Since Our Last Kiss – 1
She had been staring dazedly at the photocopier, it's mechanical whirring noises were the only thing she heard until finally realizing that someone had called her from behind. Chizuru Ayase raised her head in surprise.
But she didn't need to turn around to know who it was.
The person who had called her had already come to stand next to her and was looking into her face; quizzically. He wore a spotless, gray suit, smelled faintly of cologne and had a cleanly shaved jaw. The head of this department, Supervisor Karasawa.
Karasawa was still in his mid-thirties… But had a very relaxed air about him, was proficient in his work, and was a man with a rather nice physical appearance on top of all that, which made him popular with many of the female employees. But he himself seemed to be the type who did not engage in affairs of love, and there were rarely any rumors about him.
But that may, in turn, have given some of the women hope.
Of course, all of this had nothing to do with Chizuru.
"Why are you staring like that? Do you hate the photocopier that much?"
His voice was unnecessarily kind, Chizuru quickly shook her head.
"No, no. Um, I stayed up pretty late last night. I'm just a little tired from that. I'll finish making copies of the doc.u.ment in a minute."
"Really? In that case…"
Karasawa cupped his chin with one hand and continued as if in deep thought. "What kept you up so late? I can't remember, but did you have a boyfriend?"
He was clearly trying to act casual about it, but that question was overly abrupt.
Chizuru pretended to look behind the photocopier as if something had gotten stuck. A little part of her was fleeing from having to look directly at her supervisor's face.
"I-I'm not seeing anyone. I was watching some foreign dramas that I borrowed from a friend. Then I couldn't stop myself staying up watching them."
She could swear on it. Karasawa was visibly relieved.
Chizuru, on the other hand, felt a little impatient, and blurted out:
"Um, so what should I do once I'm finished with these?"
She had learned that it was best to talk about work when you needed to change the subject in these situations. Especially with men like Karasawa, who were actually capable at work, they were easily distracted.
"Ah, yes. There will be a conference in the afternoon in meeting room 1, so you should prepare for that. As always, set the chairs and doc.u.ments, and water…"
Chizuru quietly listened to his directions, nodding as she waited for the copies to finish printing.
Once she saw that the last sheet had been rolled out of the machine, she quickly grabbed the stack of A4 doc.u.ments and moved away from the corner where the photocopier and her supervisor stood.
But he wasn't going to lose so easily, either. Not that it was a game.
"Ayase, I was just thinking."
Karasawa was holding the original doc.u.ment that Chizuru had forgotten.
Ahh, d.a.m.n it.
Chizuru cursed the configuration of the machine.
"I've been thinking… Why don't we have dinner some time? It's still early in the month, so there shouldn't be too much work to do, right?"
Chizuru had no choice but to get close to him in order to accept the doc.u.ment. She cautiously accepted it and answered.
“Thank you so much for the invitation. But, um…I don't really do that kind of…”
She did not continue.
They were both grown adults, that should be all that was needed to get her point across. Karasawa put his now empty hands into his suit pockets and shrugged.
"Is there someone else?"
"That's not it… no, yes, that's right."
She gave a vague answer. Perhaps it would have been better to be blunter about it. But the truth was, Chizuru herself did not know how to explain her situation.
No one would ever believe her if she told them the truth.
She herself would sometimes wonder if it had all been a dream.
Karasawa seemed to be trying his hardest to disguise his hurt expression. He nodded with a slight twitch around his lips.
"In other words, I have little chance…"
He was a good person.
She thought that he was a good person.
But, she couldn't. Even though the man was from a world that Chizuru had started to wonder was all a dream, her heart was still bound to him.
Not even just her heart, but her body.
There was nothing else she could say in answer.
His face remained tight, and his mouth was pressed together to show that he was not satisfied, but at least he nodded back. And without further reply, he left Chizuru and returned to his desk.
This had been the second time she had experienced something like this since her return…or was it?
She was still unable to understand where she stood. She was still unable to shake off the feeling of anxiety that she did not belong in this world, in this life.
She felt empty, sad and lonely.
Her heart grew heavier and heavier.
The next Sat.u.r.day, Chizuru set off to a quiet cemetery on the outskirts of town, in order to visit the tombstone of her grandmother who had pa.s.sed away a few months ago.
After switching trains for half an hour, she walked through the unusually warm October sun. On the way, she bought some incense and flowers and soon arrived at the ash-colored tombstone that had 'Ayase Family Tomb' carved onto it.
Chizuru bent her knees and silently prayed with joined hands before raising her face.
"Grandmother, I'm back."
Of course, there was no reply. But whenever Chizuru would talk to her grandmother like this, she was able to taste a gentle sensation, as if she could return to how her heart was long ago.
Her grandmother, Kazuyo, was her father's mother. When Chizuru's parents had died in a traffic accident, it was Kazuyo who had taken in the young Chizuru and raised her.
She was her savior as well as her closest blood-relative. She was her mother, her grandmother, and her best friend.
She was kind and gentle, but strong to the core. Chizuru had always looked up to her.
Whenever Chizuru felt lost in life and could not find the answer, she would consider what her grandmother might have done, and followed that answer. She did so even in 'that other world.'
In Lukrov's world.
"Yesterday, I was asked out to dinner by this man named Karasawa. He's quite handsome… But I refused him."
Chizuru smiled for no reason in particular.
"I was right to that, wasn't I? You would have done the same, wouldn't you?"
Her grandmother was also the one person in the world who knew about her secret summer during her last year of high school.
Now that she was gone, the secret would be forgotten forever, with the exception of what remained within Chizuru.
She stayed there in front of the tombstone for a while, telling her grandmother of things that weren't really important. Then she finally returned by the path she had come and went home.
The following Sunday was also her day off from work. Chizuru had it easy, as she was a contract worker and not a regular employee.
Her residence was her own house, instead of a rented apartment, and she was not the type to waste money.
As Chizuru had not accomplished anything during her summer vacation, she ultimately decided to start working instead of going to university. But these days, there were not many companies who would employ people who hadn't graduated from university, so Chizuru felt quite lucky that she was able to land in the position of a contract worker.
Also, she felt as if somewhere deep inside, she had a wish to not get too deeply involved in this world…probably.
She had no idea how she could return, but she could not give up hope.
It couldn't possibly just end this way.
“So yeah, I totally recommend them! It was hard to choose because there were so many, but I chose the books that I liked the most and brought them with me. Don't forget to return them when you're done.”
"Ah, thanks… But, I think that's too much."
“Well, I tried my hardest to keep the number down. But each book has there own appeal, you know. Western settings, Chinese settings, reincarnation, no reincarnation, the ones where they start as the underdog are especially satisfying. But then so are the ones where they're immediately treated like a princess!”
It was like listening to a foreign language that you only partially understood. Chizuru chimed in just to keep the conversation going.
It was in the early afternoon, and Chizuru had asked Mai, her old friend from high school, to have lunch with her. As soon as they had settled in their seats, Mai had whispered about bringing 'what we spoke of' and then pulled out a stack of more than ten books.
In fact, when scheduling this lunch by phone, Mai had casually mentioned, 'an interest in novels about being summoned to other worlds.'
Not understanding what she meant, Chizuru had asked what that was, and was told that it was about 'an ordinary girl from j.a.pan being taken to an unfamiliar fantasy world, and things happen.' It was a recently popular genre in fiction.
Chizuru had lost her voice when she heard this.
In all honesty, she was never much of a reader.
At best, she would occasionally read novels that had been adapted to film, best-selling thrillers that anyone else would read. But her heart started to beat faster when she heard Mai talk about these new books.
When Chizuru had asked for further information, Mai readily offered to lend her the books, so they could talk about them together when she was finished.
Chizuru accepted her offer.
Which led to the current scene.
The mountain of books on the table all had glittery ill.u.s.trations on their covers, making them resemble comics. There were even a few that might require a little boldness to pick up. They were undoubtedly pretty, but Chizuru felt that she would probably hesitate if she were at a bookstore.
Mai herself had said that she bought most of them online.
"It was really by chance. I borrowed one book from my cousin and became obsessed. I thought it would be more childish or for nerds, but once I started reading it, I realized that there are plenty that are quite decent. Now I'm hooked. You should read them too, Chizu. I want to talk about them with someone!"
Mai began to look at the menu while Chizuru tried flipping through the pages of one of the books.
She had not known there would be so many in this genre.
Some of them had outlines that were rather shocking… This is almost like…
"What is it? Are you surprised?"
Mai's face appeared from above the menu as she c.o.c.ked her head to the side.
"Oh, nothing, no. I'll give it a go then. I think I'll be able to return them to you by next week."
"You don't need to rush. I have more, so you can borrow them whenever you want."
"Thanks. I'm looking forward to it."
It wasn't that she was expecting anything.
She did not have any hope of one of these books showing her a way to return to Lukrov.
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