A/N: One-shot short story based on a "What if". I have no intention on developing it into a multi-chapter story—lack of direction, you see. And I already have the year set to finish the other stories that I have produced.
First Love, Last Memory
Kotoko Aihara began to move away from the cash register toward the tables occupied with dirty dishes. She grabbed a dishrag from the kitchen and began to wipe the tables clean, ready for the next customer.
She glanced around the room, taking in the ample space provided for a set of chairs and tables to rest on the wooden planks. Black-and-white photos hung on the walls, each cleared of dust. Near the side of the restaurant, a shower of red beads hung from the ceiling. That was the private area rented for special guests. At the moment, her father was inside, talking to some old friend and his son. She never had the chance to see who they were.
She then placed the rag in the pockets of her apron and took the dirty dishes to the sink. The busboy began to move quickly, spraying each dish with a jet of water. She stepped out of the kitchen and headed toward the front when a shingle rang through air, interrupting the light chatter for a second.
In came Mr. Puck, a regular, carrying a cane, and smiling his fake teeth. He was led by the arm by his older son, Akira, lightly pushing the man toward the empty table that her coworker, Santo, motioned for them to sit, invitingly.
She took in a breath and pushed her tired body toward the cash register. She caught a few words from a conversation through passing, "I heard he didn't get married in the end," and transacted the payment for a male customer. He waved, smiling with the receipt in hand, as he left.
She bowed her head and insisted he come again.
Once more, she did another transaction for a customer. This time, she caught the words, "I heard he divorced his first wife. She was caught cheating with another man," as two older women, three tables away from her, began to lower their voices again.
Another customer came through the door, the bell ringing in the air to alert his presence. Santo began to greet him with a smile, motioning her hand to the empty table as she did. Kotoko grabbed a menu from the stack near the cash register and walked toward the customer when Santo beckoned her to take over.
She greeted the middle-aged man with a smile, showing off her well-maintained teeth. When she began to take his ordered drink back to his table, she heard the older woman say in passing, "Did you know that he holds the title for hottest man in the world?"
"You don't say," her female companion muttered, shocked.
She came back to the table, drink in hand, before she took out her pad, ready to take his request. When all was done, she headed toward the front and took care of a customer, waiting to pay his bill.
This was her daily life. She never did much after high school. Immediately after graduation, she had decided that she would work at her father's business for a short awhile and head back to school. But with the low grades she had, she barely passed high school, and no doubt gaining a higher degree would be struggle.
But Kotoko was never one to give up. Starting tomorrow, she's going to head toward the college campus and take the placement exam. This time she would commit to her promise and not let five more years come and go.
She gave another goodbye, another respect of bowing her head, and stood behind the cash register, listening once more to the two women gossip.
"Does he have any children?" The soft-spoken one asked. She looked toward her companion with her black, curious eyes, waiting for an answer.
The other woman moved a strand of her short hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. "Doesn't want any. He's too committed to his job at the moment."
"Hard-working man," the soft-spoken one said with admiration, "That boy had everything set for him."
"His father had entrusted the toy company to him when he finished high school."
"I heard he asked to run it."
"I heard that too, but nowadays, I keep thinking that he only took it because he had nothing else to do with his life."
Seeing an empty booth with dirty dishes left on the table, Kotoko walked toward it, placing the dishes in a neat stack, and began to wipe the table with a dishrag. Santo came by and took the dirty dishes, saying to her, "We need more help. Don't you think your father should hire more people?"
She looked at her coworker for a moment before she continued with her task.
"I'll talk to him tonight again. This is getting ridiculous with only two waitresses on the job."
"I hear you," her friend muttered. Santo then headed toward the kitchen with the dirty dishes in hand.
After Santo left her side, Kotoko straightened her back, feeling a slight tension forming around her shoulder blades. She really needed a break, but with only two waitresses on the job, a break was impossible to take.
In the background, as the culinary dishes clang and cluck against each other, Kotoko faintly heard a gasp. "Are you saying that his wife cheated with a mediocre chef?"
Curiosity growing, Kotoko began to look at the two.
"I don't know the details, but from what I know, the chef used to work here. Then one day he disappeared. There were rumors that the husband threatened to kill him. I doubt it's true, though."
She stood a table away from theirs, listening to their gossip.
"What happened to his fiancée? I thought he wanted to get married to her."
The woman with the short hair leaned in and said, "There are two sides of the story running about. Half the people believe that he left her because of their differences. Another says that he had fallen in love with another girl—though, to be honest, I don't believe either rumor."
Kotoko glanced over uneasily toward the two women. Something about that story ran familiar. It's as if she heard it from an old friend, but she couldn't recall the name, the place, or the date it occurred. She merely knew that she heard that story before.
Kotoko moved quickly away from the table when one of them looked at her direction. She occupied herself with the customers, refilling their cups and taking their money as payment. Then, when the next customer walked in, she noticed how empty the restaurant was becoming.
She took a glance at her gold wristwatch. Two p.m.—no doubt everyone had returned to work by now. At this time, she knew Santo and she would be able to handle the customers more proficiently—until the next batch arrived near four o'clock. She had to cherish the two hours that she was given to rest a bit.
Santo then approached, eyes longing for a break. "I'm going to take a fifteen minute lunch break. After, if you want, you can take one too—since there are not a lot of people."
"Okay. That's fine with me," Kotoko agreed. She shooed her away with both hands, happily. "Go eat in peace."
Santo chuckled and ambled toward the kitchen.
Kotoko began to clean around the cash register when she noticed her regular customer had managed to spill some coffee on the table. She shook her head and began to set her feet toward his direction when she picked up another clean dishrag from the kitchen.
It was at the moment when she heard the two women gasp and begin to stutter, "T-t-that's him."
She peeked at their direction, disturbed by their behavior, but followed their gapping expressions to the sight that had them in shock. Stepping out of the private area, her father emerged and threw his head back, laughing wholeheartedly. He slapped a hand on the back of a plump man, wearing a sleeveless checkered-shirt and tan slacks. He had a bald spot on top of his head, and a pair of glasses rested against his nose.
Noticing his pink-flushed expression, she could tell that her father's friend had a bit too much to drink. And if that wasn't a clue to go by then his wobbly feet ambling toward the door was. She couldn't help but smile at the silly sight.
That's when she began to notice the young man appearing from the side, grasping his father's arm lightly. He was a fine-looking man, perfect in every way, resembling what she would imagine an angel would look like. A few tendrils of his neat, straight hair had fallen across his grey eyes. He simply raised a hand and moved it away from his vision.
He wore a black-suit, a crisp, white shirt underneath, tucked in his black trousers. A tie rested around his neck, the flap hit near his belly. He began to button the top of his jacket with slender, nimble fingers.
Then he took a glance at her, noticing her messy ponytail, hair spilling out of the rubber band. He took noticed of her stained, white-shirt and the greasy apron hanging around her neck. Then, slowly as the seconds began to halt, he looked into her auburn eyes, emotionlessly.
His name, although she dare not say it, was heard in the background, "Irie Naoki."
She forced herself to look away and cleaned the mess the old man made. She felt his eyes following her every move that a chill ran down her spine, fearfully. She pulled away from the table and dumped the dirty rag in the sink.
Kotoko barely remembered the day when she presented her love letter to him. All she could recall was that she got rejected. She was pushed aside for having silly feelings as he left her to collect her shatter heart. She never saw him after that. Every time, she had heard that he was coming down the hall or that he was preparing a speech for an assembly, she would turn the other way or feign sickness, anything to get away from the man that broke her heart.
And somehow she managed to push aside her feelings and concentrate on school. Still she never presumed by simply looking at him that her old feelings would rush back in full force. It's been more than five years—she should've been past this now. It seemed that she could never forget her first love.
By the time she glanced toward his direction once more, he was already heading out the door, never looking back at the girl he rejected that day on a sunny afternoon.
The door came to a close as life gradually began to return back to normal for Kotoko Aihara.