Day 1 at New Job
"So, you're the new guy?" a girl with brown hair reaching down to her waist asked. Oh, God, I hated being the rookie…
"Uh…Yes, I am…" I timidly replied, to which she smiled confidently.
"You have to speak louder if you want the customers to hear you!" she lightheartedly chastised. Well, at least she was cheerful…
"Oh…right!" I straightened my slouching posture so fast you'd think I was pinched!
"Woah! Don't be so nervous!" she chuckled. "You'll get the hang of this place soon enough. Plus, everyone here is like a big family! As long as you're friendly and work quickly, you'll be fine!" she slapped my back, making me almost fall forward from the sheer force.
She laughed at my exaggerated movement and handed me a blue apron. Why were aprons needed in a bookstore? I honestly didn't know the answer to that. Still, I put it on, guiltily peering past a couple of bookcases to steal a glimpse at Sano. He was working with his usual poker face. His true personality generally appeared when he was talking with friends and family. Or when he was spreading gossip…
I wanted to go there…There was no specific reason why I was feeling nostalgic. I just…I just wanted to go there...I liked my previous job…
Sure books seemed fun and all, but I liked the smell of coffee, the random breaks I could afford to take whenever I wanted to without being scolded… the kind manager who, regardless of his delinquent past, was soft enough to give out nicknames to his favorites (even if said nicknames made one uncomfortable)…the green apron I hung behind the door when work was over…the customers I could connect with for a few seconds when I touched their fingertips…that fleeting moment between two people, not knowing if they would appear the next day or not…the delight in their eyes when they enjoyed something I'd made…I wonder if he had gotten the note….
"Kita-san! Your first assignment will be to tidy up the childrens' section!"
I spun around at the sound of her voice, almost giving myself whiplash.
"R-Right away!" I replied and scrambled to my work area.
I stared at the pile of colorful books thrown all over the floor.
This was going to be a long day…
Day 4 at New Job
Maybe it was because I was new, but I didn't feel in my element.
My fellow coworkers were super friendly and all, but I still preferred being with Sano. He could be annoying and sneaky, not to mention that he'd purposely do things to embarrass me, but I guess that's what made him special. He was able to get away with messing with me, even if I hadn't shown him my true self.
…I…Why hadn't I ever hung out with him outside of work…? I hadn't even told him that I was transferring to another section. Had he even known that I was fired? Sure, he talked with Manager about those circumstances, but had anyone told him that I was leaving? I hadn't. I wish I had, but I hadn't. And now…well, now, I didn't have the heart to go past a couple of bookshelves and say hello to him. I mean, I didn't have any right to. Not to mention that there was no reason for Sano to even be happy to see me. As I stated previously, we hadn't really gotten to know each other outside of work. We might have been in the same soccer club in junior high, but we had different classes and different social circles. Well, actually, I guess that was the biggest difference. I didn't have a social circle…
I heard the jingle of the store's door bell and shot up from my guilt-ridden reverie. The books I was supposed to have been stocking on the shelves fell out of my hands and landed on the floor with a loud thud.
"Damn it, Minoru!" I mentally yelled at myself. Not this, again…
I fought the almost unstoppable urge to turn around and see who had entered. "Look straight ahead…straight ahead… straight ahead…" I kept repeating to myself, extremely frustrated at the need to peek at who had walked through the door. The feeling spread over me like one huge mosquito bite I just couldn't ignore anymore. All I needed was to keep my head in front, squeeze my eyes shut and not turn my body…not shift my weight just a bit…not hear the footsteps as the person walked from isle to isle…not look out of the corner of my eye to see…
"Excuse me, but are you alright?" I jumped as I felt someone tap my shoulder.
My eyes shot open as my gaze focused on the person who had just walked through the front door…the person who was…
Pang! I felt my heart sink past my stomach and all the way to the floor…
"…not him…" I mumbled, staring dejectedly at the middle-aged man in front of me.
"Excuse me?" the man wearing a dark blue suit questioned, unsure if he had heard me correctly.
I jumped when realizing what had slipped out of my mouth.
"Oh, pardon me!" I bowed in apology. "I'm sorry for my rudeness! And, thank you, but I'm alright! Is there anything I could help you with?"
The man eyed me curiously, a mixture of worry and confusion in his gentle gaze.
"No, that's okay. Thank you." And with that, he turned around and walked to another section.
I kneeled to grab the books on the floor.
"Stupid!" I grit my teeth in frustration. "It's not him! It's never him…"
That's right...How could it be the Macchiato Maniac? He didn't know I worked here…It's not like there was any reason for him to find me. And, there was no reason for me to want him to find me. So, why did my heart jump every time I heard the door open? Why did I always drop my work when I'd spot someone with brown hair? Why did I always look for him whenever footsteps echoed behind me? Why…why did I always feel so hurt when it wasn't him? How many times had I been let down so far? How many times more…?
I needed to get a grip! First, I'd stop turning around at the sound of someone walking by. Then, I'd stop thinking that there was a chance of him ever meeting me again. After that, I'd accept that he wasn't a part of my life anymore simply because he wasn't a part of my life before. Lastly, I'd forget he ever existed. That was the only way to not feel this pain…this ache…this dull throb…because…it hurt…it hurt so much…
Day 7 at New Job
I had a job and I was getting paid. For that, I was thankful. But, I just couldn't do it anymore. The super long hours with barely any breaks, the customers that could somehow sense that I wasn't one of them (a bookworm) and would look at me with contempt, the nearly unattainable sales goals for membership cards and magazines...the pressure of having to fulfill the quota…I just couldn't do it…
It felt as if my soul was being sucked through a silly straw. Not to mention that my smile didn't seem to be working on these people! It's like their glasses and knowledgeable little heads had supernatural powers that could deflect the charm of illusion and somehow saw right through me! If I couldn't fool anyone anymore, then what good was I?
My mentor had told me that I was quite popular among the customers, but, honestly, I couldn't see it. No one had approached me to ask where they could find any books and talking to me casually was probably taboo. So, how had she come to conclusion that I was well-liked? Or was it that the way these people showed their affection was by completely and totally ignoring me and shoving their faces in their books?
"No…calm down…calm down…" I mentally coaxed myself. "It's not their fault that you're tired and grumpy. First, they're not a different species..." I glanced at a seated girl blatantly reading BL manga. "Well, not all of them…" I rubbed my temples before moving down the isle to place a book on the next shelf. "Second, this is a bookstore. If not shoving their faces in books, what else would they do?" I sighed at how stupid I was for even having those angry thoughts earlier. "And, third, maybe this store attracts quiet and shy people. Not everyone is like the stalker blondy…or Fukui…"
I ran my fingers through my black hair before sighing again and forcing myself to resume my work. I had already progressed to stage two of my plan and was quickly nearing level three. I didn't jump at the sound of the door anymore, though the hope of seeing the brunet again was still burning brightly in me. But, he wasn't a part of my life, so there was no reason to see him. That's right. He wasn't a part of who I was anymore… Maybe I needed to get away from here…With the café so close, my heart couldn't help but miss a beat at the thought that he could be a hop, skip and a step away. Also, it was obvious that I wasn't suited for this place. It clashed with my personality, especially the fake one…Maybe leaving was the final step to a full recovery.
I had been slowly slipping back to the person I used to be. I didn't consciously notice it, but I could feel my body falling into that familiar pattern. For one thing, I could face Ozaki again without being ashamed of my previous meltdown. I could smile at him once more and tell him that I was okay. The redhead had solemnly replied to that with a "Pitch black" before slapping some red onto the canvas. I didn't care anymore about whether I was black, grey, striped or, hell, even polka doted. I couldn't believe that this exact same comment had previously hurt me so much. It felt like I had amnesia. I couldn't remember why it had wounded me. I didn't care enough to remember.
I was already experiencing phases of stage four…
I was slowly forgetting Fukui…
Day 10 at New Job
I had been searching for days for a job that suited me and paid fairly well, and after asking around, looking at ads and walking down district shops, I had finally found something that was perfect for me!
It was a little café at the center of the town called the "Homeward Café." When I saw the "Help Wanted" sign, I felt like it had been put there specifically for me. I didn't waste any time. I immediately walked in to ask the owner if the position was still available. And, the happiness I felt when entering the store could not be easily described. It was a quaint little café with minimal lighting, wooden tables, wooden chairs, and a wooden bar. Apparently, the place adjusted to the city's night life and served alcohol after 7 pm. But, since it was still day when I walked through the front door, all I witnessed was two or three couples enjoying their drinks and sweets and an old man wiping glasses behind the bar.
He was a wrinkly old thing, though his good posture magically took a load of years off his overall appearance. Through round, old man spectacles, his wise eyes focused on me and his lips curved up into a gentle smile. A trimmed, white moustache and a shock of white hair somehow added to the soothing feel that permeated the room. It was as if, just by his presence, the quaint café suddenly transformed into an antique or an heirloom that was passed down from generation to generation. If I could describe it better, I'd say that it felt like home…
So, I filled out an application, turned it in and, next thing I knew, I had an interview lined up later that very same day!
My feet wouldn't let me sit still for a moment. As my hands shelved books away, both my heart and my brain were going into overdrive. I liked the store's atmosphere; I liked the owner; I liked the job. I couldn't wait to leave the bookstore and head back for the interview. When my shift was over, I practically flew out the door and dashed in the café's direction. I sat in a store opposite it for the next half hour, watching the minutes tick away, hoping they would suddenly speed up. Butterflies were anxiously fluttering in my stomach, but I really wanted this job and no insect, winged or no, was going to hold me back.
Finally, the time came. I shot up in my seat and calmly crossed the street. I entered the store, where I was kindly welcomed and took a seat.
The interview was just like any other. The old man asked about previous work experience, school, times and days, strengths, weaknesses, etc… I really hated that stuff. All I wanted to do was yell "Give me! Give me, now!" but I'm pretty sure anyone that immature stood no chance. Other than that, nothing spectacular occurred. Or at least that's what I thought, until the old man suddenly asked me "when can you start?"
I was over the moon! No, wait! I was beyond it! I asked him if I could start next week and he said it was fine. Then, I thanked him and exited the store.
Wow! I couldn't believe it! I was finally able to escape that hell hole! All I needed to do was give notice that I was quitting and I'd be set! Everything was falling into place…
Day 15 at New Job
Last day of work! Last day of work! This was my last day working in the bookstore! Oh, I could hear angels singing and church bells ringing and sugar and spice and everything nice and that's what my mood was made of! Even handling the cash register, something I consider to be zombie work, didn't really faze me. Nope! The fact that one of my coworkers had pulled a vanishing act, leaving me to replace them didn't dampen my mood at all. I was going to be gone in just a couple of hours!
One hour before I was out of there, I was switched to shelving. You'd be surprised how many people leave books lying around or misplace them! Who knew placing books on their proper shelves could be so time-consuming? But, heck, who was I to complain? I was getting paid…
I especially hated this Exam Prep section. It reminded me of those years when I was stuck in my room endlessly cramming in the hope of entering a good college. Every second away from the desk was a precious second wasted. Using the restroom was a race against time. I shuddered. Those were truly dark times. I honest to God felt for the poor suckers who had to go through all that…
"Excuse me, sir? Can you help me find this copy?"
I jumped as a male voice brought me crashing back to reality. It was probably one of the poor suckers I had been thinking of. I placed a smile on my lips and, setting the book I had been holding onto the nearby cart, I turned to the source of the voice.
Holy…How the hell…
My limbs didn't seem to want to move. My eyes widened at the person in front of me and stomach did this nasty flip that upset my body's balance. Did that even make sense? Probably not. Was that even possible? Obviously it was, since my heart was racing a mile per minute, my cheeks were burning, my hands were sweating and my legs were shaking. And, all that was because of my stupid stomach's flip. Yep! That was the cause! It definitely wasn't the fact that I was looking straight at the handsome brunet who inhaled Caramel Macchiatos like they were air!
He hadn't seemed to notice that it was me he had asked for help from. Either that or he had mastered the ability to appear aloof. If that were the case, I'd definitely have to get him to show me some pointers. It was amazing how he calmly looked at the notebook in his hands, reading the scribbles with a look of mild confusion.
"F…Fukui-kun?" I hesitantly asked, unsure of the implications of calling out his name.
"Hm? Yeah, that's my name. How…?"
The moment he looked up at me, it was like he was mirroring my actions. He froze, nailed to the spot, notebook almost falling out of his hands. An unspoken "Oh…" hung in the air. Remember when I felt like nothing could ruin my good mood? Yeah… Well, apparently I hadn't thought of all the possibilities. Silly me…
We stood there for what seemed like eternity, him gaping at me and I looking at everything but him. All that hard work, all those days of enduring, they were all wasted because of this one moment…All he had to do was stand in front of me and, there I was, itching to start chatting him up, even though I knew that it would be in my best interest not to. I knew it so damn well, but, it was so hard to resist! What the heck pulled me to him like that? Had he smeared himself with honey or something?
Stuck between ignoring my feelings and ignoring my thoughts, I waited for something to happen. Nothing did. We were both silent. So, when he finally closed his mouth and got a good grip on reality, I managed to get myself together and face him.
"Hey…um…that copy?" I hesitantly asked, pointing at the scribbles on the notebook, even though I had absolutely no clue what was written.
"Uh, yeah. There's this…English prep book…for exams…" he mumbled looking at the handwriting, pretending to not steal glances my way.
"Well, what's it called?" I asked, leaning over to get a look at what the title could be.
"English: Basics for Beginners…" he mumbled, dropping his arms by his side and placing the notebook out of sight.
I looked up at him. He didn't seem all that pleased to have bumped into me. Well, fine! I sure as heck wasn't either! So, he could just wash that unhappy look off his face, because he could leave any time he wanted, but I couldn't! Well, at least not for the next 45 minutes or so…
"Actually, I've got one of those right on this cart over here!" I kneeled, trying to be helpful, and grabbed the 500 page monstrosity from the lower tier. "There we are!" I stood up and handed the grey book to him. He still didn't seem satisfied, so I stood there, expecting him to say something. He didn't.
"That author has an entire series of Prep books and stuff. So, that one is fairly good," I said as I walked down the isle to grab a yellow-covered book from a top shelf. "But," I smiled as I shoved the significantly smaller paper-back in his hands, "this one is thorough, easier to understand and cheaper!" The brunet looked at me, unsure whether to accept my cheery offer or not. "I recommend it!" I chirped, hoping he'd take my solid advice. I wasn't out to get him. I really was offering him help.
"Oh…uh…thanks…" he managed to awkwardly reply, handing me the grey book and slowly turning to head toward the cash register.
Well, that went a lot smoother than I thought it would. Honestly, I was expecting an outburst of anger or something loud. None of that happened, though, and I watched his back as he walked further and further away.
Oh…he really was leaving…That was a stupid thought, for sure. I mean, I was very aware that he was, but it had never really sunk in that he could do something like that. For some reason, I never quite realized how unsettling it looked to see him strut away so easily…Is that how he felt when I vanished like smoke? And then, the most absurd thought hit me: I hope he did…
Suddenly, he stopped halfway down the aisle and spun around, quickly approaching me. Now, that was the Fukui I knew, the one who'd never let anything rest in peace…
"I, uh, don't mean to interrupt your work or anything, but…uh…" he gently spoke, surprising me with his lack of a tempter. "The thing is, I…uh…" he scratched his neck, glancing up at the ceiling as if there was a note stuck up there that he could read off of. "What I mean to say is…um…"
I know I shouldn't have been thinking this, but was he trying to upset me? It was always interesting to hear what he had to say when he wasn't screaming at me, so was this his form of torture? Did I really have to sit through this endless circle of 'um's and 'uh's? Oh, I could just grab his cheeks and squeeze them until he just spat out his words!
"Could you just-"
"I'm sorry!" he blurted, bowing slightly.
Well, that definitely threw me off. It wasn't like I was expecting an apology from him or anything…
"I…" he started, shutting up what few thoughts were running through my stunned mind. "I know I've caused you trouble in the past…" he straightened his back and guiltily looked me in the eyes. "I know I wasn't always rational," he nervously glanced at the floor, "and I am aware that I've been unfair and…uh…violent…" You could say that again… "But, I just want to say sorry…I don't know what had gotten into me and I was acting so strangely, but I promise that if you give me the chance I'll treat you better…" Was that a confession? "…like proper friends should behave…" That would be a no…
Why the hell had I just wondered if that was a confession?! It wasn't like I was expecting anything, right? I'm pretty sure I wasn't. It was probably his cheesy wording. It's like his vocabulary was so limited he used whatever he knew, even if the content was inappropriate for the occasion!
"Proper friends, you say?" No way in hell would I agree to that! I went through that heart-wrenching experience of trying to forget him! It took me weeks to train myself to stop looking for him in random crowds, not to mention all the time I devoted to distracting myself so I wouldn't think about what he was doing! God, I even walked by a random high school because I thought the uniforms looked familiar!What if he up and decided I was a total jerk? Then what would I do? Would I have to go through that all over again? No, thank you! Treat me better, my ass! He could treat me like the freakin' Prince of Agrabah for all I cared! I still would never say-
He stood still as if he had been struck by lightning. I did too. The word had left my lips before I could finish the rant in my head. I yelled at myself to deny what I had said. I could definitely take back my words. I could always be like 'I'll be your friend when you sprout wings and fly!' As a matter of fact I wasn't going to waste any time! I was going to look him in those excited, brown eyes of his and tell him to get lost.
Well, that certainly didn't work as well as I'd hoped. As a matter of fact, it hadn't worked at all! Had my voice left me? Oh, I bet you he'd cast some magic or something. There was no way this heart rate was normal! That and the fact that I couldn't speak, he was trying to kill me, right? And, he was smiling! He was laughing at how well his witchcraft worked, right? Right?
"I need to be somewhere today, so…do you want me to pick you up after work tomorrow?"
"Actually, today is my last day here…" I chuckled nervously.
"Well, at least you have the decency to tell me this time…" he scowled, crossing his arms.
So, he was still bitter about that…
"But that was…when I was fired, you had already left…" I lied.
Fukui sighed, as if expecting this kind of reply. I bet you he probably thought it was the truth.
"Well, at least something came out of it." I looked at him curiously. "I now know your full name, Minoru-kun." His smile was small but sly. I never knew he could smirk mischievously like that. It really was a good look for him. Unfortunately, I wasn't speaking in terms a simple friend would. But, give me a break! The guy was handsome! At least I was being honest…
"Yeah, well, don't overuse it, Arata-kun!"
The brunet immediately tensed. His hand slowly creeped up to his chest and rested over his heart. Was he sick or something?
"Hey! Arata-kun! Are you okay?" I looked at his face and saw that it was noticeably flushed. "I think you have a fever. Just forget tomorrow. Let me give you my number…"
"Why? Is your phone disconnected?" he frowned, cheeks still red.
He really was hung up on that note…
"Don't get snarky with me! Do you want my number or not?"
The brunet looked at the ground dejectedly, head hung in embarrassment.
"Good! Then, here you go!" I grabbed a pen from in my blue apron and quickly scribbled the digits on his notebook. "I don't even know why I'm disclosing such private information! Just don't give it to anyone else! I don't care if they offer you a fortune! You ask me first, got it?"
He vigorously nodded, this silly grin on his lips.
"I'll call you. I promise!" he said as he walked backwards toward the cash register, yellow book in hand.
"Yeah, yeah…" I waved him off, but he kept pointing at me, as if emphasizing how serious he was.
When he finally marched out of sight, I heaved a sigh of relief. He was gone…Thank goodness…
And then, panic filled me.
WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?! I had finally gone nuts, right? I even gave him my number?! After all that yelling at myself to keep my shit together, I still went and made a mess of things! I distinctly remember thinking that I should leave the brunet, regardless of the circumstance. What had my mouth gone and done? And why hadn't I tried to correct it? Stupid, stupid, stupid…
"Oh, shut up, already!" a really teeny tiny part of me yelled. It was so small I almost didn't hear it. But, I did. And this fizzy feeling spread from my toes to my fingertips to my chest to my throat and I almost puked at how ridiculously giddy and happy I was that I had given the ultimate moron my number. I wanted to shout at myself for being so utterly idiotic and insensible, but that small part of me piped up again and screeched, "Put a sock in it, already!" followed by a "Go get him, you freak!"
(Author's Note): I like to end each chapter with some of my thoughts because I find it to be fun, but I seriously got nothing. So, I'll just end it with a humble thank you for simply reading so far. Thanks!