Naito stood up in panic, with eyes wide open like the ones of a madman. One of the things he was feeling extremely “peculiar” about is having his interests, thoughts or emotions exposed to others. He was shaking only thinking of the scenario that somebody would violate his personal space, the serenity of his valuable privacy. He felt deeply angry with himself for being so careless to forget the notebook at work. It was the only damn thing he shouldn’t have forgotten.
What if somebody has taken it? What if it’s already in the garbage? Or worse.. What if somebody has read it? And what if they know who I am? Now they will know every little detail of what I have in my head, what I dream, what I feel. And they will look at me and they will know… they will know.
With cold sweat running down his forehead, he put on some clothes as fast as he could, grabbed his keys and ran to the manga cafe. He hadn’t thought it through before arriving at the entrance, when he realised that he didn’t know where to look or who to ask.
With his heart still racing, he enters the manga cafe and heads towards the reception bench. He checks around to see who was working the morning shift. Nobody seems to be around; they must be cleaning somewhere, or checking the booths.
His eyes were scanning the reception table, the shelves, the chairs, everything.
I must have left it on the counter before leaving, I remember holding it in my hands and reading until.. Until SHE came in. The last person with whom he had contact was her. It was honestly the only one to come to his mind, that he definitely didn’t want to see it. He searched the counter once more.
“What are you doing there?”
A male voice came from the staff room behind him.
“Oh, ehm... I work here, I’m Naito - I.. I usually do the night shifts.” He was trying very hard to keep his voice stable and not tremble.
“Ah, yeah, I see your name on the timetable. I’m a new part-timer, so I don’t know many of the staff members. My name is Jin-woon. You can call me Jin.”
“Yeah, ok..” Naito didn’t have time for chit chatting. His vision was starting to get blurry from the uneasiness. Jin looked at Naito concerned.
“Can I help you? You seemed to be looking for something..” His eyes wandered behind Naito, checking what he was doing on the counter. He looked very young and clumsy, with very pale skin and light brown hair. He must be a freshman, so why am I talking to him like a chicken when I am already older than him?
“I must have forgotten my notebook here. It’s a classic A4 with a black cover and a sketch of Jupiter on it. Have you noticed it anywhere when you started your shift?”
“There is a pile of notebooks over there, but I don’t think there was one lying on the counter..You can check if you want.”
Naito made some half-fearted moves like he was looking in the pile of notebooks, but he knew it wasn’t there. He already checked before this boy appeared, and working at the manga cafe for so long, he was aware that these notebooks have been there since forever.
“I may have been wrong and left it somewhere else. If you see it anywhere, you can leave it in my drawer if it’s not trouble for you.”
“No problem, but which one is your drawer?”
“Oh, right. Uhm let me show you.”
They headed back to the staff room. Inside the room, there was a square table and many chairs, a sofa in the back, underneath a big window with a view of the playground across the street. On the right wall there was a small kitchen with a coffee machine, a fridge and a microwave and a pile of instant ramen boxes, while the opposite side was full of drawers. Some had names on them. Naito just pointed at his drawer with his finger - it had no name on it - and turned back to be sure that Jin was looking.
But there was not only Jin standing behind him. It was also her.
Airi was putting her bag on her shoulder, getting ready to go home. Why is she still here? It’s already past 9; her shift should have ended at least 2 hours ago.
“I hope you can manage on your own now, Jin. I’m off, ok?” she said to the boy, only striking a short, uninterested look at Naito.
“Everything is just fine; thank you for staying late for me. I will repay you later”
“Don’t worry about it. You have to go back to the counter, it’s been left unattended.”
“Oh yes, I’m on it. Naito, I will put your notebook in your drawer if I see it anywhere. See ya.”
Naito tried to avoid eye contact and waited for her to leave the room too. But she wasn’t leaving. He waited a few more seconds, expecting her to eventually get the hint and walk. Instead, she was looking at him very cautiously, trying no to be obvious about it. He started feeling incredibly uncomfortable and he decided to exit the staff room before her. He rushed through the bookshelf corridor, towards the glass door. The door opened automatically, he stepped outside and started picking up his pace, drenched in an unbearable uneasy emotion.
Suddenly he feels a grip around his wrist.
“I have it.”
Her disturbing voice pierced his chest like an ice lance. He turns around with a completely displeased look on his face, his heart beating fast, his limbs almost trembling.
“You can have it back..”
He looked at her troubled.
“But not so easily.”
Now it sounds like her.
“I guess you understand what I want in return.”
Naito looked at her. What the hell could she possibly want from me? Take her shifts? Do her chores? I’m already doing that.
“Forget what you saw. If you ever let anything come out of your mouth, I will do something that we both know you will not enjoy.”
Naito was just looking at her with an intimidating aura around him.
“Don’t be so full of yourself. Don’t assume that I care enough to be interested in your social life.”
Her face turned pale. She tightened her lips with vexation and tilted her head. She definitely didn’t expect such a reaction from Naito, who was almost always quiet and speechless. She thought of him as a shy simpleton.
“I don’t trust you.”
“Why should you?”
He was pissing her off.
“I don’t have anything to gain from sharing what I saw. I need the notebook. Name your price and get over it.”
Airi was completely irritated. She turned around and started walking away aggressively.
Naito stared at her moving further and further.
Suddenly she stops.
She brings her bag in front of her and puts her hand inside, reaching for something.
She is in front of the playground visible from the staff room window. On her left there is a fountain full of water. She takes something outside of her bag.
A black notebook.
She turns her head slowly to look at him with aversion and shows him what she’s holding.
She goes closer to the fountain with eyes locked on him and stretches her arm, with the notebook in hand.
Then she drops Naito's dream journal into the water.