“All right, I’m heading out.”
“You understand? That promise you made is absolute.”
I will definitely be back before 10 o’clock.”
“Even if someone invites you out today,
don’t go drinking before you come home, got it?”
“I don’t think there’s anyone who would invite a married man out today.”
“And even if some kind of exclusive scoop comes in late tonight,
don’t go running off to cover it.
I don’t care what kind of pressure your seniors or editor-in-chief put on you. Come home.”
“…I-I’ll handle it as best I can.”
If you don’t come home before the end of the day,
I’m going back to my family’s house.”
“Uh… Got it.
I will absolutely, definitely come home.”
“All right. See you later, darling!”
“Yeah… See you later.”
After this unusually long farewell,
I gave Setsuna a light kiss on the lips, as usual.
Today, Setsuna was in a mode that was significantly more fastidious than usual,
and some might say irrationally insistent upon having her own way.
…But, I mean, there was nothing to be done about that.
No, my tolerance level as her husband had nothing to do with it.
Setsuna only entered this mode three times a year.
First, on her birthday, February 14th.
You could say that was only natural.
The second day was my birthday, in April.
Even though, for me, it wasn’t anything special—just a day like any other.
This was probably the day that she lavished the most on me.
And the third day…
That would be today… December 24th.
For most lovers and married couples,
it was about presents and dates—
a heavily commercialized day, really.
But for us…
Well, it was sort of a fateful day, for a few years.
We wore our eternal friendship at the hot springs up north,
reached our final crisis at that hotel by the seaside,
and once again began to slip out of sync with each other in that small European city.
So, in a sense, it was a very important memorial day,
with emphasis on my own wrongdoings.
today, of all days,
I could not break a promise to Setsuna again.
Before the end of the day I would see Setsuna again,
before the end of the day I would wish her a merry Christmas,
and before the end of the day I would declare that Setsuna was the only one for me.
And, so, before I reached the office,
I renewed my fighting spirit one more time.
It was the opposite of my usual determination to tackle my work—
to hold to an unshakeable oath, not befitting a working adult.
“Kitahara, I’m finished with this, so will you check it?”
“Oh, and after that, if you wouldn’t mind looking over this layout…”
“Roger on both of those!
…is what I would like to say, but unfortunately, I can’t. My work for today
ends with what I have in front of me right now.”
When I happened to look up at the clock in the editorial department,
I realized that it was already 8 p.m.
In order to keep my promise to Setsuna, to be at home by 10,
I needed to wrap up my work before long.
“Now, what’s with that response?
You’re our newest guy. Don’t get smart.”
“Being given that kind of flagrant attitude
on Christmas Eve, of all nights,
is pretty irritating!”
…But my two seniors
seemed to have plenty going on for Christmas this year… although,
it didn’t seem to be anything related to this year.
“What is it, Kitahara?
Itching to go home so that you and your gorgeous wife
can cozy up for Christmas?”
“Your wife’s no joke, is she, Kitahara-kun?
She’s famous in the business world as the PR beauty of Knights Record.
I wonder how she got mixed up with a straight-laced guy like you.”
“Well, he must not be that straight-laced.”
“Macchan, if I were to bring that to court,
I could get a lot of settlement money.”
“…If you two have so time to waste rambling about nothing,
why don’t you get going, as well?
Don’t you have an appointment with your girlfriend or something, Matsuoka-san?”
“Oh, come on!
Hey, give me some advice, here, Kitahara…”
“I dunno. I mean, I’m just the new guy…”
“Yes, but in the family world, you’re my senior! I need you to give me your opinion!
“Nah, I don’t think my opinion would really be worth anything…”
“Look, the truth is, I’m under some pressure from my girlfriend right now,
and if I see her now, I’m gonna be forced into a situation
where I have to make a decision.”
“…I’m not all that sure I can be of much help,
but apart from that, is it all right for you to be telling me about something this critical?”
“She’s invited me to her family’s home for the start of the year.
This is bad, right?
If I go, that basically means everything is settled, right?”
“Nah, you can at least go to her family’s house.
You know, you might end up sticking with her,
and if you keep refusing, that might give a bad impression…”
“But I’m not even remotely in that frame of mind yet!
I mean, I’d like to be on my own until I’m thirty, at least…”
“…Wow, so there really are indecisive men like you.
‘Oh, I don’t have that much confidence in myself,’ or
‘But I promise this doesn’t mean I’m tired of you,’ or…”
“…Suzuki-san, do you have a bug planted on me?”
“Look, confidence isn’t something you’re just born with, you know?
You plunge into unknown territory, give it your all,
and gradually build it up that way yourself.”
Suzuki-san’s point was definitely fair.
“Ugh, this is ticking me off!
I wish men without any guts or motivation would just die off already!”
“Suzuki-san, by any chance, did you and your boyfriend…”
“…Yes, I was wrong.
We can stop talking about this.”
But, the aura of “actual experience”
that ignored the correctness of the point
spoiled the value of those words.
“…If you two have all this time to sit around talking about nothing,
why don’t I give you so much work for the rest of the year
that you won’t be able to go home at all?”
“I told you, I’m not accepting any more work today!”
“Right, and I have plans with my girlfriend!
Well, good work today…”
And so, shuddering at Suzuki-san’s negative aura,
Matsuoka-san and I picked up our bags and stood up in our seats. At that moment…
A fateful sound rang out through the editorial department.
Do you know about ‘Matsuoka’s Law’?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
“This always, always happens to me. Without fail, and only at the times
when I have important business and absolutely have to go home,
new work just comes dancing in, as though I were being targeted specifically…”
“In your case, Macchan,
it’s always the matter of discovering a deadline that you’d been neglecting.”
“Anyway, if I take this, it’s gonna be a serious hassle!
I know for a fact that I’ll get some urgent job dropped on me.
So I think it’s better if I don’t…”
No, now that it had rung,
the matter would be the same, regardless of who picked it up…
“Ah, busy, busy.
It’s Christmas, but there’s no end to my work. I’ve been abandoned by a man.
I certainly don’t have the time to take a phone call.”
I didn’t feel like being abandoned by a man made sense as a reason for being busy…
“Fine. I’ll go ahead and take it…
but, Matsuoka-san, please don’t run off.”
And so, getting up my grim resolve,
I picked up the insistently ringing receiver.
“Hello, this is the Kaiou Graph Editorial Department…”
“Yes, yes… Yes, all right.
“So what was it?”
“…Last week, there was that Minister of Construction
who was exposed by an insider for illegal contributions, right?”
“Oh, but, wait…”
“At that level…”
“…Apparently, he just announced his resignation.
There’s a press conference being held right now.”
“We couldn’t possibly handle that whole thing with just the members we have here!”
“And so, we’re going to contact every member of the editorial department!
I need everybody’s cooperation!”
“B-but what about Christmas?!”
“This is perfect, right, Matsuoka-san?
Now you have a fair excuse to turn down your girlfriend’s invitation!”
“Pff, haha, hahaha…
It would seem God has heard my prayers.
Yes, Christmas can die, for all I care!”
And there it was.
Once “Matsuoka’s Law” was put into effect, there was no stopping it…
…But what was I supposed to do now?
“I’m so sorry!
Please, please, please forgive me!”
When the absolute craziness around me calmed down the smallest bit,
and I was finally able to get in touch with Setsuna,
it was the moment that the date crossed over.
Yes, Christmas Eve… had now vanished.
“The press conference just ended.
Now we have to write an article, switch it in…
Um, I’ll probably be able to come home around… 3 in the morning?”
I wasn’t even sure whether Setsuna was actually on the other end of the line.
“So, um, for today…
It would really help me out if you wrapped up dinner and put it in the fridge,
and just went ahead to bed, Setsuna…”
Because, ever since the call connected, she hadn’t said a word.
She was just sitting there, listening to my endless apologies…
No, I didn’t know whether she was actually listening at all.
Just as I was starting to find myself at loose ends,
that voice that I had longed to hear finally came out of the receiver.
“I will be going home to my family, as promised.”
…Together with exactly the words that I had hoped, above all else, to avoid.
“I know that neither of us expected a big scoop to roll in
that involved the entire staff, including your seniors and editor-in-chief.”
“I mean, you’re right, but…?”
“But neither did I imagine that I would end up
having to go around and bow my head to every big store in the city.”
“What are you talking about…?”
“A defect was found in the software we launched yesterday.
So we had to recall all of it! Ahahahaha…”
“…Now, wait a minute.”
If I were in Setsuna’s situation,
I’m not sure I would be laughing about it, the way she was now…
“At this hour, all of the stores are closed,
and I couldn’t go to any more of them to apologize,
so I just got back to the main office… Isn’t that hilarious?”
“…That’s so disastrous
that I can’t even find any words for it.”
“Aw, don’t be so glum.
For my part, all I can do is laugh!”
We made an absolute promise to each other that we would be home early today,
and yet we both ran into uprisings of a level that happened only once a year…
“Let’s meet up and go home together today.
Once you’re done over there, give me a call.”
“I might be here until the trains start running again, though.”
“It’s the same for me.
So, why don’t we take a taxi together?”
“…Yeah, all right.”
As couples went, we really were on exactly the same page…
And so, at 3 in the morning…
By the time I had finished writing the article, checked over Hamada-san’s work,
and stumbled exhausted out of the office,
the air outside was already so cold that it wasn’t funny.
“Welcome back, Haruki-kun.”
But there, in the middle of the frigid night,
waiting for me on the deserted sidewalk, perfectly still, was Setsuna,
looking strangely as though she were enjoying herself.
“…So, it really was work, then?”
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?
I explained it all to you, didn’t I?
It was a huge headache.”
“Well, honestly, there was some tiny part of me
that wondered whether you might just be making it up, to make me feel better.”
“Making it up?”
“I didn’t know what I was going to do
if it turned out that you had long since gone home,
and were staring at the food while it got cold, feeling lonely.”
This could have come off rude, in a sense—
like I was painting this pathetic picture just to make fun of her.
“Well, I did tell a lie like that once, a long time ago.”
A very, very long time ago…
When our bond was weak, fragile,
full of mistaken worries on both sides.
Setsuna’s lie was meant to be considerate of me,
but I wound up suffering for it later,
and it thrust Setsuna herself into the depths of despair, too.
“But I would never tell a lie like that now.
There’s no need.”
Even after that,
we continued making mistake after mistake.
In order to eliminate the mistaken worries,
we made a mistaken vow instead.
We established a promise that we intended to keep,
binding ourselves to each other with an obsession
that would crush us if it were ever broken.
“But, if it had come to it,
I would have wanted to pin all of the fault on you, Haruki-kun.”
“The food, gradually going cold.
My husband, never giving me so much as a word, no matter how long I waited.
Your waiting wife’s anxiety, steadily growing worse and worse…”
“But I did contact you!
I prostrated myself and apologized to you!”
“Wow, really? You prostrated yourself?”
“I wish you could have seen it…
My sincerity was oozing out of my entire body.”
So, after that, we righted all of our mistakes.
We established a promise that we intended to keep,
and if it were ever broken…
We would remain as we were.
That was the oath we would swear to each other… No, we simply decided it.
“Well, we’re not going to get anywhere by chattering on here forever,
so let’s go.”
“Yeah. Let’s find a taxi, then…”
It’s too much of a pain to go home now. Why don’t we stay in a hotel?”
“What? Do you think there’ll be any room, though?
Since today is…”
Yes—today was Christmas Eve.
The day that hotels would be the most packed, out of the entire year.
“Look, the usual six hours should be up soon, right?
There should be people leaving.”
“But are we supposed to start looking right now?
Just call them, one by one?”
“Setsuna, don’t tell me you…”
“There’s a place just behind us.
I called them earlier, and it turns out they’ve got one available room.”
“Sooo… since this was the only one to take,
I’ve already reserved it for us…”
“…We both have work tomorrow.”
“If you’re tired, you can just sleep.
I’ll restrain myself.”
“No! No way!
I can’t restrain myself!”
“Ohoho… Well, in that case…”
We were sure to make this same promise every year from now on.
We would try with all our might to keep it, but there would be times
when we unraveled a little and weren’t able to.
And when that happened, we would make up immediately,
and the next day we would be normal again, spending our days without dragging it out.
We would keep on passing
Setsuna’s birthdays, my birthdays.
“Well, once we’re done, we should still be able to sleep for about two hours.
Come on, come on!”
Of course, we didn’t get a wink of sleep.
That was never even really an option.