Here is the new story, Service with a Smile. It will replace Entertainer, and as you may be aware, it will be updated every two weeks instead of one. This is because the weeks in between will have a different story; Captain Dragon. The first chapter of that will be out next week.
Ruby looked up at the sign clumsily secured over the door and front window of the shop and tilted her head to the side. It was a new place for sure, because she'd come down here last week for dust, and the shopfront had been boarded up. It looked like it was going to be a diner or a café, at least judging from the lights and tables she could see inside. Normally, she wouldn't have been too interested in that, or in going into a place like this on her own, but her stomach chose that moment to remind her of just how empty it was.
She clutched it with both hands. "Ugh..."
Stupid Yang and her stupid motorbike. This was all her fault.
Well, the new shop was conveniently timed if nothing else. Ruby looked around for her sister, and sighed when she realised she'd be stuck going in on her own. She hesitated, then mentally slapped herself in the face. Sure, she was a little socially awkward, but walking into a diner and ordering some food wasn't exactly a high pressure situation. Ruby checked her purse, grinning as she saw she had enough lien after her recent dust purchases.
The door was light brown, as was the front of the shop, with wooden panels leading into glass windows that took up most of it. As she stepped inside, a tiny bell tinkled over her head, and she looked around. The interior was well-lit and open, with about three or four round tables scattered around, and some longer ones against the windows, looking outside. There were stools and seats at then, but the counter was suspiciously empty of food.
There was also a blonde guy struggling with a large cardboard box. His blue eyes blinked as he noticed her.
"Huh, I thought the door sign said closed?"
Ruby's smile twitched. Her eyes shot back to the door, noticing that it said open, but quickly realising on the other side it would say closed. The side facing the street…
She hadn't looked! She'd come into a closed shop, basically broken in for all it mattered, and was now faced with someone who worked there, who was clearly busy – and it looked like the diner wasn't even ready yet. Her mouth opened. A squeak came out.
Oh, there's the social anxiety, her mind commented. It was quick to catch up with her panic. Abort, abort. Just smile and say sorry. No, run away as fast as you can, he'll never catch you. Or better, say something like Yang would. Wait, no, don't do anything Yang would!
Ruby's entire body shook as she tried to decide which piece of advice to follow and what to do. Her eyes widened, her lips quivering.
"Hi, I'm Ruby!"
Right then, right there, she'd never wished for a Grimm attack more in her life. Heat crept up her neck and to her ears, her mind already in preparation with an apology of epic proportions, and maybe a few rants she'd give Yang later for abandoning her. She'd never been so embarrassed in her life. This could not get any worse.
She should have known not to tempt fate.
The guy turned towards her and took a step forward. His leg hit a chair, and she watched in slow motion as he cried out and fell forwards, the box hurtling from his hands and rushing at her. Her instincts kicked in immediately. The awkwardness vanished as she surged forwards with unnatural speed, catching the box before it could fall and securing it on a table with a wide smile.
He, on the other hand, slammed face-first onto the floor.
Ruby stared at him.
He didn't move.
"Why did I catch the box instead of him…?"
Yang was never going to let her live this down.
"I'm so sorry," Ruby said, for what must have been the tenth time. That was fine though, since it just showed how much she meant it. "I didn't mean to come in and startle you. I'm really sorry!"
Eleven times sorry, in fact.
"Ha ha, it's fine," the blonde guy laughed. He was sat on one of his own seats, a pack of ice held to his face and a bit of a developing bruise on the skin underneath. With how fair his skin and hair was, the discolouration was really obvious. "It was an accident, and I'm the one who fell over. All you did was say hello."
Ruby let out a long sigh of relief, slumping a little in her own seat as the adrenaline wore off. The moment he'd collapsed, she'd shot into action – and then reversed before she could flee as her conscience kicked in and she reminded herself a hero didn't leave someone in trouble. Mom would have never forgiven her for it, so she'd bit her lip and gone back in to help. Luckily, she'd been able to find some ice in several bags within his freezer, and wrapped those in some table cloths. He had a lot of those lying about since the shop was new.
That he'd woken up was a good thing. That he apparently didn't blame her for what was totally her fault was even better.
"I didn't realise the shop was closed," she said. "I guess I wasn't thinking straight. I'm sorry about coming in and everything."
"And I've told you it's no problem." He laughed and shook his head, then winced. "Okay, no sudden movements. I guess I'm a bit dizzy. Anyway, I should have locked the door, and I shouldn't have been carrying something heavy when I couldn't see ahead of me. Thanks for catching that, by the way."
"Oh, no problem!" Ruby smiled, happy to have been of use. "It's my job to help people. When I'm not making them fall over and knock themselves out, I mean." Ruby blinked as she realised what she'd just said. She slapped a hand into her forehead. "Ignore me. I'm bad at talking to people."
She always had been, and Yang's help hadn't quite fixed it. In fact, it had made things worse, mostly because of how Yang tried to introduce her to older people, and they were obviously only being friendly because they wanted to impress Yang. She'd only been able to make a few friends of her own because they were just as awkward, and they'd sort of just been lumped together for school assignments. Friends by default or something like that.
"Actually, I'm kinda the same," the guy said, chuckling. "I don't really know how to talk to people, which probably sounds silly since I'm opening up a café and I'll have to talk to customers. It's a bad idea, I know, but I just-" He paused. "And… I'm rambling again, aren't I?" He groaned into his ice pack, but this time it was in mortification. "I'm such a nerd. I can't even talk to a customer."
Ruby's head perked up.
Was he… was he like her?
"Do you start to talk about a random topic?" she asked.
"Yeah, and usually one that no one else is interested in."
"I talk about weapons and guns."
"I talk about what advice my Mom and Dad gave me." He looked away with a nervous laugh. "It's not always the best advice."
What were the chances? Ruby laughed delightedly, rocking on her seat. "Wow, I can't believe I found someone as socially awkward as me. That's so cool!"
"Is it, though?"
"W-Well sure, yeah." Not that they were both practically useless, but it was awesome that the guy she'd maybe almost gotten killed wasn't going to hold it over her head. "My name's Ruby. What's yours?"
"Oh geez, I didn't even introduce myself." He slapped a hand to his forehead, then cried out as he hit his bruise. Only when he'd stopped wincing did he answer her. "The name's Jaune Arc. Short, sweet and rolls off the tongue."
She wasn't quite so sure of that, and was about to ask – but for a different detail that caught her attention.
"Jaune…? Wait, you mean you own this place?"
"Well, yeah." He tilted his head to the side. "What did you think?"
"T-That you worked here, or that you were the son of the owner…"
"Heh, no. It's just me."
Oh crud. Ruby shifted in her seat, suddenly feeling nervous all over again. Here was a man just opening up his business and she'd come in, distracted him, and was now wasting his time talking when he probably just wanted to get on with what he was doing.
"I can leave if you want me to?"
"If I'm in your way…"
"No, no." Jaune waved his hands. "You're not in my way or being a bother. Actually, maybe this is good. I've been terrified of what it'll be like to talk to customers. I've got no idea what to do or say. How about you help me?" His smile froze. "I mean if you're not busy, that is. I bet you've got places to be, right?"
Ruby dared to smile, "I'm fine if you are. I only came by because-"
Her stomach grumbled loudly.
"You were hungry?" Jaune finished with a laugh. "I don't have much in the way of food since we're not officially open, but I can get us some snacks if you want."
"No, it's fine." Ruby's said, but her lie was proven as such when her stomach rumbled again. She glared down at it. She'd been betrayed!
"It doesn't sound fine. Let me see what I've got."
It took Jaune about ten minutes to find something, mostly because he had to open several cases and boxes, but eventually he came back with a thick tub of ice-cream. Not exactly a meal by anyone's standards, but Ruby wasn't just anyone, and her eyes lit up.
"Thank you~" she said, digging into her bowl with a spoon. "Ah, I didn't have anything to eat because I was waiting for my sister, but she's vanished and I have no idea where she went. She has her motorbike that we used to get here," she explained around a mouthful of strawberry ice-cream. "I can't get home without her. Ugh, this is so like her!"
"You don't live in Vale?"
"Nope, we live in Patch. But I'll be living in Vale soon," Ruby said excitedly. She hopped in her seat. "I'm joining Beacon Academy in a couple of days, so I'll be here full time. Oooh, I can't wait!"
Jaune smiled. "Beacon, huh?"
"Uh-huh." She nodded furiously. "I'm only fifteen, but I'm good, and Ozpin – that's the headmaster – saw me take down this super bad criminal. It was amazing. I was all kapow, and wazahh!" She adopted some poses to show him. "And he was all oh no, I must run away! Then he got away, but not before I showed how awesome I was and got accepted into Beacon." Ruby smiled proudly. "I'm going to be a huntress-in-training, and then a real huntress. How awesome is that!?"
"That sounds… really amazing." His voice was soft and distracted. He let out a long sigh, and Ruby's hand, spoon and ice-cream in it, gently fell to her plate.
"What's wrong? Did I say something bad?"
"It's not that," he said. "It's just… you'll think it silly, but I actually wanted to be a huntsman as well. It was my dream growing up."
Ruby smiled. "Then why not try for it? If you want to be a huntsman, you totally can!"
"I can't, Ruby."
"Because I applied already, and Ozpin turned me down."
Ruby's smile froze. She had no idea what to say. That wasn't an unusual thing for her, but this felt far worse. Even as socially awkward as she was, it wasn't hard to see that talking about being let into the very school your friend had been denied would be bad – and oh good lord, she'd boasted about how she got in two years younger as well. Her eyes widened and her mind went blank.
"It's fine," Jaune said, sensing her panic, or maybe she was just that obvious. "I wasn't really strong enough to get in, and I guess the headmaster knew. I'm not upset." He smiled. "Well, I guess I kind of am, but not at you."
Ruby's head fell onto the table. "I'm so sorry…"
"W-Whoa, I said it was fine. I'm okay with it." Jaune waved his hands wildly, unsure what to do with the distraught girl. "H-Here, have some more ice-cream. Would you like some wafer?"
Ruby managed to convince him she didn't, even if she couldn't convince him it was her at fault for accidentally insulting him. She licked some more ice-cream off her spoon, unsure if she should say or do something about what she'd learned.
It was a complicated topic, and she wasn't good at those.
On the one hand, Jaune was pretty cool – and he'd given her ice-cream. Those were nice things, and she felt fairly certain he was a nice guy. If he wanted to be a huntsman, then that was great. The world needed more of those, and she could imagine him being brave like her Mom was. A part of her wanted to help him, and also felt bad that she'd been taken on where he was rejected. But on the other hand…
What if he was too weak to be a huntsman? She'd always felt people should follow their dreams no matter what, but if it led to her new friend getting hurt or killed…? She didn't want that. Things were easier when they were black or white, which was why she wanted to be a huntress so much in the first place. There wasn't much in the way of moral questions when it came to Grimm. This was much harder, and she didn't know what to say.
"I didn't know what to do after I got the letter saying no," Jaune began. He'd started speaking before she could gather her thoughts, but she listened closely. "I was really upset at first, like really upset. I got angry, then defeated, then angry again. I didn't know what to do. I thought about going back home, but I didn't want to tell my family what happened. I'd told them I was coming to Vale to make a new life for myself, and giving up so soon would make me look like an idiot."
"Would they not take you back?" she asked quietly.
"Oh no, they'd take me back in a heartbeat." He scratched the back of his head and laughed. "It's just that I couldn't bring myself to go back. I've always been kind of the useless one, so I wanted to show them I could do better. They never asked me to, but I guess I felt like I had to… or wanted to. I'm not really sure." He shrugged helplessly, and then gestured to his surroundings. "In the end, I decided I'd try something else instead. This was… uh… kind of a weird decision. Two of my sisters worked in a diner, so I guess I thought it would be easy. I put all the money I had into renting this place, then buying some stuff to get started. It's sink or swim now."
Yikes, and she thought she had it bad with high dust prices! Jaune was basically throwing himself into the wild and trying to make something – anything – stick. Ruby looked down at her bowl, suddenly feeling even guiltier for not only distracting him, but now mooching off him as well.
"It's stupid, I know…"
"It's not stupid," Ruby whispered.
"It's not stupid," Ruby repeated, louder this time. Her head lifted and her eyes bored into his. "I think it's brave! I think it's cool, too."
"Yeah, look at you. You're seventeen years old and already running your own business." She smiled and pointed around them. "That's amazing! Everyone I've ever seen who runs a place like this is middle-aged or older. Most people our age are still playing video games, and you're going to be a boss." It wasn't anything she'd ever thought of before, but now that she was on a roll, even she was excited. "That's amazing, Jaune. That's really cool!"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," he said. He scratched his cheek, which was bright red. His smile felt more natural, happier. Ruby cheered internally. "It's not all that special."
"It is!" she said. "You could be the best."
"The best diner?"
"Yeah, sure - whatever you wanted to be." She slammed her hands down on the table and smiled. "Just think about it, you could be famous for how awesome your shop is, and it would be filled with famous people. You could be the best in the business."
"Or the worst," he said, smiling just a little. "Still, thanks Ruby. It means a lot to hear you say that. Who knows, maybe you're right. I wouldn't have been much of a huntsman with how weak I am. Maybe this life is more suited to me. Thanks for the kind words. They helped, really."
"Aw, shucks." She waved a hand demurely, even if inside she was waving flags with her name on and jumping around happily. She'd helped, she'd helped. Yang would never believe this, but she'd actually made friends with someone and then helped them. She smiled and rocked on her seat. "So, what kind of place are you going to be? What kind of food will you serve?"
"I'm not sure yet," he admitted. "I've got some lien put aside to buy stock, but the guy who helped me get this place suggested I get all the freezers and display cases up first. That way I can see how much stuff I need and not get too much. It was someone with the local business enterprise place," he explained, seeing her confused look. "They help new start-ups in the area, but only with finding stuff, information and advice. I'm on my own when it comes to money."
"Ah," she nodded in understanding. Like a teacher for business people, then. That made sense, actually. How else could someone just know where to find stuff or what forms to fill in? "So you've not decided what you'll be yet?"
"I'm thinking simple food and snacks. I can cook, but I'm not as good as my Mom. I'm going to practice and learn though, but for now I'll go easy. I do know how to make different kinds of tea and coffee though." He looked at her face. "You don't like that?"
"No, no," she lied. "Coffee is… nice…"
"Ruby, you look like you're eating a lemon."
Argh, curse her face! She tried to flatten it out, but instead ended up looking like she needed the toilet. When Jaune laughed, she pouted and gently punched his arm. "I like sweets," she protested. "I'm not a coffee person."
"Then you just haven't tried the right coffee. Wait here."
Jaune pushed off with a smile and went back to his boxes, rummaging around while humming to himself. Ruby didn't have the heart to tell him not to bother, even if her stomach – finally sated from ice-cream – was now roiling at the idea of icky, thick, black muck. Old people drank coffee. It was just the way the world worked.
Still, she watched curiously as he lumbered back to one of the counters with a strange-looking machine in hand. He put it down, and fiddled around with some switches and plugs until he'd got it powered. Out came a pristine white mug, never before used, and then he put that away. Instead, a glass dessert thing came out. The kind of decorative glass you'd serve a trifle in.
"Ta-da," he said, pushing the drink before her.
Ruby's eyes widened. It looked like a trifle, except dark and brown instead of white and red. It was tall and frothy, with whipped cream on top, and then what looked like chocolate sauce drizzled all over it. There was even crunched chocolate sprinkled onto it, and her mouth was already watering. It looked like a dessert, smelt like a desert, but was apparently coffee.
Her eyes narrowed. "This isn't a trap, right?"
"Huh? No, it's coffee."
"It has whipped cream on it."
"And chocolate sauce," he said, "along with milk and sugar, some syrup, caramel and crushed milk choco-"
He didn't get any further. Ruby had already lifted it up and took a long sip. She put the glass down, whipped cream suspended above her lip like a moustache. Her eyes were wide. This… this…
"No good?" he asked. "My sisters really like it, and I just thought-"
"This is so good!" Ruby cried, half-thrilled, half-shocked. She dove back in, guzzling at it. It tasted like cookies and sweets, except there was a familiar taste she recognised as yucky, but which was so much weaker than the horrible muck her dad had let her try. She knew why, now. She knew why when she'd asked to try some coffee; he'd made her the foulest concoction available.
He wanted to keep this masterpiece to himself!
All the adults did. It was a conspiracy! It was selfishness on a huge scale. It was every adult in the world tricking people below the age of twenty, so that they could keep all the sweets to themselves. How could they?
"Heh," Jaune leaned his elbow on the table, cheek propped in one hand. "I take it you like it?"
"Jaune, that was amazing," Ruby gushed once it was all gone. She felt so awake, so alive and energetic. Screw Yang, she was going to run home. "This is so good. You need to open up your shop selling these. You need to give them names, and prices, and little glasses and… and… and you can make more, right!?"
"Yeah, of course I can." He shrugged. "Dad's a huntsman, and Mom runs the family, but she used to work for a small diner in Vale. She always told me how the city was so busy and everyone needed coffee, so she started to play around with different ways to make it. She taught me a few."
Best. Mom. Ever. No wait, second best Mom. Second best!
"I'm going to sell these, but I need other things, too. I was thinking sandwiches, but that feels a little boring. People make sandwiches when they want to make their own packed lunch, so I think the place needs something a little better."
"Sweets," Ruby said instantly. She then blushed when he stared at her. "Um… I mean that you're already making coffee that tastes like sweets, so why not do more? You could sell little cakes, and ice-cream. I mean, you already have the ice-cream."
"Just one tub, and that's because I knew I'd need the energy after carrying all this stuff." He stroked his chin. "But maybe you're right. I'm not exactly up on cooking yet, so any normal food I try to make isn't going to be all that good. Plus, there are already restaurants around who will do it better." He turned back to his counter, and the big, glass display case beneath it. There were several racks inside. "I could put cakes in there, and they'd look pretty good."
Shop display and organisation weren't her things, but cakes were – and Ruby nodded her head furiously.
"Yeah, and you could have one or two on top as well. You could do hot chocolate, ooh, and cookies. What about hot cakes mixed with cold ice-cream?"
"Hot chocolate fudge cake with vanilla?"
They both salivated at the idea.
"Okay, I think that's definitely the right choice. I'll set this place up for sweets, cakes, ice-cream and coffee. I guess it can be a place people stop at for a little bit, rather than a restaurant. Thanks for the help, Ruby."
"No problem, I-" Ruby cut off as her scroll rang. She looked down at it and noticed she had a message from Yang. Her eyes widened. "Oh my god…"
"Ugh, it's my sister." Ruby slapped a hand to her forehead. "Apparently, she's been thrown out of a club because she started a fight and trashed the entire place. I can't believe her!" She stood up with a sigh. "I have to go. She's going to take me home." She paused, and then reached for her purse. "How much do I owe you for the food?"
"Nah, don't worry about it," Jaune said. "It's on the house. You're my first ever customer."
She was about to cheer, but paused and frowned instead. Free food was free food, but this was her new friend's life on the line. Or well, his life in Vale as a businessman. She couldn't bring herself to tread on that, or to be even slightly responsible for it failing. "Nope!"
"I said nope. You said I was your first customer, well that means you need to charge me for the food." She smiled. "Think of it as practice for all the people you'll need to charge."
"But you're a friend…"
"And I'm going to come back for more of that coffee, and you can't keep giving it away." Ruby crossed her arms and stomped one foot on the floor. Her smile gave her mood away, however. "I would like the bill, sir. How much do I owe?"
"Uh… ah…" Jaune's eyes widened, and he quickly dived for a box, drawing out a long receipt as he checked how much he'd paid. "How does ten lien sound?"
Ruby raised an eyebrow. It was five lien for a can of soda.
"Okay, too low… how about, maybe ten for the coffee and ten for the ice-cream. Does twenty sound okay?"
"Hmm, it sounds about right," she said. Out came her purse, and she pulled out some lien. "Here's twenty-five."
"Oh, I have some change somewhere."
"No, silly…" She laughed and curled his fingers closed around it. "It's a tip. Now I'm your first customer, and also your first tipper."
Ruby wasn't sure when paying for food had become so fulfilling, but she backed away with a wide smile. Maybe it was because she'd made a friend too, or because it was her friend she was paying, or just the fact she was proud of him in the first place.
Jaune looked up at her happily. "Thanks, Ruby. I won't forget this."
"You better not! And don't forget how to make that coffee too. Once I get into Beacon and get a team, I'm going to drag them here so they can try some as well." She'd bring Yang, too. "W-Well that is if I make friends with anyone at Beacon… heh…"
"I'm sure you will, Ruby." Jaune said. "Remember, you made friends with me, right? Just do what you did here."
"Run into and injure them?"
"Eh?" He paused, and then poked his bruise with a wince. "Well it worked, right?"
It did, and she got what he was trying to say. Ruby smiled widely, and then gave him a quick hug. In a weird way, he'd already helped her feel a little more confident. When she backed away towards the door, it was with her hands linked behind her back and a huge smile on her face. She'd made a friend. She'd talked to a complete stranger and made friends with them, and yeah it was one who was as shy as her – but wouldn't she find people like that in Beacon, too?
It gave her hope, and that was something she'd been lacking before. In that way, this had been a great night, and totally worth the twenty-five lien she'd lost. She could do this. She could go to Beacon, and she could make friends. How could she not, when she'd managed to make one with some guy she'd just bumped into?
"I'll see you again, Jaune," she waved, opening the door, which chimed the bell above it. "I promise!"
Jaune watched the door slam shut with another jingle, and let out a soft sigh as he was left alone once more. It was followed by a slow inhale, and then a relieved exhale. He leaned back in his seat, arms slack at his side. The plain ceiling taunted him.
"What a joke."
Running a diner wasn't cool, even if he was young. This was just his desperate attempt to convince himself he wasn't somehow a failure. Maybe things would have been different if this had been his dream from the start, but it wasn't. He wanted to be a huntsman. He was too weak to be a huntsman. He still had the letter from Ozpin in the back office, though nowadays he couldn't get past the `We regret to inform you` part.
Listening to Ruby talk about being accepted hurt. It was a dull pain, but she'd torn the bandage straight off and rubbed salt in the wound. Not that he'd told her, of course. He'd hidden it all and smiled for her – as a good waiter ought to. To her credit, she seemed to realise quickly enough and looked suitably horrified. She seemed like a good person. The kind of girl he'd have loved to be friends with if he'd been accepted as well. Despite his raging jealousy… he hoped she'd make it as a huntress.
At least one of them should.
With exhausted muscles, and a tired sigh, he pushed himself to his feet. The furniture wouldn't set itself up, and there was work to be done if he didn't want to crawl back home with his tail tucked between his legs. Maybe this wasn't what he wanted, but it would let him stay in Vale. If he couldn't be a huntsman himself, then he could at least pretend, right? Maybe even live through Ruby if she ever came back. Hopefully, she would come and visit again. Doing something like this might become boring otherwise. How exciting could a life like this even be?
He had no idea why he felt a shiver run down his spine.
It was probably just the ice-cream.
So, the first meeting and the opening of Jaune's store… this is an introduction, obviously. In a way, it's to set up Jaune's `problem` and set the scene. This is definitely not an action story, so don't expect Jaune to be beating up anything or anyone. Not unless it's unruly employees!
Also, I may make mistakes on coffee. I'm more of a tea man myself and don't drink coffee (blasphemy, I know. Ozpin would be so disappointed). As such, forgive any coffee mistakes.
Next Chapter: 22nd August
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur