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冬蝉の唄

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Shouichirou sighed, flipping over to another page of the proposed contract, making an honest attempt to not simply skim it but take in the details. He was in the middle of going through the correspondence which required Tsurukame's actual owner to sign, as their head clerk had informed him in his most pleasant, if accusing, tone of voice when he had come in to interrupt Shouichirou’s playtime with Kouta.

It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the importance of being in the known, but he also trusted the man enough to leave this side of the business to him. And it should be Tarou’s before long, anyway.

As he caught his mind slipping off the riveting specifics of business dealings, the door behind him suddenly slid open.

“Pardon the interruption, but there’s a visitor for you, young master,” Katsuko informed him.

He turned towards her, noting there was not even the faintest trace of disdain on her professionally schooled expression. Not someone from the Yoshiwara crowd, then. A pity, really, he wouldn’t have minded the excuse to ditch work for a while.

“I wasn’t expecting someone, is it business related?”

“That, I do not know,” she said, but there was a glint in her eye this time, for sure. “But it seems to be an important gentleman.”

“Then I shouldn’t leave our surprise guest to wait.”

 

He got up and followed Katsuko to the room reserved for receiving guests – that was to say, the one as far away from the actual miso production site as possible. Not that the distance did much to prevent the strong smell to sneak its way in there, anyway, but an attempt had been made.

Sitting at the low table was a man sporting sharp features, and an even sharper suit, and while the Tsurukame estate was in good shape, he nevertheless had the air to make his surroundings look shabby by comparison. Shouichirou was at least somewhat confident that Kouta had not puked on his kimono today, probably, and well, what could you do about unannounced visitors, really. First impressions were important, but sometimes, you just had to make the best out of the situation.

He didn’t recognise the man, but considering his clothes and bearings, he clearly was of the kind of status that would have their paths cross only on very select occasions, and he would have remembered that.

“Good day, Sir,” he offered with a bow as the door closed behind him, before sitting down opposite the man, who gave the barest of nods in return. As always, Katsuko had worked fast, but Shouichirou noted that the tea and snacks on the table had remained untouched. “I am Tsurugi Shouichirou. You wanted to speak to me?”

He was intensely scrutinised for a few seconds more before the man let out a breath that almost sounded like a sigh.

“I am Watanabe Kouichi.” Now, that rang an unexpected bell. They had never met, as Shouichirou had thought, but of course he was aware of the man. Quite a successful banker, of a tier or two above Tominaga.

“I don’t believe we’ve been acquainted yet.”

“I would think not, no,” Watanabe said, somewhat coolly, and reached out to take a sip of tea after all. If he had opinions on the grade of quality, he politely kept them to himself. “And I apologise for showing up unannounced like this, I’m sure you must be busy.”

“Not to the point of being unable to make room for visitors. So, how can I help you? Is it something business related?”

“No, not quite.” Shouichirou waited patiently as the man frowned at the hands in his lap for a moment. Then: “I am here to propose an omiai with my daughter for you.”

Now, it was Shouichirou’s turn to sit in stunned silence for a few seconds.

After his last officially set-up omiai had ended with a night spent in jail on murder charges, actual matchmakers thankfully left him alone for the most part, and even if Katsuko kept reminding him on a daily basis that he really should get married already, he hadn’t had an actual meeting for an arranged marriage in a long time. This really was an unexpected turn of events, especially coming from someone clearly of higher standing than himself.

His visitor cleared his throat audibly.

“Please forgive me my surprise, but this very unexpected, Sir. I wasn’t signing up with any matchmakers as of late, so...,” he trailed off. He couldn't know just how many of the rumours about his person Watanabe was aware of, and there was no need to inform him of anything more than he might already know.

“I’m aware, which is why had to come by personally.” He no doubt would have preferred to avoid this awkward encounter and go through professionals, then. “But it was my daughter’s ardent request, so I had to at least try.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever met your daughter, Watanabe-san.”

“I would be very surprised if you had,” he said, and the underlying tone of his voice clearly spelled out that he would consider any alternative most improper.

“Then, how did she settle on me as a candidate?”

Watanabe cleared his throat again.

“Well. She says she spotted you in Ginza three weeks ago, and set her mind on wanting to get to know you ever since.”

Shouichirou blinked, bemused. Thinking back to it, right, he had gone into town to meet up with Takada, who had introduced him to some affluent restaurant owners, but he could not remember noticing any girl in specific throughout the day.

“Is that so?”

“It’s not as if I understood it, to be frank.” The man crossed his arms in front of his chest, his displeasure regarding the whole situation more than obvious. “She’s young enough that these follies may still occur, and I decided there would be no harm in at least seeing if indulging her was at all possible, or advisable.”

Despite the man’s gruff appearance and clear disdain for his daughter’s pick of potential suitor, Shouichirou felt an unexpected spark of endearment. Going this far and disregarding your own standards in order to see those you held the most dear happy, that was something he could definitely support and admire as a quality.

“Well, in that case, I am of course happy to comply with the young lady’s wishes, if you’ll have me.”

Shouichirou said it lightly, and he could tell that his guest understood the intention – this was not going to be a serious interview, and Watanabe fully expected him to turn down the offer eventually. And that was more than fine by him. Going to an omiai would make Katsuko happy, at least, and he had to admit that he was somewhat curious just what kind of young lady managed to have her father comply with such odd a request.

 

And if it made a certain person just a tiny bit jealous, then that would be lovely.