“Damn it’s hot…” Yokozawa muttered absently to himself as he stalked up a hill with absolutely no shade. He couldn’t even muster up the energy to sigh in the face of the baking sunlight streaming down upon him, and he could feel the heat seeping up from the asphalt through his leather shoes.
He belatedly realized that it hadn’t rained once since August had started—and while by now he’d almost gotten used to the heat, wandering around outside constantly exposed to the sun was slowly but steadily sapping his energy.
He really needed to strengthen his stamina, but more worrisome than the fatigue was the dip in his appetite.
“Wonder what I should eat today…”
Dabbing at his forehead with the handkerchief Hiyori had presented him with following her recent trip, he continued up the hill toward the office. The handkerchief had his initials shoddily embroidered into the fabric—naturally, Hiyori’s own handiwork.
It seemed she’d had her maternal grandmother teach her a bit of handicrafts when she’d recently gone to stay with her grandparents by herself and had apparently stitched the handkerchief—along with a matching, differently-colored one for Kirishima—and a collar for Sorata then.
Touched by the thought, he’d initially intended to keep it safely tucked away, but given what a waste it was not to use it, he’d now taken to carrying it around with him.
As he stepped over the threshold into the office building proper, a wave of cool air washed over him from inside, and he inhaled sharply at the sensation of his sweat drawing away. He grasped his shirt collar and began flapping the material over his skin as he headed for the elevators—when he noticed that there were an unusually large number of people milling about the first-floor lounge area.
“What’s going on?”
He couldn’t tell what the fuss was about, but it was clear something had them in high spirits, leaving them looking like a group of wayward middle-school students skipping lessons.
“What the hell are you lot doing? What about work?”
“Ah, Yokozawa-san! Check this out!” It was Katou from Japun’s editing department who excitedly turned to address him—and he seemed to be the source of the fuss.
“Check out what?” He cast a furtive glance at the table the group were all gathered around, noticing several photographs spread out over the surface. He couldn’t tell the subject matter from this angle, but they seemed to be artistic shots, the type used in gravure magazines.
One of the photographs was shoved into his face like a seal case from some period drama, and the close distance made it impossible to focus, leaving him unable to tell for a moment just what the picture was of.
Furrowing his brow, he took the photograph by the edges and pulled it away from his face to a suitable distance. “What…the hell is this?”
The words fell from his lips in a shocked whisper—because it was a photograph of Kirishima.
He was stretched out seated on an expensive-looking couch, legs crossed over each other, like a model—and it wasn’t just the one photograph; there were several different ones on the table, each depicting Kirishima in some similar pose. He seemed to be seated in a hotel lobby.
“The pictures from Kirishima-san’s interview the other day finally arrived via e-mail. Supposedly we’re supposed to scan the data for dud shots, but they all look amazing, huh! It’s almost a waste they’re only going to use two of these for the article…”
Yokozawa had been shocked at how much the pictures looked straight out of a gravure shoot—only to be proven exactly right, and while Katou was busy touting Kirishima’s accomplishments as if they were his own, Yokozawa was still hung up on the word ‘interview’.
“Interview? When did he give one of those? I haven’t heard a word about it.”
“Maybe he forgot to mention it? Or it was too embarrassing to tell you about?”
“If he were embarrassed about it, he sure as hell wouldn’t be flashing these pictures around.”
“Hmm…but—they were supposed to have the interview here in the company lounge, but they changed to a hotel because he was worried about having people gawking at him. Maybe he just didn’t want us giving him a hard time about it!”
There may very well have been absolutely no deeper meaning to the fact that Kirishima had kept this from him—but it wasn’t exactly the best feeling in the world to have someone else tell him something about Kirishima he hadn’t known before.
It was ridiculous, being jealous of the guy’s own subordinates—but these reactions weren’t something he had any control over. He was doing his level best keeping his feelings from showing clearly on his face at this point.
“So then—why’re you flashing them for all and sundry to see?”
“Well just look at them! He looks so good, we couldn’t just keep them to ourselves! He’s so cool-looking here, that editor-in-chief of ours!”
The members of Japun‘s editing division practically worshiped Kirishima, and while they did occasionally complain about him, that was in itself a form of boasting about their oh-so-capable superior. It was a clear demonstration of the healthy relationship Kirishima shared with his subordinates.
The Kirishima staring back from the photographs before Yokozawa could’ve easily gone toe-to-toe with any actor or model out there in sex appeal, and given that the work had been done by a professional photographer, they really were amazing shots.
It was impossible to tell if he’d been purposefully posed that way, but with the way his long legs were crossed and gaze cast off to the side in a weary, listless manner, no one could tell he was a mere amateur.
“I’ll admit…he is a good-looking guy.” While he’d never said as such before the guy himself, he’d always strongly felt that way, finding it impossible to avoid getting unconsciously lost in staring at him.
“Right?? If we had a fashion magazine here, they’d definitely do well to hire him on as a model, huh! Ah—then, why don’t we just settle for blowing one of these up into a poster??”
“Ooh, and include it as a freebie with the next issue of Japun?”
“Hey—you do remember you run a shounen manga magazine, right?”
“How about making a grab for female readers with this? We’ll slay them with Kirishima-san’s pheromones!”
“Slay them…” Yokozawa was about at his wits’ end with fielding this commentary—and, oblivious to Yokozawa’s fatigue, the women around him began to chatter more excitedly at the prospect.
“Oh man, I would totally buy that! But actually—I seriously want copies of some of these photos…”
“Ooh, then me three!” At this, hands from almost the entire group shot into the air.
“What the hell are you intending to do with these pictures, then?”
“Feast our eyes upon them, I’m sure! Ooh, but it would’ve been even better if Ijuuin-sensei had been there with him…”
“Excuse me?” But he quickly snapped his mouth shut, convinced that it was best not to ask too many questions even if the suggestion had piqued his curiosity.
“Or ooh—they should just put out a photobook for Marukawa Shoten itself! Between the likes of Kirishima-san and the Emerald guys, it’s a total waste not to make use of how hot they all are!”
“I totally agree! I’ll put forth the proposal at the next meeting!” The conversation had taken a strange turn now. If he got himself dragged into going along with this outlandish idea, he’d be in trouble—and before any such thing could happen, he tried to find the proper timing to quickly take his leave, but froze stiff at a casual question raised by one of the women.
“That reminds me—I heard somewhere that Kirishima-san was taking part in a marriage interview…anyone know if there’s any truth to it?”
The group erupted into excited chatter. “Wait—what?! I haven’t heard anything about that!”
“Me neither! Yokozawa-san, have you heard anything?”
At Katou’s question, he shook his head. “N—no, nothing…” If he had known anything, he certainly wouldn’t have had the time to be dawdling around here with all of these rubberneckers.
“I’ve also heard something along those lines! Supposedly one of the higher-ups among his clients took a shine to him or something.”
“But—doesn’t Kirishima-san have a daughter?”
“Well maybe that’s precisely why he’s doing it? With a marriage interview, he can be sure that the other person is already well aware of his situation, and I’m sure it must be rough for a man to raise his daughter all by himself, don’t you think?”
The women’s all-too-valid points cut Yokozawa to the quick. He’d once had a similar (but not very well-thought-through) conversation with Kirishima before which had only served to piss the guy off. While he’d already admitted that the entire conversation had been ill-considered, hearing this now, he was realizing all over again how thoughtless his words had been at the time.
Kirishima certainly had the help and support of his parents, but he was a fine parent all on his own as well. Hiyori looked up to him, and no matter where you dragged her, she had been raised with impeccable manners.
She seemed to have been overly considerate of her hard-working father, not often seeking attention or asking to be spoiled, but of late she’d finally started allowing herself to be a bit adorably needy now and then.
It was hardly strange for a superior to bring up the notion of marriage interviews with as capable a subordinate as Kirishima—particularly of late, with news getting around the company that he’d removed his wedding ring. Likely a large number of people had seen it as a good sign of their potential.
And that was when the image of what had happened a few days prior drifted back across his mind’s eye: maybe that woman…had been the other party in the marriage interview?
“…No way in hell,” he quickly denied himself, shutting down that train of thought. It was beyond jumping to conclusions to assume that any woman who happened to be with Kirishima was potential marriage material.
“Did you say something just now?” Katou pressed, turning his mutterings back on himself, but Yokozawa responded without answering the question.
“I’m heading back. You lot better not dawdle here too long and get back to work.” And with that, he exited the lounge area, worried that spending too long listening to the women gossiping would leave him with nothing but uncomfortable mental images.
He violently slammed the elevator button and headed up to the Sales department.
Fine—supposing the marriage interview thing were true, it didn’t mean Kirishima was cheating on him. He could hardly be expected to shirk his superior’s whims, as an employee, so it wouldn’t be beyond expectation that he might meet with the girl just once. And this was Kirishima, after all: he likely saw it not as hiding the fact that he’d been offered a marriage interview so much as having no need to go out of his way and announce it. It was ruder of Yokozawa to jump at shadows like this.
But the reason that his heart continued to waver in worry despite understanding all of this…was because of his own self-doubt. From a general perspective, it was hardly appropriate for the partner of a single father to be a younger man.
Two consenting adult men were more than welcome to do whatever they wanted, taking responsibility for the own actions and decisions, and if they faced any backlash from the public, then that was their own problem.
But he and Kirishima had Hiyori to worry about; they’d done a good enough job so far in explaining to Hiyori’s school and her friends’ parents and guardians why Yokozawa spent so much time at Kirishima’s place, but there was no telling when some gossipy busy-body would raise a fuss.
Naturally, Yokozawa was doing his level best to avoid causing Hiyori any amount of shame or embarrassment, taking every precaution to avoid anyone finding out about their relationship—but they’d probably never be able to be perfectly safe. There was no changing the fact that he was a man.
“Ah—welcome back, Yokozawa-san!” He was pulled back to the present from being deep in thought when someone called out to him—without realizing it, he’d made his way back to the Sales floor.
“What’re you eating there, Henmi?” The guy was sucking on a small plastic spoon at his desk, and when he glanced around the room, the other department members also seemed to be eating something.
“It’s really hot, so the department head treated us all to ice cream! He said it was his way of apologizing for not being around when we were in a jam. Oh—by the way, I was the one who went out and bought it all!”
“Well good for you.” It had hardly been an issue that could be solved with a simply ice cream treat, but this was obviously more of a matter of repairing feelings than actual damage done. Simply having a superior thank you for your hard work had a way of inspiring work ethic. Having such value placed on their work would in turn spur them on in the future.
Ever since Kirishima had lectured him on the difference in effect inspired by expressing thanks or not, Yokozawa had become more conscientious in openly thanking others for their work—and perhaps it was because of that that his work seemed to have become that much less of a hassle to get through.
He’d initially been almost ashamed to do so, with everyone he encountered staring at him as if he’d grown a second head, but now it was almost expected.
“Your portion’s in the refrigerator, Yokozawa-san. Someone else is liable to snatch it up if you don’t eat it soon, so I’ll go and fetch it for you now!”
“Oh—no, it’s all right, I’m—” Fine, he’d been about to say, but Henmi had already left for the break room where the refrigerator stood, quickly returning at a jog with the bag of ice cream in one hand.
“That was close! This is the last one!” He’d brought back a ramune-flavored ice cream bar. Realizing it would be futile to protest that he didn’t need it now, he decided to just go ahead and accept it. It would be perfect for quenching his throat parched from making his rounds outside. “This takes me back… I used to eat these all the time as a kid.”
These things must be a timeless product—the packaging looked as if it had been updated, but it still had the same two-bar shape as it had in the past.
“Indeed. That was why I couldn’t help snapping them up!”
“You probably just picked treats you wanted to eat.” Indeed, he was sure the one he’d just seen Henmi eating had been one of the more expensive items, and having this pointed out so bluntly, Henmi struggled for an excuse through mumbled speech, expression abashed.
“W—well, I just figured…it’d be better to have a lot of choices, see…”
“And thought you’d eat the leftovers that no one else wanted?”
“That’s not it at all! Well, I mean—okay, sure, I was kind of hoping…”
Yokozawa snorted dryly at Henmi’s stupidly honest confession. As completely frank and straightforward as this guy was, Yokozawa sometimes found himself truly worrying if he was cut out for sales or not—but his openness and amicable nature earned him high regard and trust from the sellers, leaving someone like Yokozawa—who only intimidated when he kept his mouth shut—genuinely envious of his friendly nature.
“Here, you can have half—you wanted to eat it, didn’t you?” He split the sea-blue bar into two and held out one half to Henmi, who responded happily like a puppy wagging its tail.
“Are you sure?? Awesome! Thanks so much!”
The reaction was incredibly endearing, and Yokozawa leveraged a condition: “But in return, you’d better get that proposal to me by six today.”
“Eh?! Wait—then, you can have this back!” Henmi tried desperately to return the half-eaten bar at this, choking in shock.
“You’ve already bitten into it! No returns accepted!” With that, he nibbled off a bite of his own, and the crisp, refreshing flavor of ramune spread over his tongue.
How many years had it been since he’d had ice cream? The familiar flavor took him back to his childhood—single days had seemed inexplicably long back then. Why did time seem to fly so much faster when you became an adult?
“That’s not fair, though! It’s totally cheating to tack something on after-the-fact like that!”
Yokozawa responded solemnly to the miffed Henmi, “You never know what sorts of traps await you out there in the wide world—you should never take something that sounds too good to be true at face value.”
“Please stop lecturing me like that!”
Henmi turned a reproachful gaze Yokozawa’s way, obviously taking him completely seriously, and finding his sullen expression so amusing, Yokozawa relented with a soft, “…I’m only kidding.”
“…Huh?” He glanced up at Yokozawa, still nibbling at his ice cream, with confusion evident in his features.
“I said I was kidding. I’m not going to change your deadline just because of some ice cream.”
“Y—you nearly gave me a heart attack!” Relief and anger vied for expression in his face, and he puffed out his cheeks.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist. I was only teasing you. If you don’t hurry up and eat that, it’s gonna melt all over you.”
“Uwah—ack!” Flustered, he lapped at the ice cream that had started to drip onto his hands, and Yokozawa proceeded to finish off his own ice cream as he took in the sight.
“…You know, your personality’s really changed lately, Yokozawa-san.”
Yokozawa gave a jolt at the unexpectedly sharp point, but he managed to keep anything from showing in his features. “Has it?”
Henmi just pressed even more aggressively. “You always used to just roll your eyes at my jokes before!”
“That’s because your stupid puns were so incredibly dull.”
“That’s not true at all! I’m always going all out with my numbers!”
“Maybe that’s why they always fell flat.”
“Huh? You mean my jokes never went over well?!” Henmi dropped deep into thought with the shock of Yokozawa’s revelation, and Yokozawa continued on to his own desk, turning over in his mind what Henmi had commented on. He’d been relieved that Henmi hadn’t seemed to have noticed how truly shaken he’d been by the words, tossing the remnants of his ice cream into the garbage pail by his desk.
He wasn’t sure if his personality had really changed or not, but he had grown more prone to cracking jokes lately—likely due to having become freer in expressing his feelings.
He didn’t exactly want to admit it…but it was probably due in large part to spending so much time around Kirishima. Being tripped up from time to time as he had been, it seemed some of the guy’s personality had rubbed off on him.
“Yokozawa-san—which jokes of mine have been the worst so far?”
“Forget about it and just get to work.” This was neither the time nor the place to be letting one’s mind drift to unimportant matters—and repeating the advice to himself, he lifted the lid on his laptop, resetting himself to work-mode and switching his focus to his computer as it started up.
“Here are your drinks, sirs.”
“Thanks.” They both took in hand the glasses that had just been set before them, clinking the rims together softly with mutterings of good work today.
As much as it may have made him seem like an old geezer, for Yokozawa, summer always called for a beer at the end of the day—and a cold mug after work was absolutely delicious.
Before he even reached over to taste their appetizer, he’d emptied the glass in a single gulp, and as he returned the mug to the table—nothing but foam remaining now—Kirishima warned, “Hey, watch your pace now. Go overboard like before and I’m leaving your ass here this time.”
“I’d never let myself go that far again.”
The bar he and Kirishima had come to this evening for the first time in a while was the very same one Yokozawa had drowned his sorrows in some time back. He’d been so utterly ashamed of the state he’d allowed himself to slip into that he’d avoided the place for a while, but missing the atmosphere, he’d decided to drop in once more—of course with a proper apology to the owner, who’d assured Yokozawa he wasn’t offended in the least when he’d dropped into a deep bow. Indeed, he seemed actually amused at having gotten to see Yokozawa in such a rare state, and it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, relieving him.
Given that they’d arrived here together to start with, they opted for a table over seats at the counter, believing this would afford them an easier chance at conversation. Yokozawa ordered another beer, while Kirishima ordered a shochuu on the rocks for his second drink, and from there they began to pick away with their chopsticks at the food carted out to them. Yokozawa was particularly fond of this bar’s tofu dishes, with a menu laid out and formatted according to the seasons.
The bar had a domestic flavor in its dishes and functioned as a cafeteria restaurant during the day, and it seemed that the reason they’d never really met before that evening despite coming to the same shop often had been because Kirishima largely frequented this place during the day.
“Drinking in an actual restaurant for the first time in a while sure feels great,” Kirishima commented, tilting his glass toward him, and Yokozawa finally addressed something he’d always wondered about.
“Why do you only ever drink beer at home?”
“Beer’s really bitter; I figure there’s no way Hiyo would ever want to try drinking it. And while I doubt she knows how sake or shochuu taste, she might mistake those for water or juice and drink them without realizing.”
Ah, so he’d been doing it out of consideration for Hiyori, it seemed. There was always the chance that she might mistake a can of Chuu-hi for juice or something, after all.
“That reminds me—the first time I ever tried beer, I thought it was really bitter and couldn’t understand why people thought it was tasty. Though now I find it hard to believe I ever felt that way.”
“Guess you’ve got a point when you put it like that…”
“How’d you get so knowledgeable about booze?”
“My boss when I first joined the company thought it was hilarious how he could pump me full of alcohol and I wouldn’t get drunk, so he dragged me to bars all over town. I went to so many wine tastings, I just picked it up along the way.”
“Must’ve been nice, though—learning something new like that. Granted, having a less-discriminating palate’s probably cheaper in the long run.”
Yokozawa loved hearing about what Kirishima was like before they met—it allowed him to catch a glimpse of the roots that led Kirishima to become the man he was now. They’d even taken, of late, to discussing their lives during their days of compulsory education.
“By the way—you should know that Katou was waving around some gravure shots of you at the office earlier this afternoon. Why didn’t you tell me about the interview?”
Yokozawa deliberately worded his question casually so as not to disrupt the flow of conversation—but while he’d thought he’d managed to express himself remarkably well this time, Kirishima fell silent for a moment.
“…It’s not like it was something I had to go out of my way to tell you about, was it?”
“That’s rich, given that you usually can’t wait to tell me shit I’ve got no business hearing,” he spit out in response at the uncharacteristically blunt reply from Kirishima, and his ire only rose as he was reminded of the fact that he obviously didn’t mind his own subordinates waving around those sorts of pictures however they pleased.
But the moment he opened his mouth to give the guy a piece of his mind, Kirishima sullenly muttered, “…It’s because I was embarrassed, idiot.”
“…What? What the hell is that? I don’t get it—if you didn’t want to do the shoot, you shouldn’t have agreed to the interview in the first place.”
In Yokozawa’s opinion, the crappy pick-up lines the guy liked to spit out left and right were a hell of a lot more embarrassing—there was definitely something wrong with Kirishima’s way of thinking in this respect.
“I sure as hell didn’t agree to it because I wanted to do it, you know.”
“Then you should’ve just turned it down.”
“It was a request from a superior; I couldn’t turn it down. You seriously think I wanted to sit through a shoot like that?”
“You sure seemed to be enjoying yourself in it.” Indeed, he hadn’t felt an ounce of hesitation or shame in Kirishima’s expression in any of the pictures.
“I could hardly sit there frowning in the pictures, now could I?”
“Yet you still flashed them around for you subordinates to see?” His tone took on an unintentional pout.
“That was just because Katou happened to find them. I couldn’t just tell him no when he turned those puppy eyes on me asking if he could show them to others.”
“…Always gotta show off, don’t you?”
“Well, I am an adult.”
One thing he’d learned since they’d started dating was that Kirishima was immeasurably vain in some respects, almost never whining or complaining. The fact that he allowed Yokozawa to see all of these sides to him underscored the deep trust that ran between them—but Yokozawa couldn’t say he cared at all for the way the guy put on airs all the time around his subordinates.
He hated this childish habit he had of harboring such discontent within himself, but he tamped down these feelings and instead continued his line of casual questioning.
“So? What kind of magazine was it?”
“Run-of-the-mill information rag marketed toward women. Apparently there are some proposal pages where, every month, they do a piece on working men in their 30s. I flipped through some back issues they provided as examples and saw pieces on a financial analyst, a pilot, all kinds of careers.”
In all likelihood, the magazine cared less about the range of jobs presented and more about introducing readers to ‘great men’ in different fields.
“So how the hell did they manage to track down you then?”
“The daughter of a friend of my boss’s is working as an editor there apparently, and it seems she requested an introduction. It was tough to turn the offer down, too, seeing as I’d met the guy before when I got dragged out on a golf outing once.”
“Huh…” Yokozawa’s mind caught on the words friend of my boss’s—if he recalled correctly, the girls from earlier had mentioned that Kirishima’s marriage interview had come about because a ‘higher-up’ had taken a shine to him.
But Kirishima had said he’d been dragged out to play golf, so surely it had been a business meeting of sorts. Plus—anyone who was present at that sort of event had to be someone of some status. Now Yokozawa couldn’t help thinking that the aim of the meeting had been less to score an interview and more to meet privately with Kirishima himself.
Reminding himself not to jump to conclusions, Yokozawa continued the conversation casually. “Katou said he wanted to include one of the pictures as a freebie poster. Where’d you do the shoot?”
“There’s no way we could stick those in with a manga magazine. They had the photoshoot at a cafe—and the interview was supposed to follow, but the shoot ran long and they didn’t have time to continue there, so we had to change locations.”
“Ah, so that’s why you were late coming home.”
“There weren’t any open shops around, either, so in the end we wound up having to go into a hotel cafe on the other side of the station. Though despite all the trouble we went through, we didn’t really talk about much in the end.”
“What’d you talk about?”
“Just the usual—how’d you get the job you’re in now, what aspect of your job leaves you feeling fulfilled, that kind of thing. And then things like my hobbies, schooling, my ‘type’, what kinds of things I look for in a marriage partner.”
“What the hell? That’s kind of rude to ask, isn’t it?”
Kirishima laughed dryly at Yokozawa’s unabashed display of displeasure. “I stopped responding toward the end. I figured what’s the point in responding to picky little questions like that if it won’t fit on the page. It was for the good of the magazine, I thought.”
“And…you were fine with that?” Sure, maybe that had been his reasoning as a fellow editor—but as a person, had Kirishima actually felt it had been the right decision?
Kirishima fell silent for a moment at Yokozawa’s question, then spoke again, his response mingled with a sigh. “…And this is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you about it. It’s pathetic—having these snooty pictures sitting next to a superficial interview.”
“I never said—” But then he realized that Kirishima’s hiding the interview from him had simply been another aspect of his vanity, and finally understanding how Kirishima felt about this entire affair, he fell silent.
“And well—while not exactly a quid pro quo arrangement, they’re going to be running a special on Za Kan next month. It sounds like they wanted to pull Kyou-san into the mix as well, but I turned them down.”
Not only Kirishima but Ijuuin as well had been blessed with handsome features that seemed wasted on a mangaka. With the two of them together, there was no helping how they stood out. Compiling an article on the veteran mangaka Ijuuin and an editor famous in his field would undoubtedly draw attention.
The girls at the office who’d used Kirishima’s pictures as gossip fodder had also mentioned that it would’ve been even better if Ijuuin had been in the shoot with him. They were likely in high demand.
“I mean, it’s not like I don’t understand where they were coming from—but I had them settle for just me this time at least. Not that I expect there to be a next time.” Yokozawa didn’t miss the note of annoyance in the laughingly delivered line; it seems Kirishima’s patience had been truly tested. “Still—I’ve gotta say this is rare. You taking an interest in my work. You hardly ever touch on anything that doesn’t directly involve you.”
“It—was just casual curiosity, that’s all. With Katou flashing those kinds of pictures around, I couldn’t help wondering…”
“What, you wanted some copies for yourself?”
“You—don’t be stupid! Who the hell would want…” Though well, if he were to be completely truthful…he didn’t entirely not want any—but he was hardly capably of frankly confessing as such to the guy himself.
“C’mon, don’t be shy~ Which ones did you want?”
“I told you, I don’t need any of—”
“Kirishima-san…?” A voice a called out to them from an unexpected direction, and Yokozawa cut himself off, turning in the direction the voice came from. There, he found a slender young woman standing near them.
Directing her gaze toward Kirishima, she let out a soft cheer. “Ooh, I knew it! It looked like you from behind, so I took a chance! I can’t believe I ran into you in this kind of place!”
“Ah, nice to see you, Kayama-san. It was a pleasure meeting you the other day.” Yokozawa could swear that just before Kirishima returned his laughing greeting to the woman, his expression darkened for only a moment.
“The same goes for me—with my apologies for being so out of sorts that day. I’m sure I inconvenienced you…”
“Hardly; anyone’s work can be fraught with troubles, after all.”
“Oh, I’m so relieved to hear that! It was such an honor being able to work with you. I really enjoyed getting to discuss manga with you! I’d love to have a conversation again sometime.”
“Nooo no no, no more interviews for me, thanks. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, really.”
Then—we’ll have to chat privately! I must confess, I have personal interest in these topics as well.”
Yokozawa jolted at the woman’s phrasing, but Kirishima didn’t bat an eye, instead switching topics.
“So—what brings you to this shop tonight, Kayama-san? Are you alone?”
“I came after a friend recommended this place to me as really delicious. I was supposed to meet her here, but she’s running late and told me to go ahead and find a seat inside. Still—I never expected to run into you, Kirishima-san! I’m thrilled! Do you come here often?”
“Ah, kind of.”
On most any other occasion, Kirishima would usually attempt to steer the conversation himself, but for some reason, his responses tonight were falling somewhat flat. Reasoning with himself that perhaps he just wasn’t very good at interacting with this type of person, Yokozawa casually glanced over at the woman—and gave a start.
It was the same woman who’d been with Kirishima the other day. She’d changed out the pantsuit from before for a rather flashy outfit tonight: a blouse with a large, open collar and a shortish flared skirt.
Yokozawa’s face twisted into a grimace at the sweet scent that wafted his way every time she pressed a strand of hair behind her ears. It wasn’t a foul odor or anything—but it was hardly appropriate for an eatery. It would be one thing if she’d just happened upon this place by chance, but seeing as she’d said she’d come here for the explicit purpose of eating, she seemed lacking in forethought.
“Umm, if you don’t mind…would it be all right if I joined you? It’s a bit lonely sitting here by myself waiting for my friend to arrive.”
“Oh—my apologies, but I’ve got company here myself, so…”
“Eh? Oh! Oh, of course! I’m sorry for suggesting something so rude!” It seemed she hadn’t even so much as noticed Yokozawa. Perhaps she hadn’t actually expected Kirishima to turn her down, for her expression paled in shock for a moment. However, she quickly pasted on an apologetic smile.
“I’m sorry for making such a strange request. My friends tell me I do that kind of thing all the time! Going on about how I’m such an airhead!”
“Not at all; think nothing of it.”
“I hope we can spend some time together in the future if we get the chance.”
“Of course; should occasion allow,” Kirishima returned with a cautious smile. Offering Yokozawa a nod as well, Kayama took her leave.
After ensuring that Kayama was now out of earshot, Yokozawa whispered softly, “You don’t think you were a little sharp with her just now?” Sure, she didn’t seem the type to easily take a hint, but it probably would’ve been fair to go a bit easier on her than he had. She had been quite the looker, after all, and probably didn’t have much experience being so stiffly rejected after making her intentions as clear as she had—but she’d clearly been a bit put off by Kirishima’s blunt way of speaking just now.
Kirishima had always been one to conduct himself with the utmost tact around women, leaving them with the impression he was something of a flirt, so she probably had been more than a bit taken aback by his response.
“I just thought I should probably put my foot down with her. Would’ve been more trouble than it was worth to give in and let her sit with us.”
“Well, sure, but…wasn’t she someone you do business with?” Here he was worrying over Kirishima’s curt attitude, and the guy himself seemed to almost be holding back laughter. “…What the hell’s so funny?”
“Nothing; just amused how sometimes strange things happen. This has to be the first time you’ve ever told me to take a hint, hasn’t it?”
“…That phrasing makes it sound like I’m never considerate of those around me.” But on second thought, Kirishima had a point—Yokozawa was the one who, by and large, had to be told to consider other people’s feelings. And it was for that very reason that he’d been shocked by Kirishima’s reaction just now.
It wouldn’t be overstating the matter to say it was the first time he’d ever seen the guy treat a woman with that attitude. After all, around the office, he was so courteous and polite one might say he was being overly familiar with them.
“Taking a hint and being considerate are two different things. It’s not that you can’t take a hint; you just generally choose not to. Though I guess our company’s stuffed to the gills with guys just like you in that respect.”
Hoping to avoid being made the butt of any further jokes, Yokozawa brought the topic back around. “Whatever—are you sure it was all right for you to take that tone? Wasn’t she the editor for that magazine?”
“Nah, she’s just a freelancer. She’s the one who interviewed me.”
“Oh—are they not the same?” Yokozawa had been certain she had been the potential marriage partner. He’d assumed that the way she seemed rather informal and close with him had been because of her father’s connections with Kirishima, but now that he knew that wasn’t the case, he was starting to get a bad feeling about this whole affair.
In fact, she came off as overly familiar in hindsight now; the nerve she had, asking so tactlessly to share his table, which would’ve been rude even if they’d met before on a number of occasions.
“Either way, I’m sure I’ll never have to meet her in person again. All of the confirmation for the article can be handled through e-mail, after all. Barring chance encounters like just now, she’s pretty far out of my field.”
“‘Out of your field’?”
“Well—she writes for a women’s magazine. Seems like she specializes in articles on cosmetics and fashion; she’d never read any manga aside from the really famous ones that get turned into TV dramas.”
“…Would someone who never reads any manga know anything about appropriate questions to ask a manga editor?” For interviews like this, didn’t they typically use a writer somewhat versed in the field their subject was involved in?
“Supposedly they wanted an article written from the same viewpoint as their readers. The pictures are usually more important than the writing on the page, after all, and if the interview was too stilted, no one would read the article anyways.”
“I guess not…” But then, if they only needed some superficial language to toss onto the page, what reason was there to keep the guy around for so long? It was more than a little discomforting realizing that Kirishima had pretty much been used.
“Hey, c’mon—don’t look like that. You know how things go sometimes.”
“Yeah yeah, I know,” he snapped, and after a moment’s silence, Kirishima responded with a leering smile.
“Are you…by any chance jealous? You idiot—you know there’s no way I’d ever have eyes for anyone but you.” Kirishima reached a hand out and ruffled his hair, suddenly in much higher spirits.
“Uwah—hey! What the hell are you—idiot, cut it out!” He slapped Kirishima’s hand away and began to pat his rumpled hair back down into place.
“Geez, this side of you is so fucking adorable, you know.”
“…You really need to get your ass to an optometrist.”
“What for? There’s nothing wrong with my eyes. I’ll have you know I’m a long ways off from having my sight affected by age.”
“Then maybe it’s your head that needs checking.”
“You know, I have been thinking my attention span’s been getting kind of short lately—but well, there’s no man alive who wouldn’t be in high spirits in the presence of his darling lover.”
“…You’re so full of shit.” He’d considered jumping on what amounted to Kirishima talking in his sleep, but quickly gave up.; it was precisely because he always rose to these challenges that Kirishima got carried away.
“Oh right—so, I’ll give you copies of whichever of those pictures you like. That way you can slip ‘em into your planner or hang them up in your place, do whatever you want with them.”
“I’m not putting them in my planner and I’m sure as hell not hanging them in my apartment.”
“But you do still want them, yeah?”
Yokozawa’s words caught in his throat for a moment as he remembered wanting them just a teeny tiny bit—a mistake. ”…Who the hell would need any of those pictures?!”
There was no way Kirishima was going to let that moment of hesitation slide, though, and he poked Yokozawa squarely in the center of his forehead. “So, you do want them! I keep telling you, feel free!”
“I don’t need to feel free, thank you very much.” But Kirishima didn’t seem to hear any of his grumblings, simply leering merrily. There was no stopping him once he got like this—the only option left was to simply field his continuous teasing and wait until he tired of being in ‘bully mode’.
“Maybe I’ll print out some of those pictures from before and decorate my desk with them…”
“You sure as hell better not! You’ll start up more weird rumors that way!”
“What’s wrong with printing up pictures of Hiyori? Oh my—did you assume they were pictures of you?”
“………” Realizing he was being toyed with yet again, Yokozawa’s face erupted in flames, leaving him unable to respond when he recognized that he would only be digging his grave even deeper.
“You know, your face is kinda red.”
“It’s just the booze!” And while he knew fully well that there was no way his face would change color just from a mug or two of beer, he couldn’t just keep his mouth shut this time.