Disclaimer - I don't own Rurouni Kenshin.
Chapter 1 - The Next Aisle
Kaoru was in the baking aisle the first time. She was pushing her cart down the aisle, and he was pushing his cart up. He looked like he was deciding which brand of sugar to buy, the store brand, or Dominos. The store brand was seventy five cents cheaper. He picked up the store brand. Kaoru would've done the same thing. All white sugar tasted the same anyway. She spotted the flour down the aisle and pushed her cart past him as he placed the sugar in his shopping cart. She was always on the lookout for attractive men. She was pretty sure it was subconscious.
She saw him again in the next aisle. She was coming up, and he was going down. He was picking out soup: Campbell's. Shame; she was a Progresso girl herself. But she didn't need soup today, so she pushed her cart past his and went for the peanut butter. She was almost out. That would not do for the nights when she ate peanut butter crackers for dinner.
In the next aisle he was standing right next to the V8 splash. She needed her V8 splash.
"Excuse me," she said, coming out from behind her shopping cart. He was still attractive close up. Sometimes, people were disappointing when you got too close.
"Oh, sorry," he said, stepping away from the cranberry juice and directly in front of the V8 splash.
"No. I meant behind you," she said, feeling a little embarrassed that she had to make him move again.
His violet eyes widened a little. She had to give him points for those. Violet was her favorite color. "Sorry," he said again, and moved back further. His leg brushed against his cart.
"No, it's my fault," she said, successfully snagging a liter of V8 splash from the shelf. Three sixty-nine. Ouch. Well, this was why she had a job. She flashed him a smile. "Thanks."
She saw him again in the next aisle, picking out coffee. She smiled at him for a moment and he smiled back. He had a nice smile.
In the next aisle she was deciding which cereal she should get when he pushed his cart into the aisle behind a young mother with two toddling twins and a baby. Kaoru watched from the corner of her eye as one of the twins finished his bottle and handed it to the man. He smiled down at the kid and looked kind of lost for a moment until the mother noticed and took the bottle back from him, apologizing. He said it was no big deal and Kaoru decided she liked the sound of his voice.
He walked toward her and she shook her head the tiniest bit to clear it, paying attention to the cereals for real now. Frosted Mini-wheats were on sale: one sixty-nine a box. She reached for one as he reached for a box of Frosted Cheerios next to her.
"We meet again," Kaoru joked, because she had to say something.
"So we have," he said seriously. And then, "Are you going on a camping trip?"
He gestured towards her cart. "It looks like you're buying food for a trip, that's all."
She laughed. "Oh that. It's because I can't cook. Or I can, but I'm too lazy to actually do it. I like instant food, hence the ramen."
"You don't eat meat?" he asked, as if a person couldn't be expected to exist without it.
"If I have guests, or if I go out to eat." Kaoru shrugged and decided she wanted a box of Frosted Cheerios too. One more box of cereal and she'd be good.
He shrugged and picked up a box of Frosted Flakes. "Well I guess the fact that you're still alive says something."
"I'm alive, alright," Kaoru nodded, deciding on Cinnamon Life and placing the three boxes of cereal in her shopping cart.
"See you in the next aisle," he said as she pushed her cart away.
Kaoru raised her hand in a lazy wave, but didn't look back. She had to admit, the guy was one of the more attractive supermarket friends she'd made. Usually the people she wound up going up and down the aisles with calmly went about their business and ignored her, or their little kids stared at her, so they felt the need to say hello. Kids loved her hair. If only they knew what a pain waist length hair was to take care of. Soon, she'd probably chop it all off and donate it to Locks of Love.
She sped up, or he slowed down, because she didn't see him again until the parking lot. He was parked across from her. A Mazda sports car. She liked his car better than hers. Maybe if she asked nicely he'd agree to swap.
"Need any help?" he asked as she loaded her bags into the back of her car.
"No thanks," she said. "I'm good."
"Alright. Nice meeting you," he said.
He got in his car, backed out of the parking space, and drove away. Kaoru slammed the lid of her trunk down and turned to push the car back to the store. His voice got better every time she heard it.
She met him again over a month later in the laundry room of her apartment. It was one o'clock in the afternoon on a Monday and she'd taken the day off from work. He was loading clothes into two different washers. Kaoru needed three. She chose the open washers across from him.
"Hi," she said, wondering if he'd remember her.
He looked up and laughed. "You live here?"
"Yeah," Kaoru answered with a smile as she transferred laundry from her basket to the washers. "Tenth floor. You?"
"Fifth. I know I haven't seen you before."
Kaoru shrugged. "Just wasn't meant to be, I guess."
"I'm Kenshin Himura," he said, holding out his hand across the top of the washing machines.
She stretched to grasp it. "Kaoru Kamiya. So how's life been since the grocery store?" Kaoru asked as he fished around in his pocket for quarters to put in the machine.
He laughed. "It's looking up. I haven't been back since. My girlfriend does most of the food shopping, thankfully. What about you?"
It seemed like all the appealing ones taken were these days. Or gay. "I can't complain," she said. "Well, not much. Only about the laundry sucking away all my quarters."
"This is my last day doing laundry here," he said. "My girlfriend and I are moving in together. We're renting a row house."
"Congratulations," Kaoru said, since he seemed relieved.
"Thanks," he said, placing the last of his quarters in the machine and starting both the washers. "In a month, I should be in quarter heaven."
"Maybe some day I'll get there," Kaoru joked.
He picked up his laundry detergent and clothes basket. "I'll look out for you." He headed towards the door. "Nice meeting you again, Kaoru Kamiya."
"Likewise," she said as he waved a little and walked out the door. Damn, she really did like the sound of his voice.
She met him again nine months later. She was on vacation, but she had nowhere to go for vacation, so she was in the laundry room of her apartment, once again. She was almost done, taking the clothes from the dryer and tossing them in her clothes basket. She glanced up when he walked in.
"Kaoru?" he asked in disbelief.
"What are you doing here?" she asked at the same time. She'd been perfectly happy forgetting about his violet eyes and the sound of his voice and his red hair.
They both paused for a moment and started laughing as Kenshin walked towards her. He recovered first. "I didn't think you still lived here. How've you been?"
"You don't live here," Kaoru proclaimed. "What are you doing in the laundry room?"
"I moved back four months ago. My ex-girlfriend moved to Seattle." His eyes drifted down to her hands.
She realized she was holding a pair of Sano's boxers. How Megumi had left them in her apartment, she'd never know and didn't want to. Having friends really didn't work to her advantage sometimes.
"I'm sorry," Kaoru said. What else did you say to that?
"Don't be," he said mildly. "I'm cool with it. I'm not so cool with being rejected from quarter heaven."
Kaoru smiled. He remembered their joke. "Yeah, well I haven't made it there yet, so don't gloat."
"Still, to enter it for four months and then be kicked out," he continued, "To have experienced the joy of having actual quarters for a time period longer than two weeks, to have refrained from changing ten dollar bills into rolls of quarters at the bank for five whole months-"
"I get it, I get it," Kaoru interrupted. "Heartbreaking. But don't they say it's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all?"
"They were talking about people when they said that. I'm talking about quarters. Quarters are harder to get over because you keep losing them over and over and over and over and over-"
"Do you have a quarter fetish?"
Kenshin laughed. "You know what? I think I do."
"Maybe you ought to get that checked out."
"Nah. I'm too far gone."
"Well I don't know what to say to that," Kaoru admitted. The voice, the eyes, the face, the hair, and now he had a sense of humor.
"Do you feel single?" she asked before she thought too much about possible embarrassment that could result from this incident.
"It sounds like you don't actually know."
"To be honest, I don't even understand the question."
"After living with someone and then not, how long did take to get back on your feet?"
He shrugged. "My ex got married last month, but I haven't really dated yet. It's different for everyone."
Kaoru blushed. "That's not what I meant."
He didn't look upset, just watched her with a slight smile.
"I meant good for me, because I was looking for a lucky guy like you to give a free meal."
"You need a date for something, but you don't want it to be a real date."
"Do you mind?"
"Well I'm a little upset that you haven't fallen prostrate at my feet to worship me like all the other women in my life, but I'll get over it."
"I'll have you there and back in two hours if you're free tonight."
"I guess I'll be one step closer to watching you grovel at my feet it if I go."
Kaoru blinked. "Or you won't be."
"Humor me. What time?"
"Six. My friends are threatening me with this guy named Larry. Megumi said he's got fish lips. Her and her boyfriend have a six-thirty dinner reservation for four at Hard Rock Café down at harbor."
"Larry sounds wonderful."
"I'm sure he's a great guy."
He shook his head. "You don't believe that. Admit it. You're turned off by his fish lips and you haven't even met him yet."
"I'll do no such thing. Listen, you get to stay single, go out with a beautiful woman with no strings attached, and eat free food from Hard Rock Café. Don't criticize the beautiful woman."
He rolled his eyes. "How'd your friends get a reservation? I thought you had to stand outside and wait for hours. Did they change the policy or something?"
"No, Sano paid some kid fifty bucks to make the reservation and hold our spot."
"Sano sounds like a smart man."
"Don't let Megumi hear you say that. Meg's a doctor and Sano's a physical therapist. They both work at Mercy hospital downtown. The wedding's in May, but Sano wants to elope to Vegas. Megumi usually gets her way."
He laughed. "If I have a horrible time, I blame you."
"You won't, but believe me, I already blame myself. So I'll see you in a few hours?"
He shrugged. "Sure. Where am I meeting you?"
"The lobby at six?"
Kaoru picked up her laundry basket. "Thanks, Kenshin. I'll see you later."