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Penguin Cafe

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When Shouma finally found Ringo in front of Shinjuku Station, she didn't look very happy to see him. She was wearing a short black dress, red heels, and too much makeup; he looked down at his hoodie and sneakers in dismay.

"Is that seriously what you're wearing?" Ringo asked him.

"What? You didn't say it was going to be fancy."

"Haven't you ever heard of Penguin Cafe before?" Ringo said. " It's the most romantic couples cafe in Shinjuku! And I don't even know if they'll let us in with you looking like that."

"You invited me to a couples cafe?" he said. "But why-- let me guess, Project M?"

"It's not too far from here, come on." Ringo turned and started walking, her heels clicking on the pavement in a way that reminded Shouma eerily of someone else. He shuddered and tried to put it out of his mind, following after her with #2.

She explained a little more as they walked. "Tabuki and I are supposed to eat here today," Ringo said. "But they only let couples in, and I had to be sure--okay, here we are," she said, stopping in front of a sleek restaurant front.

Every table in the cafe was a table for two, and all of them seemed to be filled, unsurprising for a Saturday night. But Ringo breezed right past the line. "I have a reservation under Oginome," she informed the maitre d'.

The man gave Shouma the once-over, but finally nodded, leading them to a table in the back. The restaurant was decorated in Arctic colors: whites and icy blues. It didn't seem very romantic to Shouma, but the other diners seemed happy enough. And it certainly beat having a frog on his back. #2 followed them in, but was quickly distracted by all the food.

"No, no, no, don't sit there!" Ringo sat in the chair against the wall, from which she could survey the entire restaurant, leaving Shouma with the seat facing the back wall. Unsatisfied, he turned to look over his shoulder, until she hissed at him to stop.

"Is Tabuki even here?" he asked her.

Ringo was scanning the room, eyes intent. "Not yet," she said. "But he will be, I know it."

"He'll probably be with Yuri if he does come," Shouma said, and got a kick in the shins for his trouble. He opened the menu instead. At the table next to them, #2 was gleefully scarfing down shrimp; its lovey-dovey couple was too busy gazing into each others' eyes to notice.

"Hey, there aren't even any prices on here," he said to Ringo. "I hope you're paying, because I probably don't have enough to even get a drink--"

"There he is!" Ringo said, and then: "Shit!"

"I told you!"

Shouma started to turn, but Ringo stepped on his foot to get his attention. "Don't let them see us!" she hissed, hiding her face in the menu.

But it was already too late. "A-ra-ra, I wasn't expecting to see you two here." Yuri was impossibly elegant as usual, swathed in a dark purple dress that fitted her curves perfectly. "I had a night off from the show, and I was telling Tabuki how good the lobster is here."

"Hi, Ringo, Shouma," Tabuki said, smiling as he always did. Shouma watched Ringo turn toward him and brighten, as she always did, and suddenly felt a little sick.

"Uh, hi," he said, offering a wave. Ringo glared at him.

Fortunately, a waitress intervened. "Excuse me, Tabuki party?" she said. "Your table is right this way. Please leave the floor clear for servers."

"I'm so sorry," Yuri said, smiling. "Let's go, Tabuki." #2 took a break from eating to spray her shoes with bug spray as she walked away.

"Okay," Ringo said quietly. Shouma turned to her; she was staring at the tablecloth intently. "This is okay. It's still pretty similar to the diary."

Shouma didn't really care about any of that. "Uh, you are paying, right?"

* * *

"Why did you even invite me if you were just going to stare at their table the whole time?" Shouma twirled his spoon in what was left of his soup. He'd ordered it because it seemed like the least expensive thing on the menu, and it hadn't been very filling. He hoped Himari had kept a plate warm for him.

"I told you, I just needed you to get in."

"Still, it's not polite to invite me and then ignore me. You could at least ask how Himari is doing."

Ringo blinked, focusing on him for the first time. "Oh right, Himari! She's still—she's still well, isn't she?"

Shouma beamed. "She's doing great! I've hardly cooked anything all month, and I think she actually went to the park yesterday. If she keeps on like this, we're thinking she might even be able to go back to school."

"So you were the one who did the cooking when she was sick?"

Shouma fought down a blush. "Well, someone had to do it, and Kanba is completely hopeless in the kitchen. Himari likes it the most, though. She won't even let me chop vegetables these days."

Ringo bit her lip. "You know, Shouma, about Himari… and the diary…" But then she was looking past him, and her whole manner changed, her expression hardening. "They're leaving," she said.

"So?"

"So we have to follow them."

"Why?"

But Ringo was back to ignoring him. "Check, please!" she said, flagging down their waiter. "Actually, never mind!"

She plunked down a wad of cash that made Shouma's eyes pop, and then practically ran out of the restaurant. Shouma followed her outside, trusting that she'd paid enough for both of them.

Ringo was standing right outside on the sidewalk. "I can't find him," she said, sounding almost panicked. "I need to find him." She looked to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again. "That way!" she said, pointing, and took off running.

"Oi!" Shouma said, but there was nothing for it. He went after her, hoping that he wouldn't lose her in the crowds as well.

For a moment, he did lose her in the dizzying sea of bright lights and strange faces. But then he heard a loud "There he is!" and rounded a corner just in time to see Ringo falling flat onto her face.

"Oww…" Ringo moaned. Shouma winced.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"T-tabuki," she said, looking around woozily. But he was nowhere in sight.

Shouma dispatched #2 to bring a water bottle, then helped Ringo to a nearby doorstep where she could recover. One of her shiny red heels had broken completely off, and she stared at it mournfully.

"Is your ankle okay?" he asked. She dabbed at it delicately with a moistened handkerchief, gasping occasionally.

"It's fine," she said finally. "I was expecting something like this to happen." Then, she squared her shoulders and turned to Shouma. "Shouma, let me borrow your shoes."

"My what?"

"Come on, I can't walk in these, and I can't go barefoot."

"But-but-they probably aren't even your size," Shouma protested. "And I can't go barefoot either!"

"Then give me a piggyback ride!"

In the end, she wore his shoes, even though her feet slipped around in them. Shouma wasn't exactly happy about it, but fortunately they weren't very far from the station, and his feet were only stepped on a few times.

Ringo got off at her own station—apparently this wasn't a night that the diary decreed would be spent with Tabuki—and he walked her back to her apartment building. Even though she'd said her ankle was fine, she was limping; and besides that, he didn't want to go home without his sneakers.

"My mother isn't here," she said when they reached her gate. "Do you want to come up for some tea?"

It wasn't that he wanted to stay. But there was something in the set of her shoulders that reminded him of dark, empty places. And #2 looked thirsty.

"Sure," he said.