The last song just faded when they reached the free space in front of the stage where other couples already were enjoying the music.
The first few notes of “As the world falls down” sounded, the slow song in a version dominated by piano and bass, topped off with an almost lazy female voice as lead.
“Okay, I got a problem here,” Yushima declared as they stood facing each other. “Either I put my hand on your back and touch your skin or I place it on the fabric of your dress and end up a bit too low to be modest.”
“And that’s your problem?” She giggled, took his hand and a step closer. “Back is fine. I don’t mind you touching me.” So her back it was. His hand, warm and firm, made her shiver lightly. They started in a sway, waiting how the song would develop.
“So you’re not bartending tonight?”
“Actually I don’t tend the bar at all. You just happen to catch me on my breaks when I hide behind counters all the time.”
He spun her, slowly, pulled her closer when she was facing him again.
“So you’re not a full time beer fairy after all? I’m shocked.”
“You’ll live. I can still get you a beer in most places, don’t worry.” Her right hand rested on his shoulder, with her heels she had the perfect height to look over it.
“What else did you keep from me? I can deal with you being married, but this? Might be a bit much.” His voice was so close to her ear, the warmth of his breath washed over her neck.
“I’d say ‘find it out’ but that’s an empty offer.” No amount of flirting would get them anywhere, only in a better mood for a while. And afterwards she would feel guilty, both for him and Subaru.
“Well, can’t expect you to work your beer magic all the time, can I? I mean, that dress is spectacular, but obviously you can’t hide a bottle in it.”
“Nope, there’s barely enough room for me.” Some strategically placed tape saved her from potential dress catastrophes, otherwise it was just her and a hint of underwear in it.
“I think you have enough magic, even without the beer.”
“That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in days,” she muttered with a wry chuckle, avoided his eyes. They moved over the dancefloor, weaved through the other dancing couples.
“So, tell me if this is crossing a line -” he said after another spin, making her stomach drop. Nothing good ever started with such an intro.
“- but I would like to take your picture.”
“My picture? Like – like what? Portrait? Nudes?” She leaned back to be able to look into his eyes, found them sparkling, the corners crinkled by his wide grin.
“You’d want me to take nudes of you?”
“No, you – I definitely don’t want that. You just made a pretty strange suggestion.” A short shake of her hair, a burst of air out of her nose dismissed any interest in getting her picture taken in her birthday suit by him.
“Well, in that case I’m glad I’m actually talking about a portrait. Keep your clothes on, all I want is your face. What do you say?”
A few questions crossed her mind, mostly ‘Why?’ and ‘Does he ask that every woman he flirts with?’ Out of her mouth came a statement, though, not a question.
“I don’t think my husband would like that.” Once again he spun her, caught her when she came back with too much momentum.
“Why not? It’s strictly professional, I promise. You get to see the picture before I publish it. Heck, if he’s that wary you can bring him to the photo shooting. Might be better anyway.”
Her eyebrows knitted in confusion she stared at him.
“It’s your smile, okay? There’s something in your smile… I can’t even describe it. All I know is that I want to capture it ever since I saw it for the first time. See? Nothing shady.”
“My smile?” How did she smile? Her face muscles seemed unable to remember the correct position, put in the spot like this. “Yeah, I don’t think my husband could help with it at the moment.” She pressed her lips together, hid her face against his shoulder.
“What’s wrong? Shouldn’t he be the one to make you smile the most?” Again his breath tickled the loose hairs, fanned her neck. She stiffened in his hold, ramrod instead of pliant.
“Thank you for the dance, but I have to go back to work now.”
“Huh? Did I say something wrong?”
A curt shake of her head and she stepped back, out of his arms and into reality.
“Congratulations on winning the award, Yushima-san. I was rooting for you.” She bowed politely, turned on her heel and made her way towards Liana without looking back.
“What’s wrong? Did he do anything to you?” Alarmed by the stiffness of Jazz’s back and her rigid expression Liana took a step towards her.
Jazz shook her head, kept walking until she reached a small door leading to some office space they used as storage for the event, Liana hot on her heels.
Once the door was closed behind them Jazz slumped down on a crate, head in her hands.
“I’m so – so stupid…” A frustrated groan and she inhaled sharply, ran her hands over her cheeks, wiped her forehead. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
“You sure? Because it doesn’t look like you’re okay.” Arms crossed in front of her Liana stared at Jazz, concern and anger furrowing her brow.
“Do you know that? When someone makes a comment in passing, seemingly casual points out something and suddenly you are like: ‘Yeah, wait. That’s my problem right now!’.”
Liana tilted her head, waited for more context. “No. ‘Someone’ and ‘Something’ are a bit too vague for me to relate to.” She took a seat on a desk, crossed her legs, tapped one foot in the air.
“He should make me smile, right? Not make me worry and sneak around on my tiptoes all the time. He used to, I mean, that was part of why I fell for him. He made me happy, made me smile more than anyone else.”
From her sleeve Liana pulled a tissue, handed it to Jazz who wiped her nose. “So you actually fell for that photographer, huh? And I knew you were too into him. All that smiling and glowing…”
The statement was almost an accusation, laced with disappointment and bitterness. Jazz scoffed, choked on her own sobs.
“What? No! I’m talking about Subaru! Dammit, losing Mizuki has changed him and now it’s all gloomy and cold at home. I’m not sure how much longer I can take this. I just want my husband back.” Jazz wiped her cheeks with the tissue, stained it with black streaks of mascara.
Two deep breaths later Jazz calmed down, bit the tears back.
“Sorry, I didn’t want to get all mushy and emotional. It’s just – I don’t know what to do. I offered him to listen and comfort him, he didn’t want that. I try to give him the time and space he seems to need and now we only drift further apart. Everything I do is wrong and I’m running out of options.” Either being selfish or clingy and overbearing – was there no alternative?
“I need some middle course but can’t find it.” Jazz wiped her face with her hands, checked them for makeup smudges. “How bad is it?”
“Not bad at all.” With a fresh tissue Liana dabbed just under Jazz’s eyes, biting her lips. “Have you tried talking to him? About what this does to you? He should know how much this affects you.”
“I don’t want to burden him any further, but I guess I can’t keep going like this.” Jazz stood up, shook her hands and tilted her head once right and left.
“Okay, let’s finish this job. I’ll take care of my private problems afterwards.”
“No, I got this. You go home or stay in here a bit longer, I don’t care. From here on the event will be smooth sailing, don’t worry. You need a break.” One hand raised Liana stopped Jazz from objecting and squared her shoulders. “We can’t have you run away crying every time a guest says something to you.”
It was past midnight when Jazz came home into an empty apartment. No text, no note told her where Subaru was; she figured he had another nightshift. After a shower she went to bed, wondering how they had gone from happily married to practical strangers in just two weeks.
After an event that took as long as the award show she only had to get to the office at noon, but Subaru didn’t come home during her extended breakfast. She left him some food on a plate and decided to take a short trip to visit Katsuragi.
“Sergeant Fujiwara, Lieutenant Goto, we found out some interesting details regarding that vessel you investigate.” Captain Ishigami handed Miho a report, watched her read it.
“A guest? Like, a passenger? On a freight ship?”
“Not that uncommon. Nowadays with all those cruises there are still some people who want to travel off the usual tourist paths. It’s often cheaper, too,” Goto explained, took the report from his wife and gave it a read.
“Okay, but it looks as if it’s the same passenger, several times. So either it’s someone related to a crew member or…” She let her sentence trail off, looked at Goto with her eyebrows raised.
“Or it’s someone who wants to keep tabs on the ship and its cargo. We got a name?”
Ishigami flashed them a tight smile. “Indeed, we have. You look into this. Any connection is immediately reported back to me.”
“Yes, sir,” both assured, waited until he had left with a short nod before they stormed back to their computers.
“I do the background check,” Miho announced and typed furiously.
“I match the trips the person took on the ship with our schedule of suspected illegal shipments.” Goto’s typing speed matched hers, together they tapped into databases and reports until they ran out of material in the late afternoon.
Jazz set her purse down, kicked off her heels and sighed when the pressure on her feet disappeared. Back home it was socially accepted for women to wear whatever kind of shoes they liked, just for some occupations there was specific footwear. She had learned early that Japan had different rules. Going to work in flats? Or even sandals? Unthinkable. Heels were part of the office lady uniform and since Jazz was already sticking out, as a pale blonde European, she didn’t want to appear rude by ignoring these rules.
Still, she was glad when she could slip out of her heels in the evening.
Barefooted she trudged into the kitchen, put on the kettle for some tea and opened the fridge to see what she could make for dinner. The empty cup and a used plate in the sink told her Subaru had at least eaten his breakfast – at some point before 6pm.
She slipped out of her shift dress, made her way into the bedroom to change into something casual. A suit was lying on the bed, the note on top of it only said ‘dry cleaner’s’. It crumbled with a satisfying sound in her fist, landed in the waste bin next to her drawer.
“That’s it.” Time for wine and pizza.
Wedding magazines piled up on the coffee table, the half empty bottle of red wine and the half eaten pizza, still in its box, were forgotten while Jazz browsed through some pictures on her laptop. Subaru and Jazz at the beach, Subaru and Jazz at their wedding day, Subaru alone, sleeping on the couch. Miho, Goto and Subaru around a table laden with food. Jazz and Miho dressed in yukatas for Tanabata. Every picture of Jazz showed her with varying degrees of a smile. It was nothing special, her smile. Lips drawn up, the corners of her eyes crinkled slightly. Sometimes her nose was also wrinkled, sometimes the dimple in her left cheek was showing. There wasn’t the one true smile, she figured.
Fueled by the wine she searched his name in her browser again. Yushima Jinpachi. Photographer, traveler, hottie. There was barely gossip about him, nothing indicated his offer could have been shady. She clicked at one article about the award event. There he was, in his suit and with the hair tied into the usual ponytail, the award in his hand. Was it strange for him to get his photo taken by some reporter?
Her bosses would be pleased with the media coverage, every article was praising the event, pictures showed the decorations and band, people smiling and having fun.
For Jazz it was just another job well done. No one would remember it tomorrow, there would be a new job to care of, and another after that. In between she would come home to a husband who hid from her.
Her glass trembled when she set the laptop down on the table with a bit too much force. Another night shift. Three weeks of night shifts, of only fleeting contact, texts and barely ever a call. No reason for her to smile.
She downed the glass, the wine was tart and heavy. Made her careless. Stupid.
Setting up an email account with a neutral name was easy and quickly done. Sending the email was a bad idea. But it also was easy and quickly done.
“Take my picture. I want to see my smile from your perspective. Your personal beer fairy.”
The cover of the laptop closed with a soft click. Jazz exhaled, took her glass and the bottle into the kitchen and got ready for bed.
The apartment door slammed around 2 am, startled her out of muddled dreams. If this was an intruder they didn’t do a great job concealing their presence. So it must have been her husband. She crawled out of bed, padded towards the door but jumped when this was slammed open, too.
“Are you snooping on me?” His tie was askew, his hair a mess.
“W-what? No… what – what’s this?” Sleep still clung to her, with heavy eyelids and a tired brain she stared at him, had troubles focusing.
“You came to Katsuragi and asked him to change my shifts? You went behind my fucking back and tattled to my boss?” He ran a hand through his hair, paced in front of her. Blocked the door.
“I didn’t tattle and I didn’t snoop. I just dropped by and chatted with Katsuragi because I figured it must be hard for him, too. And yes, I mentioned the number of night shifts you’re pulling because I worry about you and your health. I also asked him if you were talking to him about losing Mizuki because you won’t talk to me or Goto about it. Is that a problem? That I worry about my husband?” Getting yelled at worked better than coffee to wake her up, it drew her anger and frustration right up to the top of her head, made it spill out of her mouth without a filter.
“Worry? More like trying to control everything. I will talk when I’m ready to talk.” He snorted, crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Sure, and in the meantime you keep running from me? Don’t you even think for one second I don’t notice what you’re doing, Ichiyanagi Subaru. I know you for years already, and so far you never, never before ignored me for a whole week, let alone three.” Her voice shrilled through the bedroom, echoed off the walls. “I have no idea what you are punishing me for, but I’m sick of it. You want to go on like this? Well, don’t be surprised if you feel ready to finally talk and have to find out that there’s no one left to listen.” The trembling of her hands crept into her voice, she kept clenching and unclenching her fists, fought against the maelstrom of emotions pulling at her, dragging her towards a dark place and words she wouldn’t be able to take back once she said them.
“Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?” His hands dropped to his sides only to end up on his hips. Straightened up to his full height, taller by a head than Jazz, he glared at her.
“It’s only a threat if I don’t plan on acting on it.” She choked on her words, her throat tight and heart hammering in her chest. This wasn’t the man she had married, this was a stranger. And he was scaring her.
“Just so you know, not the whole world revolves around you,” he hissed, eyes widening when she flinched.
“I know. And right now I don’t even play a role in your world. Not even as an extra.” A careful step back, another one and she bumped against the bed. “But whatever you choose to do, it also affects me. I’m your wife, Subaru! I’m part of your life, no matter what.” And she had failed. Failed him, their marriage, her vows. She couldn’t support him, couldn’t be there for him when he needed her the most. Because she didn’t know how.
Tears forced their way from her eyes down her cheeks.
“Call me selfish for wanting my husband back, our life back. This – this isn’t us. You can barely look at me and I – it hurts when you turn your back on me like this. Do you know when you last just kissed me? Because I can’t remember. And I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to be in the same room with you when we can’t even talk. Or touch. When you just ignore me. I can’t take that. I just can’t.” Sobs and more tears. So many tears.
“Calm down.” His shoulders sagged with his exhale, he rubbed his face with both hands. “Stop crying already.” He didn’t offer her an explanation but at least a tissue. The bed dipped when he sat down, he tugged at her hand so she joined him. Clung to him.
“I – I didn’t know this was so hard on you.” His hand ran up and down her back, over warm skin and the soft fabric of her nightgown. “It’s just – I have some things to figure out.”
Frantic gulps of air filled her lungs with his scent, the usual mix of his cologne and shampoo. And something else. Sharp and bitter was the lingering stench of smoke, permeated his hair and clothes.
“I get this is hard,” she pressed out, hiccuped once. “I miss Mizuki, too. Must be worse for you. All the anger and frustration – I get that. But he’s gone now and we are still here. Only that you are not. You are trapped somewhere else, far away from me and that scares the hell out of me.” A dark place where she couldn’t reach him. “Maybe… maybe you should talk to a professional. To deal with your grief.” There were psychologists and grief counselors, as a cop he had a right to see one. As a man he probably refused to do so.
“That’s – yeah, Mizuki’s death is part of the problem. But it’s not all.” The hand on her back trembled. Jazz sat up, wiped her face. He was talking. Finally he was talking and she didn’t care what it took to get him there.
“What else is the problem? Baby, you know you can talk to me about everything. I will just listen, I promise I won’t even interrupt you. Keeping it in won’t help you.” Kneeling on the bed next to him she implored him to trust her, prayed for this to be the moment to mend whatever had been broken between them. “I can’t understand it if you don’t tell me. And I can’t help you until I understand.” Both her hands enveloped his, held it tightly.
He looked tired. Dark circles under his eyes, the frown etched into his face. She wanted to take his burden, share it with him. Make him smile again. Have him back.
“After the incident – after Mizuki got shot…” His breathing was shallow, his words slow. “Things were strange. Everyone was shocked, some cried, some were just silent.” He licked his lips, shook his head. His free hand joined their clasped ones, added warmth and pressure. “I was – numb. Functioned. Ordered the search for the attacker, made sure Fukuhara and his wife were safe.”
His grip on her hands was bordering painful. She wouldn’t interrupt him, though, silently listened to his words.
“Went to see how my team was doing.” He whispered, head hanging low. “I – I slept with Takamura.”
The alarm clock showed 2:21 am in bright red numbers. Jazz would remember it later as the time her heart broke.