"Where are we going?" Tadayoshi asked as he threw his bag over his shoulder and began following me out the front doors of the clinic. Today, he was wearing a pair of clothes that had been donated to the clinic that were a tad too small because of his height. If it weren't for that Gucci bag and his impeccable hairstyle, he would almost fit in with the rest of the homeless boys here.
"You'll see," I smiled, glancing over my shoulder at him.
Out in the street, he pulled a hat and sunglasses out of his bag. I watched with curiosity as he slipped the sunglasses and hat on. He shoved his hands in his pockets and followed me. For someone who was in the outside world for the first time in days, he paid very little attention to his surroundings.
I led him to the train station and bought him a ticket. He silently took the ticket from my hand and led me through the turn-styles.
Once we were on the platform, he turned to me again and I could see that his patience was wearing thin. "Really, where are we going?"
I was saved from having to answer him this time, as the train had pulled into the station. We boarded the crowded train and stood next to each other. Tadayoshi took the hint that I wasn't going to tell him, so he just accepted the silence.
We were getting close to the next stop, so I turned to him and made a motion to the door. He nodded and walked towards the door. I trailed close behind him as the doors opened and we walked down the platform side by side.
Together, we exited the station and wandered down the street. I could tell that again, Tadayosi was growing impatient. I also noticed, that for the first time since we had left the clinic, I noticed that he was eyeing everything, taking in as much as he possibly could.
We were in my neighborhood on the east side of Osaka.
Down the street from the station, their was a long arcade full of vendors selling locally grown and raised foods. I made left, leading him down the arcade, noticing how Tadayoshi was looking at everything with unparalleled curiosity. It was clear to me, that this was another first for him.
"Okay," I turned to him once we were a few meters into the arcade. I opened my wallet and pulled a ten thousand yen note out, handing it to it.
"What is this for?" He questioned, holding the bill awkwardly in his hand.
"You're going to make me lunch," I told him, as though the purpose of our being here was completely obvious.
He looked at me, then to the money, before his eyes returned to me. I didn't know how he would react. The previous day, he had all but told me to leave the topic of him cooking alone. I knew I was taking the chance that he might explode at me for bringing him here. It was too late to turn back though; I had already vowed I would help him become a chef.
I bit my lip and nervously threaded my fingers behind my back, waiting for him to yell or run away.
"What would you like for lunch?" he asked after a stretch of silence.
"Eh?" his question had caught me off guard. I had been certain that his reaction would be one of anger.
"You said you wanted me to cook lunch for you," he laughed at my dumbfounded face. "What do you want to eat?"
"Oh," I was finally regaining my ability to form coherent thought. "Anything is fine."
He looked as though he wanted to argue, but he just nodded and turned, looking at all the different food stalls. He seemed to gain some sort of God-like energy and I was having trouble keeping up with his long-legged strides.
I found myself captivated by the way he closely examined what each stall had to offer. When he found something that piqued his interest, he would stoop over closely and examine each fruit or vegetable before picking it up and squeezing it in order to test its ripeness.
"Hmm," he mumbled to himself, examining what must have been the fiftieth eggplant. "I think this one is okay."
He paid the vendor and handed me a plastic bag full of vegetables as he counted out the change. He paid the vendor and with a sigh, turned to me, "I think we're ready then."
"Let's go then," I took the lead again and began walking towards the exit of the arcade.
"Where are we going now?" he asked, having no trouble keeping up with my pace. Walking next to one another, he snatched a couple of the heavier bags from my hands, ignoring my protests when I tried taking them back.
"We'll go back to my place," I replied as casually as possible. I wondered if the nervousness I felt had leaked into my voice. I had never invited anyone, save my parents and sister, to my apartment. Even those that I considered my closest friends, like Murakami and Yokoyama, had never been invited to my house.
He nodded in reply. His silence was making me even more nervous. I wondered if he could sense my apprehension. Either way, the quiet atmosphere did nothing to quell the nervousness.
"Konbanwa," I called out to one of my neighbors as we neared my apartment building. Tadayoshi followed suit and bowed in greeting.
"I've never been anywhere like this," he commented, his voice uncharacteristically excited.
"Like what?" I wondered aloud. To me, this was just a typical Osaka town. When there was an obachan out sweeping the street or watering her plants, you greeted her.
"Where everyone is so friendly..." He bowed to another neighbor as she greeted us.
"Shota," She called and waved. This particular neighbor, Matsumoto Keiko, was an old family friend. I had a suspicion that my mother had sent her to this neighborhood to watch after me when I graduated from university. It couldn't be a coincidence that she had moved in just weeks after I did. "Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
In my head, I cursed her for being nosey, but stopped outside of the gate surrounding her house. "I decided to take a long lunch break."
"Well, you deserve it," She smiled, her eyes glancing over at Tadayoshi. I could tell that she wanted me to introduce him, but I knew that it would somehow get back to the rest of my family, so I kept silent.
"Thank you," I waved and turned to leave, hoping that she would just let it go and ignore Tadayoshi's presence altogether.
"Wait, Sho-chan," She called after me. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
I grimaced, but when I turned to her, I made sure to smile. "Oh, how silly of me. Matsumoto-san, this is Tadayoshi." I didn't know what else to say.
I couldn't very well tell her that he was a patient. I hadn't even told Murakami that I was going to bring Tadayoshi to my apartment. I wasn't positive, but I was pretty sure that it was against the clinic policies for an employee to bring a patient to his or her home. If not, it was certainly unethical.
I also couldn't tell her that he was a friend. Word would get back to my family that I had brought a young man back to my apartment, and no matter what, someone would assume that he was more than just a friend. The rumors surrounding my sexuality would elevate to a ridiculous degree.
Either way, I was screwed.
Tadayoshi took initiative to bow to Matsumoto, "I'm one of Yasuda-san's co-workers."
I silently thanked him. It turns out that there was a plus side for Tadayoshi's uncanny ability to read me like a book.
"It's nice to meet you," she returned the bow. "Take care of our Shota."
We both waved farewell to the older woman and continued towards my apartment. I pulled out my keys. "Thanks for that..."
Tadayoshi nodded in reply. "Why are you always so nervous?"
"Am I?" My voice cracked, betraying me.
"Why do you care so much what everyone else thinks of you?" he asked, leaning his shoulder against the wall near the doors that led to the inside of my building.
I stuck a key into the lock. "I don't care..." I trailed off, pushing the door open.
We climbed the stairs to my apartment and Tadayoshi continued, "I think you do. You're never honest about your feelings because you are so afraid that people will judge you."
"That's not true," I argued, wondering why he was bringing up such a personal issue. I could feel myself getting a little irritated. I was the one who spent four years studying psychology, and this sixteen-year-old was trying to give me advice.
"Really? Then Murakami knows you're taking me to your apartment?" We had arrived at my door by this time, and I was nervously feeling around in my coat pocket for the keys, my anger replaced by my overactive nerves.There was something about the way he phrased the question that made it sound dirty.
"No, but he would have said no if I told him," I countered.
"Would he? Isn't he your friend? I'm sure he would understand."
I considered what he had said for a moment. I knew that his logic would never work out though. Any person would assume that something unprofessional was going on. "You're giving him too much credit. He would definitely assume something else is going on." I said, finally managing to unlock the door. I held it open for Tadayoshi to enter.
"Maybe you just think that because you know there is something else going on," he suggested, passing me and steeping inside the apartment. He removed his shoes, glancing over his shoulder at my reaction.
"Eh?" I spat out, loudly. I was shocked by his comment.
"Just kidding," he smiled brightly as I slipped out of my shoes. He took the grocery bags and crossed my living room. "Is the kitchen this way?"
I nodded, still dumbstruck by what he had just said. "I'm going to change," I muttered, heading towards my room.
I closed the bedroom door behind me, quickly taking off my jacket and necktie. Tadayoshi's words were still playing in my head and I wondered just how much of his statement had been a joke, if any. The fact that he had been so calm about what he had said made me extremely nervous and confused.
I opened my dresser drawer, pulling out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I took my time getting dressed, too nervous about rejoining Tadayoshi after what had just happened.
I knew that I couldn't put it off any longer as I heard him yell from the kitchen, "Where do you keep your miso paste?"
I opened the door to my bedroom, jetting quickly across the living room and into the kitchen. "Its in the cupboard above the sink."
He opened the cupboard, easily reaching into the space I usually had to stand on my tip-toes to get to, and pulled out the container of miso. "Thanks," he turned to me, and stared hard for a few moments.
"What?" I asked, feeling awkward.
"I've never seen you wear something other than a suit," he commented, still staring.
"Well, I do own other clothes," I replied, slightly weirded out by the way he was looking at me.
"I know," he turned away, probably realizing that he had been staring. "Its just that this look suits you better."
I could feel my face getting warm, and I didn't know what to say. "Do you need any help?" I asked him, stepping closer to where he was standing.
"No, no," he shooed me away. "You relax. I'll cook."
I allowed him to guide me away from the counter where he was chopping vegetables. "Are you sure?" I asked, already knowing what his answer would be.
Tadayoshi nodded and went back to his cutting. I turned my back to the counter, and leaning against it, I used my arms to boost me onto it. Sitting down on the ledge of the counter, I let my legs dangle off as I watched him work.
"You shouldn't sit on the counter," he scolded me, but his eyes never left the cutting block so I don't know how he knew what I was doing.
"Why not?" I started swinging my feet back and forth, feeling more relaxed and carefree than I had in years.
"Because your butt is all over where food is prepared," he replied, smiling.
It was hard to believe that I was sitting in my kitchen, in jeans and a t-shirt, joking around with someone who was supposed to be a patient. The purpose of the day was to help Tadayoshi with his desire to become a chef. I knew that me enjoying the afternoon so much was wrong. But being with Tadayoshi, laughing and joking together, just felt incredibly right.
"You're so serious about food," I commented, looking at his face, which was fixed in concentration.
"I want it to be good," he said quietly, and I wasn't sure if he was talking to me or to himself.
I always felt nervous around Tadayoshi, but today it was different. Perhaps it was because we were alone, or because neither of us felt pressured to behave a certain way. Here in my apartment, Tadayoshi was just a guy, and I wasn't his therapist.
His concentration never left the food, which he was tending to with absolute care. It was easy for anyone to see that loved cooking. I'd never seen him so relaxed, his shoulders completely slack as he lifted a pan off of the burner and shook it, scrambling the sizzling ingredients.
I wondered if there was anything in the world that had that affect on me, and I could think of nothing. My entire life, I had done almost everything half heartedly. In high school and college I only tried as hard as I had to in order to make passing grades. I'd never enjoyed sports, or been good at a musical instrument. I was a mediocre person at best.
"You're amazing," I commented, watching and trying to memorize Tadayoshi's every move.
"What?" He asked, confused by my statement. He had been so absorbed in cooking, that for once, he hadn't been able to read my mind.
"I mean, what you're doing. It's amazing. The way you handle everything. I haven't even tasted the food yet and I can already tell its going to be delicious," he turned to me then, leaving the sauce he was cooking.
"Well, I don't know if it will be good," He seemed embarrassed by my compliment. "I hope it can live up to your expectations." He held the spoon he was using to stir the sauce up to his lips, tasting it.
I could smell the mixture of spices, and already it was making my mouth water. I didn't think anything that smelled that delicious had ever been cooked in my apartment. "Can't you see what a waste this is?"
"What?" he asked, again not following me.
"Your talent. You are so good at this, so talented. And you're willing to throw all of that away?"
"That again?" he crossed the room towards me, still holding the spoon. "I told you not to worry about that."
"I'm your therapist. I have to worry about it. I want you to be happy." Tadayoshi was standing right in front of me, inching closer still.
"Not everyone can be happy. I realized that a long time ago. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to, because it makes others happy." He was standing between my legs, so close his chest was almost touching me, and I had to look up to see his face. The position made me feel both excited and vulnerable.
"So you're just going to forget your dreams?" I asked, leaning back, trying to put some distance between us.
"I told you not to worry about it. For now, I am just enjoying this break from life." He put one hand on the counter next to my thigh and leaned in close.
"You're having fun at a rehab clinic?" I questioned. My heart was racing in my chest, and my palms were suddenly very sweaty. I tried to ignore how close he was by carrying on a normal conversation.
He nodded again. "All of the things I've learned and the people that I've met. Especially you."
"Me?" I squeaked nervously, as his eyes traveled down to my lips before meeting my eyes again.
He was raising his hand and I was sure he was going to touch my face or brush the hair out of my eyes. Instead he lifted the spoon full of sauce and smiled, "Taste it..."
The mixture of shock and disappointment caused me to fall backwards and I hit my head against the wall. "Ah! Are you okay?" he shouted, dropping the spoon.
"Ow," I moaned, rubbing my head, and then Tadayoshi was laughing.
"How did that even happen?" he was laughing loudly, covering his face with his hands.
I sat up, rubbing my head and pouting. "It's not funny. That really hurt..."
"Sorry," he chuckled. "Why don't you go sit down and I will call you when lunch is ready?"
I shuffled out of the room, still wondering what had just happened. I was sure that Tadayoshi was going to end the conversation with some grand romantic gesture, but in the end, all he was trying to do was get me to test his sauce. I groaned in embarrassment, kicking the sofa in my living room.
Then it occurred to me that I had actually wanted him to touch me or kiss me or do something. I almost fell over again, paralyzed with shock.
I shook my head, telling myself that I was mistaken. I was just so relaxed that I had confused the moment for something romantic. I nodded, agreeing with this line of thought. There was no way that I had romantic feelings for Tadayoshi. Especially since I barely knew him.
I sat down on the couch, willing my heart to stop beating so fast.
As I thought, lunch was delicious. In fact, up until that point in my life, it was the best meal I had ever had. Living away from home, I missed home cooked meals. I couldn't cook, so whenever I had the chance to, I would return home for a home cooked meal. And as much as I loved my mom's cooking, Tadayoshi easily blew her out of the water.
After lunch, I had to get back to the clinic. I had promised Murakami that we would only be gone for a few hours. I put my suit back on and had to pull Tadayoshi from the kitchen.
"But, I should do the dishes," He protested.
"Don't worry about them. I can do them when I get home from work," I grabbed his arm, noting how warm it was, and pulled out of my apartment.
Both the ride and walk back to the clinic were silent, both of us deep in thought. I tried to imagine that Tadayoshi was seriously considering his future as a chef, but my thoughts kept traveling back to what had happened earlier.
Slowly, the memory of what had happened morphed into a fantasy where Tadayoshi had brushed my face with his fingertips before leaning in to steal a kiss from my lips. I must have been day dreaming about it again, because I remember Maru shaking his hand in front of my face just as fantasy-Shota was tasting the inside of fantasy-Tadayoshi's mouth.
"Yasu!" He shouted, tapping my cheeks with his calloused hands.
"Huh? Wuh?" I shook my head, my face reddening with shame at where my thoughts had traveled.
"Do you want to come with?" I noticed for the first time that Murakami was standing next to Maruyama.
"Where?" I asked, still dazed.
"Shingo and I are going out for drinks," he offered.
"Sure," I accepted the invitation. Anything that would take my mind off of Tadayoshi was a welcome distraction. "Is Yoko coming?"
Murakami shook his head, "He hasn't been around today."
I thought for a moment, and realized that it had been a few days since Yokoyama had been around. I took a mental note to ask Subaru about it at our next session.
We left the clinic, wandering down the street towards an izakaya that we often frequented after work. We sat at our normal booth and ordered the first round of drinks.
"How did the outing go today?" Shingo asked me as our drinks arrived.
I was taking a sip when he asked, and some of the alcohol went down the wrong pipe. I started coughing and Maru reached across the table to pat me on the back.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his nurse instincts taking over.
"I'm fine. The alcohol was stronger than I thought." I lied. "The outing went well. I think."
Murakami didn't question me anymore, though I could tell that he wanted to.
After several rounds of drinks, I couldn't keep Tadayoshi off of my mind any longer. "Can I ask you something?" I slurried, looking at Murakami.
"Sure," He replied, taking another sip, of his drink and inching a bit closer to Maru.
"Not as a co-worker... as a friend," I continued and Shingo nodded.
"If he doesn't have to treat you like a co-worker," Maru began, "then neither do I." With that, Maruyama wrapped his arms around Murakami's shoulders and laid his head on the doctor's shoulder.
A look of pure horror crossed Murakami's face and he tried desperately to wiggle his way out of Maruyama's grasp, picking up the drink menu and hitting Maru with it repeatedly.
"Will you relax? Everyone knows you guys are doinking each other," I began, probably overstepping my boundaries. "Yokoyama even followed you home one night!" I pointed at Murakami, although I was drunk and most likely pointing at a wall. "Why didn't you mention that you two moved in together?"
"I'm gonna kill Yokoyama," Murakami moaned in embarrassment.
Maruyama, however, smiled in contentment. "I told you they would be supportive, Shin-chan..."
"Shut up..." he growled.
"Can I ask my question?" I repeated, annoyed at their little public love fest.
"Please..." Shingo said.
"Okay, remember, I am asking you as a friend, not as a boss..."
I began again, "What would you think if I had a romantic relationship with a patient?"
"ARE YOU CRAZY?" He shouted at me.
"I am asking you as a friend!" I shouted back, upset that he was clearly judging me.
"And I am telling you as a friend that you are going to get your ass fired if you do something like that..."
I folded my arms on the table, and rested my forehead against them. "I don't think I can help it," I muttered.
"Look, Shota. This is bad. I don't want to have to fire you. I am going to forget that you mentioned this tonight. As a friend I will overlook it." He began and I nodded. "But don't make me regret this..."
I nodded again.
"I think it's best that starting tomorrow, Tadayoshi is no longer your patient."
I nodded a third time. I knew it was for the best. The bond that I had made with Tadayoshi was not that of a patient and therapist. It was unnatural and wrong. I needed to put a distance between the two of us. The best thing I could do for him and for me would be to let someone else help him.
This was the first, but not the last, time that I decided to let Tadayoshi go.
A/N: I posted the last chapter after classes yesterday, and when I returned home from a tough day at work, the comments were so appreciated that it made my night and motivated me to write another chapter fast. I really appreciate those who take time from their day to read this story and leave me such wonderful comments. Thank you :)