Chapter 9:

Feelings and Festivals


“Do you want to go out to dinner with me tomorrow?”

Kento regretted it the instant he said it. He was stupid for asking. What was he thinking? He’d only known Aiya for barely a month, and he spent their first while he knew her actively pushing her away. This was a horrible idea. He was going to get shot down, and his precious work environment was going to be ruined by the awkwardness he’d just created. The moment the words left his mouth he wished for nothing more than to stuff them back.

Aiya had to do a double-take. She was certain that her mind was playing tricks on her. It was the first time in a very long time that she had worked this late. She must have imagined Kento asking her out. He’d never make such a bold move. He wouldn’t take the risk of creating an awkward work environment, especially since he took a bullet to get rid of some of the tension. Aiya was convinced she had just imagined things.

“I’m sorry, I think I misheard,” she said. “What did you say?”

Kento panicked. His mind was racing at a million miles an hour, and giving him absolutely nothing to work with. Had she really misheard him? He thought he spoke pretty clearly. No, wait. She was giving him an out. This had to be Aiya’s way of gently letting him down, right? If he pretended like he didn’t say anything then nothing would change. Besides, Abe had just gotten in his head. He didn’t really want to ask Aiya out. He was just overthinking things.

“I want to take you on a date,” Kento said, his mouth moving without input from his brain. Kento seriously considered walking back to the office and using a stapler to permanently close the accursed orifice that dared take action without his say-so. Well, this was it. His reward for trying to change.

Aiya almost fell over backward, as if Kento’s words had a physical force behind them. She hadn’t misheard him that time. It was the first time she had been asked out in a few years. She’d been on dates here and there, but they were always set up by Hina. She hadn’t had a guy show an active interest in her like this for a long time, and Kento was the last person she expected this from. She wanted to carefully formulate an eloquent response. It was the least she could do after Kento took such a leap.

“Ye-yes, I’d uh, yeah!” She said. She slammed her door shut. So much for an eloquent response. She collapsed against the door, screaming into her hands. She’d just make a complete fool of herself. How could she face Kento now? She would drop dead from embarrassment right then and there. And then she slammed the door shut in his face. She sprang up and threw the door open, stammering out an apology. It took her a moment to register Kento wasn’t there anymore.

“Where did he go?” Aiya asked the open air.


Aiya slammed the door shut. Kento stared at the door for a few seconds, processing what she had said. It took a few seconds for her words to finally find a resting place in his mind.

“She said yes?” he asked the open air. Kento’s face twisted to a victorious grin. He began repeatedly pumping his fists in the air. The fist-pumping smoothly transitioned into an air guitar. It was childish, but he couldn’t help himself. It had been a while since he was this happy. His celebration quickly stopped when he heard a sound against Aiya’s door. Worrying that she might open it he quickly dove out of sight. The last thing he wanted was for her to see him celebrating like that over a simple date. His instincts proved good as Aiya peeked out of the door. He waited till the door was shut again to stand and begin the trek to his apartment.

Kento walked with a carefree stride. He felt like he was the king of the world, and nothing could take this from him. As long as tomorrow night came he would be content with his lot in life. He began planning out the date. He hadn’t thought this through at all and had no idea where he would even take Aiya. Dinner was a given, but what about after? He couldn’t just pump her full of food then send her home. She came from a rich family, after all. She mentioned that her father wanted to arrange a marriage for her. That process probably included a lot of dates, and the rich boys could wow her with extravagant showings of wealth.

Kento didn’t realize this, but because of his frugal lifestyle and endless hard work, his own wealth was comparable to that of the men Aiya’s father wanted her to marry. Aside from the considerable amount of money in his bank account, he had also made a few investments in his younger years. He had bought and forgot about them, and unbeknownst to him, they had become worth a pretty penny. With his bank account alone he could live comfortably till the day he died. If he sold his stocks he could live like a nobleman.

Kento pulled out his phone and began searching for anything interesting in town that he could do with Aiya. There was an aquarium, but that felt a little cliche for a first date. He could take her to a movie, but he never liked going to a movie theatre. It was so impersonal. He kept scrolling and was about to give up and just settle on dinner when he saw it. The perfect place to take her. He checked the details, and afterward, he put his phone away with a satisfied grin. His grin lasted about as long as it took for his hand to reach his pocket. In front of Kento, standing on the sidewalk, was Mirai.

“You’re out late,” Mirai said. Her arms were crossed, and she didn’t look exactly happy with Kento.

“I’m an adult,” Kento said. “I can be out whenever I want to be.”

“Where were you?” Mirai asked. Her tone matched her stance. She seemed to distrust Kento.

“We had to work late,” Kento said. “Rin dropped us off at Aiya’s place, and now I’m walking home.”

“Is that all?” Mirai asked. Kento was confused.

“Yes?” he said, completely unsure of what to do.

“Then explain this!” Mirai said. She held out her phone. It looked like a really expensive phone. Kento had never even seen this model before. On the screen was a text from Aiya.

Kento asked me out!!!!

“So you came to ambush me because I asked Aiya out?” Kento said. “Don’t you live a train stop away? How did you even get here?”

“Kento, why did you ask her out?” Mirai asked, avoiding his question.

“What kind of a question is that?” Kento asked, annoyance building in his voice. He didn’t know what Mirai was trying, but he didn’t appreciate it. “I asked her on a date because I want to go on a date with her.”

“Why?” Mirai asked.

“Do you ever run out of questions?” Kento asked. He felt like an annoyed parent. “I like her. She’s cute and kind, and smart.”

“So you’re only after her for her looks?” Mirai asked.

“Did you miss the other two things I said?” Kento asked. He felt like he kept asking questions without getting a single answer. “For the record, yes, part of it is that she’s easy on the eyes, but that’s not all of it. I like her as a person.”

“Sounds cheap to me,” Mirai said.

“Why are you trying to antagonize me here?” Kento asked. “It’s like you’re trying to keep us from going out. Where is this coming from?”

“Nowhere,” Mirai said. ‘I just don’t think you two are good for each other.”

“Yeah, well, let us make that mistake!” Kento said. He was getting angrier than he expected. “If it goes up in flames, so be it, but it took me getting shot to end up here. I’m not going to waste that.”

“You really bring that up a lot,” Mirai scoffed. She walked past Kento. He clenched his fist. He should let her go. Whatever she was trying, the less he involved himself the better. He clenched his jaw, resisting the urge to speak up.

“Let me walk you home,” he said with a defeated sigh. “It’s dangerous to be out alone this late.”

“I’ll be fine,” Mirai said. She didn’t stop her stride. Kento’s frustration grew as he fell in step behind her. “I told you I’ll be fine, you don’t have to walk with me.”

“I want to walk with you,” Kento said. “I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I’m not sure you’re home safe.”

“Kento, go home,” Mirai said. “I don’t want you to walk with me.”

“Alright,” Kento said. He didn’t even slow down for a second.

“What did I just say?” Mirai asked.

“I’m taking the scenic route,” Kento shot back. “And I’m not walking with you. I just so happen to be walking behind you.” Mirai stopped.

“Kento, if you don’t stop following me right now I swear I will scream,” she said. “And who do you think everyone will believe. You, or the girl you followed around in the middle of the night?” She stared up at Kento, glaring daggers at him.

“At least send me a text when you’re safe,” Kento said, turning on his heel and walking off. He tried not to let this interaction sour what was otherwise a wonderful night. It was easier said than done. He had no idea where this had come from. Except for their interaction in the hospital Mirai and he had always been on good terms. That’s what Kento thought, at least. He kept dwelling on what could possibly make Mirai be so antagonistic towards him, all the way to his apartment, through his shower, and into his bed. His tired mind could not come up with any answers.


Kento was nervous. For the first time since he started working with Rin, he could not wait for the workday to end. He was counting down every second on the clock mounted on the wall. He was nervous, but also very excited.

To Kento’s left, Aiya wasn’t doing any better. She had to resist stealing glances over at Kento, a task that was a lot harder than she expected it would be. During the whole day, she had not gotten a single task done. She was too occupied trying to guess what Kento had planned.

Rin observed the two from the conference room. She wanted to ask Aiya in there and grill her for details on exactly what happened the previous night, but she was completely swamped with phone calls. In fact, she was on her most important one of the day at that very moment.

“Yeah, he told me,” Abe’s voice rang out over the phone. “I assume we’re going to go see the show, so to speak?”

“Of course we are,” Rin said. “The two of us have been trying to get Kento to act like a normal human being for years now. There’s no way I’m not going to check out the fruits of our labor. Why don’t you bring your wife? Make a date out of it.”

“Unfortunately she’s not feeling well,” Abe said. “She’s in bed, resting. The kids can look after her for one night, though. Like you said, no way in hell we’re not going to watch this happen.”

“I really hope it works out for them,” Rin said. She sounded like a schoolgirl talking about the relationship of two characters in her favorite book.

“Ten bucks says Kento crashes and burns,” Abe said.

“How could you bet against your best friend?” Rin asked. “You’re going to get bad karma!”

“Are you saying you don’t want to bet?” Abe asked.

“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Rin quickly corrected. “I’ll take your money any day.”


The clock against the wall finally told Kento he could leave. He sprang to his feet. If he hurried he could catch the next train, then he’d have plenty of time to get ready. Apparently, Aiya had the same idea, as she jumped out of her chair in almost perfect sync with Kento. They looked at each other for a moment, then broke out in laughter.

“I’m really looking forward to tonight,” Aiya said after her laughing stopped. It was the first thing she’d said to Kento since they exchanged greetings that morning.

“I hope it’ll be fun,” Kento said. He was relieved. The tension between them had finally been broken. “I have something great planned.”

“You’re taking me to the festival grounds, aren’t you?” Aiya asked. Kento immediately deflated.

“How did you know?” he asked, genuinely saddened that his surprise got out.

“It was kind of obvious when you told me I should wear a yukata,” Aiya said, giggling at Kento’s misfortune. “Not a lot of reasons to wear one of those.”

“I might just have wanted to see you in one,” Kento said. “You don’t know what I like.”

“Are you going to wear one too?” Aiya asked, glazing over his comment.

“Of course I am,” Kento said. “I love those things. I can wear shorts in public without being judged.” Aiya laughed again.

“Come on, we should leave,” Aiya said, walking to the elevator. “You don’t want to be late, right?” Kento followed her lead, his mouth already watering at the thought of festival foods.


Kento paced up and down near the entrance of the festival. He checked the time on his phone again. Aiya was late. In her defense, he had arrived almost twenty minutes before their agreed-upon time. In Kento’s defense, he had been waiting for almost forty minutes now. He worried for a moment that maybe she had only agreed as a joke, and wasn’t going to show up. His worried expression clearly carried all the way to Rin and Abe, watching him from one of the stalls.

“He’s going to give himself grey hairs,” Abe said. “Where could she be?”

“Hey, it takes time for a lady to get ready,” Rin said. “She needs to look perfect. If the man you’re going to see can still form a coherent sentence then you didn’t do a good enough job.”

“That seems like an impossibly high bar to pass,” Abe said. He eyed Rin analytically. He had to admit, she did look nice. “You girls really take this to the extreme, huh?”

“We have to,” Rin said. “How will a guy react if we don’t look cute?”

“You very clearly don’t get how easy it is to impress a guy, do you?” Abe asked. “You could wear a potato sack and we’d still be happy that you showed up.”

“Is it really that easy with you?” Rin asked.

“It really is,” Abe asked. “Show interest, give us some food every once in a while, and you’ve got yourself a man who will love you to the ends of the Earth. It’s not that easy with you?”

“Of course not,” Rin said. She paused for a moment, thinking. “Actually, come to think of it, if it’s a guy you like then it just might be that simple.” Abe was about to dig further into that when Rin shushed him and pointed to where Kento was standing.

Aiya rushed to the entrance. She knew she was late, but it took her longer than she thought to get her hair just right. She spotted Kento at the entrance and waved to get his attention. Kento waved back. On the outside, he kept his composure, but inwardly he was giving himself several high-fives for thinking of this. Not only was it an easy date, but he had always liked the look of a yukata. Two birds with one stone.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Aiya said when she got within earshot. “Did you wait for long?”

“Not at all,” Kento said, his long wait completely forgotten. He wore the same childlike grin he had plastered on his face when Aiya agreed to the date, and for the life of him, he just could not get rid of it. “So, ready to start a night of aimlessly wandering between stalls?”

“Yep!” Aiya said. The smile on her face was equally as stupid as Kento’s, but she barely noticed it. They walked into the festival together, walking right by Rin and Abe. They were frozen solid, worried that they had been caught spying. It seemed like Kento and Aiya were too preoccupied with other things to notice them though, so their mission continued.

The festival was bustling with people. In reality, it was less of a festival and more of a festival-carnival hybrid. There were a lot of games to be played, and even a haunted house. On top of that were a plethora of food stalls and stalls that sold various things, from hair clips to different types of charms.

“So what would you like to do first?” Kento asked. “We have almost two hours before the fireworks start, so we can hit a lot of the stalls here.”

“Can we get something to eat first?” Aiya asked. “I haven’t had anything to eat yet today.”

“Nerves get to you too?” Kento asked. Aiya nodded. “I’m guessing Rin got in your head about all this, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, she did,” Aiya said. “I mean, she was right I guess, but it made me so nervous around you.”

“Abe did the same thing to me,” Kento said. “We had a talk, and he bet me ten bucks I’d ask you out.” Kento’s eyes widened, and he threw his head back in frustration. “Dammit! I lost that bet now.” Aiya laughed at him.

“Did you really take that bet?” she asked. “What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that I wouldn’t dare try to date one of my coworkers,” Kento said. “Because I had principles, and I was a man who stuck by them.”

“So much for that,” Aiya said. “Why did you decide to ask me out, anyway?”

“I have no idea,” Kento said. Aiya hit him on the shoulder. “I’m serious!” he protested. “I have no idea what made me do it. I just realized I like you and went out on a limb.”

“You like me?” Aiya asked. Kento looked over at her. He couldn’t stop a snicker from escaping at the sight of how red her face was.

“You’re blushing that badly?” Kento asked. “What are you, twelve?”

“Shut up!” Aiya yelled back, hitting him again. “I hate you!” They both shared a laugh at this. From a few steps behind Rin and Abe watched them.

“They are adorable,” Rin said. “I’m so happy for them. Also, your money is as good as mine.”

“Never underestimate a man’s ability to mess it up,” Abe retorted.

“I’ll make it even more interesting,” Rin said. “Double or nothing, he kisses her by the end of the night.”

“And here I thought my bet with Kento was the easiest money I’ve ever made,” Abe said, shaking Rin’s hand. “That guy couldn’t close on a first date if his life depended on it.”

“Maybe not the old Kento, but he’s a changed man,” Rin said. “You should have more faith in him.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Abe said. He stopped by one of the stalls.

“What are you doing?” Rin asked.

“I want cotton candy,” Abe retorted.

And so the date went on. Kento and Aiya visited stalls and exchanged pleasant conversations. Rin and Abe followed them from a distance, watching them like guardian angels. Or crazed stalkers. Kento had planned this date down to the minute. He had let Aiya choose the stalls and food as they went, but that was a part of the plan. When the time came he would take her to the haunted house. Truth be told he wasn’t good with scary things either, but he would man up and tough it out. That would give him an excuse to hold her hand. Then they would find a nice spot to watch the fireworks, and Kento would seal the deal. He was determined. He was focused.

He was completely unprepared when Aiya took his hand while they were wandering the stalls. What he hadn’t expected was that Aiya had also planned out the evening, and he was powerless to go against that plan now.

“We don’t want to get separated by the crowd,” she said as an excuse. Kento could see right through it but didn’t call her out on it. It was cute to see her act like that.

“Of course not,” Kento said. He checked the stalls around him. He was so absorbed by just being on a date he hadn’t even bought anything yet. Close to them was a stall that sold hair clips. He noticed Aiya eye the selection and stopped by it. “Which one do you want?” he asked.

“Oh no, it’s fine,” Aiya said, but Kento didn’t let her finish.

“Aiya, please,” he said. “I don’t get a lot of chances to do something like this. Just pick one, it’s a gift from me.” Aiya gave him a warm smile, then turned to the array of clips in front of her. She chose a simple blue one since it matched her yukata. Kento put it in her hair, then stood back to admire his handiwork. Aiya blushed again.

“Can you stop staring at me, please?” she asked.

“But it’s fun to see you all embarrassed,” Kento said. This warranted the third hit of the night. Kento laughed again, taking Aiya’s hand and leading her to the next interesting-looking stall. They wasted a few more minutes browsing before they ended up at the haunted house.

“Do we really have to do this?” Aiya asked. “I don’t handle scary stuff well.”

“All the more reason to do it!” Kento said. “I get to look like the brave guy.”

“We don’t have to follow them in there, do we?” Rin asked, from a few feet away.

“What’s wrong? Can’t handle a little scare?” Abe teased. Rin glared at him. “We don’t have to. We can just wait for them to finish here.

The haunted house was about exactly what Kento had expected. During his gaming phase, he played his fair share of horror games, and while he didn’t handle scary stuff well, compared to those games this haunted house was nothing. Aiya, on the other hand, had no such experience. She got scared extremely easily. She hoped Kento would get scared too, given how easy it was to sneak up on him, but he was like a brick wall. In the end, they exited the haunted house with her clinging to his arm with her eyes forced closed, and him being unfazed. He didn’t complain about the lackluster experience, though. Having a girl he liked clinging onto his arm was more than enough to compensate.

“Aiya, if you don’t let go we’ll miss the fireworks,” Kento said after a minute. Aiya sadly pulled back.

“Sorry, I am really bad with ghosts and stuff,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Kento said. He was still holding onto her hand, so in his eyes, the haunted house served its purpose perfectly. “Now come on.” He led Aiya to a spot he found while browsing the festival site on an online map tool.

“Where are we going?” Aiya asked. “Aren’t we supposed to watch from over there?” She pointed in the direction the crowd seemed to be going.

“I have a better spot,” Kento said. He led Aiya up a small hill. The path eventually terminated in a small cliff, overlooking the festival grounds. “Great! We made it in time.”

“Is this really a good-” Aiya asked, but was cut off by the whizzing noise of a firework being launched. It exploded into a brilliant mix of colors. Others followed soon after, lighting up the night sky. It was beautiful.

Kento looked to Aiya. Her eyes twinkled with the colors of the fireworks, and an awed expression rested on her face. She felt Kento’s eyes on her and turned to face him as well. They held each other’s eyes as another rainbow of explosions echoed through the still air.

Kento reached up and brushed a wisp of hair from Aiya’s face. He let his hand rest on her cheek. Inside, he steeled himself. He gathered every shred of nerves he had left. He took a deep breath and moved closer to Ayia.


“Hand it over,” Rin demanded, watching Kento and Aiya from behind a tree. Abe grumbled and handed her her winnings. He locked his eyes onto Kento.

“Not bad, kid. Not bad.”