"Aihara Kaoru? Can we have a chat?"
Kaoru stepped back instinctively when an unknown person approached him. A gruff-looking older man wearing a practical parka and washed out jeans.
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked warily. The fact that the man had waited for him on the street outside the office building raised all sorts of alarm bells.
"An employee." The man handed him a card.
Kaoru scanned it quickly and felt his blood chill. Otsuka Daiki. A private detective.
Which private detective would care about someone like him?
"I have nothing to say to you." Kaoru returned the card and turned away. He walked briskly down the busy street.
"Hey, wait up!" Otsuka ran after him. "I'm not here for information!"
Kaoru kept on walking and ignored him.
"My client wants to pass on a message," Otsuka insisted. "You just have to listen. That's all."
They were now at the bus stop. Kaoru glanced at the convenience store just behind the stop. It was empty.
He headed there and Otsuka followed him in silence.
Once inside, Kaoru bought a bottle of tea and they stood by the counter.
"What do you want to tell me?" Kaoru asked.
Otsuka explained, "My client hired me to find out about Wada Keigo's private life. Specifically, any romantic interests."
Kaoru forced himself to remain impassive. It helped that he felt cold.
"Not my usual type of work but it's a job." Otsuka shrugged. "Anyway, that's how I found you. I gotta hand it to you kid, you're one of the most discreet persons I've tailed in this line of work. Especially if you're seeing someone like Wada."
When Kaoru just kept quiet, Otsuka smiled ruefully.
"It's not what you're thinking. There's no intention to blackmail," Otsuka assured him. "My client has Wada's best interests in mind."
"What's the message?" Kaoru repeated the question.
"That you leave Wada," Otsuka recited as if from a letter. "If your relationship is exposed, the tabloids will have a field day."
Kaoru was careful not to admit to any relationship. "There is nothing to report."
Otsuka sighed. "I don't want to be rude but my client is right. People like them – they move in a different circle. Stories can be spun. Maliciously, especially when money is involved."
Kaoru gripped the bottle and looked down at the counter. A million fragment of thoughts spinning in his head.
"You know that he has fought hard to regain control of his company after his father's death. The vultures are still circling around him."
Otsuka might as well have poured iced water onto him.
"I won't tell anyone," Kaoru whispered. He would never do anything to hurt Keigo.
"You won't," Otsuka agreed. "But someone could find out and use you anyway. I'm talking to you right?"
Kaoru didn't have a response to that.
"My client also says that if you tell Wada about this, he will do anything to keep you." Otsuka's lips quirked. "Apparently, he's stubborn like hell."
"Who is your client?" Kaoru wanted to know. Whoever it was, he or she knew Keigo well.
Well enough to understand that Keigo wouldn't respond well to threats, however well-intentioned.
"Let's just say the person is a long-time friend," Otsuka replied. "Sorry, I can't disclose client information."
"Have a think about it," Otsuka said gently. "My client won't do anything. Just wants you to have a proper think. When you're done, contact me."
Kaoru nodded woodenly and watched as Otsuka left the convenience store.
It was convenient that Keigo was away for a long business trip that week.
The message from Otsuka occupied Kaoru's mind like a chilling wave. He tried to carry on as usual. Thankfully his colleagues at work didn't seem to notice.
He even went out with his friends. It turned out to be a revelation.
"Yeah, what a mess. The head of my department resigned yesterday," Nakamura lamented.
"What happened?" Miyagi asked.
"Rumor is that the Dean got a complaint about his conduct. His new wife used to be a hostess or something."
"So?" Miyagi was confused.
Kaoru suddenly lost his appetite.
"Some fuckers probably just want him out of the way," Nakamura grumbled. "Made up lies about his general conduct or something like that."
"That's unfair," Kaoru whispered.
Miyagi snorted in disgust. "Typical. What do you expect?"
Kaoru kept quiet but it weighed on him the whole evening. It was too much of a coincidence to ignore.
Later, as he sat in bed, Kaoru took out a shoe box and lifted the lid. He leafed through the envelopes from every single night he had spent with Keigo.
When he laid them out, they formed a truly stunning collage.
Kaoru wanted to feel mad at Otsuka and his client.
He wanted to rebel and call Keigo immediately to let him know what had transpired.
He wasn't going to fall into the trap like in those soap operas, where someone kept secrets from someone else because it was better for him/her.
It would have been easier if they had offered a bribe or threatened blackmail.
That would truly turn this whole thing into a cliché.
In the end, Kaoru didn't do any of the above since it brought to the surface the fears he had kept buried all along.
He knew that Keigo was beyond his reach.
He knew that they were so different there was no compromise in their backgrounds.
Kaoru knew, above all, that Keigo deserved better.
Maybe those soap operas had some truth in them after all.
He found Otsuka's card and dialed the number.
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