"...and there's your change! Thank you very much for your patronage!" Tohru bowed at the departing customer and turned to the next. "May I... and there's nobody there."
She looked around, finally focusing on a man checking a clipboard. "Assistant Manager-san! There's nobody else waiting at checkout right now. Do you want me to stock shelves?"
"Eh? Honda-san? Uh, no. Since there's a lull, why don't you take your break right now."
"Ah, if at all possible, I really would prefer to take my break at the normal time."
"No, I think it would be more convenient if you took it now instead."
"Ah... well, then. I guess I'm going on break."
"Back in ten, Honda-san."
"Y-yes. Back in ten."
Distracted, Tohru walked to the back of the grocery store and through a door marked 'Employees Only.' Inside was a small room, empty at the moment, with a battered couch, a refrigerator, and an ashtray. Tohru closed the door behind her and reached into her apron pocket, pulling out a cell phone. She quickly dialed a familiar number and waited.
"Hello, Kyo. I'm sorry to leave a voice mail, but I won't be able to answer the phone when you call at our usual time. Things are just too busy at the store today." Tohru straightened up and changed to a brighter tone of voice. "So, I guess I'll have to make it up to you by making dinner extra-special tonight! That's the best part about me working for a supermarket, isn't it? I'll always get the best deals on the tastiest ingredients. So, since we won't be able to talk until you get home, please look forward to that, all right?" Tohru closed her eyes. "I love you so much, Kyo. You're everything to me. Come home safe." She flipped the phone closed and slipped it back into her pocket.
Just then, the door opened again. A man in an apron walked in and saw her. "Ah, Honda isn't it?"
"Yes, that's me," Tohru bowed in greeting. "Hello, uh.. Fishmonger-san."
"Ah, Fuyuki-san. I'll remember your name from now on."
"Super. You know, you've been with the store for two weeks now, and we haven't even had a chance to chat." He put his hand on the wall next to Tohru, a little closer to her than she felt comfortable with."
"Ah... that... that's true. I apologize for that." Tohru racked her brains for a nice professional topic. "So, Fuyuki-san, is there any good bargains on fish for today?"
"Fish? Well, we'll probably have some mackerel left over that needs to be sold by today that we can probably let you have for pretty cheap." He smiled slyly. "Why, do you want to make me dinner?"
"Excuse me, I'm sorry, I was actually going to cook for my boyfriend."
"Oh. You have a boyfriend?" Fuyuki's friendly attitude dropped and his voice dripped with ice. "You might have mentioned that before I embarrassed myself."
"Ah, if you'll forgive my presumption, Fuyuki-san, I don't think you did anything to cause embarrassment for yourself."
"Isn't your break over by now, Honda-san?"
"Ah... well, I had a couple of minutes left, but I suppose I could... ah, I'll see you later, Fuyuki-san."
"Good-bye", he said with finality.
Even with only two week's experience, Tohru knew that Friday evenings were the busiest at work. Those people who were paid on a weekly basis received their wages that day, and the first item on the shopping list was food. Tohru scanned item after item at the register for an endless parade of young mothers and wives (often with children in tow), single women coming from work, single men buying a weekend's worth of beer, and the occasional elderly customer counting out exact change.
Through it all, Tohru kept one eye on the clock. Seven was the magic hour. She'd go home, clean up the apartment a little, and have dinner waiting and ready for when Kyo got home a little after eight. A half hour to go... fifteen minutes... five... Tohru could feel the anticipation physically within her.
"Excuse me, Honda-san, do you have a minute?"
"Ah, Shift Manager-san! Yes, how can I help?"
"We've got a little bit of a problem. Takahashi-san unfortunately had to leave early to take care of one of her children, so we're a bit short-handed at the moment. Could I impose on you to stay until we close tonight at Eight? You'll get paid overtime for your trouble, of course."
Tohru wanted to say 'no.' But between sympathizing with the long lines of people wanting to buy food, and the thought of what an extra hour of work at time-and-a-half would be able to buy... "Yes, I'll do it. Thank you for the opportunity, Shift Manager-san."
"Thank you, Honda-san."
Eight o'clock finally arrived. The last customers were let out the front doors, which were locked behind them. Tohru quickly scurried over to the fish section. A young man there (Tohru was relieved to see it wasn't Fuyuki) was clearing out the crushed ice and hosing down the display cases.
"Excuse me.. I was told earlier that there might be some mackerel past the sell-by date?"
He looked at her and scratched his chin. "Mackerel? I think there was some of it earlier... oh yeah. We did have a few fillets, but our boss bought them all. Took 'em home already."
"Mr. Fuyuki. Nice guy, and a really good fish cutter, but boy was he in a lousy mood today. Gee... I wish I could help you out."
Inside, Tohru blanched, but she tried not to let the dismay show. "No, that's okay. I've got plenty of fresh vegetables at home and some nice kamaboko. It'll still be good."
She hurried to the front of the store. She still had time to get home before Kyo did at least. So at least she could make him a nice cup of tea as soon as he walked in the door.
The apartment was dark. She thanked all the gods she knew of that she got there first. She'd hate for Kyo to arrive at a cold, dark home. She never wanted anyone she loved to have to do that, and especially not Kyo.
In a matter of minutes the kettle was heating up and the rice cooker was started. "I guess he was a little late getting home tonight. Lucky for me that it happened to be tonight of all nights."
By eight-thirty, she started feeling a little nervous. Fifteen minutes later, and no Kyo yet, she was feeling outright frightened.
She dialed his cell number, and was immediately transferred to his voice mail. She was too flustered to speak and immediately hung up. Quickly, she dialed another number.
"Ah... Dojo master-san?" Instinctively, she bowed while speaking. "If I could trouble you, I was wondering if you could tell me if Kyo Sohma was still there, or if he has left already."
"Ah, Sohma-kun isn't here any more. Unfortunately, he had to go to the hospital to..."
The next few words did not register in hear head. After the word "hospital" was spoken, she heard nothing but the blood pounding in her ears. Kyo. Hospital. It was happening again.
"But Honda-san, it's just..."
"Which hospital?", she asked in a tone far more strident than she was used to.
Seconds later, Tohru was out the door.
"I'm sorry, miss, but we aren't treating anyone by that name."
Tohru was on the verge of... something. She had never been hysterical before, but from descriptions she had read before, she figured that that must be it.
"You've got to check again! I need to see him."
"Miss, do you know for certain that he's here? Perhaps you were misinformed and he's actually at another location."
"I... I don't know. I was just told it was this clinic. Do you think it was possible that he was brought in and... and he couldn't give you his name? Do you have anyone like that here? He's about 185 centimeters, and has orange hair, he's quite thin and..."
"Did you say orange hair? I think I saw someone like that over in the orthopedic section earlier."
"Where is that?"
The nurse pointed to her right "Down the hall and..."
Tohru was on the move.
There he was. Standing so tall and strong, so handsome in his black gi. Speaking with the doctor, laughing. Tohru's heart was in her throat. He's okay. He's safe. He's okay. Tears of relief came to her eyes.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her. He turned to face her. "Tohru! You're here!"
"Kyo... I... You..." Some rogue tears leaked out.
"Calm down, Tohru. Everything's okay."
"Kyo... you... in the hospital. And I thought... but I couldn't find you... and dinner... but the mackerel... and work was so hard... and that man was... was so rude, and he HIT on me... and... and it's my... KYO, YOU JERK!" She whirled around and ran towards the exit.
"Listen Tohru, you're going to have to stop crying sooner or later."
"It's... it's all over, Uo-chan. He's going to hate me now. I said such mean things to him."
"I'm sure you're wrong, Tohru. I can't imagine any situation ever where he could possibly hate you. And even if you said anything mean to him, the chances are that he deserves it."
"N-no, that's not true. My Kyo takes such good care of me, he should never hear a single cross word from my mouth."
"The two of you have been away from the rest of us for two months now. He's probably not getting anywhere near the daily dose of corrective action that he used to get from me, Hana, and the Prince. As a result, I'm sure he's getting really uppity and cocky. So you've got to smack him down every once in awhile."
"S-smack him down?"
"Show him who's boss. Imagine if your old man every said anything to tick off Kyoko. She wouldn't take it lying down, would she?"
"Oh, my father would never have done anything like that."
"Yeah, but Kyo isn't like your old man, is he?"
"I, uh, suppose not."
"So listen. What you need to do is to go back... and not apologize. He'll back down, and you'll both be happy. You just absolutely cannot apologize. And do your best to stay mad at him."
"But first, you need to call Hana. And don't let her know you called me first. If she finds out, she'll give me hell."
Despite her tears, Tohru laughed.
After she gathered her courage, Tohru returned to the orthopedic ward. She found Kyo waiting there with a worried expression on his face.
"I, um, I'm really sorry Tohru. Really. When I got here originally, I thought I'd be out quickly—plenty of time to get home for dinner as usual."
Tohru cocked her head a bit and said nothing.
"Oh, I didn't even explain why I'm here. Um... it's because of him." Kyo motioned to a boy, perhaps eight or nine years old. His left arm was in a sling. "This is Suzuki-kun. His first name is... Yuki, believe it or not. He's in one of the beginner classes."
Instantly Tohru felt a wave of sympathy in her chest. She barely resisted the urge to hug the boy, who looked fairly miserable.
"He, uh, hurt himself in class today, and his parents were both still at work, so Master asked me to bring him to the hospital. I thought it was just a sprain, but it turns out he broke it. His wrist, I mean. So it took us a lot longer."
"W-why didn't you call?"
"I'm sorry... I tried, but my phone didn't get a signal inside the building. And I really couldn't leave him, even to step outside. He was... he seemed so scared."
"I... I won't apologize!"
"I know, Tohru."
"I was so frightened." The tears started leaking out again.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Remember..." she felt herself shaking a bit. "This is... this is all your fault!"
"Can I please say just four things?"
"Bad things do happen sometime, and I'm sorry it had to happen today."
"Thank you for taking such good care of me every day."
"Whoever he is, if he hits on you again, he's losing his kneecaps."
Once again, she giggled through her tears. "Three."
"I love you... and happy birthday." He gently took her into his arms. Young Yuki looked away, a little embarrassed at this intimate scene.
"Hey, you knew I sucked at math when I asked you to run away with me."
Tohru frowned. "But now I have to call Uo-chan again."
"I sort of broke a promise. You're just too hard to stay mad at, Kyo."