She stumbled around the corner and leaned against the wall with a sigh. Her stomach growled loudly.
“I should’ve had more food…” She murmured to herself as she looked around for some restaurants or food places that would be open at this time of night. Her eye fell on a food stall a little further down the street and she hungrily started stumbling that way.
“Oh, welcome!” The old man behind the stall said happily. Upon a second glance, though, he grinned.
“You’re pretty drunk, girlie.” He looked at the glass of beer in his hand and laughed a roaring laugh. “I’m not one to talk though.” He looked serious suddenly. “You be careful though, it’s not safe at night.”
“My colleagues insisted I join,” she hiccuped as she sat down, “but the food was never in reach so I’m starving. And don’t worry, I’m like a ninja. No one can get me.” She grinned as she looked at the food. Taking in the smell that floated around the stall was enough to make her stomach growl once more as though it was dying. The man laughed again.
“Here you go then.” He set down a plate with a thick daikon slice on it in front of her. “On the house.”
“Huh? Is that really okay?”
“Of course! Of course! My daikon is the best you’ll find, so make sure to savor it!”
“Well then, thank you very much.” She said politely with a bow as she took a pair of chopsticks and started eating it.
“Hmm, it’s delicious!” She beamed. Her stomach was glad to finally receive some food.
“Told you!” The man said as he flipped some of the food in the basin. “What’s your favorite?”
“My favorite? What’s it called again? The mochi wrapped in tofu?”
“Ah mochiiri kinchaku!” He took one out of the basin and put it on another plate for her.
“That’s the one.” She said. “But you’re gonna go bankrupt like this.” He waved her comment away.
“One pretty lady isn’t going to bankrupt me.” She laughed.
“You’re underestimating me.” She quickly took a bite of the piping hot dish and felt how the corners of her mouth curled up in a smile.
“Welcome!” She looked to the side and saw a man taking a seat right next to her, despite there being other seats open. He looked quite drunk.
“Beer please.” He said curtly.
“You sure you should be doing that, buddy?” The old man said as he poured a glass of beer for his customer.
“I’m nowhre near drunk ‘nough, y’hear!” The man screamed while letting out two thirds of the contents of his mouth and she unconsciously pulled her plate a bit to the side. As she took another bite, he eyed her curiously.
“Womn shoun’t be out ths late.” He slurred. She wanted to tell him off like she usually would any guy, but she didn’t want to scare away the old man’s only paying customer. She decided ignoring him would be best.
“In this day and age it’s fine, isn’t it?” The old man laughed nervously. The other guy scoffed.
“This day ‘n age. Bullshit. Womn shud be in the kitchn!” She felt a vein on her forehead growing exponentially and took a deep breath to keep herself calm. The man returned to look at her.
“But yer quite young, aren’tcha?” She rolled her eyes and then closed them. This had sobered her up amazingly well.
“I should really be going now.” She said to the old man. “As you said, it’s not safe at night.” She’d be back to repay the stall owner’s kindness the next day, but she’d had enough for now.
“Don’ walk ‘way frm me girlie!” The other man said as he roughly grabbed her arm. She quickly shook the drunken man off.
“Please try to keep some of your decency intact, sir.” She bit. The man stood, but the stall owner stood next to him before he could make a move.
“You’ve been rude to my customer for long enough.” He said authoritatively. She heard something whistling and looked into the stall to see the gas valve all the way open. Before she had the chance to react, the gas can exploded with a loud bang, throwing her through the air and smacking her down onto the road further away.
He groaned as he got up, cringing at the burning wreck that’d once been his food cart. Seeing his life’s work in shambles made him feel oddly empty. When he remembered that there’d been other people around him as well, he quickly looked around. The drunk guy was knocked out, but looked fine so he stood up to see the girl’s body lying a bit further. He quickly ran over and knelt by her side. She looked like she was only knocked out too with a few burns on her hands. He cursed and got out his phone to call the emergency number.
She stretched out when she woke. She felt incredibly rested and slowly opened her eyes, determined to keep that feeling a little longer. The whiteness, however, wasn’t what she’d expected to see.
“The hospital?” She murmured to herself as she sat up. Memories of last night came flooding back and she looked at her bandaged hands.
“You’re awake at last?” She looked to the door opening to find the stall owner walking up to her.
“Oh no, your stall!” She said alarmed, realizing it’d been because of her and the drunken man that he’d lost his business. He sat by her bed and shook his head.
“It’s fine. Just glad no one got hurt.” His eyes flicked to her hands for a moment. “I’m sorry, I meant…” She followed his eyes and shrugged.
“It’s not like this much won’t heal. Just some burns, right?” The man nodded.
“Hey, your name’s Alice, right?” She nodded. “They told me in the ambulance, but you don’t know my name yet, do you?”
“You’re right, we never introduced ourselves yesterday, did we?” She frowned. “That would’ve been weird though.”
“Yeah probably. Anyway, I’m Iida Yuuichirou.”
“Nice to meet you, Yuuichirou.”
He’d stayed with her until she was clear to leave the hospital. He felt responsible for putting her in the hospital in the first place, so the least he could do was see her home safely.
“So what about your job now?” She asked as she pulled her coat tighter around herself. He hadn’t thought about it yet. It’d crossed his mind a few times, but he’d quickly blocked those thoughts out.
“I’m a handsome, young, manly man who can cook so I’m sure I’ll be able to get a job anywhere!” He made light of it. She grinned.
“I’ll help you look. I feel a bit responsible for what happened, so I should at least help out a little, right?” He was slightly surprised at that. Why would she feel responsible for what happened? If he was being completely honest with himself, that drunken shit was to blame for being such an asshole. And he, himself, was to blame of course. He accidentally ran into the valve of the gas tank when coming to her aid.
“You shouldn’t feel responsible,” he started, “but I’ll gladly welcome that help.” It was hard, but he had to admit to himself that he probably wouldn’t be able to find a job that easily. Perhaps the helping hand of a young lady would help him become a better candidate.
“Glad to hear it.” She smiled. “I’ll do some hunting on the net. I’m assuming you want to work as a cook again?” He nodded, she wasted no time apparently.
“Yeah, I’ve worked at a restaurant before, so I do know the way things work there.”
“Great! That’s a great point for your resume, but you’ll probably need to update it a little.” She was right. He’d had the food cart for at least 10 years, so his resume hadn’t been updated in at least 15 years.
“I’ll work on that then.” He said confidently. She halted and he looked up, finding that they were standing in front of an apartment complex.
“Oh before I forget, let’s exchange numbers.” He felt his face flush slightly. She was putting in a lot of effort for him. He took out his phone and gave it to her. He looked at her for a moment, seeing what a hard time she was having with her still bandaged hands. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, and feel that it was his fault. She gave him the two phones and he put his number in her contacts, filling out the list of address, email and everything too while he was at it.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I find something, okay?” He gave a nod as he handed the phone back and let his own slide back into his pocket.
“Thanks for the help.”
“No problem. I owe you after all.” With that and a smirk, she turned and walked into the building.
She put on her pyjamas and a vest and plopped down onto the couch, pulling her laptop onto her lap.
“Let’s see what the market has…” She muttered to herself as she started searching google and job sites for fitting jobs. She cursed at her hands whenever she made ridiculous typos, but finally had a list of results she could scour through.
“This looks interesting.” She was looking at an opening at a teishoku restaurant. They asked for experience, but he had plenty of experience so that was fine. And also no age requirement was listed. She wrote some things out before putting that tab in the ‘potential’ group.
He’d updated his resume, but it still looked just as sad as before. The only thing he’d been able to add was the experience he’d received thanks to running his own food stall. He looked outside, it was snowing. He shivered and turned back to his sad excuse for a resume with a sigh. He felt bad for doing so little while she was probably doing so much for him. He leaned back in his chair and frowned.
“Probably not though.” Nice words but nothing more, that’s probably what it was. He stood and walked to the kitchen, halting before the front door. There was a figure standing there. The thought that the drunken man from before had come back to sue him made him shudder and he carefully opened the door. He blinked when he saw her standing there with a bag hanging from her shoulder, shivering like a little kitten.
“T-t-the doorbell d-d-doesn’t work, d-d-does it?” She managed to say through chattering teeth.
“Oh I’m so sorry! How long have you been standing there?!” He said as he quickly dragged her inside.
“J-j-just 5 m-minutes.”
“Tsk, even though you just got out of the hospital…”
“I f-found some openings you m-might like.” Her smile cracked her dry lips.
“Let’s get you inside first, you need to warm up.” She tried to undo her shoelaces with trembling fingers, but couldn’t manage to put enough strength into it to pull it loose. He knelt down by her and did it for her, taking off her shoes and steering her into his living room.
“Wait here.” She took off her coat and sat on the ground while he went out back to grab a few blankets. He returned and draped them over her back one by one until she’d turned into a big ball of blankets.
“There.” He smiled. “That should help.”
“T-thanks.” She nodded at the bag and he opened it, taking a laptop out and putting it on the table. He sat next to her and opened it, looking at several tabs of different job openings.
“You were really quick about it.” He admitted. She’d managed to find this many within half a day.
“The longer you’re without a job, the harder it becomes.” She sniffled. “So the sooner the better.” She sounded like she knew what she was talking about, although he couldn’t imagine her having had more than one real job in her life.
“Let’s go over them and find the ones you like.” He went to the first tab and looked it over. She’d done a good job of picking them out despite not knowing him that well, this one was almost exactly what he wanted.
“This one seems good.”
“Put that in a new window, then we can weed out the ones you don’t like.” He did as asked and went through most of them like that, weighing advantages against disadvantages before making the final decision.
He let out a deep breath when he’d finally done the last one. About halfway through, he’d noticed she’d fallen asleep. He couldn’t blame her, being wrapped in blankets would make anyone sleepy. He looked at the time. It was already 10 PM.
‘Should I wake her?’ He thought to himself. ‘What would I want people to do if I were her?’ If it were him, he’d prefer to be left alone and continue sleeping, but that was hardly universal. He curiously looked at her sleeping face. She looked so peaceful and, now that he looked more closely, very beautiful as well. Fair skin, long brown hair and a cute nose were the things that he noticed first.
‘Wait what.’ He thought, his cheeks reddening. ‘She’s too young, you idiot old man!’ He scolded himself and shook his head. He stood, picked her up and put her down on the couch.
“Good night, Alice.”
She turned onto her tummy and smiled at the warmth that enveloped her.
‘I don’t even remember going home last night…’ She thought as she hesitantly opened one eye. A delicious smell was coming from what she expected was the kitchen. She buried her face in the couch and groaned.
“Awake?” He said from the kitchen. She got to her feet and shuffled over to the kitchen. The bandages around her hands had become undone during the night and she dragged them along.
“I’m so sorry, Yuuichirou.”
“It’s fine, I could hardly wake you up after you came all the way here.” He waved her apology away. “But have a seat, I’ve made breakfast.” She sat down, the blankets still wrapped tightly around her. He put a plate with some scrambled eggs, bacon and a piece of toast in front of her and sat down with the same on the opposite side of the table.
“Did you find the jobs you want to apply for?” She asked as she put some butter on her toast, trying to keep her bandages out of range. He gave a nod.
“You did great picking them out, I ended up with five I’d like to apply for.”
“Then next is mailing them about it. I do hope you get a job out of those five.” After finally buttering her toast, she decided to just take the meddlesome bandages off.
“H-hey! Is it okay to do that?” He asked startled.
“Oh, sorry, you don’t want to see it, of course.” Burns weren’t the prettiest of wounds after all.
“That’s not it, didn’t you need to keep them on for a few days?” She thought back to what the doctor had said, then nodded.
“I’ll just put on some fresh ones when I get home later.” She completely unwrapped them and looked at her hands with a grimace. It wasn’t bad, but it would certainly leave a mark on her. Suddenly, Yuuichirou stood up and walked out. She held her breath as she tried to hide her hands again under the dirty bandages. Who’d want to see something like that? Especially during breakfast.
‘Great going, idiot.’ She scolded herself with a sigh. When he came back, he turned the chair to face him and he held up a roll of bandages with a smile.
“Let’s make sure to follow the doctor’s orders and keep them bandaged, okay?” She frowned at him, then nodded.
“Thanks.” She said as his big hands started to gently wrap the fresh, clean bandages around her hands. When he was done, his hands lingered for a moment before pulling away.
“Come on, before your breakfast gets cold.” He sat back down and resumed his breakfast. She quickly did the same, happy to find it was still warm.
“You didn’t have to go through the trouble of walking me, y’know.” She said, her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her coat.
“I have seas of spare time now that I’m,” he did a fake sniffle, “jobless.” He glanced at her and found that she’d regained some color on her face compared to yesterday.
“What’re you smiling about?” She smiled. He realized that he was indeed smiling and quickly scraped his throat.
“One of the restaurants I’m going to apply for is around here. Want to go look?” Her eyes seemed to light up.
“Yeah!” So innocent and eager to help, so cute. His eyes widened and he shook his head as he turned a corner.
‘What the hell, me?!’ These kinds of thoughts were unacceptable for sure.
“Woah!” He quickly turned around upon hearing her and was just in time to catch her. It seemed as though she was in pain. Looking down he saw her hands clutching onto his coat. That had to hurt. He took her wrists and helped her regain her balance.
“Watch out, it’s slippery.” He warned. He was wearing snow boots, but she had to make do with a pair of beaten all-stars that seemed to have been at the end of their life a while ago.
“Sorry.” She swallowed down some of the pain and forced a smile. “I really like Winter.”
“I prefer Fall and Spring.” He remarked, keeping a close eye on her. “They’re not too cold nor too hot.”
“Anything but Summer’s fine.” She laughed. He nodded and laughed along.
“That’s it.” The restaurant where he wanted to apply came into sight and he pointed. “That one.”
“It looks good, I hope everyone’s nice. It wouldn’t be fun to work with people who aren’t nice.”
“That’s why working alone has its advantages.”
“But that’s also kind of lonely, isn’t it?” The way she looked up at him made his heart skip a beat.
“N-not when I get nice customers.” He paused. “Or ‘used to get’, actually.” She tugged at his sleeve.
“You'll get plenty of customers again soon. I'll come by too!” His face flushed slightly at that. He desperately wanted to say something along the lines of “any job is fun if you're a customer”, but he held himself back.
“Let's wait until I actually get a job.”
“Right, of course! First things first.” She continued walking. “But make sure you send those mails. Otherwise you'll get nowhere.”
“Yes yes, boss, I won't forget.” He said as he grinned.
“Okay then,” she shivered, “let's hurry on.”
The next few days she was too busy with schoolwork to be able to hang out with Yuuichirou, but he kept her updated through texts.
“Invited to come to an interview!” ~Yuu
“That's great! Good luck!” ~Alice
“First interview didn't go too well... Too old for it.” ~Yuu
“Don't worry, it's just one interview. It'll work out!” ~Alice
“Received two replies to ask me to come to an interview, yay!” ~Yuu
“Told you!” ~Alice
“Too old again... Do they even read the resume I send them?” ~Yuu
“Yeah, bunch of idiots. I promise it'll work out. The next one for sure!” ~Alice
“Another miss. Dammit.” ~Yuu
“Don't lose hope, okay? I'll help you out.” ~Alice
He'd received a reply to another mail he'd sent out and quickly texted Alice. She'd been incredibly supportive of him and his quest for a job. Even though he didn't see much of a future for himself, she never ceased to make him believe, to make him see.
“Great news! I'm free so I'm coming along for good luck! Tell me where to meet you.” He smiled at the thought of seeing her again. She'd been busy with school and work, so they hadn't been able to meet. He'd missed her more than he cared to admit, he'd grown attached to her. He texted her the address and got his things to head out.
“Long time no see.” He greeted her with a grin.
“Indeed, I'm glad to see you again. Funny that it's this restaurant again.”
“It was simply meant to be.” He said dramatically. “Maybe.”
“Who knows. Now, do your best!” She said as she pushed him in the direction of the entrance. “I'll be waiting right here.”
“Okay, I'll try my best.” He gave a nod as he went inside and closed the door behind him. She moved to the other side of the street and leaned against the wall there. She really hoped he'd get the job, after three failed interviews where he was rejected simply because of his age, he was starting to lose hope. Something about him made her want to stand by him no matter what, support him and cheer him on.
'I'll make sure you get a job, Yuu.'
After walking back and forth and finally making a small snowman on the ground, the door finally opened and she sprang back up. He came walking up to her with a sad look on his face, shaking his head lightly.
“No?” She asked.
“Nope.” She patted his shoulder.
“It'll be ok-”
“Hey! Yuuichirou, get back here!” The man from the restaurant yelled from the door opening.
“Go, hurry, maybe he changed his mind!” She said excitedly as she turned him around and gave him a push in that direction.
He thought it was weird to be called back all of a sudden. The guy had told him more than once that his age was a problem, so he didn't see how that could suddenly stop being a problem.
“Did you change your mind, sir?” He asked hopefully. The guy smirked at him.
“I might if you'll take that girl to work. Wouldn't mind seeing her every da-” Without giving it much thought, he launched a punch at the man's face. The man slumped against the wall, unconscious. She was helping him get a job, supporting him, cheering him on.
'This scum thinks I'll use her just to get a job?!' The thought made him sick.
She held a hand over her mouth when he suddenly punched the man from the restaurant.
“You piece of shit!” Yuu said before turning and stomping over to her.
“Come!” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her along.
“H-hey! Yuu!” Once around the corner, he halted and turned, pulling her into a hug.
“I'm sorry.” He murmured, pulling her tighter against him. He was so warm.
“What happened?” She asked calmly.
“He said I might get the job if I make sure you come over.” He had trouble uttering those words. “I'd never betray you like that, use you like that.”
“Yuu...” She wasn't sure what to say. The sincerity in his words made her feel relieved, reassured somehow. They made her heart flutter.
“You'll get another chance.” She said, looking up at him with a smile. “Don't give up, okay?”
He'd done it before he even realized it himself. He'd leaned down and pressed his lips onto hers as though they'd been dating for months already. To his surprise though, she reciprocated the kiss. He could tell she hadn't done this very often before and smiled into it.
'Wait! Think about your age, you idiot!' His logical thinking took over and he backed away, letting go of her in the process. She brought up a hand to her lips, her cheeks a rosy red.
“I'm so sorry!” He said before turning on his heel and running away like a dog with its tail between its legs.
She stared after him questioningly before realizing that she'd been dumped straight after her first kiss.
'He did start it, so that means he has feelings for me, right?' She thought it over a few times before coming to that conclusion. There was no other way, no other explanation. Then why? She took a deep breath and nodded to herself as she started walking.
“Only one way to find out.”
When she stood in front of his apartment, she felt her courage slowly ebbing away.
'No! I'm not going to ignore this!' She knocked on the door and waited. It opened, but as soon as he laid eyes on her, it closed again.
“Yuu! You can't leave me out here in the cold!” She said as she knocked again. “I'll die, y'know.” The door hesitantly opened again.
“Alice, you know it's not right. I'm an old man and you're a young lady, you still have your whole life ahead of you.” He sounded dejected. She barged in and threw her arms around him, they couldn't even reach all the way around.
“Who cares? I just want to be with you, isn't that good enough?”
“You deserve more than m-” She meekly hit him on the chest with a balled fist.
“No! You don't tell me what I deserve! I decide that and I think you're the best thing to ever happen to me...” She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Please don't turn me away.”
To be fair, it wasn't really a problem for him. He did like her a lot. He just felt it would be unfair somehow. What exactly, he couldn't tell. He just felt that she deserved better, even if she couldn't see that herself. But as an adult, she could decide that for herself, right? But the way she looked up at him, with tears burning in her eyes, he couldn't deny her. Wouldn't it only hurt her more if he did?
“As if I could.” He said as he took her into another hug.
“So are we … good?” He let go and smiled down at her.
“If you're really sure about it, then we're good. Come on in, I'll start cooking dinner.”
“I'm positive!” She said as she quickly started taking her shoes off.
After dinner, she plopped down onto the couch with a satisfied sigh. Yuu sat beside her and subtly put his arm around her shoulder. She leaned into him with a grin and looked up.
“Yuu, I think I'm in love.” He smiled and pecked her on the lips.
“I think I am too.”