J.K. Rowling made it sound so easy, Becky thought as she found herself crammed into the train car with dozens of other morning commuters. In the Harry Potter world, folks could fly around on broomsticks, walk through fireplaces, and best yet, teleport. Well, she mused as she found her face uncomfortably close to a salaryman's armpit, Rowling had a lot to learn about real witchcraft.
She emerged from the cramped car a few stops later, moving through the busy station and towards her exit. If witches in Japan could teleport, Becky wouldn't need her Suica card. Not that too many people knew she was a witch, though. That was one thing Rowling had gotten right - witches and wizards were better off keeping to themselves. And in Japan, you really would stand out if you were zapping things in public.
Becky was an odd sort of witch. Magical folk in Japan hadn't mingled with outsiders much, but her mother had a rebellious streak a mile wide, and so Becky was the result of a marriage between a Japanese witch and an English wizard. Centuries of isolation had made the Japanese style of magic different from other countries - her parents' bold match had left her an odd mishmash of a person and an odder mishmash of a witch.
Her father was adept at telekinetic powers, having wooed her mother by creating a spectacular floating garden in the backyard years back. And her mother had always been in tune with nature, growing unnaturally hardy plants and knowing just the right sort of ingredients for potions. Becky was skilled at killing plants and making the wrong things float. She'd been a laughingstock at witch cram school and had settled for being a normal human woman who could occasionally light a candle with the snap of her fingers.
Her friends, her normal friends, had normal jobs and normal families. Becky had always been just a little too eccentric for that sort of life, and her unintentional backfired magic had gotten her pink slips at half a dozen office jobs. The best solution, she'd decided, was to hide in plain sight. Japan at large didn't know about their magical inhabitants, but they sure did love magic and anything slightly supernatural.
It was a ten minute walk from the station to her tiny shop in Akasaka, off the main street and off another side street and down a twisting alleyway. "Madame Becky, Coffee Tasseographer", her sign read in English with "Your Fortune Told from Coffee" neatly printed in Japanese beneath. She unlocked her door and slipped inside. Sure, not too many people went to fortune tellers who read the future in coffee grounds, but it was a living and it was her own business, and she was proud of it.
The interior was all of her own design, a few small tables with colorful tablecloths she'd stitched together herself (and with some magical assistance once she pricked herself with a needle a few times too many). Along the other side of the shop was her coffee bar she'd hand-painted with flowers and hearts and bright green vines. Some fortune teller shops liked to cloak their readings in dark, hazy rooms but Becky preferred to let the sun shine through the front glass, and the crystals she'd hung around the room easily caught the light. Her shop was usually full of rainbows on a sunny day.
She wasn't the best with reading the future. Even witches couldn't really see everything, but it didn't matter. Becky liked to meet people and being a clumsy witch had made that hard for a long time - but people always opened up to a fortune teller in hopes of their dreams coming true. Was it a little dishonest? Maybe, but she didn't charge as much as SOME people in the neighborhood that she knew.
Even now as she grabbed a new bag of coffee beans from the storeroom and brought them to her counter she could see the man across the street opening up his creepy little store. Her rival in the neighborhood, The Amazing Nino, tarot card specialist. Sure, there were a lot of potential rivals in their little alleyway. There were fortune tellers up and down the block, but she and The Amazing Nino had one thing in common: they were both the real deal. In a neighborhood of frauds, only she and her annoying rival across the way had actual powers.
And The Amazing Nino always liked to lord his abilities over her. For one, he always said with his smarmy little smirk, the cards were more straightforward than coffee. And for two, most people looking to have their fortunes told were female, and nothing put a female more at ease than a good looking man with an easy smile and a deck of tarot cards. Or at least that's what The Amazing Nino always bragged as he escorted yet another customer out of his store, smiling across the way at Becky's usually empty shop. She didn't think he was that amazing.
She turned the sign on her front door to "Open!" and tried not to scowl. Today was an important day, after all. It was inspection day. Japan was a country of bureaucrats and its magical citizens were no less bureaucratic. Her hands were a bit shaky as she straightened her tablecloths to await Sakurai's arrival.
Any witch or wizard who used their abilities out in the open had to adhere to certain protocols. Becky and The Amazing Nino were regularly inspected by the stuffy folks from the Bureau of Magical Concealment who worked to ensure that Japan at large remained ignorant of their gifted countrymen. Fortune telling could never be 100% accurate, there could be no overt magic use in public, and most importantly, they couldn't profit unfairly from the weak.
The Bureau of Magical Concealment agent for this part of Tokyo was Sakurai Sho, descendant of a long line of witches and wizards going all the way back to the Sengoku period. Sometimes Becky wondered if Sakurai had ever used his powers to their full potential, so intent was he on making sure Becky's shop and others like it never got "too good" at telling fortunes.
She'd gone through two customers (The Amazing Nino eight) before Sakurai showed up in his well-tailored suit and horn-rimmed glasses. He had his usual briefcase and paperwork, running through his checklist of her shop's appearance. He'd be a good looking guy if he ever paid attention to himself, but work was his life, and even now he was smelling her coffee beans and poking at the homemade dreamcatchers she'd hung around the room.
"Could I get you some coffee, Sakurai-san?" she asked, fingers itching to turn the handle of her fancy coffee grinder so she could brew him a cup and make a little money.
"I'm sorry, got a lot of inspections today," he said politely before shaking the coffee bean pouch in his hand. "No hexes, no charms on these?"
"They're just coffee beans," she said the same way she did every time. But either way, he still pinched a few out of the pouch and slipped them into a small baggie.
He checked a few more things off his list and set the clipboard down, handing over a fancy fountain pen. Conjure something, she always wanted to chide him. Nobody's watching! But instead he waited for her to sign her name and stamp the paperwork.
He was just heading out the door when he frowned. "He needs to stop doing that," Sakurai said huffily, and Becky looked out her front glass to see that The Amazing Nino's sign had changed from "The Amazing Nino, Tarot and Fortunes Told" to "Ninomiya, Sex God and Private Investigator." Becky grinned as Sakurai casually flicked his wrist and Nino's sign changed back to normal.
"See you next time!" she said, the chimes above the door singing with his departure. He headed across the street to inspect The Amazing Nino's shop. She cleaned up the mess of coffee beans Sakurai had scattered across the bar.
Two giggling high school girls came in a short time later, obviously ditching school. They went with coffee for each of them, but didn't feel like paying extra for their fortunes. Becky added the small handful of coins to the cash register and smiled like always, her happiness slipping away as soon as they departed the shop. She understood that it was still a recession, and things like fortune telling were definitely expenses people could do away with. But rent at her apartment was due next week, and rent for her shop the week after. Times were tough.
She was just sealing up a bag of beans to keep them fresh when her door chimed again. Instead of giggling high school girls, there were two men. The first was in a fancy suit, tall and looking around suspiciously. The man behind him was similar in height but with lighter hair and wearing sunglasses.
Sunglasses Guy stayed back by the door, inspecting her dreamcatchers as Fancy Suit approached the coffee bar. "Welcome," she said cheerfully. She didn't get too many men her age coming into the shop - mostly down on their luck midlife crisis types. But Fancy Suit was probably in his late 20's and his companion as well.
"You do fortunes here?" Fancy Suit asked, his eyes large but shrewd. "How fast?"
"Oh, don't rush on my account!" Sunglasses Guy said happily, and even with the sunglasses he seemed slightly familiar.
"Well, I have to grind the beans first. Fresh beans make the best coffee, you know. Then I add the grounds to hot water..."
"How fast?" Fancy Suit insisted. "We're on a schedule, miss."
But Sunglasses Guy was irritated, coming up to the bar and giving his companion a shove. "It's a press conference about me," the man said. "I think they can wait."
"But Masaki," Fancy Suit mumbled.
Sunglasses Guy removed said sunglasses and Becky nearly dropped her bag of coffee beans on the floor. The light hair, the friendly face with the big toothy smile, the odd voice - she definitely knew this man. She only watched him on television every single week!
It was Aiba Masaki, the comedian. He and his partner Yokoyama formed a duo, Miracle Boys, and they'd been steadily gaining popularity ever since they started appearing as panelists on variety shows Becky watched. The "ikemen comedians" they were called, and he was even better looking in person than he was on TV. It was the very first celebrity she'd ever had in her shop, and she was suddenly very worried about what to do next.
Fancy Suit took out a business card from inside his jacket. "Matsumoto Jun, I'm Aiba-san's manager. He has a very important press conference this afternoon, and he insisted on..."
Aiba just pushed his manager aside with a laugh, leaving Matsumoto looking annoyed. He gave her a smile that sent her heart racing. "Oh, ignore him, he's such a killjoy. You're Madame Becky right? I read the sign outside. I'm not so bad with English."
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I read fortunes in coffee. You're here for a fortune?"
Matsumoto shoved his client so he was standing in front of Becky again. "And as I said, he has a very important press conference. So if you could just read his palm or whatever..."
"Oi," Aiba complained. He turned back to her, leaning on the countertop and resting his chin on his palm. "You take all the time you need, Madame Becky. This is something my manager can't understand, but that's why he's the manager and I'm the celebrity, right?"
"I will kill you in your sleep one of these days," Matsumoto grumbled, leaning away from the bar. "You have 20 minutes. I'll be in the car."
He headed out of the shop in a huff, and Aiba laughed. "I'm sorry about him. We grew up together, and he's kind of a control freak. He's got my schedule down to the millisecond. But I don't know, Madame Becky, I'm the type of guy who goes where the wind takes me." He smiled again. "And today the wind took me here."
She cocked her head. "The Amazing Nino already had a line out the door, huh?"
Aiba's pretty face fell, and he blushed. "Ah, well...yeah. But you're just as good as him, right?"
She nodded. She wasn't that special after all. He'd wanted The Amazing Nino and had gotten stuck with her. She was a second choice, but if Mr. Celebrity Comedian really needed his fortune told, then she'd tell it.
"Just a moment. I'll brew you a cup, and then I'll read the grounds when you finish drinking. 500 yen, is that reasonable?"
He wandered around the shop, poking at her crystals while she brewed a fresh cup of coffee for him. She watched him from the corner of her eye, cringing as he managed to tug one of the crystals off its string by accident. Thinking himself sneaky, she watched him slip it onto one of the tables, assuming she wasn't watching. Good looking he may have been, but he was a bit of a nuisance. Becky was beginning to see what a tough life his manager must have had.
"One cup of coffee," she announced a few minutes later, sliding the cup onto a small saucer and pushing it across the coffee bar for him to drink. In the time it had taken her to brew his cup, he'd tugged off three crystals and had fingerprinted up her front glass - most likely checking to see if the line over by The Amazing Nino's had gone down. He was still there in her shop, so it obviously hadn't.
She withheld her displeasure, smiling politely as he settled himself on one of the stools at the bar and brought the cup to his lips, completely ignoring the smiley face she'd attempted to draw in the foam for him.
"Ah! Hot!" he squealed, spilling coffee all over the counter. He looked up with a frown. "Does this mess up your reading?"
Becky held in her urge to scream at him, grabbing a damp rag instead to clean up his mess. And she thought she was clumsy! She remembered that he was the dumb one in the Miracle Boys duo. He just didn't have Yokoyama to berate him here. "No, it should be fine. Just...drink more carefully, please, Aiba-san."
He sipped slower while she wondered how long it would take to get her crystals hung up again once he left for his press conference. Speaking of...
"So Aiba-san, what's your press conference for?"
"Oh!" he said. He set down his coffee cup and tried the winning celebrity smile on her again. He'd been sparkling and pretty when he'd come in, but that had worn off quickly enough once he'd started ruining her shop's decor. "For a drama. I'm going to be starring in a drama, so I just thought I'd see if things looked favorable. You know. Fortune-wise."
"You could have gone to a shrine, right? Prayed for success?" she asked, rinsing out the pot and demitasse cups.
"That's what Jun-kun suggested I do..."
She didn't have to be a mind reader after all. "So because you like to make him mad, you decided to go to a fortune teller instead."
He giggled, and it was less charming than it was on television. For one, he snorted in person. "You're good, Madame Becky. Are you a psychologist too?"
"I'd be charging you more if I was," she told him, turning off the sink.
"I like you already," he admitted. "Since Yoko and I got famous, people are always falling over themselves to suck up to us. Wanting us to endorse products and do gags over and over. But not you. You're funny."
She smiled despite herself. "You never know, Aiba-san. I may ask for a favorable review of my shop when you're next on television."
He downed the rest of his coffee and slid the cup across to her. "You have good timing. Maybe you could be on variety shows like me. Madame Becky, the sassy fortune teller."
She rolled her eyes. Sakurai Sho from the Bureau of Magical Concealment would definitely say no to that idea. "Let's see what the future holds for your drama," she said. All she really had to do was say a bunch of vague, positive things, and he'd leave with a smile on his face. It was what he wanted to hear, after all. It was what everyone went to a fortune teller to hear.
But as soon as she picked the cup up in her hand, there was a flash before her eyes. She felt an arm around her back, so warm. A sharp intake of breath, her own breath. And then there was a mouth over her own, so sweet and perfect and gentle and when it was done the person leaned back to smile at her. Love was in his eyes. Love for her.
And it was Aiba Masaki.
When she emerged from whatever bizarre state she'd been in, she discovered that she was crouched down behind her coffee bar and the shards of the coffee cup were at her feet. Aiba-san was shaking her shoulder.
"Madame Becky? Madame Becky, are you okay? Was it that bad? Is my future that horrible?"
She scooted away from him in a hurry, falling back onto her bottom to stare at him. She'd had charms and things backfire on her, but she'd never had a vision like that before. Hell, she'd never had a vision at all. Her mom had tried to induce them in her for years in hopes she could be a decent psychic, but it had never worked. It was just another thing she was awful at, Becky the mixed up witch.
But she'd felt it so strongly as soon as her fingers had touched Aiba's empty coffee cup and she'd glanced at the pattern within. It had definitely been him embracing her, definitely his mouth on hers. What kind of vision was that? She'd only met him fifteen minutes earlier! She felt embarrassment hit her, turning red.
"Madame Becky?" he asked again.
She stumbled to her feet. In the future, she'd kiss Aiba-san. Aiba-san, the comedian who yanked all her crystals down with his clumsy fingers. No, no, it had to be a false vision. Something had obviously backfired in her brain.
"I'm fine, I'm quite fine. I'm very sorry," she said, shooing him away from the shards on the floor. "Be careful, don't cut yourself right before your press conference."
"Is it going to get terrible ratings? Is everyone going to hate it?" Aiba was asking her frantically. "Yoko will never stop laughing at me if I fail! I mean, he's just jealous that I got a starring role before him. But I never got jealous when he shot that bubble gum commercial with the girls in bikinis...well, not that jealous..."
"Aiba-san," she interrupted him, still feeling a little dizzy after her strange vision. "I saw great things, marvelous things."
Like how wonderful a kisser you are, she thought with an odd excitement before reminding herself that it was obviously a big lie. Someone like him would never kiss someone like her.
"Really?" he asked, and she had to stop staring at his mouth.
"Yes, really. You'll have a...great co-star," she started babbling, anything to get him and the bizarre fantasy out of her mind. "You'll be widely praised. They'll say that Aiba-san isn't just a comedian, but a good actor..."
"You saw all that in the coffee cup?" he wondered aloud. "But I mean, if that's true, then that's awesome. Oh, Madame Becky, you had me so worried!"
"Haha, sorry!" she said, pushing him towards the door. "But anyhow, don't want you to be late! For the press conference. I envision...bad stuff happening if you're late. Okay? Thanks for patronizing my shop!"
She shoved him out into the alleyway. "But don't I have to pay?" he asked her.
"Service! A service for today!"
"Thank you, goodbye now!"
Aiba headed off to a sleek black sedan parked a few buildings down and got inside, and the car pulled away as soon as the door closed. Matsumoto really did keep Aiba to a strict schedule. She stood there in the street, confused and still thinking about her strange vision until she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Of course, it was him.
The Amazing Nino was smirking at her with that all-knowing smirk he had. "Was that Aiba Masaki just now?"
"He wanted to see you. He had to settle for me instead," she admitted.
"Hmm," he said, giving her a knowing smile. "Something's wrong with you." He gestured across the street. "My services are always available should you require...guidance."
She turned on him with a scowl. "He's just some bigheaded celebrity. Probably looking for some cute story to tell on television about seeing a psychic."
Nino smiled wider, and the car with Matsumoto and Aiba finally was out of sight. "You're so cynical. You saw something in his coffee that weirded you out, didn't you?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," she replied almost too quickly, and before she could blink there was a card in his hand. He waved it in her face, and the jester painted on the card seemed to be smirking at her the same as Nino himself did.
"I think this is your card," Nino said. "They say that the Fool means a new beginning, Madame Becky. You have no idea where you're going, and no idea what to expect. I think that's what you saw in that man's coffee. Funny you should see your own future in another man's cup."
"I think you're full of it," she said before heading back into her shop. The Amazing Nino's laughter rang in her ears, and nothing could erase the phantom feeling of Aiba Masaki's lips on hers.
It was annoying to have a roommate who didn't contribute to the rent, especially with the current economic climate. Then again, Becky knew, it wasn't really Ohno-kun's fault that he couldn't help out. He was dead, after all.
Being magical made witches and wizards more in tune with the spirit world, and Becky knew the apartment had been too good to be true. It was a safe neighborhood, located close to the city center, and it cost half as much as the other apartments in the area. It was still expensive, but it was Becky's kind of expensive. Upon moving in, however, she'd learned why it was cheaper.
The place seemed to just feel funny to the average person, and the reason for that was because it was haunted. Not that Ohno Satoshi was an evil poltergeist or anything. Far from it. He'd died young, and he hadn't yet moved on from this world. He didn't remember why or how he'd died so he was stuck there, not that it ever seemed to bother him. And thus he'd become Becky's roommate.
It wasn't easy living with a man who wasn't a boyfriend. She could never fully relax because while Ohno-kun was kind, he wasn't very observant. He tended to open doors without knocking since, after all, it had been his apartment before he'd died. So going around without her bra or with a puke green exfoliating face mask on was just not something she felt comfortable doing in case Ohno saw her.
She entered the apartment with a sigh. "I'm home!" she called, slipping her shoes off. If anyone heard her, they probably thought she was talking to herself or talking to a pet.
But there was Ohno, sitting on a cushion on the floor with a beer cracked open. Despite being a ghost, he was always asking her to buy him beer, and he could still put them away just as good as a human could. "Ah, welcome home, Becky!" he said cheerfully.
So it was nice to have someone to talk to, but it wasn't like it could go anywhere. She didn't have a boyfriend. She had a freeloading, beer-guzzling, oblivious ghost roommate. And she couldn't exactly introduce him to anyone. She moved into the living room, dropping to her knees before stretching out flat on the floor.
"Ugh," she murmured into the rug.
He had kind of a fuzzy outline rather than an ethereal glow, but he was solid enough despite being a ghost. That helped on days like these, and she gratefully accepted his pat on her back. "What's wrong?" he asked, lowering the volume on the TV. "Rough day?"
She sighed, wiggling her fingers to magically close the blinds and shut out the outside. Somewhere out there in Tokyo was Aiba Masaki. She explained her day to Ohno, about Sakurai's inspection and Aiba Masaki's visit. And then about the press conference she'd sat through on the TV in the back room.
Aiba Masaki, smiling and beautiful as the cameras snapped. He'd explained how excited he was to be playing a hardworking accountant who solved financial mysteries. It sounded like the most boring TV drama of all time, and she'd told him it was going to be a great success. He'd even admitted that his future was looking bright, all thanks to a brief stop at a fortune teller - at least he hadn't mentioned her name.
Since Ohno was a good listener and never passed (much) judgment on her, she admitted the vision she'd seen of her and Aiba. Well, she didn't tell him about the kissing part - just that she saw a future where she was with Aiba in some capacity. It wasn't really a lie.
"Hmm," Ohno considered, scratching the peach fuzz on his ghostly chin. "You haven't had any visions before. I mean, just in the past week you blew all the fuses in the fuse box, accidentally defrosted the freezer when you meant to turn on the microwave from in here..."
"...tried to turn your bedsheets rainbow colors and ended up turning them gray when you could have just gone to the store and bought them..."
He smiled. "But no visions. That's really cool, Becky-chan, maybe you're getting better!"
"I'm sure it's just another misfire. Like everything," she said, sitting up and hugging one of her purple fuzzy pillows. "I can't do a regular job. I can't do a magical job. What should I do with myself? I'm bleeding money with that shop."
"But it makes you happy. And it made Aiba-san happy today."
She wrinkled her nose. "Happiness doesn't pay for your beer though."
He shrugged. "What do you want me to say though? I mean, having a vision is something new. Maybe your powers are just a little behind, developmentally-speaking, and now they're emerging. Maybe you're going to get better at everything." He smiled, the trouble-free smile of the dead. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. I'm sure you're going to be really great someday."
She highly doubted that. How could she trust anything magical she'd done or seen? After all, she'd seen a future with Aiba Masaki, and there was no possible way she'd ever run into someone famous like him again.
When she got to the shop in the morning, she almost fainted. Matsumoto Jun was there in another expensive suit, leaning against the fancy car from the day before. "I need you to stay closed today," he explained sharply, opening the car door. "Will you come with me?"
She held onto her purse protectively, using it as a barrier between herself and Aiba's manager. "What do you mean? Am I in some sort of trouble? For what I said to him yesterday?"
He tapped the door with his hand impatiently. "Masaki has...requested your services."
She raised an eyebrow. "He what? Why can't he just come to the shop like any other customer?"
Matsumoto raised an eyebrow right back, and she understood just why Aiba liked to tease him so much. He was so serious! "You know why he can't be wandering around this kind of neighborhood."
Becky's pride hurt a bit at that, but she tried not to let it show. It wasn't like she worked in the red light district! "What if I don't want to get in the car with you? What if that's not the way I do business?"
Matsumoto gestured behind him to The Amazing Nino's shop. "I'm sure that your competitor would be just what Aiba needs to..."
"Oh fine, I'll come with you," she blurted out stupidly.
"Finally. Get in."
Matsumoto stayed preoccupied with messages on his phone as the driver pulled away, Becky seated beside him nervously. She kept her purse on her lap and hugged it to her, wondering how she'd let herself agree so readily. Aiba had requested her services? What did that even mean? She presumably needed her coffee grinder to even do her job properly. She'd let the thought of Aiba choosing Nino over her be enough to convince her.
They arrived at the TV Asahi studios, and Matsumoto escorted her past security, handing her a badge. "You'll just have to flash this every time you come now."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, but he said nothing. And he walked fast too, especially with his long strides, and she struggled to keep up as they wandered through a maze of hallways overcrowded with staff and wardrobe carts and spare set pieces.
Finally they arrived outside of a room labeled as Aiba Masaki's dressing room. Matsumoto knocked once and opened the door. Aiba was sitting there in a makeup chair reading a magazine while a woman styled his hair, but he immediately sprang to his feet upon seeing her reflection in the mirror.
"Madame Becky, you came!" he exclaimed, hurrying over to grab hold of her hand and shake it vigorously. "I'm so glad you came. Sorry for the whole cloak and dagger act, but I wanted to get you here without a lot of fuss."
"Nice to see you again," she said nervously, noticing all the staff around them. Probably producers and makeup people and other managers like Matsumoto. "I was wondering why..."
"Can I have a moment with Madame Becky please?" Aiba asked with a smile, and everyone immediately cleared the room, leaving them alone. That was star power for you.
It was incredibly difficult not to stare at his mouth. She'd been up late the night before. Even after Ohno's encouragement of her abilities, she couldn't stop thinking about Aiba Masaki and the unlikelihood of a second meeting like this. About his perfect looks and perfect smile. And about his clumsy behavior. For every appealing point, he surely had one negative. And yet...
"Aiba-san," she muttered.
He wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulder, escorting her to sit in one of the other makeup chairs. She wondered if the bright lights around the mirror highlighted her distress all the more. "Let's get down to business then," he said, looking at her warmly. "I realize taking you away from work isn't very nice, but you didn't seem that busy anyhow..."
She clenched her fists and tried to smile through his unintended insult.
"...so I mean, if you didn't pick up on it yesterday, I'm kind of nervous about starring in this drama. Really nervous. Dry heave nervous," he said, scratching his head and most likely ruining the clean effect the stylist had been going for with his hair. "So I was hoping you could help me."
"You want me to read your fortune again? I saw positive energy all around you," she lied. She hadn't seen anything but him making out with her.
He leaned forward to look into her eyes. She thought of The Amazing Nino and his free of charge reading for her the day before. The Fool card was her card. Well, she certainly felt like a fool, falling right into the "ikemen comedian" trap Aiba was laying for her. "Madame Becky..."
"It's going to be a three month shoot, and I need all the positive energy you can foresee for me." He bowed his head to her. "Please agree to be my spiritual advisor while I film this drama. Please!"
Spiritual advisor? What the heck was that? But there Aiba was, the famous comedian Aiba Masaki, and he was begging her to stay by his side for three months? Had she really foreseen the future? A future where she and Aiba...
He looked up again, worry in his eyes. "No good? I mean, it's a long time to be away from work, but you wouldn't have to do it every day. I get days off, and sometimes we film at night so you can still open your shop during the day!"
But what would the Bureau of Magical Concealment say? And what would the press say if people found out that the lead actor in a major television drama was utilizing the services of a fortune teller? Surely Aiba-san would become the laughingstock of the entertainment world.
"Jun thinks I'm out of my mind, but he just doesn't understand the pressure! I don't need you to read my coffee grounds every day, just...be here for me. I mean, every other time I've had my fortune told they tell me I'm not meant to be an actor, that I should stick to playing the idiot role. But you saw great things for me. I want to keep you around."
He reached forward boldly to squeeze her hand.
"I want you near me. You can be my good luck charm!"
When she got back to her shop that afternoon, all she could do was pace back and forth. It wasn't like she had any customers anyhow. Everything that had happened that morning was racing through her mind. Becoming the bodyguard of Aiba's mental health. Signing the bizarre contract naming her as Aiba's "life coach" while Matsumoto Jun looked like he was about to keel over and die of embarrassment. The bright smile Aiba had given her before telling her to meet him on set the following day ready to channel all her positive energy at his acting. The ridiculous amount of money they were going to pay her for three months of positive energy...
Now she was doomed. If there was one thing she was terrible at, it was channeling her energy - positive or otherwise. She thought of all the plants she'd tried to raise with all her heart, only for them to die. She thought of the cat she'd acquired in hopes of it serving as her familiar - it had run away and never come back. And she of course had a ghost in her apartment she couldn't do anything about.
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!" she screamed out loud in the middle of her shop, unable to hold her terror in any longer.
The door opened, setting off the chimes, and there was The Amazing Nino. "Ah Becky, did you finally see yourself closing this shop down? I've seen it in the cards for months but didn't have the heart to tell you."
She shook her head. "Oh shut up. And don't come barging in here."
"You were screaming like someone was trying to kill you," he pointed out. "I can't ignore a screaming woman in distress, even if it's you."
Becky slumped down in a seat at one of the tables, sneering at him. "Don't you have people to bamboozle?"
He sat down across from her, wiggling his fingers at the cookie jar she kept on the counter. It floated over and landed between them gracefully. He lifted the lid and helped himself. "You're obviously in some trouble here, and it's the neighborly thing to do. See, I even closed my shop to help you."
She peered over his shoulder and out the window to see his new sign: Ninomiya Kazunari, Wilderness Explorer and Guide. "And you think nobody's going to come by?"
"Nah, I hate the wilderness," he said, munching on his cookie. "So what's the problem?"
Not that it was really his business, but at the very least, he was probably the most objective person she knew. She explained her meeting at TV Asahi and her brand new role as Aiba's assistant for the next three months. He sat patiently, helping himself to a second cookie while she let out her worries.
When she was done, he looked at her with something she'd never seen in his face before, at least not when she was around. It looked like jealousy. "Well, if you don't want to help him, surely I'd be a better choice. My skills are top notch. And I've helped dozens of celebrities before."
"I'm sure you have," she muttered. "But I already signed the contract."
"Then do your job. I mean, if his drama tanks at least he's got a good scapegoat."
"You're always such a comfort, Nino," she grumbled.
He helped himself to a third cookie, unpaid, and got to his feet. "I think you've got a real opportunity to do well here. But really, how are you supposed to help him if you can't even trust your own abilities? Look at me for example. I'm awesome. I'm amazing. And that's what keeps people coming back." He leaned forward until they were nose to nose. "Believe in yourself, and surely Aiba-san will believe in you. It's the oldest trick in the book."
He left the shop with a cheerful wave, and Becky didn't feel all that comforted. Believe in yourself? Easier said than done. She focused on the cookie jar, wiggling her fingers. The jar wobbled a bit as it lifted off the table with none of the ease The Amazing Nino had shown. It took a few seconds but she slowly moved it back to its original position, setting it down with a clumsy thunk.
A cookie jar was fragile, sure, but a person's livelihood was in her hands now. Becky was pretty certain that was something even more fragile.