Aiba stood in front of the building and stared at it. The decoration seemed a bit flashy, and it reminded him of a decorated chapel. Perhaps it’s one of the company’s strategies to attract customers, he thought as he let out a heavy sigh. Hesitantly, he took a step inside the building, or, to be more specific, the marriage agency. The only reason he decided to register was his mother, who kept on nagging him about marriage. He’s going to be 30 at the end of the year, yet he hadn’t had any girlfriend for three years now. It seemed like his mother was worried about his future. Once again, he let out a sigh as he walked towards the receptionist and told her that he wanted to register. She brought him to the waiting room and asked him to wait for awhile.
A moment later, a small young man walked towards him with a smile. He introduced himself as Ninomiya Kazunari.
“You can call me Nino. No need for formality.”
Nino gave him some forms to fill and Aiba did as he was told. He filled in all the information needed and handed the forms back to him. Nino studied the forms and smiled as he looked at Aiba. Then he opened the file that he had with him and began writing something.
“So, Aiba-san, I’m going to give you some questions. Don’t worry, it just a normal procedure that each registered member has to go through. We ask these questions because we want to find the best candidate for you. Can I start?”
“Okay. You’re going to be 30 soon, right?”
“Yes! In December.”
“So, you’re working in a publishing company?”
“’Freestyle Publications’. We focus on art books.”
“And your position is?”
“Ah, I’m a photographer and also one of the writers.”
The interview went on for about half an hour and Aiba thought that it was harder than the job interview he had with Freestyle. He noticed that Nino had been observing him with his mischievous eyes, and it made him felt a bit uncomfortable.
“Now, we come to the crucial question. Your type of woman.”
Aiba stared at Nino blankly. He never thought about it. Sure, he had some features that he liked, but - his type?
Nino’s voice brought him back to the reality. Aiba smiled bitterly as he shrugged.
“I don’t really have a type, I guess. A nice woman is okay.”
“Are you sure? Is there any specific trait that you like? For example, woman who can cook, sew or –“
“Loves animals! I want someone who loves animals. Because people who love animals are nice people.”
Nino nodded as he jotted down the answer into his file. He looked at Aiba and smiled as he closed the file.
“We will contact you when we found a person who suits your criteria. Meanwhile, you can check our website and look around it. You can contact me if there’s someone who attracts you, and we’ll let you meet her. That’s it. Welcome to Storm Marriage Agency, Aiba-san.” Nino said as he shook his hand.
Aiba walked into his office and sat on his chair, he greeted his other colleagues who just got back from lunch. Then he checked the work that he had left before he went out and continued with it. However, he couldn’t focus. He let out a sigh as rose up from his seat and went to the pantry. He needed to refresh his mind. He took a tea bag, put it into his mug and poured hot water into it. Then added two cubes of sugar and stirred his tea.
“Are you okay, Aiba-chan?”
He was startled with the sudden question. He turned and saw Ohno. His boss was standing behind him. Aiba just smiled and nodded.
“Don’t seem like that to me,” Ohno remarked as he took a pet bottle from the small fridge. Aiba let out a heavy sigh as he sat on the chair. His boss did the same and sat across Aiba – eyes looking straight at his subordinate who was also his friend.
“You know that you can tell me anything.”
Aiba glanced at Ohno and then he started to spill his story.
“Storm Marriage Agency?”
Aiba nodded as he sipped his tea.
“The famous marriage agency that claims to have the highest success in bringing people together. My mom kept on nagging me about marriage, so I decided to register. I might find someone there.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“I think so. I might find someone good for me there. I guess it’s not wrong to try.”
Nino stared at the forms that his new client had filled in before. He looked at the computer screen. His hand held the mouse, scrolling through thousands of applicants that would suit the criteria that Aiba had told him. He shortlisted some women whom he thought would be suitable for Aiba.
“A nice woman, huh?” he hummed as he looked through the files that he had put on his table. He tapped his fingers against it.
“Everybody seems nice. Do I need to introduce him to every single female member? Why can’t he give me a little more specific answer? Argh!” Nino grumbled as he took a file and read through it carefully. He found some potential candidates and put aside their files, then took the rest and place them back to their place. He then tidied up his desk a bit and bade farewell to some of his colleagues who were still working.
“Going home now?” his boss, Sakurai Sho asked. Nino nodded.
“Thanks for your hard work.”
Aiba walked into the pet shop that was situated across his office. He had been meaning to stop by and look around ever since it was opened about a year ago, but he couldn’t find any suitable time to do so. He was amazed to see many types of animal that he only had seen in television or magazines and grinned when he saw some guinea pigs playing around in their cage.
“Would you like to hold them?”
Aiba was startled with the sudden question. He quickly shook his head.
“No, it’s okay! I was just looking around.”
The shop assistant smiled, she was already opening the cage and carefully took one of the guinea pigs, holding it carefully in her arms and patting it.
“You need to handle it carefully since it has a very delicate body,” she said – handing the animal to Aiba. He took it and held it carefully.
“Guinea pigs are very nervous. They would surely run away if they are being approached. Therefore, when picking them, we should approach them from the front rather than behind. They would be very frightened if they are suddenly lifted.”
The girl continued explaining as she stroked the guinea pig. She looked at Aiba with a wide smile and Aiba noticed how comfortable the animal was.
“Come on! Stroke her like this,” she said and took Aiba’s hand to put it on the guinea pig.
“Comfortable, right Daisy?”
She nodded. “This is Daisy. The one with the black spot behind her ear is Jasmine. Beside her is Lily. The one that was drinking water is Jack and that brown one is Taku.”
“Eh, it’s amazing how you can distinguish them,” Aiba said, amazed.
“It’s not a problem when you’re familiar with them,” she said, grinning as she took Daisy from Aiba. He helped her to open the cage, while she put Daisy back into it and closed it. Then, she led Aiba to the basin and washed their hands.
Aiba walked to his office with a grin plastered on his face. He chuckled when he remembered the shop assistant. How she couldn’t stop talking about the guinea pigs and the way she explained everything to him. Aiba opened his laptop and clicked on the folder of pictures that he had taken for his latest project. He was so focused on his work that he was shocked when his cell phone suddenly ringing.
“Aiba-san? This is Ninomiya from Storm Marriage Agency.”
“Yes, Ninomiya-san. Can I help you?”
“About a partner for you, we’ve found some who meet your criteria. Do you mind coming this Saturday for a meeting?”
“Saturday? Wait a minute, please.”
Aiba opened his planner, looking if he had any plans for the day.
“Sure. I’m free on that day.”
“Good. Saturday, 9 o’clock.”
Aiba jotted down the time on his planner and closed it. He continued on his work.
When Aiba arrived at the agency, Nino was already waiting for him. He greeted Aiba and brought him to the South Wing of the agency. They walked into a room and Nino briefed Aiba about their meeting. He told him about his partner and any basic information that he should know.
“Basically, you can decide if you want to continue meeting her or not.”
Aiba nodded. There was a knock on the door and a voice announcing that their guest had arrived. Nino excused himself to the next room. Aiba tidied up his appearance and opened the door. His sight was greeted by a chubby woman. He smiled and introduced himself.
“You must be Watanabe Naomi-san,” he said as he escorted Naomi to the table and pulled the chair for her.
“Nice to meet you, Naomi-san,” Aiba said once again as he settled himself across her.
“Nice to meet you too.”
Aiba was nervous as he noticed Naomi was observing him. Silence invaded both of them as nobody had the desire to start a conversation; he totally felt that he had made a big mistake by agreeing to the meeting.
“Aiba-san, what do you do? I mean – your work.”
“I’m a photographer and a writer at Freestyle Publication.”
“What is your hobby?”
“Hobby? I love outdoor activities. Sometimes I would do some experiments on my own.”
“Eh? Experiments? What kind of experiment?”
“Do you know dilatancy?” Aiba asked excitedly. Naomi shook her head.
“It’s like, you mix corn starch with water in a container. The condition of the substance is called dilatancy. It’s interesting to play with it!”
Naomi nodded nonchalantly as she sipped her water.
“So, how much do you earn for a year?”
After the meeting, Aiba told Nino that he had no intentions of meeting Naomi again. Nino seemed a bit disappointed but nodded nonetheless. He promised that he would do his best in trying to find the perfect match for him. Aiba thanked Nino and bade goodbye to him. He left the agency and decided to stop by at the ‘Sarara Pet Shop’. He’s been thinking on the type of pet that he wanted and had found the answer.
Aiba walked into the shop. His eyes looked around for the shop assistant whom he had met before - the cheerful girl whom he didn’t even know her name. He was a bit disappointed when she was nowhere to be seen.
He scanned through all the pets that the shop had and smiled widely when he saw a squirrel monkey. He fastened his steps towards its cage and grinned as he looked at it.
“Its name is Ojou.”
Aiba turned around when he heard the voice and grinned.
“Are you always appearing out of nowhere?”
She chuckled. “I guess so.”
“Ojou, huh? She’s cute.”
“It is. Would you like to hold it?”
She took Ojou from her cage and gave it to Aiba. He held the monkey and carefully stroking her head and chuckled at her face of bliss.
“Would you like to feed her?” she asked, handing him a banana. Aiba gladly took it and gave it to Ojou who happily ate it. He chuckled when he looked at the monkey.
“Ah, that’s right! I don’t even know your name!”
“Why? Is it important to know my name?” she asked him playfully.
“I guess so, since I don’t know what I should call you.”
“Isn’t it more polite to know someone else’s name after you’ve introducing your name?” She said as she took Ojou from Aiba and put her back into her cage.
“Sorry. I’m Aiba Masaki.”
Aiba took out his name card and handed it to her. She took the name card and looked at it. “I’m Becky.”
Nino stared at Aiba’s form in his hand; he let out a heavy sigh. He clicked on the company’s database in order to browse through all the female participants. Aiba Masaki had rejected three female partners that Nino had suggested. In addition, he had started to annoy him. Ninomiya Kazunari never failed in his work. He had managed to bring 49 couples together and he wouldn’t let Aiba ruin his perfect record. He would surely manage to bring his 50th couple together.
“You’re still here?”
Nino turned and saw that his colleague, Matsumoto Jun, was looking at him. Something hit his mind and he grinned as he rose up from his seat and walked towards Jun.
“J, you have a problematic client right? The one who’s too cheerful and has lots of phone straps?”
“Yup! That’s the one.”
Jun frowned as he stared at Nino. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing. It’s just that I’ve found someone that might be suitable for her.”
“If that’s the case, I’ll tell her about it. I get back to you later,” Jun said and excused himself. Nino grinned widely as he watched Jun’s shadow disappear.
Aiba was greeted by Nino when he walked into the agency. Nino introduced him to Jun and both of them brought him to the room that he already was familiar with. He was wondering if his blind date had already arrived and decided to ask Nino about it.
“No, she’s not here yet. I’m sure that Rebecca-san will be here soon.”
Nino nodded. “Yes. Rebecca Eri Ray Vaughan-san.”
Aiba gulped down his saliva. He’s going to introduce me to a foreigner? Impossible! His mind kept on thinking. Nino frowned when he noticed Aiba was fidgeting in his seat and started to wonder why he was nervous.
Aiba took a glass of water and drunk the whole thing before he abruptly got up from his seat and started walking towards the door.
“Wai – wait! Aiba-san, where are you going?”
Nino immediately stopped him from leaving. He pulled him away from the door and stared at him.
“I’m going home! I can’t do this! I know that I didn’t give you a specific criteria but matching me up with a foreigner? It’s unthinkable! I can’t even speak English properly! There’s no way this meeting will work!”
Aiba tried to open the door but Nino stopped him from doing so.
“Wait! Rebecca-san is Japanese!”
Aiba huffed. “Do you think I would buy your word? There’s no Japanese with the name Rebecca!”
“Really? I don’t think so. I’m Japanese and my name is Rebecca.”
Both Nino and Aiba were startled with the sudden intrusion. Aiba was shocked when he saw Becky standing at the other side of the room.
“Becky-san, how did you get in here?” he asked in confusion.
“From that door,” Becky said, pointing at the second door. Aiba chuckled when he realized his question was kind of stupid. Jun and Nino exchanged gazes as they looked at the couple. Jun cleared his throat.
“If you don’t mind me asking, both of you know each other?”
“Ah? Yes! We’ve met before at my shop. He bought a squirrel monkey from me!” Becky said before she excitedly asked Aiba about Ojou.
Looking that those two were in their own world, Nino and Jun excused themselves. Nino grinned victoriously when he peaked into the room and saw that Aiba and Becky were still talking jubilantly.
“I want to meet her again!” Aiba told Nino with wide smile after the meeting. Nino smiled and nodded. He walked towards the receptionist – talking a bit with her and then walked back towards Aiba with a brochure in his hand, he put it on the table and asked Aiba to look at it.
Nino nodded. “It’s one of the activities that we offer. Basically, it is a dating package for you and your date to enjoy.”
Aiba looked at the brochure with foggy expression. He was thinking about the best way to approach Becky without her noticing that he was aiming for her.
“Which is your recommendation?”
Nino smiled as he flipped the brochure open and pointed at the set B.
“I would suggest this. First, you take her to spend time together. You can choose from any place that you want and we will book the tickets for you. Then, you bring her for dinner. During dinner, you can talk about your day and end the night by sending her home”
“Then, I choose this!”
“Do you have any specific place in mind?”
Nino frowned when he heard it. He tried reconfirming with Aiba once again.
“Yes, I would like to go to zoo! Oh, you don’t have to worry about the tickets. I’ll buy it myself,” Aiba said, grinning.
“If that’s so, I’ll inform Rebecca-san about it.”
Becky stared at Jun with wide eyes. She just couldn’t properly register what Jun had told her.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Like I just said, Aiba-san wants to meet you again. This Saturday, around 11.30. The meeting place is Ueno Park”
“Are you serious? For all this while, nobody had ever agreed to meet me after the first meeting. Are you pulling my legs?”
Jun rolled his eyes as he sipped his coffee.
“I told you to call me Becky right?”
“Becky-san, Aiba-san really wants to go out with you. He told that to his agent and I’m sure that he is serious about it. I have no intention of lying to you about it!”
Becky chuckled as he stared at Jun.
“Jun-kun, you need to loosen up a bit! Why are you so serious? You’ll be old faster if you keep on having that serious looks on your face.”
“I’m fine the way I am. Remember, Saturday, 11:30.”
Becky nodded as she jotted down the date in her planner.
Aiba arrived earlier than the promised time and decided to wait at the Ueno Park. He looked around to see if Becky had already arrived but there’s no sign of her. He looked at his watch. I should’ve asked for her number .
Aiba immediately turned around when he heard the voice. A wide smile immediately appeared on his face when he saw that Becky was smiling at him. He stood up and walked towards her.
“Thank you for coming!”
Becky chuckled when she heard it. “Thank you for asking me out.”
Aiba grinned, he felt that his hands were a bit sweaty due to the nervousness. Silence enveloped them until Becky asked about their plan.
“Urm – I was thinking about going to Ueno Zoo together. What do you think about it?”
“The zoo sounds great!”
They walked towards the zoo and lined up together for the tickets.
“You really like animals, huh?”
Aiba looked at Becky and smiled as he nodded. They were feeding a zebra with the food that they bought earlier.
“Animals make me calm. Being with them is enjoyable.”
“I understand it. I guess that’s why I decided to open a pet shop,” Becky said as she patted the zebra’s head.
“What would you do if you didn’t open the shop?”
“Perhaps I’ll be working here – at the zoo,” she said, chuckling. Aiba smiled. He reached for his camera in the bag and snapped a picture of her. Becky was surprised with his sudden action.
“I’m sorry. It‘s just that you look pretty laughing like that.”
She was blushing and immediately turned away and walked to see the animals. Aiba bit his lower lip. He was feeling guilty. Perhaps their date wouldn’t be smooth like he imagined. It was his fault. They were having fun until he had decided to take the photo. He hit his head while mumbling ‘stupid’.
“Aiba-san, let’s go! I want to look at the snake!” Becky called out with a smile.
“Okay!” Aiba said and quickly ran towards her.
Aiba winced when they arrived at the reptile house. He didn’t really like snakes as much as he liked other animals. However, Becky didn’t share the same sentiment as him. She looked really happy – watching all of the reptiles. There was a crowd at the corner of the building. Intrigued, both of them decided to go and check what made the people gathered there.
“Taking picture with the snake? Better –“
“Let’s go! It must be fun!”
Aiba was left with no choice, since Becky had already walked towards the man in-charge. She looked really happy as she patted the snake. The handler helped to put the snake around her neck and she posed for the photo with a wide smile.
“Aiba-san, come here!” she shouted. Aiba shook his head.
“It’s okay. I’ll just wait here!”
Aiba frowned when he saw that she was whispering something into the handler’s ear. Aiba saw that he nodded and in seconds, he noticed that Becky was walking towards him with the snake around her shoulder. Aiba’s eyes went wide when he noticed that Becky was approaching him – grinning mischievously as she was nearer.
“Beck – Becky-san, please! Put it away from me!” Aiba said as he tried to walk away.
“Come on! It’s harmless. Don’t worry.”
“Are – are you sure?”
Aiba was terrified when he saw the snake’s hissing at him. Becky nodded, and asked the handler’s help to put the snake around him. Aiba could totally felt that he was shivering as he felt it around him.
“O – okay! Take it away!” he said loudly. Becky laughed as she thanked the handler once he took the snake away. Aiba’s face was red due to embarrassment while she was still laughing.
“Stop laughing, will you?” Aiba pouted.
“Okay, I’s stop,” she said but totally failed in doing so.
Aiba brought Becky to a restaurant that Nino had recommended to him. He frowned when he noticed that Becky was giggling every time their eyes met. Aiba rolled his eyes. The waiter came and brought their appetizers. Becky was still stifling her laughter.
“Would you stop it?” Aiba whispered when the waiter gone.
“I can’t help it! Your face was really funny! I can’t believe that a man would be afraid of snakes!”
“Normal people would be afraid of it!”
“Are you saying that I’m not normal?”
Aiba was getting flustered as he denied the statement. Seeing his flustered face, Becky couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“I was joking!”
Becky was surprised to find Aiba was waiting for her at the shop a week later. Noticing that the shop was not a proper place to talk, both of them decided to go to the coffee house nearby. She could sense that Aiba was being fidgety. He was nervous and she couldn’t really fathom why. The waiter sent their coffee and excused himself and Aiba immediately took his cup and sipped it – before abruptly put the coffee back because it was hot.
“Aiba-san, are you okay?” Becky asked with concern, and Aiba quickly nodded.
“So, what do you want to tell me?”
Aiba straightened his posture as he faced Becky, directly looking into her eyes.
“I – I think – no! I like you and I would like to date you with marriage as a goal. Would you go out with me?”
Becky was dumbfounded with the sudden confession. She stared at Aiba blankly. He was sweating while waiting for her answer. He used the napkin to wipe his sweat as he nervously waiting.
“I think I would like to give it a try too. I like you too,” Becky said, smiling sheepishly as she looked at him. A wide grin immediately replaced Aiba’s nervous expression.
After about five months of dating, both Becky and Aiba had already met each other family. Aiba was surprised on how fast Becky fit into his family. His mother really liked her. As for Becky, she could honestly tell that her mother was totally smitten by Aiba’s charm. Due to that circumstance, they had decided to bring their family together for a holiday. It was Aiba’s family tradition of having a family holiday in Okinawa once a year. He had decided to invite Becky and her family too.
“Walking along the beach like this is nice, right?” Becky said as she played with the water. Aiba nodded as he playfully kicked the wave that brushed his feet. They went and sat on the beach, contently watching the sea.
“Look what I brought!” Becky said as she took out his iPod.
“I always want to do this, listen to my favorite song while watching the sunset with my boyfriend.”
Aiba took one of the earphones and put it into his ear. He smiled when he heard the song.
“Hitomi wo Tojite?” he teased. Becky grinned. They listened to the song while watching the sun went down. Becky rested her head on Aiba’s shoulder as they watched the sunset in silence.
“Would you marry me?”
Becky lifted her head hastily and stared at Aiba. She could see the determination in his eyes and knew that her ears didn’t play a trick on her. Aiba was really asking her to marry him. A smile slowly forming on her face.
“Would you be with me for the rest of my life? I promise you that I will take a good care of you. I’ll work hard to give happiness for –“
Aiba words were cut short when Becky threw herself on him and kissed him.
“I thought you’d never ask,” she whispered while she looked at Aiba with watery eyes. He wiped the tears and kissed her as he put his hands around her waist and pulled her closer.
Aiba and Becky walked into Storm Marriage Agency, smiling as they approached the receptionist and telling her to call Nino and Jun. They sat at the waiting lounge. Few minutes later, both Nino and Jun came down and went to meet them.
“Rebecca-san, Aiba-san, it’s been awhile,” Nino greeted them as he and Jun bowed down.
“It’s been awhile. Well – the reason we’re here today is because–“ Aiba looked at Becky, she took out two cards from her handbag and gave them to Nino and Jun. Both of them seemed elated when they saw the cards.
“Congratulations!” Jun said ecstatic. Nino did the same while grinning proudly. His 50th couple! After a short conversation, Aiba and Becky excused themselves. Nino and Jun looked at the couple leaving with smiles on their face.
“My 50th happy couple,” Nino mused proudly.