Volume 2, Chapter 4: Dinner
“Okay… Well, I’m not saying it’s crazy, but to think that you’d decline again…”
Chief Odagiri said without hiding his disappointment. At those words, I felt it deeply too, but all I could do was nod. It was a request for another business trip. Some time ago, I voluntarily accepted business trips, but now that Sayu was in the house I could not be absent for long without feeling uneasy.
Some time ago when I refused to take a trip it was a surprise, but as expected a second time would really make the chief unhappy about it.
“What’s going on lately? It seems like you’re on some sort of mid-life crisis.”
“No, that’s not it!”
“Yeah, I think it’s not. Looking at the way you work, it seems that it’s not like that. I understand. If that’s the case, there’s a reason, right? Don’t hesitate to tell me, you don’t need to hold back.”
Although questioning was natural, it was extremely agonizing for me. Although back then I vaguely thought of preparing an excuse for a situation like that, I never thought that talk about a business trip would come up again so quickly. It was total neglect.
“Can it be a problem with your partner? Still, it would be nice if you told me. Well… it’s not like you’re getting married, so I don’t think that’s the reason you’re refusing.”
“It’s not… it’s not like that.”
“So what’s the reason?”
Although Chief Odagiri’s tone wasn’t strong, this time he gave me the impression that he was not going to let me go without hearing a reason. I really messed up. There’s no way I could tell him that a high school girl was staying at my house. Moreover, I couldn’t tell a lie in a whim. Silent, nervous, and asking myself what to do, suddenly a familiar face appeared behind Chief Odagiri.
“Huh? Chief Odagiri, how are you doing today?”
The one who suddenly came out from behind Chief Odagiri was Mishima.
“I came because I have some matters to discuss with Yoshida-senpai but, are you busy?”
“More or less. It’s about an upcoming business trip.”
As soon as she heard the chief’s words, Mishima opened her mouth wide and said “Huh?”.
“A business trip? Yoshida-senpai’s attending one?”
“Well, yeah but it seems he’s going to decline it.”
“Oh, it’s just that Yoshida-senpai can’t go on a business trip!”
Mishima said it in an extremely loud voice. She said it so suddenly that I was surprised.
“Yoshida-senpai told me that he had to go to his parents’ house regularly this month. Her mother’s ill…”
After saying this, Mishima put her hand to her startled mouth.
“…Ah, was I supposed to keep it undisclosed?”
Then she looked in my direction nervously and bowed her head. Although the expression on her face was really tense, it was clear when she looked at me that the ulterior motive was to do me a favor. It was as if she were saying, “Okay, nod.”
“Ah… Well… I guess the beans have already been spilled.”
I nodded and then Mishima said “I’m s-sorry” in a low voice and bowed her head. Seeing the situation between Mishima and me, a confused Chief Odagiri shook his hand.
“Is that what happened? If it was something like that, it would’ve been nice if you had told me from the start.”
“Since Yoshida-senpai’s a person who’s very attached to his family, he didn’t want to use this kind of family situation as an excuse, right?”
“Well… sort of…”
I didn’t have the opportunity to properly respond as Mishima interrupted me and spoke non-stop.
“If that’s the case, I will ask another one. Yoshida-kun if you find it unbearable to say something like that… it would be fine if you said something like “it’s a family matter” or even something ambiguous.”
Chief Odagiri stared at me, but differently than he had done before, and it was a warm look, as if he were doing me a favor.
“Since you work seriously every day, if you refuse for a reason like that I wouldn’t question it. Next time tell me properly.”
“Yes… I’m sorry.”
Even without completely believing until that moment that Mishima had invented that pretext, and with feelings of guilt inside me, I nodded my head.
“However, there’s still a problem. So who else would be good to send on the trip?”
After saying this, Chief Odagiri looked extensively at the next desk. Endou, who belonged to the same team, was the colleague who replaced me the previous time I was asked to go on a business trip. But the place where he always sits now was empty. It must surely be because he went on a week-long business trip to Tohoku. And Koike, a close colleague of his, accompanied him this time.
“Hashimoto-kun’s married, and I can’t ask the newbies to fill in…”
After saying this the boss looked at the seat next to me. Hashimoto, a colleague who until just now was working quietly, upon realizing the presence of Chief Odagiri, carefully left his seat.
Although for me, Hashimoto was a colleague who could be counted on, but at a time like this, he definitely wasn’t. For better or worse, he was a person who managed to survive by picking his battles. The unexpected silence that formed with Chief Odagiri, who I know was silent about the problem of having no one to ask for the trip and I who had refused a few moments earlier and didn’t know the right thing to say had ended.
“Odagiri-san. A moment please.”
A cold voice came from a distant desk. When I looked in the direction the voice was coming from, Gotou-san was smiling and raising her hand. The chief and I found it unusual for Gotou-san to say anything at that moment, so we were completely immobilized by the surprise.
However, the chief immediately seemed to remember to move his body and shook his head back and forth, quietly said “I’ll be back in a moment” and left me there while he headed to Gotou-san’s desk.
Gotou-san is my boss. She was the one who had brought me to this company, my unrequited love, and also the woman who had already rejected me once. I was on a project with Gotou-san who was part of Human Resources and focused on labor issues at the time. Although we never had long conversations, we continued to work in the same office, and every day, I saw her nice figure.
Chief Odagiri waved his hand and said something to Gotou-san. As I watched the scene get absorbed, someone next to me gave me a slight push. It was Mishima, who stood beside me without my noticing. Mishima said in a low voice without looking at me:
“Yoshida-senpai, I think that it’ll be good if came up with an excuse.”
She must have been talking about the business trip. Although it was too sudden and left me in awe, Mishima’s act helped me quite a bit.
“Thanks for earlier.”
I responded in a low voice. Mishima was a little embarrassed as if she were a spoiled child and then shook her head.
“I’m sorry I said at that time that someone in your family was ill. It was impolite of me.”
“No, it’s okay… I probably wouldn’t have a credible reason.”
“Also, it wasn’t a lie someone else would tell for their convenience.”
I looked sideways at Mishima. She was usually a kouhai who doesn’t care much for work, but at that moment, she felt that she had a strong sense of duty and gallantry.
“It’s because of Sayu-chan, isn’t it?”
It may seem that sometimes she forgets, but she knows Sayu. In the company, there are only two people who knew of Sayu’s existence: Mishima and Hashimoto. For this reason, I believe that Mishima, seeing that I was in a predicament came to help me.
“Either way, you really helped me back there.”
I told Mishima who looked me straight in the eye and said:
“So, will I get a reward from you?.”
“It was thanks to me that you were saved Yoshida-senpai, so if there’s anything you could do for me, even if it’s small, it would be nice.”
“I’ll treat you to a meal.”
“It’s a promise, okay? Just the two of us!”
“It’s hard for me to invite more people if I’m the one who’ll be paying.”
At my words, Mishima clenched her fist and nodded vigorously.
“Yes! I can earn some Yoshida-senpai points that way.”
“What’s with those “points”…? Sounds suspicious.”
I said that with a little smile, then I was startled because at that moment Chief Odagiri and Gotou-san faced in our direction.
Gotou-san laughed sweetly and tilted her head while Chief Odagiri denied several times with his and went to where we were. Apparently, their conversation was over.
“It seems Gotou-san will make the arrangements to send one from another branch. What a lifesaver.”
“Oh? That’s good to hear…”
I was deeply relieved. Although I shouldn’t make Sayu a top priority, my real intention is to take care of her and not get into trouble with my boss. If I couldn’t refuse, and if someone else couldn’t replace me, I would honestly have been quite distressed about having to go.
Since Gotou-san intervened in that difficult situation, I had to go later to thank her privately and tell her how I felt. As I thought about this, I casually looked in the direction of Gotou-san and our glances met.
Immediately, it became a match where whoever looks away loses. I was held captive in this mysterious confrontation, and without looking away from me, Gotou-san smiled forcibly and made a small signal with her hand, asking me to come to her. That movement was so sudden and natural that it took me a while to realize that what she did was directed towards me.
Still distracted, I saw Gotou-san, who scowled at me in bewilderment, signaled me with her hand again. Until that moment, I finally realized that she was indeed calling for me.
Mishima hit me on the side with her elbow, and when I turned in her direction, she pointed with her chin to Gotou-san’s direction.
“She’s calling you.”
“Ah, she’s calling me?”
“Really? Who else would she be calling? Shouldn’t you be going right now?”
Why are you in a bad mood? I thought. When Mishima was speaking, she was frowning, with sharp eyes directed at me, and shaking her head several times. I went to Gotou-san’s desk.
“Why didn’t you come immediately?”
“Uhm… sorry, for a moment I didn’t know it was me you were calling.”
While smiling mischievously, she asked me in a joking tone and I responded while blushing. As she sat at her chair, she tilted her body a little, bent her knees, and pressed her back into the chair. I unconsciously watched that whole series of movements. With the rainy season fast approaching and because of the air conditioning, the humidity level was high which made things inside the office, embarrassing.
From an early stage of the Cool Biz1 that the company adopted, many employees worked with only a shirt or blouse. Gotou-san and I were among those employees. The moment Gotou-san sat down in the chair, thanks to an unbuttoned button, I could see her collarbone, and nervously, I looked away.
“S-so, why did you call me?”
I asked her. Gotou san looked back from where I was and then pointed to her monitor screen. That behavior gave me an uncomfortable feeling and I remembered looking back at myself. As I did so, I was met with the look of Mishima who was looking at our direction. It was no accident that our glances met. She was certainly taking a peek and disregarding her job.
『 Get back to work! 』
I scowled and motioned for her to use her keyboard, but she also scowled decisively and then forcibly stuck out her tongue before she directed her gaze at the monitor screen.
“Hehehe. You two are really close, aren’t you?”
“No, not at all.”
After a short exchange of glances, Gotou-san laughed, and I felt a bit embarrassed. When I looked at Gotou-san again, she was pointing at her monitor screen. I moved a little bit closer to Gotou-san and looked at the screen. It was written in a Word2 document.
『 Do you have any plans for today after work? 』
After confirming that I had read it, Gotou-san used her keyboard and typed:
『 How about going out for dinner? 』
Recently, eating out alone with Gotou san has increased compared to before. Although that was something to be happy about, this way of inviting me was just as sudden as the time I went out with her to eat carne asada. I remember that time she asked me the somewhat arbitrary question of whether I had a girlfriend or not which I struggled with quite a bit when explaining.
Spending time alone with Gotou-san made me very happy, but, that memory worried me as if will torment. However, there was no way I would reject such a lucky invitation from Gotou-san. Besides, I originally had no reason not to accept an invitation from my boss nor the character to decline such a thing.
“Sure, I’m free.”
As those bitter memories came back to my mind, I shook my head.
“You can? Great. I’ll send you an email with the details over lunch.”
After saying this briefly, Gotou-san showed a wide smile.
I also responded with something simple to make it look like “a business conversation,” said, “excuse me,” bowed slightly, and walked away from Gotou-san’s desk. As I returned to my place, I could clearly see that Mishima was moving her head unnaturally, but I ignored her. When I reached my desk, Hashimoto was already in the seat next to me with an indifferent look on his face.
“It was a rather long trip to the bathroom.”
“Can’t help it. I suddenly got a stomachache.”
I frowned at Hashimoto’s shameless response, and he smiled as if I were hiding something.
“So you managed to arrange a date with Gotou-san during working hours, huh?”
“Really, it’s not a date…”
“You’re not going to deny that it wasn’t a business conversation?”
Mainly considering the circumstances, it was really annoying when he made fun of me. He skillfully avoided meeting Chief Odagiri by emptying his seat and was now there working. I can’t go out to dinner without first communicating with Sayu, I thought. I took out my phone and wrote her a short message.
『 Sorry. Gotou-san invited me to dinner so I’ll be eating out today and then I’ll go home. 』
I really wanted to send her something a little more sensitive, but I didn’t have anything prepared, and I was on the clock so the content had to be brief and I sent it to her immediately. Looking at me sideways, Hashimoto said with a clear tone of mockery:
“Oh, you’re telling your wife?”
“Hey, that’s enough.”
When the meat was on the grill, a “shh” sound was immediately heard. Bubbles appeared on the surface of the meat as it gradually shrank, and as I watched it, I turned each of the pieces of meat with the pincers.
“Mmm, looks delicious.”
Said Gotou-san who was sitting in front of me while her eyes looked brighter than usual. Gotou-san and I went back to the same restaurant we had gone to the previous time. I saw the color change on both sides of the meat from pink to orange and I pressed it a little with my tongs. Through them, I felt the strong flexibility of the meat in my hand. Apparently, they were getting a good amount of heat inside.
“Now we can eat it.”
I said this and took a piece of meat and Gotou-san lifted her plate slightly with both hands. When I placed the meat on her plate, she laughed a little childishly.
“Fufu, thank you. As you’d expect from the person in charge of roasting.”
Gotou-san and I had already had many drinks from the beer glasses in front of us. We had already finished toasting. While we were talking about harmless things, I was roasting the meat. Slowly, my stomach was getting full, and also deliberately, I was getting impatient.
“So what have we here?”
Even though it isn’t my cup of tea, I initiated the conversation with Gotou-san as it seemed she wouldn’t do it first. I was wondering when we would start talking about the real issue, so I got a little impatient. Gotou-san turned her head to the side.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, is there anything I can help you with? You suddenly invited me to dinner in the middle of work.”
When I said that, Gotou-san made a worried face and then a grimace.
“What’s wrong? Did I catch you?”
I said bitterly as if I knew the truth. I was a little upset, so she made a charming expression she knew I’m weak at.
“I’m not hiding anything… maybe.”
Gotou-san ate a piece of meat that she took from her small plate and chewed slowly. Then, after swallowing it completely, she suddenly tilted her head and looked me in the eye.
“Why did you refuse to go on a business trip?”
As expected she would ask me that, I thought. I felt tension on my face. And at the moment, I understood that I couldn’t run away without answering that question. Gotou-san was staring at me when she asked. Perhaps she didn’t notice the change in my expression either.
“I already told you about this, so I’m not chastising you at all. It’s company policy not to force anyone to take business trips, so you’re free to refuse.”
That’s how it was. The company had achieved growth in such a short term, paving the way for those kinds of policies. Young people today have a strong tendency not to accept it as they feel it’s obsolete.
Lunch can be taken at any time between 11 am and 3 pm, and you can also change to a flexible schedule to get in and out of work. Back then, when Gotou-san said “The boss can’t force you to do anything he/she orders you to” this also included the trips.
I think the achievements have increased because it’s a company that implemented that scheme, so every single worker for that aspect of the organization; they work stress-free.
“So, asking you that kind of question was only out of personal curiosity. Don’t you think?”
At the words of Gotou-san, I answered vaguely just to show I was paying attention.
“When we went out last time… you also… asked me a similar question.”
Gotou-san hesitated to say anything and looked at me again as she turned away, then nervously looked at the table surface.
“You told me you had nothing to do with Mishima-san, right?”
“Yeah. Didn’t we already talk about that? I said that nothing’s going on between the two of us…”
“But, aren’t you two eating together more frequently?”
“We just got a little closer than before… No, it’s just that she appreciates me… Well, I don’t really know how to explain it, but, I think that’s why we’re frequently together.”
“Well, I guess so… But still.”
Gotou-san raised her voice. She also made some gestures, which wasn’t a characteristic of hers when she speaks.
“It’s clear that you’re leaving the office earlier than before lately.”
“Ah, that’s because I want to have more time to sleep.”
“No, that’s not it, you’re definitely lying. I can tell by the way you look away while you stutter when you talk.”
“Oh, but it’s not a lie…”
It was an outright lie. After staring at her, Gotou-san sighed a little, and said slowly:
“I think it’s because… Maybe you haven’t even noticed it yourself, but…”
It seems she was doing a preamble.
“Yoshida-kun, you’ve never even used your phone during work before.”
When I heard those words, I felt bad. I certainly hadn’t seen it that way. Perhaps she noticed the change in the expression on my face, because Gotou-san, who looked puzzled, denied with her hand.
“Ah, I’m sorry. I’m not accusing you or anything. But I want you to know that I’m not playing around either.”
“No, that’s… Well…”
As I stuttered, Gotou-san smiled bitterly and continued talking.
“The thing is, a subordinate who had never used his smartphone at work, suddenly starts doing things like that… And I don’t think you’re just contacting a colleague.”
“You… have a point.”
I honestly didn’t want to make a statement, but certainly what she was saying had a fairly logical and normal development. There was no point in denying it so I meekly nodded.
“That’s why I’m very worried… Ah, you want another beer?”
I replied. Gotou-san flashed a smile and then pressed a button to call the waiter. When the waiter arrived, Gotou-san said briefly: “Two beers please”. I took the empty glass that was in front of me and to gave it to the waiter.
“Thank you very much. Sorry if I made you worry….”
“No, this isn’t a company dinner so you have nothing worry about.”
Well, that’s true. I thought about continuing with the subject, but I held back. Implicitly, I realized that she now seemed to speak without taking a position.
I muttered softly. Gotou-san was slightly confused then she looked at me.
“What is it?”
I knew specifically what she meant by that question without the need to ask again. Why I had refused to take the business trip, who I was contacting, those were the questions she wanted to ask.
“It’s just that…”
As I started to say those words, I came to a sudden halt. Actually, except for Hashimoto, I had no intention of telling anyone about Sayu. However, was it fate? Mishima had discovered that Sayu was staying at my house. It seemed that being stubborn and hiding this from Gotou-san was meaningless.
“Two beers, sorry to keep you waiting.”
The waiter arrived at a quick pace and immediately put the beers on the table and said, “slowly please” as he hurriedly moved to another table. As Gotou-san placed one glass on my side and another on her side, I felt my senses were slowly coming together. Certainly. Regardless of whether I’ll talk about Sayu or not, it was more important to first eliminate the feeling of discomfort. Finally, I was able to put into words the feeling of uncertainty I felt a few moments ago.
“Before anything else, is it okay if I ask you something?”
When I asked that question, Gotou-san looked confused for a moment and then tilted her head to the side.
“No, I mean…”
I understood the meaning of Gotou-san’s question. And, I also understood the doubt that led to the question. However, there was only one thing that I really didn’t understand.
“Gotou-san, why do you care so much about the reasons behind my actions?”
I looked Gotou-san in the eye when I asked the question and she seemed to be startled. Previously, Gotou-san’s remarks indicated that she seemed to be highly aware of what was going on with me lately. Until now, I had hardly thought deeply about why she’s fixated on an employee’s behavior. But as I listened to her comments, I thought it was clear that it was something like “I’m just paying close attention to all employees” but she was looking at me too closely.
No, I think it’s true that she really was paying attention to other employees. I think that’s probably what it was. Gotou-san had been in the office watching all the employees around her, walking around, making it easy for people who had work to do to talk quietly. I was aware of it.
However, today Gotou-san had known the situation remarkably in detail. If she really had the same viewpoint when she saw each of the employees, there was no way she could remember those things she asked of me. If that was the case, I almost didn’t want to be too self-conscious.
I continued to think of her as my romantic interest for five years, and then she crushed that affection. But despite that, I had come to the conclusion that Gotou-san was watching me closely over the other employees. There was no way I could get rid of this uncomfortable feeling. I wonder if Gotou-san only saw me as just “one employee among many others”.
If I were to assume that she had a special intention, what the hell would it be? I had a feeling that it was unfair that before I was done with that doubt, I would clear up the mystery and answer her question.
“You don’t have to force yourself to answer if you don’t want to…”
And then what I had thought about went further, apparently for me it was something very important.
“But in that case, I won’t answer any of your questions either.”
I couldn’t think of another way, so I made an assertive comment. At my words, Gotou-san opened her eyes a little wider and blinked more than usual. Then she raised the corners of her mouth a little and sighed.
“I was surprised…”
After saying that, Gotou-san drank a shot of beer seeming to avoid the question. Seeing that, I remembered that I hadn’t even taken a single sip of my beer yet. The foam of my beer had been reduced to a single centimeter. Bewildered, I also drank a shot. A stimulating feeling that seemed like an electric shock passed through my throat. And then for some reason, the assertive comment I just made ran through my head.
“So that was something that’s on your mind, huh.”
After saying that, Gotou-san blushed a little. Why would she have blushed at that moment?
“Yes, I certainly pay more attention to you than others. That’s a fact.”
Gotou-san slowly said these words. However, that was a little strange. She wasn’t looking into my eyes, her gaze was directed at the surface of the table aimlessly, and her face was red. I didn’t say anything, I waited for her to continue with what she was saying.
Gotou-san just nodded, and the look he had been looking away from me came to me.
“Um, I hope you won’t be surprised to hear what I’m going to say but… that’s probably not possible, I guess?”
“So the reason…”
“Why I care so much right?”
Just by looking at her appearance I knew. Now, she was trying to answer me seriously. It was clear that her mood was different from usual now because she was always completely calm, so I didn’t know what she was thinking. Gotou san-slowly inhaled and then exhaled. Seeming to have made up her mind, she stared at me and with a slightly flushed face she said:
“I like you, Yoshida-kun.”
My thoughts froze. What did she say just now? She liked me. Did she say that? When my mind came to, suddenly chaos began. No, no, no. But it was only a few months ago that she rejected me. She told me she had a boyfriend. Did she break up with him? No, no, no. Assuming that she broke up with him, what she just said would mean that I’m only a rebound. A thought came to me spinning around in my congested brain. In the end, all that came out of my mouth was:
It was just that one word.
1 Cool Biz is a Japanese campaign initiated by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment from summer 2005 as a means to help reduce Japanese electricity consumption by limiting the use of air conditioning.
2 Short for Microsoft Word or MS Word.
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