Kento tried to force his eyes open, the sound of his alarm dragging him from a rather pleasant dream. He had been a hunter, living in the wild and wielding a bow and a simple dagger. It was a nice life, working every day for what he needed, and no more. It was a stark contrast to his current life, where he seemingly worked himself to death for nothing.
There was one similarity between the dream and his life. He was all alone and fending for himself. On the one hand, it was a comfort. He had no one that relied on his success. On the other hand, he had no one to share the fruits of his labor with.
“It can always get worse,” he reminded himself. The phrase had become somewhat of a catchphrase for him. A reminder that even if parts of his life were disappointing, at least he had food to eat and a roof over his head, which is more than a lot of people out there could say.
Kento dragged himself out of bed. He woke up early enough to take his time with his morning routine and still have enough time to show up early at work. He made a quick breakfast of eggs and toast and sat down to eat at the computer. It was terrible manners and he knew it, but no one was there to see it, so he didn’t mind. He queued up a show to enjoy while he ate. Afterward, he took a quick trip to the bathroom to brush his teeth and comb his hair. He grimaced at himself in the mirror, remembering the state of his hair the previous day.
“Not the best first impression,” he told his reflection. “But today is a new day. You got this.” He shot himself some finger guns, then cringed at his silliness. “Maybe it’s a good thing we live alone,” he said, side-eying his reflection.
Deciding to put an end to the conversation, Kento went to his closet and threw on some clothes. He checked the time. He had a little bit of time on his hands before he had to be at the station, but decided not to tempt fate. His trek to the station was cut short, however, by his apartment’s door. It was stuck, and it was not getting unstuck.
He braced one of his feet against the wall and pulled with all of his might. A vein on his temple began to bulge, his face turning red from the effort. His knuckles were white with excretion. He knew something had to give, and he didn’t intend to be that thing. A second or so later he was proven right. The doorknob gave, breaking clean off. He fell backward with quite a bit of force, landing right on his tailbone.
“Owwwww,” Kento said, staggering to his feet. He looked at the door, then at the doorknob in his hands, then back at the door.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”
Kento pulled out his phone and called his landlord. He wasn’t looking forward to this conversation, but he didn’t really have another choice. The speaker by his ear clicked as the landlord picked up.
“Hey, Landlord, how are you? … Yeah, not too well actually. Remember that problem with my door? … That’s what you’ve been saying for almost two months now… I understand that, but… Ok, if you could just let me…”
Kento was quickly losing patience. The landlord kept interrupting him, never letting him get a word in edge-wise. He listened to the same speech he had heard before. The landlord was a busy guy. He couldn’t afford to just drop everything and help Kento. Kento wasn’t sure what came over him, but at that moment he felt nothing but contempt for his landlord and decided to show it.
“Ok, listen up, and listen well. I am stuck inside my apartment because the door handle broke off. I have been struggling for months to get this damn door fixed. Now I’ll give you a choice. Either you get here right now and help me get out, or you won’t see another dime of rent out of me, and I’ll make sure you never get another good resident ever again.”
Kento listened to the annoyed reply on the other end, assuring him the problem would be fixed within the hour. He hung up the phone, and took a deep breath, calming himself.
“Looks like I’ll have to run again,” he said, looking up at the ceiling. He pondered his options. There wasn’t a lot of them. He remembered something he had seen on TV, where a thief had opened a door using a credit card. Kento didn’t own a credit card, but he knew he had an arcade card in his desk drawer. He had held onto it in case he ever went back. He grabbed the card and went to his door.
It took a few minutes of fiddling, but he managed to jam the latch. Next, he put his fingers through the mail slot to get a good grip on the door and gave brute force another go. After a minute of straining, the door finally slid open with a cacophony of scraping.
Kento was once again a free man, and he was going to be late. He dusted himself off, darted out of the apartment, dragged the door closed again, and walked at a brisk pace to the station. He texted his landlord that he got out, and put blind faith in him that he would fix the door while Kento was gone.
He arrived at the station just in time to catch the early train and spent the ride imagining various ways he could get back at his landlord for the unfair treatment. He pushed those thoughts aside when the train stopped and spent the time walking to the office mentally preparing himself for another day of hard work.
Aiya woke up to her phone ringing. She checked the time. It was still half an hour before her alarm was supposed to go off. She saw the caller ID was her father. This made her sit up straight. She tried to gather her composure before she answered.
“Hello?” she said, trying her best to sound awake.
“Good morning, Aiya, this is your father speaking. How are you doing?” her father asked.
“I am doing well, thank you Father, and you?” she asked, automatically pouring respect into her words.
“I am in good health,’ her father replied. “When will you come home?” Aiya rolled her eyes. Straight to business, as usual.
“I told you, Father, I am making a name for myself,” she said. “I am not coming home.”
“When are you going to stop with this nonsense?” her father asked. “We have more than enough money to support you until we find you a husband.”
“I don’t want to marry a man I’ve never met,” she said. “Especially not one you picked to benefit the business.” She tried her best to keep a respectful tone with her father, but it was difficult when he was like this.
“I only have your best interests at heart, Aiya,” her father said. He sounded as if he was placating a small child.
“So do I,” Aiya shot back. She paused for a second to regain her composure. “I have a job now Father. I intend to make a living for myself. As for marriage, when I find a man I like, I will pursue him.”
“You are bringing shame on your family with your actions, Aiya,” her father scolded. She knew this line well. She also knew what would come next. “Your mother is worried sick. Think about what you are doing to her.”
“I’m not doing anything to her,” Aiya said. “I am simply choosing to be independent. I appreciate your concern, Father, but I am fine on my own. Send my love to Mother.” She hung up the phone before her father could respond. She fell back into her pillows.
It had always been like this. Since she was born into a wealthy family, there were certain expectations placed on her. She was an only child, so she was the sole heir to the family fortune. Ever since she was old enough to properly wear a dress she was introduced to several other rich families, all of which happened to have sons around her age. Her father expected her to marry into one of those families, giving him a male heir to his company and fortune. She hated those parties and wanted nothing more than to be treated like a normal girl.
Once she finished university, she finally decided to make that dream a reality, moving into the home her grandparents gave her as a graduation gift and cutting off the support from her parents. She knew she was cheating by not having to pay rent, but it was a step in the right direction. And yesterday, she took another step towards her goal.
Aiya got out of bed. The few minutes of sleep before her alarm would wake her again weren’t worth it. She wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep anyway. She decided to skip breakfast. Her conversation with her father had made her lose her appetite too. It took her a few minutes to get ready, but she had plenty of time to make it to the train.
After putting on some light makeup, she set off. She made it two steps out the door before she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket. She pulled it out and found a text from her best friend, Hina, asking if she wanted to go out that evening.
“I can use a night out,” she said. “I have to celebrate my new job, after all!” She responded to Hina, telling her to meet at their favourite cafe in town at seven. The rest of her walk to the station was spent daydreaming about the parfait she planned to order. The station was more crowded than she expected. Granted, she usually didn’t ride the train this early, but it still seemed odd.
“Excuse me, what’s going on?” she asked, flagging down one of the train operators.
“An incident occurred on the next station over,” the operator said. “News spread that the trains might not run, and now it looks like this.” The operator looked frustrated.
“Will the trains run?” Aiya asked.
“Of course they will!” The operator said. “Just because two fools got into a fight on the platform doesn’t mean the trains will stop running. And even if it did, how would flooding to the stations be helpful at all? Ugh, sorry, I have to go.” The operator jogged off, seemingly to solve some crisis.
Aiya studied the people around her. Almost all of them carried worried expressions on their faces. She wondered for a moment why people almost always acted so irrationally. The trains might not run, so let’s all go to the station. As promised though, the train did run, and the ride between stations was uneventful. She took her time walking to the office, wondering what the two fools the operator had mentioned had fought over. She gave a polite wave to the doorman, and rode the elevator to the fourth floor, psyching herself up for another day of work.
Just like yesterday, the office was nearly deserted. Aiya spotted Kento in the corner plugging away at work. Rin was in the conference room, talking on the phone. She seemed to be in business mode. Aside from those two, there was not a soul in sight. Aiya took her seat next to Kento and powered on her workstation.
“Good morning, Mr. Shifutu,” she greeted.
“Morning,” Kento grumbled. He had an expression on his face that Aiya could only describe as grumpy.
“Is something wrong?” she asked, unable to contain her curiosity. This seemed out of character for Kento. Granted, she only met him the day before, but it still felt like something had happened. Kento sighed, then turned in his chair to face her. Aiya gasped lightly in surprise. Kento’s right eye had a dark bruise underneath. It wasn’t big, but it stood out against his pale skin. “What happened?” Aiya asked.
“I want to know too!” a voice behind her yelped. Aiya and Kento both almost jumped out of their chairs from the scare. Aiya spun around to find Rin standing behind her.
“It’s impolite to eavesdrop,” Kento said. He sighed and lowered his head. “Nothing happened. I just had a rough morning.” He turned back to his computer, counting on his lucky stars to not have to continue this conversation. He rolled a one though, and Aiya pressed on.
“Were you one of the people that got in a fight at the station?” she asked. Kento turned back to her, eyeing her with a suspicious look.
“How did you know about that?” he asked.
“You got into a fight?!” Rin yelled, louder than she really had to. She bolted over to Kento, getting closer to his face than he was comfortable with. “Who did you fight?” Kento put a hand on her shoulder and pushed her away from him.
“Boundaries, Ms. Sugiyama,” he said. “And I don’t know the guy. Now can we please get back to work?” Ayia nodded, taking the hint that Kento didn’t want to talk about it. Rin picked up on that too but didn’t seem to care.
“I told you to call me Rin,” she said, pouting. “And as your boss, I order you to tell me what happened.” Kento groaned loudly, leaning far back into his chair.
“Rin, maybe we should drop it for now,” Aiya said, trying to defuse the situation. “I’m sure if Mr. Shifutu wanted to tell us, he would have.” Kento lifted his head and faced Aiya, gratitude pouring out of his eyes. Rin wasn’t satisfied.
“Why are you so formal with him, Aiya?” she asked. “Just call him Kento.” Aiya was taken aback. She didn’t expect the question to be turned on her.
“Because she understands that this is a professional work environment,” Kento said, determined to return the favour Aiya had just shown him. “You are the one that’s out of line, Ms. Sugiyama.”
“You call Abe by his given name,” Rin said. She shot a smirk at Kento. This was her trump card. “If being professional is so important to you, why do you let that slide? Or do the rules not apply to you?” Kento deflated slightly. It was hard to argue her point, but he wasn’t about to give up. He would chew off his own arm before he admitted defeat to this woman.
“Abe isn’t directly employed by our company,” he retorted. “So I have no obligation to be professional towards him.” It was Rin’s turn to have her sails robbed of wind. She glared down at Kento, who defiantly smiled back at her. He was sure he had won this battle. Both of them were pulled from the mutual death-stare by the sound of laughter. They turned their attention to Aiya, who was desperately trying to hide her giggling.
“I’m sorry,” she said in between the laughter. She took a deep breath, regaining her composure. “It’s really nice to see how close you two are.”
“I’m not ‘close’ to her,” Kento said, turning his face away. “She’s my boss, that’s as far as our relationship goes. If I ever left this job I would probably never talk to her again.” Rin gasped, clutching at her chest. She dramatically fell to her knees, her face twisted in mock-agony.
“And here I thought we were besties,” she wheezed. Her head fell to her chest, her arms dropping to her sides. She stayed like this for a moment, before perking up again. She jumped to her feet. “So how are you adapting here, Aiya?”
“I’m not too sure,” Aiya said. She didn’t want to praise herself undeservedly. “I think it’s going alright.”
“She’s doing really good,” Kento said. He was typing away already, having turned away the moment Rin finished her little performance. “She’s a bit green, but that’s to be expected.” He frowned, almost spitting his next words. “At least she shows up on time.” Aiya turned to look at Kento. It had been a while since someone had praised her work, and it had caught her off-guard.
“Good, keep it up then!” Rin said, before meandering off.
“Thank you,” Aiya said when Rin was out of earshot.
“It’s the truth,” Kento said with a shrug. “Now let’s get to it. We have a lot to do.”
“Did I do this right, Mr. Shifutu?” Aiya asked, pointing at her monitor.
“Yeah, that’s perfect,” Kento replied. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms. “Once you’re done with that, you can call it a night. We made really good progress today.”
“Are you sure?” Aiya asked. She checked the time. It was only four-thirty.
“Yeah,” Kento said. His eyes were closed. He ran his hands over his face, wincing as he touched the bruise under his eye. “With you here we might just make our deadlines, but I don’t want to overwork you right off the bat.”
“Thank you,” Aiya said. Her first impressions about Kento really were wrong. He was a workaholic for sure, but a nice person. He even combed his hair today.
“Don’t mention it,” Kento said, straightening his posture and getting back to work. Aiya couldn’t help but give a soft smile. She quickly wrapped up what she was busy with and shut down her computer.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then, Mr. Shifutu,” Aiya said, standing.
“Have a good evening, Ms. Hisakawa,” Kento replied, never looking away from his work. She took her leave, calling Hina and letting her know she got off work early. They agreed to go to the cafe a bit early, and see where the night takes them from there. Aiya could practically taste the parfait.
“Hey, can you hear me space-cadet?”
Kento felt a tap against his shoulder, jolting him away from his work. He turned to the side, coming face to face with Abe. He was out of uniform, which clued Kento into his intentions. He checked the time, finding it was just after seven.
“Wow! Who gave you that?” Abe asked, pointing at Kento’s black eye.
“I have a lot of work to do, Abe,” Kento began, turning back to his screen and brushing off the question.
“You always have a lot of work to do,” Abe said, grabbing Kento’s chair and spinning him back to face him. “But today, I have the night off, the old ball-and-chain told me to go out with my friends and judging by your eye you have a story to tell me. So let’s go!” Kento glanced back at his monitor, torn between his options on how to spend the night. “The computer will still be here tomorrow, Mr. Shifutu,” Abe said. “Who knows if I will.”
“That’s a cheap shot, Abe,” Kento said, slouching in defeat. He saved his work and turned off his station. “And, for the thousandth time, call me Kento.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Shifutu,” Abe said, with a grin that could only be described as shit-eating. Kento sighed, rising to his feet.
“So what’s the plan?” he asked, grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair.
“Tonight I plan to get you drunk enough to come in late to work tomorrow,” Abe said, leading the way out of the building.
“That’s never going to happen, Abe,” Kento said. He puffed out his chest. “You’ve tried before, and we learned I can drink you under the table.”
“I’m feeling good about tonight,” Abe said, pressing the elevator call button. His grin shifted to a mischievous one.
“You better not try to drug me,” Kento said. “I doubt your wife will appreciate that.”
“I’ll just come crash on your couch if she gets mad,” Abe retorted. This banter continued all the way to their favourite drinking spot. Kento wouldn’t admit it, but he needed to have a night off to blow off some steam. They walked into the building, laughing and talking. The establishment was something between a bar and a restaurant. There was definitely food and a place to eat it, but alcohol consumption was the clear protagonist of the story.
“Two beers please,” Kento asked the barman. He nodded and pulled two bottles from the fridge behind him. “Thanks!” Kento called out, passing one to Abe. “To a hard day’s work,” Kento said, offering his bottle.
“What about ‘to a good night’s rest’,” Abe corrected, clinking his bottle against Kento’s. They both meandered to the other side of the small room, looking for their usual spot. To their mild disappointment, they saw it was taken.
“Hey, isn’t that the new girl in your office?” Abe asked, lightly elbowing Kento in the ribs. Kento looked at Abe, then to where Abe was staring.
“Yeah, that’s her,” Kento said. He turned away again, taking a sip of his beer.
“Well, why don’t we join them?” Abe asked. Kento scoffed lightly. He turned his back to Abe.
“Because we aren’t friends, we’re just co-workers,” Kento said. He felt like he was repeating that point a lot these past days. He waited for a moment to hear Abe’s reply, but no reply came. He turned around only to find empty space where Abe had once stood. He scanned the room, looking for his friend.
It only took one sweep of the room to spot him. To Kento’s absolute horror, Abe was at their occupied spot, seemingly chatting up the ladies sitting there. Kento rushed in, ready to drag him out.
“Abe, I told you we can just-” He began.
“Oh, Mr. Shifutu!” Aiya said, interrupting him. “How are you?”
“I’m doing fine, thank you Ms. Hisakawa,” Kento said hurriedly. “I’m sorry for Abe, he doesn’t understand boundaries.” Kento grabbed Abe’s shoulder and attempted to drag him away.
“Nonsense!” The girl sitting across from Aiya said. “He’s been nothing but a gentleman.”
“Still, I feel bad interrupting your drinks,” Kento said, grasping at straws.
“Well, then why don’t you join us!” Aiya said, smiling wide. For the first time since he joined the conversation, Kento had a good look at the two women. Both were clearly a few drinks into the night already.
“I think that is a great idea!” Abe exclaimed. Kento scrambled for an excuse, trying desperately to get out of this. Unfortunately, his mind came up blank. He was backed into a corner. Checkmate. The girl Kento hadn’t met before switched sides in the booth, sitting next to Aiya. Abe pushed Kento onto the other seat, plopping down next to him and trapping him.
“I guess introductions are in order,” Aiya said. “I’m Aiya Hisakawa, and this is Hina Okamoto, one of my best friends.”
“Nice to meet you,” Abe said. “I’m Abraham Matsumoto, but please, call me Abe, and this is Kento Shifutu.” Kento gave a half-hearted wave.
“Ms. Hisakawa and I already know each other,” he said. “But it’s nice to meet you, Ms. Okamoto.”
“Please, call me Hina,” Hina said, waving off the formalities. Kento squirmed lightly. He was uncomfortable in situations like these. Hina turned to Aiya. “Oh, is this the guy?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” Aiya said. “Mr. Shifutu has been very kind in teaching me how to do my job.”
“We’re not at work, we can drop the formalities,” Abe said. “Isn’t that right, Mr. Shifutu?” Abe gave a broad smile as if he didn’t see his own contradiction. He was, of course, acutely aware of it.
“Abe, I’ll drop the formalities as soon as you do,” Kento said, crossing his arms.
“He’s right, though,” Hina said, toying with the straw in her glass. “It feels so stiff to add the honorifics. Can I call you Kento?” Kento shot a glare at Abe. He knew full well what he was doing. Abe was always against Kento’s attitude towards work and always went out of his way to antagonize Kento for it.
“Sure,” Kento said, conceding defeat.
“So, how did you get the shiner?” Hina asked, pointing at Kento’s eye. Kento groaned loudly, collapsing his head onto the table.
“Why is everyone asking me that,” he mumbled into the wood.
“Because in the years I’ve known you you have never gotten into a fight,” Abe said.
“And it stands out pretty badly,” Aiya added. “Especially since I already knew that someone got into a fight at the station.”
“So come on, spill,” Hina demanded.
“Fine,” Kento said, sighing and sitting back up. “There’s not much of a story anyway. There was a girl in cosplay, apparently waiting for her friends. Some guy was trying to take a picture of her without her permission, so I told him to stop.” Kento picked up his beer, clearly not planning on elaborating further.
“And?” Hina asked, pressing further. “Come on, you can’t just leave us with that!”
“Did you at least win?” Abe asked.
“It doesn’t really matter if I won or not,” Kento said. “I shouldn’t have let it escalate.”
“So how did it turn into a fight?” Aiya asked. She had been wondering all day, and desperately wanted answers.
“The guy tried to shove me out of the way, and I didn’t budge,” Kento said. “So he took a swing at me.”
“And that’s how you got the eye?” Abe asked. Kento nodded.
“After that, I tackled him to the ground, grabbed his phone, and threw it against the ground,” Kento explained.
“So you didn’t even get a good hit in?” Abe asked, incredulous.
“You know I don’t like physical altercations,” Kento said, taking a sip of beer.
“Still, it’s pretty admirable that you did that, Mr. Shifutu,” Aiya said.
“Come on, what did I just say about the honorifics?” Hina asked. “Just call him Kento.”
“Yeah, we’re all friends here,” Abe said.
“Oh, uhm…” Aiya began. She looked at Kento. He looked exhausted with this and motioned for her to just humor them.
“Ok then, Kento.”
“There you go!” Abe said, far too enthusiastically.
“Another round, please!”
Kento staggered into his apartment. To his delight, the door opened smoothly. He closed it behind him, nearly slamming it out of habit. He threw his bag onto his chair and began undressing. He was exhausted. The night had dragged on much later than he had intended. He rubbed his eyes, sighing at the thought.
Kento was very fond of Abe, but he knew exactly how to press Kento’s buttons. Tonight especially Abe had dealt a great blow to Kento’s work philosophy. Kento took his time in the shower, washing off the mild frustration. Afterward, he crashed into bed, falling asleep almost the moment his head hit the pillow.
Aiya curled up under her blankets. She had a wide smile on her face. It was a very fun night. The surprise introduction of the boys turned out pretty well too. It was nice to see a more casual side of Kento. She had been worried that he was nothing but a workaholic but seeing his relationship with Abe set her at ease. It also made her more sure that deep down, he cared about Rin too. He was just too obsessed with his professionalism to acknowledge their friendship. She rolled to her other side, closing her eyes. Her last thoughts before drifting off consisted of the distinct feeling that she forgot something.
“Oh well, I’ll remember tomorrow.”