He thought she was uncommonly pretty for someone who looked blatantly out of place.
He watched while she looked around, her eyes widening as she took in the sophisticated crowd. It was obvious she was searching for someone and judging from the way she tried to blend in with the wallpaper, she had not expected a party.
The social gathering had been his idea. Fujiwara Design had opened a new branch in Tottori, which had become an instant success. It was actually starting to do almost as well as the branch in Tokyo and they had even been able to recruit more architects to the other branch all in the span of a few, short months. After a similar party at Tottori to celebrate the success, Nomiya had returned to Tokyo, along with Yamazaki and Miwako (Mayama, for various personal reasons, had not attended the Tottori party) to throw another party here, encouraging his co-workers to invite as many people as possible. As a result, their spacious office that had looked bare and empty four hours ago, was now crammed with people dancing to the music of a very enthusiastic DJ.
He was starting to get a headache from the extremely loud music but chose not to complain about it. Instead, he concentrated on downing the rest of his drink and smiling mysteriously at his companion. Her dark eyes bore into him as she returned the smile and he could tell what was coming next.
But before he could indulge in the usual foreplay - although the raging headache was tempting him to call it a day - his eyes fell on the girl again and he made the mistake of looking over his partner's shoulder. She had chosen to stand pressed against the wall right next to the entrance, looking extremely intimidated. Again, he was taken aback by her attractive figure.
"Someone you know?" The woman had followed his gaze and had turned around to stare at the girl. Her tone was suspiciously casual. Nomiya had had enough experience with the opposite sex to know that he now had two options: either abandon the woman completely or give her his utmost attention.
The headache got worse. And the girl started to move.
He leaned in to whisper into his companion's ear, his lips tickling the sensitive skin. "She looks lost. I might have to help her out."
The woman frowned. "I think you'll have a much better time if you stayed right here." Her hands came to rest lightly on his shoulder blades and slowly made their way to his nape, intertwining there as she pulled him close for a kiss. But he broke free gently, shaking his head and suppressing the urge to smirk. He loved the company of women, but, honestly, sometimes it was understandably overwhelming.
Her frown turned into a glare as he took out his phone and held it out to her. She folded her arms and fixed him with a haughty stare, her refusal clear from her body language.
"Come on, now." He coaxed, his voice low and pleasant. "I am the host." He nudged her slightly, his smile playful.
She still looked reluctant but as he stood waiting, his phone lying on his proffered hand, her shoulders sagged in defeat and she took it, punched in her phone number and threw it back to him with more force than necessary. But he smiled reassuringly and she sighed deeply into her drink.
"You'd better come find me by the end of tonight, though," she warned, as he walked away.
He turned without pausing and threw her a wink as he disappeared into the crowd. He wasn't one to make promises, after all. He could picture Mayama's face, struggling to conceal his disgust, as he flirted with woman after woman. He pushed through the crowd, his eyes following the movement of the curious girl. She was now edging to the left of the room, towards the bar (well, she certainly did look like she could do with a drink), muttering apologies as she bumped continually into people and it was only when he was five feet away from her that he was able to observe her properly. Her simple T-shirt and jeans certainly looked very dull next to all the fashionable party dresses. Her light brown hair was simply let down and he realised that she was clutching a large bag tightly to her side. She had definitely not been aware of the party and from the timid expression on her face, he could tell that she would be extremely glad to get out of there as soon as she could.
He stepped right in front of her and she barely managed to avoid colliding with him, swaying to the side instead, steadying herself by pressing against the wall.
He smiled apologetically and she looked up at him, clearly embarrassed. He noticed that her eyes were a light grey - so grey, in fact, that they almost looked transparent. "Takumi Nomiya." He held out a hand. "Welcome to my party. How may I help you?"
She shook his hand, looking immensely relieved. "I...I'm Ayumi Yamada." She bowed her head slightly, in greeting. "It's nice to meet you, Nomiya-san." He smiled down at her. "I'm looking for...Mayama. Takumi Mayama?" Her eyes swept the crowd, coming to rest on his face finally.
He looked at the girl with interest. Mayama rarely ever talked about his personal life, although his involvement with Harada-san was as obvious as daylight. He had never mentioned any of his friends, though. "Yes, I think I know where he is. If you'll come this way, Yamada-san, I'm sure I can help you find him." He turned away and led her towards a door, which led to his personal workspace, at the far end of the room, braving the crowd once more.
"Thank you. I...thank you very much!" The relieved tone of her voice was unmistakable. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I didn't mean to bother anyone...I've never been here before, you see. I had no idea there was going to be a party..." She shot him such a reproachful look that he couldn't help chuckling.
"It's not a problem, Yamada-san. As the host, I'm happy to help."
She looked so stricken for a second that he wondered if he'd said something inappropriate. But the next moment, she was pointing a finger at him and with a terrified look on her face, screeched, "But that means you're the manager!" and he was charmed into chuckling again.
She looked even more embarrassed as she fell into step with him, despite constantly being jostled by someone or the other as they pushed through the crowd. "Mayama often speaks of you." He could tell from the way she squirmed that Mayama certainly didn't glorify him to his friends. He was well aware of the less-than-cordial aura that shrouded the young man whenever the two of them were in the same room together.
He was about to ask her how she even knew Mayama in the first place when said man exited the very room they had been approaching, with a drink in one hand. He stopped short at the sight of the two of them, a look of incredulity passing his face. His gaze then shifted to the girl and he whispered, "Yamada...what-"
She held out the huge bag by way of a reply to his unasked question. Mayama stared at it, nonplussed, for a moment before slapping a hand to his forehead, "The pottery designs..." He moaned, his palm still pressed tightly to his forehead, "damn, how could I forget..."
"Oh, how convenient."
"Yamada, I'm so sorry. I completely forgot that I'd asked you to drop by."
"It wouldn't have hurt to give me call, Mayama." She said drily. "One quick phone call to tell me that there was a huge party going on and that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to come over straight from college!" She looked at him furiously and he seemed to shrink as he took a step back, holding up his hands in front of him as if to pacify her.
"I can't even begin to tell you how sorry-"
"Why don't you give it a try?" She said acidly, cutting him off. Nomiya, his headache forgotten, watched the two of them interact, thoroughly entertained. They seemed completely unaware of his presence, which only intrigued him more. "First of all, it took me an hour to get here and it took me another half hour to finally locate the place. So here I was, smelling like dirt and public transport, thinking, 'Okay, maybe I can get Mayama to give me a ride back home. I simply cannot take the bus again,' when I walked into this cool office party with men in nice suits and women in pretty dresses that showed off their tanned legs-" here, she looked pointedly at the woman that Nomiya had been flirting with earlier, who returned her stare with double the hostility, "- and beautiful, expensive jewellery while my T-shirt was - and still is - splattered with mud."
Mayama stared at her, open mouthed, while she caught her breath. Nomiya, however, was having the time of his life. This girl - this Yamada - was much more entertaining than he had expected. And anyone who made Mayama gawk like that was worth getting to know better.
Mayama stood quite still for a moment before sighing deeply and moving closer to her. "I know, Yamada, I'm a horrible person. Please forgive me?" He ruffled her hair gently. "I feel terrible about this. I've got no other explanation for tonight except that it just slipped my mind that I'd asked you to come over."
Her expression softened to something much more tender and it was her turn to sigh. "It's all right..."
"I'll make it up to you, okay?" He said, smiling brightly. "Dinner's on me tomorrow."
Nomiya watched as Mayama continued to smile down at her until she cracked a smile of her own. "All right, all right." She was definitely grinning. "You know I can't stay mad at you for too long." He noticed the blush that was colouring her cheeks and the shy expression on her face as she looked up at the other man.
Nomiya was known for his exceptional observational skills but this girl was obviously used to wearing her heart on her sleeve. His gaze shifted to Mayama. There was something about the expression on his face that told Nomiya that there was much more to this little exchange than Mayama would like to admit.
He cleared his throat loudly and the two of them sprang apart at the sound, both wearing identical expressions of shock. Mayama looked at him as if he'd appeared out of nowhere. Nomiya waited calmly as the tell-tale signs of disdain appeared on his face. The brown eyes behind the glasses narrowed and the lips tightened to form a thin line. His voice was controlled when he spoke. "Nomiya-san." The acknowledgement was anything but casual. "This is-"
"I'm already acquainted with Yamada-san." Nomiya smiled down at her pleasantly while Mayama's face became imperceptibly paler. "I found her looking for you and decided to help her."
"Really?" Mayama's voice was dripping with poorly-concealed sarcasm. Yamada, however, was looking back and forth between the two of them curiously. "You just happened to find her?"
Nomiya continued to smile. "Well, it's like Yamada-san said, isn't it? She isn't exactly dressed for the occasion." She turned a deep shade of red.
Mayama looked at her reproachfully and Nomiya knew he wished she didn't look quite so conspicuous. Yamada glared at him. "How dare you look at me like that! You are the one who forgot to tell me there was going to be a party. You are the one who-"
He cut her off hastily, truly looking apprehensive. "Yes, I know-I'm sorry!" He took a deep breath while she continued to glare at him. He chose to ignore her and looked at Nomiya instead. "She is the friend who made the bowl you were talking about the other day. I asked her for some of her designs like you wanted me to." He looked away, clearly uncomfortable. "I was under the impression that you'll be arriving tomorrow. The short phone call from Misaki-san, informing me about the sudden change of plans...well, I forgot about it." The worried look he shot Yamada didn't escape Nomiya's notice.
Mayama turned to the girl. "Let's just get out of here. I'll give you a ride back home. It's the least I can do anyway, considering..." and he shot Nomiya a nasty look (this time, he didn't even bother to try to conceal it) who looked back at him quizzically. So all of sudden, everything was his fault?
"Wait a moment, Mayama. I'd like to have a word with Yamada-san." He was not going to give up that easily.
Mayama glared at him. "I don't think-"
"I'm well aware of your suspicions." He spoke so quietly that Mayama was the only one who could hear him. "But, for now, let's put that aside. Yamada-san is extremely talented at pottery and I would like to discuss with her the new ideas that I have for Fujiwara Design."
Mayama hesitated. And that was enough invitation. He turned to Yamada. "Yamada-san, would you be kind enough to sit with me in my office? I'm very interested in looking through your designs."
She looked pleased. "I would love to."
"It's getting late." Mayama said abruptly. "Didn't you say you'd like to leave as soon as possible?"
"Well, yes...but, Nomiya-san wants to look at the designs now, so-"
"I can show them to him tomorrow."
"They are right here." Yamada patted her bag, looking perplexed. "And it's better if I show him my designs, don't you think?"
Mayama sighed. "Yamada, please."
"I don't understand you, Mayama!" Her nostrils flared as she clenched her fists. "First, you ask me to come here because your manager is interested in my designs and then you completely forget all about me! Now, when Nomiya-san wants to look at the designs, you're in a hurry to take me home. What is the matter with you?"
Mayama glowered at her while she placed her hands on her hips and looked up at him defiantly. They stayed in that position until Mayama sniffed and muttered something about needing another drink.
"Excellent." Nomiya said happily. "Yamada-san, if you'd care to join me in my office?"
Curiously enough, his headache remained forgotten for the rest of the night.