The first time it happened, Isumi pondered the occurrence, but eventually dismissed it as a figment of his imagination. There was no reason for Ogata to be watching him, after all. Many people knew Ogata was interested in Sai, and suspected Shindou to be connected to Sai. Everyone watched Shindou. Surely Ogata was observing Shindou too. In any case, Isumi wasn't someone that drew attention like Shindou was. Or Waya, or Touya Akira, who seemed to be around them a lot nowadays. How conceited of Isumi to think Ogata was watching Isumi! There were plenty of people Ogata could be watching. Certainly not Isumi.
Yet the day Isumi won his shodan match against Kuwabara, Ogata was waiting outside the Institute, casually leaning against his red car.
Isumi walked past that red car, Shindou and Waya beside him, the two younger pros laughing and joking about Kuwabara's face as they'd finally stopped playing. As they walked, Isumi felt the skin on the back of his neck prickle. He faltered for the briefest of moments, but didn't turn around. Something told Isumi it would have been a big mistake if he had.
He beat Shindou by two-and-a-half moku in the Juudan qualifiers, and Touya Akira by half a moku in the same. Isumi was relieved at the latter result; he'd lost to Touya by one-and-a-half in the Meijin preliminaries last week. China notwithstanding, he'd still felt some trepidation at facing Touya Akira so soon after the last defeat.
I can do this, Isumi thought as the elevator doors opened and he stepped out. Five more matches. Then the preliminaries begin. The next match was against Honda in a week's time, but his record against Honda had been improving steadily.
Isumi froze. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't realized he'd walked right past someone. As he turned and realized who it was, he wasn't sure whether to be relieved or dismayed. Ogata wouldn't consider it disrespect and would certainly recognize it for the absent-mindedness of a fellow go pro, but at the same time ... it was Ogata.
Ogata, who was standing on the passenger side of the car and opening the door.
Finally remembering his manners, Isumi bowed to the other. "I'm sorry for not greeting you, Ogata-san. I was lost in my thoughts and did not notice my surroundings. Please do not be offended," he said politely. Ogata was unlikely to be insulted, but civility should always be observed.
"Apology accepted, Isumi-kun," Ogata said. "I'd like to speak with you a while. Where are you going? Please let me give you a ride."
A ride with Ogata? Isumi had heard some cliches about the driving abilities of the owners of red cars. "Waya is waiting for me at the ramen shop on the corner," Isumi said, thinking quickly.
"Waya-kun is currently playing against Kadowaki-kun, and as they've only just begun, I doubt Kadowaki-kun will have defeated him yet," Ogata said with a touch of impatient arrogance. "Don't bother to lie if you can be proven wrong easily, Isumi-kun. Your mother or your classmates or even Sakurano would have made better alibis."
Caught in the lie, Isumi felt his cheeks heat. "Please accept my apologies. I must have gotten the day confused. I'm meeting Waya tomorrow," he muttered, not meeting Ogata's eyes as he seated himself, trying hard not to let his reluctance show.
"Better," Ogata said as he slid smoothly into the driver's seat, and Isumi knew neither of them had been fooled in the slightest. The car smelled of stale cigarette smoke and citrus air freshener. Isumi tried not to comment, but he was inordinately grateful when Ogata pressed a button and the window beside Isumi slid down a bit, letting in some cool afternoon air.
As they pulled out into traffic, Ogata spoke. "Am I to take it you have no further appointments this afternoon?"
"My mother will expect me for dinner," Isumi said quietly in defeat.
"Call her and tell her you're having dinner with a colleague," Ogata said.
Isumi paused. "Excuse me?"
"I'd like to speak with you. Please notify your mother not to expect you for dinner," Ogata repeated, clearly and slowly, as if speaking with a young child.
Isumi flushed in angry embarrassment. "It would inconvenience my mother, Ogata-san. I'm sure you could have invited me for dinner further in advance."
"I apologize for the slight inconvenience, and I promise to return her son at a suitable hour," Ogata said. "However, it is still early, and most housewives do not begin preparing the meal too early in case the food gets cold. If you don't call her now, however, she will have begun cooking, and then that will be a true inconvenience."
Unable to think of a suitable retort, Isumi closed his eyes a moment. Ogata was right, after all. There was no polite way to tell Ogata he was being pushy without sounding rude, and perhaps his mother might be able to have a quiet dinner with his father. Shifting a little, Isumi pulled out his cellphone and dialed.
His mother had not begun, and in fact, sounded delighted. When Isumi ended the call, he said, quietly, "My mother thanks you for your kindness. She'll be going to a restaurant tonight."
"There," Ogata said, but thankfully didn't follow that statement with anything else. Isumi sat quietly and looked out the window, angry with himself for being led so easily.