It’s been four years.
Rika mused as she gazed out the window. The street was as lively as ever. As if Japan’s loss had never occurred. The news of the loss had spread throughout the whole country like wildfire, shaking the strong belief the people had – that Japan was invincible.
It also took away the people Emma held dear to her. The same people who I considered as my comrades.
Rika had met Emma a few months after she was taken in by the men in D-Agency, when she got lost after being separated from her Papa during an evening out in town. After questioning, she discovered that Emma was being brought up in an all-male environment. Which was something she didn’t approve for such a young girl. That was the first thing she told Emma’s dad when they met. After a brief argument – one which she refused to back down from, they came to an agreement that Rika would take care of Emma once a week. Emma, delighted at the prospect of being with another female, readily agreed to the arrangement.
That was how Rika knew the men of D-Agency. Each week, a different man would accompany Emma to meet her. Although shocked at first (who wouldn’t? Knowing that Emma wasn’t living with just a man but with eight men), Rika slowly grew to know each of them and over time, understood the reason why Emma was so attached to them. They took good care of Emma and raised her well despite being being men. Despite being spies.
That’s right. She knew they were spies. Led by the Lt. Colonel Yuuki who wouldn’t allow a single military man into the agency. The commoners who went through intensive training before being the final eight spies. Working in the inn where the military soldiers frequented brought its benefits. Get drunk, and all the secret spilled out. It wasn’t rare for that Colonel Shuto (or was it Muto?) to spew out insults at the D-Agency once he got too drunk. Being the curious person that she was, the information she gathered was enough to tell her about D-Agency’s existence. And the fateful meeting with Emma simply confirmed the rest.
Rika doubted the spies knew about her knowledge. Maybe they did, maybe not. If they did, it seemed that they trusted her enough to keep their secret. Not that she was keen on selling them out. It would break Emma’s heart after all. It had been very peaceful.
But in the end, peace was just an illusion.
It was a freak accident. The spies were all gathered at the north part of town, having a nice dinner together – when an enemy country attacked the neighbouring area they were in. The neighbouring area. They shouldn’t have gotten caught up in it. But, that stray bomb. That stupid stray bomb. It went to the very area they were having dinner. It was a quick death, being right at the centre of the explosion.
Rika had been with Emma at that time. They had asked for a favour to take care of Emma while they enjoyed their dinner. When the news finally arrived, Rika had asked Emma to bring her to D-Agency where they held onto a glimmer of hope. That somehow the eight of them weren’t affected by the bombing. But that hope was crushed when Sakuma arrived at D-Agency, confirming the very thing that Emma didn’t want to hear. It drove Emma into a hysterical mess. Not knowing what else to do, Rika had promised Emma that she would never leave her alone. This comforted the girl a little, knowing that she was not alone. She even took to referring to Rika as her “Mama”.
It was a good thing I was there. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen to Emma if I wasn’t with her at that time. Perhaps things would have been even worse for her.
“Something bothering you, my lady?”
I have got to stop being so distracted, damn it.
Rika looked away from the window to see a young man around her age standing at her table, holding a bag at his side. Wide eyes hidden behind a pair of round-framed glasses. Brown hair hidden under a hat placed firmly on his head. A slight smirk on his lips. Anyone looking at this man would had find him extremely handsome. Rika would have too, if it weren’t for one disconcerting fact.
“Hatano,” she nodded at the man.
No, it was not the Hatano that she knew. Not Hatano of D-Agency, a spy. This man was the florist in her town. She met him a few years ago when she visited the flower shop he worked at. Despite having the same name as that irritating spy, nothing about his attitude nor his appearance was similar to the Hatano she knew from the brief times he accompanied Emma.
“May I take a seat?”
Ugh, I really don’t want to see his face right now. Especially not today.
Although she had nothing against him, just uttering his name was painful. It brought back the pain of losing everyone. If only his name was not “Hatano”, Rika might have been more willing to get to know this man more.
“So,” Rika began. “What brought you here? I thought you’re always at the flower shop?”
Hatano laughed. “I’m not always at the flower shop, my dear.” Don’t call me that! “I had some free time since there’s a new person helping out today. So the owner pretty much told me to get out and get some fresh air. Besides, my favourite customer hadn’t dropped by today so imagine my joy spotting you in this coffeeshop.”
Trying hard to not roll her eyes, Rika sipped her cooled tea with a (fake) smile on her face. Hatano had been hitting on her for a few months now, totally undeterred by her lack of response each time. Instead, it seemed to encourage him even further.
“Oh yeah. Today’s the day right?” he continued. “The death anniversary of your family?”
Rika winced slightly. Family here referred to D-Agency. It wasn’t exactly the day they died, nor was it the day Sakuma died. But Rika had always chosen this date to visit that place, every year without fail.
“Yeah,” she replied, placing her cup down. “I assume you have my order prepared already?”
“Of course. Only for you. In fact, I brought it along with me in hopes of seeing you!”
Eyebrows furrowing, she finally noticing the contents of the bag. The same bouquet she ordered every year was carefully placed inside. She glanced at Hatano, a dopey smile plastered on his face.
I really want to wipe that smile off his face. More like smack it off.
“And what if you didn’t manage to find me?” she questioned.
“Then I’ll just wait at the flower shop for you!” he replied cheekily.
“…and what if I never came today?”
“I know you’d come today either way. There was no way you’d miss the anniversary.”
Rika cursed silently, hating how he knew everything about her. Yet, she knew nothing of him other than the fact that he was the florist. Perhaps she was at fault, not wanting to get close to him. She took out her purse, intending to swiftly pay him and hightail out of his presence.
“Ah, ah! I want a different payment this time.”
Fingers paused from taking out the currency inside wallet. “Huh?”
“Go on a date with me.”
“You heard me. Go on a date with me, that’s the payment for the bouquet this time~,”
Rika opened her mouth to object but the look he gave her made her think twice. A very open and innocent look. Yet his eyes were silently pleading her, asking her for just one chance. And although she knew better than to involve herself with this man, she somehow found herself accepting his proposal.
Hatano’s eyes lit up with delight. “Great! I’ll leave this with you then,” he said in a rush as he stood up to leave. “Don’t worry about the date and time. I’ll come and pick you up. We can bring Emma along if you want. Though she might be surprised upon she hearing my name. The same as her Papa’s friend-”
He abruptly stopped. Something flickered in his eyes, too fast for Rika to catch. “Uh, see you!”
Bewildered, she watched him hurry out as if a beast was chasing him. Dread began to pool in the pit of her stomach. She was seriously starting to regret agreeing to go on a date with him.
“What does he mean by ‘don’t worry about the date and time’?” she huffed. “How am I supposed to prepare myself? And why would Emma be surprised hearing his name-”
She paused. A sudden thought struck her.
Wait a minute. How does he know that Emma knows someone of the same name?