Chapter 6:

Guilt and Debt


Kento looked around the shop he had been forced into, feeling extremely out of place. The girls had been dragging him to shop after shop, using him as a pack animal for all of their bags. Luckily there weren’t many of those. Aiya and Mirai both seemed very reserved with their spending. Kento noted that Aiya especially eyed all of the price tags on the clothes before she even dared think about buying them. It made him wonder if she was in a tough spot financially. If she was she should have just talked to Rin. Kento was sure she wouldn’t mind giving Aiya an advance on some of her salary if she really needed it.

Kento squirmed, feeling another set of eyes glaring at him. He was truly out of place. The shopping trip had culminated in the girls dragging him into an underwear shop, then bolted off on their own to look at the selections the store offered, paying very little mind to how bad it looked for a solo man to be standing around in the middle of that kind of store. The worst part was that he couldn’t escape. He’d attempted to leave the shop and wait outside multiple times, but either Aiya or Mirai would materialize behind him and stop him. If he didn’t know any better he would swear they were messing with him.

Mercifully, this punishment ended. Kento felt like yelling at the girls when they walked out of that cursed shop without a single bag. He had just gone through endless amounts of judgment and scrutiny for nothing. He swallowed his pride, though. It’s not like they would understand, anyway.

“Where to next?” Kento asked, shifting the bags he was holding to his other hand.

“Let’s get something to drink,” Aiya suggested. “We’ve been on our feet for a while now, I want to sit down somewhere.”

“Sounds good,” Kento said. “I think there’s a tea shop up ahead.” The trio followed the path, the girls demanding to go into every store they passed, and Kento just barely managing to reign them in. It was a delicate balance of power. He had to keep them from wasting too much time, but he also had to let them have their fun, otherwise, they would run amock. He managed to guide them to the tea shop without incident.

The tea shop was a small establishment, but it felt incredibly welcoming.

“Table for two?” the hostess asked. Kento frowned, looking around him.

“Three, actually,” he corrected. She must not have been concentrating.

“Ok!” she said, her cheer lifting Kento’s spirits. “Right this way.” They followed the hostess to their seats. “Here are some menus. I’ll come by in a few minutes to take your orders, ok?” With that, the hostess skipped off to check on another table.

“She’s a bit of an airhead,” Aiya said. “She only gave us two menus.”

“She must have a lot on her mind,” Mirai said. “It looks like she’s the only waitress here.”

“I’ll let it slide, then,” Aiya said. “Mirai, you can just use my menu with me.” Mirai nodded and scooted closer to Aiya, peering at the menu.

“You can get anything you want, my treat,” Kento said. He didn’t really feel like paying, but he felt it was his obligation as the man to do so. He also had his hunch about Aiya’s financial situation and didn’t want to put needless pressure on her.

“What a gentleman,” Aiya said. “Thank you, Kento.” Mirai also gave him an appreciative look before turning back to the menu.

“Don’t mention it,” Kento replied, burying his head in the menu. He hadn’t been in a tea shop in years and was curious about what new teas they had.

“Have you guys decided what you wanted yet?” The hostess asked, appearing next to the table. She was so graceful that Kento hadn’t even noticed her approach. Her voice was gentle enough that her sudden question didn’t scare him either. She really was a master of her craft. Mirai and Aiya excitedly ordered sweet drinks, and even sweeter cakes to eat with them. Kento frowned internally. Since he was paying they didn’t show any restraint. Kento ordered a much more modest cup of tea and a sandwich. He may as well get dinner out of the way. The hostess confirmed their order, then floated over to the kitchen. Kento couldn’t help but stare after her.

“Hey, stop eying the waitress,” Aria scolded.

“I was just admiring how well she did her job,” Kento said, lifting his hands defensively.

“Yeah, sure,” Aiya said, clearly not believing him.

“I’m telling the truth!” Kento protested.

“There’s nothing wrong with looking,” Aiya said. “Just try to hide it better.” Kento let his head drop onto the table.

“It’s not like that,” he whined.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, right?” Mirai asked. “Maybe you dragged us here so you could ask her out.”

“First off, I only suggested this place,” Kento said, sitting up. “And second, why would I come all the way out here to ask a girl out? If I was that desperate I’d just ask one of the women at the office, like Aiya.” Aiya almost instantly turned bright red at Kento’s comment. He was too distracted by digging into his sandwich to notice.

“Not that you’d do that either,” Mirai said. “You’re too strict about your ‘workplace philosophy’.”

“Exactly,” Kento said.

“So if you won’t ask out a girl from the office, and you won’t ask out a girl outside the office, where will you ask one out?” Mirai asked.

“What’s with the sudden interest in my love life?” Kento asked, dodging Mirai’s question.

“I’m just curious,” Mirai said. “There has to be someone you have your eye on, right?”

“Yeah,” Kento said. Both girls perked up at this. “I’ve been eying some new spreadsheet software for the office.” Kento barely ducked the dessert fork that was lobbed at him.

“You’re no fun,” Mirai said.

“And you’re going to get us kicked out,” Kento said, crossing his arms. “Now can we move on from this?”

“Yeah! Let’s talk about something else,” Aiya said, a bit too enthusiastic. The conversation went on, only broken up by sounds of eating and drinking. A few minutes later they stepped out of the shop, a satisfied gleam on all of their faces.

“Ok, what’s next?” Kento asked.

“There’s a jewelry store just up ahead,” Aiya said. “You can buy something for Rin there.”

“Wouldn’t that send the wrong message?” Kento asked. He might not have been the most worldly of men, but he was pretty sure something as extravagant as jewelry should only be gifted to someone you were very close to. The only person he had ever bought jewelry for was his mother, for one of her birthdays.

“What message could it send?” Aiya asked, oblivious to the connotations. “If you say it’s for an apology I’m sure she’ll understand.” Kento looked to Mirai for help, but she immediately looked away.

“Aiya, has anyone ever bought you jewelry?” Kento asked, trying to find a way to explain his point to her.

“Well, a few times,” Aiya said with a smile. Although she tried to hide it, Kento could hear the awkwardness in her voice. Apparently, he’d struck a nerve. He should be delicate about this.

“Think about the intent behind those gifts,” Kento said, choosing his words carefully. He didn’t want to make Aiya talk about something she clearly didn’t feel like talking about. “I’m guessing they were usually not platonic.”

“I guess you’re right,” Aiya said. “But what else can you get her?”

“I was thinking some chocolates or something,” Kento said, shrugging. “I mean, I don’t have to go all-out here, right? It’s not like Ms. Sugiyama and I are close friends or anything.” Kento winced as Aiya slapped him on the shoulder.

“Stop saying that!” she demanded. “It’s mean!”

“It’s the truth,” Kento said. “We’re coworkers, that’s all. I’m only doing this because I don’t feel like working in a tense environment.”

“You really are heartless,” Mirai said with a dark tone of voice. Her words shifted the whole mood of the conversation. Kento looked over at her. Her face bore a grim expression. Kento floundered for a moment. He seemed to have a talent for upsetting those around him. He wasn’t sure why. He only spoke his mind, and he never intended to upset anyone. Even when he played along with them back at the office he somehow drew the short end of the stick.

“Would you rather I be a liar?” Kento asked. Mirai glared up at him. This took Kento by surprise. She seemed a lot angrier than the situation warranted. Kento sighed and ran a hand through his hair, trying to think of a way out of this.

“You don’t have to be a liar,” Aiya said. “But it wouldn’t kill you to be nicer to the people around you. Especially those who care about you.”

“I have my reasons for why I am the way I am,” Kento said. “I have nothing against you or Ms. Sugiyama. I just can’t do anything that would jeopardize my position at the office.”

“So you’re job is more important than us?” Mirai asked, almost yelling. Kento refused to meet her gaze. He clenched his jaw, stopping the answer he almost spat out. It certainly would have made things worse.

“Answer the question, Kento,” Aiya demanded. Her tone shifted from sad disappointment to a more angry cadence.

“Aiya, I’ve known you for all of, what, four days now?” Kento said, unable to bite back his thoughts anymore. The frustration and anger he felt disappeared for a moment. “Wait, has it really been that short?”

“Yeah, it has,” Aiya said, her own tone softening too. “It feels like it’s been a lot longer.” Kento shook his head, getting his thoughts back on track.

“Point is, yes, I care more about my job,” Kento said, firming his resolve. “Why do you think I work myself to the bone every day? That job is all I have right now, and it’s a good one.” He looked away from Aiya, focusing on the sidewalk in front of him. “I’m sorry, I know it might sound harsh, but I won’t let myself end up like that again.”

“Maybe this was a mistake,” Aiya said. All the anger had drained from her voice. She sounded defeated now. “I really thought you seemed like a good person who just needed a little bit of help.” She grabbed the bags from Kento’s hands. “I’m sorry that I stuck my nose into your business.” Aiya steeled herself. “I hope we can continue working together as professionals, Mr. Shifutu.” With that she turned around, walking away from Kento.

Kento was surprised. He didn’t expect that last remark to sting as much as it did. A part of him wanted to chase after them and apologize, but his pride got the better of him.

“Aren’t you going with her?” Kento asked, turning to Mirai. He was surprised to find nothing but empty air. Mirai had disappeared. This made Kento even angrier. Aiya was clearly upset, and the only person who could stand by her right now just ran away.

He turned on his heel, storming off. This is what he got for being lax about his rules. He’d let himself get friendly with his coworkers, and now he was on bad standing with his trainee and his boss. He’d have to ask that Aiya’s training be handed over to someone else the next day, to avoid any conflict of interest. A flash of light flitted through Kento’s field of view. He turned his head to find the source. The sun’s last beams danced on the glass front of the jewelry store.


Aiya was desperately trying to hold back tears. She didn’t think her interaction with Kento would upset her this much, yet here she was, close to breaking out into tears in public. Maybe it was just too much to handle for one day. Everything that happened in the morning, and now this whole situation with Kento. She dreaded thinking about tomorrow. She would have to face him again. He would probably put on the professional act again, keeping her and Rin at a distance. Even worse, Aiya would have to do the same. Maybe it was for the best, though. He could get his wish.

Still, hearing what Kento said hurt her a lot more than she expected. She hadn’t known him long at all, but she got close to him and Rin. She wanted to be friends with them, and she was sure he felt the same. Now she knew better. To Kento, she was a coworker. Nothing but a tool to help him get his work done. She felt like an idiot for ever thinking that she could change him. He wasn’t a good person. He was nothing but a selfish jerk.

“Ms. Hisakawa!” a voice in front of her called. She was staring down at the sidewalk, trying to hide her expression from passersby, but she didn’t have to see the source of the voice to know who it was. The sound alone made her breath catch.

“Mr. Sasaki,” Aiya said in greeting.

“Why the long face?” he asked. “Did your boyfriend dump you or something?” Aiya clenched her fists, biting back a remark. She couldn’t let her emotions burst out now.

“What are you doing here?” Aiya asked, still refusing to meet his gaze.

“Oh, you know, I was just enjoying an evening stroll,” Mr. Sasaki said. Aiya could feel the smugness dripping from his voice. “I was thinking about our conversation this morning, and how kind I had been to give you an entire week to get the funds you owe us together.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, causing her to flinch slightly.

“Now, imagine my surprise when I saw you here, at the shops, after you so adamantly told me you didn’t have my money.” He tightened his grip on her shoulder. “Out here galavanting with your friends, even buying frivolous trash!” He grabbed the bags from her hand and tossed them to the side, sending the contents spilling out across the ground.

“Listen, Ms. Hisakawa. I don’t know who you think you’re messing with, but if you’re not careful, you might end up getting hurt. I might look nice and jolly, but I’m not a patient man.” An evil smile crossed his face. “Now how do you suggest we get me what I’m owed.” Aiya’s face dropped. She was scared, and she couldn’t call out to anyone. No one would help her. A tear began falling from her face. She felt so hopeless.

Let go of her!

Mr. Sasaki’s arm tore from Aiya’s shoulder. Aiya flinched and closed her eyes, expecting a hit, a yell. Maybe he would throw her to the ground. Take her purse. Force her to call her father and use her to extort him for money. She tried to brace for whatever was about to come, but nothing did. She opened her eyes to see Mr. Sasaki on the ground, clutching his nose. Aiya slowly pulled her eyes up, her mind scrambling to figure out what happened. She turned her head to the side and found her answer. Kento was standing next to her, his fist still extended in front of him.

“I don’t know who the hell you are,” he said. “But if you ever touch her again, I will end you.” Fury blazed in Kento’s eyes. Aiya didn’t think he could be this serious. She couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She finally let the dam break, grabbing onto Kento and crying freely.

“It’s ok, Aiya,” Kento said. “You’re safe now.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Mr. Sasaki said, rising to his feet. “You’re toying with things you don’t understand, boy. I’ll give it to you, that was a good hit. I respect you standing up for someone else, so I’ll forgive you for attacking me. Now hand over Ms. Hisakawa, and walk away.”

Kento could see Mr. Sasaki was angry. He clearly didn’t like being stood up too. Aiya tightened her grip on Kento, her fear growing. Kento analyzed the situation. There weren’t a lot of ways out of this. In fact, there was really only one thing he could do. Kento pulled Aiya off of him. Her crying intensified. Of course, he was going to hand her over. He had no obligation to help her. She kept thinking stupid thoughts like this until she finally looked up and saw Kento positioned between her and Mr. Sasaki.

“Sorry,” Kento said, his voice so low it was almost a growl. “I’m not letting you get anywhere near her.”

“What, is she your girlfriend or something?” Mr. Sasaki asked.

“Nope,” Kento said. “She’s just a coworker.”

“Come on, let’s give them some space,” a voice behind Aiya said. She turned, and through tear-filled eyes, she saw Mirai. “I think Kento’s going to need a bit of room.” Aiya let herself be led, taking a few steps back.

“You’re going through all of this just for a coworker?” Mr. Sasaki spat. “And here I thought you were an intelligent man.”

“Don’t underestimate just how dumb I can be,” Kento said. Mr. Sasaki was underestimating Kento, but not on his intellect. Mr. Sasaki was angry, and he expected Kento’s emotions to match his. He could never predict the white-hot fury that burned inside Kento.

“You’re not going to back down?” Mr. Sasaki asked. Kento’s defiant stance spoke for itself. “Suit yourself.” Mr. Sasaki said. He bolted forward, aiming to drive Kento to the ground. Once he got on top of Kento he could beat him with ease. Kento lowered his stance and braced himself. He caught the charging man, sliding back a few feet but remaining standing. He swung his knee up, hitting Mr. Sasaki in the stomach. He made a pained gasp as the breath was driven out of him, and he fell to the ground.

“Stay down,” Kento warned.

“Do you really think this is enough to stop me?” Mr. Sasaki wheezed. “I’ll come back. Even if I can’t, I have people I can send.”

“What is your problem with her anyway?” Kento asked, his anger finally boiling over into a yell. Mr. Sasaki laughed on the ground.

“She owes us money,” he said. “And we are very strict on collecting on our debts.” Kento looked to Aiya, who nodded, a look of shame crossing her face.

“How much?” Kento asked, looking back down at Mr. Sasaki. Mr. Sasaki responded with a figure that elicited a gasp from Mirai.

“What?” Aiya asked. “That’s more than triple what you wanted this morning!”

“We charge a late fee,” Mr. Sasaki said with a chuckle. He had them cornered. It was a lot of money. Surely even a man as stupid as the one that attacked him would understand the gravity of the situation now. He triumphantly rose to his feet.

“I’ll pay it,” Kento said, without a trace of doubt in his voice.

“What!?” Aiya and Mr. Sasaki said in unison.

“I said I’ll pay it,” Kento said. He took a step closer and grabbed Mr. Sasaki by the collar. “And hear this next part well. After I pay off her debt you stay far away from her. If she even imagines seeing your face again, no one will be able to save you from the fury of the White Dragon.”

Fear dawned on Mr. Sasaki’s face at the mention of that name. He took a step back, looking Kento up and down. Kento stood firm. It was clear he wasn’t bluffing.

“Fine,” Mr. Sasaki said. “We won’t approach her again.”


“Are you ok?” Kento asked. Aiya was sitting against a wall with Mirai’s arm wrapped around her. Mirai had gathered up all the shopping bags that had been scattered as well. Aiya looked up, locking eyes with Kento. He’d just returned from settling her debt with Mr. Sasaki. She felt like a mountain had lifted from her shoulders. One she’d been carrying for a long time.

“I’m ok,” she said, her voice still shaking slightly. “I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t mention it,” Kento quickly said, brushing her off. “Come on, I’ll walk you home. The next train leaves soon.” Kento offered his hand to Aiya, and she accepted, pulling herself up. The journey to Aiya’s home was spent mostly in silence, everyone wrapped in their own thoughts. Kento seemed to be on edge, constantly looking around them. The trip seemed to take longer the closer they got as if the safety of her home might never come. The walk up her driveway felt like an eternity.

“Make yourselves at home,” Aiya said when she finally opened her front door. “I’ll go make some tea.”

“No way,” Mirai said. “You’ve been through a lot. I’ll go make the tea. Kento, get her to a couch.” Kento nodded, doing as he was told. He guided Aiya to a seat. She was still incredibly tense.

“Aiya,” Kento said. Her head shot up. There was still fear behind her eyes. He gently grabbed onto her shoulders, trying to impart some comfort. “Look at me. You’re fine. You’re safe now. That guy’s never going to bother you again, ok?” Aiya nodded and sat down. Kento took a seat on the chair next to her. “Will you tell me why that guy was after you?” Aiya nodded.

“His name is Mr. Sasaki. I never learned his first name,” Aiya said. She took a breath, trying to dispel her nerves. “Do you recognize my family name?” Kento shook his head.

“Should I?” he asked.

“Most people here do,” Aiya replied. “My family is one of the richest in the area. My Dad owns a bunch of factories and offices, and my Mom is the CEO of a big business. They have a lot of expectations from me, but I never wanted that, so aside from this house that my grandparents gave me I refused any help. I wanted to build a name for myself, you know?”

“I understand,” Kento said. His respect for Aiya grew a lot. He admired anyone who made a name for themselves.

“A while ago I was hit by a car,” Aiya continued. “I wasn’t seriously hurt, but I had to spend some time in the hospital. When I was discharged I found out the bill was completely paid. At first, I thought my Dad did it, but the next morning Mr. Sasaki came knocking. Somehow he found out I was in the hospital, and he paid for my treatment so he could extort me for more money, spouting about interest and stuff like that. I was scared, so I just gave him the money he asked for, but then he came back. I refused, but he didn’t stop. He knows who my Dad is, so he was sure he could get more money out of me. Today it all came to a head, I guess.”

“I’m really happy I was there,” Kento said. Aiya lowered her head. She was racked with guilt for getting Kento involved.

“I’m really sorry Kento,” Aiya said. “I’ll call my Dad tomorrow and get you your money back. I’m sure if I just agree to meet with his marriage candidates he won’t mind.”

“Marriage candidates?” Kento asked, surprised.

“Yeah,” Aiya said, her mood sinking even more. “I’m the only heir to the family fortune, so my Dad wants me to marry one of his business partner’s sons.”

“I thought arranged marriages were a myth in this day and age,” Kento said. “Do you want to marry any of them?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Aiya began. “I have to pay you-”

“I asked,” Kento said, interrupting her. “Do you want to marry any of them?” Aiya looked at the ground again and shook her head.

“Then don’t call your dad,” Kento said. “I don’t care about the money.” Aiya’s eyes shot back up to meet his.

“That’s insane!” she said. “It’s a lot of money, how can you say you don’t care.”

“Because this is why I have it,” Kento said. The smile he wore was the most genuine Aiya had ever seen on him. “That’s why I work so hard. So I can have money when I really need it. If it means you’re safe I’ll burn ten times that amount.”

“You’re insane,” Aiya said, her protests a lot more half-hearted. “You’d do all of this for someone who’s just a coworker?”

“You’re not just my coworker,” Kento said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flat box. “I’m sorry for what I said.” Aiya took the box and opened it. Inside was a simple bracelet. Tears began forming in Aiya’s eyes again.

“Don’t you think this might send the wrong message?” Aiya asked in a teasing tone.

“What message could it send?” Kento shot back. “I’m sure since I told you it’s for an apology, you understand, right?”


Kento and Mirai walked in silence. They had stayed with Aiya till her nerves had settled and she could fall asleep. Kento offered to walk Mirai to the station. On the surface, it was just a friendly gesture, but Kento had an ulterior motive.

“Where did you go?” Kento asked, his tone steady.

“What do you mean?” Mirai asked, feigning ignorance.

“I mean after all of us fought,” Kento said. “You just… vanished. I’d at least think you’d stay with Aiya.”

“You care a lot about her, don’t you?” Mirai asked. Her tone caught Kento off guard. She didn’t sound like she was teasing him. She didn’t sound happy either. It didn’t even sound like she was grasping at a straw to change the subject. If Kento had to put a name to it, he’d say she sounded defeated.

“That’s not an answer to my question,” Kento said. “Where did you go? Why did you run away?”

“I didn’t,” Mirai said, looking at the ground. “Please don’t ask me more about this.” Again, Kento was caught off guard. She wasn’t angry or frustrated. It seemed this was a really sensitive question for her.

“Ok, I won’t,” Kento said. “But in the future, don’t just do that.”

“Were you worried?” Mirai asked.

“Of course I was,” Kento replied. This time it was Mirai’s turn to be caught off guard. Kento’s words were overflowing with sincerity. Mirai fell silent, and Kento didn’t press her any further.

“I got you something,” Kento said, stopping outside of the station. Mirai turned to him. “It’s not a lot, but please accept it as a token of my apology.” He pulled a black box out of his pocket, similar to the one he gave to Aiya.

“That’s so formal,” Mirai said, taking the box. Inside was another bracelet, almost, but not exactly, like Aiya’s.

“Look, I’m sorry, ok?” Kento said. “I said some things that I regret. I treated Aiya and you poorly, and I’m sorry. I might not know either of you very well yet, but I know you both deserve better than that.” Mirai slipped on the bracelet and admired how it glinted in the light. She suddenly jumped forward, wrapping Kento in a hug. Just as quickly as she started, she stopped, stepping back.

“You’re a lot kinder than I thought you’d be,” she said. “Please try to stay that way.” Before Kento could reply, or ask her to explain what she said, she turned around and ran into the station. Kento looked at the empty air where Mirai once stood, then shrugged. He spun on his heel and began the walk home.

“Women,” he muttered. “I’ll never understand them.”