Kiss Back

There was no such thing as an ordinary day for the employees of Café Mew Mew. A decade since any human had seen an alien, the girls continued to lead lives that were extraordinary. Now women, it could be said that 'extraordinary' ceased to mean saving the world. The word had absorbed philosophical meaning as their lives progressed.

Today was certainly not an exception to 'extraordinary'. In retrospect everything was consistent with most yesterdays: customers queued, sat, ordered, ate, paid, tipped… well they rarely tipped, the demographic being teenagers. However, today Keiichiro was going to teach Purin how to cook his popular soufflé.

Purin was presently studying at an esteemed college of the arts; performance art was her specialty. It was during her first day that she befriended a wonderful guy; a euphoric year later she wanted to make him a soufflé. "Akasaka-san!"

Minto watched the tall nineteen-year-old teenager fly past. Purin's height towered over all of her friends, even the former model amongst them by inches. In comparison Minto had gained little in this department, though being small was no mean feat. It enhanced her career as a ballet dancer. Critics of the Swan Lake production she had starred in commented on her grace, defined by her size.

It could be said that Minto had changed the least. Her career was more flexible than imagined, so she was mostly in the corner of Café Mew Mew every day, sipping tea. Her fame had actually spread to the tea itself. Mint tea was now 'Minto's Tea' on the menus Keiichiro compiled. She had become a celebrity in her own right, for people recognised her from various productions. Her default table was a strange tourist attraction.

When Minto watched Purin fly past, she had been conversing with a regular fan. The fan called her 'Oneesama' affectionately.

Minto smiled.

Purin entered the kitchen wearing a big grin, but it sank into a frown upon seeing Retasu. "Akasaka-san?" Keiichiro never abandoned his culinary post.

Retasu brandished a pair of oven mitts as she pulled a steaming tray out. There was no argument concerning whether she had changed the most or not; indeed she had. In her late teens she decided to start a small business, selling handmade dolls. It was an instant success. Although she did not receive income akin to professional fields, she was happy. And she had confidence.

"Akasaka-san has gone to do an errand, Pudding." Retasu placed the tray down to cool. "But he said he'd return soon, and in the meantime, we could make the soufflé?"

Purin's grin resurfaced. "Okay!"

Purin and Retasu kneeled in front of the oven, observing their soufflé. There was something special about its recipe that meant timing was vital. Should the soufflé overbake, catastrophe would follow. Keiichiro was supposed to return half an hour ago, and Retasu was running late for a venture elsewhere. She needed somebody to replace her as Purin's supervisor.

Somebody arrived. "Is that Strawberry Surprise Soufflé, nyan?"

Ichigo, whose 'Ribbon Strawberry Surprise' attack inspired Keiichiro's soufflé recipe, appeared in the doorway. Training as a midwife at a local hospital, Ichigo had not seen Masaya for five years. That was when their relationship ended.

It was thought that Retasu could not smirk, but the corners of her lips turned upwards. "Ichigo, could you watch Pudding and the soufflé?" She briefly paused. "Especially the soufflé."

Ichigo was privileged. "Of course, Lettuce."

Retasu nodded. "When the clock strikes four, the soufflé has been baked to perfection. That's when you grab the oven mitts and pull the tray out."

Ichigo bobbed her head. "Understood, nyan!"

Retasu smiled, sliding into her navy blue trench coat. "Well I must go. Zuko is taking me out."

Ichigo mirrored the smile. "Have fun." A moment like this made her wish she had a boyfriend still.

After Retasu was waved off, Ichigo glanced at the clock. The time read: quarter to four.

Purin did not want to stare at the oven for fifteen minutes more. She did not even like staring at a television screen. "Ichigo-oneechan, can we do something?"

Ichigo blinked, having been distracted by the clock's mesmerising instrumental. Tick, tock, tick, tock… "Sure, what?"

"Could you teach me FIRST AID?" Purin's eyes sparkled in childlike wonder. It was reminiscent of the past.

"I can only do that with a dummy." Ichigo's eyes subconsciously shifted to Minto.

Purin voiced what the gaze signaled. "We could use MINTO-ONEECHAN!"

"WHAT?" Minto almost choked on a drop of tea, outraged. "I'm not a dummy!"

"That's what you say." Ichigo muttered, performing a casual roll of eyes.

Minto registered small gestures. "What was that, peasant?" As adults they both had not ceased to engage in immature arguments. The pair of them had been quarreling for five minutes when Zakuro gracefully materialised. The former model was assigned the task of closing the café up.

Zakuro retired from her modeling career on a pedestal, though demand for her decreased once she started aging. Recently she had published a controversial autobiography. Of course, controversy sells; her book was becoming a bestseller. It had claimed fifth place on the top ten list respectively.

Zakuro witnessed the argument for some seconds; enough to learn how she could assist.

"I'll be the dummy."

When Ryou heard the explosion from outside, he already knew whose pay to dock. Whereas Keiichiro, who interpreted the sound as a gunshot, froze beside him, Ryou ran. He launched himself through the entrance, pushing the doors aside. He was shocked to see the interior splattered with goo. PINK goo.

Ryou recognised the goo. How could one soufflé splatter the whole of downstairs? "ICHIGO!"

"Here!" Some goo came to life, as Ichigo and the others were caked in it. Ichigo raised her sticky hand as a reaction to her name, while Purin somehow licked herself clean. Minto clutched her coated cup, stunned. Zakuro sat upright from the ground, having lain as a dummy would. Ichigo was demonstrating cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when the oven exploded. She had lost track of time.

Ryou approached Ichigo stormily. The angriest frown was etched on his lips, but then he smiled.

And smirked. Ichigo knew that expression too well. Unfortunately the goo ensured she could not move fast enough.

Ryou cupped Ichigo's viscous chin. "There's something on your lips, Strawberry." He leaned in.

Minto rolled her eyes. Ryou had developed a hobby of claiming Ichigo's lips; Minto was surprised they were not a couple yet. She was right to be surprised. Ryou had been harbouring feelings for Ichigo since they met, and Minto was beginning to notice Ichigo return his banter.

Ryou had not noticed. He still felt unrequited. Ichigo had never kissed him back. As he pulled away, however, he noticed something.

Ichigo was not embarrassed. She was enjoying a serene air. Being a trainee midwife, she could not afford to overreact. Panic would stress any pregnant woman during childbirth.

Ryou raised an eyebrow, maintaining his smirk. "I'm docking your pay, Strawberry."

"I'm twenty-three years old, Shirobaka. You pay me the minimum requirement, so any lower and you're the one in the dock." Ichigo grinned, pleased with herself.

Ryou was quietly impressed. "How about I DOUBLE your pay if you can clean everything in two hours?"

Ichigo gasped, losing her calm. "B-But I'd need m-more time than t-that-"

Ryou's smirk darkened. "And if you can't, you'll go on a date with me."

"EH?" Ichigo snapped. "Why would I want to go on a date with you?"

"Exactly." Ryou chuckled, looking at the others. "You can all go home. Of course, Ichigo stays."

Ichigo grumbled to herself, moving to get a wet mop and bucket.

Ryou's mouth was agape. An immaculate café – how was this possible? She really hates me to avoid a date with me. Ryou dragged a finger along the nearest table. No dust. No goo. Just sparkle and shine.

The question that echoed in Ryou's mind: how was this possible? It should have worked for his benefit, not Ichigo's.

Wait, where was Ichigo? The ceiling above creaked.

Ryou suspected somebody was upstairs, and it was not Keiichiro. He progressed to the second floor with the purpose of investigating, but his attempt to do so was thwarted by hot steam. It was the type of steam that gathered after a long shower. He was temporarily blinded.

Once the steam settled, Ryou spied the open bathroom door. Stupidly he stood in front of it, squinting. Steam lingered for a second longer.

The second fled. Ryou flinched when Ichigo emerged. Wearing fresh clothes, she dried her hair with a towel.

Ichigo's brow furrowed. "Why are you standing there?"

"I thought Keiichiro was in there." Ryou coughed awkwardly in between words.

"Without knocking?" Ichigo snickered as Ryou stuttered an excuse. "I win, Shirobaka." She started to walk past him.

Ryou gasped; an uncharacteristic reaction. "Wait." He seized Ichigo's wrist.

Ichigo was confused, but curious as a cat. "What, Ryou?"

"Well… could you still go on a date with me?" Ryou asked rather bashfully.

Ichigo's smile brought tense relief. "Okay."

Ryou was astonished. "Really?" He was further taken aback when strawberry lips were planted upon his. So sudden was the kiss that he could not react.

Ichigo pulled away, disappointed. "You always kiss me."

"You've never kissed back though, Strawberry." Ryou replied cockily. His face glowed.

Cupping Ichigo's chin once more, Ryou kissed her. And this time, she kissed back.