“You should have seen your stupid face,” Oshitari opined finally, once they were alone again. He seemed entirely too relaxed given that Atobe was paying him a retainer to at least look worried.
Atobe’s office was on the seventeenth floor of a building Atobe International used to own outright, but in the last decade, had been slowly sold off piecemeal. The building now also headquartered a mid-tier investment bank and an alternative publishing house. Unsurprisingly, since Oshitari had bought shares in it and convinced Atobe to buy shares in it too, the publishing house was a black sheep subsidiary of Mills and Boon, and had found their niche in well, alternative romance novels, and more recently, Netflix adaptations of said romance novels. All junk, really.
(But these same shares, Atobe reflected bitterly, were now being freshly contested by his soon-to-be ex-wife and her new lawyer. Not that he cared about stupid shares in a stupid publishing house. It was more the principle of the thing.)
“You should have told me Claudia got a new attorney,” Atobe said. “Especially if it’s…” He trailed off. He couldn’t quite bring himself to say Tezuka Kunimitsu’s name, Every time he tried, his mouth dried up. Oshitari had done all the talking during the meeting, deftly covering for the fact that Atobe was, for lack of a better word, shell-shocked into silence.
“The one who got away?” Oshitari finished, looking satisfied with himself. “Did I need to tell you that? You were there when her last lawyer had a meltdown. And you know she’s not going to come within ten miles of you without representation. So since she set the meeting today, I thought you figured that she’d at least show up with one.”
“Or the old you would have, anyway.” Oshitari kept those words to himself, but Atobe heard them loud and clear in the silence anyway. “...Tezuka didn’t get away from me. I just haven’t seen or heard from him in years.” There it was, Tezuka Tezuka Tezuka. He could think it, say it, and not die.
“Anyway, this isn’t a bad deal, just from a skim.” Oshitari turned his attention towards the file that was left for their perusal. “We shift some things around, we should be able to come up with this. Deal her down a bit on maintenance, argue that you don’t have to cater to her and her fancy gin habit. Everyone can go home happy.” Oshitari hid a smirk behind his hand. “Then you’ll be single and ready to mingle, be it with—oh, prostitutes or the king of Europe or whatever.”
“I’m not going to just give her what she wants,” Atobe said, arms crossed. “And Europe doesn’t have a single king. I don’t want to know what you’ve been reading.” Oshitari did read some pretty weird stuff (that yes, probably featured Europe as a single country).
“What Claudia probably wanted was to stay married,” Oshitari shot back quietly, switching the topic as swiftly as if he was switching to a backhand stroke. “But you were the one who made the situation untenable. Not her.”
Atobe glared at him. “You’re supposed to be my attorney. What the fuck.”
“I am your attorney, yes. Which means the truth will never leave this room. But letting you lie to yourself is no fun for me.” Oshitari touched his glasses. He had a mild prescription that he liked to think Atobe didn’t know about, but Atobe tried his best to keep up with the small details. These days, he had nothing but time.
“Asshole,” Atobe muttered, subdued.
“At least think about it, okay?” Oshitari sighed. “We have a few days to respond. We don’t have to let this get ugly,” he paused, and corrected himself. “Well...any more ugly than it already is.”
“She’s hired Tezuka as a lawyer. Of course it’s going to get—” A loud buzz interrupted interrupted Atobe’s tirade and he snatched his phone from his pocket. It wasn’t a blocked number, nor was it a number he had saved. He picked up and started the call the way he’d started a dozen others since this whole mess had started: “Whoever you are? No comment, and you can fuck—”
“Atobe? It’s me, Tezuka.”
Atobe nearly dropped his phone. He managed to keep a hold of it, in the end. But then Atobe also had to sit down. “...Tezuka? I just saw you leave my office.” Not much of a greeting, but it was a start; it bought time, at least; once upon a time, Atobe was unparalleled when it came to buying all sorts of things, knowing a sound investment when he saw one. Now, not so much.
“I’m still down in the lobby. I just put your wife in a cab.”
“Ex-wife, soon. She has a name. And you don’t have to remind me.”
There was a slight pause on the other end, as if Tezuka was contemplating his answer. Atobe wondered if enough years had passed between now and the days of Seigaku and Hyotei and U-17 to render his response surprising. Finally, Tezuka said, “Could we meet?”
“Sure, you can come back up here and we can talk over how ridiculous your proposal is,” Atobe said. “My lawyer is still here.”
“I don’t want to talk about the case.” Though Tezuka added, after a moment, as if he’d just noticed how that could have sounded, “But I understand your concern and I don’t mind if you bring Oshitari with you. Have either of you had lunch?”
If that had come out of anyone else’s mouth, Atobe would have laughed. But while Tezuka’s career seemed to have taken a few unusual turns, there was still a stringent honesty about the man that was easy to recognize, even as nothing else about Tezuka was as he knew it. Tezuka said he wanted to have lunch, and Atobe believed it.
It was easier to say things, Atobe thought, when one was backed against the wall. The divorce was still plodding along, but he got a very bad feeling and simply skipped a few steps, saying, “...Are you asking me out? That’s sort of unethical isn’t it? Not that I’m not flattered.”
Oshitari’s body was carefully angled away from Atobe while he was on the phone, but even from here, Atobe could spy the guy’s shoulders shaking with laughter. Halfheartedly, Atobe groped around for something he could throw at the back of Oshitari’s head. He found himself stuck between a pen and a paperweight. The paperweight was tempting, but Atobe had to admit, Oshitari had earned his keep just for today, along with the right of not ending up in hospital with a concussion.
“Yes, but just for lunch, and it’s not unethical if we don’t speak about your divorce.” This time Tezuka added, “Do you want to speak about your divorce?”
“It’s been how many years, and you still have not even the slightest clue how to take a joke.” Atobe sighed, as if he was tremendously put upon. “No, I don’t want to speak about my divorce. Glad we cleared the air.”
(Oshitari looked like he was dying, about to burst with laughter and Atobe resolved not to drive him to hospital if this was indeed the case.)
“Then that’s fine. I’m staying in Asakusa, perhaps we can find somewhere to eat there?”
Questions swirled in Atobe’s mind; not least of which 1.) why Tezuka was staying in Asakusa when his parents lived in Kichijoji clear across town and 2.) it was true that their meeting had awkwardly straddled a lunch hour and it’d been entirely arranged through secretaries and executive assistants, but if Tezuka was really that hungry, he could have gone through the proper channels and requested that the meeting be moved.
Also on the forefront of Atobe’s mind, was 3.) Asakusa was possibly out of the way enough of Tokyo, to be sat on her northeast fringe that he could actually eat in peace. So it almost sounded like Tezuka was doing him a favor.
“Asakusa’s fine. I’ll need a couple minutes.”
“Take all the time you need,” Tezuka said, and then hung up.
By this time, Oshitari seemed to have recovered. He took a seat opposite Atobe’s desk, and proceeded to act as if nothing was wrong, the picture of serene seriousness. “As your lawyer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to...how do I put this, not be romanced by opposing counsel?”
“Yeah, and that’s why I pay you the big bucks.”
“What could happen?” Atobe shrugged. “It’s Tezuka. If he wants to get lunch it’s probably all he wants.”
“Says the guy who’s been Tezuka zoned for the better part of twenty years.” Oshitari said. He crossed his arms. “Also, just think about it for even ten seconds. You practically said it yourself already. Why is Tezuka her lawyer? From what I understand, he’s recently been made partner at Baker & Baker. Those guys don’t play around; they’re notorious for getting sports stars out of sex scandals and similar circumstances. Not to mention…”
Tezuka zoned made Atobe wince. However, he was hardly going to dignify that with a response. “Do you think Claudia told him?”
“I’m just saying anything’s possible,” Oshitari said, in what Atobe had come to think of as his “lawyer” voice. “Look, I can’t stop you from doing anything stupid, but please don’t make things catastrophically difficult for me?”
“I pay you too much for things to be easy,” Atobe said, and it was mostly a joke. He was liking jokes more and more these days, which was terrible. Humor was a crutch on par with dating someone ten years younger, something else he tried not to think about. Atobe got up and reached for his jacket.
Oshitari switched tack. “How about the other thing that you said you’d do?”
“I said I’d do it, and I’ll let you know when it’s done,” Atobe said. “Don’t nag me.”
“I’m just thinking ahead to formal depositions. They’ll start soon if we all can’t agree.” Oshitari swiveled his chair around so that they were face to face again. “Do it before then. In fact, do it tomorrow.”
“All right, all right. I’m going.” Atobe laid his hand on the doorknob and remembered something else. “Hey. What do you think of when you think of Asakusa?”
“The fact that geisha still work there?” It wasn’t an untrue answer, but it was also the entirely wrong answer. And Oshitari was never wrong unless he meant to be.
Atobe started to flip him the bird, and then remembered himself. “Will you do something about that while I’m away?” He gestured at the file that was now on his desk.
Oshitari made a face at it. “Okay. Do what?”
“Well, for starters, renegotiate. Tell her we’re amenable, but the shares in the publishing house aren’t up for grabs. She can’t just have what she wants.”
“Said the pot to the kettle.” Oshitari sighed. “Told you should have signed a prenup.”
Atobe found Tezuka sitting on a sofa directly facing the lifts in the lobby. He looked entirely at home in his nice suit and tie, as if he’d belonged. The version of Tezuka that Atobe had in his head was at home in formal situations, but to know his way around finery, that was another thing entirely. Tezuka seemed to be unaware that he was sitting on a couch worth nearly a hundred thousand yen. But at the same time, he seemed not to care.
Atobe approached him, performatively sheepish. “I’m sorry that I took so long.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” Tezuka said. “I said I’d wait.”
“You sound like you’re starving though.” Atobe fixed him with a curious look. “You could have called to move the meeting. Or we could have eaten during. There are a few places around here that do nice bentos.”
Tezuka made a sound in his throat. Atobe couldn’t tell it from good or bad, either way. There was no telling from what he said, either, which was, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“You’re insulting me, aren’t you?” That might have bothered him at some point, but Atobe suddenly felt very far away from that point. “Tell you what, I never thought Claudia’s new lawyer would be...you.” Stripped of all his defenses, Atobe had no choice but to tell the truth. Running out of options was a thing that happened now this side of thirty, and it pissed him off.
Tezuka looked completely unfazed. He asked, “Were you expecting someone else?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know what I was expecting,” Atobe said, mostly to himself. “Anyway, we can use my car. I’ve already instructed my driver. What’s in Asakusa?”
On the other hand, once Atobe really settled in and thought about it, he could see an affinity between Tezuka and the quiet, and yet touristy suburb of Asakusa. Besides boasting shrines practically around every corner, this part of the city was also home to a number of izakayas that weren’t too busy given that it was only the afternoon. Tezuka recommended one near the ryokan where he was staying and Atobe was surprised again.
“It’s not a permanent arrangement, obviously,” Tezuka said. They’d settled into a dimly lit booth in a corner and were left alone with a few plates of snacks and a bottle of sake. This place afforded them privacy, Atobe realized, and he nearly felt grateful. “But the firm said they’d foot the bill until I found a place I like. Provided I work my hours like everyone else.”
“Oshitari said you’d made partner at Baker & Baker. Congratulations, I guess. Consider this drink on me.” Atobe raised his cup and skimmed a sip of sake afterward. “I didn’t know they took divorce cases.”
“I thought we weren’t speaking about your divorce.”
“We’re not speaking about my divorce.” Atobe parried. “We’re speaking generally.”
“Then generally we sometimes have clients who get divorced. Does that surprise you?”
Every once in a while, Atobe thought of Tezuka, the way that he also thought of his other schoolmates at Hyotei and beyond. He was in no way Tezuka zoned, and he felt obligated to list exactly who it was he thought of exactly. When he got to six people, which was a respectable number in his head, he stopped.
“Why have you invited me to lunch?” Tezuka’s question made his head hurt, so Atobe hit back with one of his own.
Tezuka seemed to have had an answer half prepared, as he didn’t take too long to “I might work for Claudia, but some of the things she’s asked me for, I thought I might be able to deliver better if I understood you again. Consider this a personal curiosity.”
Again with that barefaced honesty, as if Tezuka honestly meant it to be a lie. Atobe distracted himself with a bit of sour pickle and pushed on. “And so it comes to light. What do you mean by ‘again’, exactly? I thought you said I haven’t changed.”
Tezuka emptied his cup of sake and topped himself up. On second thought, he judged the amount in Atobe’s cup and topped him up too. The idea that Tezuka as his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s lawyer was trying to get him drunk to weasel secrets out of him was devastatingly funny. He couldn’t help but laugh, and not charitably either, but mostly at himself.
Tezuka was still looking at him. “Would you like me to answer that?”
“Not really. Let me live on in ignorance.”
Still, there was something easy about this; something that reminded Atobe of way back when. When Tezuka would call him up while he was still holding out hopes of a long, storied career in professional tennis while he was in Berlin for rehab. At first, it was just to practice his German. And then they’d talked about all sorts of things. Law had never come up. Then again, in all fairness, neither did divorce.
And then the calls had simply stopped. Something that Atobe hadn’t ever told anyone about, not even Oshitari.
Looking around for something else easy, Atobe took another sip of sake. “Why are you staying in a ryokan when you could stay with your parents? I didn’t even know you were back in Japan.”
“They asked me the same thing,” Tezuka said, shrugging. “But I’m in my thirties. Maybe I don’t want to live at home. I’ll come over for dinner as often as they’d like, but I’d feel odd sleeping in my childhood bedroom.”
“You mean, old.”
“I mean ‘odd.’” Tezuka said, with a bit of emphasis.
“I still live at home.” Atobe mused to himself. “But mostly by myself. My parents are spending more and more time in Mallorca. I think they actually want to retire there. As if they could be any more retired.” (Himself, and a skeleton staff, but he didn’t feel like mentioning that particular detail.)
“Mallorca.” Tezuka looked mildly surprised. “Not Berlin?”
“Too cold. Plus, we sold the place, years ago. I’m surprised Claudia doesn’t talk your ear off about it.”
“Even if she did, I wouldn’t tell you.” Tezuka reached across the table to help himself to a yakitori skewer. It apparently met his approval and he ate it quickly, albeit neatly, after the first bite.
“So what you’re really saying is, you’ve invited me out to screw me.” They both winced. But Atobe was a bit more prepared, and he thought he detected something else that he wasn’t quite expecting to see.
Tezuka Kunimitsu was an honest person, after all.
“I wouldn’t have put it quite in those terms.” Tezuka looked away from him briefly and then drank more sake. “I more meant—when I have a job to do, I’d like to do it well, to the utmost of my ability. If anyone knows that about me, you do.”
“I just about know that about you, sure.” Atobe wanted another cup of sake. However, they were near empty now, and he didn’t want to order another, or seem rude or desperate taking the dregs.
“You also have some experience not taking things personally.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Tezuka regarded him evenly. The picture of calm, and it made Atobe want to punch him in the face. This time, Tezuka took a moment to consider his words. “It means I read. I don’t like gossip, but apparently your divorce is of some interest to the public.”
“That’s one way to put it.” Atobe shrugged. “I assume you’re also helping her sue Friday. If you need anything from me, let Oshitari know. I don’t know everything, but I know it was getting complicated before her previous lawyer um, left.”
Tezuka nearly looked as if he was gearing up to ask Atobe something slightly improper. His whole thought process was on display on his face. Clearly, the man wasn’t used to thinking this way, or else he would have done well to keep most of it to himself.
Atobe thought he’d save Tezuka the trouble. He said, “I don’t hate her. I’m not going to insult you by saying I don’t want a divorce and make you talk sense into her. But I hope Claudia and I can be civil, in a couple of years, maybe.”
For a long time, Tezuka said nothing. And then he emptied his cup of sake and reached for the bottle. Almost as if he wasn’t expecting its weightlessness, he put it down again, said, “I know.”
He knew. Tezuka knew. Knew what?
Suddenly, Atobe felt the urge to flee. The urge had always been with him, but now it made itself known, and he couldn’t even swallow it. “I’d better go. Did I satiate your curiosity?”
Tezuka said, “Not yet. But I don’t want to keep you. Thanks for giving me a ride back.”
“Don’t mention it.” Atobe was glad to avert his eyes and reach for his shoes, tucked neatly under the ledge of his seat. He’d never thought he’d hate honesty so fucking much.