Being shoved onto the platform from the completely packed train car that had just arrived really pressed home the fact that a new week was starting in Yokozawa’s mind. Gazing at the wave of humanity rushing off to their respective offices, all wearing the same suits, Yokozawa flushed himself into the crowd.
Monday mornings were always depressing. It wasn’t that he hated his job or anything, but taking a two-day break really made it difficult to force yourself to get back to work. And on top of it all, the beginning of the workweek tended to be packed with meetings, which made him feel even more lethargic.
Everyone had to share their information and trade opinions back and forth, together, but for the impatient Yokozawa, all of that was just a pain in the ass.
It wasn’t as if they were all working with the same motivation, after all, so it made sense that they all worked at different paces. For every instance that they were able to time their pace and work towards a common goal, there were also times when they all managed to undermine each other. It pissed Yokozawa off to no end when he thought about how it would’ve been more profitable in the long run for him to just visit another bookshop or two in the time he wasted in meetings.
He did feel, however, that Marukawa Shoten was a company with a relatively high ration of independent thinkers; if it weren’t, a brash persona like himself would’ve been kicked out long ago.
With age, he’d started to be able to look at himself from an objective point of view. While his elders would probably still call him green, he felt he’d rounded out considerably. His teenage self probably never would’ve imagined he’d be able to paste on a sales smile the way he could now.
He picked up breakfast from a convenience store and started up the now familiar hill he traversed every day. He passed a group of women strolling at a gentle pace and stepped into the main building through the automatic doors.
Two women with perfectly made up faces and not a hair out of place sat smiling at the reception desk greeting those who entered, be they employee or guest. But—today, their smiles seemed to be hiding something.
“Ah, Yokozawa-san! Good morning!”
The women continued to stare at him with a gaze that looked as if they wanted to say something, and Yokozawa just glared back suspiciously. He had the strange feeling he’d encountered this sort of snickering somewhere before, rather recently, but he couldn’t recall where.
“Morning… Do I have something on my face?” He couldn’t help wondering where that Ah! from earlier had come from. When curiosity moved him to ask the reason, the women attempted to placate him and pasted on their usual smiles.
“N-no! It’s nothing!”
Feeling a strange unease reminiscent of having the small bones of a fish stuck in his throat, he reminded himself it wasn’t worth pressing the matter and left the reception area behind with no further questions.
Taking a place standing behind a few editors waiting to board the elevator, he grew bored in the idle time and pulled out his cell phone, checking the texts he’d just received. And that was when the editors’ conversation happened to float into his ears.
“Man, I just cannot get over that picture Kirishima-san showed us.”
“It totally threw me for a loop! I was wiped out from working overtime, but that snapped me right out of it!”
“It was kinda like getting to see Yokozawa-san’s unexpected true self, you know?”
Yokozawa had initially tuned out their conversation, thinking it nothing more than idle gossip, but his brows furrowed when his own name entered the mix. They had definitely just mentioned a photo.
On wracking his mind to remember the photos Yokozawa was aware that Kirishima had of himself, all he could come up with were those photos—the ones that Kirishima had taken of him that night and subsequently used as blackmail material. While it was hard to imagine that Kirishima would show those to just anyone without reason, he couldn’t very well let this pass.
“Oi, what’s this about me?”
When he called out to them from behind, they glanced back with shocked expressions. One turned pale, and the other looked as if he were about to bolt at any moment.
“So what pictures did you see, exactly?”
“If it’s nothing, then why do you look like that?”
“Spit it out!” he growled in a low voice, and the pair flinched in fright. When he fixed them both under a harsh glare, they began to speak in an attempt to explain themselves.
“W-we didn’t ask to see, understand? Just—Kirishima-san was showing it off last week! Saying that you were waiting at home with dinner for him…”
“And—then he showed us a picture of you that his daughter had sent him in a text message… Where you were cooking in a red apron…”
He trailed off, but Yokozawa didn’t need to hear another word to know exactly where that picture had come from—mostly because the only other person who’d been in that kitchen with him had been Hiyori. He couldn’t fathom what had been going through her mind when she’d sent it, but given that he knew she hadn’t meant anything by it, he couldn’t bring himself to be mad at her. What was harder to forgive was the one who’d passed around the photo in the first place.
This must’ve been why Kirishima had been in such remarkably high spirits on returning home Friday night. With that sickly simpering smile and putting on airs…it all made sense now.
He’d been a colossal idiot to think of Kirishima as a good father so easily; knowing now that he’d been making fun of Yokozawa behind his back, he felt his anger boiling over.
“I—it wasn’t our fault! You…understand that, right?”
“Forget it. Right now.” He turned a harsh glare on the pair who’d been hesitantly trying to test the waters around him and ordered them to clear their minds of the image in a gravelly voice.
“But—even if you tell us to, we can’t…”
“Stop your bitching—if you can’t do it on your own, then I’ll help you!”
When he made a fist and raised it to face-level, they grew much more obliging. “N-no, we can do it just fine!”
“And spread the word, too! If anyone breathes a word about this, I’ll make it so they never sell another book again!”
“R-right!!” Just as they straightened up, the elevator reached the first floor, and the doors slowly opened. Despite the fact that they’d been waiting first, the pair obediently stepped to either side to let Yokozawa pass. “Please, go ahead!”
“Aren’t you going to get on?”
“Oh uh—I forgot to drop by the conbini, so—I’m stepping out for a bit!”
“Oh me too! I didn’t buy lunch yet, so I guess I’ll go, too!” They then fled the building, leaving Yokozawa to board the elevator alone.
He tsked softly. “Geez…” The women at reception had probably been snickering because they’d seen that picture of Yokozawa in an apron, too.
Given the time, Kirishima should already be here in the office. Planning to give the guy a piece of his mind, Yokozawa pushed not the button for the sales department on the 3rd floor, but the 5th instead.
Most of the editors with flexible enough schedules weren’t here at this time of morning. Some of them might not even arrive until well into the afternoon. Yokozawa exited the elevator and stepped onto the completely empty shounen manga floor, headed towards the Editor-in-Chief’s desk located near the back.
At the beginning of the week just after finishing a cycle, the only person on the whole floor right now was Kirishima. “Morning. You’re here early.”
Rather than returning the greeting, Yokozawa let his emotions get the better of him. “What the hell were you thinking?!” His loud shouting echoed around the floor—and while most everyone else would’ve cowered in fear at that voice, Kirishima was cool as a cucumber.
“You sure are energetic this morning. But careful—raising your voice like that will send all the blood straight to your head.”
“And just whose fault do you think that is?! I can’t believe you’d just go flashing around other people’s pictures without their permission, you bastard!”
“Oh, that. Well it was just so cute I couldn’t help myself. I thought I’d show you off, and when I let Katou see it, everyone else just gathered around, see.”
“Don’t give me that just couldn’t help myself shit! You even went and showed it to the receptionists!”
“Oh yeah—I was bragging about you earlier, too. Hiyo went out of her way to send me a text message, after all. Going on about how I should work hard because she and Yokozawa-oniichan were making nikujaga for dinner~”
“But that doesn’t mean—”
“Look, I even made it my wallpaper.” Kirishima flipped open his phone and turned the screen to face Yokozawa. There, for all to see, was Yokozawa cutting up vegetables while wearing a red apron with white polkadots.
“Cut it out! What the hell is your problem?!” In the picture, he had a knife in his hands and was peeling a potato, looking as if he’d been doing it for years. Yokozawa’s head throbbed in pain when he thought about all his coworkers who’d seen this picture.
“It’s just an innocent hobby of mine is all. Come on, it’s fine—you look adorable. This got me through the end of the cycle, you know.”
“Like I care about that! That’s not the issue here—” Sensing the presence of others, he cut himself off. Who knew what rumors would pop up next if people caught him arguing with Kirishima like this.
“Good morning, Kirishima-san!” Two female editors assigned to the anime news magazine entered, carrying their breakfast in their hands. On catching sight of Yokozawa, they started chattering away.
“Yokozawa-san, we saw it!”
“We thought it was strange when Kirishima-san was smiling like that while staring at his cell phone on Friday night, but to have it be over a picture of Yokozawa-san—! That really was quite a shock! That red apron really suited you—it was so cute!”
“Cu…” At their innocently spoken words, he felt a sense of vertigo wash over him. By now, he was used to hearing it from Kirishima, but this had to be the first time a woman had ever called him cute.
He tossed a glance to the man standing at his side, staring off into space and feigning innocence.
“…Oi. Just how many people did you show that picture to?”
“Hm? Oh, I don’t really remember… Before I knew it there was a huge crowd standing behind me, soooo…I guess most everyone who was still around?”
“You…!” When he unthinkingly raised his voice, he heard snickering voices.
“You sure are close with Kirishima-san, huh!”
“How’d you get to be such friends? I never noticed you two hanging out together before.”
“We’re not close!” His brows drew together at the untruth. They probably couldn’t imagine how he’d been taken advantage of in a weakened state and was being blackmailed now. They didn’t seem to mind this response, though, and instead started their own private conversation.
“But—we saw him cooking dinner with Kirishima-san’s daughter at his home! You don’t suppose he’s after her, do you?”
“Of course not! Do you even realize how old she is? I don’t have a Lolita complex!” He caught Kirishima grinning wildly at his unfortunate state. He could practically hear the guy thinking in his mind Yeah, cause you’re gay.
“But I never even realized you could cook~ Quite unexpected, I must say! And you even know how to wield a knife—are you good at housework like that?”
“That reminds me! A bunch of us were thinking of taking a cooking class soon—would you care to join us? Supposedly it includes tips on how to work a bit of simple French cooking into—”
“Like hell.” His angered voice, which could usually make anyone quake in their boots, was now laced with a streak of humiliation, and he knew that it lacked impact. Rather than quailing before the irritated Yokozawa, the women instead continued speaking as they pleased.
“…I feel like I can relate to him more now! Knowing that even Yokozawa-san has a domestic side to him…”
“Oh yes! He’s definitely more approachable now!”
Yokozawa’s head started throbbing painfully, and he couldn’t even bring himself to grouse at the gossiping women. He’d never been good at talking with women in the first place; they always burst into tears at the slightest harsh word—and if they didn’t, then instead they were always griping at him.
If he said any more than this, he was just going to be digging his own grave. Deciding he’d be better off changing targets, he turned back to Kirishima. “Anyways—get rid of that picture. Right now.”
“What’s it matter if I keep it for myself so long as I don’t show it to anyone else? Hiyori went out of her way to send it to me, after all.”
Yokozawa rolled his eyes at Kirishima’s pouting face. He felt bad for Hiyori, but if he let this guy keep hold of the data, there was no telling where or when he’d show it to someone. It was bad enough for him to keep the data on his phone, but to let him keep it as his wallpaper was out of the question.
“Just hurry up and get rid of it already! I can’t trust you!”
“I don’t like suspicious people, you know. I suppose it can’t be helped, though—I’ll delete this one for you……… There you go.” After pressing a few buttons on his cell phone, he turned it so Yokozawa could see and pressed the ‘delete’ button.
Stroking his chest in relief at this one grain of worry finally disappearing, he couldn’t shake the sense of unease at Kirishima’s words. I’ll delete this one for you… Maybe he was overthinking the emphasis on those words…but he couldn’t help but read into it that this meant he still had in his possession the photos from that incident that he was holding over Yokozawa.
If he had his way, he’d much rather those pictures be deleted than this one, but there was no way he could confront him about that while others were around. For the moment, it seemed he hadn’t shown them to anyone else, but he couldn’t discount the possibility that Kirishima might slip up somewhere along the line. They really needed to talk about this; they couldn’t keep up this farce for forever, after all.
“Aww, what a waste~”
Yokozawa turned back to the female editors on hearing their dejected comments. “And—you, too! Erase it from your memories! Right now! Or I’ll make it so you never sell another magazine in this business again!” It was the same trump card he’d played on hearing the gossiping pair earlier, and the women dissolved into complaints.
“Eeh?! You must be joking, surely!”
“That’s abusing your position! You’re so stingy, Yokozawa-san!”
“What you’re doing is a violation of the right to protect my image, as I see it!”
But it was Kirishima who stepped in to mediate when Yokozawa raised his voice at the quailing pair. “He does have a point, you know.”
“Stop talking like you’ve got nothing to do with this! Who do you think’s the most at fault here?!”
“Well that would be you, for dressing up in such a cute outfit.” At his cocky response, the women joined in with their support, concurring with him.
Recalling his headache from earlier, Yokozawa massaged his forehead and took a deep breath. “Don’t get too full of yourselves.” Seeing that he was well and truly getting pissed off, they finally quieted down. Truthfully, he didn’t mind so much the teasing so long as it was kept at an appropriate level, but they really needed to know their limits.
In place of the cowering pair of editors, Kirishima once again apologized. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t think you’d get this pissed off. I was tired and just—got a little full of myself. I’ll tell everyone I showed the picture to to let it go, so—forgive me?”
“I said I would; a man never goes back on his word.”
Having pressed home his point with Kirishima, Yokozawa left. It was only Monday, and already he was exhausted. He boarded the elevator, which had luckily enough been stopped at the 5th floor, and returned to the sales department on the 3rd floor. He’d come into work early intending to get some work done in the morning while he could, but now he’d completely wasted his free time.
A good half of the sales department personnel had already arrived, and as he hung his coat on the coat rack, Henmi noticed him and lifted his head from where he’d been focusing on his computer.
“Ah—good morning, Yokozawa-san!”
“Morning.” He tossed back the greeting as he made his way to his desk. He unconsciously judged Henmi’s state, curious as to whether or not he’d seen the picture. Despite his misgivings, though, Henmi seemed the same as always.
Most of the sales personnel had already left by Friday evening—Yokozawa himself had been the one to douse the lights on their floor, even. Considering that, the likelihood of Henmi having seen the picture was next to zero, but he still decided to make sure, just in case. “…So, did you see it?”
“Hm? See what? Ah—the materials for today’s meeting? I was just about to!”
“Oh—no, it’s fine if you haven’t seen it.” It seemed word hadn’t gotten around to Henmi just yet. When he thought about it, given that Kirishima had shown the picture off on Friday evening, really the only ones who would’ve had a chance to catch it were those stationed on the shounen manga floor. There was no way it would’ve gotten all the way down to the sales floor.
“I—I’m sorry! I’ll read through them right away!” Misunderstanding Yokozawa’s words, Henmi grew flustered and quickly turned back to his computer. Feeling it too much of a hassle to clear it up, Yokozawa decided to just let him get back to work.
Really—it wasn’t as if it was anything he needed to be all that ashamed of anyways. He’d just worn something that hadn’t suited him was all, and he reconsidered that perhaps there hadn’t been any need to overreact as he had.
He turned on his computer and started to go through the emails that had piled up over the weekend. He put off reading through the digests and skimmed over messages containing bookstore information and comments from readers, first taking care of those messages he could reply to immediately.
“The new issues seem to be selling rather well!”
“Yeah. They’re flying off the shelves faster than we’d anticipated. Looks like we’ll need to put in a reprint order soon.”
“And it seems the timing was perfect for the Za Kan release announcement, too. The back issues are selling nicely, and the magazine is selling off quickly as well, thankfully. Kirishima-san’s tactic really saved us!”
“Yeah…though I’m not sure if it was just a happy accident or if he was actually that clever.” He could probably learn a thing or two from Kirishima, who always tried to turn any situation into an opportunity. Before he’d started being dragged around like this, he really hadn’t known much about the guy. Kirishima had always been so aloof and standoffish, Yokozawa had assumed he was a crafty fox of a man that no one knew what he was thinking.
Granted, that was exactly what he was, but Yokozawa now understood that that was only one side of him. He was also the type of horrible person who’d trip you up if you gave him the chance…just as he was also a father who couldn’t help fawning over his daughter and who gave in to his emotions all too easily from time to time.
“That reminds me, Yokozawa-san—you’ve been in a rather good mood lately!” Henmi commented idly, keeping his gaze on his computer screen.
Yokozawa quickly tightened up his slackened expression and objected, “Huh? Just how have I been in a good mood?” How could he possibly be having fun after having been so thoroughly rejected and then subsequently jerked around by Kirishima?
“Just—the furrow between your brows has gotten shallower, and you’ve been leaving work earlier, too. We were all a little worried for a while there, since you seemed really depressed.”
Yokozawa hadn’t realized in the slightest that everyone had noticed how depressed he’d been—but thinking back now, he did get the sense that they’d all been treading carefully around him.
With his personality, though, he could hardly bring himself to thank them for caring. “I’ve been leaving earlier because I’ve been less busy with work, that’s all.” Given that he was lying through his teeth, he was less articulate than usual.
“Really? It looks to me like you’ve been taking on more work than usual… Have you not noticed that because of that, I’ve had more work than usual as well?”
Yokozawa turned on Henmi at his jokingly reproachful words. “That hardly counts as more work!”
“Unlike you, Yokozawa-san, I’m just a rank-and-file worker! Please don’t be so unreasonable!”
“What’re you going on about? I’m just a rank-and-file worker, too. I’ve just got more years and experience on you, so I know the gist of how things go is all.”
Henmi gaped at Yokozawa in wide-eyed shock. “Eh? Are you…trying to make me feel better?” His gaze was unbearable, and Yokozawa immediately regretted saying something so unlike him. He really should have avoided doing things he wasn’t used to.
“If you want to take it that way, I suppose.”
“…You’ve definitely changed a little! When was it…I suppose from around when you started going out for drinks with Kirishima-san?”
“………” He swallowed thickly when Kirishima’s name came up so casually in conversation. He clenched his teeth to keep his agitation from being noticed and pasted on a poker face.
“Man, at first, I was shocked whenever Kirishima-san came all the way down to the sales floor! When did you two get to be so close?”
“We’re not close.”
The female editors from earlier had made the same comment, but given that he had reasons he couldn’t turn down any of Kirishima’s invitations, he supposed as others saw it, they seemed to be getting close. But he hardly considered the time he spent with Kirishima to be fun.
When he refuted the insinuation with a sour expression, Henmi misinterpreted it as his just being humble and replied cheerfully, “Oh come on now, it’s plain to see how the tension in your shoulders relaxes when you’re talking to Kirishima-san! Ah—is the reason you’ve been in such a good mood lately because you’ve been spending time with Kirishima-san, maybe?”
“!!” Henmi immediately shut up when Yokozawa suddenly snapped at him. He probably hadn’t expected to be shouted at, given how the conversation had been progressing thus far. Yokozawa immediately regretted his actions, seeing Henmi sitting there wide-eyed and at a loss for words.
It was better to be misunderstood than to have everyone know the truth; he should’ve just let the chips fall where they would. But somehow, whenever it came to Kirishima, he always wound up overreacting like this.
“…Sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice like that.”
Unable to repair the now-awkward atmosphere between them, Yokozawa stood up from the seat he’d just taken. He needed to get some fresh air and cool his head.
“I’m going to make my rounds.”
As he stuffed a file in his briefcase, Henmi hesitantly reminded him, “Eh, but—we have a meeting from 11 o’clock…?”
“I’ll be back by then. I’ve sent you the documents by email, so print out enough for everyone.”
He ignored the call and continued on in the opposite direction from all his coworkers just getting into the office.
“…I’m absolutely exhausted…” His first time out drinking with clients in a while had been rougher than usual. Even though there was drinking, it was unforgivable to go so far as to actually get drunk, so he hadn’t been able to shake off the nerves and tension.
Burying himself in work today and thereby avoiding Kirishima had helped to cool his head. He knew that having drink with a manager from a bookstore who’d invited him out earlier would be a just cause to turn the guy down—but it still left him feeling guilty, somehow.
When he’d texted Kirishima with /I can’t come over tonight/, though, he’d been surprisingly understanding. While the response had been a bit anticlimactic, he had to take into account the fact that Kirishima was an office worker just like himself. When he thought about it, there was no way he could have expected Kirishima to put Yokozawa over his work.
Yokozawa was more than a little concerned at how disappointed he actually was, when he himself had been the one to say he wouldn’t go.
“What the hell is wrong with me…?”
He looked forward to being able to see Hiyori, that much was true, but he’d only been dragged around against his will by Kirishima—it wasn’t like he’d let his guard down around the guy. Sure, he might’ve been a bit touched by some of the things Kirishima did, but that was it.
As for the picture Hiyori had sent…to tell the truth, he wasn’t really all that pissed about it anymore. When he’d first learned of it, his blood had gone straight to his head, but it wasn’t as if he’d been doing anything all that embarrassing, and reflecting on it now, it was probably more pathetic that he’d let himself blow up that much over it.
More than that, though, he was concerned at how large a role Kirishima had now come to play in his life.
He set his briefcase down on his table along with chain-store gyuudon he’d bought for dinner and pulled off his suit jacket. As he slipped casually into his chair, Sorata came pawing at his feet. “Meow~”
“Ah, Sorata—I’ll get your dinner for you, wait a minute. You can eat the canned stuff tonight.”
Sorata was rarely this clingy, but perhaps because Yokozawa had been pulling so many long hours lately, tonight he’d been on Yokozawa’s heels from the moment he’d gotten home. Maybe he was lonely from being left on his own so long.
“It’s been a while since we got to eat together, huh? …Sorry I’ve left you here alone so much lately. Work’ll let up soon, so bear with it a bit longer.”
His apartment stocked with only the bare minimum of items required to get by felt lonelier than usual for some reason. Having gotten used to being surrounded by the liveliness of a child, it was now impossible to deny that it was lonely here. If it weren’t for Sorata being here, he probably wouldn’t have been able to stand being by himself now.
“That’s ’cause Hiyo’s such a chatterbox…” Always going on about and then, and then from one topic to the next—popular fads at school, or what subjects she had lessons in that day, what she had for lunch, she loved talking about everything that happened to her that day. Sometimes she’d get tired in the middle of a conversation and just drift off like that.
She was probably asleep right then. Apparently thinking he was planning on coming later, she’d sent him a text earlier urging /Come over tomorrow!/—but while he longed to see her, he didn’t plan on going to Kirishima’s house again for the time being.
He needed to set some boundaries and put his thoughts in order. He couldn’t understand why he lost his composure like this whenever it came to Kirishima. Like this, he hadn’t even had time to think about his broken heart.
“Dammit—why does his face keep coming to mind?” Even though Kirishima was the last person he wanted to see right now, whenever he let his guard down, he found himself thinking of the guy. Never in his whole life had there been such a person as Kirishima to throw Yokozawa off his game like this.
Spacing out while still holding the canned food, he heard Sorata meow at him for attention. When he glanced down, Sorata was rubbing against his feet in irritation.
“Ah—sorry, sorry. Here, I’ll open it now.”
He ran a bit of warm water into the can after opening it to loosen the food and dumped the contents in Sorata’s food bowl, at which point Sorata dug in with vigor. Since he’d been spending a lot of time out of the house, Yokozawa had taken to leaving out dry cat food. While Sorata didn’t seem to really have any likes or dislikes, he obviously preferred canned food.
Of course, Sorata was so engrossed in his meal that he offered no response. He wasn’t a young cat anymore, so Yokozawa understood that he needed to put him on a diet, but the guilt of not being able to be there for Sorata much ate at him, and he found himself picking up new brands of food whenever they showed up on the grocery store shelves.
Watching the way Sorata ate, obviously enjoying his meal, he couldn’t help but think that he needed to buy some more for him. Takano would often berate him with You’re too soft on Sorata, and Yokozawa did understand it—but he still couldn’t help himself.
“…Guess I’ll eat, too.”
But his gyuudon had gone cold by now and somehow tasted even worse than usual.