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Until You Came Along

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It was a sunny day. A beautiful, bright, warm, absolutely blissful day. When Nanjo Kojiro looked up, he saw little cotton whisps splattered across the sky’s infinite blue canvas. When he looked down and around him, he saw people looking just as cheerful as the day itself. Children playing whatever nonsensical games they thought of, individuals walking their happily panting dogs down the sidewalk, young and old couples lazily striding wherever they pleased, hand in hand. There were stands at just about every corner offering varieties of icy refreshments. Then, last and certainly not least, there were women. Gorgeous ones, in their light and breezy outfits, walking in pacts as they always do. This never intimidated Kojiro, in fact, it encouraged him. Not that he was any pervert, he could read a room when he wasn’t wanted, but it was days like this where that kind of outcome would be rare. Point in case, he notices a pair of guys nonchalantly flashing goofy grins (no doubt they think enticing) to a gaggle of girls about to pass them. The girls bat their lashes, let out bashful smiles which they cover delicately with their hands. Kojiro knows that scenario. He might as well have invented that scenario. The charismatic grins, the casual flirting, the shy blushes. All leading to hanging out that evening, going to an outdoor bar, if he was lucky, maybe even some night activity.

Kojiro lived that life all the way up until a couple months ago. He studied culinary arts abroad in Italy and boy was it a new playing field. A spectacular challenge, not just picking up chicks, but with everything. The living style, the manners, the people and the everyday food. The food was the biggest draw. While Japanese food was his first love, towards the end of junior high he was already developing an appetite for western foods. This lasted till his first year in high school, to which he switched to Indian and Chinese foods. His second year was dedicated towards French and Italian cuisine and his final year he declared his passion for the art of Italian food. Impressed by his quick ability to study and memorize the culture of said cuisine, the Culinary Club’s teacher decided to put in a few calls and land Kojiro an opportunity to apply for a program abroad.

The practical exam was easy. Kojiro knew what he was doing and what he was capable of, it was the written test that he spent countless, sleepless nights cramming for. Up until then, he knew recipes by the feel, not by the explicit rules and exact measures. He knew basic origins of where specific dishes came from, but he felt the roots of words shouldn’t really matter. Oh, how he was wrong. Words jumbled in his head easily but with the help of his teacher, the club leader, his friends, and some pretty girls (to this he’ll admit now that there wasn’t much studying done there) he passed with flying colors.

He had a scholarship to an undergraduate college in Florence, Italy, paying for his tuition and board. As much as he took it seriously, he took an equal amount to have as much fun as possible. Going out to every party that called his name, talking to every pretty girl that batted an eye his way (not that he slept with everyone, he wasn’t a complete man whore), and enjoying that delicious cuisine. He probably would’ve gained ungodly amounts of weight had it not been for two new found passions. Going to the gym and skating, both of which he flirted with in the past but never had the time to really enjoy. Until then.

In high school he skated around but never really committed. He knew basic tricks, went to the well-known and underground parks, but when he went to college, he got good at skate boarding, really good. It was the next best thing to his love for culinary arts. It was skating when he felt most himself, something he struggled with a lot. He felt happy, and cool, and free when he skated. Kojiro knew there was always something that felt off in his life, for as long as he could remember. He never had a best friend for too long, hopped between different social groups, he wasn’t overly popular but he was known. Even so, he just felt like something was, off. ‘Missing’, was the next best word he could think of, but he couldn’t think of why he would feel like he was missing something. Regardless, skating was the closest he got to chasing that feeling away completely.

It was the good days. The most fun he’d ever had in his life. It was also, the most expensive.

Which is why, the now graduated Kojiro, was sitting in a stuffy car, in a stuffy suit, on one of the most beautiful days of the year, yearning to be where those young fellows were. But he was an adult now, it was time to get serious.

He knew he wanted to open a restaurant, knew it as soon as he walked through the doors of the grand kitchen in Florence, Italy, where he’d be studying for the next five years (three for his bachelors and two for his masters). He also figured out, pretty quickly, that he wanted to do so in Japan. The clientele would be big, foreign food always did well, and he knew the area. Although, making this dream come true required money and to get that meant suffering through a stuffy job.

He let out a sigh in the empty backseat of the town car. It was sizeable and a luxury compared to other vehicles so Kojiro really should have nothing to sigh about. His mentor at the University hooked him up with this gig. Hell, he couldn’t even call it that, this job was in the big leagues. He was to work for the Sakurayashiki family, a name he had heard of before, but not enough to look into, until recently. They were most renowned for their gifted ability in traditional Japanese calligraphy. The previous head of the house sold his works for fortunes, from what Kojiro read, then eventually started a company which created top of the line brushes, inks, papers, etc., for said art. When the new head took over, it was revealed he did not have such talents, their market in that area declined, but he heightened their name in politics.

A bunch of stuff Kojiro didn’t have any particular interest in but there was an opening for a very sizable amount of money. It was to be a bodyguard for the heir, Sakurayashiki Kaoru. While he didn’t have any experience in the job, with his build and good word from his professor, he was apparently an outstanding candidate. Which made Kojiro wonder why no one else more qualified bothered to apply. He did his research and with some digging, found his answer. The bodyguards at the Sakurayashiki estate, practically the ones assigned to Kaoru, were fired within the month. He couldn’t find any stories on to why this was, but it set off red flags in Kojiro’s mind regardless. But his professor told him not to worry, and even if he was fired, he’d help him find another job.

With the large paycheck, the employers informed Kojiro he would have unlimited access to the main kitchen on the estate under the supervision of the head chef there, Hideyoshi Okazaki. Apparently, he was also Kojiro’s ‘in’ to the job and was reminded constantly the days before his departure to thank the man and not embarrass his professor.

 

“Your behavior reflects how I taught you, so do me a favor and don’t do anything that’ll make me look like a fool. It would be a real pain to take time off to come down and beat your ass.”

Kojiro rolled his eyes, “Yes, Mr. Russo.”

“That’s Chef Russo to you, and Chef Okazaki to the generous man who landed you this job.”  

“But we’re not in the kitchen!”

“Doesn’t matter, you’ll say it anyway, it’s respectable.”

Kojiro groan but says, “Yes, Chef Russo.”  

 

This time, he scoffs to the empty space. What was he supposed to learn with a Japanese chef? If anything, the old man would get in the way, probably hellbent on traditions and order. Kojiro was an experimenter, he liked trying new recipes just as much as he like trying new tricks to skate boarding. A pang of sadness shoots through him, that’s another thing.

 

“This isn’t the back alley slums you and your friends like to hang around.”

“It’s just a skate park…”

“Between the crack house and trash deposit, yes, very refined I know.”

“Well-,”

“The point I’m trying to make is, this is a professional setting.”

“I know how to be professional.”

“Not kitchen professional,” the chef pauses, “It’s suit and tie, formal, use your manners, professional. Dress code professional.”

At this he pauses again, looking at Kojiro’s current outfit. Classes were over and Kojiro was planning on getting the hell out of the suffocating office he was currently in and go get his skate on. He wore ripped jeans and a jacket with a loose tank underneath, one he planned on removing once he got to the park. Not by a crack house, as his professor dramatically proclaimed. 

“Obviously, I wouldn’t wear this.” He exclaimed.

“Of course not, and I think it would be best if you just focus on your career ahead of you. You don’t need to get distracted; you don’t want to. Hang up the board before you go, not forever, but just until you get your feet on the ground.”

 

It wasn’t bad advice. He had too many things on his plate, he had to set one in a container and save it for later. Still, when he arrived to his family home, he skated every second he could until his day of departure, where he left his board next to his bed, ready anytime he came back.

That would be a while from now. Or maybe not, considering the track record this place has on bodyguards.

As he looked out the window now, there were far less people about. The houses were getting bigger and more spaced apart. The green life looked more tidy, more green and in general, just more. He knew he was getting close so he slipped his shoes back on. Custom made to make his toes pinch in all the wonderful places he so adores. Actually, the whole suit was custom made to be a pain in the ass. Literally and metaphorically. His pants chafed in his sensitive spots, and got against his ass all wrong (literal). His tie made him want to kill whoever invented the useless piece of fabric, the jacket made his shoulder want to hulk out and tear it in two (metaphor). The dress shirt was okay, he was used to dressing up that much, but everything else would be better off keeping a homeless family warm.

The car was slowing, the last house he saw was minutes ago so he figured they must be there. Sure enough, the car pulls through a ginormous gate. Kojiro turns around to get the full gusto of the thing, There’s Kanji on the gate, Sakurayashiki. Suddenly he feels nervous, and when he’s nervous he starts to,

“Shit.” He mumbles, pulling out the handkerchief to wipe the sweat pooling around his neck.

He opens the window, best decision ever. He turns off the A/C and leans his head against the small panel of window that doesn’t open. The breeze is pure relaxation, and he feels himself closing his eyes and letting his imagination wander back to Italy.

Short lived, though. The car stops, Kojiro lifts his head just in time before his door is opening.

“Right this was Mr. Nanjo.” An older male voice beckons.

He gathers his phone and handkerchief, then carefully steps out of the car. The last thing he wants to do is make a fool of himself.

“We’ll have your things brought to your quarters, I’ll give you a tour of the ground before we get there. Now first erm-,” he stops and looks at Kojiro’s chest, “would you be needing help with your tie or…”

Kojiro looks down though he doesn’t have to to know his tie is loosened as much as possible and the top three buttons are undone. Not great.

“Oh, no, um, sorry ‘bout that.” He sets to fixing it up the right way.

The man dressed in a similar suit hums in a condescending way. Kojiro already hates it here.

The tour goes smoothly and with the breath-taking scenery, the tie incident is long forgotten. It’s absolutely beautiful. The large (very large) Japanese style home is still a far away from where they stopped off. The man – who Kojiro learns is the head butler, Mr. Suto (an interesting name, Kojiro notes) – points out a drive that winds back further, behind more trees and fountains, goes to the main manor. Where they were now, was simply the common area for servants, deliveries, maintenance crews, and other nonessential personnel. There were two other diverging roads from this common area. One to the right, which lead to the maid and butler’s quarter, and one to the left where the security guards’ quarters were.

“You’ll have no need to visit the right side of the estate, most of our workers and maids over there are quite busy anyways.”

Kojiro didn’t know if he should be offended or not. Did he really come off as some sexual fiend? There wasn’t much time to think, Mr. Suto was directing them off to the left side.

“You’ll find everything you need down here.”

Once they passed a dense part of trees, Kojiro finally got the scope of where he’d be spending (most likely) the next month. It wasn’t bad. A sizable building stood a bit further to the left, in front of them was a small fountain and benches surrounding that. A large hedge blocked the building off from the main house and another hedge on the other side blocked it from the front gates and any guests coming in. The building Kojiro would stay in made an L shape nearest to the gate hedges. Suto pointed out that the part of the L in front of them had a ground floor made up of the dining room, laundry room, and storage room. The ground floor on the other part had a sizable gym, Kojiro could almost see the machines through the window, he had to admit he was excited to see that. It was also where the showers were located. The upper floor consisted of bedrooms and bath rooms; he was informed he’d be sharing his space with two others. Not a problem for him, it’s basically been like that the last five years.

Finally, Suto pointed out a path to the right and in the back, Kojiro almost over looked it. Suto explained,

“That path will take you up to the main house the back way. You are to use that when arriving for your duty, rather than the front road,”

Yeah, Kojiro could’ve assumed that.

“It’s a bit of a way, so talk to whoever’s mending the shuttles over there,” He pointed to a small garage, holding two fancy looking golf carts. There were three men sitting off to the side, “one of them will take you to a back door and from there you’ll navigate your way through the manor to find Master Kaoru.” He continues, walking over there.

Master Kaoru. Kojiro wants to gag. He’s now filled with a dread of meeting this, no doubt, pretentious prick. Once they’re in vicinity of the carts, the men perk up. They form a line outside of the garage.

“Good evening, Mr. Suto.” One says and they all bow.

Suto doesn’t bat an eye, “You’ll have to show your ID or else you will not have permission to go.” He watches Kojiro.

It takes him a second and an audible “oh” but he fishes in his pocket to pull out his custom ID. It was given to him in the car, after he showed his driver’s license, confirmed him full name in spelling, signature, printed it in kanji and hiragana, date of birth, as well as the five personal questions he had to answer on the ID application. All seemed like a lot to him.

He shows one of the men his ID, to which he pulls out a scanner from his side which Kojiro honestly thought, up until this moment, it was a gun, and scans the bar code on the bottom. He looks at the mini screen and it chimes a pleasant noise.

“To the main gate, Mr. Suto?” The man asks.

“Yes,” he turns back to Kojiro as the men turn back inside, one starting up a cart, “most days you’ll report to the main, back gate, or just the main gate, they’ll know what you mean. If you’re supposed to be somewhere else, you will be notified the day before and expected to remember to tell the drivers the next day.”

At this, the cart was pulled out for them, Suto got in the back first and Kojiro followed suit. They started off down the back trail.

“I’ll be showing you where to go from the main gate, and the basic infrastructure of the manor. However, there are basic blue prints of the manor in Mr. Goto’s office, the head of security. He’ll let you look at it but you’re not permitted to take it out of his sight or take any photos so I suggest you memorize it quickly because he is not the most patient man.”

The house is getting closer, Kojiro half wishes Suto would shut up so he could admire it, but the information isn’t all useless.

“He is usually the one to give this tour however, since you are working directly for the family, it is best you familiarize yourself with their direct staff, such as myself, as operations are a little different in the main house.”

They’re passing through a small opening, there’s the first average looking door Kojiro has seen since he got here. There are shrubs hiding where they’re at but Kojiro is tall enough to see a massive backyard filled with a beautiful flower garden closest to him, a greenhouse just beside that, and then a massive empty yard, clearly well kept. There’s a pool too but that’s getting a little farther than Kojiro can see.

“Here is the main gate, simply just a back door but the most useful one to you. When in doubt, just come here and it’s fairly simple to navigate yourself to where you need to be.”

They walk to the door and Suto points to a black box at doorbell height.

“This is where you’ll scan your ID to get in.”

Kojiro pulls out the card again, the door chimes after his first scan. Suto opens the door and it dawns on Kojiro that, while it looks very traditional, the house has many modern features to it. Not that it takes away from it, it’s still very spectacular.

“No need to take your shoes off, only on the tatami mats which are few and far these days.”

They continue with the tour, the small hall they entered through leads to a much bigger one. There are doors just about everywhere, they’re taking a turn every few seconds, maids and butlers passing by every now and then.

Fairy simple my ass, Kojiro thinks. He hopes Suto plans on walking him back, but incase not, he’s trying very hard to make mental checkmarks.

Past the weird vase, then left past a kanji which he couldn’t quite make out, right past a portrait of some ancestor. Left here, right here, skip two lefts to the third. Yeah, Kojiro was doomed.

“You’ll only need to memorize the west and north wing, we’re about to enter the north one where Master Kaoru and Lady Sakurayashiki will be. You’ll do introductions and I’ll give you your instructions before you leave.”

Kojiro felt his nerves spike again. This is all much more formal than he was used to.

“So, introductions. What exactly should I say?”

Suto let out a huff, “Name, how you’re honored. Make sure you bow.”

Obviously, Kojiro thought again.

He supposed Suto would do most of the talking then.

Finally, they end up at a large opening, just past the front doors Suto tells him. There’s a room with closed doors to which the butler indicates the two parties they’re meeting are just inside. Kojiro expected a “Just relax” or “I’ll do the talking, it’ll be fine” but instead Suto looked him over, gave a satisfactory grunt, then opened the doors.

Suddenly Kojiro’s arms felt huge, what was he supposed to do with them? He shoved them behind his back and walked forward. Suto held the door open, so he didn’t have anyone to follow. What if his shoes were untied? He didn’t even bother to check. And did he really make sure his tie was straight? And the golf cart ride must’ve messed up his hair.

He took five long strides, stopping as soon as he realized the pair was right there.

A woman to his right and a man… well no, a man to his right… no, that was definitely a woman, then…

“Lady Sakurayaski, Master Kaoru, this is Nanjo Kojiro. Master Kaoru, your new bodyguard.”