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Enough (A Cinderella Story)

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Friday night. Pre-drinking at home (just a few beers, Shouko’s been giving him shit about his voice); then the set in Shinjuku, then the after party at Hellfire. Whiskey, and shots, and some Red Bull to keep him going. Jesus, he’s only twenty-eight and he’s doing Red Bull chasers.

The curses of being a party animal. Satoru tosses back another whiskey (cheap; Chinese – he’s up-and-coming, not gold record yet) and looks back to the dance floor. Shouko’s dancing with Utahime at the back of the crowd, the two of them glued together at the hip which given how hungry the surrounding stans look is probably not a bad thing. Groupies always have a thing for the only woman in the band, like somehow that makes her easy. Suguru’s in a corner talking to two girls who look like high schoolers with the stupid earnest smile that means he’s gonna get laid and Satoru briefly hopes the club bouncers actually did an ID check because Suguru sure as hell won’t.

Kento, of course, went home right after the set.

The thing is, Satoru’s tired. Over the past three years Jujutsu have clawed their way up from cult status to mainstream; they sell tickets for decent-sized venues and have songs on the radio. Last year they signed with a label, and they’re releasing singles regularly with two CDs under their belt. A far cry from bar-hopping and Youtube videos with a few thousand hits.

And it’s been hard. Four sets a week, practice almost every day, picking up shifts at cram schools, hours spent trying to wring lyrics and melodies out of his brain. Constant parties – gotta keep the hard core fans happy, they’re the framework on which success is built in the modern era of social media shares and subscriptions. Constant drinking, constant dancing, constant meaningless sex. Sex sells, and Satoru is sexy as fuck. He’s practically Jujutu’s beacon: white hair, blue eyes, long legs and a rich voice. He’s their face, the face the fans fall in love with.

(Suguru told him once he’s more a siren than a beacon, used to wrecking men on his shores, and he thinks it’s not untrue. It’s never bothered him.)

It had been fun at first, had been such a rush to be recognized and adored and idealized. But by now it’s a routine, and it’s starting to feel empty. Shouko has Utahime, Kento has Yuu, and Suguru has no actual emotions – it’s actually kind of scary how blank he really is, inside. And Satoru? Satoru has a revolving door of one-night stands and an ever-increasing risk of venereal disease.

He’s tired.

So instead of getting up to dance on the floor like he does every night, mingle with the fans and do a little bump ‘n grind and maybe find someone to take home for the night when he gets drunk enough, he stays on his stool and keeps his head down.

He’s folded against the wall at the end of the bar in the shadows, the club mostly spotlights and black light except for the steady halogen glow behind the bar. Beside him is a young guy with pink hair and sharp cheekbones wearing a tight T that reveals just how ripped his is. Satoru’s not in the market at the moment, but he can’t help but notice the thick biceps, washboard abs and strong waist. His skin has a healthy tan, and he’s chatting openly to the guy sitting next to him – older, dark hair, scar at one side of his mouth. They don’t seem to know each other, their talk trivial.

Satoru’s at that stage of drunkenness where everything seems extraordinarily clear. Pink Hair is sweet; he laughs easily at Scar Mouth’s deeply unfunny lines, smiles unguardedly and tells silly charming stories about his friends. Scar Mouth is a creep with narrow hungry eyes and the kind of smile Satoru imagines serial killers and septic workers have.

It’s just a feeling, of course. But when Pink Hair gets up to take a call, stepping away from the bar, Satoru sees Scar Mouth drop something into his beer in the mirror behind the bar.

Fucker.

Satoru leans over Pink Hair’s empty stool and crooks a finger at Scar Mouth, who gives him an unimpressed look but bends over. “Get the fuck out of here and don’t come back, or I tell the kid what you just put in his drink. Got it?”

“Mind your own fucking business.”

“No thanks, I’d rather mind yours,” drawls Satoru. Scar Mouth gives him a long, considering look, then gets up and slinks away.

Pink Hair returns just as he’s oozing out the door like the slime he is and looks after him. “Hey – oh.”

“Never mind,” says Satoru. He picks up the beer, reaches over the top of the bar, and dumps it into the slops grate. “Let me get you a new one.”

The kid – he has to be barely older than twenty – slides back onto his stool. “Huh? What was wrong with that one?”

“Tainted by association,” says Satoru with what seems like a lot of wit at the time. He signals to the bar tender who brings over another beer. “What’re you doing here alone?”

It’s a weird question to start out with, but he’s drunk and the night’s old as sin so what the hell. And anyway, the kid doesn’t seem to notice. “I was supposed to come with a friend, but he got stuck with a shift switch and I was bored so I came anyway. Thought I’d check this place out so we can come back if it’s good.”

“Having fun?”

“Sure! I was dancing earlier, but it’s like an oven out there.” He takes a deep swallow of his beer, draining half the glass.

At this point it’s clear to Satoru that Pink Hair has no idea who he is. The novelty is fresh; amusing. Also now that he’s facing Satoru, he can see that he’s quite cute in a wide-eyed, innocent way. This kid’s friends never should have let him come out on his own; he’s like a fucking babe in the woods.

“What are you doing here alone?” asks the kid, and Satoru blinks in surprise at having his question thrown back at him. He almost points out that he’s not alone, but then he might have to introduce Shouko and Suguru and he’s not feeling generous right now. He wants this conversation to himself.

“Sometimes I just feel like getting shit faced somewhere other than my apartment,” he says; not entirely untrue. “Come for the whiskey, stay for the EDM and the crumping. You know.”

Pink Hair looks at him. “You don’t look like the crumping kind,” he says with a smile – not insulting but kind.

“No?”

“No. I think you’re probably into long smouldering grinds.” There’s something about hearing this kid, who looks like he could piss holy water, say it that makes it very hot. Makes Satoru imagine grinding against him, his firm hips to Satoru’s, his thick waist under Satoru’s long hands.

“Maybe. But no dancing tonight.”

“Why not?”

Satoru looks back at his drink; mostly empty. He sighs. “I’m tired,” he says, suddenly. It feels good to say it, like pulling a thorn from a swollen wound. Bleeding out the pain. He slumps over the bar, weight on his elbows, like an old man.

“And you came to a club? Don’t you want to be somewhere quiet?”

Satoru swallows the remainder of his whiskey and turns to the kid. “Do you?”


***

They end up out on the street. It’s January and bitterly cold, Satoru wearing a leather bomber jacket with sheepskin lining over his distressed long-sleeved shirt; the kid just has a thin zip-up cotton hoodie. His hands are jammed into the pockets, his shoulders hunched. “You’re gonna freeze like that,” Satoru says. For some reason despite the frigid air he’s not cold at all. Probably the alcohol. He’s pickled like a herring. He shrugs out of his jacket and drapes it over Pink Hair. It’s a cute look; heartwarming. No one but Suguru’s ever worn his clothes before, and it was his Valentino leather pants because he thought they’d make his ass look good (they didn’t; they were too long and made him look like a clown whose stilts had shrunk). He feels a little twist of something soft, comfortable in his chest. Fuck, maybe he should do good deeds more often. Or at all.

“I don’t – I’m fine,” the kid protests.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” says Satoru. “Want something to eat?”

They peel into a late-night izakaya and order beer and snacks and gyoza. In this light Satoru can see the kid’s not quite as young as he looked in the darkness of the club; his build is that of an adult and his eyes aren’t quite as wide as he took them for.

The cold outside has given Satoru a second wind and the gyoza help to soak up some of the whiskey in his gut, and he actually manages to make conversation. This is new; his one-night stands are mostly frantic, sweaty, non-verbal affairs. Everyone wants into his pants; they don’t care about talking. They’re in love with his face, his voice. Not him. And fair enough, because he’s not in love with them, either. Transactional relationships, a sliver of fame for a slice of worship.

Satoru’s still not sure this is a one-night stand; not sure the kid knows either.

“So what do you do?” asks the kid, a terribly mundane question that Satoru doesn’t think he’s ever been asked before. Everyone he’s met either already knew or didn’t care.

“Teaching. At cram schools,” he says, because why not? It’s not a lie. Not that that would matter; he’ll never see this guy again after tonight. “Math and music.”

“Wow, those are pretty different!”

“Mmm, closer than you’d think,” he says with a lilting tone, tapping a finger against his beer glass. “More formula than fret-work. Octaves, arpeggios, algebra. All mixed in together.” He nods vaguely, makes to spear a gyoza and only succeeds in knocking it off the plate. He picks it up with a disapproving frown and pops it into his mouth. “You?” he mumbles.

“Finishing university. Physiotherapy. And working part time, you know, the usual minimum wage stuff. I don’t go out a lot; I’ve got to save for school, you know, and rent. I share with a friend – Megumi; he was supposed to come out with me tonight. He’s a vet tech,” he adds, as if Satoru had asked or even wondered.

“Mm.”

“He’s great with animals – all kinds. He could’ve been a vet, if he had the money, no problem. He’s really smart, too. Not like me – I’ve just got brute strength. The other day he found this cat on the street, and…” he prattles on about Megumi, his cat-whispering skills and his intelligence and his awesomeness as a roommate, and Satoru finds himself getting irritated. Hot under the skin, itchy.

Jealous.

What?

He takes a deep drink of his beer and, when the kid pauses for breath, changes the subject. “What kind of music do you like?”

“Huh? Um… I dunno. Just whatever’s on the radio, I guess. Pop, and… I guess I listen to some English rock sometimes. You know, Nirvana or whatever. I like stuff you can dance to, with a cool beat. Stuff that makes me feel something.”

So, a musical cretin, thinks Satoru. But that’s not a bad thing. It beats the fans who want to go into theses about his influences and call-backs, divining layers of meaning into songs that don’t exist. Sometimes a song is just a song. Satoru sinks into his own thoughts, the mire deep, sucking.

“How are you feeling?” the kid asks as the conversation dies, and Satoru looks up, confused. “You said you were tired. You looked tired, too. I guess it is pretty late, but… it seemed like it was something more.”

Satoru licks some soy sauce from his lips, salty, rich. “Mm… life’s a drag. Everything’s the same. Work work work, party party party. I’ve got no one to hold on to.” He doesn’t really mean to say it. He doesn’t even really know what it means. But it feels like the truest thing he’s said all night.

The kid nods understandingly. “Being alone is hard. I’ve got some friends, now, but for a long time it was just me. You should try to find someone.”

Satoru shrugs despondently. “Everyone just wants my pretty face,” he says, words slightly slurred.

He smiles. “You are very pretty. But I think you have other things going for you too.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew me,” says Satoru, both depressed and 100% sure. “I’m an asshole.”

“An asshole wouldn’t have given me his coat.”

Satoru looks at him. His vision’s getting blurry, the heat of the izakaya and the beer baking the alcohol into his bloodstream. “That’s enough?”

“It’s enough for a start.” The kid gets up, picks up the zabuton he’s sitting on, and comes around to sit right beside Satoru instead of across the table from him. Knee to knee, thigh to thigh. His thighs strain the confines of his jeans; he could probably crack walnuts with them. Desire mixes with alcohol; warm, fuzzy. “Tell me about yourself. Please?”

So Satoru does. Not about his actual past – private schools and tutors, a place in medical school, then music and the break with his parents, and finally Jujutsu. He’ll never be drunk enough to spill his sob story, his fall from grace. No, he talks about music. About finding it in math as a child, about learning to untangle the mysteries of chords, harmonies, melodies until they were his playthings, his pets. About playing the piano – suitable for a rich boy – and then the guitar – eminently unsuitable for a rich boy. About saying the things he’s never been able to say in his speech in his songs instead.

“Sometimes a song’s just a song,” he says, leaning over, his shoulder against the kid’s. “Sometimes it’s more.”

The kid tucks his hand over Satoru’s leg, his fingers slipped in between the muscle of his thigh and the crook of his knee. As if to anchor him, as if to hold him down. He’s been weightless for so long that it feels strange to be tethered. He wonders about that, why he never noticed just how far he was from everything, everyone.

Fuck, he’s plastered.

“Is music enough?” asks Pink Hair, squeezing his leg just lightly, bringing Satoru back to the present or at least somewhere close to it.

“Nnn,” hums Satoru, resting his face on a strong, warm shoulder. “’S never enough. Never. It’s like… like a hole in a bucket. Everything you put in pours right out. Splash. Water, water everywhere.” He closes his eyes. “Tha’s why I drink,” he confides. “Gotta fill back up ‘gain.”

“We should go,” says the kid, voice low, shaking Satoru’s leg gently.

“I like you. You know.” Know what? The thought passes out of his mind almost instantly. He presses his mouth to a soft, pink ear. “Come home with me?”

“Okay.”


***

They shuffle out into the cold air, Satoru heavy on his feet and weaving gently as the world sways around him. Pink Hair’s wearing his jacket again, the leather brushing roughly against his arm as they make their way down the street.

Under the bright neon lights of Shinjuku, the kid looks pretty – all colours and angles like a kaleidoscope. Satoru stumbles on something, maybe just his own feet, and they tumble against a wall. His body over the shorter man’s, their eyes meeting in the darkness. Satoru bends his head and kisses him.

It’s sloppy, all teeth and tongue, both of them drunk but Satoru absolutely hammered. The kiss brings lightness into his world, a soft, floating sensation. He relaxes into it and Pink Hair catches him in a strong embrace, holds him close. He’s used to being in control; it’s odd to be the one being swept off his feet. For a moment it’s like everything he knew is cut loose, in free-fall. Then gravity re-establishes itself, and he finds his centre in the kiss, in the strength of his partner’s arms.

He’s dizzy when they pull apart, the world spinning. He leans heavily on the kid and they stumble out onto the sidewalk. Then, somehow, they’re in a cab.

It’s hot, overheated, and between that and the alcohol Satoru’s mostly asleep by the time they get to his place. Pink Hair shakes him awake and he fumbles with his wallet until he takes it from him and pays, then tucks it back in his pocket as they get out.

He ends up leaning on the kid as they climb the stairs to his third-floor apartment, strong, confident arms around his chest. He leans into them, to the smell of strawberry shampoo and some kind of woodsy aftershave. It’s strange to feel safe, held. No one else has ever carried him home. He drops his key at the doorstep and the kid picks it up and opens the door, switches on the light.

They take their shoes off, Satoru still clinging to him, the world dim and blurry. He tracks his way to the bedroom by long habit and, without taking off any of his clothes, tumbles into bed and pulls the kid down after him.

He presses his mouth upwards for a kiss; he receives one to his forehead in return.

“Goodnight,” says the kid, pulling away.

“Wha’s your name?” asks Satoru, trying to catch his hands and misjudging the distance; his arms fall away, heavy.

Pink hair opens his mouth, says something.

And Satoru passes out.


***

He wakes up the next morning feeling like he popped a sachet of seaweed desiccant the night before. Daylight pours in through his windows to drive nails into his sensitive, aching eyes. He rolls over and buries his face in his pillow with a groan. His head is pounding; his stomach is deeply unhappy.

As he lies there, memories of the night filter past like old sepia photographs – distorted, out of order, bleached blank in some parts. He remembers the set clearly, a theatre venue with imperfect acoustics and barely enough power outlets and mouse traps everywhere backstage. Remembers packing up and locking their gear up for the night and then heading out for Hellfire. Remembers doing some dancing earlier in the night, then depression setting in like cement hardening, and his decision to establish himself at the bar for some maudlin peace.

After that, things get muddy. He remembers both kindness and belligerence, which seems weird. Remembers pouring a whole glass of beer out – why? Remembers soft conversation, the taste of gyoza, and a feeling of connection. Sometimes a song’s just a song. Sometimes it’s more.

Remembers a kiss on his forehead.

Satoru raises his head hastily – too hastily, lights bursting in his vision – and looks around. He’s alone in bed. Did he bring someone home?

Strong arms around him, holding him, supporting him. The smell of strawberry.

Strawberry… pink… pink hair?

A blurry image comes to him of a young man with pink hair and a kind smile. You should try to find someone.

Satoru feels a wave of compassion, of happiness. Something tender and twining as a sunflower seedling, but with potential. His stomach replies with a wave of nausea and he scrambles up, out of bed, and into the bathroom just in time to retch into the toilet.


***

The memories come back slowly through the morning while Satoru lies on the floor with a bowl in case of accidents and the curtains closed, and reflects upon the miseries in his life:

1. His pity binges that only make him more miserable
2. Suguru, who won’t stop texting him blinding GIFs
3. The fact that he has to be up for another set this evening, and maybe even another after-party
4. He thinks he may just be in love with a man whose name he can’t remember

Love? Lust. Definitely lust. He tries to rewrite the list in his brain and meets stubborn resistance. Which is stupid, because it’s definitely not love. He met the guy for a total of a couple of hours while he was sauced out of his brain; he can’t even remember his name. So what that he was nice? Lots of people are nice. No one Satoru knows directly, but he understands it as a concept. Sympathetic listener? He could find oodles of them if he wanted. Since when has he cared about nice, or sympathy? All he’s ever needed is someone up for a few good hard fucks a night.

In conclusion: he’s not in love with some guy he had a couple of beers and some plates of gyoza with. He’s not pathetic enough to fall for the first schmuck to offer him some kindness, some attention focused on him, Gojou Satoru, not Jujutsu’s frontman. He just needs to cut back the drinking a bit and maybe stop being such a slut. Find someone to be good to him.

He just can’t help the nagging thought, What if you already found him?


***

By 3pm he’s wiped himself off the floor, showered, dressed and had some toast. In his hundreds of seizure-inducing texts Suguru didn’t bother to remind him that they have rehearsal that afternoon, but Kento can be relied upon never to trust his memory; his text is a curt reminder. Satoru does make a check of the apartment to make sure nothing was stolen – it wasn’t – and to see if his mystery date left anything behind, like maybe a phone number.

He didn’t. Well, who can blame him? Satoru was hardly a catch. Good for a couple kisses, then nothing but drunk dead weight. If someone treated Satoru like that he wouldn’t leave a number either, and would definitely have taken at least a bottle of scotch on the way out and maybe something petty and inconvenient like all the toilet paper.

But no. Both his alcohol and his TP are safe in their usual cupboards.

Satoru transits out to practice. Their space is in Suguru’s house – he inherited it from his parents, along with a pile of cash that he used to bankroll Jujutsu for their first two years before the investment started to pay off. Satoru’s wearing jeans and his bomber jacket, which has just a faint woodsy smell to it that makes his skin warm.

Their studio – it’s really just a practice room with some mid-range recording equipment for Youtube videos – is accessed through a door at the back of the house. Satoru cuts around back and comes in to find Suguru and Kento on the small sofa.

“Hey, I beat Shouko? Fuck yeah bros before hos.”

“I’m in the kitchen, asshole,” shouts Shouko from deeper in the house.

Shouko’s known for her insatiable appetite for snacks. Satoru nods as he toes off his shoes. “Checks out.”

“I heard that!”

Satoru saunters over to the couch, a three-cushion piece with some stuffing coming out of it. Suguru and Kento are sat on opposite ends; Satoru squeezes down between them. Kento shoves him away; Suguru doesn’t react.

“You look like crap,” says Kento disapprovingly.

“But I smell like sunshine,” replies Satoru charmingly. Actually he smells like mouthwash and soap. Shouko comes in with a small tube of chips, already open, and leans up against the wall. “Shouko, you’re glowing. Get some last night?”

“Another question that will forever be a mystery to you,” she says dryly. “You look like you slept in an alley.”

“I slept in my bed, thank you. I’m like a dog, I –”

“Fuck on all fours?” asks Suguru.

“Piss on telephone poles?” suggests Kento.

“Carry fleas?” says Shouko.

“I always make it home, you lazy bastards.”

“But rarely alone,” adds Suguru.

Satoru turns to him. “Well since you mentioned it, did either of you see the guy I was with last night?”

Shouko lowers the canister of chips. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. I just… misplaced him.”

“So call him,” says Suguru.

“I didn’t get his number, asswipe.”

“Then try to find him online,” says Kento.

“I didn’t actually get his name, either,” admits Satoru, rubbing the back of his head.

Kento gives him a disgusted look. “Jesus Satoru, you’re taking them home now and not even asking their names? That’s not just dumb – it’s dangerous. If you won’t think of yourself, at least think about others. We’re recording Limitless next week.”

“I hope you at least used protection,” says Shouko.

“And that the sex was good,” adds Suguru.

“Fuck all of you, and you in particular,” says Satoru, pointing at Kento; Kento gives him the finger. “Nothing happened. We just talked, okay?”

There’s a moment while everyone boggles at that. “You spent your night talking to someone? And you want to see them again?” Suguru holds up his phone and takes a picture of Satoru’s face. “Hold up, I’m doing an image search against Pod Person.”

“Oh, shut it,” sighs Satoru, and rises. “Are we practicing, or not? I didn’t drag myself out of bed to get trolled by you three.”

They haul themselves over to the instruments and start warming up.


***

Satoru’s the last to leave; he has nowhere to be between now and their gig so when Suguru offers him some meat buns he hangs around. They heat up in the microwave, slowly rotating on the glass plate, while the two of them sit at the kitchen table.

“So,” says Suguru. “Your new beau.”

“He’s just a guy, okay? We had a good time, or at least, I think we did, and I wanted to tell him that. That’s all.”

“Mmhmm.” Suguru leans back, pushes his hair away from his face. “You’ve always been a shit liar, Satoru.”

“Maybe compared to you.” He’s done the yawn test; Suguru fails it every time. Definite sociopath. He could be a professional confidence trickster, selling bridges and airspace to rich widows.

“So what’s he like?”

“Why? What are you, an agony aunt now?”

“No, I just like to watch you suffer.”

Definitely a sociopath. Satoru shrugs. “Cute. Young – but not like your hookups. Kind of… I don’t know. Innocent. I wasn’t sure if he even knew what I wanted.” He feels the pulse of desire now, the attraction of that innocence. But in the end it had been Satoru who had surrendered control, who had reached out for support. Whose innocence had been preserved.

He’s certainly not telling Suguru that.

“Kinky. Tell me more.”

The microwave beeps and Suguru gets up to pull out the plate of meat buns, brings them over steaming to the table.

“Some bastard tried to roofie him in Hellfire; I scared him off and tossed the drink.”

Suguru blinks. “And he didn’t let you fuck him?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“Do I even know you?” asks Suguru. “You’re sounding suddenly like a white knight, riding in on his charger. Or – no –” Suguru’s smile splits open wide, “Prince Charming looking for his lost love. And he didn’t even leave you a shoe.” He bites deeply, voraciously into his bun.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s not important,” says Satoru carelessly, peeling the paper off the bottom of his bun. And then, changing the topic, “Tell me about your night.”


***

He ends up eating out at a cheap restaurant and then going right to the set – stone cold sober for once. He plays perfectly, immaculately, but his mind is elsewhere. He can hear potential in the chords, in the rhythms of their songs that lures him into thoughts of new pieces, new melodies. The music’s sunk its teeth deep into his bones, and tonight they ache with it.

Afterwards they go back to Hellfire at Satoru’s suggestion. Because he’s remembered that Pink Hair said he was scoping it out, was thinking of coming back with his friend with the girly name… Maaya? Mei? Miya? Whatever.

He sits in the corner seat of the bar, watching the lights play over the crowd. Watching for pink hair.

Nothing.

At one point he flags the bartender down and asks him, but he wasn’t working yesterday. No clues.

But hey. It’s not important. Right?


***

He dreams of strong arms and thick thighs and honey-brown eyes. Of innocence and compassion and indulgence rolled into one. Of gyoza and beer and the smell of strawberries.

He wakes with the memory of a sloppy, drunken kiss on his lips, his body aching for something beyond his reach. A sensation of being anchored, being held, his world realigning to a new lodestar. Like coming home.

Fuck this shit.


***

Satoru trawls the Tokyo chat boards and forums. Makes ISO posts on any he thinks a university student would read: Looking for pink haired guy at Hellfire on Friday. Can we talk? PM me. He even, somewhat desperately, puts out a call on his social media which results in a flood of fans wondering if they should dye their hair pink.

For a few days the search simmers, PMs piling in but none of them legit while fans fill message boards with text and Suguru sends him sad eggplant stickers.

It really spirals out of control, though, when a local radio station picks up on it. He knows because Shouko calls him and tells him to put it on. He’s in the middle of marking some tests, and tetchily pulls up his radio app.

“ – speculation is rife, of course, about why Gojou-san is searching for this nameless man. Reports from fans show that Gojou-san has been posting on sites all over the web in search of him, as well as making personal appeals on his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Theories include a new member for Jujutsu, a lost childhood friend, and – most romantically – a wayward love. Gojou-san is known for his active social life, but hasn’t had a permanent partner since Jujutsu was formed. Some speculate he’s now searching for Mr Right.”

Satoru shuts off the radio.

It’s not that Jujutsu is big news. They’re not, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s January and the weather’s icy and Tokyo is bored waiting for spring to come. Everyone’s in the mood to pry into some poor fuck’s mystery romance.

Cinderella Story reads one online news outlet, citing fans who were at Hellfire that night and who saw Satoru talking to the young, attractive, well-dressed man with pink hair and who saw them leave together. Suddenly the object of his search has become attractive and well-dressed. Soon he’ll be a blushing beauty, hanging on Satoru’s arm.

“You know, we could use this,” says Suguru when Satoru calls him, because of course. There’s nothing he can’t exploit. “Everyone loves a fairy tale, and you’re tall and handsome and famous. A perfect prince. Personality excluded, obviously.”

“Obviously,” says Satoru, dryly.

“But since the media started picking up on your moment of madness, we’ve been trending up.”

“It wasn’t a moment of madness.”

“How else do you explain admitting to the world that you fell in love with a guy you met in a club, and then forgot to get his name?”

Satoru pinches the bridge of his nose. There’s no point denying it; Suguru’s got the smarts of a slick lawyer. “Look, are you going to be helpful, or what?”

“We’ve got an interview coming up before Limitless’ release. So why not take the opportunity to talk about the question that’s on everyone’s minds: Who is your mystery man?”

Satoru exhales through his nose. “I don’t know who he is. That’s the problem.”

“More coverage can only help, right?” wheedles Suguru.

“And more grist for your mill of emotional manipulation?”

“That, always,” grins Suguru, and he hangs up.


***

The music’s been hounding him again. Digging away at him like a dog trying to unearth a bone, scraping him bare. He can feel it while he’s eating, while he’s teaching, even while he’s playing with the band. It wants more from him, wants to suck the blood and marrow from him. He feels restless, and for the first time in a long time he doesn’t try to drown the discomfort.

It’s not that he regrets being pissed out of his mind and missing something vital (although he does); it’s not even that he’s trying to be a better person (he’s definitely not). It’s just that he thinks he has something he wants to say.

Sometimes a song’s just a song. Sometimes it’s more.


***

The interview is with Music GO!GO!, a popular daytime TV channel that plays PVs and interviews and idol variety programs. It’s a step up for Jujutsu, and an opportunity to grow their audience on a national scale. They dress in business casual, Satoru in grey designer jeans and a black sports jacket, tight white T hugging his lean chest. Their host is a chatty young woman with bleach-blonde hair and blue contact lenses, going for a Half look. Her name is Tokuda Julia, a stage name.

They sit in a row of four coloured armchairs on a stage, each provided with a mic, with Tokuda sitting opposite them. She takes them through the usual stuff: intros, band history, recent releases, upcoming work – some drivel about Limitless, still in sound mixing.

Then, inevitably, comes the gossip. She leans forward, her sky-blue blouse hanging open just enough to get some of the shut-ins watching at home excited. “Gojou-san, lately everyone’s been talking about you. I think you know why?”

He laughs, runs a hand through his hair – charming, sexy. “Sure, because I made a rookie mistake.”

“Oh? What was that?”

“I let a keeper slip through my fingers,” he says, and sees her eyes widen in excitement. This is entertainment gold.

“Tell us more. We’ve all heard by now about your internet search for the man you met a few weeks ago; it’s been all over the news. Who was he?”

“That’s what I’m waiting for someone to tell me,” he says candidly, smiling. “We met briefly at a club, had some drinks and chatted, then parted ways.” A nice, sanitized version fit for general consumption. No drunken kissing in a Shinjuku alleyway, no passing out in a stupor. “And when he was gone, I realised I didn’t have his name or number.”

“A modern-day Cinderella, people are calling it. Surely you must know a few more details, though?”

“Mm, he’s in university studying to be a physiotherapist, and has a part-time job and a roommate. And he likes Nirvana,” Satoru says with a grin. Like he’s not baring his poor, tarnished soul on national TV. “Maybe we should play Smells Like Teen Spirit,” he muses.

“God forbid,” mutters Suguru from down the row.

“What are your next steps?” asks Tokuda. “And how should he contact you if he sees this?”

“He can leave his number with the izakaya we went to,” says Satoru, who had thought of this. “As for next steps… I don’t know. I hope he comes forward. I’d like to see him again.” Smile for the camera, pretty, well-behaved. The kind of clean, wholesome rock star the Japanese public wants.

“Well, we wish you luck,” says Tokuda, and moves down the line to ask Kento something about his classical influences. Satoru plasters a thoughtful look on his face and switches off.


***

He checks in with the izakaya multiple times a day after the interview is broadcast.

No young, pink-haired man comes forward with his number.


***

The music has a strangle hold on him, keeping him up at night, singing like alcohol in his veins. Nothing he does will keep it quiet, make it stop.

Nothing but writing.

So he sits down with his guitar and some paper, and writes.

And writes.

And writes.


***

It takes three days to finish it – it still needs work, of course, needs Kento to add some depth with the piano and Shouko some percussion support – but he’s got the bones of it. The rhythm, the melody.

The lyrics.

He brings it to their next practice, hands the printed copies around and plays the tune on his acoustic guitar – clean, soulful.

“You sure about this?” asks Shouko when he finishes. “It’s different than your usual stuff. Personal.”

“It’s good,” says Satoru. It is good – better than good. Is maybe the best thing he’s ever written.

“I’m just saying… you don’t have to put everything on display.” Shouko never talks about Utahime, never brings her to press events or mentions her in interviews. Keeps professional and private separate, distinct.

“Some things should be put on display,” he says. “Problem?”

She shakes her head.

“Then let’s try it.”


***

He doesn’t want to release it as a single, at least not first. That will take months; studio time and audio mixing and demos and official releases through online platforms.

Much easier to record an unofficial version in their studio like they did in the old days, and release it on Youtube. The studio version can come later.

It takes three takes to record. Half an hour, total. Suguru edits it on his computer, adjusts the audio levels and stitches the file up. They watch as he uploads it to their Youtube account, then shares from their other social media. Satoru pulls out his phone and posts the link on his pages, too.

Tag line: Please find me.


***

He watches the video that night at home – it’s Monday night, no set tonight. It’s simple, just the four of them in the studio. No staging, no costumes or make-up. Raw, unfiltered.

The video starts with him stepping up to the mic, guitar strap over his shoulder, fingers on the strings. “This is for someone special,” he says. “It’s called Enough.”

It begins with a guitar riff, slow and simple. Longing made tangible, wistfulness incarnate. Satoru’s fingers play the melody flawlessly, like they’ve known it forever, like it’s been waiting inside him since he was born. Every statue is waiting inside a block of marble; maybe every song is waiting inside him.

The vocals are simple; just him, no harmony from Suguru or Kento in the intro. Just acoustic and bass underlay, clean.

Whiskey and Red Bull
Strobe lights, old nights
See you sitting there

Pink hair tight tee
Chatting up some mister
Too old for you, too old for me

The piano and drums kick in, Suguru and Kento joining on harmony for the chorus.

I’m a jerk, I say, sob stuff,
Lend you my coat,
The air’s a chilling note,
And you say: “it’s enough”

Back to Satoru for the next verses, drums quieting but present, keeping the pace steady – like the tick of the clock, driving the night on.

Drinks at the bar
Dreams of going far
I’m tired of running on empty

We go somewhere warm
I’m too drunk to spread the charm
You ask why I’m so drained

I’m a jerk, I say, sob stuff,
Lend you my coat,
The air’s a chilling note,
And you say: “it’s enough”

Soy sauce on my lips
Your hands around my hips
You’re my only tether

Pink hair, mellow eyes
It’s a charming disguise
For the one I want to save me

I’m a jerk, I say, sob stuff,
Lend you my coat,
The air’s a chilling note,
And you say: “it’s enough”

The rest of the band falls silent, just Satoru on the guitar, slow, soft, playing the final chords:

Take you home to my place
I’m a wreck, you’re my grace
Please won’t you tell me your name?

The guitar falls silent, and the clip ends. The screen goes dark.

Satoru presses his head against the tabletop.


***

He wakes up the next morning with his phone blaring some spicy salsa music in his ear. He groans and picks up without lifting his head. “Mmph?”

“Gojou.” It’s Yaga, their manager. And he sounds pissed.

“Not guilty,” Satoru says immediately.

“Oh? But Suguru assured me you are,” says Yaga, voice low and dangerous.

“Who’re you gonna trust, him or me?”

“On the whole, neither,” says Yaga, “But in this case, evidence points firmly to you. Specifically: Enough.”

Satoru opens his eyes, stares up at the ceiling. “What about it?”

“Have you seen the news?”

Satoru snorts. “You know you just woke me up.”

“Well, congratulations. You’re trending in several major news outlets, and on Twitter and Reddit. Your cheap little Youtube video has pulled in almost a million views overnight.”

Satoru blinks. Then blinks again. “Um…”

“You do realise that if you released this through official channels you could be capitalizing on that interest? You could have reached gold record by now for the single.”

“I’m not interested in the money, Yaga. And it would have taken months to release the single – everyone would have forgotten about my little personal drama by then. All I need is hits.”

“Well congratulations, you’ve achieved that,” says Yaga sourly. “If you’re going to pull pranks like this, Gojou, you can’t expect me to do my best for you.”

“It was a one-off,” he says. “Honestly. Pinky-swear.”

“If it happens again…”

“I’ll be good,” sings Satoru, with innocence (although not necessarily truthfulness).

Yaga sighs. “You’ll have to do publicity. Might as well make the most of it. And we’ll record the single ASAP to try to catch some of the attention.”

“Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” says Yaga, tiredly.


***

There’s been so much media by this point that honestly, Satoru can’t believe Pink Hair hasn’t seen it. Which can only mean he’s not interested. Not interested in this circus, in the attention, in Satoru.

Satoru can’t really blame him. He was a mess when they met, told lies of omission and wallowed in the swamp of his own misery, and couldn’t even stay awake to hear the guy’s name. And by now he’ll have looked him up on the net and discovered that Satoru’s a jerk and a playboy and a man with absolutely no shame. Witness his national search for Cinderella.

Cinderella. Cinders. Hellfire. Pathetically appropriate.

He needs to walk it off. Or maybe fuck it off, find some cute guy and lose himself in comfortable, meaningless sex. He’s been celibate for weeks now, a new record for him. Even Kento’s commented on it.

But he doesn’t really want the sex, want the booze and the meaningless hook-ups. He wants a connection.

Pity that no one’s ever wanted one with him.


***

They’re booked to play a gig at a university concert hall, which is new to them. Fancy wooden acoustic panelling, nice seats, and a green room that doesn’t smell like spilt beer. It’s a relatively small venue, only seating for about 1,000, but they’re in that awkward tier of popularity where they can’t yet fill a sports arena but have outgrown theatres. Hopefully Enough will help to push them over the cusp, but for now they’re here.

Satoru vaguely wonders if the crowd will be upscale, the kind of well-heeled concert-goers who attend performances by the university orchestra.

It’s not, he sees as they wait in the wings. It’s young people, mostly students from the looks of it, with the usual jeans and t-shirts on under their coats; it’s cold, the heating not working right. Satoru’s wearing his leather jacket, although he knows he’ll regret it under the lights.

The opening band, a group of young girls playing soft punk, wraps up and troop off. Jujutsu takes the stage to cheers and applause, Shouko settling herself behind the kit and Kento at the keyboard while Satoru and Suguru pick up their guitars and head for the mics.

The lights are bright but not as blinding as some venues; he can make out some of the faces in the first few rows. Young, excited. He smiles. They tune up, do a quick mic check, and then Shouko’s setting the beat for Six Eyes.

They’ve got a set order of songs, of course, mostly new stuff with some of their older Youtube hits thrown in. A comfortable rhythm, arranged so that no one’s strained by too many difficult songs in a row. They play through them, piece after piece, Satoru switching guitars as needed. The audience is excited, enthralled; a good crowd.

They play fifteen songs, enough to take them to almost two hours with breaks for water and a little scripted conversation between them. They play their last song – 7:3 – and take bows, then head off into the wings.

The audience keeps cheering, screaming for an encore. Not just that, though. They’re screaming for Enough. The sound bounces, echoes: “Enough! Enough! Enough!”

Satoru looks to the others, who nod. They had planned to do a different piece for the encore, but there’s no problem in catering to the crowd. They head back onto the stage; he picks up his acoustic guitar. The audience quiets. And, as he plays the opening riffs to Enough, a low thrill builds.

Whiskey and Red Bull
Strobe lights, old nights
See you sitting there

He keeps singing, keeps playing, mind elsewhere. Back in Hellfire, back in the izakaya, back in the Shinjuku alley. His eyes are scanning the audience inattentively, glossily.

And then, just as he’s singing Pink hair, mellow eyes It’s a charming disguise, he sees him. In the third row back from the front, mouth hanging open, honey-brown eyes wide.

Satoru’s been performing for years, has been heckled and insulted and even assaulted by the audience. He doesn’t stop singing, his fingers don’t falter even as his heart gives an enormous jolt, heat flooding his body.

The band falls silent behind him, just him and the guitar for the final verse:

Take you home to my place
I’m a wreck, you’re my grace
Please won’t you tell me your name?

The final chord dies.

In the audience Pink Hair jumps to his feet and shouts something, but the rest of the audience is screaming, is applauding, is on their feet, and Satoru hears nothing. He stands, staring out into the whiteness, dumbstruck.

And then Suguru grabs him by the shoulder and pulls him off stage. The performance is over, the stage lights dimming while the house lights come up. Satoru shoves his guitar at Suguru, strides out onto the stage, and jumps the five feet down into the house seats.

Around him the kids, who are starting to stream out, startle and scream with excitement. But Satoru’s already pushing through them, making his way through the sea of people he towers over, back to the third row.

He makes it to Pink Hair, watching him with a flushed face and shining eyes, and says, “Well?”

Pink Hair blinks up at him, eyes wide, confused but excited too. “Well?”

“What’s your goddamn name?” demands Satoru. It’s all he can do not to scream.

“Yuuji. Itadori Yuuji.”

Satoru grabs him by the wrist. “Come with me, Yuuji,” he says.

Yuuji does.


***

They pull through the awestruck crowd – everyone’s got their phones out, camera shutters clicking – and out a door into the back corridor of the concert hall. He tries doors at random until he finds one that’s open; it’s storage for chairs. He snaps on the light and they step in, closing the door before anyone can see them.

Satoru leans against the door, breathing hard – less from exertion than overwhelming emotion, some acidic mix of joy and dread. Yuuji stands by a stack of grey chairs; he’s wearing the same cotton hoodie, his brown eyes deep, calm.

“If you’re not interested in me,” says Satoru with as much composure as he can manage, “please tell me now and put me out of my misery.”

“What? I – I’m not not interested in you,” stammers Yuuji, clearly confused.

“Then why didn’t you contact me?”

“Contact you?”

Satoru starts to feel a slow, cold truth build. “You don’t know. You don’t know that I’ve been looking everywhere for you, baring my soul to the media, giving stupid, smiley interviews…”

Yuuji rubs the back of his head; he has the grace to look slightly abashed. “No. I didn’t.”

“Do you live under a rock?

“I don’t really watch TV or read the news, except for the sports stuff sometimes,” he says with equilibrium that makes Satoru just a little crazy. “I did try stopping by your place once, but you weren’t in, and I thought… I figured you probably didn’t want to see me.”

Satoru stares. “…Why?” he finally manages, struggling to grasp words from the air. It’s like being told that fish probably don’t need water.

“Well you were pretty smashed that night and it kinda just seemed like you wanted a shoulder to cry on. No one likes to remember that the morning after.”

“I behaved like an ass, I know. But I really did want you to come home with me. And I really did want to see you again.”

Yuuji smiles. “I can tell. You wrote a song about me.”

“You really didn’t know?”

He shakes his head. “A friend gave me a ticket. I’ve heard a couple of your songs on the radio, but I didn’t know it was you. And I didn’t know you were looking for me.”

“And if you had?” asks Satoru.

“Then I guess I’d’ve come back.”

“Even knowing I’m a shameless slutty musician who couldn’t remember your name?”

Yuuji steps forward and puts a hand on his shoulder. “But you tried like hell,” squeezing. And then, with a sweet little grin: “It’s enough.”

Heart singing like a motherfucking nightingale, Satoru puts his hand over Yuuji’s and weaves their fingers together. “Let’s go get something to eat. I’m dying for some gyoza.” He shrugs out of his coat and drapes it over Yuuji’s shoulders. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

 

 

EPILOGUE

A few weeks later, Satoru writes another song. He plays nice this time, takes it through studio recordings and official releases. It makes the billboard top 10.

It’s called Lost & Found (A Cinderella Story).

END