The clock on his desk showed that it was four in the afternoon. That explained why his eyes were starting to hurt—he had been squinting at his computer screen for three hours straight.
He blinked a couple of times and focused his attention on two of his co-workers, seated across the room and very obviously slacking off. Miwako was petting Leader, who had his head on her lap, and proclaiming that she absolutely despised Mondays, while Yamazaki, not unlike Leader, was gazing at her in unconcealed adoration. Nomiya then looked over at Mayama, sitting in his own cubicle and seemingly displeased with his computer while he typed away furiously.
Miwako seemed to notice his grumpy demeanour too because she called out to him. "What is it, Mayama?" She scratched Leader's ears as she swivelled in her chair to face him, ready to indulge in any sort of distraction from her boring job of answering calls all day, despite the fact that this particular Monday had been pretty quiet.
Mayama stared at her blankly before registering her question. Nomiya looked on with interest as he hastened to reply, "Nothing, nothing."
"Oh, come on. Don't think I didn't notice the frown."
"The frown? Oh, that. I…well, you know it was just…the screen's really bright and my eyes were aching…and—"
"Has anyone ever told you that you're a horrible liar?" And with surprising briskness for someone who had been complaining about Monday blues only minutes ago, Miwako walked over to his cubicle and bent down to look at his monitor. Yamazaki actually seemed to go a little green as he shot envious looks at Mayama. His co-worker, however, was starting to turn a curious shade of red while Miwako stared at his computer in obvious astonishment. She slowly turned to him and—Nomiya could totally see through it—trying not to overdo the histrionics, said in a dangerously slow voice, "Mayama…are—are you spying on Harada-san?"
"No!" The barely-concealed squeak gave him away. He attempted to hide whatever he had been looking at but the damage had already been done. Miwako looked gleeful and even Yamazaki calmed down enough to abandon the grumpy attitude and look mildly interested. "It isn't like that, I swear."
"You're practically looking at her flight bookings without her knowledge. If that's not spying, then—"
"—it's snooping." Yamazaki's look of glee rivalled that of Miwako's. He kept inching closer to Mayama's cubicle until he and Miwako were on either side of the poor guy, looking like predators staring down at their prey after months of hunting. "You look like a jealous boyfriend, Mayama."
His refusal to meet their eyes gave it away. Miwako gasped and Nomiya was willing to wager that this time, it was completely genuine. Yamazaki clapped his shoulder. "I had no idea that you and Harada-san were a—"
"We aren't!" He exclaimed hotly, jumping up and backing away.
"But you want to be." Miwako replied, watching him keenly. He didn't deny it and for one moment, the room was dead silent. Then—"I cannot believe you, Mayama!"
"Wait. Stop!" He looked flustered. "Please don't make a big deal out of this."
"Does Harada-san feel the same way?"
Mayama looked down at his feet. "I don't know."
"Wait a minute." Miwako narrowed her eyes. Nomiya thought he knew what was just dawning upon her. "She reciprocated, didn't she? Or at least, she dropped big hints before." She was so excited that she grabbed Yamazaki's hands and jumped up and down. He looked ecstatic. "Harada-san and Mayama were a couple!"
"No." The firmness in his voice stopped her sudden fit of giggles. "We most certainly were not."
"Please, Mayama." Miwako rolled her eyes. "It is so obvious."
"No, no. You're reading too much into it. We have never been involved…like that…I mean, well…maybe just a—" He immediately stopped himself.
"Mayama, you naughty, naughty boy!" Miwako raised her eyebrows suggestively.
"How come you never told us you were into older women?"
"It's not like that!" Yamazaki looked shocked at his outburst. Miwako wiped the grin off her face. "I don't like Rika-san just because she's older than me. That's got nothing to do with it. So, please, just…stop!"
Another unsettling moment of silence. And then—"Ha. So you do like her. High time you admitted it." Yamazaki patted Mayama on the back while he groaned. Miwako regained her earlier alacrity. And Nomiya wondered why he had decided to be the detached spectator this time.
His tired eyes fell on the beautifully designed bowl next to the coffee pot on the kitchen counter and he smiled deviously. Of course he wasn't a detached spectator. He was just waiting for the right moment. Besides, he needed a break too. Glancing slyly at Mayama once more, he stood up from his chair and stretched, before walking over to the counter and brewing coffee. His arm happened to nudge the bowl and send it flying to the floor.
Mayama looked up at the clatter and eyed the broken pieces of baked mud indifferently while Miwako chided Nomiya for being careless. Leader sniffed at the debris cautiously before considering it beneath his notice and vying for Miwako's attention again. Yamazaki leaned against one of the walls of Mayama's cubicle, hands shoved inside his pockets, looking thoughtful.
"That was one of Yamada-san's brilliant pieces, Nomiya." Miwako said reproachfully as she bent down to pick up the pieces. She shot him an odd look. "I can't remember the last time you were so clumsy."
He acknowledged the remark with a sheepish smile and helped her clear up the mess. As he picked up the last piece, he rolled it over and over in his hand absentmindedly. Then, "I should ask Yamada-san for another one."
That obviously called for Mayama's immediate attention. A look of alarm crossed his face and he opened his mouth—to dissuade Nomiya from doing whatever it was that he was planning to do, no doubt—but Miwako beat him to it, "Nomiya! We can't do that. Yamada-san is probably quite busy at the moment."
"I suppose you're right." He glanced surreptitiously at Mayama who looked like he couldn't believe his luck. He struggled to contain the smirk that was threatening to give away his charade and said, "I should pay her a visit, though…perhaps take a look at the pieces she's set aside for our collection."
Miwako seemed delighted by the idea. Mayama, however, seemed to decide that he needed to take matters into his own hands. "There's no need for that. I see Yamada on a daily basis, I can just ask her for you—"
"I know. But since I'm the one who asked for her help, I think the polite thing to do would be to see her in person myself." He glanced at the clock again. "In fact, I should probably leave right away."
"She'll still be at college. It's only half past four." Mayama said hurriedly, looking as though he wanted to block the exit.
"Well, yes. But it will take me an hour to get there so I'll be able to catch her just as she's leaving the university."
Mayama took a deep breath. "I really don't think this is necessary, Nomiya-san. You have quite a lot of work to do as it is."
"Here." Miwako thrust a parcel at Nomiya. "I brought this cake from the bakery shop down the road this morning. You can't visit her empty-handed."
"Give my best to Yamada-san." Yamazaki chimed in, smiling good-naturedly.
For a moment, Mayama looked utterly helpless as he watched Nomiya throw on his jacket and grab his car keys. Then, squaring his shoulders, he said, "I'll go with you, Nomiya-san."
This made him pause. "Why? Don't you have something else to take care of?" He gestured to Mayama's computer and raised his eyebrows, causing the younger man to blush furiously.
"That has…it's not…I don't…" He spluttered for a few moments while Nomiya waited patiently. Something about the expression on his face must have tipped him off, because after staring curiously at him for a moment, Mayama seemed to collect himself. "Let me go with you."
"You didn't answer my question."
Mayama stared back at him in silence, fists clenched. Nomiya bent down to receive a lick from Leader. He knew why Mayama didn't want him to see Yamada-san; he knew what was going on inside his head, right this instant. Yet, he chose to ask the question. "Could it be that you simply don't want me to get to know Yamada-san better?"
Truth be told, he really was not interested in Yamada-san that way. In the two weeks that he had known her, however, he could tell that she was extremely talented in what she did and he was rather glad that she had agreed to help him with his new idea. Granted, he had only met with her twice since their first encounter at the party, but that had provided him with ample time to discern her character. She was a nice person, perhaps a little on the naive side. He had no intention of dating her—she was way too young for him, anyway—but he certainly did like to get a rise out of Mayama now and then. And, deep down, as much as he liked seeing Mayama get irritated or flustered, he resented the fact that he thought so little of his own boss. Mayama seemed to have assumed—from the very beginning—that he, Nomiya, would be willing to sleep with absolutely anyone who looked just a tiny bit attractive.
Perhaps he had earned the reputation of being a bit of player. But women were not what he always thought about. He had a job that he loved—Miwako often called him a workaholic—and he had a few good friends who looked out for him. He had a life that did not completely revolve around women. Why couldn't Mayama see that? And did he really think that just because his friend was rather pretty, Nomiya would immediately try to devise some plan to get into bed with her? He scrutinised the expression on Mayama's face. His direct question had certainly shocked him but it had also incensed him. His jaw was set and he was clenching his fists tighter. Nomiya knew he had pushed him into a tight corner and Mayama couldn't think of any way that he could get out of it except admit to it. He had never been good at lying anyway. Nomiya would be able to see right through him, just like he did with everyone else.
"I'm waiting for your answer, Mayama." Nomiya prompted, while Miwako and Yamazaki stood by silently, gaping slightly.
There was another long silence. Leader seemed to realize that Miwako just was not interested in him any more—she was too busy staring at Mayama, eyes wide—and made for the kitchen. Mayama opened his mouth, thought better of it, simply cleared his throat and remained silent. But Nomiya was not letting him off the hook. He waited, gazing at Mayama pointedly until—"Yes."
It was murmur—so low that it was almost muffled by the sound of Leader's footfalls on the wooden floor.
Nomiya was obviously unsurprised, although both Miwako and Yamazaki looked a little unsettled. It was quite like him to address the elephant in the room, especially if he was looking for some entertainment. He liked to point out some things that were glaringly obvious to both himself and the other person involved (especially if he or she was actively trying to avoid the subject), just to see them squirm. As much as he liked to watch some drama unfold, he did not enjoy being involved in it at all. He could take small doses of it, but he'd much rather do confrontations.
"Why?" He knew the answer to that one, too. But he was testing Mayama—he wanted to know if he would have the guts to say it out loud.
"I think we both know why, Nomiya-san." The reply was quicker and there was a little bit of steel in his voice this time.
He nodded in return. Well, he wasn't going to push it. But he was not backing down either. He made for the door without another word, acutely aware that his departure was not going to help diffuse the tension in the room.
He had already started the car by the time Mayama caught up with him. He rolled down the window to face him and waited, while Mayama caught his breath. "I said I'd go with you."
That was certainly surprising. He had expected an outburst. He stared at him for a moment and then, it clicked. Mayama did not want to give him the pleasure of having won the argument. He did not want him to see that it had angered him. "Perhaps another time, Mayama."
Why on earth would he let him tag along? He knew how Yamada-san felt about Mayama—it was no secret, really. He did not want to deal with the inevitable awkwardness that would linger in the air while he pretended Mayama was not glowering at the two of them whenever they shared a light moment. And he certainly did not want to confront Mayama (again) in front of Yamada-san. He knew that that would hurt her feelings. He would be guilt tripping Mayama into telling the truth—or implying it, anyway—and she would not be able to stand it. He would be crossing a line. He was still an outsider and he had absolutely no right to take such liberties with either of them. It was not like him to interfere where he most certainly was not needed.
He noticed that Mayama had not moved from his position beside his window. He really could be stubborn, sometimes. If he wanted to, Nomiya could take this farther than it had already come. He had a few accusations that he had kept to himself. He could throw them at Mayama right now and watch the effect it would have on the younger man. But he was not that cruel—at least, not right now. So instead, he looked him in the eye and said, "You're still concerned."
"Of course." Now that they were alone, it was much easier for Mayama to admit it.
Time for a little honesty. "I don't intend to date Yamada-san. You have nothing to worry about."
He remained unconvinced. Nomiya did not think that a few words could change Mayama's opinion of him. But when he rolled up his window, Mayama stepped aside and did not ask to go with him again. And Nomiya couldn't help thinking that he had won the argument, just like always.