Tokyo Ghosts Book 1: Chapter 1, Part 2
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #070 back issue.
Jo woke up with the worst hangover of his life.
The room around him–not his own yet all too familiar–spun beyond his drooping eyelids. He groaned and rolled into his pillow, but that was a mistake; the world tilted even with his eyes closed, the action churning up whatever forced party food remained in his stomach to surge up his throat. He choked the vomit back down, instead burping a foul mix of alcohol and acid that burned his nostrils.
He lay there for a long time, his head pounding, fighting down the urge to be sick. He vaguely remembered vomiting the night before, and despite drunkenly but rigorously brushing his teeth, the foul taste of it lingered on his dried-out tongue. He didn’t want another round of being hunched over Kiyoshi’s toilet and regretting every decision he’d ever made in his life.
When he could finally pry open his heavy eyelids, he noticed a bottle of green tea resting on the floor beside his futon, next to a tiny aluminum bottle adorned with a bright orange label. Not usually one to get drunk, Jo still recognized the hangover remedy.
Thank you, Kiyoshi, he thought as he weakly reached for the bottles.
It still took him a long time to sit up, down the liquids, and eventually crawl out of bed. Kiyoshi’s futon was already gone, assumedly rolled up and stashed in the closet, so Jo forced himself to his feet and lurched out of the bedroom.
The small apartment seemed empty, which was strange for that hour. Jo dizzily noticed from the wall clock that it was just past six in the morning. How long had he even slept?
The orange of the rising sun bled through the glass door that led to the balcony, which caused him to wince as blood throbbed behind his eyeballs. When he raised a hand to block the light, he noticed movement outside.
Kiyoshi was on the small balcony, shirtless as he hopped and then dropped to the floor in some sort of weird exercise. He pushed himself up from the concrete and repeated the hop and drop action, the fast movement making Jo dizzy enough that he had to look away.
By the time Jo pulled open the sliding glass door, Kiyoshi was twisting in a stretch; he seemed to notice Jo and lit up, his overgrown hair swishing over his sweaty face as he panted.
“Jo! I didn’t expect you to get up so early…” The pleasant surprise slowly melted from Kiyoshi’s face, twisting into an embarrassed grimace. “You don’t, uh…look so hot.”
“I feel like pickled shit.” Jo massaged his throbbing temples and slowly lowered himself onto one of the balcony chairs. The cold air of the October morning made him shiver in his rumpled tuxedo, but it sucked some of the nausea out of him, at least. “Thanks for the…tea and vitamin drink thing.”
“Huh? Oh, my sister left those for you.”
“That was Emi-san?” Jo repeated. “Hell, did she see me like this?”
“You were puking and she offered to give you some kind of hydration shot in the ass. You don’t remember?”
Jo groaned and rubbed his eyes.
“I told her to lay off, though. I think she just felt bad and wanted to help, since…y’know.” Kiyoshi cleared his throat. “You didn’t go home with your wife after your vow renewal thing.”
Jo’s memories of the night before were hazy, but he remembered enough. Pounding back liquid courage that didn’t work. Mitsuko’s fake smiles and cold eyes as she made some sort of speech to the room. Jo slurring the three lines he was supposed to say.
And then Mitsuko hissing under her breath to go home with Kiyoshi, because he sure as hell wasn’t going home with her.
“I might’ve…fucked things up beyond repair last night,” Jo murmured.
Kiyoshi paused a moment, as if in thought, then shook his head. “I don’t think you did, Jo.”
“How do you figure that?”
“I mean, it’s Mitsuko-senpai. Isn’t she the queen of de-escalating shit? Her best friend is Miki-san.” Kiyoshi stepped toward the glass doorway and hopped again, this time grabbing onto a bar that had been hammered across the doorway. “Just say you’re sorry,” he grunted as he started doing pull-ups. “I’m sure she’ll work through this with you.”
Jo took a long breath, shading the morning sun from his eyes. Snatches of his fuzzy conversation with Ayase floated through his mind like drifting clouds.
“Everyone seems so convinced my marriage is fixable,” Jo muttered.
Kiyoshi’s eyes widened. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he panted as he hefted his body up and down from the bar.
The dizzying movement made Jo’s stomach turn, and Kiyoshi’s naked torso shimmering with sweat made Jo feel extra pathetic in his sick-weakened body and filthy suit. “I’m sorry, but…could you not do that right now?” Jo croaked.
Kiyoshi jumped down from the bar, breathing heavily, and grabbed a towel draped over the balcony. “Sure. I’m basically done.”
“Do you always…work out at the asscrack of dawn?” Jo asked.
“Yeah, both my sister and me work early shifts. It’s my day off, but it’s habit to get up this early, y’know?” Kiyoshi scraped another balcony chair close to Jo and flopped down, grabbing a water bottle from somewhere under him. “Adam-san taught me a really great work-out from his martial arts training. It keeps me strong enough for the construction site, because man is it easy to mess up every muscle in my body out there.”
Jo didn’t have a single class earlier than noon. What little self-esteem he had left was dwindling by the second.
He sighed, feeling pathetic for expecting Kiyoshi’s presence to make him feel better. Jo had no one to blame for this particular fuck-up but himself.
In the very long moment of resulting silence, Jo rummaged through his pockets. He found his lighter and one crumpled loose cigarette in there.
He lit up and took a wavering drag.
“Thanks,” Jo said at last. “For putting me up last night. Tell your sister that, too.”
“You’re always welcome here, Jo.”
“Maybe, but everyone I know is being real gracious about my…pity party last night.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Getting drunk for that party was stupid, I know. I’ve been such a mess lately.”
Kiyoshi didn’t refute the line, which meant it was definitely true. Jo let a stream of smoke tumble over his lips.
After a long moment, he breathed, “Do you think Mitsuko and I got married too young?”
Kiyoshi’s brow furrowed a little. “I don’t really know what counts as ‘too young.’ You were eighteen, you finished high school. She was already twenty.”
“Most people would call that really fucking young.”
“Uh…we’re not most people? You don’t have any family except for her.” Kiyoshi squeezed a spray of water into his mouth from the water bottle. “If I didn’t have my sister, and I found the right girl, I probably would’ve gotten married young, too.”
Jo winced slightly at that. “I didn’t marry her just to have someone to come home to.”
“I know. But I can see how that would, like…speed up the process.” Kiyoshi shrugged. “From my perspective, anyway. Did she ever tell you why she wanted to get married at that point?”
Jo hesitated, not sure he wanted to address that. When he and Mitsuko had first started talking about it, she’d mentioned how her button-down parents were desperate for her to settle down. Paradoxically, she’d seemed excited at the thought of a whirlwind marriage to a younger man, like playing house with him was some new, untested thrill she could pursue after a youth of violence and questionable trysts. She assured him that she loved him and that was why she wanted to marry him, but he knew that excited glint in her eye.
He couldn’t shake the sense that this was just some experiment for her. Like she’d been flirting with that tough-girl identity in her teens, and now she wanted to try being a hip twenty-something with a permanent plus-one on her arm.
He knew that wasn’t fair to her. Regardless of her reasoning, she put as much effort–if not more–into their relationship as he did. But he couldn’t shed that nagging feeling that the marriage didn’t mean much to her, even if she loved him. If they broke up, she would probably move on immediately.
And honestly…Jo was pretty sure he would move on quickly, too.
Did that mean they didn’t belong together? Jo had heard from Hikaru, in his “therapist” speak, that codependency wasn’t healthy–especially long-term. But it seemed to Jo that two people not giving a crap if they were together or not was a bad sign, too.
“It’s hard to…put my finger on our problem,” Jo offered at last, and it wasn’t entirely a lie. “It might be general incompatibility stuff.”
Kiyoshi didn’t reply. Jo took another drag.
“I’m kinda…cautious. Just in general. She’s the opposite–she dives headfirst into stuff and she’s not afraid of anything. She likes talking or fighting her way out of a mess.” Jo rubbed the back of his neck. “When I first met her, I thought she thrived on drama. And she does, kinda? She seeks it, and then she tries to swoop in and save the day.” He frowned. “She’s aggressive about it. I don’t know if I’d call that a bad thing, but it sure as hell keeps me edge.”
Kiyoshi cleared his throat. “Why does it keep you on edge?” he asked awkwardly, like he wasn’t sure how to help.
Jo licked his teeth. “You remember how she…helped Byakko and the Riot Girls disband after that mess in high school? She said the fight was over and it was time to grow up from gang shit, and she was right. They listened to her. But she’s been cleaning up after that for years, and it’s really not her responsibility. She’s helped so many of them, when I think she should’ve had a clean break and let them work out their own lives.” He sighed. “I think…she wants people to need her. She gets herself mixed up in other people’s business, even the dark stuff. And that means there’s this endless trail of shadows behind her, and it might swallow her up someday.
“She’s not scared of that, but I am. And when I try to explain that to her, she looks at me like I’m some sissy who wants to stifle her so I don’t feel so pathetic.” He took another drag. “I know she’s been visiting Miki in prison. And she’s not telling me about it, which I think is a really bad sign.”
Kiyoshi’s eyes widened. “You don’t think she should visit him?”
“It’s not that. It’s…agh, how do I put this?” Jo coughed out smoke and shook his head. “Of course she should visit him, but I don’t know why she’s hiding it. Does she think I’ll get jealous? Should I be jealous? It’s definitely weird that she’s putting all this effort into so many people in her life when she and I are the ones falling apart, and you’d think her marriage would be a pretty high priority.” Jo felt bitterness rise up in him–an ugly surge of it, like the sour bile in his stomach and the coarse smoke in his lungs. He knew it wasn’t fair, but the misshapen resentment in his heart rolled up his throat and over his lips.
“Maybe she’s not telling me because she thinks I’m a fucking sissy, and I couldn’t handle whatever she’s helping Miki through. Or maybe she’s reconnecting with him because he’s getting out of prison soon, and by then she’ll have already left me.”
A long, painful silence stretched across the air, broken only by the soft chirp of a bird and the faint ka-tan ka-tan of a train nearby. A new wind blew across the balcony, and this time, Kiyoshi shivered.
“Uh…okay. Um…” Kiyoshi stood from his chair, the metal creaking beneath him as he did so. He grabbed his t-shirt from its place over the railing and tugged it down over his head.
After an artificially extended moment of fiddling with the fabric, Kiyoshi finally looked up. “You two are both…pretty independent people,” he offered. “Even as a couple. You’ve always given each other space, right?”
Maybe too much space, Jo thought darkly.
“I mean, that sounds like a good thing? Unless it’s because you’re drifting apart, I guess.” He frowned. “Honestly, I think you should talk to Hikaru. He’d have better advice.”
Jo scowled. “I’m not talking to Hikaru.”
“He’s a good therapist, Jo.”
“He’s not our actual therapist, Kiyoshi! He would need an office and real boundaries.” Jo threw up a hand in frustration. “Hikaru is just Kado’s weird cousin who thinks we’re great subjects for his burgeoning study into the unique ways that supernatural people are fucked up. You should only take his advice with a mountain-sized grain of salt.”
Kiyoshi seemed a little annoyed at that. “We take advice from friends,” he argued. “Can’t you just consider Hikaru your friend?”
“No.” Jo took another puff on his shrinking stick. “Dude has too much power over this group. I don’t like it. And he’s from Kado’s fucked-up family of psychics, which is a giant red flag in my eyes.”
“Do you even want things to get better?”
Jo stopped. Surprised, he looked up.
Kiyoshi sighed, irritably leaning against the balcony railing. “I’ve fallen into ruts before,” he muttered. “And almost every time, I got out because someone helped me crawl out. I know you don’t like to pull people into your crap, Jo, but we care about you. We wanna help.” He hesitated. “This thing with Mitsuko-senpai… I dunno, these problems seem serious, but it also feels like you’re self-sabotaging or something. I think you either need to let someone help you, or you need to dig in and fix this yourself. You just need to do something. You’re not gonna get better by pushing everyone away and wallowing in how miserable you are.”
Jo stared at Kiyoshi a long moment, too shocked to reply. Kiyoshi always supported him, and usually with general encouragement. If he was starting to get aggravated…
I really am pushing everyone away.
Maybe Kiyoshi noticed the look on Jo’s face, because he immediately straightened and threw his hands out in apology.
“Look, I’m not trying to be mean about it! I just…” Kiyoshi gripped his shoulder. “Jeez, I dunno. Maybe that’s bad advice. I’m not really…good at girlfriend stuff.”
Jo swallowed and slowly ground out the cigarette in the concrete below his feet. “Why do you say that?” he asked, pathetically grateful for the chance to divert the conversation.
“C’mon, man. I’m always the one who falls hard and ends up getting dumped.”
Jo didn’t say it out loud, but he was a little jealous of that–at least, of the first part. Jo hadn’t felt that sort of passion in ages.
“You’ve got a big heart,” Jo murmured. “It’s not a bad thing.”
Kiyoshi blinked. His earlier frustration melted off him, replaced with sheepishness.
“Are you talking about your last girlfriend? I know that breakup was hard on you.”
Kiyoshi shrugged. “Kinda. But that was almost a year ago now–I’m over it.” He rubbed his mouth. “I really don’t see her anymore, and that’s made it easier. Breakups were always harder when the girl was still in my life, like…”
Kiyoshi trailed off. When he didn’t finish the sentence, Jo wasn’t sure who he was referring to.
Mai? As far as Jo knew, Kiyoshi hadn’t reconnected with her after the drug war. He didn’t mean…
“Ayase?” Jo asked, a little confused.
“But you two…never actually dated, did you?”
“Wait, really?” For a blissful moment, Jo forgot about his own problems. “When did you date Ayase?”
“It was dumb!” Kiyoshi blurted, clearly embarrassed. “And it was just one date. We didn’t wanna tell anyone because we both felt kinda stupid about it.”
“It was…back in high school. When she was sure things were over with Sachi–well, they might be back together now, I’m not really sure what’s between them these days. But this was a couple years ago, when he was obviously into Kado.” Kiyoshi tugged awkwardly at his shirt. “Ayase and me went to Odaiba. Did the whole typical date routine–walked around, parfaits, went to the beach. I put a freaking flower in her hair. But when we went for a ride on the Ferris wheel…” His eyes rolled up toward the sky. “We realized we had nothing to talk about. We were silent like half the day. She said whatever we had between us was probably just physical, and that wasn’t enough for a real relationship, so we’d be better off as friends…”
The hangdog look on Kiyoshi’s face, as well as the deepening crease between his eyebrows, told Jo all he needed to know.
You wanted to keep trying, but she didn’t.
“Sorry,” Jo mumbled. “That sucks.”
Kiyoshi waved a hand to brush it off. “It was a long time ago,” he murmured. “And it’s fine. She was right, I was chasing something that wouldn’t work and our friendship is fine now. But my point is…I don’t always know when to quit. I think I probably cling to romantic stuff for too long, or ignore warning signs–stuff like that. I…” He hesitated for a moment, as if to say something else, but then closed his mouth.
When he didn’t elaborate, Jo sighed. “If you’re worried Mitsuko and I are clinging to something that’s already dead,” he offered, “I don’t think we’re that far gone yet.”
“That’s good. I just…nn. You really need to talk to someone who’s good at this stuff, Jo. If not Hikaru, then maybe…” Realization dawned on Kiyoshi’s face. “Hey, you could talk to my sister!”
“Yeah! She had some partner back in Europe–they had to break up when she came back to Japan, I think. She doesn’t talk about it much, but I think it was serious and then they had to end it, so…she’s been through something like this, I guess. The worst-case-scenario version.”
Jo leaned back in his chair, his aching body creaking with the metal; he winced as his head throbbed. “I think I need to clear my head first,” he said through his teeth. “And sort out my own shit. My life’s kinda been in freefall since my wedding, and I don’t know if it’s the marriage or just…my own crap.”
Kiyoshi nodded. “Yeah. You’ve seemed kinda…lost lately, Jo.”
So what else is new. Jo lurched to his feet, gripping the back of the chair to keep him straight as the world tilted. “I… Hrrgh. I’m gonna go back to sleep, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure. Stay as long as you want; Nee-san said she’ll cook tonight, if you wanna stay for dinner.”
Jo’s stomach lurched at the passing mention of food. He gripped his mouth and stumbled back into the apartment. “Thanks,” he croaked.
He trudged into the kitchen, choked down a glass of water, and gingerly made his way back to Kiyoshi’s bedroom. Now that he wasn’t drunk, he noticed that someone had left a robe for him folded atop Kiyoshi’s dresser, so he gratefully shed his wrinkled tuxedo and slid on the much more comfortable fabric. He sighed in relief, even if he still felt like death.
When Jo reached for the robe’s belt on the dresser, a wink of bright red caught his eye. He nudged the belt aside to see Kiyoshi’s top drawer open slightly, revealing the edge of soft scarlet fabric crammed inside.
Jo raised an eyebrow. It was hard to tell from the angle, but the bra looked like fancy lingerie–fire engine red and accented with the glint of studs or something. For a moment, Jo wondered if it belonged to Kiyoshi’s old girlfriend and he’d forgotten about it…but based on how it had been stuffed in the drawer, someone had put it there very recently.
A new girlfriend, perhaps.
Funny, Jo thought. Kiyoshi didn’t mention that.
He slowly closed the drawer.
Proceed to Chapter 1, Part 2, page 2–>