What this is still here what what what?
wow. it's been a REALLY long while, hasn't it?
I don't even know if people are still following this... but what the hey. I'm on leave from school and I have way too much time right now so.... I'm writing! lol
Thanks for those who left comments ancient times ago and a bit more recent as well. I live for you
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Chapter 22 – “Paris made his brave proposal to Juliet”
Never had Mitsui Aika felt so incredibly uncomfortable in her own home. True, this place wasn’t really “home” since she would credit that title to where her parents lived back in Shiga prefecture, but this place was as “home” as she could get while she stayed in Tokyo. Yet “home” did not feel like “home” anymore, as it carried a certain foreign air now. Yes, everything was arranged the same—well, almost the same, with the few exceptions of picture frames and such—yet there was a sort of change to this place now, a change that she could not get used to. Everything just seemed much… classier. It felt as though nothing in the apartment should be touched, as if they were artifacts in a museum. In fact, this unusual pressure was so strong that the poor girl could only sit in her chair with her arms wrapped around her knees, balled up as tightly as she could in an effort to limit the amount of space that she was taking up.
Wrinkling her eyebrows with envy, Aika watched her older friend move around the kitchen freely. Despite the recent series of shocking events, the bean seemed very casual, busily preparing their breakfast. Had she already gotten over the initial shock of having her house returned to her out of the blue? By her boss, nonetheless? How could she be so comfortable already?
“I still don’t think you should have,” Aika remarked, cutting through whatever random tune Risa was softly humming to.
“Should have what?”
“Accepted the house.” The younger girl pulled her knees in even closer and placed her chin on top of it. “It’s unnatural. For your boss to buy your house back.”
Risa sighed as she scooped up the scrambled eggs from the frying pan onto a plate. “I know, I know…”
“I know Tanaka Shachou is fond of you, to say the least,” Aika continued, “but this sort of gesture is a little too much, don’t you think?”
“I do…” Risa mumbled, bringing the food over to the table and sitting down. “But what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t exactly refuse her generosity. I couldn’t disobey her.”
“Yeah, I know…” Aika nodded, sighing out her frustration. “You had no choice. But I still don’t like this. Accepting Tanaka Shachou’s grand gift while still being with Takahashi-san… you realize there’s something odd with this picture, right?”
“I know…” Risa mumbled again. “Ai-chan, she… she was acting a little odd too, when she saw that I got my house back.”
“I don’t blame her,” Aika shrugged. “I would’ve been worried if she hadn’t acted weird.”
“I guess…” Risa swallowed as she quickly picked up her fork and seized some scrambled egg, chewing on it as if she was recharging her battery. “I swear though, I’m going to pay Tanaka Shachou back. She may have thought I was joking but I wasn’t. I really am going to repay her. Little by little.”
“I guess that’s the best you can do for now,” Aika agreed, smiling a little. “I’ll help, too. After all, I live here as well.”
“Thanks, Aika,” the bean grinned. “Come on, eat up! We both have a long day ahead of us.”
** ** **
“You know, being at home is such a wonderful thing!” the pale bunny remarked, biting into the melon bread in her hand. “Don’t you agree, Eririn~?”
“Your excessive happiness is creeping me out, Sayu,” the turtle replied, watching her friend twirl around in her store as she fixed a hat set upon a mannequin.
“Oh, don’t be such a party-pooper!” Sayumi said, sticking her tongue out. She skipped towards the counter and sat herself on top of it playfully. “You know, I’ve never fully appreciated the idea of home. Sleeping in your own bed, using your own bathroom, eating in your own kitchen… It’s great being back home!”
“You’re gonna have to get down from there when a costumer comes in,” Eri warned, walking over to the counter as well. “I’m running a business here, you know.”
“You’re no fun at all today, Eri,” Sayumi grumbled, frustratingly biting off another huge chunk of her melon bread. “And after I made the effort to bring snacks all the way here… How lame.”
“Actually, I distinctly remember telling you on the phone that you really… really
didn’t need to come by,” Eri remarked, smiling mischievously. “So whose fault is this, hm?”
“… Oh, shut up.”
Sayumi mumbled out her frustrations under her breath as she ripped her bread apart again with her teeth, chewing furiously in a manner unfit for a lady. Eri snickered as she celebrated a silent victory against the bunny. Despite relentlessly teasing Sayumi, the turtle could actually tell that the girl seemed to be much happier these days. After being kicked out of her home for a little while, she seemed to have discovered some sort of newfound gratitude towards the fact that she lives with the person she treasures the most in the world. The little bunny had grown.
“Tell me, though…” Eri continued, her tone changing, “what’s up with Ai-chan today?”
Sayumi raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Well… she just seems… different.”
Eri nodded her head towards her friend who was minding some of the mannequins on the other side of the store. Sayumi turned and observed her stepsister. After she got beyond the fact that the woman looked ever so naturally beautiful, as usual, she noticed something was indeed off upon paying closer attention. At one point, Ai would be organizing the clothing racks or straightening out a wrinkle in a mannequin’s shirt, as she should be. But the next moment, she would suddenly freeze in place, look down, and sigh as she blanked out. After a minute or two of that, she would do a little head jolt as she came back into reality and continued her work silently.
“And what’s up with her hand?” Eri asked, concerned. “Did she hurt herself?”
Only then did Sayumi notice the white gauze wrapped around her sister’s hand, weaved around each finger. When had Ai hurt herself like that? What had exactly happened for her to have gained such an injury? Sayumi bit on her bottom lip, unable to help feeling beyond pathetic. How could she have not noticed that her loved one was hurt like that? She shouldn’t have needed Eri’s mentioning of it. For god’s sake, she lived with the woman! She should’ve known that Ai had gotten hurt and the reason for it. She was a failure as a sister and anything else that she may ever hope to be.
But what could she have possibly done to help, even if she knew why Ai was acting peculiar? She was just Sayumi, just the little sister, who has a completely different life than her older sibling despite living together. In comparison to Ai who worked two jobs, did all the household chores, and was an orphan, Sayumi was unemployed, living off of her mother’s money, and was always pampered. Someone like her could never understand a scarred person like Ai.
But still, she wanted to try. Whatever little things she could do, she wanted to do it for her. Even if she can’t make much of a difference, at least it’ll let Ai know that she cares. At least, she can hope it will.
Deciding to act upon her instincts, Sayumi hopped off the counter and grabbed whatever her hand first touched inside a plastic bag of snacks that she had brought. Then, she marched straight up to her stepsister and jabbed the food into her face. Ai flinched as she looked at the bunny in surprise, unable to decipher what was going on.
“Sayu?” she blinked. “Wha—”
“It’s for you,” Sayumi said quickly, shoving the bread into her face again. “Melon bread.”
“I’m not very hungry…”
“Just eat it!” the younger girl insisted, opening the plastic wrapping and offering the food again. “Sweet things are supposed to make people feel better… It’ll make Nee-chan feel better… So eat it.”
Sayumi looked away as she spoke, unable to get herself to meet her sister’s eyes. What was she thinking right now? Could she be thinking that this is childish and unnecessary? Maybe she was being a little ridiculous… Was it too late to go back to her nice little area on the counter?
The bunny looked up at the sound of a warm voice, making contact with an equally warm gaze. Ai smiled as she received the melon bread and took a small bite.
“It’s delicious,” she commented. “Sweets really do make people feel better, huh?”
Sayumi immediately looked away just in time to conceal the blush in her cheeks. “I-I don’t know, it’s not like I said it first!” she said, trying to sound harsh but ending up with a series of stumbling words instead.
“Either way,” Ai laughed. She reached out and gently patted her sister’s head, allowing the bunny to blush even more as she looked down. “Thanks for letting me eat this, Sayu.”
“D-don’t… touch me… baka…”
Despite her mumbled words, Sayumi showed no intention whatsoever of moving away, which she could’ve easily done. Eri chuckled to herself as she watched this scene, shaking her head. It was hard to believe that the helpless girl who was frozen in place right now was the same girl who could spit out poisonous words at will. Looking at her now, she seemed so childlike with only the purest intentions of making her sister feel better. Either way, Eri knew, Sayumi was Sayumi. The gap in her character was what defined her. It was nice to know that it was possible for the girl to actually have a soft spot for something—or rather, someone. It was only regrettable that the certain someone was a person she could never have. Or at least, one would think.
** ** **
There were few moments in Niigaki Risa’s life when she felt like she had done something good in her past life that allowed her to gain something equally precious in retribution. This was one of those moments as she silently celebrated her excitement in the calmest way she could manage without getting up and dancing on the table. The reason?
“You will all receive your own work space by tomorrow,” President Tanaka informed. “We just need to open up more space since we were only planning on hiring one intern, but ended up keeping all three. So, ladies, I give you my official welcome to the Bijou family.”
Boom. Fireworks and applause exploded in Risa’s head as she formed a restrained smile on her face. She bowed her head slightly in gratitude along with her two colleagues, who also seemed quite excited as well. After a long, long wait and hours of hard work with low pay, Niigaki Risa had finally been promoted as a full-time employee at her dream job. With this, she could finally start dipping her soul fully into her passion and also start paying off her debt to her boss. This was the first step to her newly acquired independent life.
“Though your work spaces remain unprepared,” President Tanaka continued, “I have decided to give you your assignments in advance. Each of you will only need to focus on the individual project that is given to you. This may involve working under certain departmental chiefs, in which case, you will be expected to strictly follow their orders. Junjun? If you would do the honors.”
“Hai.” Nodding her head, the secretary stepped forward and put down a set of manila folders on the table. She handed the first one to the girl sitting closest to her.
“Natsuyaki-kun,” she said, “your first project will be street research. Observe the streets of Tokyo and check out summer hair styles. The Hair department’s chief will have more details for you. Report to her office on the 14th floor after lunch.”
“Hai!” Miyabi answered brightly, hugging her folder tightly. She was obviously overjoyed at being assigned to something hair-related, which was where her passion lied.
“Shimizu-kun,” Junjun continued, passing the folder to the aforementioned employee, “your department is the cosmetics department. They’re in the midst of putting together a summer makeup tutorial issue along with new products from various companies, including ours. You’ll be assisting in that project. Floor 16.”
“Hai,” Saki answered shyly, her face blushing in joy.
“Lastly, Niigaki-kun.” Junjun slid the final folder towards the woman who was keeping her fingers crossed underneath the table. “You will be assisting in coordinating the models for the summer spread. You must be present at every photo shoot. Your schedule will be available with your chief, 5th floor.”
“Hai,” Risa nodded, pulling the folder close to her while making a serious effort to not tremble. Every photo shoot, she says. Coordinating the models, she says. This was all Risa could ever wish for: a direct, hands-on experience in fashion! Her dreams were starting to be realized!
“That is a special post that was created for you by Tanaka Shachou so please make sure to carry out your duties diligently,” Junjun noted.
Risa blinked as she looked up from the table. Her colleagues seemed just as confused as she was as they suspiciously eyed back and forth from the bean to their president. Reina remained in her seat, smiling calmly.
“What better way to learn the business than charging into it head on, yes?” she said.
Risa wrinkled her eyebrows as she quietly agreed and thanked her boss. On one hand, she was grateful for the president’s care. But on the other, she was incredibly uncomfortable with the extra attention that was being given to her, especially now that it was very visibly obvious to her colleagues and probably whoever else was in the company as well. It was hardly appropriate. Why was the president intentionally drawing so much attention?
“Niigaki, is something wrong?”
“Huh? Oh, it’s nothing, nothing at all…”
“You’re not sick, are you?” Reina asked, looking concerned. “You do seem awfully tired.”
“No, I’m okay, Shachou, really,” Risa mumbled quietly, feeling the same discomfort rising again from the unnecessary attention.
“Well, don’t overwork yourself,” Reina continued, either ignoring or not noticing her employee’s embarrassment. “Take breaks if you need to, okay?”
Risa nodded silently, sensing all eyes in the room landing on her. Damn it, she hated this! If her boss didn’t ease up soon, the entire company was going to find out about them!
Wait. Stop. Find out what
about them? What were they anyway? They weren’t anything! There was nothing between Niigaki Risa and Tanaka Reina, as far as the older woman was concerned. There was nothing for her to be embarrassed about. But the president’s behavior was, nevertheless, not going to go unnoticed by the other workers.
“So that’ll be it for now,” Junjun said, deciding to wrap up the meeting before the atmosphere got even more awkward. “Lunch break for all of you. Then report to the locations you’ve been assigned to.”
Risa immediately got up and started to gather her things at the speed of light. She had a bad feeling that if she didn’t escape soon, another inevitable would happen…
“Niigaki!” There it was.
“Shachou?” Risa answered, reluctantly turning around to face her boss.
“With me. Now,” Reina curtly ordered, walking past the bean and out the door. Risa’s eyes widened as she stood frozen for a second, looking around for help. Junjun just simply raised an eyebrow and walked out, making a smart decision to not take a part in this. Miyabi and Saki shot looks of confusion at their co-worker, to which Risa shrugged casually with an effort.
Jumping at the sound of her name, the bean quick shoved the rest of her belongings in her bag and quickly left the room and briskly walked down the hall to catch up with her employer. For a tiny woman, she could really walk. And at such a speed, before Risa knew it, she was following the kitten out to the parking lot towards a familiar black car. With the click of her keys, Reina unlocked her vehicle and stepped into the driver’s seat. Risa froze in front of the car, clutching her bag to her chest, unsure of what was going on.
“Shachou, I… what… where…?” Though she tried to phrase some sort of question to this situation, she had no idea where to start.
“Stop mumbling and get in,” Reina said, sticking her head out the window. “Lunch break doesn’t last forever.”
“Niigaki,” the kitten said sternly, “you know I don’t like repeating myself.”
Sighing, Risa helplessly clambered into the passenger seat and put the seatbelt on. There was no way out of this game, was there?
With a satisfied smile, Reina revved her car into gear and drove off and entered the main road. At some point, she took out a pair of sunglasses from a compartment and put them on. Risa glanced at her boss who looked way too young to be an entrepreneur and stylish enough to be a pop idol. Really, her entire being was such a mystery. How could Risa possibly root out what was going on in that little mind of hers?
“If you don’t mind me asking… where are we going?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Reina chuckled. “I’m taking you out to lunch.”
“Haa?!” Risa wrinkled her eyebrows. “But… no, I mean, you don’t need to do that!”
“I want to,” Reina shrugged. “For that delicious homemade dinner you made me that time.”
“That and more was already paid for when you bought me my house back!” Risa said, in utter confusion.
“That’s that, this is this,” Reina said. “It’s different.”
Risa’s mouth remained dropped open in disbelief. Really, did this woman’s brain just run on a different frequency than everybody else’s? How was treating someone to dinner and buying someone a house unmatched in the level of favors? What kind of math did she learn in school?
Before Risa could further argue, the car came to a stop as Reina stepped out of the car without a warning. The bean hurriedly followed out as a man in a vest got into the driver’s seat. Valet parking. Oh boy, this was definitely one of those restaurants that Risa could only afford in her dreams. Yikes.
“Don’t get lost, Niigaki.”
Risa looked up from her spaced out thoughts and found her boss already at the entrance of the restaurant, smirking. The bean quickly caught up to her as she entered the building and greeted the waitress there. They were immediately led to a table with considerable sunlight beaming down on it, making the small flower case in the middle of the table shimmer. Risa couldn’t hide her awe as her head spun this way and that, catching a glimpse of every fancy white curtain and majestic designs of the ceiling and the well-dressed waiters.
“You can pick whatever you’d like,” Reina said.
Though it was a kind gesture, Risa found such an offer useless, as she understood none of the dishes listed in the menu. It was still Japanese but it was in a fancy culinary language that she could not figure out. Alas, she had gotten nowhere when the waiter came to take their orders.
“I’ll have an iced strawberry-peach lemonade,” Reina said, “and herb-roasted capon chicken. With a side of salad.”
“And for you, miss?” the waiter asked politely, turning towards the bean.
“Uh… I’ll have the same.”
“Very good,” the waiter nodded, writing down the order. “I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
As soon as the waiter walked away, Reina leaned in towards the bean with a smile and whispered, “You know, if you didn’t understand the menu, you could’ve asked me.”
“I understood!” Risa retorted back, her cheeks turning red. “I just… I trust your taste in food so I wanted to get what you were getting.”
“Uh-huh. Okay,” Reina laughed.
Risa blushed brighter, she was sure, but somehow, she still felt comforted by her employer’s teasing. The way she laughed wasn’t meant to make her feel even more foreign to such a high-class atmosphere, but rather to loosen her up more. It was something Risa could appreciate.
And the rest of the lunch went along the same way. The drinks arrived, Risa had taken less than a liking to it, and noticing this, Reina ordered a different, less sweet drink. The salad arrived and Reina made sure that the waiter gave Risa the first scoop with all the croutons she wanted (which she claimed was none, but Reina, of course, saw through her politeness). The main dish arrived and when Risa accidently dropped her fork on the ground before she could even touch the food, Reina put her own fork in the bean’s hand first before asking for a new fork for herself. This lady was not planning on holding back the least bit in kindness and care for the bean. And the more consideration Reina showed, the more confused Risa became. Though she tried to question the reason for such attention, the president would continuously direct the conversation towards elsewhere. Even after the meal, when they were on their way back to Bijou headquarters, Reina made sure to continuously chatter or ask inconsequential questions of her own to give Risa no leeway whatsoever. So by the time they were stepping out of the car in the parking lot of the Bijou building, the bean’s mouth was itching to finally get an answer out of the kitten, once and for all.
“Shachou,” Risa started, blocking Reina’s way.
“Niigaki,” Reina answered, walking around her employee. But Risa sidestepped to stand in her way again.
“Why are you doing all of this?”
Realizing she wasn’t going to get away with it anymore, Reina faced the older woman. “Doing all of what?”
“You know what!” Risa said a bit louder. “Giving me a place to live in when I got evicted? Buying me back my house? Taking me out for lunch? All of this and more. Why?”
“Couldn’t we simply leave it as random acts of kindness?”
“No, Tanaka Shachou,” Risa answered, “because we both know it’s not that. And if it is, I don’t want it. I don’t need your charity, Shachou. I’ve been supporting myself for a long time and I can still do it. I don’t need pity points—”
“You think I pity you?” Reina interrupted with a small scoff. “Please, pitying you is the last thing I’d do. No, I respect you, Niigaki. Like you said, you’ve been living by yourself for so long, it’s a mystery how you made it by yourself in Tokyo. Though it may have seemed impossible at times, you followed your risky dream of getting into fashion and now here you are, interning at Bijou. You’re the oldest intern we have but also the most hardworking. I respect you, Niigaki. And I admire you.”
“But why are you—”
“And I love you.”
With that, the world stopped. Risa froze mid sentence as she stared blankly at the woman in front of her, this woman whose cat-like eyes pierced back into her fearlessly.
“I said, I’m in love with you,” Reina repeated without a moment of hesitation. “Niigaki Risa, I’ve loved you for a while now. And I’d like you to go out with me.”
Risa didn’t say a word. All of Aika’s future I-told-you-so’s echoed in her head along with flashbacks to every moment of her time spent with Reina, the clues that she never picked up on. But the most present thought in her head was of Ai. Takahashi Ai, her close… ‘friend’. The one she truly wanted to be with. The unsettled confusion between them, the unsaid words, the unclear borderlines. Nothing made sense in Risa’s head as a series of films just ran through her mind. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t see, but she could hear.
“Please go out with me.”
BOOM. come back.