It was precisely 9:35 a.m. when drops of water started falling heavily in the streets of Tokyo. The darkened sky had taken everyone by surprise, except for a certain woman with long, black hair who paused and glanced up to the sky. While everyone around her was now speeding up and trying desperately to take shelter from the unexpected rain, she took out her small umbrella from her handbag and opened it calmly, placing it over her head the moment after.
It is true to say the weather forecast had not announced rain, but Rena Matsui was a sagacious person. It didn't matter all the progress science had now accomplished in 2050; meteorology was still an unpredictable parameter. After all these years, Nature was an element mankind was still unable to fully comprehend, even less bend to its will. That was why Rena had learned never to trust the weather forecast; she always went to work with a mini collapsible umbrella inside her bag.
Rena resumed her walk, ignoring the sound of the drops of water hitting loudly against her umbrella to fall deep into her thoughts. She had been working on an important project for more than four months now, without managing to reach her objective. Her young age was not in cause. Despite the fact she was only 26, she was one of the most brilliant minds of her generation. Moreover, she was surrounded by very competent colleagues, and experts in their field of work.
Rena was well aware that she was trying to accomplish something no one had ever managed to before. If she succeeded, it would be an incredible breakthrough. However, she wasn't solely doing it for the sake of science. She also wanted to accomplish one of her wildest dreams: to go back in time. It was a dream that formed inside her young mind when she was still an innocent child, and never left her as she progressively became a grown-up woman.
Society was more than ever turned towards the future. The country was getting robotized at an increasing speed. Japan had definitely always been at the cutting edge of technology when it came to robotics, and Rena could see how much society was changing gradually. However, no matter how much she believed society was progressively losing its humanity in favor of excessive technology, she had an absolute certitude: old civilizations still had not reveled all their secrets.
The knowledge she would acquire if she managed to build her time machine would be immeasurable and priceless.
The rain was now slightly decreasing when Rena stopped a few minutes later in front of a 25-floor building. It was one of the five buildings that belonged to her company, and that she had acquired at the sudden death of her millionaire father, Akihide Matsui. Her eyes fell onto the golden plate, Matsui corporation, before turning towards the familiar guard posted in front of the door as he addressed her.
"Welcome, Matsui-san.” He bowed politely to her, opening the door to let her in. "The weather is really unfortunate today."
Rena gave him a thankful nod and closed her umbrella when she finally found herself in the safety of the hallway. "Thank you, Nakamura-san. Weather has always been unpredictable, and I don't believe it will ever change."
Although it had been very subtle, Rena didn't miss the surprise flashing into his eyes briefly as she uttered his name correctly. The man had been hired only a week ago and was obviously not expecting his employer to already remember his name. "Have a nice day, Matsui-san." A pleased smile moved to his lips as he closed the door behind her carefully.
Rena took a few steps inside the quiet hallway and left her soaked umbrella at the reception, before moving towards one of the four elevators. The door opened only a few seconds later and she pressed the number 22 once inside, only to see a girl rushing into the elevator as the doors were closing progressively. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sudden irruption and she scanned the newcomer who was soaked from head to toe. Well, it appeared someone had definitely not seen the rain coming.
"Thank you," the girl with black, shoulder-length hair addressed her with a grateful smile while trying to catch her breath. Rena mustered her best polite smile but couldn't help but feel a bit disturbed by the view. The girl was trying to fix her disheveled hair as best as she could, and Rena couldn't help thinking how useless her little attempt was. Rena had no idea who that girl was – which was a little strange considering she remembered all her employees' faces – but she had to refrain herself from saying it wasn't just her hair that needed fixing right now. Her whole appearance was a total mess.
As if the stranger could feel her eyes on her, she suddenly tilted her head in her direction and gave her an embarrassed look. "I look awful, don't I?" She let out a small, nervous laugh. "I'm going to a job interview. Something is telling me I'm not going to make a good first impression on my new employer."
Rena shook her head lightly at her, trying to sound reassuring. "The rain took you by surprise. I'm sure he'll be lenient."
"You think?" The girl arched an eyebrow at her, and Rena could tell by her now slightly amused expression that she did not manage to make herself as convincing as she intended.
Rena had always been a very composed person, but maybe the view was just too shocking for her to stay completely imperturbable. Evidently, her perfect mask had unexpectedly slipped, and her true feelings managed to come across. And the girl was applying for a job? Surely, she had to be pretty confident in her skills to have the nerves to present herself in such a terrible state.
Rena looked away, a little troubled by the fact this stranger managed to see right through her. She took a peek at the number flashing on the wall, realizing she would soon arrive at her floor. In a few seconds, she would have all forgotten about her short encounter with the talkative, yet pretty girl. Even if Rena believed her job interview had little chance of succeeding – which reasonable employer would hire someone who looked like a mess? – she couldn't help thinking she still looked quite attractive with her charming smile and cute dimples.
Silence enveloped them after that, and Rena suddenly realized the other girl had not pressed any button when she entered the elevator. Could she have possibly forgotten about it in her haste? Rena turned towards her, startled. "Forgive me, but what floor are you going to?"
The girl who was trying to adjust her clothes looked up at once, before giving her a somewhat confused look. "Floor 22."
Rena froze at the unexpected reply. She was going to the same floor? That was completely impossible. Only the team working on her time machine was situated on floor 22. The girl had to be mistaken. However, Rena didn't have time to question her further that the doors had already opened, and the girl made her way outside without further ado.
Rena followed her quietly, her eyes glued on her back while trying to understand why the girl was walking so confidently towards the direction of the white door at the end of the corridor, when it was obviously a huge mistake on her behalf. She was at the wrong floor, and she needed to warn her immediately.
"Excuse me..." Rena started, but never had time to finish her sentence.
The door suddenly opened from the other side, and the familiar face of one of her most trusted colleagues – and also closest friends, Akane – came into view. The latter gave her a warm smile when she noticed her approaching, but soon diverted her attention to the girl who had occupied the same elevator as Rena and was now standing by her side. If she found herself disconcerted by her current state, then it didn't show. Instead, she addressed her with a kind, large smile. "You must be Jurina Matsui?"
"Yes." Rena heard the girl who apparently shared the same surname replying. Right now, she couldn't find herself more confused. So, it wasn't a mistake? She was really at the right floor?
"Please come in," Akane welcomed her. "It's the room at the end of the corridor, on your left."
Rena watched the other girl walking away, and she approached her friend as soon as she was out of sight, now more than curious to discover what this was all about. "Who is she, Akane?"
"Who?" Her friend with long, black hair glanced back at her in confusion. "Don't you remember you were supposed to meet candidates for the new position? She's likely going to be your new assistant. Airi told me she has the best résumé amongst all the candidates."
"W–What?" Rena stammered. The drenched girl she just met in the elevator was supposed to be the genius she had been looking for all this time? The person who was going to help her finish her time machine? There had to be a misunderstanding; Rena was positively sure about that. So why on earth was her friend Akane looking at her with such a serious expression?
Rena soon discovered her friend Akane surprisingly ended up being right when it came to the new candidate. In fact, Rena couldn’t believe how impressive her résumé was for someone of her age. At the age of 24, and after graduating from one of the best universities in the country, the girl who shared the same surname as her had already worked in big corporations in Japan. To be honest, when she checked her résumé for the first time, Rena was having a hard time matching the drenched girl who was patiently waiting for her turn in the hallway with the person who had accomplished all those things on the paper. Could looks be so deceiving?
She hired her. It was the most logical decision, albeit the fact she surely couldn’t say the new candidate made a first good impression on her in the elevator. In the end, this moment was all forgotten. What mattered the most to her, was what Jurina Matsui could bring to the team. Rena had been looking for someone with the necessary skills to build the time machine, and it seemed the younger girl would definitely be the one to help them.
Jurina Matsui didn’t disappoint her. In only one month, Rena realized how much progress they had accomplished with the latest addition to the team. Of course, she didn’t fool herself into believing the time machine would be built in no time. It is true to say they were progressing much faster thanks to her new assistant, but there were still too many unknown parameters to know when the time machine would be operational.
Much as Rena was grateful for all the help the younger girl was bringing them, she couldn’t say she had really bonded with her new assistant. When it came to her work, the girl was on time and very professional. However, there was one personality trait she had difficulty adjusting to. Indeed, it didn’t take long for her to discover that Jurina Matsui was a real flirt.
In fact, she was pretty sure she had flirted at one point or another with everyone on floor 22, men excluded. It didn’t escape Rena’s keen sense of observation that Jurina’s conversations with her male co-workers always remained strictly professional. Why that? The head of Matsui corporation found this difference in treatment between both sexes more than curious, but she always kept her thoughts carefully to herself.
But there was one fact that disturbed her even more than Jurina’s obvious disinterest in flirting with men. As she was her assistant, Rena definitely interacted quite a lot with her during the day. However, there was one pattern her assistant followed with every other woman of the floor, except with her. She never flirted. Not once.
Jurina was always very polite and would smile to her here and then, but that was it. Yes, her kindness showed on many occasions, as when she would bring her everyday her coffee inside her office at the 4 p.m. break. It wasn’t something Rena had ever requested her to do, but that her assistant had taken the liberty to do on her free will. However, she could tell her assistant chose carefully her words each time they spoke to each other. In fact, there was a form of shyness in her eyes that only seemed to appear when they interacted.
Was it because she was her superior and as such felt she would be overstepping boundaries if she acted too carefree with her?
Rena had not a clue, however she couldn’t ignore the fact she felt more than once taken aback by this difference of treatment towards her. She should be happy her assistant was respectful and nothing but hardworking, so why was Jurina’s peculiar attitude towards her troubling her so much?
Today again, Rena was witnessing her assistant’s flirty behavior right in front of her nose. Because of the project, the 24-year-old girl worked closely with Akane, and it seemed she had taken a particular liking in her. Indeed, Rena noticed that she flirted with her best friend way more than with the other women of the floor. And unfortunately, Akane’s office was located just in her field of vision, making it impossible for her not to see Jurina’s actions.
Rena had a lot of work to do this morning, but somehow couldn’t detach her eyes from her assistant who had arrived behind Akane a little while ago and was now leaning forward to show her something on the computer. Of course, it was impossible for her to hear what they were saying but she surely didn’t miss Jurina placing her hand casually on Akane’s shoulder, nor the amused smile on the latter’s lips as she had evidently said something funny to her.
“Why does she keep doing that?” Rena muttered, finding herself once again displeased by her assistant’s constant flirting with Akane. A sudden soft knock on the door of her office distracted her and she diverted her attention in curiosity to the long dark, curly-haired woman entering her office.
“It’s 12:45 p.m. Want to go out for lunch?” Airi, her 27-year-old Human Resources manager, offered.
Already? Rena was startled by the news and checked the time on her computer, realizing it was indeed already past noon. She barely had done half of what she was supposed to do this morning. “Yes,” Rena replied nonetheless, knowing she needed a break anyway. She started losing focus as soon as her assistant decided to flirt in front of her shamefully. “Just give me a few minutes. I want to finish this.”
“Alright,” Airi nodded, taking a brief look at the paperwork the other girl was pointing. “Come and see me at my office when you’re ready.”
Rena watched as Airi was about to turn on her heels and felt the sudden need to ask her one particular question. Something had been nagging her for a while and witnessing her assistant impossible flirty behavior with Akane prompted her to finally voice her concern. “Doesn’t it… bother you? Seeing Jurina-san flirting with everyone, especially with your wife?”
“Absolutely not,” Airi replied seriously, much to her surprise. “It’s mostly light teasing, and Akane doesn’t mind. Besides, you can tell the women enjoy the attention they are getting.”
“She never flirts with me,” Rena murmured without thinking. As soon as she realized the words she had blurted out, she widened her eyes in shock and looked away in discomfort. For a minute, she hoped her friend had not heard her, but soon discovered it was only wishful thinking on her behalf.
“No, she doesn’t,” Airi conceded, and Rena didn’t miss the amused smile forming on her lips. “Why do you think that?”
“I have no idea,” Rena admitted her ignorance. On one hand, she wasn’t feeling particularly at ease broaching such a subject but on the other, she felt relieved finally getting it off her chest. And who better could she talk about it than with a trusted friend? A friend who had also apparently well noticed this difference of treatment she was being subjected to?
“And I think I’m getting paranoid lately,” Rena frowned, remembering vividly a few strange occurrences. “I’m under the impression she purposely flirts more with Akane because she knows I can see her from here. It’s stupid, isn’t it?”
Rena looked up in expectation to her friend, hoping she would state that it was indeed only a figment of her wide imagination. Why would her assistant be doing that anyway? It made no sense whatsoever to her. However, she couldn’t ignore the fact the younger girl glanced in her direction quite often when she happened to visit Akane’s desk.
“Of course, she’s doing it on purpose,” Airi chuckled softly, shaking her head in disbelief. “I adore you Rena but sometimes, you can be really clueless.”
“What?” Rena exclaimed. She searched her friend’s eyes for an explanation to her cryptic words, but Airi never elaborated. Instead, the latter left the room without adding another word, even though Rena certainly didn’t miss the amused smile back on her lips as she closed the door behind her.
Rena didn’t know how long she stared at the door in bewilderment, trying to process the very curious conversation she just had with her friend. Evidently, there was a message she was trying to convey, but her mind failed completely to decrypt it. Rena looked down to the documents in front of her in the intent of resuming her work, but soon discovered she had a hard time focusing on the task at hand. Indeed, Airi’s last words kept repeating in her head again and again.
Why did her friend stipulate she was being clueless? What did Airi apparently believe she was missing?
“Oh no, it’s raining.”
Rena turned her head to her left when she heard the familiar voice sounding next to her. It was already 8 p.m. and just as she was about to leave the building to go home, she had noticed the rain falling in abundance through the front door. Once again, Rena knew she had taken the right decision by not trusting the weather forecast and placing her mini-collapsible umbrella inside her handbag. However, it appeared her young assistant – who was now standing next to her and watching the rain falling outside in concern – had not taken such precaution.
Rena pondered over her declaration, and knew by the light, dark blue vest she was wearing she would be drenched in a matter of seconds if she decided to step outside right now. If she wished to stay dry, she had no other choice but to wait for the rain to stop. And, considering how heavily the rain was currently falling, Rena guessed she would have to wait for quite some time.
“You can walk with me if you want,” Rena suggested. “Where are you going?”
By the startled look she received, Rena could tell her assistant was definitely not expecting her to make such an offer. However, her surprise progressively made way to a genuine, pleased expression. “That’s very nice. The closest subway station would be great.”
Rena nodded and opened her umbrella, the younger girl stepping immediately underneath it when she made her way outside. Rena started moving towards the direction of the nearest subway station as instructed, taking in how her assistant was being very quiet beside her. The girl was usually very talkative with her female co-workers, but not when it came to her. It was an aspect of her behavior she didn’t understand, along with her reluctance to flirt with her.
As they walked silently in the streets, Rena realized it was the first time they found themselves completely alone outside of the workplace. If truth be told, she rarely went out with her co-workers, except for the monthly dinner at a restaurant organized by Airi for all employees of floor 22. Rena didn’t particularly feel at ease during those social events, but still felt obligated to attend.
In fact, there were only two people she felt close enough to consider as friends: Akane and Airi. Akane was a long-time friend, whom she had met when she was still studying at University. As of Airi, she was one of the first persons she hired when she decided to create this special division on floor 22, a year ago. Between her best friend Akane and the new Human resources manager, it was love at first sight. Six months after meeting each other, they were tying the knot.
Until now, Rena had kept silent when she saw her assistant flirting with Akane overtly and surprisingly, it appeared neither Akane or Airi minded the girl’s actions, passing it for something quite innocent. But what if it wasn’t? What if her assistant really had genuine feelings for Akane and no one warned her it was a wasted effort? For a long time, Rena promised herself she wouldn’t broach this particular subject with her assistant, not willing to meddle in her personal life. However tonight, she decided not to keep quiet any longer.
“There’s something you need to know about Akane-san,” Rena started hesitantly, almost not believing she was going to have that conversation with the younger girl. She had to keep repeating herself that it was the right thing to do, in order to continue. But how could she announce her the news without hurting her if she happened to really have feelings for her best friend contrary to Airi’s belief? In the end, she figured it was best not to beat around the bush and simply be honest. “She’s… she’s married to Airi-san.”
Silence enveloped them after that, and Rena wondered if she hadn’t made a big mistake by bringing up such a topic. Her assistant was still very quiet, and Rena felt too ill-at-ease to look back at her. Did she hurt her? “I…”
“I know,” her assistant interrupted her before she had time to formulate a semblance of an apology. “I like Akane a lot, but I’m interested in someone else.”
Rena tilted her head towards her in surprise, unconsciously slowing down her steps. Her assistant’s confession came completely out of nowhere and Rena felt slightly destabilized, not knowing what to make of it. And what about this shy, but still serious look she was now giving her? Rena waited, sensing she wanted to say more. Indeed, the younger girl opened her mouth a few times as if she meant to add something else, but in the end no other words left her lips.
Rena looked back to the street in front of her when it became clear she wouldn’t elaborate, trying to figure out what her assistant was trying visibly to tell her. The younger girl had always acted quite timid around her, but right now she could tell she was more agitated than usual. Evidently, something was troubling her, and she found herself willing to know what it was.
She didn’t have time to ask. They had already arrived at the subway station in no time, but the younger girl didn’t seem in a hurry to leave her side. In fact, she glanced back and forth a few times between her and the subway station as if torn, until she finally kept her eyes on her steadily. “Are you doing something tonight, Rena-san? I want to buy you dinner.”
Rena didn’t often find herself speechless, being naturally a very composed and eloquent person. However, her assistant’s unexpected offer certainly managed to take her off guard. Despite her assistant’s eyes firmly set on her, she could read easily the apprehension mixed with expectation in them. Rena could tell it had taken quite an amount of courage from her to utter such bold words.
They were currently standing in the middle of the street and received a few curious looks from bystanders who were coming in and out of the subway station. However, Rena ignored them, looking straight into her assistant’s brown orbs. There was a sudden glint of determination in her alluring eyes, and she knew the younger girl wouldn’t move an inch until she received a reply.
All of a sudden, her previous cryptic words made complete sense. It wasn’t just a friendly invitation, as she initially believed. No, it was much more than that. And as she linked her declaration with her assistant’s past behavior, she understood what Airi tried to explain her in her office.
As the head of Matsui corporation, Rena had certainly been courted by many men in the past. Most of them approached her for her wealth; a few were more genuine with their feelings. However, never once did she respond positively to any one of them. For a while, she believed her lack of interest originated from her entire focus on her work. Since her father left her sole heiress of Matsui corporation, she barely had little free time.
Now, Rena realized what had been going under her nose recently, and what her assistant was expecting from her. Rena never denied the fact she found her attractive. She believed so from the very first moment she laid eyes on her in that elevator, when she didn’t even know yet that very drenched girl would be joining her team. And by the sound of her beating heart, she already knew the answer she would be giving her.
Rena didn’t know if this would work, but she wanted to give her a chance. In fact, it was the first time she considered letting someone enter her life. “I’m free. Where do you want us to go, Jurina-san?”
“You are?” Jurina’s eyes lit up in joy, and Rena couldn’t help smiling at her genuine reaction. She could literally see the relief spreading across her face. “Follow me, I know the perfect place.”
Rena nodded and obliged, noting the way her assistant immediately became more relaxed and talkative as she led the way. In fact, the tension between them had dissipated in a matter of seconds, as if it had never been there in the first place. Rena laughed softly when her assistant suddenly made a funny joke and found herself enchanted by the charming smile she was sending her. Rena simply knew their relationship would never the same anymore after today.