As much as I wished to wear something more mature my school uniform was all I could have. Since the interview was only an hour after school. After an awkward ride home on the train between Hana-chan and Mihara-san, I waved them goodbye as I got off at the shopping district. As I weaved through the weekday crowd my heart pounded in excitement. Once I stepped inside of the Red Roses, that older woman from before. The one that took our order lit up as she saw me arrive.
“Ah, are you the student who applied for the job?”
“Yes, I’m Nakagawa Madoka.”
“Right this way, right this way…”
The elder woman held out her hand and led me to the back of the restaurant. It wasn’t as spacious as the main area but more like a small corridor as the walls became smaller. Once I made it to the end there was another elderly woman in the back office. She was just as old as the woman in the front. They shared similarities making me believed that they might actually be sisters.
“Ah, take a seat.”
She charismatically guided me to my seat. Almost instantly the interview began. I wasn’t as thrown off about that though…likely because Mari-san had put so much rigorous training into me as to what to expect in such a small amount of time. After some basic questions mirroring that of what Mari-san asked me the night before I felt as if it was all going smoothly. It was more like a conversation than an interview…which is one of the key points Mari-san pressed into me the other night.
After it was over she looked over her notes and nodded while squinting her eyes. Her short grayed hair rippled in a rugged ponytail as she leaned to the side slightly.
“If you don’t mind…could we start your training right now? We’re a little low on staff and your help today would be tremendous, Nakagawa-san.”
“O-Oh, sure! Is there a place for me to get dressed, Ma'am?”
“Don’t you worry about that, I'll have your coworker show you around.”
She called out to the hallway.
“Okabe-san! Please show your new kohai around and get her started as a waitress.”
That name filtered into my ear...not as though the Okabe-san I knew was the only one in the country of Japan. That would have been ludicrous to even think...
But the voice was all too familiar to pass up. As she approached, we met eyes with one another, revealing the cosmic truth of this abnormal situation.
“Oh, you both know one another? Well, that makes this all the easier, doesn't it?”
“Are you shitting me right now?”
The day was going to be far more interesting than I could have ever imagined. Okabe Kasumi, my classmate who was a year younger than me was now my senpai? Not only that...I was certain she didn't think too highly of me from our chat yesterday. But, without another word, she led me to the locker room on the other side of the hall.
“This is the women’s locker room. We each have our own space and the boss will assign you one soon.”
In seeming frustration, the ivy-haired teenager scratched her head.
“What the heck are you doing here, Nakagawa-san?”
I crossed my arms, pushing the question back on her.
“That’s my question Okabe-san...Is this where you always go after you skip class?”
I fished for answers. Her eyes widen but instead of answering, she flipped around. It would appear as though I may have struck gold with my question.
“That’s none of your damn business, Nakagawa-san. Now here’s your uniform. Get dressed and meet me at the front. It’s nearly rush hour and we’re low on staff.”
She handed me the Red Rose’s staff uniform. It captured all of my hopes just like Mari-san suggested. There was no doubt about it...the uniform was super cute! I wanted to squeal at how adorable it looked…but Okabe-san was staring daggers in me. So, I held my breath as I proceeded to get undressed out of my school attire.
The uniform had a cheery pink pumpkin top that was crossed laced with snow-white ribbons. It lipped cutely exposing my collarbone but allowing me to feel free and unrestricted. A black skirt flowed over another cream white one. As I walked about, they bounced independently of one another. The style was fantastic. But to top it all off, the uniform came with a bright white ribbon the followed along the back like a twin tail. It was cute enough to make my heart sing with excitement.
"Are you going to stop gawking over the uniform, Nakagawa-san?"
Breaking my imagination, I was reminded that Okabe-san was actually wearing the same thing. But for some reason...It didn't fit her rugged exterior nor did I believe she cared in the slightest about it. I wouldn't say it was wasted on her, no...it was a unique charm that she wore something as cute as this. It was like someone opened up a new world of the one named Okabe-san. Probably she secretly loved wearing cute clothing like these?
Now, all readied up, I walked out to see a small crowd of patrons sitting down at the tables across the way. Okabe-san stood arms at her hip as I walked over.
“Okay, I can’t give you a full rundown of everything right now because we're pretty slammed but I’ll give you the abridged version. Our job is to wait on tables. That’s pretty much it in the end.”
Okabe-san sighed sharply. I felt as if I was more of a bother than an extra pair of hands as our boss suggested. My new coworker didn't seem as though she was enjoying this in the slightest.
“You’re going to watch me work for an hour then when afterward I’ll have to cut you loose and you’re going to have to do it on your own. Do you understand, Nakagawa-san?”
Now it was starting to sink in…this is what a job is, isn’t it? I would have to put my all into doing the job correctly.
Okabe-san launched off to the first table without any signal, causing me to lag behind her as I struggled to keep up.
“Hello, welcome to Red Roses! How may I serve you today?!"
The tone of voice she used was filled with sugar and sweetness, unlike her usual vulgar attitude that I've come to associated all too well with Okabe-san. As the group of two men and a child ordered their meals, Okabe-san skillfully asked if they’d like certain special dishes, styles, and other details while maintaining a charming self-image. This side to the grassy-haired jerk was completely different and to be honest...I found it a tad on the mature side.
“Okay, next we rush this order back to the kitchen.”
I followed as she did just that. After calling out the order and clipping it up on the chef's order board, she skillfully got the drinks they ordered and made her way back without hesitation.
“Remember Nakagawa-san, the customer stays satisfied if they feel their needs are being met at a rapid pace. Their order is clearly going to take over twenty minutes or so to make. So, if nothing happens between that time they might suggest the order is taking too long. Which is never a good sign in this industry.”
I nodded with vigor, trying my best to harness all the information given.
“So, it’s best to stagger their orders?”
I questioned more so to show that I'm paying attention if anything.
“Yes, but always bring out the main dishes together though. People hate to see everyone else eating before them. It puts a bad taste in their mouth and they're less likely to recommend the establishment to another because of their bad experience.”
There were a lot of little nuances that I didn’t even account for as she went about telling me all of this. I can say that I certainly learned a lot about how much waitresses actually do to keep their customers happy. As we rushed around, completing orders, fulfilling special needs for customers, cleaning up tables, and the like, the first hour flew by in an instant. Now here I was, standing there ready to go about it alone. The midday rush was starting to dwindle but my nerves were still racing in full bloom.
“You think you can handle it, Nakagawa-san?”
I wasn’t confident at all…
She placed her hand on her hip, ready to give me the pep talk I so needed right now.
“Let’s keep it simple stupid because it's stupid simple in the end. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to get food in people's mouths and keep a smile on their faces. If you have any questions, come find me. I’ll be busting other tables right beside you. So you're never alone.”
With that, she walked off. The way she put it out there made her all the more reliable. Who to think that I would have ever thought of Okabe-san as someone I had to rely on? But before I could get too deep into my thoughts, that’s when a few guests came in and sat down across the way. That would be my first group alone. So, I took a deep breath and approached showing the utmost confidence...
“W-Welcome to Red Roses.”
I exclaimed as my heart nearly leaped from my chest. It was a different sensation than meeting strangers on a regular basis. I had to naturally put myself lower to them as in a way they are the masters as I am a servant. There were a total of three of them. They each ordered their respective meals as I diligently wrote them down. Now with all of their food read aloud back to them I concluded that this is what they wanted and took their menus. As I made my way back to the kitchen, like a knife in the back I tensed up realizing my fatal mistake...
I forgot something simple but majorly important, so I rushed back over.
“S-Sorry…what would you all like to drink?!”
The group of three gave me a hardy laugh. It was super embarrassing and I know incidences like these were going to be commonplace all night….So instead of dwelling on my mistake, I gave them a light giggle as to share in the amusement. I think that paid off as they left a small tip along with a thank you note before they exited the establishment. As the hours went on, balancing was a task, remembering small little details became harder and harder but…I pressed on and by the third table it was becoming less scary and a tad more exciting.
I realized. This was a new sensation. I could say that I was doing something most of my classmates weren’t. Something most students my age weren't doing. I was being part of the workforce and it…made me feel something I haven’t since my coma. Like I was finally...moving forwards.
“Are you getting used to it, Nakagawa-san?”
That’s when my ivy-haired coworker stepped in from the side. She might have caught me smiling to myself, but she appeared to be disinterested at most as she just shrugged her shoulders.
“Ah…I think so.”
Okabe squinted her eyes and began her explanation suddenly...
“You’re forgetting a lot of stuff and barely making the orders out in time, but speed will come, accuracy is first. You forgot to give table three their receipt so I gave it to them. Make sure when people order a salad you explain to them that it has nuts in it. The last thing we need is a lawsuit if someone has an allergic reaction...Aside from that, you're doing...fairly decent.”
She scolded…but I wasn’t upset. No, I think Okabe-san was actually being professional which is something I’d never associated with her. But then I would have never imagined that she was a working individual.
“Eh, it’s that strange woman again.”
Cutting into my thoughts, Okabe-san pointed to a window seat in the establishment. At the edge of a table overlooking the traffic of the night, a tall woman with long burgundy hair sat at the table. With a notepad on the table, she diligently scribbled away. In seeming deep focus she felt less like a customer and more like a staple to this restaurant as she made herself at home like this was something she's been doing for a long time now.
With the afternoon rush dying down she stuck like a sore thumb. Most likely an office worker who recently came from her job, she seemed to be finishing up more work as she silently scribbled along on her notepad.
“Okay that lady over there…I don’t like dealing with. You take her table, Nakagawa-san.”
Suspiciously, I questioned.
“But isn't that one assigned to you? It says so on the board...”
That's when my senpai shrugged and lowered her gaze.
“It’s nearly time for the head cook to go home for the night. I’m going to be the replacement for the remainder of the night so…deal with it.”
That tone of voice was certainly the Okabe-san I know...I couldn't lie though…I don't mind having her as my senpai so far. So I gave up and chalked this challenge up to gaining more experience. So, I approached the businesswoman. Her burgundy hair flickered in the moonlight as she hummed away with a calming tune. It felt familiar and made me feel a tad guilty as I interrupted her mood.
I initiated as our eyes met. That's when it struck me...her amethyst eyes that shone brightly in the nightlife. I must have surprised her as she swung her long hair revealing her bangs brushed to the side adding to her mature air.
Her lips parted as I stopped short of her. For a moment she looked at me, intensely. I felt as though I did something wrong because she didn't say a word for a moment. Her stare was a tad expressionless before her tense body loosened up. That's when her cool exterior warmed up with a bright smile mirroring a star flickering in the night sky. That once cold expression melted away like an icy persona, bringing about a gentle, more mature beam. This warmed my chest as I finally expressed our company's motto.
“Welcome to Red Roses, how may I serve you this evening?”
For a moment her eyes wandered around me as is soaking everything about me. With a blink or two, she questioned.
“So, it must be you then, huh? That was unexpected for sure...”
I questioned. She spoke as if she knew me from somewhere. Could it be that I know her? But before I was able to ask, she waved her free hand from side to side. With a lift of her shoulders, she continued.
“Are you new here?”
My face warmed up. Was it that obvious that I was a new recruit? Was there a sign on my forehead that marked me as a newbie to the establishment? Instead of going further with my insecurities I answered her promptly.
“Oh…Yeah…I just started today.”
She smiled sweetly as she tilted her head to the side.
“That’s so cute. Is this your first job ever then?”
Embarrassed yet a tad excited I nodded.
“Yes, it is…Ma’am.”
“What’s your name?”
“Ah…Nakagawa Madoka as my name tag implies.”
I tapped my left breast, hitting on the small name tag on my uniform. It was only paper as they didn't have my true name tag ready for me. It is my first day that was to be expected though. The office worker giggled as her shoulders rose slightly. She put aside her notepad that she was writing in and gave me her full attention now.
“Hmmm, how interesting this night has become. Nakagawa-san...Nakagawa-san. I would have never expected this to be the case...”
She chuckled to herself again. I was unsure what she meant by that but I continued with my hospitality smile, awaiting her orders diligently.
“Please give me one moment, I have to do something before I order.”
“Oh, would you like me to come back later ma'am?”
“No, don’t worry about that. It’ll only take a few seconds.”
Not trying to be rude, I turned away as she took out her phone. Unconsciously though I peeked back to catch her cool outlook from the side. From her long burgundy hair to her sharp chin and womanly appearance, she couldn’t have been much older than Mari-san for sure. Dressed in a dark blue business suit, it would appear as though she just left work moments ago. She brought out her phone, typed a few things with her slender fingers. With a nod and a slight fist pump, she swiftly put it away. Now finished with her business, she turned back towards me as she sat on the side of her chair now. With her arm around the back of her chair, she peered into my eyes.
“Now…I have to ask you something important before I order, Nakagawa-san…”
“Oh…hopefully I can give you a proper answer...this being my first day and all, ma'am.”
Now being faced to face with her...I couldn't lie to myself. She was remarkably beautiful and pours out with an air of maturity. With the subtle tilt of her head, she drew me in piquing my curiosity. She pushed her body forwards in her chair causing her bottom to round at the end. I had no idea why I found myself looking at her like that. But her womanly shape didn't appear to be shown off to the world by mistake. As if she came out of her house trying to make sure the world knew she existed, she captured the stage of the environment around her. With a flip of her long straight hair, she finally opened her sweet pink-colored lips.
“So, Nakagawa Madoka-san…”
Her full lips curled in a devilish smile as she captured me now.
“You’re that high school student who was staring at my butt the other day, aren't you?”