Everyone has a tell, a single gesture to indicate that their words or expressions weren’t their true thoughts or intentions. I had sharpened my observational skills enough to easily pick out the most subtle movements of those around me; even the smallest gesture was enough for me to discover a lie.
Hikaru and Tamaki had been the easiest to learn. Both of them wore their emotions clearly on their face. I could catch both of them in their fabrications--Hikaru’s eyes would narrow ever so slightly, as though he were trying to combat the natural widening that came with telling a lie. Tamaki knew better than to lie to me, but even among others, all they would have to do is watch the way his fingers would graze his jaw lightly to know when he wasn’t completely clear. Kaoru would feign maintaining eye contact by settling his eyes on the person’s nose. Even Takashi would tilt his head back, and Honey would run his tongue over his front teeth.
Rather than call my friends out on these things, I would wait for them to eventually come clean. Unless their deception benefited me, of course.
Kanami had been a hard read since the day I’d met her. I always had a sense that she had her guard up whenever I was nearby, although I had seen glimpses of expressiveness around the other members of the Host Club. She’d caught on to my attempts to figure her out almost immediately, there was no question about that. She was smart, that much was certain, but I could see the cracks beginning to appear in her mask.
We had gone to my room once we had both recovered from our time in the study. She was wrapped in my throw blanket, not having bothered to put her gown back on. My staff had brought her bag to my room, something I had arranged once I’d learned she would be staying with us. My staff would take the liberty of sending for her clothing for tomorrow. My father had high expectations for how his house was run, and our staff never disappointed.
“Would you like a shirt?” I turned my attention to my overstuffed dresser, making an effort to hide the fact that she was the first woman I’d brought back to my own room. I had slept with plenty, sure, but never in my own private space. It didn’t feel quite as strange as I had expected.
“I don’t want to stretch your clothes out.” I could hear Kanami’s phone trill to life from behind me.
“Keep it, then.” I found a simple black shirt and tugged it out of the drawer, along with a pair of pajama bottoms for myself. “Not like I would mind.”
“That’s almost sweet of you, Kyoya.” Her voice had taken a teasing tone.
I turned around to see her focused on her phone, her brow furrowed. “Something wrong?”
“Ah, just an email from one of my professors.” She set the phone down on top of the dresser, the screen facing up. For a split second, her index and middle finger came to the corner of her mouth, almost as if she were bringing a cigarette to her lips.
That was it.
Could her tell really be that simple? Or did she just need a cigarette.
Either way, something in my gut told me she was hiding something. I pushed back every instinct I had to confront her, find out what what going on in her head.
“While I admire your diligence as a student, I’d like to steal your attention away for a while yet.” I handed her the shirt and watched her slip it over her head, the hem falling just above her mid-thigh. I stepped into my own nightclothes. “Do you need to go outside for a bit?”
“If you don’t mind.” She said, already reaching inside her bag for a cigarette.
I gave her a small nod and watched her step out to my balcony. I could barely make out her figure, blurred from the outside darkness and my thin curtains. I kept telling myself I was going to get a pair that offered more protection from any outside light, but tonight I was thankful for the opportunity to see outside.
Only a few minutes had passed before Kanami’s phone chimed from the dresser. Against my better judgement, I glanced down at the screen to find she had received a text from an unsaved number. I mentally ran through the list of numbers I was familiar with--it definitely wasn’t one that I recognized. It wasn’t long before the phone chimed again, indicating a second text had come through from the same sender.
I knew better than to try to unlock her phone to read the messages for myself, however, something told me that I needed to get to the bottom of what was going on. I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t just my feelings clouding my judgement.
I found my own phone and quickly sent a message to Tachibana, my most trusted bodyguard, with instructions to find the owner of the phone number. If anyone could trace down the source with discretion, it would be him.
All I could do was wait.
I wish I could say that I slept soundly with Kanami curled beside me, but that would be far from the truth. My mind was far too caught up in anticipating having an unexpected breakfast with my father. There had to be some reason behind his wanting to bring Kanami into the Ootori Group.It wasn’t possible for him to only be interested in her technical prowess, that wasn’t how my father worked. There had to be some benefit to having her associated with his company that I was somehow missing.What advantage would Kanami bring?
I was still somewhat lost in thought as Kanami and I made our way to the dining room. She spoke little that morning, telling me that until she had coffee in her system she wouldn’t be much for conversation, as if I didn’t already know. I wanted to tell her that, if she chose me, I would ensure that every morning was met with as much coffee as it took to bring her out of the fog of sleep.
But it wasn’t the time.
My father was already waiting for us when we arrived. I felt Kanami’s posture immediately shift once his gaze fell on her, as if she could feel the certain judgement in his eyes.
“I take it you were satisfied with your accommodations here.” Father, ever so observant, stated as I sat down next to him after helping Kanami into the seat next to mine. O
“I did. Thank you for allowing me to stay here.” Kanami was poised as ever, despite her lack of caffeine.
“Coffee, Ootori-san?” One of the maids had approached me. I gave her a quick nod and signaled for her to bring Kanami a cup as well. I was eager for my darling to perk up a bit.
Since when did I start thinking of her as my darling?
“I certainly hope you took some time to consider my offer.” Father’s eyes never left Kanami, even as the maids began placing dishes in front of us. Father tended to keep things simple when it came to his meals, opting to have a breakfast of fruit and toast served to us. Not like I was in the mood for much else myself.
“I would still like to speak to my father on the matter.” Kanami held her coffee cup to her lips. “Might I ask what you would have me doing within Ootori Group?”
Father took a bite of a strawberry before he spoke. “You would be managing our healthcare platform, naturally. It is no secret that your father and I have had our troubles in the past, and after his most recent data breach--”
“You no longer want to be his client, even though I caused the breach.” Kanami finished. “You want to move to an in-house model to manage your billing software, I assume.”
“Is that something you can do?” He asked. I involuntarily leaned forward in my chair, my half-eaten toast forgotten.
“Development is far different than hacking, but I’m making decent progress in my skills on that front.” Kanami’s eyes widened. “But that’s why I’m at Ouran.”
The word hung in the air between the three of us. Kanami stared into her coffee, her fingers tightening around the mug.
So that was my father’s plan, and Kanami had just figured it out. He convinced Kanami’s father to allow her to come to Ouran instead of facing punishment for her actions with the intention of stealing her away for his own use. I would’ve considered it a brilliant idea, had I not been so royally pissed off.
But how would he have done it had she and I hadn’t gotten involved?
“You would have to marry into the Ootori family, of course.” Father continued. “We can’t have someone in such a high position from outside our family. That’s how our business runs.”
I shoved my glasses up the bridge of my nose, trying to force myself into calming down. “Is this your way of deciding what to do with your third son?”
“You know better than to speak to me like that, Kyoya.” His voice rose sharply. “I would be willing to turn one of the companies over to you, if you were able to secure this arrangement.”
“What if I refuse?” Kanami spoke. Her fingers went to the corner of her mouth. There it was again. Now that I had noticed the gesture it was impossible to miss.
“Then I’ll be forced to use Kyoya as a bargaining chip in my attempts to fill the position. There are plenty of others that would jump at the chance to belong with us.” He leaned back in his chair, not disguising the satisfaction with the entire situation.
“I’ll consider it.” Kanami’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“I expect an answer by the end of this semester. We can’t have this matter hindering your studies, can we?” He stood and adjusted the collar of his shirt. “Now, if you two will excuse me. I’m certain the two of you have plenty to discuss.”
Kanami and I rose and gave him a quick bow before he left the room. She and I sat in an uncomfortable silence, broken only by one of the maids refilling Kanami’s coffee.
“I need to call my father.” Kanami finally said.
“And tell him what?” I kept my voice even. “I don’t expect you to give up on your hopes of taking over Inao Industries to satisfy me, Kanami. I’ve accepted my father’s indifference toward me a long time ago.”
“Is that what you want for your life, Kyoya? Do you want to be forced into a marriage? Even if it wasn’t with me, surely you have your own ambitions.” Her mask was gone. I could feel the emotion pouring out of every single one of her words.
“I do what’s expected of me.” I dug my nails into my leg. “I know what I’m capable of, but he’ll never see it. I won’t subject you to working for him.”
“Did you know about this?”
“No.” I faced her, not shielding my own emotion. I had no doubts about my love for Kanami, but this wasn’t a life I could allow her to live. I had wanted to do things right by her, and my father had to make it part of his grand plan to further himself as a businessman. “I would’ve pursued you without a thought, had that been the case. But Kanami, I swear to you that’s not why I…”
“I trust you.” Her hand found mine, squeezing it in a tight grip. “Inao Industries is finished without Ootori Group. I don’t know much about business, but they’re our largest client, and if they go--”
“When. Father’s made up his mind.”
“Fuck.” Kanami swore. She pounded her forehead with her free hand, once, twice, then a third time. “I’d make a terrible wife, Kyoya. I can barely figure out my own feelings, and when you told me to feel free to explore other opportunities--”
I cut her off, not ready to hear what I had long suspected about her having other relationships. “Refuse his offer, Kanami.” I want to marry you, but not like this.
“I can’t take this chance from you, Kyoya. He’d give you one of his companies.”
I pushed my chair away from the table. In one swift motion, I pulled her into my lap and held her close to my chest, unable to contain myself any longer. “You said you trusted me Kanami. And I need you to hold to that. He’s given me time to figure this out, but I need you to refuse if I haven’t gotten this sorted by the end of this semester.”
“You’re not alone in this, Kyoya.” She sat up in my lap, her hands resting on my shoulders. Her eyes glinted dangerously. “Give me a name and a computer, and I’ll get you any information you need, and do a little damage if you’d like.”
I couldn’t stop the grin that broke out across my face. Father had picked the wrong woman to deceive.
Tachibana delivered the information I had requested later that afternoon in the manner of a single slip of paper slid beneath my door frame. My breath hitched as I read the name, immediately recognizing who it belonged to.
A low growl escaped my throat. Shido. The name of my brother-in-law. The name that was shared with a family linked with one of the most infamous yakuza groups in our area of Japan.
My phone was in my hand before I could register what I was doing. I called the person that could withhold a secret from me, even though I had believed him to respect me enough not to do so.
The anger bled into my voice.
“Mori-senpai, mind telling me why Kanami is getting texts from Takumi Shido?”