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The Lion, the Witch, and the Café

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Today marks the beginning of an unusual week. It’s a nice change of pace from the gruelling challenges the last year of high school brings, but I’m still working hard.

…Actually, I’m taking a break at the moment, but for the most part, it’s all hard work.

Across from me sits Miharu. She’s reading a book. This is something she’s been doing more frequently in recent months; chalk it up to Naomi’s influence, I guess. Miharu seems to be pretty fond of her now; really, how could anyone not be?

They’re both very intelligent. That’s one of the things they have in common that Mao and I cannot relate to. Since we have to take studying more seriously now- ‘you always had to’, a voice in my mind sternly reminds me- more and more of our time hanging out has been used to study.

Miharu and Naomi make for a remarkable tutor tagteam. Terrifying, but remarkable. It’s certainly a fact that all our grades have been slowly improving.

Miharu catches me staring, causing her to faintly blush.

She’s so beautiful, I can’t help but blush back.

Gently, she places her book down, and sips some coffee. I go to do the same, but find out I’ve already absentmindedly finished my cup, prompting my girlfriend to chuckle.

“Can you believe it’s been a whole year?” she remarks.

“It feels like it’s simultaneously been longer and shorter than a year. Does that make sense?”

“No, not really. But I think I understand where you’re coming from.”

A year since Divine Selection.

Almost a year since we started dating.

What was my life even like before all that happened?

“…I hope we have more years like this,” I say quietly.

“Yeah. I do, too.”

I want to say more, but the door chimes, a new customer walking into the café. As I turn to face the newcomer, both our breaths hitch, captivated by the figure that walks in.

An elegant woman with neat, long, auburn hair. Her deep blue eyes calm, but attentive. This isn’t someone I recognise. The first new face of the week…it was bound to happen, really.

Recovering first, Miharu nudges my arm to bring me out of my stupor.

Oh, yeah. I have a job to do.

The woman gracefully sits herself down, and I take her order, nervous for the first time in a while. Maybe I’m just out of practice…? I rarely deal with new customers, so maybe that’s it.

As I go behind the counter to make this woman her coffee, Miharu approaches and sets down our two empty cups. I appreciate the gesture, minor as it is.

“My shift starts soon.”

“Oh- already?”

“I could cancel…”

“N-no, no need to go that far…”

“Hehe. You’re too cute.”

Even after a year, I crumble when she starts teasing me.

I see her out, standing on my toes to deliver a quick revenge kiss for getting me flustered. Once again, I curse her height advantage.

“See you later.”

Miharu’s smile is brighter than the summer sun.

“Yeah. See you.”

I watch her leave, mirroring her expression.

After the moment passes, I realise we did all this in plain sight of some of Lion House’s regulars. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind, but that doesn’t stop my cheeks from going red again.

With Miharu gone, I return to the counter, and start fulfilling this new customer’s order. I fought hard to keep Lion House open for this week, and I’m determined to make the most of it. Gran won a week-long holiday, and I insisted on keeping the café going until she’s back. It’s only a week, and I don’t have school for a while, so gran relented. It seems I left a good impression on the regulars last time I was holding the fort.

My coffee brewing skills have improved a lot, too. Though there’s still no chance of me managing the food menu any time soon.

As I place the coffee on her table, the woman closes her eyes and savours the aroma. I think that’s a good sign?

“This fragrance…”

She smiles serenely and makes eye contact with me.

“…Enjoy,” I say.

“Thank you.”

I want to at least ask for her name, but at the same time, she feels like the type of person that prefers being left alone.

“Why don’t you sit with me for a while?” she asks, out of the blue. With no reason to say no, I oblige her request. There aren’t that many customers here right now, and I can always excuse myself if anyone needs anything.

Even though I sat down, she isn’t saying anything…

Normally, I don’t mind silence, but it just feels suffocating around this woman.

“Is this your first time here?” I initiate the conversation as smoothly as possible. For all I know, she could be a new regular. Taking my studies more seriously has kept me fairly busy, so it’s possible I’d miss something like that.

“I just happened to pass by. This café drew me in…perhaps it was the name?”

She doesn’t elaborate on this, choosing this moment to sample the coffee.

Either she’s not impressed with it, or she has a great poker face.

“So, uh, Miss…”

“Ah, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Kotobuki Yukari. I’m an author.”

Does she expect me to recognise the name? I don’t read books very often. Naomi might know of her, though.

“…Right. Sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard of you.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. I mostly write children’s books.”

“Ah…so, Miss Kotobuki-”

“Yukari is fine.”

“Yukari…” I repeat, realising that I’ve both forgotten what I wanted to ask and have missed the moment to ask whatever it was, “I’m Shishimai Rinka.”

Yukari nods with a smile, sipping more coffee.

“A lion in Lion House…I see. You live here?”

Oh, no. She’s one of those sharp types, that reads into everything anyone says. Didn’t I deal with enough of that during Divine Selection?

I never would have guessed that from her mannerisms, though.

“Yes…this is my gran’s café. But I’m keeping it open this week while she’s on holiday.”

Her next mouthful of coffee takes in more of the drink, and savours it for longer.

“Here I thought you were just a part-timer. You do this alone?”

“I can manage the coffee side of things just fine. But I’m not much of a cook, so…”

I’m starting to notice that Yukari is a paradox, of sorts. She seems to have a curious, perceptive mind, but her demeanour and reactions seem to be distant and unengaged. All her facial expressions are calm, peaceful, yet void of any actual emotion. But underneath all that, there seems to be something else going on.

Somehow, I can’t imagine her holding an idle conversation out of boredom.

It’s just a guess, it’s like she’s set up a wall between herself and the world around her. She wears a mask of serenity to hide whatever lies within.

Is it my place to ask why? This author likely has this wall up for a reason. I’m not going to go tearing it down for the sake of curiosity.

“You’re very hard working, aren’t you?”

“I enjoy it, so I don’t mind the effort involved.”

Apparently satisfied with this answer, Yukari goes silent for some time. She doesn’t make eye contact with me or anyone else in the café. Her soft, rhythmic breathing is the only sign of life she makes.

Despite her lack of action, she manages to hold my attention. I can’t say I understand why.

I could look forever for any hint of emotion from her, and I wouldn’t find any. Hell, I’d probably get lost and forget what emotions are supposed to be.

“Excuse me…Yukari?”

“Hm?”

I don’t normally go fishing for opinions about this, but…I want to confirm something, and this seems like the best way to do it.

“What do you think of the coffee?”

Yukari looks at me pensively, finishing her cup as if in response to this question. After some consideration, she finally speaks.

“I’m actually more of a tea person,” she admits, “but I’d drink another cup of this.”

That means she liked it…I think?

It feels like a very guarded reply, just like everything else she’s said. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that Kotobuki Yukari is someone who wants to have minimal impact on anyone she meets.

But that runs contrary to her career, doesn’t it?

Being an author- of children’s books, no less- means her readers will know of her, and be affected by her.

“Ah, I see…thank you,” I say numbly, taking the compliment.

A small inclination of her head is the only acknowledgement of my response I get. I’m not sure what to say to revive the conversation, and I don’t know if I actually want to, so the silence returns.

More time than I could have guessed has passed since Yukari entered. It’s as though time flows differently around her. This is not the sort of encounter I expected today, that’s for sure. Eventually, Yukari rises from her seat soundlessly- I follow, jolted to my senses- and pays without saying a word.

The transaction complete, she makes her way out.

“<See you again>,” she says, in English. I understand the words, but it still leaves me dumbfounded.

“Come again…” I respond a little weakly.

Not long after, the end of the afternoon arrives, and I close up the café for the day.


Last night, I messaged Naomi about the Yukari encounter, in case she happened to know anything about her. I’ve never seen her respond to anything so fast. What I got was a highly enthused essay-length text that listed everything she loves about this author, all her favourite books by her, and lengthy questions about what she’s like in person.

It seemed to have been typed very frantically.

I managed to glean some interesting information from exchange, though.

Firstly, Kotobuki Yukari does not appear in the public eye often. She’s not completely off the radar, like some elusive phantom author, but most of what can be said about her is based off hearsay. She apparently lives in a rural area, but nobody is quite sure where.

Secondly, her books- aimed at children, as Yukari herself mentioned yesterday- are a series about a lion called Sakutarou. According to Naomi, they’re highly creative and emotive stories, with a wide audience of all ages.

Lastly, I should expect Naomi later on, who will lend me one of these books. Forcibly.

I’m exhausted, and I’m only halfway through the day. Fortunately, today is quieter than yesterday, so I don’t let my tiredness get in the way.

You’re a pro the moment you enter the kitchen. Can’t be a pro if I’m throwing around weak excuses, not giving it my all.

At around the same time as yesterday, Kotobuki Yukari enters Lion House. Though I wasn’t expecting this, I can’t say I’m surprised. She did say she wouldn’t mind another cup of coffee here…

The author sits down at the same table, and asks for the same coffee. Deciding now is a good time for a break, I make two, and sit with her, wordlessly drawn to her presence. Yukari seems to have anticipated that I’d do this, and makes no remark nor protest.

We sit in silence for a time. I enjoy comfortable silences- especially with Miharu- but this is different. This silence traps me in the author’s presence, dominating my attention with nothing but her typical peaceful expression. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the pressure.

I break the silence. It feels like coming up for air after a long swim underwater.

“What brings you to Tokyo?”

She doesn’t seem at all fazed by this question. I guess she was expecting me to look her up.

“…Just some business. Meeting with the publisher…it’s a bit of a bother, really. Weren’t phones invented for a reason?”

Hang on, was that…irritation? Or did I imagine that?

“Do you not like the city?”

“I don’t mind it. But it’s harder to relax in busy places. I don’t get much writing done, either.”

“You prefer the quiet? Is that what your home is like…?”

It may be question after question, but the conversation is flowing a lot better today.

Yukari pauses to sip her coffee, and meets my eyes.

“I live near the coast. The cries of the seagulls are very soothing.”

Her expression changes ever so slightly. It’s not the same serene look as before. It’s more of a…fond smile.

It doesn’t stay for long. In a single blink, her mask returns.

I think I understand Yukari a little better now, though. Enough to know that my conclusion yesterday may have been slightly off.

For sure, she’s someone who doesn’t want to leave an impression; but this doesn’t have to be contradictory to her status as an author. As Naomi said, nobody knows that much about her private life. The name ‘Kotobuki Yukari’ draws only the image of her works.

Despite this, behind the name, she’s still a person with feelings. As well as she can disguise them, her emotions are still present. And it’s not like how Alan was when I first met him, a cold, logical machine of a person, cutting out feelings that would affect his judgement; Yukari, likely, wants to feel these emotions, she just doesn’t want to show them.

To be as forgettable as possible, so the memories don’t stick.

I want to tell her…

Not that she’s wrong, but that she may never be able to manage this.

After all, her presence alone is so captivating, impossible to ignore.

“And you? Do you like city life?”

“Me? Hm…I suppose so. I’ve spent basically my whole life here, so it’s all I really know.”

“Perhaps there was no need to ask. This café has such a homely feel…I imagine it’d be hard not to get attached to it.”

“Well, Lion House is a second home for everyone…”

Yukari considers my statement.

“In any area where people may gather, the atmosphere is formed from the feelings brought into it. Your grandmother’s, your own, the patrons’…you all carry warmth in here, creating an environment like this…like home.”

“You’re saying that if I didn’t feel comfortable or happy in this city, it’d reflect in the mood of this café?”

“Right now, you’re at the centre of this café, running it alone. Everyone who comes in interacts with you. What you might usually be able to disguise will be laid bare in front of all…and it really does feel like a second home here. A quaint little retreat, but not quite a hiding place. Perhaps that’s why I came back…”

Was Yukari drawn back here, just as I’m drawn to her now?

There’s truth to what she says. This city has everything- my friends, family, home, and all the experiences and encounters that I treasure so much.

I’ve never given much thought to it, but…

While I don’t expect to spend the rest of my life here, this isn’t such a bad place to be.

Still, there’s one question Yukari’s explanation raises.

“What feelings are you bringing in here, then?”

“…Who can say.”

Maybe I should have seen that coming.

Silence follows once again; after time passes, she leaves the same way she did yesterday, saying exactly the same thing.

“<See you again>.”

Now that I think about it, it’s similar to how Miharu and I like to see each other off.


As promised, Naomi came over yesterday evening, handing me a copy of the first book in The Adventures of Sakutarou series. Her texts from the night before were only a taste of the enthusiasm she has for this series, which fortunately overshadowed the burning jealousy directed at me. I didn’t have the heart to mention I met Yukari a second time yesterday.

As it turns out, reading is dangerous. I made the mistake of starting the book before calling it a night. I couldn’t help but be touched by Naomi’s earnest passion, and I was already curious, having met the author. It kept me up until 4am.

It didn’t help that, being aimed at kids, it was easy to read.

As much as I enjoyed it, I’m definitely regretting the lack of sleep I got. I half considered not opening the café today, but I really want to make the most of this week. I’ll just have to power through…and maybe close early.

Mao visits in the afternoon, which gives me a little boost. I’m glad of it, because the temptation to rely on caffeine was getting a bit overwhelming.

Kotobuki Yukari does not show up today. I feel just a little relieved by this.


Thursday arrives, bringing with it the month of August. Having finished the book early yesterday evening, I managed to get plenty of sleep. I make sure to let Naomi know I enjoyed it, and ready myself for the coming day.

Kotobuki Yukari isn’t the only new face I’ve seen this week. I’ve been serving more than just regulars, doing my best to learn the names and faces of anyone I’m unfamiliar with in case they come back again. It’s something gran can do with apparent ease.

…I know she’s been doing this for a long time, but gran’s ability to remember people she’s only met once is astonishing. Also a little bit scary.

I’m not the best at remembering things, but I’m sure I can improve.

The most unforgettable of patrons returns at the usual time. After a busy morning, the number trickled down to zero after lunch, meaning Yukari is the only one here right now.

I let the routine play out. There’s no reason to fight it; right now, she’s the only customer here.

In all honesty, having read one of her books, my opinion of the mystery that is Kotobuki Yukari has changed, just a little. The Adventures of Sakutarou is a whimsical escape to another world that left me feeling more optimistic than I’ve ever felt before. So now, I wonder…

Where did it all come from?

Is that how she feels, too?

What if her desire to be remembered only through her works means that she has a message she wants shared? If that’s the case, then it’s less likely that she doesn’t want to make an impression on anyone, and more…

Yukari doesn’t want her message muddled in any way, even by herself.

I think I’m onto something, but…

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions based on just her writing. Besides, I’m not much of a reader, so reading between the lines isn’t a skill I’ve honed very well.

I decide to start the conversation instead of running around in circles in my own head.

“…Uryuu,” I blurt out quietly, refusing to make eye contact. To her credit, she takes it in her stride.

“Ah. You read one, did you? What did you think?”

“I’m not sure how I’d compare it to the sorts of books I grew up on, but it was fun. I might read some of the others…”

"That’s good to hear. I’m glad.”

Despite all of Yukari’s many oddities, it seems she is genuinely happy to get new fans of her work.

Since it’s relevant, I decide to ask something I’ve been wondering for the past couple of days.

“Are you a fan of lions?”

Yukari might make a show of sipping coffee to consider the question, but part of me knows that she’s had an answer lined up for the past couple of days.

“Not especially.”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think I believe you.”

Maybe it really is a coincidence that an author of a series about a lion boy walked into a café called Lion House. But if that is the case, it still leaves me to wonder why Yukari writes Sakutarou in such a fond way.

…Here I am, prying into this woman’s life when I told myself I wouldn’t. I can’t stop now; if I do, I’ll never be able to reach her.

I could say fate made us meet, but it’s up to me to make the most of it. I don’t want to unravel her personality, or find her deepest, darkest secrets- nor is it my place to. I only want one thing- just one thing to remember her by.

I want to remember Kotobuki Yukari- not as an author, but as a person.

Yukari seems surprised for a moment. Or at least, I think that’s surprise. She’s not the most emotive person in the world, even when she does let something slip past that wall of hers…

“…Sakutarou is a special case. A special case that I happen to think about when I see anything to do with lions. Like…”

“This café?”

“My first thought would be you, lion in red.”

“Huh- oh…the muffler?”

That’s right. Sakutarou wears a red muffler. As red is my favourite colour, most of my clothes have some red on them. I guess that’s something we have in common? Honestly speaking, Sakutarou’s red muffler is really cute. I kinda want one of my own…

Wait, no, hold on. Does this mean Yukari actively thinks of me as a lion because of my name?

“Sakutarou himself…is just a bit of nostalgia. It wouldn’t have mattered what he is; it just so happened he’s a lion. That’s all there is to it.”

It’s an impassive answer, disguising her attachment to the character-

Well, no. She’s not hiding anything. She may not directly express it herself, but it’s in plain sight in her writing. She really would rather express herself through her writing than conversation.

“Nostalgia…”

“Does that surprise you?”

“A little bit.”

“I’m prone to it, every now and then. It could be that I’m getting old.”

“How old are you?”

Her smile smacks of ‘nice try, better luck next time’. Fine, fine. It was worth a try.

I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable in Yukari’s presence now. I still don’t really understand her at all, but if nothing else, she’s interesting to talk to. I doubt she’ll be in Tokyo for much longer, and I definitely want to remember her.

“It’s a quiet day. Quieter than other days I’ve been here.”

“I get empty afternoons sometimes. It’s only natural. There’s a lot less to offer with gran not around, and the appeal of warm drinks isn’t the same on a hot day.”

“I see it doesn’t get you down, then.”

“I’m aware I’ve got a long way to go.”

“But you enjoy it, all the same?”

“Yeah.”

More than just being satisfied with this answer, Yukari looks somewhat pleased. She’s been letting expressions slip through more frequently today…maybe she’s getting comfortable in my presence, too.

It could just be that there’s no one else around.

She seems to stay longer than usual today. It’s only sometime after a group of customers enters that she takes her leave.

I make sure to tell her that I appreciate her keeping me company this afternoon.


It’s my last day running the café. Gran will be home really early tomorrow, and everything will be back to normal after that.

I have to make the most of it.

…I say that, but I’ve been giving it my all this week, so my approach doesn’t change today. Even anticipating a certain customer doesn’t throw me off my game. Fridays are always busy days, with many seeking to unwind after a long week.

So, I’m kept on the move, right through to the afternoon. Not that I’m complaining; this is pretty much what I wanted.

Mid-afternoon, Kotobuki Yukari enters, as graceful as always, time seemingly coming to a halt as she makes her way to her favoured table. Conversations pause, eyes are drawn towards her figure, if only for a moment, before the world is restored to normal.

I make her coffee, but I’ve got other customers to attend to, so it’s some time before I sit with her.

…It’s an inevitability. Not a matter of if, only when.

This is my final opportunity to learn about Kotobuki Yukari. One last conversation. How will I remember her after this?

“You had a certain look in your eyes yesterday. You probably didn’t even notice you were giving me it,” the author says, starting us off. It’s not what I was expecting.

“Oh, um…sorry?”

“Are you aware that you can look quite intimidating when you really concentrate?”

How hard was I staring?!

When did this even happen…?

“Painfully aware…”

“It’s only appropriate for a little lion, isn’t it? But no, it didn’t bother me.”

I’m glad I didn’t offend her, but does she have to keep calling me a lion? The ‘little’ part bothers me too…although she’s not wrong…

It’s not quite as obvious while we’re seated, but Yukari does have several inches on me. She’s not as tall as Miharu- maybe about two inches shorter. That’s still ways above my head.

She seems to pick up on my bemusement, but her reaction to it is obscured by her gentle smile.

“I’d like to ask you a question, Rinka.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

I could be wrong, but it looks like Yukari is having second thoughts about asking this question. I wait for her to speak, and let her work out whatever’s going on in her mind.

“Do you believe in magic?”

My first instinct is to say no. Strange, that. I met a goddess during Divine Selection. There was the dream world, the card book that let me understand any language…hell, my own death was undone. Despite all these clearly supernatural things happening, I still doubt ‘magic’.

Seeing is believing, I guess.

After all, if gods are real and fate can be changed, it stands to reason that things like magic could exist.

But…

“I…don’t think I do,” I eventually respond. Yukari’s gaze becomes scrutinising. I think she wanted an answer with more confidence behind it.

“I’ll change the question. What is magic to you?”

I’m not sure how to answer, until I remember just how important personal perception is, and how it shapes the world around us. Yukari might have her own idea of magic- which she may or may not believe in- but as for me…

My eyes meet the author’s. She has a patient, calm look, relaxing me and my thoughts.

Magic…

My first thought isn’t magic tricks. Nor is it the type you find in fantasy stories.

For me, something ‘magical’ would be…

The morning of the 23rd of July, last year.

Responding to Miharu’s confession under the fireworks.

Sitting in Kotobuki Yukari’s presence…

To me, these things are all ‘magical’. I can’t explain them. They felt inevitable, despite my own choices leading to them.

“Fate. Fate can feel so magical,” I say, “it’s weird, but…I believe in fate, but also that fate can be denied. We choose how we live our lives, yet sometimes things feel…unavoidable.”

Yukari doesn’t say anything, letting me continue.

“Fate can lead two people to meet each other. It can draw them together, fixing them to a certain place or time.”

I felt drawn to Yukari, just as she was compelled to come here.

She made the choice to enter, and to come back, but maybe fate had a hand in it, leading us to meet each other.

I sat with her, more than once. There’s definitely something ‘magical’ about her. I couldn’t put my finger on the feeling all week, but now…

“The thing is, I don’t know what can be attributed to fate, and what can’t be. There’s a lot I don’t understand about it, but maybe that’s why it feels so magical.”

Even when Parca, a goddess of fate, was around, it was hard to tell which strings she’d pulled.

“It’s not really magic, but…it feels like it.”

Finished, I stop, waiting for Yukari’s reply. She closes her eyes slowly, her soft smile leaving her face. Both of us remain silent, as I let her think about what I said. I’m not even sure I made any sense, but I gave her my honest feelings.

When her eyes open, I see beyond Kotobuki Yukari’s mask. It’s not as much of a change as I would have thought.

“Fate…” she whispers, “bringing people together…”

The woman before me smiles in a way she likely doesn’t get the chance to often.

“I like it,” Yukari says. Her eyes are brimming with emotion; one particular emotion, one I’ve felt myself strongly.

Hope.

An unshakeable belief, an unending fountain of strength. Kotobuki Yukari is hoping for something, some form of magic to take place, some sort of fate. I don’t know what it is- but I don’t need to know. Her soul is so radiant, so full of life, I’m left completely speechless.

At the same time, I recognise the drive such strong feelings create. The desire to live, and keep living.

For a moment, I wonder what Yukari would have been like in Divine Selection. There’s no doubt she would have been formidable.

I want to remember Yukari. I want to remember this hope, this belief. Even if others will only remember Kotobuki Yukari as an elusive children’s author, I want to remember what she’s shown me.

“Thank you,” I say. There’s no other way I have to express myself.

“I should be giving you my thanks for humouring me this past week,” she responds, “but I am interested to know something.”

I nod, curious.

“That girl…on Monday. That was your girlfriend, right? Would you say fate brought you two together?”

“W-when you put it so bluntly, I…”

I’d almost totally forgotten about our little display on Monday. I squirm in my seat, cheeks going bright red. She just had to catch me off guard like this…!

Miharu…

Yeah, there’s only one answer to this question.

“If we weren’t fated, then…I’d defy fate, over and over, as many times as it’d take, just to be with her.”

“You must really love her.”

“I do.”

The timing is appropriate, so I ask one last question. A final, prying, personal question.

“Do you…have anyone…”

The question dries up in my mouth when I notice she has her kind, serene smile back; her mask has returned. Yukari is now forever out of my reach, with that last question incomplete and unanswered. Despite myself, I almost want to cry. But why?

Would there have been no answer?

Or is her answer one of magic, of fate?

“You’re so kind, Rinka. I hope you can hold onto that kindness for all your life.”

I nod. There’s nothing more to say.


That evening, after I close up, Miharu comes over. We spend a lot of time making small talk- and flirting- enjoying each other’s presence as always.

It gets dark before I notice. Time really flies when you’re having fun.

“You’re spacing out a lot.”

“Oh- sorry,” I mumble sheepishly.

“Haha. You’re so cute when you’re lost in thought.”

“According to you, anything I do is cute…”

“Secret’s out.”

Miharu looks at me warmly. I thought I’d get used to her loving looks over time, but if anything, I’ve become more susceptible to them. Love is a slippery slope, and I’m throwing myself down it headfirst.

“It does seem like something is bothering you, though,” she says, her concern visibly apparent, “is it about the café?”

She’s very perceptive. That, and she knows me all too well.

“A little bit…after the few months last year, a week doesn’t really scratch the same itch.”

I had such an interesting week- and not just because of a certain author. I love getting to work here. Lion House is my home, and I treasure it greatly.

My gaze wanders; across the counter, the empty seats, and Miharu in front of me, beautiful as ever. Earlier today, the café was alive with regulars, all familiar, friendly faces. I only met a couple of new people this week, but they were able to settle into the comfy, homey atmosphere, all the same.

It makes me think…

Gran will meet dozens of people in a normal week. I couldn’t guess the sort of numbers she handles- serving them both coffee and food. She enjoys it, too. She loves Lion House just as much as I do.

I’ve really got a long way to go before I reach her level.

Oh…

I just realised something. Something Yukari must have noticed when we were talking about it yesterday. Had she already seen through me then? Before I’d had a chance to work it out for myself?

Honestly. Fate works in funny ways.

Well, if I’ve reached this conclusion, then naturally the first person I’m going to tell is the one sitting in front of me.

“Say…I’ve been thinking,” I start.

“I’ll say it now: you’re cute when you do that, too.”

“Oh, hush.”

Miharu lets out a teasing chuckle, and lets me continue.

“After college…I think I want to run a café. I’m not sure where I want to be when I do it, but it’s what I want to do. Maybe I’ll inherit Lion House from gran, or maybe I’ll work on setting up my own, and bring into it the same feeling of home others find here. Meeting new people, brewing coffee, I never seem to tire of it all. I’d love more weeks like the past one. So that’s…where I want my future to be.”

I seem to reach a lot of significant, potentially life-changing conclusions while seated at this particular table.

“I had a feeling you might say that,” Miharu responds, “it sounds like a wonderful idea, Rinka. It’s so very…you.”

This girl knows exactly how to get me to smile, and I love her for it.

“I’m quite fond of Lion House, too. In some ways, it feels more like a home than my own,” she continues, “but that might just be because you’re here.”

“You’re always welcome here.”

Putting my plan into words has helped solidify my resolve. I know if I give it my all, I can do it.

“What about you? Have you got any ideas about after college?” I ask.

“Hmm…no, not at the moment. No matter what I do decide, though…my path will be alongside yours.”

Fate really can be magical, can’t it?

“You could always work in a café with me. It’d be a lot of fun.”

“That’s not a half-bad idea. I’ll have to give it some thought.”

Whatever she decides, I’ll support her, just as she supports me.

“Speaking of the future, but maybe a more immediate one…do you have any ideas for next week?”

Oh, yeah. There’s our anniversary coming up, but we also want to do something special with Mao and Naomi. It is summer, after all.

“How about the beach?” I suggest. Miharu pauses, the gears very obviously turning in her head, very likely picturing me in a swimsuit.

That’s fine. I’m imagining her in a swimsuit, too.

We both start blushing a little bit before Miharu speaks.

“Y-yeah, it is the season for it, and we’ve got good weather forecasted for the whole week…but I’m a little surprised to hear you suggest something like this. What brought this on?”

“Oh…nothing in particular. I just thought it’d be nice to hear the seagulls.”

As it’s getting a little late, our talk soon ends. I’d offer to let her stay the night, but with gran back early in the morning, things are going to be pretty busy.

That’s fine, though. I’ll be seeing her tomorrow anyway.

We both step into the warm night, and she turns to face me.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. Get plenty of rest, now. You’ve worked hard this week.”

I respond with a kiss. It feels like the most natural thing when faced with such heartfelt concern.

“<See you again>.”

At my words, Miharu is caught by surprise. But the meaning- and the familiar sentiment that’s paired with it- isn’t lost on her.

She responds with the most wonderful of smiles, a bright beacon of light in the night.

Fin