Title: Turn Your Heart Around Towards Me
Pairing: Ohno Satoshi/Kanjiya Shihori; in the background, Matsumoto Jun/Inoue Mao
Rating: NC-17 (Real Talk: it’s 97% PG-13 but you know how it is…)
Summary: Some people had “the one who got away.” Shihori’s experience had differed. She’d been the one to get away, and he hadn’t lifted a finger to stop her.
A/N: Hello there, helenmaldon, it was a pleasure to write for you! I saw that you’re a Jane Austen fan, and once I knew Ohno was going to be my protagonist, my initial goal was to rewrite Persuasion for you. Didn’t quite happen, but I had a blast putting everyone’s beloved, curmudgeonly “old man” into a romance nonetheless. There’s no navy captain stuff, no meddling relatives. Instead I decided to just follow the heart of what makes Persuasion so compelling to me: the idea of getting a second chance at love. The title is from Ohno’s solo, Two.
Just as Jun had promised, the shuttle service picked Ohno up on time, making only one other stop to retrieve Jun’s high school friend Ikuta-san from his apartment on the other side of town. Ikuta-san was a lively, chatty person and by the time they were pulling into the ryokan parking lot, Ikuta was insisting that Ohno call him “Toma” already. It seemed that their mutual friend’s requirement of tuxes for the night had encouraged Toma to start drinking early to keep from tugging uncomfortably at his cummerbund.
It didn’t actually surprise Ohno that much when he and Toma learned they were sitting together in the ryokan’s single banquet hall. The room was already filling up with Jun and Mao’s other friends and family, and though Ohno was usually not a sociable person, Toma picked up the slack instantly. He had his arm around Ohno’s shoulders, steering him to their table of six where they’d been seated with a married couple who were also friends of Jun’s, Oguri-san and his beautiful wife Yu. Two brothers with the last name Nakamura rounded out the table, and Toma was quick to grab Ohno a beer from the open bar. Everyone seemed to know one another already.
“He made us wear these stupid tuxes,” Oguri-san was chuckling when they got seated. Toma and Oguri-san, Shun, had snuck in tons of photocopied pictures of Jun from when he was younger and rather gangly-looking, intending to slowly distribute them over the course of the evening. Shun also had a grocery bag under the table full of other “surprises,” which made his wife shake her head in embarrassment. “So we’re going to make his life miserable. How about it, Ohno-san? You in?”
Surrounded by Jun’s childhood friends, who all seemed very laid-back in a way Jun wasn’t, made Ohno feel rather welcome. He raised his beer bottle. “I hate tuxedos too.” The raucous male cheer that went out from the table earned them a few irritated glares from other tables. This, Ohno decided, this was why they’d all been stuck the furthest from the head table where the bride and groom would be.
He was on his second beer when he saw two familiar faces come in. Keiko looking elegant in red, and then an even more astonishing sight. He was fairly certain he’d only seen Shihori in a formal dress once, when she’d graduated from university. But this was very different. Her hair had been curled, and she was in dark blue, a short-sleeved dress that was tighter than Ohno would have expected from her. He’d never seen her like this, with that shade of red lipstick, with such a confident air. The two women even caught the attention of Toma beside him, who stopped drawing a mustache on one of his Jun pictures with a magic marker.
“Wow, are you serious?” Toma muttered.
“You know them too?” But then he remembered that Toma and Jun had gone to high school together. They’d been in their last year when Mao had been in her first. And of course, Mao had been friends with Keiko and Shihori.
“Kitagawa should have been a model, that’s what we always thought. Kanjiya though…”
Ohno felt a strange stirring in his blood at the way his new friend referred to Shihori so informally. “What about her?” he asked, his grip on his beer bottle tightening the slightest bit.
“She certainly grew up. Wonder if she’s single,” Toma replied before turning his attention back to diligently adding a beard to a teenage Jun’s face.
An ugly feeling surged in him, an irrational one at that. He almost wanted to lie to Toma and say Shihori was otherwise spoken for. That she was off limits. But that was none of his business, and he had no right to be jealous. He’d let her go, long ago. And she’d made it quite clear that morning that she was out of his life for good after tonight.
Breakfast, his stupid breakfast invite, had been instantly rejected. He just…he hadn’t wanted to be away from her yet. And he hadn’t known how to say so. Here she was, the woman he’d spent the night with, who’d been wearing fleece and stretchy pants then. In her fleece or in her tight dress, he knew that he wanted her. He wanted her, because of how Toma reacted. He didn’t want anyone else to have her, because of how Toma reacted. And he was an asshole for it, he was certain of that.
What the hell was wrong with him?
Before too long the happy couple was introduced and everyone cheered, though he was fairly certain their table was the most obnoxiously loud. He’d never seen Jun and Mao look happier, walking in looking like a fashionable couple rather than the fairly humble diner owners they actually were. They took their seats, waving to all their gathered friends, which was apparently Toma, Shun, and the Nakamuras’ cue to start sending around one of their stacks of embarrassing Jun pictures. Oguri’s wife just shook her head again, sipping her glass of wine, as they heard muffled laughter from some of the other tables.
While the pictures circulated and Jun shot dirty looks across the room to their table, the meal service began. Leave it to someone who cooked for a living to pick delicious dishes, and everything that came to Ohno’s plate was better than what had come before it. But even with food in front of him, something that usually made him quite happy, Ohno was distracted. They’d had a champagne toast for the happy couple, and Toma disappeared and reappeared with more beer every other course during the meal. He was getting drunk, even with the amount of food he was taking in to hopefully absorb it.
Every time he glanced across the room to her table, his feelings got more and more messed up. Watching her laugh, watching her easy smile, watching her clap and cheer for Mao-chan. Shihori wasn’t a trophy to be won, a possession to be claimed. She was someone he’d loved and let go. One night in Everything Outdoor, making her a bed out of sleeping bags, wasn’t enough for someone he’d hurt so badly, wasn’t enough to make her consider him that way ever again. One little comment about her from another man shouldn’t have sent him into such a snit. She deserved better, a better man.
He ended up tipping over his beer bottle on accident when they were setting down cake later on, and one of the Nakamura brothers laughed, getting up in an instant to help mop the spill. Across the table, Oguri was watching him curiously. “Slow down there, chief. We’re going to be taping more pictures to Jun’s car once the dancing starts, we need your help.”
“I’m not a chief,” he grumbled. “Please, excuse me. This tux is a rental…”
Nobody seemed to notice or care about him leaving, and he made it to the bathroom without being interrupted. Once he determined that he hadn’t managed to get any of his spilled beer onto the tuxedo, he turned on the sink, loosening his bow tie a bit and splashing water on his face to try and calm down. She had come all the way to the store last night to change his mind, to be civil when she didn’t have to be. She’d been convinced they could get through this night. And despite her confidence in him, he was being childish, jealous, and possessive. Just like back then, he had nothing great to offer. And what did he even know about her now, beyond a few hours of conversation?
But he was startled to discover that he did want to know. He stared at himself in the mirror, hands gripping the sides of the sink. He wanted to know. Hell, he’d wanted to know everything he’d missed in seven years the moment she walked into Peking Duck. It had been easy these seven years, simply because he hadn’t seen her. He’d been able to live with his decision, to let his stubborn actions win out, because he hadn’t seen her. If she’d never gone to Tokyo, if he’d had to keep seeing her around town, maybe he’d have given her the apology she’d deserved.
It somehow didn’t surprise him when he came out of the bathroom to find her in the corridor. The necklace she wore was a simple silver chain with a blue heart charm. He wanted to reach his hand out, to run his fingers over it. He wanted to do a whole lot more than that, too, seeing how the fabric of her dress hugged her figure. He knew it was all the alcohol talking.
“Oh-chan,” she said quietly, raising an eyebrow.
“How’d you know I was here?”
She didn’t shy away from meeting his eyes, the way she had only two nights earlier at Peking Duck. She’d been sad that night. He’d made her cry. What was she feeling now? “I saw you get up. I’m here to make sure you don’t leave.”
“Are you my babysitter?” he spat back a bit harshly, and she didn’t seem offended at all. It came with knowing him, not that it excused him for speaking that way to her.
Instead she offered a soft smile, cocking her head to the side a little. “You look cute in a tuxedo.”
“I don’t feel so cute.”
She shifted her weight, crossing her arms. The heels she was wearing brought her to his height, so she didn’t have to look up at him like she always had. “I see you’ve met Jun-kun’s friends.”
Her smile got bigger. “I’ve got about six of those pictures stuffed in my purse, the ones with the mustaches. They’re so silly.”
“I’m surprised Jun hasn’t kicked them out yet.”
“He loves it, deep down. He loves how they tease him,” she replied. “At least that’s the impression I got from Mao.”
They were quiet for a few moments, and he tugged at the bow tie, knowing it was never going to look right again that night. “Shii-chan.”
Now it was his turn to meet her gaze straight on. “You look beautiful.”
Her friendly smile faltered, and her voice sounded insincere when she spoke again. “Thanks…it’s not something I’d usually go for, you know…it’s just that I…”
“You look beautiful, in that dress and out of it.” When she gaped at him, he shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. Boy, he was a real idiot. “I mean, no matter what you wear. Even that poncho, when you came to the store. I want you to know that you are. That you’re still so beautiful, now. And that…that you deserve to be happy.”
“I think I ought to get back…” She was trying to leave, trying to spare him from embarrassing himself. He ought to go splash an entire bucket’s worth of cold water on himself. But he was currently in the grips of foot-in-mouth disorder.
“I know it was hard for you to come back here,” he blurted out. “And that’s my fault. I know it’s my fault. And I know you’re leaving again, and maybe that’s a good thing…or maybe it isn’t…”
“Oh-chan, please stop,” she whispered, taking a tentative step forward.
“I should have said I was sorry,” he insisted. “I was terrible to you…”
“Telling me this now doesn’t change what happened,” she said, putting her hand on his sleeve, squeezing his arm. “It’s okay. I don’t want to say goodbye to you this way.”
“Then don’t say goodbye,” he mumbled, and when he moved his hand on top of hers where it still rested on his arm, she didn’t pull back right away. Her hand was so soft, so warm. “Don’t say goodbye forever. Shii-chan…”
“Please don’t do this here,” she begged him, slipping her hand back. He missed it already. “You don’t mean it.”
He relented, hearing the way her voice had caught in her throat. He was going about this all wrong. Yet again.
There was noise, and soon enough he saw Toma, Shun, and the Nakamura brothers come stumbling down the hall. Shun had his grocery bag, was pulling out a big roll of duck tape while Toma was holding yet more pictures. They really were going to stick them to Jun’s car.
“Kanjiya-san,” Toma said, smiling at her as the group passed. “Good to see you.”
“Ikuta-san,” Shihori replied, standing back, as though she’d just been on her way to the bathroom. “How are you?”
Ohno felt worse, infinitely so when Shun wrapped an arm around him. “You coming? We were talking to Kitagawa and she said you like to draw so maybe you could…”
He slunk away from Oguri’s touch, hoping he didn’t look like as much of an asshole as he felt. “Nah, man, you go ahead. I’ll make sure he doesn’t come after you.”
“Good thinking!” one of the Nakamuras said, and they were off. By now, Shihori had already left, was heading back for the banquet room and out of reach.
When she got back, the DJ was in the middle of a Michael Jackson medley. At the center of the dance floor were the happy bride and groom, stumbling around in a giddy attempt at the choreography for Thriller and surrounded by a group of family and friends. Despite their formal attire, everyone was dancing with abandon. Keiko was among them, toward the back though because she was usually a more subdued, low participation dancer.
Shihori nearly clung to her there, having trouble breathing. “What’s wrong?” Keiko asked, raising her voice a bit over the music.
“Nothing! There was just a long line for the ladies’ room,” she lied, doing her best to fall into step along with her friend, even though she knew she was shaking.
As she did her best to focus on the dancing, she saw Oh-chan over by the bar, getting yet another beer. He definitely didn’t need any more, if his little demonstration in the hall had been anything to go on. He hadn’t known what he was saying. Beautiful…beautiful was not a word she could ever remember him using when it came to her. “You look cute, Shii-chan.” That was something she remembered. “You look nice.” She remembered that too. But beautiful?
“Don’t say goodbye forever.”
Thriller blended into Billie Jean, and Shihori knew that as long as she stayed on the dance floor, she would be fine. He wouldn’t make a scene. He wouldn’t come over. Ohno Satoshi just didn’t know what he wanted, that much was obvious. Seven years ago, he’d said he didn’t want to marry her. That his feelings for her were not at the same level of seriousness as hers. That he was unable to meet any expectations she set for him. And that that was just how things were, too bad.
She’d been back in his life for less than two days, and now he was spouting compliments and asking her in for breakfast and apologizing for fucking up years after the fact. She couldn’t take it, couldn’t allow herself to believe it was true. Just like in the past, he was working on impulse. He probably just wanted to get laid and was confusing that with something more serious. She was an exotic prize to be won, the ex-girlfriend who got away. A high hurdle indeed.
But he called her beautiful…he just begged her not to leave…
Jun’s friends returned, greeting the groom on the dance floor, crowding around him. Mao waved the photographer over, beaming from ear to ear as his friends managed to tackle Jun into a chair, taping a fake mustache to his face. From her reactions, she’d been in on this from the beginning, and she was laughing so hard, it was infectious. To his credit, Jun was a good sport, leaving the fake mustache on long enough to tug Mao to him and make sure they stuck one on her too. Everyone clapped and laughed as the photographer snapped at least a dozen pictures of the mustached bride and groom kissing.
Watching them be so effortlessly happy made her heart ache a little. They fought all the time, Mao had told them the other night at dinner, but they had yet to have any fights that couldn’t be resolved. They compromised, they talked things out. After all, whether they were married or not, they had a business to run. They were serious and they were mature, fake mustaches aside.
Shihori and Ohno had hardly ever fought when they’d been together, and all it had taken was one fight to split them permanently. She’d given an ultimatum, he’d declined, and that was all it had taken. And seven years on, here they were. Still single - Ohno most likely by choice and Shihori because she simply hadn’t found anyone to trust the way she’d trusted Ohno, every single day up until the one where he’d broken her heart. They’d been incompatible. Attaching a lock to a fence hadn’t fixed what had been fundamentally wrong at the core of their relationship - she’d wanted permanence, he’d wanted anything but.
People didn’t change, not people like Oh-chan. Two days and Shihori in a tight dress weren’t remotely enough to change people like Oh-chan. Even if deep down, maybe she wished he would. Maybe she’d spent seven years dating around and still comparing everyone to him and how he’d made her feel, at her worst…and at her best. She knew he was watching, even as she and Keiko kept dancing, getting in a circle and holding Mao’s hands.
It’s too late, she wanted to tell him. You’ll figure it out. You’ll remember exactly what you don’t want. With me, or with anyone else.
Whenever he walked the second floor of Everything Outdoor for the next several weeks, Ohno Satoshi could hardly bear to look at the six-person tent in the camping zone. Because he’d see her, the outline of her in the camp light’s glow, how she’d looked sitting inside all by herself.
He’d let her go. Again.
He’d woken up with a pounding headache after the wedding, having fallen asleep on his couch in the rental tux. But he hadn’t been so hungover, or so drunk the night before, that he’d forgotten how he’d acted. Jealous and petty and probably confusing as hell. After seven years of nothing, he’d thought he had some right to her, some claim. That he could tell her not to leave and maybe she’d listen. And he didn’t have any such claim, not at all.
Once Jun and Mao returned from their honeymoon, the Hug Diner was back open. He was tempted every morning to ask after her, to ask Mao how Shihori was doing. But the thought of doing that embarrassed him and he’d held his tongue.
He was being impulsive, he knew that. Maybe he was only curious about her because she was so untouchable now, out of reach. She’d just appeared again at an opportune time - when he hadn’t dated in a while and was kind of open to that sort of thing. Those phases did tend to come and go in his life. He’d meet a pretty girl at a bar and be open to a few weeks of fun. But then almost as soon as it started, he’d lose interest and break it off instantly instead of continuing to lead the woman on when his heart wasn’t in it.
But here he was over a month later and he was still thinking about her. It wasn’t like he’d slept with her during her visit. Hell, he had barely brushed her hand with his, and the sensation of that still stuck with him. That night in the store replayed again and again in his mind. Maybe if they’d talked more. Maybe if he’d simply tried.
Nino had seemingly caught on. After that disastrous night at Peking Duck, he’d known something was definitely up. Ohno was used to Nino’s teasing. What he wasn’t used to, however, was Nino’s help.
It was mid-April when Nino called him in to his office on the ground floor of the store. Inside was a very pretty woman in a business suit, with lips that would have made the Ohno of several weeks before drop everything to ask her out. Once he collected himself, Nino smirking at him, he was introduced to the woman - Ishihara Satomi from Everything Outdoor corporate headquarters in Tokyo.
“Ishihara-san is in human resources,” Nino said, leaning back against his desk.
“Talent recruitment,” Ishihara corrected him, blushing a little. She held out her business card and Ohno took it. “Ohno-san, I’m here today at Ninomiya-san’s request. We have an open position at corporate that Ninomiya-san says would be very suitable for your skill set.”
“Me?” he asked, rather confused. Since when did he have a skill set? “Corporate?”
Ishihara smiled. “The position is for a buyer, specifically a buyer for fishing equipment and supplies. The person in this position is responsible for the planning and selection of all the products we sell in Everything Outdoor’s fishing zones. And this would be for our entire chain, the ones here in Japan and also our satellite stores in Hawaii and South Korea…”
“Ishihara-san,” Ohno mumbled, not quite liking the sound of all that responsibility.
She kept talking. Nino had probably told her that he’d try and interrupt. “Now typically all of our corporate positions are filled by those holding a bachelor’s degree at least. It’s not just picking the right rods and reels, you understand, but delving into consumer buying patterns, meeting with suppliers, following the market, you see…”
“Then I definitely don’t qualify for…”
“But,” Ishihara continued once again, “Ninomiya-san saw our posting and has written a very strong letter recommending you for this position. And we’ve reviewed your performance. You’ve been an associate in the fishing zone for 17 years, and that kind of experience is nothing to scoff at. Everything Outdoor prefers to promote from within, so please don’t be embarrassed about your educational qualifications. Ninomiya-san wrote to us and said that nobody knows these products as well as you and…”
This time he put his foot down. “Are you offering me a job? Right now?”
She faltered, looking over at Nino. Nino, whose face for once was entirely unreadable. Had he really written a letter on his behalf? And he hadn’t said anything?
“Not exactly,” Ishihara said. “But we would like to bring you in for a round of interviews with our lead buyers and see if you’d be a good fit for us.”
“Ohno-san, Ishihara-san came all the way down here from Tokyo to meet you,” Nino said, raising an eyebrow. “Maybe you could chat a bit more about this exciting opportunity.”
He swallowed, not sure if he was nervous or just incredibly angry. “Of course. I’d be happy to hear more.”
So he spent the rest of his afternoon walking Ishihara-san through the fishing zone and all his years working at the store. He had a feeling she didn’t actually know a thing about fishing, being from the corporate office and from “talent recruitment” at that. But she was attentive and as she explained more about what the buying position entailed, Ohno realized that she was completely serious about having him come in to be interviewed. The company was truly interested in him.
All because Nino had gone behind his back.
When Ishihara departed, Ohno didn’t even apologize when he burst into Nino’s office and slammed the door behind him. “What the hell did you do that for?” he shouted, and Nino recoiled in surprise. Ohno couldn’t actually remember having raised his voice at him in all the years they’d known one another.
“Whether you want to admit it or not,” Nino said, recovering quickly and sitting on his desk, “you really could do that job. And you’d be good at it. I didn’t write to them as a joke.”
“But why? I’ve never wanted something like that.”
Nino sighed. “Do you even know how much money those buyers make? I mean, it’s a salary, not an hourly wage. You’d make more than I do.”
“I don’t care about…”
“Would you just shut up a minute?” Nino snapped at him. “I can’t promote you any higher. I can’t give you a raise, even though you know more than everyone else in your department put together. You’re always the first to downplay what you can do. And it’s really frustrating to see.”
He sighed. “I’m happy here.”
“You’re always bitching about what gets stocked, this reel versus that and all that shit. If you were in that job, it would be on you to decide those things. Why won’t you at least try, for once in your damn life?”
This was definitely the wrong thing to say, and Ohno’s hands became fists. “I didn’t ask you to interfere in my life. I’m not looking for a helping hand. I’m fine where I am!”
“It’s in Tokyo, you asshole!” Nino barked at him. “A cushy corporate job in Tokyo. Yeah, you’d have to join the suit and tie brigade, but for god’s sake, you’d get to Tokyo. Do you even get it? Do you get what I’m trying to do here?”
“Get rid of me, it sounds like,” he said bitterly.
“You’re really fucking oblivious, Ohno-san.”
He wasn’t really that oblivious. It was more like he couldn’t believe it. Shihori. Nino was going out of his way because Shihori was in Tokyo. Nino had written a letter to the Everything Outdoor corporate office, putting his reputation on the line, just for a chance to get Ohno to Tokyo. To her.
“I don’t even know if this is something I want,” he said quietly, and he wasn’t sure if he was thinking about the job or about Shihori.
Nino’s voice was softer, gentler. “How will you know? Unless you try?”
She found Sakurai-sensei sitting on the floor in the back of the classroom, muttering and grumbling under his breath. She crossed her arms, looking down at him. He had a large cardboard box next to him, and he was currently attempting to detangle some cords. There were five lights and five buzzers all interconnected with a thick wire, and the situation was looking quite dire.
“Need some help?”
Sakurai-sensei looked up. His chubby, but handsome face was rather red in his barely concealed rage. “Ah, Kanjiya-sensei. Can you believe this?” He held up the tangled mess for her inspection.
At the beginning of the school year, Sakurai-sensei had come to her and asked if she wanted to be the assistant faculty advisor for the school’s Academic Quiz Bowl team. Sakurai, the head of the social studies department and her direct supervisor, was known as kind of a hard ass among the students, and he had led the Quiz Bowl team to numerous district-wide victories over the last several years. His previous assistant advisor had left to help coach the math team this year.
Though Sakurai-sensei was a smart and educated man, cords were a bit of a challenge for him. They needed the lights and buzzers for their practice rounds, so the students could get used to ringing in and responding during meets. She knelt down, setting her purse beside her and grateful she’d worn leggings under her dress that day.
“Give it to me, I’ll figure it out,” she said cheerfully, and he seemed all too happy to hand the task over. Their first meet of the season was the following afternoon, and he was full of a nervous excitement that made him a little exhausting to be around.
While her fingers picked at the complex series of knots, he paced the floor near her and went on ad nauseam about their pending meet at Hibiya. The school was known for how many students got accepted to Todai, and Sakurai-sensei was desperate to crush them and prove that their school’s students were just as capable and smart.
Shihori had never known that Quiz Bowl was such an intense thing. She’d been on the team at her high school, and they’d usually lost. But Sakurai-sensei took it very seriously. “It’s something parents look for when they want to enroll their kids,” he’d told her multiple times now. “A school with strong academics. And it’s an extracurricular that will look great on a university application as well.”
Sometimes Shihori wondered if Sakurai’s quizzing persona continued at home, if he drove his wife crazy at the dinner table with multiple choice questions and math puzzles. She looked up briefly from her detangling, spying Sakurai-sensei at the chalkboard looking at his “starting line-up” of students for the following afternoon. He’d proudly told her a week earlier that he’d come up with his “superstar” team, a good balance of students with strengths in different categories, from the sciences to literature to art and music. Maybe he was second-guessing himself, giving himself an ulcer thinking about Hibiya’s strengths and weaknesses.
If she wasn’t a teacher, if she was one of Sakurai-sensei’s students, she wondered if she’d have been good enough for his superstar team. She grinned, watching Sakurai talk to himself about one of their students with the same intensity of sports analysts during draft season. At least he was never this crazy when it came to evaluating her as her supervisor.
Mercifully, her cord unraveling was soon finished, and she put the cords and buzzers and lights back in the box with a bit more care so they wouldn’t be such a mess. Getting to her feet, she heard her phone vibrate inside her purse. She discovered a text from Mao, informing her that Oh-chan was coming to Tokyo the next day - that he didn’t have her number, but wanted to know if they could meet. Mao had then passed along Ohno’s contact details.
She must have been staring blankly at the message for a while because she barely registered Sakurai-sensei coming near until he tapped on her shoulder. “Is everything alright?”
She hurriedly closed out her messages, embarrassed that he’d seen her making such a dumb face. “Nothing, just a message from an old friend. Wants to meet up tomorrow.”
“Oh?” Sakurai mumbled in reply, face already reentering panic mode.
She smiled, waving her hand in front of her face. “No, no, I’ll definitely be there for the meet at Hibiya, don’t even worry! I can meet them after.”
“Good, good,” Sakurai said, visibly relieved. The poor guy was only a few years past 30 but at the rate he was going, he’d have a heart attack by 40.
“I’ll be heading out first. Let’s do our best tomorrow,” she said, shoving her phone in her purse.
He walked with her back to the faculty room. He was staying behind to grade papers while she was taking hers with her. It was easier for her to grade at home with the TV making background noise and a helpful beer or three to get her through some of the answers her students came up with when they hadn’t bothered to do any of the reading. Plus Keiko was there and she loved when Shihori read some of the weird answers to her out loud.
She shoved everything into her bag, slinging it over her shoulder. Mao’s message on her phone was driving her crazy. Oh-chan? In Tokyo? Had the world turned upside down? She’d never even been able to get him to go to Nagoya half the time when she wanted to shop or enjoy a day off.
It had been a blessing in disguise when Sakurai-sensei had approached her just as school started up again, asking her to help out with Quiz Bowl. Between practices for Quiz Bowl, lesson planning, and other school-related activities, she’d been too busy to spend a lot of time thinking back on her strange time in Minamichita. How she hadn’t even really said goodbye to Ohno. After a month had gone by without any word about him, she thought it was over again. That she’d been right, that the whole thing had just been a temporary strangeness, that her reappearance in town had only intrigued him because of its rarity. A very short and fruitless infatuation.
She’d put it behind her as best she could, trying not to think too hard about that look in his eyes when he’d come out of that bathroom, a bit of water still dripping from his chin, to tell her that she looked beautiful. It wasn’t over though, was it? This thing they had, whatever it was, was still lingering, still unfinished. It was frustrating, and she didn’t know why Mao-chan had intervened on Ohno’s behalf. Mao knew very well how things had ended between them all those years ago. Was she just being a goofy, well-meaning newlywed and only helping to spread more love? Or was Ohno so desperate to contact her that he’d begged Mao to help him?
And why the hell was he coming to Tokyo? Hmm, she thought bitterly. Maybe there was a fishing convention. Something he’d actually give a damn about.
Much as she was nervous, confused, and admittedly hurt, Shihori found herself in her empty apartment a short time later dialing the number that Mao had forwarded along. Keiko was working late, so she wasn’t there to tell Shihori to ignore him. While Bill played with one of his stuffed mice, Shihori shut her eyes and listened to the phone ring. Once, twice, three times. If it went to voicemail, she was hanging up but…
“Ohno-san,” she said, straightening up a little.
She wanted to snap at him, tell him to stop calling her that like they were simply the best of friends. She decided against it. He probably didn’t even realize it was weird. “I heard from Mao-chan. About you coming to Tokyo.”
“I have an interview tomorrow. I’m actually in Chiba already right now. You know Aiba-san, from Peking Duck?”
“I remember him.”
“Well, his parents have a restaurant, I’m having dinner here. I’m staying in a hotel in Akiba, though, since my interview’s at Everything Outdoor corporate in Asakusa tomorrow.”
“If you’re having dinner, don’t let me interrupt…”
“No, no, it’s fine. They haven’t brought my food out yet, and they’re letting me eat in a private room since I’m Aiba-san’s friend. It’s pretty fancy, I have to say.”
He was speaking with her so casually, as though nothing strange had happened between them. “You’re interviewing at the corporate office?” she asked, actually surprised.
“Yeah, Nino thought I should interview for this position. I don’t know…”
Nino had clearly been persuasive. Getting Ohno Satoshi out of the Chita Peninsula took a great deal of effort. “I hope it goes well for you,” she said honestly.
It was a bit strange to hear about him trying something new. That seemed like the opposite of the Oh-chan she’d known, who’d only changed from part-time to full-time at Everything Outdoor in order to have enough money to move out of his parents’ house, which made dating easier for him. She really had a hard time thinking about Ohno in a job that required a suit and tie. She had an even harder time thinking about him living in Tokyo.
“It’s probably going to drive me crazy, going on an interview,” he admitted easily. “That’s why I was kind of wondering…I mean, you don’t have to say yes or anything…what I mean is…”
Just spit it out, she wanted to say.
“…if you’re not busy tomorrow night, did you want to grab something to eat?”
“I have a school event that’ll go until at least 7:30 or 8:00 PM. Do you have a train to catch tomorrow?”
“No, I’m not leaving until Wednesday, it’s fine. I can meet at any time if you have something for school. Eating late is fine.” He paused for a moment. “If you would like to ask Kitagawa-san to come, I don’t mind.”
But he did mind, she could totally tell. He never bothered to hide what he was feeling. It was kind of him, though, to suggest that Keiko attend.
She could tell him no, but then again, if she really hadn’t wanted to see him again, would she have bothered calling him in the first place? It was so frustrating, not knowing what he really even wanted from her. But if Minamichita had meant nothing to him, why would he want to meet up now? Oh-chan was either interested or he wasn’t. He viewed the world (and relationships, for that matter) in black and white terms. Going out of his way to have Mao contact her on his behalf, it had to mean something.
“Shii-chan, are you still there?”
“I’m here,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes. “How well do you know Tokyo?”
“I know how to use the trains. It’s been a while since I’ve been here though.”
“Well our event is a meet at another school. It’s by Nagatacho. Could you find your way there or shall I meet you in Akiba by your hotel?”
“I’ll go wherever you want.”
She waited while he got a pen and paper from the woman who ran the restaurant, presumably Aiba-san’s mother, and together they decided it would be easier to meet in Akihabara. There was a secondhand manga store that she particularly liked in the neighborhood, and she supposed a visit there would make things go a bit more smoothly.
“Well, they’ve brought my food,” he said. “And I have your number now in case there’s a problem. Don’t worry about your school event. If it runs late, I’ll wait for you. It’s not a big deal.”
“I appreciate that, thanks,” she replied. Before she could take it back, she spoke again. “Good luck with your interview, I’m sure you’ll do well.”
He was quiet for a short moment. “Thanks, Shii-chan. Have a good night.”
She hung up, setting her phone on the table. There was no going back now.
He was happy to change out of the suit he’d worn to the interview, feeling far more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt again. But as he hung his suit jacket up in the hotel room’s tiny closet, he had a suspicion that he’d have to buy another one. A few more suits, at the very least.
On the train ride up here, he’d pretty much convinced himself that he was going to bomb the interview. They were going to judge him because he wasn’t a college graduate. Hell, he wasn’t even a high school graduate for that matter. They were going to think he was some country hick playing dress-up, and they’d all get a good laugh out of it. He would embarrass Nino. He would fumble his words like he was so prone to do. He’d just make a fool of himself entirely.
But somehow he’d gotten up that morning, squinted at a video tutorial on his phone in order to get his tie tied, and had gone to corporate headquarters. And when he got there, everyone had been so kind. Ishihara-san had been there, and she’d introduced him to the entire buying department. None of them had seemed snobby, and he was certain that they all knew he was just a store associate from a small town. It had been more than one interview, but it hadn’t been as intimidating as he’d thought.
He’d first met with the head buyer for the entire company, Matsuoka-san, and he broke down everything that the fishing buyer would be responsible for in fairly simple terms. It seemed like a lot of work, Ohno had to admit that, but once Matsuoka started asking what Ohno thought about how they currently stocked their stores, he’d felt comfortable enough to be honest with him. Even if he didn’t get this job, maybe they’d take his suggestions to heart. He’d ended up talking so much that Ishihara had had to knock on the door and interrupt, to inform Matsuoka-san that their interview time had gone way over.
Matsuoka had been jotting down notes while Ohno had spoken with him, his face rather serious, but when he got up at the end to shake Ohno’s hand, he’d been smiling. “Thanks so much for coming in to talk with me today, Ohno-san. It’s been a pleasure.” And he’d sounded sincere, too.
After that, he’d met with some of the other buyers in groups of twos and threes. They asked about him and his own experience, but they’d also told him more about the job, about their work environment. There’d be travel involved, but the company paid for everything. One of the buyers for the golf zone told Ohno that the travel was the best part of the job, going to industry conventions and checking out all the new products, determining what items would be worth stocking.
“We have good relationships with a lot of manufacturers,” another of the buyers had said. “They let you test everything.”
The thought of trying out the newest fishing rod models, the newest baits before anyone else? Ohno had to admit that it was exciting. Though he’d come up to Tokyo with a sense of dread in his belly, he left the corporate office with the sense that Nino had actually been right. They’d train him, they’d get him where he needed to be for the business side of things. He really had known more about the job than he’d given himself credit for. He’d be a good fit, and the people he’d work with wouldn’t look down on him.
If they offered it to him, though, what would he say? He had a life in Minamichita, such that it was. His parents were there. Everyone he knew, from the people he went fishing with to Mao and Jun at the Hug Diner, was there. He had his job, he had Nino. He had Aiba-san and his comfortable nights drinking at Peking Duck. Plus Tokyo was so much busier, so hectic. He’d pay more money to live in a much smaller place. Sure, he’d make more money, but would he be happy? It was a lot to think about.
It was just after 8:30 when his phone finally rang. “I’ve just gotten off the train, I’m sorry for being late. We went into overtime!”
“Overtime?” Ohno asked, chuckling. The sound of her voice was soothing in a way he hadn’t expected. Talking to her last night, it had surprised him how happy it made him. The fact that she’d called him at all had to mean something good.
“Yes, we were tied…” She chuckled a little, and it made his heart race a bit. “Ah, I’ll tell you when we meet.”
She gave him directions to meet her by this secondhand manga shop, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from teasing her. She was still just as obsessed as ever, and he thought that was cute. When he found her, he felt rather underdressed. He’d just put on a jacket over his t-shirt, was wearing sneakers, and here she was in a green trenchcoat, a nice dress underneath, and tights. If he’d had a teacher who dressed like that, maybe he’d have stayed in school.
She stuck out in the neighborhood, and as they entered the shop, she was definitely arousing the curiosity of the other customers. A bunch of nerdy guys, staring at her, and he wanted to put an arm around her, to let them know she was here with him. But he settled instead for just following close behind her. She seemed fairly oblivious to the attention she was getting, letting out a happy little noise when she got to the end of one aisle and found a series she seemed to like, tossing at least eight volumes into the little shopping basket she’d grabbed from the store entrance.
While she perused the aisles, she was chatting a mile a minute. Apparently she was coaching some sort of student quiz team, and they’d just pulled off a stunning upset win. He was perfectly content to let her do all the talking. After all, he’d had his interview that day and had probably spoken more in those few hours than he had in weeks. And listening to her enthusiasm - for the students, for her job - made him really happy.
If she’d stayed in Minamichita, if he’d begged her to stay with him all those years ago, then there wouldn’t be a Shihori here in Tokyo to chat away about the head coach, her boss apparently, bursting into happy tears when they won the match. If she’d stayed behind, maybe she would have come to resent him for it, for limiting her choices and her world.
She paid for quite a lot of manga at the front, and she was given a rather hefty bag to tote around. “You always buy this much?” he asked, grinning as she pulled it down from the counter with an adorable little ‘oof’ noise.
“I will not say,” she replied, holding her nose in the air.
They got back out onto the street, all lit up and full of people gawking at glowing screens, girls in costumes handing out flyers for nearby stores, solitary men stopping every few feet to glance at a store display. He held out his hand after only a block.
“Let me carry that.”
“No, it’s my stuff, I can…”
He ignored her, taking the bag from her hand anyway. Damn, the thing had to weigh 20 pounds! But he’d made his gentlemanly gesture and he couldn’t take it back now. From the corner of his eye, he thought he caught her smiling.
“What do you want to eat?” he asked.
“I thought we’d head down to Ginza.”
He nearly collided with someone else, stepping out of the way as a girl tried to hand him some tissues. “Seriously?”
She laughed, and it warmed him. “I’m just teasing. There’s a family restaurant just around the corner here. The bread is good, you’ll like it.”
She remembered so many little things about him. He was getting on a train come morning, going back to Minamichita to await the corporate office’s decision. Walking at her side in Tokyo, hearing her tease him, his earlier doubts started to recede.
He was comfortable in his life, unchanging, steady. The corporate job would require so much more from him, but he knew it would make him happy in a way Everything Outdoor retail couldn’t. In his current job, he showed up, sold only the items on the shelves, went home. In corporate, he’d have a say. He could change the things he’d had no control over. He wouldn’t have to deal with customers. He wouldn’t have to work with teenagers who didn’t bother to learn the items on the shelves. He’d never have to count and recount a slack-off employee’s cash drawer again.
And as he slid into the booth of the family restaurant across from Shihori, he realized that if he took the job, maybe she’d give him another chance. He remembered how Nino had yelled at him, calling him out for never trying. He’d always been too afraid to change. He’d have never applied for corporate on his own - but meeting the people there, learning more about the job, it wasn’t really that scary. It was different, but it still suited him. And back when they’d broken up, he’d been afraid of change too. Of having more expectations on him, of not being able to make her happy the way she wanted him to.
But seven years had passed and he hadn’t found anyone who made him feel quite as good as she had. She’d never pushed him. She’d understood that he liked time to himself, since she did too. He could tell her anything, could always be honest with her. Words like “commitment” and “marriage” had frightened him for so long. But he had living proof in his life that they weren’t so scary at all. He saw Jun and Mao at the Hug Diner every morning. They were married now, and all that had changed was that they wore rings. She still teased Jun like she always had, he still made fun of Mao when her handwriting was too messy on the orders she took.
Seven years ago, he told Shihori that he didn’t want to marry her. And he hadn’t been entirely truthful. He should have added “right now” or “at this time.” He hadn’t been ready then, and maybe he wasn’t exactly ready now, especially because he’d barely gotten to know her again yet. But things could change, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, like he’d always thought. If Nino hadn’t spoken to corporate, Ohno wouldn’t be on the verge of something life-changing, career-wise. And if Nino hadn’t spoken to corporate, he wouldn’t be here now, watching the way Shihori bit her bottom lip in concentration as she looked over the menu.
She looked up, catching his gaze. If she was annoyed to find him staring, her only reaction was to blush, lowering her eyes back to the menu. “What did you want to eat?”
“Can I tell you something first?” he asked quietly, nervously brushing his fingers across his glass of ice water, burgeoning with excitement. He was ready to at least try. “Can I tell you everything about the interview I had today?”