“Yokozawa-san, are you not going home yet?”
“Hm? Ah, yeah… There are still a few things I want to take care of.”
“I see. Well, then I’m off.”
“Good work today.”
Waving Henmi off as he took his leave for the day, Yokozawa leaned back in his chair and exhaled softly. There was hardly anyone left in the sales department, and most of those that were still around were making plans to leave. Given that, as a rule, overtime wasn’t approved, more than half of the lights on the sales floor had already been turned off.
It had been a while since Yokozawa had stayed this late at work. Kirishima usually had him finishing up and being ready to leave early, but today he had yet to receive any such instructions.
“…Oh, right. It’s the end of the cycle, isn’t it?”
The reason Kirishima hadn’t yet arrived to meet him must have been because the magazine hadn’t yet been sent off to the printers. If he was busy, it would probably be better to go to his place on a different day.
Since that first night he’d been taken to Kirishima’s house, he’d started dropping by quite regularly. Some nights Hiyori made them dinner, and others they enjoyed leftovers cooked by Kirishima’s mother. And given how frequently he’d been coming over, he’d grown quite close with Hiyori now.
He’d already bought a treat for her today, having picked it up while out on his sales calls: a basket of colorful macarons he’d bought at an underground department store’s bakery floor. There was no way a little girl wouldn’t love getting a cute treat like this.
Readying himself to head home, he made his way to Kirishima’s floor, planning to just leave Hiyori’s present with him and then leave for the day. He boarded the elevator and pressed the button to head two floors up.
Given the late hour and that many of them had different release dates or had already finished their submissions, a good half of the editing division had already left for the day. Stepping into the Japun editing area towards the back of the floor, he found Kirishima hunched over the editor-in-chief’s desk, perusing a proof and looking exhausted.
“Geez, aren’t you finished yet?”
At Yokozawa’s voice, Kirishima rubbed at the corners of his eyes and responded, “You think I want to still be here? One of the authors broke her deadline really seriously and the proof still isn’t done.”
“What the hell’s with that? Why didn’t you just drop her and fill the space with some submat?” Whenever an author wasn’t able to meet their deadline, the ripple effect tended to hit hard down the production line. They ran the risk of being late with deliveries to editors, the printers, and—if they were particularly unlucky—distributers too, so it would eventually become a problem for the sales department as well.
“Don’t talk like that. It wasn’t like she wanted to be late. I wouldn’t cut her any slack if she’d just pissed around and broke her deadline.”
“Then what’s wrong? Was she sick?”
“It’s her dog. Apparently he came down with something suddenly, and between taking him to the vet and all, she had to push back working on her manuscript.”
“I know, I know. You wanna say something like you’re too soft on your authors, right? But when I thought about what I’d have done if it had been Hiyori that got sick…I couldn’t do it. It was my decision to wait, so I let all the editors who’d already finished their work go home. I couldn’t make them hang around just for me.”
Yokozawa had always heard that Kirishima was very businesslike at work, and that he was a stickler for punctuality. The reason so many authors liked him must be because of times like this, when he showed intense compassion. Every author, no matter how stubborn, would listen to Kirishima, if no others—not because they trusted his skills as an editor, but because they believed in him as a person, undoubtedly.
Kirishima set the proof he’d been reading down on his desk and dug around in his pocket, eventually pulling out his house key and handing it to Yokozawa. “So, that’s how it is—would you mind heading home without me, then?”
“Ah, I’ll pass today. You can take Hiyo her treat when you leave.”
“Do you have other plans or something?”
“Plans…? Well, no, but I can’t exactly go over to your place when you’re not there, can I?” Granted, he was already well-acquainted with Kirishima’s mother, but he felt uncomfortable just going over unannounced. And more than that, there really was no reason he should be going over almost every day in the first place.
“If you don’t have anything else to do, it’d actually really help if you could go. My parents are off on a trip with the neighborhood association right now, so Hiyo’s home alone tonight.”
“What the—then why didn’t you say so sooner?! What the hell are you thinking leaving a little girl home alone?!” Leaving aside the fact that Hiyori was rather level-headed for her age, it didn’t change the fact that she was still just ten years old. There was little worry of any strangers getting into the apartment, given the building’s security, but it was still worrisome to leave her all alone.
An outsider might have thought this an overreaction on Yokozawa’s part, but he understood well that children felt lonelier than adults imagined when left by themselves to watch the house. Yokozawa’s own parents were in fine health, but they both worked, and Yokozawa had been a latchkey child when he was younger; for this reason, he understood how lonely it could get for a child left by themselves until late at night.
“It’s not like I could help it—I thought I’d be done already. I already told her I’d be late, and I’m sure she’d be fine even if I left her on her own tonight, but—”
“Yeah yeah just hand over the key already!” Snatching the key from Kirishima, he quickly made his exit.
“I’m counting on you, thanks!”
“Phone Hiyo and let her know I’m coming!” Tossing back this final groused command, he hurried on to Kirishima’s house.
Hiyori met Yokozawa in the genkan wearing an apron with a rabbit character printed on it and her hair in twin braids. Seeing that he was out of breath from running all the way from the station, she made a funny face.
“Oniichan—did you run all the way here? Ah! Did you need to use the bathroom maybe?”
“…I hurried because I heard you were here all alone.” Seeing her confused expression, now Yokozawa felt a bit embarrassed. Maybe he’d been a bit over-worried.
“Papa said you were headed home first—so you came because you were worried about me? I’m fine on my own you know! I can watch the house and lock up all by myself~ But I’m still really happy you came!”
Yokozawa’s expression softened at her carefree smile. “So nothing happened while you were here alone?”
“Nope, nothing at all! I was over at Yuki-chan’s place until evening, after all.”
“Is Yuki-chan a friend from school?”
“My best friend in my class! She lives one floor above here. I had some pudding her mama made for a snack earlier. And then—” Apparently she couldn’t help wanting to babble on about her whole day. Everything that she held back telling Kirishima because he was her father, she spoke to Yokozawa about with abandon. She probably saw him as a friend now.
Listening to her carry on with no signs of stopping, they headed into the house properly, and Yokozawa slipped on the slippers that by now had pretty much been labeled his own. Without his even realizing it, the number of items in this apartment that were ‘for Yokozawa’ had started to grow. Hiyori had prepared Yokozawa his own chopsticks and rice bowl, and he even had a designated seat at the dinner table now.
“Oh—right right. I brought something for you. Sorry if any of them are broken from running here.” He’d completely forgotten about the bag he held while running here. But even if some of them were broken, these were macarons, so they weren’t inedible by any means.
“What kind of candy is this?”
“They’re called macarons. Apparently they make them a lot in France. I bought them because they had a lot of pretty colors.”
“They’re really cute! It’s almost a waste to eat them!” Hiyori pulled out a clear jar wrapped with a ribbon. Thankfully, despite the way he’d handled it, it didn’t appear that any of the contents were broken.
“If you like them, I can always bring more again. So feel free to dig in.”
“Then we can have some together later! Thanks so much, Oniichan!”
“You’re very welcome.”
Maybe the reason she was able to say she was fine and behave this excitedly was because she hadn’t even realized she was lonely. Children tended to put up a brave front so as not to worry their parents. Hiding their feelings like that, they eventually convince themselves that they really feel that way.
“You sure are cute, Hiyo.” He couldn’t help the comment that slipped from his mouth when he felt his heart assaulted by Hiyori’s lovable expression.
She flushed brightly at his compliment. “Eeh? What’re you saying, Oniichan? Ah!! Papa’s way of speaking has rubbed off on you!” Her suspicion perhaps sprang from the fact that the compliment was even more embarrassing than if Kirishima had said it.
“I said you were cute because I think you’re cute, that’s all.”
“You don’t have to say those kinds of things, geez!” She was all the more cute with her cheeks puffed out in anger, and Yokozawa let out a loud bark of laughter. It had been ages since he’d been able to laugh like this.
“I can’t believe you’d laugh at me!”
“Sorry, sorry. I’m really sorry… Ah, you’re wearing an apron—does that mean you’re cooking something?” While it was a fairly obvious change in topic, Hiyori just gasped in surprise.
“Oh, right! I’m making dinner! I’m still peeling the vegetables, but you’re going to eat, right?”
“What are you making?” Despite her ten years, Hiyori was quite the cook. Apparently she helped with dinner preparations whenever her grandmother cooked for them, too.
“Today I’m doing a recipe we learned in home ec—nikujaga! I did pretty well in class, so I thought I’d be able to cook it fine on my own. I even bought meat from the grocery store myself!”
“Sounds delicious. Would you like me to help?” She could probably make it fine on her own, but dinner would be ready sooner if they worked together.
“Really? Can you cook, Oniichan?”
“What’re you saying? I’ve been living on my own for a long time, I’ll have you know. I can make the basics at least. How about I make some stewed pork and bring it over next time?”
“Awesome! I want to try some! You’re so lucky… Papa can’t cook at all! He can’t even peel an apple properly!”
It was probably the first time he’d heard her complain about her father, and Yokozawa recalled now that he’d never seen Kirishima in the kitchen once except for traveling to and from the refrigerator for a beer.
“That’s pretty bad, I’ll admit. But you made curry for us the other night—who taught you?”
“Grandma! I help her out all the time. Ooh! Can you make pudding, Oniichan?” She really must have liked that pudding her friend’s mother made for her today.
“Pudding’s simple. It’s just a bunch of mixing and steaming.”
“Wow! Teach me next time??”
While he’d never made pudding from scratch before, he had made egg custard and figured the basic technique had to be the same. Making a mental note to look up a recipe later, he recalled the reason they’d started this conversation in the first place. “All in due time. If we don’t focus on this nikujaga of yours first, we’ll never have dinner.” They likely had the ingredients in the fridge right now, but pudding was far from a proper evening meal.
“Oh yeah—I’m getting hungry, too… Ah! Wait a minute, Oniichan!”
Hiyori dashed into her room without explaining, returning after a moment holding something red to her chest. “You should wear an apron, right? Here, I’ll lend you this!”
“Ah, thank y…”
The apron she held out for him was a red frilly piece with white polkadots. It was a cuteness reminiscent of the Emerald offices, and while he could reasonably picture Hiyori in it, Yokozawa himself was another story. The furrow between his brows deepened just thinking about what he’d look like in the thing.
“Papa bought it for me for my birthday, but it’s too big for me to use just yet. It might be a little small for you, but it’s all I have right now…”
“It would be a waste to get your present dirty, though, right?”
“You wear an apron so you won’t get your clothes dirty. It’s a waste not to use it!” She seemed set on lending it to him, so to refuse would be rude. But it wasn’t as if Kirishima was going to see him in it, so after much hesitation, he decided to borrow it without fuss.
He finally took the apron from her, reminding, “Then I’ll use it gratefully. But—don’t laugh if it doesn’t look good on me, got it?”
“She’s sound asleep,” Kirishima announced, leaving Hiyori’s room to find Yokozawa enjoying a beer on the sofa and settling down beside him.
“She was pretty worked up today, after all.” After they’d made dinner together, Yokozawa had made her take a bath, looked over her homework, and then sent her off to bed in place of her father who still hadn’t arrived home yet. Kirishima finally made it in around midnight.
Despite the fact that it was the end of the cycle, the guy didn’t really look all that tired, and in fact seemed in almost decent spirits—but it could have simply been that the fatigue had him worked up, so Yokozawa purposefully avoided pressing the issue.
“You really saved me today, thanks. Nothing happened, then?”
“We made dinner without issue, and she finished all her homework—so no, nothing happened. I even managed to finish a few work items of my own I had left to do.” He’d seen to some paperwork he’d brought home with him while waiting for Kirishima to arrive after putting Hiyori to bed—though the sofa had been so comfortable, he’d nearly nodded off a few times while working.
“Careful—you’re sounding like a better father than me right about now.”
“You just suck at running a household.” He never would have realized Kirishima had been married with a kid if the guy hadn’t told him. He’d mentioned a while back that he only wore his wedding ring to ward off questions from authors—which meant he’d probably been approached romantically more than a few times in the past.
“And yet you seem rather comfortable with it.”
“Sorry I look old for my age.”
“I was complimenting you, geez. I think it’s better than looking all worked up, at least. Hiyo trusts you anyways, right?”
“Well…yeah.” Whenever he brought up Hiyori, Yokozawa found he couldn’t reply as sharply as usual. Seeing Yokozawa grow quiet, Kirishima fell silent as well.
Just as he was wondering how long this uncomfortable silence was going to last, Kirishima spoke up in a soft voice, “…Did Hiyori…say anything?”
“What do you mean, ‘anything’?”
“Like…that she was scared being left alone, or lonely—I just thought maybe she’d have told you if she felt that way. She’d never say it to me because she doesn’t want me to worry.” It seemed as if Kirishima actually dealt with the same fatherly worries as the rest of the world.
“Well, she never said she was lonely, if it makes you feel better. Just kept going on and on about how she was just fine on her own. And oh yeah—that her friend Yuki-chan’s mother let her eat some pudding she’d made.” He pondered now that perhaps she’d been unconsciously jealous of that friend.
As if he were considering exactly the same thing Yokozawa was, Kirishima’s expression shifted into a slightly dispirited mien. “…I see.”
“And that bothers you.”
“Of course it does! It would be fine if I just had a job where I could get home earlier, but even if I changed jobs, there’s nothing else I can do but be an editor!”
“You’re working hard enough as is! There are days with any job where you’ll have to work late hours—and kids will understand that even if you don’t tell them. Just give her attention on the days that you can, and let her know if something’s bothering you.”
Kirishima gaped at Yokozawa as if he’d just seen a ghost. “…There’s a first. I never expected you’d be the one to comfort me.”
“I didn’t say it for you. All I was doing was saying what was best for Hiyo…”
“…So you had a pretty lonely childhood yourself, then?”
“…I just stayed at home by myself a lot, since both my parents worked.”
It had admittedly been lonely when he was by himself, but he’d been able to forget those feelings so long as he had a book in his hands. Once they’d realized that he was fine if they gave him books to read, his parents had started giving him enough allowance to cover not only his meals, but the occasional book purchase as well.
He knew that they loved him, and he understood that they were busy with their jobs—so he’d always thought it was just his role to sit quietly and not get in their way.
Still…it wasn’t like he’d never wished that they’d listen to him talk some. While from an adult’s perspective it may have seemed like they were just humoring him, he still would have liked for them to listen to what he found that day, or what new thing he learned, or what he thought about a book he’d just finished—even just for a little bit would’ve been fine.
Kirishima was quite good at doing that, he felt. Despite the fact that he was an editor—a line of work known for breeding night owls—he had his schedule planned out perfectly and was usually able to finish his work and make it home by 6 PM. And on top of that, he had more work than most others, ensuring that even the most no-name of his authors outsold their peers—he was amazing for being able to accomplish all of that. While his personality may have been slightly twisted in places, it seemed mainly limited to being directed at Yokozawa himself for now, and his authors and subordinates all appeared to have great faith in him.
“I guess that’s why you’re good at taking care of people.”
“Maybe.” Even Yokozawa himself wasn’t entirely sure if his habit of being overprotective was genetic or just a product of the environment he’d been raised in. He was at least sure that the reason he was so good at cooking was because of how he’d grown up. “Oh—so what did you do for dinner?”
“Haven’t had any yet. I’m starving, though.”
“If you were just waiting on a proof, you could’ve just grabbed something at the office and eaten there.” Even if delivery wasn’t an option, he still could have at least quenched the hunger pangs a bit if he’d had one of the others still hanging around go and buy something.
At Yokozawa’s annoyed expression, Kirishima returned with an excuse that sounded downright childish: “I made myself wait—because I wanted to enjoy that delicious nikujaga that you and Hiyo were making.”
“I didn’t say you had to stuff yourself or anyth…wait a minute—how did you know we were making nikujaga?!”
“Hiyo texted me: ‘Oniichan and I are making nikujaga‘. Apparently she was pretty thrilled to cook with you—I didn’t even know you knew how. Quite a shocker, there.”
Yokozawa hadn’t even noticed that Hiyori had been texting anyone. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with Kirishima knowing that—but when he thought about how Hiyori had felt, he couldn’t stay mad. “It’d be stranger if I couldn’t. Which reminds me—Hiyo told me all about how her papa can’t even peel an apple properly.”
“Who needs to peel apples? Just eat ‘em how they are! And as long as she knows I can’t do anything myself, she learns faster—so it works out for the best.” He seemed quite proud of himself for this—but that just made him a bad example. It wasn’t really a good habit for a parent to take on, but Yokozawa supposed that this carefree attitude generally worked out for Kirishima.
“You don’t seem very worried; what’re you gonna do when Hiyo gets married and moves out?”
Yokozawa wondered idly what Kirishima would look like when he found out Hiyori was getting married—he was probably the type to be all smiles on the surface but silently weeping underneath it all. Or maybe he wouldn’t care at all what others thought and just blubber on like a little girl.
“Then I guess I’d just have to have you cook for me. I’m looking forward to your pudding and stewed pork, by the way.”
“Huh? I told Hiyo I’d make that for her! Why the hell do I have to let you have any?!” Just how much had Hiyori written about Yokozawa in that message? Maybe he’d let his guard down too much just because Kirishima wasn’t around.
“What do you mean why? Because I want to try it, of course.”
“It was a rhetorical question! And—what the hell are you laughing at? It’s creeping me out.”
“If you’ve got something to say, then spit it out!” No matter how the guy tried to play it off, his expression said he was hiding something. But despite Yokozawa’s best glares, he didn’t seem moved in the least.
“It’s a secret. If I told you, you’d definitely get pissed. But—if you promise not to get mad, then I don’t mind telling.”
“…Whatever, idiot.” Yokozawa had quickly grown tired of putting up with Kirishima when he was purposefully teasing him. If he was going to play hard to get, then there was no sense in giving him the pleasure of the chase.
“What, you’re not curious?”
Kirishima seemed quite put out as Yokozawa turned the tables on him. “Not really. Anyways—I’m leaving. Fix yourself dinner. Even if you can’t peel an apple, I have full faith that you can heat up some miso soup at least.” Kirishima was home, and Hiyori was asleep—Yokozawa had no reasons left to stay in this apartment.
“Why don’t you just spend the night? It looks like my mother aired out the futon in the guest room, after all.”
“Don’t be stupid—I’ve got a cat, remember? I’m sure he wouldn’t get into any trouble, but I can’t just leave him on his own.” Sorata may have been the same age as Hiyori, but he was a senior in cat years. He was a pretty laid back cat and didn’t cause any problems, but even cats got lonely when left on their own.
“Ah, right… Sorry for keeping you here for so long. You really did help me out tonight.”
Hearing these words of genuine gratitude that were worlds away from his quips before, Yokozawa couldn’t help feeling a bit embarrassed. To hide this, he fired back with a comment that wasn’t entirely truthful, “It wasn’t for you—it was for Hiyo. Don’t get the wrong idea.”
“Yeah, I know. But still—thank you.”
“………” He couldn’t bring himself to look Kirishima in his smiling face—all he wanted to do was get out of this room, flooded with a slightly different atmosphere from usual, as quickly as possible. “Well, I’m off then.”
Kirishima stood as well while Yokozawa hurriedly pulled on his coat and prepared himself to leave. “The last train’s long gone; you want me to drive you home?”
“It’s fine; I’ll take a taxi. And—what, you were planning on leaving Hiyo here alone?”
“Oh…right. Then, here—take this. Your fee for babysitting.”
“I never asked for th—” When he tried to refuse the bills that Kirishima had pulled from his wallet, instead he had it forcibly pressed into his hand.
“Just take it. You’ve got your cat waiting for you at home, right? Hurry up and get going. If it bothers you that much, then sell the shit out of my books and get me a raise.”
“…Fine.” Realizing it would be even ruder to continue refusing, he grudgingly accepted the money.
“All right then—be careful going home. Good night.”
“G-good night…” He quickly left the apartment, as if fleeing Kirishima’s gaze. Jogging towards the elevator hall, he pushed the call button several times in succession, unable to calm down.
“…What the hell is my problem?”
His pulse had started to rise, and for some reason his entire body felt flushed. His palms were sweaty from balling his hands into fists, and his vision swam before him.
But more than all of this, he couldn’t understand the irregular pounding of his heart—and the furrow between his brows deepened in confusion.