27 March 2009

Taym Pers: Reading made easier!

Hey guys! Heehee. Some of you have commented that it's kind of odd reading from the bottom up, so I fixed things up to make it a bit easier. The chapters are still in the same order, but to make reading easier, click at the "Go to the next chapter" link at the end of each chapter ;-)


12 March 2009

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Twelve

New to the Japayuki Chronicles?
Start with the Overview or Chapter 1
Or go to the previous chapter (Chapter 11)

“This is a disaster! It’s never going to work!” Ana hissed worriedly.

“Yes it will,” Ken tried to assure her.

It was the evening of their first public appearance together. Ken and Ana were sitting at the back of a car, on their way to Shinjuku, where the launch was going to be held.

Takashi sat with the driver in front, mopping his head with a handkerchief despite the cool temperature. He was as worried as Ana, if not, even more so. If she didn’t go through with this or if she fumbled, all was lost. When Ken had told him that he had found Ana, Takashi could not have been more pleased. He readily suggested that the Suntory launch was the perfect way opportunity for the press and Ken’s colleagues to meet his new girlfriend. Plus, it was a fairly soft event for her to start on. However, after almost an hour of listening to the two of them bicker in the backseat was setting his teeth on edge. Ken and his dates were usually quiet when they were on their way to an event. But then again, most of his dates had been either models or actresses, and they had been used to the pressures of public life. Takashi privately wondered whether Ana was really up to the challenge and he mentally berated himself for having suggested that Ken go after her in the first place. He glanced at the rearview mirror and saw that the girl was staring resentfully at Ken as he looked out the window. Takashi looked at his watch. They were arriving in ten minutes. They better make up their minds fast, he thought.

Ana stared at Ken as she leaned back in her seat, in spite of his nonchalant attitude, she knew he was worried. He slouched in his seat, but even his relaxed pose could not dim the force of his presence. In formal black and white togs, Ken looked dazzling, every inch the star. When Ana saw him, she instantly went into panic-mode—she wasn’t prepared for this! She was a researcher who led a quiet and peaceful life—or so she had been before she met Ken. She sighed as she pondered fate’s quirky sense of humor in bringing two such different personalities together.

Ken turned to look at her when she sighed. To her surprise, he took hold of her hand and smiled at her, “I know you’re nervous Ana,” he said, “but try to think of this as one of your presentations before a panel. It can’t be very different from that.”

It was way different from that, Ana wanted to scream. When she gave a talk or a presentation, it was about work she had done, and she had all the facts and information at her fingertips. But now she was getting ready to spout a bunch of lies.

On top of that, she was very worried about how she looked. Ana thought all her flaws were magnified simply by standing next to Ken. Late this afternoon, Ken had sent people to her house to help her get ready. Kaye and Tessa had watched attentively as she was being made up and fussed over by the hair and makeup artists, while Jon watched videos in Tessa’s room. Even though Jon, Kaye, and Tessa assured her that she looked spectacular, she still felt uneasy. She was worried about a zillion and one things—that she was wearing too much makeup, that she would make a fool of herself, that she would say the wrong thing, and that she would trip when she walked in her new 3-inch heels.

Ken recognized the glazed look of panic in her eyes and tried to reassure her, “Relax,” he said as he rubbed her hand, “you look beautiful, you’ll definitely blow them away.”

Wanting to distract her, he continued, “Your dress looks really nice.”

As he had predicted, her expression went from worried to belligerent in less than a minute. “Ha! You would say so, since you bought it,” she shot back. However, as she smoothed the fabric over her lap, she shyly peeked up at Ken and said, “Thank you for this ensemble, it was really too much …”

“Do you really like it?” he asked.

“I love it,” she said, “you have good taste.”

He smiled, “Then enough talk of paying me back and enjoy the gift.” He squeezed her hand, it seemed small and fragile when held between his own, “We’re partners in this Ana, right?”

She looked down at their linked hands and then up at him. Then she smiled, “Right.”

He smiled back, “I believe you can do this,” he assured her.

The van had stopped in front of the hotel and Takashi turned to them worriedly, “We’ve arrived, dou suru?”

Ken kept his gaze on Ana. He smiled when he saw her square her shoulders and take a deep breath, “Let’s get this show rolling,” she smiled up at him.

In the end, Ana charmed the press by speaking in fluent Nihongo. She spoke of meeting Ken and of her work while Ken beamed at her proudly as he kept a loose arm around her waist from the side. She shyly admitted that she had not really seen his movies, as she rarely watched Japanese films, but that she had seen him in a couple of his dramas.

“She still has to develop some taste,” Ken quipped to the press’ amusement. He turned to Ana who gave him a saucy grin. He felt his heart skip a beat as he gazed into her amber eyes. That’s odd, he thought distractedly.

“You need some improvement yourself,” she whispered to him.

He chuckled and made their excuses as they entered the venue. In Japan, product launches such as these, although extravagant, were done in typical Japanese style. This meant a strict adherence to custom and formalities before the actual party. Ana sat in the front row as Ken went up on stage for the formal presentation, speeches, and toasts. At the end, they showed the new commercial that featured Ken.

After the formal program, waiters started going around, distributing drinks. Some guests wandered over to the buffet table that was set to one side of the room. It was decorated with lavish floral arrangements and had trays of artistically-presented food. The stage was cleared to accommodate the band that was performing that night. Before the entertainment began, the host enjoined everybody to pick up their glasses and all together, they chanted, “Kampai!” At the front entrance, some staff busily set up tables and arranged press packs and hefty sample packages for the guests to take home.

As soon as he was able to extricate himself from his duties, Ken came to Ana and stayed by her side the whole night. Ana thought he was playing the role of an attentive lover to the hilt. He got her some champagne and kept his arm lightly around her waist as he did the mingling that was a necessary part of his job.

Ken glanced at Ana as she chatted with an executive from Suntory. At first he was worried that she might get bored with all the shoptalk, but she seemed to be able to hold her own. Regardless of whom she met, be it an eccentric director, a pompous executive, a staff member, or a reporter, she treated them all with charm and grace. She was just so classy, he thought proudly. One would never have guessed that an hour and a half ago she was almost quaking with fear.

Ken’s industry colleagues privately amused Ana. They were such fascinating characters! Although she recognized only about a handful of them, she thought that they really weren’t all that different from the stars of the academe. Some were full of themselves, some were shy, some were intent on selling ideas, and some were bent on fishing for ideas. It was a highly interesting group, she decided. The highlight of the evening however was when Ken introduced her to his good friend Yoshi.

Ana shook his hand eagerly and smiled, “Samuta-san! I saw your last drama and I loved it,” she gushed. She giggled like a besotted high-school girl, much to Ken’s irritation.

“I knew we’d get along well,” he said as he winked at her. “Please call me Yoshi,” he invited as he slung an arm around her, “I came by to thank you personally.”

“Whatever for?” She asked.

“For standing up to this guy,” Yoshi answered, gesturing to Ken, “he needs to feel like a normal human being sometimes and he told me you brought him down to earth with a smack.”
Ken frowned, but Ana let out a delighted peal of laughter. “So he admitted that much?” she asked Yoshi.

“Yes, and much, much more” he said, wriggling his brows suggestively, “I can tell you more it you come and dance with me,” he invited despite Ken’s warning frown.

Ana smiled eagerly, “I’d be delighted,” she said. She turned to her companion, “Ken?”

Ken reluctantly nodded and sent Yoshi a look. But Yoshi simply winked back. Yoshi led Ana off to the dance floor, where people were dancing to a slow, jazzy tune. He then took her in his arms and smiled down at her, and she smiled back up at him. He looked over her head at Ken who was stonily watching them from the sidelines, as some producers tried to chat him up. He turned to face Ana and said, “What if we started making out on the dance floor, I wonder what Ken would do?”

“Do you want to try and find out?” Ana wiggled her brows suggestively.

“I don’t think my fans would like it if my best friend murdered me tonight.”

Ana started giggling, “I don’t think he’d mind”

Yoshi glanced over at Ken once again, he was now close to scowling. Yoshi grinned, and thought to himself, I think he’d mind more than you think. He grinned at Ana and said, “I’m willing to take the risk if you are.”

Ana couldn’t help it, she started laughing, he reminded her of one of her young cousins, Yoshi was just so full of himself. Yoshi smiled in appreciation at her humor, Ken’s grade school teacher was something else.

Ana looked up at him, although he was taller than her, Ken was much taller. However, Yoshi, with his blond hair and easy-going attitude, seemed much younger than Ken. She smiled at him, “So you’re Ken’s best friend huh?”

“Only by default,” he joked, “So you’re Ken’s girlfriend huh?”

“Also by default,” Ana returned and Yoshi laughed, “You seem very different from Ken,” she observed, “How did you two ever get along?” she asked.

“Shiranai? Don’t you know, it’s the Asian concept of yin and yang,” he explained, “I’m the good guy, and well, he’s …” he trailed off suggestively and was rewarded with a giggle from Ana. “He and I were both cast in a lot of dramas when we were much younger. When we first met I was just starting out as an actor, while he already had few dramas and movies under his belt,” he chuckled, “You should have seen him then—young, brooding, arrogant, and surly as hell.”

“I can imagine. And you captured his undying devotion with your irrepressible charm?” Ana guessed

“You got it,” he averred, “good imagination you’ve got. And I thought scientists were soulless.”

“And I thought actors were flirts.”

He smiled, thoroughly enjoying their childish sparring, “Don’t ask me to explain, I can’t figure it out myself. We may seem as different as night and day, but we’ve never really fought about anything,” he boasted.

The effect of that statement was ruined when Ken suddenly cut in, “Do you think I could get a dance with my girl?” he asked Yoshi tersely.

Yoshi smiled at Ana, “I don’t think that was a request, do you?” he asked mischievously, but he relinquished Ana to his friend anyway, “It was a pleasure Ana-san. See you around,” he said as he deposited her in Ken’s waiting arms. He made a smart salute at Ken and headed for the buffet.

Ken scowled up after at him, then he turned a scowl on Ana, “When I introduced him to you I didn’t mean for you to get overly friendly.”

“Are you jealous?” Ana kidded.

He gave her an incredulous look, “Me, jealous? Never,” he grinned when he saw her smiling cheekily up at him, “Now come and dance with me,” he ordered.

Ana laughed, “Hai, hai!”

Go to Chapter 13

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Eleven

New to the Japayuki Chronicles?
Start with the Overview or Chapter 1
Or go to the previous chapter (Chapter 10)

You look different?! What a lame observation for a supposedly intelligent man,” Kaye snorted derisively, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, he did say that it was for the better,” Ana defended. It was Tuesday night; Kaye had just gotten back from a business trip to Osaka and it was Tessa’s night off. So the three of them were having dinner at home. Ana was heating leftovers in the microwave and Tessa was laying plates on the table.

“Wow, it’s like something out of High School Musical,” Tessa observed.

“Only they should be way past that stage by now,” Kaye retorted as she turned in response to the ping of the rice cooker. She opened it and began to scoop rice onto a serving plate. “But I guess its alright since you seem to have missed an entire period of adolescence Ana,” she continued as she closed the lid and put the plate on the table. Ana stuck her tongue out at Kaye’s teasing.

“Ana?” Tessa tentatively asked as they sat down and served themselves.

“Hm?” Ana looked up as she reached for a bowl of week-old pork menudo.
Tessa tilted her head inquisitively, “Have you ever had a boyfriend?”

“Ayan na!” Kaye crowed, “Thanks Tessa, I’ve always wanted to ask.” She sat back and surveyed Ana, “Well, have you?”

Ana took her time answering, “We-ell, nothing serious, but I’ve dated a few times…”

“Define a few,” Kaye commanded.

“Uh, two.”

“And how long were you going out with them?” Tessa asked

“A few months…” Ana prevaricated.

“How many times?” Kaye persisted.

“A couple of times… Alex and I went out on six … no, five dates. The last one didn’t count since we decided to stop seeing each other then.” Ana answered.

“What about the other guy?” Tessa inquired.

“Uh, we went out twice.” At Kaye’s look, Ana gave in, “Ok, ok, once. He was my prom date, but he went to the after-prom party with me. So technically that’s two dates.” She didn’t add that he was an old family friend whose mother was a close friend of Ana’s mom. Tita Mildred had to make all sorts of promises before Robby had agreed to accompany Ana. When Kaye and Tessa exchanged looks of exasperation, Ana blurted out, “Why, how many have you guys gone out with?”

“I’ve had three boyfriends,” Tessa answered. She turned to Kaye, “By the way, my brothers only know about one.”

“Noted,” Kaye smiled. She thought Tony and Andy, Tessa’s brothers, were way overprotective of their little sister.

“And you, Kaye?” Ana asked.

Kaye shrugged, “I’ve had three serious ones and five not-so-serious ones.”

“What about Shiro, what category does he go into?” Tessa asked, referring to the young, Japanese IT executive Kaye had been seeing until about a couple of months ago.

Kaye smiled, “My bad. Make that six not-so-serious relationships.”

Ana shook her head, “And how many of those were in Tokyo?”

“Five,” Kaye answered as she spooned the last of the curry onto her plate.

Ana gaped at her, “That is absolutely amazing. We arrived in Tokyo the same time, yet I haven’t been on a single date.”

“Well, it is kind of hard to get close to you,” Tessa observed, “When I first got here, you scared me more than Kaye.”

Ana groaned and Kaye laughed, “Ann, this is serious! Tessa thought you were scarier than me! And I scare most people off with a look.”

The doorbell rang and Tessa jumped up to peer at the screen that showed the lobby. “It’s a delivery man,” she said as she let him into the building, “Did any of you order anything?”

“Not me,” Kaye said.

“I didn’t order anything either,” Ana responded.

Tessa opened the door when the deliveryman rang again. She was surprised to receive a hefty package. She signed for it and went back into the dining room.

“Well, who is it for?” Kaye asked, eyeing the package curiously.

“It’s for Ana,” Tessa answered. Both Kaye and Ana rushed into the living room where Tessa deposited the box. It was wrapped in white paper, and was unmarked, save for the delivery form.

Kaye peered at it, “It’s from a place called TBT Productions,” she stared at Ana, “Isn’t that Nakamura’s agency?”

“I have no idea,” Ana said as she handled the package.

“Open it!” squealed Tessa excitedly.

Ana’s hands trembled as she unwrapped the package. An envelope fell out when she slid the outer wrapping away. Ana saw her name scrawled on the envelope and knew instinctively that it was from Ken. She opened the note and it read: “To Ana---This is for you to wear on Saturday. From Ken P.S. Consider this a gift” Ana smiled as she took in the underlined word. Apparently Ken wanted to get back for what happened at Taki’s last weekend. She put the note down and turned her attention to the contents of the box. She opened the lid and parted layers of tissue. The three of them gave a collective gasp. The box contained a gorgeous red cocktail dress.

Tessa let out an excited squeal and Kaye held the dress up for closer inspection. Tessa rummaged in the box and found shoes, a wrap, and a bag to match. As her companions cavorted, Ana thought the ensemble was way too much and made up her mind to give everything back. That is, before she gave in to Kaye and Tessa’s nagging and tried the dress on. She fell in love with it when she saw herself in the mirror. It was simply cut, sleeveless, with a low, square neckline. The simple, fitted skirt fell just short of her knees in front but gave way to graceful folds of a faux bustle at the back.

Ana sighed as she fingered the expensive fabric, a few weeks ago, she never would have chosen this dress for herself. Yet now, it seemed exactly the sort of dress that went with her new image. It was funny how someone like Dan, who had known her longer, had thought her incapable of change. Yet Ken, who had entered her life only a few short weeks ago, not only had seen her potential, but also had picked out a dress that matched her new frame of mind perfectly. As she looked at herself in Kaye’s full-length mirror, the reality of her situation suddenly came crashing down on her. She was changing. Her life was changing. And this time it seemed that all control had been whipped out of her hands. Was she really ready to relinquish all control to fate?

“Thank you ladies and gentlemen, that ends yet another colorful chapter in the lives of our protagonists,” Jon intoned in his best radio voice. He and Kaye were having a quick lunch at the Shin Marunouchi building in Otemachi. Their offices were fairly close to each other and they met up for lunch once or twice a week. Kaye had just finished telling him about the recent developments in the Ken-Ana-Dan love triangle. “And it’s only Thursday,” he continued, “Who knows what will happen tomorrow. Stay tuned! Abangan ang susunod na kabanata. Bow.”

“Well, at least she’s been getting some sort of reaction from wonder-Dan.” Kaye observed as she speared an asparagus from her salad. “Apparently, he asked her to lunch yesterday.”

“You told me,” Jon reminded her, “but did Ana play it cool like you taught her?”

“She didn’t say, but I hope she did,” Kaye paused as she took a sip of her iced tea, “I spent hours last Tuesday trying to teach her to be coy. Gosh, it was like the sort of training I’d have to give my daughter someday.”

“That is, when you finally decide to settle down,” Jon retorted. The coy-ploy was a skill Ana would have picked up in high school and college if she hadn’t had her nose buried in her books. Kaye was right, it was like high school all over again, but damn, this was the most exciting part of his stay in Japan so far. It was like watching a real-life telenovela unfold—and he had front-row seats! Mentally rubbing his hands together in glee, he turned to Kaye, “Tell me again about the dress Nakamura sent.”

“It was lovely. Real classy stuff, Tessa and I were almost drooling!” Kaye answered dreamily. She fished out her mobile phone and showed Jon some photographs she had taken.

“Amazing,” Jon agreed, “and it fits her perfectly!”

“I know—everything from the dress and shoes.” She sighed, “I’d go out with Nakamura if only for that dress.”

Jon grinned, “Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s good-looking and sexy, right?” Kaye laughed and he continued, “So did our Ana accept the gift without any fuss?”

“Ha! You wish. She wanted to send everything back or at least pay for them. But, you have to hand it to Nakamura,” Kaye answered, waving her fork for emphasis, “he was one step ahead of her. He must’ve figured out that she’d want to return the dress or something so he had all the labels cut out. He left the labels in the shoes, stole, and bag that came with the ensemble, but then, Ana doesn’t know which store to return it to.”

“Hehehe. Well, you have to admit Ana is a bit predictable,” Jon mused as he took a bite of his burger.

Kaye nodded, “The only unpredictable thing she’s done so far was to agree to Nakamura’s plan.”
Jon smiled. Good things sometimes resulted from the craziest of ideas. He reassured Kaye,

“Don’t worry, we can see that it’s working out perfectly so far.”

Leave it up to Fate: Chapter Ten


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Ana’s new hairdo caused a stir when she went into the lab on Monday morning. Nakano and Tanaka weren’t able to suppress their excited squeals when they saw her, for it was more than just a change of hairdo. With her new clothes, Ana seemed like a totally different person.

The previous morning, after perusing her wardrobe, Ana felt that none of what she owned suited her new hairdo. Everything seemed too blah. She grimaced as she remembered Marga’s ‘frumpy’ comment. Was she really that boring? She resolutely went into the dining room where Kaye and Tessa were having brunch and uttered the magic words: “I need a new wardrobe.” Those five words were more than enough to make Kaye and Tessa wolf down their food, dress in record time, and drag her towards the nearest mall for an impromptu shopping spree.

To Kaye and Tessa’s surprise (and relief), for once Ana didn’t insist on her normal palette of brown, black, beige, and navy blue. Instead, she found herself drawn to more vibrant colors. Like relentless drill sergeants, Kaye and Tessa herded Ana from one shop to another. They made her try on countless outfits, ignored her preferences, and dressed her in a feminine, youthful style she never would have chosen for herself. Items such as an emerald green tunic, a yellow sundress, a red cardigan, geometric-print skirts, and a pair of purple patent heels found their way into the multitude of carrier bags that the three of them had lugged home.

Now as she stood before her lab assistants, Ana felt a surge of pleasure. All the torture yesterday was worth it. And besides, it wasn’t wrong to want to be admired for something other than her brain.

“Ana-san, you look gorgeous!” Nakano squealed, clasping her hands together. With the sparkle in her eyes and her head tilted to one side, Ana thought Nakano had never looked more like a character in a Japanese comic book than she did now.

“Honto ni sugoi desu! You really look amazing!” Tanaka said, still clasping the reams of folders she was supposed to deliver. Although Tanaka was less effusive in her reaction, she was still obviously thrilled with Ana’s transformation.

All the noise that Nakano and Tanaka were making made more people to pass by Ana’s cubicle and compliment her on her new look. Ana was heartened by the warm compliments and was a bit taken aback by a speculative gleam she had glimpsed in some of her normally stoic male colleagues’ eyes. Ken was certainly right about the face value factor, she thought. Well at least after today, they wouldn’t be too quick to classify her as someone who was “firmly on the shelf,” Ana thought in satisfaction.

After a while, Dan came into Ana’s office. “What’s all the commotion about?” He asked as he stepped in, “You’d think we had a celebrity on the premises…” he trailed off when he saw Ana.

Ana smiled shyly up at him, “Good morning Dan,” she greeted. He looked especially nice this morning in a blue-green shirt and grey slacks. Her cheeks flamed when he continued to stare at her in silence. “Dan? Is something wrong?”

“Ana,” he finally said when he found his voice, “you changed your hair.”

“Yes I did,” Ana answered. She self-consciously pushed a lock behind her ear as she answered, revealing amethyst dangling earrings that played peek-a-boo with her shorter hairstyle. The earrings were part of her recent purchases. The frilly purple blouse and white slacks that she wore set off the earrings beautifully.

Dan slowly looked her up and down in a way that he had never done before. “It suits you,” he said after a while, “you look … different.”

“In a good way I hope,” Ana teased.

Dan slowly smiled and reached out to tuck a stray curl behind Ana’s ear, “Definitely for the better.” He turned to leave the office, leaving Ana, Tanaka, and Nakano gaping after him.
Although Ana didn’t get to talk to Dan for the rest of the morning, she was surprised to sometimes find him staring at her from afar. When their eyes met, he quickly smiled and turned back to what he was doing. Those looks bothered Ana, for she had never seen Dan act that way before. Even Nakano and Tanaka commented on it when they had lunch later that day.

“Ne, Ana-san, it seems that Sato-sensei is very taken with your new look,” Nakano gushed.
Even the normally stoic Tanaka managed a nod of assent. “We noticed him staring at you a while ago.” She smiled, “It’s because you really look good.”

Ana smiled warmly and thanked her. “Maybe its just the novelty of my new look that makes him stare at me,” she mused.

“Chigaimasu. Other people don’t stare at you in the same way,” Nakano argued and Ana paused to think about this as she munched through her salad. “Ano, Ana-san?” she continued.


“Now that you’re dating Nakamura-san, do you like him better than Sato-sensei?” she asked.
Ana laughed in response and Tanaka shushed Nakano. “Nan de? Have you decided that you want a go at Sato-sensei?” Tanaka teased her.

Nakano vehemently shook her head, “Yadda, he’s not my type.” She giggled and gestured to the new intern at the next table, “Fabio-san is more my type.” Tanaka and Ana looked over to where the young Brazilian sat. With his chiseled looks and easygoing attitude, Fabio could not be more different from Dan in looks and in temperament. Nakano smiled at them and said, “No. I was just wondering because it seems as if Nakamura-san has such a good influence on you.”

If you only knew, Ana thought to herself. She worriedly thought back to their tiff last weekend. Ken hadn’t called her after he had dropped her off in Roppongi. She felt uneasy about the situation since they were supposed to attend an event on Saturday, but damned if she would have to be the first to apologize.

“You’re just excited at the prospect of meeting more stars because of Ana-san’s connection to him,” Tanaka continued to tease Nakano.

“Hidoi!” Nakano pouted.

Ana leaned back in her seat and smiled at them as they continued to squabble with each other. Some things never change, she thought.

It was amazing how someone could change so much over a couple of days, Dan thought as he observed Ana, Nakano, and Tanaka from the other end of the cafeteria. Ever since he had seen her this morning, his gaze had often strayed back to Ana. She really looked like a different person. She actually looked beautiful! How could he have not noticed it?

When he had met her after arriving at the institute a couple of years ago, he thought that she was a nice girl. She was intelligent, industrious, and very easy to work with. He was actually surprised to learn that she was much younger than he supposed. With her conservative clothes and serious demeanor, she had looked much older.

Now, she looked as pretty as a coed. Her hair danced around her head as she talked and her faced was suffused with excitement. Had there always been a sparkle in her eyes as she joked with her lab assistants, he wondered. Had her eyes always been those deep pools of brown? Had she always worn that secretive half-smile? He almost shook his head in frustration. As a scientist, it seemed that he wasn’t as observant as he should be.

“Sugoi na,” said Kaneyama, as he put down a bowl of miso soup, “It’s amazing how Ana-san looks.”

“Honto ni,” Otoguro agreed, putting a slice of pickled cucumber into his mouth. He chewed on it for a moment before saying, “It seems she’s getting ready for the final leg.”
Dan turned back to his research assistants. “What do you mean ‘the final leg’?” he asked Otoguro.

Otoguro looked up from the bowl of tonkatsudon he was devouring. He ran his hand over his head as he spoke, making his thinning hairline more obvious. “She’s more than thirty years old, isn’t she?” he asked, “Perhaps she’s ready for her last chance.”

“Her last chance?” Dan asked again, still confused.

“Her last chance to find a husband,” he confirmed.

Kaneyama who was seated opposite him nodded as he reached for a bottle of soy sauce, “I thought she was resigned to being single, but it seems there’s still some fight left in her, ne?”

Dan shook his head, “Thirty-two is not old,” he argued. His companions both shrugged and Dan continued, “In the States older people find love and get married.”

“Ma, sou desu ne,” Kaneyama mused, “but it doesn’t happen like that in Japan.”

“Why not?” Dan grinned. Though they were intelligent researchers, both men were stereotypically closed-minded upon occasion. They were just a few of the legions of Japanese men who were often bound by rules and traditions regarding relationships between men and women. Although Dan knew there were some enlightened souls who thought otherwise, the two men who sat before him believed in a Japanese saying that women over thirty (it used to be twenty-five) were like Christmas cake that was past its expiration date. Dan privately thought that this was part of the reason why both of them were still resolutely single.

“Demo na,” Otoguro continued, “I heard Ana-san is seeing someone. That could be the reason for the changes in her.”

“Sou! I heard it from Nakao-san---someone picked her up from the conference the other day.” Kaneyama agreed. He turned to Dan, “Sensei, you were there, did it really happen?”
Dan’s jaw reflexively clenched at the memory of Ana making her excuses as she was led away by that guy. “Yes, someone picked her up.”

“Who was it sensei?” Otoguro asked, “I heard it was someone famous.”

“Famous?” Dan was surprised. He thought back to last Friday, Ana’s companion had indeed caused a minor stir. But Dan had thought it was because he hadn’t been present the whole conference, and people were simply speculating on is identity. Dan tried to remember his name, but no matter how much he racked his brain, nothing came of it.

“Na, you probably don’t know him since you weren’t raised in Japan,” Kaneyama reasoned. He turned and spotted a middle-aged lady depositing her lunch tray at the counter near them, “Oh, there’s Nakao,” he waved her over, “Nakao-san! Chotto kiite ii?”

Nakao-san waddled over to their table. Short and pudgy with a perpetually beaming face, Kumiko Nakao was one of senior staff members at the institute. She wasn’t a researcher, but she usually helped organize local conferences. She was also one of the famed members of the OL (office lady) gossip squad. Dan didn’t know how she did it, but Nakao-san seemed to know everything about everybody.

“Hai, nani ka? What can I do for you?” she asked.

“Ne, Nakao-san, we were wondering about Ana-san…” Kaneyama started, but Nakao cut him off.

“She looks great, ne? I heard she had her hair done in Omotesando over the weekend,” she relayed.

“Actually,” Dan intervened before Nakao could veer off the topic, “we wanted to ask about her companion last Friday.”

“Ah, sou da ne, I thought that had something to do with her changed appearance,” she mused, “Did you recognize the man she was with, Dan-sensei?”

“I met him before,” Dan said.

“You did?” she asked in astonishment, “Where?”

Both Kaneyama and Otogoro had stopped eating long enough to stare at Dan. He shrugged, “Ana introduced us when he came to the office a few weeks ago,” he explained.

“He was here?” Nakao asked disbelievingly.

“He was,” Dan confirmed, “What’s the big deal about it? We often have visitors coming over…”

Nakao was shaking her head, “Sensei, do you know who that was?”

“I can’t seem to remember his name,” Dan answered.

Her eyes had an almost unearthly gleam as she laid down her trump card, “Sensei, that was Nakamura Ken,” she informed him with gusto.

“Usoooo,” Otoguro breathed, “Nakamura Ken? With Ana-san? Why?”

Dan was staring at his companions, “Who is he?”

“Eee?! Maji?! You don’t know him sensei?” Kaneyama asked.

“He’s a very famous actor,” Nakao informed him.

“He was that guy in Kuroi Yuki,” Otoguro said, naming a popular movie that had recently been shown.

“Sou sou, and he stars in that tea commercial…you know the one starring Mori-chan,” Kaneyama added. Mori-chan, a popular young singer, was Kaneyama’s favorite idol. His adoration of her was evident in how he had paperd his locker door with photographs of her. He sighed deeply, “Ureyamashiina, I so envied him for that role.”

“Demo na,” Nakao mused, “I wonder what his relationship with Ana-san is. Sensei,” she said, turning to Dan, “What did Ana-san say?”

“Well, she said they were friends,” he answered.

“Uso!” Otoguro raised a brow skeptically, “that’s a classic cover-up line, ne Nakao-san?”

“Un, so it is,” she answered.

The three of them huddled together to further discuss the situation. Dan ignored their whispered conversation as he picked up his cup of tea and drained it in one go. He set the cup down and frowned as he digested this new information. So Nakamura was actually an actor? What was he to Ana, Dan wondered. Was he the reason Ana seemed so different now?

Taym Pers: Thank you shoutout

Hi guys! I just wanted to post a quick shoutout to everybody who reviewed the first 9 chapters. I really, really aprreciate all your feedback and comments ;-) Thanks for taking the time to pore over my long-winded ramblings ;-)

You'll be glad to know that I'm taking your comments seriously; I have revised some of the chapters below. So if you'd care to look back, you'll see the flow is much smoother. I haven't had time to cut down my overly-verbose sentences, although I promise to try to. Hehehe. Madaldal lang talaga ako.

Hugs and kisses to Issa, Goy, A+Z Causo, Sheng, Odette, Mhell, and Juls ;-) Thanks again!