.”
“Why doesn't he pursue it?”
Uta shrugged. “Doesn't think he's good enough, doesn't think he'll be accepted because of the dancing.”
Ayako raised an eyebrow. “You left it.”
“I'm an anomaly.”
A new voice chimed in, “You're also the boy Atsushi has a crush on.”
Cute was the only word Uta could use to describe the young man behind the large desk in the center of the gallery. He had the cutest little nose and a warm, cheeky grin.
“My godson, Men-men.” Ayako rolled her eyes at the name. “He's damn good at his job which is why I call him that ridiculous name.”
Grin even wider, Men-men extended his hand and Uta shook it. “Can't beat that introduction.”
Uta chuckled. “Uta.”
“How are classes going?”
“Good. Only a few more weeks until finals.”
“How much longer do you have?”
“About a year.”
The phone rang, and Men-men answered it.
“Come on,” Ayako said. “I have a portfolio for you to look through.”
She led him to a large, stylish office at the back of the gallery. She picked up a black portfolio from her desk and sat them both down on the black leather sofa across from the desk. “Tell me what you think.”
Taking a deep breath, Uta began to look through the photographs of the artwork.
Ayako studied him. “Tell the truth.”
Uta took a deep breath and turned to his boss. “Usually this is the part where I ask if everyone has an inner emo teenager. But this artist is trying too hard. I will never understand why artists feel they need to suffer for their art. As if art is worthless if the creator is in pain.” He rolled his eyes.
Ayako smiled as she watched him.
Uta didn't seem to notice. “I think that's why I like Melody Ishihara so much. She enjoys making art and it shows. It's light and playful.
They were interrupted by the office door opening.
“Acchan, I was wondering when you would get here,” Ayako said without turning around.
Atsushi strolled in, wearing a stunning black suit carrying two to-go cups.
“How did you know?” Uta asked.
“He's the only one who never knocks,” Ayako replied.
Atsushi held out the cups to Uta. “Coffee or tea?”
Uta blushed. “Tea please.”
Atsushi handed him the cup of tea. Ayako grabbed the coffee cup from his other hand. He frowned. “How's today going?” he asked, leaning against the desk. He offered a dazzling smile to Uta.
Uta blushed harder behind his cup, thankful when his bangs fell in front of his face. Ruki knew him well.
"Uta is just proving that I was right in hiring him." Ayako passed over the portfolio.
“Ooh, Ayako loves being proved right.” Atsushi flipped through the photos. “Oh great. More angst.”
“Why are creative people always so bummed out?”
“You sound like Uta.”
Atsushi smiled. “I keep telling you I'm smart. You never believe me.”
“I still don't. What are you even doing here?”
“I'm here to take Uta to lunch.”
“Too bad, I'm taking him.”
Atsushi narrowed his eyes.
Ayako grinned. “Boss dibs.”
“Well I think Uta should be the one to decide.”
Still blushing brightly, Uta smiled at the older man. “Sorry...”
“He's only lunching with you because you're the boss,” Atsushi goaded.
“And yet I'm the one he's lunching with.” Ayako grabbed her brother's arm and pushed him out of her office. “I have work to do and a business to run. Out.” She closed the door behind her, leaning against it and grinning at Uta.
“You guys are funny,” he murmured.
Ayako chuckled. “He's a brat. Mostly because he's my brother. We get along and he's a lot of fun to be around. He's also supportive and annoyingly overprotective.” She walked over to her desk. “We'll set this portfolio aside for now. Maybe we should think about a Melody Ishihara exhibit.”
Uta grinned and sat down at her desk.