Saiyuu no Ryokou: The Continuing Adventures of Yuriko

Saiyuu no Ryokou: The Continuing Adventures of Yuriko

The Story So Far: A difficult week draws to an agonizing close. Yuriko's ready for some rest, but relaxation seems far away.

Volume 4, Issue 2

"R and R"

 

Late as it was, traffic crawled. Despite the air conditioning in the car, Yuriko felt overheated and drained. She fidgeted where she sat, as they inched along the Tamagawadori into overcrowded Shibuya.

As she removed a piece of non-existent lint from her trouser leg, Yuriko wondered at her restlessness. A few moments of contemplation and she knew exactly what was bothering her - she didn't want to go home.

Lately, her apartment was less of the refuge it had once been, and more of an empty space that simply held her possessions. She attributed it to growing accustomed to being with Midori, but the picture in her mind of her apartment, with its large bath and miniscule kitchen made her chest feel hollow. It wasn't a place to live, Yuriko thought; it was a place to stay.

Yuriko patted her pockets down, looking for her phone, but even as she opened it, she shook her head. Talking with Sayaka might alleviate her loneliness, but she really shouldn't intrude on the girl's studies just because she was bored. She sighed, and watched the car move another five feet.

She could feel the melancholy pressing in on her, hovering just out of reach of her own ability to cope.

Stress was catching up with her, and she knew from experience that there was only one way to avoid it. If she didn't find away to ease the pressure, she'd find herself up too late tonight, in a near-dark apartment, writing terrible poetry. A slow smile formed on her face, with the memory of awakening one morning weeks ago, and stumbling out of her bedroom to find her embryonic song lyrics crisscrossed with editorial notes written by her lover. Not all of the notes had been gentle, but they had all been accurate, Yuriko had to admit, and the smile grew broader. No, she did not want to be alone this evening - she wanted to be out in the world, with superficial people who would not notice if she seemed less energetic than usual, because they were too busy having a good time in front of cameras.

She reached into her pocket again for the phone, but her fingertips brushed something else, which she drew out and gazed at with interest. It was a business card, printed on one side, a hand-written note on the other. She read the note and the smile that had made millions swoon flashed brightly across her face. She shifted forward and gave her driver new instructions, then leaned back and closed her eyes - but the smile did not fade from her lips. Tonight she was going to be surrounded by bright lights and bright people, who would drive the threatening cloud of darkness away.

Tonight, she was going to party.

 

***

 

Yuriko ran her hand through her hair. She wasn't really dressed for this, but with the oppressive heat of the last few days, no one would fault her for wearing casual clothes, even for an evening affair. Well, except Sugiyama, the fashion editor of the Daily News. His insistence on proper attire bordered on the pathological. Yuriko had been his target more than once - he had even nicknamed the androgynous look she favored "lilywear."

Yuriko left the car with a wave to the gathered press, or at least those who had not been able to gain entrance to the gallery. She chatted amiably with a television reporter with whom she had a good relationship. At most, the spot would get ten seconds buried at the end of the news, but Yuriko didn’t mind - this wasn't about her at all.

Although this was not Yuri's first time at this particular gallery, it had been quite a long time since her last visit. The layout of the place was much different than it had been - the rooms were now filled with rich low lighting that highlighted the honey color of the wood walls and displays. Each work on exhibit was bathed in slightly brighter light, making them look as if they glowed with some inner incandescence. Yuriko barely glanced at the pieces on display, keeping her attention on the people around her. She helped herself to some wine and worked the room, greeting every journalist and photographer as if he or she were a long-lost friend.

It was nearly half an hour before she managed to work her way to where the artist stood, obviously captive in an unwelcome conversation. Yuriko threw an arm out, gesturing at the young woman and waved. A harried-looking Ritsuko smiled with unfeigned relief and politely disengaged herself from the young man with whom she had been speaking.

"I cannot tell you how glad I am that you're here," she began, as they moved away from that side of the room. "If I had to answer one more historical question on the antecedents of my school, I was going to scream."

"I'm always glad to be able to play prince and rescue the fair young damsel," Yuriko bowed, grinning. "Nice turnout! How is it going?"

Ritsuko spiked her hair out with her fingers as she thought. "Well enough, I guess - more press than I expected." She shot a sideways glance towards the blonde. "I know it - you don’t have to say it."

"I told you so." Yuriko said with obvious relish. She looked around. "So, do you have a moment? Can you take me around the show?"

Ritsuko smiled broadly, nodding. "I'd like nothing better."

It was obvious, Yuriko thought, that for all her modesty, Ritsuko was deeply proud of her art. For the next few minutes, Yuriko let the younger woman speak without interruption, enjoying the sensation of being in the presence of an articulate and exceptionally talented person.

"And this one..." Ritsuko had brought them around to a slightly taller display, one that came almost up to Yuriko's chest. Supported by a base of honey-colored wood was a glass case, with a Lucite stand. Suspended in the stand was a delicate bowl, no larger than the width of Yuriko's palm. The blonde exhaled audibly as it came into view.

"It's the one you were working on when we visited, isn't it?"

Yes." Ritsuko folded her arms across her chest and watched as Yuriko walked slowly around the case.

"It's...it's...breathtaking. And heartbreaking." Yuriko glanced up into Ritsuko's dark, measuring gaze. "There are no words to describe this." For a moment, the two women locked eyes, sharing a private moment with the little bowl. Yuriko glanced back down at the piece of pottery and shook her head sadly.

"I have to own it, but it should be in a museum or something. It's so very beautiful."

Ritsuko reached out and laid a hand softly on Yuriko's arm. "I won’t take your money, Yuriko-san." Her voice was very quiet as she stepped closer, pitching it even lower. "But it's yours."

Yuriko shook her head again, more forcefully. "No, I can't accept it. Not like that."

The young artist opened her mouth to answer, but just then a nervous middle-aged gentleman interrupted them and Ritsuko was forced to turn her attention to him. She shot a glance at Yuriko, but the blonde had already moved off to engage another journalist. As she pulled the editor of an arts column for a daily paper over to see the little bowl, Yuriko could just make Ritsuko out, smiling and bowing at two men in expensive suits.

****

The last light went off in the gallery. Yuriko pushed herself off the wall and stood with her hands in her pockets, as the middle-aged man and Ritsuko concluded their business with many smiles and bows.

Yuriko gazed outside, where rain was beginning to slap loudly against the pavement. She was going to get soaked.

Ritsuko and the gallery owner met Yuriko at the door. More bows and thanks and formulaic words were concluded and the two women were left alone, huddled under the gallery's awning.

"The car ought to be here any minute," Yuriko said vaguely. "Eventually."

Ritsuko nodded, but she wasn't really paying attention. Her eyes were focused on something far away. The glow in her face was enough to attest to the fact that it was clearly a successful future upon which she gazed.

Yuriko wanted to engage the young woman in conversation, to see that future with her, but her bones ached with exhaustion and she had a headache in the middle of her forehead. Petulantly, she blamed it on the weather, but it probably had more to do with the wine she had drunk.

Ritsuko practically jumped up and down where she stood. Waves of adrenaline-fueled energy poured off her.

Yuriko smiled at her and said, "It was a good night, huh?"

Ritsuko nodded, her eyes bright. "It was great, really. More than I had hoped for..." her eyes wandered to the street. "More than I could have ever imagined, really."

"I'm really glad for you, and I know that Midori will be too."

Ritsuko couldn't take it anymore - the nervous energy that filled her finally won out over prudence and she jumped out into the street.

"It was great!!!!" she shouted, spinning in place as sheets of rain drenched her.

Yuriko grinned as the young woman ran back and forth and spun with joy.

"It was absolutely GREAT!" Ritsuko said, her arms over her head as he came to the end of a spirited pirouette.

"Congratulations," a voice said.

Yuriko whirled to face the speaker, as Ritsuko's arms fell to her side. In the middle of the street, a hundred feet away or so, a figure - a man - stood hunched under an umbrella.

The man cleared his throat and spoke again, a little louder. "Congratulations - I hear it was a really impressive opening."

Yuriko looked at the stranger, who hadn’t moved, then at Ritsuko, who had taken three steps backwards, then back at the man. Even before the artist spoke, Yuriko was pretty sure she knew who he was.

When she did manage to get a word out, Ritsuko's voice was tight. Her fists clenched by her side, her hair flattened on her head by the rain, Ritsuko stared at the figure in the middle of the street.

"Nokoru?" she said.

 

Continued

Saiyuu no Ryokou, all characters and situations copyright E. Friedman and Yurikon LLC. All Rights Reserved.