The class was dragging today. He craved to make some kind of excuse to talk to the pretty brunette across the room. He even thought up something to ask her about the chapter they were on. But he couldn’t. Before class started, though, another student approached her. He recognized him as a guy that had other classes with her. She smiled and laughed at something that was said. He wanted to make her smile like that for him. She always seemed to have a smile for the people around her. One thing that had first caught his attention about her, besides her big honey-colored doe eyes, was that smile. But she shouldn’t smile at another guy like that; they might get the wrong idea. His hand clenched under the table. He hadn’t been direct enough. She needed to know how he felt. She was perfect for him. She would be his. He’d make his next move after class. He had time. After all, he’d memorized her schedule.
Yuki was running late. Of course, her lecture in English would have to run over today. She did enjoy how passionate her professor could get about his favorite authors, but not when she needed to get to work right after class. If the mall weren’t so close to the university, she might have risked Prof. Taylor’s wrath and excused herself when the hour was up. His lecture was just too interesting. Looking at the backed-up traffic, she started thinking she should have.
Pulling right up to the staff parking area, she breathed a sigh of relief. There were spots free still. She grabbed her purse and hopped out, doubling back to hit the lock button on her key. She sprinted for the side entrance hoping that she had shaved off enough time with her reckless driving. She was huffing a bit by the time that she reached the back door to the coffee shop. I need to start making time to take my morning jogs again, she chided herself as she slipped inside. Right when she clocked in, she went to stow her purse in her cubby and grab her nametag—all part of her routine. But the note she found stashed in her cubby wasn’t. It was typed out, taking away any chance of recognizing the handwriting. It was also short and to the point; “ Talking with another guy? Such a cold choice for such a warm person. I know how to make you smile better than he could. Your eyes should only be for me.” Yuki almost dropped the note. She looked around the open back area with the cubbies and aprons to make sure she was alone and not watched. It had taken her a few minutes to calm down enough and stop shaking to get to work. It sounded like the others. She folded the note up and shoved it inside her purse. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths before walking upfront. At least it was a short shift today.
A line of cups sat beside her machine, little scribbles on their sides, directing what to make. Grabbing the next one, Yuki got to work. The hum of the espresso machine cut through the steady drone of conversations. She carefully pulled her shots, frothing the milk to just the right temperature. “Double 16-ounce latte for Zach,” Yuki called above it, placing a to-go cup on the bar. Her voice was on the higher side, making it easier to carry. Turning back to the espresso machine, she tried to get back in a rhythm. Normally, she enjoyed her job, especially all the different people the coffee bar drew in (not to mention their tips). But lately, she’d been struggling with keeping focused. It was bad enough getting the anonymous notes when she was at the university, but now it had spread to her work. C’mon Yuki; it’s Friday. Movie night with the guys. It was Tsubasa’s turn to pick. His taste in films was varied; the only sure thing she knew about his choices was that they wouldn’t be horror.
The rest of her shift went smoothly. The near-constant flow of customers fueling up before their big plans helped with that. Liza, her favorite coworker sauntered in, signaling the end of Yuki’s shift. Her hair was dyed an interesting shade of green this time, pulled back in a pair of space buns. A marked contrast from the bubblegum pink braids she had been sporting a week ago. “Hey Yuki, how’re classes going?” she greeted, giving a friendly tug to Yuki’s high ponytail. “Hi, Liza. Getting close to the end of the quarter.” “Going to be spending more time with me then?” “A bit more.” “Good,” she grinned. “Less time with Jiro the Jerk.” “Hey, I can hear you two, you know,” Jiro called from behind the register. “I know you little eavesdropper, that’s why I said it,” Liza laughed. She waved her fingers at Yuki as she ran over to Jiro. Yuki just smiled and shook her head at the two of them.
She retrieved her purse from her cubby, pausing to look at the folded note in it. Maybe it was time to do some brainstorming with her best friend and roommate, Reiko, about dealing with this. Walking back out to the main area, she saw Tsubasa slouched in line, looking a little disgruntled next to a smirking Osamu. Nathan was behind them, looking stoic as ever. Tsubasa’s expression cleared, replaced by his usual smile when he saw her approaching them. “Evening Yuki !” ″ Hey guys, I’m a little surprised to see you here. I thought we were meeting at the food court.” “Well,” Tsubasa scrubbed his hand over his sandy hair, looking uncomfortable. “We uh, decided to get our caffeine here tonight.” “C’mon Tsubasa, tell the truth: you were hoping to see her in her little apron. I know I was,” “Osamu! I was not- I mean, I didn’t” Tsubasa rounded on Osamu, his face going red. “Tsubasa, the line is moving. Osamu, you shouldn’t goad him at Yuki’s work.” Nathan turned towards Yuki now. “Good evening Yuki.” “Hello, Nathan.” Smiling, she stepped behind him in line. While she was thinking about it, she sent Reiko a quick text.
The line moved pretty quickly. Jiro caught sight of Yuki as they reached the counter. “Can’t get enough of this place, kid?” “Just getting my friends some drinks Jiro,” she held out her card before anyone could say anything. “And don’t call me kid. You’re not that much older than me. Don’t forget my employee discount, old man.” Osamu snorted behind her. One by one, they gave their orders and moved over to Liza’s side of the bar to wait. Liza gestured her over without breaking her stride. “Did I forget to do something? I thought I cleaned it-” “Oh no, it’s nothing like that girl. You never told me that you had friends like that.” “Like what?” “C’Mon, Yuki. They’re hot,” she lifted a brow. “Are you dating any of them? All of them?” “WHAT? Nonono nothing like that,” Yuki waved her hands in front of her like she was trying to wave the idea away. She could feel her cheeks heating. “Aww, no need to react like that, Yukiii. We’re not that bad, are we?” She jumped with a squeak as Osamu’s voice came right behind her. Oh, Gods. She whirled around, snapping, “Well, at least one of you is.” Liza got back to work and called their names as soon as she could quit laughing. “See you Monday,” she called as they all headed for the front door. Yuki managed a small wave.
Yuki handed her keys to Nathan as soon as they reached the parking lot. He accepted them with a nod. Since they were all going to his place to watch the movie, it was easiest to carpool there and use Nathan’s extra parking pass. Osamu and Tsubasa argued over the believability of a fight scene in an action movie they’d both watched recently. She mostly tuned it out; the movie had been much too violent for her taste. They stopped at her sedan and shuffled for doors. Nathan paused a moment before leaning across her windshield. “What is it, Nathan?” “It appears that you have an admirer Yuki,” he answered, turning and holding a single rose in his hand. ’This was left under one of your wipers.” Yuki blanched, grabbing the doorframe to steady herself. “Yuki? You all right?” What’s going on here?” She couldn’t answer their questions at the moment. She could only focus on the fact that he knew her car too. Well duh, how did he figure out where you worked without following you? Their voices were like background noise; she didn’t pay attention until she heard Tsubasa giving their location.
“Who were you talking to?” Yuki asked. “You looked like Nathan was trying to hand you a grenade or something. I called security.” Tsubasa answered. “Isn’t it Jacob’s shift tonight?” Osamu asked. “Yeah. He was patrolling outside, so he’ll just be a minute.” “Care to explain your reaction there, Yuki?” Osamu leaned back, crossing his arms. “I’d like to explain it at once if you don’t mind.” “Maybe I should see if Reiko can join us then?” Nathan already had his cellphone out. Yuki looked at him wide-eyed. “When I began tutoring you, I obtained her contact information in case you didn’t answer the door right away.” At her nod, he messaged Reiko. Tsubasa moved beside her as Osamu and Nathan took off in different directions. They almost looked like they were taking a casual stroll. But they both kept moving their heads side to side, looking for something. They both stopped and strolled back her way around the same time she noticed a large SUV with the mall logo on the side rolling up.
“Tsubasa, I got your call, but you could have been a bit more clear. What’s this about your friend’s freak out?” Jacob called out the open window. Freakout? Yuki glanced at Tsubasa, and he cleared his throat. “That’s not quite how I phrased it, was it?” At Jacob’s eye roll, he continued, “Yuki got something on her car that upset her pretty bad.” “Yuki?” She leaned over behind Tsubasa so she could be seen and waved. “It’s kind of a long story, and Reiko is coming too.” “Let’s take this back to my office then. What did you get that was so disturbing?” “This,” Nathan answered, holding the rose up. “All right. Everybody hop in, bring that too.” Jacob gestured. He leaned across the front and popped open the passenger door. “You can ride up here, Yuki,” he directed kindly. Once everyone was in and buckled, he turned the SUV around and drove around the lot's corner. They filed into the employee entrance and went down the narrow hall into a room with a table and some chairs. Jacob brought some more in from the hallway, and then they sat to wait for Reiko. The rose sat in the middle of the table.
At one point, Nathan pulled his phone out and briefly tapped at the screen before looking back up. “Reiko needed directions to the office here,” he explained. “I’ll go meet her,” Jacob straightened from his spot against the wall and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a frazzled Reiko. “Yuki, what happened? What’s wrong?” “Well, it’s a bit of a long story. I was going to bring it up when I got home tonight.” Reiko sat down in the chair pulled out for her, facing Yuki, and waited. “Okay, so a few weeks after the semester started, I started to get notes,” “That was months ago! And you’re just now telling me?” Reiko interrupted. “Well, you see, it wasn’t something I thought much of at first. The first note was vague enough I figured it had been left for someone else or left behind. The next note wasn’t until after the first exam. Even then, it was short and encouraging. And really, how does a girl like me end up with a secret admirer?” Reiko looked like she was going to jump out of her seat, so Yuki hurried on, “I mean, aside from Osamu’s constant teasing, it’s not like guys have been lining around the block to approach me. But more recently, the notes have been appearing more often, and they sound different. This one was left in my cubby at work.” Yuki put the note on the table by the rose. “Then, Nathan found this waiting at my car tonight.”
Everyone leaned over to look at the note. “Another guy?” Osamu looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Well, Uhm, I thought about that. The only thing I could think of was Nathan asking me about a change of time for our next tutoring session before class.” “I’m cold?” “You are pretty quiet and to the point, Nathan. Some could take it that way,” Tsubasa volunteered with a shrug. “That’s about it. I’m not sure what to do now.” “No direct threats, but damn is this guy creepy,” Osamu started. “Well, you could file a police report, but there isn’t much they could do at this point,” Jacob picked up, frowning. “I don’t like this. Though I do have an idea.” “Well?” “Hush Tsubasa. What hours do you work here at the mall Yuki, and when do you have classes? Is there anything else you do regularly?” “ I go to classes 10-1 Monday and Wednesday, 11-2 Tuesday and Thursday, and 10-2 Friday. I work Thursday 3-8, Friday 3-7, Sunday 10-3, and Mondays 2-8.” Jacob thought a minute then smiled. “Well, it looks like our job schedules match pretty close. Here’s what I think; I keep an eye on you while you’re here, walk to your car. When you’re at school, can any of you three escort her to and from classes?” Nathan nodded. “ We do share a few classes, and I do believe Tsubasa and Osamu -” “I share a lot of required classes with her” “and I have one class with her. What about evenings, though? If he’s followed her to work, what’s to say that he hasn’t followed her home? Sorry Yuki,” he added at her gasp. “I didn’t even think of that.” she shivered. “Well, I can always come to your place, or you could come to mine. Although Akira does room with me.” “Wait a minute,” Reiko interjected. Jacob held up a hand. “ I’m doing this as a friend, no ulterior motives. How much have we hung out together with these brats? How many of our Kendo tournaments have you been to?” He has a point. Do I really need to do this? Looking around at her friends’ concerned faces, she made a decision. Yes, she did. “Okay, when do we start?” she asked.