Author's Note: I'd like to say that my inspiration for this fic is solely due to Asahi's likeness to my own disposition. I suppose that is why I like her so much as a character. We'll see how this short piece will play out!
What You Are
Today wasn't so different. As usual, Asahi found herself fulfilling her own perpetual prophecy. It was her predetermined affinity for tomfoolery that faded into the background and became a natural part of her daily, uneventful life. Finally, after a year of ritually duping herself, she'd become used to the hopeless and annoying feeling. Simply put, today, or any other day, would never be any different.
After her classes, Asahi marched on down to the local, but popular Siggy restaurant, reminding herself that if she wanted Grad school to be a possibility in her future, she needed to collect the extra money now. It was what kept her going on Brutal Tuesday's, when she was downright exhausted but still needed to study after such a long shift to pass her complicated exams.
The people at Siggy were snooty, the children were messy, and people who lived in Tokyo were just plain impatient. She was on the go at the top, and bottom, of the hour, washing dishes, cleaning spills, backing up the new waiters and waitresses, and training a new employee.
But, her work was made bearable by the one and only Shinogu Narita. He was the culprit, the reason for her prophecy fulfilling itself each day, over and over again. Because of him, Asahi was lovesick, like the hapless girl she'd been in highschool, who'd liked, or loved a jerk and learned her lesson or whatever. Shinogu, of course, was different. He was the nice guy, the kind that bought in coffee because he knew she needed the energy boost after a half day of classes. He was the considerate one who walked with her to the train station before they split paths and headed home.
For a change, Asahi wanted a nice—and handsome—guy to ogle over. And she'd found him. They'd met in college, when they were freshman. Then, she'd been blinded, overlooking, because the best romances were supposed to be immediate. Shinogu had been hot, and still was, but he wasn't the bad boy of every girl's fantasies. He was the nice guy, the one whose gestures could easily be misread and taken as gestures of love . . . or like. It was why Asahi was careful, and why her caution made a fool out of her. She was constantly battling between brushing off his actions as nothing more than being a good friend and the other side where she believed that somewhere, he did care for her, more than on the basis of being friends.
"Here you go," Shinogu suddenly said. Asahi turned sharply, hoping he hadn't seen her spaced out while taking her sweet time to remove her jacket.
Today was no different because he had her coffee, two creams, one pack of sugar. Shinogu was being considerate again, on Brutal Tuesday, and there she was, reliably fumbling over the gesture.
His dark mane of hair, cut to crop his face, was slightly wet underneath the white, cotton hat. He looked simply adorable, freshly showered and all bundled up to escape the winter cold.
"Thanks," Asahi said, reaching up to grab the Styrofoam cup. He warned her of the coffee's obvious hot temperature, but Asahi figured it was the big brother in him that urged him to protect her, nothing more. It took her a while to remember that one.
More employees began to flow into the kitchen, holding trays filled with dirty plates and utensils. While the first quarter waiters hurried to timeout from their finished shifts, others began checking in.
Then, Asahi and Shinogu would part to their respective duties after about ten minutes of organizing themselves over coffee.
"Asahi!" shouted Mr. Hajime. He was short, plump, and in charge, barking out orders since his new promotion. "Get those dishes in the steamer now! They've been in the water since you started!"
"Yes, sir!" Asahi answered, tired of his exaggerations. She hated when people made her sound lazy.
"And when you're done with that, table two is waiting for their bill!" Mr. Hajime was gone through the double door, taking with him the monstrous sound of clatter and talking from the patrons outside.
Quickly, Asahi went to work cleaning the last set of dishes, placing them neatly into their tray to be brought over to the steamer. She moved to the middle of the kitchen, routinely maneuvering through her co-workers as they scattered and raced to get where they needed to go. She simply tuned out the clamorous sound of hard work, struggling to get the heavy tray over. When that was done, Asahi ran to get table two's bill.
"Hey, love bird! Don't work too hard out there," shouted Shuji. Asahi gave him a flat, playful look. He always teased her about Shinogu and her girly feelings toward him, saying everyone in Tokyo knew about her not-so-secret crush. Though he lived with Shinogu, Shuji never betrayed Asahi to him.
"Right," Asahi replied before heading out into the sea of costumers. The smell of everyday pasta and other foods on the menu blended in so much that Asahi could barely tell the difference anymore. Since working at Siggy's, she learned to be quick on her feet, to smile all the time, and to put the needs of the costumers' before her own. Those tasks weren't too hard since those skills were already hardwired into Asahi, especially the latter trait. It was something she and Shinogu had in common.
Shinogu never thought of himself when it came to others, especially his family, and Asahi wasted most of their short-lived conversations on reminding him that he too was human and needed help from those he loved. Not even Asahi could take care of herself completely when she was entirely honest with herself. Her mother still payed half of her cellphone bill. For Shinogu to run himself to the ground, working three part-time jobs while attending college on the pretenses of becoming independent and less of a burden, made Asahi more than worried.
She hadn't even known why he was so driven to be on his own until a few months ago.
All of the time she had known him, Shinogu wasn't a Narita after all, he'd been adopted. She'd overheard Azusa and him discussing his annulment documents that would remove him from being the legal son of the Narita's. Even then, the notion of it all was a bit too drastic in the name of being independent. She'd stuck around long enough for the snake to bite her, to sink its venomous fangs right into her heart.
Not only was Shinogu working hard to be free, he was also in love with his younger sister, Harumi. He could perform all of the nicest gestures in the world for Asahi, but all along, he'd been in love with his kid sister. Though they weren't related, his reasonable discomfort was the cause for his wanting to leave the Narita's. It was why he overlooked Asahi, why Harumi's dating Ryoki bothered him, why he took care of Harumi so much.
When she'd found out while eavesdropping in the hallway before going back to her apartment, a huge hole had been blown into her chest. It hurt like hell, and she felt stupid, pitiful, and just . . . sour. She couldn't compete with him loving a girl he'd known since he was very young. The whole idea sounded twisted to her, and probably to Shinogu, even, but there was real truth in having no say in whom one loved.
Shinogu had caught her snooping, and at that point, Asahi couldn't hold it in any longer. She'd burst out in uncontrollable tears, promising to say nothing to anyone. Silently promising to herself to put the foolish romance she envisioned aside for good. Of course, even after hearing the news and months later, she still dreamed of their perfect romance. There was no harm in it, as long as he didn't know. She wanted him to be happy, with no more amorous complications.
At least since her mishap, Shinogu now looked to her as a sort of confidant . . . kind of. He asked her about what certain things girls liked in a rude, careless, controlling guy. Or why girls fell for the bad ones. Of course, the questions stemmed from his concern, and possible jealousy of Harumi dating Ryoki, but Asahi brushed it off and answered his questions with the best answers possible, like a dummy.
She was no love guru in the least bit. There were no love potions or remedies up her sleeve, she was plain old Asahi, who got hurt, trampled over, and who worked hard. That was all to her. At face value, she and Shinogu sounded one in the same, and maybe that was their problem to begin with. They weren't opposite enough. . . .
"Excuse me, ma'am. . . ." Asahi looked up from the round tray jabbed into her side. She was looking over the bill, making sure everything was right. "The other waitress didn't come out with my daughter's dessert yet." Inwardly sighing, Asahi smiled.
"I'll get right on that, ma'am. I apologize for the inconvenience," Asahi heard herself say. The new waitress she was training messed up again.
Turning on her heel, Asahi came face first into Shinogu, jutting her tray into his stomach. His arm carrying a full plate of food went crashing all around them, in a chorus of breaking glass and porcelain. People gasped, screamed, and stopped. It took Asahi seconds she didn't have to register what had just happened.
The two of them, Shinogu and her, were covered in spaghetti sauces, salad dressing, and soft drinks, looking down at the mess she'd created. He was the first to respond, as usual.
"I'll get it," he announced, immediately heading toward the kitchen. Asahi stood there, like a fool, watching as the edible mess mixed with each other, producing some mutant superfood bent on destroying Asahi's life.
"Me too!" she said to no one.
When she entered the kitchen, Mr. Hajime was already on her back, yelling for her to clean up the mess while the cooks had to work overtime to get table five their overdue meals. Even Shinogu took the unfair heat. Asahi held back her humiliation and disorientation, but the additional energy came in the form of shaky hands and constant apologies.
Asahi made it through Brutal Tuesday with her job still intact. However, Mr. Hajime expressed his anger clear enough by cutting her hours for next week and putting her on shutdown duty. So she swept, mopped, put away the dishes, cleaned the tables, and ignored her stained hair and uniform. When it was time to go, the clock read 12:15 a.m.
She said goodbye to Shuji, the only other co-worker she liked, and left. Putting on her jacket helped Asahi feel her achy muscles and sore ankles. All she wanted was sleep.
Outside, the cold, hard air, shoved its way into her lungs, refreshing the dry and stagnant oxygen she'd gotten from inside Siggy. She huddled into her jacket, pulling her scarf so that it could at least cover her mouth.
Shinogu still waited for her by the left brick wall that held the potted, decorative plants. He would have helped, but Mr. Hajime hated when he went over his hours.
Asahi tossed him a guilt-ridden, sad smile, and he lifted himself from off the wall. Together, they began their seven-minute walk to the train station. On long nights like these, Shuji usually took Asahi home, if he didn't have his other job to work.
"I'm so sorry, Shinogu," Asahi said again. She clamped her gloved hands into her hair, wondering how she could have been so slow and stupid. "Ugh!"
"Don't worry about it. It wasn't that bad," he replied. But she knew he was lying to make her feel better. His hair still smelled of orange soda and pickles. But she smelled worse.
"It was," Asahi complained. The scene kept replaying in her head, shocking her every time, and curdling her blood. "It was really bad."
"We both have our jobs still, you know how Mr. Hajime can get. . . ."
"Thank God," Asahi said. She wondered how he'd react if Harumi had taken her place. By now, he would certainly have his arm around Harumi, to cheer her up in his protective embrace. The image killed Asahi every time.
"You've got a final tomorrow, right?" Shinogu asked. He kicked a piece of pebble and it went skidding off into the road.
Surprised, Asahi nodded. He never remembered stuff like that. "It's an all nighter for me," she informed. If she grabbed another coffee and an energy drink for the latter part of the morning, she'd be okay.
"What, really? That's not good," Shinogu warned. Their walk reminded Asahi of the time they'd spent in college a few years ago. Sometimes, they'd aimlessly walk around campus to take a break from studying together, engaged in animated conversation. But those days were gone, Shinogu wanted to grow up, to move on from loving Harumi, and Asahi didn't know how to behave after learning of his predicament.
"You're not one to talk, Shinogu," Asahi teased. "You work three jobs, so I don't want to hear it." They shared a simple laugh.
"Seriously, though, take it easy. You'll turn into a psycho," Shinogu said.
"You're such a big brother," Asahi said. Her heart began to pound. Mentioning anything remotely related to his true heritage was a huge no-no for Asahi. She was walking on foreign, possibly volatile land, where things grew weird and distant, where Shinogu was someone else.
"I take care of my own," he replied, giving her a friendly shove in the arm. It was what younger brother and sisters did, what lovers did. Maybe his gestures, that could easily be blurred, tricked him into believing that he was in love with Harumi. Maybe all he really needed was a girl that could sweep him off of his feet.
The train station was in view, with its familiar buzz. Asahi didn't want their walk to end.
"By the way, do you need help studying?" Shinogu was always nice, too nice to Asahi. It made her heart wither, black and lifeless.
"No way, get some sleep, Superman," Asahi said. She dismissed his offer, feeling guilty enough. His help would allow her to get through the chemistry material faster, but Asahi couldn't. Shinogu was tired, she couldn't ignore his baggy eyes.
"Come on, I'll just test you for a little bit," Shinogu offered. "It'll be your payment for what happened."
"Helping me is my payment?" Asahi questioned dubiously. She learned that this was his nice guy gesture. He always liked lending his intelligence.
"I want to talk to you about something, anyway." He turned away uncomfortably.
Here it came. Shinogu's hour of concern over Harumi. It'd become the headline of their walk and the motivation behind stealing minutes out of the day to hang out. It was Asahi's fault though, making herself so readily available to always listen to Shinogu's never-ending problems. He'd replace Harumi's name with some made up girl's name, but Asahi was well versed in the way of the typical nice guy and saw right through his guise. It had taken her and Shinogu time to get back to talking somewhat regularly since Asahi's eavesdropping escapade. She welcomed the returning normalcy, but the lovesick side of her hated it.
"Is it Seiko, again?" Asahi asked, playing right into his hand. Shinogu simply nodded, and she gave him her best waitress smile. "Oh, boy."
"Thanks, Asahi. . . ."
Today was no different. It never was. Here she was, fooling around, being made a fool of, and allowing it to happen, like a fool. They'd talk at her apartment over tea, he'd leave when he was satisfied, and she'd sit in her room in silence, listening to her throbbing heart and unforgiving thoughts.
She wanted Shinogu to catch her while she fell for him more and more each day, but he was too nice in his cruelty. Instead of catching Asahi, he bought her coffee and warned her to take care of herself because he knew no one else would do what he did. And what he did was entrap her heart because he was brotherly.
Because he was too nice.