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A Parfait Has Layers Just Like People and Onions but Tastier

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Gintoki shoved the last forkful of curry into his mouth and glanced at the family restaurant's wall clock.

Kagura and Shinpachi kicked him out to decorate the Yorozuya for his birthday party. He had only killed one hour since then. He checked his wallet: just enough to pay for the curry set. No dessert, then. Man, he could've really used something sweet just now. Not to mention that if he took his time with it, he'd add another thirty minutes to the time count, easy.

Oh, well. There would be birthday cake later. Hopefully.

How old am I, anyway? This Sazae-san format was really confusing on birthdays because everyone stayed the same age, but you still had to have birthday episodes and Christmas episodes and stuff, otherwise it wasn't really an anime, was it?

Gintoki wondered how many candles Kagura and Shinpachi were putting on his cake. If there was a cake. Kagura had eaten the whole cake last year and claimed she'd thought there would be a separate cake for every person at the party. As if anyone could afford fifteen cakes in this economy.

Thinking about the economy reminded Gintoki that he didn't have money for dessert. He sighed, gazing out of the large window on his left at the street outside. It was still light, and not much was going on by way of entertainment unless you counted the hammy superhero show at the shopping centre, but the pachinko parlours were always open. He could use whatever change he got from the restaurant for a couple of games. Maybe he'd win big -- it was his birthday, after all.

More likely, he would end up losing track of time, his clothes, and all remaining dignity -- and Kagura would never let him hear the end of it. What kind of loser fails to show up at his own birthday party? No, pachinko was a bad idea today. Although...

"Sakata Gintoki-sama?"

Gintoki turned to ask why the waitress was being creepy and using his full name. Before he could speak, he beheld the world's largest parfait.

This thing was as big as his head -- no, bigger. From where Gintoki sat, he couldn't see the top part, but thin slices of kiwi and banana were arranged checkerboard-style inside the bowl, squished against the glass, the seeds inside the kiwi slices like little prisoner faces. Delicious little prisoner faces.

"This was ordered for you," the waitress said, setting the parfait down in front of Gintoki with one hand while making his empty curry set plate vanish with her other hand. Or magic. Or technology. Or some combination of the two. Maybe she was a robot, like Tama.

Wait, why am I thinking about her mad waitressing skills? "I didn't order this," Gintoki said. This was Big Parfait, the One Parfait to Rule Them All, and it cost more money than the Yorozuya made in a busy week. There were maraschino cherries sitting on tiny fat pillows of whipped cream surrounded by mini cream puffs and whole strawberries.

"No, it was ordered for you by a third party," the waitress said with a wide smile that Gintoki didn't like one bit. When people smiled like that, they were usually about to tell you you owed them money, or a favour. Sometimes one was worse than the other.

"You don't understand," Gintoki said. "I can't pay for it. Whoever ordered it is playing a joke on me."

The waitress waved him off. "No, no, I apologise for saying misleading things, Gin-san -- the parfait is paid for, along with your curry set. Please enjoy it."

"Who?" Gintoki asked, blinking stupidly. "I mean, paid for by whom?"

She pulled her order-note block from her front pocket. "It says, 'your secret admirer'."

"Well, does my secret admirer have a name?"

"It wouldn't be very secret if they told you their name, would it?"

"Point taken. But how do I know this isn't some kind of trick? What if this is actually an enormous bowl of beautiful poison? I can't afford a funeral yet, you know."

The waitress's eyes widened. "I assure you this was prepared by the same person who makes all our other desserts."

"So I can really eat this?"

"Yes."

"There's no catch?"

"None at all."

"You're not going to make me finish it in thirty minutes or I have to pay for it?"

"No, as I've mentioned, it's already been paid for." She laid a long-handled spoon atop a pile of serviettes in front of him.

"Well, then, don't mind if I do," Gintoki said, picking up the spoon.

"Please take your time and enjoy it," the waitress said, departing.

For the first five or so minutes, he could only stare at it. Slices of miniature melon decorated the edges of the glass bowl in random places, bits of thick waffle and slivers of dark yellow cones and giant sticks of chocolate pocky stuck out of the top of the parfait. It all lent a surrealistic air to the entire thing, like it wasn't even real: a holographic projection of someone's fondest wish for the ultimate parfait.

It would almost be a shame to eat it, Gintoki thought, but that was crazy talk. Parfaits were meant to be eaten, and judging by the smell, this one was far from a hologram.

He broke off half of a fat slice of round rum cake, wondering about this secret admirer business. Sacchan was an obvious stalker, not a secret admirer. Hasegawa would never be able to afford something like this. If Tsukuyo sent something, it'd probably be obscenely shaped. That woman had a strange sense of humour.

For the next hour, he worked his way methodically through three huge scoops of ice cream (strawberry, green tea, and azuki-flavoured), a thin layer of crushed cookies, a mound of vanilla ice cream with surprise whorls of teeth-gluing caramel, and a slab of chocolate ice cream drenched in strawberry syrup, all while wishing for Kagura's stomach capacity. His own stomach became so distended that he had to undo his belt. Hope I don't forget to do it back up when I leave.

Still, he continued to eat, because this was the ultimate parfait and Gintoki was damned if he was going to leave any of it uneaten. Besides, he was an anime character, and an exploded belly was nothing; he'd survived worse.

The last was a largish blob of lemon sorbet. It had mostly melted, but clumps of it floated in the vanilla-chocolate runoff. Gintoki had never much enjoyed icy textures. In his opinion, if it was going to be sweet, it might as well go down easy and not scratch your throat up. Still, he fished for the bits of sorbet and let them melt on his tongue. The light tang was just the thing to put his incredible sugar high in perspective.

Takasugi used to love this sorbet stuff, didn't he? Before he decided that liking sweet things was unbecoming of a real man. Gintoki went in for another soggy spoonful, banishing Takasugi from his mind. Today was not the day for sad stories.

At the bottom of the bowl, in the soup of melted ice cream and sorbet, soaked a square piece of white plastic. So there was a catch after all. Is it poison?

Gintoki hooked it with the spoon's edge and scraped it up the side of the bowl. It was not plastic, but a piece of unidentified white material encased in clingfilm. He manoeuvred the sticky clingfilm off with two serviettes and found not insidious alien poison but paper folded into a small square. Gintoki remembered the whole secret admirer business that he'd stopped thinking about somewhere around the time he'd found the caramel.

Could this be a clue to the person's identity?

He unfolded the note with some trepidation. What if it was no note, but a secret ninja attack scroll disguised to look like a note? What if once he read the note, he would be cursed with something horrible, like eternal butt pimples or being followed around by a ghost shaped like a raincloud? What if it was a page from the Death Note with his name on it?

Deciding that there was no point in psyching himself out like this without Shinpachi to make fun of him for it, Gintoki read the note.

To Yorozuya

Just kidding about the secret admirer bit. Hurry up and get diabetes and die from it, you curly bastard.

From Hijikata Toushirou

P.S. Happy birthday. Asshole.

[end]