The office after Yokozawa returned from his summer vacation was more deserted than usual, likely because many other employees had had the same idea and were in the midst of their own holidays right now.
“…Sure is quiet.” While it wasn’t exactly bustling with activity usually, the lack of people around meant there was hardly any noise whatsoever.
His vacation itself had been quite enjoyable—aside from the unpleasant run-in with the punk kids, he would’ve given their holiday full points. More than anything else, he was glad to have seen Hiyori really enjoying herself. He’d really worn himself out trying to keep up with an elementary school kid’s stamina, but he’d nevertheless been able to cleanly shake off all of the stress he’d accumulated on the job.
However, his one regret lay in the fact that he’d been unable to properly question Kirishima, settling instead for a petty quarrel. Even during their vacation, Kirishima’s cell phone had buzzed occasionally with incoming text messages and calls. Considering the frequency with which he typically received such attentions, it was clearly out of the ordinary. Given that Kirishima had turned off his phone entirely partway through their trip, Yokozawa couldn’t draw any conclusions after that, but he hardly believed that they’d stopped entirely.
He’d attempted to broach the subject several times, but Kirishima always just lightly brushed his concerns aside, and his stubborn attitude in turn provoked a willful streak in Yokozawa as well, hardly ideal.
Thinking back on it, perhaps he hadn’t phrased his question well—the irritation he’d been unable to quash had led him to sound like he was cross-examining the guy.
“You’re hiding something from me, aren’t you?”
“If you want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer…then I suppose it’d have to be ‘yes’. But you’ve got a few things you’re not telling me yourself, don’t you?”
“Don’t split hairs with me—you know that’s not what I’m talking about. But there’s something you’re struggling with right now, isn’t there?”
At Yokozawa’s comment, Kirishima had offered a small smile for some reason—before responding shortly to a bewildered Yokozawa, “I appreciate the sentiment, but even if there were some problem, it has nothing to do with you.”
He stiffened at Kirishima’s phrasing, and his voice took on an unintentionally severe tone. “Nothing to do with me? Are you serious?”
“I’m saying it’s my problem.”
“So what, I’m just annoying you with my concern?”
“I never said that—just, there’s no point in my telling you.”
“…Fine, suit yourself!” It was the only thing he could say after being so utterly and completely shut out like that.
He’d managed to hide their quarrel from Hiyori, but she was a sharp little thing and could easily have picked up on something.
“I’m not reliable enough—is that what he’s suggesting…?”
It hadn’t even been a full six months since they’d started seeing one another—but this was the first time Kirishima had ever purposefully hid something from him like this. Of course, they both had their private lives and all; there was no need to be completely open about absolutely everything. But this time—for some reason, he just couldn’t shake this feeling that something was off, and that feeling gave way to worry and distrust, keeping Yokozawa from remaining calm.
He should probably just wait until Kirishima came around to feeling up to discussing whatever was going on. It was his own damn problem if he let himself be consumed with worrying 24-7 whenever something stuck in his mind, after all. Perhaps it was that immaturity in and of itself that Kirishima deemed unreliable.
No matter how hard he tried, he’d never be able to make up for the difference in time they’d both walked this earth—and by the time he was Kirishima’s age, Kirishima himself would be even further down the line. Initially, he’d never thought that the day would come when he’d be so concerned with the difference in age between himself and Kirishima. This intolerance of his was so damn frustrating—why couldn’t he just mellow out?
While they were hardly on the outs right now, he really wanted to get rid of this awkward atmosphere between them as quickly as possible. But until they resolved the very reason they’d fought in the first place, they wouldn’t be able to reach a true resolution.
“Dammit…” He’d arrived on the shoujo manga floor in an irritated fit. Like most everywhere else, this floor was largely empty as well, and the only one left manning the Emerald desks at the moment was Hatori, it seemed.
“Hey—where’d Masamune go?”
“Ah, Yokozawa-san. If it’s Takano-san you’re after, he’s in a meeting at the moment. I’m sure he’ll be back just shortly, but would you like me to take a message for him?” The fact that he didn’t ask if Yokozawa would like to wait or not was likely because he understood Yokozawa’s impatient nature.
“No—I’ll text him myself. And, here—it’s a souvenir, so feel free to share it with the other editors.”
“You shouldn’t have.” He’d brought back an assortment of treats that could be found in most any tourist locale.
He was supposed to pick up Sorata this evening, after having had Takano take care of him while he was away, and had meant to inquire as to Takano’s convenience while he passed out the souvenir treats when he dropped in at the Emerald editing department desks, but his timing was apparently off.
“Sorry for the disturbance, then.” He turned on his heel to head back to the sales floor—when Hatori called out to him.
“Excuse me, but—Yokozawa-san? Could you wait for just a moment?”
“What is it?” As he turned back, Hatori rifled through his bag at his feet, eventually pulling out something and offering it to Yokozawa.
“Would you like to use this?”
“It’s one I used to use myself, but I figured it might be of some use to you as well, as it’s got quite a few simple, easy-to-use recipes.” He’d passed over what appeared to be a cookbook. From the cover and title, it looked to be aimed at beginners, and flipping through the pages, he found it to be just as easy-to-use as Hatori professed.
“This’ll be a huge help—when should I return it?” Yokozawa was grateful to his consideration for remembering such a nonchalant conversation and then bringing this all the way from his house. The accompanying images of the finished dishes were all beautifully colored with great sense—this would no doubt prove a wonderful reference. He could tell from binding that this book had seen a great deal of use over the years.
“Oh, no—you can keep it. I’ve memorized practically all of the recipes, after all. I’d wanted to offer you a new copy, but it seems to already be out of print, so while it’s admittedly not in the best shape…”
“Are you sure? Thanks a load—and it’s in perfectly decent shape!” Sure, there were a few oil splatters here and there, but you really had to be looking for them to notice. This was Hatori, after all—there was no doubt he’d used it conscientiously.
“No thanks necessary—really, I should be thanking you for your help the other day. Consider it a sign of my gratitude.”
“Gratitude? Did I…do something?”
“Thanks to your advice, we’ve been able to put together a new development.”
“Advice? Ah—well, that was just me being an agony aunt.” Here, he recalled their conversation in the break room several days before. It hadn’t been much, but Hatori seemed to be feeling quite indebted to Yokozawa because of it.
“And I’m sure it must have been you who brought up the issue with the production company, correct?”
“Huh? I didn’t do anything—but whatever, if everything seems to be working out, then that’s all for the best.” All he’d done was chat up a colleague working as an anime producer, and naturally he hadn’t mentioned one word about any specific titles. But the guy was a sharp one, so he might have picked up on some links between the conversation and rumors he’d heard in his line of business. If there’d been any inquiries from that man, it was only a testament to the power Hatori’s works had to enthrall others.
However, having been able to be of some help to another left Yokozawa, who’d nearly lost all of his self-confidence, feeling as if he’d dispelled some of the haze that had draped itself over him.
“Hit me up again after you’ve started settling things. I won’t spare any efforts to help.”
“I hope we can work together well, then.”
As he headed back to the sales floor, he flipped through the recipe book he’d just received, spotting a good few that looked like they’d suit a child’s palate.
“…Geez, this guy has some unexpectedly childish tastes, huh…” The pages which bore marks of having been consulted most often were largely dishes such as demi-glace hamburg steak and meat gratin, ones typically found on children’s menus. Shaking his head in shock at Hatori’s surprising taste in food, he turned his thoughts instead to what to serve at Hiyori’s birthday party.
He’d need to start preparing now to ensure that he didn’t get flustered and mess up on the day itself. There were ingredients to purchase, after all, and he’d need to make sure to consult her friends on their likes and dislikes as well as any allergies.
He fully intended to have Kirishima help him out—despite the fact that the guy couldn’t cook worth a damn. Even if he couldn’t peel apples, he should at least be capable of watching over a cookpot. Working as waitstaff was his job, after all, as Hiyori’s father.
As he started dividing up the labor in his head, he caught Henmi’s disgruntled voice. “Ah, Yokozawa-san! Where have you been? If you’re going to step away from your desk, please let me know!”
“I came right back—did something happen?” He’d made his way back to the sales floor while lost in thought—and immediately braced himself for more potential trouble rearing its ugly head.
“Not ‘something’—but you said you’d check over my proposal, remember?”
“Oh right—that I did. You’re already finished?” He remembered now being asked for such a favor earlier that morning.
“Got it perfect this time! Oh—also, you got a phone call from one of the bookshops earlier. I took down the details for you, so please return the call.”
“Will do.” He took the materials, bound with a clip, from the brimming-with-confidence Henmi and checked the sticky note attached to his computer. Apparently they wanted to discuss a campaign for a comic series set to be released the month after next.
He moved to pull his planner from his bag—when he recalled he hadn’t yet passed out the souvenir treats he’d bought for the sales department. “Oh right—Henmi.”
“Here, souvenirs. Sorry, but would you mind passing them out to everyone when you have the time?”
“Wow, thank you! We can have them as snacks when everyone’s back!” And despite the suggestion of sharing them later, the guy started peeking into the paper bag. “But still—you got really tan! Did you head down to the ocean?”
“…Yeah, I guess you could say that,” he returned vaguely. If it got out that he’d gone on a trip with Kirishima, there was no telling what people would start saying.
“You’re pretty much pitch black! You could pass for a brown bear—or even a grizzly now! You’re even more intimidating now!”
“…’S that supposed to be a compliment?” He himself had thought he’d gone a bit overboard with the tanning—but he never would’ve thought he’d find himself compared to a grizzly bear.
As he questioned the insistent Henmi on this point, he was returned in all seriousness, “Of course it’s a compliment! Maybe I’ll head down to the beach for a tan myself…”
Yokozawa had intended his tone to communicate his irritation, but it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Sometimes he found himself gaping in awe at Henmi’s carefree density. “You airheads are all…”
“Did you say something?”
“Forget it. Just talking to myself.”
“Huh? Wait, these look a lot like the ones I got from the Japun editing division…”
“What the hell are you doing poking your nose around the Japun desks?”
“The color proof for some campaign materials finally arrived, so I dropped by to have them look it over earlier—which happened to be just around the time that Kirishima-san was passing out some souvenir treats of his own, so I snagged one myself.”
Henmi might be thick as a brick wall when it came to picking up on people complaining about him, but he could be stupidly sharp in other strange respects, a fact which baffled Yokozawa.
Yokozawa had bought the souvenir he had based on price and number included in the package—treating everyone in all of the divisions required a certain base amount, after all—and this was likely the reason he and Kirishima had wound up buying similar items. Thank goodness he’d taken the extra precaution of being sure he bought something that didn’t name the location he’d purchased it from.
He suppressed his agitation, returning casually, “Well—most souvenirs look the same regardless of where they’re from, right?” His acting had improved leaps and bounds compared to before. It was hardly easy guarding a secret, after all.
Thankfully, though, Henmi didn’t seem to notice any change in Yokozawa’s expression, and he sighed to himself in relief.
“True—there are some out there that look like they’re manufactured in tourist destinations from the packaging but are actually local goods, after all. I remember this one time I went to a theme park, and when I checked the back of the souvenir treats I bought, I found out they were made in a factory not too far from my own house! I was totally depressed!”
“What difference does it make where it was manufactured so long as it tastes good?”
“You can’t say that! Souvenirs are part of the memory of the trip! Your girlfriend’ll dump you if you keep being so insensitive, you know!”
Henmi’s insistence was a bit suspicious, and Yokozawa turned a question of his own on him: “Wait—did you by any chance get dumped by some chick because you fought over something like that?”
Henmi grew clearly flustered. “Ab—absolutely not! Please don’t make such ludicrous suggestions!”
“Ooh, I get it now—I thought you were pretty serious over this, but now I see you’re speaking from experience!”
“I told you—that’s not how it is! Just—please hurry up and check over my proposal!”
The fact that the guy looked to be on the verge of tears suggested to Yokozawa that things hadn’t gone well, and deeming it pitiful to keep pressing him on the subject, Yokozawa finally relented.
The moment he showed his face in Takano’s apartment, Sorata had already deposited himself inside his carrier of his own volition. While he’d never been particularly averse to entering the carrier, this was the first time Yokozawa had ever seen him take the initiative like this. Maybe he was just that eager to see Hiyori again—indeed, she seemed just as excited to see Sorata, texting Yokozawa only a short while ago, “What time will you be back home?”
“—and so, I was fighting with my wife, and when I started getting choked up before it, the youngest one intervened, see?”
“Ah, did it, now?” The taxi driver had been regaling Yokozawa with tales of his own cat for a while now. It seemed he owned two—a black and a tortoise-shell patterned one—both of which had apparently been adopted by his daughter. The guy even flashed a picture of them for Yokozawa while stopped at a stoplight.
He’d called for the taxi home in advance, before going to pick up Sorata. Most of the time, it was little issue to get the driver to let him ride with a cat, so long as it was in a carrier, but there was always the chance he might get stuck with a driver with allergies or one who just flat-out didn’t like animals. He therefore always kept on hand the number for a taxi service that allowed pets to ride.
The driver this evening seemed to be a cat-lover to the bone and started up a conversation of his own accord. While this was better than landing a driver who hated animals, his machine-gun conversation style with no signs of stopping was really starting to wear on Yokozawa.
At a break in the conversation, he fired off a text that he was about to head back with Sorata in hand, to which Kirishima returned the pithy text, /I’m about to head home, too./ They would likely find themselves arriving at his apartment at the same time.
This was the first text he’d received from the guy since they’d arrived back from their vacation. They’d been in a cold-war state of anger for a while now and hadn’t even had a proper conversation in the meantime, much less exchanged texts. The text he’d sent announcing his scheduled return time had been one sent after much thoughtful consideration, and while waiting for a response, his fingertips had frozen solid with nerves.
They likely wouldn’t be able to sit down and discuss anything until after Hiyori went to bed—and even then, Kirishima might not be up to telling him anything. Still—Yokozawa could at least lay his own feelings bare.
Ideally, he would have liked to be able to support Kirishima without asking him anything—to just calmly and collectedly back him up, offer casual advice, and watch over him until whatever problem plagued him solved itself.
But that was pretty well impossible with Yokozawa’s personality—he couldn’t not worry, couldn’t not open his mouth and meddle. Altering his policies like that and trying to do something that wasn’t in his nature would only wind up tearing everything to shreds.
“And me—I just keep spoiling them, so now they’re getting a little on the pudgy side, y’see. How about your kitty there?”
“It’s the same with mine. He’s on a diet right now.” Which made him recall how Takano had been shocked at how much lighter Sorata was now. It wasn’t all that obvious at first glance, but when he picked him up, he commented that he could really feel the difference in weight now.
Truthfully, though, Hiyori was the one most strict in ensuring Sorata adhered to his diet, hardening her heart and not offering him high-calorie treats. Whenever Hiyori took to fervently explaining the adverse effects of being overweight, even Sorata appeared to grow meek and quiet.
When he asked after Sorata’s demeanor while he’d been in Takano’s care, the conversation had led Takano to in turn inquire about where he’d gone on his trip, but he wound up only offering the vaguest of responses. He knew he really ought to mention his relationship with Kirishima to Takano sooner rather than later, but he still hadn’t worked up the nerve yet to do so.
It sounded like Sorata had pretty much done his own thing while he’d been staying with Takano.
“But well—fat or thin, I think my kitty’s just the cutest thing ever!” The driver’s bout of bragging about his pet ended just as they drew to a stop at the traffic signal in front of the station. While Yokozawa could hardly blame the guy, it was tiring offering the occasional filler to indicate he was still interested when the driver never let up, so he was actually quite relieved.
However, just as he’d let himself relax, the driver spoke up in a wondering voice, as if he’d just noticed something. “Hmm…? What’s this? A fight?”
“Yes, it seems so…” His gaze immediately went to a man and a woman blocking the crowd attempting to enter and leave the subway entrance. Passing it off as little more than a lovers’ quarrel in all likelihood, he let his gaze wander once more—then did a double-take.
He couldn’t tell who the woman was—but the man was definitely Kirishima. It was dark, but there was no mistaking Kirishima’s tall figure. He gaped at the pair, emotions roiling within—when they grew even more brazen in their fighting. The woman tried to leave, shoving her way through Kirishima and grabbing a him.
“Sorry—but could you drop me off here?!”
“Huh? Are you sure? We’re almost at your destination…”
“It’s fine! Keep the change!”
He pulled a bill from his wallet at random and pressed it into the driver’s hand, then leapt from the taxi with Sorata’s carrier tucked under his arm. However, the moment he turned to check on the pair, he witnessed something unbelievable.
“Wha—?!” Kirishima flat out disappeared in an instant, appearing to have fallen down the stairwell after being shoved out of the way by the woman. Shrieks rose up from a group of high-school girls who’d been standing nearby, and the station front erupted in confusion.
While the woman beat a hasty retreat, Yokozawa was more concerned with making sure Kirishima was all right. “Kirishima-san?!” He glanced into the stairway leading down from the subway entrance, finding Kirishima collapsed on the landing below. He darted down a few steps before dropping into a squat. “Hey—are you all right?”
“Ugh, owww…Yokozawa? What’re you doing here…?”
Yokozawa lost his focus for a moment at the utterly ridiculous question on Kirishima’s lips. He was obviously conscious, and his words were perfectly intelligible.
That it was only a short drop from street level down to where they were on the landing below was the silver lining to the dark cloud that was this whole affair. Further, as the crowd had been broken up in places, no one else had been caught up in the incident either.
“I saw you get pushed down and hopped out of the taxi I was in! But—forget that, are you all right?”
“I think I sprained my ankle, but I at least managed to not hit my head, so it’s no big deal. But more so—why’d you let the chance slip by to cry out my name at such a great climactic point? You’ve gotta take these opportunities where they come.”
“…All right, if you’re lucid enough to be spouting shit like that, you have to be fine. I’m gonna leave Sorata here with you, so keep an eye on him.” Given that he seemed well enough to drop quips, his body at least had to be fine.
He set Sorata’s carrier close enough that Kirishima could see it and then raced back up the stairs, searching for the woman who’d run off—but some time had passed since then. Despite knowing that she was likely long gone by that point, though, he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.
“Where the hell did she…” He dashed off in the direction she’d run and turned a corner—where he found a commotion going on, with a group of people who’d apparently witnessed Kirishima being pushed down the stairs crowding around the woman responsible.
“Let me go…! Stop it! Don’t touch me!”
“Calm down, there!” Just then, perhaps in response to someone calling in a report, the police from a nearby police box arrived on the scene, and at their appearance, the woman proceeded to protest even more violently.
“…Are you serious?!”
Yokozawa gaped at the scene unfolding before him: the woman struggling to free herself from their grasp to escape, with wild, unkempt hair, was Kayama.
Yokozawa hadn’t taken in a single line from the book he’d picked up to leaf through after finding himself uninterested in anything on television, and with each turn of the page, he found himself having to go back and reread once more.
Kirishima was late coming home tonight after having stopped by the hospital with the police.
Sorata was sleeping, without a care in the world, in his usual spot. Yokozawa had tried to play with him for a bit in a futile attempt to ignore his own agitation, but perhaps the cat had seen through him, refusing to give him any quarter. Anyway—Sorata wasn’t in the best of moods this evening himself, possibly because Hiyori wasn’t home.
Certain that she’d only be worried upon hearing that her father had been involved in an accident, she’d been sent off to spend another night with her grandparents with the explanation that Kirishima was just working late. As such, Yokozawa had been charged with looking after the apartment with Sorata.
Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Yokozawa checked his cell phone once again for missed calls—he’d lost count of how many times he’d done so this evening.
“God I just can’t calm down…” He released a sigh—and just then, he caught the sound of a key turning in a lock at the genkan, startling him. Lifting his head, the familiar sound of Kirishima’s voice, same as always, reached his ears.
“!” He scrambled to the entrance to meet him, with Sorata at his heels, and found Kirishima removing his shoes in the genkan with little changed about him beyond the bandages wrapped around his ankle and upper arm. “Are you…all right?”
“Yup—as you can see, I’m fit as a fiddle.” Thus speaking, he waved his ankle for show.
“Hey—don’t overdo it. But…you’re not seriously hurt, right?”
“It’s just like I said in my text message—they took an x-ray, but there was no fracturing in the bone, so the doctor declared me perfectly fine. Nothing to worry about.” Kirishima had suffered nothing more than a sprain and scrape in the wake of his fall down the stairs.
Taking Kirishima’s bag from him, Yokozawa headed back into the living room. Minor though his wounds may have been, he couldn’t let the guy just stand around all day like this.
“You want something to drink?”
“A piping cold beer, if you don’t mind—is what I’d like to say, but I figure I’d better lay off it tonight.”
“You sure as hell better. No booze for you ’til you’re all healed up.” He set Kirishima down on the couch and brought him a glass of barley tea in place of a beer.
“What about dinner?”
“I had some katsudon from a shop by the police station. Would’ve preferred delivery, myself, but it was hardly the time to be telling jokes, I figured.” It seemed that while Yokozawa had been beside himself with worry, Kirishima had rather enjoyed the situation he’d found himself in. There was a very real chance he’d knocked a few screws loose when he’d taken that tumble.
“You know—they say that symptoms from hitting your head don’t appear until well after the fact. Are you sure you shouldn’t go in for a thorough check-up?”
“I didn’t hit my head, so you shouldn’t worry yours. I made sure to brace myself when I fell; guess all the stuff I learned as a kid came in pretty handy, huh?”
“‘Learned as a kid’?”
“I took judo lessons from a dojo near my house when I was younger. Stopped before I entered middle school, though.”
“I see…” It seemed now that Kirishima’s twisting his arm up behind him and pinning him to the bed those months before in the hotel had been all thanks to his judo training. Yokozawa had been seriously worried his arm would be broken back then.
“To tell the truth, I thought it was a huge pain in the ass at the time—but I’m glad I stuck with it now.”
“How about thanking your parents who made you take the lessons in the first place?”
“Point. If I’d come down on it wrong, I doubt I would’ve gotten by with just a sprain…”
When Yokozawa paused to think about the what ifs of the situation, he started to tremble again. If the guy had slammed his head into the concrete….he probably wouldn’t be standing here trading quips back and forth with Yokozawa like this.
“Oh, also—don’t tell Hiyo about today, please? I don’t wanna worry her.”
“I understand. But if you don’t want her finding out, you’d better think up some way to explain how you got hurt.” While he could likely hide the sprained ankle by wearing pants, there was a prominent scrape decorating the back of his upper arm, earned when he’d been shoved to the ground—rather showy for being little more than a superficial mark.
“This’ll probably last for a while, huh… Think she’d buy it if I said I just fell at the office?”
“More than a little suspect, if you ask me.”
He settled down next to Kirishima, who sat deep in thought as to how to explain himself to Hiyori, before resetting his posture and pointedly clearing his throat. They couldn’t sit here chatting lightly like this all evening. “…So, you are going to explain to me just why the hell that woman attacked you, right?” Kirishima’s text message had contained a brief description of what had happened, but Yokozawa had yet to hear all of the particulars of the incident.
He surmised that all of the phone calls and text messages that had been plaguing Kirishima lately had been from that woman—to put it bluntly, he’d been being stalked.
“…Yeah, I will,” he responded with a soft sigh, suggesting that he was less than ecstatic about discussing the matter. Yokozawa, however, had no intention of letting what had happened today pass by. After a bit of hesitation on Kirishima’s part, he finally began to speak dispassionately. “…I’m pretty sure I mentioned it before, but the first time I met her was at the interview. And just so we’re clear—I never once contacted her myself.”
“So then—she’s had her eye on you since that time.”
“The way she put it, she ‘felt her destiny’ when she met me, apparently.”
“………” Yokozawa groped for a response, falling silent. People were perfectly free to entertain such flights of fancy if they wanted, but it was a pain in the ass to have those sorts of feelings just shoved on you without your consent.
“I started getting the feeling that she was a little off when she invited me out for a drink after the interview. She asked me out after we’d separated from the managing editor, so I turned her down, but she kept hounding me about it, so I wound up telling her that day wasn’t good for me and maybe we could do it some other time.”
“And she bought that? Why the hell would you give her your cell phone number, then?”
“I couldn’t help it! If I hadn’t, she wouldn’t have let me out of her sight, then. Plus—there were a lot of people around us, so I couldn’t be rude to her. Couldn’t have her making a scene or something. Not to mention the fact that I had no idea she was such a psycho…”
“True…” At first blush, Kayama looked like any normal human being, with a suitable appearance and ordinary way of carrying and comporting herself. While he’d thought the woman a bit obtuse after witnessing her conversation with Kirishima in the bar before, he never would’ve pegged her for the type to shove someone down a flight of stairs.
Maybe Kirishima hadn’t introduced Yokozawa to Kayama…because he’d already started harboring suspicions at that point.
“I kind of assumed I could just skate by until the article went to print—which apparently was my undoing. I never imagined she’d go so far as to follow me home…”
“So, what—you mean it wasn’t coincidence she ran into us at that bar?”
“Looks like it.” Perhaps Kirishima’s strange reaction to her appearance at that time had been because he’d felt uneasy around her by then. There was no doubt in Yokozawa’s mind now that she’d made up the bit about meeting a friend.
“And those letters you tried to hide from me—those were all from her?”
“Yeah—but they were mostly addressed to ‘my wife’. I mentioned I had a daughter in the interview, but I never told her about Sakura.” Sakura—Kirishima’s late wife. On hearing that Kirishima had a daughter, Kayama had undoubtedly assumed he had a wife.
“But—why the hell would she write to Sakura-san? What was in the letters?”
“Stuff like, ‘Your husband’s cheating on you’ and, ‘You’re unfit for him so step down’, that kind of thing. She even included a picture in one saying, ‘I’m more suited for him’, so it was pretty easy to figure out the perpetrator.”
“Why the hell would she go so far as to…”
“Seems like she thought she might be able to break us up. There was no way I could possibly let you or Hiyori see that kind of shit—but if I threw it away, I’d lose the evidence, and I couldn’t just leave it lying around the house, so I took to carrying it around with me. Which was a good thing, as I was able to hand it over to the police straight away.”
Yokozawa was at a loss for words at the way this whole affair had unfolded like some cheap suspense drama. This was above and beyond Yokozawa’s assumptions, positing the letters as love notes or similar.
“She was a real piece of work, huh…”
“Plus—turns out this wasn’t even the first time she’d done something like this. The police were saying she was probably gonna find herself committed this time.”
“Committed?!” Yokozawa’s eyes widened in shock at the far-from-gentle language. While her acts most certainly counted as assault in the eyes of the law, Kirishima had only suffered minor injuries from her attack. He’d assumed she’d get off with little more than a fine for something like this.
“She’s taken to stalking men who broke up with her before, even going so far as to hurt their new girlfriends. She saw us together—but I doubt she assumed that I’d be dating a guy.”
“Most wouldn’t.” Few people would ever assume that a man of Kirishima’s age with a kid of his own already would be dating someone of the same sex.
“I didn’t catch all the details, but it seems like when it comes to romance, she starts to lose the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. When her folks heard about it from the police, they rushed over and apologized over and over.”
“I see…” Yokozawa recalled now that yeah, even people who make trouble for others have parents and family of their own, and as he paused to consider Kayama’s parents’ feelings, his chest clenched with pain. How many times must they have had to deal with such anxiety before this…?
“Well—at the very least, I’m glad I was her target. I feel faint just imagining what might’ve happened if she’d set her sights on Hiyori… Maybe I should have her start taking some lessons…”
“It’ll probably take a load off your mind if you’re sure she knows how to defend herself.” It scared the shit out of him, not knowing what she might have done to a young girl after having lost the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. If Kirishima hadn’t been the one who’d been shoved down the stairwell, things might’ve been even worse.
There would always be people out there—like those punks from before—who would target the weak, even if Yokozawa was always on his guard, and while everything worked out for the best since he was around at that time, he shuddered to think of what might have happened had Hiyori been alone.
With age, she’d find herself out on her own more and more often—but they couldn’t just lock her away because they were worried for her. As such, they likely had little choice beyond ensuring she knew how to defend herself.
“But then—why the hell wouldn’t you just come out and say this kind of shit to me?!”
“Well—I couldn’t be 100% sure for one thing, and if it all wound up being my getting worked up over nothing, that was for the best. I didn’t want to worry you over something I wasn’t even sure of.”
“Well whether you tell me or not, I’m still gonna worry! You really think I’m that unreliable?!” While he could understand where Kirishima was coming from, professing that he hadn’t wanted to worry Yokozawa, he still couldn’t accept this. Maybe he couldn’t have been blamed for wanting to protect his wife or child in that situation—but Yokozawa was a man, and one who needed no such protection, at that.
He opened his mouth to deliver a complaint on the matter—when Kirishima responded with an abashed expression, hesitation in his voice, “I just…I didn’t want to look…so pathetic in front of you.”
“Not being able to deal with one chick? Lame beyond measure. That was why I’d planned on explaining everything to you after I’d taken care of it all.”
Yokozawa gaped in shock at Kirishima’s remarks—being a conceited show-off was all well and good, but the guy really needed to rein it in sometimes. He couldn’t stomach the fact that he’d been wracked with worry all this time just for Kirishima’s pride.
“Are you an idiot? I’d never think you were pathetic, no matter what you did,” he spat out, admission mixed with a sigh.
Kirishima froze in place for a moment before returning stupidly, “…Would you mind saying that again? Just once more?”
“I’m gonna record it this time—so say it again for me?”
“You idiot!” he roared in response as Kirishima pulled out his cell phone to activate the voice-recorder function. “No—you only get it once!”
He was less than thrilled to have his seriously offered admission made fun of. That wasn’t the kind of thing one worked the nerve up to say too often, and he definitely didn’t want it recorded. He obviously wasn’t going to get through this day with one sigh, that much was clear.
Irritated, he stood and headed into the kitchen to get himself a beer—when arms were wrapped around him from behind, pulling him into a tight hug. “…!”
“I’m sorry. I really am—truly sorry.”
Yokozawa’s frustration faded away in the wake of the honest sincerity laced in the apology, completely different from the light-hearted tone Kirishima had wielded before.
He caught sight of the bandage wrapped around Kirishima’s bicep in his peripheral vision, and a confession practically dropped from his lips, “…The moment I saw you get shoved down those stairs…I felt like my heart stopped.”
His mind had gone completely blank in that moment—sending him plummeting into a void of anger and despair, like his whole world had ended. He’d only been able to recover his composure after seeing that Kirishima was all right.
He pressed his hand over Kirishima’s wrapped around him. “Even if I can’t help you—tell me these things. Though admittedly, I’m sure you’d make do on your own.”
He never wanted to go through that again. Maybe he couldn’t be of much help—but he could still be there for him, a staff to lean on to keep him from falling.
Before, Kirishima had said that if he ever found himself in trouble, he would wait and trust in Yokozawa. But Yokozawa was through just standing around blindly.
They were together—and that meant he wanted to share not only the happy times, but the tough ones as well. Wasn’t that what it meant, sharing your life with someone?
“I’ll be sure to discuss it with you properly next time.”
“You sure as hell better not forget that.” The slightly scolding tone laced in his words were likely due to some lingering feelings of sulking irritation, and he smiled bitterly to himself at his childish behavior.
“…I promise.” And with his words, Kirishima tightened his arms around Yokozawa even further.
Yokozawa squeezed his eyes shut and released a long breath—at last able to relax the stiffness lancing through his body.