Today is the last day to sign up before the annual “Talent Competition.” Apparently every year Scanta hosts this event to “highlight the undying talent of the city,” but I’m pretty sure it’s just a way to earn some extra cash. After all, it's not like the winners get some ultimate prize… It's literally just a voucher for 10 free drinks.
My shift’s been pretty normal today: regulars ordering their regular drinks and people asking to buy tickets for tomorrow’s competition. Some people have even come in to sign up, and that too costs money. I noticed a couple familiar faces including Disk Jockey McDizzle and John Doe, that pretentious jazz music guy. Some guy even came in to add his stand-up comedy set… Can’t wait for that…
Luckily I’m not the only worker here today, because somehow, the infamous Wabong showed up for his shift. He was acting rather odd today though, almost as if he was waiting for someone to show up. He’s been pretty attentive to who walks in, and he’s spent most of his time behind the counter rather than on his phone in the back room. He’s also been looking through our list of competitors for tomorrow. It’s not like he’s any help though, he's pretty much just standing here and staring at the door.
“What’s up with you today?” I was genuinely curious, and a little suspicious.
Without breaking his gaze from the door, he grunted in my direction.
Ahh, of course. I sighed. Why did I think I’d get an answer in the first place?
I did a quick wipe down on the counter before I heard the door chime, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Wabong’s eyes light up.
“Welcome to Café Eris,” I gave my usual greeting, not bothering to look up until I was done wiping.
Before I could see who walked in, I was roughly pushed down to the ground.
“What the hell??” I looked up to see what pushed me and I was met with the sight of an overly excited Wabong. Did he just freaking body slam me into the floor? What possibly could have made him so excited?
“Ms. Rika! I’ve been waiting for you to show up! You’re here to sign up for the competition?” Wabong exclaimed. Oh, great, I should have known. How could I, of all people, forget about the nation’s heartthrob and his witch of a mother.
“YES. I AM HERE TO SIGN UP MY SON. I AM GLAD TO SEE YOU HERE, WABONG.” I’ll never get used to her booming voice. I slowly maneuvered into a crouching position. I really do not want to interact with Rika, and it seems like Wabong is doing a perfectly fine job by himself anyways.
“Great! I already have his name on the list. I was worried for a second, you’re usually the first one to sign up for the competition! Busy schedule?”
“YOU KNOW ME SO WELL. HERE,” she handed him a crisp 100 dollar bill, “KEEP THE CHANGE.”
Wabong gave a quick thanks and put the change under the counter. Holy crap, the sign-up only costs 15 bucks! How rich is this woman? Not to mention, since when were these two so friendly?
I craned my neck to see her over the counter. Hopefully she couldn’t see me down here, that would be quite embarrassing. Surprisingly, she was alone this time.
“COCO IS VERY BUSY THIS WEEK, I HAD TO COME HERE ALONE. HE IS CURRENTLY AT HIS FANSIGNING EVENT.”
“Ahhh, of course, ” Wabong trailed off awkwardly before shooting his head to look at Rika’s.
“Have you seen the latest episode of Conspiracies with-” Before he could finish, Rika cut him off with the first excited look I’ve seen on her face.
“OF COURSE I HAVE. IT WAS AMAZING. THEY FINALLY DECIDED TO GO OVER THE CASE OF BONJENET RAMSEY! I THOUGHT THE KILLER WAS SOMEONE IN THE FAMILY FOR THE LONGEST TIME, BUT AFTER THIS EPISODE I NOW I HAVE SUSPICIONS ON THE POLICE WORKING ON THE CASE.”
“Yeah, same here. The unreleased evidence was so sus too! It’s almost too obvious at this point!”
Both of their eyes seemed to light up more and more as they continued to discuss some conspiracy theory… Or is it an unsolved murder case? I’m not exactly sure. Their rambling continued for a good five minutes, but the only thing I could think about were my burning thighs. I was still crouched under the counter, praying that the bald eagle wouldn't see me like this. My thoughts were promptly cut off, however, when a small cough came from the other side of the counter. Rika and Wabong paused their conversation to look at where the sound came from, and I slowly (but painfully) came to a standing position.
A small child stood behind Rika, arms crossed and his foot tapping. He seemed like he'd been waiting for a while.
“Excuse me, Ms! I am trying to sign up for the talent competition and I need to go soon!” The child said impatiently.
Rika lowered her glasses to take a better look at the child. Her sharp eyes glinted as she scanned the young boy. I held my breath. This definitely wasn’t gonna go well. This poor kid is probably going to cry when Rika begins to openly flame him. Oh god, I was never good at handling children. How will I get him to calm down? More importantly, how will I get Rika to stop? I can’t even handle her when she’s picking on me, how am I supposed to protect a helpless child? Maybe Wabong can distract her by talking about some stupid conspiracy theory again? No, I don’t think Wabong is smart enough to understand the severity of the oncoming situation. I have to take this into my own hands! Think Tristan, quickly! What were they talking about earlier? Oh no, I don’t remember because I was too busy mentally-whinning over my legs being tired! Stupid Tristan! Maybe I should make something up? Maybe something with aliens? No no, maybe a cold case? Mayb-
“YOU GOT SPUNK, KID. YOU’RE DEFINITELY NOT GONNA BEAT MY COCO, BUT GOOD LUCK ON THE COMPETITION.” Rika pushed her glasses back onto her face. She nodded towards Wabong, and turned to take her leave. Not before shooting me a dirty look, though.
The kid looked dumbfounded. Before Rika could reach the door, he ran towards her and grabbed her hand. Rika turned around, clearly annoyed, but waited for him to speak nonetheless.
“Um, thank you Miss! I will work my hardest!” He gave Rika a toothy grin and brought his arm up to flex his (nonexistent) muscles.
“I WAS BEING NICE. DON’T PUSH IT.” She yanked her arm out of his grasp and finally exited the café. Through the window, I swear I could see a small smile on her face.
Okay, so what I’ve gathered is that this crazy old hag has a soft spot for everyone except me. How amazing.
The kid ran back towards the counter, only the top of his head visible. “Excuse me mister, I would like to sign up for the talent competition!”
“Sure. Wabong, could you pass the sign-up sheet ple-”
Wait. Where’s Wabong? Did he seriously vanish as soon as Rika left? ‘
The sign-up sheet was on top of the counter. I grabbed it and asked, “What’s your name, kid?”
“Maruto! Maruto Kuzumaki!”
“Ah, so you’re the kid that everyone talks about. The one that pretends to be Naru-”
“No! I am the real Maruto Kuzumaki! I don’t copy anyone!” He pouted and crossed his arms over his chest.
I stared at him, trying to come up with an appropriate response. I think I took a little too long, though. He started to tear up and his face started to turn red. He even started to sniffle.
Dammit! Why am I so bad with kids! What should I do… Should I give him a cookie? No, I think Scanta will grill me if I give out free food. Maybe I should give him a hug? Wait no, I definitely shouldn’t be initiating physical contact, that’s just weird. Maybe I shoul-
“Maruto! My favourite ninja- I mean…shadow master, right?” Scanta’s cheery voice rang right through my ear and I jumped. He snatched a cookie out of the display case and handed it to the kid.
Maruto stuffed the whole cookie into his mouth and garbled, “Mr. Santa! I’m not a copycat, right?”
“Of course not! Is boring-old Tristan bothering you?” Scanta slung his arm over my shoulder.
Shoot. I’m screwed.
“N-not really… I just let my emotions get the best of me. I’m sorry.”
Damn, this kid was surprisingly mature.
“No, Maruto, I’m sorry. I promise I wasn’t trying to call you a copycat. I was just gonna ask if you had money for the sign-up fee, that’s all.”
Scanta and I watched as his eyes grew wide. His eyes quickly filled with tears once again, and he looked down in shame before he squeaked out a small “No.”
“Wait. Don’t cry! Please! I
have some extra cash! I can pay for you!”
Maruto looked up in hope. “Really mister? You’d do that for me?” Even Scanta looked surprised at my proposition.
“Sure I would! Just please, don’t cry.”
Maruto sniffled one last time before shooting me a bright smile and a thumbs up. “No more crying!”
Oh thank god.
Scanta pat me on the back. “Wow Tristan! Look at you being a good samaritan. I feel like a proud dad.” I shuddered at the thought of him being my father.
“And you, Maruto. I’m excited to see your talent tomorrow! Don’t forget to have a good night’s sleep!” Scanta gave him one final smile and turned to leave.
“I won’t forget, Santa! Thank you!” Maruto said. Then his gaze shifted back to me and he fiddled with his thumbs. He looked shy, almost. Gosh, this kid is actually kinda cute!
“Um…! Thank you sir. I promise to repay your kindness. I’ll see you tomorrow!” He clumsily bowed to me and ran out of the store before I could say goodbye.
Once he left, I took 15 dollars from under the counter and placed it into the money envelope.
I never thought I’d say this, but maybe Rika can be useful.