Friday thank god, a whole weekend laid before him where he could stay in his safe happy home. He already had the queue of shows he was going to watch, and he was finally going to get the chance to sink his teeth into the new Dragon Quest game. He just had to make it through the day.
As he was putting the finishing touches on the NHK report, his chief boss Sora Ito came by. Sora was a sunken faced grim man who was all business, which was fine with Kenji. All business didn’t leave room for any malice. It was Sora who with a sigh had authorized his honeymoon, and who hadn’t asked too many questions when he took a whole week out sick. Maybe he appreciated the work Kenji did, or maybe he simply didn’t want the hassle of retraining someone to take his job. In any case, Sora was one of the few people at work whose presence didn’t feel like a dark cloud descending upon Kenji.
Kenji was actually, and he took some small pride in this, a rather competent employee. He would immerse himself in work to make the time go by faster, with no time spent gossiping, no family emergencies, and only the occasional manga break, he was among the most productive people at work – a fact that would be better known had Kenji been better at retaining the credit for his work. But he always suspected Sora was aware of this, it was his company after all.
Kenji was all too happy to live in a world predicated almost solely on money changing hands. It was what allowed him to stay in his cozy little world; it was what allowed him to spend his days consuming the labor of thousands of creators, and it was what allowed a callow man such as Kenji a place in the world. So long as he was productive, others who could profit off him would have it in their own incentive to put up with his peculiarities, to treat him with some modicum of respect, if not for his sake, then for their own. Kenji just wished more of the world operated like that. “Real” human relationships are fraught baskets of things you might want, warmth, support, companionship combined with lies, hypocrisy, and the annoying habits of the other person. Why doesn’t it make sense to just get rid of it all? If you need warmth pay someone to cuddle you. If you need company pay someone to be your friend for the day. Before he got married he used these sorts of services quite often, feeling no shame for it, after all human relationships are always about getting something from the other person, just with a veil over it, the same kind of veil that allows cruelty to hide behind a mask of friendliness. Those “normal” salary men might look down on him for it, but why do they go out with such nice suits, why do they drop enough money to feed a starving village in Africa to buy a super fast car only to be stuck in Tokyo traffic with? Everyone knows the cynical truth of the world but most are comfortable just living within the masquerade. All he was doing was living a truly honest life, free of deceptions, knowing what he was getting, knowing what he was paying for it with no chance of betrayal.
As materialistic minded as Kenji was, he was however not in the slightest bit ambitious, figuring that anything he wanted was pretty cheap. All the expensive stuff is just to show off with, but why show off to others when you can just buy anything you would need in a relationship? Even with his still fairly entry level position he had managed to easily save up enough for a proper wedding, a proper honeymoon, and of course the holographic projection of his wife. Still he had been thinking, it can’t be too long until they have upgraded robotics, after all there are many men coming to the same realization about the world. Such a source of profit would surely provide ample incentive, not to mention the desires of the roboticists themselves. It is important for him to try to earn more so he can provide a proper body for his wife when the time comes. Just like a husband providing for his family.
Sora cleared his throat, jolting Kenji out of his brain. Kenji was about to explain frantically that the NHK report was almost done, and would be done on time with a properly formatted cover page. It turns out though that this mental rehearsal was unneeded – not only did Sora never once pay attention to cover pages, let alone their formatting, he had a different business altogether in mind.
“We have a new employee coming in, a Miss Midori Kano. I would like you to be the one to show her around and train her, I trust that won’t be a problem?”
“No Ito-san of course not” Kenji sheepishly responded, his tone not belying his accelerating heart rate.
“Good. I’ll have her come by after she finishes intake.”
Panic flowed through Kenji. Not only did he have to train someone, it just had to be a girl. This is supposed to be his chance to show he is worthy of being promoted, but training a girl? Oh god, and everyone would tell her what a loser he is as soon as they could, even if she couldn’t tell it with one glance. How can he possibly teach someone when they won’t respect him? Maybe, just maybe, they will be cold like Sora. Maybe they will know what he is but they won’t care because they will know that he, Kenji, is a source of knowledge and therefore an important tool for their future productivity and therefore earnings! Ha! Yes, it will all be fine! But maybe to de-stress, he should make a quick run to the bathroom, listen to a few of his wife’s songs, read the latest Jojo he was saving for lunch, and then come back fresh faced and confident. Okay Kenji we can do this!
As he got up, however, he was almost instantaneously greeted by a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that, when separated would certainly be considered professional, but were somehow combined in such a fashion as to suggest a complete lack of professionalism, like a little girl who had raided her parents’ closet. Her face was round with rosy cheeks that reminded him of an apple, a very earnest, goodhearted, apple. Her hair stuck up in a few odd places in a way that would seem to defy gravity, and Kenji could not help but notice what smelled like freshly cut flowers, not roses or any of those pretentious flowers found in florists’ boutiques, but the wildflowers he remembered from the meadows of his youth.
“Saito-San hello, I am Midori Kano, pleased to make your acquaintance, I look forward to your guidance” Her unruly hair bobbing as she enthusiastically bowed.
“Relax, you don’t need to be so formal” Kenji waved dismissively. He was so unused to people showing him un-ironic respect that it caught him totally off guard. Was she being serious?
“That is an interesting accent I take it you are not from Kanto?” He said with one of the four or so bits of small talk he had developed to deal with meeting new people.
“Oh sorry Saito-san I didn’t think it was so obvious” She said with another hair bobbing bow “I am originally from a small village in Akita Prefecture, but pretty much everyone moved away from there so after my grandmother passed on, I thought…” She quickly began to spring her life story on him.
Kenji’s eyes flashed with the realization that she was about to drag him into a conversation he was neither equipped for nor interested in “Ehh anyway about your duties, how much experience do you have in insurance claims management?” interrupting her before she totally unspring herself.
“Yes sorry (her hair bobbing) I am very grateful for this opportunity, I promise I won’t let you down, but, umm, this is kinda my first real job, but I am a fast learner, you will see!”
Oh great, Kenji thought to himself, a country bumpkin with no work experience, she is so clueless she is even talking to me like I am her boss or something. Well give it a few days and just like with Ashi or anyone else she will be laughing behind my back, probably sharing stories about what a loser I am. Humans are all too predictable.
“Well let me run through the NHK report with you while I finish it up, pay attention, and make sure you properly format the cover page. Ito-san is a real stickler.”
She had produced a notepad and pen from somewhere in her mismatched garments and started taking notes furiously with an enthusiasm he would have been sure was actually mockery if not for the fact that her little apple face was furrowed in intense concentration.
A few hours passed and it was time for lunch, finally he would get to know how the new enemy Stands power worked. Walking to the cafeteria, he noticed she was still following him.
He spun around, “What are you doing?”
“Going to have lunch with you of course! Unless your table doesn’t have any room I guess, does it have room?” The clouds of uncertainty temporarily obscuring her optimistic sunniness as she sheepishly pouted.
“I eat alone so…”
“Great! So plenty of room!” She once again beamed.
“I prefer to eat alone.”
“Aww, I promise I won’t bug you Saito-San, I will just sit and observe” She said taking out her pen and pad.”
“But I will just…”
“You can trust me!”
Kenji’s protests were no match for her weapons-grade oblivious enthusiasm.
He sat where he always did, grabbed the lunch he always did, fired up his manga app like he always did, and started reading Jojo but then felt something was a little different. Maybe it was the apple faced girl inexplicably taking notes as he lived his mundane existence, it just made him feel too awkward. So even though true to her word, she had said not one peep to him, with an air of resignation he put his phone down and looked at her.
She looked back at him without saying a word, intent on keeping to her promise, not realizing that her very existence at the table violated said promise. The path of minimum awkwardness was clear, he would have to start the conversation, but what about? He could ask about her hometown, but then she will start talking about her grandmother and he had a -4 in the comforting others skill. He could ask her if she likes manga or anime or any of the topics he has successfully bonded with his few friends over, but then he would be outing him as an Otaku already. Talking about the weather was beneath him, but maybe this was a “in case of emergency break glass and unleash small talk clichés” situation. His brain whirled with all the possibilities, each time kicking itself for having such a dumb idea.
Then his ruminations were interrupted by a burst of laughter coming from his once silent lunch companion.
“What why are you laughing?” Was she laughing at him?
“Saito-San you are just such a serious, sweet person.”
“What do you mean?” He said with an air of injured dignity.
“Well you put down your phone, and then just kinda stared into the distance for about five or so minutes, were you trying to think about what to say? You are so considerate”
“No, of course not, I was merely concerning myself with important work matters that require a lot of concentration, I almost had the answer to until you started laughing like that.” He lied his face flushing as red as an apple, no not an apple as red as a… tomato! Very different kinds of red, Kenji would assure you.
“Anyway I just got an important email and need to get back to work” he further lied to the apple faced girl in front of him.
“But you barely touched your lunch…” She said with a pout
“Duty calls.” He tried to say it in a way he thought would sound stoic and cool, as he swiftly got up and rushed out.
Phew he sighed in relief, she had orientation for the rest of the day so he was in the clear. Just a few more forms to fill and then he would be back in his nice apartment, with his katsudon and rice, playing dragon quest, finally getting to read the new Jojo, and most importantly, in the company of his wonderfully talented non-apple faced wife. Her face was decidedly the most perfect face conceivable, cute with huge round eyes but at the same time elegant and angular. Her skin fair and pure as freshly fallen snow. Truly she was the kind of perfect that was beyond what was attainable in the crude 3D world, and once again, to repeat, her face that in no way had any resemblance to an apple.