BISHLOV: I'm sinking, I'm sinking! Glog, glog, glog…
Standard disclaimers are applied here.
By bishounen lovah
"Wake up, Beautiful, rise and shine."
"Go away," Rika mumbled from under a pillow.
"It's late. Don't make me pour this water on your head."
"Go away, Takashi."
"Okay. You asked for it."
The pillow that served as her shield was snatched away. She squinted from the sudden brightness. How she wanted to burrow under her covers again but this idiot just wouldn't let her! Her eyes widened when she noticed her best friend's evil grin.
He did not give her the chance to scream, much less escape. He was holding a rather nasty looking water gun, its muzzle pointing directly at her. His hand vigorously pumped at the trigger and, sure enough, chaos began.
Cold water splashed on her face and some were even shot directly in her open mouth. She sputtered and coughed and tried to block the attack with raised hands but she only got wetter.
"All right! That's it! You're dead, Yamazaki!" Rika yelled as she rolled off the borrowed futon and ran after the man. They raced through her small apartment. One minute she was chasing him and then suddenly their positions were reversed. After all, he was the one with the big, plastic gun.
They ended up in the kitchen and she got an idea. She grabbed the spray from the sink and pointed its muzzle at Takashi. She gave him an evil grin of her own.
"You wouldn't dare," his eyes squinted in a glare and tried to send some more water her way. The gun only spitted a few drops.
"Aha! You have no more ammo. Prepare to die!"
She made sure that he got wetter than she, not at all minding the mess that they were making. She hadn't laugh like this for days, weeks even. Takashi was the only one who could make her forget her troubles even for just a little while. Just the thought of leaving him caused an ache in her heart, what more when she actually left for Kyoto.
She dropped the spray and squealed when Takashi threw her over his shoulder and carried her like a sack of feed. He ran from the kitchen to the living room and dumped her on the couch where he tickled her mercilessly.
"I'll miss you," he said minutes later as they lay—she on the couch, he on the floor—in exhaustion.
"I won't," Rika panted back. "You've been the bane of my existence since I moved here."
"Hey, what are neighbors for. Besides, as I recall, two months ago you couldn't live without me."
She dumped a throw pillow on his face and grinned. "I was sick! And if you ask me it was the worst week of my life."
"Why you ungrateful woman. Have you forgotten what I've done for you? I cooked your food and cleaned your place and washed your clothes," he ticked off one finger at a time. "I even became your personal answering service. Talk about dirty laundry."
She sighed and rolled off the couch and into her friend's open arms. Her head rested on his shoulder, her hand on his chest. It was natural for them to hug like this—comfortable and without malice.
"I know. What will I do without you, Takashi? I can't go back there."
"Sure you can. Your bags are packed, the ticket is here, and most of your furniture is in storage. All you need is a big dose of courage and you're all set."
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" she looked suspiciously at him.
"Yes. I've never been to Kyoto before. As soon as I can wrangle a few days off from work I'm going straight to that mansion of yours. It would be cheaper than staying in a hotel."
She squeaked in surprise and delight as she sat up.
"Now don't get excited," Takashi warned with an affectionate tone. "I'm not going there for you. I want to check out this Yoshiyuki of yours. Is he as gorgeous as he sounded on the phone?"
"He's not your type. And he's not my Yoshiyuki." Rika punched him on the ribs, earning her a grunt. He sat up and faced her.
"How would you know about my type? You just don't want to share him, admit it. Tell me, was he good in bed?"
"I curse the day I got drunk and told you that." She gave him a withering glare and went to her room to prepare for her imminent departure. Takashi instantly followed her and irritated her the way a best friend only could.
"He can't be that good!"
"Who said it was good? It was just a mistake. One of life's hard lessons that should be learned from to make it go away."
"And have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Learned from it."
She could feel his eyes on her back as if he was daring her to continue the conversation. "I've learned that men can't be trusted. They just use women then shove them aside when they're done."
"I'm a man."
"Yeah, but you don't act like one," she patted his cheek lovingly then pushed him out of the bathroom.
He leaned on the closed door and frowned. "I know that's meant as a compliment but I can't help but feel insulted." He heard her laugh then smiled as well. There was a pressure on the other side of the door and he knew she was leaning on it too. The mood suddenly changed and there was a sadness flowing between them.
"Will you be fine there?"
"I don't know," she whispered loud enough for him to hear on the other side. She placed her palm and forehead on the door, imagining that it was her friend's back. "I honestly don't know."
She saw him the moment she got out of the train. Why didn't it surprise her? It had been more than a month since she last saw him and a little over a fortnight since they conversed on the phone. Both times she got the impression that he wanted her here. Anxious in fact. But Rika could not fathom the reason why.
Maybe she was just imagining it, for now she couldn't see any reaction on his bland face. She watched him carefully as he slowly walked towards her.
"Hi," Yoshiyuki greeted.
There was an awkward pause and Rika looked around the busy station as nonchalant as she could in an attempt to ignore his stare.
"Did you have trouble coming here?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," she shrugged. The luggage was being unloaded from the last car and she moved to collect hers. "I have to get my things."
"Leave it. I've arranged for someone to pick it up." He halted her with a light touch on the elbow. She involuntarily jerked at the action. The irritation was evident in his face. "I thought you might want to see your company and employees first, it being a Friday and all. You can settle down at the manor on the weekend. That way you can start on Monday."
"Anxious to put me to work?"
"Hey, you're the boss."
He led her out of the train station to the parked sedan near the entrance. Though the car was obviously expensive, the model caught her by surprise. She raised an eyebrow in reaction.
"What?" He asked as he slid into the driver's seat.
"I have you pegged for a roaring red sports car." The corner of her lips twitched up in amusement.
"Just shows how little you know about me."
"I know all I need to know."
"A man can change, Rika."
"So can a woman."
The car slowed to a stop at an intersection and Yoshiyuki peered at her through his dark glasses. "I was rather fond of the old Rika."
"Yeah, right!" she snorted in an almost unlady-like fashion. "If that was the case then at least one of us liked her."
They stared long and hard, daring the other to break their linked gazes. It wasn't until the car behind them honked that he looked away. Rika gained no satisfaction from this minute victory. In fact, she became more irate when she realized that her heart held an irregular beat. She had been back for only several minutes and he was already getting on her nerves.
The trip was uncomfortably silent as they brooded in their own thoughts. After a while she relaxed and looked at the passing scenery. Not much have changed. There were more shops, houses and the like but they did not diminish the tranquility of the place. Soon the car entered the Sakura lined drive that led to the Sasaki Mill.
"The company has grown considerably larger since you left. We were able to hire a hundred more hands and your father bought a hectare of the adjoining land. "Our rearing farms went from three to seven."
"Impressive," Rika couldn't keep the approval from her voice. She could give credit to where it's due. She listened to his speech and tried to absorb everything without questions. After a while they slowed down as they approached a forked road.
"Where do you want to go first?" he asked.
"The office. I'd like to see every inch of the factory and farm and that would take more than just an afternoon."
Yoshiyuki turned left and it wasn't long before the impressive building loomed ahead. He slowed to a stop at the front entrance and Rika almost jumped in surprise when her door was suddenly opened. A man was standing by the door, waiting for her to alight. Like Yoshiyuki, he was dressed in an impeccable dark suit but he couldn't seem to carry the attire off the way her stepbrother could.
"Good afternoon, Sasaki-sama." the man greeted with a formal smile.
She looked him in the eye, trying to gauge an initial impression. He looked amiable enough but couldn't help but feel that there was something going on behind those silver-rimmed glasses.
"Rika, I'd like you to meet Iwahara Jin." Yoshiyuki said as he walked around the car. "He was your father's executive assistant."
"He's yours now."
Rika didn't know what to make of that so she kept her expression and voice neutral. She held out her hand for a shake. "I see. A pleasure to meet you, Iwahara-san. I hope you don't mind that I would burden you with numerous questions in the next few weeks."
"Not at all. It's what I'm being paid for." The corner of Iwahara's mouth twitched in an almost secretive way. Rika didn't know what to make of that either.
Yoshiyuki spoke up again. "In any case Iwahara-san and I would be at your disposal. If you need anything we would just be a step behind you."
"Hm. Makes it harder for you to catch me if I fall flat on my face, doesn't it?" Pretty convenient place for back-stabbing too, she silently added.
It was pretty hard not to smirk at Yoshiyuki's warning glance. Rika — 1; Yoshiyuki — 0. She might as well have some fun needling the man as long as she was stuck here. The three of them moved inside and, at the lobby, people who were passing by stopped to watch the small group. There were whispers of course and those within close vicinity bowed and greeted the new president.
This would take some getting used to, Rika thought as she tried to stop a grimace from forming. She was used to being looked up at but that was literally, not figuratively. Her students' adoration was entirely different from the awe and expectant expressions of these people.
They toured ever floor, every major department. She was introduced to department heads and was given an overview of their function. Office hours were already over when they finished the rounds. Yoshiyuki wanted to go straight to her father's office—her office—but Rika refused. Too much had already happened in such a short time even if it felt like the afternoon dragged on like months. Damned if she topped the whole shebang with a visit to Sasaki Juzo's domain.
They were back in the ground floor lobby and she noticed a woman and what looked like her son emerge from an almost hidden doorway. They were quickly followed by a father and his young toddler daughter.
"What's in there?" She asked Iwahara.
"That's the Day Care Center. Been operational for three years now."
"Why didn't you tell me there's a day care center?"
"Well it's not really a part of the working force." Iwahara should have saved his breath for Rika was already striding towards the door. Behind him Yoshiyuki muttered a curse.
The reception area of the day care has an entirely different décor than that of the rest of the building. Cartoon murals were painted on the walls, the carpet was of bright primary colors done in different geometric shapes, and, instead of the usual desks and chairs, the room was furnished like a mini playground. There were two corridors that Rika knew led to rooms that served as pseudo classrooms. She also noticed a familiar looking woman walking towards them.
"Mihara Chiharu," she cried out in surprise.
Rika found herself hugging her old friend back. She considered Chiharu as an 'almost best friend' had she not wanted to not have anything to do with her past. Seeing an old face so unexpectedly brought about memories both bitter and sweet.
"You know each other," Iwahara stated the obvious.
"Yeah," Chiharu stepped back when she remembered their audience. For a moment, she forgot that Rika was now the big boss around here. "We were buddies way back when. Got ourselves into serious troubles whenever we were together."
Yoshiyuki finally spoke up then. "As I recall, it was Rika who got into trouble and dragged you into the mess."
Rika — 1; Yoshiyuki — 1.
"Actually, I did some dragging myself a time or two," Chiharu laughed. "It's good to see you back home, Rika-chan. Or should I say, Sasaki-sama?"
"Rika's fine, Chiharu. You work here in the day care?"
"Yup. OIC at the moment. The real head's out on maternity leave so I'm in charge for now."
"Must be pretty hard."
"Oh, I manage. We've got a great staff and very few little hellions. Most of the kids are gone now but I can show you around if you want."
"Maybe next time, Mihara-san," Yoshiyuki interrupted the two. "It's late and Rika has had a full afternoon."
"Don't second guess me, Yoshiyuki. I can say for myself if I'm tired or not."
An awkward silence followed that only broke when Iwahara coughed in embarrassment.
"Yes, well, if you're up to it, Rika, let's, uh, get started," Chiharu stammered. She led Rika to the right corridor only to stop when a door swung open then slammed shut. Two little kids—a boy and a girl—around the age three or four ran down the hallway, squealing in delight.
And to Rika's surprise, they ran towards Yoshiyuki. Each child grabbed on to one of his legs. They were both fighting to get his attention.
To be continued…