Chapter 40:

(Bonus Story) Happy Birthday, Manager

It’s My First Time Working Late Nights at a Convenience Store, and If I Keep Getting Demon Lords, Kappa and Other Oddballs as Customers, I’m Giving My Two-Weeks’ Notice

I’ve finally hit forty shifts as a cashier.Bookmark here

That’s cool and all, but today just so happens to be an extra special day.Bookmark here

It’s July 1st — my manager’s birthday.Bookmark here

I picked out his present (a bear print apron) before I left for work, and I’m already looking forward to his reaction.Bookmark here

Why bears, you ask? Honestly, I just thought he’d look really cute in it. That kind of thing suits him.Bookmark here

Not that I had that impression of him at first. He seemed more like the sort of guy who bench presses kettle bells in his spare time, but I’ve since learnt that he’s into cooking and gardening. Also, I might actually have a bit of a crush on him.  Bookmark here

I know that most people would find it pretty hard to believe that he’s so loveable, but if you worked with him, you’d get it.Bookmark here

“Hello, Manager!”Bookmark here

When I saunter into the break room, he’s stretched out on the couch, as usual.Bookmark here

“Oh, Haru. Good evening to you, too.”Bookmark here

...Yep, everything’s the same as it is every night.Bookmark here

Which is exactly why I want to surprise him.Bookmark here

I’m going to leave his present in his locker. When he opens the door, he’ll see it all wrapped up in a pink gift bag, tied with a cute red ribbon.Bookmark here

With a little message card that reads “Happy Birthday,” of course.Bookmark here

My manager will be all like, “What’s this...?” He’ll take it out, his heart pounding with excitement as he slowly undoes the wrapping...Bookmark here

Then, bam! Adorable bear apron.Bookmark here

As plans go, it’s almost TOO perfect.Bookmark here

I silently slip the package into his locker, wondering when he’ll finally notice it. Chuckling quietly to myself, I head out to the register... Where I’m greeted by a big sign that reads “Happy Birthday Manager.”  Bookmark here

The rest of the store’s been decorated from wall to wall with colorful flowers made from origami paper and tissue paper. And my jaw just drops.Bookmark here

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“Hey! What do you guys think you’re doing?! Did you forget that this is a convenience store?!!”Bookmark here

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The booze hound is sitting up on the counter, barking out orders to the very familiar-looking decoration team.Bookmark here

No, seriously — what happened? When I walked through those automatic doors a couple of minutes ago, this place still looked normal! Is this like, a prank show or something?!Bookmark here

“Pops, what’s all this about?!”Bookmark here

I call over to the scruffy supervisor, who shrugs.Bookmark here

“Well, we’d’ve started sooner, but we were waitin’ fer you t’get here. Figured you’d want in on this.”Bookmark here

Whoooa, no. Nope. There’s no WAY that’s happening.Bookmark here

These are EXACTLY the kind of shenanigans that could get me fired!!Bookmark here

I spot the werewolf, who’s in the middle of scattering a bunch of rose petals all over the floor.Bookmark here

“...Uh, could you not? I’m the one who’s going to have to clean all that up, you know.”Bookmark here

“Heeeey, cashier kid! Sure has been a while, huh? How’re you doing?”Bookmark here

With a hearty laugh, the werewolf comes over to give me a firm but friendly pat on the shoulder.Bookmark here

“Well, you know. Not too ba-... Dude! Stop trying to distract me and pick up those petals!”Bookmark here

“Oh, um, I can’t really do that. They’re for the manager’s birthday. Y’know, like one of those red carpets that famous people get to walk down at big events.”Bookmark here

Well, he’s definitely laid down enough of them that “carpet” is the first word that comes to mind.Bookmark here

But what’s with the overly romantic spin on things? And you just know he’s not going to take responsibility for them afterwards.Bookmark here

“We’re heeere! And we brought the birthday cake!”Bookmark here

“My wifey and I made it ourselves!”Bookmark here

The ogre couple make their entrance, carrying a big box.Bookmark here

“Here! See for yourself!”Bookmark here

They pop open the lid, revealing a round, white cake.Bookmark here

...And that’s it. There’s no sprinkles, no strawberries...nothing.Bookmark here

“We were thinking of putting a bunch of those mini cream puffs on top. Could you ring us up?”Bookmark here

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Pompom-om-nom explains their design choices with a wink.Bookmark here

“Why can’t we fold these correctly? This is absolutely vexing! Couldn’t you have picked something easier?”Bookmark here

Frustrated, the vampire chucks a misshapen tissue paper flower onto one of the tables in the seating area.Bookmark here

“Aw, honey, that’s ‘cause you have no style. ...Here, let me see that.”Bookmark here

Kintaro helps fix the crumpled blossom, while the booze hound directs Princess Kaguya’s five suitors as they hang even more signs.Bookmark here

“Nah, lift that other end up. Yeah, jus’ like that. Hrm, should the message board get gussied up a bit more, too?”Bookmark here

He tilts his head to the side, distracted by the sudden thought, and the suitors rush off to go find the comically oversized card that has everyone’s signatures and well-wishes on it.Bookmark here

“While that gentleman might be our sworn enemy, he is also our savior. When Princess Kaguya sent us here on our quest, with his quick wits, he solved our lady’s riddles in an instant. ...You and the jinmenken are the last two who need to sign, I might add.”Bookmark here

With that, Prince Kuramochi politely passes me the message board. I can feel everyone’s eyes on me.Bookmark here

“Would’ya mind helpin’ me out? I ain’t got the digits t’do it myself.”Bookmark here

The booze hound grins, flapping his finger-less front paws to make his point clear. Bookmark here

“...Yeah, alright...”Bookmark here

I sigh heavily, resigning myself to my fate.Bookmark here

I mean, I just know I’m going to get stuck dealing with the fallout. I swear, it happens every. Single. Time.Bookmark here

Still, I can’t help but smile at the outlandish gesture.Bookmark here

...Oh, hell. I think I might start to cry.Bookmark here

Shaking my head, I rummage through my pockets for a pen.Bookmark here

“I guess we’d better hurry up, so we can get this party started.”Bookmark here

I glance over at the clock. It’s 2:30 AM.Bookmark here

Geez, they’re already two and a half hours late.Bookmark here

I flag down Ayame — who’d been watching from her usual post, waiting for a chance to join in — and she offers to lend a hand, too.Bookmark here

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When I get back to the register, there’s a small pile of mini cream puffs and assorted candies on the counter. I’m guessing the ogre couple brought them over. I ring them up, making sure to give them a bit of a discount.Bookmark here

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Ayame, meanwhile, is helping Kintaro help the vampire with the paper flowers. (Let’s face it — she probably needs it the most). She shows me how to make them, too. The five suitors are still on decoration duty, and the werewolf turns his attention to the countertop, covering that in flowers as well.Bookmark here

Apparently, the booze hound “c’n smoke alright, I’m jus’ no good with letters.” So, I take down his message for him.Bookmark here

It’s about what you’d expect, but still really touching.Bookmark here

“...Man, what’ve I gotten myself into this time? This place barely looks like a convenience store anymore.”Bookmark here

I mutter wryly to myself, as everyone congratulates themselves on a job well done. Actually, it’s kind of amazing how my manager’s birthday brought everyone together like this. The five suitors haven’t so much as squabbled once. Heck, even Kintaro and the vampire just exchanged a high-five.Bookmark here

And it sounds like those three ladies have been gossiping about their love lives this whole time. It’d be nice if that truce extended past this one evening.Bookmark here

“Right, I’ll go get him.”Bookmark here

The store’s been decked out from floor to ceiling in birthday finery. ...I have NO idea how we’d even start explaining this to any of our other customers, so I figure he’s not going to be too thrilled about this.Bookmark here

Well, whatever he says, I’ll cover for them.Bookmark here

“Hey, Manager?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

When I walk into the break room, I catch my manager in the middle of trying on his new apron.Bookmark here

“...?!”Bookmark here

My mouth flaps open in wordless astonishment.Bookmark here

“Oh, Haru. Thank you for the present. ...This IS from you, yes?”Bookmark here

Settling a hand on his hip, my manager points at the bear-print fabric.Bookmark here

He looks adorable. I knew that was going to be a good pick.Bookmark here

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“It’s wonderful, I’ll wear it every day. Although, I didn’t realize what it was for until I saw the card. I’d completely forgotten that it was my birthday. But, you kids sure are all about the elaborate surprises nowadays, aren’t you? No one’s ever done anything like this for me before.”Bookmark here

His smile is absolutely dazzling. Buying that present was, hands down, a brilliant idea.Bookmark here

Bothering to be secretive about it was well worth the extra effort, too. I mean, he’s so pleased that he keeps turning to admire it in the mirror.Bookmark here

“Well, that’s not all. There’s another surprise waiting for you. But, you’re going to have to close your eyes first.”Bookmark here

He crosses his arms with a slight huff.Bookmark here

“Oh, this is more than enough.”Bookmark here

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“What! That was nothing! Come on, just do it!”Bookmark here

Once I’ve made sure that his eyes are good and shut, I take a deep breath and lead him out into the store.Bookmark here

“Okay, you can open them now.”Bookmark here

He squints, his eyes adjusting to the harsher lighting of the main area. The moment he appears, the sound of party crackers rings through the store. The werewolf has set himself up near the door, showering my manager with rose petals as he walks through it.Bookmark here

Blinking in surprise, he’s too startled to notice that he’s covered in confetti and petals.Bookmark here

“Happy birthday, Manager!!”Bookmark here

The assembled crowd bursts into lively applause.Bookmark here

“Hey, mister manager! Thanks for the good advice! I’ll be back to bend your ear again some other time!”Bookmark here

“Congrats, you studly birthday boy!”Bookmark here

“You sly strumpet! We wanted to be first! ...Oh! Happy birthday!”Bookmark here

“Ready, gentlemen? On three. One, two... ‘Our sincerest congratulations!’ ...Wait, that wasn’t together at all! Can we get a redo?” Bookmark here

“Manager, check out the cake! Oni-woni and I baked it ourselves!”Bookmark here

“To thank you for the wonderful one you made for us!”Bookmark here

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“...Happy birthday, Manager. I really appreciate how yer always goin’ out of your way to look after an old dog like me. So, I called up everyone you’ve helped this year and asked them t’come celebrate.”Bookmark here

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My manager shuffles through the lush carpet of rose petals to the seating area, where the cream puff creation is waiting for him. The ogre couple have piled as many of the treats onto their cake as possible, complete with a little chocolate plate that reads “Happy Birthday Manager!”Bookmark here

He’s still in a state of shock.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Manager, for everything. We’re all happy to have you in our lives. But, here. You can read everyone’s memories, in their own words.”Bookmark here

I hand him the message board, which he takes with trembling hands. Dazed, he gently cradles it in his arms.Bookmark here

“...I...don’t know what to say. No one’s ever celebrated my birthday with so much enthusiasm before. Still, I... Thank you. Very much. That all of you would gather together, in the middle of the night, to make something so beautiful just for me, it’s... So touching.”Bookmark here

He almost seems to shrink in on himself as he speaks, his voice quivering with emotion.Bookmark here

It’s a side of him that I’ve never seen before.Bookmark here

“Okay, so, anyways, Grim’s outside on lookout — which means that no one’ll drop in uninvited. We’re free to party all night long!”Bookmark here

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...Well, you could’ve said that a lot sooner! Ugh, I could skin that werewolf.Bookmark here

“Lean in and open wiiiide, honey. Can’t have a birthday without cake, right?”Bookmark here

“What! We wish to feed him, too! Come now, darling, say ‘ahhhh’!”Bookmark here

“Oh, has he tried the cake yet? How does it taste?”Bookmark here

“We put all our love into it, so you just know it’ll be delicious!”Bookmark here

“Well, whaddya think of the decorations? Pretty spiffy, eh? I made this one myself, y’know.”Bookmark here

“Hey, Manager! Over here! Don’t you think these tissue paper flowers are perfect? ‘Cause I’m the one who put them up!”Bookmark here

“We also made some ourselves! Manager, look at these instead!”Bookmark here

“Oh, um, actually... After we had that whole big talk, you inspired me to start learning more about the language of flowers, and I made you this bouquet. You get it, right? It’s got delphinium for your birthday, yellow lilies to say ‘thanks,’ irises for ‘friendship’... But, well, we can chat more about it later. I’ve got a bunch more questions for you...”Bookmark here

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“Thank you for always looking after my beloved Haru. I hope that this year brings you nothing but joy.”Bookmark here

“Hey, now! Don’t start blubberin’, ya big softie! Have some more of yer cake, instead! And you’d better believe you’n I are drinkin’ tonight.”Bookmark here

“Thanks again, Manager. And happy birthday. I just wanted to say that I really look up to you. I couldn’t have asked for a better coworker.”Bookmark here

“...*sniff*... Th-Thank you, everyone. Really, you’re all too kind... I’m so glad that I run this convenience store. Truly, I am. From the bottom of my heart.”Bookmark here

Seeing him smiling, surrounded by his friends... I have to wipe the tears from my eyes.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.