This is Chapter 4 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.
As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.
Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for helping to proofread this chapter.
There is a translator’s note at the end of the chapter, check it out if you are interested.
UPDATE: originally the chapter was posted as one big quote, which rendered it in italics. This has been fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.
(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)
Welcome to the Raindance Cafe
by Yama Yamasaki
Chapter 4: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 2)
A celebrity was, in short, someone who appeared on TV and in magazines, a fantasy being that existed in a completely different dimension. At least that was my preconceived notion about them.
But now I’d actually encountered someone outside of my dimension. Of course, all this is nothing more than the subjective impression of an everyday guy. However, it was clear enough that this encounter was going to be nothing at all like meeting with a close friend, and this was enough to convince me that my impression was correct.
“Haven’t seen you in a while! How long has it been?”
“Some time in April. After that, I finally got another big job and haven’t been able to stop by
“So, I guess that’s finished with, right?”
“Yeah. Today I had something smaller going on nearby, so I dropped by on my way home.”
“Uh, excuse me…”
Before I knew it, I had interrupted the two girls’ casual conversation–I’d been pretty much ignored–as if two old friends were catching up after a long time apart.
“You are…Mekuru Kira, right?”
“Wow Jun, I’m surprised you actually know about Momoko since she’s been out of the limelight for so long.”
“Well, wasn’t that an unnecessary detail? And stop calling me by my real name!”
“Of course I know about her! Mekuru Kira…She was such a celebrity back then–there was practically never a day she wasn’t on TV. Any album she released always jumped to the top of the charts. I even owned a few myself.”
When I started getting a little over-enthusiastic about Mekuru Kira, she looked at me with an expression that was not altogether displeased.
To tell the truth, I’m one of those guys who’s totally obsessed with pop stars. Having a celebrity like this suddenly appear before me–especially one who had been so famous–made me restless with excitement. I was having a hard time comprehending that the girl across from me had once taken the entire country by storm.
Mekuru Kira looked up at me proudly.
“You know boy, you got some potential. So I guess you’re one of my fans, right?”
“Um, I guess you could say that, but I’m actually–”
“Sure, just be honest with me. While it’s true that I’m not as big as I used to be, I think I’ve built up a pretty good track record since then.”
“I’m actually not a fan.”
“Do you have to be so direct? You’re a real asshole, you know!”
This is what I get right after she tells me to be honest.
But I was indeed having trouble expressing myself properly. I had no choice but to blurt out whatever came to mind without carefully considering things first.
“Ok now, let’s just take a deep breath. Jun isn’t saying he dislikes you.”
With an awkward expression that was somehow both angry and sad, Rei tried to stop Mekuru Kira’s verbal attack on me. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect lifeboat coming to my rescue. May it always be there for me.
Mekuru Kira laughed at me scornfully; Rei’s attempt to placate her had apparently worked.
“Oh…I get it. You’re one of those guys who is obsessed with all celebrity girls, regardless of who they are.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly put it that way…”
“But I’m right, you agree?”
“I guess so…”
She was completely right. I doled my love out little by little, spread it far and wide. My shock upon seeing her was only because of her celebrity past.
For an instant, a concern flashed through my mind. Even in this day and age of dog-eat-dog and global culture, those addicted to celebrities were easy targets of persecution. I can’t tell you how many “Top turnoffs for girls” articles I saw where “obsession with celebrities” was in the top ranks. If Rei found out I was one of those guys, our already stagnating relationship would definitely take a turn for the worse.
“Oh, you’re into celebrities, Jun?”
“Huh? Uh, yeah. I guess. It’s nothing serious though…”
But when I heard Rei’s question, I’d realized my fears were all for nothing. Not only did she not show any signs of disapproval, she even seemed strangely interested. I had been on the verge of becoming discouraged, but on second thought her close friend was a celebrity, so there was probably no reason for me to be worried about her having any biases or dislike of them.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of people like you in your generation. Totally different than mine, though.”
“Are you trying to insult yourself?”
“I can see how it would sound like I am, but by no means was that my intention.”
Seeing Rei make a merciless stab at the arrogant Mekuru Kira–a real rarity for her–made me smile.
There was something strangely thought-provoking about Rei playing the opposite of her usual role, plus the fact she was interacting with someone like Mekuru Kira who was clearly above my level. As I watched all this take place I felt my world shift drastically. The sight of someone I knew chatting casually with a person from another dimension invoked feelings of elation in me. I think when humanity makes first contact with an alien species, this is exactly how we will feel.
“Would I be right in assuming that Mekuru Kira is a frequent customer of this cafe?”
In my excitement, I posed this question to the girls.
“Rather than a frequent customer, I’d say she’s practically an employee. Back in the day, she used to often find time in her busy schedule to come and see me.”
“Yeah, this place doesn’t have too many customers, and it felt good to visit a friend like Rei. I definitely know more about this place than a newbie like you.”
“Hold on, did you just slip in jabs at both me and this cafe?”
“I think you’re getting off topic here.”
Mekuru Kira slowly slipped her cafe au lait through a straw.
She cleared her throat loudly and crossed her arms with an arrogance at odds with her cute face.
“Anyway, you better keep quiet about me visiting this place. I’m here incognito, OK? Since you’re an employee here, it’s your responsibility to hide my identity.”
Her amber eyes stared me down coldly.
Compelled by the force of her stare, I nodded in agreement. Actually, hold on a minute. Even though I felt this girl was being a bit overly self-conscious in her attempt to act like a big shot, if we play our cards right we can use her to take this cafe out of the red and into major profitability. But I quickly realized this crude, self-serving idea was the wrong way to go. Slow, deep breaths. I’m not so attached to money that I’d sacrifice someone’s personal life just for a quick buck, and even if I was, I don’t think Rei and the manager would appreciate me doing this sort of thing. So nobody would benefit. I now realized that my impulsive nod was for the best.
“Hey Jun, let’s get back to work.”
Urged on by Rei, I bowed politely to Mekuru Kira who had already begun to eat and followed after the waitress. Mekuru Kira raised her hand briefly in acknowledgement.
However, without any other customers around, I couldn’t think of anything particular that needed to be done at the moment. So I called out to Rei, already at the counter.
“What kind of relationship do you have with Mekuru Kira?”
“Hmm…I could say we’ve been friends for a long time, or maybe more than friends.”
Rei answered without skipping a beat as she began to clean the dishes. I went behind the counter and took a pile of dishes from her. While Rei’s answer was frustratingly vague, it seemed like the truth. After seeing them so chummy, there was no denying they were friends.
“Does ‘more than friends’ mean you’ve known her from childhood?”
“Well…You’re not wrong about that.”
“Wow! That’s amazing! I’m kind of jealous of you, being so close with a celebrity and all.”
“Yeah, Momoko is pretty awesome.”
Rei grinned at me as she wiped the counter. The slight vibe of indifference I was getting from her was probably because I was only speaking generally, and because she was describing her own personal relationship without giving much thought to it.
When I happened to glance at Mekuru Kira, I noticed she was wolfing down her food just like Rei does. In my mind, I could visualize their images overlapping. Suddenly, something clicked and I understood how deeply these girls were connected–to the point that I suspected even their blood type was the same. They were sisters, Rei probably the older of the two.
“But more importantly, I had no idea that you were into pop stars!”
From behind the counter, Rei suddenly leaned towards me with glittering eyes.
To me, this was by no means “more important” than what we were just talking about.
“I just follow them in the news and such. I’m not one of those people who spends every cent of income on celebrity goods.”
“I agree, money isn’t what’s important. It’s just about having fun! By the way, it’s not a serious hobby to me either.”
“Take these clothes for example. I thought it would be nice to try wearing a maid outfit like some of the popular girls do, so I made a few outfits myself–five, to be exact!”
Rei bragged about her costumes while fingering the frilly lace of her apron.
She was more into this stuff than I had imagined. I felt more and more like an idiot for being worried about my own obsession. Rei’s passion burned much hotter than mine; it might even burn itself out.
“So Jun, who do you like? By the way, I’m into some of the niche cult stuff! I even have a few magazine subscriptions.”
“Uh…It’s kind of embarrassing, but what Mekuru Kira said was true. I like pretty much everyone…”
“Oh, so I guess that means you aren’t picky. Although Mekuru Kira didn’t seem to be happy about that, I’m actually the same as you. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. It’s actually better this way. You know, people like us help expand the market’s diversity. Isn’t that awesome!”
As I watched Rei get more and more excited, I realized she was acting totally different compared to when we spoke yesterday. I felt a spark of jealousy ignite within me, but who was I jealous of? It took me a few seconds to realize I was the target of my own jealousy. Still new to thing called love, what had I really learned about Rei in these two weeks?
But what was important was not the past, but the fact that at this moment, I had discovered something Rei liked. Not matter what anyone said, this was a part of her. And yet, she had been able to act normally around Mekuru Kira–surely the celebrity she was on closest terms with. Regardless of whether this was due to Rei’s usual professional attitude towards her job, or because she was simply used to interacting with this celebrity, thanks to Mekuru Kira I learned something important today.
This was a great stroke of luck. Quite fortunate. But for some reason, something felt wrong.
Rei was quickly becoming the central point of my life. Neither myself nor, of course ,anyone else. Just Rei.
My love for Rei had begun to consume me. And boy did it feel great.
Mekuru Kira stopped by Raindance cafe again the next day.
Right around the time of the cafe’s early afternoon lull, she sat in the same seat as yesterday and ordered the same amount of food, along with the cafe au lait. But there was a change in her attire. She had a fur jacket instead of the white coat and gray shorts, although the mask and sunglasses which covered her face and her light brown pigtails were still there. I felt that her pigtails seemed hopelessly out of place, but since she had the same hairstyle as when she was popular a few years ago, I decided to avoid going through the trouble of pointing this out to her.
I wiped the counter while Rei organized things around the cafe. Right now she was checking the state of the remaining supplies underneath the counter. I was still no match for Rei, so out of necessity she had a much larger share of the work. I was incredibly eager to bid my amateur days goodbye and reach her level. That would make her life much easier, and we could use the extra time for getting to know each other better–a win-win situation. Part of me called into question whether it was OK to act on such an impure motive, but I rationalized this away with the corrupt doctrine that ends justify the means. Nothing wrong going on here. It wasn’t like I was directly causing anyone trouble anyway.
I looked over at Mekura Kira. She seemed like the type of person to keep secrets to protect her personal interests. Even I, a person with no connections to the world of show business, knew that it was no bed of roses. There, appearance was everything, and there was no telling what happened behind closed doors. And yet–though this was nothing but another unfounded impression–I somehow felt that she prefered to stay out of that type of trouble. As a pop star, she may have had a defensive instinct to keep me from learning the truth about her and becoming disillusioned. Or perhaps she had simply made up her mind that me being a friend of Rei’s made everything OK. Even so, I couldn’t help feeling that, at heart, she was a forgiving person who wasn’t driven by personal interest. Even favoritism has its limits.
Her voice reverberated clearly throughout the cafe, easily reaching where I stood. While it was true that there was no other customers around, this girl had a serious lack of common sense.
“Hey Rei, she’s calling you…Rei?”
I turned towards the counter, only to find Rei–who had been working busily until just a moment ago–had disappeared without a trace. Also, it might just be my imagination, but I thought I heard a dull pounding sound.
When I looked behind the counter, I saw Rei sitting there, hugging her knees tightly.
“Are–are you alright?”
“…Jun…it’s…all over for me…please finish my…”
“I really don’t think it’s that heavy…”
Voice and body trembling, Rei was all bruised up, her face wet with tears and sweat.
Behind the counter was a glass shelf. It was sticking out slightly, as if from a slipshod install job, and I deduced that in haste she’d banged her knee against it. But my deduction didn’t do her a bit of good, so I hurriedly took some ice from a small refrigerator next to the drink machine, put it in a plastic bag, then wrapped it in a towel and placed it gently on her knee.
“Th–thank you so much…”
“No big deal. Just don’t move and it’ll feel better soon.”
For a few moments, I calmed Rei–thanking me on the verge of tears–and then returned to Mekuru Kira’s table as requested. Of course, by no means did I abandon Rei. I wanted nothing more than to stay with her until the pain subsided, but I had to attend to Mekuru Kira. I hope Rei would be strong in my absence.
Mekuru Kira looked terribly confused when she realized the person coming to help her didn’t match her expectations.
“Where is Rei?”
“While her heart isn’t broken, she is hurt, so please give her a break.”
“What in the world happened…well, whatever. I just happen to have some business with you anyway.”
“That’s right. Take a seat there.”
Mekuru Kira sipped her cafe au lait from a straw as she pointed to the chair at the front of the table. I quickly stole a glance at the counter and then sat down as indicated.
The massive amount of food that had been served to her was nowhere to be found and the empty plates lay in a pile before her. It was insane for someone to finish that much food, that quickly, but suddenly Rei came to mind and for some reason things made sense. These girls could probably become competitive eaters.
Mekuru Kira placed her cafe au lait on the table and looked at me with a frown.
“Hey kid, your last name was ‘momo’ something or other, right?”
“It’s Jun Momose.”
“It sounds a lot like my name. That’s been bugging me since yesterday.”
“What’s wrong with ‘Mekuru Kira’? I think it’s a great name.”
“That’s only my stage name, it’s not the real me. Anyway, if you call me that in public things would get pretty crazy.”
“Maybe that might have been the case three years ago.”
“…I guess you’re one of those people that never learned tact.”
“But I thought you told Rei to not use your real name.”
“That was, you know, because you were there and knew who I was, and that information was never released to the public. Rei isn’t the smartest girl anyway.”
Mekura Kira gave a deep sigh which might have signalled defeat. I decided to not spend any time thinking about what had put one of her breaths to waste like that, but it seemed clear that she didn’t altogether dislike her real name.
“Whatever. How long have you been working here?”
“Around two weeks.”
“Only half a month?!”
“Yeah, Rei is such a great teacher…”
“No, that wasn’t a compliment. If nothing else, you do seem a bit more able than her when she first started…But I guess there’s not much reason comparing you to her…”
Rather than being upset about how her every word was a dagger, I was more curious to see how bad Rei had been back then, having left such an impression on not only the manager but even Mekuru Kira.
Mekuru Kira flashed me an evil smile.
“I know you like her…”
Out of nowhere came this devastatingly large bomb.
“No matter what you say, I know you like her.”
“You don’t have to repeat yourself…But, um, why do you think so?”
“It’s just so obvious.”
“Since yesterday, you’ve been constantly giving her these looks. What? Am I wrong?”
With her large, sparkling brown eyes, Mekuru Kira stared at me, hoping I would confess.
“…No–no, that’s not true. I don’t feel that way at all about…”
The instant I heard her words, I realized how the massive gap between reality and what I’d said.
Oddly enough, my denial had slipped out before I could stop it. My face was starting to burn. This response to her comment that had come out reflexively, before I had a chance to think, seemed to be completely opposite to my real feelings. Or maybe there was some logic behind it? Could some part of me be saying that I didn’t want anyone to discover my feelings for Rei?
As I struggled with how to respond, Mekuru Kira glared at me disapprovingly.
“Oh well, I guess I was wrong. I get it. Not much I can do about it. Had I been right, I would have helped you and Rei become a little closer [*1]. But if I’m wrong, I’ll just have to forget about it.”
“Wh–what exactly does that mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like. I think she treats you more like an employee than a friend, so I thought I would help change that. But since I’m wrong about you liking her, scratch this plan. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Mekuru Kira laughed a cute little ‘tee hee’, as if she’d just won a game between us.
I’d made the completely wrong decision. Had I answered honestly, I might have been one step closer to achieving success.
“Anyway, I guess no matter how you feel about her, it has nothing to do with me.”
Then why did she even ask me to begin with?
But before I had a chance to voice this, I detected a glimmer of sorrow in Mekuru Kira’s eyes. She began to stir her cafe au lait with a straw as to ward off the silence that had just descended on us. The sound of the ice cubes clanking against one another was absorbed by the cafe’s red curtains. Mekuru Kira was used to being on TV and interacting with her fans, so I assumed she’d be more skilled at hiding her emotions, but what I just saw now was anything but hidden. Her sudden change in mood signalled something important.
“So, how much has the manager told you about Rei?”
“…Looks like that macho guy is at it again.”
She frowned and quietly clicked her tongue, as if something unpleasant had just happened.
It was true that the manager hadn’t told me a single thing about Rei’s personal life. After all, there was no reason for him to.
“Is there…something I should know about Rei?”
Since Mekuru Kira, who is clearly close with Rei, had asked me about her with such a grave expression, I couldn’t help but return the question.
“If you promise not to quit, I’ll tell you.”
“I promise not to quit until I graduate college.”
My response was immediate, without even a moment’s hesitation.
“…I mentioned it before around here so I know what will happen, and even though the manager didn’t tell you, he’s being careful to avoid it too. Rei is very sensitive about a certain word and anything related to it. I’d like you to avoid using this word, at least anywhere within earshot of her.”
This was quite an unexpected turn in the conversation. Strictly speaking, I was totally clueless to begin with, unable to have anything lofty like an expectation. But nevertheless, this development was not a possibility I could ever have conceivably thought of.
To imagine there was some taboo word for Rei, a girl so bursting with life…It would be blunt to say I knew nothing about the real Rei, but who would have ever guessed there was a forbidden word lurking behind that bright smile?
Mekuru Kira started to say something, but hesitated. She put her cafe au lait on the table, flashed a look at the kitchen counter then once more at me.
“ ‘Family.’ ”
“ ‘Family’, and anything related to it.”
When she finished speaking, her gaze was directed not at me but on the middle of the table. Her voice was indifferent now, despite her initial hesitation. It was almost as if it was safe to speak this taboo word just this once.
I was stupefied–not only was it such an unbelievably familiar word, but for whatever reason this word was incompatible with her bright smile.
Just as Mekuru Kira began to answer my candid question, a high-pitched noise sounded from the entrance of the cafe.
“W……Welcome to Raindance…”
Despite nearly fainting from agony, Rei gave her best effort to greet the newly arrived customer. I followed her example by standing up and heading to the entrance.
“Welcome to Raindance Cafe!”
It was a woman. She was wearing the suit of a businesswoman with long, slender legs. Her youth was balanced by a dignified atmosphere, with black-rimmed glasses that gave the impression she was no dummy.
The woman approached the counter without hesitation and sat at the same place where Rei had eaten lunch yesterday.
“I’m sorry, but can we continue this conversation tomorrow…?”
With Rei out of commission, I had to do something. I turned to face Mekuru Kira and confirm she was in agreement with this, but when I saw an expression completely different from just a moment ago the words didn’t come out well.
Mekuru Kira, her sweaty face plastered with a look of wonder, stared fixedly at the new customer who was sitting with her back to us.
“Miyako…It’s Miyako. That customer’s name.”
“Who is that? A friend of yours?”
I’d never heard of a celebrity with that name, which means maybe it’s just a friend after all.
Mekuru Kira swallowed hard and exhaled a dry breath from her parted lips.
“…She’s my manager.”
Her words, hushed into barely a whisper by some strong emotion, seeped out from between thin lips in place of a sigh.
For some reason, I felt like I was suffocating. Something was painfully constricting my chest.
I was not the only one here being drawn into a whirlpool of probability; these things always seem to come when you least expect them. By the time you realize what is happening, it’s already too late. I got the feeling that the result of a life’s worth of uncountable, irreversible choices would be played out in this cafe soon enough.
[*1] In the part where Mekuru Kira says “I would have helped you and Rei become a little closer”, the actual literal translation there is something like “I would have tried to get her to call you by your first name”. The reason I didn’t use this is because in the entire story I have the characters call each other by first names as would be appropriate in these situations in English, whereas in Japan it would be more common to call them by their last names. (In Mekuru Kira’s case there is no change since as a celebrity, both her first name and last name are used.)
Mekuru Kira’s (supposed) reason to get Rei to call Jun by his first name is because, as discussed earlier in this chapter, Jun’s last name (Momose) is very similar to Mekuru Kira’s real first name (Momoko). Since Rei is on good terms with Mekuru she calls her sometimes by her (real) first name.
While the specific lines of dialog are a little different, I feel the resultant meaning in both the original Japanese and my English translation is the same: Because of Jun’s choices he has lost another opportunity to get closer to Rei.
Another way for me to have handled this section is to have translated the relevant dialogue lines more literally, however the disadvantage of that is that readers who do not read this note would probably be confused, whereas for the translation I decided on, they don’t have to read the note.