Standard disclaimers apply.
By Cassandra's Destiny
"…that piece of cardboard you stick to the wall that makes you close your eyes, do a three-sixty and point at a certain box for you to read after? Yes, that's the one."
"The answer is still no."
Rubbing her temples, Tenten took a seat opposite her uninvited guest. Much as she loved having visits from Lee, her neighbor and childhood friend, he can get really annoying, not to mention whiny.
"I am not taking your shift at the bakeshop."
"Tenten, spending an afternoon at the bakeshop is a very wonderful and rewarding experience! You get to meet all kinds of people and you are able to bring at least a speck of joy and happiness into their lives with the cakes and other pastries you serve!"
She rolled her eyes. "Why can't you go to work today anyway? If spending an afternoon at the bakeshop is that much of a rewarding experience, why wouldn't you have the honor of bringing that speck of joy and happiness into people's lives?"
Lee sensed the mockery in her voice. Tenten was never a morning person. Growing up with her and watching Saturday morning cartoons in her apartment when they were seven made him realize that much. She was cranky and irritable. She had all the snacks for herself and gave him only the chips and drinks she didn't fancy. The remote control was constantly by her side too! As a kid, Lee had to watch Zombie Fighters instead of spending half an hour learning valuable lessons with Lauren is Explorin'.
"I told you, me and the other guys are giving Naruto a surprise congratulatory party for his recent engagement!"
"And you start after lunch? I thought partying for men meant starting hours after sunset, staying up all night, playing pool or darts, and drinking beer 'til your belly is so big, you can see your feet no more! What kind of men are you? I bet you'd hold your surprise party at a garden with a huge fountain or something and you'd have tea and Danish cookies. You men are such sissies. Do you wear fancy clothing, arrange flower bouquets and use ice sculptures for centerpieces too?
Much as that speech of hers have probably injured male pride all over the globe, Lee chose not to retort. He respects Tenten's opinions… and needs a favor from her badly.
"All of us didn't risk asking for two days off from work. So the preparations will be done the same day the party will be held. Besides, I don't think Naruto likes Danish cookies."
Tenten raised a brow. The Danish cookies were seriously not the point.
"Lee, I am not watching your Bakeshop of Youth the entire afternoon. I have a life."
"And a wonderful life it is." Lee didn't want to resort to sarcasm. But since Tenten was being stubborn as a bull, he'll fight cynicism with cynicism.
"What are you talking about?"
"Tenten, it's your day-off."
"And need I remind you why today is your day-off?"
"Shut up." She snarled.
"Oh, but I don't want to, just like how you don't want to do me an important favor today."
Tenten scowled. Point for Lee.
Folding his hands and pouting his lips, Lee put on a mockery of a hopeless romantic girl, with the face, cutesy voice and all those works. "Lee, this is really wonderful! My boyfriend asked me out to dinner Friday night and I just know this is finally it! We'd get married, I'd have my career; he'd have his career. I'd be a working mother; he'd be a working father. I'll finally be able to give my parents grandchildren! Our kids will go to school and we'll pick them up after and go out for a family lunch or something. Isn't it just wonderful?"
"Stop it." Tenten snapped at his smooching noises. "Do I have to drag you out of my living room? Why are you trying to get under my skin? You know it's not going to work."
Lee regained his composure. "It's not going to work, huh?" Now he had victory written across his face. He had known Tenten for forever and a day, and even if she says his soliloquy wasn't getting to her, Lee can call her bluff anytime any day.
"My love life is none of your business."
"Love life? What love life? I think you better look at this." He slipped out a small piece of paper from his back pocket and handed it to Tenten. Very much annoyed yet curiosity still in tact, she unfolded the paper and read its contents.
"What the hell is this?" Her eyes narrowed at every single line she read.
"It's a list of your past boyfriends." Lee stated a matter-of-factly. "And as you can see, there are two columns in the paper."
"Yes, but the other column is empty."
Tenten shifted her gaze to Lee, who was sitting at the edge of the sofa, leaning closer to the paper she was holding.
"Both columns are supposed to contain the names of your past boyfriends." She scanned through the list. Slightly surprised, she realized Lee had noted down all of them, some of which even she have forgotten about. "Are you sure? Why is the other column empty?"
"Same reason you're home today in your sleeping clothes wearing bunny slippers."
She lifted her eyebrow. "What are you getting at?"
"Simple, really. The names listed on the left column belongs to your past boyfriends who dumped you for varying reasons." Lee took a breather before dropping the bomb on her. "And the names on the right column are those of your past boyfriends you yourself have broken up with."
Tenten twitched. Tenten visibly twitched. The right column was empty. No name was listed on it. "Lee—"
"What was that you said? You have a life? Yes, and a wonderful life it is."
"I am so going to get you for this blackmail."
He bobbed his head to the side. "Oh, but Tenten, this isn't blackmail. I'm just stating the facts. You have nothing better to do today. You caught yet another one of your hated boyfriends, who, need I mention, you don't care about, cheating on you and he dumped you on the spot. Knowing you, you probably won't be doing anything productive any time soon so I am actually doing you and the community a favor. See the logic?"
"Now the community's involved? What's next? World peace?"
Lee made clicking noises with his tongue. "Tenten, customers of the Bakeshop of Youth will not appreciate your sarcasm. So you have to serve the customers of the Bakeshop of Youth with a pleasant smile on your face this afternoon."
"Some friend you are." She snorted.
Lee was going to fight fire with fire no longer. Giving her his nice guy pose, he replied before heading for the door. "Yes, Tenten, and you will soon realize that I am a valuable friend indeed."
"What'll it be?" Tenten grudgingly asked the customer in front of her. This was stupid. She is a professional patent attorney, not some take-out girl you ask donuts from.
"You're doing it all wrong! You have to greet the customers properly." Sakura hissed in frustration while working at the next counter.
Tenten rolled her eyes. "Good afternoon, ma'am. Welcome to the Bakeshop of Youth where the pastries are always burning with the flames of our youthfulness. I will be your server, Tenten, and I am more than glad to share my springtime of youth with you. What would be your order of shining youthfulness, ma'am?"
Oddly enough, the woman, probably in her forties, was not making eye-contact with her. She was staring intently at her PDA, pressing in what Tenten supposed are important inputs in her career. "I'd have a latte and a muffin on the go."
Handing the lady her order in a small plastic, Tenten had no trouble serving the customer at all. She got the payment, gave her the receipt and exact change.
"Did you even ask the customer what muffin she wanted?"
Her eyes widened in disbelief. "Ask her what kind of muffin? A muffin is a muffin, Sakura. Plus, I don't see her complaining."
"What if you gave her the wrong muffin?" Sakura turned her attention to her fleeting customer. "Thank you for coming, sir. Please visit the Bakeshop of Youth again and we promise to serve your burning flames of youth with a smile and a generous sharing of our springtime of youthfulness. See you soon!" The customer smiled at the girl behind the counter and headed for the door.
Hearing the door chimes grow silent, Sakura turned to her companion once again. "There are different kinds of muffins here at the Bakeshop of Youth; each one burning with its distinct flame of youthfulness."
Annoyed, Tenten grabbed a pen and began poking a styrofoam cup on the counter. "What do you want me to do? Run after that customer and ask her what kind of muffin she wanted? It's not like she cared that I gave her a random muffin. She was too busy with her PDA to choose what distinct flame of youthfulness her muffin possessed." End of poking. "Besides, you're beginning to sound like one of them, Sakura. And, just a note from a friend to another friend, it's really getting creepy."
Sighing loudly, Sakura emerged from behind the counter to clean up the few tables in the bakeshop. Haruno Sakura has always been a kind and sweet girl. She has been the object of Lee's affections when they were in their early teens. And by a twist of fate or whatnot, what Tenten thought was true love truly did not work out. It was true Lee admired Sakura. It was true Sakura was kind to Lee. But Lee and Sakura together truly did not make magic. It truly was puppy love after all. Lee strongly decided not to act on his past feelings for the girl since it didn't work out once upon a time. Of course, Tenten also strongly decided that she will continue to cheer on his springtime of youth, telling him his flames of youth probably are burning for a special someone out there, no matter how dorky it may sound.
"Tenten, I can't believe I'm saying this, but you're more sarcastic today than you were the last time we saw each other. What's up?"
"I got dumped." Came her quick reply.
"Dumped? Shinji dumped you?"
"Yea, just like every other guy I've dated. Sometimes I don't know why I even bother. I mean, maybe Lee's right. Maybe my love life is just wonderful and super peachy." She made a face. "Life sucks."
Sakura empathized with the other girl. She has been friends with Tenten for a long time now and she has a good idea of just how many boyfriends she has had in the past. Moreover, she has mental tabs on which of her relationships turned sour or have gone to ruin, i.e. all of them. "If they did date you, there must have been some kind of spark, right?"
"Wrong. I'm like a trophy girl friend in their academic and corporate work. They'd tell their co-workers I'm an attorney, leaving the patent part, and they'd feel all high and mighty because all their friends will tell them they're smart enough to be at heads with an attorney."
"How does leaving out the word patent make a difference?"
"Being a patent attorney is not as glamorous as being a lawyer per se. We didn't graduate from the same course as usual lawyers. We didn't even study the same things as usual lawyers. We're not given the same powers of an attorney. Sometimes, we're not even considered lawyers. All in all, it's different. It's just is."
Sakura took a seat next to one of the cleaned tables. "Why do you continue to date them then? I thought you were a man-hater."
"I am a man-hater."
"But you constantly date guys."
She shrugged. "I know."
Sakura was getting confused. "So you hate the male population. You want to expand your career more than anything. And you date a lot. It doesn't make sense."
"Of course it doesn't." Tenten leaned against the counter before continuing. "I am an absolute oxymoron."
From the day Lee introduced Tenten to Sakura, Tenten has always been an opposite of herself. Moreover, Sakura has noted her as the boyish and independent type. "Of course! How can I forget?"
"Does this have anything to do with our sophomore year?"
Her lips twitched. "What day is today? Is it remind-Tenten-of-the-stupid-things-she-has-done day?"
Sakura opened her mouth to try to set Tenten straight. She really was crankier than usual. But something at the back of her mind told her not to feed her anger any longer. If you fight fire with fire, "you'll just get a bigger fire." She mentally added.
"Yes, it probably has something to do with that sophomore year incident. It probably has something to do with what happened the year after. But that's not the point, Sakura. You know what is?"
"What are you—" She was cut off by Tenten who was practically glowing with the determination of her youthfulness. "Maybe Tenten was right. I am beginning to sound like them."
"Haruno Sakura, as of today, I, Tenten, am now out of the dating scene. I no longer wish to redeem myself even if the past keeps haunting me. I will be a full-fledged man-hater if not a man-eater. From now on, I will be focusing on my career and would be keeping my eye on the beautiful corporate life ahead of me."
"Oh no, what have I done?"
And the door chimes went on.
"Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to the Bakeshop of Youth where the pastries are always burning with the flames of our youthful…" Sakura instantly stood up and began reciting the epic of a greeting to the new customer. Rudely enough, he ignored the girl and headed straight for the counter where Tenten was getting her act together. "Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to the Bakeshop of Youth where the pastries—"
"I'll have a coffee and a glazed kiwi tart, I guess. Please make it fast; I'm kind of in a hurry right now."
Tenten's mind stopped functioning after the words coffee and tart. The man standing before her was…wait, her mind stopped functioning, remember?
She blinked. "Oh, sorry." She murmured, taking note of his long dark hair, pale eyes, strong and sharp facial features, long and lean body. Everything about this man screamed sensuality. He was the perfect epitome of masculinity. Tenten thought.
"That'd be one coffee and a glazed kiwi tart on the go?" He gazed at her with disinterest and nodded.
So I'll be a full-fledged man-hater, huh?
"Tenten, wake up."
She groaned. "What the hell are you doing here? What time is it?"
"5 AM? Lee! What did you wake me up for? Oh shit!" She snapped up from her bed. "Did someone die?"
Lee shook his head. "No, but I got you a present."
"Yes, a present!"
Tenten stared at Lee incredulously. So he got her a present and decided to wake her up in the middle of the night?
"Why did I give you a spare key again?"
Holding a fist to his chest, Lee answered with great pride. "It is because you, Tenten, my friend, a youthful flower, would like me, your neighbor, the green beast of Konoha, Rock Lee, to protect you from all the lurking evil threatening your springtime of youth."
Tenten violently threw a pillow at him. "Idiot."
Lee scratched his head before sitting down on the corner of her bed. "Here." He handed her a small scroll with a bright yellow ribbon around it. "That is my gift to you. A gift that will serve as my thanks for taking my shift at the Bakeshop of Youth today."
Tenten's face softened. She couldn't help but smile at Lee's sincerity and thoughtfulness. True, he can be a bit careless and a tad bit overwhelming at times, but he is the most honest person she knows. True, he may come off as overbearing one too many times in the past, but she knew he meant well. "Thank you, Lee." She untied the ribbons. Upon scrutiny, she raised a brow. "What is this?"
"It's today's advice."
"You know, that piece of cardboard you stick to the wall that makes you close your eyes, do a three-sixty and point at a certain box for you to read after? Yes, that's the one."
"You're kidding, right?" There was no way she was taking advice from a piece of cardboard.
"No! In fact, how about you try it now, Tenten?"
"How about you make me breakfast instead?"
With a scowl on her face, Tenten got ready to pick today's advice. Lee took the honor of hanging it on her bedroom wall and reading the instructions to her while she followed each and every step.
"So close your eyes." She closed her eyes.
"Do a three-sixty." She did a three sixty.
"Point at a box." Tenten stopped. "How would I know if I'm pointing at a box and not at the wall?"
"Well," Lee cleared his throat. "I'd be guiding you."
And she pointed at a box.
"Open your eyes."
"Doing somebody a favor always does you heart good…?"
Lee chuckled. "What a coincidence, Tenten!"
Casting a glare at his direction, Tenten marched right back to her bed, throwing yet another pillow to Lee's head. "Go home. I have to go to work in a few hours."
He clutched the back of his head in confusion. Tenten wasn't going to yell and run after him, accusing him of making the advice up?
"My project manager called last night and told me a new executive director for Parcae Advertising has been introduced in a meeting yesterday. I have to get some sleep." A yawn… and a sly grin graced her face. "But don't think I'm not getting you for making me look stupid with that cardboard thing, Lee. You better watch what you're eating." Lee froze.
"It's 5 in the morning, right? Tenten really isn't a morning person."