Loving a Killer

Chapter 7

I sip my coffee as I wait for my check. If you wait too long without buying anything, the drones will tell you to buy something, or you'll be kicked out. That way they can clear out tables for paying customers. I've here since midmorning, so it was inevitable I'd have to get something. This place doesn't serve a lot of foods I like, but I took the opportunity to eat some meat while out of the house. There's flavored coffee as well, something we never have. I couldn't resist, so I decided to try the pumpkin spice, and lets just say this is my second cup.

The view from this café is beautiful. It looks out over the city from above, and the sky is clear and blue. This is just the kind of thing I need to keep my psycho pass low. Tiny birds hop under the tables, scavenging for crumbs that the previous diner might have left behind. I pick a piece from the toast that came with my bacon and hold it out to the nearest finch. It gazes at me curiously, inching towards the food in my hand.

"Please do not feed the birds." The sudden appearance of the drone scares the bird away, leaving me alone at my table. I sigh, scowling.

"Do you have my check?"

"Yes, here you go." It prints out the paper and I rip it from the machine, stuffing it into my purse. "Have a nice day." Then it zooms away to cater to another table. I won't be able to stay here more than half an hour unless I buy something again, and I'm pretty much full. I'm beginning to think coming here was a waste of time.

It took my hue a full four days to become anywhere near acceptable, so that makes this the fifth day since Yuki's death. Her funeral was held yesterday, but I wasn't invited. Why would I be? We weren't very close to each other. In fact, we rarely talked. I don't think I wanted to be there, anyway. I don't want to see her family and friends mourning her after I stood there and watched her be murdered. Hopefully, her spirit is at peace. That would lift a burden from my shoulders.

Once the last of my coffee is gone, I call over the drone and have it clean off my table. When it asks if I'm interested in dessert, I refuse it. I took a peek at their dessert menu earlier, and the only things on it are cakes and ice cream. I can make either one of those at home for free, so why would I pay for it?

A familiar voice startles me. "Esther?"

I glance over my shoulder to find Akane, standing directly behind my chair. I offer her a smile. "Hey, it's been a while, Akane."

"Can I join you?"

"Sure, take a seat." She sits in the only other chair, across from me. Slinging her purse over the back, she summons the drone and orders herself scrambled eggs. "You do know it's late lunchtime now, right?"

She laughs. "Yeah, but I haven't been feeling well lately. I slept through the morning. By the time I woke up, it was eleven."

"What about your work?" I wonder, already knowing the answer.

"I'm taking time off. In the shape I'm in, I'd be more of a headache than a help to the group." She smiles, but her grin lacks sincerity. Even so, I return it without trouble. She's such a magnetic person, it's hard to dislike her. She's strong to be able to smile, even if it is fake, after seeing what she did. "How have you been doing?"

"Good, I guess," I shrug. "I enjoy my work. It's interesting to listen to peoples' hardships and help them out. I couldn't have chose a better profession for me myself."

"Oh, you're a therapist, right?"

"Yup." I rest my chin on my palm. "So if you ever need to talk, I can make some free time for you. No charge for family and friends."

"I'll keep that in mind." The drone drives up and slides her plate in front of her and rushes off again. I wonder how much maintenance those things require. They're always busy with this or that. It can't be too rare that one of them breaks down. "Do you come here a lot? I've never seen you here before."

"So that means this place is a favorite of yours? Well, this is my first time here. I heard it was good from a friend, but the food here isn't really my taste."

She takes a bite of her eggs. "Really? I think it's pretty good."

"I like foreign foods. You know, like Italian. There are a couple really nice Italian restaurants around here. If you're interested, you should try them. Although, my favorite is a Chinese place that's just down the street. It has twin gold dragons framing the door, so it's pretty hard to miss."

"I think I've been there," she says through a full mouth. "The one where everything comes with a side of wasabi even when you ask them not to?"

"That's the one. Even I can't eat that much wasabi." I stick my tongue out like a child. "The taste gets stuck in your mouth for days if you eat it all. I talk from experience."

"Do you like hot food?"

"It's the best, in my opinion. Indian and Thai are what I prefer, but I haven't been able to find any restaurants like that nearby, so I settle for other things. I assume you like the sweeter places, since this is a regular for you."

"The Tiramisu here is amazing!"

"There's Tiramisu? I didn't see that on the menu."

We get a drone to give us a dessert menu and she opens it, pointing to the bottom. "It's the last one. The other things are good too, but this is their best."

"If I order one, do you want to share it?" I ask, digging through my purse for my credit card.

"Sure," she agrees. I order it and she finishes her scrambled eggs while we wait.

"We've talked about my job,but what about yours?" I pry, eager for anything she might accidentally leak.

She sets her fork down, abruptly somber. "Alright, I guess."

"That face tells me otherwise," I point out. "I read people for a living. Don't try to hide it from me."

She seems to hesitate, which I understand. Her job is top secret, after all. "Well, I like my colleagues, and I think I'm well suited to it, but it's hard you know? It's not so much physically exhausting as it is mentally. As much as I like them, my coworkers are hard to deal with. They're really pretty stubborn."

"You're new to the field, Akane. I'm sure you just aren't used to how they, as people, do their job. Keep in mind they're far more experienced than you. Try to learn from them."

"Yeah, but," she argues, "I'm also not sure that their methods are the best. I keep thinking that there has to be a better way to do things."

"I'm not saying you have to do what they do," I tell her. "What I'm saying is learn from them, but conform their ways to make it your own. Take what works from what they do, but right what doesn't. If you truly think you can fix it, fix it. Don't replace it entirely."

"You certainly have a way with words." This time, her smile is genuine. I beam back at her. This is why I love my job. When I can put a light in people that they were missing before, few things give me greater satisfaction.

"I'm sure you'll get used to things eventually. New routines sometimes take a while to warm up to." Our Tiramisu arrives with two little spoons on the side. I try a taste, then melt in my seat. She wasn't wrong to say this is their best. Maybe I might come back to this café after all.

"Didn't I tell you it was good?" she says, seeing my expression. I nod and we both devour the dessert. There aren't many places here that serve Tiramisu, so this is a delicacy to me. "Thanks for the meal. Sorry, I should repay you."

I shake my head. "No need. It was my treat today. It's nice to see an old acquaintance every now and again."

"Did you stay in touch with anyone from college?"

"Not really. My first time seeing anyone after graduation was when I ran into you at that party a while back."

"So you're Edith," she realizes, instantly comprehending what I'm talking about. "You shouldn't drink so much, you know? It might cause you psycho pass to rise."

I lean back in my chair, smiling at the memory. "I'll admit I got a bit carried away. I'll be sure to be more careful in the future. Can you tell me what was going on there? It must've been pretty serious for all those police to be there."

"Confidential," she refuses.

"Of course, I understand." She doesn't suspect me of anything at all. I get the feeling her enforcers would think otherwise, but to Akane I'm just an old classmate. That's what I like most about her. Around her, I can act like a normal person and have a regular conversation. And besides, isn't there a saying? Keep your friends close and enemies closer. It's not a bad idea to keep tabs on her. "So when are you returning to work?"

"I should be fine in a few days," she explains, licking the last bit of sweetness from her spoon. "I'd be back in the office right now if they'd let me."

"It's great that you're so dedicated," I compliment her. Most people would be glad to take a few days off. And I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't be too eager to return to work after what happened.

"Thanks. By the way, I'm not keeping you from anything, am I? It's rude of me to keep you here if there's something else waiting." I check my watch, seeing it's nearly two o'clock. I hadn't noticed, but most other customers have left. Not many are left from the lunchtime rush.

"I can stay for a little longer," I assure her. There were some supplies Shogo wanted me to collect before returning, but he never said I had to be back by a specific time. The shops shouldn't close until well after dinner, so I've got hours to spare if I want. Although, I would also like to go grocery shopping since the fridge has been running low. I was thinking about making vegetable stir fry for supper.

"It's kind of boring, being off from work," she sighs. "I've got nothing to do all day. It's not healthy for me to just sit around, but what else is there to do?" I wouldn't have much to do either if not for Shogo. My job isn't very demanding, and I only have to spend a few hours online daily to get my pay.

"You don't have anyone special in your life?" I inquire,tilting my head. "If you have too much time on your hands, that would be a good way to eat it up."

"I don't plan on dating any time soon. Is there anyone you like, Esther?"

I giggle, feeling like a schoolgirl again. "Yeah, there is."

"Really? What's his name?" She has the same playful tone to her voice as I do. I hold a finger up to my lips.

"It's a se-cret," I wink devilishly. "I haven't told anyone yet."

"I never thought you were the type to have a hidden crush," Akane admits. "You didn't seem to take an interest in any boys during school."

"Well," I correct, "it's not exactly hidden. I'm almost certain he knows how I feel, he just doesn't act on it." Such a tragic love story. It isn't even a love story, really. The only proof of my feelings are that I've never left his side, no matter what he's done.

"That sounds difficult."

"He's a difficult person."

"Can you wait here a second," she asks, standing. "I need to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back." I wave her on and she hurries away. This is what I was waiting for. I scribble five words down on a piece of paper and slide it into a blank envelope.

I'm sorry for your loss.

I grab her purse from her chair and slip the note into one of the zipper pouches in the side, replacing the purse where it was. Then I gather my things and leave the table. I watch as Akane returns from the restroom and notices my disappearance. She glances around, not spotting me from my place inside the actual restaurant. After a minute, she picks up her purse and prepares to leave.

My goal accomplished, I climb on the elevator down. It was dangerous for me to do that, and Shogo would scold me if he knew, but I felt the need to apologize not only to her, but also to Yuki. I feel like a weight has been lifted of my shoulders. It's not entirely gone, but I never expect it to be. It just feels a lot easier to bear.

I scour my bag for the list of items Shogo gave me, returning to my real reason for this little expedition. They're all mechanical parts, some from cars or drones, others from actual computers. Most of them are little bits you wouldn't necessarily notice if you were to randomly open up a machine. There's a note scrawled at the bottom of the page telling me not to buy more than two of the parts at a single store.

I let out a long breath and step off the elevator. Seriously, where does he expect me to get all these items?

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