“Yo Valerie, what’s up?”
“Hello Valerie, what do you need?”
Appearing from the door that Valerie came from was Alan followed by two people that were both wearing the place’s uniform. One was a girl that was also about the same age as me with wavy blond hair that was shoulder-length. The girl was about the same height as me. Another was a man with short grey hair and was about the same height as Connie. He was an elder, maybe in his 60s — I would imagine that an owner of a restaurant would be around his age.
Valerie turned to the three.
“Nothing really. Just stay out here to lighten the mood — You know, make this place more lively.”
The old man agreed, but the girl scoffed.
“What, just that? Seriously? Nah, go ahead and call me for anything import-”
She turned her head towards us and her mood lightened.
“Woah! Who’s this!? What a total hottie…”
What? No offence to Ren, but he probably looks more intimidating than handsome. And no offence to this girl, but is she out of her mind?
The girl walked up to us and slammed her hand on the table. She stared at me.
“Hey girl, what’s your name?”
Oh, she was talking about me… I’m, um, flattered?
Alan grabbed the back of the girl’s collar and dragged her to the front counter.
“Shush, Lily. And you have a boyfriend, don’t you!?”
The girl who is apparently named Lily laughed nonchalantly.
“It’s fine, it’s fine…”
Yeesh, how unfaithful…
“No, it’s not… It’s really not… C’mon, you were also called because we usually get a bit busier at this time.”
Well, I guess I am cute, but it’s still unfaithful. She’s just joking, right? Right!?
When they left, the old man walked towards us and bowed
“Thank you for visiting. Please enjoy your stay at Alente Bistro.”
“Y-Yes, thank you…”
Afterwards, the man turned and walked towards the other two.
Valerie smiled proudly — a real “pat yourself on the back” type of feeling.
“Yup, that’s my team! Ah, I’m so proud of them — they’re the most well-mannered, hard-working, and charming crew you’ll ever meet.”
Yeah, they are… Wait, how big is this store? Not physically, but in terms of business, because there have to be more than four people.
“Um, Ms Valerie…”
“Just Valerie is fine.”
“Oh, s-sorry. Valerie, are they the only other employees? Four people including you don’t seem like a lot…”
“Not at all. There are three other people that are out right now.”
Valerie propped her elbow on the table and leaned her neck on her hand. She surveyed the store as she smiled warmly.
“Compared to other stores you’ve seen, we have fewer employees, right? That’s because we’re only a local eatery.”
I knew this and nodded.
“We aren’t like those big restaurant chains with locations everywhere. We only have one, and it’s this one. But even if we’re just a small business, we’re busy a lot of the time.”
Valerie turned her head towards Ren.
“We’re busy because we’ve worked really hard. My crew and I have shaped this business into what it is now… Sure, it might have been just me in the beginning, but I really can’t take all of the credit now — maybe I’ll take a bigger portion than everyone else, but that’s all.”
Why was she looking at Ren when she explained the restaurant’s status? I sensed a second meaning of thanks in Valerie’s words. Then was she thanking Ren? Maybe, but he doesn’t work here. Did he work here in the past? Hm…
Maybe this is how they became friends — I think. Well, Valerie seemed friendly with Ren, but he didn’t really express the same feelings. Maybe this is like the relationship he has with Connie — seemingly one-sided on the surface but actually isn’t.
“S-So Valerie, can I ask about your relationship with Ren?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course. Or rather, do you want to explain, Ren?”
He turned to me.
“Camryn, Valerie is an old classmate from high school.”
“Yeah, but can I add something? I’m an old friend from high school. Now, I’d say best friend, but Connie already occupies that position.”
Ah, so they are friends. But it’s still seeming one-sided. Oh and she knows Connie. I guess that makes sense if they attended the same high school…
“Oh yeah, guys, don’t be shy.”
She slid the plate of donuts towards me.
“Here. Oh, and it’s on the house. Enjoy!”
Ren and I both reached towards the plate to grab a pastry. Ren took one that was a plain brown colour and took a bite out of it.
“Is it good?”
Ren nodded at Valerie’s question.
I took one and stared down at it. I… I was a bit hesitant about eating it. Just by looking at it I could tell that it was the same flavour as the one I ate about a week ago, but that wasn’t the reason. I think… I think I was just scared. The last time I ate a donut like this one, that flavour was hardly noticeable. But I did not know what the cause was. I was scared that this phenomenon wouldn’t occur again. Yeah, I’ve become accustomed to the taste over time, but oddly, I dreaded it this time. Why? Hm…
Probably because I had a brief taste of food without this scourge — and it was bliss. Yes… It’s like how someone who ate fast food all their life would change to only want to eat at fine dining places because they got a taste of that — obsession. Yeah, that has to be the reason! I don’t want to go back… I have a chance of not having to taste that awful flavour of terrifying memories, and I want this to work out!
“Camryn? You okay?”
“O-Oh, sorry, it’s nothing…”
I should stop — I’m just needlessly worrying Valerie. Besides, nothing will come from just staring at the donut. If the taste isn’t there, I’ll be happy and nothing else. And if the taste is present… I’ve tasted the flavour plenty of times, so there won’t be a difference — but I have a feeling that it’ll be severely worse…
I took a bite, and…
My eyes widened… The fluffiness of the dough… The slight chewiness… This was undoubtedly chocolate flavoured, but why did it taste different from the one I ate last week? Was it because that one was take-out? Was it because this one was fresher? Was the atmosphere contributing? Or was my memory making the other one seem worse because a week passed? I don’t know, but all that mattered right now was that this one… tasted better. My arms slightly trembled.
Valerie smirked mischievously at me, but I could sense some concern. Ren was also staring at me, and the old man employee was looking at me from behind the counter in concern.
Valerie asked me a question.
“So Camryn? How is it?”
I quickly chewed and swallowed the piece.
“I-It’s go- Huh?”
I couldn’t speak — when I tried to, I couldn’t.
“I… Um… It’s… Um…”
It was hard to speak.
I wasn’t sad… or mad… or feeling any negative feelings. However, it was getting harder to think. Many different thoughts came into my mind, and I had trouble sorting through them and finding something to say.
I was staring down at the table. That was when I noticed… something. I was feeling a thin and wet stream run down the right side of my face. I barely flinched when I saw a small water droplet fall on the table on my right. I… was crying…
“Huh? What is this?”
Valerie brought her head closer to the table and leaned forward, meeting my eyes.
“Earth to Camryn! Did Alan give you a dud or something?”
“Huh? No, it’s just…”
When I tried to speak, the tears started to fall relentlessly. Many droplets soiled the white table, and my face was wet with tears and snot. But I wasn’t sad… or mad… or feeling any negative feelings. It made no sense to me, but… I was feeling so happy.
I took another big bite of the donut and spoke with my mouth full.
“Gah, It’s… I-It’s so good. It’s just so good! I… Um, thank you! Thank you so much!”
As I scarfed down the rest of the donut, Valerie started laughing.
“I hear my food is delicious, but to receive tears of joy over it? Hah, you’re flattering me and inflating my ego!”
I continued eating the donut. The dough had a light and fluffy texture… The chocolate was sweet… The amora was alluring… I remember the last time I ate this, I also scarfed it down, but why was I crying this time? It was because I was happy… The dough had a light and fluffy texture, the chocolate was sweet, the aroma was alluring, and…
That other taste wasn’t present. Of course, I’d never intentionally look for it, but when I intensely focused on the flavour, it wasn’t there. No, the only thing that I could taste was the donut, and I could truly savour its taste… It was surreal and I was in paradise…
After a while, I completely finished the treat.
“Thank you so mu- huh?”
Valerie had a rag and was wiping my eyes with it. She smiled at me and signalled for me to take another one. I did and started eating it.
“Ah, this one is so good too!”
“Really? I’m glad you’re enjoying them…”
And as I took large bites out of the donut, I savoured the flavour — it was sweet and I could taste a hint of apple in it.
As I ate, Valerie turned to Ren.
Valerie once again assumed her relaxed position of crossing her legs and leaning on her arm propped on the table. She looked at me and smiled warmly.
“She’s just precious, isn’t she?”
I heard their compliments towards me, and I was grateful… But, the thing hogging my attention at the moment was the treat. I blissfully took bites out of it and savoured each one of them, and I was ecstatic… I was so overjoyed because that other taste that haunted me for so long wasn’t present — I was glad that I was able to finally abandon the harbinger of these horrific memories…
“Thank you so much!”