Chapter 3: Gal
It was unusual for Sayu to send me a message during work hours. I took a peek to see what was up and couldn’t help but frown at the message’s contents.
‘So, one thing led to the next and now my senior at work is coming over to the house.’
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t refuse.’
‘Also, my senior will probably stay here until you get home.’
‘Ah, also, she’s a girl.’
I let out a sigh.
It’s fine for her to bring someone home; good friends she had made would be more than welcome. The problem was how to explain my relationship with Sayu.
As I was racking my brains about this, a new message came in.
‘I’ve explained to her that you’re an older guy that I’m not related to, but have known since I was a kid’.
“An older guy, she says.”
I murmured with a wry smile.
She’d always call me uncle this uncle that, but it’s times like these where she really knows how to lie her way out. If she’d made me her ‘brother’ then there would be a pile of other things to explain, such as why our surnames were different. I was thankful that she had chosen the setting of being a childhood acquaintance. It would be easier to sync up our statements.
Regardless, there had to be a reason why she couldn’t refuse. Plus, it’s not like I had anything I needed to hide at home.
I replied in brief and put my phone back on my desk. Then, raising my head to face to my PC like I should’ve been, I found my subordinate Mishima Yuzuha standing right beside me. My shoulders leaped in response to her suddenly entering my field of vision.
“Woah, you scared me! If you’re right here why don’t you say something.”
“Yoshida-senpai, your field of vision is kind of narrow.”
Mishima said with a strained laugh. My desk neighbor Hashimoto audibly snorted.
“You got a message? From who?”
“That’s none of your business. So, what do you need me for?”
She showed a flash of dissatisfaction at my response before lightly sighing and pointing to my computer screen.
“I uploaded the data you wanted to the server. Check it when you’re free.”
“Oh, you’re pretty quick today. Alright, I’ll take a look.”
“Thanks a bunch~”
I nodded in acknowledgement and looked at Mishima. I tilted my head to urge her to continue, but Mishima just looked at me blankly and tilted her head in return.
“Eh, is that all you had to report?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
I let out a low groan.
“If that’s all you have then just do it through email. Getting up from your seat every time is kind of a waste of effort isn’t it?”
“Huh, really? I could walk here in 10 seconds so isn’t sending a mail kind of counterintuitive?”
“Using the mail lets me keep a paper trail in case anything weird arises.”
Hearing me say that, Mishima scrunched her eyebrows.
“What’s that supposed to mean? It’s like you’re implying that something is bound to go wrong.”
“For you at least, it’s more of a surprise if something doesn’t go wrong.”
“Plus, problems can happen when you expect it the least. If you left a mail saying ‘I uploaded the data to the server’, then the fact that you uploaded it stays. If the data disappears, it won’t be your fault.”
Mishima’s eyes and mouth opened wider as I continued, then she let out a “Oh~”.
“Are you saying all this for me?”
“Not really, I won’t say this to just you in particular. Plus all I’m saying is to defend yourself from taking the blame for a mistake that wasn’t yours.”
“You know I really like you Yoshida-senpai. I like how you would go through the effort to teach me that.”
Mishima’s sudden declaration made my silently working neighbor spontaneously gush.
“I like you, she says, Yoshida.”
“Shush, if I could I’d make her someone else’s responsibility.”
“That’s so mean! Just so you know Yoshida-senpai, I won’t want to work under anyone else!”
“It’s not like you’d be ‘working’ under anyone else though.”
While Mishima showed a mischievous smile in response, Hashimoto said in a hushed voice.
“I’d say that she’s been working a lot more compared to before though.”
Well, he had a point. Her work has been more precise as of late. That said, Mishima’s sluggish efforts still made me feel rather uneasy.
Utterly ignorant of how I felt, Mishima stuck out her chest with a triumphant smile.
“I’m the kind of girl that can do it if I put my mind to it.”
“Yeah, sure… Then hurry up and get back to your seat. Also, shoot me a mail when you get back.”
After giving an unnaturally sharp bow, Mishima paced back to her seat. I watched her until I confirmed that she was seated, then let out a sigh and looked back towards my computer.
“Man Yoshida, don’t you think you’re helicoptering a bit too much?”
Hashimoto suddenly stated. I turned my gaze towards him. He continued to speak without looking away from his screen.
“I hate to say it, but I think she’d learn better from experience.”
“Well, I can’t say I disagree.”
“If you really think so why don’t you just let her be?”
Hashimoto stopped typing and cast me a sidelong glance.
“To me, it looks like you’re trying to straighten her up before that happens.”
“It’s not like that, really.”
“I can’t read your mind, but that’s just how it looks to me.”
Hashimoto looked as though he had nothing more to say as she turned his gaze back towards his screen and started typing once again.
“What’s wrong with teaching someone what I can…”
I said with a hushed voice before returning to my work.
Hashimoto probably heard me, but he didn’t say anything.
“Woah, he’s old-old!!”
Declared the blonde haired gal as she pointed a finger at me. What an ill-mannered girl.
Immediately put at a loss for words, I glanced at the shrugging Sayu. She bowed her head repeatedly outside the gal’s field of vision.
“Well, honestly speaking he might be pretty handsome but… his aura… his aura is totally that of an old guy. He has a good face, so it’s honestly kinda regrettable if you ask me. Oh right, name’s Asami. Feel free to call me that alrighty?”
She suddenly reached her hand out for a shake. I gave a light bow and took the gal’s hand. As I did so, the gal, rather, Asami, looked at my hand with widened eyes.
“Holy moley! Yoshida-san, your hands are hu-uge!”
“This is insane. Look at this Sayu-chaso, ditto?”
Asami gleefully aligned her hand with mine and turned towards Sayu to rapid-fire “Wow!” in her direction.
Sayu showed an indescribable smile before as she followed up.
She carried a look of resignation. It didn’t seem like she bought into the hype at all.
Not paying any mind to Sayu’s lukewarm reaction, she messed with my hand a little longer. Then, as if a lightbulb had been lit in her mind, she began staring directly into my face.
“W-, What do you…”
“Okay! He seems like a good person! I’m alright with it.”
I had no idea where this train of thought had departed from, but it seemed as though I was given permission for something.
Asami nodded a few times and paced back towards the living room.
“Well, I got a bit worried when Sayu-chaso said that she was living with a guy she wasn’t related to you know? Plus, you’re not her boyfriend or anything right? I was like eh, the heck? Like, living with a guy who isn’t your family nor your boyfriend is kinda sus isn’t it?”
“Is it sus?”
The word ‘sus’ was completely unknown to an old guy like me. It was hard for me to understand the context and nuance of the girls’ conversation.
On the other hand, Sayu showed a peculiar smile, seemingly out of a mix of enjoyment and unease, as she listened closely to Asami.
“Either way, at least based off appearances, I’m glad that he seems like a totally harmless old man. Oh, should I be saying dude instead?”
After speaking without pause, she paused as though remembering something. Then she patted my bed with a hand and said.
“Anyway, why don’t you have a seat, Yoshida-san.”
This is my home, idiot.
It seemed like Sayu’s senior at work was someone who never ceased to amaze, for better or worse.
“Da-amn! This is delicious! You get to eat this everyday? I’m so-o jealous, seriously!”
She made remark after remark like a machine gun.
Ever since I returned home, Asami idled on the floor of the living room as though it were her own. While Sayu was making dinner, she kept prying for details regarding Sayu and I.
To be honest, I wasn’t a good liar. Continuing a conversation whilst making sure that all the facts aligned with the setting that I had once lived in the same neighborhood as Sayu when we were younger was mentally exhausting; as if keeping up with Asami’s excitable personality wasn’t already enough.
Sayu had tactfully made enough food for three and we were now sitting around the table dining. To be honest, having three people in the room made the atmosphere feel somewhat heavy. The place was designed for one occupant, so while there was plenty of space for one, the place would quickly feel cramped with each additional person.
Possibly understanding how I was feeling, Asami said in a laid-back manner.
“By the way, Yoshida-cchi, this place is like, super-cramped isn’t it?”
“Well, it would be a different story if you would go home.”
“Sorry, but I’m eating right now.”
“Go home once you’re done then.”
After a brief cackle, Asami devoured a piece of the stir-fried vegetables that Sayu had made. She didn’t hide her delight as she chewed.
“To be real though, I kind of like super-cramped places like these.”
“Is it necessary to keep calling the place super-cramped?”
“I mean, my place is super-duper huge! I’m sure that you’d be shocked if you see it.”
“Now you’re just bragging…”
I gobbled some rice with a wry smile. At the same time, a shadow seemed to be cast over Asami’s expression.
“It’s not anything to brag about, really.”
Her lips may have been smiling, but her eyes carried a shade of gloom. Shoot. I must’ve stepped on some sort of mental landmine. I didn’t have the courage to face possibly sensitive subjects head on with someone I’ve only just met.
“Is your house nearby?”
I successfully changed the topic.
Asami’s expression changed at the drop of a hat as she nodded her head.
“That’s right! My house is just a 10 minute walk from here. Crazy isn’t it?”
“Is it? I’d say otherwise, really”
Sayu, who had been quietly listening to the conversation until now, suddenly broke out into laughter. I turned to look at her to see what was up, only to find shaking her shoulders with stifled laughter. Asami and I glanced at one another in response.
“You’ve only just met but you two act like you’ve known each other for a long time.”
“Well, you could say that Yoshida-cchi and I are something like soulmates already.”
Woah there, are you sure you know what soulmate means? I’m pretty sure you have the wrong idea.
I could only smile at Asami’s outlandish declaration as Sayu laughed. Sayu had also been rather nervous when dealing with Asami, but the tension seemed to gradually loosen.
“By the way, about today’s miso soup-“
As Sayu began to speak, her phone on the desk suddenly began to buzz, the loud buzzing reverberated throughout the room, causing everyone to jump.
“Shit that heckin’ shocked me.”
Asami had been heckin’ shocked.
Sayu seemed to grow a little tense once she saw who the caller was.
“It’s the manager, I wonder what it’s about.”
“Ah, if it’s the manager then it’s probably about shifts.”
“Sorry, I’ll go talk outside.”
Sayu hurriedly paced to the entryway, put on her shoes, and went out the door. It’s probably not a conversation that needed to be held in private. It would have been fine to talk on the phone inside, but she was needlessly considerate about these sorts of things.
And so, it was just now Asami and I.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it was just the two of us conversing while Sayu was making dinner, but there was a difference between ‘in effect’ and ‘in reality’. Now that I think about it, Asami’s the same age as Sayu, 17 years old.
I had this thought when Sayu had just come, but being alone with a high schooler I’ve only just met was a societally dangerous situation. Before I realized it, my back was trickling with unpleasant sweat.
“Phone calls with the manager always drag on forever, so it’ll probably take a while.”
She said as she placed a ball of rice into her mouth.
“Wasn’t it just about work?”
Asami stretched her palm towards me while continuing to chew. It was probably a gesture to wait because she was eating. Seeing this, Mishima’s face flashed through my mind. See, even high school girls don’t talk when they’re eating.
Only after swallowing with a loud gulp did she speak.
“The manager is the kind of person who starts feeling lonely pretty easily. While work is obviously the main topic, sometimes it just goes off on a tangent to other small talk which then drags on forever. I’ve brought this up a bunch of times, but nothing ever changes which makes me feel really fed up.”
Fed up. There was something off about how she said that. It’s not like it was used differently, but rather, it was more like there was an odd sense of detachment in the way it had been said.
“But despite saying that, you probably accompany the manager every time don’t you? Do you really need to be so nice?”
“I mean, well, isn’t it kind of pitiful? I don’t want to end up anything like that lonely adult.”
Well, that was rather harsh.
A lonely adult; I probably belong in that category as well.
“Hey that aside-“
Asami eyes narrowed in a roguish manner.
“Just what is your relationship with Sayu-chaso.”
I tilted my head at that question. Didn’t we already talk about this when Sayu was making dinner?
“Didn’t I already tell you, we used to live close to…”
“Oh-, enough with that already.”
She interrupted me while waving her hand.
“Let me tell it to you straight Yoshida-cchi, you are legit so bad at lying it’s laughable. It’s obvious that those were all lies.”
“…It’s obvious, huh”
Even when I spoke awkwardly, she kept going ‘Ohh!?”, “Damn!” and other similar overdone reactions, so I sincerely thought that she had believed me.
“When you were talking about Sayu-chaso past your gaze was swimming all over the place. It was going splish splosh like mad; like do you eyes want to go join the Olympics or something?”
After her rattling, she began to chuckle.
Olympics huh, I couldn’t help but snicker at that metaphor. The unique way in which she chose her words was interesting to say the least. Though these thoughts served to calm my mind, it was also equally flustering.
The cat was out of the bag. How was I supposed to explain this? How could I deceive her in this situation? Coming clean was also an option, but it won’t be right to do so without Sayu’s consent.
“Look, there you go swimming again.”
Then, she followed with a complacent smile.
“Come on, you can just tell it to me straight.”
I broke into an uncontrollable cold sweat.
It’s not like we’d be able to hide it from her forever.
“…Sayu-, and I…”
I gulped to hide my nerves.
Sayu’s smile flashed through my mind. It was a loose and limp smile. What kind of face would she make if I revealed everything to Asami?
Suddenly, my panic disappeared and my mind cooled down.
“…What Sayu said is the ‘truth’.”
Asami raised an eyebrow.
“What do you mean by truth?”
She caught scent on to the ambiguity of the word.
Evidently, she wasn’t asking for the meaning of the word itself, but rather what I meant.
I scratched my head that wasn’t itchy in the slightest and continued.
“Politicians say it from time to time don’t they?”
“That ‘I have no memory of it’.“
Asami lightly chuckled hearing that.
“What’s that got to do with what we’re talking about?”
“Just let me finish. Do you really think those politicians really don’t remember?”
She briefly pondered on it and then shook her head.
“‘Course not, it’s crazy for a politician of all people to not remember what they said.”
“Right? But if that’s what they say, then we really have no choice but to accept it.”
Having digested all that, Asami lightly nodded in understanding.
“Mhm. So you mean that we should leave it at that.”
I didn’t reply, but silence was no different from affirmation.
The one who lied to Asami was Sayu. For me to disclose the truth without regard to Sayu’s will would be a mistake. Rather, I would be wronging her.
“How is that any different from admitting that it’s all a lie?”
Asami’s sharp gaze, directed straight to my eyes, felt as though it were piercing through me. It felt like she was testing me, but what I was going to say wasn’t going to change regardless.
“I’m not clever enough to cover up an exposed lie with another lie. Plus-”
Before continuing, I took a deep breath. As I breathed in, I could feel what I needed to say next gather in my chest.
I feel like I could go for a smoke right about now.
“Arbitrarily telling you her secrets just doesn’t sit right with me.”
Stating so, I cleaned my bowl of rice. Curious as to why Asami hadn’t replied, I shot a glance at her only to find her starting right back at me with surprise.
It was only when I made a confused expression did she come to her senses. Her paused breathing resumed as she placed a hand over her mouth. Then weakly showed a broad smile.
“Wow, you really are a decent guy. That was a serious shocker.”
“Huh, where did that come from?”
Asami lightly nodded and lowered her gaze towards the table.
“Normally, people wouldn’t think about whether it’s ‘right or not’ but rather ‘want or not’, that’s just how we are.”
“I also think in terms of whether or not I want to do something though.”
Asami raised her gaze and started fixedly at me, as if to ask what I meant by that. I felt that her eyes were strangely good at expressing intent.
Lightly exhaling, I continued.
The reason was simple.
“I don’t want to do what isn’t right. That’s all there is to it.”
Her eyes grew wide at my response.
Immediately after, she burst into laughter.
“Hey, what is it now? Did I say something funny?”
“A-ha-, no that’s not it…”
Her trembling shoulders seemed to suggest otherwise though. She raised her head to face me, while hiding her lips with her hand.
“I thought it was real amusing that your eyes didn’t swim at all there.”
“There are a lot of people who would put up a front and say stuff like that, but I’d say that the eyes of a majority of them look towards somewhere else while they say that, like they’re borrowing the words from someone else, if you know what I mean. That just now though, I would say was really crazy.”
After that, Asami stopped laughing.
“It kind of came as a surprise once I figured out you really meant it.”
You didn’t say that she was shocked.
With a wry smile, I repeated her words like a parrot.
“It came as a surprise?”
“Yeah, that was it was a real shockin’ shocker alright.”
Asami quivered in the realization and quickly corrected herself. She then continued, as to not give me a moment to retort.
“You’re a shockingly decent guy, Yoshida-cchi.”
“Yes really. Sayu-chaso should be counting her lucky stars.”
Then, Asami again cast her gaze down towards the table. The energy in her eyes seemed to subside as she did so, causing me to reflexively look away.
“You can choose who you get involved with, but you cannot choose who you encounter.”
Asami said with a soft voice.
‘What happened to your gal-speak?’ I wanted to retort, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate in this situation.
“That’s why I think one should consider themselves lucky if they encounter the kind of good people that one would naturally want to get deeply involved with.”
Though I had my doubts, I never did ask why she had been open enough to bring this senior of hers all the way here. The distant look that Asami showed on occasion was somewhat similar to Sayu’s own.
I scratched the back of my head and said offhandedly.
“Everyone will have such an encounter one day. If it hasn’t happened yet, it means it has yet to come.”
“What are you on about, it’s not like I’m asking for it to happen. Hilarious.”
She had returned to using gal-speak.
“Hey, don’t you ever get tired of speaking like that?”
“Huh, what do you mean by that? This is just how I normally speak.”
“You speak normally on occasion though. Does that mean you purposely spoke normally on those occasions?”
Asami clearly made a ‘oh shoot’ face. Seeing that, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“The heck are you laughing for? Gosh you’re such a pain in the neck.”
“You know, they say that the eyes are as eloquent as the tongue, but I was thinking that that goes doubly for you.”
“Huh, the heck’s that?”
Seeing Asami’s gaze fly about pushed me further to the brink. I pointed a finger at her and stated.
“You going swimming?”
Her face quickly grew red. Then, in the next moment, she slapped my shoulder without mercy.
“Go-sh! You’re such an ass!”
As Asami violently hit my shoulder, the front door opened.
“Sorry about that, the manager dragged on… Er-, what happened?”
Sayu looked at us quizzically.
Asami instantly changed her facial expression, stood up, and went to Sayu.
“Get a load of this Sayu-chaso~, Yoshida-cchi was totally bullying me! Seriously, the old man’s just the worst!”
Taking a glance at Asami and I, Sayu showed a strained smile.
“Well, it looks like you’re getting along.”
“Does it look like we’re getting along?”
“Uhuh.” she said as she walked back towards her seat.
Then, she turned to look at me.
“Cause neither of you seem tense anymore.”
I silently shrugged my shoulders.
I was once again reminded that Sayu is incredible sensitivity towards others’ moods and emotions. I couldn’t help but think that it would be impossible to lie to her, though I had no intention of ever doing so.
Taking a peek at my watch, I found that it was already 10pm.
If Asami didn’t head home soon, there might be trouble. 
“Hurry up and finish your food then head home. I’ll escort you.”
“Naw it’s fine, it’s only 10 minutes away from here anyway.”
“That’s not what I meant idiot. You could be taken in for protective custody if you’re out alone at this hour.” 
Hearing that, Asami giggled while waving her hand.
“The popo don’t patrol this area.”
Someone as ancient as me couldn’t quite follow.
Plus, if you’re seen walking with a JK at this hour won’t you be the one taken in for questioning? Lol.”
I shuddered at the thought of being taken in for questioning. However, I felt uneasy about letting a high schooler go home on their own at this hour.
“It’s not safe to be alone out at this hour regardless, so I’ll escort you.”
Asami snorted hearing my declaration.
“You could’ve just said so in the first place. I guess that was amusing though.”
What was she being so snarky for?
“Just let him, I wouldn’t want you to get caught up in some trouble going back from my place.”
Hearing Sayu that, Asami nodded repeatedly.
“Well, if even Sayu-chaso says so, I guess I’ve no choice but to accept.”
“You sure know how to talk…”
Though I said that with a forced smile, I didn’t find Asami’s way of speaking that distasteful. It felt like a casual conversation between guys, in a way.”
“Oh yeah, I just want to say beforehand that I won’t take responsibility if Yoshida-cchi gets taken in for questioning, so it’s all yours, alrighty?”
“Alright alright, just hurry up and eat.”
Though I didn’t think there was anything to laugh about, Asami let out a hearty laugh before taking a helping from a side dish.
Turning away from Asami to take a look at Sayu, our gazes met one another’s. She stared hard into my eyes.
“Yoshida-san, what with the smirk?”
“Like hell I’m smirking.”
I immediately replied. Sayu chuckled and picked up some rice with her chopsticks.
At first I had thought that she had brought along a rather rude gal, but now, surprisingly, I thought the two might be able to hit it off.
Finally, Sayu, who had been holed up in this enclosed space for the longest time, would go outside to make new friends. I thought that this was a wonderful moment.
In the future, she will accumulate new experiences. When the time comes where she’s able to take her past hardships in stride, that’s when she’ll be ready to confront her problems head on.
“Thanks for the food.”
I finished my dinner a step ahead of the others and walked out to the veranda. Oddly enough though, I felt an overwhelming urge to come out for a smoke. It wasn’t due to stress, but rather I just wanted to enjoy this serene moment to the fullest.
I would want to take a smoke in both moments of irritation and happiness, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I’ll be fine from here.”
Asami said after about 8 minutes of walking and lighthearted conversation.
“I’m alright with bringing you to the door.”
“Nah, it’s fine. I don’t really want you to see my house anyway.”
Asami’s response contained a clear ‘refusal’. Understanding that she hadn’t said that out of courtesy, I didn’t press the issue.
“Alright. It’s only 2 minutes from here, but don’t forget to be careful on your way back.”
“You’re so worried it’s amazing.”
Asami chuckled and waved a hand.
“See ya. Oh yeah, it’s a bit late to say this, but sorry about imposing on you today.”
“I don’t really mind, other than the house getting more cramped it didn’t really bother me at all.”
That was a lie. I had been more than worried when I was heading home from work.
“I think that your place is pretty great though, including the cramped parts.”
She said with a shrug. Although her attitude was playful, her somewhat hollow gaze seemed to show otherwise.
I don’t know what she saw in this ‘cramped home’ of mine, but from the feeling carried in her gaze, the source of her admirations didn’t seem to be anything particularly joyful.
“Well, if you ever feel like it, you can come by again.”
Asami eyes seemed to grow wide with surprise.
“Huh, is that okay?”
“I was hoping that you can keep Sayu company.”
“That’s amazing. What are you, her parent or something?”
“I’m her guardian.”
I said whilst nodding. Asami exhaled loudly.
“Her guardian huh? I’d say that it’s a good thing. Anyway, since you said so, I’ll come around again some time.”
Asami said with a smile. Then, she raised a hand with a “see ya”, turned around, and walked off.
I raised a hand with a nod and saw the briskly walking Asami off.
Then, all of a sudden, she turned right around and walked back to me.
“A word of advice for her guardian.”
She said while pointing at my face.
“Sayu-chaso is insanely good at using smiles, so you best be careful.”
Without waiting for my response, Asami turned around again and walked off.
I quietly watched her back. We parted just before a crossroad and I lost sight of her once she turned and left.
Sayu’s smiles flashed through my mind.
Her slackened smile.
Her wry smile.
Her sentiment-filled smile.
If those smiles were all borne from intention, then…
Asami words of ‘you best be careful’ replayed in my mind.
“Be careful, she says.”
What did she mean by that; in what way should I be careful?
After a long sigh, I started walking back towards home.
 In Japan, minors have a curfew from 11pm-4am, during which they can legally be taken in or questioned by the police for being outside.