New York, 7:05 AM
"So you really think this soul-mate business is overrated?"
"Absolutely, K. Imagine, if each of us was made one-half of a puzzle, what if the other piece is right across the globe? That's like saying I can never be whole."
"My my, and you have no faith that the red threads of fate can transcend time and space, bringing you two together?"
"I think… K, you watch too many movies. : ) Anyways, I've gotta eat my late dinner, catch you later."
Living in big cities was never as glamorous as it looked. There was no concept of personal space. People and vehicles jostled for territory during rush hours. Smoke rising from sewers, constant drilling and construction of their concrete jungle, the honks from irate drivers… Let's just say that it wasn't her version of an ideal life, if she really had a choice.
Rental was high in city spaces as well. Manhattan, in particular. She was lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment along Seventh Avenue, within walking distance of the subway and Central Park. In between trying to finish her university degree and her part-time job as a "curator" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Shizuru was finding life to be unbearably busy. Referring to her job scope as a curator was actually a laughable matter between herself and her friends. She was yet to be qualified in managing the exquisite art pieces that the museum had on display from time to time. Rather, she had to know enough about them in order to entrance the school children on tours within the museum. She was quite popular too, and her boyfriend Reito would constantly tease her about it. Her prepubescent charges tend to be enraptured by her tales of the various art pieces, and the adults loved her for her passion in divulging the history behind those magnificent works. Reito would proudly declare, however, that Shizuru was an asset to the museum just because of her looks and her accent.
It was true, that the tall, tawny-haired young woman was quite an attraction to the museum by herself. Her pale, regal features, and crimson eyes, much like that of an albino, Shizuru stood out from the rest with her fragile beauty. And when she spoke, the most melodic sounds escape her lips, a curious blend of accents. Shizuru was not a native New Yorker, and had spent most of her childhood in Paris and London due to her father's work commitments. Even having spent a few years in New York, Shizuru could never quite kick her accent and blend in with the local folk. It wasn't apparent to her, but her accent actually drew in her audience, hypnotizing and capturing their attention whilst she spun her stories of the art pieces. She took compliments of her looks and grace in her stride, never indulging in them as she understood first-hand the capricious nature of people. In her youth, she had been subject to ceaseless ridicule and teasing because of her "albino eyes" and mixed parentage.
As she got ready for another day at school, Shizuru checked her laptop out of habit. D seemed to be offline, she noted with disappointment. Ah well, she would keep herself occupied with her projects and work. It would probably be another twelve hours before she would get to check in with her virtual friend.
The inside of the shop was stifling hot. The air was saturated with the appetizing smell of grilling and frying. Occasionally, the wooden door slid opened with a loud bang, letting in the night breeze to a chorus of "Irrashaimase!"
Salarymen in their white shirts with their sleeves rolled up sat in a row in front of the counter, slurping down their noodles and sake. The tables were packed as well, with customers shouting their orders to the lady boss, who always had a smile for everyone. It was a late hour on a weekday night, yet the small shop in Shinjuku continued a brisk business.
"Natsuki! More orders for yakitori, can you handle it?" A girl with orange hair popped her head out of the kitchen, which was only separated from the customers by overhanging pieces of dark blue cloth.
"On it!" Came the deep reply, as another girl hovered over the grill, lathering chunks of meat with the dark, sticky teriyaki sauce, all with practiced ease. Her dark hair was caught up in a ponytail, and she wiped her sweating brows with the white towel around her neck.
"Business is good as always, eh, Ojou." A middle-aged man in front of the counter grinned and raised his sake cup in salute.
"Hai, Yamada-san. Mai-chan's parents make the best ramen and yakitori in town. It's a small wonder." Natsuki replied jovially without taking her eyes off the grilling sticks of meat.
"It's a good thing they're not short of helpers like you, Nat-chan." The man laughed while stroking his satisfied belly and getting up from his stool. "I can't imagine what they'll do without you."
He thumbed a few notes and slapped it down on the table. Natsuki gave a grimace as she looked up at him. "Arigatou Yamada-san. I'm just a humble employee earning a meager wage."
The man laughed heartily as he slid open the shop door and waved without looking back. "Take care now, Nat-chan. Don't work too hard."
The door slid shut and Natsuki rang a bell to signal someone to clear the tables. Mai came out of the kitchen in an apron, balancing four bowls of piping hot ramen to her customers.
"Gomen, Natsuki, for making you stay late again."
"It's okay Mai." Natsuki gave her a winsome smile. "It's not like I have better things to attend to." As she said this however, her emerald green eyes slid to her keitai next to the counter. Mai noticed the look and walked over to clear Yamada's table.
"It's morning in America right? I made you miss your daily chats with K."
Natsuki gave a shrug as she whisked a bunch of skewered meat into a tray and passed it to Mai. "S'okay, I can always catch her again during her night time. I can do some writing or drawing in the meantime."
Mai gave her friend a sorrowful look and grasped her hand before she retracted it. "Natsuki, you know this life isn't for you. With your talents, you'd probably go far, if you'd just try."
Natsuki rolled her eyes and tried to give her good friend a reassuring wink. "Don't worry about me, Mai. All in good time, all in good time."
Mai knew when to let the matter drop. It wasn't a good time to discuss anyway, what with the customers to serve, and the noise level within the shop. She patted her friend's hand before letting go.
"Alright. Since it's the shop's rest day tomorrow, I'm meeting Nao and a few others later at the Hachiko statue for Karaoke. Wanna join?"
"So late?" Natsuki asked distractedly as she checked her mobile. K was online, but her status was set to "Away". She sighed as her thumbs flew quickly across the touchpad.
"Sorry, another busy day at work. Catch you later tonight." She hit the Send button.
She looked up at Mai's expectant face and waggled her finger threateningly. "Just don't make me sing, and you have a deal."