Chapter 4Ana had just come into her office when the extension on her desk began ringing. She sighed and sat down. The morning had gone by so quickly and she had forgone lunch to finish a long set of experiments. She looked at her watch and realized that the cafeteria would be closed by now. Double sigh. She wondered if she could send someone out for a McDonalds or something. “Hai?” she answered the phone as she leafed through the memos on her table.
“Ana is that you? Thank god you picked up! I’ve been calling you for the past half-hour!”
“Tessa. Yup, I have about a dozen memos from Nakano-san saying informing me that you called. Warui! I left my keitai at my table, I was in the lab doing an experiment for the past three hours…” Ana said. She tucked the phone under her chin as she leafed through the pamphlets of the various delivery services in the area. She kicked her shoes off and unclipped her hair, letting the heavy mass fall down her shoulders and tiredly massaged her scalp.
“Ann, first of all I just wanted to say how sorry I am.”
“Uhuh,” Anna said distractedly as she mentally debated whether to get a pizza or a bento box, “what happened now? Did you break one of my plates?” she murmured almost amusedly. Tessa always prefaced her wrongdoings with a guilty apology. The last time that she had gotten so worked up was when she accidentally broke one of Ana and Kaye’s wineglasses.
“Oh Ana, its worse than that. Remember I told you about Marga?”
“Yup. Did you finally murder her for Kaye? You don’t have to be sorry” Ana joked as she decided to get a pizza. Calories be damned.
“I didn’t, but I may as well might …”
“Oh. Then Kaye will certainly be disappointed, but then if you do then I promise to get you a good lawyer” Ana said as she reached for her keitai and began dialing the pizza service.
“Ann! She told Ken Nakamura about you!” Tessa finally burst out.
The mobile device slid from Ana’s nerveless finger to the carpet. “What?” she asked faintly. “How did she know?”
“Some of your batch-mates recognized the suitcase.”
Damn. Damn. Damn.
“Well, she was sort of fishing at first but when she saw my face she sort of jumped to conclusions.
I didn’t even say anything, I swear!”
Ana understood. Tessa’s face was like an open book, with each and every emotion clearly portrayed. “Its okay Tessa,” she managed to say, “It’s not as if he’s going to come and look for me, is he?” Tessa was silent for a bit too long and Anna suddenly felt the small hairs at the back of her neck rise. “Tessa? He wouldn’t come and look for me, would he?”
A soft knock came at her door, “Uh, Ana-san?” Nakano’s voice softly called.
Assuming that it was about the experiment, without turning Ana covered the mouthpiece and called out, “Nakano-san, chotto matte, I’ll be back in the lab in a few minutes.”
“Uh, Ana-san, you have a visitor”
Ana turned to see Nakano, her eyes almost bulging out from their sockets as she looked back and forth from Ana to the man beside her.
“Ana? Omigod. Is he there now?”
“Tessa. I’ll talk to you later,” Ana said as she put the phone down. She turned to Nakano and said, “Thank you,” clearly indicating that she ought to leave.
“Do you want coffee or tea or something? You haven’t had anything for lunch yet” Nakano suggested, clearly wanting to come back to the office for another glimpse of Ken Nakamura.
“No thank you.” At these words Nakano smiled at the man beside her and left the room. With her departure, the room was enveloped in silence. Ana and Ken stared at each other warily, like competitors in an arena, waiting to see who would strike first.
Ken smiled inwardly, she may be mute for the moment, but her eyes were steady as they held his. Damned if there wasn’t a challenge lurking in those brown depths. He didn’t regret the impulse that had made him come here to see her. When Marga said that she knew the girl he had met at the airport, he knew that fate had handed him an opportunity. And he was not one to waste opportunities. In addition, this could be the means to get Takashi off his back. For more than two weeks now, his manager had been nagging him non-stop to find a new girl. News of Erina’s new American boyfriend had already filtered through the Japanese dailies. And since Ken hadn’t been seen with anyone, they were noisily speculating who had really broken up with whom. In lieu of finding a new girlfriend, Takashi had even showed him the new roster of idols from their sister agency. Yoshi had even told him over drinks last weekend that Takashi had asked him to set Ken up with someone. Yoshi also echoed Takashi’s sentiments, albeit to a lesser degree.
Ana broke the silence first, “Mr. Nakamura, you took me completely by surprise, please have a seat” she said as she stood up and gestured to the chairs at the other side of her desk. She belatedly realized that she had kicked off her shoes and hurriedly sat back down and discreetly felt for them under the table.
“Dr. Madrigal,” he slightly inclined his head in a respectful greeting as he took the proffered seat.
“I know that you were clearly not expecting this visit,” he ventured. He suddenly bent and handed her one of her shoes.
She nodded in acknowledgement of the shoe and put it back on her foot. “I didn’t know that our chance encounter two weeks ago would have such lasting repercussions,” Ana said in response. He noted how she stressed the word ‘chance.’
He smiled at her phrasing. This was getting interesting. He knew firsthand that the woman before him had more spirit than all the women he had dated, but for the meantime she kept all that passion hidden under a cool façade. She may seem levelheaded, but she was not about to let herself be quashed down without a fight. “I thought I’d come and apologize in person,” Ken stated. He had actually come with the intention of apologizing, but now he decided that she would be perfect for his purposes. That is, if he could get her to agree.
“Oh, is that all?” she said, half relieved. “Then please consider your apology accepted. I expect you’re used to having legions of girls throw themselves at you at every opportunity that it’s hard to give one of us the benefit of doubt.” Ana bit out sarcastically. She was surprised by how churlish she sounded. She wasn’t normally like this with people she didn’t know well, but there was something about this man that made her hackles rise. “Well, is that all? I do have a lot of work to do today …”
“Actually, there was something I hoped we could be able to discuss in private.”
“I’m sorry, I’m too busy today, I …” Ana broke off embarrassingly as her stomach have a hungry gurgle.
“You have not eaten,” Ken observed, “Why don’t we eat together where we can discuss matters in a more private place.”
“I’m afraid I can’t…”
“You have to eat sometime you know.” He argued.
“Ana? I didn’t know you had a visitor.” Both Ana and Ken started as Dan walked into the room. He came around to her side of the desk. “I came to bring you these files,” he said as he laid some folders on the table. Dan stepped back and frowned as he looked at Ken. He looked familiar, Dan thought, and wondered where he had seen him before. “Domo. I’m Dan Sato,” he held out his hand as he introduced himself.
Ken clasped his hand in his, “Ken Nakamura,” he intoned. He was amused that his name didn’t seem to evoke any sort of recognition from Sato.
“Are you a friend of Ana’s?” Dan asked as he turned to smile down at Ana.
“You could say that,” Ken answered as he too looked at Ana. He was surprised to see her blush profusely as Sato continued to smile down at her. As an actor, Ken had been trained to observe the changes in people’s nuances and could most often correctly gauge people’s reactions. Especially so, since Ana was one of the most open and passionate women he had recently met. She likes this guy, he thought. He filed the information away to be used for future reference. “Are you Ana’s boss?” he asked.
Dan laughed, “You could say that,” he answered.
“Do you mind if I borrow Ana for the afternoon Sato-san? There is something very important that we need to discuss,” Ken requested.
“I’m far too busy…” Ana protested.
“Our discussion can’t wait Ana,” Ken said firmly. He needed to convince her to agree to his scheme. Takashi was right, the ‘no comment’ releases were already wearing a bit thin.
“Please don’t call me that. I much prefer Dr. Madrigal. I don’t have anything to discuss with you. If you could just leave…” she said as she stood up.
Dan had never seen Ana so antagonistic towards another person. She was renowned in the institute for her control. He couldn’t help but notice how attractive she looked when she was angry. She had never as much as raised her voice in the two years that he had known her. He wondered what had caused her anger. When he saw Nakamura rise from his seat, he instinctively shielded Ana. “Is this man bothering you?” Dan asked Ana as he looked menacingly towards Ken.
Ana stared at Dan, he was just so sweet! “No, no,” she reassured him. Realizing that the people from the nearby cubicles were conspicuously silent as they tried to listen in on the confrontation in her office, she impulsively decided to go with Nakamura. They would discuss whatever it is that he felt needed discussing and then it would end there. “Actually, would it be alright if I went out for a an hour or two?” she asked, “I finished the last batch of samples and Nakano and Tanaka are encoding the results as we speak. Its too late to start on a second batch so I thought I’d leave it for next week.”
Dan looked searchingly at Ana and then glanced back at Ken, trying to size him up. The guy had the gall to smile amusedly back at him. He frowned at him and turned back to Ana, “Are you sure?” he asked her. At her decisive nod, he continued, “Sure, take the day off. You’re done with the week’s target anyway.” He turned to Ken, “Make sure nothing untoward happens to her,” he warned, “I’m quite fond of Ana,” he said as he walked off.
With a raised brow, Ken bowed to him and then turned to Ana as he broadly gestured to the door, “I promise to return you in one piece,” he said in an undertone as they went out.
Ana looked at him coldly, grabbed her bag and headed towards the door. “Don’t worry,” she said softly as she passed Ken, “I’ll make sure that you do. I can take care of myself.” She stared at him and her voice hardened, “You're the one who should be worried. I can’t assure you that you’ll get back in one piece,” she menacingly said as she headed towards the lifts.
Ken suddenly smiled. This was going to be an interesting afternoon, he thought as he followed her out of the building. She stiffened as he took her elbow and led her to the parking lot behind the building where he had parked his car was located. The ride passed by in silence. He took her to an Italian café in Daikanyama that he frequented. As it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, they had almost the whole of the indoor patio to themselves.
As Ken sat, he watched Ana mulishly peruse the menu, still refusing to speak to him. He quickly re-evaluated his strategy. This was not the biddable Erina who would obey his every dictate; this was a woman who was used to deciding for herself. Since tough-guy tactics wouldn’t likely work, Ken thought of the way her eyes had softened when her male colleague had come into the room, and decided that a tradeoff was more likely. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that she was attracted to Sato; he’d use the information to his advantage. He contemplated the possible win-win situation. They could both gain from this. It was better this way, he decided, this way there were no sticky good-byes in the end and everything would be purely business.
“Have you decided what you want?” He asked conversationally. Ken watched as she put down the menu and looked at him with fire in her eyes. He was amused to note that she apparently had a temper to rival his own.
“What I want is for you to tell me what this is all about. I cannot believe you would go to all this trouble just to apologize.” She retorted, her arms folded across her chest.
“Let’s order first, then I’ll explain” Ken said amicably.
“No, I want …” Ana broke off, as a waiter appeared to take their order. He ordered for both of them and she struggled to keep her temper under control. Immediately after the waiter had turned away, she started in on him again, “You can begin anytime,” she said as she reached for the glass of iced water that the waiter had served them both.
“That day we met at the airport,” he began as she took a sip.
“That day was an accident. And if you hadn’t been so high-handed about the incident, I would have kept my temper in check and avoided making a scene.”
He acknowledged this with a nod, “I sincerely apologize. It was not an entirely unlikely assumption on my part.”
She snorted, “I assume you’ve been accosted about a dozen times.”
“About a hundred actually,” he said with a quick smile.
Ana felt a reluctant smile tug at her lips. She felt a wash of shame at her bad temper and she smiled tentatively at him, “Touché. I apologize for being antagonistic.”
“So this isn’t your normal attitude with men?” he asked, partly surprised by her quick turn of temper.
She almost giggled at that, “No, I’m usually much more reserved. Now Mr. Nakamura …”
“In light of the circumstances, I believe you should call me Ken”
“Alright. So Ken, why did you want to speak to me?”
“Actually Ana, I may call you Ana, can’t I?” he paused for her affirmation, and she gave a reluctant nod, “That incident at the airport had repercussions for me. My relationship …”
“Omigod. Was I really responsible for your breakup with Erina Sakamoto?” Ana covered her face with her hands and moaned. “I am so sorry.”
He paused as he registered her assumption and recognized that it was the leverage he needed to get her to help him. He decided to push another nail into her coffin of guilt. “I was going to ask her to marry me”
Through the gaps in her fingers, she peeked at him, his face was a mixture of anxiety and she felt a cold wave of sympathy and guilt engulf her. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know…” she dropped her hands and faced him, “Do you want me to talk to her? We can explain the whole situation…” but even as she suggested it, she realized that if she were in the other woman’s shoes, she wouldn’t likely believe such an explanation without proof. And what proof could she offer?
Ken was shaking his head, “She has already moved on”
“So soon? But no, maybe you can still get back together …”
“I am afraid that it is not only my relationship with Erina that needs salvaging,” Ken started to explain.
“What do you mean?” Ana asked, bewildered.
“When Erina left me, our breakup had repercussions on my career.”
“Is your career all you can think of?”
“It’s the only stable thing I have,” Ken returned.
Ana was taken aback, however skewed she may think he was, he indeed seemed to have a passion for his work that she couldn’t help but empathize with.
“Its just about time for me to tie the knot as you put it. I was expecting to marry her soon, but when we broke up…” he trailed off.
“What is it that you need to do?” she asked.
“What I need to do is at least salvage my image before the Japanese media find out that Erina is now with someone else.” He started to explain, “I need your help to…”
But Ana held up her hand to cut him off. She hadn’t gotten through graduate school and post-doctoral grants on looks alone. “So you want me to pose as your girlfriend in the meantime?”
Ken nodded, “Just until I find someone else,” he clarified.
“Wow,” Ana said sarcastically, “Am I supposed to jump with joy at that proposition?” she asked as she took a sip of the iced tea that the waiter served them.
“No jumping is necessary. Just think of the positive effects of this could have on your relationship with Sato.”
Ana almost choked on her iced tea, “Wha-what are you talking about?”
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Ken said, “Its obvious that you have a thing for this guy.” He looked at Ana, she was red in the face and if looks could kill, he’d be dead by now. He hid a smile and continued, “As I said, I may not be as intelligent as you are, but I do know a thing or two about human nature. If you want this guy to notice you, make him jealous. Believe me,” he said at Ana’s incredulous look, “nothing makes a man notice a woman more than having another man notice her first. We’re competitive in that way.”
“That’s never going to work,” she said disbelievingly.
“Really now? The how do you explain why he was suddenly so possessive of you a while ago. I gather that’s not his usual style?” at Ana’s blush he added coaxingly, “All he needs is a little push.”
She was silent for some time, and he could see that she was testing out the different possibilities and scenarios in her mind. The food arrived as she was thinking. They ate the pasta and bread in silence. Finally, she spoke up, “If I agree to this,” she said, her eyes noting the feral gleam in Ken’s eyes, “how long would it have to go on?”
“Not more than a few months,” Ken swiftly said, “we got out a few times, make Sato jealous, then we break up, and you can turn to him for comfort. He seems like the rebound type. It won’t take that long, just as long as it takes for the issue with Erina to blow over. You were partly responsible for it, you know,” he added, sensing that victory was within his grasp.
“What would going out with you entail?”
“Well, we wouldn’t have to sleep together, if that’s what you are asking.”
“I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last…”
“See, so we’ve already agreed on that,” he said, brushing her off, “All I want from you is for you to appear together with me at a few functions, no more than a few per week.”
“Define a few”
“Once or twice a week,” he clarified.
“No lovey-dovey stuff?”
“Naturally, I will try to contain myself,” he said sardonically, “but I request that you restrain yourself from indulging in any affairs while we are together.”
“I have never …” she spluttered, aggravated at his bossiness. Then she looked him in the eye and demanded, “I expect the same from you.”
“But of course,” he sensed the indecision in her eyes and said, “This is going to work. It’s nothing different from your standard business contract. Plus, we understand both our motives from the start, that way at the end, there won’t be any sticky goodbyes,” he said pragmatically.
Ana considered this for a moment. She couldn’t believe the situation, yet it made an odd sort of sense. In any case, the chances that she’d fall for this egoistic, domineering man in the process was practically nil, so in any case, she would be safe.
“So, do we have and agreement?” Ken asked
“I have to think about this,” she prevaricated.
He shrugged, “Sure, when can you decide?”
“By next week at the latest” she answered. He smiled and signaled for the bill.
Go to Chapter 6