Friendship Fiction


Please? Just until five thirty after I pick up the ring!

Len felt his face fold up in agony at the text.

Until five-thirty? The time that was after everyone wanted to leave and not stay a second longer at the too-many-floors office building after a grueling day of entertaining clients? The idea of trying to stop anyone from leaving for the weekend was basically a death wish or indicative of becoming a victim of voodoo puppetry, especially if one tried stopping his supervisor and best friend’s girlfriend, Ryu Nama.

Ryu Nama wasn’t a bad boss—far from it. If one of her teammates fell behind, she would sit down with them so that they could figure out the problem together. As team leader, she gave them deadlines but helped when there was trouble, had high standards but forgave if the situation was unavoidable or learnable. She was the team’s rock, and Len couldn’t even begin to count the times when she pulled his butt from the figurative fires that frequently flared up when dealing with condescending clients.

Her steadfast, firm approach extended to her relationships too. In the office, he and Ryu were teammates at best, and they kept their conversations professional (with the occasional deviation whenever Jayca crashed the building). Outside of the office, Ryu loosened only a smidge, and she would usually ask him if he and Jayca were planning on anything fun.

Len didn’t mind their professional relationship though. He had known her as his supervisor first, then as Jayca’s girlfriend. That had certainly been a surprise when his best friend introduced them, and he saw his boss not dressed in a suit but a knit sweater and jeans. They had never really acted like friends, or hung out sociably, or even had a conversation that didn’t start with work, but she made Jayca happy and that was what mattered.

Plus, Len probably couldn’t compare because he didn’t have any friends besides Jayca. And he probably wouldn’t have made friends with her if he didn’t conveniently have a napkin to offer her after some playground bully dumped ice cream on her. Looking back, he knew that the action was wrong, but he couldn’t bring himself to help her in the moment. He was scared of the big kid who had lackeys and big fists and yelled at everyone, and that was why he hid. He didn’t really see what Jayca saw in him that day, but they became inseparable since.

So he already knew that he had to uphold Jayca’s request to stall Ryu—he just didn’t think that he would be passing away so soon.

From his corner of the meeting room, he could already see her calculating the exact movements for signing off with her boss, walking to the elevator, performing all the routine checks before leaving, and then bidding the rest of them bye down to the minute. Len glanced at the clock in the room and rolled his lips in to stop from chewing on them. He had two minutes, and he needed a plan.

He could ask work questions, his safe go-to, but Ryu could answer them rapid-fire (efficiency was her style). He could pretend he didn’t know how to do something, but he didn’t want to seem clueless. What if he recommended Morrice’s troubleshooting tips to her?

Sighing at his own suggestions, he turned his attention back to the meeting and felt his body snap into alarm. People were up and shaking hands and talking about the weekend already. Ryu—where was Ryu? Len waggled his body trying see through all the people for one dark-haired, khaki-suit-wearing supervisor and let out something between a wheeze and a cough when he saw the flash of her out the door.

He grabbed his notebook and pen and hurried towards the exit, waving and tossing syllables that sounded like ‘good weekend to you too’ over his shoulder. A couple others had also started down the hall, and they took their sweet time barricading the walkway by walking close-to-each-other-but-not-that-close as they made the same conversations as in the meeting room, and Len gave himself an internal scream.

Around the corner, he heard the ding! of the elevators. How many people were getting on? Was there enough room for him if Ryu was on it? The person in front of him wasn’t even paying attention to his co-worker’s comments, and Len could tell when he just said ‘yeah’ and ‘uh huh’ every couple sentences.

He shook his head to stop eavesdropping and mustered up his courage. Lightly and easily. Quick and smooth. The corners meant that the space widened a little, so he could just slip through, say a small ‘excuse me’ if there was accidental contact, and he would be fine. That wasn’t too rude. He would be fine.

Nearing the corner and psyching himself up, Len watched the spacing between the inattentive co-worker and the dry wall and sprinted forward.

His ribcage smacked into the edge, and his hand whammed against the plaster at an awkward angle. He crumpled to the ground and groaned at the scraping on his bones.

“Woah. Hey, you should watch where you’re going, man.”

Len looked up and then back down. His glance barely reached a second, but he saw the disgust in the person’s eyes, the slight curl of the lip in an underlying scoff. He shrunk back, digging his side into the edge, and nodding his apologies.

The two walked away, resuming their half-conversation. Other company-mates walked past him, but he had rather watch their shoes instead of look at how they must have looked at him.

“Len, are you okay?”

He jumped at the voice, sprawling side-ways onto the dirty carpet. A few dodged him, not stopping. Only the shoes in front of him didn’t move. Slowly, he let his eyes find the face they belonged to.

Ryu stood over him, looking down at him, but no contempt shaped her features. Just the calm neutrality that was ever present. She had the file reports from the meeting in one hand, and the other was extended towards him.

He remembered that he probably shouldn’t be on the ground blocking the hallway and reached to take it, letting his boss help haul him up.

“Are you alright?”

He nodded, patting himself off, not looking at her face.

“Be careful. Propriety is a transparent layer here.”

Len just nodded, the embarrassment now heating up in his chest. He shouldn’t have tried running through such a narrow space. What was he thinking? Clearly, he wasn’t. He didn’t like to act rashly, and he didn’t like to make a commotion. Had he inconvenienced his co-workers? If not in blocking the hallway, then as an eyesore—a grown man rolling around on the floor—


He looked up at his name and just let out the tiniest curse in his head when he remembered that now was not the time for beating himself up. He could do that later, like after he succeeded in explaining himself to his boss.

“Uh, hi, Ryu.”

“Hello, Len.”

He gulped and thought of something to say.

“Full meeting today, right?”

“Yes, it was required.”


“Are you alright? You collided with the wall quite hard.”

Office Staples, please help me.

“I’m fine. Uhm, thanks for checking.”

She nodded and gestured towards the elevators, so he followed her in automatic reaction from team leader to team follower. They didn’t have to wait long before they got a lift, and soon they had arrived at their particular team area, an expansive room with one wall made of windows and enough space for eight team members.

“Then, I’ll be seeing you, Len.”

He nodded and waved, then threw his hands up.


She stopped, and so did he. He didn’t know what else to say. He needed to stall her for Jayca but HOW?


“Uh, can I ask you something? About our current project?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“It’s… The numbers… The design keeps—let me just show it to you!”

She blinked at his sudden yell, and he shrunk back.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to raise my voice.”

“No worries. Show me the problem.”

He spun around and scurried towards his desk. Most others had decorated or rearranged their items. Len’s space could be described as the default setting, with nothing on the backboard and no aesthetic choices. The only other desk he knew to be as minimal as his was Ryu’s. He only kept one picture of him with his family and Jayca, and that was all he needed.

Well, he would have liked for his computer to take until five-thirty in rebooting back up, but the top agency in data analysis could afford high-speed internet and high-end computers. He got as far as bringing up their most recent project on automobile distribution before clearing his throat for the panic rising in it.

“You’re in the middle of hypothesis testing. Your method looks fine to me.”

“Uh, thank you.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The problem… is that—” Something, Len, just point to something! “—is that.”

Ryu raised an eyebrow. “What’s the problem with your name?”

Point to something that makes sense!

“I mean this.”

He moved his finger down to the outliers in the table.

“I realize that these are outliers and well above the average market, but there’s enough of them to not be outliers too. If I use the standard analysis, the type one error would be skewed, and I don’t want to tighten the alpha in case the type two error becomes inaccurate too.”

Ryu nodded, and he was still taut with shock that she bought his non-existent worry when she made a note in her notepad.

“This company was a bit conservative with the data they gave us. I can ask for a more reasonable sample size to help with type two, and then you won’t have to worry so much with type one. Good observation, Len. I’ll get to it on Monday.”

She patted his shoulder and moved back towards her own desk, and Len stared at the blinking cursor on his screen, replaying what just happened.

That was actually not too bad of an improvisation!

He had zero skill in improvising, but he managed to do it and without completely lying! That group of outliers had been bothering him. Not enough to elicit anyone’s help without trying it with their usual data kit first, but the act bought him some time.

His eyes went towards the clock on his screen, and he took a minute to marvel at the fact that he just stalled Ryu for five minutes.

“Have a good weekend, Boss!”

Snapping out of his reverie, Len banged his knees into the table at the sight of Ryu tossing a wave behind her. He had to stop her. With more accuracy and focus than Len had ever had in his life, he typed out a note about the errors and sample size, saved the application, exited out, shut down the computer, and stuffed all his things into his arms as if they were chipmunk cheek pouches. He dashed out of the office and down the corridors, weaving around the flood of people in formal wear and jumping through doors until he reached the parking garage. Ryu was half-way towards her car with her keys in hand.


She whipped around, then sidestepped as Len couldn’t stop in time and rammed himself into a pillar. He quite literally bounced backwards and groaned at the renewed throbbing in his arm. Though he didn’t fall, he hit a parked car close by. Obnoxious blaring sirened out, causing both Len and Ryu to cover their ears and for Len to squint against the lights. A hand took his arm, and he followed its guidance away until the car alarm silenced. He recognized the silver sheen of Ryu’s car, and the ugly reflection it cast of his face made him turn away.

“Are you alright today, Len?”

Cars were rumbling in the garage, but he could hear the laughter and words from those close enough to have seen what happened. They weren’t kind laughs or encouragements; he could tell from the scorn that echoed within the cement cage. He even heard wolf-whistles and claps in the distance.


“Sorry, Ryu. I embarrassed you.”

“No, it’s fine. I couldn’t care less. That was a big collision though. Are you okay?”

He nodded, hiding his stinging arm behind him. He couldn’t look up at her face again. Instead, he watched the car keys in her hand click and her car light up as she put away her coat and briefcase. A dimly shining charm hung from the rearview mirror, and Len recognized it as the one Jayca bought for their anniversary.

“So what did you need me for? Is it an emergency?”

His mind stopped on that charm. He remembered how hard Jayca debated in choosing her gift because she wanted to have one with the best meaning between her and her girlfriend. For someone who thrived on instinct and impulse and lived with her head out the window, she stopped to deliberate on one little gift.

Now, too, she had done the same and made her decision, and Len couldn’t afford to mess it up for his best friend.

“Can you not leave until five-thirty?”

Ryu’s eyes widened in surprise, and few things surprised his boss. Maybe he should have been more discreet or said it nicer. He didn’t think that he asked meanly, but the request must have appeared out of the blue, odd. Just like him.


She pulled open the passenger door near him before sitting back in the driver’s seat. When she gave him a pointed glance, he just stared back at her, confused.

“I’m assuming you’ll wait with me since you asked.”

That made sense, so he sat in the back of her two-row car, his feet hanging out from the side. They sat and waited. Cars and people came and drove away until the traffic died, and they were alone. Len blinked at the empty parking space before him and counted the grains in the painted lines. At least, he pretended to, because that was easier than thinking of what gossip would follow him once the weekend was over.

“You’re not who I thought you were, Len.”

For a moment, he thought that the voice had come from his imagination, but the voice echoed and resonated outside of his head. He turned to Ryu and saw that she had taken out her hair tie, dark waves obscuring her face.

“I thought that you were someone whom Jayca felt sorry for, someone she decided to band with because there was greater strength in numbers.”

Len twisted his body in on itself. He had wondered something similar. He thought that having another to protect made someone stronger, or at least the idea of it did—and that was why Jayca insisted that they become friends that day on the playground.

“But I was wrong. You have your fears, but they can’t stop you from being loyal.”

He heard her shift, and his curiosity pulled his sight in her direction. Ryu leaned her chin on the shoulder of her seat, gazing at him. Her hair no longer looked immaculate, and the sharpness to her features that he had always known now softened, but the clarity in her eyes didn’t waver. Something about that combination between his image of her and the person before him coaxed open his mouth.

“Why do you sound so certain of that?”

Ryu let out a small chuckle, and he froze a bit. Never had he seen her laugh unless it was because of Jayca.

“I work with you. I’ve seen how you concede to pushy clients and lazy co-workers. But today, you stopped me from getting on the elevator, getting my things, and getting out of here, and now we’re sitting in my car waiting for five-thirty to pass upon your request that you probably only made because Jayca asked you to.”

“Uh, that—”

“I can guess. A surprise?”

He nodded, feeling a little hot since she had seen through their ploy so easily. Then again, this was Ryu he had been trying to stall.

“Jayca is proud to be your friend. She wishes that you could trust yourself a little more.”

“And you?”

“What about me?”

“Is there something you want from me?”

Her gaze fell down the seat, but she smiled.

“There is, but I see now that it’s something I have to earn.”

Before Len could respond, a buzz in his pocket interrupted him. Pulling out his phone, he opened Jayca’s texts.



Thanks for stalling Lentil Bean! I’m curious though… what’d you have to resort to? Did you guys talk? I hope you guys did!

He read the last few sentences again, and an epiphany lit in his mind. They did talk—the first talk that didn’t revolve around work or the shenanigans of their mutual friend. And as curiosity sparkled in Ryu’s eyes, he understood what she had meant by ‘earn.’

“Is that Jayca?” She checked her own phone. “It’s past five-thirty. Did she get what she needed to get?”


He gathered his things and hopped out of her car, shutting the door. She didn’t close hers yet, and he decided that he was the same. Inching closer, Len took a deep breath and mustered up his courage again, this time feeling backed by confidence.

“You make my best friend happy, and I know that you treat your friends well. Today showed that.”

Her eyes widened again before they squinted in laughter.

“You took the words right out of my mouth.”

April 16, 2021 21:41

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