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Service With A Smile

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"Want to work with me?"

The smile on the employee's face makes Sumire's heart flutter. She needs a part-time job to pay for her room at the boarding house—so of course she says yes.

 

Hoshino-senpai is so kind. Even when the customers scream at Sumire, even when the manager makes her stay and clean after clocking out, Hoshino's smile and gentle words help her make it through.

She doesn't really like this job, she doesn't think. But with Hoshino helping her, it's easier to make it through each day.

 

"Um, Senpai..." Sumire says one day after clocking out. "Do you want to get something to eat with me?"

She and Hoshino spend hours together. It's the best night of Sumire's life.

 

Sumire's feet hurt after a particularly grueling day. She steps into the storage room to catch her breath without being chastised.

After a minute, the door opens again. Sumire holds back a frightened squeak and ducks behind a stack of boxes.

"Ugh, I can't take this shit anymore." It's Hoshino's voice.

"Don't take that kind of attitude with me." That's the day shift manager with her. "I think you need a little refresher course. You seem to have forgotten that you're here to smile for the customers."

Sumire can hear shuffling. Hoshino gasps. "Wait, no—"

Boxes clatter to the floor in the ensuing struggle. By the time Sumire has gathered the strength to come out of hiding and help her senpai, Hoshino is unconscious on the floor.

"Wh-what are you—?!"

The manager smirks down at Hoshino's body. "She needs to spend some time in remedial training." He shakes his head. "Looks like I'll have to send you in, too, Hibino. Jeez... the program's only supposed to be for managers."

"Training?! What's going on here?!"

She doesn't get an answer. The manager advances on her, and though she ducks past him to get to the door she's not fast enough. Her head slams into the floor and everything goes black.

 

She wakes up strapped to a chair facing a video screen. Her eyes are being held open.

The images bombard her. Smile. Submit. The grimacing face of a clown.

Before long, she's loving it.

 

"Want to work with me?"

Wakaba turns her gaze away from the hiring poster. The employee standing there is grinning from ear-to-ear. Her nametag reads Hibino.