Chapter 1: Strangers in the night~ Exchanging insults~
′You are not a leftover, you are not a leftover, because I bought you...′
Nanako Kuroi, 27 years old
′I’m going to go home...I’m going to eat a slice of this cake and...I’m not going to cry! Not even a little!′
She could feel her eyes stinging already.
It just figured things would end up this way for her. The beginning of yet another New Year, and she had no one special to spend it with, with nothing else to do, other than sit at home, gaming it up, and getting ready for when school started again.
She wondered if it was because she wasn’t outgoing enough. She hit the bar on a Saturday here and there, and there were people who knew her, so it’s not like she wasn’t social. Didn’t women who usually did that manage to pick up a guy here and there, even if he was a little plastered? Not that she was that type. She just wanted someone. Someone special to her. Was that too much to ask?
Maybe it was because she came off as a lush...well if she did, she probably didn’t look anything like the guy she was about to pass on her left.
He was sprawled out, his back slumped against the side wall of a shop, shoes just sticking out onto the path. With his head tipped forward like that, bangs covering his eyes, he would have made a pretty convincing corpse, if it weren’t for his hand resting on the bottle stuffed in a brown paper bag, and the gentle rising and falling of his chest.
He wore a leather biker jacket, the classic looking kind, like what Fonzy or those outlaw bikers in America wore. His jeans looked a little dirty, but not too run down. He could have gotten them from a donation house or shelter.
And she thought she had problems. Finding a girlfriend was probably the last thing on his mind. Tired, beat and run down by life itself, just a hot meal and a warm place to sleep would be enough to bring him joy, the poor guy...
She couldn’t do that for him, but there was something she could do.
She fished out a thousand yen bill and some spare coins.
′Mm...I better not give him too much, or he might use it to buy more booze...′ she found this thought a bit ironic.
And then she remembered the cake in her hand, but hesitated.
′Mmm...I bought this for personal reasons...but...he needs it more than I do...′
She set the cake next to his leg, with five-hundred worth in spare coins sitting on top.
′I’m sorry, guy. It’s not a hot meal, but it’s something.′
She wanted to think it was just another sign that her problems were only small worries in a vast world of issues, that she should be more grateful for what she had, and she supposed she could put it in that perspective, but when the pressures of life, romance and wanting to start a family came a-knockin’, how could she argue that those were not important?
However, she had started the year off well with doing a good deed, and this good feeling was her reward.
Nanako smirked to herself, ′I’m the ‘Single Samaritan’. It has an odd ring, but I like it.′
The bum was in the middle of propping himself up, using the wall for support. He pushed away and staggered onto the path.
Nanako didn’t move, but was a little frightened that he had woken up and bothered to speak to her.
His slurred voice snaked its way toward her.
“Wassis thiss, hah!?” he gestured with a closed fist, the coins clinking inside.
She blinked, scared and surprised, ′Wh-what!? He’s not going to demand more, is he!?′
“Ya ssink yoo can assuaee...” his head dipped, “...assuage my pain, wiss juss a few coins!?”
′What more could he want from me? I-is he going to attack me!?′
“U-um, c-can I help you with something?”
“I don’t need your damn money!”
The coins scattered at her feet. For a moment, his slur disappeared.
The man jammed a thumb into his chest, “I don’t need your help, or anyone else’s!”
Nanako blinked, “Um, okay...”
“I graduated Johns Hopkins as one of the top in my class! I’m a fucking doctor!”
′Johns Hopkins!? Isn’t that a university in America!?′
This guy wasn’t just poor and drunk, he was off his rocker! No wonder he was homeless!
The bum pointed, “I could probably make more than you in a day!”
Nanako’s fist clenched around her groceries.
“And here! Take your stupid cake back while your at it!”
He picked up the box and flung it at her.
She didn’t flinch once, not even when the cake spilled out onto the pavement.
The man stood heaving, arms slumped and wavering a little.
Nanako’s head tipped, her eyes shaded over, and heaved a breath of her own.
“YOU UNGRATEFUL ASSHOLE!” she lurched forward, the grocery bags rustling in her hands, her voice echoing up the empty street. ”I bought that cake as a sentiment! It wasn’t meant for you! I gave it out of the kindness of my heart!"
"Well good for you!" the bum shouted back. ”I hope you feel all warm inside! I don’t want your pity! I don’t want anyone’s pity!"
"Where’s your Christmas spirit!? Excuse me for trying to extend a hand in kindness! I promise, I’ll never do it again!"
"Christmas is over! You think just because I look like this, it means I’m homeless!"
“Well, if it walks like a duck—”
“Oh, can it!”
"Lemme’ finish my sentence!"
"I think I’ve heard it before, lady! I think everyone has!"
“Well hardy-har-har!” Nanako shook her hips. “Looks like the ‘Hopkins grad’ knows an idiom or two!”
People were beginning to notice the uproar outside. Faces peaked out from windows, and Nanako even noticed an elderly woman stepping out on her small balcony to enjoy the show.
“It’s likely one more idiom than you!”
“You’re an idiom!”
“And who buys a cheap Christmas cake after New Years!? Talk about pathetic!”
Her face felt hot, and everyone was staring.
"It’s none of your business! How dare you judge me!"
“Oooh, did I hit a nerve~?” the drunk jeered. “So was it because you couldn’t afford one of the fancier priced ones, or because you just felt sorry for it?”
Her nails dug into her palms, “If you say, one more word...”
“I thought I remembered you mentioning sentiment earlier. Not feeling so privileged now, are ya?”
Nanako reeled back with both barrels, ”Well screw you and the white horse you rode in on!"
"Yeah? You too!"
She turned immediately and stormed off.
′How could you let yourself get roped into that!? You should have just kept walking and not said anything! What’s wrong with you!?′
It had to be from all the frustration of the holidays...and being alone...
′He destroyed my cake, my precious, sad, cake. It never hurt anyone... What an insensitive jerk! He clearly has no sense of human quality and good will, and he is definitely no university grad. You’d think he would be more receptive of kindness from being in such a humble and pathetic state...′
She looked back to make sure the jerkwad derelict hadn’t started following her to continue throwing insults or to possibly harm her.
He was sauntering away, in the opposite direction, tail between his legs, heh heh, with that bottle in his hand.
“Ah! Dammit...” his frustration resonated her way.
′I win...′ she smiled with a canine sticking over her lip. ′I win, I win, I wiiin~′
Still...she had to go home to her empty house...
Hopefully Izumi was online...and hopefully the network wasn’t shut down for repairs again...
“So, Tanaka-san, I reviewed your credentials and I have to say, I’m quite impressed...”
It was only a day before school started, and the principal had decided to perform the interview personally, which Toshi didn’t imagine was a bad thing, so much as he should have expected it. It meant the principal was interested, however...
“...in fact, it’s a little overwhelming...why are you interested in Ryoo High again?”
Toshi’s head slumped lower as a deep shade of despair weighed in on him.
Can’t find a job...
Living on leftover student loans...
Payment is due in six months, plus interest...
He couldn’t let it show that he was not interested in the least, this was the only thing he could find.
Toshi adjusted his glasses and raised his head, “Um, sir, I feel that it would be a good opportunity for me to gain experience before setting out to start a private practice.”
′Crap! No! That’s wrong too! If I mention I’ll be leaving eventually, he’ll lose interest!′
The principal chuckled a little and looked over Toshi’s resume, “Well, I can’t say this isn’t a good opportunity. Normally, we have only Bachelor Graduates applying for this position. Let’s see, a student visa to study abroad in America, four years at a State University in Colorado, then another steady four years of Graduate School at Hopkins, studying under Doctor [quack!] as an intern. You graduated in the tenth percentile of your class with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a minor in Music & Arts, I have to say Toshi-san, this is overdoing it a bit for a simple position as a school counselor...”
The dismal shade returned to Toshi’s face and he began feeling a little sick, ′Maybe I could just go back to college and become a professional student...just escape those impending loans for as long as I can, and live caaare freee~′
All the professor positions at major universities had been taken. All the government licensed therapist positions had been taken. Becoming a statistics ‘lab rat’ would require additional courses that he had no interest in. Starting a private practice took years of experience and required planing, time, references and money...
′I’m at the end of my rope here...′
Toshi chuckled nervously, “Haha, well, I wanted to return to Japan because I wished to expand on psychological medicine here in Saitama.”
A lie. Truthfully, he would have preferred a private practice and a swank home in Kyoto. The psychology business wasn’t doing so hot in America either, so he came back and did shoot for positions outside of Saitama, but to no avail, and wound up returning home. The only upside was he had been able to afford a small apartment, a special place he could finally call his own, but if he didn’t get this job, that wouldn’t last, and he would have to move back in with mom and dad.
′Yup, I’m livin’ the college graduate dream, hurraaaye...′
Toshi continued, “Also, I grew up here, so I figure it’s the best place to start.”
Not a lie, but he was practically begging now. Toshi felt he couldn’t sink any lower, or he would loose the position for good. Off the top of his head, he was having to minimalize his goals, right in front of the Principal of Ryoo, just so he could get this stupid, low income, menial position, which he didn’t even want in the first place!
′Sir, please, have mercy! If you only knew what the market was like! If you only kneeew!′
The principal laid the resume on his desk and sat back in his chair, one hand tapping a finger on the armrest and the other holding his chin. His eyes scanned the resume and then lifted up at Toshi’s awkward smile.
“Haah, well, we haven’t received any other applicants for the position. Honestly, it’s felt a little strange, running a high school without a counselor for the past few weeks. The position has never been fought for, and the old counselor didn’t quit, she retired...”
′I can only imagine why.′
“Based on your credentials, I know you won’t have any trouble performing your duties. Something keeps telling me I’m looking at a fine opportunity here, but I can’t explain why. Maybe it’ll look good for the school to have a Hopkins grad on staff. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me...”
′C’mon, make up your mind...′
Toshi’s face was starting to hurt.
“But what kind of person would I be to refuse an open position to the first qualified applicant that came along...”
“Even if you are overqualified to a point where it’s unfair...”
′Mhm, we’ve already established that...′
The principal sat up, “Tanaka-san, I’m not going to put you through the waiting process. The second semester continues tomorrow and I believe it would be in our best interest to have you start immediately. Besides, we can detail your paperwork with payroll while you’re getting acquainted with the school and your position.”
He stood and presented his hand.
“Welcome to the Ryoo Team, Tanaka-san.”
"Yea-uh-uh, yes! Thank you, sir.”
′Don’t appear too grateful, it looks desperate...′
He had to gloss over the oddity that the principal had refereed to it as a ‘team’.
“I-I promise, I won’t let you down.”
The principal gave him an strange glance, “I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that.”
“I’m sittin’ at a bar on the insi~de, waitin’ for my ride on the outsi~de...”
The place was dimly lit, and after three weeks of coming here, Toshi figured he was going to become a regular pretty quick. The bartender and he were already on a first name basis.
“’Nother bourbon, Toshi?”
“I’ll take it, Gen,” he said, tapping the top of his glass apathetically. He rested his head on top of tired, crossed arms, “Man, I just don’t get it... I should be helping rich investors understand why they’re suffering from insomnia, or why their one night stand ran out on them, or that, no, the weather is not predicated based on what clothes they wear for the day.”
Gen eyed him while upturning the bottle of Wild Gobbler 101 into the glass.
“Things work out?”
Toshi stared at the polished wood surface, “Yeah...I guess they did...”
“Funny, I wasn’t sure, from the looks of ya.”
Toshi rode his Harley home from Ryoo before walking here, but was still wearing his biker jacket, which had become Gen’s way of identifying him.
When Gen first laid eyes on him, he made some kind of crack about Toshi’s glasses, and how they ruined his ‘outlaw’ image. When Toshi removed them, Gen chuckled again and said, ‘Nah, you still look like you’re wearing your big brother’s clothes.’
That same jacket hung on the stool next to Toshi.
It was a Sunday night before the work week started up after New Years, so the place was pretty empty, say for a couple in one of the booths. Toshi didn’t plan on getting lit up, definitely not like the other evening. He finally had work on a Monday, ooh goody!
Toshi took a look around, “Ya know Gen, don’t take offense at this, but I like it when business is slow here...”
“Yeah, I know where you’re coming from. There’s a nice atmosphere when things are quiet. Though it doesn’t do me much good to have it always like this, haha.”
“And that’s why you have me,” Toshi tapped the top of his glass again, after already knocking it back.
Gen poured, and then turned to grab a glass for himself, since it didn’t look like things would pick up tonight.
“Eight years, Gen...eight long years of essays...exams...memorization...memorizing things until I felt like I was losing my mind...my doctoral thesis...” Toshi smoothed his chin. “I have my Ph.D. in Psychology. That’s advanced social sciences and human behavior from thee most historically prestigious psych university in America...” Toshi felt a laugh bubbling up, “and I’m using it to listen to high school students talk about their problems, kkkgh...”
While Toshi chuckled to himself, enjoying his buzz, he heard Gen talking off to his left.
“Well, it’s not all that bad,” Gen swirled his glass.
“Yeah? kkgh! How so?”
“You’ll be making money now, so you’ll be able to stay at your new place, and you’ll be able to keep coming back here.”
“Just for that, I think you should gimme’ a freebee.”
Gen ignored this, “And, I think you’re missing the bright side of all this.”
“Uh-huh, classic. So what is it?”
“Yeah sure, things aren’t going too well for you right now, but they can always change. I like to look at life in stages. Right now, I own and run a bar. It may stay that way the rest of my life, or it could change tomorrow. Something new may happen for me and I may decide to sell the place.”
“That doesn’t sound reassuring...”
“Aren’t you psychologists supposed to be good at listening?”
“Alright, alright, go on...”
“I may start a new bar somewhere else, and get to have new experiences. I may get wealthy somehow and start a chain of ’em. Or, I may just go into another trade. You’re in a stage in your life right now where you’re just starting out in the world. You’re a little late because you’ve been in school all this time. The economy and the job market suck, but that’s how it is for everyone right now. A positive is, you have job security. They want you, and they want to keep you as long as they can. You may work this job for a couple years and move on to something better one day. Or, things could change tomorrow.”
It was a bit sickly sweet to hear, but he wondered if Gen made a good point. Optimism was a healthy practice, after all. Plus, that part about him being in school for so long helped to soothe his ego.
Toshi sat his elbow on the bar and raised his glass, “Gen, bartenders are the therapists of therapists.”
Gen only chuckled, “I think I’ve heard that one before, but I’ll drink to it.”
Outside Gen’s Place, Toshi placed hands in his pockets and began the half hour walk back to his apartment.
The sun had already gone down, but while looking up at the stars just beginning to form, and the purple shades beginning to turn deep blue, for some reason, it reminded him of an evening just a few days ago, when the setting sun had turned the sky a fiery orange, and some kind of crazy argument he had with a total stranger.
The memory was very vague. For some reason...cake was involved?
Could have been something subliminal.
It had been shortly after he placed his application and resume for Ryoo, so he was feeling pretty depressed at the level he had stooped to after all his years of hard work, which explained why he went overboard with the drink.
The vision wasn’t blurry, just more unstable and unfocused, but he could remember really long, blond hair, and a pair of sharp, yet big green eyes. She had been standing far enough away that he didn’t get a solid look at her face though.
“I was so stupid...” he cringed and lowered his chin into his jacket. “She was just trying to do something nice. Wait, what was she trying to do again...?”
He remembered her shaking her hips and his head snapped up.
“No way! Even after I tried to explain myself, she mocked me and acted like a child!”
"Fooo~ Easy...people embarrass themselves all the time. You’re never going to see that person again. This is still a big city, so don’t dwell on it. It’s not going to fix anything...”
He focused forward.
“I have a bedtime now, gotta’ be up at six, so let’s just go home and log on for the night. Nine should be a good time to call it quits...”
Toshi walked into the night, along the quiet street.
Toshi Tanaka, 26 years old
AN: Hello everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed this first chapter. Sorry for the titles, they were spur of the moment and titles aren’t really a strength of mine. When I come up with a new one, I’ll change them.