Chapter 2:

Working hard, or hardly working


Aiya stepped through the elevators. She held her breath as her feet made contact with the worn-down carpet. She braced herself for the wave of noise. It took her a moment to realise that there was no noise. She looked around the room, confused. The office was almost completely deserted. She let go of the breath she was holding.

“This doesn’t seem too bad,” she whispered, trying to ease her nerves. She stood up straight and looked around the office again, this time taking in her surroundings. The entire floor was filled with computers, not that a lot of them could fit in the small building. Each workstation was separated by a small border, barely coming past her waist. To her left was a small kitchen, with a fridge and a microwave. To her right was a sign that pointed to the restrooms. At the back of the room was an area sectioned off with ceiling-height glass. It seemed to be a conference room. Near this room, at the very back in the corner, was a lone man, his eyes focused on his monitor.

Aiya checked her watch. She was sure she would be late. How could the office be this empty? Sure enough, her watch told her that her shift started two minutes ago.

“Maybe it’s a business trip?” she thought aloud. Still, it was strange. She was asked to be here on time, and yet there was no one there to greet her.

“Maybe him?” she said, looking at the man working away at the corner. “Maybe he’s concentrating and lost track of time.” Aiya set her sights on the man, beginning the small trek across the office. She made it all of two steps before she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Excuse me, are you Aiya Hisakawa?” a woman asked her.

“Uh, yes, I am,” Aiya responded, caught off guard.

“Great!” the woman cheered. “I’m Rin Sugiyama, it’s nice to meet you! I’m so sorry I’m late.”

“No, it’s fine,” Aiya said, bowing slightly. “Thank you for this opportunity, Ms. Sugiyama.”

“You’re welcome, and please call me Rin!” Rin said. “Let’s go talk in the conference room.”

“Sure,” Aiya said, following Rin. Her guess for the use of that glass room was right.

“I’m really happy you could make it on such short notice!” Rin said. “We’re a bit understaffed, and our deadlines are coming up…” Rin began rambling about work, barely pausing to breathe. Aiya examined the woman who was apparently her boss. She seemed to get easily excited, almost jumping up and down, her ponytail bouncing behind her. Despite her being her senior, Aiya couldn’t help but see her as a little kid for a moment. It didn’t help that Rin was pretty short. They entered the conference room, and Aiya took a seat as instructed.

“Let’s discuss your responsibilities,” Rin said, her childish aura disappearing. Aiya almost audibly gasped. She didn’t think a person could change so drastically in such a short instant. The woman in front of her resembled the stereotypical business-type a lot more now. “For your first few weeks you will act mostly as an assistant to one of our employees, so you can learn the ropes. I will give you more responsibilities at the discretion of myself and the person I place you under. Work hard, so you can become independent quickly.”

“Yes, Ms. Sugiyama,” Aiya responded. She felt like a schoolgirl addressing a teacher.

“I told you, call me Rin!” Rin said, her bubbly nature appearing in an instant.

“Sorry…” Aiya said, looking down. She was unsure how to talk to this woman.

“Now, let me introduce you to the man you’ll be learning from!” Rin said cheerily, grabbing Aiya’s arm and leading her out of the conference room.


Kento had been hammering away on his keyboard for all of ten minutes when he heard the elevator doors open. He breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps one of his coworkers had finally learned the merit of showing up to work on time and working hard. He relished the thought of having someone else put in even a little bit of effort.

“Well, let’s see who my brother in arms is,” he said, tearing himself away from his work and casting his eyes at the elevator. As quick as his eyes had risen, they had dropped back to his monitor. A woman he had never seen before stood in front of the elevator. She looked very unsure of herself. Kento wondered if he should go offer her assistance, but thought better of it. He had work to do, and interfering in someone else’s life would just take time away from him. He took a moment to sulk at the fact that he was still alone in his hardworking ways, then got back to it, pushing the strange development out of his mind.

Kento was an exceptional worker. No one could ever match his pace, and the quality of his work was always top-notch. He had conditioned himself to work like this from a very young age after a harsh hit from reality taught him the true value of money, and that the only way to get money was through hard work. Because of this, he spent every moment of his life that he could spare working, and he lived as frugally as he could. Save for the occasional restaurant meal, he didn’t waste money on anything that was not essential.

This practice had made him quite wealthy, so much so that if he quit his job tomorrow he could live out the rest of his life pretty comfortably without ever having to work again. Unfortunately, his fear of wasting money had made him something of a miser, unable to waste money on frivolous things like having fun. The only exception to this rule was the night-doorman Abe, who he drank with occasionally.

Kento was pondering inviting Abe out for drinks that evening when a sound like nails on a chalkboard dragged his mind away from his work and idle thoughts. He looked back to the elevator to see the source of the noise, his boss, talking to the woman he saw there earlier. His boss’s voice always grated on his ears. It wasn’t particularly annoying or anything, he had just grown to despise the woman it was attached to. She was almost never on time, and at times it seemed like she was actively leading this company to ruin. She also had a tendency to get too familiar with people, making them uncomfortable.

“Do you have to be so noisy this early in the morning?” Kento asked under his breath. He knew he shouldn’t be so antagonistic towards his boss, but he couldn’t help it. With anyone else, he would be professional, but he couldn’t bring himself to take Rin Sugiyama seriously. He kept track of her out of the corner of his eye, watching as she dragged the poor stranger into the conference room.

“Maybe a consultant,” he muttered. He focused back on his work, determined not to get distracted again. He quickly fell into his usual groove, working at a blazing pace. He was halfway through his first task of the day when his concentration was torn away again.

“Kentooooooo!” a voice beside him called. Kento mentally let fly a string of curses that would make a sailor’s cheeks turn red, then turned in his chair.

“Yes, Ms. Sugiyama?” he asked, plastering a professional smile on his face.

“I told you to call me Rin!” Rin said, stomping her foot. She really was a child on the inside.

“My apologies, Ms. Sugiyama. What can I do for you?” Kento said, smiling wider. Rin pouted.

“You’re mean,” she said, gently hitting Kento’s shoulder.

“That’s workplace harassment, and violence,” Kento said. “I should report you.” He gently massaged his forehead with his fingers, trying to stave off the oncoming headache, and sighed. “What do you need?”

“Hmpf,” Rin scoffed, looking away. “If you must know, we have a new employee. I want you to show her the ropes.” Kento lifted his head and looked behind Rin. The woman he saw earlier was standing there. Kento jumped to his feet, his professionalism kicking in. The woman bowed quickly.

“Nice to meet you! I’m Aiya Hisakawa. I’ll be in your care!” The woman said as an introduction.

“I’m… Kento Shifutu,” Kento replied. He was taken aback slightly. “I look forward to working with you.”

“You better take good care of her, Kento,” Rin said. A mischievous glint shot through her eyes. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time.”

“What do you mean!?” Kento asked with shock and embarrassment in his voice. Rin giggled, and walked away, almost skipping. “Ughhh,” Kento groaned, collapsing back into his chair.

“She’s an… interesting person,” Aiya said. “Mr. Shifutu, was it?”

“She’s a real pain in the rear,” Kento said, his brow still furrowed by his frowning face. “I’m sorry about that, Ms. Hisakawa. Ms. Sugiyama has never learned anything about a professional work environment before.”

“It’s ok,” Aiya said. She couldn’t help but judge the man in front of her a bit. Here he was, spouting on about being a professional, but his hair looked like he had just rolled out of bed. “So what happened last time?”

“Nothing,” Kento replied as he turned back to his computer. “She’s just trying to make me look bad in front of the new hire. She’s always trying to give me grief.”

“You two seem close,” Aiya said, studying Kento’s face. “Why don’t you call her by her given name like she asks?”

“Because she’s my boss, not my friend,” Kento said. “I’m sure she asked you to call her by her given name the moment you met, didn’t she?” Aiya nodded. “See? You don’t do that in a workplace. It destroys the sense of respect her position should demand.”

“You’re very serious about work, Mr. Shifutu,” Aiya commented. She was a little surprised. She thought this man would be aloof, coasting by his work like he does his hairbrush. Instead, she found someone who was passionate and worked hard despite the environment.

“Of course I am,” Kento said. “My work is a reflection of myself. Only a shameful man would deliver work that he himself could not take pride in.” He looked back up at her, then sprang upright as he remembered his manners. “I’m so sorry I didn’t offer earlier. Do you want something to drink?”

“No, thank you,” Aiya said, staggering back a bit at Kento’s sudden jump.

“In that case, take a seat right here,” Kento said, gesturing to the station next to his. He removed the partition separating them and put it to the side. “I’ll explain the basics of what we do here.”


Aiya checked the time on her computer. It was almost six. She sighed, sitting back in her chair. Her shift should have ended an hour ago, but with Kento right next to her it was hard not to at least try to match his pace. She decided that this was a good point to call it for the night and saved her work.

“Heading home?” Kento asked from beside her. He was still thoroughly engrossed in his work, barely sparing her a glance.

“Yeah, it’s getting late,” Aiya replied. “Are you going to keep going?”

“Only for a little longer,” Kento said. “I don’t like stopping halfway through something. I’ll go home once this is done.”

“Try not to overwork yourself,” Aiya said, powering off her workstation and rising to her feet. “Good night Mr. Shifutu,” she said, waving as she walked away.

“Goodnight,” the half-hearted reply came.

He really was glued to his work. Aiya cast a glance back at him. He was an interesting man, to say the least. He seemed obsessed with his work for better or worse. She tried to make small-talk with him throughout the day but failed miserably every time. It didn’t seem like he was purposely trying to brush her off though. He was just too focused to hold a conversation.

Aiya pondered what could make a man so driven to do good work as she stepped onto the elevator. Maybe he had a family he had to support. He looked a bit too young for that, but she didn’t put it past him. Maybe he made a stupid mistake in high school. Aiya had read many horror stories of couples making that mistake, and in most cases, the girl drew the short end of the stick. It made her thankful for the fact that she never had a serious relationship.

On her way out of the building, she was greeted by the night-doorman. She gave a friendly greeting back as she walked out the door. She checked her watch. She was definitely going to miss the next train. She sighed loudly, as if she was trying to force her problems onto the air around her.

“I guess I’ll just wait at the station,” she said, taking a step forward. That one step sent her crashing right into another person. Aiya and the stranger both staggered over their feet, just barely saving themselves from falling. “I’m so sorry!” Aiya apologized. She bowed low, trying to hide her bright-red face. She was so absorbed in her own little world she was oblivious to what was around her.

“It’s fine,” the stranger said. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m ok, thank you,” Aiya said, lifting her head. “Are you-”

She stopped mid-sentence. In front of her was a young woman, around nineteen years old, though she was short for her age, with auburn hair that Aiya was certain she had seen in the mirror before.

“You’re the girl from the train, aren’t you?” Aiya asked.

“Hm?” the girl asked, tilting her head.

“Sorry, you look like someone I ran into yesterday,” Aiya said, trying to cover up her blunder.

“That’s ok!” the girl said. She was very energetic, painting a stark contrast to the worn-down Aiya. It had been a while since she had worked a full day. A moment of silence passed. Aiya looked to the floor, trying to think of something to say before the silence got awkward. On the ground she saw a takeout coffee cup, its contents spilled across the sidewalk.

“Oh no, did I make you drop that?” she asked, turning her eyes back to the girl.

“Well, yes, but it’s fine!” the girl said. “I need to cut down on caffeine anyway.”

“Please, let me buy you a new one,” Aiya requested. If nothing else, this would give her something to do while she waited for the train.

“You really don’t have to-” the girl began, trying to wave Aiya off.

“No, I do have to,” Aiya said, interrupting. “Come on, it’s right around the corner, right?”

“Yes…” the girl said. Aiya grabbed her arm and began leading her to the shop. She had little choice but to be dragged along, despite her mild protesting.

“I’m Aiya, by the way. Aiya Hisakawa,” Aiya said, introducing herself. The girl gave her a smile that would melt the heart of ice dragon in the arctic.

“I’m Mirai.”


Kento checked the time at the corner of his display. It was closing in on eleven ‘o clock. He stretched out his body, leaning back into his chair. Despite his promise to Aiya, he had kept on working. He made good progress too. No one but Rin knew, but in a day Kento usually did more work than half of the other employees put together. It didn’t help that he was seemingly the only one that cared about showing up on time.

“I should finish up. If I wait longer I won’t get enough sleep,” he said to the empty office. The sight of the darkened room had become very familiar to him. He didn’t like that fact but knew it was his own fault. He also knew that he wouldn’t change his routine any time soon. It would take a really drastic change in his life for that to happen.

“If the others could just do their jobs, then I wouldn’t have to do this,” Kento said. He didn’t have anyone he could complain to, so he decided to vent his frustrations to the empty offices. “As things stand we’ll miss our deadlines, and they don’t seem to care. Even just one other hard worker would help.” He sighed, turning off his workstation. No one in this office seemed to have any work ethic whatsoever.

“Well, that’s not completely true.”

He thought back to this morning, and his rocky introduction to Aiya. Her work was mediocre at best, but that could easily be chalked up to ignorance. It was her first day, after all, and she did seem to have some real drive behind her.

“Maybe she’ll be the answer to my prayers,” Kento said, making his way to the elevator. “Someone I can really rely on.” He paused for a moment, processing what he had just said. The tips of his ears turned slightly red. “In the workplace, of course,” he quickly corrected. He wasn’t sure who he was correcting for since no one could hear him but still felt like it had to be said.

On the ride down the elevator, Kento’s mind was nearly empty. He had been working himself to exhaustion every night this week, and the only thing he wanted now was to get some sleep. He stepped out of the elevator and was almost immediately flagged down by Abe.

“Evening, Abe,” Kento greeted, walking up to the night-doorman.

“Good evening, Mr. Shifutu,” Abe said, returning the greeting. “Working late again?”

“You know me,” Kento said with an awkward laugh. “So what’s up?”

“Do you have a new girl working for you?” Abe asked. “Blue eyes, brown hair…”

“That sounds like Ms. Hisakawa,” Kento said, rubbing his chin in thought. “Though I’m not sure about the eyes. I didn’t really pay attention to that.”

“You should focus more when you meet people, Mr. Shifutu,” Abe said. “So who is she?”

“I’ve told you to call me by my first name. We’re friends, right?” Kento said. “Her name is Aiya, she just started here today. I don’t know much else about her.”

“She’s quite a looker, though,” Abe said, leaning in and taking on a conspiratorial tone. “Wouldn’t mind taking her out.”

“Abe, you’re married,” Kento scolded. He looked away, feigning disappointment. He knew there wasn’t a man on Earth who loved his wife more than Abe did.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with window-shopping, right?” Abe said, laughing.

“I guess not,” Kento said, a smile crossing his face. He always loved talking with Abe, and it was frequently the highlight of his day.

“So why don’t you ask her out?” Abe asked, elbowing Kento in the ribs.

“You know that I’m against intermingling in the workplace,” Kento said. “And besides, I don’t have time for a relationship.”

“Yeah, your desk might think you’re cheating on it,” Abe teased. “Listen, Mr. Shifutu, take it from me. No amount of work can fill the hole in your heart.”

“But you calling me by my name definitely will,” Kento said, blatantly changing the subject. “Seriously, we’ve known each other since I started working here.”

“What happened to ‘against intermingling in the workplace’?” Abe asked, taking on an accusatory tone.

“We don’t work together,” Kento responded. “You just so happen to be the doorman of the building.”

“Smartass,” Abe said. His expression grew a bit more somber. “I do worry about you, Mr. Shifutu. You spend almost all your time working.” Kento began interrupting, but Abe waved him off. “I understand, you’re young, and I know you have your reasons for working this hard, but there is more to life than hard work. Try not to forget that, ok?”

Kento was taken aback for a moment. He wasn’t sure what to say. Abe was right. He was wasting what was supposed to be the best years of his life. He knew this as well as he knew the sun rose in the East. He also knew that he couldn’t stop.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Abe,” Kento said, putting his hand on his closest friend’s shoulder. “I really appreciate you looking out for me, but I’ll be fine.” He took a step back. “I should get going. Give my love to the wife and kids, ok?” Abe nodded.

“Will do, kid.”


Aiya collapsed onto her bed. She was exhausted, but she had a smile on her face. It had been a good day, even though the ending was a bit strained. She pulled out her phone and eyed the new contact listed there.


She hadn’t offered a family name, and Aiya thought better than to dig into it. Despite how energetic she was, she seemed to be bad with people. She waited outside the coffee shop while Aiya ordered, and didn’t talk to anyone else but her. There was a bit of an altercation where a man almost walked right over Mirai, who only managed to dodge at the last second. The man just kept walking, as if he hadn’t just almost trampled her. Aiya frowned. She wanted to give that guy a piece of her mind, but Mirai stopped her.

After they got their coffees Mirai went with Aiya to the station. They made small talk until the train came, and Aiya bid her farewell. She wasn’t sure why Mirai had given her her contact details. Thinking back to their conversation, neither of them really said anything interesting. So why would she want to keep in touch?

“Maybe she’s lonely,” Aiya said, staring at the name on her phone screen. “I’ll invite her out to girls’ night one day,” she said, locking her phone and putting it on her bedside table. She rolled over, grabbing one of her pillows in a hug.

“Another big day tomorrow,” she whispered. “Let’s do our best.”


Kento staggered into his apartment. The door was especially sticky today. He knew a noise complaint from his neighbors would probably be on his doorstep the next day.

“Oh well, can’t kick me out if they can’t get the damn door open,” he said. He chuckled at the thought of his neighbors trying to break his door down. It would sure save him a lot of trouble. He forced the door shut with another loud bang. A few moments later he heard knocking against the wall that separated him from his left-hand neighbor.

He laughed out loud, collapsing into his chair. He turned on his computer and browsed the internet for a while. Once again, there was little of interest. Cute animal videos, rumors about flying men and secret shadow corporations, and the occasional flame war between two disgruntled forum users. He decided to call it a night and quickly did his nightly routine.

“Shower, shave, shirt, shleep,” he said, as he finally collapsed into his bed. He smiled, amused at his failed attempt at alliteration. He curled up underneath his blankets.

“Another big day tomorrow,” he whispered. “Let’s do our best.”