I glanced at the wall clock for the twentieth time. 2:42 a.m.
With a half sigh, half groan, I called Aiko. One ring, two rings, three rings … voicemail. Dammit.
Frowning, I checked my last text message. Please call me. It was still unread. Same for the previous ones.
It’s getting a little late.
It’s getting a little too late.
Why haven’t you come home yet?
I put down my phone on the sofa. Should I call Aiko’s company? No, there wouldn’t be anyone in the office at this time. The police? It was too soon for that.
Okay, maybe I was being paranoid. Aiko was in a bōnenkai, a once-a-year event. She and the people in her company were supposed to be eating and drinking until the wee hours.
But she could’ve at least let me know so I wouldn’t worry. All it took was one text message. One call.
Or the clicking of a key turning in a lock.
I rushed to the door. Which was open — with Aiko standing next to it, her pale skin red as a cooked shrimp, her head wobbling around like a bobblehead. Her body — she smelled of barbecue, smoke, alcohol, and something musky I couldn’t pinpoint.
Half relieved, half concerned, I led her to the sofa, where she sat limply against the backrest.
“Do you want a glass of water?” I asked.
Aiko shook her head. “If I get more liquid into me, I’ll become a fish.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“I need to tell you something.”
With a short nod, I sat next to her, my heart pounding in my throat, in my ears. Whenever she said I need to tell you something, it was never anything good. She wouldn’t say, I need to tell you something … I bought a bunny costume!
“First I want to apologize,” she said, “for being this late, for not getting back to you on the phone. For worrying you.”
“It’s okay, I know how busy you can get in these events.”
Her eyes narrowed to slits. “I was busy, but not in the way you think. Or, who knows, maybe in the way you thought.”
I remained silent, since I was at a loss for words. At a loss for thoughts.
Aiko sighed out all the air in her lungs and, pressing her hands against her eyes, said, “I’d better come out clean now that there’s still time. Now that I’m drunk.”
“You were with a man, right?” The words came out automatically. Maybe they’d been pushing at my ribcage, waiting to be let out.
Aiko removed her hands from her eyes — but didn’t look at me. Maybe she didn’t dare. At least, at last, she nodded. “With a co-worker.”
I felt as if acid were burning my stomach. My heart. Or maybe it was acid. Maybe my body was dissolving itself. Eating itself. That wouldn’t be that bad. I wanted to disappear.
“Look,” Aiko began in a barely audible whisper, “it’s not that I’m dissatisfied with our life together. Or our sex life. And it’s not that I don’t love you anymore. Or that I’m attracted to that co-worker. What happened … just happened. Maybe it was because of the alcohol. Maybe it was because of the after-party excitement. Anyway, what I want to say is that it was a mistake. A stupid, serious mistake.”
I was still burning inside, but she’d smothered the fire a bit with her words. Not because they were comforting but because I knew more about what she’d been up to.
And I wanted to know more. “Tell me what happened. How it happened.”
Aiko blinked at me open-mouthed as if I’d cursed. But my words must’ve held some sense because she said, “Okay … but are you sure?”
“I’m not … but I want you to anyway.”
She nodded, keeping her head low. “Where should I start?”
“Maybe from the middle.”
“How much detail do you want?”
“As much as possible.”
“Okay,” she began in a wavering voice, ’by midnight, everyone was drunk. Including me. Especially me. My head was foggy, and everything around me was blurry.
“Suddenly, this co-worker, Manabe, sat next to me at the low table. Well, I suppose that happened because I don’t remember exactly when he did that. I only remember talking to him until my mouth was dry. Laughing with him until my stomach cramped up.”
The acidity in my stomach returned — as I pictured her enjoying herself with Manabe. She playing with her hair a little too much, he leaning toward her until he could sniff it. She putting food on his plate with her chopsticks, he tasting it together with her saliva.
“At some point,” she continued, “I glanced around and realized that he and I were the only ones left in the tatami room.
“By that time, it was almost one in the morning, so we decided to leave the place. Still drunk, we jumped into a taxi and talked in the back seat. We talked until the taxi stopped. Until we got out.
She bit her upper lip as if weighing whether she should continue or not.
“I thought I’d reached home — but it was a love hotel instead. With red neon signs and everything. That was when it hit me: I hadn’t told Manabe or the taxi driver my address. I’d just assumed I’d naturally arrive home.
“Manabe, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing. He grabbed my hand and said, ‘Let’s go in.’’’
She turned to me but without meeting my eyes. “Do you want me to continue?”
I nodded, the burning pain traveling downward.
“I said okay,” Aiko blurted as if she didn’t believe her own words. “I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought it’d be inconsiderate to say no now that we were there. Or maybe I wanted to spend a little more time with Manabe. Or maybe I was too ashamed to go back home at that point. To face you after letting myself be taken to a love hotel by him.
“So we went inside. Into a room. And, without a word, I showered, he showered, then I sat on the bed waiting for him. We were like a couple on a holiday.”
She bit her lower lip. “Are you sure you want me to continue? I think this is the point of no return.”
I nodded, the burning in my lower half spreading like summer wildfire.
“Okay so … sooner than I wished, Manabe came out of the shower, his hair damp, wearing only a bath towel. And sat close to me. Too close to me. Our shoulders and hips touching.
“Before I could say anything — not that I knew what to say — he kissed me. Touched me.”
“And you let him?” I asked, seizing my quivering legs.
“It wasn’t like I wanted to. I mean, at least not on a conscious level. My body just reacted on its own. Like when you laugh when someone tickles you.”
“Anyway, continue,” I said, exhaling a balmy breath.
Aiko nodded. “Finally, Manabe’s hands traveled down my leg. But before it could reach between my thighs, I grabbed it and said, ‘I can’t. I’m married.’ ‘Not tonight,’ he teased, stroking my left hand.” She let out a long sigh. “Maybe it was because I was still drunk. Maybe it was because Manabe had already rented the room. Maybe it was because — no, I won’t make excuses anymore. I’ll assume responsibility.
“I told Manabe, ‘I’m not going to have sex with you — but can give you a blow job.’ Stupid me thought I’d be less unfaithful that way.”
We both remained silent, maybe waiting for the other to say something. Maybe because neither of us knew what to say. Actually, I knew. “Continue.”
Aiko bit her upper lip, then her lower lip. “Manabe said okay. Took off his bath towel. And sat naked in front of me.
“Then I did what I said I would …”
“You did what?”
“I, you know, took Manabe in my mouth. And pleasured him. Pleasured him and pleasured him until he …”
“Stop!” I screamed.
Aiko slipped off the sofa and kneeled in front of my lap. “I’m really, really sorry. I don’t expect you to forgive me now … but maybe you can forgive me one day.”
“Please,” I muttered, bending until my forehead kissed my knees. “I’ve heard enough.”
Blinded by my self-imposed darkness, I felt Aiko’s hand hovering over my head. Then I heard her hushed steps retreating until I was left alone with the silence of the room.
Until it was safe for me to rush into the bathroom. Unnoticed. Sitting on the toilet seat, I pulled down my jeans. And my boxers — which were a sticky white mess. I rinsed them in the sink and chucked them into the laundry basket, together with the rest of my clothes.
Then I leaned back limply, wondering if I was the one who needed forgiveness.