[translation] Back Stage!! 2, Ch. 6 part 327
Type: Novel Translation
Title: Back Stage!!, Vol. 02
Series: Love Stage!!
Author/Circle: Eiki Eiki, Amano Kazuki
This time: Rei meets up with a friend from his high school years, and his stalker issues escalate. [WARNING: This entire chapter will deal with stalking and similar potentially triggering themes. If you’re uncomfortable with this type of content, you may want to skip Chapter 6 in its entirety or consider reading the summaries instead (parts 1 and 2)]
Feel free to check out the book in-progress on Pressbooks!
Chapter 6 (cont.)
The next day, when Rei arrived at work, he steeled himself and began his duties as if nothing were amiss. He’d taken care to survey his surroundings with more wariness than usual on the way to the office, but he hadn’t noticed anyone following him. Today was a weekday, though, so perhaps his stalker was someone who worked during the week.
Still, he doubted that would foil this creep for long…
This person had been a student, just like Rei, back then—but over a decade, it was hardly strange for them to now be a working adult.
It was annoying that all Rei could do right now was continue living his life, taking care not to give this person any chances to sneak up on him, and wait to be approached. He’d never been the patient type, after all. It was admittedly quite difficult to let his nerves build up, slowly but surely, not making any moves.
“It’d be nice if we could resolve this quickly, but…” he muttered to himself—when the office phone rang, with the caller ID displaying a number he didn’t recognize.
He was stricken for a moment, before recalling that this phone line was on record as the office’s main line. Anyone could be calling at any time, so it was pointless to stay on-edge.
“Yes, you’ve reached SenaPro.”
”Hello, I’m Mitsuzuka. May I ask if Sagara-san is available?”
“Of course, I’m Sagara.” His response was delivered in a clear, bright tone, but he couldn’t immediately place the name ‘Mitsuzuka’, and he began to comb his memory. However…
”Ah, Rei! Wow, it’s been forever! It’s me, remember! Mitsuzuka Toshihiko. Ring any bells? Back in high school…”
At this, the fog finally lifted, and memories came flooding back. “Ah! Mitsuzuka-san!” he responded brightly—for he remembered now. If he recalled correctly, their meeting had been just as Mitsuzuka said: when Rei was in high school. He’d often run away from home back then, bouncing between houses of friends and acquaintances and even total strangers, and Mitsuzuka had been one who’d frequently hosted him. They’d met at some bar or drinking establishment and hit it off immediately, and Rei recalled presuming upon his kindness quite often.
Mitsuzuka had already been a working adult at the time, so he’d treated Rei to delicious meals and bought him new outfits, and given how kind the man himself had been, Rei had felt quite comfortable hanging out at his place. He wouldn’t be surprised if Mitsuzuka’s home had been the place he stayed over at the most during that time of his life.
But after Rei’s mother had died, Mitsuzuka had simply become one of the many people Rei had cut off contact with.
“It has indeed been some time. What brought you to call me?”
”Well, I happened to catch you on TV the other day, and it just brought back so many memories. I thought maybe I’d be able to get ahold of you if I called this number, so I gave it a shot…but wow, you remembered me! I’m glad I called.”
The lively tone in his voice boosted Rei’s mood as well. “Ah, I see! Thank you very much, then. I’ve fallen out of touch of late, not bothering to say hello or thank you or anything…”
”Nah, it’s fine. I’m sure you’ve got your reasons.” Mitzuzuka accepted Rei’s apology immediately, with a gentleness unchanged from years prior. ”I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to since then, though. Can we maybe meet up somewhere? It’s been so long, it’d be great to chat while we have some dinner.”
The invitation, delivered as such, was difficult to turn down, given how ungrateful Rei had been. Of course, there was more reason to accept that just that: Mitsuzuka had gone out of his way to contact Rei, and a desire to resurrect their old friendship welled up within.
“That sounds nice…” he began, considering his plans for the day. His work schedule was packed as usual, but he could probably squeeze in some time for a meal. “Then—my apologies it’s on such short notice, but how about tonight?”
”I’m good any time.”
They discussed a time to meat and a restaurant, and after exchanging cell phone numbers, Rei hung up.
“Was that a friend?”
“Eh? Oh, yes—it was.” Rei nodded at the question from Satou in Accounting. “An old…friend from the past, I suppose. Apparently he noticed me when I showed up on-screen at Izumi-san’s press conference the other day.”
“Oh, I see! Well you certainly seem to be in a good mood. That may be the first time I’ve ever heard you use ‘ore’ to describe yourself outside of when you’re really angry!” The remark was delivered with an amused chuckle, and Rei felt a bit embarrassed.
He knew he wasn’t being censured, but he wrapped up the conversation with an apology for using the phone for personal business and returned to his work.
Still… He’d expected nothing but hostility for his actions—but it seemed this sort of reaction from an old friend after a long time was possible as well. This knowledge had him feeling a bit bubbly with happiness—when the phone rang again.
The display this time showed no number at all. Despite the uneasy feeling, he lifted the receiver. “Yes, this is SenaPro—”
A man’s soft snickering interrupted him, and Rei instantly fell silent.
“…Who is this?” But the laughter continued despite his furrowed brows. When the caller failed to speak actual words, Rei hung up after a moment.
“A crank call?”
“Ah—yes, it seems so.” Rei replaced the receiver with a wry grin. Crank calls weren’t all that uncommon, but the timing of this one…
’The one who sent me that letter…?’
It might have been someone else—but he couldn’t help suspecting, and once again, a heavy sense of foreboding draped itself over Rei.
First a letter, and now a phone call… Should he see this as an escalation?
A phone rang again—but this time, it wasn’t the office phone but rather Rei’s personal cell. After a moment’s shock, he checked the display and realized it was Shougo, which settled his nerves.
“Hello? What is it?”
”So, today? Do I get my reward?”
Rei suppressed a smile at that being the first thing out of Shougo’s mouth. There was just no helping this guy, it seemed, but he quickly recalled the plans he’d just made moments before. “Ah…sorry, I’ve got a prior engagement tonight.” It wasn’t an excuse this time—but in truth, his plans with Shougo had been made earlier than those with Mitsuzuka. He felt a bit guilty, seeing as he was the one who kept putting things off with Shougo.
”Oh, I see… Then when would be good?”
Rei groped for a response. “Uh… I’ve been kind of busy lately…” Which wasn’t a lie, but he wasn’t so busy he couldn’t make some time. However, when he remembered the letter, he hesitated to meet with Shougo for the kind of activities he was hoping for. It would be best for Shougo if they didn’t interact until this matter was resolved. “It’s looking like it’ll be difficult for a while yet. I’ll let you know when I’ve settled my schedule.”
”…All right. I’ll be waiting, then!” He sounded a bit disappointed, but he wrapped up the conversation brightly and hung up.
Rei stared at his cell phone screen for a moment after the call ended, sighing. How long would he be able to put off Shougo’s ‘reward’ like this? If he didn’t hurry up and resolve this issue, Shougo would just start going on and on again about how I’m low on Rei! and Let me get a Rei-charge! and If I don’t, I can’t write songs!
“I have to do something…” One way or another, I needed to solve this problem as quickly as possible.
That evening, following a flood of work, Rei wound up arriving at the restaurant five minutes later than their agreed upon time—though at least he’d managed to contact Mitsuzuka to let him know he’d be a bit late. He had been a bit embarrassed, though, by Mitsuzuka’s confession of surprise that Rei would contact him to let him know that sort of thing. It was true that, in the past, he’d never bothered to call even when he wasn’t going to bother showing up at all, let alone when he would just be late. Meeting up like this with someone who knew that side of him felt a bit strange: both awkward as well as a little comforted, really.
“Mitsuzuka-san is…” He glanced around the chic, dimly lit restaurant, but Mitsuzuka spotted him first and raised his hand to catch Rei’s attention. He was a bit older now than Rei remembered, but it was a comfortingly familiar face.
“Hey there, Rei.”
He was probably in his mid-30s by now, and he looked more accustomed to his suits now than he had in the past. Mitsuzuka had only been perhaps one or two years in the workforce before, and realizing that Rei was now older than Mitsuzuka had been back then moved him deeply.
“It’s been ages,” Mitsuzuka grinned—and he really hadn’t changed a bit. He’d always been a man with a gentle—albeit a bit troubled—smile, ever gentle and kind with Rei. “I’m practically going gray here—and you’re as beautiful as ever,” he complimented as they toasted to their reunion, and Rei felt a guilty shudder rush through him.
“Hardly; I’m almost 30 myself.” He brushed off Mitsuzuka’s words as easily as he did when others in his line of business spoke similarly about his appearance.
After all…who said you’re beautiful to a man they hadn’t seen in years? Should he be on his guard? Admittedly…he and Mitsuzuka had had that sort of relationship in the past—but it hadn’t been one of love, or even passion; the man had simply been one of Rei’s numerous friends with benefits. No more serious than a pair of friends who, on finding themselves alone together, decided they might as well release a bit of tension. Back then, Rei’s sense of virtue had been shockingly flimsy, even in his own opinion.
“So, are you seeing anyone?”
“Ah…” Shougo’s face popped up in his mind—but after reminding himself that Shougo was not his lover, he waved it away. “No—though there is someone I have feelings for.” Here, an image of Seiya popped up now, though he took care to keep his phrasing restrained.
“I see… So is it a man? Or a woman?”
“Haha, oh yeah—I remember now, you’ve always played for both teams.”
“And…what about you, Mitsuzuka-san?”
“Oh, I’m married now—and I’ve got a kid, too. Still an office worker, too.”
“I see! Then congratulations!” Perhaps there’d been no point in practicing restraint, then. He felt a weight lift from his shoulders in relief, realizing that Mitsuzuka must really have just been overcome by nostalgia on catching Rei on television and just wanted to catch up with an old friend, nothing stranger.
“Afer I got married, I slowly fell out of touch with all of my old friends…but then I happened to see you on TV the other day, and I felt like I wanted to chat. Plus, I confess I was curious about what it’s like to work in this world I’m completely removed from. Though I apologize if that sounds like it was my real reason for wanting to meet.”
“Oh, not at all. Have you been at the same company this whole time?”
“Yup; I did transfer to a branch office for a while, but now I’m back at the main branch.”
Rei didn’t exactly remember where Mitsuzuka worked, but recalling that the man had always flaunted his power, he figured it had to be a fairly influential company. He was sure Mitsuzuka had mentioned it before, but just because they hung out a lot didn’t mean Rei could sustain interest in details like his job, so he’d forgotten.
“So how did you get your job at your current company…or, ‘agency’, I guess?”
“It’s actually kind of like SenaPro took me in.” There was no point in hiding how he’d turned his life around from someone who knew his past, after all, so he spoke at length about the road that had led him to work at SenaPro. He spoke of how he’d let himself go after his mother died, and how he’d met Seiya, and how he’d started working as Seiya’s assistant.
“Wow, so all that happened? That explains why you suddenly disappeared from the apartment. You never even poked your head in at the shop anymore… All your friends from back then were wondering what had happened to day.”
Rei released a wry laugh at his words, certain Mitsuzuka was just trying to make him feel better. In truth, Rei doubted there was anyone who had cared about him enough to worry like that. He’d been with Mitsuzuka for a particularly long time, but most of his partners had been people he didn’t even know the names of. And then of course there had been plenty who could have dropped off the face of the earth at any point in time and no one would have noticed. That included Rei himself.
“Oh yeah—do you remember Sakata?”
“The guy who always had a different hair color every time you saw him.”
“Oh yeah! Him!” Rei nodded, recalling the name now.
“I ran into him…what was it, two years ago, I guess? Through my job.”
“Yeah, what a shock! His hair was black, and I just assumed he was someone who looked like him until I asked his name, but he remembered me too…”
The conversation continued on in this vein as the pair discussed old times and what they’d been up to recently, but after about two hours, Rei’s cell phone rang, and he slipped his hand into his pocket. He panicked for a moment, thinking it might be Shougo, but after checking the caller ID and seeing the number wasn’t displayed, an ill sense of foreboding rippled through him.
He had trouble believing it was possible, but he couldn’t help but remember the earlier call that afternoon—which had also come from an undisplayed number. “I’m sorry, please excuse me a moment…”
He stood from his chair and stepped away, accepting the call—but as elected, he was met with only the low laughing of a man’s voice before the call quickly cut out.
“Now he’s calling my cell phone…? How on earth did he…” It felt like the stalker was slowly closing in on him, and it unnerved him.
Noting Rei’s dark expression when he returned, Mitsuzuka asked, “What’s wrong? Who was on the phone?”
And here, Rei confessed everything that had been happening lately, seeking advice and certain that this man here, who knew about the person Rei had been in the past, would understand.
“I see… Yeah, I guess seeing as how I was able to track you down relatively easily—it stands to reason others could too,” he remarked gravely. “It might not be safe for you at your apartment. If he knows your phone number, he might have the place bugged. Would you like to stay at my place? My family’s staying with our parents tonight, so there’s no one home.”
“Thank you…but it would be a terrible inconvenience, so I’ll just head home.”
“Hey, come on, you’re not afraid of me, right?”
“Oh no, haha.” It was simply that it felt more than a little awkward being alone with someone he’d had that sort of relationship with in the past.
“All right, fine—but just for my own peace of mind, let me see you home. You’ll give me that at least, right?”
“Indeed; thank you very much.”
Mitsuzuka had always been a terribly kind person, Rei was reminded anew, and he bubbled over with feelings of gratitude.
He’d actually been just the tiniest bit scared to go home alone.
“Wait here a moment, Rei.” The pair had returned to Rei’s apartment building in a taxi, but on arriving, Mitsuzuka exited the taxi, leaving Rei with those words. After glancing around, he leaned back into the cab. “It doesn’t seem like there’s anyone around.”
A wave of relief washed over him, and Rei exited the taxi. He tried to pay the fare, but Mitsuzuka stopped him, reminding Rei that he would take the same cab home. “I’ll leave once I’ve seen you safely into your room.”
He felt a bit guilty at the offer, but he nodded and they headed as a pair for the entrance. However, as soon as they entered, Rei realized something was off, and a shudder raced down his spine as he steeled himself.
His mail box was open.
“Rei? What’s wrong?” Mitsuzuka called out, worried when Rei suddenly stopped in front of him.
“My mail box…”
“The mail box?”
It was always tightly shut–but right now, it hung open a hair, and the letter he’d received the night before rose up in the back of his mind.
“…Do you want me to open it for you?”
“N-no, I’m fine,” Rei reassured, and carefully, with no small amount of trepidation, he opened the box–and found a cup of coffee from a shop sitting inside.
“…Why would something like this…” He couldn’t bring himself to pick up the cup, staring at the logo of a popular chain shop found throughout the city.
Mitsuzuka picked up the cup when Rei hesitated. “It’s still warm.”
Rei’s eyes flared in shock. “Then that means…no…”
“Yeah–whoever left this here must have been here only moments ago… I don’t want to consider it, but he could still be lurking nearby.”
Another shudder ran down Rei’s spine. The letter alone had been disturbing enough, but realizing that the culprit was so near now was unbearable.
Rei had been in more than his fair share of fist-fights, and he should have been used to people fixing their ill intent on him. But being stalked like this filled him with an undefinable discomfort. If the guy had just come at him swinging, they could resolve this quickly.
“…Rei, no matter what you say, I’m going to stay here with you tonight. No objections to that, I presume?”
Given the grave mien he wore, Rei could do nothing but nod his assent.
To be continued…