It was seven o’clock on a Friday night. The cubicles at the institute were relatively deserted, as most researchers had already gone out for the weekly drinking party or nomikai. Ana sat at her workstation in the laboratory, hunched over a microscope as she jotted down notes on the new samples that she, Nakano, and Tanaka had been processing for the past week. Her assistants had left thirty minutes ago at her urging. Nakano had let slip that Fabio, the Brazilian post-doc she had been eyeing would be attending this week’s drinking party. Ana, who was not about to stand in the way of true love—or infatuation—had let her go.
Both Nakano and Tanaka had tried to convince her to come with them, but somehow Ana wasn’t in the mood for drinking tonight. It was probably because there was still work to do, she mused. No, it was because she was exhausted, she told herself.
For the nth time that evening, her gaze strayed to the mobile phone that lay on a small shelf in front of her. The display remained blank. Still nothing. For the nth time that evening, Ana told herself that she shouldn’t get worked up about not hearing anything from Ken.
But she was.
No, no, it wasn’t that she was bothered; it was just that they usually went out on Friday nights. And Ken usually sent her a message or something most days. But he had been on location somewhere most of the week and she hadn’t heard from him since Wednesday. It had just seemed so quiet without him this week. Ana sighed, she had had a tiring week and she wanted someone to complain to.
You miss him.
Ana almost fell off her chair at that thought. No, no, no. That was just plain impossible. She didn’t miss him. It was like missing a thorn in her side. It wasn’t as if their relationship was smooth sailing all the way; on the contrary, it was far from it. She and Ken were constantly bickering, although these days they usually laughed about it afterwards. And Ana was honest enough to admit that a perverse side of her enjoyed their match of wits. But just because she didn’t have him to spar with meant that she missed his company. That would be a mistake. Missing him would be akin to missing a wall to pound her head on.
But you do miss him.
I do not! It was unthinkable. It would be an utter disaster. Women like her did not fall in love with men like him. It was like something out of a cheesy teleserye. She mentally cringed as she imagined Kaye’s voice screaming at her, “Boba!!! Do not fall in love with him!”
“Ana, may I speak with you?”
Ana jumped when he heard someone behind her, she looked up and saw Dan standing slightly behind her. She smiled up at him, “Yes?”
Dan smiled warmly back at her. He stepped forward and leaned his hip on the table where she was working. He had taken his lab coat off, but it was slung casually over one shoulder.
Ana straightened up from her chair, “What’s up? Do you need those results already? I haven’t…” she broke off when he smiled and leaned down. She blinked as she gazed into his eyes. That’s funny, she thought, his eyes were as green as they used to be, but now they seemed more…normal.
It had been more than two months after her press debut, yet she was still surprised by how much her relationship with Dan had changed since she started going out with Ken. These days, Dan seemed to regard her more as a woman than as a colleague. He often asked her out to lunch or dinner and hung out at her cubicle, discussing things that he normally would have tackled during their weekly meetings. He had even taken to the habit of bringing her a mug of coffee in the mornings and two days ago he had even sent her a message on her mobile—something he never had done before.
“Are you having dinner with Nakamura tonight?” Dan asked her as he casually as he turned to study the figures she had jotted down.
“N-no,” she answered, puzzled.
“Great! Do you want to go get a bite to eat? I think the cafeteria is still open,” Dan invited, grabbing her hand and pulling her to her feet, “we can talk there.”
“Uh, sure,” Ana replied, a bit taken aback by his enthusiasm.
“Will Nakamura mind that you’ll be having dinner with me?” Dan asked at Ana’s hesitation.
“Oh no, it’s perfectly all right,” she said as she stashed the samples and turned off the light at the workstation. She grabbed her mobile phone and headed out the door with him. They headed for the cafeteria at the basement of the building.
Ana ordered an udon salad. She was in the mood for something cold and light and the cold udon noodles, with ham, vegetables, and light sesame sauce was just the thing. Dan opted for a heavier tonkatsudon set, pork chops simmered in beaten egg, topped with onions, and slid onto a large rice bowl. The cafeteria wasn’t crowded at all so they picked an intimate spot near the window at the end of the room.
Ana checked her mobile phone as she settled herself in. Her heart sank as she looked at the display: no signal. She had forgotten that the cafeteria was a dead zone for mobile phone networks.
“Are you expecting a call?” Dan asked as he selected a pair of chopsticks from the container on the table.
“Uh, no I’m not…,” Ana started guiltily, and hurriedly stashed her phone back into her pocket, “I, uh … so what did you want to talk to me about?” she asked as she got herself a pair of chopsticks.
Dan chewed on his tonkatsu for a bit as he considered his proposition. He had known Ana for over two years, yet the recent changes in her made it seem as if he didn’t know her at all. It was as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes, Dan mused. Over the past few weeks, he had discovered more about the real Ana; and it was a truly different image from what he had envisaged her to be. He had always regarded her in a professional manner; and that was one thing hadn’t changed—she was still one of the most efficient people he had ever worked with. But she wasn’t as serious as he had supposed. She had a playful sense of humor that she displayed towards those she was close to. The instances he had spied her giggling with her assistants always brought a smile to his face. He was surprised to realize that he wanted to laugh with her too. He wanted to make her laugh, if only to see that amazing smile break out on her face. In addition, he discovered that Ana wasn’t the ultra-obedient worker he had imagined; if she disagreed with one of his observations, she didn’t hesitate in letting him know. And although she was very strong-willed, she displayed great kindness towards the grad students who trained with them. She displayed patience as she explained difficult procedures and concepts to them—something not everyone in her position would have had done.
Dan didn’t know how to explain it, but she had become someone whom he wanted to spend more and more time with. She had slowly become integral to his existence—both professionally and personally. That is why he needed to tell her his news.
“Ana, I don’t really know how to tell you this,” he started, “but I’ve been offered a full research grant at the University of Texas.”
Ana froze at these words, “What do you mean? Are you leaving us?” she asked and waited for the feeling of icy dread creep into her heart at the thought of not being able to see Dan each day. Surprisingly, it didn’t come.
“Well, that depends,” Dan replied and he began to outline the scope of the grant, it allowed him to be free to do pure research and afforded him fully-equipped facilities at a separate building on the campus. There was also provision for housing for him and any staff he wanted to take along with him. “When I applied for the grant late last year, I planned on asking you to go with me Ana.” He paused for a minute, “You’re the best assistant I’ve ever had and … and I like working with you.”
“The university contacted me last week and they gave me two months to make my decision. Would you … would you consider coming with me?” he asked her, reaching for her hand, “If you agree, we can start with all the paperwork and be in Texas just in time for the fall semester.”
When Ana remained silent, he gave her hand a slight squeeze, “Ana? What do you think?”
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Ana said, feeling a little bit lost. Of all the things she had thought Dan would say to her, this was definitely not on the list, “I hadn’t planned on leaving Tokyo anytime soon,” she started to explain.
Dan cut her off as he let go of her hand, “Because of Nakamura?” he asked, his mouth twisted in a kind of grimace as he thought of the man he perceived as his rival.
“It’s not that …” Ana paused and considered what he said. What was the matter with her? This was a chance to embark on great research under one of the leaders in her field—and one whom she had always admired at that—and she was balking. This was so unlike her; she wasn’t thinking like a scientist at all. Why did it seem as if all her normal thought processes had shut down? A few months ago, she would have leapt at such an opportunity; now she hesitated at accepting a stable, permanent position in lieu of its exact opposite.
She took a deep breath and tried to rationally evaluate the possibilities. If she went to Texas, it would be a few more steps up in her career, it would also be a good change of environment, and the facilities Dan described were more than ideal. Moreover, being with Dan in Texas would allow their relationship to grow closer. This was what she had always wanted, wasn’t it—to get Dan to think of her in a romantic way. She gazed back at Dan and thought back to all the hours she had spent fantasizing about him. He had always seemed the perfect guy for her—not only was he kind and good-looking, he was also someone who understood her passion for her work.
But was that really enough? Why did it seem as if her priorities were shifting? Was Dan really who she wanted? Images of Ken flashed across her mind—she remembered the tender way he smiled at her, the way he rolled his eyes when Yoshi said something outrageous, the irritated frown when he lost an argument and the satisfied grin when he got the best of her. She wanted to stay with Ken. Ana almost blanched at the realization—amidst all the odds and signs that warned against it, she was falling in love with him.
Argh. If she were anywhere else at the moment, she would have willingly pounded her head on a wall. She was a full-fledged idiot.
It wasn’t as if her relationship with Ken was anything permanent, it was as Kaye had said—all scripted from the start. However, try as she might, it defied any sort of rational explanation: in the span of only a few months Ken had somehow surpassed her two-year infatuation with Dan.
Dan watched the conflicting emotions play upon her face. He knew that she was confused at the moment, but he hoped that her rational side would assert itself soon. It was the only intelligent choice to make; however devoted Nakamura may seem at the moment, Dan never put any stock into Ana’s relationship with him. People in the entertainment industry were of the same mold. Nakamura was an actor; inconstancy was almost a genetic imprint. Sooner or later, Ana would realize this. Or so he hoped.
“Ana,” he persisted, reaching for her hand once again, “you don’t have to make a decision right away, but I wanted you to know … I wanted you to know that I want you to come with me. I need you Ana. Together, we can embark on a fruitful career,” he finished earnestly. With that, he picked up his chopsticks and ate his tonkatsudon with renewed vigor as Ana listlessly picked at her meal.
Go to Chapter 18