The elevator door opens, and Retsuko stares in shock at the sight of Tadano. He is as tall and handsome as ever, sharply dressed in the black and red suit he wore the last time she saw him. Tadano remains expressionless, except for his dilating pupils registering her presence. The red panda steps into the elevator, standing beside the donkey in awkward silence, given that this is their first encounter since their breakup at the karaoke bar, one month ago.
Tadano doesn’t move, but his eyes wander to see Retsuko’s profile. He’s surprised to see that she's still wearing her uniform, even though her workday is already over. He wants to say something, mind racing to come up with the right words, but everything he can think of gets stuck in his throat.
Retsuko steps closer to the elevator’s door, back to him, and says his name.
That one word makes him choke, and his heart is racing as he stares at the back of her head. He wants her to say something else, anything, but her next comment absolutely knocks the breath out of his lungs, just a few syllables spoken in her soft voice.
He can’t move.
Suddenly, he can. Tadano jerks around to face her. Retsuko is looking up at him, sad, resolute and unsure. The elevator dings and the doors open at the first floor, but their stares are still locked together, each waiting for the other to say something.
-Good evening, Mr. Tadano!
An elegant duck lady from Sales bows respectfully, interrupting their trance, and Tadano peels his gaze away from Retsuko, turning blindly to the new party. He replies with something perfunctory and meaningless, words that he will never be able to recall later.
Retsuko jerks away as well, as if remembering. She steps off and walks a few feet into the lobby, listening hard for the sound of footsteps coming from behind her.
Tadano stays in the elevator, with a vacant expression in his eyes. The elevator door slides closed in front of him.
Retsuko bursts into tears in the silence.
Haida turns around, seeing Retsuko standing motionless with a hand pressed to her face. Her shoulders are shaking, and she seems to be crumpling in on herself.
Fenneko looks up from her phone. -What about her?
She sees the look on the hyena’s face, and follows his gaze. Fenneko’s eyes meet Retsuko’s, brimming with tears, and the fennec fox suddenly realizes what just happened. -Hoooly SHIT…
Haida frowns, dumbfounded and alarmed. -What?
-I… I’m gonna murder him…
Haida is furiously scratching the tag of his bottle of beer with his thumbnails. -I’ll murder him. And then I’ll revive him so I can kill him TWICE. And then—
-Haida, chill. Like, read the fucking room?- Fenneko says, gesturing towards Retsuko, who is despondent in her corner of the booth. She’s been quiet all evening, nursing a glass of water, casting the occasional longing glance at Haida’s and Fenneko’s drinks, but mostly staring vacantly off into space. But at Haida’s last comment, she seems to rally a bit, and gives him a tired look.
-It’s over, Haida, just… Leave him alone. Please.- Retsuko says in a defeated tone, looking down. Fenneko looks sideways at her, while sipping on her beer.
-What are you gonna do, Retsuko?
-I don’t know.- She sighs, loudly. -My mom’s gonna be PISSED…
-I mean…- She chuckles. -She’s always wanted grandchildren, right? Haha…
Now she’s getting one… And I didn’t even have to date one of her bachelors!
Not that any of them would want me, now. Not like this…
Retsuko gently touches her stomach as she speaks, and then the tears start coming again. She covers her face with both hands so she doesn’t have to see her friends’ responses to her next comment.
-I’ve really messed it up this time, haven’t I?
Fenneko places a comforting hand on Retsuko’s shoulder, while she and Haida watch their friend cry her heart out.
Fenneko and Haida are sitting at the bar, with another round of drinks. Retsuko’s already gone home, claiming fatigue.
-I had a feeling about her. Ugh, I hate being right… sometimes…- Fenneko rants, slurring her words a little bit. Haida hums absentmindedly, lost in his own drunken thoughts. And then he says it.
-I’m gonna do it.
-What, kill Tadano?- Fenneko snickers, looking sideways at her friend. Haida rubs his neck, looking away.
-Nnno… the right thing… for Retsuko. A-and the… child…
Fenneko sobers up in a second. -Haida… no. It’s a terrible idea. The WORST.
-Hear me out—
-Retsuko still loves him. She’s having his kid. Guess who doesn’t belong in that picture?
-He left her—
-Tadano will come back and you know it. Those two are bonafide drama queens, I swear… The karaoke breakup? The elevator baby reveal? Real classy, Retsuko…
-Maybe… she’ll fall for me too.
He just smiles, and Fenneko sighs in resignation.
-You are an idiot. Even if she says yes… This won’t end well. Somebody’s getting hurt. YOU.
Haida lets out a rueful laugh. -Heh… Aren’t we all?
Back at her apartment, Retsuko’s lying sleepless in her bed, waiting for her phone to ring.
Somewhere across the city, Tadano’s lying on the seat of his limo, his eyes covered by his arm. His phone is on the floor.
A week later, Retsuko is barely asleep when her phone starts ringing. She fumbles to pick it up, and answers, startled. -Hello?
-Can… can I come see you? Right now?
Retsuko looks at the time. 3 AM. She’s so tired, but she can hear the person on the other end of the line breathing softy, waiting for her response.
She rubs her eyes before giving her hesitant reply. -Ok…
She is absolutely not expecting to hear a few gentle knocks coming from her front door a few seconds later.
-Can you open the door for me?
Retsuko slides out of bed and makes her way to the door. Haida is on the other side, his phone pressed to his ear. He gives her a little wave and a sheepish smile. His fur is a little damp from the rain, but he is sober, smelling only like himself and the leather of his jacket.
Retsuko stands there in her nightshirt and a pair of sleep shorts. Staring at him, sleepy, sad. Unsure. The night air is a bit chilly, and she steps back to let him into her apartment.
He follows her to her table. Haida slips his shoes off in the dark, like it’s familiar, and they sit down together. They’re on their knees on her cushions.
-Can I get you anything?
He shakes his head, running a hand through the fur at his neck.
He breathes in deeply. Shakily exhales.
Seconds pass and she waits. And then, slowly, his breath becomes even.
He swallows, and turns to face her properly. Gripping his knees for a moment.
Retsuko can’t take the silence anymore. She needs to do something.
-I’ll put the kettle on.
She makes to get up, pushing herself up using the table, but Haida’s hand shoots out, gently but firmly gripping her wrist.
She looks at him, draped over her table. -Haida, what—?
She falters, and sits down again with a thump.
He fumbles for her other hand and when he has both of them, looks at her with a beseeching expression.
-I’ll marry you.
Haida leans forward even more, and his thumbs gently stroke her wrists.
-I’ll marry you, so you don’t have to do this alone.
He repeats himself, and doesn’t let her pull away. She couldn’t move if she wanted to, her legs completely numb.
Retsuko stares at Haida, at a loss for words. Their silhouettes remain still in her dimly-lit room, with only the sound of a distant siren rushing through the night.
Retsuko is getting changed in the ladies’ locker room. A simple wedding band glitters on her finger.
-So you fools really did it. Wow.
-I know, I know. Congrats.- A pause. -Just, do me a favor? Be careful…
-Ah… I'll be ok, don't worry…
Fenneko stares at her. -It's not you that I'm worried about.
Retsuko stares back, brow furrowed, but then Kabae is bearing down on them, crying happy tears. -RETSUKOOO YOU GOT MARRIEEED!
Haida is buying a coffee from the machine, gazing at the wedding band on his finger.
-FINALLY. Could've at least texted me, jerk.
Haida turns around to see Ookami, and smiles apologetically. -Sorry. It was a spur of the moment thing…
-Can't imagine any other way.- Ookami chuckles. -Did you get her drunk? Pregnant? All of the above?
Haida takes a sip from his coffee, narrowing his eyes at the fox. -Are you running bets? Again?
-… It's 8/1 on the pregnancy odds…
-Fuck. Sign me up. I need the money…
-I always knew Haida was a good suitor for you. And I'm happy for you both. But. Isn't this a bit too fast?- Washimi asks, while waiting for her tea to cool. Retsuko nods, her answer already prepared.
-Well… We thought, why wait when we're sure, right?
-Why didn't you tell us?! We could've thrown you a party!- Gori pouts.
-Sorry… We decided to be discreet because… you know, I just broke up with—
Washimi and Gori hum in agreement, both thinking of the pastel donkey.
-Have you seen him?- Retsuko is unable to stop herself from asking. Her friends exchange looks, having a quick, silent conversation before Washimi turns back to Retsuko.
-Didn't you know? Tadano cancelled his project with Chararyman two weeks ago.
-It was out of the blue. His lawyers came to finalize the contract.
-I heard he’s now courting investors in China…
-Ah.- Retsuko smoothes her skirt down her legs and reaches for her cup. -That’s… awesome. I’m happy for him.
Retsuko gulps her tea, teeth clinking against the cup. She drains it and pours herself another cup, staring down into the liquid.
-I need something stronger than this…
-Oooh! Let’s go to the karaoke to celebrate! We can have a belated bachelorette party! And DRINK!
Retsuko goes pale, remembering. -Oh. I forgot… I can’t. I have something to do with Haida…
-Oww… That’s how it starts! We’re gonna grow apaaart!- Gori cries.
Washimi smiles at both of them. -Ignore her, and enjoy your newlywed life, Retsuko. We’ll drink to that!
-And that brings us back to the kitchen…
Haida nods, gazing around the apartment, hands shoved in his pockets.
-So, that is the official tour… umm… And I got another set of keys for you from the landlord.
He holds out a hand for them, and they jingle as they fall into his palm.
He nods again, his glance sweeping over the room one more time.
-Are you sure you don’t wanna move to my place? It’s roomier…
-I like it here… Besides, it’s closer to the office.
They shuffle awkwardly, not looking at each other.
-Where am I sleeping?
-Uh… here.- She gestures to the floor beside her bed, the space littered with food wrappers, crumpled tissues, and empty dishes.
Haida steps over to the area beside her bed and gingerly picks up a dirty sweater. He glances at the rest of the mess, and turns back to his new wife.
-Retsuko, you can’t live in a pigsty like this. Especially not now, not in your state…
She crosses over to Haida and rips the sweater from his grasp, folding it sloppily under her arm.
-Please don’t patronize me, Haida. I hate that.
-Ooo…kay. I was just… You know what, forget it. I’ll help you clean.
Retsuko sighs. -Sorry, I’m in a foul mood today. Can we just call it a day?
Later that night, Retsuko is sleeping on her bed and Haida lies awake on his futon, next to her. This is definitely not how he had imagined married life. For the first few days, at least.
Retsuko whimpers in her sleep. Haida sits up, to check on her. -Retsuko?
He can see she is definitely having a nightmare, her forehead creased as she whines and mumbles. -N-no…
Haida can’t help himself, and caresses her cheek. -Retsuko, wake up. You’re having a bad dream…
Her face tenses at his touch, and then relaxes. A tiny smile pulls at her lips, and she sighs. -Tadano…
Haida freezes, taking his hand off her. He sags down into his futon, and passes his hand wearily over his face, the ring burning on his finger. His phone lights up his miserable face as he begins typing out a message.
What have I done
Told. You. So.
Retsuko stares at Haida, blindsided by his proposal.
-I… don’t feel the same for you…
-I know.- He shrugs, with a resigned smile.
-This… is too much. Marriage… and a baby…
-We can help each other… be a team. Team Baby.
-Why are you doing this, Haida?
-You have to ask?- He smiles, fondly. -You are my friend and I want to help you… I want a family, I… want you.- He lets out a self-deprecating laugh. -As you can see, I have my own selfish reasons.
Retsuko tears up, her chin dropping down to her chest.
-I don’t think I can ever love someone again…
Haida lets go of one of her wrists and gently tips her face up so she can look at him.
-You will love your child. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll love me too? I’ll do my best to take care of you. I promise you, Retsuko.
Retsuko stares at Haida for what seems an eternity, searching for something in his face. Then, finally, she sighs, and adjusts his grip on her wrist so she can squeeze his hand instead.
Haida smiles, a bit teary-eyed himself. -Ok…
Next morning, he’s drinking coffee. He has a sour look on his face.
Retsuko looks at him, curiously. -Are you okay? Is the coffee bad?
Haida stares vacantly at Retsuko. He’s in hell.
He drinks from his mug.