It was almost unfair to know that he owned a bakery and that HIS customers lionized him. What was she supposed to do? Celebrate and pop a champagne? Or flip her hair on his face and walk down the street with her heels (as high as her ego) click-clacking against the gravel?
With a cup of brewed latte in her hand, Winona stared out into the window of her Nemesis’s bakery. Ryū’s bakery looked... pretentious. Like him. He put far too much effort into achieving a dashing countenance. In his bakery, huge translucent chandeliers with lustrous glass orbs hung overhead; wooden Shiba Inu showpieces of a fine golden hue sat atop the table right in front of the display shelf. But the saddest part of it all was that he never realised it; he didn’t have to because he always succeeded with being dicty.
Customers-slash-fans would come swarming into his lab for a selfie. Yes, you heard it right. Forget the experiments that took sweat, determination and sprained back and wrists to create the best desserts the town had ever savoured. Selfies had the potential to end world hunger.
Selfie a day keeps hunger away. How convenient!
Ryū and Winona weren’t on their best terms. How would they, in fact? They inaugurated their bakeries at the same time; were literal neighbours, their house part bakery faced each other. Their sales statistics ran a marathon, so fierce and irresolute of who was going to win. It was a Top 100 Billboard Chart, fans screaming their lungs out, elating the competing stars and whatnot. However, Winona felt like the Chart hadn’t nominated her for the award. What a bummer!
From the appearance of Ryū’s Wagashi, they looked appeasing and palatable. With years of practice and techniques, he had to accomplish an immaculate job.
In the name of holy peanut butter, why had Ryū occupied her mind?
Winona smacked herself in the head and took a sip from her latte that had lost its warmth from daydreaming. She leaned on the counter and watched Ryū, regarding his every move; the flick of his wrist when he squeezed smooth buttercream onto the cake sponge, the way he blew away his brunette strands of hair that fell over his forehead, cascading his eyes.
“Staring at him, AGAIN?” Keiko, one employee, piped in. Winona squinted her eyes, bothered by her shrill voice. “If you’re so insistent, hit on him, already. Easy-peasy.” Keiko grinned and shrugged her shoulders as if speaking with experience.
“Yeah, sure. Where do I get the stones from?” Winona looked at the employee and smirked.
“Do you need to see a therapist?”
She waved this off. Hearing this so many times had her accustomed to it, but she often wondered if her employee was correct.
Keiko disappeared into the kitchen, informing Winona that she’d go to deliver a few packages down some blocks.
Winona checked her wristwatch, ten minutes before opening the bakery for her morning customers. She leaned back and melted into the chair, reminiscing about the old days when her mother was alive. That day when she’d taught her the traditional recipe. Now, it had no soul to it, its spirit had ripped apart; ripped naked of its essence that the family had woven together.
The bakery thronged with customers. It was satisfying to see so many of them relish her creations. And since western desserts were new in the town, the bakery rabbled with those interested.
After nearly eight in the evening, Winona shut the bakery and bid farewell to her employees and got to her side work. Tired as usual, she dragged herself upstairs to change into a pair of fresh clothes. Standing by the window, she sipped water from a tall glass when Ryū appeared in her line of sight, drying his damp hair with a towel. She didn’t bother looking away. She wouldn’t, actually, since she barely saw him without his baseball cap. His hair hugged his nape and shone like the fur of a Labrador. A split second later, their eyes met, Ryū’s jaws dropped open and a blood-red tint sneaked up his cheeks. With coordinated movements, they shrieked and drew the curtains. It was too much for them to handle (and too much second hand embarrassment for the writer). Winona leaned against the wall, blinked her eyes and shook her head.
What if he gets to know I stalk him like crazy? She thought to herself, but discarded it and plopped onto her bed after knowing there was only one answer to it: a psycho.
There was a certain level of tiredness that equated insanity. For her, it was when she’d want to dislocate her spirit from her body and go out just for a short while, float to the place where all the souls went to be zen. Greet them and start hearty conversations with them. She knew she’d wake up feeling okay in the morning. It was simply a level of worn-out-ness that hurt.
Not even a couple hours had passed, and a calamity had to wreck downstairs. Winona shot up straight at the sound of the crash and refrained from rubbing her eyes. She was afraid that small action would take away her sleep. She stood up and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her pj’s.
Eyes half-closed, she ran a mental calculation of who might be the culprit behind the noise. Rat? Human? Monster??
What was she supposed to do in a situation like this? What would people do if it were a scene from a horror movie?
She was overthinking.
But speaking on a realistic note, yes, what’d she do?
Scream and scurry under the bed?
Challenge the monster that was drooling to gorb up her intestines?
Or act sensibly and check the place?
And be sure to turn the lights on as well. If it was Diana, she’d be quick enough to leave the house on time.
Winona entered the bakery’s kitchen through the back door and flicked on the lights. She grumbled, for the room was still dull. She grabbed onto a sauce pan and tiptoed toward the diner. Before she could even navigate the switchboard in the dark, she noticed a figure in the corner.
She bumped into a table and jerked forward, collapsing onto the ground. The burglar gasped and hurried out through the broken window. Winona grunted at the pain that surged up her spine and knees. The burglar had broken in to nab her money wasn’t why she was angry, but it aerated her they might’ve skidooed with her confectioneries. She didn’t trouble going after them; she was just too sleepy to move a muscle, let alone activate her Flash mode and get hold of the intruder.
Winona lay on the icy floor and dozed off to sleep. She’d no idea how long she’d been asleep for when the backdoor squeaked and in came Ryū, a baffled look contorting his face. He smirked but regained his composure as he approached the so-called lifeless body on the ground.
“You’re late,” Winona mumbled as she sat up. Ryū settled in the chair in front of her.
“Why were you on the floor?” Ryū said, astonished. “I was in the kitchen downstairs when I saw a woman leave your house in a hurry. I thought it was you, but you aren’t... a rake, so I chased her myself.”
“First, did you catch her? Did you hit her with your knife? Second, when did you care? And last, YOU THINK I’M FAT?” Winona raised her voice and glared at Ryū, waiting for an answer.
“Damn. I should’ve approached you with caution. You work your mouth a lot. And to answer your questions,” Ryū sighed, haunting dark patches obvious under his eyes, “I caught her and I believe the correct term is stab. Man, she has some poor metabolism. I let her go, though. Don’t at me for this. She looked gullible, I couldn’t do anything. And yes, I do. But not enough for you.”
She humphed and mumbled, “Last question?”
“Look, I’m burnt out. I don’t chatter like you. Above all, I can’t believe you stalk me. Seriously?”
“Haha, what?” Winona fake laughed it off. She knew the deer’d fallen into the lion’s trap the instant their eyes met hours ago. “Well, take your trophy.”
An awkward silence bloomed into the room. Both of them fidgeted with their clothes, Ryū admired the cars outside while Winona attempted at examining the bruise on her knees.
“Er, I gotta dip now,” Winona spoke up. Ryū nodded and got up, still refusing to look at her. She winced as she stood up. Her body ached, injured knees contributing more to the fatigue.
“So, you’ve hurt yourself. Allow me to help you,” the man suggested, earning a questioning look from Winona.
She strode up the stairs, leaving a perplexed Ryū behind. He followed her, not knowing what to do.
“Dude, did the break-in traumatise you or what?” Ryū said when Winona attempted to slam the door on him. “Need a therapist?
Winona halted, confounded. “You... you. Nevermind.” She opened the door for him to get in. She passed him the first aid box from the drawer and perched on the bed with an ice pack. Ryū sat beside her, careful to maintain nineteen inches distance between them. After resting the ice pack on the knees, he helped her tie the elastic bandage around her knees, intimidated at the proximity. His heartbeat was unusual; erratic. It was never like this. Whenever they were around each other or when she was with his parents, he had a sudden adrenaline surge, all set in fight mode.
It was past midnight when Ryū left the house. Winona stuffed her beetroot face into her pillow, exhaling violently as if she were a balloon and someone had deflated it. She decided she was going to play dead if anybody else chose her house to break into. She’d had enough. And with the annual festival greeting hello next week, sleep was everything she needed.
Sleep is for the weak.
Ennichi. The locals believed it was when a deity was born or left the world.
The streets were glorious in their inception, fairy lights flourished into the dim sky. With colours splashed across the canvas of the sky, nobody could’ve been in a dull mood. It was an uplifting view, one which no one could step into with a discomposed temper.
Genuine smiles, cotton candies, Takoyaki, little girls in fairy dresses and a mouth stuffed with a concoction of savouries.
Ah yes, that was Winona.
She stopped at each stall to taste every snack. No one was getting back without knowing what every authentic dish tasted like. Japan hadn't accustomed her to the spices it offered. So, this night, she saw it as a chance to devour every dish she could lay eyes on.
Winona settled on the bank of a pond, among a couple others who were waiting for something she didn’t know of. She would’ve popped another ball of Takoyaki into her mouth when somebody snuggled into her side. She squealed and turned to look at a Shiba Inu trying to make her pet it.
“Where’s your owner, huh?” she said in a singsong voice and tickled it under the jaw.
It leapt into her lap and she cuddled it in her arms; the pup adoring the warmth.
“Oak? Oh, this kid,” a voice said, and when Winona turned to look at the owner, both yelled in surprise.
“Eh, you- “Ryū yelled.
“Yes, me, but why you?”
“That’s MY dog. Hand her over to me.”
“No. How do you expect me to trust you? You could be an animal trafficker, for all I know.”
“ME? Unbelievable,” he said and shook his head in disapproval, opening his arms for Oak. “Come here.”
Oak pounced on him and licked him all over his face. Winona gawked at them, not knowing how to react. So she got back to eating, whereas Ryū plopped on the soft grass and lay next to her. Winona was self-conscious suddenly. She wasn’t the best at hiding stuff, was she? Ryū pulled her by her sleeve so she was lying on the grass too.
“Look at the stars,” he whispered as he pointed out to the sky, “charming like y- O-Oak.”
“Yeah, she’s a cotton ball.”
“Does not mean I’ll let you pet her.”
“No shit, Sherlock."
“That’s my girl... Oak, I mean.” Ryū said and snuggled into her.
Winona could’ve snoozed. Her eyes had almost slammed shut when Ryū shook her shoulders and showed her the fireworks flaring their incandescent colours across the sky.
“We’re having hanabi all night,” Ryū squealed as a smile contorted his lips.
“You don’t know? H-how long have you been living here for?”
“Three years, almost.”
“Yet you DON’T KNOW WHAT HANABI IS?”
“Now I know and STOP SCREAMING, FOR GOD’S SAKE,” Winona said and gobbled down another piece of takoyaki.
“Right. I’m sorry.”
Fireworks burst, whizzed and glimmered? in the sky. A few slammed for seven or eight minutes. Some scattered in the air after a loud noise, some were fireballs with a fire ribbon to the sky. Cheers and delighted shouts rose from the crowd. There were chrysanthemums and unopened parachutes, so dazzling.
Winona didn’t realize Ryū had been staring at her when she turned to look at him instinctively. Red sparked in his eyes, they glazed under the busy sky. He seemed occupied in her eyes. Her muscles tensed under his gaze as she diverted her attention to the passers-by. They were four noses away from each other and when Winona blinked; they were half a nose close. She never thought he’d look this intimidating. Her heart thumped too loud and her pulse raced when Ryū placed a thumb under her chin and leaned in.
Wasn’t Ryū supposed to stay a nemesis?
So this is how falling in love anime-style feels like?