Kobato hurried to the convenient store with determination in her eyes, being careful not to slip on any ice that was on the sidewalk. Sayaka had given her a mission; to collect juice for the children to drink; it was a reward for helping clean up the kindergarten. In her haste she had accidentally left behind Ioryogi, but it didn’t matter since the mission would only take a few minutes.
Entering the store, Kobato quickly began picking out a variety of drinks for the children. Sayaka had given her enough money to make sure that everyone could get what they wanted. At first Kobato was apprehensive to take the money, knowing how important it was for the school to save as much as they could, but Sayaka had assured her that a treat now and then wouldn’t hurt. It was important to keep up the spirits of the children, after all.
“Hello,” Kobato politely said to the person standing behind her in line while she waited for her turn. He was a shady looking man, but at the same time, completely different from Okiura and his lackeys who were also shady. He wore ratty clothes and their was a twitchy nature about him, not composed and wearing a nice suit.
It was soon Kobato’s turn at the counter; the clerk bagged her cans of juice while Kobato waited patiently to pay. As she accepted the bag from the clerk and was about to hand him the money, Kobato suddenly felt herself being shoved aside while the man behind her, pointed a knife at the clerk.
“Money!” he yelled, only instead the quick thinking clerk pressed the alarm.
Fear quickly crossed the man’s face and he grabbed the closest thing to him to use as a hostage while he ran for his life.
“But I haven’t paid yet!” Kobato cried as she was helplessly dragged out the store. In the distance, police sirens could already be heard.
With a smile on her face, Kobato crouched next to the man who had finally collapsed in an alley, his back pressed up against the wall of the building that they were next too. It certainly was an exciting afternoon for Kobato, being dragged all the way across the neighbourhood; it wasn’t often that a stranger would suddenly start playing a game with her. Kobato only wished she had finished paying the clerk first, but she figured there would be no problem if she returned later and explained what happened.
“What is this game called?” she asked the man. She wasn’t tired or out of breath like he was. She was use to running around; Ioryogi would often complain to her about it.
The man looked at Kobato in shock, as if finally seeing her for the first time. As recognition dawned across his face, the man began banging the back of his head against the building, all while crying out swear words.
“Is something wrong?” Kobato asked in alarm, sensing that there was something wrong with the game. “Was I supposed to grab onto someone too while we ran?”
“Stupid girl!” the man yelled before burying his face into his hands and quietly began sobbing.
“It’s all right,” Kobato said as she pulled out a can of juice from her bag and placed it in one of his cold hands that she managed to pry away from his face. She had gotten extra cans of juice, just in case someone changed their mind while she was gone so it didn’t matter if the man had one or not. Besides it looked like he needed it. “I didn’t mean to mess up.”
“It’s not you!” the man yelled. “It’s me! Everything I do I screw up!”
“No one is perfect,” Kobato replied. “Mistakes are made so that we can learn from them.”
“I don’t seem to be learning from mine,” the man grumbled as he began to drink from the can that Kobato had given him. “... It’s good...”
“I’m glad you like it,” Kobato replied smiling once more. “The kids at the school like that kind as well.”
“School? You’re a teacher?”
“I’m only an assistant,” Kobato quickly replied. “But it’s nice there, I’ve managed to make lots of friends.”
“They must be worried about you right now?”
“Never mind,” the man mumbled before returning to his drink. “I use to have friends too, but they all abandoned me. I couldn’t pay my university fees and had to drop out. Now I’m living like this.”
“I have a friend who had to drop out of school too,” Kobato sadly said. “He needs to work to pay off a debt... it would be lonely if his friends abandoned him...”
“Yeah...” agreed the man. “How is your friend making out with his debt?”
“He works hard, doing part-time jobs,” Kobato replied, a little sad that Fujimoto had to work so hard, but then she brightened. “But if he didn’t have to live this way, I never would have met him.”
“He’s lucky to have you,” the man said before giving a small sigh. “I don’t want this kind of life...”
“You can do something about it,” Kobato said, trying to cheer him up. “It’s never too late.”
“What if I fail?”
“At least you tried.”
“You’re right,” the man replied as he stood up. “Thank you.”
“For talking with me when I needed someone to talk to,” he replied. “And I’m sorry for kidnapping you.”
“Kidnapping?” Kobato asked, but the man had already disappeared back out into the busy street.
The clerk of the convenient store was relieved when Kobato returned to pay for the juice. The police were there as well and were tempted to question her, but in their own words they decided that a ‘cute, young girl’ like Kobato had experienced too much trauma for the day so they would contact her tomorrow. The clerk meanwhile insisted that she didn’t have to pay for the juice and told her that he hoped she knew that what happened that day was abnormal for the store.
Kobato wasn’t quite sure what either of them were getting at, but she didn’t question it as she headed back to the kindergarten. As she approached the school though, her heart sank as it dawned on her that the children would have gone home hours ago; she had failed yet another task.
It was then she heard someone calling her name and she saw Sayaka and Fujimoto running towards her, both with worried expressions on their faces.
“Are you okay?” Fujimoto asked, reaching her first.
“Yes,” she dimly replied, not knowing why they were so concerned.
“We were so worried when we heard what happened,” Sayaka said, finally catching up. “The children would only leave when I told them that I would call their parents as soon as we heard any news about you.”
“I don’t understand,” Kobato replied. All she had been doing was meeting a new a friend, it wasn’t like she had been in any harm.
“You were kidnapped after there was an attempted robbery at the convenient store,” Fujimoto said to her, which surprised Kobato; she certainly hadn’t known she had been kidnapped.
“I better go make those phone calls,” Sayaka said as she took the bag of juice from Kobato. The jucie would be saved until tomorrow when they’d have a celebration party over the fact that Kobato returned unharmed.
“You didn’t know you were kidnapped,” Fujimoto accused with a sour look on his face. Fujimoto could read her so well.
“He was a nice guy,” Kobato reluctantly admitted; she hoped that he would be able to pull his life together.
“I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that from you,” Fujimoto replied with a sigh.
It was clear that he wasn’t happy with her and Kobato expected that she would be hearing about it again later. They said ‘good-bye’ to Sayaka and headed home with Fujimoto in a worst mood than normal.
“Do you know how worried we were?”
“I’m sorry,” Kobato replied, hanging her head in shame.
A heavy sigh escaped Fujimoto causing Kobato to look up at him. He still looked worried and somewhat scared; not being able to help herself, Kobato flung her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly.
Light snow began to fall as they stood there and after a few moments Fujimoto responded by wrapping his arms around Kobato, returning the hug. It was then that Kobato knew that everything was going to be all right.
A peaceful silence fell between them when they finally continued walking home. Kobato was smiling happily to herself and when she looked at Fujimoto, he too had a peaceful expression on his face as he watched her, to make sure that she wasn’t going to disappear.
The silence remained until they reached their apartments where they said ‘good-night’ to each other. Kobato practically skipped and twirled into her apartment, but at the same time she couldn’t help but think that she had forgotten something.
A growl by the window clued Kobato in on what she had forgotten. Standing tall, despite his size, and with his stuffed forelegs crossed over his chest was Ioryogi and he certainly didn’t look happy.
“I’m sorry!” she quickly begged. She had completely forgotten about Ioryogi since she had been so focused on Fujimoto.
He growled her name and bopped her on the head with a furry paw that hurt more than it should have; Ioryogi then proceed to ignore her, much to Kobato’s displeasure. As she rubbed her sore head, Kobato had a feeling that she was going to be apologizing for a long time.