Chapter 1: Our Subject Isn't Cool
This is loosely based off of the BL manga Love in 24 Hours or 24 JIKAN EIGYOUCHUU by Tennouji Mio. Rest assured that this story will not closely follow the manga; I can't even remember what happens in the manga, anyway. (Also, it's rated NC-17 or thereabouts, and I don't write anything above Teen.)
Disclaimer: I do not own Blue Exorcist/Ao no Exorcist, nor do I own "Pretty Fly for a White Guy". They belong to Kazue Katō and The Offsprings, respectively.
"But, Bon, it's so boring!" I whine to my so-called friend as I lay draped over the counter, my hands dangling over the side. I turn my Puppy Eyes up to maximum power, and I make sure my tone is just this side of annoying as I continue, "Can't you man the counter? We shouldn't let your dashing good looks go to waste over in some random aisle!"
Eyebrow twitching and perpetual scowl in place, Bon looks ready to strangle me as he says, "I don't care if you're bored. The schedule says you've got the cash register, so you better damn well do it. And stop whining! You're a grown man."
Pouting, I open my mouth to respond, but the jingle near the entrance that signals a new customer has me straightening up into an actual standing position and pasting a friendly smile on my face. Not all of my enthusiasm is fake, either. It could be a hot chick. Bon snorts at my obvious intentions and heads back off to the aforementioned random aisle to stack products on shelves.
My shoulders only droop slightly when a boy no older than seventeen comes into view. Going by the tattered jeans, the skull and crossbones on the shirt, and the various cuts and bruises on the boy's face, most would assume this kid is a delinquent. Perhaps even the kind you wouldn't want your kids around. However, one of my best friends has a freakin' Faux-hawk and a really scary face even when he's not angry, and he was one of the most studious kids I knew, so I usually don't judge people by looks.
Even so, I am slightly surprised when the kid comes straight to the counter; usually, customers skip merrily down the aisles before coming to me. Regardless, I grin at the kid (He looks so surprised. How cute!) and ask jovially, "Hello! How can I help you?"
Curiosity replaces surprise in those bright, blue eyes ("Windows to the soul" really fits this kid), and he breaks eye contact and brings up a hand in order to pick out one of the suckers in the jar on the counter. He immediately grabs Bubblegum and sets it down between us.
Amused by the fact that this 'rough and tough' kid came into the store solely to buy candy, my grin is much more genuine as I ask the obligatory, "Is that all?"
Perhaps he noticed my amusement, because his cheeks tinge the slightest bit pink as he grumbles out, almost embarrassed, "Yeah."
With that, I give the kid a break from my scrutiny as I ring up the purchase. "That'll be sixty cents." I hold out my hand, and he drops the correct number of coins into it. I open the tray and drop it in the designated places before tearing off the receipt and handing it to the boy, grinning widely at him as I chirp, "Thanks for stopping by! Please come again!"
He nods as he takes the receipt from my hand, and I call out, "Have a good day!" as he heads for the door.
I hear a muffled, "You, too", and I have to stop myself from chuckling. What a cute kid.
Then, something occurs to me. "Hey, Bon! We're not done negotiating yet!"
Why, oh why does life hate me so? I should have just swallowed my pride and taken the job my brother offered me. Even that would be better than this monotony. What hot girl shops at Louis Mart? It's like asking to be made fun of. Actually, on that note, maybe it's a good thing no one shops here. I'd get fired for assaulting a customer if they laughed at me, and that would suck.
I rest my head on the opposite hand when it starts to hurt and shift slightly in my seat. (Bon tells me it's unprofessional, but he just grunts at customers when they ask him questions. Making myself comfortable while I do absolutely nothing for the majority of my workday is a little more acceptable in my opinion.) I resist the urge to sigh for the umpteenth time; I do, however, yawn into my free hand and then check the time. 12:14. Oh, God, does it never end?
A familiar ringing reaches my ears, and I perk up instantly. Finally, I have a customer. My face breaks into a grin, and I eagerly await said customer's arrival. My entire being concentrating on the corner, I spot a mop of familiar black hair before anything else, and my grin stretches even wider. It's that candy kid from yesterday. I glance down at my watch and guess it to be around the same time as yesterday's meeting, too. Is it a coincidence, I wonder?
When the kid steps out from behind the wall, his blue eyes immediately hone in on mine (which are honey-colored, BTWs), and he looks momentarily taken aback by my happiness at seeing him. I wave to him as I say, "Welcome back!"
At my greeting, he snaps out of it—whatever 'it' was—and smiles shyly in return. His cuteness level has gone up, like, a hundred percent. Kids these days have it made, I swear. Despite his ruffled appearance (Are those new scars?), the kid is very handsome. He must be a ladies' man like myself. He walks languidly toward the counter as I scrutinize him (once again; Jeez, I must really be bored.)
When he stops in front of me, despite knowing what it is that he (probably) wants, I ask, "What will it be today?" Hey, I've got to change up my dialogue sometimes. My days are boring enough as it is without repeating myself a billion times.
He digs into the same jar as yesterday and pulls out yet another Bubblegum flavored sucker before setting it on the counter. Silence again. Ah, well, I'm well-versed in one-sided conversations; I have them with Bon all the time. "You must really like suckers, huh? I'm more of a Ring Pop man myself." The kid maintains his silence as I go on, mechanically ringing up the item. "It's still sixty cents, kid."
There. A reaction. He scowls a bit as he declares, "My name's not kid; it's Rin. And you can't be much older than I am, anyway." He then rummages around in his pants' pocket, looking for change, probably.
Smirking in triumph (I got him to say more than two words!), I accept the money from him and begin the task of placing the coins. "Really? How old do you think I am?" I grab the receipt after it pops up and hold it out to him; he takes it from me and puts it in the same pocket as before.
His eyes rove over my face as he contemplates his answer. After a few moments, he states, confidently, "Nineteen."
I can't help the chuckle that escapes my throat, and I really do mean it when I say, "Sorry, sorry. You just sounded so sure" in response to his scowl.
He looks slightly despondent as he inquires, "So not nineteen, then. Twenty?"
"Nope. Try again," I chirp, amused by this spunky kid who is, apparently, categorizing my age as a Must Know. His mouth opens to ask again, no doubt, but a shout from the back interrupts him.
"Shima! I need some help back here!"
Sighing in disappointment (When I wished for something to happen earlier, I didn't necessarily mean for it to happen in the middle of a conversation.), I turn to the kid, Rin, and smile sheepishly. "Well, duty calls. I'll see you later, Not-a-Kid-Rin!" And with that, I hop up from the stool and head toward the general direction of the shout.
Behind me, I hear the kid huff (at the nickname, most likely) before calling after me, "Hey! You didn't tell me your age!"
Raising a hand and waving rather lazily, I confirm, "Yep."
Another huff, farther away this time, sounds before footsteps and the bell jingling tells me the kid left. I begin laughing at the mental image of Rin stalking off like a toddler until I see the mess that is aisle 9, and I abruptly stop. I resist the urge to groan, but I do bark at the incompetent employee—Jin or Jack or something—to get the cleaning supplies, why is he just standing there, the idiot.
I am flipping through one of the Celebrity News magazines—the kind that dogs out the celebrities for their hideous beach bodies and stuff—when the clearing of a throat grabs my attention. I glance up to find the kid—Rin?—giving me a dry look as his gaze flickers between me and the magazine. Indignant, I hurriedly close it and defend myself, "Don't give me that look. It's hilarious to see famous people get trashed."
Rolling his eyes, the kid places a Bubblegum sucker on the counter in front of me even as he says, "Right. I didn't take you for the vindictive type."
"Hey. Don't just assume things. I am definitely 'the vindictive type'," I say to set the kid straight. My hands are inputting the purchase before I even really register it.
He snorts, but the corners of his lips quirk up. I grin back at him. "Sixty cents, right?"
"Yup. I'll let you know when the prices change, kid." I smirk slightly, anticipating his reaction.
He scowls at me, and I find it just as adorable as his shy smiles. "I'm not a kid... Old man!"
I choke a bit at the moniker and turn disbelieving eyes on the deviously grinning boy in front of me. "Old man?"
"You won't tell me your actual age, so it must be because you're old," he declares with that same confidence from before.
Knowing it's a trick but needing to save a bit of my manly pride by clearing up a possible misunderstanding, anyway, I quickly reply, "I'm twenty-two, you little brat."
Eyes practically dancing in triumph, the cocky brat smirks at me as he dumps the change into my upturned palm. "Ha! I knew it. You're barely older than me, so you don't get to call me 'kid'." My eyebrow raises challengingly, but his expression never wavers.
Finally, I just shrug and concede to his point, "Okay, okay. I won't call you 'kid.' 'Brat' suits you better, anyway." I put the change in the tray and print out the receipt.
"That's not much better," he grumbles as he pockets the paper, smirk being easily replaced by a scowl.
Laughing, I reach out and ruffle his hair, feigning ignorance to his instinctive flinch. (I half expected it, considering the kid fights a lot.) "You're so cute, Rin-chan!"
And because my hand on his head obstructs my view of his face, I don't notice the way his breath hitches at my statement, nor do I see his now tomato-red cheeks. Acutely aware of this himself, Rin moves from underneath my hand and stalks off toward the exit, muttering to himself the entire way.
Still beaming, I call out to him, "Leaving so soon? Aww!" He doesn't deign to give me an answer, so I continue, "I'll see you later, Rin-chan!" His steady gait falters at the nickname, and I make a mental note to use it more often, not really aware that I'm already anticipating his next arrival myself.
Playing Solitaire during working hours can't be considered slacking, right? I ponder this as I carefully place the seven of Hearts on top of its six brethren. Mentally shrugging, I decide "To Hell with it", but I still keep an eye out for Bon. Being caught 'fooling around on the job' would guarantee me an hour long lecture at the very least. Shuddering at the thought, I focus back on the game. My tongue pokes out of my mouth in concentration as I consider my next move.
"Do you ever do any actual work?"
The sudden intrusion startles me so badly that I drop the cards that were in my hand, and without even bothering to look, I bow my head in apology and clasp my hands above it as I say, "I'm really, really sorry! I wasn't... uh... doing what you think... I was... doing..." The gears grinding in my brain are slowed to a halt once an oddly high-pitched (in comparison to who I'd thought was in front of me) voice registers. I sit up from my groveling position—I will fully admit to finding Bon terrifying when he's angry—and find a black-haired kid doubled over laughing.
Face heating, I glower at him and claim, "It's not that funny. Sheesh." He, of course, ignores me, so I roll my eyes and bend down to pick up the discarded playing cards. Accomplishing that, I begin stacking the cards back into one deck as I wait out the kid's giggling. Once he calms down, I raise a pink eyebrow at him and ask, "Was that really necessary?"
Practically beaming at me, he replies, "You were totally freaking out. It was hilarious."
"Yeah, yeah," I wave my hand dismissively. "What did you say earlier?" Not that I'm actually curious, but if we stay on this topic any longer, I might not be able to restrain the heat creeping up my neck.
He allows the subject change but not without sending me a knowing glance. "I asked if you ever actually worked."
Spluttering, I just manage to get out, "Hey! I do my job wonderfully. Thank you. By the time you get here, though, it's been hours since any customers have walked in. There's nothing to do." Jeez, at this rate, I'm never going to be able to pull off 'Cool Older Guy'. Darn kids.
"Oh?" The tone of his voice is teasing as he goes on, "So you're saying that you look forward to my visits?"
Counter, meet my face. My face, meet counter. You shall become good friends. "Oi. Stop taking things out of context." Seriously. My heart can't take it.
"I'm just interpreting the information you're giving me. S'not my fault you suck at communication." The brat is snickering at me.
Lifting my head up slightly, I glare at the kid. "You're supposed to respect your elders, brat."
Shrugging, he counters, "We've already established you're not old enough to call me 'kid', much less old or wise enough to be an 'elder'."
"Didn't you come in here for a reason?" I ask suddenly, and before he can interject a smartass remark, I continue, "Other than to antagonize the poor, defenseless cashier."
Snorting, he holds up a familiar sucker and dangles it in front of me. When did he grab that..? "I came for this, of course."
Rolling my eyes, I input the item into the cash register and inform him when the money is not immediately forthcoming, "It's sixty cents." I hold out my hand expectantly, and he drops the change into my waiting palm. Said change is put in the tray, and after a press of a button, a receipt is printed. "Do you always carry change with you?" I ask because he always gives me the exact amount; I, myself, only usually carry a couple of ones on hand.
"Pretty much," is all he gives me. Eh. What was I expecting, anyway? His life story? I hold back a snort as I hand over the paper, and he takes it and the candy. I close the tray and lock it in practiced motions, and when I glance back up, I find Rin still standing there, shifting awkwardly from side to side and looking everywhere but at me.
"What's eating you?" I inquire, attempting to make eye contact. He eventually meets my gaze and opens his mouth to say something, but a phone ringing makes both of us jump and covers anything he might have said.
"—You know it's kind of hard just to get along today. Our subject isn't cool, but he fakes it, anyway. He may not have a clue, and he may not have style. But everything he lacks, well, he makes up in denial!—"
One hand rubs the back of my head while the other goes into my pocket to fish out my phone, and I smile sheepishly at Rin, "Ah, sorry. Give me just a second." He nods—reluctantly?—and I inspect the caller ID on my phone. Sighing resignedly, my entire body droops at the thought of interacting with my (probably insane) boss. I slide my thumb over the call button and turn back to Rin even as I put the phone to my ear. "Sorry. I have to take this; it's my boss. Do you want to wait, or—"
Seemingly sighing in frustration himself, Rin interrupts, "That's okay. It wasn't anything important, anyway. See you next time." And with that, he waves and heads toward the exit.
Feeling ever so slightly jipped, I am less than amused when a silky voice chirps over the line, "Hello, Renzo-kun! How is my favorite employee today?"
Two days with the day shift was not enough. My sleep cycle is still fucked up. Groaning, I barely refrain from slamming open the door (Bad Shima. You don't want that to be taken out of your salary, do you?) as I head in for the 'Graveyard Shift'*. My boss is a sadistic bastard, I swear. "Fuck my life," I mutter to myself as I shuffle along to the staff room, my walk eerily reminiscent of that found in a B-rated Zombie flick.
Once inside, I open my locker, pull out my apron, and methodically tie it around my waist. I drift off a bit, apparently, and I almost fall into the locker before I catch myself. A giggle sounds behind me, and I whip my head around to find my other best friend, Konekomaru, attempting to stifle his laughter at my disheveled state. "Konekomaru!" I drag out his name in a pathetic whine. "Why so mean?" Have I mentioned that lack of sleep makes me childish?
"I'm sorry, Shima. You're just always really funny when you're half-asleep," he explains, honestly not wanting me to be offended in any way.
Smiling fondly, I glomp the shorter male and squeal, "Aww, I was just joking. You're too sweet, little buddy!" Ignoring his weak protests, I go on to declare, "I don't deserve such a good friend!"
"You're right. You don't." A sudden pain blossoms on the top of my head, and I let go of Konekomaru immediately so that my hands can fly to the spot in an attempt to soothe the ache. I glare at the perpetrator, who seems entirely unaffected by it as he scoffs. "You shouldn't have been smothering him."
"I was 'smothering' him with affection!" I correct him, still trying to rub the pain away.
He snorts. "So that's what they call it nowadays?" He returns my glare, and I can practically feel the air crackling with the intensity of our staring contest.
Konekomaru's timid voice cuts neatly into the building tension. "Hey, guys, come on. We're just tired, that's all. Let's not fight, okay?"
Sated, I turn away with only a huff and address Konekomaru, "So how was the night shift? You weren't held at gunpoint or anything, right?" I check him over for injuries as he sweatdrops.
Bon interrupts before he can answer me, "Of course not. We'd have heard about it already if he was."
Konekomaru saves the day again as he hurriedly says, "N-no, nothing too exciting happened." Then, something appears to occur to him, and Bon and I share a look. "Well..."
"What?" I inquire, curious.
The bespeckled male elaborates, "Well, actually, there was this one kid who came in asking for you, Shima." He looks to me in askance, and I think about who it could possibly be.
Suddenly, I remember, and I bring my fist down into the opposite palm as I announce, "Oh yeah! You must be talking about Rin-chan." At his puzzled expression, I ask, "Black hair, blue eyes, kind of scruffy looking?"
Slowly, he nods in affirmation, but the puzzlement remains. "Um.. May I ask why a high school kid is looking for you?"
Waving a hand dismissively, I explain, "Nah, it's not anything weird. He's just stopped by a few times during my shift. Funnily enough, he always buys the same thing." I smile at the thought. A seventeen year old visiting a store consecutively only to buy candy? It's still amusing. Maybe I'll tease him about it next time.
Bon and Konekomaru share a Look this time before Bon grunts, "Why would a high schooler be out shopping so late?"
I am broken out of my musing at the—very good—question. Shrugging, I let out a garbled noise that sounds kind of like "Iunno." Forming actual words this time, I admit, "I've never asked him about it. 'Sides, it's only been a couple times. I doubt it's anything fishy."
At their dubious expressions, I insist, "He's a good kid. Really. He actually reminds a bit of Bon back in the day."
My voice held a teasing lilt near the end, and Bon, catching on, scoffs at me, "Yeah, right. I never visited sketchy pink-haired men in run-down convenience stores at ungodly hours."
"Sketchy?!" I sputter, reeling back in shock. Calming down at his smirk, I mock, "But you did visit heavily eye-browed women in run-down bathrooms at ungodly hours."
He chokes momentarily at my statement, and only Konekomaru's steel grip on his wrist keeps him from strangling me. Ah, the wonders of friendship.
Leaning back rather precariously in my stool, I count the tiles on the ceiling for the millionth time as I sing along with the music from my headphones, "Will tomorrow ever come? Will I make it through the night? Will there ever be a place for the broken in the light? Am I hurting? Am I sad? Should I stay, or should I go?"*
Suddenly, one of my earphones is tugged out, and warm breath tickles my ear as a smooth tenor completes the verse without missing a beat, "I've forgotten how to tell. Did I ever even know?"*
This, of course, causes me to start, and I would have jumped out of my chair had a solid hand on my shoulder not prevented me from doing so. Wide, honey-colored eyes dart around frantically until they meet familiar blue, and I heave a relieved sigh as I recognize the highly entertained teenager in front of me. "You're going to be the death of me, I swear."
Smartaleck-y as always, he retorts, "I think that honor will go to your ability to be easily distracted. What if I had been a robber? I doubt they would be so kind as to gain your attention."
Removing the other earphone and wrapping the cord around my I-Pod, I snort and reply, "I wouldn't call what you did 'kind', and besides, who would be dumb enough to rob this place? We get no business aside from snot-nosed brats."
His snickering stops abruptly at my last statement, and his scowl returns. "Funny."
"I do try." Stretching languidly, I stifle a yawn and glance at the teen in interest. "So you can sing, huh? And you even know the words to 'Bad Apple'?"
Scratching the bridge of his nose, he confirms, "Yeah, I guess" which doesn't really tell me anything. He continues, much more earnest now, "You can, too. Sing, I mean. I almost didn't want you to stop."
Stilling in surprise, I blink owlishly at him for a moment before his words actually sink in, and my face burns. At his bewilderment, I glance away and chuckle nervously. "Ah... no one's ever.. That's..." Words failing me, I shrug helplessly, not completely sure why I'm so embarrassed but feeling it all the same. I miss the absolutely pleased expression gracing his face, but I do catch the bark of delighted laughter. "Hey..."
"Sorry. It's just... You looked so much like a little kid just then," he chirps, beaming at me now. "A cute little kid."
Why, hello there, counter. It's been awhile. Still solid as ever, I see. "Stop." Where is the indignation I should feel at being treated like a child? I want my manly outrage, damn it! Thank God Bon and Konekomaru aren't here to witness this. I'd never hear the end of it. Wait. That reminds me...
Lifting my head up from the counter, I roll my eyes at the (still!) cackling kid even as I begin, "So my friend told me that you asked specifically for me the other night..." That put a stop to his hysteria. I go on, encouraged, "Did you miss me that much, Rin-chan?"
He clicks his tongue in distaste. "No."
Preferring this subject much more than the previous one, I assure him, "You don't have to deny it, Rin-chan. It's perfectly natural for a boy your age to find solace in an adult such as myself. You're in need of a role model, and I'm the perfect example—I get it. Really, I do."
Practically glowering at me now, he denies vehemently, "Don't be ridiculous. I could find a better role model in an alcoholic."
"Tsk. Tsk." I wave my finger disapprovingly at him. "My first lesson as your role model is: 'Smiling will get you places in life'." At this, I reach out and grab his cheeks before pushing them up into some semblance of a smile. "There. See? You look so much more adorable now!" The kid actually starts growling at me—Not like Bon, my ass—so I retract my hands and hold them up in surrender. "Maa, maa, don't be so angry."*
While I wait for the kid to calm down, I go ahead and pluck a Bubblegum sucker out of the jar, set it down on the counter, and ring it up. A hand is thrust out to me, followed by more grumbling on his part, and I happily accept the change and deposit it into the tray. As is the usual every time, I give the receipt to him, and he pockets it along with the sucker. Rather than spout my usual phrase at the end of a transaction, I keep my mouth shut and wait for Rin to speak since he seems to be bursting to say something.
Noticing my expectant stare, he eventually blurts out, "Will you be here tomorrow?"
Tilting my head to the side in curiosity, I affirm, "Yeah." It then occurs to me that perhaps Rin only feels comfortable buying from me. (Maybe the whole 'Role Model' thing wasn't a joke, after all?) In that case... I tell him, "Hold on a second." I rummage around in my pockets looking for.. "Ah ha!" I bring the paper out and into view and check that it is, in fact, blank. That done, I grab the pen chained to the counter and quickly scribble out a set of numbers along with my full name.
Checking out my handiwork, I decide it's sufficient and slide it over to the frazzled teenager. "Here you go. It's my number. Just text me, and I'll get yours that way." At his confusion, I elaborate, "This way, I can contact you if my schedule changes, and you won't have to wonder where I am. Sound good?"
He nods numbly, and before I can stop myself, my hand lands on his mop of black hair and ruffles it again. "Until next time, Rin-chan."
He moves away from my hand just as before, but this time, he smiles slightly at me even as he huffs*, "It's just Rin!" and stomps off around the corner.
"You'll always be Rin-chan to me!" I call out after him and snicker when the door slams closed. I then sigh as I glance at the time and realize how much longer I have to stay here until I can clock-out. I collapse into my chair and plug the earphones back in after a moment's hesitation. Soon, I am lost in the music, Rin's warning falling on deaf ears. No one would rob this place... Right? Right.
*The Graveyard Shift usually refers to the working hours between 1:00 AM and the early hours of the morning. This particular store catalogs the hours between 11:00 PM to early morning.
*The song is "Bad Apple", and the lyrics were translated/created by Pat McCarthy. I recommend listening to Ashestoashesjc and Rockleetist's version on Youtube.
*"Maa, maa" generally means "Now, now" and is used by characters like Kakashi from Naruto. I chose to use the Japanese word(?) for it because it amuses me greatly.
*"Huffing" nowadays refers to the abuse of Inhalants. I can't help but giggle every time I use the verb.
Resisting the urge to yawn, I pull into the employee parking lot (which is to the far right of the regular lot) and park in my usual place. (And by 'usual', I, of course, mean the spot marked for Bon.) I turn the ignition off and pull out the key before sliding off my helmet, an eye-seering neon green and black to match my moped, and shake my head to rid myself of 'helmet hair'. The ladies may be few and far between during my shift, but I'll be damned if I look anything less than my best should they happen to wander in.
Checking my reflection in the mirror, I deem it acceptable and hop off of the bike, hooking my helmet securely to the side and then pulling out my phone to check the time. 11:07 glares up at me from the corner of the screen, and I shrug, mentally excusing my seven minute lateness with 'Eh. Could be worse.' As I slip the electronic back into my pocket and begin making my way toward the front entrance (The staff entrance requires a key, and I lost that during my first week), I spot a figure leaning against the wall next to the shopping carts.
Curious and more than a little wary—Why would anyone just so happen to be there when my shift begins? The store is open twenty-four hours—I keep a steady pace as I near the person, attempting to drudge up memories of my brothers' brawls in case things get hairy, only to almost trip over myself when blonde hair comes into view along with a face hosting eyebrows identical to my own. "Kinzo?!" is all I manage to get out as my older brother glomps me, knocking both of us over in the process.
"Renzo!" He shouts excitedly, probably taking the same sort of sadistic glee he always has in causing me physical harm. Perched on my stomach as I lay sprawled out on the pavement (which hurt like a bitch, by the way) and making no move to get the fuck off, he peers down at me and offers up, "I just came to check up on my adorable little brother."
His voice takes on a scolding tone as he continues, "You never call me or Juzo anymore, you know! He was going to come down here himself and 'knock some sense into you', but he was exhausted after work. So it's just you and me, little brother! Seriously, though, if you don't start calling, we're going to make you move back in with us." At this, he leans further down and rubs our cheeks together. "We miss you so much~!"
Rolling my eyes and sighing in exasperation, I deadpan, "Yeah, I'm really feeling the love. You only want your favorite punching bag back."
"Ne, ne, where are your little friends? Didn't you say you all worked here together? I remember how you always stuck together and clung to cute little Bon like a lifeline when you were guys were toddlers!" He continues rambling on, either not hearing (which is kind of impossible considering our close proximity) or choosing to ignore me.
He pouts at me as goes on, "Hey, why don't you just join my band? Or go work with Juzo? You'll be paid tons more, and you'll get to see us everyday! Better yet, just move back in with us! The Shima Brothers have got to stick together, you know? It's a scary world out there!"
Brow twitching in annoyance, I get out through gritted teeth, "I like working here—" which is a total lie "—the money is fine—" I have to live off of Ramen! "—I see you guys enough—" It's been two weeks, but who's counting? "—and I'd rather stay in my apartment, thanks." Eh. I am actually fond of the place now.
Huffing at my refusal, he finally leans up and away from my face (The gravel is not exactly a pillow) before clasping his hands together and staring at the sky beseechingly, "Oh, Kami-sama! What did I, Kinzo Shima, do in order to make my brother hate me so? Is it equivalent exchange? Are you transposing the love from my brother with superstardom?" He seems to contemplate the question himself for a moment and then shrugs, picking his nose now, "That seems fair."
"Oi." I finally work up the strength to push the 'Shima Family Idiot' off of my midsection, and he falls over with a yelp as I hurriedly stand up and rub my sore bottom. Thoroughly irritated now, I place my foot firmly on his chest before he can move out of the way and point out, quite calmly, "You're an ass."
Chuckling nervously, he grimaces, "Hey, Renzo, let's not be too hast—Ahhh!" A frown mars my handsome face as I dig my heel into his ribcage, actually pondering to myself why on Earth anyone would fine this guy appealing. Juzo's pretty cool, and he practically raised us after our parents and two older brothers died. I respect Juzo, but Kinzo is just an idiot. How our eldest brother is able to put up with him is truly a mystery.
Suddenly, I feel a sense of foreboding that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I prepare to escape (this particular feeling is very familiar to me.) A firm grip on the collar of my shirt stops my attempt, however, and I grimace myself when a gravelly voice speaks from behind me, "You're late."
I gulp. "Uh... About that, Bon... I can explain..."
"Right." His tone is completely disbelieving, and it's not like I really have an explanation, anyway. (At least, not one that Bon would find satisfactory) Taking one look at the situation, Bon can probably guess what was happening regardless and chose to dismiss it. "Kinzo-san, if you're quite done, your brother has a job to do." 'And you're the one keeping him from doing it' was left unsaid.
Kinzo, wisely, in my opinion, merely waves us away, replying nervously, "Oh, don't let me hold you up. I was just leaving, anyway." And the last thing I see before being dragged into the lion's den is my older brother running away with his tail between his legs. The world is a scary place, indeed.*
"Tomo, you bastard!" I wail as I clutch the manga titled Doki Doki Crazy Love!* to the apron covering my Angry Birds t-shirt. "Mitsuki loved you, damn it!" I use my forearm to wipe away my manly tears of distress, bemoaning the ending to my favorite shoujo—Ah, uh... shounen manga. How could Tomo be such an asswipe? Mitsuki was the perfect woman! Spunky, bold, nice legs... (I quickly wipe away the drool that tries to escape.) And those bright blue eyes! What is there not to like?
The ringing of a bell only faintly registers in the back of my mind as I attempt to puzzle out the intricacies of this love gone wrong; the clearing of a throat, however, viciously breaks me out of my musing and, with it, my lack of embarrassment.
Now aware of my surroundings, I find myself in a standing position with one foot perched on the stool my butt usually occupies and one balled fist posed near my face, the absolute picture of self-righteousness. I blink once, twice, and then a cough this time has me craning my head down and to the side only to come face to face with a dry expression and an equally dry comment. "We've got to stop meeting like this."
Cheeks aflame, I freeze in place. "How long have you been standing there?" I ask, torn between wanting to know and, well, not. Why can Bon so effortlessly pull off 'Badass' when he is the epitome of a workaholic? I demand a re-evaluation of our personalities! Something is obviously wrong here!
"Not long," he assures me, and the embarrassment ebbs a bit before returning in full force at his next inquiry. "So... 'Doki Doki Crazy Love!', huh?"
Surprised—How did he...?—I hastily snatch the manga from the teenager, carefully tucking it away in the huge pocket on my apron. Chuckling nervously, I try, weakly, "...I'm holding it for a friend...?" At his dubious look, I attempt, "...It was there when I got here...?" No change in expression.
Sighing, I admit, "Okay, okay. I like shoujo manga." There goes any chance of regaining 'Coolness' points. Damn. I blame Kinzo! This was totally his influence! I glance away from the nice spot on the wall (You never judge me, decade old gum) and see Rin desperately trying to fight back his laughter. Rolling my eyes, I tell him, "Go ahead. Laugh." He wastes no time arguing, breaking out into chuckles almost immediately. The sight causes me to sigh in exasperation, but the quirked corner of my lip betrays my fondness. This kid is really growing on me.
Running my hand through my hair, I wait until the giggles slowly die down to address something that's been bothering me, "Tonight's a school night, isn't it? What are you doing out so late, anyway?"
The effect my inquiry has is instantaneous. The teen's entire body becomes stiff, his face does an excellent impression of a tomato, and his gaze darts to the side. Bringing a hand to the opposite arm and rubbing it almost self-consciously, he mumbles something along the lines of "...was hungry..."
Concerned about his cageyness, I accept this answer (for now) and clap the young man on the shoulder, exclaiming jovially, "Well, a growing boy's got to eat, am I right? Haha, no wonder you're so scrawny." At this, my voice takes on a mock-scolding tone, "No amount of candy can take the place of a good meal, kid. What do they teach you in school, anyway?"
At my acceptance of his pitiful explanation, he'd leveled me with a narrowed gaze, suspicion oozing from him, but as I went on, steam practically flew out of his ears. Teeth bared, he growls, "I am not a kid!"
Smiling indulgently at him, I agree, "Right. Of course you're not."
Hackles raised, he demands, "Don't patronize me."
"Okay, okay." I wave him down as a tamer would their lion and continue on a more serious note, "Still, though, that can't be good for you. How about..." I trail off as an idea occurs to me, and I tell him, "Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back." With that, I leave a bewildered Rin alone at the counter and hurriedly make my way to the staff room in the back. Once inside, I go straight to the fridge, grab the container with my name neatly penned on the top of it, and return to the front of the store, new package in tow.
Once there, I present it to him proudly, beaming at my sheer ingenuity. When his only reaction consists of staring uncomprehendingly at me, I huff and set it down on the counter, elaborating as I do so, "You said were hungry, right? Well, I am, too, and it's almost time for my lunch break, anyway." I pull out a bento I'd hastily made before work and remove the lid. We both glance down at the crude display of rice, weenies, and the like before gazing at each other, and I finish my explanation. "We might as well eat together."
Curiosity is quickly replaced by wonder in his blue gaze, and the kid looks so small and fragile in that one moment that I can easily see past the scars and slightly too large long sleeve to the child unused to simple kindness and in great need of companionship. My own eyes now gleaming in determination, I pick up the chopsticks and shove them into Rin's hand, smiling teasingly as I do so. "These are called 'Chopsticks', and they're what we grownups use to eat food. They're really easy to use—"
Snapped out of his wonderment, the black-haired teen scowls at me, yanking his hand out of my grip before muttering, "I know how to use chopsticks, Old Man!" And with that, he proceeds to wield them expertly and demonstrates his finesse with them by easily selecting an octo-weenie out of the bento. He stares pointedly at me as he brings the food to his mouth and proceeds to eat it.
"So you do," I agree, allowing this one use of the (horrid) nickname and watching him eat only for a moment. I then glance around the small area that is the checkout booth, searching for another set of utensils for myself; I wasn't kidding when I said I was hungry earlier. I forewent eating today in order to finish my manga.
Noticing my quandary, Rin suggests, "We can share chopsticks, too. It's not like I licked them or anything."
"Okay." I shrug, not really caring either way. I'm used to sharing eating utensils, anyway, because I steal food from Bon and Konekomaru all the time. (Not that that's been happening much since I was 'promoted' to Cashier, I muse.) I take the proffered sticks and snag a bit of the rice. I chew on it for a bit before stating rather bluntly, "This sucks."
Rin, not missing a beat, agrees easily, "Yes, it does." And before I can comment on it (more amused than angry), he continues, tone decisive, "Since you're feeding me right now, I'll cook something for you and bring it tomorrow."
Not being the type to insist upon 'not imposing on others'—It's obviously okay since he's offering, right?—I eagerly ask, "Oh? You can cook? That would be awesome~! I've been eating crappy food my entire life; it's about time I have a friend who can cook."
"Cooking has always come easily to me," he chirps in answer before muttering something like "...would have died eating their food..." Seemingly remembering something, his voice returns to a normal decibel as he inquires, "Your whole life?"
Nodding fervently, I explain, "My whole family sucks at it; we almost always eat TV dinners or order take-out."
Snickering at my plight, he dodges my hand as he teases, "No wonder you work here; you probably get a discount on frozen foods."
"Brat." I roll my eyes as I stuff the last octopus into my mouth, glancing at the time as I do so. 1:26. I raise my eyebrow at the teen gulping down one of the water bottles I'd laid on the counter earlier. "Shouldn't you be in bed right now?"
With a slightly panicked expression, Rin sets down the water and looks at the clock on the wall. He mutters a curse to himself as he belatedly grabs a Bubblegum sucker out of the jar and places sixty cents down on the counter. He then makes it halfway to the exit, hesitating only long enough to throw a sincere "Thanks, Shima-san" over his shoulder before continuing on his merry way. The bell resounding cuts through the silence and is followed closely by my laughter at the bizarre scene I'd just witnessed as I ring up his order mechanically.
My heated game of Pacman, I-Phone addition, is interrupted by the text message of an unfamiliar number flashing across my screen. Irritated (I almost always lose when stuff like this happens, and I have a feeling this time is no different), I open the message, and my mood changes completely when I read its contents.
[Shima? This is Rin. I forgot to ask: What do you like to eat?]
[Hey Rin~! It doesn't matter. I'll eat anything~! (^w^)]
Smiling, I press the send button, and while I wait for his reply, I save his number into my contacts. The reply comes only a few seconds later.
[Okay. See you tomorrow.]
Pouting at the abrupt end to the conversation, I resist the urge to send anything other than a 'Bye' myself and exit out of Messages. The pause screen of my game stares up at me, and I press the 'Resume' button, intending to win despite the odds stacked against me. Mr. Pacman is only five points away from victory, and it really looks like I'm going to win this time—Two points away, now—when 'Low Battery' pops up in my face, and my phone dies nearly a moment later, leaving me staring uncomprehendingly at a black screen.
I may have thrown my phone across the room, but I don't have rage issues or anything. I-Phones are overrated, anyway.
*I have never written Kinzo before, nor have I gotten far enough into ANE to even see him. (I am a terrible fan, I know.) I attempted to write him from the information provided on his page in the Ao no Exorcist Wiki; any OOCness can be attributed to this.
*Doki Doki Crazy Love! is not a real manga (I think), nor are Tomo and Mitsuki anyone's characters other than my own. The title is supposed to imitate your typical shoujo manga.
Chapter 4: And He May Not Have Style
"Does our younger brother hate us, Ju-chan?" the tangled mess of limbs positioned haphazardly on the couch of their estate whines before scrambling off of the cushion and hanging on Juzo in its place. "Ne, ne, let's just go kidnap him!"
On perhaps his seventh—or hell, even fifth—beer, the eldest Shima might have consented to his clingy sibling's outrageous idea; kami knows he misses little Renzo more than he'd care to admit. However, he is perfectly sober, if a bit buzzed after only two and a half sips of sake, and he continues to artfully ignore Kinzo as has become second nature.
The suggestion does bring on a bout of unwanted but not unwarranted inquiries as to their youngest brother's sudden need for solitude. Juzo has always considered himself to be responsible and fairly likeable, and he'd done a damn good job of raising their little family.
Hadn't he always carried Renzo when they had been children? Hadn't he, quite admirably if you asked him, stepped up to take on the Shima Family name and all of its duties? The three of them may be a little unhinged and cracked a bit in some places, but weren't they mostly okay?
He can see no reasonable explanation for Renzo's distance—not one that would reflect favorably upon him or Kinzo either, for that matter.
With that in mind, he lifts the cup to his lips and downs the rest of the sweet liquid, heedless of Kinzo's concerned gaze and pensive frown.
No, they won't do something as inane as kidnapping.
"We're going to visit Renzo tomorrow night."
Checking up on their worrisome little brother, however, is perfectly acceptable. (And if unleashing Kinzo with his relentless inquiries and whining guilts Renzo into moving back in with them, well, that's okay, too.)
[Quite some ways away, a pink-haired cashier pauses in locking up for the night when a chill comes over him despite the fairly warm weather. He glances around uneasily before resolving to hurry home.]
Tanaka Chiharu, at the ripe age of sixty-four—the time in a woman's life where she has seen enough to know that she cannot know everything and, concurrently, lets her husband know nothing of this revelation—was a fierce competitor in the business world in her youth.
She now spends her "retirement" days sometimes covering her pregnant granddaughter's shifts (she's on her third child, the elderly woman muses fondly) at their family-owned restaurant and mostly substituting for teachers at True Cross Academy.
She has seen humans of all types in her time on Earth, and she knows how easy it is to judge others at face-value, without ever considering the "why"s and "how"s. Chiharu is not one to do so, and so heedless of her fellow coworkers advice to be wary of the Okumura twin—
("You'll know him when you see him-"
"His brother, on the other hand-"
"Why can't he be more like his brother?")
—she appraised Okumura Rin with an unbiased gaze and found a quick wit and even quicker tongue when it came to light-hearted banter. He easily became her favorite student, and the cute, little mouse of a girl, Moriyama Shiemi, whom Rin-kun befriended despite the vulgar comments of their schoolmates, turned out to be very determined to succeed in botany and could, interestingly enough, develop a fiery temper when witness to plant- or animal-related harm. Chiharu couldn't help herself the first time she saw Shiemi-chan bark at a student; she threw her head back and laughed.
The two felt just as endeared to her, apparently, because lunch breaks were soon held in her classroom, just the three of them chatting like old friends. (Oh, if only her beloved Daisuke was able to meet them! She could just imagine him gently elbowing Rin-kun before ruffling his hair and then teasing Shiemi-chan about her not-so-secret fan club. She discreetly covers her giggle behind a cough; proper ladies don't giggle.)
Really, it's a wonder any of the other teachers are able to tie their own shoes, let alone influence the minds of impressionable children. She shakes her head in exasperation at the thought.
Now, as her sharp eyes—deep emeralds that haven't dulled over the years along with her graying hair—carefully assess her favorite students, she dips into that acquired wisdom of hers and concludes, quite happily, that the bruises Rin-kun usually arrives to school with have almost completely faded. (And they haven't been replaced by new ones, for once.)
She makes no mention of this, of course, and, instead, prods the two into explaining about their days, and she does not miss the amused glance they share when she asks if anything exciting has happened recently. "Alright. What is it, you two? You are positively beaming," she demands.
And that's all it takes for the two to delve into a story about developing romance between Rin-kun and this twenty-two year old cashier that has been going on for a few weeks now. Judging by the boy's utterly love-struck expression, Chiharu doesn't have to strain herself to figure out the mystery behind the vanishing injuries.
When the tale is told, and the two of them look to her expectantly, she doesn't know whether to be thankful—the man helped her student's health in a round-about way—or suspicious—he's a grown man, for kami's sake! Instead, she settles for a mix between the two.
"Louis Mart, you said?"
A short visit will let her show her appreciation whilst simultaneously gauging the man for unscrupulous behavior or anything of the like. After all, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"; and this old woman knows a thing or two about intimidation. (And barring that, all men have a visible weak point she will not hesitate to exploit.)
[Two miles or so from the classroom of an overprotective teacher, a pink-haired man abruptly shoots up into a sitting position, having been woken from a harem-themed fantasy-turned-nightmare that involved immense pain to his lower half. His wary gaze darts around his bedroom, and he vows never to eat three-day old ramen before bed again.]
"You look like crap."
That's definitely the first thing I want to hear after practically dragging myself to work after little to no sleep and tons of nightmares in between, I muse caustically.
"Thanks." My tone, despite displaying my bone-deep weariness, manages to convey my ire, but it is completely wasted on Bon, who shrugs unrepentantly at me in response. I roll my eyes and slump down on the couch in the staff room, not really caring about putting away my bag or getting my apron when I can indulge in the comfort of the soft cushions my cheek is currently pressed against.
Five minutes later, just as I am about to slip into blissful dream-land, Bon tips the couch slightly, and I roll onto the floor, face-first, and groan. "Why... Why are you so mean to me?"
"We're all tired. Get to work," his voice is completely unsympathetic and unamused. I continue to argue, anyway.
Sighing, he interrupts me, irritation evident. "Why didn't you just call in sick instead of coming to work and doing nothing? I could have found a replacement for you; as it is now, it's too late."
At his (very logical) solution to my problem, my eyes widen, and my mouth forms an "Oh." He immediately face-palms at my lack of foresight and mutters to himself about air-headed best friends and being "too old" for this. I rub the back of my neck sheepishly.
"Uh... my bad?" I offer up, weakly.
As expected, he throws my apron in my face, orders me to get dressed, and stomps out of the room.