The woman standing before Takano Masamune was a person one would most likely consider very attractive. However, her 'attractiveness' wasn't merely due to her fair and clear skin, nor was it because of her good taste in clothes—a professional form-fitting cream-colored skirt, ruffled white blouse, matching cream-colored blazer, and cute black flats. Indeed, her 'attractiveness' was due mostly to the fact that this woman was a 164cm-tall pillar of radiance and self-confidence.
She beamed at Takano while he shifted through a stack of papers.
"You say you've had prior experience in editing shoujo manga?"
"Yes! Before coming to Marukawa Shoten, I was in charge of many shoujo mangaka, including the prominent Shinagawa Yumi!"
Takano smiled. So she wouldn't be useless after all.
While Takano was getting acquainted with newcomer Sakuragi Tomoko, Onodera Ritsu was struggling up the stairs with a pile—no, a skyscraper—of manuscripts.
"Why did the elevator have to break?," he thought. "Or more like, why am I the ONLY one hauling ass in carrying these manuscripts?"
After what seemed like one long trek up a mountain, Ritsu finally managed to get the manuscripts to Emerald's Editing Department.
"Yo, Ricchan~! Just in time to meet our new editor!" exclaimed Kisa Shouta, in his usual cheery self.
Ritsu carried the manuscripts to Takano's desk, where he set them down, readying himself to greet and introduce himself to his new colleague.
"What took you so long? About time you brought all these up here," Takano said, beginning to shift through the papers. "By the way, Onodera, this is Sakuragi Tomoko. She will be working from here on."
Ritsu took a glance at his new colleague and immediately his expression changed from one of irritation (from Takano's insinuations that he was deliberately slow) to one of surprise at seeing a familiar face.
Smiling, Sakuragi replied, "Nee ~ guess we'll be working together again, won't we? Please take care of me."
A smile began to play across Ritsu's lips as he told her he would. He had always liked Sakuragi-san for her kindness and self-confidence. She was a strong woman whose optimism could turn anyone's frown into a smile.
However, she didn't seem to have this effect on Takano. His smile quickly became a frown as he noticed the unusual warmth Ritsu regarded her with.
As the long day at work drew to a close, Sakuragi-san approached Ritsu just as he was preparing to leave. Surprisingly, Takano had assigned him a light load of work—well, light compared to the usual—and Ritsu was planning on going straight home, perhaps finally getting around to folding and putting away the mountain of clean clothes that currently consumed his entire bed.
"Ritsu! Are you off right now?"
"Ah! Yes. Thanks for your hard work, Sakuragi-san! Did everything go well on your first day here at Emerald?"
"Yes, everything went well and I learned a lot. Listen, do you want to stop by at the small restaurant down the street? Catch up on old times?
"Eh! Ah…sure…why not?" Uneasily, Ritsu looked towards Takano's desk,
hoping he hadn't overheard Sakuragi-san's invitation. Or that he wouldn't get the wrong idea about them if he had happened to overhear. He was able to breathe a short sigh of relief when he noticed his boss's desk was empty, but immediately an avalanche of self-arguing and excuses began to fill his mind. 'Wait! Why should I be concerned whether he misunderstands the situation or not? After all…it's not like we're…dating…I mean sure, sometimes we do…stuff together…but that doesn't mean anything! We're healthy men after all! There's times when one just has to do it! An outlet! AUGHHH, WHY AM I EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS?'
"Eeeeeh? Ricchan ~ you're bright red!,", said Kisa, knowing full well that his pointing it out would further exacerbate his colleague's blushing. Which it did.
As Ritsu's face became hotter and turned a deeper red than anyone could have thought possible, the same thought ran through Kisa's, Mino Kanade's, and Hatori Yoshiyuki's mind: "Such amusing reactions."
After regaining a bit of his composure, Ritsu and Sakuragi said their goodbyes and excused themselves as they headed out. Ritsu kept an eye out for Takano, half-hoping to catch a glimpse of him before he left. As they exited the publishing house, Ritsu let out another sigh—this one being one of slight disappointment at not being able to see Takano before heading out.
"I'm telling you, there's definitely something going on between them!" Kisa was saying excitedly.
These were the words Takano heard upon reentering the office, canned coffee in hand, fresh from the vending machine in the lobby. He scanned the room, noticing that Ritsu and the new colleague had taken their leave first. Hatori, being his usual composed and stoic self, was quietly packing up his stuff to call it a day, while Mino did more or less the same, in addition to actively listening to Kisa.
"Well, there is that rumor going around…" replied Mino.
"Eh? What rumor?" asked Kisa, taking the bait; he did, after all, have a slight guilty pleasure for listening to work gossip.
"Hmm…Should I tell you? Or should I not?"
While Mino teased Kisa by withholding whatever rumor it was he had heard earlier, Takano began packing his stuff, deciding to head out as well. Perhaps when he arrived at his apartment, he would stop by Ritsu's and subtly ask him what he thought of their new colleague.
"Don't be like that Mino! C'mon, just tell me. We ARE friends, aren't we?"
Feeling he should interject, Hatori said, "Seems like Onodera and Sakuragi-san worked together back when Onodera edited literature at the other company."
"Ah, but that's not all," said Mino. "I heard that the two were once what you'd call boyfriend and girlfriend."
"Ehhh? So you left Onodera Publishing to work in shoujo manga to prove to your old colleagues you're capable and competent at your work?"
The restaurant Ritsu and Sakuragi went to after work was small but comfortable, with a sort of calming atmosphere. They were nibbling on their appetizers and waiting for their second round of beers. In response, to his colleague's question, Ritsu nodded.
"AHAHAHAH! That is definitely something you would do, Ritsu! Oh man, glad to see your personality is more or less the same."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"
Sakuragi kept chuckling.
"Geez, you make it sound as if my venturing out of my comfort zone to prove myself is a bad thing."
"No, it's not that. It's just…you've always had this way of going at your own pace or marching to the beat of your own drum…once you decide on something, you tend to rush into your plan of action..."
"I, I do? Well, I mean, I guess…I kinda see what you mean," Ritsu quietly stammered.
A tender smile appeared on Sakuragi's face. "But I guess that's what I liked about you."
"EH? Er…ah…thanks, Sakuragi-san."
As Sakuragi observed Ritsu's face, she noticed a shade of crimson begin to slightly spread across his face. Her smile deepened—she thought he had always been so easy to read.
"Mmmm…say, Ritsu…why don't we give it another try? A relationship, I mean?"