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The Loved Girl (A Portrait in Tabloids)

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From Josei Seven, Issue 31: A Secret Rainy Day Romance? Our Photographer Discovers Popular Actor Tsuruga Ren on a Tender Day Date with His One Dozen Roses Costar!

The photograph on the cover of the tabloid is far from perfect as far as photographs go; it is grainy and badly lit because of the rain and the thick cover of gray clouds overhead. In the corner of the frame, a pedestrian is walking by on the street, obscuring part of Kyoko's shoulder and ruining the absolute intimacy of the shot that the photographer is trying to capture from his awkward position crouched behind a mailbox across the street.

But despite all the things detracting from its aesthetic sense, the photograph still manages to capture what it is truly important about the moment; Kyoko is clutching Ren's arm tightly with her own as they look into a pet shop window together, enjoying the sight of the puppies playing in piles of shredded newspaper on the other side. She smiles up at Ren through her lashes with warmth and confidence, her pretty features expressing just enough feminine coyness to melt a man's heart at first glance.

The look he gives her in return is just as captivating; it is almost heartbreaking in its sheer tenderness, his eyes crinkled in the corners and lip curled upward in a mysterious, not-quite smile as he holds an umbrella up over their heads, shielding them from the gently falling rain.

It is Josei Seven's best selling issue of the year, and on the morning when it officially reaches the newsstands, LME's head offices receive an unprecedented amount of calls asking for verification or denial (or any comment at all) regarding Ren and Kyoko's suspected relationship.

Normally this sort of thing is old hat for anyone who's spent even just a day in the entertainment industry; such rumors from trashy gossip magazines are supposed to warrant nothing more than a derisive snort and a "no comment" from LME's experienced managers and talent. But for some reason there is something about this photograph that is undeniable, that captures the curiosity of the very people who should otherwise be too professional to give it a second glance.

"Well?" Moko asks that morning, obviously one of the curious few as she looks expectantly at her fellow Love Me member with an arched eyebrow.

Kyoko smiles broadly. "Tsuruga-san was very helpful," she says, and makes Moko shake her head and mutter, "Never mind," in a resigned sort of way.

In a car halfway across town, Yashiro's curiosity is similarly piqued. "Well?" he asks, trying not to sound too eager from behind the wheel. "Well?"

Ren blinks and looks up from his script. "Yashiro," he tsks, "you really shouldn't be reading the tabloids."

Yashiro sighs.

From Asahi Geinou, Issue 33: Singer Fuwa Sho's First Leading Role Wrought With Tension! Star seen storming into his dressing room after heated exchange with leading lady Mogami Kyoko-san.

"Fuwa-san, what do you have to say about the alleged rumors of tension on the set between yourself and costar Mogami-san?"

Sho scowls and pushes past the throng of paparazzi waiting for him outside the back entrance to the studio. "No comment."

"How does it feel to film your first starring drama role alongside someone as popular as Tsuruga-san?" another asks, in an effort to be more cordial under the celebrity's dangerously flashing eyes. "You said at the press conference that you absolutely wouldn't lose to him, didn't you?"

Sho smiles crookedly at that, but not in a particularly pleasant way.

He wordlessly ducks into the studio.

From Friday, Issue 28: Inside Sources Report that One Dozen Roses Director Kimura-san and Actress Mogami-san Battle Over Creative Differences.

Director Kimura sighs as he is forced—however reluctantly— to interrupt the day's table reading for the umpteenth time, cutting Kyoko off midline with a sheepish clearing of his throat. "Kyoko-chan," he begins, gently, "I still don't think that's quite right."

Kyoko blinks, while Sho snorts at her derisively from across the table. "Isn't this your job, stupid?" he snipes, stretching his long legs out under the table and into her space just to be annoying. "Why are you so bad at it?"

Kyoko glares and opens her mouth to respond. But before she can, Kimura-san holds up his hands disarmingly. "It's not that Kyoko-chan's doing it badly," the young director assures Sho with a small, slightly frazzled laugh. "It's just…not quite what I pictured Yuuko-chan sounding like when I first read the script." He turns to Ren, who is seated at the very end of the table, for confirmation. "You know?"

Ren's face is inscrutable, but he does nod in understanding. "Fuwa-san probably just hasn't been able to pick up on it yet, given that he's the same as an amateur when it comes to acting right now," he says sensibly, with a friendly, overly understanding look across the table at Sho that has the young musician bristling instinctively but unable to retort. "I agree though, Kimura-san. There is something missing in the reading," Ren continues, before turning to Kyoko with a gently probing look. "Has Mogami-san's experience in this arena been particularly limited?"

Across the table, Sho jumps to his feet. "Oi!! That doesn't have anything to do with anything!" he exclaims, heatedly.

Kimura-san and the rest of the staff give him an odd look.

He blinks. Runs a hand through his hair. "You know, since it's just pretend."

Ren smiles patiently. "In order to play a character convincingly, knowing every part of what motivates that character is acting's most basic concept. But perhaps it's because Fuwa-kun is still so new to this that he hasn't come to understand the craft quite yet."

"Stop saying that!" Sho shouts.

Kimura-san, who has been too busy turning Ren's words carefully over in his mind to notice the sniping of his two male leads, finally blinks in surprise at Kyoko. "Have you never had a boyfriend, Kyoko-chan?"

Kyoko turns slightly red. "No!" she replies, instantly, at the exact same time Sho retorts, "Of course she has."

They pause. Glare at each other. "I haven't!" she insists, and a dark aura starts building in the air around her. She unconsciously ends up crumpling the first page of her shooting script in her hand.

"I'm pretty sure you have," Sho pushes just as intently, with a sharp look in his eye. "Obviously purely out of luck, but everyone gets lucky at least once in their lives."

Kimura-san clears his throat. "I think Kyoko-chan would know best, wouldn't she, Fuwa-kun?"

Kyoko sniffs. "There was nothing worth mentioning, Kimura-san," she tells him, certainly. "I just liked an idiot for a while because I didn't know any better."

Sho looks like he is going to say something nasty again, but gets interrupted by Ren, who calmly suggests, "Perhaps it's best to completely forget that first experience if thinking about it is just a waste of time, Mogami-san. What matters right now is finding the heart of your character, right?"

"That is the worst advice ever," Sho declares.

But he is ignored, because Kyoko's expression turns thoughtful at Ren's critique, dark aura instantly dissipating over her head in lieu of more important matters. "I thought and thought about how I'd want to play Yuuko, but part of her still seems mysterious to me," she confesses, sounding frustrated.

Kimura-san laughs again, disarmingly. "This is a first for all of us, isn't it?" he says, with all the patience in the world. "I've never directed a romance drama like this before either."

Sho gets impatient. "It's just a stupid confession scene, isn't it? What's so hard about saying I… that?"

"It just seems to me that the way you're reading Yuuko-chan feels sad somehow, Kyoko-chan," Kimura-san murmurs, though not without some humor. "As if, because you already know the outcome of the romance in the storyline, you're giving up on it early. But the beginning is supposed to be about the excitement of first love, after all."

Kyoko nods, still deep in thought. "To be able to play the role of someone in a doomed romance is difficult," she admits.

"Well, there's still a week before filming officially starts," Kimura-san admits, ever optimistic. "I'm sure we'll figure out something before then. In the meantime, can we pick up from the middle of scene twelve, in the argument between Takami-kun and Masaki-kun?"

Everyone at the reading table shifts their papers to the correct page, and from there, rehearsal goes much more smoothly than it had been in the moments before.

"You may think you're better than everyone else, but I know that you're nothing but trash, Takami," Sho spits, with a dark look at Ren.

Apparently, Ren has already memorized the lines. "Hurtful words, Masaki. But if blaming me for your shortcomings really makes you feel better," he begins, with an air of infuriating nonchalance, "I encourage you to continue." He picks imaginary lint off of his shirt as he speaks. "Father does say those of us who are in the position to give should be charitable to those obviously in need, after all."

"You smug bastard," Sho seethes, and slams his hands on the table. "Go to hell."

"Those two are really very good," Director Kimura finds himself murmuring to his note-taking AD as the reading continues. "Very natural."

The AD nods in silent agreement as Ren coolly examines his fingernails, Sho hisses and spits his vitriol, and Kyoko silently wonders how in the world she's going to pretend to be in love when she has to look at Fuwa Sho's stupid face the entire time she's doing it.

From Josei Seven, Issue 30: Filming for One Dozen Roses Mysteriously Behind Schedule as Stars Seen Exiting the Set Early!

"Cut," Kimura-san calls out, sighing helplessly as they hit another rehearsal NG that afternoon. "That's still not quite right, Kyoko-chan. If a pretty girl is told she's pretty by a handsome guy, she shouldn't be so surprised, don't you think?"

"I'm sorry," Kyoko apologizes, not for the first time. She turns from her mark opposite Sho and looks distressed enough that the singer mysteriously doesn't comment rudely on her mistakes again. "I thought I'd found a place I could start from, but it doesn't feel very natural to me either."

Kimura-san taps his finger thoughtfully against his face. "I suppose we can move on to Masaki's fight scene for the time being. Do you mind, Fuwa-kun?"

Sho stretches nonchalantly. "I'm prepared," he agrees, with a sideways look at a troubled Kyoko that seems like a mixture of provocation and puzzlement.

Kyoko doesn't notice however; she is looking at her feet, brow furrowed.

In the meantime, the staffers start moving in preparation to shoot the next scene on Kimura-san's order, while Ren stands up from his seat on the sidelines. "If that's the case, can Mogami-san and I take a little break?" he asks the director, with a smile that means he isn't really asking.

Kimura-san eyes his supporting actor for a moment, before seeing something he likes and nodding obligingly. "Of course. We won't need you back for at least an hour, I think."

Ren nods his thanks as Yashiro gathers up his things and prepares to head back to the dressing room. Meanwhile, everyone watching thinks that Ren is a very kind senpai, to suggest that Kyoko-chan get off of the set for a while so that she can calm down. She's still a relatively inexperienced actress after all, and some respite from the pressure in the comfort of her dressing room might be exactly what she needs to settle into her role.

Except that when Ren approaches Kyoko in the next moment, heading backstage is not on his agenda.

He offers her his hand. "I'm getting a little impatient waiting for you to figure this out," he says, bluntly, but not maliciously.

Kyoko blinks and looks up. "Tsuruga-san?"

His expression softens just a little at that, and he smiles mysteriously. "Will you come out with me for a while, Mogami-san?" he asks. "There's a restaurant I like nearby."

"What?!" Yashiro exclaims, and promptly chokes on his own air.

"What?!" Sho echoes, still standing not two feet from Kyoko and being universally ignored by she and Ren both.

It is almost a certain thing that Kyoko's response would have been in like, except that before she can say anything at all, Ren is leading her out of the studio with long, confident strides.

As the studio door closes behind them, Kimura-san laughs to himself a little bit. "Tsuruga-san is a good senpai, isn't he?"

Sho is too busy glaring at the exit to hear him.

From Josei Seven, Issue 32: Restaurant Rows! In a fit of anger over lunch, feisty LME talent Mogami Kyoko-san throws tea in Tsuruga Ren's face.

Ren sits across from Kyoko at their table in a quiet, upscale restaurant near the studio, regarding her with infinite calm and patience. He can hear the distant patter of rain through the windows as she sits in front of him with her hands wrapped around her teacup, lost in thought. Occasionally she furrows her brow and scowls at what Ren can only assume are random, inevitable memories of whatever it was that happened in the past between her and that idiot Fuwa.

Eventually, thankfully, Kyoko blinks and leans back against her seat with a little sigh, while Ren sips warm tea and gives her all the time she needs.

"Drawing from experience has always helped me with work before," she admits, after a beat. "Why not now?"

"Maybe that's the problem this time," he offers sensibly, and reaches out to pour her a cup of tea as well. "A completely clean slate might be exactly what you'll need to bring to the character, given that this is supposed to be her first love."

Kyoko thinks about that, around the sip of oolong. "So I should forget it?"

"That would be ideal," Ren replies, honestly. But then he shakes his head and pours more tea, with a vaguely unreadable look on his face. "I don't think it's possible, entirely, but it would be ideal."

She frowns. "I thought that if I just went backwards to myself from a few years ago, I'd be able to get what Kimura-san wanted for Yuuko." Something turns a little bit wistful on her face then, and he watches her tuck some of her hair behind her ears, in a way that makes him wonder if she's convinced herself that it has suddenly become longer than it is. "I guess I just didn't know I wouldn't have any clue how to respond if those feelings were suddenly mutual."

And that, Ren suddenly realizes, is where the problem lies. Her performance does not lack love; she simply doesn't understand how it feels to be loved in return.

He hears his teacup hit the table then, perhaps a little more firmly than necessary as he sets it down. She blinks and turns her attention back to him. "Tsuruga-san? Is something wrong?"

He smiles at her but it feels tight on his face somehow, slightly out of place. "Let's overwrite it," he suggests.

She tilts her head quizzically, cup poised at her lips. "Overwrite it? What do you mean?"

He slowly forces some of the tightness drain from his features, telling himself that Fuwa's idiocy has weighed them down enough already.

It's time to start fresh.

"Mogami-san," he starts after a moment, gently, "shall we date?"

Kyoko spits tea everywhere.

From Asahi Geinou, Issue 34: Tsuruga Ren comes in first place for the fifth consecutive time in online popularity poll. Usual suspects Yamashita Tomohisa, Kamenashi Kazuya, Oguri Shun, and Fuwa Sho round out the top five.

"This isn't exactly what I pictured at first either," Kimura-san admits on set, a few days following the release of Josei Seven's already infamous issue 31. He watches with a critical eye as Sho and Kyoko stand together in front of the cameras, running their lines together during the scene rehearsal. "But it's an interesting take on Yuuko I hadn't considered. Not a girl in love exactly, but a girl open to being loved by someone else. I kind of like it. It's fresh."

Ren smiles, just a little bit secretly. "Mogami-san wears it well."

Kimura-san nods. "Very natural." He pauses then, to eye Ren in a curious fashion. "What did you tell her the other day?"

"Me?" Ren responds, looking as though he can't quite recall. "We just went to lunch."

On the set, Sho breaks character for a moment, when Kyoko unexpectedly latches onto his arm and looks up at him with a playful, fluttery smile. He sputters and shakes her hands off on instinct, looking completely scandalized. "What are you doing, you moron?!" he demands.

"Cut!" Kimura-san says, the moment he does. "I like that ad-lib with the blocking, Kyoko-chan, keep it up. And if you can keep that reaction down during the next run through, we should be good for an actual take sometime soon, Fuwa-kun."

Sho coughs. "Er, yeah. Sure."

Kimura-san smiles indulgently and waves the makeup artist over, to touch up the sudden redness developing on Sho's cheeks.

In the meantime, Yashiro sidles over towards Ren, looking all too knowing. "So," he begins, while Kimura-san goes over to talk to the DP about the possibility of the overhead lights being too hot on Sho because he's suddenly started sweating oddly, "you taught Kyoko-chan all about what it is to be in love, huh?" he asks, bumping his elbow suggestively against Ren's side. "That explains the photo in the tabloids too, huh? Huh?"

Ren just blinks, eyeing Yashiro's prodding elbow. Yashiro coughs and stops moving it.

"Yes, we did address that a little, though I think it still needs some work," Ren replies after a beat, eyes focused on the set as Kimura-san starts to reposition Kyoko and Sho to adjust for the new lighting. "But I'm sure that as the filming progresses the techniques we practiced will gradually become more familiar to her."

His manager stares. "Techniques? Practiced?"

Ren nods, looking satisfied. "I'm glad I could help her find her motivation."

The other man deflates a little. "It was all just for work?" Yashiro asks, and sounding disappointed. "That's it?" He pulls out his slightly crumpled issue of Josei Seven from his inside coat pocket and shakes it like it's betrayed him somehow. "An acting lesson?"

"What else would it be?" Ren answers curiously, before both of their eyes automatically return to the rehearsal stage, most likely drawn back to it by the warmly playful, entirely captivating way Kyoko has decided to portray Yuuko-chan.

It is so enchanting that for a moment, no one notices the way Ren's eyes crinkle in the corners when he looks at her, or the heartbreakingly tender smile on his face.