[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] shardaunei Part 2




Over the next four days, Sho could tell that Keita was growing used to him being in the house. Though they hadn’t made Keita leave his room, the boy seemed happy enough when Sho stopped by in the afternoon to chat with him.

Keita still hadn’t said anything out loud with Sho in the room, save for a few whispers that were only for Mao’s ears. Sho wasn’t too bothered by it. Back in his university days while working on his doctorate, he’d been given the opportunity to teach classes. He was used to lecturing for an hour or longer and only receiving sullen faces in return. At least Keita-kun seemed to like him.

Or maybe it was the dogs.

Another trip to town in the car with Aiba had resulted in the purchase of three different books about dogs. One about different breeds and their characteristics, another about famous pets in history (many of them dogs), and a book of short fictional stories about dogs clearly aimed at young readers.

Sho spent one full session with Keita describing Irish wolfhounds, which had Keita close to smiling the entire time. The boy’s shyness returned whenever Sho held out the book, asking if he wanted to try reading a paragraph out loud himself. Instead Keita just shook his head, gesturing with his hand. “You read it,” he was suggesting. “Just you.”

The afternoon sessions went longer and longer, with Mao having to do less speaking herself, allowing Sho to take charge. Keita would occasionally get cranky, his eyes filling with tears, and that was when Mao would take over, administering medicine or asking Sho to leave momentarily so she could massage the boy’s sore leg. But otherwise Sho felt like definite progress was being made.

He closed the book for the day, leaning forward to smile at his pupil. “I was wondering, Keita, if maybe we could work together in the library tomorrow? I thought we could review all the different dogs we learned about, but it’s easier for me if I can write on the chalkboard. Do you think that would be fun to try?”

Keita looked first at Mao, almost like he was asking permission. When she nodded, Keita looked back at Sho, giving him a firm and confident nod.

“Great!” Sho said. He set the dog book down on the bed beside Keita, tapping it with his finger. “I’m going to leave this with you so you can have a look at it before we meet again. I’ll be counting on you to help me with this, okay?”

Keita took the book in his hands, holding it carefully.

Saying his goodbyes for the day, he left Keita’s room and headed for the library. The desk for Keita had just arrived from the carpenter that morning, and he ran his hand over the smooth surface, smiling. The lesson he had planned was far from elaborate. He’d simply ask Keita to write down some characteristics of the dogs they’d read about together, a way to both have fun and practice his penmanship, and if he wasn’t up to it, Sho had some crayons in his teaching trunk so Keita could simply draw what he felt like.

Getting him out of that bedroom was the first and most important step. The activities Sho had planned so far were a bit juvenile for a ten year old, but putting Keita at ease would be the priority until he was accustomed to daily lessons.

He eagerly told the staff what Keita had already accomplished, and many of them seemed rather surprised and pleased. “If we learned about dogs instead of geometry, I think I would have stayed in school longer,” Ohno-san mumbled, earning a pinch to the cheek from his chuckling wife.

Later on he had a bath and dressed in his pajamas, settling in to read in bed. He hoped that the following day would go smoothly, that Keita would be able to sit in his chair and be comfortable after being cooped up in his room for so long. Sho could feel his eyelids growing heavy, the words of his book beginning to blur. He was just sticking his bookmark between pages when there was the lightest tap on his door.

The clock on his nightstand read 12:16 AM. He’d been reading for longer than he’d expected. Pushing off his blankets and sliding into his slippers, he padded quickly to the door. Perhaps it was Mao-san, needing help with Keita. He hadn’t heard any screaming though…

Pulling open the door, he was surprised to find Matsumoto Jun standing in the corridor, holding his suit jacket limply in his arms. “Sensei,” he said, nodding in greeting.

Sho was taken aback, standing there in cotton pajamas with his long-absent employer at the door. He’d been gone for over a week, and had not sent word at all the entire time. Now he was at Sho’s door after midnight? “You’ve returned,” he mumbled.

“Did I wake you?”

“No,” Sho said. Though he’d been on the edge of sleep moments earlier, coming face-to-face with Matsumoto had him awake once more. “Has something happened?”

Matsumoto leaned in a little closer, resting his hand on the doorframe. Reflexively, Sho took a step back. “I know it’s late, but I thought maybe we could speak privately.”

“Now? You want to speak now?” Sho blinked, wondering if his brain was misfiring because of a need for sleep or because Matsumoto was standing so close. “I’m sorry, don’t you think…”

“It’s been a busy few days for me. Hearing about what’s happened here at the house in my absence would be…” Matsumoto looked aside, almost embarrassed. “I’ve only just returned, I know, but I don’t think I can sleep just yet…”

Sho stifled a complaint, not wanting to disobey or displease his employer, unreliable though the man seemed to be. If he wanted to know what had happened at the house while he was gone, wouldn’t it have made more sense to wake Aiba-san? After all, Aiba was in charge of all comings and goings at Pinetree Manor in Matsumoto’s absence. He kept those thoughts to himself, taking another step back. “Would you like to come in?”

Matsumoto shook his head, turning on his heel and whispering over his shoulder. “Come on, follow me.”

Sho hurried into his robe, tying the sash hastily. He closed his bedroom door as quietly as he could manage, shuffling down the hall to the staircase. The house was quiet and dark, though Matsumoto had turned on some lights downstairs which helped Sho as he went down the steps to follow him.

Instead of ending up in the study where they’d first met, he found Matsumoto in the kitchen going through cutlery drawers. There was the quietest clinking of silverware before Matsumoto found a knife and two forks. They were soon joined at the staff dining table by two plates. Sho had a seat at the table, seeing a sky blue round box tied with a silver ribbon.

His stomach nearly growled when Matsumoto untied the ribbon, pulling the box open to reveal a heavily-frosted cake. “I bought three,” Matsumoto said, not even bothering to ask if Sho wanted some before slicing into the chocolate decisively. “Other two are in the icebox.”

“My mother always said not to eat in the middle of the night,” Sho said, watching Matsumoto put a massive slice onto a plate for him.

“Apologies to her, but this is the best you’ll ever try,” Matsumoto replied, smirking as he slid the plate across the table for Sho anyhow.

Soon enough the two of them were eating quietly, Sho taking a moment to examine the lid on the cake box. It was from a bakery in Tokyo, Ikuta Cakes and Treats. So Matsumoto had definitely been to the capital, hadn’t lied to the staff about his destination.

“Do you always bring treats back with you?”

Matsumoto nodded, having another bite. “Aiba-san, Ohno-san…they’re the sweet tooth type. At least thought you should have the opportunity to get a slice before the other two cakes vanish.”

“That’s kind of you.” He took a healthy bite, knowing he ought to be a little more self-conscious about having frosting smeared all over his lips in front of his employer. Then again, Matsumoto already had a smudge of chocolate at the corner of his mouth.

While they ate, Sho volunteered information without prompting, describing everything that had happened with Keita. Ordering the chalkboard and work table, purchasing books, meeting with Keita in his room. He told Matsumoto about the first lesson in the library due to happen come afternoon.

“Remarkable,” Matsumoto murmured. “You’ve made such progress with him.”

“Well, we don’t know how he’s going to take to proper lessons,” Sho explained. “Me reading to him is quite different than expecting him to write and participate more fully. Mao-san thinks we’ve been lucky so far, that we should just take it one day at a time.”

“She’d know best,” Matsumoto admitted, not even asking before grabbing Sho’s plate and adding another slice to it. He then got to his feet, heading for the icebox. “Is milk okay for you or shall I make some coffee?”

He flushed in surprise, imagining someone of Matsumoto Jun’s social standing making him coffee. Sure, it would be kind of him, but it struck Sho as inappropriate, given their positions. In addition, Sho had spent most of the week Matsumoto Jun had been absent having negative thoughts about him. About his lack of communication, about his lack of interest in being present for his ailing nephew. He wasn’t quite ready to forgive and forget just yet, even if Matsumoto had no idea about his feelings.

“Milk is fine. Thank you.”

Matsumoto poured out some milk for each of them. The cook and kitchen staff would be undoubtedly confused by the dirty dishes waiting for them in the morning. Or was Matsumoto’s impulsive behavior something they were used to?

“Business kept you busy in Tokyo, then?” Sho asked, knowing Matsumoto didn’t owe him any answers. He couldn’t help being curious. Over a week with no word from him and now here he was making Sho eat cake with him in the kitchen after midnight.

Matsumoto nodded. “Yes.”

“The staff told me you are regularly called away,” he said, having a sip of milk and hoping he wasn’t going too far.

“I am,” Matsumoto said, another short answer. He didn’t seem irritated, though perhaps he was hiding it as well as Sho hid his own.

He had a few more bites, letting Matsumoto turn the discussion back to Keita. Sho told him about the lessons he’d already planned, offering a timetable. He didn’t anticipate Keita being ready for any sort of traditional lessons for at least another month or two.

“But of course, if you had other ideas for your nephew’s instruction, I’m happy to listen.”

Matsumoto shook his head. “You know what you’re doing. I’ll trust your judgment.”

“I appreciate that,” Sho admitted, “but at the end of the day, it is your call to make. Perhaps once Keita-kun’s lessons in the library are underway you can visit and see for yourself if what I’m teaching him is what you expected. I must confess, Matsumoto-san, that I am used to parents having a firm hand. That I should spend x amount of time on arithmetic, x amount on reading, x amount on Japanese…”

“Does it bother you when parents do that?” Matsumoto was looking at him curiously, his eyes alert behind his glasses. “When they tell you how to do your job?”

Sho was surprised by the question. “I…I wouldn’t say it bothers me so much as it’s an expectation. They are paying money for my services and expertise, sure, but they also want to see their children develop as they prefer.”

Matsumoto seemed a bit annoyed, but not at Sho himself. “So let me try and understand. Say you have a student, a young woman, who excels at mathematics. She has an aptitude for it that blows you away. You know this because you work with her, you observe her closely. You understand her strengths. But then her parents say that it’s not really a girl’s place to bother with mathematics, and they tell you to focus more on other things. You’re telling me that you’d do as the parents wished without question?”

Sho swallowed, his leg shaking a bit under the table. “The parents have the final say, regardless of what I think.”

“You wouldn’t argue? You wouldn’t try to convince them of their daughter’s abilities?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t argue. I’ve just found that parents have certain expectations and even if I offer evidence and argument to the contrary, they will make up their own minds.” He took a breath. “In my last position, it was the grandparents who believed they knew best.”

“And what did they think was best?”

“They felt that their granddaughters had little need of any further instruction, period. That learning proper manners and behavior was more essential than analyzing poetry or studying algebra. So I was released from the position.”

Matsumoto shook his head. “That’s appalling.”

“It’s their belief. And more importantly, it’s their money to spend as they wish.”

“Sensei, you will find that I am not the type of employer you are accustomed to. Perhaps you’ve already reached that conclusion.”

He had another sip of milk, not wanting to admit the truth of it. Tired as he was, thinking about the students he’d had and the opportunities lost had him riled up. He couldn’t help thinking of the three girls back in Kyoto, how abruptly their continued education had been stolen away from them.

“I cannot always be here, Sensei. Because of that, I have surrounded myself with people I can trust. And people who will be unafraid to come to me with better-informed opinions than the ones I hold. When it comes to Keita’s health, I listen to Mao-chan and I listen to the doctors. When it comes to finances, I listen to Ninomiya-san, our estate manager. When it comes to the house and staff, I trust Aiba-san.”

Matsumoto Jun leaned forward, tapping the table with his fingertips.

“And when it comes to Keita’s education, I am going to look to you. You’ve been teaching for many years, and I barely finished school. Which of us do you think knows what’s best for someone like Keita? If there are books you need for his instruction, buy them. If there are supplies you need, buy them. If you want to teach him for an hour a day or six, the choice is yours. If you want to take a week off so Keita can have a break, that choice is yours as well. Am I making myself clear?”

“You are, sir.”

There was the slightest smile on Matsumoto’s lips. “You’re not used to this amount of freedom.”

Sho looked down, slightly embarrassed by how intensely Matsumoto had spoken to him, looked at him. The man barely knew him, but he trusted him implicitly. Sho hoped he could live up to it. But something still bothered him.

“I must be frank with you, Matsumoto-san.” He raised his eyes, saw that Matsumoto still looked amused with him. “Even though I am Keita’s tutor, you should not remove yourself from the equation entirely.”

“Is that so?”

He nodded. “I still intend to provide you with updates on what Keita has accomplished. And you have every right to evaluate the progress he has made. You have every right to evaluate me.”

“Of course.”

“What Keita needs is stability,” Sho blurted out. “What every student needs is stability. The progress I’ve made with Keita can only continue if the environment and instruction provided remains stable. I’m not going to throw things at him that he’s not ready for. That library, my classroom, will be a safe place where he can learn at his own speed. If at any point you wish for there to be changes made, whether it’s what I’m teaching him or the way I teach, you cannot expect me to change anything abruptly. The trust I am building with him is paramount.”

“Have I not already told you that I won’t interfere? That I trust you to know what’s best?”

“You may trust me, Matsumoto-san, based only on my credentials and on letters of recommendation. But as we’ve really only spoken twice, I do not know you well enough to return the favor yet.”

Sho regretted it as soon as he said it. It was a rude thing to say, especially to someone who, title or no, was far from his social equal.

To Sho’s surprise, Matsumoto actually chuckled, a warm but quiet sound that sent a pleasing shiver down Sho’s spine.

“Then we shall have to remedy that, Sensei.” He got up, taking their empty plates and cups and depositing them in the sink. “I’ll do my best to be worthy of your trust. Good night.”

Obviously dismissed, Sho dabbed at the side of his mouth with his finger, wiping away a few errant crumbs. What he’d just said was enough for a scolding from any other employer, but Matsumoto had done the opposite.

He’d laughed.

He got to his feet, bowing politely before heading back upstairs. Sho was certain he’d never again have an employer quite like Matsumoto Jun.



The first two weeks of Keita’s lessons in the library went as well as Sho expected. Out of fourteen days, Keita was well enough to join Sho in the library on nine of them. The first few times, Keita had not been interested in doing any work or speaking. Mao-san had sat beside him on the sofa, asking him at regular intervals if he felt okay.

Sho largely learned to ignore Mao’s whispered interruptions, since he had been instructed not to make any mention of Keita’s condition in front of him. Other than helping to adjust the table so Keita could sit comfortably before it in his wheelchair, Sho treated him as he would any other student.

While in the library, in his wheelchair, Keita kept a thick pile of blankets on his lap that covered his legs. Pale from many months inside, he was not as sullen or uncooperative as Sho had expected. He didn’t necessarily want to do the exact lesson Sho had prepared, but with some coaxing from Mao and Sho both, he had agreed to at least do something.

For the first several lessons, he spent half of his time smiling or nodding along as Sho read aloud once again from the books about dogs. He paid close attention as Sho drew on the new chalkboard, as he wrote down different words pertinent to the stories. Words like dog and puppy, tail and paw, barking and howling.

In the second week of lessons, Keita agreed to do some drawing. Ohno-san, though he spent most of his time outdoors tending to the gardens and lawns, liked to draw in his free time, and he had often given sketches to him. After a few exchanged whispers with Mao, Keita had decided that he wanted to draw as well.

Before Keita was given free time to work on his art, Sho asked him to participate in a lesson. He asked Keita to draw some of the dogs he’d spoken about, which he did to the best of his ability. Then once Keita was comfortable with the crayons, Sho asked him to write down different words about the dogs. Keita’s handwriting was a bit sloppy, but without even saying a word, Sho was getting a response from him. Just as Sho had drawn on the board, he saw words form on Keita’s drawing paper. Names of specific dogs, the colors of their fur, and descriptive words. Furry. Short. Big. Fat. Muddy paws. Wagging tail.

Toward the end of the second week, however, Keita’s focus changed a little. Though he followed along with Sho’s lessons somewhat, he used his free drawing time in increasingly strange ways. During these times, Sho would often put a record on the Victrola, would let it play and would sit on the sofa reading his newspapers, occasionally telling Keita about the weather, about conditions in the mountains, about what was happening in Matsumoto City. Mao would sit by, her face calm until the drawings started again.

At first the two of them thought they were circles. Keita would cover his paper with circles, again and again. But it had only been practice. Soon the circles had spokes. They became wheels. The wheels drifted to the bottom of the coloring pages and more shapes were added above. It was when he drew what was clearly the engine, a dark plume of smoke emerging from it, that Sho and Mao realized what was happening.

Keita’s lessons for the day had ended, and he was down for a late afternoon nap to recover his energy. Mao and Sho sat side by side on the library sofa, passing that day’s drawings back and forth. It had been far more understandable when they’d been dogs.

“He’s drawing a train,” Sho said quietly, fingers tracing the wheels, the connected carriages and engine.

“Do you think he’s drawing the specific train…the one he was on?” Mao asked, her voice hesitant and sad after so many positive days where Keita had done so well.

Sho leaned over, pulling over a few more of his drawings. Wheels and carriages, always a black plume rising into the air. “He hasn’t drawn anything derailing,” he murmured. “All of these trains are intact. He hasn’t said anything?”

Mao shook her head, frowning. “He whispers to me about the dog book, and he sometimes whispers about your clothes.”

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” Sho grumbled, feeling self-conscious.

Mao smiled weakly, tugging at the sleeve of his plaid jacket. “He likes them, Sho-san. He thinks your fashion sense is quite good.”

“But no train accidents. Nothing about what happened to him or his parents?”

Mao sighed, taking another of Keita’s drawings between her fingers. “He has nightmares, and I’m sure it’s about the accident, but he doesn’t speak of it. Not to me.”

Sho frowned. Keita wasn’t quite ready for any sort of advanced tutoring yet, but he came into the library with hopeful eyes and a willingness to participate, even if it wasn’t exactly what Sho had planned. He clearly liked his free drawing time, holding the crayons tightly in his small hands, covering blank sheet after blank sheet with his creativity.

But what should they do about this sort of creativity? Was it healthy? Was it harmful?

Sho had been planning to move past dogs and on to the bug books he’d purchased when he’d first arrived. He even had a secret math lesson embedded in one of his plans, asking Keita to add up the number of legs of some insects to practice his counting and other basic math skills. Maybe the change of pace would get Keita off of his train kick.

But Sho had a sinking suspicion that even if Keita participated in Sho’s actual lessons, he’d still use his free drawing time to draw the circles and the spokes and the carriages and the engine. Sho didn’t dare take the free drawing period away, if only because Keita was growing increasingly passionate about that time. He came to the library eager to listen to Sho, if only because he knew that listening meant he’d eventually get to use the crayons again.

“Perhaps we should ask the doctor? I don’t want him to hurt himself, re-living those horrors again,” Sho admitted. “He may not realize it yet, but if he keeps drawing trains, he might have an episode. He might get lost in it.”

Mao nodded. “I agree.” She set the drawings down. “But I’d rather not call them without telling Jun-san.”

“Would you like me to speak to him?”

“That would probably be best,” Mao agreed, deferring to him in his role as Keita’s teacher.

For the last two weeks, Matsumoto Jun hadn’t been much more than a shadow at Pinetree Manor. As Keita’s lessons had begun in earnest, Sho had repeatedly asked him to come and visit, whether it was passing his request through Aiba or asking him in passing in the halls. Since their late night chat in the kitchen, he and Matsumoto hadn’t done more than exchange pleasantries or speak of neutral topics like the weather or stories from the newspaper.

Matsumoto always had some excuse not to come to the lessons.

He’d gone to Tokyo for a long weekend, but otherwise he’d mostly stayed local. With his fancy motorcar, he apparently liked to go out on long drives on the winding mountain roads. He’d go out after breakfast and return shortly before sunset, looking far happier than he usually did. Perhaps he found Pinetree Manor stifling and took any chance he got to escape.

When he wasn’t off on a drive or in town for the day, he liked to walk around the grounds. Sho had even seen him from his bedroom window one morning, Ohno-san at Matsumoto’s side as they walked through the gardens, Matsumoto examining individual plants as Ohno presumably described the current state of things.

In the evenings he ate alone in the dining room. Keita wasn’t well enough to join him there, though perhaps it would be an expectation in the future. As master of the house, Matsumoto had every right to demand a full meal service with staff waiting on him course by course. As far as Sho understood it, however, he just had the cook’s assistant bring his entire meal on one tray, waving off anyone who tried to cater to him further.

Sho wondered if it was a lonely life, driving alone. Dining alone. What had Matsumoto Jun given up in Tokyo to come back to his childhood home? Was there someone in Tokyo that he cared for? That would certainly explain why he went back so often and why he stayed for days at a time.

After leaving the library, Aiba told him that Matsumoto was in his bedroom. Apparently a shipment of clothing had arrived for him. Though he didn’t much like being doted on by the staff, he did allow himself to indulge in some aspects of a wealthy lifestyle. Aside from his fancy car, Matsumoto spent freely on clothing. On shoes and accessories and hats.

“He has driving gloves imported from Italy, the finest leather,” Aiba had admitted to him one day. “Don’t make the same mistake I did, asking him about it. He wouldn’t stop talking about the craftsmanship. The craftsmanship, Sho-san, the craftsmanship!”

Sho grinned at the memory, the gentle teasing Aiba had allowed himself behind Matsumoto’s back. He climbed the stairs, holding a few of Keita’s drawings in hand. He wondered if Matsumoto would even allow the interruption.

The master’s suite of rooms was at the far end of the hall, and he knocked on the door. “Aiba-san?” came Matsumoto’s voice from inside.

“It’s Sakurai.”

“Oh. Come on in, Sensei.”

“Please excuse me,” he replied, opening the door.

The main door led to a private sitting room, furnished with the same grand furniture as most of the house. A matching pair of overstuffed sofas, a few chairs, and a low coffee table. There was a cart behind one of the sofas adorned with liquor bottles and glassware. In one corner there was a large standing mirror. Matsumoto Jun was standing in front of it, surrounded by open boxes from Tokyo department stores.

He was in dark slacks and one of his crisp white dress shirts, standing before the mirror barefoot and wearing a slight frown. Today his hair was unstyled, neatly brushed but not slicked with pomade. It made him look younger. In one hand he held a red tie, in the other hand a dark blue. Sho watched for a moment as Matsumoto lifted each hand back and forth, holding the tie at his collar, seeing how they looked on him. “How are you doing today, Sensei?”

Sho stayed back, standing beside one of the sofas. Just past the mirror and Matsumoto’s boxes was an open door leading to the bedroom. He could just make out a large bed and an armoire inside. “I’m fine, thank you, sir.”

Matsumoto turned, offering a polite smile. “Red or blue?” He held up both ties for Sho’s inspection.

Sho cocked his head. “What’s the occasion?”

“Dinner.”

“That red’s a bit flashy for dinner, I think.”

Matsumoto’s smile was almost contagious. “Red it is, then.”

Matsumoto disappeared into his bedroom, returning a few moments later without the two ties. He rubbed his hands together, walking towards him.

“If I’d said something negative about the blue, you’d have chosen the blue, wouldn’t you?” Sho asked, unable to keep quiet about it.

“I don’t think flashy is always a negative thing, Sensei,” Matsumoto teased, having a seat on one of the sofas. He gestured for Sho to sit. “But of course, you didn’t come here to talk about clothes.”

Sho sat, settling the pictures down on the coffee table. “I’m afraid my visit is more serious than that. For the past week, I’ve given Keita time to draw freely. Whatever he wants to so long as we spend the first half of our day doing proper lessons. Now he’s taken to drawing with real enthusiasm, and I’m glad of it, but unfortunately the last few days he’s chosen to draw this.”

Matsumoto leaned forward, his cufflinks clinking against the wood as he pulled the drawings across the table and into his hands. Sho was quiet for a moment as Matsumoto pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, examining each picture with a neutral expression. When he had looked at them all, he looked up at Sho expectantly.

“Mao-san and I were a bit concerned about this. Since Keita has been so eager to draw, we haven’t told him not to draw trains, but we thought it might be worth contacting his doctors, seeing if it’s harmful to let him continue.”

“He hasn’t drawn any train crashes?” Matsumoto asked, his voice shaking the slightest bit.

“Not so far, no. Only the things I’ve shown you there.”

Matsumoto bit his lip, looking through the collection of papers once more. “It can’t hurt to give the doctor a call. Have Mao call their offices first thing tomorrow, just to get an opinion on it. I don’t see any need for them to come to the house and interfere, especially since it sounds like Keita is doing well in the classroom. If the doctors want you to stop him, though, how are you and Mao-chan planning to proceed?”

“We don’t have a solid solution yet, but it was my thinking that instead of outright telling Keita that he can’t draw trains, I would spend more time on lessons and tell him to spend drawing time for more specific purposes. Like drawing grasshoppers or pillbugs.”

“Grasshoppers or pillbugs?”

Sho grinned gently. “Ohno-san told me that before the accident, Keita was very fond of hunting for bugs in the garden. I thought some lessons about insects would go over well with him.”

Matsumoto crinkled his nose. “I’ve never been fond of insects.”

“Me neither,” Sho admitted. “The reading I’ve done to come up with lesson ideas has been dreadful. Mantises and hornets and worms…”

“Save it for your lessons, Sensei,” Matsumoto said, shuddering a little as he set Keita’s drawings back on the table. “I don’t need that sort of science lesson myself.”

“I’ll have Mao-san call the doctor, and we’ll proceed from there.”

“That’s good. I’m glad to hear that he’s trying his best otherwise.”

“He’s doing remarkably well. I’m hopeful that over the next few weeks I’ll be able to have him start some more challenging lessons.” Sho gathered up the papers, getting to his feet. “But I interrupted you, so I won’t take up any more of your time, Matsumoto-san.”

Matsumoto got up as well, holding out a hand. “Wait.”

Sho looked up, a bit confused.

“Will you join me for dinner?”

Sho froze, his heart racing. It seemed like a rather innocent request. Perhaps Matsumoto just wanted to talk more about Keita’s lessons. “Tonight, sir?” he managed to babble in reply, wondering if his foolish attraction was obvious.

“Yes, I’m meeting our lawyer in town for dinner this evening, and you’re welcome to join us. I’d like to introduce you, and Ninomiya’s always looking for me to treat him to a meal. Lawyers, you know…but I might as well treat you, too.”

“Oh,” Sho said, feeling an odd mixture of ashamed and disappointed. Of course it wouldn’t just be the two of them. “Yes, thank you very much.”

“He’s an odd fellow, Ninomiya, but I think you’ll like him.” Matsumoto rested his hands on his hips. “I’m driving into town, so meet me by the garage at 7:00.”

“Yes, sir. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go talk to Mao-san.”

He left Matsumoto’s rooms embarrassed by his conduct. He was behaving around his employer like he had a schoolboy crush, and Sho had long prided himself on his professional behavior. It was difficult enough being attracted to men, expending so much effort to keep it hidden—it was worse when one of those men was the person who paid his salary. If his true feelings were discovered, he would likely be fired on the spot.

He wondered if his feelings were transparent. Though they hadn’t spoken much, it was all too easy to be drawn in to Matsumoto’s orbit. To his smiles, to the graceful way he carried himself. To the mystery around him, the way he so often vanished and reappeared at Pinetree Manor, drawing both Sho’s disapproval and curiosity. If only he could act like a selfish, self-indulgent lord, a hedonist without shame, then Sho could dislike him. Then Sho’s attraction could fade.

Unfortunately, Matsumoto Jun wasn’t that type of person, and he’d just have to work harder to tamp those feelings down.



Matsumoto had already pulled his car onto the gravel drive when Sho approached, finding him sitting behind the wheel wearing a pair of dark leather gloves. “It’s a beautiful night, and the weather report on the radio called for clear skies. Thought I’d keep the top down, but if you’re worried about your hair…”

“My hair will be just fine,” Sho said, knowing that of the two of them, Matsumoto Jun paid far more attention to his hair anyhow.

He opened the door, sliding into the passenger seat beside Matsumoto. It was sleeker in design than the family’s car that Aiba often drove him in. He saw a quirk to Matsumoto’s lips as his gloved hand pulled on the gear shift. “Let’s take the scenic route.”

Sho didn’t know the roads very well yet, so he wouldn’t know a scenic route from any other, but he let the cooler night breeze ruffle his hair as Matsumoto roared the convertible down the drive and away from the manor. As a driver, Sho quickly learned that Matsumoto was fearless, speeding onto the narrow road faster than Sho thought was necessary.

He had the headlamps on to light the road ahead of them, but Sho wondered if Matsumoto even needed them, so confident was he as they barreled around curves and corners. Sho was certain that if he’d been wearing his hat that he’d have lost it by now.

The “scenic” route took them into Matsumoto City in half an hour at Matsumoto speed. If it was really scenic, Sho couldn’t tell. He spent half the drive shutting his eyes every time the car whipped around a curve. They saw only one other set of headlamps as they drove, the backroads eerily quiet and isolated.

They drove without speaking, and Sho felt like he understood why. There were no words for it as the wind hit them, as he inhaled the green and thriving scent of the pines, the crisp mountain air. He could see why Matsumoto liked his solitary drives. He only had to focus on the road, on the path ahead. The road twisted so much that you couldn’t afford to look away or focus on anything but steering properly. It had to be relaxing in a way to have to shut off everything else, breathe in the air and hear the engine roar.

Coming down from the hilly roads, Matsumoto finally eased up on his speed, entering the city like any other driver. He looked over, chuckling. “Sensei, you look a bit out of sorts.”

Sho looked in the rearview mirror, frowning as he set his hair back in place. Unlike Matsumoto, who looked wild and fearsome, Sho just looked like he had groomed himself in the dark. “They’ll still allow me in the restaurant?”

“Oh yes, if Ninomiya can waltz in wearing those sloppy clothes of his, you’ll look like a member of the Emperor’s family.”

Sho grinned. “Don’t lawyers usually dress themselves properly? To appear in court before a judge?”

“Ninomiya rarely appears in a courtroom,” Matsumoto snickered. “He’s content to sit in his office, sign papers, and listen to baseball games on the radio. And of all the people I’ve met in my life, I can say without a doubt that Ninomiya cares the least about what people think of him.”

“He’s that confident?”

“He makes me want to wring his neck sometimes, but unfortunately I’ve come to be utterly dependent on him. And he very well knows it.”

They pulled in at a restaurant on the west side of town, a sushi restaurant with a good reputation. Before they went in the door, Matsumoto rested a hand on his shoulder.

“He hates raw fish, and I picked this place on purpose to spite him. Let’s say we make a wager, you and me.”

“What sort of wager?” Sho asked, liking the feeling of Matsumoto’s strong hand resting on him so casually.

“Five hundred yen on whether he orders only egg.” Matsumoto laughed gently. “What say you?”

“Well I don’t know him as well as you, but if the wager is small, it can’t hurt. I’ll say that he orders something besides egg.”

Matsumoto held out his hand, and Sho shook it. “I’m going to win.”

Wager made, they entered and were escorted to a small private room in the rear where someone was already waiting. They found a smaller man seated with no jacket who started pouring sake from a bottle for each of them as soon as they arrived. He didn’t bother to get up, only looking between him and Matsumoto with a rather elfin smile.

“Chalkboard-san, I presume?”

Matsumoto sighed, gesturing for Sho to sit first. “He has a proper name.”

“And I do know it,” Ninomiya shot back, his voice sharp and lacking in seriousness. “But I think Chalkboard-san is cuter.”

Sho sat, Matsumoto sitting across from him beside Ninomiya. “Sakurai Sho, nice to meet you.”

“He doesn’t know how to play along yet,” Ninomiya chided, shaking his head. “Ninomiya Kazunari. A pleasure.”

Once they were settled in, they placed orders, and Sho withheld his disappointment as Ninomiya ordered 5 pieces of tamago nigiri for himself right off the bat. Matsumoto nudged Sho’s foot with his own, offering a wink that sent sudden heat through him. His employer was a competitive person. And he couldn’t help liking him for it.

Their meal was relaxed and calm, owing mainly to the attitude of Ninomiya-san himself. He didn’t let up, referring to Sho as “Chalkboard-san” in a way that might be annoying coming from a different stranger, but Ninomiya made it sound like a term of endearment. By the time another round of food was ordered, Ninomiya had insisted that Sho call him “Nino” just like most of the staff of Pinetree Manor did.

Ninomiya was also frank and informal with Matsumoto, claiming that “after all, I’m J’s senior in life.”

Matsumoto pretended to be offended by that, reminding Ninomiya that he was only two months younger than him.

“Two months younger, and I’m your intellectual better!” Nino offered Sho a sly smile. “I do have a law degree, after all.”

Matsumoto rolled his eyes. “Does a doctorate in history outweigh a law degree? Because then Sho-sensei has you beat.”

Sho held up his hands in protest. “The law requires a great deal of formal study, so I’d say with our respective educations that Ninomiya-san and I are equals…”

Nino’s eyes sparkled with mirth…and with the alcohol he was eagerly drinking on Matsumoto’s tab. The more he drank, the more unashamed he was to call Matsumoto by only the letter J, a seeming nickname. “You see, J, you see!”

“…but if age is also a factor in your competition, then I’m afraid I have you both beat. I’m a year and a half older than you,” Sho finished, seeing Matsumoto’s proud smile aimed in his direction.

Nino slumped a bit in the seat before laughing. “Ah, Chalkboard-san, make sure our Jun-kun brings you along from now on. I would prefer to talk of things besides his stupid car for a change.”

“I don’t only speak with you about my car,” Matsumoto protested.

“If it’s not your car, it’s money matters, and that’s my job so I’d rather not mix business with leisure time.” Nino crossed his arms. “Sho-san, has he told you about the acting yet?”

“Nino,” Matsumoto replied sharply, the tone at the table changing in an instant from relaxed to tense. Well, the tension was entirely on Matsumoto’s end.

“The acting?” Sho asked, confused. “If it’s none of my business, you don’t have to…”

Nino ignored him, prodding at Matsumoto’s sleeve with his finger. “What was that stage name of yours again? Aoyama?”

“Miyama,” Matsumoto grumbled, and Sho’s eyes widened. Part of the Matsumoto Jun mystery was unraveling.

“Stage name? Just a moment, Matsumoto-san,” Sho said, leaning forward as he desperately kept from gaping at him. “You’ve acted on the stage?”

“Many years ago,” Matsumoto complained, elbowing Ninomiya rather hard, though the lawyer didn’t seem to mind it. “A foolish endeavor, but it was an income for a time.”

“Oh, don’t let him lie to you like that,” Ninomiya insisted. “This Miyama here was part of an actual acting troupe. Not Shakespeare or anything, but translations of the Swedish fellow and the other one…”

“Ibsen was a Norwegian,” Matsumoto said with a sigh. “And you’re probably thinking of Chekhov, the Russian. We did Uncle Vanya one season.”

“There, there, all the greats. Miyama the actor!”

Matsumoto sighed again, reaching to grab another piece of sushi and shoving it in his mouth. When he spoke again, he hadn’t swallowed all of it, not seeming to care about table manners. Perhaps Ninomiya-san wore off on him a little. “Bit parts only. There were no grand monologues from me. I was only a kid.”

“How long were you an actor?” Sho asked, knowing the topic made Matsumoto uncomfortable, but unable to keep his curiosity at bay.

“Until…” Matsumoto scratched his neck awkwardly. “Until I was 29.”

“And he says many years ago,” Nino crowed. “For an actor, you could be a better liar.”

“Would you please excuse me, I have to use the washroom,” Matsumoto said, getting up and leaving the table.

Sho hid a smile behind his hand, watching Ninomiya laugh at the mayhem he’d caused, having another piece of his nigiri. “You’ve only worked for him a few weeks, Sho-san, so I suppose that explains why he kept that bit of history to himself.”

“He really was an actor? In Tokyo?”

“He really was,” Nino nodded. “Not the prestige of kabuki, you know, but there was an audience for the productions. Seeing Japanese interpretations of the western masters, that sort of thing. I don’t know much myself, since J is one of the most tight-lipped men I’ve ever known, but it was what he got up to when his father kicked him out.”

Sho’s smile faded. “I see.”

“I’ve known him for longer than you know. My father was Lord Taro’s lawyer, so I’ve known Jun since we were boys. When everything happened, Jun went to Tokyo all on his own.”

“I’m afraid he hasn’t told me about any of this. I only know what Aiba-san has said, and I don’t think you should really…I mean, Matsumoto-san might not want me to…”

“He was eighteen when he was disowned,” Nino said bluntly. “I couldn’t imagine what he went through. He didn’t just lose his title, but Taro-san asked him to leave. I asked my father to take him in, since I considered him a friend…not a close friend, but a friend nonetheless. My father refused, as it would have jeopardized his position as the family’s lawyer. Jun made his way in Tokyo, joined that acting troupe. Created a new life for himself.”

“Remarkable,” Sho mumbled, knowing this wasn’t Nino’s story to tell but unable to ask him to stop for fear of offending him.

“My father retired when Lord Taro died. I’d already been working for him, and it was Lord Atsushi who hired me on. He had me draw up his will, naming Jun as a guardian for Keita. It was just another piece of paperwork, you know, something all men do. I never even sent word to Jun about it, since it was so unlikely that anything would happen to such a young lord…I was wrong of course. And then I was the one who had to tell him.”

“He hadn’t been back here at all after his father disowned him?”

“Only a handful of times. Came to congratulate the brother and his bride, though he hadn’t been formally invited. He also came when Keita-kun was born, stayed at an inn here in town. But he always avoided his father, or more like Taro-san had forbidden it, so they met in Matsumoto City, him and Atsushi, behind Taro-san’s back. He told me Atsushi went to Tokyo a few times to see him, but otherwise…”

Some of the puzzle pieces were finally starting to fit. Matsumoto Jun, kicked out of his home before he’d even come of age. He’d had the courage and ability to take his own path, to find a new home, to have a career. Not one Sho would have guessed out of all the careers in the world, but with his good looks and confident bearing, he could see Matsumoto Jun being swooned over by a theater-going audience.

Sho couldn’t even imagine life without the support of his parents. They’d argued here and there over various things, but he dearly loved his family and couldn’t imagine being forced apart from them. But Sho supposed that every family was different.

But Matsumoto Jun the disowned, Matsumoto Jun the Tokyo actor…it explained a lot about him. It explained the ties that probably drew him back to the capital again and again for varying lengths of time. Whether he had a lover there or simply all of his friends from the troupe, Sho could understand why being out here in Nagano so far from that different life he created made him so anxious to return.

“He let you in his car, huh?” Nino asked suddenly, puncturing Sho’s thoughts.

“Hmm?”

“His car, that roaring Italian beast of his. It’s the most precious thing to him. He’s certainly never driven me around in it, though I’ve seen him driving around town like a maniac and I don’t feel that jealous, really…”

Sho raised his eyebrows. “He’s never driven with anyone else?”

“Not around here,” Nino said. “He must like you, Sensei. He barely lets Aiba-kun do more than put gas in it.”

Sho waved his hand dismissively. “He said we should meet, so it was convenient for me to drive with him.”

Ninomiya’s face was a bit more solemn, and he picked up his last remaining piece of sushi, swallowing it down. “I do what’s in my power to help him since there was nothing I could do when we were younger. I may tease him, but only because he needs it, the levity. It’s really hard for him. I know it’s hard for him, living in that house, his father’s house.”

“I can imagine.”

“I hope, Sensei, that you’ll do your part to help him too.”

“Ninomiya-san…” He paused. “Nino, I was hired to help Keita-kun.”

“Of course, of course.” Ninomiya leaned forward, meeting his eyes. “He doesn’t know what to do about that boy. He doesn’t know the first thing. So help him. Please.”

“I will. Of course I will.”

Ninomiya smiled at him. “Sorry for nagging you. I just like knowing Jun-kun has another ally in his corner. They’re good people, the staff at Pinetree Manor, and I know he trusts them, but no matter what he does or says, they’re not going to stop treating him as the master of that house until Keita is grown. They’re never going to meet him on an even field the way you and I can. You may work for him, but you’re different in his eyes, I can already sense that.”

Sho didn’t know what to say. But he for some reason felt that teaching Keita-kun was no longer his only priority at Pinetree Manor.

“He’s on his way back,” Nino whispered. “Shall we have a laugh together to make him jealous of what he missed in his absence?”

Sho gathered his courage, whispering in reply.

“Order something that isn’t tamago nigiri. Anything at all.”

Part Three

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