Hotaru smiled. “Thank you!” she shouted in English. The lights went down and she felt herself being lowered by a platform. The world around her became lighter as she was surrounded by white walls.
She turned around and frowned, deftly taking off her earrings with one hand and unpinning her auburn hair with the other after she gave her microphone to a man wearing stage blacks.
She rushed to her dressing room and, quickly and ruthlessly, tore off her minidress. “Don’t do that!” a woman wearing a tape measure around her shoulders like an open scarf shrieked. “Do you have any idea how much that material cost?”
“No one’s going to care about that stupid dress after this tour is over,” Hotaru replied in a sour voice. “They only care about me.”
The woman huffed as she undid Hotaru’s necklace. “And why do you think people care about you in the first place?”
Hotaru gritted her teeth as she stared in the mirror. Her eyes widened when she saw an antique Aphrodite figurine on the table. She grasped it and read the caption on the tag tied around it. ‘I hope you had a wonderful concert. (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑,’ it said.
Hotaru threw the figurine to the wall. “Get out, hag!” she roared at the costume designer, who simply shook her head and obediently left the room.
The teenage girl scratched the table, wondering why Kasumi had such an obsession with antique figurines. She stood up, got changed into a tracksuit and pulled a beanie over her head, finishing off the look with a pair of sunglasses.
She glided out of the building as if she was walking on air given to her as a gift from Futen himself. Her hands were then curled into fists, her breathing shallow, in barely-restrained anger.
She briskly passed the skyscrapers, the moon hidden behind bullying dark clouds. The sound of cars and the repetitive blinking of lights were familiar, but still annoying, just as most things in Hotaru’s life were.
She stopped at a building that belonged to one person, pressing the doorbell and waiting with little patience.
Eventually the door was opened by a butler, who recognised the girl and welcomed her inside, his smile just failing to hide his wariness towards the girl stomping past him.
Hotaru knocked on the door to Kasumi’s bedroom. “Kasumi!” she yelled, adding ‘idiot’ as an honorific. “Stop giving me stupid messages! I don’t need them!”
When Kasumi opened the door, she smiled, flipping her dyed pink hair back. “What’s wrong with them? I thought they were sweet! Aren’t they sweet, Mr Oshiro?” The butler nodded. “I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Do you have any idea what would happen to your reputation if someone caught you sending such “sweet” messages?”
Kasumi look down at the ground. “Do I have to be “Cool Kasumi” all the time?”
Hotaru nodded. “It’s not my fault you chose that persona.” She gave the other girl a rare smile. “Show me your best Cool Kasumi face.”
Kasumi held her head down and looked up, her eyes narrowing. “What do you want?” she asked in a cold voice. Hotaru’s heart jumped for a moment in glee, causing her to cough the feeling down.
“So why do you send those weird antique figurines?”
Kasumi shook her head, keeping her aloof expression. “I can’t tell you that just yet. You’ll have to wait until my next tour.”
“Cut it out. What’s the reason?”
“I already told you I’m not telling-”
“I don’t want to let everyone know about what you’ve been sending me, but if you insist-”
“Okay, okay! I’ll tell you… eventually.” Hotaru glared at Kasumi, who sighed. “I… I don’t really know why I send you those things. I just… I really wanted you to notice me.”
Hotaru’s smile from before had reappeared but was altered to look cruelly mocking. “Oh, I see. Sorry. I don’t date girls. Unlike you, I’ve grown up.”
She spun away from the other girl and left the house, refusing to take the time to see Kasumi’s reaction. A feeling she had not previously experienced pushed its way from the heart that bashed her ribcage to her brain. It brought the memory of what had just occurred to the forefront despite Hotaru’s attempts to ignore it.
She eventually reached her own apartment, a lavish set of rooms with white walls which were covered with promotional posters of herself. The furniture was classic in design and colour, a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, which was painted to appear similar to famous Renaissance paintings. If the rest of the room was not utterly beautiful, the ceiling would have forced her to find another apartment.
Hotaru collapsed on the cream sofa with a frustrated exhalation succeeded by a sadistic laugh. “What a weird girl.” She fell asleep on the couch with a braying horselike snore.
She woke up to her alarm, which was rested on her bedside table, preparing to put its master plan of ruining Hotaru’s calm sleeping face to work. Hotaru’s facial features were now contorted with anger. Her feet mercilessly beat the floorboards until she entered her bedroom and turned the confounded thing off.
She looked at her bin, especially the assortment of antique figures that were chucked into it. She shook her head and chuckled, the feeling from the previous night rubbing itself on her brain like a dirty washcloth.
She decided that changing her clothes would be a senseless task given the fact that she was to change soon. She simply slipped her beanie and sunglasses back on
As she stepped out into the disgustingly fresh morning she saw a hoard of fans eagerly awaiting the return of their beloved idol to their eyes. The fanboys whined in disappointment.
“She must be inside still, right?” a girl asked. A boy shrugged his shoulders, which were tense with anticipation.
Hotaru took this opportunity to escape to the stadium. She waited until she had finally reached her dressing room to free her hair from the beanie.
“Um…w-what are you doing here?” A youthful man with a clipboard in his closed arms asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the intervi-”
“I know that, you twit! You think I don’t know my own schedule?” the man shook his head. Hotaru closed her eyes and sighed. “Where are my assistants?”
“At your house by now, Miss. They were going to pick you up.”
Hotaru gave the man a wisp of a smile, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear for unintended effect.
She pulled the beanie over her head and ran back home, where her entourage had arrived. Her manager pushed her into the house and shut the door after the rest of the team was inside.
“Where on earth were you?” Hotaru’s manager Mrs Kurosawa barked with a ferocity that could rival Hotaru’s own.
“I made a mistake, okay? I went to the stadium thinking there was another rehearsal.”
“You mean to tell me that you weren’t trying to fix your reputation?”
“An anonymous person who used to work for you told the press that you’re impossible to work with. I hope you’re happy. Come up with a response to the allegations in the van or… I don’t know what you’ll drive me to do.” Hotaru’s looked at the floor. Mrs Kurosawa placed a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder, her eyes warmer than they were before. “Don’t worry too much about it. Until now you’ve kept your image under control. I have faith in you.”
Hotaru pushed the woman’s hand off her shoulder but smiled. “Thank you, comrade.”
A few hours of stylists picking which features to emphasise passed and soon Hotaru was wearing itchy clothes and sitting in a puzzlingly itchy chair with one calf crossed over another. She was somewhat used to the concentration of light on the set but these studio lights failed to deliver the excitement that being on the stage brought her.
She showed off her flawless white teeth with a smile. The interviewer was a balding man with large hands and an even larger voice.
The questions he asked at the beginning were highly typical. Not once was the controversy uttered during the beginning. Apparently the audience of this talk show only wanted to hear about favourite foods, fashion choices, details about Hotaru’s concert and other celebrities. She replied to the questions as inoffensively as possible, adding in a display of gratitude to her fans every answer.
One question, clearly added at the last minute, befuddled her. “Do you have any guilty pleasures?”
“Is there anything you like but feel guilty about? Like a film or a type of clothing?”
“Guilty…” Hotaru’s mind threatened to break out of her skull by enlarging itself. She began to attach the word ‘guilt’ to her memory of what had taken place the previous night. “Huh…”
The girl stood up, bowed and swept herself out of the set. Her walking turned into running as she headed towards the nearest recording studio.
“She better be there,” she muttered beneath a growl. She yanked the door open with strength that frightened the passers-by. She asked the man at the desk if Kasumi was recording that day. The man nodded.
“She’s recording in Studio B right now. Have you scheduled a recording session with her?”
“Yes,” Hotaru answered with her fake smile. “I’ll see her now.”
“You musn’t. Like I said, she is recording at this moment. There’s no need to disturb-”
“Cooperate with me or I’ll make sure you never get your hands on a job ever again! Do you hear me?” The man gulped and nodded. Hotaru took a deep breath. “Sorry. I just need to speak with her now.”
The receptionist led her to the recording booth. Hotaru knocked on the window in rapid succession. “Get out of that booth! I need to talk with you about something.”
Kasumi’s face momentarily lit up but quickly returned to a new image. At that moment she was not ‘Cool Kasumi’, nor was she the sweet Kasumi she showed to Hotaru. Instead her face almost appeared grey and gaunt.
She glared at Hotaru as she stepped out of the booth, apologising to the producers of the song. The two found a corner of the building that hid them.
“This better be good, you know,” Kasumi said, bitterness stinging her usually honey-sweet words. “I have work to do.”
“Have you had any sleep?”
“Is that what you came all this way for? To ask me if I’ve slept? I think the answer’s pretty obvious.”
“Sorry about that.” Silence crept up on the two before Hotaru had the opportunity to say more. She scratched her thumbs with the nails of her ring fingers. “So what is it you like about me?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
“I’m sorry. I just don’t know what draws me to you. Maybe it’s because I relate to you. Something about you seems pretty lonely. I thought we’d get along well and be able to help each other out… to, you know, feel less lonely.”
Hotaru stepped back. “That’s it? I’m not pretty? I’m not nice? I’m not funny or smart or anything like that? The only thing you like about me is a flaw I have?”
“Please calm down.”
“I’m not even lonely! I’m fine being by myself.”
Kasumi stared at Hotaru with frightening intensity. “If that’s the case, you could have told me. You could have just said you wanted to be single instead of insulting me and telling me to grow up.”
The feeling of guilt returned to Hotaru’s heart as images of Kasumi’s smile surrounded her mind like a gang of bullies. She knew at that moment that she would have to make that smile return to Kasumi’s face, and that this smile was more important to Hotaru than anything else.
She turned around and ran out of the building. She made her way to the marketplace in search of a stall that sold antique figurines. She asked several people if such a stall existed.
Eventually she found the right stall, which was run by an elderly woman whose wrinkles around her eyes suggested that she smiled on a regular basis. Hotaru began to stammer.
“U-um, what antique figurines do you have?”
“Is there anything you would like in particular?” the woman asked with a voice that cracked with eagerness. Hotaru shook her head. “I think you’ll like this.” The woman wrapped her hand around a figurine of the Japanese Buddhist goddess Benzaiten. “Something about you tells me that you’re in love.”
Hotaru frowned. “Th… that can’t be it, but I think I’ll buy this.” She purchased the item and asked if the woman had a pen. The woman gave a pen to her and Hotaru scribbled a few words on the back of the price tag.
As she walked back to the recording studio, she tried to ignore her self-perceived immaturity so that she could allow herself to remember the day she first met Kasumi.
Kasumi entered the classroom with graceful strides. The voice she used to introduce herself to the class was clear, calm and cold. Half of the classroom grew to like her whereas the others did not approve of her indifferent air.
The classroom was filled with idols of different types, mostly singers and actors. Hotaru had friends at this time but soon they became too busy to spend time with her outside of the classroom.
Kasumi began to show her true self when the two were alone in the class due to the other students’ conflicting schedules. Recess and lunchtime gave the two idols ample opportunity to talk to each other about their jobs and interests.
Kasumi and Hotaru discovered a mutual love of theology. “Do you prefer learning about Shinto gods or Japanese Buddhist gods?” Kasumi asked, passion about to explode from her excited wide eyes. “I like the Buddhist gods.”
“I prefer the Shinto gods,” Hotaru replied. The two entered a lighthearted debate over which gods were the most interesting. When Hotaru smiled whilst talking about Amaterasu, Kasumi commented on the smile’s beauty. Hotaru’s face turned as red like the traffic lights that tell a driver to stop. “T-thank you.”
Hotaru rushed to the recording booth with little care for the eyes concentrated to her. She didn’t speak this time, only handed Kasumi the figurine.
“I’m busy,” Kasumi said. “Can’t we talk about this when I’m done? You’ve messed up my timetable enough already.” She shifted her gaze to the figurine. “I never gave you this one.”
“I know. This is for you. Read the back of the tag.”
Kasumi did as she was told. Tears trickled down her eyes, a broad grin finally adorning her face once again. She wrapped her arms around Hotaru’s shoulders and held her close.
“Thank you,” she said. The tag’s words smiled upon the couple.
‘I’m sorry. It turns out I like you back.’ns 126.96.36.199da2