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Have your cake and eat it too

“Eternal bliss is a lie,” Hikaru declared, “but this cake is pretty damn close.”

He took another bite of the deluxe chocolate cake labeled Eternal Bliss and closed his eyes as he enjoyed the taste. The quiet music playing over the speakers of the Super Deli supermarket added a bit of ambiance to the moment.

“That’s terribly cynical of you,” Daiki remarked while he grabbed a spare fork to taste the cake himself. “Wow! That’s freaking delicious.” He leaned over the cake as if to shield it from any of their coworkers who might be passing through the bakery section of the store.

Suddenly, a short but ominous shadow was cast over them and the cake, and they looked up to see the manager, Yamada, glaring at them with his hands on his hips.

“How many times have I told you not to eat the merchandise?”

Sometimes Yamada was extra stern with all of them, mostly because he was bitter about being promoted to manager when all he really wanted to do was run the meat slicer all day. (He only got the manager position because he’d lost rock-paper-scissors a stunning fifty-seven times in a row. Chinen always liked to say that Yamada had all the luck of a black cat who lived under a ladder.)

“It’s okay,” Hikaru said through another mouthful of chocolately goodness. “I dropped this one on the floor.”

Daiki paused with his fork still in his mouth as his eyes widened to the size of grapefruits.

“It was still in the box!” Hikaru clarified as Yamada just sighed and shook his head.

“If that’s the case, then you should share with everyone,” Yamada said, rolling up his sleeves and grabbing a fork. “Hey everybody, free cake!” he shouted so that the rest of the grocery store employees could hear him.

“Did someone say cake?” Yuto asked, dashing over quickly from the deli section with Chinen trailing closely behind him.

Hikaru and Daiki both frowned now that they had to share, so both of them quickly shoveled as much cake as possible in their mouths before anyone else arrived. Chinen ducked under Hikaru’s elbow to cut his way to the front of the line.

“Don’t eat it. I dropped it on the floor,” Hikaru complained and tried to cut in front of Yuto.

“Want some cake, Yuya?” Yamada asked as Takaki walked by carrying a crate of potatoes.

“No thanks,” he shook his head. “Don’t really want cake at 7am.”

“I’ll pass too,” Keito said from where he was counting the change in his cash register. He didn’t really like sweets anyway. Not since the incident with the marshmallows that they all promised they’d never speak of again.

“I want cake! Save some for meeeee!” Yabu’s voice called out from somewhere in the store, and then they could all hear the familiar sound of his mop bucket’s squeaky wheels, followed by a loud crash.

“Clean up on aisle five,” Inoo said over the speaker from his cash register. Everyone winced as he forgot to turn the mic off while he cackled loudly.

“I’m okay,” Yabu called out. But no one was that worried. Yabu crashed his mop bucket at least three times daily.

At this point, the cake was half gone and Chinen had somehow managed to smudge icing on half of Daiki’s face. Not long after, Yabu finally managed to make it to the bakery section (on foot instead of mop bucket) and he leaned over Yamada to snag himself a bite.

Inoo’s voice rang out over the speaker again. “Better finish up the cake. There’s only 2220 seconds left until the store opens.”

“How long is that—”

“Thirty seven minutes,” Daiki answered quickly with a shrug. He had managed to wipe most of the chocolate icing off of his face, but there was still a dark spot under his eye. Yabu tried to wipe it off himself but ended up making it look worse.

Yamada cleared his throat after he tossed his plastic fork in the trash. “Inoo has a point. We should all get back to work.” He started shooing everyone back to their tasks as he took the remnants of the Eternal Bliss cake away to store in the break room fridge for later.

“And Hikaru?” he paused and looked back over his shoulder. Hikaru looked up from the napkins he was gathering to throw away.

“Don’t you dare drop any more cakes on the floor today.”

---

Killing time

It's not even close to the worst plan he's ever had, Inoo reassured himself. In fact, if he had to rank this plan, it'd probably end up as #32 on the list of his worst plans ever. The idea forming in his head right now was definitely better than the shove-all-the-marshmallows-you-can-in-your-mouth incident (#28), the follow-Takaki-around-while-covered-in-flour-and-pretending-to-be-a-ghost haunting incident (#17), and of course the I-can-totally-juggle-knives-don't-laugh-at-me incident (#3). Compared to those plans, this was going to be totally fine.

He grabbed the mic at his cash register and switched it on. "Yabu Kota to register one. Yabu Kota to register one."

Standing at register two, Keito was giving him a judging stare from over the top of the gossip magazine he was reading. There were only a few old ladies browsing the store at the moment since they had just opened for the day.

"Why are you doing this?" Keito asked.

"Because it's 8:17am and I'm already bored." Inoo bounced on his toes as he waited for Yabu to find his way to the front of the grocery store. Familiar strains of Journey songs floated overhead from the store's speakers, so apparently Yuto or Hikaru had picked the music today. After Inoo succeeded in his mission, maybe he'd sneak to the back and put in an enka CD instead. There was a limit to how many times he could listen to Don't Stop Believing per day without going absolutely insane.

"You called?" Yabu said as he ambled up to the check-out. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world as he leaned casually against the register's card-reader, accidentally pressing several buttons with his arm.

Inoo waved him away before he broke something. "I found your wallet this morning and rescued it from a potentially watery grave." He held up the brown wallet with frayed edges from all the times Yabu had left it in odd places and recovered it roughly later.

Yabu's mouth gaped open when he saw it. "Oh! I did leave it in the bathroom before I left last night." He reached out for it but Inoo pulled back like he was dangling a carrot on a stick in front of a horse.

"I pulled this out from behind one of the toilets," Inoo frowned. "You only get this back if you eat a tomato first. It's only fair." He held out his hand with the fruit in question.

The color drained from Yabu's face and he almost looked like the time Inoo had covered himself in flour. "How dare you!" he stuttered. "You know tomatoes are my natural enemy!" He narrowed his eyes so much at the fruit, they were practically closed.

"It's a tiny one though," Inoo said. The red cherry tomato in his hand reflected the store's florescent lights. Keito and the old lady who'd just arrived at the check-out line stared at the two of them. Keito slowly rang up all six gallons of milk the lady purchased like he was preparing to duck for cover at any moment. Inoo briefly wondered why the lady was stockpiling all that milk, so he didn't react fast enough when Yabu snatched the tomato out of his hand and the wallet out of his other.

Yabu laughed evilly as he squashed the tomato with his foot and then sprinted off to the back, probably to the break room to hide his wallet away from Inoo's clutches. A sticky wet tomato-y footprint trail was left behind to further mar the white tile floor.

"You have to clean that up," Yamada said in his best I'm the manager voice as he walked by towards the customer service counter.

Inoo sighed and grabbed a squirt bottle and some paper towels. The old lady with the milk gave him a confused look as she left the store, and he looked back at her just as confused because seriously, who buys that much milk at once?

"How much time did that kill?" he asked Keito once he stood back up.

Keito had resumed reading his magazine but glanced over at the clock to answer.

"Four minutes."

---

Meanwhile, in the Super Deli deli

“Don’t eat that!” Chinen exclaimed with horror right as Yuto took another bite of the bologna he was holding. “I was going to throw that out. It’s expired.”

Yuto shrugged and continued chewing. “Eh, what’s an extra day or two?”

“It expired three weeks ago,” Chinen continued. He had placed the meat well away from the hands of potential customers but had forgotten about it again until today.

“Oh. Hmm…” Yuto paused to examine the meat closer. He sniffed it a second and then took another bite. “It’s still pretty good.”

Chinen sighed and went back to arranging the assortment of cheeses on display. It was still early and the rush of customers hadn’t arrived yet, so he had time to focus. Yesterday he had arranged them all by the shape of the packages, but today he thought country of origin might be fun. Now he just had to decide whether to do it alphabetically by country name or geographically by continent.

He was just putting the last package of cheese into place when Yamada popped up behind him.

“That looks nice,” Yamada said, “but I really wish you’d just leave it in alphabetical order so our customers can find things easier.”

“What’s the fun in that?” Chinen replied and gave the manager the most innocent smile he could muster. Yamada could never resist that no matter how hard he tried. Sure enough, after a moment of looking frustrated, Yamada finally just shrugged and went to see what Yuto was doing.

Apparently Yuto had a stomach of steel because the food he’d eaten earlier hadn’t dampened his enthusiastic working attitude at all. Currently, he was in the back of the deli section packaging up freshly cut meat to sell.

“How’s it going?” Yamada asked. He was not so subtly edging his way towards the meat slicer in the hopes that they’d need his assistance.

Yuto raised up his gloved hands dripping with blood. He sniffed dramatically with a few tears even welling up in his eyes. “I’m sorry Doctor, but the patient didn’t make it.”

Yamada rolled his eyes while Chinen tried not to laugh very loudly, lest he disturb the few customers roaming the store.

“Well, you know, if you need any help,” Yamada began, “I’ve got some free time right now.”

But just as Yuto was about to pass a pair of gloves over to Yamada too, Keito’s voice rang out over the intercom. Manager to aisle three to assist Takaki. Manager to aisle three.

Yamada let out a frustrated sigh and Chinen tried again not to laugh very loudly. He and Yuto watched Yamada rush off to aisle three to fix whatever the problem was.

“Hmm,” Yuto looked contemplative. “It must really suck to be the guy in charge.”

---

The language of flours

“Weirdo,” Yamada muttered to himself as he walked by the checkout registers where Inoo had started throwing paper airplanes (where did he get the paper?!) at Keito, who just swatted them away with the magazine he was trying to read.

“Clean that up!” Yamada commanded as he kept walking. He would stop and lecture, but Inoo never listened anyway, and he was supposed to be helping Takaki with something.

Yamada paused between the aisles to see Takaki and a customer standing in front of the shelves containing the flour display. Or where the flour would have been on display. Currently, the customer had his shopping cart filled with every bag of flour they had. Takaki shifted his feet, looking back and forth between the empty shelf and the full cart.

“Hi, can I help you?” Yamada put on his best helpful manager smile. Whatever this was would probably result in a headache.

“Our friend Senga from down the road,” Takaki began, gesturing to the customer who looked casual about the situation like bulk purchases of flour were a normal every day activity for him. “He wants to buy all the flour. Even the stuff in the back. Is that okay?”

Yamada blinked as he tried to remember who Senga was. He knew they’d met somewhere before, but he’d been so busy with the store lately, he was a bit frazzled in the memory department.

“From the Kis-My-Donuts shop,” Senga cheerfully supplied to Yamada’s blank expression. “We had a really unfortunate incident this morning involving some pipe cleaners and a bass drum, and now we don’t have any flour to make our donuts. So here I am.” He grinned and shrugged sheepishly like this happened regularly. At least he had the decency to look a slightly apologetic.

Yamada just blinked again.

“We’ll send you guys free donuts for a week,” Senga added, somehow managing to widen his smile even more than before.

“Go get the extra stuff in the back,” Yamada told Takaki. He couldn’t say no to free food, even if it meant being out of stock of an item for a bit. “You can wait at the cash register,” he told Senga, “and we’ll bring the rest to you.”

“You’re a lifesaver!” Senga said. “I’ll make sure your donuts have extra sprinkles!” And with that, Senga skated away towards the front of the store with his cart.

Wait a minute.

Skated?!

Yamada blinked once again as he realized the donut shop employee was wearing a pair of rollerblades. Then he remembered that that particular donut shop was known for their rollerblading employees. Yamada frowned as he imagined the chaos they’d have if Super Deli’s employees rollerskated all the time. A disaster waiting to happen, that’s what.

Yamada shook those dreadful thoughts off and turned around to see Takaki still standing there.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Takaki asked, eyeing the bare shelf warily.

“We’re getting a delivery this afternoon anyway.”

Takaki nodded, finally looking satisfied with this information, and so he disappeared to the back. At that moment, Yamada heard the all-too-familiar sound of Yabu’s mop bucket colliding with something solid. He rubbed his temples, suddenly remembering why none of his employees should have access to anything with wheels. It would be better for his health if he pretended he hadn’t heard that.

The clock on the wall said it was only 9:47am. If they made it through the day without destroying anything, it would be a miracle.

---

Squeaky clean

“How to get coffee stains out of carpets?” Yabu repeated the customer’s question and tapped his chin while he thought about it. “Well you know, the most important thing is to not let it soak in if possible. And scrub in tiny circles so you don’t miss a spot. The key is, surprisingly, upper arm strength. And also having good knees. A thorough clean requires dedication, and let’s face it, coffee stains are almost as hard to remove as blood stains. Unless of course you don’t mind bleaching your carpet. That’s the easiest way but then you’re left with white spots afterwards. I suppose that might be okay if it matched the color scheme of the room. Say, what color is your couch?”

The customer stared at Yabu for a moment as if he was on a time delay and was still processing Yabu’s long rambling speech. “Um… I just wanted to know which product would be best to use…”

“I always just go with the one with the most interesting name,” Yabu shrugged. The customer hurried off towards the cleaning supply section without another word.

Clean up in the deli, Chinen’s voice rang out over the intercom system. Assistance requested. Yabu Kota to the deli immediately.

There’s blood everywhere! Yuto’s voice added.

Don’t say that over the intercom, Chinen scolded. A loud thump followed, which was probably the sound of Chinen smacking the back of Yuto’s head.

Yabu knew it was time to jump into action. He grabbed his mop bucket and rolled across the store. As he approached the deli, he covered his eyes. But he quickly discovered that was a bad idea once his bucket crashed into the wall.

“What are you doing?” Yabu could hear Chinen’s voice from somewhere nearby but he still had his hands over his eyes.

He cautiously peeked through his fingers and answered. “If Yuto finally cut off his finger with the meat slicer, I don’t want to see it.”

“I have all my fingers,” Yuto said. Yabu uncovered his eyes to see his coworker gesturing towards the mess on the floor. A pile of raw meat lay scattered there, oozing with all the gross things that came with being raw.

“It’s like a horror movie in here,” Yabu remarked with a bit of disgust. “What happened?” he asked as he put on some rubber gloves and got his mop bucket ready. He wanted to work quickly yet thoroughly to get it all cleaned up. Otherwise it would start to smell.

“Yeah I’d like to know what happened too,” another voice interrupted. They all turned to see Yamada standing there with his arms crossed. Yabu knew that look on the manager’s face. It was the same look he always gave Yabu for using the mop bucket as a mode of transportation. Yabu was pretty immune to it by now so he just continued his mopping.

“Yuto did it!” Chinen immediately exclaimed and pointed to the culprit.

“Hey you traitor,” Yuto pouted in response. “You’re responsible too.”

Yabu watched as Chinen put on his most innocent expression, eyes wide as he looked at Yamada. “I was just a victim of circumstance,” he claimed. “You don’t know the horror I had to witness. It was traumatizing. I may need therapy.”

Yamada rolled his eyes and sighed. “You know what? It’s almost lunchtime. Yuto, take the company credit card and go get food for everyone. And I’ll cover for you here until you get back.”

“What do you want to eat?”

A chorus of “anything is fine,” “pizza,” and “ramen” rang out in response.

“Ramen,” Yabu repeated louder just in case Yuto hadn’t heard him. “Lots of ramen.”

Yuto bounced away, Chinen got back to work, and Yamada looked significantly happier now that he finally had an excuse to use the meat slicer. Yabu finished mopping the last of the mess and nodded appreciatively at his work.

“Mission accomplished,” he declared as he stripped off his gloves. “I think I’m going to go eat a cupcake now.” He left his dirty mop bucket behind, knowing that if he left it unattended for a long while, Yamada would get annoyed enough to clean it himself.

“But what about lunch?” Chinen called out after him.

“There’s always room for cupcakes!”

---

The most important meal of the day

Yuto leaned casually on the cash register conveyor belt, looking slightly ridiculous as the conveyor belt was meant for food items and not lanky arms and elbows. He grinned up at Keito as the cashier peered back at him from over the top of his gossip magazine.

“I told you before, Yuto,” Keito sighed, “I can’t scan you like a box of cereal. You don’t have a bar code.”

“I can fix that,” Inoo interjected with a devious cackle from the other cash register, waving a black marker threateningly in the air.

Yuto straightened up, concern for the well-being of his body evident on his face. “That won’t be necessary. I only came by to ask what you wanted for lunch. Yama-chan gave me the company credit card.” He was grinning again as he bragged about having the responsibility of the store’s money.

“Anything is fine,” Keito said, as always too polite to insist on whatever he actually wanted to eat.

“I think mostly everyone wants pizza so far,” Yuto said, even though it was really only Chinen who’d said pizza earlier and that was really only because he was obsessed with one of the cooks at Arashi’s Pizza down the street.

“That’s fine,” Keito nodded.

Inoo grabbed the microphone at his cash register and leaned close. “Grocery store poll!” he announced. “Raise your hand if you like pineapples on pizza.” The three of them glanced around to see if anyone nearby was raising their hands, but the only customer nearby was an old guy who was giving them all withering looks from the prune juice section.

“That settles it,” Inoo said, crossing his arms and nodding like he’d just received the results back from a very important scientific study. “Order us a pineapple pizza and make sure it comes with a lei we can wear while we’re eating it for the full Hawaiian experience.”

Yuto nodded seriously as he wrote that down. Keito tried not to roll his eyes since another customer was walking in.

Having settled that, Yuto made his way over to the bakery section to take the rest of the lunch orders.

“We’re fine with pizza,” Hikaru said while he was whipping up a batch of cream. He looked more focused on stirring the contents of his bowl than what anyone else was saying. He’d never been too picky about free lunch anyway.

Over in the corner of the bakery, Yabu added another “don’t forget the ramen” between bites of cupcakes.

“I’ve got a list of toppings I want on it,” Daiki said, gesturing towards the paper so Yuto would write it all down. “The pizza needs to have pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, olives, anchovies, corn, cream cheese, mushrooms, broccoli, avocado, mango, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, chocolate chips, French fries, Swiss cheese, Canadian bacon, and of course, garlic.”

“Uh… okay…” Yuto looked up from where he’d been furiously jotting down each of Daiki’s topping requests. “How do you feel about pineapple on pizza?”

Daiki grimaced, looking offended by the question. “Ugh,” he scoffed. “No way! Who puts pineapple on pizza?”

“People who like pineapple,” Hikaru said unhelpfully as he walked by to start on another bowl of cream.

Yuto scratched his head as he tried to figure whether he’d need to order two separate pizzas or if he could hide the pineapples Inoo requested under all of Daiki’s ridiculous toppings. But after Hikaru told him three times that he was standing in the way of his bakery work, Yuto just decided he’d figure it out at the pizza restaurant.

“Hurry back soon,” Daiki called after him as he headed towards the front door. “Lunch is the most important meal of the day!”

“I thought that was supposed to be breakfast,” Yabu said as he reached for another cupcake, but Hikaru shooed him away before he could snag one more.

Daiki shook his head. “No, that’s what the waffle industry tells you so you’ll buy more waffles.”

“You’ve been hanging out with Inoo too much,” Hikaru muttered.

Yuto left the three of them to argue about waffles while he set out for Arashi’s Pizza. He wondered if he could get ramen noodles as a pizza topping and if Yabu would mind.

---

Riddle me this

Takaki looked at the clock, mentally counting down how many minutes he had left before the delivery truck arrived. Usually they arrived a bit after the scheduled 2 pm drop-off time so he still had about six minutes left to kill.

Typically Yabu was the one who helped him unload the truck, but Takaki hadn’t seen him since lunch. He probably was off sulking somewhere because Yuto had brought him some sort of noodle pizza monstrosity instead of ramen. In fact, if Takaki was betting, he’d say Yabu sneaked out of the grocery store to go buy his own bowl of ramen. Yamada hadn’t left the deli department in hours, so he wouldn’t have noticed.

Takaki would have to find an alternative to help him with unloading the truck.

“Hey Hikaru, are you busy?” he asked. He took a moment to straighten the cookie display while he waited for an answer.

“I’m always busy,” Hikaru said, even though he was just sitting behind the counter and not doing anything.

So Takaki pointed that out to him.

“I’m supervising,” Hikaru explained and pointed to the counter where Daiki was attempting to put powdered sugar on a fresh batch of doughnuts, but the bakery assistant looked more powdered than the food.

Takaki shuddered as he involuntarily remembered that time when Inoo pretended to be a ghost.

“I need you to help me unload the delivery truck.” Takaki gestured towards the back door for emphasis.

Hikaru sank further into his seat and put on his most pitiful frowny face. “But my arms hurt from all the mixing I did earlier.”

Takaki paused to straighten up a few cake boxes that were sitting askew on the shelf before replying, “Don’t you have an automatic mixer thingy you can use?”

Hikaru sent a glare in Daiki’s direction. “Somebody broke it.”

“I can’t hear you,” Daiki shouted, pointing at the side of his head for emphasis “There’s powdered sugar in my ears.”

Takaki glanced at the clock again. The delivery truck should be here any second now, so he gave up on trying to convince Hikaru. He’ll just have to unload everything himself, especially because the driver wasn’t going to help him.

Every week, Yokoyama, the driver of the Kanjani Goods delivery truck, would give Takaki a riddle, and if he could solve it, Yokoyama would assist him in moving all the heavy boxes. If he failed, he’d just watch Takaki (and usually Yabu) unload everything themselves.

So far, Takaki had never gotten one right. He didn’t expect today to be any different.

“Special delivery!” Yokoyama said his usual greeting when he climbed out of the truck (which he had somehow managed to not accidentally back into the wall today).

“It’s not really special if you come with the same stuff every week,” Takaki said. He undid the latch on the truck and opened it up to inspect the boxes. He sighed when he saw the heavy boxes of flour he’d have to move by himself. But on the bright side, he was looking forward to filling the empty spots on the shelves from earlier.

“Okay, so what have you got for me today?” he asked. The sooner he could get the riddle over with, the better.

Yokoyama gave him a familiar devious grin. “This is a good one: a horse is on a 24-foot chain and wants an apple that is 26 feet away. How can the horse get to the apple?”

Takaki scratched his head, trying to remember how long a horse’s neck was and if it could stretch the distance, and then tried to figure if he was supposed to convert the measurements to the metric system. But no matter how hard he tried, he just came up blank on an answer, like usual.

He sighed and gave up.

“The chain is not attached to anything,” Yokoyama grinned, looking very pleased that he’d stumped Takaki once again.

“That’s a stupid answer,” a voice said from behind them. They both turned to see Hikaru standing by the door, arms crossed as he looked at both of them. “Who puts a chain on a horse and then doesn’t attach it to anything? Now the horse is just dragging around a heavy chain for no reason at all.”

“Well I…” Yokoyama scrambled for a rebuttal but Hikaru just kept going.

“What if the horse’s chain got snagged on something? That’s dangerous for the horse. And additionally, untangling the chain could result in property damage. Who will pay for that?”

“That’s not really…” Yokoyama continued with no avail.

Hikaru kept talking faster and faster as he kept explaining the flaws in the riddle. “And why aren’t the apples already in reach for the horse whenever he wants it? Why does the horse even need a snack? Is he hungry between meals? Did he even get a meal earlier? Is the poor horse starving??”

“I think you’re overthinking—”

Hikaru was on a roll. “Obviously the horse has a terribly negligent owner who chains up his animals without concern for their well-being and then doesn’t feed them proper meals. So the real answer to the riddle is this: someone calls Animal Control to get the horse put in a decent home where he can have access to apples anytime.”

Once he was done with his explanation, Hikaru crossed his arms again with a satisfied look on his face that could have rivaled Yokoyama’s expression on a good day. Takaki stood there looking at both of them in disbelief, although he was starting to think he should probably just begin unloading the delivery truck instead of wasting more time.

“Okay fine,” Yokoyama sighed, throwing his hands up in the air. “But don’t think I won’t hit you with a better riddle next week.”

The three of them got the truck unloaded (despite Hikaru’s loud complaints that his arms still hurt) and Takaki was satisfied that it didn’t take too long. Once the delivery truck was gone, Takaki turned to head back inside but found Hikaru blocking the door with a devious grin.

“You owe me,” he said. “Be on your toes. I may call you to return the favor at any time.” Then he stepped aside and gestured for Takaki to walk inside first.

Takaki decided that the real riddle was why he thought it was a good idea to ask Hikaru for help.

---

Tragic melon love songs

“I can’t take it anymore,” Inoo exclaimed, slamming his fist down on the cash register. The action unexpectedly knocked the drawer open and it smacked him in the middle of his stomach, making him stumble back a step or two.

Keito and the customer at the other register only glanced at him with mild concern before returning to their conversation about gluten-free cereal products.

Inoo had reached his limit on how many times he could listen to the music they had playing over the speakers. He needed a change of pace. This music was too familiar because it’s what they listened to every single day, the same old boring CD of soft rock songs Hikaru and Yuto had picked out. They’d all tuned it out, and frankly, Inoo decided, that was absolutely no fun.

“I’m taking a lunch break,” Inoo called out to Keito over his shoulder as he left the cash register behind.

“But we had lunch three hours ago,” Keito called back, but Inoo would not be deterred.

He was on a mission.

Inoo knew he was going to have to be sneaky. Yamada may still be distracted with the meat slicer but the path to the office which held the CD player was in full view of their grumpy manager’s gaze. Inoo needed a battle plan.

He grabbed the nearest shopping cart, glanced around to see if anyone was looking, and then pushed it towards the display of melons stacked up nearby. He figured the momentum of the shopping cart would knock them over but leave most of them intact or slightly bruised, though he didn’t stick around to see the results of his efforts since he always tried to avoid that section. Usually there were creepy people hanging out over there so they could use terrible melon-related pickup lines on other customers.

The resulting crash sounded satisfying enough that Inoo figured he would be able to dash into the office without any problems. He did duck down low, however, while he was running just in case. He ignored that the awkward running position gave him a wedgie in the process.

Once he was inside the office, he let out a huge sigh of relief. So far, so good. He estimated he probably had seven minutes before anyone other than Keito noticed he wasn’t at the cash register. Maybe more than seven minutes if Yabu was around to accidentally make a larger mess while cleaning up the melon mess. Either way, Inoo knew he had to work fast.

Luckily, he had an emergency stash of CDs hidden in the ficus pot by the window for this very occasion. He brushed leafy green branches out of his face while he dug down into the dirt for his stash. The plastic bag looked an icky brownish color from all the dirt, but the CDs inside looked perfect.

He was saving for a special occasion his burned CD which was only R.E.M.’s “The End of the World as We Know It” on continuous loop, so he put that one back in the bag. The CD full of obnoxious children’s songs was tempting, but he just wasn’t feeling that today either. Especially not after two schoolchildren tried to jam open the front door with a shopping cart earlier.

He sorted through all the CDs (he wasn’t sure why he had one labeled “spooky Halloween sound effects” mixed in there but he’d remember that for when the holiday got closer) until he finally picked the right one.

“Neeeaaaar, faaaaaaaar, whereeeeeeeever you aaaarreeee,” he sang as he switched out the regular CD with his collection of Celine Dion’s greatest hits.

“I’m right here,” a deadpan voice interrupted from the doorway. “And you’re in big trouble.”

Inoo looked up to see Yamada standing there, arms crossed and looking as grumpy as he did whenever they sold out of strawberries.

“If I were a police officer,” Yamada said, “I’d arrest you for crimes against melons.”

“Oops?” Inoo said sheepishly, scratching the back of his head in an attempt to look more innocent. But Yamada wasn’t fooled and dragged him by the arm back to the cash register.

“I’m docking the melons from your pay,” he said before he disappeared again into the aisles, presumably to do something less stressful.

Inoo shrugged because apparently Yamada hadn’t even noticed the change in music yet. The beautiful sounds of Celine Dion’s voice singing tragic love songs echoed over the speakers, so his mission was complete.

---

Crunch time

Once the usual rush of customers stopping in after work died down, Daiki always had some free time to play around in the bakery, and his favorite pastime of all was attempting to develop new bread flavors. Yamada usually scolded him for wasting materials, but on occasion, he’d actually come up with some good stuff.

“Takaki will be your taste-tester today,” Hikaru said, pushing the somewhat annoyed shelf-stocker towards Daiki and his flour-y workstation. “He owes me a favor.” He grinned as he left the two of them behind.

Daiki scrutinized his new guinea pig… uh, taste-tester, and wondered if Takaki would be able to handle it. “Are you going to complain about the consistency of the dough and the wheat-to-fruit ratio too like Hikaru always does?” he asked.

“Uh… no?” Takaki answered. He kept glancing around as if there would be an empty shelf to magically appear which he would need to take care of.

Daiki clapped his hands together. “Then that’s good enough for me.”

Takaki watched Daiki with a mixture of confusion and concern as he started getting to work on his newest bread creation. He always had the most fun rolling the dough, making a huge mess as he tried to figure out what things he should add in to make the taste more exciting. (Though nothing will ever top the time he accidently dumped a whole large package of chili powder into his mixture. He watched Hikaru take one bite and then sprint immediately to grab a gallon of milk from the refrigerated section. Honestly, he didn’t think he would ever witness someone drink an entire carton of milk that fast ever again. They should give Hikaru an award.)

As soon as his newest batch of bread came out of the oven, he waited eagerly to see how Takaki would like it.

“It’s spaghetti bread!” he announced proudly as he gave Takaki the first piece, still all nice and warm from the oven. “Why have spaghetti and garlic bread separately when you could have them together?”

Takaki nodded at the logic of this argument and took a bite as soon as it had cooled off a bit.

“I think…” he said between chews, looking a bit disgusted. “you should… have… cooked the spaghetti noodles… first…. It’s a bit… crunchy.” He looked like he was having difficulties swallowing the food.

Daiki sighed and scribbled that down in his recipe notes for future consideration.

The sound of Yabu crashing his mop bucket somewhere in the store interrupted them from saying anything else. And Takaki quickly dashed away with an excuse about checking to make sure the shelves were okay.

Daiki shrugged and picked up a piece of his new bread. “More for me, I guess.”

He struggled through chewing the crunchy spaghetti parts but he thought the garlic bread tasted pretty good. Clearly, his creation was just misunderstood and needed time to become an acquired taste.

“I’m an underappreciated genius,” he said quietly to himself.

---

All the best savings

The last customer before closing was somehow always the worst. Keito knew this entirely too well, having dealt with his fair share of ridiculousness in his time at the store. So when an elderly lady with a thick stack of coupons rolled up to his cash register, three minutes before closing time, Keito just sighed.

His was the only cash register open since Yamada had forced Inoo to go fix the melon display he’d destroyed earlier.

The customer handed Keito the stack of coupons and then proceeded to slowly place each item from her overflowing shopping cart onto the conveyor belt one at a time.

“Where did you get these coupons?” Keito asked as he squinted at the fine print to make sure none of them had expired yet. A lot of them were strange offers like Buy one apple, get three pineapples free or five boxes of cereal for the price of one and a half.

“I got them from the newspaper,” she answered with a grin.

Keito wanted to ask if it was a real newspaper or just something the lady’s grandchildren doodled in their free time, but he didn’t say anything because he’d rather just get it over with and close up the store. Everyone else was doing inventory (or was supposed to be doing inventory… he could see in the distance the sight of Chinen attempting to tie Yuto up with a string of sausage links… which honestly wasn’t the weirdest thing Keito had seen today).

The lady started rambling on about why she needed to purchase ten different kinds of cheese, but Keito mostly tuned her out to focus on sorting through all the coupons correctly.

By the time he was done ringing everything up and using all the coupons, he actually owed the lady money. He was glad Yamada wasn’t around to see any of that because he was sure he’d get a long lecture about stuff like profit margins and quarterly earnings and other things he didn’t really care about.

He gave the lady a friendly wave bye as she left, but hoped she wouldn’t come back with weird coupons again tomorrow.

Once everyone was done closing up shop, it was time for them all to finally go home for the day.

“How did fixing up the melon display work out?” Keito asked Inoo as he walked by.

“The sight of honeydew melons will send me spiraling into despair for the rest of my life,” Inoo declared overdramatically, waving his arms in the air and almost knocking some candy bars off the shelf in the process.

“How did your day go?” Keito asked Takaki as he put on his coat to leave.

“I learned a valuable lesson: never owe Hikaru anything,” he answered, which just made Hikaru cackle with glee. “And also never eat weird bread from Daiki.”

“Hey!” Daiki protested with a pout.

“I’m just glad we didn’t set anything on fire today,” Yuto chimed it cheerfully.

Yabu nodded in agreement. “Me too. I have no idea where I put the fire extinguishers.”

That comment made Yamada frown deeply.

“I’ll help you look for them tomorrow,” Chinen volunteered. And Keito noticed Yamada suddenly didn’t look so distressed, probably because he figured Chinen’s absence from the deli section meant he’d be able to run the meat slicer again.

“Let’s go home,” Keito suggested. All of them were still loitering around the door. Yamada nodded in agreement and shooed them all outside, and then locked up their grocery store for the night.

Tomorrow, they’ll be back to do it all over again.