Some birthday this was.
A crappy day of rain and a shitty second job. What else could go wrong?
Though Ann’s budding modeling career seemed smooth so far, her other part-time job as a waitress wasn’t. Rude, ungrateful, demanding people. Being unappreciated... She didn’t know how much more she could handle, but this would have to do until she reached the major break of her career, or until she found another part-time job. Plus, since modeling wasn’t exactly stable for her yet, she needed the extra work to compensate for when the paycheck didn’t fill the plate.
But, seriously though. Getting all riled up over forgetting ketchup? There’s more to life than just some damn tomato sauce. And her manager even had the nerve to say, “Well, the customer had every right to be mad, so take this as an important lesson to stay in tune to your duties next time,” after the customer chewed her out and threw soda all over her.
Whatever. The manager was just a cheap old man anyways.
But, that wasn’t the shittiest part of the day.
When she got back to her apartment, she caught her boyfriend of three years with another woman in their bed—their bed.
And, to add icing on the cake, he even forgot it was her birthday today.
Long story short, they were through. Ann packed some necessary belongings and stormed out of the place, heading to Makoto’s and Haru’s apartment, which was a few blocks from the complex she was in.
Ann sniffed, taking in another spoonful of some brownie fudge ice cream as she wept between the two ladies on the sofa in the living room. Nothing but indulging her sorrows in a pint carton of ice cream and a bottle of red wine to ease the pain of a shitty break-up, right?
Cheers—for the happiest birthday tonight.
“You deserve so much better, Ann,” Makoto placed a hand on her back, rubbing it gently. “Forget him. Scum like him aren’t even worth the tears.”
“I know, Makoto...” The heart-broken birthday girl sniffed again, wiping her eyes, “But it still hurts. How could I’ve been so stupid to fall for such a guy?”
“Ann,” Haru pitched in, her hand caressing Ann’s shoulder, “you’re not stupid. He’s the stupid one for treating you like this.”
“Ugh!” Ann groaned in anguish, “I hate this! I just hate feeling sorry for myself. But I can’t help it!” She chugged her wine, slamming the glass down on the coffee table. “I spent three years with this jerk and gave all I could to love and support him. What did I do wrong?”
“You did nothing wrong,” Makoto interjected, snatching the bottle of wine before Ann was about to fill her glass for the fourth time. “Kenta is a poor excuse of a man! Don’t waste your time on him. He’s immature, foolish, and selfish. You don’t need such a petty boy in your life.”
Haru gave a firm nod. “I agree. Keep working hard for your goals. Show him you don’t need him.”
“Exactly. Show him he’s doing you a huge favor by ridding himself out of your life.”
“You’re a wonderful lady, Ann! And a wonderful lady as yourself deserves a real man. Good riddance to him!”
“Oh, you guys...!” Ann sobbed, yanking her friends in her arms, “You guys are the best! I’m so sorry you have to listen to all of this!” She let out a small hiccup, cheeks and nose all flushed.
“Don’t apologize, Ann,” said Haru with a comforting smile. “We’re here for you. That’s what friends are for, right?”
“And if you need somewhere to stay, you’re free to stay here as long as you need,” Makoto added.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to—”
“Nonsense, Ann,” Makoto cut her off. “You’re never a bother to us.”
“We have a guest bedroom you could use while you’re here too. So it’s perfect!” Haru clapped her hands in excitement.
Ann sniffed with a grateful smile. “Thanks again, you guys. It won’t be for long though. It’ll just be until I can find my own place to stay.”
Makoto gave another supporting pat to Ann’s back. “No worries. Take all the time you need. And if you need help, let us know. We’re here for you.”
The ladies continued talking through the night until they all became heavy-eyed. When Ann was just about to sleep in the guest room Haru set up for her earlier, her phone on the nightstand vibrated. Her eyes narrowed sharply, thinking it was probably Kenta sending her some apology message or a message hoping she found someplace safe to stay.
That fucker had some nerve.
She snatched the phone with glowering eyes, but was then caught off guard when she saw the name of a different messenger on the screen.
Ren: Happy Birthday, Ann! (´ ・ ω ・ ) っ由
Her eyes softened, and a small smile crept its way on her face. He remembered; he always did, even the littlest things like knowing that her favorite color was pink and how she loved roses. Since high school, she could go to him for just about anything. His ears were always open for her and he always had a way of perking her back up whenever she was down.
Her heart felt a hundred pounds lighter than it did hours ago.
Ann: Thanks, Ren ( ＾▽＾ )
Three dots popped up by his name, indicating he was typing something out.
Ren: Hope it was a good one :)
And then her heart sank again, remembering everything that transpired earlier. Normally, she’d vent about it to him just like she would with any other bad day. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her heart broken before. But, for some reason, especially with all the issues she had with her ex when they were still together, she wondered if she was starting to sound like a broken record with the constant drama, and worried that it’d eventually bother him. Sure, she could go to him for anything, and he never seemed to judge her, but there was only so much patience a person could have.
So, she decided to keep it quiet for now. Besides, the last thing she needed was more pity on the remaining hours of her birthday.
It was, she typed. I had a wonderful day.
Ren: That’s good to know :D
Ren: Hey. You’re coming down tomorrow, right?
Oh, that’s right. Everyone was meeting up at Leblanc tomorrow for that little gathering.
Ann: Yeah. I’m free tomorrow. So I’ll come.
Ren: Good ( ´ ▽ ` )b
Ren: Anyways, just wanted to wish you a happy birthday before today ends.
Ren: See you tomorrow, Ann.
Ren: Goodnight ( 。 ´-ω- ｀。 ).zZ
Ann smiled, her eyes gleaming with more life than minutes ago when she was anguishing over her ex with the girls. Why was Ren so gosh darn sweet all the time?
Ann: Goodnight, Ren (✿◡‿◡ฺ)zzz
Still owned by Sakura Sojiro, Café Leblanc was a small coffee shop in Yongen-Jaya, a small district in Tokyo. Six years ago, this was a secret hideout place for the Phantom Thieves, the group of teenagers who rebelled against those with distorted hearts. They disbanded once Ren returned home for some time after defeating a god whom almost brought ruin to the entire world. But, despite the disbandment and going separate ways, friends in the group still managed to remain in contact one way or another.
This evening, Ren had ended his shift earlier than usual, as Sojiro closed shop early for the gangs’ little reunion, which gave him enough time to prepare the food. Futaba helped by buying supplies and groceries for the party, while Morgana tagged along with her, serving as her shopping list to ensure she wouldn’t forget anything.
Ann, Haru, and Makoto were the first ones to arrive at the café, followed by Ryuji and Yusuke. By the time they had all arrived, the curry and food in the back were ready for them to dig in and graze on.
They all sat in a booth, conversing over various topics regarding new careers, accomplishments, and goals. Ren was contentedly working as a barista in Leblanc, who also occasionally aided Sojiro with other various recipes in the kitchen when needed (mainly with his signature curry dish). Ryuji was now a running coach for a track team at some high school in Yokohama. Yusuke was still working on his art career in Tokyo. Makoto had been working in the Tokyo Police Department, still working her way in becoming a Police Commissioner. Futaba just got a job as a computer engineer at an information technology company. And Haru, who just got her degree in business, was now in the process of opening up her own café-restaurant in Shibuya.
Ann was happy for her friends, of course. But, she couldn’t help being distracted over everything that had happened last night, replaying the moment she walked in through that door, seeing some random naked woman straddling her man, both looking like they were having the time of their lives. How she managed to hold herself back from throwing the nearby vase at his face, she didn’t know. All she knew was that she was lied to, hurt, and betrayed. Why? How could he play her like that?
...What did the other woman have that she lacked?
“Oh, yeah! Happy Birthday, Ann!” said Ryuji with a toothy grin, giving her a huge pat on the back that snapped her back to reality. “Yesterday was your birthday, right?”
“Oooh! What? Really?” Futaba jumped in. “Happy Birthday!”
“It was your birthday?” Yusuke said, sipping his iced coffee. “Well, my apologies for not wishing you one yet. Allow me to wish you a belated happy birthday, Ann.”
“Happy Birthday, Lady Ann!!” Morgana cheered, leaping onto the table from Futaba’s lap.
Ann blinked a few times as all eyes went on her.
“Oh,” Ann said. “Thanks, guys.” She smiled at each of them, gratefully taking the last bite of her curry.
“Hey! Let’s get a cake to celebrate!” Futaba suggested.
“I agree,” Haru said across from Ann. “Let’s all get something nice for Ann as our late birthday gift.”
“Sounds good to me.” Ryuji nodded.
“I-It’s alright, guys!” Ann jumped in, shaking her hands. “There’s no need to get me anything. Really! It’s fine!”
“Nonsense,” Makoto said next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder, “Futaba and Haru are right. We should at least treat you to something. It’s what friends do for their friend’s special day.”
“But still—” Ann tried to protest until Ren stepped in.
“No worries, guys...” He set down a good sized red box on their table. “We already have one here.”
Ann’s eyes widened at Ren. “Ren... when did you—”
Ryuji stood up from his seat, throwing an arm around Ren. “See? That’s my man! Always thinkin’ ahead of the game!”
“Indeed.” Yusuke chimed in, a very pleased smile on the blue-haired artist’s face. “As expected of our old leader.”
Ren rubbed the back of his neck, turning to Ann with a sheepish smile as she opened the box and took the cake out. “Happy Birthday, Ann. They didn’t have anymore of your favorite ice cream cake when I ran out to the bakery a while ago, but you said you loved strawberry shortcake once—so I got this one instead.”
Ann looked at the cake for a while, a smile slowly creeping on her face. “Oh, it’s perfect, Ren. Thank you.”
They shared a look for some short time before Futaba coughed, interrupting their little heartfelt moment.
“Hey! Quit hitting on her, Ren! She’s taken, remember?”
Glass shattered in Ann’s ears, whatever uplifting her mood now replaced with a hammer smashing it all over the ground.
Ren blinked, bobbing his head to the side. “Huh? I’m not hitting on her. I was simply—”
“Speaking of boyfriend—” Yusuke mused, turning to Ann for a question until Makoto suddenly jumped up from her seat and clapped her hands, attempting to divert the topic away for Ann’s sake.
“We need candles!” exclaimed Makoto, turning to Ren. “Ren, do we have candles and a match?”
The bespectacled barista looked at the bobbed-hair brunette with a perplexed expression, confused as to why she suddenly got all edgy. He gave her a short nod, pulling out two small boxes from the pockets of his green apron. “Right here—along with the matches.”
“Good.” Makoto went over and took the small boxes. Opening the box of birthday candles, she propped the little spiral pillars on the cake, lighting all twenty-three of them up with the match she set alight.
“There,” she said, putting out the flame with a few flicks of her wrist. “Everyone ready?”
From that point, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Ann, bringing her mood up once more as she watched her friends rejoice for her in unison. Her break-up with Kenta may have stung that night, but at least she had wonderful friends who she enjoyed spending time with—friends who cared about her and always had her back.
She blew out the candles, wishing for a long and happy life, for her modeling career to pick up soon so she didn’t need that crappy part-time job, and for a better relationship the next time around when she was ready to date again.
“Thank you, everyone.” Ann beamed at all of them before grabbing the knife on the side to begin cutting slices. One slice for Makoto. Another slice for Haru. The next for Futaba...
Who needed Kenta—that selfish cheating bastard who threw three years of what they had together away?
...Ann cut the next slice for Ryuji. Then Yusuke. Then Ren...
To hell with him. Let him screw that bimbo bitch in her old bedroom for all she cared—he was her problem now. Good luck sleeping with someone who can’t hold it in for more than a minute in bed, nor tongue worth a damn.
And then, right when she thought she was done with the bastard...
“So, Ann,” said Ryuji, mouth full of cake. “Where’s Kenta?”
Ann cut that last slice for herself a bit maliciously, a smoldering glare in her eyes. For Pete’s sake, will people just stop asking about him already?
Panicking again and not knowing what else to do, Makoto reached over and scooped Ryuji’s cake with her fork, snatching the strawberry on top.
“Hey! What’s up with you, Makoto!? If you want another slice, just cut up another!” The blond griped.
“Y-You...” she paused, thinking of an excuse, “...didn’t look like you were going to eat the strawberry, s-so I didn’t want it to go to waste!!” she finally replied, pointing her fork defiantly at him. The obvious stumbling made Haru palm her head in shame.
“Eh? What’s wrong with you?” Ryuji immediately caught on, squinting his eyes at her. “You’re actin’ kinda strange...”
“N-Nothing! I just hate seeing food go to waste!”
“Dude! Who said I was gonna waste it? I wasn’t gonna waste it!”
As the two went back and forth and became the source of everyone else’s entertainment, Ren turned to Ann.
“Did you get into a fight with him?” he asked.
“Huh?” Ann looked at him with wide eyes.
“Kenta. Did you guys fight again? It seems like Makoto is trying to veer away any topic related to him.”
Ann didn’t respond for a moment, turning back to her untouched cake.
“Something like that...” she muttered with downcast eyes, grabbing her fork and sourly digging into the sweet cake.
“Sounds bad. Are you alright?”
Ann let out a long sigh. Ren was always quick to catch on to these things. She didn’t want to mention the whole thing here, but she couldn’t beat around the bush forever. And besides, acting as if she was still in a relationship with that asshole left a rather bitter taste in her mouth.
“We broke up,” she finally said, biting into the piece.
The whole room fell silent.
Ryuji gawked with wide, incredulous eyes. “Wait... What!? For real!? When!?”
“No way...” said Futaba, also in disbelief. “What happened?”
“I’m sorry to hear that...” Yusuke looked at Ann with sympathetic eyes. “My sincerest apologies.”
“Oh, no!” Morgana hopped onto her lap, looking up at her with greatest concern. “Are you okay, Lady Ann?”
Ann nodded and then told them what happened, letting out a few tears along the way.
“That son of a bitch did what!?” Ryuji slammed a fist on the table. “What the hell!?”
“Exactly! How could he?” Futaba scowled.
“I knew that he was a conceited prune!” hissed Morgana, the fur on his back bristling. “How dare he betray our Lady Ann like that! Let me at ‘em! I’ll make him pay for breaking her heart!”
“Indeed,” Yusuke added, disdain in his voice. “To think he even pulled such a detestable act on your birthday too. What a truly despicable man.”
“He didn’t even remember her birthday,” Haru added, a disgusted look on her face.
“You deserve better, Lady Ann!” Morgana said. “Don’t waste your breath on this ugly prune!”
“Morgana is right, Ann. You deserve so much better than him,” Makoto chimed in, gently rubbing her shoulder.
“Thanks, guys...” Ann smiled, wiping a tear from her eye. “I think I’m feeling a little better now.”
Haru mused, poking her lips. “That’s really no way for someone to spend their birthday...” she stopped for a moment, when a thought suddenly came to mind. “Hey! I have an idea! Let’s take Ann out somewhere!”
“That sounds like a good plan!” Futaba favored. “But... where?”
Haru smiled. “Wherever Ann wants to go.”
“Oh, it’s fine you guys,” Ann declined, shaking her hands insistently. “There’s no need to take me out anywhere. Really!”
Haru shook her head. “No, Ann. You need to do something enjoyable to keep yourself distracted from that jerk,” she advised. “So, come on, Ann... Let’s go out somewhere. Let us treat you somewhere nice.”
“Well, there’s always the club,” Ryuji said, throwing out some suggestions.
Makoto smacked his arm, earning a yelp from him. “No, Ryuji! We’re not condoning such behaviors!”
“No! I didn’t mean like going around and sleeping with guys or anything,” Ryuji clarified, explaining further, “Just go out and have some fun, I mean.” He turned to Ann. “You like dancing sometimes, am I right?”
Makoto facepalmed, shaking her head in disapproval. “But, there’s so many creeps there...”
“What are you worryin’ about?” He crossed his arms. “As long as we stick together, it’ll be fine. Plus, there’s me, Ren, and Yusuke. We got your backs!”
Futaba snorted. “As if anybody would find you three intimidating...”
Both Ryuji and Yusuke shot a glare at her. “Hey! I heard that!” the blond fired.
“What about me?” Morgana cut in, looking mildly offended. “I can protect them too!”
“Morgana, you’re a cat,” said Ryuji, shaking his head. “And besides, they don’t let animals in those kinds of places.”
“I’m NOT a cat!!!” protested Morgana.
“To everyone else besides us, you are,” Ryuji retorted.
Haru came in, redirecting the conversation. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea... Couples dance there too. What if it triggers a reminder of him?”
“Guys...” Ann said, trying to calm them down. Somehow, it felt like they forgot she was right there in front of them. “I’ll be fine. There’s no need—”
But her friends were so caught up in their debate that they didn’t hear her. Ann sighed, laying her forehead in her palm.
“Guess you better choose a place...”
Ann looked up at Ren again.
“Yeah, I guess so...” she replied. “If it’ll keep the peace here.”
“They’re right, you know.” He leaned on the booth seating she was on. “You do need to de-stress. Why not let us help you out?”
“Yeah...” Ann said, looking down. “I just feel bad...”
“Don’t. We’ll make it more enjoyable—more than whatever that Kenta ever did.” He gave her a confident smile. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“So, what do ya say, Ann?” Ryuji came in, interrupting their conversation. “Anywhere you’d like to go?”
“And we’re not taking no as an answer,” Haru said, with the whole gang nodding in unison beside her.
“Well....” Ann thought for a moment. As much as she enjoyed dancing, she really wasn’t in the mood for a club. Maybe sightseeing? Food? That’ll be some good distractions.
And then, an idea came to mind.
“Let’s see... I haven’t been to the Tokyo Tower yet. I’ve always wanted to see it as a kid, but since my parents were always traveling around, I never had a chance to go there with anyone yet.”
“Alright!” Ryuji pumped a fist with another toothy grin. “Sounds good! Tokyo Tower it is then!”
One week later...
It was a dazzling Friday, and the view from the top of Tokyo Tower was spectacular; she could even see Mt. Fuji miles away. The tower wasn’t as high as Skytree, nor did it have as many shopping places to explore, but it was still just as enjoyable with its fun activities and attractions in the Foot Town floors. Ann was particularly fascinated with its Trick Art Gallery on the fourth floor, where it boggled her mind with a variety of optical illusions.
So far, things were looking up. Ann explored, learned new things, laughed, and enjoyed herself for the first time in a few weeks. She needed this, something to get her mind off all the stresses and misfortunes in her life: her shitty second job, her cut in shoots this month, her ex...
Somewhere in the midst of it all, Ann split up from the group to grab a few souvenirs and sweets for herself and the ladies from the gift shop, when someone familiar caught her eye.
There he was, her no-good-cheating-ex—alongside with that same woman she caught him with that night in the apartment, attention-getting in a red skimpy dress and red stiletto heels, clinging onto his arm like a spoiled little princess.
Quick, Ann! Hide!!!!
She hid behind a shelf of Tokyo Tower candies and snowball glasses, using whatever remaining stealth she had left from her Phantom Thief days to keep out of his sight. Unfortunately, much to her dismay, they were heading right at the aisle she was in, and she had no time to escape.
It was him, Kenta. The one she once gave all her love to, only to have her heart stomped on when he fooled around with little Miss Bimbo behind her back.
“Ooh, umm... Hi,” Miss Bimbo said, lack of interest in her tone, yet letting go of his arm with what seemed like a pang of guilt.
Ann’s eye twitched. This bitch had some nerve. However, as much as Ann wanted to chew the ho-bag out, she kept herself composed, reminding herself that Kenta was the one responsible for hurting her—not whoever this wretched woman was. “Hi,” Ann replied and then swiveled around. “Bye.”
“Ann, wait—” He grabbed her hand, stopping her in her tracks. “Let’s talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Kenta.” Ann tried breaking out of his hold, but he held his grip firmer. “If it’s about my things, I’ll come get them eventually. But, that’s it. I don’t want anything else to do with you.”
“Look. I’m sorry for hurting you like that—that was wrong of me. But, things weren’t really working out.”
Her teeth clenched. “If you were that unhappy, then you should’ve broken if off rather than fool around with someone else behind my back.”
“I didn’t know how to, Ann. I knew it’d devastate you because we were together for so long.”
Ann finally snatched her hand back from him, unable to contain herself any longer. “And letting me know like that was any better!?” she snapped, teary eyes burning with rage. “You just waited it out just because you felt sorry for me? You think that makes me feel any better?”
The area around them went quiet, nearby tourists and visitors blankly staring in confusion and whispering among themselves.
Kenta sighed, sounding more annoyed than guilt-ridden.
“Either way, it wasn’t going to be easy—especially knowing how riled up you get like this.”
Ann was about to retort something back when someone came up behind her.
She looked back to this person.
“Ren?” She looked at him with wide eyes.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, looking at her in concern.
Tears were ready to spill out, but she held back, swallowing that large lump coiling in her throat.
“It’s okay... I was just about to leave,” she said quietly, head down at her feet.
“What’s he doing here?” Kenta cut in, calm voice turning into disdain. “Wow. Seriously? Back to dating that quickly?”
As Ann was about to say something, Ren immediately cut in.
“So, what if she is?” Ren took a step forward, pocketing his hands. “That’s none of your concern now, is it?”
“I wasn’t asking you.”
“I know. I just find it interesting that you’re worked up over something like that, considering that you’re the one who strayed off with someone else.”
“Oh? So, now what?” He walked up to Ren, eyeing him down. “She’s yours now?”
“Kenta! Stop that!” scolded Ann, who was about to walk in between them. “We’re not—”
The corner of Ren’s mouth curled. “Maybe,” he said, halting Ann in her tracks. His eyes sharpened, taking up this scornful man’s challenge. “Why? Jealous?”
Kenta scoffed. “Why would I be?”
“You’re sure acting like it for someone who claims otherwise,” Ren pointed out.
“She ain’t mine anymore.”
“You never treated her like she was.”
“Hmph. Don’t act all high and mighty just because you finally won the girl. You’re nothing but a rebound. You’ll always be that guy she friendzones in the end.”
“Oh? Well then... don’t complain you lost the girl when you went with someone else. You made that decision— You’ve got no one to blame but yourself.”
Kenta backed off, saying nothing at first. He looked at Ann, then Ren, then Ann again.
“Pft. Whatever,” Kenta said, turning around and grabbing Miss Bimbo’s hand, who looked more confused than ever. “Should’ve figured you’d go crying to him.”
With that said, he and the lady walked off.
“Are you alright?” Ren asked, turning back to Ann.
Ann nodded. “Yeah. Um... thanks for that, Ren,” she said, still a bit taken aback over the whole thing. She definitely wasn’t expecting Ren to resort to... that—fooling Kenta into believing there was something between them. “You... really saved me there.”
Then again, Kenta had always been quite jealous of Ren, always accusing him of some ridiculous motive to get under her pants when he was just simply being a friend. Perhaps Ren was just using that to his advantage.
He smiled. “No problem. Come on. Everyone’s outside waiting... and hungry. Or did you want to stay and look around a bit longer?”
“No.” Ann smiled back, lifting her shopping basket. “Just let me buy these souvenirs first and then we’ll go out somewhere.”
“Sounds good,” he said, following her toward the five to seven people lined up at the checkout counter. “Hopefully, this won’t take too long. Ryuji seemed like he was really starving back there.”
The blonde chuckled. “Oh, he can wait. Five to ten minutes won’t kill him.”