Kaoru stared at the message for a moment.
Keigo had left that night after obtaining his new number together with a promise to call.
When he said that they would start over, Kaoru didn't really know what to expect.
Could they simply be friends? Was that what Keigo meant? Would Kaoru ever be able to look at Keigo and not think of how he used to hold him?
Another messaged popped up.
'It's lunch. Don't think too much.'
Kaoru bit his lip and smiled.
Perhaps Keigo was right. No need to think so much.
He hadn't been this happy for a long time.
It was as if his heart mended a little. He could even picture tiny stitches crossing the wounds.
'Is 1pm okay?'
He wore a casual suit and booked a table at a quiet Italian family-run restaurant. He took the least conspicuous car in his garage instead of the flashy sports model he normally favored. His chauffeur had been amused.
This was as toned down as Keigo could get.
Kaoru said that he would wait at the main station for Keigo, having taken the train from his home.
Keigo spotted him the moment he pulled the car over to the side. He was there in time to watch Kaoru ignoring a passerby who tried to pick him up. Bastard.
Keigo rolled down the windows and called out, "Kaoru!"
The man's face lit up in recognition and ran to his car, leaving the passerby confounded.
Keigo smiled once Kaoru closed the door. "You look good."
Understatement, his mind added. Keigo tried to remember that this was supposed to be two friends hanging out.
It was not a date, he reminded himself. Not yet anyway.
"S-so do you." Kaoru's cheek had a faint tinge of pink. "Where are we going?"
"I found an Italian place. Small and quiet. Is that alright with you?" Keigo asked as he managed the city traffic.
"Anywhere is fine," Kaoru said honestly. He tried to ignore the pounding in his heart. Keigo was so elegant, so handsome. It made Kaoru feel scruffy and unsophisticated.
"How was your week?"
"The team was swamped at work. My boss was in a foul mood! One of the projects met a hiccup." Kaoru recalled the tempers which had flared in the office.
"What was the problem?"
"A clash of ideas with a senior editor," Kaoru explained ruefully. "I guess you must be used to clashes too."
"I specialize in them," Keigo told him in an ironic tone. "Once, one of my managers threw a laptop at another during a meeting."
Kaoru stared at him in shock. "You're not serious, are you?"
"Unfortunately, I am." Keigo shrugged. "At least only the laptop suffered damage."
"What did you do?" Kaoru was curious.
"I asked them very politely if they wanted me to call the police or security. That cooled tempers immediately."
"Oh." Kaoru asked hesitantly, "Do they still work for you?"
"Yes. They may be temperamental idiots. However, they are also extremely efficient idiots."
"I don't think you would suffer any idiot!"
"Patience is a virtue, or so I've been told," Keigo noted dryly.
"It is," Kaoru murmured thoughtfully. "It's hard but it makes things gentler that way."
He added quickly, "That's just what I think."
Keigo glanced at him but only said as he slowed the car around a corner, "We're here."
Kaoru shifted uncomfortably in his seat as a few patrons glanced in their direction. He wondered if they recognized Keigo, who remained unbothered.
"Just ignore them," Keigo remarked and was helping himself to the bread.
Kaoru asked tentatively, "Is this really okay?"
An understanding reached Keigo's eyes. "Is it something Ushida told you?"
"He – the detective - said that it may harm you. In case people find out and start bad rumors." Kaoru almost couldn't say it aloud.
"I meet up with whoever I want to." Keigo's tone was firm. "Frankly, I am a saint compared to some of my peers. And you are hardly tabloid material, Kaoru."
Kaoru couldn't quite imagine Keigo as a saint. However, it was true that Kaoru himself was also as ordinary as one could be.
"You're overthinking again," Keigo cautioned softly.
Kaoru drew in a breath. Keigo was right. They were just two adults hanging out, unlike before. He didn't need to be so conscious about everything.
He should just enjoy their time together. Whatever that would happen, it was still better than having none at all.
"I'll try not to," he promised.
"Anyway, has it ever occurred to you," Keigo said airily. "That people stare because I am rather good-looking and you are quite beautiful."
Kaoru flushed. "No. That's just.."
"The truth?" Keigo supplied with a boyish grin.
"Arrogant and vain," Kaoru corrected.
"Oh?" Keigo had this mischievous glint which made Kaoru's heart sank and floated at the same time. "Watch this."
Kaoru could only try not to look absolutely horrified when Keigo turned his gaze to one particular table of men who had been staring obnoxiously.
Keigo flashed them a deliberately devastating smile.
They turned scarlet red and nearly choked on their food, before looking away immediately.
"You're impossible," Kaoru muttered in defeat. Then he realized that he had relaxed considerably.
It must have been evident to Keigo, who just chuckled and told him, "Save some space for dessert. Their profiteroles are outstanding."
"I had fun today!" Kaoru exclaimed as they reached the train station. He had refused let Keigo drive him home.
"So did I." Keigo could not remember the last time he had enjoyed himself so much. "We should do this again."
Kaoru nodded and said shyly, "Thanks for lunch today. See you."
After he stepped out of the car, Kaoru turned around and gave him a little wave before heading into the station.
Patience is a virtue. Keigo had to play the mantra repeatedly in his head.
Over lunch, it was as if they were getting to know each other all over again. He was grateful that Kaoru had found stability in his life. He had a job that he liked and apparently good friends he could count on. He still had to keep to his medical appointments at the hospital but was otherwise in good health.
Kaoru was no longer the indebted waiter hounded by the burdens of financial hardship from three years ago.
Crucially, Keigo also confirmed that Kaoru was very much single.
When Keigo proposed for a new start, he hadn't formulated the precise details in his mind.
Now, he knew exactly what he wanted.
And Wada Keigo excelled at producing results.
But first, he needed to seek independent advice.
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