After wrapping up a particularly troublesome matter, Yokozawa decided to head over to the smoke lounge for a breather—when he caught the sound of a conversation. Initially intending to just pass by, he froze up at a name which casually popped up in the chatter, and he found his feet drawing up short to a stop.
“That reminds me—I heard the other day that Kirishima-san’s birthday is next Friday!”
“Where’d you hear that?”
When he surreptitiously attempted to check out the speakers, he found they were two female members of the editing team for a listings magazine. One of them he recognized as a face he’d seen hanging around Kirishima quite a bit recently; despite the fact that her department was on a completely different floor, she often used the excuse of sharing any goodies she received to make her way to the shounen manga floor. It was with enough frequency that even Yokozawa, himself a member of the sales department, had taken notice, so she probably was visiting rather often.
The women around the office had been riled up ever since Kirishima had taken off his wedding ring. Rumors had flown, but one had finally gotten up the courage to be the sacrificial lamb and learned that while he had been married with a child, his spouse had passed away quite some time before. With that out in the open, the invitations from women had flooded in unceasingly. Some had even had the gall to try and use Yokozawa himself, known throughout Marukawa as a wild bear and usually avoided, as an excuse to get closer—women with ambition were amazing, that much was obvious.
While Kirishima had gone along with some of the invitations easily enough initially, these days he’d taken to turning down almost every one. But when some refused to back down even at the excuse that his daughter would get lonely, it wasn’t uncommon to find him sulking in irritation behind the scenes.
And that was when some of the sharper ones had latched on to a new theory as to why he’d suddenly changed his tune: he’d found someone new, and that was why he’d removed his ring and held off from going out drinking so much.
The first time Yokozawa had heard that theory in the break room—he’d nearly spit out his coffee. Women could be crazily sharp sometimes.
“Our editor-in-chief mentioned it. When it came up that among those his age, Kirishima-san’s birthday was the earliest in the year, I did a little snooping and…”
“What?! You’re seriously going to try and nab him?”
“Hey, I’ve liked him for a long time! I gave up because I assumed he had a wife, but if he’s single, then there’s no harm in making a move, right?”
“So you really are serious, huh? But—didn’t you hear he has a kid in elementary school? Even if he is single, that throws a wrench in the works a bit.”
“It’s a little girl, right? I’m sure we’d get along great—it’d work out fine! Maybe I could get close to the daughter…and then get in good with her father, you think?”
Yokozawa could feel himself getting irritated with their fervent chatter; it was one thing to have honest feelings for Kirishima himself, but another entirely to use his daughter to get to him, and the very idea didn’t sit well with him at all.
“Hmm, you really think it’d be that easy?”
“And—hey! His birthday happens to fall on the last day of the cycle, right? I could invite him out under the pretense of having a little post-submission celebration, then on our way home, I could pass him a little present all casual-like! Might give me some points in his eyes, don’t you think? Hey—what do you think he’d like?”
Eavesdropping like this was hardly appropriate, and he wasn’t exactly enjoying the conversation anyways—so Yokozawa quietly slipped away.
“Still, his birthday, huh…”
He’d gotten a spare key and somehow managed to become practically part of their family, but this was the first Yokozawa had heard that Kirishima’s birthday was the following week. Their typical conversations usually revolved around either Hiyori or Sorata, after all. Thinking back, they hardly ever talked about themselves…
Sometimes they’d discuss how their workflows were going, or celebrate one of Kirishima’s authors’ works selling particularly well, or casually bring up future plans and proposals for the office—but that was about it.
However, while it wasn’t as if he’d deliberately been considering Kirishima’s birthday initially—now that he knew when it was, he couldn’t bring himself to ignore it. But—what the hell was he supposed to get the guy?
‘I wish I hadn’t heard…’
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be as worried about this as he was. He had a taste for wine, but he was hardly a heavy drinker, and Yokozawa had never heard him mention anything in particular he wanted, as he seemed to have few material desires. The last thing he remembered the guy saying I’ve got to buy this! was probably something along the lines of detergent or toilet paper or some other household item. If he were a suit-wearing type, it’d be easy enough to gift him a necktie—but the only time he wore ties was probably at fancy parties.
With no intention of letting Kirishima know how much he was getting worked up over trying to think of a present for him, he could hardly ask the guy himself.
“No helping it. Guess I’ll have to ask Hiyo then…”
There was no sense in working himself into a rut—it would be better to seek help from an advisor. With that, he quickly pulled out his cell phone and called up her e-mail address.
Kirishima held up his coffee cup. “Nice to actually be on the same page for once.”
“We always put out suitable numbers; it’s the people over in your division always gambling away.”
The print-run decision meeting that had just ended had gone relatively smoothly. Most all the series involved had been continuations of previous prints, so it’d been relatively simple to crunch the numbers—but given that they often traded opinions on subjects outside of the meeting room, Yokozawa now found it quite easy to come to an agreement on any given topic.
‘Sure would be nice if it always went this smoothly…’
Even Henmi, who’d been charged with running the meeting, had expressed his surprise over and over at how unbelievable it was for a meeting not to erupt in angry shouting.
“The publication business is just one big gamble anyways. No one can tell what’ll sell if they print it. Isn’t it good enough that we came to an agreement?”
While he couldn’t bring himself to completely agree with Kirishima’s view, it wasn’t as if he had any issues with the numbers they’d eventually decided on. Besides—he had much heavier things on his mind right now than simple comic books.
He still had yet to decide on a present to give Kirishima for the birthday he’d just learned about—and despite the fact that it was just three days away now, he didn’t even have a clue as to what to get. When he’d consulted Hiyori, she’d simply explained how she’d given her father a bouquet, a portrait, and a card the previous year—none of which suited Yokozawa in the least.
Sipping his coffee, he raked a tentative gaze over Kirishima, wondering if he might be able to draw out some hint. He wasn’t the type to wear any sort of accessories, and any hobbies really only amounted to ‘reading.’ However, as he was a much more avid reader than Yokozawa, there was little hope of his being able to recommend any particularly worthy books for the guy to read.
Noticing Yokozawa’s gaze on him, Kirishima glanced up from where he’d been reviewing his cell phone screen. “…Something on your mind?”
“N—no, nothing really.” He flinched at the suspicious expression directed his way. Hoping to somehow escape from the eyes that felt as if they could see exactly what he was thinking, he glanced over towards the window.
But Kirishima chose not to pursue the now-silent Yokozawa any further, and he snapped his phone shut. “Well, whatever. But if you’re worried about something—don’t sit there and hold it in yourself.”
“Y—yeah.” He barely held himself back from snapping you’re the reason I’m worked up like this anyways and instead took another sip of his coffee to divert attention.
There was no way he could discuss this with the guy himself, and he held back a deep sigh—when there came a clinking sound of metal hitting the floor followed by Kirishima’s soft cursing.
“Shit…guess this is about it huh…”
“The mounting bracket on my keycase is shot to pieces. Figures, though—I’ve had it for ages.” He bent to the floor and picked up his leather keycase—and the small piece of broken metal, onto which was attached his keys. It seemed he’d dropped it when he’d gone to pull something out of his pocket.
“You attached to it or something?”
“I bought it with my first bonus, a year after joining the company. It was really easy to use, to I tried to take good care of it—but now it’s all beat up, so I figure it’s time to change.”
Explaining thus, he made an effort to rejoin the small piece of metal to the leather case, obviously still intending to continue using it.
“Should you take off the keys, maybe? What’ll you do if they fall off somewhere?”
“It should hold a little longer if I can just close this joint here. Not like I’ve got a ton of time to go shopping or anything, after all.”
“Yeah, I guess not.” He probably wouldn’t have any free time until the cycle ended. No matter how quickly he managed to finish, it would always be too late for stores to still be open.
“Oh—no, it’s nothing. Just—remembered some work I had to do,” he mumbled as an excuse, and quickly made to leave the break room. Once safely out of Kirishima’s sight, he stepped up his pace: he had it. The conversation just now had sealed it. He was getting the guy a key case for his birthday. If he could just find one about the same size and make as the one Kirishima was using right now, there shouldn’t be any problem.
Thankfully, salespeople’s work often took them outside the building, and he decided to use his lunch break to do a bit of shopping.
Having finished replying to all his messages, Yokozawa powered down his computer and began to organize his desk, making his preparations to leave for the day. He moved to slide his work folder into his briefcase—but his hand stilled just before doing so. If he shoved the thing in like usual, the gift wrapped item snugly inside would be crushed. Gently removing the present and placing it on his desk, he slipped the folder inside.
The present he’d somehow managed to prepare against all odds was for Kirishima. He’d ducked into a department store between rounds to the bookstores and finally spotted the brand Kirishima favored. He’d picked out a case that matched Kirishima’s current one in shape and color. While it’d been a bit pricey for Yokozawa’s tastes, when he considered that it was meant to be used a long time, he supposed the price wasn’t so entirely unreasonable. Now all that was left was to hope that Kirishima liked it…
“Yokozawa-san, Kirishima-san’s on the line for you.”
“Ah—right.” He’d wavered at the eerie timing, but quickly schooled his features so as not to give himself away. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the receiver and pressed the button for his extension. “Yes, this is Yokozawa.”
“Ah, Yokozawa? Sorry—it looks like it’s gonna be a late one tonight. Head on home for me? I already let Hiyo know.”
While it wasn’t unexpected, it seemed this submission was going to be a photo-finish as well. “Again, seriously? Can’t you ever manage to give yourself some leeway with this kind of thing?”
“If I could, I wouldn’t be editor-in-chief for long—oh, yeah, I’ll look at that in a minute. Leave it here.—Anyways, do this for me?”
It was obvious from his conversation that he hadn’t stopped working even long enough for a simple phone call. He probably looked like utter shit on the other end of the line. “Yeah yeah, take it easy over there.”
“Right—I’ll see you later.”
In some ways, it was a blessing they wouldn’t be able to leave together; he’d actually been planning a little party together with Hiyori, and his job had been to somehow purchase a cake without Kirishima noticing. Plus for dinner—there was Hiyori’s special curry.
“So this is what you two have been sneaking around doing for the past few days…” Despite the late hour at which he’d returned home, Kirishima’s lips quirked up in amusement at the more splendid than usual dinner table and Hiyori’s decorations.
“Hehe! It was rough trying to keep it a secret from you!”
“Thanks, Hiyo—I love it!”
“You’re very welcome~” While she typically grew embarrassed at having her hair ruffled like a child, today the action only seemed to evoke joy in her face. She must’ve been pleased as punch that her and Yokozawa’s plan had gone off so well. “And Oniichan bought the cake!”
“I see—well then thank you also, Yokozawa.”
“It’s your birthday after all—what’s that without a cake? Oh…also, here.”
He’d thought about giving it after Hiyori had gone to bed, but on realizing that’d just make the whole thing even harder to go through with, he steeled himself and thrust the present towards Kirishima.
“Just take it already!”
“You…got me a present?” His surprise at the box in Yokozawa’s palm was evident in his eyes.
“What else does it look like?!”
“No, it’s just—I…never would’ve thought you’d get me anything, so I was surprised… Can I open it?”
Yokozawa glanced away, embarrassed and unable to meet Kirishima’s overjoyed expression. “Do whatever you want. …Just, you said the one you were using was broken, so…”
“Yesterday, I…kind of bought the same thing,” Kirishima mumbled bitterly, pulling from his own pocket a brand new key case. It was a different color, but the shape was exactly the same as the one Yokozawa had bought.
Yokozawa quickly recovered from being shocked speechless, launching into a veritable tirade without thinking. “What the hell—you said you didn’t have any time to go shopping!”
“I had to go pick up a manuscript from an author yesterday, and when I stopped to get some refreshments, I had a look around. They had one I really liked, so I snatched it right up…” He was scratching his head, looking rather put out himself.
If this was how it was going to end—Yokozawa would’ve been better off just asking the guy what he wanted in the beginning, he figured. This whole mess was the result of him trying to surprise Kirishima in the first place. ‘Why am I always so damned unlucky…?’
The timing was admittedly bad, to be sure, but it couldn’t really be helped that they’d doubled up on presents. Given that it was unused, he could probably return it or exchange it at least. Just as he was considering suggesting they go back to the store together so Kirishima could pick out something himself, Kirishima’s face lit up.
“Hey! How about you use the one I bought, then, and I’ll use the one you bought me?”
“It’ll be like a gift exchange. That way there’s no problem, right?” With this, he unlatched his line of keys from the case and passed it towards Yokozawa.
“Exchange…but why the hell should I get a gift?”
“Think of it as a thank you for taking care of us all the time—here, gimme your keys.” Without waiting for his response, Kirishima snatched up Yokozawa’s bag and rifled around inside, glancing at the contents.
“Hey—! Don’t just go through my stuff without asking!” He moved to take back the bag, but Kirishima found what he was looking for before then.
“Here we are—” He removed Yokozawa’s keys from their holder and attached them to the fixtures in the key case one by one. “Oh—right. And while we’re at it, gimme a spare key to your place, too.”
“And why exactly should I give you a key?”
“Cause it’s useful if something should ever happen.”
He wanted to ask just what the hell this hypothetical something was, but he didn’t want to get into an argument in front of Hiyori. But as he swallowed his protests, Hiyori came from behind with a fatal strike:
“Man, that’s nice… Now you match!”
Maybe it was fine for girls to do it, but for two men to share a matching item was just pathetic. While they’d simply bought the same item in different colors by pure chance, touting this as the truth would be difficult indeed.
“What the hell’re we gonna do if anyone at work notices…?”
“Just tell them we’re ~madly in love~“
“Madly in—who the hell is gonna say something like that?!” Yokozawa’s voice broke at the unexpected, embarrassing suggestion thrown his way. Sure, Kirishima could probably pass it off as a joke saying that sort of thing, but if Yokozawa so much as breathed a hint of something like that, people would probably just look at him like he was feverish.
“Come on, don’t blush.”
“I’m not!” But Kirishima and Hiyori just shared a loud laugh at his beet-red face.