Lunch Break

It seemed that the moment lunch period was announced, Syura had effectively inhaled all the cheap food in her bento. Just what she needed after an all-nighter for last-minute debugging for her latest game. After spending countless hours poring over code, eating countless bland bowls of instant noodles to avoid crashing, and kicking back as many energy drinks as possible in order to make it through the night, she had somehow managed to finally finish her latest project, a quick, twitchy platformer involving her pet chicks at home.

Even with the moment of pure joy at finally being able to finish her project, however, there still existed a pressing matter on the back of her mind. It was one thing to have finished her game; it was another to think about what her next project would be. Hundreds of different genres with thousands of different storylines were available to her, and she couldn't think of a single prompt that would let her create something at least more exciting than a sports game.

She kept flipping the few leftover grains of rice in her bento, hoping for some idea to come at her. Game developers on an RPG adventure. High school dating sim with characters from her old games. A board game with all of her old characters. A bullet hell shooter with numerous references to all the classics. But still, nothing seemed to stick, and she kept returning to her reality with the few grains of rice.

Syura let out a sigh as she looked up at the time, only to see the clock tease her, with a long while before lunch ended. And knowing her luck, she'd probably end up on cleaning duty right after that. It seemed that she'd be spending the rest of the period wordlessly playing games on the Vita again, assuming she had remembered to charge it last night. Before she went to her bookbag, however, she stood up from her desk and stepped out of the classroom to walk around the school. She hoped that something outside could finally give her an idea of what her next game could be about, no matter how minor it may be.

The halls remained abuzz with everyone talking over one another, no doubt gossiping over recent news in the school or the newest fads and products in town. Unless it involved video games, however, Syura rarely ever joined in on the conversation, and it seemed that today, no one was in the mood to discuss such. Talk of the newest season of anime, the opening games of the baseball season, and the upcoming earthquake drills, but nothing that could interest her, and nothing that could feature in her next game. She walked up and down the halls, up to the roof, up and down the flights of stairs, through several classrooms, and yet, she still found nothing. She looked up to a clock as she walked down another hallway, to see that she had only burned about five minutes with her aimless ambling. Still another thirty-five minutes to go. Looked like it'd be another Vita session for the break.

However, she found that the pathway to the end of the hall and back to the stairs that would lead her back to her classroom had one distraction for her as she kept walking forward. One student stood next to the door of her classroom, struggling to hold up a large pail filled to the brim with water, no doubt from her classroom's cleaning supplies. Floppy ears like a dog's hung over her orange hair, along with a bushy tail that poked out from underneath her skirt and a pink scarf that signified her as underclassman's of Syura. Her entire body, however, clearly strained with holding onto the pail, and with her slumped head and bent spine, it seemed she had been forced to be a spectacle for several minutes already. With her closed eyes, it also appeared that she had already weathered some jeers from other students in her class, and simply endured her situation until the bell would mercifully signal the end of lunch break, and her punishment.

Syura thought about walking away from the sight, to leave the dog girl alone with her pail in her silent punishment. But after only taking a few steps away, she looked back up to the clock, again reminded of how much time she still had left before classes resumed. She stood in place for a few seconds, then turned back around, towards the girl with the pail. "Hey there," said Syura to her.

The dog girl opened her eyes and looked up to see who had spoken to her. "H-hi..." she said.

"Um..." began Syura, unable to form the words in her head. She could easily join in on a conversation about video games, but starting a new one without any topic in mind always seemed to elude her. "Why are you out here?"

"Oh... Well..." began the girl, looking back down at her reflection in the pail of water, "I got into a fight with Mei yesterday and she told on me after I won. So my teacher's punishing me by making me hold this bucket during lunch."

Questions began to flood Syura's mind when she finished speaking, still looking down at her reflection in the pail. "Why were you two fighting?" she asked, unsure of whether any other questions would give her more information.

"I was trying to save my pudding, but she challenged me to a fight for ice cream! And when I won, she just ran off-"

"Wait, wait a second," said Syura, waving her hand to get her to temporarily pause the story, not so much to understand what she had just said so far, but to try and think of what her next question should be. "Save your pudding?" she finally asked.

"Yeah! I bought a pudding cup with my last 500 yen note last Saturday night, but when I woke up on Sunday, it was gone and I went out to find it!" said the dog girl back, in an excited tone that suggested it all seemed completely reasonable to her. It made some sense; after all, this was likely the only interaction she had got so far in her lunch break. Her excited tone, however, faded away as she looked back down at the water in the pail. "I think Mei challenged me only about five minutes in my search," she added, then she looked back down at the pail. "And I guess this is what she meant by getting revenge on me."

Syura brought her hand behind her head as she tried to run her fingers through her thick braid. "How did you even fight her? I know she almost never lets Red and Blue out of her sight," she asked. She wanted to add that this girl didn't seem like much by herself, but perhaps another twist in the story would come about.

"It's easy! I just have Rbit fight for me!" she said, looking up with her brows furrowed. "C'mon out!" she said, and on cue, a small white ball of fur, with two tall ears like a rabbit peeked out from underneath the pink ribbon of her uniform. It scanned its surroundings for a few seconds before focusing on Syura, then it quickly retreated back into the comfy confines of her ribbon. "Rbit's a bit shy, but when it comes to fighting, there's no one like him!" The dog girl looked back down at her ribbon, appearing to be hopeful that her small companion would jump out again, though it refused to leave again. "Rbit's not in the talking mood right now, I guess," she said as she looked back up. "H-hey, are you still listening?!"

"Ah! S-sorry, I just got lost in thought. I'm just thinking about... hm..." began Syura as the gears in her mind began to turn.

"What? What is it?" asked the dog girl back.

"Hold that thought, I need to get my notebook, I'll be right back!" she said as she got ready to turn around and race back upstairs to her classroom to fetch her notebook full of sketches, notes, and ideas. Many of them would stay on the pages, but at least a few of them would go on to appear in her games, whether in passing or in full focus.

"Huh? Notebook?" asked the girl.

"Of course! Syura's the club president of the Indie Games section, after all! She needs ideas wherever she can get them!" she said, getting a hand to her chest as she triumphantly posed. It might not have been the most glamorous after-school club, but to Syura, she certainly felt pride in being both its club president and sole member. "Tell me more of your story when I get back, okay?"

"O-okay!" she said back, then added, "Just one thing, though!"

"Anything! Syura's on the job now!"

"I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast. Can you please just get me one cup of pudding? I'll take any brand, just give me something, I'm starving!"

"It's only fair! Syura will return!" she said, then turned to head to the cafeteria. She could barely feel her feet hit the floor as she bounded down the stairs to the cafeteria, no doubt eliciting a few curious gazes as she took every other step down, and before she knew it, she found herself bounding back up the same staircase with the most expensive pudding she could buy in her hand. Even after that, she found herself blazing through the hall back to her homeroom, quickly making it back to her desk in the back corner, and fumbling with the contents of her black schoolbag; after almost knocking loose all of her possessions just to access the battered blue notebook of her's, she found herself bounding back down the stairs and back to the dog girl in the hall.

When she finally returned to the dog girl with the full pail of water with the pudding cup and notebook, her ears pricked up and her tail started wagging, no doubt out of excitement. "We can get started now!" said Syura as she fumbled with the combination of the pudding cup, her pencil, and her notebook in her hands, resorting to holding the tab on the pudding cup between her teeth as she got everything in order. "All right," she said between her grit teeth, "Let's get st-"

"H-hey! How am I supposed to eat that without my hands?!" said the dog girl back, her ears and tail immediately losing their form in response, her face twisting into a more dejected and defeated expression than ever before.

Syura could feel her smile fade immediately as she said, "S-sorry, I guess I got a little ahead of myself..." She looked at her hands again, one of which held her beat-up notebook and the other having a contorted grip around a cheap pencil and an even cheaper plastic spoon. She thought for a few seconds, then finally figured it out. "Syura has an idea!" she said as she got her notebook under her arm and tore the pudding cup open. She could tell that the dog girl became immediately excited again when the plastic top got torn off, with her pricked-up ears and wagging tail returning, the latter of which intensified when she began to stir the pudding. She got a heaping spoonful of pudding onto the spoon and held it up just in front of the dog girl's mouth. "Here, open up," she said.

She didn't even have to wait for a response. The dog girl immediately leaned forward and accepted the offering, getting her mouth around the spoon and pulling back, no doubt savouring the taste that she hadn't experienced in what seemed to be weeks. "Haa... So sweet and custardy, and yet so light... That's pudding!" she said, her eyes closed in excitement. Syura looked down at the pail as the dog girl smacked her lips through her content smile, hoping that her grip wouldn't loosen at that point. The smile remained as she opened her eyes, then she added, "Okay, a deal's a deal, I'll tell you all about yesterda-"

"Hang on," said Syura as she got another spoonful of pudding ready. "We still have 30 minutes until lunchbreak ends, you can tell me more after you eat," she said as the dog girl accepted it again.

She closed her eyes again in response to the feeding, still relishing the taste. Through her pressed lips, she had the biggest smile possible, finally opening her eyes when she swallowed the second spoonful. Syura herself gave a smile as she got another spoonful ready, but before she could bring it forward, the dog girl said, "W-wait!" She paused for a few seconds, running her tongue through her own mouth, then said, "You're Syura, right?"

"That's me!" said Syura back.

"I'm not very good with names, but I'll definitely remember it!" She accepted yet another spoonful of pudding, calmly humming as she swallowed it. Before she could accept another, however, she shook her head as the spoon approached her lips, then said, "Wait, wait! Um... My name is QP. I don't really have many friends, so..."

Her voice faded away as she looked back down at the pail, but Syura kept her smile up as she offered the spoonful of pudding again. The dog girl named QP brought her gaze back up and accepted it once again, after which Syura said, "That's fine, I'm not too social myself. QP, right?" She nodded in response as she swallowed again. "Don't worry, I'm sure we'll have more chances to get closer," said Syura as she scooped out the last bit of pudding from the plastic cup.

QP accepted the final offering from her, her enthusiasm and excitement just as intense as the first spoonful. "Ah... the final spoonful... Always as good as the first, maybe even a little better because of the everlasting memories...!" she said, licking her lips to get every last bit of sugar on her tongue. Syura smiled as she knelt down, getting the empty cup and spoon next to her on the floor, then getting her notebook in her hands alongside her pencil. She flipped through the slightly creased and crinkled pages, covered with hundreds of lines of pencil lead forming words, pictures, and sketches, with even the margins not being spared from Syura's creativity. "Wow..." said QP as Syura constantly leafed through the pages, hoping to find the first blank pages that would let her get back to writing and drawing again. "Is that what you do in games club all day?"

"I-it's more than that!" said Syura, "Writing and drawing is only half of what Syura does! There's also programming, debugging, playtesting, scripting..." When she looked back up, however, she saw that QP's head had tilted in confusion, with each word more foreign than the last. "Uh... It'll makes more sense if you come by this afternoon! C'mon down and you'll see what I do all day!"

QP smiled as she straightened her head, then said, "Well, if you'll be there, I guess I can show up! Look forward to it!" She kept herself bolt upright and smiling as Syura finally found a blank page in her notebook. "Okay, uh... I'll try to say as much as I can in 25 minutes! So it all started when-" she began.

"Hold it!" said Syura, pointing her pencil at QP. "I need you to tell me as much as possible. Even if there's no time, I'll be seeing you at club, right?" she said with a wink punctuating her question. Her mouth initially formed a smirk, but it turned into a full smile when QP nodded in response with her own radiant smile. "Alright QP, let's go back to the beginning. You went out to find your pudding after it was stolen, and you ran into Mei?" asked Syura.

"Yeah! I wasn't that interested in fighting her, but she offered me ice cream of all things, so I couldn't just fly away!" she began. Syura kept silent has her pencil flew across the page, trying her best to keep up with QP's racing thoughts and speech. In the midst of several dilligent notes, however, she found herself by the question, "...Is that me?" QP had craned her head in order to look down at the sheets of paper, now covered with scattered statements and a few sketches, intently focusing on one specific sketch found in the pages.

"It is! Syura's not the best artist, but she tries her hardest!" she said as she showed off the sketch of the dog girl in front of her. "Do you usually wear your school uniform outside? I kinda guessed on that..." she added.

She tilted her head as she looked at the rough sketch in the notebook, then smiled as she got used to her own visage. "Not usually, but I like it!" she said.

As she turned her notebook back to herself, Syura smiled at her own handiwork, then said, "Perfect! But we still have to get back to work! Tell me what happened in that fight with Mei."

Still grinning from ear to ear, QP adjusted her grip on the pail for seemingly the first time since Syura had returned. "Of course!" she said.

Author's notes: I first started drafting this story back in 2016 or so, when I was binging on Orange_Juice content. It sat unfinished on my hard drive for many years until some jerk friends of mine convinced me to finally finish it.

As I have previously written on my blog, I generally dislike writing slice of life, but in this case, it was an interesting change of pace after several depressing stories of my own. If nothing else, I feel pretty good about having finally written fics for all of the OJverse games.

I also promise to never use this many exclamation points in a story ever again.