fiction, you and me

Lonely Holiday Insurance. {fiction}

 

Champagne. Gingerbread cookies. Candle service. Christmas movies. I adore all. Bad news is that I have no one to share them with.

“So Ryuichi, what is your plan for Christmas?” the Human Resources girl asked me at the end of a regular hearing. She always wears tight suits and black glasses.

Thank you, but no thank you for asking. This HR girl is efficient. After the hearings with her, things almost always turn out well because of her adequate intervention in sections of our insurance company. However, this question is a bummer.

I broke up with my girlfriend, Olivia, a couple weeks ago. I was crying all night for three days. My family is in Tokyo. My friends are all with their pretty girlfriends. No one to invite or to be invited on Christmas Eve, which is around the corner.

But then, I have this Holiday Insurance for emergency.

So, I proudly announced, “Well, I have a date.”

“A date?” she asked, doubtfully. “I heard a rumor that you broke up lately. A new girlfriend?”

I have never seen this cocky girl smiling.

“Sort of,” I replied, showing composure.

***

On a sultry day before this summer, a small web ad of Present Perfect caught my eyes. It was an insurance company, providing Holiday Insurance.

I visited its website and a chubby broker from Present Perfect came to meet me. He looked like a clown, even without makeup, partly because of his striped suit.

At a bustling coffee shop, he explained:

“Our insurance is almost the same as medical insurance or car insurance. You can buy this when you have healthy social relations, such as family and friends. If you accidentally can be with none of them on designated holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, you get paid.”

I was impressed by the estimated amount of money he mentioned. You could even buy a luxury engagement ring. He continued.

“Also, you can add a special agreement to have a date. It’s our present for you.”

“A date? On a holiday? How so?”

“A matchmaking agency, Future Perfect, is our group company. And its members get a discount on their member fee, in exchange for spending a holiday with an assigned person.”

“It is a beneficiary of holiday insurance, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Exactly. According to the questionnaires you filled on our website, you have a girlfriend, right?”

“Sure. Does that mean I am eligible?”

With a clownish smile, he replied.

“Certainly. And you have a lot of friends, which also is a plus. We have some inspection and assessment before the contract, but it’s done almost entirely through the internet. Very easy.”

At that time, I was with Olivia, and I believed we had a romantic relationship. So simply from curiosity and for fun, I bought this holiday insurance.

***

You know the rest of the story. I broke up with Olivia in late fall. I heard she got a new boyfriend. I tried to get someone to spend Christmas Eve with me, but it didn’t work. So, I called Present Perfect on December 23rd, as advised.

The clown-like broker expressed hearty compassion to hear that I would be alone the next day.

“I am so sorry, Ryuichi. All you need is to fill out the online application. Then the payment will be made accordingly. Also, I will email you the photo of your date for tomorrow.”

“Can I choose my date?”

“I am afraid not. But trust me, we carefully select only qualified girls. So, we won’t let you down.”

“I don’t know if I’m okay with this kind of blind date,” I murmured.

“You are free to cancel if you don’t like her profile. She doesn’t know you yet, so no need to hesitate over canceling.”

The photo and a brief bio of my date came right away. Lucky me. The girl, named Emily, was charming in a rose color fluffy blouse. Gazing at her photo for minutes, I sensed I had met her somewhere. Maybe in my company, right here.

It was lunchtime, and I looked around the deserted floor. Suddenly, I noticed it was that HR girl. Without her black glasses, I hadn’t recognized her. Also, I had mistaken her name as either Emma or Ella.

Oh my gosh. Of all girls among this big company. I should cancel this date. Otherwise, she will tell everyone that I fulfilled my loneliness by insurance. Ah, they would feel pity for me, and I would be embarrassed.

When I called the broker to cancel Emily, he sounded disappointed.

“Okay, Ryuichi. In this case, we need some evidence to prove that you would be alone, ideally either at your place or workplace.”

Then he added hesitantly.

“Please make sure that you need to be lonely. Our investigation before payment is kind of stiff.”

***

When one door is shut, another is open. Right after I hung up the cell phone, I got a call from Olivia, my ex-girlfriend. My heart pounded.

“Hi Ryuichi, what’s your plan for tomorrow night?” Olivia asked in a semi-sweet voice.

“I just canceled a date,” I replied in despair.

“Oh, that’s too bad. I know it’s last minute, but why don’t we hang out, Ryuichi?”

I accepted her request, hoping that she finally realized that I was the right man. But also, I had become less naive after she broke up with me, suddenly and one-sidedly. So, I went to her boyfriend Jeremiah’s SNS, seeking the reason for her abrupt call.

There I saw his new post. “I have been hospitalized for a slipped disk.” It seems Olivia is just using me as a substitute.

Still I cannot decide whether I should cancel the date with Olivia. All my friends envy that she has natural blond hair. It is too good to pass, even if I would lose my insurance. Money can’t buy love.

I left my desk to get a coffee. Then I saw Emily in a grey suit, walking through the isle. I impulsively talked to her.

“Hey, you know what? Tomorrow’s my date with my ex-girlfriend.”

Emily, putting on her glasses, looked puzzled. But soon, she smiled as in the photo from the broker.

“I am happy for you, Ryuichi.”

Somehow, I didn’t feel comfortable.

***

The next day, December 24th, I went to work. Everyone was already in holiday mode. I could not concentrate on my task, because I was still indecisive about the date.

In the afternoon, my extension telephone rang.

“Hi, it’s Emily from HR. I regret to tell you that you will have an urgent hearing with us tonight,” she said as if reading a script.

“What? Whoa, whoa,” I tried to stop her, but she just went on.

“I know you have a date, but this hearing will take hours and is important for your assessment. So, you can’t miss it.  Please come to the meeting room at eight.”

Emily hung up without letting me speak.

It’s unbelievable on Christmas Eve. But I can’t resist, because she has a voice in this company.

I shook my head, and called Olivia. She answered instantly.

“Hi Olivia. About tonight, I’m so sorry I can’t make it at eight. I am wondering if we can meet a few hours later.”

“Huh? Why?” she replied in a harsh manner.

“Because I have an urgent hearing at eight.”

“What are you talking about, Ryuichi? You promised yesterday,” she cried out hysterically.

“Right. But, it affects my assessment.”

“So what? I kindly offered this date to save you, because you said you had ruined a date.”

What a fool I was. I didn’t know her at all. I replied, trying to control my emotion.

“I know you came to me because your boyfriend was not available.”

I heard her gasp. Before she said anything, I said moderately, yet clearly.

“Goodbye Olivia, I am not your insurance,” and hung up on her.

***

After dark, the windows of the building next door were lit up in the shape of a huge Christmas tree. Almost everyone on my floor was gone.

In Japan, there is a famous excuse for being alone on Christmas Eve: “I need to light up my window for lovers.” My excuse is much better. It’s a business hearing.

But it’s crazy. I guess Emily got mad because she somehow knew it was me who canceled the date with her. The clown-like broker had said Emily wouldn’t know it was me though. That’s why Emily intentionally planned this hearing to interfere my date with Olivia.

Maybe Emily will tattle to Present Perfect about my appointment with Olivia. Maybe Emily maliciously won’t witness I had a hearing with her. So, I might even lose my insurance.

Now, I doubt everything. Until today, I have been working hard. I have tried to help others as much as I could. I have tried my best to be social, although I am not so extroverted.

And is this the result? All alone on Christmas Eve? I doubt this world, which puts such a fate on me at the most wonderful time of the year.

***

At eight sharp, I was in front of the meeting room. On the dim aisle, I saw a girl, a personal assistant for Emily. She said,

“Let me have your cellphone, please.”

I handed her my cellphone. She kept it in a small safe and took out a stick. It was a metal detector. With it, she inspected my body thoroughly and nodded.

“You’re fine, Ryuichi. Please come in.”

I pushed the door reluctantly. A tasty smell welcomed me.

The mid-size meeting room had become a homey party banquet, with cloth on the tables and Christmas decoration. About 20 people greeted me warmly.

“Take heart, my friend. Let’s have fun.”

“We are all loners tonight from this company.”

Emily carried a cocktail glass and handed it to me. She wore a rose-colored blouse, as in the photo.

I was bewildered and asked her, “What is this about?”

“You know it is a HR hearing. Never a party,” she replied in a brusque manner. Then she raised her voice briskly,

“Thank you, everyone, for attending tonight. This gorgeous setting is for tasting and rating some restaurant catering instead of busy promotion staffs for their upcoming receptions with clients. Remember, we are not having a party. We are selected elites working for this company, even on Christmas Eve.”

Everyone applauded and whistled. Emily smiled and continued seriously,

“Although this event is not official yet, we are planning to make it official next year. It is because, as a major insurance company, we HR think we should have some sort of in-house insurance for the workers, who just happened to be alone on Christmas.”

Everyone laughed. Emily continued satisfactorily,

“HR division is honored to have you guys here. Cheers!”

“Cheers!” everyone chanted and started serving dishes.

The clinging sound of cutlery is blending with the Christmas music.

***

Like attracts like. Over party cuisine and drinks, I enjoyed conversation with employees from various divisions. Now, I feel at home and doubt if we need anything but delicious food and cheerful conversation to be happy.

After a while, Emily was walking toward me. She looked so lovely I unexpectedly whispered to her,

“Don’t get me wrong. I canceled the date with you not because I didn’t like you.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“What? Ryuichi, was it you who canceled the date?”

My bad. The broker from Present Perfect didn’t tell me a lie. They kept the secret.

I said humbly, “Listen, Emily. I canceled because I was scared you would spread the rumor of my lonely holiday insurance. My ex called me to ask me out after I canceled the date with you. I didn’t choose my ex over you.”

Emily still looked hurt, staring at me through her glasses. I was so confused, and continued,

“Also, I already canceled the date with my ex.”

Emily shouted angrily, “Good. Let me tell you one thing. Last night, I called Present Perfect to ask about something. And I overheard their brief conversation. They were assigning a detective to shadow you. Although I didn’t hear them mention your name, I was positive they were talking about you, Ryuichi.”

“Oh, how did you know?”

“Because the assigned location was here, this building. Also, they caught wind of an appearance of client’s blond ex-girlfriend, who recently broke up. So, I remembered you said that your date was your blond ex. That’s why I planned this event to keep you away from your ex.”

“Thank you, Emily. But why didn’t you just tell me?”

Emily mumbled, “Because… because I didn’t want you to know that I use Future Perfect, the matching service.”

It was so understandable that I couldn’t say a word. Emily continued hastily,

“Be that as it may, don’t you know that an insurance fraud will damage your future credibility?”

“I know, indeed. The reason I didn’t report the last-minute date was because I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I didn’t mean to commit fraud.”

Emily seemed to ridicule me and said,

“No worries, I took everyone’s cell phone and camera away to avoid any photo of this event leaking out. You know, you should convince Present Perfect that this is not a party.”

Emily finished her fast talk and walked away haughtily.

Dear, dear! Maybe she was interested in me and prepared this joyful surprise for me. Maybe not.

But it doesn’t matter for now. Thanks to Emily, this secret event/work would be strong evidence to get my holiday insurance. With this income, I could even buy a diamond ring for someone. Someone like Emily.

Anyway, it’s holiday season. It’s party time.

***

Mikiko Miyakawa is a film & TV composer/pianist in New York City. Some of her short stories became honorable mentions and the winner of a literary contest The Asylum, run by a bestselling author W.T. Paterson in 2016. Her solo piano album “Elegy in Violet” is about to be released from Centaur Records in 2018. You could check out her music on SoundCloud.

***

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