Chapter Eight: Realizations
Yokozawa had only just finished putting his phone away when his eye caught a flash of color and he turned to see Hiyori approaching him from the direction of the dressing room. The shop clerk followed not far behind.
"What do you think, Onii-chan?" Hiyori mad a little twirl and the skirt of the pink dress fluffed up. "Do you like it?"
Overwhelmed by a flash of petticoat ruffles beneath the pleats, Yokozawa paled. "It's a nice color," he forwarded cautiously.
Catching something amiss in her Onii-chan's tone, Hiyori cocked her head. "But?..."
This whole episode was becoming more uncomfortable for Yokozawa by the moment. He silently cursed Kirishima again for abandoning him to this task. This was something that a mother should be doing not some uncouth salesman.
"You don't think it's cute, Onii-chan? Yuki's mom did."
There were times that Yokozawa found his sense of responsibility very troublesome and this, he realized, was going to be one of them. He knew that the easiest route would be to simply tell Hiyori she looked very nice so they could buy the dress and get out of there. However, his feelings for Kirishima's little daughter were not going to allow him to do this.
"Mmm," Yokozawa nodded in affirmation at last. Though honestly, to him, what made the dress at all pleasing was the person in it.
Hiyori could tell that there was more her Onii-chan wanted to say, so she stopped her swishing about and waited.
"Errr…" Yokozawa coughed lightly before managing to finally blurt out, "Is it meant to be so short?" The skirt of the dress was cut high and about half of Hiyori's thighs were visible.
The store suddenly felt very warm as Yokozawa wondered how Hiyori would be able to navigate the world in such a garment without being revealed. The thought of this made him very uneasy.
"It's a version of the Lolita. There's specialty bloomers the girls wear underneath," the salesclerk offered in the dress' defense. She stepped up closer to Hiyori to create an appearance of solidarity.
"It a very popular style this season." She gestured towards the manikins displayed over the racks on the far wall.
Dark brows dipped down with further dismay as Yokozawa surveyed the plastic forms: they were posed in ways that struck him as highly provocative.
As if the name of the style isn't disconcerting enough.
Looking back at Hiyori, her onii-chan cleared his throat again. Yokozawa's tie felt very constricting at the moment. He wasn't sure how to articulate what he thought, or if it was something that was appropriate for him to say since he wasn't her parent. Still, the protectiveness that burned in his chest couldn't be denied.
Tact had never been his strong point and feeling the need to be careful with his words was making Yokozawa's temples start to pulse. Then an idea came to him.
"Well, I don't know much about current styles, but… All those ruffles… Isn't that very childish? Don't you want something to show your Papa you're a young lady now, Hiyori?"
A small crease formed on Hiyori's smooth brow. She looked down at the dress thoughtfully.
"I am turning eleven…"
"Yes," Yokozawa held his breath as he watched Hiyori consider.
"Maybe I should try on that other dress?"
Yokozawa nodded, afraid to say anything that might inadvertently change Hiyori's mind.
"Okay, Onii-chan. I'll be back in a minute!"
Once Hiyori and the frowning salesclerk had trooped back to the fitting rooms, Yokozawa exhaled the breath he'd been holding. His sigh turned into a curse as his phone buzzed.
Assuming it was his annoying lover again, he answered it without looking at the number.
"I am going to kick your ass for this…"
One the other end of the line Henmi let out a frightened yelp. "I know… I'm so sorry, Yokozawa-san; I was terribly negligent. There's really no excuse …"
Gray eyes widened hearing the clerk's voice and Yokozawa brought his free hand to his forehead in an attempt to still the twitch in his brow.
Before he could offer some lame explanation for his rudeness, Henmi rushed forward in a burst. "I know you must have realized my failure as soon as you left the office, Yokozawa-san.
"You told me clearly yesterday to get those figures from you for the Ruzuki Manga Chain's account when we met this morning. But then there was that issue with the Tomo files and their import records and I forgot… So, sorry again, Yokozawa-san; I apologize once more for my incompetence."
Yokozawa could have told Henmi it wasn't really an issue; the Ruzuki account wasn't that pressing. But then he'd have to apologize for his rude greeting and, sitting amidst the Lolita-filled store, the sales manager had endured about all the humiliation he could for one day.
"I am glad you caught your error, Henmi." Modulating his tone, Yokozawa tried to sound stern but not too harsh. With all of his worry about going shopping with Hiyori he too had forgotten all about his earlier order.
"Yes, Yokozawa-san." Henmi sighed in relief, hearing only moderate annoyance in his manager's voice. "Again, I am sorry. I know you have left for the day, but if you could send me those figures so I can finish the Ruzuki report I would be very grateful. I promise I'll be more mindful in the future.
"Never worry about calling after hours, Henmi." As long as they'd worked together Yokozawa figured his clerk should have known by now that the "Dark Horse" rarely entirely left the office.
His free hand unconsciously dipped down, long fingers feeling for his bag at the base of the chair he sat in. Yokozawa felt a moment of panic when they encountered only empty air. Then, looking down to see where it might have gone, he suddenly remembered he'd given his work case to Kirishima.
Even when he's being helpful he's troublesome.
"It will take me a few minutes to pull them up, Henmi. But I'll get them off to you shortly."
"Ah, Thank you so much, Yokozawa-san. Again, my apologies."
Yokozawa gave a light grunt signifying both his acceptance of Henmi's apology and the clerk's dismissal and ended the call. Within moments, following this, he was on the line again, waiting for Kirishima to pick up his cell.
Kirishima's voice was bright when he answered on the second ring. "I'd like to think that you've been missing me so much you needed to hear my dulcet tones again already. But sadly, I imagine there's some other reason you rang. Is everything okay?"
"Hardly," Yokozawa snorted as stormy eyes re-surveyed his surroundings. "That's not why I called though."
"I need you to get into my laptop for me and e-mail a file to Henmi."
There were a few moments of quiet as presumably Kirishima pulled Yokozawa's laptop from his bag and powered it up. Kirishima's tone had become suddenly serious at the mention of work but it quickly became sly again. "I mean, it's the least I can do."
"Yes. It is."
Kirishima chuckled at his lover's cool reply. "I imagine you'd like to thrash my tail about now."
"In a manner of speaking… Yes."
Another chuckle escaped Kirishima. "Well, maybe I can arrange for that to happen… in a manner of speaking… My parents want to take Hiyo for the night."
Hearing this, despite all the aggravation he was enduring, Yokozawa felt a familiar heat rush through his core and his pulse accelerate. It had been some time since he'd topped Kirishima and the implied offer in his lover's words stirred him.
"Er… I have an appointment tonight," Yokozawa hoped he didn't sound as guilty as he felt.
"Oh? Business?" Kirishima was unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice but quickly recovered. "Sorry to pry.
"Well, look, we'll have the whole night, so I don't mind getting a late start if you don't. We can sleep in too, since Mom said they'd bring Hiyo back after lunch."
"Ummm… We'll see." Given the nature of his meeting Yokozawa wasn't sure how he felt about this.
"You know, I love it when you play hard to get."
Yokozawa snorted but otherwise refrained from rising to Kirishima's playful baiting. "Let me give you my password so you can get that file sent and get back to your own work." An uncomfortable pang twisted his stomach.
He had just gotten off the phone with Kirishima when Hiyori re-emerged from the dressing rooms again, this time wearing the green dress.
"How about this one?" Hiyori eyed him expectantly.
It was incredibly difficult for Yokozawa to keep his face blank: the green dress was worse than the pink one.
While the skirt extended farther down Hiyori's slim legs, it was fitted much more tightly. Rather than be one continuous pieces the blouse part of the garment was separate and a bit of Hiyori's smooth midriff peeked out. Even more distressing, however, was that the sleeveless top was just as tight as the skirt. The neck dipped down too and the cut of it gave the illusion of a swell to Hiyori's chest.
As least I hope it's an illusion… Dear Kami-sami, Hiyori is only eleven! At what age does that stuff even start to happen?
Yokozawa realized anew how little he really knew about the female sex.
What are we… I mean, what is Kirishima going to do when those things really begin? He cringed internally imagining Kirishima fumbling around his daughter's development the same way he did the kitchen. Not that he had any desire to take on that task.
He wondered if maybe something subtle could be said to Yuki's mother to garner her future assistance.
"Yuki's mom thought this one was super cute too." Hiyori's voice held a slightly pleading tone.
A frown creased Yokozawa's brow at the woman's questionable choices. No, definitely not Yuki's mom then… Maybe Kirishima's mother?
"You don't like this one either, Onii-chan?"
Realizing Hiyori had seen his frown and thought it was reflected at her choice, Yokozawa smoothed out his expression but the fierce flash of protectiveness he'd felt at seeing the last dress had gripped him again. He knew all too well the way that men looked at young women. Though Hiyori was not even out of girlhood yet, such an outfit seemed designed to pave the way for that kind of thing.
Maybe he was just getting old, but to him the dress seemed more appropriate for a night club than a school festival.
What kind of fashion is this, that would want to make a little girl appear so sordid?
Suddenly Yokozawa felt convicted. While he'd never paid much attention to women or what they wore, he certainly had paid attention to the things other men said about them. More than once at a sales conference or in the company of colleagues he'd even added a comment or two of his own to fit in.
Considering this, two sudden terrible realizations hit Yokozawa.
The first was all the women he'd spoken coarsely of had been girls like Hiyori once.
The second was that, in those instances of poor talk, he really had been pretending any sort of interest in them. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time a woman actually sparked him in such a way.
All this time I thought it was just Takano… but maybe… Maybe I really am just a homo…
At this thought Yokozawa felt his cheeks suddenly flush while a hard knot cinched in his stomach.
"Onii-chan? Are you okay?"
Coming back to himself, Yokozawa's gaze cleared and he saw a pair of worried, warm brown eyes studying him. Fighting back the feelings that had suddenly steamrollered him, he tried his best to smile, though it formed itself as more of a grimace.
"I'm fine, Hiyori-chan." His mind raced frantically for something coherent to say in the midst of his tumultuous thoughts.
"I'm just rather worried that dress won't be warm enough." Yokozawa could tell as soon as he'd said this, that this time Hiyori was not going to accept his excuses so readily.
"But then you do think it's cute, Onii-chan?"
"Er…" Yokozawa was at a loss. Finally he surrendered and looked at Hiyori earnestly.
"Hiyori, more than 'cute' I'd rather see you look pretty."
Hiyori's eyes grew wide at these words. "Y-you think I could look pretty, Onii-chan?"
The tentativeness in Hiyori's question made Yokozawa's heart ache in an unexpected way. Not wanting the little girl to see how she moved him, he frowned and gave a harsh snort.
"Of course! What kind of question is that? You're already pretty, Hiyori. What I'm saying is why muck it up with 'cute'?" After saying this Yokozawa tensed, unsure of the response his blunt words might provoke. However he was completely unprepared for what happened next.
He started when Hiyori's thin arms were suddenly around his neck, catching him in a tight hug.
"Thank you, Onii-san," Hiyori whispered into his ear before she released him and stepped back smiling at Yokozawa with shining eyes.
Yokozawa turned his head, uncomfortable with the warmth in Hiyori's gaze. "Yes… well…"
"Onii-chan, would you please pick out a dress for me? Something pretty?"
Me and my stupid mouth, always getting myself into trouble. Yokozawa wished desperately that there was some way he could blame Kirishima for this, but he knew too well he'd created the particular part of the mess he was in at the moment.
With great reluctance he rose from his chair. He straightened his tie and moved solemnly into the racks. Mothers and daughters saw him approaching and stepped aside so that he could pass. Hiyori trailed behind him still wearing the green dress.
Gulping down the lump in his throat Yokozawa turned to Hiyori. "What size are you, Hiyori-chan?"
Once Hiyori chirped out her answer, the sales manager began sifting methodically through the racks. After a number of tense minutes, Yokozawa's eyes alighted on a dress and after a moment's more consideration, he pulled it out and offered it uncertainly for Hiyori's approval.
He was surprised by a wonderful smile as Hiyori studied the garment. "Oh, Onii-chan… that is pretty!"
"I'm going to try it on right now!"
After taking the dress from him carefully, Hiyori headed off to the fitting rooms one more time.
Yokozawa slipped from amidst the rows and moved over to the chairs again but he didn't sit down. He worried that if he did he wouldn't be able to pry himself out of it again, should Hiyori decide she didn't like his selection and he had to go back out into the racks.
Fortunately it didn't take long before Hiyori reappeared. Gray eyes grew wide when Yokozawa saw Kirishima's little daughter.
The dress had a fitted bodice with quarter sleeves and a slightly flared skirt. Its fabric was the palest lavender with an intricate floral pattern of tiny green leaves and darker purple blossoms. A cropped, long-sleeved sweater of a fine knit in the same deep color as the blooms on the dress came with it.
The look was youthful, but refined and Hiyori was elegant in it. The color brought out the honeyed tones in her hair and made her eyes three shades darker.
Coming out of the dressing room Hiyori was beaming, but she burned even brighter seeing the expression on her Onii-chan's face. Still, she drew up closer and did a small circle. "What do you think, Onii-chan?"
Yokozawa felt a different kind of burning is his chest seeing Hiyori in this dress. He swallowed the new lump that had formed in his throat.
"Perfect." It was the only word that came to him.
The smile he received in response was dazzling.
"I take this one." Hiyori sounded very grown up as she turned to the rather wide-eyed sales woman standing behind her. Then with a graceful flounce, she turned and headed back to the dressing rooms.
Before following Hiyori the sales clerk turned back to Yokozawa and gave him a re-appraising gaze. "You know you really have an incredibly good eye."
As soon as the woman left, Yokozawa staggered over and sat down again in the chair, hard. He was exhausted and relieved that his ordeal was over, but more than that, the shop assistant's words had rocked him.
A good eye? Oh Kami-sama, I really am a homo…
I hope you all enjoyed this new chapter. You have been waiting so patiently and I thank you for that. I have been so appreciative of all your feedback and the follows and favorites. There's one more chapter of shopping torment for Yokozawa. Poor fellow. And then I'll be dipping into some drama and another Trifecta lemon.
I as you to please forgive my exploitation of unfair stereotypes as a vehicle for humor in this fic. I do not mean to offend.
Thanks for reading and keep the reviews coming. I will do my best not to make you wait so long for the next installment.