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Christmas Sweethearts

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Reko could practically hear the cogs in her mind turning, man-powered and whirring as fast as her brain allowed her to. The cherry eyed girl was deep in thought, ideally letting her finger trace the rim of the plastic cup; it being half empty with peach ice tea. The ice had long since melted though and the straw had been bitten. How long has she been here now? How long has Reko been watching her from a distance, working at the front of a little cafe?

She let herself think about later that night when she could throw her textbooks onto her bed and take out her portable mixer. To finally unwind and wait for her brother to call her and ask if she had eaten yet or not. Man, this sucked. chipped black nails danced along the wooden counter, it was nearly closing time and that cherry eyed girl was still there. She was practically always there. And it was a rarity when she wasn't.

"Hello, excuse me?" The oddly squeaky voice came from her. She had sounded almost jumpy. The girl, Nao Egokoro now that she should mention it, inhaled a shaky breath. What was making her so nervous?

"How can I help?" came Reko's even softer reply. There was no need to be so quiet yet she felt like it was necessary.

"May- ah, a slice of the strawberry shortcake? To go, please." So this is how it went almost every time she was on shift. Reko couldn't say 'every day' since she was only just a part-timer but it sure did feel like it was.

The taller of the two carefully placed the cake into a paper box, imprinted on it was the logo and in small print 'Your turn to cafe' as a cheesy sentiment to the coffee shop. "Is this all, ma'am?"

"Oh jeez, Nao is just fine, Reko, you know that," she laughed, slight exhaust in her voice, straining each syllable, "we... I mean, I, uh."

"It's alright," she placed the box into a similar bag, "on the house." Reko smiled back, glad to see jokes still make her lips split in a grin.

"I could never!" was the response she expected, Nao tugged a strand of long dyed hair behind her ear, revealing small silver studs the shape of musical notes. Right, those were the ones Reko gifted her for her birthday a while back. "Here. Love you!" A couple of copper coins and a note were quite forcibly put into her open hands. With that, the girl left and Reko hadn't been able to tell her anything more than a sweet goodbye. It was chiming 11 pm, after all, Nao surely had other plans too. It must be boring waiting around in her usual booth yet Reko didn't know why she even did it.

Nao was as hard to read as ever yet the small gestures now and again helped her understand. Helped her to understand that she took time and Reko respected that despite so badly wanting to kiss her tears away as she listened on the other line of a phone call, or so badly wanted to sit and watch her paint her art projects. It was always hard to get the time of day as daylight slipped between their fingers.

Reko was in her last year of college and Nao was in her 2nd. They both were busy but as long as they didn't rush things, she knew Nao would open up. The cheery girl with cherry eyes never failed to amuse the musician and it will stay like that for as long as she hoped it would. It was nearing Christmas, a holiday break was soon. Maybe she should invite Nao around? They could cuddle up and watch Cars 3 for the 4th time in a row or maybe kiss for hours on end. Reko wouldn't complain about either.

She wondered what to get her as a gift, Nao had already been gifted premium paints by her secondary school professor. She'd been given a set of brushes by Sara last year as well. Why'd it have to be so difficult? Secret Santa always failed some way or another and Joe would be complaining the whole time. Or Kanna would accidentally spill tea everywhere. Or Sou would show up horribly late. It was always a disaster. They all planned not to do that this year. It was only reasonable. (and no one was against it apart from the more rowdy of the bunch.)

"Sis, you good?" a deeper voice said, it took Reko out of her daydream, realising she had been wiping at the same spot for a few minutes.

Alice had arrived, which was unexpected, he usually was at work or sleeping yet he did come into the cafe now and again. "I came to pick you up. Look what I got!" he held up a bag of McDonald's. "the wraps are your favourite, right? I couldn't choose between the sweet chilli or southern fried... So I just got both and you can choose whichever one you want."

Reko smiled, she opened the back room and told the manager she was going off the clock as her brother chatted away. "Sweet chilli sounds amazing. I'm starving," and at that, he fished up the wrap and held it out to her as they waddled along the sidewalk to a dark blue ford. Alice sported a brown trench coat and black gloves, underneath that was a striped shirt he iconically wore but now that it was getting colder, he needed t dress appropriately for the bitter weather. It was only 20 minutes by bus to their shared apartment but it was still nice of him to think of her. Reko was lucky since she had forgotten her own leather coat. Alice had always been the protective type. "How was work?"

"Same as any other day," The car started up, a warm blast of air reaching her toes. The music that Alice usually opted for was playing instead of the radio, something she didn't recognise and surprisingly, it was sweet. A love song that went perfectly with the night. Today seemed like it was a good day compared to what Alice had stated, at least, his small flush told otherwise. The sister decided not to prod at him too much. It was late and she was tired even though she kept a mental note and ask the next day.

She could only guess it was something about that tall blond guy that came in frequently. No, not for a tattoo but to just stop on by and chat whilst Alice sorted out some weird design on a guys calf or something. It made Reko subconsciously touch the inside of her wrist where her own tattoo laid. Keiji. Was that his name?

"How about you? Good day?" The last past was muffled around his wrap as they stopped at a light.

"It was fine... Did see her again."

"Nao Egokoro?" He swallowed rather comically, turning his head yet not taking his eyes off the road, "Wowzas... Haven't seen her in a while! You two still, uh..."

"Yep. Was going to ask her about staying over for Christmas, actually."

"Oop. I better scram then. I was, um, gonna stay away anyway."

Reko smirked, "good for you and Mr policeman, hey?"

"Agh, you know its not like that!" yet the smile he couldn't hold back was painfully obvious, she could only laugh at him. Alice was not fooling anyone. "Anyway, let me tell you about what this drunk man did today. So he came into the parlour all-" but Reko wasn't listening too intensely, nodding and humming as she stared at the sweet chilli sauce dripping in her wrap.

She'd have to remind herself to tease Alice about Keiji some other, other time.