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?
Go to Chapter 11