I spent the day getting glares from all sides for being a two-timing man. I couldn't remember much of what happened today, mostly because I fell asleep at my desk while trying to avoid talking about it with anyone. But as expected, soon enough our classmates started coming to Sasashino and I to ask questions directly. With that, my label as a two-timing guy started to disappear. By tomorrow, the rest of the grade should find out what actually happened.
…They’ll find out, right?
“Shirasugi, we’re going to the coffee shop.”
“We really are.”
“If you offer a competition, I have no choice but to go along, since you usually never do.”
“Maybe I don’t for a reason.”
I grabbed my bag and left the class with Sasashino.
“How confident are you in your latte art?”
“I practiced a lot last night, so I can write ‘dog’. It’s just circles, so it’s easier to write than ‘cat’.”
“Easier to write? You’re not even drawing them!”
Well, I didn’t think she’d be very good anyway.
“Just kidding. I can draw. I’ll at least try.”
She looked at the exit of the school. Standing there with a fearless smile was Jindou, hands on her hips.
“Trying to run away? The girl next to you knows she’s going to lose. You’ll be bitter, but not because of the coffee!”
“I’ll spoil you a bit since you’re my kouhai. I’ll add some milk to your coffee.”
“What am I listening to…”
The students around us were whispering about me. I wanted to go home. Because of my part-time job though, I couldn't, so the three of us got on the bus together. Sasashino and Jindou sat next to me, one on each side. Only those around me can laugh at my situation. I’m not in the mood.
“Sasashino-senpai, there won’t be any customers from five to six today. Let’s have our competition then.”
“How do you know that?”
Sasashino asks Jindou with suspicion. Of course, it’s because she knows what will happen in the future, but don’t make her say it, okay?
“Most customers that go to the coffee shop Jindou and I work at are university students, but today’s orientation day, so business will be slow today.”
“Ehh, hmm, I see. That’s convenient.”
A lie like that to save herself was as bitter as coffee. It made my head hurt.
“Hm, so that’s why.”
“Why are you impressed too, Jindou-san?”
“The shop owner usually doesn’t tell us why we’ll have downtime, so she probably didn’t know. By the way, Sasashino, when we get to the coffee shop, I’ll still need to serve the customers. Related or not, I still have to work like normal.”
“Yeah, I know. I want to have some chocolate cake while I’m there. It’s not too sweet, right?”
“Sasashino-senpai, you’ve been there before?”
“Of course, it’s where Shirasugi works.”
“Eh, even though he only started working there yesterdayー”
You’re real sharp at the weirdest times, Jindou.
“It’s written in our online reviews. If she read them, of course she’d know.”
I’m glad I did a bit of research about the coffee shop yesterday. After defusing all the bombs the two girls were throwing at each other during our conversation on the bus, we were almost our stop. Jindou checked for any elementary school kids then pressed the stop button.
“Traumatized from yesterday’s kid?”
“I like kids, though. But when they cry, it’s a problem…”
Jindou chuckled, and Sasashino leaned close to me.
“What are you talking about?”
“Yesterday on the way home from work.”
As I told her about it, she laughed.
“Sounds like a disaster. Also, I’m going to ask you to walk me home today.”
“Sasashino-senpai, that’s cheating! You’re going to stay until the end of the workday?”
“I was going to leave earlier if it was busy, but since it won’t be, I thought I’d wait for him while studying and drinking coffee.”
“It’s true it won’t be very busy, but…”
Don’t tell Miyano-san about anything, though. I don’t want to have to worry about anything other than one of you revealing that you’re from the future.
We got off the bus and made our way to the coffee shop.
“Sasashino, use the front entrance. The two of us have to go through the back.”
“It’s for work, so I understand.”
After splitting up with Sasashino, I followed Jindou toward the back. We walked through the alleyway shared by us and the now-closed soba noodle shop next door. By the rear entrance stood Miyano-san, on the phone. He was bowing to his caller with a smile.
“…The ‘Telephone Hammer’, or the ‘Jap Pecker’ー”
As I muttered that, Jindou stifled a laugh and gave a light punch to my back in protest. My eyes met with Miyano-san’s, so I pointed at the back door, to not interfere with his call. He nodded, gesturing that we could enter. I opened the back door, and let Jindou in first.
“ーEh, next Sunday, yes, please let me know…”
I caught a few of Miyano-san’s words as I went inside. Looks like he’ll be done with the call soon. In the changing room, I take off my school uniform and put on my apron. I washed my hands and disinfected them with rubbing alcohol, then walked out into the café, where Miyano-san was already brewing a pot of coffee. Miyano-san looked at me, then sideways at Sasashino, who was sitting by the window.
“Tomoe, you brought a friend. Seems like a slower day today, so that’s great.”
“I hope I’m not being a bother.”
“It’s not a bother. She’s a very pretty girl. Maybe your girlfriend shouldn’t be sitting all the way in the corner.”
“We’re not like thatー”
“Master, Shirasugi-senpai is reserved by Haru Jindou!”
“…Maybe I shouldn’t sit so far away, actually.”
“No, don’t look at me like that, Sasashino. Just as the misunderstanding was about to be resolved…”
Is it fate that I just can’t escape the label of a two-timing man?
As I washed a cup, I listen to the store’s background music. It was anime covers of bossa nova songs again. Other than Sasashino, there were two college students and three high school girls in the store. Maybe it was because Sasashino was sitting by the window, sort of like an advertisement, all the customers were women. Jindou actively took initiative to serving them. Miyano-san looked happy.
“I’ve never had so many female customers before. I guess having a beautiful girl sit by the window changes the customer demographic. I’d be happy to get female customers more often.”
“Yesterday, something like 80% of the customers were men, though.”
“When the owner is an older man like me, it’s natural. I tried to change up the background music to attract different customers, but seems like nothing works as well as a pretty girl.”
As Miyano-san noted, a beautiful blonde mixed girl with a cup of coffee reading a reference book is very picturesque. She gives the shop a feeling of a stylish coffee shop with a relaxed vibe. If it were Jindou sitting there, it would become a café that’s laid-back, popular with both junior and senior high school students on their way home from club activities. That’s the importance of visual advertising.
“It would be nice if Matsuse’s daughter would come.”
“She never leaves her house.”
“Even if you ask her to, Tomoe?”
“You think she’ll listen to me? Why do you think I’m here?”
Miyano-san took out a frying pan after receiving an order for an omelet from Jindou.
The day went by. As Jindou had predicted, the shop was completely empty after five o’clock. Sasashino sitting by the window brought a fair few customers, so Miyano-san wasn’t discouraged by it. He was in a good mood, preparing the shop to become a Western-style bar.
“Time for the first and last latte art competition!”
Jindou raised her fist as she declared the beginning of the event.
“Miyano-san, are you okay with it?”
“Thanks to the beautiful girl over there, business is booming. Since we’re not busy, if you pay for it, I don’t have any complaints. Depending on how good you are, maybe I’ll even add it to the menu.”
“You’re very flexible about it, huh?”
Since the highest authority in the shop allowed it, the latte art competition could happen. I started a countdown and watched the two girls start dripping milk into the coffee. The two competitors and Miyano-san seemed to think it was a serious competition. But it wasn't - both Jindou and Sasashino were from the future, so they could retry as many times as they wanted until they won. It’s not hard to imagine how serious these two would get, who have fought each other this way countless times throughout their looping. That’s why I gave them different subjects. A tie works too.
The two of them looked at me in unison. Miyano-san, intrigued, took a break from preparing to take a peek.
“…Sasashino-san, I think it was. Would you be interested in working here?”
The quality of Sasashino’s latte art was so high that Miyano-san could only say so. Her drawing of a shiba inu with its tongue sticking out had perfect proportions, and the composition of the picture was amazing. To this she made this in such a short period of time… As I was admiring it, Jindou pulled at my arm, and pointed to her own latte art.
“Senpai, mine is amazing too! Sasashino-senpai’s is nothing compared to mine!”
She wasn’t lying. Hers was also amazing. It was of a photorealistic calico cat washing its face. I wondered how much practice it took to get such quality. Being from the future sure feels like cheating. The feeling each drawing gave off was different, and Miyano-san crossed his arms, in thought.
“Tomoe, who are these people?”
“I think they’re high school girls obsessed with their hobby. I guess it’s a tie, this one.”
I didn’t bother to mention that I expected this to happen and called a draw. Sasashino and Jindou glared at each other, but shook hands and praised each other for putting up a good fight. How hadn’t you guys realized that you’re both the same after that competition? Did they know that since they were both stuck in the same past, their opponent’s skills increase just as much as their own? Well, the moment they realized the other is also from the future, their memories would disappear, so they could only have come back to this timeline from a future where neither realized. Could it be that the ‘Schrödinger's (Cheshire) Cat’ effect made it so that the slowest to realize wins? It was like poisoning someone.
When Sasashino refused Miyano-san’s offer, he went back behind the counter, looking disappointed.
“Would you like to try their lattes, Miyano-san?”
“No thanks, I like my coffee black.”
I took a sip of the coffee, from which a fragrant steam rose. It had a good acidity, and a strong bitter flavour. I didn't know what brand it is, but it was good coffee.
“You two can take a break for a bit. Shall I serve you something to eat?”
Miyano-san called out to Jindou and I from behind the counter. I think I have a shift until seven today.
“I’m good, thank you.”
“I’m fine too.”
“All right. If you want to order something, just ask.”
I took off my apron and sat down across from Sasashino. She glared at Jindou, who had slipped in next to me.
“We tied in latte art, but I guess that still leaves tomorrow’s bento cooking competition.”
“Looks like it.”
“Maybe I should get a workout in today.”
I didn't know what kind of lunch the two people from the future will cook for their ‘friendly’ competition, but if they decided to burn this loop and make a ton of side dishes to test out what I liked… Huh? Could I even recognize if a loop is a throwaway in the first place? If they went back to the past again, what would happen to me and this world? …I was getting a bit scared. Best not to think about it.
“Exercise, huh? Going to practice for the ball games tournament?”
“For that too.”
A ball games tournament between all grades. It’s an event held at the beginning of the first semester of the year. The boys played soccer, the girls volleyball, and tennis by boys and girls in pairs. The strongest class from each grade then faced off with the strongest classes from the other grades. The event was the highlight of each semester, getting lots of attention, but since it was part of our phys-ed classes, the audience was only made up of other students from our school.
“I think I’ll play soccer. What about you, Sasashino?”
When I asked her about it, she gave me a reluctant look.
“I don’t like team sports, you know… Shirasugi, want to pair up with me for tennis?”
I don’t have much experience with tennis.
“But like, weren’t you on the volleyball team in junior high?”
“I mean, I guess. But one of the members of the team had to withdraw halfway through the year, and there was a big game coming up. I was standing off to the side, trying to avoid getting picked…”
She sighed, as though she really does hate team sports.
“I don’t like when they tell me it’s for the sake of class unity. I don’t care. That’s why I want to pair up with you and play tennis instead. What do you think?”
“It’s not like I absolutely have to do soccer, so I don’t mind.”
I’d never played tennis in class, though. I’m sure there’s a tennis team at our school, but I’m sure they’ve already decided their pairs.
“But like, if you’re bad at team competitions, you won’t be much better in a pair, right?”
“Depends on who you pair up with. I’m going to play with you, since you're a competitive guy, so I know you'll give it your all.”
“Well, if I’m going to do it, I’ll go all out, but I really don’t know if I'll be good with tennis, okay?”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. It’s whether you put your heart into it that matters.”
If there’s a choice between being serious or not, I’ll always go with serious. I hated losing, and I hated it even more when I lost because I didn’t put the effort in.
“…It’s not fair that you guys are in the same class.”
While listening to bossa nova covers and sipping an espresso, Jindou complained.
“You’ll be playing volleyball, Jindou?”
“Well, I kinda want to pair up with some boy from my class to beat my Senpais and make them jealous, but I think I’ll stick with volleyball.”
Phew. If the Jindou from the future competes against us, it would be a fierce battle.
“I’ll be cheering for you when you play, since we’ll be allowed to watch. It’ll be my privilege as part of the audience to pass you a cold towel when you finish. Then Shirasugi can look at me with pleading eyes, hoping I’d do the same for him”
“Yeah yeah, you wish. I won’t let you anywhere near him.”
They stopped, and glared at each other once more. Am I the only one that thinks that volleyball should be played on opposite sides of a net, not with words?
“Right, are the senior classes even allowed to make more pairs? Our grade has already submitted the list.”
“We’ll see in class tomorrow.”
“Ah, we have joint PE tomorrow.”
Tomorrow’s practice soccer game was going to hurt. Since Sasashino was in our class now, a lot of the boys were probably going to try to become the MVP to try to win her over. Boys sure are simple.
“Friday’s the class when we face off, hmm?”
Today was Tuesday, so that meant we only get two days to practice. I’d have to read the rules of tennis when I got home. Sasashino was from the future, so she was probably really good at it by now. I wasn't not going to let myself drag her down.
“Ehh, it’s not fair! I want to pair up with Shirasugi too!”
“You work with him every day, don’t you?”
“No! I want something more like a date, a trophy, something that I won’t forget!”
“You’ll have to work hard for tomorrow’s competition, then.”
“I see, cooking him a home-cooked meal is part of my youth! I’m on a roll!”
She talked like they were equals, but Sasashino was confident that she was going to win tomorrow because she'd practiced many times during her looping.
Nobody can beat someone from the future, that’s for sure.
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