I. Pumpkin Chai Latte
The small coffee shop bustled with customers. No surprise, considering the weather outside was nothing short of awful. The promise of warmth lured many of them in here.
Oda smiled as he fixed up another of those sugary concoctions that the manager deemed season-appropriate and handed it to a young lady. When he had started his job at this little café in the heart of Yokohama, he had a lot of doubts. But he needed the money, and despite his reservations, it turned out to be quite enjoyable. He loved talking to his customers, and they proved to be a never-ending source of inspiration for his planned novel.
Once again the bell above the entrance door announced the arrival of a new customer, and Oda turned to greet the newcomer. He was an interesting figure and cloaked in a dark suit and a black coat, he gave off an air of mystery. A perfect reference for a protagonist with a dark secret, or—even better—a charming villain.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his coworker stiffen, the color rapidly draining from her pale face. Oda didn’t pay her any mind, his fingers itched to write down the words before they escaped him.
Then the customer reached the counter and Oda realized that he was a lot younger than he had initially thought. The boy couldn’t be much older than sixteen. Still, he was a strange figure with his faces half-covered in bandages.
And yet, he was just another customer.
“What can I get you?” Oda asked. The boy eyed him with curious interest. Oda wondered if that was how a mouse that was about to be dissected felt. Then the teenager smiled. “Surprise me.” The smile didn’t reach his eyes, bottomless pits set into his pale skin.
Oda hesitated for a moment. That boy looked like someone who drank his coffee black because that was what people expected of him. So of course, he set himself to brew up another holiday special. “To go or are you staying?” he asked over his shoulder.
Outside the rain was still pouring down, but Oda wasn’t about to lecture a customer no matter how much he wanted to. Especially, a customer that made the rest of the shop almost painfully uncomfortable.
He poured the coffee in one of their paper cups and handed it to the youth. “There you go.”
With a cool nod, the boy accepted the cup and left.
When he was almost out of the door, Oda remembered something. His customer hadn’t paid for his order. He was about to call after the youth when his coworker grabbed his arm and shook her head with wide-eyes.
By the time Oda looked at the door again, the boy was gone.
His hollow smile still lingered in Oda’s thoughts.
II. Maple Almond Chocolate
Afterward, he learned the boy’s name. Dazai Osamu was infamous on the streets of Yokohama. In hushed whispers, his manager told him that the boy was a genius, a demon prodigy and that Oda shouldn’t do anything to anger him.
Privately, Oda thought it was a little exaggerated. That so-called demon was still a teenager and Oda intended to treat him that way if he’d ever meet the boy again.
After taking a job on the edges of Port Mafia turf, Oda had gotten used the idea that their members might frequent the little café. It wasn’t his kind of work – at least not anymore – but he wouldn’t judge them for their choices.
Surprisingly, it only took a week for Dazai to come back. A few minutes before the café closed, the familiar jingle alerted Oda to the presence of a customer. With a sigh, he put the cloth he was using to wipe the counter down aside and mumbled the usual greeting.
He certainly didn’t expect to see Dazai again, but he wasn’t shocked either. They sold some pretty good coffee after all.
“Dazai-kun”, he greeted the boy, smiling involuntarily at the surprise flitting over his half-covered face. “What can I do for you today? We have a new special this week if you care to try it.”
“Sure”, the youth replied, the same practiced smile settling on his lips again. Mockery tucked at the corners of Dazai’s mouth and Oda could easily see how this boy unsettled so many.
Oda was far more unsettled by the emptiness in the one visible eye. It was none of his business, he firmly told himself as he turned around to fix up Dazai’s order in one of the paper cups.
“You didn’t ask if I wanted to stay,” Dazai remarked behind his back.
“I’m closing the shop after this. I’m afraid you have to come back if you want to test out our couches.”
The moment the words left his mouth he could imagine his coworker’s horrified face. Dazai was probably used to people tripping over their own feet to accommodate him, Oda didn’t plan to do the same.
Briefly, he wondered if he made a mistake. But no gun was pulled and there was no other sign of Dazai throwing a tantrum at being treated like any other customer. “Do you plan on paying this time?” Oda asked jokingly as he handed Dazai the cup topped off with whipped cream.
That got him a cheeky grin. “It’s much more fun when it’s free.”
“Guess that can’t be helped,” Oda replied with an easy shrug. One coffee wouldn’t hurt the business, after all. “Now off with you. I have to close the shop.”
When Dazai almost reached the door, Oda called after him. “Good Night, Dazai-kun!” He got a wave in return.
III. Cinnamon Toffee Swirl with a side of Blueberry Muffin
For the sake of his coworkers’ peace of mind, he kept the encounter to himself. In retrospect, he probably should have warned them.
His colleague was managing the counter, while Oda was sorting in the finished pastries. The usual morning traffic had just died down and they had some time to get everything into order before the first people looking for a quick lunch came in.
The familiar chime signaled the arrival of a customer but Oda didn’t even look up from where he was sorting scones into the display until a familiar voice reached his ears.
“Hello! Is Odasaku working here today?”
Oda straightened up and put the empty tray aside. “A new nickname?” he asked with a smile as he took his coworker’s place at the counter.
“You don’t mind it, do you?” Dazai replied instantly, a grin plastered on his face. For once he didn’t wear the heavy black suit Oda came to associate with the Port Mafia. An undercover mission?
With an amused smile, Oda shook his head. “What can I do for you today, Dazai-kun?”
“Aww, come on. You should know that by now.” It was a little bizarre to hear the youth whine like a petulant child. With a reputation like his, Dazai’s upbeat behavior made him look either incompetent or more dangerous. Oda guessed that that was the idea.
With a small shake of his head, Oda smiled to himself. What a convoluted way for Dazai to say that he actually enjoyed the sweet disasters the shop advertised as holiday specials. “To go, or are you staying this time?” Oda asked over his shoulder while pouring the drink into another paper cup.
“Ah, I’d love to chat a little more with you. But work is calling so..”
Oda very firmly decided not to think about what kind of work awaited Dazai for the day as he placed the cup in front of the youth. It was not right for someone so young to be involved in so much darkness, but it was hardly his place to talk.
Now that he had a closer look, Oda noticed with a frown how skinny Dazai actually was. “Wait a second,” he told Dazai before he reached into the glass display, pulled out a pastry and set it next to the cup on the counter wrapped in a small paper bag.
He got another glimpse underneath Dazai’s carefully crafted façade before the youth snatched his order up with a grin. “Thanks, Odasaku!”
And with that, he left.
IV. Sugarcane Pink Latte
It took Dazai a while to come back to the Café and Oda couldn’t help but worry a little. Over the last weeks, he had gotten somehow attached to the youth.
His gut-feeling proved to be right when Dazai came back another week later with his right arm bandaged and in a sling. Oda eyed the offending appendage disapprovingly. “What happened?” he asked while preparing this week’s special.
Dazai replied cheerfully behind his back. “On the bright side, I’m off for the week. Can’t really shoot with my hand like this.”
Shaking his head, Oda reached for a cookie – one of the fresh ones his coworker had just brought out – and placed it together with the drink in front of Dazai. “Get well soon.”
Grinning Dazai took the order and left the café with a wave of his hand full of coffee, almost spilling his drink over the expensive suit.
Oda didn’t even try to fight the smile tugging on his lips.
V. Spicy Gingerbread Chocolate
With only a few days left until Christmas, the Café was mostly empty. Sure, there were still as many people coming in but most of them didn’t have the time to stay.
Splayed across the counter, Oda watched the people passing by outside. He hadn’t planned on celebrating the holiday, but seeing the liveliness and the joy edged on people’s faces sparked the wish in him to share the days off with someone besides his cat and his half-finished manuscript.
That was just wishful thinking though. He had already volunteered to man the café on the 24th, and the days in between the holidays.
“Stop sulking,” his coworker called out to him. The young woman had started around the same time as he had. “No customer wants to see that.”
Pointedly, Oda looked around. “What customer?”
Just when the words had left his mouth, the tell-tale jingling of the bell had him straightening again. When he recognized the customer, he couldn’t help but smile. Dazai always made his day a little more entertaining. Maybe he could even stay at the café today, it looked like the arm still hadn’t healed up properly.
Oda opened his mouth to greet him, but no sound came out.
A scene unfolded in his mind in the blink of an eye.
And here he had hoped he could leave his past behind. He could let that happen, he could pretend to be a victim of the circumstances. He could –
He could not let Dazai get hurt.
As his coworker pulled a gun out from underneath her apron, he followed her example pointing his own to her temple.
“You don’t want to do this,” he told her, keeping an eye on their guest out of the corners of his eyes.
“You’re with them?” She gave him a dirty look, eyes flitting between him and Dazai calculating whether she could get away with that.
Oda saw her pull the trigger before she actually did it. Before she had the chance to actually shoot, a hit that would go straight to Dazai’s chest, a loud bang shattered the tense silence followed by the sound of a gun cluttering to the floor.
The woman stared at him with wide eyes, as if she saw him for the first time.
“…Interesting.” Dazai’s voice cut through the silence as his cast cluttered to the floor. In his perfectly healthy hand, he had his own gun pointed at the two of them.
The woman was still clutching her bleeding arm, but the noise was enough to startle her out of her shock. This time when Oda caught a glimpse of the future, he let it happen.
Thick smoke filled the room. Coughing Oda lifted his sleeve to his mouth.
When the smoke cleared, his former coworker was gone and Dazai looked more than a little displeased. “Go search for her,” Dazai ordered through a small headset, while he approached the counter his gun casually pointed at Oda, who had already started wiping down the counter where a few splatters of blood had dripped onto the wood.
“Coffee?” Oda asked casually raising his gaze to meet the barrel of a gun.
“You have some explaining to do,” Dazai told him, a cold edge coloring his words.
Humming, Oda started to prepare the week’s special. He already knew that Dazai wouldn’t shoot him. When he placed the steaming cup on the counter, Dazai looked at him somewhere caught between frowning and smiling.
“Let a man keep his secrets. I’d appreciate if you warn me the next time you plan to shoot up this place. I’m pretty attached to it.”
Without another word, Dazai took his cup and left Oda to call his manager.
He had some cleaning up to do.
VI. Christmas Cheer Latte
It had started to snow outside. After settling near the window, Oda had taken to watch the flakes dance across the sky. Once again the café was empty, so Oda had taken the liberty to bring his manuscript so he could at least do something productive while waiting for hours to go by.
He should have known that he wouldn’t remain alone for long. This time he saw the familiar figure approaching before he heard the door opening. It took Dazai a moment to spot him.
“Slacking at work, Odasaku?”
Oda laughed at that. “Do you see anyone here?” He got up from the couch he was sprawled across and went behind the counter. “What can I get you?”
“The usual,” Dazai replied, unusually subdued. When Oda reached for the paper cups, Dazai interrupted him. “…For here, please.”
Surprised, Oda turned around to look at the other only to find Dazai intently studying the floor beneath his feet.
A smile tugged on his lips. It looked like he wasn’t the only one that could enjoy a little company tonight. “No job today, Dazai-kun?”
The youth shook his head.
Oda placed two steaming cups and two slices of cake on a tray. “Pick a table,” he told Dazai, following him to the same couch he had sat on before.
Gently, he placed the tablet down between them. “You have questions, don’t you?” Dazai nodded silently. “You answer mine, I’ll answer yours. Deal?”
Slowly a smile – a real smile – tugged on Dazai’s lips. “Deal.”