It’s been one month since Nishiyama was made manager of the convenience store he heads right now…and things aren’t looking good, mostly because there’s a rather rude, uptight employee who doesn’t seem to respect him as manager in the least. Higashino’s a good worker, all things considered, but he nitpicks his fellow employees and wears a sour expression all the time. And it’s not just coworkers that Higashino is nitpicking–it’s Nishiyama himself, which can be really grating. It’s not that he doesn’t think Higashino’s in the right–but can’t the guy be a little gentler with his delivery?
Back in his office, Nishiyama’s friend and supervisor (as well as old flame) Yonemura is keen to remind Nishiyama that I told you so–he’d warned Nishiyama before starting that there would be an annoying employee working under him, and he obviously wasn’t exaggerating. But just at the moment, Nishiyama is a bit more concerned with how close Yonemura is to him right now–a bit too close for comfort. When he makes a point of this, Yonemura teases him for being so oversensitive to Yonemura’s presence.
Yonemura: “That’s all water under the bridge, right?”
After some fiddling with the employees’ schedule, though, a coworker’s sudden request for an evening off means that Nishiyama will be stuck on the late shift with Higashino–manning the store all on their own.
When the night comes, the atmosphere is as awkward as ever, and Nishiyama doesn’t exactly endear himself to Higashino when he gets caught staring at Higashino as the employee inspects a case of desserts–for reasons Nishiyama cannot fathom. As the night drags on, though, Nishiyama starts to realize that, with the late shift being so slow, so few people coming in at the wee hours of the morning, he can’t exactly blame Higashino for finding his attention being focused on details, with nothing else to do but that. Higashino takes first break, settling in the back room for a snack of sweets, sweets, and more sweets.
Nishiyama: “This is…really popular huh…”
Higashino: “Like I know.”
Nishiyama: /Well this is unexpected…/ “So…you like sweets?”
Higashino: “I started eating them more once I came to work here.”
Higashino goes on to admit that, in his younger days, he had to stay thin and couldn’t afford to splurge on sweets, and Nishiyama realizes this is the first time Higashino’s ever talked about himself. Despite the overall awkward atmosphere and spats they got into, Nishiyama actually kind of enjoyed it. So much so that, the next day when Higashino is heading home after his shift, Nishiyama offers to leave with him–and after a moment’s consideration, Higashino agrees to wait for him. Higashino can be difficult, to be sure, but he’s opening up to Nishiyama, it seems, and that inspires Nishiyama to want to get a little closer with him.
As they walk home from the store together, Nishiyama asks what he needed to stay thin for before.
Higashino: “I used to be in a band.”
Nishiyama: “A BAND?”
Higashino: “I thought I might look cooler if I looked a little unhealthy.”
Nishiyama cracks up at the thought of Higashino of all people in a band–was he a singer? No, a guitarist, but after an accident, he lost his ability to play–he’d been part-timing with a moving company at the time, and cut himself using a box cutter. They slip back into conversing casually about their workplace relationship, Nishiyama complaining about Higashino’s unnecessarily sharp demeanor, while Higashino chides him for being overly chatty and always looking annoyed with Higashino. When Nishiyama returns that the annoyed expression is because Higashino is always lecturing him, Higashino offers a rare smile–
Higashino: “Then please try not to need my lectures.”
The expression well and thoroughly throws Nishiyama, who spaces out for a moment, worrying Higashino. They part ways at the station, heading to their respective abodes, and Nishiyama proceeds to berate himself for reacting like that to something so unexpected. He’s straight, after all–why the hell would he be getting worked up over another guy? Sure, there was his relationship with Yonemura before, but…that was just getting carried away. Nothing special. He vows to do a better job of being a proper manager and supporting Higashino in his new venture.
The next evening, during break, Nishiyama invites Higashino–who’s in a sour mood, as someone’s left some old food in one of the fridges–to share a sweet red-bean-paste dumpling with him. Higashino’s sweet tooth wins out in the end, and he offers Nishiyama the first bite.
Higashino: “Here, please go first.”
Nishiyama: “Thanks!” /…Oh, that must be…/
He can see where Higashino hurt himself from this angle, and notes how long and slender his fingers are. The other employees hesitantly take that moment to interrupt–as there seems to be 5000 yen missing from the register. Nishiyama darts out, and Higashino is left to eat his dumplings by himself, but after much frantic searching, they find the missing note wedged under the register by accident. He returns to the break room, where Higashino is still waiting, with relief clear on his features. Higashino dutifully offers him the dumpling he failed to collect before, and with a soft smile, lectures Nishiyama on properly placing money in the register so such errors don’t occur.
Nishiyama reflects that these lectures definitely felt more nagging before, and while it’s nice that Higashino isn’t as annoying as he used to be…
Higashino: “I suppose we’d better hurry and change, then.”
Nishiyama: “Y–yeah…” /I feel like I’ve got a whole new problem now…/
Yonemura is back the next day, commenting on how close Nishiyama and Higashino seem to have grown–what kind of spell has he placed on the poor boy? Nishiyama is adamant that he’s done nothing special, but does Yonemura remember how Nishiyama sprained his knee long ago and couldn’t play soccer anymore? Something similar happened to Higashino…and it’s kind of inspired a desire to protect him in Nishiyama.
Yonemura’s lips curl into a grin–is this pity, then? Nishiyama heatedly denies any such thing, and Yonemura leans in close. It’s really quite unfair of Higashino to steal Nishiyama away like this–not when Yonemura’s the one who wants Nishiyama. He’d never have expected Nishiyama to take to Higashino like this…
Nishiyama is confused–and Yonemura chuckles that their position just then reminds him of their former relationship.
Higashino freezes, when he spots them, but gives no other outward sign of caring, pulling the curtain closed so he doesn’t have to see them in the break room. Mortified, Nishiyama chides Yonemura for a joke in poor taste, and after Yonemura invites him out for a drink, since he’s getting off work now, Nishiyama declines, feeling exhausted with his sleep cycle completely thrown off by these late-night shifts.
Higashino passes by wordlessly, about to start his own shift, and when Nishiyama calls out to him, he excuses himself for a smoke, his attitude curt and sharp.
Nishiyama has well and truly screwed up their relationship now with misconceptions. He feels horrible–and he thinks he knows why.
TO BE CONTINUED…