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The Hidden Lotus

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It had been a slow morning in the cupcake shop. If Lee had four hands he could have counted all their customers on them. He did not mind, though, because three young women had come in earlier and complimented his son on how cute he was. How could they not? Metal was the cutest little bean!

Speaking of Metal, since school wasn’t going to start for a week, he had been helping around the shop all day. He must have been getting tired. Calling to his son, Lee said, “Metal, why don’t you take a moment to rest? I will clean off that last table, okay?”

“Okay, Papa!” his tiny, precious, wonderful son said before scrambling behind the counter and climbing onto the stool near the cash register. That stool had originally been put in for Lee’s father in-law. He had said he had poor arch support, but Lee knew he didn’t. His actual father was in a wheelchair now, but he still stood at the counter when he wanted to help out. Even though he really shouldn’t. His father was a very spry man, even with his injuries. Lee hoped to be as active as him in his old age. His father even owned and ran a dojo. Right next door. They had installed a door connecting the cupcake shop to the dojo years ago. Even before Metal was born. If they ever sold the buildings that door would probably have to go. Lee grimaced at the very thought of it.

As he wiped the table Lee heard the jingle of the bell attached to the entrance door. He lifted his head and he and his son shouted greetings in unison. “Welcome to the Hidden Lotus organic cupcake shop!”

The newest customers consisted of a man with bright red hair who looked a bit younger than Lee did and three children all roughly around Metal’s age. Two with brown hair and a blonde girl. One of them was wearing a mask. Lee would have questioned it if his father in-law, Kakashi, didn’t wear a mask every chance he got.

Lee quickly walked to the counter to join his son. The three kids had all rushed over to the glass display where the cupcakes were to ogle the sweets. The red haired man followed behind them, just at a slightly slower pace.

“My name is Rock Lee!” He greeted them with a big smile. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your smiling faces around here before!”

The three kids blinked up at him for a moment. The man with them extended his hand toward Lee. Once Lee took it he spoke. “Gaara. We just moved to town yesterday. The kids saw your shop as we drove to our house and demanded we come see it once we finished unpacking.”

“Oh my! You unpacked everything in one day?!” Lee was genuinely impressed. “When I moved here it took my father and I two and a half days!”

The kid with the mask stood up on his tiptoes and said, “We didn’t have much stuff with us.”

“Oh?” Lee lowered himself a little. “Why is that?”

“Too much old stuff that belonged to our grandpa to fit new stuff,” he answered.

Metal piped up at that. “My grandpa keeps all his stuff in his apartment!”

The three kids turned their heads to him. The girl piped up. “Woah, hang on, are you his kid?” She pointed at Lee.

Gaara frowned down at her. “Yodo,” he scolded, “It’s rude to point.”

“It is all right,” Lee said. “Go ahead, Metal.”

“Y-yeah, my name’s Metal Lee, and this is my dad.”

Yodo rolled her hand and asked, “So do you, like, live here?”

“Our apartment is behind the shop, yeah,” Metal replied.

The third child, who Lee noticed had purple make up on his face in strange E shapes, jumped up and shouted, “So do you get to eat cupcakes all the time!?”

Gaara sighed at the question, Lee chuckled, and the other two kids leaned in closer to Metal to hear his answer. Metal was visibly sweating as he answered. “W-well we can have cupcakes whenever we w-want, but you get sick of the sweets pretty fast.”

The kid with the purple make up spun himself around and looked up at Gaara. “Dad, can we stay and eat here?”

“Yes, Shinki, we can, go ahead and order what you want.”

“Can you come to our table and tell us about living in a cupcake store!?” Shinki asked, whirling back around and pointing right in Metal’s face. Lee saw the visible droop in Gaara’s shoulders at the return of the pointing, but he just smiled at it. Kids were forgetful. And spiteful when they wanted to be.

The boy with the mask ordered one of the strawberry vanilla cupcakes, but was very specific about ordering the one that had the prettiest slice of strawberry on the top. Yodo ordered a triple chocolate cupcake and Shinki ordered a cinnamon one. They refused to leave the counter until Metal scooted off the stool and joined them. Lee watched with a fond smile as his son was dragged away with the new kids.

Gaara took a moment to look Lee over. It wasn’t really a secret that Lee worked out. His exposed arms told stories of exercise that made Gaara tired just to imagine. Scars all over bulging muscles. Not exactly the type of person Gaara would have pictured running an organic cupcake shop.

“So… cupcakes, huh?”

Lee turned his wide eyes on Gaara, blinking owlishly at him. “Oh, yes!” he laughed, rubbing the back of his neck, “Actually I had originally wanted to set up a curry shop but I’ve been told my preferred spice level is enough to kill a man! But it’s all right because I do good business here and the cupcakes are so cute!”

With a chuckle, Gaara said, “Yes, I suppose they are cute.” He peered down into the cupcake display, staring directly at some cupcakes garnished with red blossoms.

Lee quickly moved forward. “Oh, those flowers are edible!” he said, “If you’d like one, I could-“

Gaara stopped him with another chuckle. “I know they’re edible. Those are Bee Balm.” Lee blinked as he named the flower. “I’m a botanist,” Gaara explained, “That’s actually why we moved here. I transferred to work at the university here in town.”

“Ohhh,” Lee awed at him, “That is quite impressive. Someone so young working at such a prestigious school!”

Gaara laughed at that. Outright laughed. Not the little chuckles like before. “That’s very flattering, but I’m thirty two. I’m not that young anymore.”

Cheeks pink but not embarrassed, never embarrassed, Lee said, “You look much younger. I had thought you were in your twenties.”

“Oh, gosh, I hope not,” Gaara said, turning to look at the four kids, “They’re all twelve. Imagine me a father at eight years old.”

“I did not say twenty exactly!” Lee countered back, now actually embarrassed. He calmed down pretty quickly though and looked at the kids. “So all three of them are your children, then?”

“Yes. I adopted Shinki first when he was three. Next came Yodo and then finally Araya. They’ve been a wonderful experience.” Gaara watched his kids interact with Metal. “I see you stopped at one, though. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t.”

“Children are difficult to explain,” Lee said, smiling fondly as Metal struck the family pose. Thumbs up, wink, and one hand on the hip. That was his boy. “They are not right for everyone, but if you find yourself feeling complete with kids, then who could blame you for adopting more?”

“You’re very wise for your age, as well,” Gaara said, smiling at Lee. “He looks just like you.”

Lee looked over at Metal and laughed a little bit. “Really? Every time I look at him I don’t know where he got that face. He is much too cute to be my son.”

A sudden shout from Shinki made both men jump and they rushed over to the table of pre-teens. “Dad!” Shinki shouted, looking at Gaara, “They have a dojo nextdoor! I could learn how to do Karate!”

Gaara sighed at the knowledge it was not a shout of pain. Metal quickly spoke up saying they don’t do Karate but he could learn some other techniques that his grandpa knows. “The dojo is my father’s,” Lee said. “I’m sure if you wanted lessons I could get you a discount.”

The kids cheered at that, but Gaara said, “You don’t have to do that. If they get lessons I can pay full price.”

“My papa is my grandpa’s best student!” Metal exclaimed, “He’s never lost to anybody!”

“You guys live in a cupcake shop and you get to fight people all the time!? Dad, can we live here?!” Araya was the one shouting this time, but Shinki was nodding so vigorously Lee worried he’d give himself whiplash. Yodo was surprisingly calm during all this.

After Gaara explained to the three kids why they could not live there and crushed all their little dreams, they said they should leave. “How much do I owe you for what they ordered?” Gaara opened his wallet as he asked.

“Oh, no, no,” Lee put up a hand, “You just moved here. Consider this a welcome to the neighborhood present.”

Gaara looked skeptical, raising a brow at Lee. It was at that moment Lee suddenly seemed to notice Gaara had a tattoo on his forehead. How he had missed that, he would never know.

Lee and Metal said their goodbyes to the new neighbors and got back to work around the shop.