"Why on earth are you challenging me?" Yuu asked, baffled at the unexpected turn of events.
"Just shut up! You've always annoyed me from the first moment we met," Rokutanda said. His fists were clenched tight as if to contain his irritation over Yuu.
"I hate to agree with you, but you're right about Yuu. He is really annoying," Ginta joined in.
The sight of both cousins finally coming to some sort of mutual understanding and agreement would have been amusing to Yuu if it weren't for the fact that their new found solidarity was targeted against him. It's time to put a stop to this ridiculous conversation.
"I've got no time for this," Yuu said, looking bored. "I have work to do." And with that, Yuu turned away to head back to the sales floor.
Both Ginta and Rokutanda were outraged that Yuu would even dare to back out of this challenge. Suddenly, a look of contempt appeared on Rokutanda's face. "Hah! He's just afraid that he's going to lose!" he snickered. Ginta snorted in agreement.
"What a hopeless bunch. This challenge business has gotten to their head," Yuu sighed to himself.
Suddenly, his boss stepped forward surprising Yuu. He approached Rokutanda and asked, "You're Tsutomu-kun, right?"
Rokutanda's look of annoyance was replaced by a look of uncertainty. "Err…uh-huh…" he acknowledged.
"This challenge of yours…you wouldn't care what kind of a challenge it is, would you? As long as it is a challenge?" Yuu's boss asked.
"Ah…of course I wouldn't," Rokutanda answered hesitantly. One could see that he was starting to sweat a little under the intense gaze of the man before him.
"Are you sure?" Yuu's boss asked again.
A spark of irritation ignited within Rokutanda's eyes. "When a man says something, he means it!" he exclaimed. He didn't like having his words doubted at all, not even by this stranger.
A sly grin appeared on Yuu's boss's face. "Well, then. I have a proposal for you guys. Why don't we make it a part-time job challenge?" he suggested.
"What? A part-time job challenge?" exclaimed Yuu, Rokutanda and Ginta at the same time. All three of them had an identical shocked expression on their face. Miki and Arimi looked equally perplexed as the boys.
"Let me explain. In this challenge, whoever that manages to sell the most merchandise from my store until closing time, will win," Yuu's boss explained. "That's the easiest way to determine who will be the winner and moreover, I'll be able to sell more with the extra help."
"You've got to be joking," Yuu said to no one in particular. He had planned to just get back to work but the challenge involved his work and that would automatically enter him into the challenge whether he wanted to or not.
His boss turned back to Rokutanda. "A man means what he says, isn't that right?" he asked.
Rokutanda hesitated for a moment but determination soon took over. "That's right!" he said.
Yuu's boss nodded in approval.
Rokutanda turned to Yuu. "Let the challenge begin!" he said, raising his fist.
"You will take this challenge, won't you, Yuu?" Ginta asked.
"It doesn't look like I have any choice. I'll do it," Yuu said.
A look of satisfaction appeared on Rokutanda's face. "Good. Now for what's at stake…" he added.
"Now what?" Yuu sighed in exasperation.
"The challenge doesn't mean anything if the loser doesn't get a penalty," Rokutanda grinned. "The loser to this challenge must…"
"Don't tell me…" Yuu sighed. The girls could even tell what's coming.
"…shave his head!" Rokutanda exclaimed loudly. He shook his fists in the air.
"I knew it…" Yuu, Miki and Arimi sighed together.
"I like your guts, Roku!" Ginta thrusts out his thumb in approval at Rokutanda. "You don't have much hair to lose if you do lose."
"It won't be me!" Rokutanda said determinedly. "But like you said, if I do lose, I'll just cut it shorter."
The girls laughed at this. It was hard to imagine Rokutanda with less hair than he currently has. Yuu would hate to see Miki laughing at him if he was forced to shave his head.
"Alright, everyone!" Yuu's boss shouted. "Let's begin the challenge! I'll be the judge and since this is my establishment, I want this to be fair and clean!" he said, raising his hand high in the air to get everybody's attention. A whistle appeared in his hand. How he happened to have that whistle was anybody's guess. "Ready? Get set…go!"
Rokutanda and Ginta were both pumped up for this challenge but Yuu felt most reluctant. When the whistle blew, both of them rushed to greet customers who were busy shopping. Ginta's approach was a little on the shy side. Whereas Rokutanda was energetic as usual. Yuu shrugged at this and just continued on with how he had always been serving the customers.
Before long, the store was filled with customers. The challenge had drawn quite a crowd of ladies all curious as to what the cute and handsome boys were doing. Sometime during the afternoon, even Namura sensei and Ryouka sensei had stopped by to find out what the commotion was about. One customer had admitted to buying a parka on impulse because the boys were so handsome working so hard to land a sale.
This was all fine and good for the business except Yuu found himself being surrounded by one too many eager lady customers wanting his assistance. "P…please, ladies. One at a time," he laughed weakly. He got the feeling that they didn't really want his help as much as they wanted to see him up close. He stole a glance at Miki but she was far too busy ringing up purchases to notice him. Ah, what a shame.
Finally, the store closed for the day. Miki and Arimi was given the task of keeping track of whose sale belonged to who. Yuu's boss did the final calculations and it was determined that Rokutanda was the loser with only a difference of one shirt. Rokutanda couldn't believe his luck. He roared in frustration. Yuu was surprised it had been that close. Even though Yuu was the winner of this challenge, it could easily have been him who lost had Rokutanda sold a few more pieces of clothing. He wouldn't have been able to face Miki if he had to shave his head.
Ginta laughed with glee. "You have the worst of luck, don't you, Roku? Do send me a photo as proof that you did shave your head, alright?" Ginta rubbed Rokutanda's head. Rokutanda sighed in defeat.
Yuu's boss stepped forward, looking pleased. "You all did a great job! Even Rokutanda. It was a great sale today!" he said.
Ryouka sensei brought out a plate of desserts. "And with that, it's time for a break, everyone!" she announced.
"Boy, am I thirsty," said Rokutanda. All of his earlier energy had completely drained out of him at his loss. Namura sensei handed him a cup of tea.
"You can imagine my surprise when I discovered all of you were working at my friend's store," said Namura sensei.
"Yeah, I couldn't believe you and Ryouka sensei know the boss too," said Miki. Yuu smiled at Miki's happy face. He wanted to always see her smiling that way. She clearly loved how everybody knew each other.
Yuu's boss took out a few pair of shirts and handed it to Rokutanda. "Here you go, kid."
Rokutanda looked at them in surprise. "Eh?"
"With these shirts, the ladies won't be able to resist you. Trust me," Yuu's boss said.
At the mention of ladies not being able to resist him, Rokutanda's mood perked up. "Really?" he asked. He turned to Arimi with an expectant look. The moment his eyes connect with hers however, she turned her head away, making it known that she wasn't interested. Rokutanda's face fell. "Arimi…why are you always like this with me?" he started to sob. Everybody laughed at the predictable scene.
Everybody chatted away and finished their dessert and tea. The day soon grew dark and everybody parted ways. Yuu and Miki began their long walk for home. The night was calm and peaceful and Yuu was grateful for this chance to enjoy this precious moment walking with Miki. Her footsteps thread softy beside him. Every now and then Yuu would turn to catch her expression. She had that soft smile on her face. He wanted this night to go on forever.
Almost too soon, they reached their house.
"Ah…this was an interesting day," said Miki, breaking the silence.
"You can say that again." Yuu laughed, looking down at her. His eyes met with hers and his heart skipped a beat. How easily she did that to him. He tried not to show how it affected him.
Miki did a small stretch. "I don't know about you but I'm exhausted," she said.
Yuu merely laughed. He didn't want to admit it but trying to help all of those ladies were actually exhausting. He was determined to look tough in front of Miki.
After a while, Miki added, "I was worried for a moment there for you."
Yuu looked at Miki in surprise. "You were?" he asked. His heart beating in his ears. He liked that she was worried for him.
Miki nodded. "Rokutanda came pretty close. Say, Yuu…I'm glad you didn't have to shave your head," Miki said. She looked up at Yuu briefly before looking away again. Was it his imagination or was Miki blushing?
Yuu was still wondering about it when Miki opened the door and announced, "We're home!"
Something sat in the hallway. Yuu frowned at this. There were several packed suitcases in the hallway. But why?
"You're finally home!" Miki's mom said. Both she and Yuu's father were peering out from living room entrance. "You're late," she added. Soon, Miki's father and Yuu's mother also joined them in the hallway.
"What's with the suitcases?" asked Miki, hesitantly. She was no longer smiling.
"We're leaving for vacation tomorrow," said Yuu's father. He however was smiling broadly. And so was her mom.
"What?" both Yuu and Miki exclaimed.
"Why have I not heard of this before?" Miki demanded.
"You haven't? That's odd, I thought I told you about it," Miki's mom wondered but she didn't look too troubled by it.
"I thought one of us would have told them about the vacation that's why I didn't mention anything," said Yuu's mother.
"Well, no matter. Now that you know, do take care of the house while we're gone, will you?" Miki's father directed this at Yuu.
"Take care of the house?" Yuu repeated. This seem to imply that both he and Miki would not be joining their parents on this trip. But that would mean…
"We'll bring back some souvenirs for the both of you."
Yuu gulped. He was right. The conclusion he drew, both scared him and thrilled him at the same time. Starting from tomorrow, it would seem that he and Miki would be in the house alone together...just the two of them.