2 Short Story (3)

“Thank you so much for everything, Saegusa-san. I hope we’ll have a great working relationship in our future business ventures together.”

“Not at all—I hope for the same! Thanks so much for your help in ensuring this fair goes well!!”

At Yokozawa’s formal bow, Saegusa of Animate bowed even deeper. Today, he’d dropped by the newly opened Ikebukuro branch of Animate to have a look around, having Saegusa show him where the Marukawa Shoten shelves were located. It seemed there was even a special space set aside for holding campaign events, and there was no doubt it would soon be bustling with customers.

Given that much of the merchandise had yet to be lined up on the shelves, the store had something of an empty feeling to it, but as soon as the goods and books were all put in place, it was sure to be a lively place.

“Well then, as soon as we’ve put the particulars together, I’ll be sure to contact you again.”

“Of course! I’ll be waiting with bells on!”

Giving his thanks once more to Saegusa, who flashed him a friendly smile, Yokozawa turned his gaze to outside the building—only to notice the passersby all running panickedly and hastening to open their umbrellas.

“Uh oh—looks like a shower’s started up! But the forecast said it wasn’t supposed to start until late this evening… Did you bring an umbrella, Yokozawa-san?”

“It’s not too terrible just yet; I’m sure I can make it back to the station all right if I make a run for it.”

“Are you sure?”

While the office had plenty of umbrellas lying around for employees to use at their convenience, Yokozawa had cockily assumed he’d be able to head home before it started to rain, and so his own umbrellas was still sitting by his desk at work.

He didn’t exactly have many good memories associated with stormy days. He hated the gloomy atmosphere, and he lacked any sensitivity to appreciate the elegance of the sound of the falling rain.

“If it looks like it’s getting worse, I’ll just buy a cheap one from a convenience store along the way.” So long as the documents in his briefcase didn’t get soaked, everything was fine. There was always the option to find someplace to hole himself up in until the weather cleared, but he had plans after this and couldn’t exactly dawdle for very long.

Just as he’d tucked his bag under one arm and moved to exit the shop, a man named Tezuka, in charge of merchandise at Animate, appeared—perhaps here to assess how things were going with the new shop before it opened.

“Huh? Yokozawa-san?”

“Tezuka-san…” Yokozawa had been working with this man since around the time he’d first been assigned to comics sales.

“Are you heading home already? I’m terribly sorry—if I’d known you were here, I would have come out sooner!”

“Oh no, please don’t mind me—I was just about to head out, but then this shower started and I was trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

“Do you…not have an umbrella?”

“I seem to have underestimated the weather. It can’t be helped, though, I suppose!”

At Yokozawa’s explanation of the situation, though, Tezuka held out the fold-up umbrella he’d just finished wrapping up. “Then—please, take this. I just used it, though, so my apologies that it’s already wet.”

“Thank you—but I’m sure I’ll be fine even without an umbrella. The station really isn’t that far away.”

“What’re you saying? I can’t possibly let you catch a cold, Yokozawa-san! Plus, it’s getting worse out there.” Indeed, while it had only been lightly drizzling before, the rain had now turned into a full-fledged shower. Although hardly an actual storm, it was weather reminiscent of the summer rainy season nonetheless.

“But—if I take your umbrella, you won’t have one of your own. What’ll you do when you leave?”

“I’m sure it’ll be stopped by the time I’m ready to head home myself, so I’ll be fine. And even if it hasn’t stopped, I’ll just borrow Saegusa’s.”

At Tezuka’s declaration, Saegusa returned a panicked, “Huh?! But—then what am I supposed to do?”

“You can just have your girlfriend come and pick you up.”

“Wait—hey, don’t suggest things like that, please!”

“So—there you have it! Feel free to use my umbrella then.”

“Well…then I suppose I’ll take you up on your offer. I’ll be sure to return it the next time I’m here.” After some hesitation, Yokozawa decided to accept the umbrella with his thanks. The rain didn’t seem the be letting up, after all, and being too stubborn in his refusal to accept the offer would in itself be rude.

Thanking them for their kindness, he promised once more to return the umbrella at a later point in time and left the new Ikebukuro branch of Animate, headed for a fast food restaurant near the west exit of Ikebukuro Station.

Tonight, he was supposed to meet up with Kirishima and head out for drinks together—apparently at some bar specializing in serving German beer, where apparently Kirishima had once been taken by a work acquaintance and found the fare to be delicious.

Kirishima had initially offered to come meet him at Animate, but Yokozawa had turned the offer down flat—it would have been a nightmare to find himself teased in front of work associates. It was bad enough being the subject of ridicule amongst coworkers in the office like this, but there was no doubt in Yokozawa’s mind that anyone who had no prior notice of their workplace relationship would find how they behaved highly suspicious.

Following the crowd, he made his way through the station and glanced into the fast food shop they were to meet at, finding Kirishima already seated at the counter by the window, nursing a coffee. Female passersby periodically cast curious glances his way, but the man himself didn’t seem to notice a bit.

“Were you waiting long?”

“Not really. I’m gonna finish this up—wait just a minute.”

“Don’t rush; I’ll be waiting right outside.” Hesitating to just pull up a seat without buying anything, Yokozawa stepped back outside. As expected, the rain showed no signs of stopping, so it had been a good idea to go ahead and accept the umbrella.

He’d done some research on the bar they were going to before leaving work earlier, only to find it was a bit of a walk from the nearest station. Had the skies been clear, this wouldn’t have been much of an ordeal, but with this storm settling in, it was bound to feel like quite a hike.

“Sorry for the wai—ah, dammit. You brought an umbrella?” Kirishima’s face fell the moment he stepped out of the shop—or to be more precise, the moment Yokozawa was opening his umbrella.

“Oh, this? Tezuka-san from Animate let me borrow it.”

At Yokozawa’s response, Kirishima whined, “Why’d you have to go and borrow one? Geez, you can be so thick sometimes.”

“…? I don’t understand a word you’re saying.” It was baffling why Kirishima would attack him for something like borrowing an umbrella.

At Yokozawa’s confusion, Kirishima clarified petulantly, “I went out of my way and bought this huge umbrella just so we could huddle under it together!”

“You what?”

“You have to jump on these opportunities like the weather forecast being wrong whenever you can, right? This way, everyone around us will just assume we got caught in the sudden downpour and only had one umbrella between us.”

Yokozawa gaped in bewilderment at Kirishima’s attempt to explain his logic. The guy was free to justify things however he liked, but Yokozawa would really have appreciated if he’d stop treating these far-fetched notions as perfectly reasonable assumptions. After one long sigh, he decided to make his own feelings clear, just in case: “Just as a reminder: I have no intention of sharing an umbrella with you.”

It was embarrassing enough to just say the words ‘sharing an umbrella’—so there was no way in hell was going to actually do it. Much as he understood Kirishima’s intention, it was another matter entirely to agree to go along with it.

“C’mon, what’ll it hurt? Just for a little bit?”

“Abso. Lutely. Not.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I’m sure having a hell of a lot of fun telling you no.”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, come on!”

“…Sometimes I wonder just what you have inside that head of yours.” It was downright frustrating how at times they didn’t seem to understand what the other guy was saying. Sometimes he’d assume Kirishima was joking when he’d actually been serious, and at other times, Yokozawa would rage at him for saying something that eventually turned out to have only been said in jest. Even to this day, it was difficult to differentiate between the two.

“Nothing but thoughts of you, of course.”

“All right, all right, enough with the flirting—let’s get going. You didn’t reserve us seats, right?” Smoothly side-stepping the innuendo, Yokozawa stepped back out into the rain alone. Thankfully, the shower had let up just a bit since before.

“Hey—wait for me, dammit! You trying to leave me behind? Yokozawa!”

He paused to turn and throw a cool glance over his shoulder before facing front again. “If you don’t wanna get left behind, then you’d better snap it up and come with me.”

But it seemed his poker face wasn’t going to last any longer than that, and praying that his flushed cheeks would cool before Kirishima caught up with him, he stepped up his pace to buy himself as much time as possible.

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