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Sunflower Summers

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The shop bell rang merrily, and Yamada was torn between staring (longingly...?) or throwing the still oven-warm batch of cheesy rolls he just pulled out of the oven at the customer who just came in.

But maaaaybe the guy would finally buy something today, and he wasn't going to jinx that by throwing fresh bread at his (beautiful) face.

 

He watched through the glass window separating the baking area from the actual shop as the tall guy did his usual routine: he looked around, smiled at the shop attendant on duty, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply.

 

It was mesmerizing to watch, Yamada had grudgingly admitted to himself after watching the guy do this the first time. The guy made breathing a production number, moving his whole body as he does so and making a simple and natural body function as the act of breathing become a whole revolution of movement. The guy's shoulders went up and down in a great shrug, illustrating how his lungs took in every scent and aroma surrounding him. He stretched up to his toes as he does this, making his tall stature more pronounced in Yamada's cozy little bakery.

 

Yamada crossed his arms as he watched, taking in the details he had first observed when the tall stranger first entered his bakery four days ago. He was model-tall, legs that go on forever that Yamada extremely envies, a small face and handsome features. The stranger was wearing a variation of the same clothes that Yamada first saw him in: a plain white shirt, black skinny pants, a denim long-sleeved shirt with its sleeves tied around his waist, and a pair of black Converses. His clothes were normal, but Yamada knew that this guy was definitely anything but normal.

 

Mostly because of the fact that he’s been coming into the bakery for a week, and he still hasn’t bought a single bread or pastry.

 

No one has ever resisted the charms of his baked goods.

 

No one, it seems, until this tall stranger.

 

It consternates Yamada to no end.

 

“Maybe if you stop glaring at the guy, he won’t be scared and finally buy something,” Umika said, after the stranger had left without buying any bread. Or pastry. Again. He baked those cheese rolls to perfection. He was slightly annoyed and offended.

 

Not that anyone was keeping score. Except perhaps Umika, the university student part-timer he had hired to help him manage the store.

 

Not that he had that much business to be busy over, but it helped him focus on baking more when he did not have to mentally prepare himself to deal with talking to strangers. Regular customers had to wear him down because of how shy he is around strangers and that caused problems for him before, but now that he has Umika to help him, things are a bit easier for him and the bakery.

 

Yamada now looked up from the dough he was kneading to make an affronted noise at Umika. “I’m not glaring at him,” he said, sounding… well, affronted.

 

Umika rolled her eyes at him. “Sure, you don’t,” she said, pausing with the bread tongs she was using up in the air as she remembered something. “Oh by the way, Yuriko-san stopped by. Said she wants a cake. A regular customer’s celebrating their birthday at the diner.”

 

“Really?” Yamada said, actually pausing from kneading the dough. He dusted his hands off his apron and immediately went to Umika’s side, already pulling out a pocket notebook and a pen from his pocket. “Did they have any requests? Do you know the customer’s name? Is the person a boy or a girl? What flavor—"

 

Umika laughed, slapping a piece of paper onto Yamada’s forehead to stop him from talking. “Slow down, baker boy. Everything’s on that paper. You just go do your baking magic and I’m sure the customer will like it,” she said with a hint of fondness in her voice as she picked up her tray. "Go wild."

 

Yamada peeled off the paper from his forehead, still grinning widely. "Permission to be wild, granted," he said.

 

Umika smiled as she started putting the freshly baked cheese rolls into its proper bread basket. "Be sure to finish the cake before the meeting, okay?" she reminded Yamada. “It starts at three.”

 

Yamada threw the flour he had been sifting at the dough he had on the table and began kneading it again with more force than was necessary. Umika looked up from arranging the little signs that indicated the name of each bread in their specific basket to meet Yamada’s gaze, but he resolutely stared at the dough he was kneading.

 

“Everything will be fine, Yamada-kun,” she said. “Don’t get so worked up about it.”

 

Yamada opened his mouth but closed it again, biting his lip as he let his hands go through the practiced, calming motions of working the dough. “Sorry,” he said, sighing. “I can’t help but worry.”

 

“Hey, I’m not blaming you,”  she said, wiping the tray she was holding with a white rag and hugging it to her chest. “I know how important this town is for you.”

 

Yamada patted the dough he had been kneading. “Important doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he said, too quiet for Umika to hear. “It’s my family.”





Yamada had barely gotten the birthday cake delivered to the diner on time before jumping on to his bike once again and racing to the town community center. On his way there he passed the usual closed-down shops that wistfully made him remember the period when he first came to live and work in the shopping district.

 

Himawari Shopping District had once been a rich and prosperous shopping neighborhood when it opened at the early stages of the bubble economy. At its heyday, it was as busy as any other shopping district, boasting of a warm community and a slew of food specialty stores and restaurants. When the bubble economy burst, it took out about half of the specialty shops as they moved on to more populated areas. Himawari Shopping District has now become a quiet neighborhood with a small collection of restaurants and third-generation shops. While the businesses that have remained are still doing pretty well, a lot of their regular customers have lately been flocking to the malls that have been popping up near every shopping district he knows. Sometimes, Yamada sees the billboards advertising the mall (with that model, Jesse something or other) and just thought about how life can be so unfair sometimes.

 

He just wanted to bake, and protect the family that has been formed within the Himawari Shopping District.

 

Now he closes his shop early every Friday, attending meetings about how they could stop other people from destroying something that all of them had fought to build.

 

To protect something that they love.

 

He reached the community center five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, stumbling into the small hall and bumping into a tall guy in front of him, entering the room that they used for the committee meetings.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to!” Yamada said in quick apology, looking up and smiling when he realized who it was. “Oh, Yabu-kun!”

 

“Hey,” Yabu, the owner of the shopping district’s music store, said in greeting. “Looks like things in the bakery have been busy. Still practicing that saxophone?”

 

Yamada grinned. “Yeah. I try not to be too noisy for my neighbors," he said, looking around and seeing the bistro co-owner slash neighbor in question in the middle of a discussion with Ninomiya, the Japanese restaurant owner and much more known in the shopping district as ‘Nino-san’. "I guess I have to do it as much as I can while there’s no baby to disturb yet."

 

Yabu nodded in approval. "Good call," he said, looking down when his phone pinged, signaling that he had received a message.

 

"Is something wrong?" Yamada asked, noticing the crease that has formed between Yabu's eyebrows.

 

"Everything's fine," Yabu replied, looking up from his phone and giving Yamada his usual smile. "Just asked Chinen-kun to do a background check on the new part-timer I hired."

 

"Oh," Yamada said, raising an eyebrow in surprise. "I didn't know you were hiring new people."

 

"Yeah, it was quite a spur of the moment decision," Yabu said, looking distracted as he received another message on his phone. "The guy looked like he could use some help, and he said he could play the drums and the guitar, so there's that. I could use human voices that aren't from CDs or records."

 

“Yamada-kun, just in time,” a voice called out, the person looking up and smiling at Yamada when he noticed his arrival. Yamada nodded at Yabu before jogging over to where the committee leader was standing over at the table.

 

“How’s the bakery?” Taiyou asked in a friendly tone. “Everything good?”

 

Yamada smiled. “It’s as fine as I could hope it to be,” he said. “I’m trying to think of a new pastry to sell, maybe up the sales a little.”

 

Taiyou nodded, jotting something down on the papers in front of them. “I hope inspiration finds you soon.”

 

Yamada laughed. “Yeah, maybe I just need a muse or something,” he agreed. Someone else called Taiyou’s attention, and Yamada excused himself with a bow before heading towards his usual seat.

 

“Your face is still covered in flour,” Shida, manager and co-owner of the town’s sushi restaurant, said to Yamada in lieu of a greeting. Yamada pulled out the empty chair beside her and let her use the corner of her apron to rub the offending powder away. “Honestly, are you five years old?!”

 

“Where’s Kamiki?” he asked, rubbing at his nose that was now red.

 

“Back at the restaurant. There was a big reservation from the company two blocks away, a party of twenty-five,” she explained. “I have to go back and rescue him soon, too. The last time they went to eat there, they were trying to make the dead fish Mikki was cutting up to sing a duet with the very drunk company president.”

 

Yamada laughed at the mental image of poor Kamiki politely requesting the customers to not dance the macarena on the sushi bar. He had seen it happen once when they were out drinking at the snack bar after work hours, and the memory distracted him from the reason why they were all having this meeting in the first place.

 

“Okay, everyone settle down,” Taiyou announced, shuffling the pile of papers and stopping at his tracks when he looked around the table. “...why is Ohno-san here?”

 

The policeman looked up from the paper he was doodling on. “...what?” he said, blinking at the crowd of people gathered around the long table of the community center and stifling a yawn. “Why are you all here?”

 

“We’re about to have a meeting about the shopping district…” Taiyou said, trailing off uncertainly as he catches a peek at the paper. “That’s a really nice drawing, Ohno-san.”

 

“Eh? Really?” Ohno said, picking up the paper and squinting at the sunflower field he had drawn with a ballpoint pen before giving it to Taiyou. “You can have it, then.”

 

“Oh,” he said, looking at the paper with wide eyes. “I’ll take good care of it!”

 

Ohno smiled, his eyes still half-closed as he reached up—way up—and patted the shopping district community leader on his head. “You do that,” he said, stretching out his other arm and letting out a huge yawn. “I’ll just continue my nap here, then…”

 

“Ohno-san, you can’t sleep here…” Shoon, the town’s pharmacist, said hesitantly. Ohno, of course, was already snoring lightly by this time.

 

“Let’s just leave him there,” Nino, the owner of the shopping district’s Japanese-style restaurant, said in a tone that was very much resigned by what happened. He untied the apron from his waist and folded it into a neat rectangle, gently pillowing Ohno’s head with it so the policeman could be more comfortable. “He’s a harmless old man.”


“Who also happens to be the policeman on duty…” Shoon said, trailing off when he caught sight of Nino’s raised eyebrow and stepping back without any further protest.

 

There was a hurried knock at the door before the gangly figure of the district’s family restaurant owner came bursting in.

 

“Sorry I’m late!” Aiba said, wheezing as he clutched his chest. “There’s a birthday—”

 

“It’s okay, Aiba-san,” Taiyou said, motioning for him to sit down. “The meeting’s just about to start.”

 

A certain solemn hush fell across the room as people began settling into the seats around the table. Where there was once easy conversation and cheerful laughter, the atmosphere now was decidedly somber and official. Yabu pulled out the free chair next to Yamada, stowing his phone in his pocket as Yamada read through the memo of today’s agenda for the meeting.

 

It has been the same scenario for the past two months. Their regular customers knew that they close their shops early on Fridays, the shop owners and proprietors meeting up at the small community center and cramming into the conference hall. Taiyou, the shopping district community leader, begins the meeting by clearing his throat and standing up. His height and gentle authority ensured order, and no one underestimated the importance of the meeting’s main agenda.

 

“Hello everyone,” he said. “I’d like to start Himawari Shopping District Committee meeting.”

 

Yamada placed his hands over the paper on the desk, observing as how the committee leader interacted with the other adults and admiring the quiet respect that he commanded. Knowing how Taiyou hated to be in the spotlight, it was almost surprising how he even agreed to be the leader in the first place. The owner of the district’s flower shop was quiet and reserved, popular with the old ladies in surrounding neighborhoods and the students from the nearby high school and local university, tending the shop with his sister Haruna. The town pharmacist Shoon had jokingly voted him because he thought his name represented what the shopping district needs. “You’re the sun, right? The thing that sunflowers follow through the sky, throughout the day.” The joke had stuck, and Taiyou had wonderfully took on the challenge and gained the respect of everyone in the district. Despite his young age, the adults and everyone else in the community let him decide for their community without complaint and protest, everyone fully understanding that he has nothing but the district’s best interests at heart.

 

The first half-hour was the usual progress reports of how each of the district’s shops are faring since the last meeting. The meetings before were only held once a month, but the rapid decline in sales had forced them to be more up-to-date with the status of the community as a whole. Yamada withdrew his hands from the top of the table and had them balled into fists on his lap as he listened to how a group of drunk salarymen that worked at the nearby mall had insulted Inoo’s independent bookstore, calling it ancient and empty. Inoo had told the story in his usual flippant manner that lightened the atmosphere, but that did not stop Yamada from feeling angry. From the corner of his eye, Yamada could see how Shida shot him a quiet look of mixed concern and understanding as Yabu talked about the status of the district's music store that he owns.

 

“Oh, I’ll be hiring a part-timer in the shop,” Yabu said. “His name’s Yuto-kun, and he’ll be starting next week. He needed a place to stay in, so he’s working for me for payment and stuff. He seems like a good kid, so I took the chance to get someone to help me with the shop too.”

 

“Will you be okay?” Taiyou asked Yabu. Something wordless passed between them, and Yabu nodded.

 

“I thought this through carefully,” he said, a reassuring smile on his face. “I’ll be fine. Also, I’m in the talks with the local university’s music department and the nearby high school’s music club. Said they needed someone to periodically check the maintenance of the school instruments. Hopefully, I could get those contracts.”

 

Yamada saw how Taiyou’s shoulders had visibly relaxed as he nodded back at Yabu. “That’s great news! Good luck,” Taiyou exclaimed, smiling warmly.

 

There was another knock at the door, and everybody collectively looked up to see the head of the other policeman assigned to the district peeking into the room through the door he had opened.

 

“Pardon the intrusion, but Ohno-san left this on his desk…” Chinen said, holding up a folder of what looked like police reports. “Said it was important.”

 

“Please come in,” Taiyou said. Chinen tipped his hat and went inside, Taiyou leaning down and engaging in a whispered conversation with the younger policeman after Chinen handed him the documents. Chinen looked over to where Ohno was napping next to Nino’s seat and sighed in resignation, nodding his head in greeting at Yamada when their gazes met. Yamada nodded back and met Shida’s curious gaze. Yamada raised and lowered his shoulders in reply, looking at the folder Taiyou was now holding and how his brow had furrowed upon reading its contents. Taiyou looked up from the files and bowed his head to Chinen, who saluted and bowed to everyone else in the room before quietly excusing himself, closing the door behind him in a whisper of wood against metal.

 

Taiyou cleared his throat, placing the folder on the desk in front of him. “I just received reports about how anonymous envelopes containing significant amounts of money and letters stating that they were “help and encouragement for all the trouble they were unnecessarily experiencing” have been left in the postboxes of the shops in the district that have been having financial problems,” he said, his voice shaking at the end of his statement. “All of these envelopes have been turned over to the police, and though investigations are still under way, the police have said that there are strong suspicions that these envelopes came from people employed under the Nakajima Conglomerate.”

 

The silence in the room was thick, suffocating. Numbing.

 

“What the hell?” Yamada heard Shida whisper beside him.

 

And suddenly, it all simmered over and exploded.

 

“Who the fuck do these bastards think they are?!” Nino said, standing up and sending his chair careening backwards. Ohno startled, sitting up and blinking groggily at Nino in surprise. “Who the fuck do they think they are? Gods?! We can’t let them do this to us!”

 

“Nino-chan, it’s okay,” Aiba said, pulling at the sleeve of Nino’s chef uniform in an attempt to calm him down.

 

“No, it’s not okay!” Nino insisted. “They’re making fun of us! Taking us for granted, just because they happen to be richer than us!”

 

“Give it a rest, Ninomiya-kun,” Jun, the bistro owner, said. He had his arms crossed over his chest, his mouth tight at the corners but otherwise looked calm and composed. “Things will work out eventually. I’m sure of it.”

 

Nino opened his mouth, looking at Jun and possibly wanting to argue his point, but as he did so, another hand reached out to grasp his arm gently. Ohno blinked up at Nino as the latter looked down on the policeman’s hand on his arm, not saying anything until finally, Nino mumbled an apology to the whole room and sat back down on his chair.

 

Ohno stood up and addressed the room at large, looking at Taiyou as he spoke. “We’ve also been receiving reports of how shop owners on Himawari District have been harassed by people who are suspected to be working for the Nakajima Conglomerate. Rest assured that we are doing our best to investigate the culprit behind this,” he said, then sighed, his voice softening as he continued. “I know how important this shopping district is to you. It’s become important to me too. I’ll do my best to help you with all that I can. That is the least I can promise everyone.”

 

Under the table, Shida wordlessly reached out and gave Yamada’s hands, balled up into fists on his lap so tight they were pale, a gentle squeeze.

 

Yamada could not say anything in reply, but he looked at Shida’s direction and gave her a tiny nod when their eyes met, and she nodded and withdrew her hand.

 

He spent the rest of the meeting in a blur with his head down, willing his hands to stop shaking.





“I mean, seriously, do I smell bad? Because I’m sure as hell that it’s not the fault of whatever I bake, okay,” Yamada said, pouting over the glass he was nursing. They were gathered in the district’s snack bar, and Kamiki and Shida were listening to him grumble about evil capitalist corporations. Somewhere along the way, the talk had turned towards the tall stranger boy visiting his bakery. Yamada didn’t understand. Maybe it was the strawberry daiquiri. Or the third. Anyway, fruity alcohol was good and Yamada was stressed and no one can judge his alcohol preferences, or any of his preferences for that matter. “I mean, Daichan almost cried when he tasted my cheese rolls this morning, okay! They were that good!”

 

“Or maybe Arioka-kun had a stomachache,” Shida said. “You know, from your bread.”

 

“Wow, you are really helping my self-esteem, you are the best people I could talk to right now,” Yamada deadpanned.

 

“Maybe you’re just ugly,” Chinen said, leaning over and stealing some edameme from Yamada’s share and avoiding the hand that the latter had swatted at his direction.

 

“Or maybe you’re just a little shit,” Yamada said, pulling the bowl of beans closer to the side where Chinen can’t reach. “Stop stealing my food, you asshole. Why are you even here? And I’m not paying for you this time!”

 

“I already told Yuuya you’ll be paying for my share tonight,” Chinen smugly informed him, turning around to wave at Takaki, the snack bar owner, and missing how Yamada’s jaw had dropped at his statement. He turned back and openly laughed at Yamada's face. “What? Since you’ve decided I’m a little shit, I decided to play the part well. At least I’m the cutest little shit.”

 

“You are impossible,” Yamada said, but his tone already had that telltale defeated lilt to it that had Chinen smirking over his huge tankard of beer and ordering half a dozen more skewers of yakitori. “Stop spending other people’s money! You’re the police, you’re basically stealing!”

 

“It’s not if you’re treating me,” Chinen said, basically simpering and smiling up at the snack bar owner when the yakitori he ordered arrived. “Ah, as always, free food is the best!”

“Shut up for a minute Chinen, I want to hear more about mystery guy,” Shida said, and Chinen mimes zipping his mouth then flashing her a shit-eating grin. Shida, like the mature adult that she is, responds by pelting him with peanuts on the face before turning to Yamada whose nose had been hit by a stray peanut. “Well, have you talked to him?”

 

“He just really stands there and… inhales?” Kamiki asked, causing both Shida and Chinen to snort over their drinks. “What, that’s what he does, what’s so funny!”

 

“Oh Kamiki-kun, never change,” Chinen said, shoving a yakitori skewer into Kamiki’s mouth despite the latter’s protests.

 

“Why would I talk to him? He doesn’t buy anything!” Yamada complained. “And I’m mostly back at the kitchen, baking!”

 

“But you have that glass wall so you can spy on unsuspecting customers, right?” Chinen said.


“Stop making me sound like the pervert that you are, I’m not like you!” Yamada said.

 

“Maybe you scare him?” Kamiki suggested.

 

“How can I scare him, I barely know him! And I’m not scary!” Yamada said in a defensive tone.

 

“Hello, have you met your biceps?” Shida said. “I mean, carrying bags of flour around helps I’m sure, but Mikki carries a lot of tuna and he’s nowhere near as buff as you are.”

 

“Yeah, Kamiki-kun’s a stick compared to you,” Chinen said, chewing on his yakitori thoughtfully. “Actually almost everyone is, for that matter.”

 

“Hey! I’m not drunk, I understand everything you’re saying!” Kamiki protested.

 

“It’s okay Kamiki-kun, you’ll get used to it,” Chinen said. “I’m sure you can argue better before three glasses of beer, but we have Shida-chan here to defend your honor."

 

“He can defend himself just fine, and besides, I’m married to him, that’s enough defense from people the likes of you,” Shida said, raising her mug of beer to wordlessly toast back Yamada’s glass of fruit-flavored alcohol.

 

“I’m not scary! And it’s not like his muscles are non-existent. They’re pretty good, if I could say so myself. Plus he’s tall, it’s not like he’ll go down without a fight,” Yamada said, finishing his drink and turning towards the direction of the bar. “Owner, can I have one more glass of the same thing?”

 

There was silence at their table when Yamada returned his attention to his friends.

 

“That was just so suggestive, I don’t even know which innuendo to make,” Chinen said, turning to Shida and pulling out his pleading, puppy dog face. “Can I make a joke out of it, pretty please?”

 

“...Just go eat your chicken, Chinen.”

 

“Hey, that rhymes! You’re good, Shida-chan!” he said, grinning widely.

 

“Anyway!” Kamiki said with a cough, what with Shida giving Chinen a pointed glance that had the policeman closing his mouth. “Maybe the guy’s just shy? If he is new around here. I haven’t seen him around, but maybe he’s still checking out the shopping district.”

 

“Like how Yama-chan’s been checking him out?” Chinen quipped.

 

“I would dearly strangle you in your sleep if I didn’t know you’ll find a way to rise from the dead and arrest me,” Yamada said, glaring at Chinen.

 

“Anyway, he just might be really poor, you know,” Chinen said. “And he can’t buy anything because he’s too shy to say he doesn’t have anything.”

 

“What do you mean?” Kamiki asked, as Yamada took the opportunity to take a sip from his drink.

“I meant that in a ‘maybe he’s dirt-poor’ context. Yabu-kun basically adopted him,” Chinen replied, drinking beer and getting the foam on his upper lip. “The guy said he ran away from home and had no permanent place to stay. Yabu-kun asked my help in helping this Yuto character—you know, make sure he’s not a psychopath and all that regular stuff that you do when you watch too many detective dramas. Then, without letting me finish this investigation he put me up to—which I did for free—he went ahead and hired him to work as a part-timer for the music shop.”

 

Yamada choked on the straw of his drink. “What?!” he exclaimed. "He's the new part-timer Yabu-kun hired?! Why does no one tell me about important things?! Why do I always feel like I'm being pranked?!"

 

Chinen looked at him in thinly veiled disgust. “Dude, you have absolutely zero chill,” he said as Kamiki handed a handful of tissues to a sputtering Yamada.

 

“Hey, leave his crush alone,” Shida said, mock-glaring at Chinen.

 

“I hate all of you,” Yamada said darkly, then quickly amended his statement when he saw Kamiki’s shocked, hurt expression. “Except Kamiki-kun.”

 

“The price of greatness,” Chinen said, leaning back into his seat and smirking at Yamada. “Just don’t go asking me about personal information about your crush, that’s breaking the law.”


“Since when did you care?!” Yamada said, grumpily chewing on his straw.

 

“Hah, you are interested!” Chinen crowed, raising his glass to the air. “A toast for Yamada’s love life!”

 

Yamada groaned, covering his face amidst the cheers from the people in the snack bar.




 

Living the life he’s had, Yamada wonders sometimes if the universe has some sort of life plan for him.

 

Like how after the fifth beer tankard, Chinen spilled the beans on what he knew about Tall Stranger Guy. Yamada had suspicions that Chinen was not even drunk at all and was probably saying things to pull his leg, but his brain insisted on remembering details anyway. Chinen did not mention a surname, but he was terrifyingly accurate with the body measurements he had managed to rattle off before faceplanting on the platter of peanuts that Yamada had just ordered.

 

“Uh…” Yamada said, wondering if he should call the police, before remembering that he drank with one of the two policemen in the vicinity, probably inadvertently causing his hangover. And the other one was probably already asleep.

 

Yamada can handle this.

 

Like the universe decided that payback was just fair, the tall stranger that has been coming to his bakery for the past week was now standing in front of the shop and peering into the dark interior. Like for some reason he knew that he was the subject of their drunk after-work conversations.

 

Yamada can handle this.

 

“Can I help you…?” Yamada said, his voice an octave higher than it normally was.

 

Yamada can not handle this.

 

Damn it.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry!” the stranger had said, springing away from the wall of Yamada's bakery with a start. "I was just wondering why the bakery's closed..."

 

"We close early on Fridays..." Yamada said, willing his voice to stay steady and not sound as weird as he was feeling.

 

"Oh... " Tall Stranger Boy said, looking crestfallen. “Umika-chan said she had something good saved up for me…”

 

“Sorry?” Yamada asked, confused.

 

“Umika-chan usually gives me leftover bread unsold by the end of the day…” he said, trailing off as he stared at Yamada’s hand holding the keys to the bakery and back to Yamada’s face as he figured it all out. “...and you’re the owner. Oh, shit. Please don’t scold her! It’s not her fault…”

 

“What’s not her fault?” Yamada said, crossing his arms over his chest and wishing he was taller so he could look more intimidating at that moment.

 

Tall Stranger Guy (who he should start calling by his real name, at least in his head, since he knew his name now, thanks drunk policeman friends. Well. Friend.) sheepishly scratched the back of his neck. “...It’s not her fault that she gives me the bread you don’t sell for free…?” he said, having the grace to look properly apologetic. “When I first went into the bakery, she talked to me and I mentioned how I wanted to buy a chocolate roll but I didn’t have money and she told me to wait outside and gave me one? Like the chocolate drizzle was a bit messed up but it was still so good! Like chocolate heaven in my mouth. I asked how I should pay for it and she told me it was okay because you weren’t going to sell it anyway or something? And every day when I come by, she gives me bread she says you won’t sell in those little paper bags she had packed up for me.”

 

Yamada stared at the tall stranger, watched as he punctuated his sentences with hand movements to illustrate points in his story. Tall Stranger Guy noticed this and trailed off, closing his mouth and biting his lip (which should not have distracted Yamada. At all. He was a strong, mature adult. Damn it, that was hot. Uh.). “...and I’m rambling and I basically just sicced out that your innocent employee has been giving me free bread.”

 

“She told me those were for her dog!” Yamada exclaimed indignantly, privately priding himself for being able to give a half-coherent response. (Points for you, Yamada. Stop talking to yourself.)

 

Tall Stranger Guy looked at him. “...But dogs can’t eat chocolate…?”

 

Yamada opened his mouth. “I know that!” he replied, his jaw dropping in realization. “Wait, I do know that!”

 

Tall Stranger Guy giggled, revealing a set of brilliant white teeth that had Yamada offhandedly thinking that this guy could make a living out of smiling those pearly whites at just about everyone before remembering what Chinen said with a guilty start.

 

“Anyway, please don’t scold Umika-chan or anything, I’m the bread bandit,” Tall Stranger Guy said imploringly.

 

Yamada snorted. “Bread bandit, huh.”

 

There was a beat of silence before Yuto bowed once again, tone contrite. “I really am sorry,” he said.

 

“It’s okay, really,” Yamada said, uncrossing his arms and smiling at the top of Tall Stranger Guy’s head. Tall Stranger Guy straightened up and beamed at Yamada, right before he twisted his body to the side and let out a huge sneeze.

 

“Sorry,” he said, sniffling. “Spring nights around this part of Tokyo are colder than I thought.”

 

“Do you want to come inside?” Yamada blurted out.

 

Tall Stranger Guy paused from untying the sleeves of the jacket tied around his waist to look at Yamada with wide eyes. “Eh?” he asked. “Go inside… the bakery, you mean?”

 

Yamada had turned his back to Tall Stranger Guy, busying himself with fumbling with his keys and quietly thanking that it was at least dark enough for Tall Stranger Guy to not see how red his face was. “Well, Umika-chan promised you bread… and... I have bread, so…”

 

Yamada has no future in kidnapping. Or pick-up lines.

 

“Ohmygod do you still have some of those chocolate-glazed rolls left?” Tall Stranger Guy asked excitedly. Yamada finally got the door to the bakery open and turned to stare at him, and he immediately stopped talking. “Sorry. Rambling. It’s a thing I do. My little brother puts up with it but I know people find it annoying. Sorry.”

 

“...Can I at least ask who you are? Or at least assure me you’re not a murdering psychopath,” Yamada said.

 

Tall Stranger Guy grinned and extended his hand. “Yuto. University student currently on summer break, not a murdering psychopath! Though I guess I start working at Yabu-kun’s music store down the road this week, so. Yeah. Pleased to make your acquaintance, baked goods extraordinaire.”

 

Still no surname, Yamada noted in his head, but it was one in the morning and the moon was bright in the sky, the stars are visible for once, and the night air was nipping at their cheeks and ruffling Yuto’s hair and Yamada just really wanted to know how Yuto’s hands felt. He let go of the doorknob and shook Yuto’s hand. They were soft, callused from what Yamada guessed was a lot of years playing different musical instruments. The handshake was firm, with character, but gentle and warm like the smile on Tall Stranger Guy’s—Yuto’s—face.  

 

Yamada could live with that.

 

“Pleased to make your acquaintance too. And it’s Yamada, not baked goods extraordinaire,” he said, unable to contain the small smile spreading across his face. “Yamada Ryosuke.”