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Author’s note: Although ratings are nice, nothing beats a comment or two about what you liked or disliked about a story. Please take a moment to leave one. Thank you.

*****

Summer 1980

Standing at the cafeteria register, Alice Martinelli sighed as she looked out across the rows of tables that lined the dining room. If she’d come down to eat at her normal time, which would’ve been an hour ago, few of those tables would’ve been occupied. But now, in the middle of the lunch hour, there didn’t seem to be an empty seat to be found.

The thirty-two year old acquisitions editor knew she had no one to blame but herself, having delayed in order to finish reading a manuscript that had been left on her desk this morning. One that had turned out to be the best thing she’d read in months, and a late lunch seemed a small price to pay not to put it down. A thought the short haired blonde reminded herself of, as she resigned herself to boxing her lunch and taking it back upstairs.

She’d just gotten to the condiments station, where they also stored the empty cardboard boxes for takeout, when she spotted a woman rising from one of the small tables against the back wall. Picking her tray back up, Alice quickly moved in that direction, weaving between tables as fast as she could, lest someone beat her to the now vacated spot.

As she got nearer, Alice saw that there was still someone sitting at the table, in the seat that faced the wall. Normally that would’ve been enough for her to look elsewhere, but not today. After all, it was still a table for two and someone else had just been sitting there. If she didn’t take the spot, someone else certainly would.

It was only when she got close enough to see the face of the woman sitting there that Alice realized that she knew her. Although knew was probably the wrong word, she corrected herself, words being an important aspect of her work, and decided ‘recognized’ would be a better choice.

Her name, Alice recalled, was Miyoshi Yoshida’ and for the last four months she had been working two floors above her in the accounting department. The two of them had never been formally introduced, but Alice had seen her at her desk a few times when she’d stopped up there to meet her friend, Wendy Meyers.

A half foot shorter than Alice’s five foot eight, the twenty-three year old had a trim build, small breasts, and long jet-black hair that extended halfway down her back. Her hiring had, according to Wendy, caused some concern among the staff, as there hadn’t been any recent job openings. Which, some worried, might mean one of them was about to be let go. That worry eventually proved unfounded, however, as, months later, no one had.

Still, that wasn’t to say that the new addition hadn’t had some detrimental effect. Most of the staffers, Wendy included, had come to depend on readily available overtime to supplement their salaries – a practice Alice thought ill-advised. Sure enough, an extra body had cut the number of overtime hours considerably, and the way Wendy saw it, it was all the new girl’s fault. Which was, Alice had tried to tell her, simply ridiculous.

Wendy also suspected that, since Miyoshi didn’t seem to have any life outside of the office, at least none that anyone ever heard her talk about, she didn’t even date, that the new hire was putting in extra hours after everyone else went home, even though she never seemed to put in for overtime. How else, the redhead had reasoned, could the Japanese woman get more work done than anyone else in the office? Alice had tried to point out that if Wendy, or any other staffer, simply cut the number of breaks they took in a day by half, they’d be more productive as well, but that too fell on deaf ears.

All those things, shared at McCann’s Bar down the street where the two of them sometimes liked to stop for a drink after work, were of no import to Alice and she had told Wendy so. In fact, she’d added, she admired any woman who put work first and didn’t treat it as just something to do until she landed a husband. Additionally, as far as not even being interested in dating, well, from what Alice had seen of the available gene pool at Bluestar, she didn’t blame the girl.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” Alice asked out of courtesy before laying her tray down in front of the empty seat.

Absorbed in the book she was reading, Miyoshi was startled by what was, to her at least, Alice’s sudden appearance. She quickly recovered and, placing the book down, smiled and gestured toward the empty chair. Alice thanked her and, after putting down her lunch, settled into the seat.

There was a certain etiquette to eating in a cafeteria, especially when it was full. Even though the two women were only sitting a few feet apart, decorum dictated that each act if the other wasn’t even there. Exceptions were allowed for requests for condiments or such, but for the most part each sat in a world of their own. So it was with some slight reservation that, only a few minutes after sitting büyükçekmece escort down, Alice violated that unwritten rule.

“Excuse me,” she said, then waited until she had Miyoshi’s attention before going any further. “I couldn’t help but notice your book. Is that, by any chance, Gods Among the Stars?”

The young woman looked at Alice with surprise, then turned the paperback in her hand over so that the cover was now face up. A cursory glance confirmed that both the title, and any other pertinent information, was written in Japanese.

“You read Japanese?” Miyoshi inquired, surprise in her tone.

“No, I don’t,” Alice replied. “It was the cover illustration; I recognized it.”

Realizing that might have sounded rather odd, Alice quickly introduced herself.

“I’m Alice Martinelli, I work on the second floor in Acquisitions,” she explained. “Gods Among the Stars was one of the first books I worked on here at Bluestar.”

Miyoshi had never met Alice, but remembered seeing the name on a few expense vouchers.

“Miyoshi Yoshida,” the younger woman said in return. “I work in the Accounting Department.”

“I know,” Alice said. “One of your co-workers, Wendy Price is a friend of mine,” she added.

“Wendy … yes,” Miyoshi simply replied after a momentary pause, just enough response to acknowledge that she knew her.

Alice waited for her to say something more, but did so in vain. Finally, she decided that she should’ve just kept her curiosity to herself and moved to disengage herself from her mistake.

“Well, I’m sorry if I disturbed your lunch,” Alice said. “I was just curious as to what you thought of the book.”

Glancing down at the fruit plate and can of Tab on her tray, Alice began to mentally reestablish the privacy barriers that cafeteria etiquette called for, only to have them brushed aside as Miyoshi unexpectedly answered her question.

“I am enjoying it very much,” she said, a smile replacing what had been a blank expression on her face. “The author is an excellent writer.”

The barrier was broken, and with surprising ease, as Alice and Miyoshi spent nearly a half hour discussing the novel. By the time the accountant’s lunch break came to an end, the editor had the impression that this had been the longest non-job-related conversation that the young woman had had with anyone at the company.

“I enjoyed talking with you,” Alice said as Miyoshi got up to leave.

“And I enjoyed talking with you as well,” she replied.

“Maybe we can do it again sometime soon,” Alice suggested.

Miyoshi merely smiled graciously as she excused herself.

As she watched her walk away, Alice found it difficult associating the woman she’d just talked to with the standoffish one that Wendy had described. Then again, friend or not, Wendy wasn’t always the best judge of character, Alice reminded herself.

-=-=-=-=-

The next morning, as her normal lunch time neared, Alice briefly considered waiting another hour and again going down to the cafeteria during the height of the lunch hour. She still hated crowds, but the chance of ‘accidentally’ running into the charming young woman she’d talked to yesterday was almost too tempting to resist. But a matching desire not to seem intrusive won out and, marking where she was leaving off on today’s manuscript, she got up and headed out the door.

Today’s special was tuna salad and, along with a can of Tab, Alice carried her tray to the register. She had just handed the cashier three singles when, looking out into the nearly empty dining area, she saw a familiar face. Sitting at the same table where she’d sat yesterday, was Miyoshi, only now she was sitting with her back to the wall so there was no chance that she wouldn’t be seen.

Dropping the few coins that had come back as change into the donation jar, Alice bypassed at least a dozen empty tables and instead proceeded directly to the one where Miyoshi was sitting.

“May I sit here?” Alice inquired, trying not to show how happy she was to find her here.

“Yes, please do,” Miyoshi replied, trying just as hard not to show that she had been watching the other woman walk over.

“I see you took my suggestion about going to lunch a bit earlier,” Alice said as she sat down.

“Yes, it is much quieter,” Miyoshi replied.

As they each started to eat, they found it easy to pick up practically where they’d left off yesterday. They shared a few more thoughts about the book which they’d thought of in the hours between, but soon enough found the conversation veering off into more personal areas, and with surprising ease.

“I understand you’re from Japan,” Alice said.

“Yes, from Akitakata,” Miyoshi replied. “That’s in Hiroshima Prefecture.”

Alice had never heard of Akitakata, but certainly knew the name Hiroshima. Given Miyoshi’s age, she figured that she must’ve been born about a decade after it had become part of the world’s lexicon. çağlayan escort

“I grew up in Anaheim myself,” Alice offered. “Lived there my whole life, well, at least until my divorce. That was when I moved down here to San Diego.”

“Oh, you are divorced?” Miyoshi asked.

“Yes, after five years. We just couldn’t make it work,” Alice replied.

Alice had gotten into the practice of giving a reason along with the confirmation. Too many people automatically associated divorce with infidelity, and the first thing they seemed to focus on was who had cheated on whom.

“I have never been married,” Miyoshi replied, not seeming to care about the reason for the failure of Alice’s marriage.

“How long have you been here in the United States?” Alice asked, putting divorce and marriage behind them.

“Five months,” Miyoshi answered.

“And you’ve been with Bluestar for four months?” Alice asked, even though she already knew that.

Miyoshi nodded her head in acknowledgement as she took a bite of her seafood salad.

Obviously, Alice thought, someone had arranged the job up in accounting for Miyoshi, someone with enough influence to make it appear out of thin air. That meant someone on the executive level. If it had been a department manager or below, they’d have had to fire someone first.

“I never would’ve guessed that you’ve only been here five months,” Alice said without thinking. “Your English is perfect, I mean…”

“My mother is bilingual,” Miyoshi interrupted. “She started teaching me English when I was still a baby, leaving my grandmother and father to teach me Japanese.”

That, Alice thought, was almost the reverse of her own childhood, with her grandparents speaking only Italian. She had to say, though, Miyoshi’s English was a lot better than what she remembered of her Italian.

“What brought you to the United States?” Alice asked, thinking that someone with an English proficiency like Miyoshi would be in high demand back in Japan. “It certainly couldn’t have been to crunch numbers for Bluestar.”

“I had hoped to find something here I couldn’t find back in Japan,” Miyoshi said somewhat cryptically, giving Alice the impression that it was a sensitive subject.

“How did you wind up here at Bluestar?” Alice asked, moving past it.

“Many years ago, when he was stationed in Japan, Mr. Tyler and my father, who was then a Colonel in the Rikujo Jieitai, became good friends,” Miyoshi explained. “When I expressed an interest in coming to America, Mr. Tyler was willing to arrange a job for me so that I could do so.”

Alice had no idea what the Rikujo Jieitai was, but, given the reference to rank, assumed it had something to do with the Japanese military. Mr. Tyler, she realized, had to be John Augustus Tyler, the owner of the publishing company. It was common knowledge that he still held a reserve commission as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

“Doesn’t that take a long time, to come here for work, I mean?” Alice asked, wondering if the well-connected businessman had used his influence to pull some strings.

“Not if you were born here,” Miyoshi stated.

“Wait, I thought you said you were from, what did you say it was called … Akita…” Alice started to say but then got stuck on the name.

“Akitakata,” Miyoshi said, adding that she only said she’d grown up there, not that she’d been born in Japan.

Alice nodded her head in acknowledgement, reminding herself that she shouldn’t have made that assumption, even though it had been logical to do so.

Miyoshi went on to explain that, twenty-three years before, her parents had come to San Diego to attend John Tyler’s wedding. An event that her mother was determined not to let a little thing like being pregnant keep her from. It turned out to be a poor decision, as, during the ceremony, she went into premature labor and had to be rushed to a local hospital.

“I spent my first few months there,” Miyoshi added. “My father had to return to Japan, but my mother stayed as Mr. Tyler’s guest until I was released. He’s been sort of a godfather ever since.”

By the time Miyoshi had to excuse herself to go back to work, Alice had formed a genuine liking of her. The young accountant said she felt the same way and they agreed to coordinate their lunch schedules in the future so that they didn’t have to try and ‘accidentally’ run into each other.

Over the next few weeks, despite their differences in age and culture, the two became friends. The ease with which they did so made Alice wonder why Miyoshi hadn’t made any in her office. Had no one else made any effort to try and know her?

Asking Wendy wasn’t an option, given her enmity toward Miyoshi, but there were others on the fourth floor that Alice could ask. When she did, however, she got pretty much the same answer from each of them. They all felt that the new girl just seemed a bit strange. It wasn’t anything they cared to really çapa escort elaborate on, but that was their impression. Oh, she was always courteous and helpful when you needed something work-related, but beyond that there always seemed to be a bit of a defensive wall that you couldn’t get past.

‘Then why did I have no problem doing it?’ Alice asked herself.

Back in college, Alice had known two Japanese girls, but both had been Sansei, the grandchildren of immigrants. Born half a world away from where Miyoshi had been raised, their life experiences had been vastly different – so no insight there. Maybe, Alice reasoned, Miyoshi just needed a little push, a chance to get to know her co-workers outside of work. After all, technically at least, their first encounter hadn’t been in the office either.

Alice started by inviting Miyoshi out after work, just for a friendly drink between co-workers. That worked out so well that she next invited a few other women to tag along. That turned out to be much less of a success, as Miyoshi’s easy interaction with her didn’t seem to extend to anyone else.

Still, despite that, their relationship continued to grow as the more time they spent with each other, the more they discovered they had in common. A weekend didn’t pass that they didn’t spend at least part of it exploring some museum or gallery. Also, in addition to what had now become almost daily shared lunches, the two of them added a mid-week dinner, a chance to go out and try new cuisines.

On one of those nights, they happened to run into Tim Clarkson, a sales representative from Parkerson Office Supplies with whom Alice maintained a sort of friends with benefits relationship. With him was an old buddy, Ken Stuart, who had recently moved to San Diego. The four of them decided to have dinner together and by the time it was over, it was obvious that Ken had been instantly smitten by Miyoshi. Unfortunately for Ken, the opposite didn’t seem to be true, as, while she was cordial enough, the young Japanese woman didn’t seem to be interested in the least.

Alice remembered Wendy’s comment that Miyoshi didn’t seem interested in dating, but also recalled her own observation that, given the caliber of the available prospects at Bluestar, she didn’t blame her. Ken Stuart, on the other hand, was young, successful and absolutely charming. If he hadn’t been a friend of Tim, which would’ve made it awkward, she might’ve imagined him in her own bed.

That night, laying in that bed, quite alone, Alice found herself considering the idea that perhaps Miyoshi really didn’t like men, at least not in the way most unattached young women her age did. Was it possible that she preferred something else?

The question wasn’t a new one; in fact, it had been broached by Wendy more than a week before, when the two of them had met at McCann’s for a drink. Alice really didn’t like stopping off there on a weeknight, but had lately been feeling guilty that her friendship with Wendy had become a casualty of her new one with Miyoshi – at least timewise. It had been almost a month since she and Wendy even had a conversation that lasted more than a few minutes over coffee.

After their second drink, which was one more than Alice had originally planned to have, Wendy had brought up the subject of Miyoshi. Her concern, she insisted, was only for the welfare of her friend, because she was that kind of girl. The redhead then cautioned that there were people at work who were beginning to talk about Alice’s relationship with the strange foreign girl.

“A few of them have even wondered out loud if you’ve suddenly turned lesbo or something,” Wendy offered, “but I set them straight about that right off. After all, I’ve seen that dreamboat from Parkerson Supplies that you go out with. Still, people do like to talk and, as they say, there’s such a thing as guilt by association.”

It disturbed Alice that her ‘friendship’ with Tim Clarkson might now be the stuff of office gossip due to Wendy’s inability to keep her mouth shut, but she also realized that Tim wasn’t the immediate issue – Miyoshi was. That the Japanese woman might be gay had occurred to her well before Wendy’s comment. But it was also a thought that she’d managed to keep buried in the back of her mind. Now that it had been brought out in the open, the question had to be at least considered.

Considered, the blonde thought, but kept in perspective as well. Simply not being interested in dating didn’t make a woman a lesbian, any more than the short hairstyle Alice liked to wear made her one. True, there had been that incident back in college when, after having a bit too much to drink at a party, she’d made out with one of her sorority sisters. But that had been more a matter of being drunk, horny, and admittedly curious than anything else.

More recently, about a year ago, Alice had been reading a manuscript in which the central female character developed feelings for another woman in her office. She really didn’t need to go past the first few chapters to know it wasn’t something that Bluestar was going to publish, but she found it interesting enough to take home and finish on her own time. In the end, the author fell back on the familiar trope of the woman winding up with a man instead, but it did make Alice think. What would she do in a similar circumstance?

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