Saiyuu no Ryokou: The Continuing Adventures of Yuriko

The Story So Far: Yuriko's back in training – and it feels like it. She's pretty much determined that her co-star is hopeless, and that makes her feel better about the whole thing.

Volume 1, Issue 13

"Red Hot"

"Excuse me, Yuriko-san," the woman said querulously, "I'll be out of your way in a second."

"Thanks," Yuriko said, with a puzzled look. She watched the little woman bustle around her dressing room, scooping up her dirty dance clothes, straightening up the clothing on her hangars and generally making herself busy.

"And you are...?" the blonde said, amused, when the older woman showed no signs of introducing herself.

"Oh! Oh my goodness! I was so busy cleaning that I forgot!" The woman dropped the pile of clothes and other objects and bowed deeply. "My name is Haru, Kitazawa Haru. I'm your valet."

"Haru-san?" Yuriko said, bowing deeply herself. "Well, I'm Yuriko and I'll be your irritating and moody idol. I look forward to working with you." She smiled brightly as the other woman bent stiffly to pick up the dirty clothes. Yuriko leaned down swiftly and handed the bundle to the older woman. "I'm not used to having a valet, so I expect I'll make some irritating mistakes like helping you, at least at first."

Haru's eyes widened and she froze in confusion. "But..." the older woman looked as if she was about to cry. "They did tell you I was coming right?"

Yuriko couldn't remember anything about a valet, but she felt that this wasn't the right time to bring it up. She notched her smile up a candle or two and nodded. "Oh sure! I just completely forgot – I'm sorry for being so difficult."

The little woman began to wring her hands nervously. "I wouldn't want to cause you any inconvenience, you know, I'm sorry if I've intruded..."

Yuriko's smile began to fade. How neurotic was this woman? "No, no, you misunderstand me, Haru-san!" she interrupted quickly. "I'm the one who is being an inconvenience."

Now Haru looked confused. Yuriko took a deep, slow breath. "Haru-san," she spoke in a slow, steady and slightly commanding voice, "will you please be so kind as to take care of my clothes," Yuriko gestured to the pile of discards in the woman's arms, "and bring me a cup of tea?"

"Oh! Of course! Right away!" Haru snapped out of her worried funk and shuffled away quickly, still muttering to herself. Yuriko watched as the short, somewhat squat form disappeared down the hall and heaved a huge sigh as she leaned against the doorjamb of her dressing room.

"I have no idea what that was about," she said quietly to herself, "but I'm willing to bet I see more of it." She kicked the door and threw herself melodramatically into the wire chair in front of a deeply scarred and worn vanity. Smiling nastily into the mirror, Yuriko glared at herself for a moment, then pulled her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. What she needed was a cup of tea and several aspirin.


Several cups of tea and three aspirin later Yuriko was feeling much more herself and almost ready to face the public relations people. She twitched her shoulders and smoothed down her pants. Thanking Haru, who was hustling back and forth in the dressing room, muttering and worrying, Yuriko didn't wait to be acknowledged, but simply left her valet to do valet things and set off for the PR office.

"Welcome Yuriko-san!" The man was like all his kind, pleasant, hearty and patently false. He stood over a table surrounded by more men like him, a few women cut from the same cloth (quite literally, Yuriko thought – their suits were nearly identical) and Mayumi and her crew. Yuriko thought she could see the other idol's eyes flicker as she nodded to her co-star, but chalked it up to a trick of the light. Or not.

"We just want to go over the basics for tomorrow's shoot. It's expected to last three nights." The slick PR man alternated his words between the singers, making eye contact frequently. Yuriko watched him try to engage Mayumi, force her to show some interest, and fail repeatedly. Yuriko covered a yawn with her hand, trying to remain attentive. The man had a tendency to drone.

"We'll be shooting at Tokyo Tower, three separate scenarios." A woman's voice, rather deep and gruff, cut in and Yuriko perked up. She turned towards the speaker - another PR clone in a grey suit. Yuriko caught the gleam of mischief behind the bland facial expression and smiled eagerly. Mischievous was good.

"The first scenario will be individual shots for you both." The woman nodded briefly in Mayumi's direction. "The second, we've dubbed the "shopping" scenario." She turned away to face a large easel in the corner of the room. "As you can see from the storyboard, we're going for a "girls' night out" kind of feel. In fact, that's what this campaign is being billed as - 'Girls' Night Out.'" Several sketches showed two women with bags in hand, laughing, pointing, holding hats to head – all very typical magazine advertisement type work. Yuriko was as unimpressed as Mayumi appeared to be. This was what they thought would sell the tour? How uninspired. Yuriko opened her mouth to comment when the woman's voice continued.

"As you can see for the third scenario, we've got something else in mind." This time, bright eyes fixed Yuriko's and there was the smallest hint of a smile at the corner of the woman's mouth. Yuriko turned with anticipation to see the second set of sketches and found herself holding herself back from barking with laughter. The same two female shapes, now dressed in evening wear, one in a dress, one in a tux, were dancing, embracing even, but not quite, kissing, while Tokyo Tower filled the background.

Yuriko wiped any emotion from her face as she turned to her co-star. "I think it looks fine," she said as mildly as possible. "Mayumi-san?"

There was a pregnant pause, as everyone at the table turned to look at the diminutive singer. Her eyes narrowed and the tension built. Yuriko wondered if a temper tantrum was imminent.

"That looks fine to me too," Mayumi announced with a bored tone, catching Yuriko's eyes with a look as impressively unemotional as her own.

Yuriko nodded briefly and turned her attention back to the PR man who had begun to speak once more, obviously pleased. There was a soft hiss of released breaths as everyone relaxed.

The meeting continued, but Yuriko found herself hard pressed to pay attention. She was getting frustrated with her inability to peg her co-star. Mayumi may have been a bigot, but she didn't act like one. Her dislike seemed completely impersonal and almost abstract. Was she just spectacularly self-absorbed? Or perhaps the young woman was scared senseless and retreated into rudeness to protect herself...Yuriko became lost among useless strands of thought.

As the publicity man's voice droned on, Yuriko found her eyes following the other woman's movements. Mayumi, understandably, was bored, but there was something reserved about her even in her fidgeting. About the time that Yuriko began to admit that there was more to Nakayama Mayumi than she originally thought, she found herself the object of Mayumi's gaze.

For a moment it felt as if they were the only ones in the room. Mayumi's light brown eyes were piercing – and hostile. Yuriko tried desperately to read some message in them, but they remained obscure. An image sprang to Yuriko's mind of Mayumi confronting her in the elevator, telling her to stay away. Yuriko couldn't help but think that there was something more to the other woman's warning – surely her hostility had some source? She refused to believe that Mayumi disliked her so much from sheer bigotry. On the other hand, it didn't seem to be personal, either. Yuriko was fairly sure she had never done or said anything that Mayumi could possibly have taken offense at.

Yuri blinked, and the moment passed. Mayumi no longer looked in her direction at all and Yuriko had the sickening feeling that she had completely, utterly, underestimated her co-star and the damage she could do. For the rest of the meeting, Yuriko simply nodded at the appropriate times, while her stomach roiled with unease.

At last the day drew to a late close, the meeting concluded and Yuriko was free. Politely, she thanked each of the carbon-copy publicity people, taking an extra moment to thank the woman who had presented the scenarios.

"I'm very much looking forward to the shoot tomorrow." Yuriko smiled down at the woman.

The woman moved closer, her voice pitched quietly. "We're all behind you, Yuriko-san." She moved back slightly and bowed, "I'm a particular fan of your last album."

"Thank you so much," Yuriko answered, her mind on what the woman had said. While she traded polite compliments with a now openly smiling PR team, her mind wondered again just what kind of a person Nakayama Mayumi was.