It arrived in the middle of a drinking session with his friends. Miyagi and Nakamura had dragged him to a small gathering with an assortment of people they knew from work.
The message was not the usual and it caught Kaoru off-guard.
'Are you still repaying your parents' loan?' – Keigo
Kaoru frowned and typed back.
'How many more installments?'
'A suggestion. I'll pay it off as an advance.'
Kaoru's immediate reaction was to type back a 'No'.
'I should be able to handle it.'
Kaoru really didn't have a good explanation other than he didn't want to be indebted to Keigo instead.
The next response was a call on his phone. Kaoru was shocked.
"Excuse me," he said to the group before standing up.
"Hey, if it is a pretty girl, tell her to join us!" Miyagi shouted.
"Yeah!' his co-worked echoed.
Kaoru rolled his eyes and stepped out of the small restaurant.
"Hello," he answered the call a little hesitantly.
"You shouldn't decline my offer," Keigo fired off.
"It's not what we agreed to," Kaoru tried.
"Of course it is," Keigo claimed. "I am just giving you an advance. The loan must come with a hefty interest rate?"
Kaoru couldn't lie. "Yes."
"Then refusing my offer is just bad financial management," Keigo spoke pragmatically, as if he was presenting a corporate paper. "If you pay off the loan now, that will save you all the interest. Cash and earnings which can be deployed elsewhere."
"How many of our sessions will the advance cover?"
By now, Koaru shouldn't be fazed by how frank Keigo could be about their arrangement but he felt a faint blush creeping into his cheeks.
He did a quick mental calculation and replied, "Seven."
"Perfect. Even better," Keigo sounded pleased.
"Why…are you suggesting this now?" Kaoru wondered.
"My executives are in the middle of negotiating a contract to bind a singer exclusively to advertise for one of our subsidiaries' products," Keigo explained patiently. "It turns out that she may be persuaded by me flying to attend one of her bloody concerts to show some…sincerity."
Kaoru couldn't even begin to see the point of the explanation. "Um, I see."
An exaggerated long-suffering sigh was heard on the other end of the line.
"The point is, Kaoru, it reminded me that you are beautiful and attractive. Before long, someone is going to ask you out seriously and I'd lose exclusivity. I would like some insurance against that for now."
Kaoru didn't know whether to be insulted or flattered.
"You're paying off my debt as insurance for sex?"
It was possibly the stupidest, most inane and ridiculous thing he had ever said in his life. He raised his head quickly and was relieved to see that no passerby seemed to have heard him.
Keigo was not in the least perturbed as he lowered his voice, "Not just sex. It's for sex with you."
Kaoru might just faint, either from feeling tremendously hot or sheer shock.
"I need to think about it," he said faintly. Did he just say that?
"Of course," Keigo allowed smoothly. "I'll see you next week. If I survive the blasted concert."
"It can't be that bad," Kaoru had to smile at that and then added quickly, meaning every word of it, "Have a safe journey."
There was a momentary pause before Keigo responded, "It is that bad but thank you."
After he hung up and returned to the table, Miyagi demanded, "So? Is there a cute girl joining us?"
Kaoru shook his head and smiled. "No, it was just work."
Miyagi slumped and uttered, "Never mind."
Eito, one of Nakamura's fellow researchers at the university, said dryly, "Not everyone is desperate for company like you, Miyagi."
The rest of the table chortled with laughter.
"He's right," Nakamura grinned. "You're a good colleague, Eito!"
"Hey! That's not fair," Miyagi looked at his own co-worker. "Come on, Sugihara. Defend me."
Sugihara shrugged. "Girls ask for your number all the time. You just don't like any of them."
Amidst the chaos, Kaoru drank his beer and enjoyed the fun bantering. His mind drifted slightly to the conversation he just had.
You're hopeless, he thought to himself. Completely, utterly hopeless.
"I've never seen you with Nakamura before," Eito, who was seated opposite across from him, commented. "You were friends from high school?"
"That's right." Kaoru brought his attention back to the present. "Are you in the same lab as Nakamura?"
"Yeah. But we specialize in different areas," Eito answered. "You must have gone to a different university if we've not met before."
"I didn't attend any," Kaoru told him truthfully.
Eito was taken aback before recovering and apologized, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"
Kaoru put down his mug and waved his hands to reassure Eito, "No, no! Don't worry about it."
Eito seemed relieved and then asked, "So, what are you up to now?"
"I work at a clothing store."
Kaoru turned around and rummaged through his backpack's pockets before finding the store's card. "Here. You should check it out. The owner has an online store too."
"Thanks," Eito took the card and slid it into his wallet carefully.
Before their conversation went further, someone called for a random toast. Kaoru raised his mug.
He didn't see exchange of looks between Miyagi and Nakamura or the quiet smile which Eito gave him as they joined the toast.
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