Chapter 25:

Inogura's Ramen part 2

The Day I Forgot About You

Now that Neo was free from exams and his foot was healed, he could talk to Takeshi's uncle about the job.

Entering Inogura’s Ramen, he hoped to be welcomed by a lively greeting from his uncle, but all he received was a cold: "Welcome," from a blonde, tall boy with short hair who was at the counter seeming busy washing utensils.

Neo was confused and asked, "Where is the uncle?"

"Which ramen would you like?" the blonde boy asked, ignoring the question he received.

"I want to talk to the uncle," Neo said irritably.

"Tell me which ramen you want," the boy replied, even more irritated.

"I don't want ramen!" Neo responded, tapping the table.

"And why did you come here?" the boy asked, pointing his finger in judgment.

"To see the uncle!"

"The uncle isn't here!"

"Why didn't you say that earlier?" Neo replied annoyed.

The two calmed down.

Now that he knew the uncle was absent, he could leave and come back another time. But he had set aside the whole day to deal with this matter, so he decided to sit and wait while observing the other boy work.

The boy became embarrassed from being watched for so long. "Don't you want some ramen?" he suggested.

Neo thought about it. Watching the food made him hungry, so it wasn't a bad idea. "Alright, I'll eat while I wait. I'll have a Shoyu ramen."

The blonde boy quickly prepared a bowl of ramen and handed it to Neo. He was very skilled, reminding Neo of uncle working. Some time passed, and Neo was almost done eating.

"Hey Ryu, how's everything?" the uncle said as he entered the shop.

"Everything's fine," Ryu replied promptly.

"Uncle!" Neo exclaimed happily.

"Neo, I'm glad you're here, I wanted to talk to you."

"And who's this?" Neo asked, pointing to the stranger at the counter.

"Hey!" he replied in protest.

"Oh, this is Ryu, he's going to be my new assistant along with you. He's a student at Cherry School, so be friends."

Neo looked at Ryu suspiciously. He didn't feel like the two of them could be friends, more because of the other boy than himself. Still, he extended his hand. Ryu, on the other hand, ignored it.

The uncle called, "If you can come to this side of the counter, I'll teach you the basics." 

Neo decided to ignore the annoying boy and went to join his uncle. 

He explained Neo's duties, which included serving tables, cleaning dishes, and also cleaning the kitchen when it was quiet. Of course, the uncle wanted to teach Neo how to make ramen as well, but since Neo had no experience, he would only mess up the soup. So, he would stick to the more physical tasks. "You can come back tomorrow night," he said when he finished explaining.

At night, Inogura’s Ramen was crowded, which made Neo quite nervous. The fear of making mistakes due to his limited learning time and the pressure to act quickly were things that made him nervous. 

Despite the rush, he was getting the hang of it. He had to be kind to everyone who entered and be fast, yet careful. Neo still felt a little embarrassed saying "welcome" to the people who came in, but it was the store's standard, so he put energy into it. "IRASSHAIMASE!"

"Oh look, now we have Neo instead of the uncle," Takeshi teased. 

It was the baseball team, who were at the door. Of course, they had to see their friend working and tease him. 

Neo served the baseball team, because the uncle found the idea amusing. Once he placed the last bowl on the table, Takeshi looked serious at Neo.

"Now that your leg is healed, are you going to play in the championship?"

Neo was puzzled by the question. "I'm not going to play in the championship."

The other boys were incredulous upon hearing that response. Nagoya instantly looked sad, Shike and Maeda were furious, and Pietro remained stable, wanting to hear the reasons. The only truly indifferent ones were Takeshi and Tadashi.

"How come?" Maeda asked angrily. "You've been training with us all this time. You have to participate."

"I never said I would. I'm not part of the baseball club," Neo replied coldly.

"What do you mean you're not?" Maeda continued raising his voice gradually. He was ready to grab Neo by the neck. Takeshi had to stop him.

"It's alright, Neo. You know what you want," Takeshi explained.

"But, Takeshi..."

"No 'buts.' Shio. This is Neo's decision."

Shike was speechless. Neo continued his work, but the baseball team members, except Takeshi and Tadashi, didn't treat him the same as usual. Many were angry or upset.

On another day, some familiar faces appeared. "IRASSHAIMASE!" Richard, Sarah, and a few council members walked through the door. Richard seemed surprised to see Neo at the counter. "Neo?" he asked.

"Yes! There's a space right there, so if you could please go over there," Neo said, pointing to an empty table.

"I never expected to see you working, let alone in a place like this," Richard continued, surprised.

"I thought it was normal," Neo said.

"It's cool!! Work helps us better ourselves." Richard said with a genuine smile.

Sarah waved to Neo when she saw him. He remembered when she complimented his outfit and felt a little embarrassed interacting with her, giving a small wave with his hand. 

Neo didn't imagine, but this encounter would lead him to be visit by someone unexpected in other day:

"Why do you want to come to a strange place like this?" a girl's voice said. 

Neo, upon hearing that a group of people was approaching, prepared to greet them. "IRASSHAIMASE!" 

As the girl who was speaking entered and saw Neo at the counter, she said, "Oh, that's why." The girl was Sunny, and next to her was a shy Saya, who avoided eye contact while saying, "Hi Neo."

"Saya?" Neo asked, confused and embarrassed. Suddenly, words failed him.

Behind them were Monica and Natasha. 

He led them to an empty table and before taking their order, he was curious. "How did you know I was working here?"

"Sarah told us," Saya said. 

That girl really liked to play with others, he thinks.

Anyway, he couldn't just stand around. There were other tables to attend to. Saya watched Neo work, which made it hard for him to concentrate. He couldn't help but look at her. Ryu appeared and scolded him. Neo thought about retaliating, but he was right, so he just apologized.

Finally, the group of girls left, and Saya said goodbye to him before she left. 

The week was almost over, and the uncle came to talk to his two assistants. "Boys, you did very well."

Both of them thanked him for the compliment. "I'll invite you to help me at the Japanese Festival next week," he said, showing it on the calendar. "It's going to be quite a bit of work, so I really need your help."

Neo was a bit excited and nervous at the same time. It meant there would be more people than he was used to.

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