Ironically, the incident with his mother and Yamato gave Keigo the perfect avenue to weed out who he could and could not count on for support amongst his board and employees. Trust was a stretch too far and Keigo didn't expect such devotion.
A shared vision for Wada Corporation, united by self-interest and love of profits. That was all the ties which bound them.
"Sir, your next appointment is at eight. Do you want to leave from the office?" his efficient secretary, a matronly and humorless lady named Akino, asked.
Keigo was surprised that she and the family chauffeur had both chosen to stay after serving his erratic father. He rewarded them handsomely for their loyalty and discretion.
The watch indicated that it was just past six in the evening. He had time to spare.
Oddly, his mind turned to Kaoru, who he knew so much and next to nothing about.
"I need to go somewhere else first," Keigo decided.
"I'll get the car ready. Will you be coming back here?"
"Probably not." Keigo smiled widely. "Do you ever smile, Akino?"
"Probably not," Akino returned evenly, though there was a glint of mirth in her eyes. "You do that enough for all of us. Sir."
"You are the only woman immune to my charms," Keigo pretended to complain.
She arched an eyebrow. "As it should be. Is there anything else?"
He grinned, "No, thank you."
She bowed slightly and left the office.
Keigo searched for the address on his phone.
His manager commented from behind the till, "Business is good this month."
"I think so," Kaoru agreed.
"Which is also good for our jobs," she remarked wryly. "I'm going to grab a smoke before the evening crowd. Cover me."
After she ducked out, Kaoru went to the changing rooms to tidy up the discarded clothes and hangers. He was just about to finish hanging some of the clothes back on the racks when another person stepped in.
"Welcome!" Kaoru called out and turned around. He exclaimed. "Eito!"
"Surprise. I was in the area so I thought I'd popped by."
Kaoru wondered if it was really a coincidence but laughed inwardly at himself for being presumptuous.
"Do you want to have a look around?" he asked.
"Not my usual style," Eito admitted a little sheepishly. "Maybe you could recommend something?"
"Sure!" Kaoru smiled. The store's aesthetics was indeed a bit satirical compared to the streamlined clothes which Eito was wearing.
"Hmm, maybe something simple," Kaoru decided and browsed through the options before selecting a couple of shirts. "You can get away with these at work, I think."
He assessed Eito quickly to gauge the right size before pulling them off the rack.
"Are the colors okay?" he asked.
Eito nodded. "Let's try them."
"This way please." Kaoru led Eito to the changing rooms. "Just call out if you any help."
When Kaoru went out to the store front, he frowned slightly. Was there a fleeting gaze? Or was he imagining things?
The manager came back then and asked, "Do we have a customer?"
"Yes, he's trying on a couple of things," Kaoru snapped out of his thoughts.
"Aihara, what do you think?"
They both looked at Eito who had stepped out in one of the shirts.
"That looks great on you!" the manager blurted out.
Eito looked embarrassed. "Really? I must admit I'm a bit self-conscious."
"You look really good in it," Kaoru said truthfully.
In fact, Eito cut a very handsome figure. Quiet and understated.
Kaoru couldn't help comparing him to a certain man who was the direct opposite. He was suddenly aware of the fading marks on his body underneath his own clothes.
Eito looked pleased by his comment and went back to the changing room.
"Do you know him?" his manager elbowed him.
"Yes, through a friend," Kaoru replied.
"You need to get your friends here if they all look like that!"
"He can hear us!"
"What? I'm just saying that-"
There were footsteps and his manager gave him a smirk before scurrying off to greet another customer who just came through the door.
Kaoru's attention was taken by Eito, who just emerged and holding the shirt.
"I think I'll take this," Eito said with a grin.
"Thank you very much!" Kaoru said and they went over to the till.
As he scanned the item and swiped the credit card, Kaoru could hear his manager fawning over the other customer. No, almost fangirling.
They were blocked by the long rack running down the middle of the shop but her excitement was evident.
He gave Eito an awkward and apologetic look.
Eito just shook his head with a wry smile.
Kaoru bit back a chuckle and told him, "I hope you will like wearing it. It's machine-washable so it shouldn't be too much trouble to care for."
"I'm sure I will. You picked it for me, after all."
Kaoru's hands halted for a second before he finished packing and handed the purchase to Eito.
Eito continued seriously, "I don't mean to be forward, Aihara. But you probably know that I am interested in you."
"We've only met once," Kaoru tried to remind him.
"True, but we can get to know each other better," Eito offered warmly. "That is, if you wouldn't mind."
"I can't," Kaoru said apologetically.
Disappointment crossed Eito's face. "Are you dating someone?"
"N-not exactly," Kaoru admitted. "But he is…I'm sorry, Eito."
Eito studied him before shaking his head. "There's no need to apologize. We can still be friends?"
Kaoru nodded gratefully. "Thank you.'
Then he asked, "Do you want to return-"
Eito picked up the bag. "No, I'm keeping this. I didn't buy it just to impress you."
They both laughed and somehow the tension dissolved.
"No need to see me out," Eito told him. "Let's grab a drink with Nakamura sometime?"
"Sure!" Kaoru beamed.
When Eito left, he let out a sigh of relief. He felt terrible for turning Eito down. A man who Kaoru should want to know. Respectable, intelligent and straightforward.
Before his thoughts could go any further, his manager called out, "Aihara, could you come here please?"
Kaoru really didn't want to witness his manager's antics in person but dutifully went over to the other side of the rack.
He almost choked.
"Exactly his height and build," Keigo noted with approval, taking in his appearance with a deceivingly even smile.
"Perfect!" the manager exclaimed and gestured to the selection of clothes laid out. "Then these sweaters would definitely suit him! Aihara, this gentleman here is looking for a gift."
"For my cousin," Keigo clarified and shrugged helplessly. "So I'm afraid I was a bit lost. He did mention this shop so I am in your hands."
Wada Keigo was anything but helpless and lost right now. Kaoru didn't trust himself to say a word. It was all he could do not to glare.
In his suit and tie, Keigo should look out of place here. However, with his charm and demeanor, he had a way of looking as if he was exactly where he should be.
Kaoru couldn't fault his manager for her behavior. He was the worst offender here.
"Would you also want to get this?" she was saying, holding up a jacket.
Keigo suggested innocently, "If you don't mind, perhaps your assistant here could try it on?"
"I don't think-" Kaoru attempted an escape.
"O-of course!" she interrupted and pulled Kaoru's arm aside.
Kaoru could feel her fingers digging into his skin. He took the jacket and put it on. Aware that Keigo was watching him closely, underneath that amiable façade.
His manager announced, "What do you think? Doesn't it look good?"
"Very," the other man murmured. Kaoru fought not to glower and removed the jacket immediately.
"I'll take all of it," Keigo announced and turned to the manager, "I cannot thank you enough for your help."
Kaoru worried if she would collapse.
"No-not at all! Please, let me show you to the till," she said hurriedly and passed the clothes to Kaoru to carry.
He followed them and began to fold the clothes as they are scanned them. Kaoru refused to look at Keigo.
"I didn't ask, is this for a special occasion?" she queried.
"Not at all."
"I've not been very good to him. This is a poor effort at an apology."
She drew her own inferences, inaccurately, "Ah, you must have been too busy to see him."
Kaoru's heart skipped a beat.
He finished packing and turned around to place the bag on the counter. His manager was swiping the card and looking down at the machine.
"Are you seeing him soon then?"
Keigo looked straight at him. "I hope so. This weekend."
It took Kaoru a moment to understand that Keigo was asking him. Not over a message or a call.
He was asking him. Now. In person.
"That's great!" she exclaimed.
"If he would agree," Keigo continued, not wavering his gaze.
Kaoru gave him a tiny nod.
That earned him a smile that threatened to set the marks on his body on fire.
"I'm sure he will," she tried to reassure Keigo, oblivious to the exchange. "If you would sign here please."
Keigo took the pen and signed the bill.
"Thank you, sir. Please, let me show you to the door," she carried on. "I hope your cousin can see the effort you've put in."
Kaoru trailed behind them, looking at Keigo and still trying to process what had just happened. Suddenly, he wanted to just reach out to touch him.
Keigo inclined his head and gave them another brilliant smile before leaving. He walked down the street, where a car was waiting for him.
Once he left, Kaoru's manager exploded. "Oh my god! What a hottie! Here, in our little store!"
Kaoru watched the car sped by and didn't say anything.
"I'm going to get water," she continued. "It's our lucky day, Aihara! Two good-looking men in an hour! What are the chances.."
He shook his head at her reaction and felt the phone in his pocket buzzed. Kaoru fished it out and stared at the message.
A place. A time. This Saturday.
Then Keigo ended it with, 'Stay the night.'
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