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The Art of Picking a Good Kabocha

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Rin shoves his phone back in his pocket, sighing in relief as he hangs his apron on the wall. 

“Oh, Okumura, you’re off now?” Suguro checks his watch. “Can’t believe it’s already one thirty. Have a good one."

“Yeah thanks, see you tomorrow!” 

He leaves the cafe hurriedly, rummaging through his backpack for his car keys when a flyer for the farmer’s market catches his eye. He’d been wanting to check it out for a while now, but they’d always scheduled it during his shift, so he never had the chance before. 

Tuesdays, 10 to 3, Ambrosius Courtyard. 

It's on campus then, and pretty close by too. 

He settles his hands in his hoodie, yawning as he passes a gaggle of freshmen. As he walks, a pleasant drizzle of rain scatters with the breeze outside and he racks his brain, trying to recall what they had in the fridge. Yukio needs to eat more vegetables. It’d also be good to buy apples around this time. How did they run out of eggs already, though? Oh, right, he’d used a bunch making that chiffon cake last week. 

He reaches the courtyard and there’s hardly anyone here; maybe because of the weather. Rin meanders through the stands, and his mouth waters as the hot clouds of enticing spices mingle with the mineral, sweet scent of rain. Maybe he’ll buy a snack—

He stops in his tracks as he spots a speckled green kabocha, heading over to the vegetable stand to inspect the price. “How much is this?” 

A girl about Rin’s age looks up, “Ah, they’re fifty yen per half kilogram,” she says. “Hold on, I can guess about how much it weighs.” 

Rin nods, picking the nice lumpy one as she moves around to the front.

There’s a soft wool blanket laid across her legs as she comes over slowly, rolling her wheelchair up next to Rin. She holds her hand out for the kabocha and smiles apologetically, “Our scale’s been acting up today, so my mother left to borrow one. She’ll be back soon though.” 

“Oh, okay,” Rin responds awkwardly, plopping the kabocha into her waiting palms. 

She scrunches her eyebrows, cradling it carefully, "This is about a kilogram, so it'll be a hundred yen."

"That's cool," Rin blurts. "I mean, you know, because you can tell just by holding it."

She nods quickly, brushing soft blonde hair behind her ear, "It's…I've been doing this for a while."

Rin nods too, and their conversation withers sadly as he stands there quietly for a couple of uncomfortable seconds. "These carrots are nice too," he says nonsensically, because honestly, he doesn’t know what’s going on with him; he just kind of wants to keep talking to her. 

It’d be too awkward if he stays silent. That must be why. 

He can’t help but feel as though there’s something familiar about her. It’s not really a nice feeling either. His gut churns uneasily as he tries to remember and he’s not sure why, but it doesn’t feel right.

He feels oddly...bad. The more he focuses on it, the worse it becomes. 

It feels like shame. 

"Thank you,” she laughs softly. "Those are a seventy yen for a bundle." She sets the kabocha on the table, "If you fill a bag, you can get everything for a thousand yen."

Rin crosses his arms as he considers. He doesn’t really want to buy that much though. Yukio had texted him to buy eggs, not more vegetables. Rin's not really keen on rushing to eat them before they go bad either. 

He just wants this kabocha and then he has to go to the supermarket for eggs.

But he has to stay here and wait until this girl's mom comes back with the scale or he'll end up like a total jerk—

If he buys a whole bag, they don't need to be weighed, but he really doesn't need that much, no matter how cheap they are. 

Rin scratches his cheek, trying to think of something he can say. His phone is nearly dead and he's just standing here waiting. 

He turns back abruptly, and their eyes meet—

She ducks her head immediately, brilliant green irises flitting away. 

Rin fiddles with his backpack strap, picking at the fraying edge. It's suddenly incredibly quiet in the courtyard, with only the pitter-patter of rain gliding off the covers of stands surrounding them. 

He's supposed to have decent conversation skills. Why can't he seem to stop staring? It’s not like he’s never seen someone in a wheelchair before. He doesn’t have to be so rude about it. She seems to be really nice and Rin seriously needs to stop staring like a total creep—

Scuffing a corner of the artful, mosaic-like concrete tiles with the heel of his sneakers, Rin bites the inside of his cheek with mild frustration. He needs to get his crap together. “That's really cheap. Aren't you pricing them a little low?" 

The girl smiles hesitantly, “If we can't sell all of them it'd be a waste, so…"

“Oh," Rin looks over the stack of empty crates, then back at the stack of carrots still laid out on the little stand, “...but you still have a lot left."

She nods, a little crestfallen, “It was raining earlier. Also, these ones weren't as good, I guess. None of this year’s has been...good."

Her tone of voice is gently resigned, carried by whispers of discontent. Her hands curl inward, grasping at the wool blanket with stiff fingers. 

Something about it makes him think he understands what she's not saying. It’s never so simple, is it?

The market's going to be over soon and hardly anyone's here anymore now that the rain is coming down like sheets of thin glass, relentless and sporadic. 

There's an unhappy buzz in the back of his head as Rin looks down at the remaining vegetables. The carrots are weirdly curvy, with extra offshoots and bumpy lines. There's also a daikon left that looks longer than Rin's arm, plus some curly zucchinis. 

It’s a little unreasonable though. This is a farmer’s market, not the grocery store, so of course their produce isn’t going to be perfect. Although, honestly, their vegetables are a bit off. If it was one or two, Rin wouldn’t mind much, but these ones are all too crazy looking. There’s got to be something weird about how she raised them. 

Rin picks up one of the gnarly carrots, “Yeah, it looks kind of cursed," he says bluntly, “like this one. It's like a little person. I wouldn’t really want to cook that.”

“...yeah, I know, right?” she whispers, fingers playing the edge of her blanket. “Sorry—”

“Don’t take me so seriously!” Rin huffs. “Who cares what it looks like? I mean, this one,” he holds up a potato, “looks like it’s got a face an everything, but as long as it tastes good, no one will care.” 

She nods a little, but Rin can tell she’s not convinced. 

It’s probably something she’s been told a few times already. 

...But it’s weird, because she must have been told these weren’t good enough by some jerk. Otherwise, she shouldn’t have had issues with this kind of thing. He doesn’t believe anyone really cares that much, and it looks like she’s sold a bunch already, so why is she still so bothered about this?

Rin checks his phone, making up his mind. “Well, I’m just here for this kabocha, so work hard on selling the rest of them. You’ve still got an hour. Let’s sell them like crazy.” 

“Oh...yeah, I’ll do my best,” she smiles, but the corners of her eyes are disheartened, lined with an edge of reluctance. 

It’s vexing in a way he doesn’t understand, that’s not entirely unfamiliar. 

Before he knows what he’s doing, Rin chucks his backpack in the corner under the stand, rolls up his sleeves, and yells at the top of his lungs, “Fill a bag of vegetables for just a thousand yen! A thousand yen for a whole bag! Come over and see!” 

Rin takes another breath, but the girl’s expression is indiscernible to him, and for a second, he falters, wondering if he’s overstepping. 

“Th-they’re,” she lifts her chin with a flicker of determination, giving Rin an excited grin. “They’re kind of weird looking, but they’re really fresh,” she shouts, timidity dampening her voice as it strives across the courtyard. 

Still, it’s more than enough of the validation Rin needed to continue. Spurred on by her renewed enthusiasm, he grins, “Super cheap, all-natural vegetables! One bag for a thousand yen! We’ve got the ugliest vegetables ever! Buy some today to curse your roommates! One bag for a thousand yen!” 

“A thousand yen?” A middle-aged man wanders over along with one of his coworkers. “Did I hear wrong? What’s this bag look like?”

The girl wheels around, nodding quickly, “These paper ones. You can fill it with any of these and we’ll only charge a thousand yen.” 

“That’s a good deal,” the man mutters, “but I’m not sure I need this—”

“Why don’t we buy a bag together?” his coworker mentions. “These tomatoes are adorable. They look almost like hearts if you turn them a certain way.” 

“Thank you so much!” The girl beams, “Please come again sometime!”

“Yeah? We can do this,” Rin gives her a thumbs up, “and the rain is letting up."

It really is, by some strange miracle, and in the span of a few minutes, the market is bustling with people once more. 

There’s a rush of adamant confidence surging through his veins, bracing his every thought with a reckless optimism. He feels invigorated; he feels freer than before. Right now, the only opinion he cares for is hers. 

He really wants to cheer her up. The stagnant, uncomfortable hesitation clinging to him falls away and it feels right. Rin hasn't ever done anything like this before. 

It's kind of more fun than he expected. 

“Fill a bag of fresh vegetables for a thousand yen! Only a thousand yen for fall harvest vegetables! Come see! Buy our special voodoo carrots for—uh, how much was it again?” Rin asks. 

“Oh, um, seventy yen per bundle,” she replies, stacking bills carefully into a metal box. “We should probably mark them somehow. I forgot to bring the labels today,” she admits sheepishly. 

“Nah, let’s just convince them all to buy a bag,” Rin urges. “Ugly but perfectly flavorful vegetables! One bag for a thousand yen! Buy our special voodoo carrots for seventy yen a bundle! Or, fill a bag for a thousand yen!”

To his surprise, the girl laughs, and his heart skips a beat as she joins in, “Ugly vegetables! Come and see! Ugly tastes better! Buy a bag for a thousand yen!” 

“Yeah, see you got this,” Rin laughs too.  “Who knows, maybe before your mom comes back, they’ll all be gone.”

“Yeah,” she agrees, “that would be nice.”

He grins as a group of people wander over and soon, more and more people start coming to their small stand. Some only buy a few and others don’t buy anything at all—they giggle and snap pictures of the grotesque carrot Rin offers them—and little by little, people pick out the twisted cucumbers, lumpy squashes, mottled peppers and ginormous daikon radishes to take home. 

Rin turns back, taking in the nearly empty crates, and he can’t help the pleased grin that splits across his face, “Hey, we’re almost done.” 

It’s only when the girl lets out a sharp gasp that Rin’s rush of glee and accomplishment sputters to a pause. “I’m so sorry,” she says, wringing her hands distressingly. “I think we sold your kabocha!”

“Ah, really? It’s okay, it’s okay,” he says, waving his hands hastily, “it’s totally okay! I was—” he breaks off as his phone buzzes insistently, “sorry, I got to take this.”

It’s Yukio, of course, and Rin gets an earful of how he needs to come back and do your laundry and hurry and go buy the eggs already and pick up some more tuna for Kuro and for heaven’s sake, don’t walk in the rain, you’ll catch a cold. 

Rin grabs his backpack, cramming his phone into his jeans, “Sorry, I have to leave now. Good luck with the rest of your vegetables!” 

“Thank you!” she bows a little. “What...what’s your name?” 

“Oh, I’m Rin. What about you?” 

“Shiemi,” she smiles. “It’s nice to meet you Rin. I really don’t know how to thank you for your help.”

“Ah, don’t sweat it!” Rin waves. “See you around, Shiemi! You got this, okay? Hang in there!”

She smiles as she waves back. In a perfect moment, the wind cards lingering fingers through her hair, and Rin narrowly careens down the stairs, unwilling to tear his eyes away until the last second. 

Shiemi; her name is Shiemi. 

Shiemi, Rin repeats to himself, smiling as he walks away, relishing the cool rain that splatters onto his burning cheeks. 


 

He gets to the supermarket in a bit of a daze. His thoughts are tiny scraps of paper, scattered and elusive in the turbulent storm, and each one is impossible to grasp, to read. 

He picks out a kabocha; that’s what he came here for, wasn’t it? 

It’s not as nice as the one he wanted earlier. 

Only, it seems like he forgot what he was actually supposed to buy, because when he gets back to their apartment, Yukio fumes like a—muted—screeching train whistle in the midst of Rin’s buoyant, uninterrupted reverie.

He sits down on the sofa sleepily, waving Kuro over with a lazy gesture. Soon, he’s snuggled into the sofa with a pillow and a handful of warm fur nuzzling his cheek. 

Everything feels incredibly light, like he’s about to drift away as a hot air balloon; he feels some sort of tepid anticipation, swirling around inside him. 

“Nii-san,” comes with a nudge to the arm a couple of minutes later. 

Rin rubs Kuro’s fluffy belly absently, spacing out. His life is perfect right now. Everything is quiet. 

“Nii-san?” The sofa sinks a little as Yukio sits down next to him, “Did you hear what I said?”

“Hmm, yeah.” Rin murmurs. 

“Then, what are you still doing, sitting here?”

Rin yawns, “Yeah, I’ll go in a minute for the...the...whatever.” 

Next week, he’s going to go to the farmer’s market again. 

“...Nii-san?” Yukio sounds slightly concerned, and his voice has a bemused quality to it, but it’s not serious. Rin plops Kuro into Yukio’s lap, sinking into the sofa as his eyelids droop. 

It’d be nice if he could get to know her a bit better. He wants to go see her again. 

Today...was a lot of fun. 


 

He ends up going the next week too, picking out the lime green tarp covering her stand easily. For a moment, he’s reluctant since there are a lot of customers, but his legs stroll over on their own. 

“Uh, hey, Shiemi,” Rin waves, “what’s up?” 

“Rin!” She beams, “I can’t believe you came again! Guess what, my mother was so surprised that I sold all of them!”

“Hey, that’s awesome. Give me five!” Rin raises a hand, grinning as she taps her palm hesitantly against his. 

Rin looks over at the vegetable crates curiously, “Your vegetables still look wacky.”

Shiemi smiles, “Yeah, I’ve been getting tips from a lot of people, but this year’s produce will probably all be a little off.” 

“Oh,” Rin picks out two sunny yellow zucchinis, grabbing his wallet, “I’ll take these two.”

“Sure.” 

“So...are you a student here?”

Shiemi shakes her head, organizing the leftover vegetables into a single crate, “I wouldn’t really know what I’d want to study anyway.”

“Hm,” Rin nods, “same here.”

“So, do you live close by then? I mean, because—”

“Yeah,” he gestures vaguely toward the far side of campus, “I’m sharing an apartment with my brother. He goes here, and we both work on campus.” 

“That sounds like fun,” Shiemi props her chin under her hand, leaning on the armrest of her wheelchair. “Rin,” she says, biting her lip, “I...I sort of realized I never told you thank you, for the first time we met. So, thank you.” 

“Ah, yeah, sure, uh, you’re welcome. All I did was shout a little. You did most of the work.”

“Oh, no I meant when we met before—” she breaks off her sentence as a customer comes over. “Hi, are you looking for anything in particular today?”

“Hmm, how much are these?” The guy points. 

“They’re a hundred yen for a kilogram.” 

Rin taps her shoulder lightly, “It was cool seeing you again,” he whispers. 

“Yeah, you too, Rin!” 


 

Somewhere along the line, as the fall leaves begin to fade from their vibrant sunset hues to the brittle, crumbling brown of heralded winter, he catches himself saying “see you next week,” as he leaves, entirely without hesitation. 

He’s been feeding Yukio a lot more vegetables recently, and he hardly stops by the produce section in the supermarket for much, other than fruits and some herbs occasionally. 

It’s getting a bit colder though. 

He’s later this time, and everyone’s basically cleaning up at this point, “Hey, Shiemi, did you sell a lot today?”

Shiemi brightens, “Rin! I was afraid you weren’t coming today.” 

“Er, do you want some help? I can help you carry some of those, if you want.”

“Ah, it’s okay,” she admits shyly, “I’m not, I’m not going to carry them anyway. My mother’s bringing a cart.” 

“Oh, I see.” Rin says awkwardly as he stands there. He wants to berate himself for his tactlessness. Sometimes he forgets, because most of the time it’s no difference at all, but every once in a while, he’s so stupidly obtuse. 

Obviously, she can’t—

“Look, Rin!” Shiemi points excitedly, “Do you see that dog?” She slides a little closer, tugging on his sleeve, “Over there, that brown one,” she smiles. “It’s so adorable.”

Rin swivels, spotting the shaggy ball of hair across the courtyard with some difficulty, “Yeah, it’s pretty cute. You like dogs?”

“Yeah! I really want one…” she fiddles with the edge of her blanket, “eventually.”

He has to wonder what that means. 

Part of him wants to ask. They’re...kind of close now; if typing ridiculously long text messages and seeing each other once a week counts as close. It’s probably something she’d tell him if she wanted him to know. 

She hasn’t though, so it must not be okay, for Rin to ask. 

So, he won’t. 

Shiemi is...like this autumn sunshine. She’s just faintly warm across Rin’s skin, existing only on these Tuesdays, around this short, short time. Because of that, there’s a brittle delicateness to their relationship. It doesn’t help that Shiemi is frail too; the pallor to her skin is a graceful porcelain, untouched by wind and rain and sun. Rin finds himself holding his breath around her at times, when she’s not looking.  

He can’t help but realize that things like this have a penchant of crumbling, as the fallen, dead leaves scattered at Rin’s feet. 

It’ll be winter soon. 

“Huh,” Rin pulls his phone out, sliding his thumb across the screen, “I’ve got a cat. His name’s Kuro. Want to see? He was sleeping in an egg carton.” 

“Aww,” Shiemi coos, “how cute! I know someone who has a kitty just like him! I swear, their eyes are the exact same,” she says, eyes glimmering with mirth. 

“Eh, really?” Rin grins proudly, “That’s super neat.”

“Right?” she smiles, and the sun hits her eyelashes at an angle, lighting them almost aglow. The way her eyes curve when she laughs is really cute, he notes. 

She’s really pretty.

Rin blinks, trying to retrace his thoughts as he feels his ears heat up. 

What?

“Uh, um, what’s your number?’ He holds his phone out, “I—I’ll send you some pictures of Kuro, if you want.” 

“Oh, yeah, sure! I’ll be sure to respond quickly,” she says with endearing determination, and Rin can’t help laughing, trying to cover the annoyingly huge smile spread across his face as he sends her a “hi this is rin,” text. 

Shiemi continues though, “I was really surprised to see—oh, Oka-san, you’re back,” she gestures to Rin enthusiastically, “This is Rin. He’s the one who helped me last time!” 

Shiemi’s mother nods kindly, “Thank you. It’s quite a pleasure to meet you.” 

“Ah, it was nothing,” Rin flounders, suddenly unsure of what to say. 

“Still, we do appreciate your help. Did you get everything you needed?”

Rin nods quickly, holding the paper bag up, “Yeah, I’m good. Uh, er, nice meeting you, see you again sometime, Shiemi,” he waves, wanting to hit himself for his awkwardness. 

“See you, Rin!” Shiemi smiles as Rin bumbles away. 

He doesn’t know why he’s acting so all over the place.

Maybe, just maybe, he has a crush.