A knock at the door, and that could only mean one of two things, a delivery or Daisuke. This time it was a mix of both, Daisuke was standing there bag in hand presenting his host with only the finest of convenience store sushi and sake. The events of the previous day had made him forget Daisuke was coming over. Kenji wasn’t friendless because he had Daisuke, and Daisuke wasn’t friendless because he had Kenji.
As Daisuke came in, he said a respectful hello to Miku, to which she gave him a small curtsy. He had been the best man at their wedding. They queued up an the new episode of My Hero Academia, microwaved the sake, and then proceeded to stare at the screen wordlessly. The best kind of company Kenji reflected was company that didn’t make you adjust what you would otherwise be doing. The sake was too be honest, kinda shit, but who can really tell once it’s steaming hot? It did its job as he felt the warmth spread across his face.
They began to bicker like only two people bound by the same labyrinthine pop culture could. Eventually Daisuke pressed the button on the hologram “Settle it for us Miku, Re: Zero is the best Izakai right?”
“I am good at dancing!” She cheerfully exclaimed, breaking into a dance number.
“You know she can’t understand that kind of question.”
Daisuke quickly changed the topic. “Diablo?” He said, grabbing a controller “It’s a new season.”
“Sure” Kenji said, pouring a bag of wasabi peas into an opened treasure chest in the unmistakable style of One Piece. One would have trouble finding anything in Kenji’s apartment that was not a reference of one kind or another. What animation companies might lose out in his often illegal streaming, they more than made up with merch.
Grinding through hoards of demons that with just a few button presses were dutifully transformed into fogs of red mist, Kenji suddenly felt a funny urge.
“Probably going to get a promotion.”
“Actually the company really doesn’t have that much room for promotion usually” Kenji lied “But the head boss himself came in and is having me train this new girl.”
“She is from the countryside, and she is really annoying following me around all the time” Kenji said, feigning annoyance.
“Hmm, cool” Daisuke just picked up a glowing legendary and was currently devoting his mental resources towards comparing the stats to see if it was marginally better than the one he had equipped, or marginally worse. After much deliberation, it turned out to be marginally worse.
Humans are made to suffer. Enjoyable things flash by while drudgery seems to last forever. On Monday it always felt like climbing a mountain to have a thirty-minute picnic. He remembered the apple faced girl as he got ready in the morning, what a pain that would be he told himself while spending thirty percent more time selecting his clothes and adjusting his hair in the mirror than he normally did. His wife sweetly reminded him that he needed to be heading off to work, catching him a little off guard. With a hurried goodbye, he was off to the subway.
Normally Kenji was the first in the office, making the coffee, filling up the printers and fax machines with paper, he missed his usual train so he was a little later than usual, less early to be more precise. That just meant he had to hurry. He stopped, there in front of the office door was the apple faced girl. Of course, she didn’t have keys yet.
“How long have you been waiting?”
“Only a half hour or so, I can’t afford a place near here, and as my father always said, “if you are always early, you are never late!”
“Faultless logic, I’ll give him that”
He opened the door and proceeded with his morning tasks. She shadowed him, trying to be as helpful as possible. He gave in and had her refill the printers while he made the coffee. He managed to finish before the others would arrive.
Then he went to print a morning report and… paper jam, looking at the printer in question he found that the paper had not been properly loaded in its tray, none of the printers had been.
Mortified he called her over, explained the very complex task of lining up the paper where the paper was supposed to be lined up, highlighted with convenient little arrows and lines. Then went about running from printer to printer to right the wrong. When it comes to helpfulness, there were two components, willingness and ability, she clearly had an abundance of the former. Would she be a screw-up? Would her mistakes be seen as a reflection on him the trainer? He vowed to redouble his efforts. She would be a model employee.
For her part, the apple faced girl was very thankful for Kenji’s extra detailed instructions and supervision. She hadn’t much experience with technology but was certain that she was a fast learner!
She was far from being a fast learner. Why of all the perfectly normal trainees did he get the hopeless country girl? Still with enough effort she could be marginally more valuable to the company than an average trainee.
The next day it did not take him the extra thirty percent to get ready, he caught his train as intended and arrived, just to see her standing there again.
“Today I was only ten minutes before you!” She smiled, today she was holding a big bag.
“Good” Kenji said while unlocking the door. Today he would put her on coffee duty while he dealt with the complex process of putting paper precisely where the arrows pointed.
Finally relaxing he poured a cup of coffee. To his amazement it somehow both managed to be too weak, and full of coffee grounds, Kenji’s mind reeled at the comedy of errors that must have occurred in order to produce the cup in front of him.
“How is the coffee?”
“Unique.” He said with a wry smile.
“Really? We never make coffee at home, only tea”
You don’t say thought Kenji, “Umm let me show you how we make a standard pot of coffee, okay?”
“Thank you Saito-Senpai!”
His shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh “Can you knock it off with the senpai business, san is fine.”
She nodded writing it down. As he walked her through she took copious notes. It was a revelation for instance that you shouldn’t poke holes in the filter paper to make it easier for the water to pass through. What must the inside of that notebook look like? Kenji assumed she updated it every time she managed to cross the street without getting hit by a car.
That day Kenji was ready to have his tried and true lunch. His trainee instead dropped a heavy bag on the table. Slowly and carefully he removed the object from the plastic bag. It was a bento box. Not a convenience store bento either, but a homemade one, the kind girls prepare for guys in anime, the kind the back of his mind tingled through a fog, his mom would prepare for him.
“You have just been so helpful Saito-San! I just hope you like it!”
Kenji had nothing in his repertoire to prepare him for that; he sat awkwardly until he finally managed to utter
“Thank you, but no need to go through so much trouble.”
He opened it, the food was arranged colorfully forming a pattern between the rice, omelets, pickled vegetables, and fish. He took his first bite, Midori watched with anticipation. The rice was a little undercooked, the components needed more seasoning, he could critique it for a long time if he had wanted, but he didn’t. He smiled, an innocent nervous smile, he felt the warmth from the cold food fill him. He couldn’t even begin to remember the last time food made him feel this way. You can get a pretty perfect bento from a store, with enough salt and everything, he occasionally splurged on one, but this Bento in front of him, flawed as it might be, it was made for him. This is just like an anime he thought.
“So?” She asked, filled with anticipation clutching her notebook.
“Perfect” He said with a smile.
Sitting at his desk he was alone at last, his mind races, it was just a bento box, it wasn’t even that good. He was spinning his ring. No, she was just thanking me, that is how those country girls probably do it. 3d girls are traps filled with barbs. No I’m just overthinking it. I shouldn’t have eaten it. That would have been more awkward it really wasn’t a big deal.
“Oh umm yes?” He jumped up with a start.
“Saito-San! Tomorrow morning I am going to get some training with management!”
“I’m not your boss, but uh thanks for letting me know.”
She turned to leave
“Oh and umm”
She turned around so fast that her bangs slapped against her head in a way that was almost audible.
“Thanks for lunch, today, but umm, I’ll get my own, okay?”
She silently nodded turned and left.
Kenji sat twirling his wedding ring.