A few days later, the rumor that Hina and Hasegawa went to work together spread throughout the company.
“Hey, is it true that you’re dating the Iron Mask?”
It’s the fifth time she was asked the same question today. Hina softly sighed as she glared at the man who asked.
Inside the pantry which has inadvertently turned into a smoking room, Hina’s colleague was smoking a cigarette while she poured herself a cup of coffee beside him.
The man’s face paled and his body trembled in fright at Hina’s piercing glare.
“I-I mean, you guys come to work at the same time and even go home together, right? It’s understandable that you’d come to work together but even going home together is just weird! It’s impossible not to find it suspicious, you know!”
“Like I said, it’s just a coincidence..”
“No way! It happened too many times for it to be a simple coincidence! Plus, a lot of people have seen you two getting along well on the way home.”
He pointed the tip of the cigarette to her direction and Hina frowned. She didn’t like the smell of cigarette and she wanted to tell him to stop smoking since it’s bad for the health, but it wasn’t the right timing to say so.
“That’s because we live in the same direction…”
“How suspicious… Really, what’s going on with you two?”
“What’s going on you say…”
“You’re dating, right?”
Hina’s face stiffened at her colleague’s words. She and Hasegawa have been together a lot in the company. It wouldn’t be a surprise if people assumed that.
As she helplessly tried to deny it, Hina felt a cold sweat trickle down her forehead and opened her mouth grumpily.
“Really, you’re just imagining it. By the way, didn’t you just get a call from a customer you’re in charge of? Aren’t you gonna return that call?”
With a little impatience, her co-worker hurriedly put out his cigarette.
“I forgot! Thanks for reminding me!”
Her co-worker left immediately. The moment she heard the door of the pantry closing, Hina let out a sigh of relief.
Hina was annoyed at the smell of cigarette hitting her nose and the persistent rumor stinging her ears like a bee. In the first place, it’s common courtesy not to direct the butt of the cigarette to other people. Taking a sip from her fresh coffee, Hina shook her head to calm herself. She can’t go back to work feeling that way.
She stayed there for a while and just when she finished resting and was about to go back to work, the door of the pantry burst open and she came face to face with her junior colleague, Mei. Hina blurted out a mutter of surprise.
“Hina! I finally found you! I want to ask you something, are you free now?”
“What is it?”
Hina’s face twitched with an unsettling premonition. However, Mei didn’t notice it and grinned at her, eyes brimming with curiosity.
“How has your relationship with Hasegawa progressed?”
“Get to work!”
After being asked the same question for the sixth time today, Hina had enough and left the pantry.
“I-I have something to say, Hasegawa! Why don’t we just go to work separately in the morning?”
“Have you found someone else to accompany you? I don’t really mind, you know.”
Hasegawa said while eating dinner. In front of him, Hina pursed her lips in dissatisfaction.
After work, the two were eating dinner together like it was the most natural thing to do. They only started eating together a few days ago but the calm atmosphere between them felt like they have been doing it for several months already.
It’s honestly bothersome that she has to cook for him every other day but having someone appreciate the food she prepares felt wonderful. Likewise, having someone cook for her was a rather pleasant experience. As such, Hina felt that their relationship wasn’t so bad.
Speaking of which, today in his room, it was Hasegawa’s turn to cook. The food he prepares were always elaborate and looked extremely appetizing. He explained, “I just want to present you with something more delectable than you’d expect,” hinting that he was trying his best to impress her.
Unwilling to admit defeat, Hina also tried her best in cooking. Surely one day she’ll win this battle. She was by no means a professional but she had confidence in her cooking. Unfortunately, Hasegawa’s a tad better than her.
Today for instance, he prepared elaborate dishes again in front of her. There was vegetable salad, vegetable soup, beef stew and bread, all neatly lined up on the table.
The table wasn’t the same as the center table they used before; it was now a dining table for two. It looked like what Hasegawa purchased when he moved finally arrived the other day.
As she hang her legs on the new dining chair, Hina started digging the food.
“Mmm, this stew is delicious! It tastes like those restaurant-made cuisine!”
“Well, that’s easy. You just have to prepare the ingredients a day before and then simmer it afterwards. I can teach you the recipe. Would you like make it together next time?”
“I wonder if I can make it… but I’ll do my best! …Anyway, let’s get back on the topic.”
Hina’s face broadened in a smile but she quickly shifted her focus back on what she initially wanted to discuss. Facing Hasegawa, she raised her voice as if lodging a protest.
“Mornings are fine, but I’m definitely worried and uneasy during the night. So, let’s just go to work separately in the morning.”
“Indeed, it’s bright in the morning and it doesn’t matter if we go separately, but we ride the same train together, don’t we?”
She couldn’t refute him since it was true so Hina just pursed her lips. Seeing that, Hasegawa softly smiled.
“I’ve said it before, just tell the truth to the people you want to confide in. After all, if you leave it be, people will eventually lose interest.”
“Even if you say that…”
“Then, do you want to turn the rumor into reality?”
Hasegawa narrowed his eyes as he extended his arm towards Hina. His large hand brushed her cheek, then traced below her lips. Hina’s shoulders jumped at the gesture.
“There’s something there, you know.”
Hasegawa said as he licked his thumb. Hina’s back stiffened and her cheeks went hot. She blushed furiously as her body temperature rapidly rose. Looking at her, Hasegawa tilted his head a bit.
“Oh, you’re not reacting violently today? Usually you’d go ballistic and say “What in the world are you doing?!” or something like that…”
“Could it be, you’ve finally decided to go out with me?”
Hasegawa said without so much a change in his expression. That irked her a bit. Even though it was Hasegawa who confessed, Hina seems to always be the one flustered. She felt like heart was going to explode but Hasegawa remained resolutely composed.
Hasegawa stared at Hina as if he could see through her thoughts. She turned her face away and lowered her voice.
“Are you sure?”
At his third questioning, Hina felt irksome and abruptly stood up. Hasegawa looked up in surprise.
“I’m going home.”
She has noticed it before but Hasegawa never changes his expression even when he says those kinds of words. Somehow that irritated her.
It has been that way even when rumors started to float around. Whereas she would always turn red whenever asked, he manages to say “no, that’s not it” in a business-like tone. It’s not like she wanted him to get flustered as well or panic but she just felt that it was unfair.
She was preparing to leave but as she was about to reach for her plate, Hasegawa caught her hand.
She blinked her eyes in astonishment as she looked at Hasegawa whose face was masked in anger.
“Why is that?”
“Why, you ask..”
Still holding her hand, Hasegawa rose from his seat and stood in front of Hina. His hand, expression and words – all of them made her feel anxious and confused.
“It can’t be nothing. Did I do something? Did I go too far?”
After pondering over his question, Hina shook her head.
“No, it’s just… I kind of didn’t like your expression…”
“It feels like I’m the only one flustered every time and it irritated me.”
As she confessed, Hasegawa’s eyes opened wide. After a while, his expression turned to normal.
“It’s not like I’m trying to be cool…”
“…Somehow, it’s unfair.”
“Do you want to see me get flustered and turn red?”
While trying to evade answering him, Hina turned her face away. Hasegawa slowly inched closer with a mischievous grin on his face.
“Hina, it’s been a while so how about we kiss?”
Hina shrieked in surprise.
“You want to see me turn red, don’t you? And I just want to do it with you. That kills two birds with one stone, right? So…”
As his face was coming closer, Hina tried to turn around. But Hasegawa quickly caught her hips and she couldn’t escape.
“I-I’m not doing it! You only do that with someone you’re dating!”
“With someone you’re dating, you say. But I’ve already asked you out, haven’t I?”
While saying so, Hasegawa’s face inched even closer. It’s close enough that they can hear each other’s breathing. Hina closed her eyes without thinking.
“Recently, you’re a lot more responsive. Or is it just my imagination?”
Hasegawa whispered in her ear and her face went hot. The heat of his breath spread from her ear to her whole body. When she swallowed hard, Hasegawa’s throat vibrated as he laughed.
Then he hugged her tight.
“Please fall in love with me sooner, okay?”
After hearing those words, Hina felt goosebumps all over her body.
Hina pulled away from Hasegawa’s embrace, grabbed her bag and left the room. While breathing heavily on the hallway, she slapped her reddened cheeks several times.
“Oh no, this isn’t good. I’m being swept away!!”
Hina’s temperature was rising again so she grabbed the handle of her door as she tried to calm down.
At that moment, she realized that the door which was supposed to be locked was now open for some reason.
“Eh, why is this open…”
Upon closer inspection, the keyhole had been broken by something like an electric drill. The body heat she was trying to suppress a while ago cooled down in an instant.
When she laid eyes at the horrid state of her room, Hina screamed in fright.