Chapter 5: Pork Cutlet with Curry
My living conditions have noticeably improved since Sayu arrived.
First, the food will always be there before I leave for work, as well as when I get back. This was quite a significant change already. Previously, I couldn’t even be bothered to cook most of the time. When I really wanted something to eat, I would at most, just follow some random simple recipe that I found online using my smartphone. Other than that, I would more or less just eat convenience store bought food; although on most days, I wouldn’t bother to eat breakfast at all.
Furthermore, the laundry which I grudgingly did every weekend, was now being done by Sayu every single day, which was a drastic change in the quality of my life. Since I also found it too bothersome to clean and iron my shirts on a work day, I had bought a total of 7 shirts, with 5 worn regularly and 2 extra just in case. However, the shirts were now being cleaned and even ironed pretty much every day. I never once thought that not having to do the laundry myself would give me such a pleasant and comfortable feeling.
With the change in my living standard’s at home, my condition at work also noticeably improved.
I feel like my mind has been much sharper during the morning shift, perhaps due to the breakfast that I have been having. Since I wasn’t assaulted by a strong sense of hunger whenever it neared lunchtime, I was able to maintain my concentration all the way until the afternoon break period began. Lastly, although I strongly believe that this might be my own opinion at best, but wearing a nicely straightened and ironed shirt made me feel strangely energetic.
Did people with wives always work with such a refreshing presence of mind…?
I thought of such things as my fingers clacked on the keyboard.
“What do you mean by a ‘refreshing presence of mind’?”
Hashimoto suddenly spoke up from the seat beside me, his eyes still locked to his screen.
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”
Hearing my reply, Hashimoto glanced sideways at me with a chuckle.
“Did you not notice it yourself? You just murmured ‘Did people with wives~’ something something you know?”
“Uh… Huh? Really?”
Hashimoto in a hurry covered his mouth to stifle his laughter.
“You’re thankful that you now have someone to do the housework for you, aren’t you?”
Hashimoto said with a shrug, as if reading my mind.
“To be honest, I can’t really remember how tiring the housework was when I was still living alone anymore.”
“You’re the kind that forgets what it’s like when the worst has come to pass after all.”
“Maybe. Though, I have to say that your case isn’t quite the same as mine. It’s not like that girl can stay at your place forever.”
Although what Hashimoto said was reasonable, the condescending tone in his voice made me feel a bit queasy.
“Well, it’s not like your wife will always be there either.”
In response to my desperate reply, Hashimoto chuckled and waved his hand dismissively.
“No way. I’m pretty sure we’ll be together till death.”
I knew that Hashimoto was quite a devoted husband, but I really couldn’t muster a reply to such fond words.
“I do have to say though, she does have a strong handle on housework, doesn’t she?”
Hashimoto’s hands never stopped waving, but there was a surprising weight in his voice.
In the workplace, Hashimoto was the only one who knew of the details regarding Sayu and he is the only person I’ve confided to about Sayu staying at my place. I haven’t told anyone else about it.
“She’s done more than I have ever asked for.”
“When I hear ‘runaway girl’, I have an image of a happy-go-lucky and irresponsible girl in mind, but she seems surprisingly dependable.”
I nodded my head several times in agreement.
In all honesty, Sayu has taken housework a lot more seriously than I had expected her to. At first I thought that she simply had a burst of enthusiasm and vigor, but that was not the case. She continued to maintain the same level of work done day in and day out. Her actions did not match my mental image of a ‘runaway girl’ in the slightest.
While I was impressed by her hard working personality, my understanding of her background seemed to blur even more with each passing day. Her appearance might not quite be my type, but I have to admit that it was quite good. She could do housework and was easy to get along with. Why did she run away from her home and come this far? The reason was beyond my imagination.
“You’re scrunching your brows pretty hard there.”
I returned to my senses when Hashimoto called out to me.
“I was a bit startled when your expression changed so quickly.”
“Ah… Sorry about that.”
After my half-hearted reply, Hashimoto exhaled loudly through his nose and peeked at the clock on the wall.
“Let’s go eat?”
Looking at the clock, I found out that it was already a bit past 1pm. Everyone should be leaving to get lunch around this time.
“Sure… Let me finish this up real quick and then we can go.” I said whilst typing.
After I wrapped up the program I was working on, I saved it, made a backup, and finally put my computer into sleep mode.
Taking a look at Hashimoto’s workstation, it seemed that he had also finished up his work for now and had already put on his jacket. With a light nod, he got up from his seat.
“I’m heading out to lunch.” Hashimoto announced with a flat tone-of-voice.
“Okay, take care.” Our coworkers replied indifferently.
Repeating after Hashimoto, I caught the gaze of Gotou-san, who sat a short distance away.
Gotou-san opened her mouth as if to say something, before rising from her seat quickly.
“I’m also heading out.”
I left the office whilst feeling a slight sense of discomfort towards Gotou-san, who had rose from her seat,purse in hand. She usually started her afternoon break a little later, but maybe she was feeling extra hungry today?
“Do you want to go out or just eat at the dining hall?”
“There’s nothing that I want to eat in particular, so let’s just eat at the dining hall.”
Hashimoto nodded in reply and gave me an unnatural, playful salute.
I could hear the clicking of heeled shoes from behind us. From the haste and intensity of the sound, it was clear that the source of the sound was trying to catch up to us. Turning around, I found myself face-to-face with Gotou-san at a distance far closer than expected and I reflexively jumped back in response.
“’Woah?’ What’s up?”
The tendrils of her hair shook in tandem as she giggled at my reaction.
“You’re going to eat, right?”
“Are you fine with me joining you two?”
My mouth flapped wordlessly. Unable to muster a reply, I turned my eyes towards Hashimoto to signal for help. He chuckled to himself and gave me a slap to the back.
“Of course it’s okay! Are you okay with eating at the dining hall though?” Hashimoto energetically replied.
Gotou-san smiled happily and quickly nodded.
“Then let’s go… Hey Yoshida, snap out of it already.”
Hashimoto slapped my back again, hoping to bring me back to my senses after my mind went blank from the rapid sequence of events.
“…This is a good chance to talk to her.”
Hashimoto whispered so that only I could hear. I nodded in agreement.
It’s true that I haven’t talked to her even once since I was rejected. This is a chance that Hashimoto managed to salvage.
Prepared for what was to come, I headed towards the dining hall.
“Pork cutlet with curry? That’s unexpected of you…” Hashimoto commented with a forced smile as Gotou-san put the pork cutlet with curry set on the table.
Gotou-san playfully tilted her head in a joking manner.
“Isn’t this fairly normal? I’m just feeling extra hungry today.”
“…Normally, you just grab a small salad from the convenience store.”
Hashimoto showed an unabashed grin as I butted into the conversation.
“Oh? You’ve been paying attention, haven’t you, Yoshida-kun.”
“I-It’s hard not to when you eat nothing but salad for lunch. Even our coworkers who are concerned about their weight at least eat a rice ball or something like that.”
“Hehe, you seem to pay a lot of attention to what others are eating.”
My cheeks began to feel a little hot by her comment. It was as if I was being accused of some shady activity.
In this awkward moment, I took a slurp from my bowl of Chinese noodles. Its flavor matched its cheap price, but, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, I actually quite liked its cheap taste. The soup seemed to be screaming ‘this is soy sauce soup!’ as I slowly chewed on the noodles and savored the unnatural flavors spreading through my mouth.
Gotou-san, who happily devoured a piece curried pork cutlet, shifted her gaze towards me and spoke.
“Haven’t you been going home on time recently?”
Although she had said that in a casual tone, I couldn’t help but be a bit shocked. The fact that she noticed the change in my schedule recently made me feel quite elated, but on the other hand, the reason for this change made me feel a little guilty. A variety of thoughts mixed together in my mind.
“I guess, well, I’ve been feeling pretty good at work recently… so I’m getting all my tasks done quickly and smoothly, after which I’m free to go home.” I mumbled while avoiding her gaze.
Gotou-san chuckled at my response.
“A while back, you would help others with their work once you were done, so you would end up staying past normal office hours most of the time either way.”
“Um… Why do you know that?”
It’s true that that’s what I did in the past. To be honest, I’m quite proud of my ability to finish a day’s worth of task every day without fail. However, due to the nature of the project that the company was working on and the differences in knowledge and skills, there was quite a bit of disparity in the volume of work from individual to individual. That was why I would offer to help out my coworkers who appeared to be busier than myself.
However, the reason I haven’t done that recently was solely due to the high school girl staying at my house.
It needn’t be said that I couldn’t leave during work hours, but the thought that there was no one but her at home, piled on top of the fact that she was only a minor, made me feel a strange sense of duty along the lines of ‘I have to hurry home just in case’. As a result, I would finish my work quickly, check up on the progress of the coworkers whose projects were under my supervision, and head home on-time after that.
Though, the fact that Gotou-san had noticed this fine detail about my departure timing was surprising in many ways. Well, it’s true that she’s my boss, so she might be paying close attention to the workload situation of her subordinates, but the idea that she had been paying considerable attention to me made me feel awkwardly pleased.
“You seem to go home in a hurry, so I was just a little curious.” She said before stuffing her mouth with curry once again.
The way she licked her lips of the curry roux was oddly captivating, to which I hurriedly turned my gaze away. I could see Hashimoto, who was sitting beside me, laughing a little in the corner of my vision.
“I suppose it is a bit eye-catching for me to go home on time every day before my superiors do.”
“I wouldn’t really say that. I think that the fact that you can go home on time without having to make some excuse is proof that you can do your job well.”
I was ecstatic when I heard that. It’s nice to be commended by my superior, not to mention, it felt rather nice to be recognized by the girl I adored in such a straightforward manner. However, that was why I was caught defenseless by the question I should have been the most wary of.”
“More importantly, I’m more interested in your reason… Did you find a girlfriend or something?’
I choked immediately. Feeling a strong urge to spit out the noodles that I had just slurped, I chewed it with all my might before gulping all the noodles down. Then, I took a long and deep breath of air.
“Of course I don’t have a girlfriend! I mean, I…”
‘I just confessed to you’, is what I wanted to say, but I stopped myself right there. I realized that I had replied much louder than I had intended. Feeling the sidelong gazes of my coworkers sitting in the neighboring tables on me, I coughed to reset.
Gotou-san smiled mischievously and tilted her head. It was obvious that she was playing dumb.
“Give me a break…”
I could hear suppressed chuckles coming from Hashimoto beside me.
Although Gotou-san laughed along, it was clear that she had no intention of stopping here.
“If it’s not a girlfriend, then what’s your reason for going home on time?”
She asked in pursuit. I didn’t reply immediately.
No matter how I think about it, “I’m sheltering a high school girl…” was the honest but wrong answer. Actually, I shouldn’t have even considered such an answer.
However, there’s no cover to hide the truth behind if I simply tell her that a single man with no particular hobbies such as myself wanted to go home early.
“…I-Its cause of sleep.” I said in desperation. “Recently, I’ve been trying to get a lot more sleep.”
Gotou-san nodded in a somewhat doubtful manner.
“I didn’t think that my efficiency would improve if I come to work exhausted… So I decided to make a change for the better.”
I couldn’t find the words to continue, so I stopped there. It was then that Hashimoto gave a timely helping hand.
“Well, he’s been looking a lot healthier recently and has been working much faster too. I’d say that all that extra sleep has been working out well for him.”
Hashimoto was truly reliable in times like these. His words flowed smoothly as he guided the conversation to his desired course. It was a skill I could never hope to pick up.
Gotou-san stared at me throughout Hashimoto’s interjection.
“Well, it’s true that you look a little less pale. And you seem a lot tidier in general too. You’ve even ironed out the wrinkles on your shirt.”
“You’ve even checked my shirt… hearing that is a little embarrassing really.”
“Don’t worry too much about that, I wouldn’t reject a raise just because your shirt is wrinkled.” Gotou-san replied jokingly.
I forced a smiled in response.
But really, who would’ve thought that she would go as far as to check my shirt? As much as I’d love to believe that I was the only one she observed this closely, it was probably the opposite. It must be a lot of work to keep tabs on each and every subordinate down to their clothing. My awe for her abilities as a boss was renewed.
“Since I go to sleep earlier nowadays, I’ve also started to wake up earlier as well, so I’ve found time to iron out my shirts in the morning.”
I’m not very good at lying, so it was a relief that the topic shifted to something relatively natural. That said, I don’t really do any housework whatsoever so what I just stated was undoubtedly a lie. My unease was definitely showing in my gaze, but Gotou-san was looking down at her curry at the moment, so I lucked-out this time.
“Oh I see. Well, if that’s the case then I can sort of understand.”
Gotou-san nodded with a sweet smile, before stuffing her mouth with curry once again.
I desperately held back a sigh of relief. It really is hard to keep secrets. I could feel my breath getting shorter and shorter as the deceitful exchange went on.
Regardless, there was no way I could tell anyone other than Hashimoto about this. This incident involves more than just myself, so I have to stay cautious.
“Well, my junior whose been working the same way for 5 years now suddenly changed their habits, so it came as a bit of a shock. I was just curious really, so don’t worry too much about it.” Gotou-san answered as if she had already known what I was about to ask.
She munched down on her curry, one gulp after another. In short order, Gotou-san had already finished over half of her curry set. In contrast, I had barely moved my chopsticks, so my noodles were already soggy. As I hurriedly began to eat, a question came to mind.
Would someone who usually has nothing but salad for lunch suddenly eat a pork cutlet with curry set this quickly just because they were a little hungry?
There was a period of time where I wanted to focus more on work so I ate less and worked during afternoon break, but the feeling of hunger only persisted for the first few days. Maybe my stomach and appetite got smaller, but after I got used to it, it became the standard from thereon out. Rather, I remember times where I ate a lot too quickly and started to feel bad instead.
Shortly after that period of time though, Hashimoto began to scold me on my eating habits so I began to gradually eat more again. As of now, I eat as much as I did before for lunch.
With that in mind, Gotou-san’s portion seemed even more questionable.
Given that she usually eats nothing but a small salad, she might be forcing herself quite considerably to be eating that much.
I felt a gaze on me as I slurped on my noodles, and raised my head in response. Immediately following that, Gotou-san matched my gaze.
Startled, I turned my gaze away.
“W-What is it…?” I weakly asked while looking down at my bowl of noodles.
Gotou-san sighed from her nose and smiled.
“Not much really, you were just making the same face as when you worry about others, that’s all.”
Hearing that, I raised my head to match her gaze once again. She tilted her head slightly with a mischievous smile.
“Ah, not really…”
I could feel the heat rising on my face.
Why does she keep commenting on things that I would rather she not notice? Was she trying to tease me or make me feel awkward?
“Yoshida-kun, there really is someone that you’ve come to like, isn’t there?”
Gotou-san’s question was rather straightforward, which caused me to respond in a rather unsightly manner.
“The person you were thinking so seriously about just now is really important to you, isn’t she?”
I wasn’t going to say that ‘the person I was thinking about is you’, but I didn’t know how to reply either. Then, Gotou-san took a quick glance at her watch, to which she suddenly jumped out of her seat.
“Oh no I forgot! The meeting was moved forward into lunch period today!”
Saying that, Gotou-san hurriedly stuffed her mouth with the remaining curry and waved goodbye to Hashimoto and me.
“Sorry for leaving all of a sudden, let’s talk again sometime.”
“Alright, see you.”
I let out a sigh as I saw her off.
I felt really tired for some reason.
“So what did she want anyway…?” I murmured.
Hashimoto snickered and patted my shoulder.
“She just wanted to have a chat with you, didn’t she?”
“Don’t play dumb. Who the heck would talk with a guy they just rejected for fun?”
“Wasn’t she just concerned about you though?”
Hashimoto said with an indifferent smile as he set his chopsticks down on his tray.
“She seemed like she was having fun. Let’s not forget to mention that she was only talking about you all the way through.”
Thinking back, he wasn’t wrong. Gotou-san had indeed only talked about me. Hashimoto had only entered the conversation to help me out or to tease me a little.
“As surprising as this may seem, I feel like you still have a chance.”
“Like hell I do.”
I wasn’t the type to allow myself to have outlandish hopes, much less something as far-fetched as getting together with someone who just rejected me.
Hashimoto grinned at my rebuttal.
“I was rejected by my current wife four times, you know?”
“I know that… but you’re special.”
“If you’re gonna say that, there’s no guarantee that you’re not special as well.”
I didn’t know what to say.
Hashimoto patted my shoulder again.
“Getting rejected is the true beginning.”
“Geez, you’re trying too hard…”
I couldn’t help but regret having told him about my heartbroken self a little. Back then, I felt that I had to vent about this to someone and the only person who I could talk to about this was Hashimoto. With that in mind, there really wasn’t a better way to have gone about doing it.
“Why don’t we go for a smoke before we go back in?”
I was a startled by his suggestion.
“Didn’t you quit smoking?”
“I did, but I was thinking that you seemed a little pitiful, so I was going to keep you company.”
Saying that, Hashimoto took out a box of cheap candy cigarettes from his suit pocket. I reflexively gushed.
“It’s better than smoking alone, isn’t it?”
“…Alright, let’s go then.”
We got out of our seats and headed towards the smoking room on the same floor.
I didn’t really like being teased by him, but one way or another, I had to admit that he saves me all the time. I vexingly thought.