Last Story – A Bouquet For Your Smile – Part 4
Aside from bringing me to the graveyard, Mr. Sasamine didn’t give me even a tenth of the information he had promised to tell me, so I returned to the office with more questions and an unsettling feeling.
As soon as I opened the door of the office, the sight of Senpai downing a small bottle of whiskey greeted me and the strong alcohol stench wafted through my nose.
“Senpai, are you drinking alcohol…?” I asked, shocked by the scene before my eyes.
Seeing the usually laidback Senpai drowning his sorrows with alcohol made me feel so small and I could feel a knot in my chest.
“You can tell just by looking? Do I look wasted?” Senpai glanced at me and exhaled a hot and alcohol-laced breath.
“I don’t need coffee now. This is enough.” He spoke with a slightly sloppy voice as he shook the bottle in his hand.
Seeing Senpai like that made me sad from the depths of my heart, and I cried out in a small voice. “Senpai, please get a grip of yourself. This… This isn’t like you. I don’t know what happened between you and Kyoko Kasuga…”
As soon as I mentioned Kyoko Kasuga, Senpai glared at me sharply, and I momentarily stopped talking out of fear. But then I decided to continue anyway. Or, more accurately, I decided to just voice out my concerns after all. “If you continue to be like this, Senpai… I can’t feel at ease and finish my training.”
Senpai waved the bottle of whiskey in front of me and said, “Isn’t it fine to drink alcohol once in a while?”
I didn’t know what else to say, but somehow the words came tumbling out of my mouth.
“But… I can’t leave you alone like this. I want you to return to your usual self. Otherwise, I feel like… I’ll lose confidence in myself…”
Senpai shrugged his shoulders, glared at me and spat out in a mocking tone. “Apprentice, who do you think you are? Do you think you’re my devoted wife or something?”
As if to confuse me further, he added, “Who are you to me?”
Senpai wasn’t his usual self. I was aware of that. So he must have just said that in jest.
But I couldn’t rebut him. Senpai was more than just a “senpai” to me. He was more than a mentor to me. He’s so much more important in my heart.
Although he was always next to me, he was someone I could never reach. Someone so near yet so far away.
Especially as a woman…
“I… I…” I searched for the right words to say, my voice weak and on the verge of crying.
Who was I to Senpai? To me, Senpai was… If I were to put it into words, our relationship seemed ambiguous and almost like a lie. And Senpai asking that of me was such a cruel move.
—I don’t even know what I was gonna say.
All of a sudden, Senpai apologized with a bitter look on his face, and with that, he was able to cut me off in such a half-hearted manner, without being sober.
Whether he knew that I felt embarrassed or not, he puffed out another warm breath and said, “I think I’ve had a little too much to drink, so I’d like a strong cup of coffee to sober me up after all. Instant, of course.”
He slapped himself on the cheeks to sober up and let his head drop.
In the end, I couldn’t say anything more, so I nodded and headed for the kitchen.
I was still at a loss, so I went to Akiha again to seek advice. She’s insightful, sharper than most agents, and because she’s my best friend, she would always listen to me with sincerity.
After wrapping up, I left the office and headed for the usual diner to meet Akiha. I waited for five minutes before she arrived.
Akiha sat down in front of me and said with a little laugh, “Sorry, I’m quite late.” She ordered a drink from the bar as usual, and after a while, she was given a mysterious tea blend.
“So what happened with Mr. Shindo today?” Akiha asked with a knowing smile.
“How can you be so sure it’s about Senpai?” I pouted as my cheeks blushed a little, seeing Akiha make fun of me.
“All you ever talk about these days when you feel troubled is him. Must be nice to be young… Looks like spring has come for you!”
“Stop being silly! But well, it is about Senpai.” I then told Akiha about this client and Senpai’s reaction.
She listened to me intently, occasionally nodding to show her support.
“So, Yuma,” she spoke.
“What are you planning to do? Is that really important?” She threw a fastball right away.
“I… I just want Senpai to be like his usual self.” I answered, a little upset.
“You know that’s a lie. You’ve started feeling more than a mentor-mentee relationship with him. That’s why you can’t stand seeing him suffer now. You just don’t dare to accept that it’s love.”
Akiha sure didn’t mince her words. But despite her blasé nature, she’s a true friend.
“I don’t know… Maybe it’s just like what you say.” In other words, I admitted my feelings. I felt too lethargic to bother hiding and denying it.
“So, let’s go back to the first question, this is something you have to solve after all. You feel closest to him and now your feelings run deep and it’s overflowing. Is it because you’re disappointed with him? No, you’re not that type of girl. Instead, you want to do everything to help him. That’s more like you.” Akiha spoke bluntly, as though she could read my mind.
I pursed my lips as I acknowledged what she said.
“But I feel so helpless… What can I do?”
“I don’t know. Only you can answer that, Yuma. What have you learned from Mr. Shindo? No one but you can answer that.”
What have I learned from Senpai?
Suddenly, I remembered something.
“On the day we first met, he taught me one thing: Even if you don’t want to get used to this job, you’ll eventually get used to it. But don’t ever get used to it.”
“What does that mean?” Akiha asked.
“He said it means that you have to keep facing yourself as you change. But this time he’s running away unlike what he said. He just keeps running away. Maybe that’s what I find unacceptable.”
I took a sip of my milk tea and continued, “It’s true that Senpai’s presence in my life has become huge, very huge, in fact. He’s always been there for me, protecting me no matter what happens. That’s why I want to repay him. I want him to go back to his usual self, so that I can thank him with all my heart once the training is over. I can’t really say I just want to help him for the sake of helping. I’m doing it for myself. I want to help him even just a little bit.”
“Even if he doesn’t want your help?”
“Yes. I want to help him for myself. At least that’s what I think.”
Akiha muttered, “I see,” then smiled. “You’ve become stronger, Yuma.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t say that. But, Akiha—”
“Thank you. You always lend me your ear. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“Silly. What are friends for?” Akiha had a rare smile on her face.
—What happened to Senpai in the past?
If it’s something that neither Senpai nor Mr. Sasamine would tell me, then I just have to find out for myself.
If there’s a will, there’s a way.
No, I have to find out no matter what.
So that I’d know who am I to Senpai and who Senpai is to me.—