The next morning he argued with himself over which red tie to wear to work, a casual observer might not be able to tell the difference between the two, but Kenji just really wanted to wear a red tie that day, and had suddenly noticed that while one was red, the other was a slightly darker red, he did not know why, but the decision between the two seemed somehow of great importance. Someone else came early Wednesdays so that he could take his time. He thought about asking Miku, but already knew exactly how she would respond.
The morning was quiet without Midori, her bobbing head, those inane questions, the scratching sound she made when she wrote in the notebook, that dumb determined look on her face. Peace, at last, he told himself. His hand rested on a container he had brought in. He had cooked, actually cooked the previous night. He just didn’t want to owe anyone anything is all. It was a simple recipe, he watched the YouTube tutorial on how to do it, the first attempt had been the misshapen object he had for dinner. But he had learned from the first time, if you squinted and turned your head just right, this one more or less resembled what it was supposed to, he was pretty proud of himself, he considered that maybe he should try cooking more in the future, he might have a talent in it.
He would hand it over to her and say “I was just making some food yesterday and thought I’d save you some to thank you for the bento.” He had practiced on the subway.
He did his work dutifully, counting down the time for lunch, looking around to see if Midori was out yet. Owing anyone a favor was a hassle, that was all it was, really.
His casio beeped. He grabbed the bag and coolly strolled to the cafeteria, Midori would be waiting to have lunch with him, or maybe she would be a little late? He worked through the various scenarios on his way to the cafeteria. Sitting down at his normal table he made sure to face the door. After a few minutes of torturous waiting, she came in, with a group, a group led by Ashi.
Midori gave him a polite wave, Ashi gave him her patented smile and they sat down a few tables away.
He looked at the bag, should he still try to give it to her? But then he would have to do it in front of them. Why was she eating lunch with them, what would they hear about him. His stomach began to lurch as he stole furtive glances at the table.
There was so much laughter, what were they talking about? Ashi gestured in his direction, it was him, it must be. She was laughing too, Midori was joining in laughing at him, she didn’t even have her notebook out. She must be telling them stories about me, oh god. I knew it, I knew it, they are making fun of me, and there she is laughing along just like everyone else she is just like everyone else. They always try to trick you, but there is nothing real nothing different about them. They are all the same.
He glanced over again, Ashi looked at him looked with her look, with that smile, she patted Midori on the back.
No, no, never, never, never, what was I thinking.
Kenji broke into a cold sweat his heart beating out of his chest, rushing out of the room he sent an email to his boss, he had come down with a stomach condition and had to return home immediately. He threw the bag in the trash; the container had a little bow holding it together, it took Kenji more than twenty times to get that bow right.
In the middle of the day, the train wasn’t nearly as crowded. Good, he thought he wouldn’t make a scene, his breathing was haggard his sweating prominent, if anyone saw him, they would have to assume he was ill. He didn’t need them, he didn’t need anyone.
He had to get home, to his wife, to comfort, to control.
“I love you,” Kenji Saito said to his bride, tears in his eyes.
He pressed the button almost hysterically “I love you.”
Miku did a little dance and blew him a kiss.