Paradigm Shift
Chapter 8: Mimi

Tai was muttering obscenities under his breath as he rushed to gather his things from his messier-than-usual desk. He was stressed, knowing he hadn't actually finished the day's work, yet he had to leave at that very moment in order to avoid being too late. He was already late, but he had a rule that up to thirty minutes was considered acceptable.

Someone suddenly burst into his office, and he looked up to see his co-worker grinning widely at him. Shima was a friend that had started just a week and a half before himself. They grew close due to their similarity in starting day, age and personality. They were partners-in-crime, being each other's wingmen at work events and happy hours. Shima was barely shorter than he was with cropped jet-black hair and piercing eyes. According to Kiko, his ex-girlfriend from the office who also knew him, Shima wasn't exceptionally attractive or charming, yet there was something about him that drew people in. She said he was mysterious, though Tai didn't see it. Perhaps he knew him too well.

There had been an unspoken rift in their friendship when Tai's sudden promotion earned him a private office, longer hours and whispers that his advancement hadn't been deserved. They were back to normal now, though their friendship never really left the workplace.

"Kamiya, it's Friday. We're going to happy hour down the street. You in?"

He knew a lot of people preferred to keep them separate, but Tai personally didn't mind blurring the line between his work life and his personal life. He was close with his colleagues, and they often went out together, though he couldn't tonight.

"Sorry, I've got plans," he said.

As expected, Shima didn't let him off that easily.

"Come on! Just stop by for one drink. You never come out anymore, and there's a new intern who's pretty cute." Shima bobbed his eyebrows at him.

That was one thing about being in a private office. He was secluded from the floor, so he felt out of loop sometimes.

"Intern?" he asked with interest. "Sounds young."

"She's a uni student."

"Too young," he concluded, attention back at his desk.

"She's not that young, and I'm telling you. She's really cute."

A part of him was interested in meeting her just for the sake of seeing what she was like, but that could wait until Monday.

"I wish I could, but I was supposed to be out of here twenty minutes ago," he declined apologetically, stuffing everything on his desk into his briefcase, thinking he would just finish his work over the weekend.

Leaving his disappointed colleague behind, he quickly rushed to the lift, fishing his mobile from his suit pocket. He dialled Sora's number and realised for the first time that he had memorised it.

"Where are you?" she asked as soon as she picked up.

"I'm going to be late."

"You're already late," she pointed out, though she didn't sound angry. "You're still at work, aren't you?"

"No… Yes," he revised, "but I'll drive quickly. I'll be there in a second, I promise."

"Great impression you're making so far, Tai."

He laughed. "I'm about to get in the lift, but I'll get there as quickly as I can, okay?"

"It's fine, Tai. Drive safely, and don't speed."

She hung up first, and he put his mobile away before stepping into the lift. He and Sora had been doing well since his little incident at the strip club. That was over a month ago, and he had been on his best behaviour since then.

One day, realising that they only ever hung out with each other, Sora decided she wanted Tai to meet her friends.

The drive to get to the lounge that Sora had chosen took him thirty minutes. Once he was there, he checked his appearance in his rear-view mirror. Unsatisfied, he straightened his impossible hair and tie, trying to decide if he should or shouldn't bring in his suit jacket, not wanting to look as stuffy as his work attire made him look. The November weather eventually decided for him, and he walked out of his car with it on, even wishing he had another layer.

When he walked into the lounge, it didn't take him long to find his girlfriend and her presumed group of close friends, all female.

"Hello," he greeted, walking over to Sora first. "Sorry I'm late."

He thought about kissing her but decided against it, instead only giving her a short side hug as he smiled at the small group, waiting for introductions to begin.

"I told you half past six," she pointed out so only he could hear.

"And I told you sorry," he whispered back.

She rolled her eyes slightly, letting it go with a slight hit to the arm. She turned to her friends, ready to show him off, and he made a conscious effort to remember their names to their faces as she introduced each one individually.

He was actually quite good at remembering people. He had been forced to learn this trait in his first year at his job, when forgetting names essentially meant the end of any potential client relationship.

Although he was the only guy in a group of eleven, he was not particularly nervous about it. He liked meeting new people and the night was going smoothly, but there was one girl in particular who was almost trying to make it uncomfortable.

Her name was Mimi, a ridiculously pretty girl who Sora introduced as her best friend. They moved to Tokyo around the same time, Sora from Kyoto and she from New York. According to Sora, they were like sisters, but Tai noticed she hadn't said much the entire night. They certainly didn't look that close.

"So, Mimi, right? You're from New York?" Tai asked when there was a lull in the group conversation. "It's a great city."

"Have you actually been?" she sneered, those being the first words she had said to him the entire night.

Sora gave her friend a confused look, but Tai paid it no mind. "Not really to visit. I was there last year for a business trip, but it was a shame because I didn't really get the opportunity to do much sightseeing."

Mimi didn't look up from admiring her wineglass. "I hate tourists."

Not knowing what to say for a second, Sora stepped in with a hand to his arm. "Funny story, Tai. Remember the night I met you? I was actually waiting for Mimi here. I told her if it weren't for her, I wouldn't have met you."

Mimi rolled her eyes, which everyone did not fail to notice, so her other friends instantly tried to lighten the mood.

"And that's why Mimi's going to be Sora's chief bridesmaid!"

"Yeah, it looks like Sora is going to be the next one to get married after all!"

"Tai, you're lucky. I'm sure you already know this, but our Sora here is going to make the perfect wife one day."

"Not to mention the perfect mum."

All annoyed thoughts of Mimi's behaviour escaped him.

Bridesmaid? Marriage? Wife?! Mum?! What the fuck?!

He tried not to show it on his face, but internally, his mind exploded. No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no—

Sora gave his arm a squeeze, bringing him back to the reality of the situation—the crazy reality that her crazy friends that he had just met were crazily talking about him getting married.

"Guys, stop it," Sora hushed. "We've only been dating for two months. We're nowhere near thinking about marriage."

"No, we aren't," Tai muttered. He put an arm around her, pretending to believe that he was relieved, even though he wasn't.

Mimi spoke again, scoffing. "You know, just because Sora will make a perfect wife doesn't mean he'll make a perfect husband."

He knew it was a stab against him, but his mind was too busy processing how much he didn't like the topic at hand to care.

"Aw, come on, Meems! I bet you'd be great, wouldn't you, Tai?"

He didn't even realise he wasn't responding, too preoccupied envisioning a life where he was married with children, none of his life goals reached and never to be reached because he was choked in a household for the rest of his life.

"Are you all right?" Sora asked, her voice cutting through his nightmare.

"Yes," he answered robotically.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," he repeated in the same tone. "I just need to go to the toilet."

He took another look at her before getting up, trying to look calm as he weaved his way to the toilet at the other side of the lounge.

He liked Sora a lot.

Sora was great. She was smart and funny and beautiful and easy to get along with.

But she was not forever.

At least, he didn't think so.

Before turning towards the toilet, he considered for a split second to walk out of the restaurant instead, but that thought was only in half-seriousness, and he disregarded it almost immediately.

Once he was in the lavatory away from the eyes of Sora's friends who were judging his every move, he stopped straining himself to look as if he wasn't freaking out. He splashed water on his face and stared at his reflection in the mirror.

Yes, he was definitely still young. He was still in the too-young-to-be-married category, even though he knew he really wasn't anymore. Several of his friends were engaged or had already tied the knot, and he was scheduled to be an usher in the summer. He had already been one at his sister's wedding.

Still, he was in denial that marriage at his age was a normal thing. He was only 27. True, he could no longer say he was closer to 20 than 30, but he was in his 20s nonetheless. He was still young enough.

The door to the toilet swung open. The entrance of another man prompted him to make his way back out, but he jumped when he found Mimi waiting outside the men's door, glaring at him.

"Hello," he greeted, trying not to sound confused.

He knew she wasn't the most pleasant of all people, but she was really hot. For one sleazy second, he wished he were single and she were not Sora's best friend.

"You've got some nerve."

Now he knew he looked confused. "Pardon?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I can't believe you don't remember me—again."

"Er…" He took a step to the side, uncomfortable by her accusatory tone. "I think you're thinking of somebody else. I don't think I've met you before tonight."

"No, I think you just have the memory of a goldfish," she seethed. "You really are something else, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry," he said unnecessarily, "I haven't an idea what you're talking about."

"I met you in August."

'And now it's November,' he wanted to point out, annoyed that she wasn't actually giving him anything helpful.

"I'm sorry. I can't remember," he said instead.

"You couldn't remember me in August either."

"Er," he stuttered, not understanding what she was trying to say. "I'm sorry."

"You know, I was really excited when Sora told me she finally found someone. She played you up to be something amazing. I would have told her the truth about you had I known."

Did he have enemies? He didn't think so.

"I really think you have the wrong pers—"

"It was a Saturday," she interrupted. "I met you at a club."

That could have been anyone.

"I rejected you because I was getting over my ex."

That couldn't have been him. He didn't get rejected very often. It was due to his irresistible charm, though Matt said it was more due to his annoying inability to accept no as an answer.

"But you insisted, so I let you dance with me because you were cute."

Okay, so no rejection.

"You spent the whole night telling me how special and wonderful I am."

All guys did that.

"I believed you, you know."

And all girls did that.

"Then I caught you the next morning trying to sneak out of my flat while I was sleeping," she hissed. "When I called you out, you couldn't remember anything. You couldn't even remember my name." She looked positively furious now, and he could almost see the steam coming out her ears. "You tricked me. I told you I was getting over a relationship, and you used that against me. What kind of a monster are you?"

He was sure it wasn't him, but he found himself resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Honestly, how trusting was this girl to fall for something so obvious?

"Look, you've got the wrong guy," he said, starting to get annoyed. "Maybe I just looked like him. I have a pretty common-looking face. I don't know who that guy is, but I'm not like that."

"So prove it to me." She took out her mobile, holding it to her face. She said his full name, then read out ten digits—his mobile number.

His face whitened as realisation struck, and she glared at him, his expression the confirmation she needed.

"Well?" she asked coldly. "I thought it wasn't you."

He tried to maintain as much composure as he could, although he could tell he was failing. At a loss for words, he tried to come up with anything, but he fell short.

"…Please don't tell Sora," was the only thing that he could muster.

"Why not?" she shot back immediately, fury on her face. "It's my duty as her best friend to warn her of men like you."

"I was single then," he argued. "It's not reflective of how I am now."

She rolled her eyes. "I don't believe you. I distinctly remember you being so convincing that night because you sounded so genuine. Don't think I'm so naïve. You're very good at lying."

"Look, I'm sorry for being that guy, but you can't rat me out to Sora. It isn't fair."

"How is it unfair?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it again, not knowing what to say.

She crossed her arms over her chest. "She really likes you, you know."

"I like her too."

"I wonder if she'll like you after she finds out how horrible you actually are."

She could ruin him just with a few words, and he felt like he should get on his knees and beg her to stay quiet.

"Please, don't tell her. Let me tell her."

"And lie?"

"I won't lie," he refuted. "I lied to you, but I don't lie to her. She means something to me."

Her eyes darkened, and he realised his mistake.

"What I meant is that I've been dating her for a couple months now, but I only knew you for a couple hours, so—"

"You should pay for everyone tonight," she said, interrupting him. She said it like a command, then disappeared into the girls' toilet.

He was working overtime. He heard somewhere that people who come out of relationships often turn to overworking.

Matt decided he must be a crap employee because his work performance had definitely declined if anything else. The only reason he was still in the office was because despite his general inability to focus, it was more distracting to be in an empty flat by himself than it was to pretend he was being productive at work.

Tai too was working late tonight. This wasn't unusual for Tai, who tended to be a workaholic, though it had gotten much more frequent lately. Even odder, he didn't complain about it. He couldn't tell if Tai actually hated his job, but his complaining sure made it sound so.

He heard footsteps of his co-worker approaching, and he futilely hoped it wasn't anyone coming to him. It obviously was, as he was the only one left in his general area.

"Ishida, there's beer in Conference Room 1. Come join us."

He looked up for a moment just to decline the invitation. The thought of mingling with his co-workers was never something that appealed to him. Megumi had been friends with her former co-workers, and Tai frequently hung out with his, but he himself had no interest in creating friendships with them. They were just people he worked with and nothing else.

"Come on! Our managers are gone, and Wakata bought a case. Come have some!"

He was about to decline again, but to his surprise, he changed his mind and agreed at the last second.

It couldn't hurt, he reasoned, and it wasn't like he was doing anything better anyway.

As they walked into the conference room, he saw his colleagues sitting around the table, laughing and mocking their bosses. They greeted him as if it were a miracle that he had stopped by, insisting that he join them more often as they shoved alcohol in his hands.

By the tenth minute, he knew he was being anti-social, standing silently, drinking his beer, not taking part in the conversation or politely laughing at bad jokes.

He realised that even though he worked for this company for years, he didn't really know any of these people. He couldn't even say some of their names or what they did at the company, yet they were all trying to get him to say something as if he needed force to talk.

He didn't. He talked when he wanted to, and right now he didn't want to.

"I should get back to work," he said when he had had enough.

"Ishida, don't be lame! Who cares about work?! It's bullshit we're still here! You can spare a minute for a beer!"

He had already spared more than a minute.

"I should go."

As he left, he betted they were going to talk about how unfriendly he was. He didn't care. He knew it was the truth.

He walked out into the dimly lit office, most of the lights turned off due to the time. He went to the one desk with a small lamp turned on—his—and sat back down. He stared into the sallow glow of his computer monitor, an Excel spreadsheet that had not changed in hours staring back at him.

Megumi used to think he had the most interesting job in the world. There was a time when he had thought that too.

He was driving, one hand on the wheel, one between both of Sora's on her lap. Beside him, Sora was raving about his performance.

"That was generous of you to pay for everyone," Sora said to him teasingly. "Were you trying to show off or something?"

He could hear her but couldn't listen, too busy still thinking about Mimi. In the end, she hadn't said anything, but he knew that if Sora were to find out, everything would be over.


He looked over. "Yes?"

She looked concerned, almost nervous. "I'm sorry my friends were being so obnoxious."

"They weren't obnoxious," he countered, not really thinking about it.

"I don't know why they were talking about marriage and children. They were just trying to freak you out. I'm sorry."

"No, I know they were kidding," he said, having forgotten about it. He noticed a red light just in time and slammed on his breaks to make to an abrupt stop. He looked over to his left. "Shit! Are you all right?"

Normally, Sora would make a comment about his bad driving and language and nag at him for at least ten minutes, but this time she didn't, taking his hand again between hers.

"Tell me what's wrong. You're worrying me by not acting like yourself."

"I am acting like myself," he defended.

"No, you aren't. You're acting like a zombie."

He tried to show more expression. "I'm just tired from work."

She frowned, furrowing her brows. "I don't like it when people lie to me, Tai. Especially you."

The light changed, and he started to drive again, almost forgetting to respond to her.

"I'm not lying."

He didn't sound convincing, and he could tell she didn't believe him, but she let it go, and they continued their drive in silence.

He tried to think about how he'd feel if he one day found out that Sora had once hooked up with Matt.

He didn't consider himself a jealous person, but he didn't think he would be okay with that at all. The closest thing to that that had ever happened was when one of his mates on his sixth form football team hooked up with his on-off girlfriend while they were on a break. He threw a punch that got him suspended for three days and grounded for a month, but it also got him back together with his ex-girlfriend for said month until he earned his freedom and called it off again.

Sora was dropping multiple hints that she was annoyed, but he pretended not to catch on to any of them. At some point during the ride, she moved her hands to her side, and he brought his back to the steering wheel. When they reached her car park, she slammed her door and walked away without waiting for him, prompting him to sprint after her. She didn't say anything on the way to her flat until they finally reached her door.

"Good night," she said shortly.

"Wait," he said, knowing he owed her an explanation. "I have to tell you something."

She looked at him with hopeful eyes. "Yes?"

He had learned long ago that were no such things as secrets between girls, and he didn't want this to come back to bite him in the ass later.

"You're going to dump me," he forewarned.

"…" She narrowed her eyes at him. "What did you do, Tai?"

"It was before I met you."

He flinched when her glare intensified. She was the first person he had ever met who scared him so much.

"What did you do?"

She looked one second away from killing him, so he took a breath, then admitted the truth. He let it all spill out at once, not allowing himself to think about what he was trying to say. After all, what was the right way to admit something like this? He told her how he couldn't remember a single thing, that he must have been drunk out of his mind, that he wasn't that kind of guy, that it had been a once in a blue moon sort of incident, that he was sorry.

He expected fury. He expected hitting and yelling and being chased off her property, but she gave him no such reaction. He couldn't read what she was feeling, which alarmed him, though he supposed it was better than her throwing him off the building. Instead, she was just staring at him, obviously upset but not reacting rashly.

"I don't remember it, Sor," he repeated, taking her hand that she didn't jerk away. "I swear she didn't mean anything to me. It wasn't anything to me. If she hadn't said anything, I would have never known."

"That's my friend you're talking about," she said finally, quietly.

He froze, realising he had dug himself a deeper hole. "What I meant is—"

She didn't let him finish. "No wonder she was being so mean tonight. She's actually really sweet."

He couldn't see that girl being "really sweet," but that was beside the point.

"I'm really sorry," he said again, waiting for her to tell him never to talk to her again. It never came, as she just stared at the floor. "Are you crying?" he asked carefully.

"Don't be silly. I wouldn't cry over you," she said with a sad smile, looking up. "What makes you think you're worth crying about?"

He couldn't tell if she was joking or not. "I'm sorry."

She stared at him, and he tried to not break eye contact, though shame made it intolerable.

She sighed, gently pulling her hand away from his. "It's okay."

He raised his eyebrows, not having expected that.

"It's okay," she repeated, putting a hand on his cheek. "I can't change what you did in the past, and it was before you met me. If Mimi's okay with it, so am I."

She was being so cool about it. Too cool about it in fact, but his relief was so great that he merely hugged her, thankful that he wasn't going to go home girlfriend-less. "You're so great."

"I wish I could say the same about you," she muttered into his shoulder.

This time he could tell that she was joking, but his inner celebration was short-lived, and he pulled away.

"You know, if Mimi ever tells you about it, she'll probably have a few choice words to say about me."

"Then you should tell me about it first so I hear your side."

"I can't," he said honestly, wincing because it was true. "I really can't remember."

"That's okay too," she accepted. "The last thing I want to think about is a one night stand between you and my best friend."

He wished she wouldn't word it that way.

"How much do you hate me right now?"

"I don't hate you."

"How angry are you?"

"I'm not angry."

He didn't know whether this was a trap. Megumi always told Matt she wasn't angry, then got angrier if Matt didn't pick up that she was indeed angry.

"On a scale of one to ten, how angry are you?" he tried again.

"Angry? Probably a five. Disappointment? I'd say a solid nine."

He winced. "Anything I can do to mitigate that?"

"Not unless you can build a time machine and un-sleep with my friend."

For the millionth time, he apologised. "I'm sorry. I can't remember it at all."

She lightly rolled her eyes. "Just so you know, you telling me that you don't remember it isn't making it any better. If anything, it's making it worse."

"Fine," he said, mimicking her tone. "I remember everything, and it was the best night of my life."

"Good bye, Tai."

He laughed as she turned to face her door, jutting forward to take her by the hand. He saw she didn't have the same lightheaded expression. "I really am sorry. What are the odds though? Of all the people in Tokyo, you're friends with the one I hooked up with."

Her expression didn't change, and she turned even more solemn than when he had first admitted it to her.

"Or she's just one of many others."

It caught him off guard, to the point where he couldn't think of anything to say. It only lasted a second, as her expression reverted back to normal.

"You know, even though Mimi doesn't approve, my other friends seemed to really like you."

Thankful that she didn't dwell on it, he told her he liked them too.

"I hope one day you will introduce me to your friends."

He pretended not to have noticed the slight sarcasm in her tone. "I will. Maybe you hooked up with one of them, and then we could be even."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not like you," she said simply, withdrawing her hand once more. "Have a good night, Tai."

He reached for her hand again.

"What? No kiss?"

She didn't answer him. "Good night."

He had never been the best at realising when he was on thin ice, so even though he thought he shouldn't, he continued to push for it.

"Look, I know I'm not your favourite person in the world right now, but we're two months in. We're at the stage where I shouldn't have to wonder if I get a kiss at the end of the night, don't you think?"

She didn't look at him, focusing on the bolt to her flat instead. "I really don't feel like kissing you, Tai."

He took her chin to face him. "Can you do it anyway?"

She knitted her brows, looking annoyed as she brushed his arm away. "Good night."

He watched as she walked into her flat, and he didn't try to force it any more. He supposed he had gotten off easily, but he had meant what he said.

They were two months in, and this was ridiculous.

Two things:

1. I barely proofread because I just wanted to upload this.

2. Mimi is the girl from the first chapter.

20 January 2013