Kiyo was going to burn his workplace to the ground.
The corner store where he works was stuck in the middle of the renovated part of the city. You’d think, with all the rich people around, they might act with some class; unfortunately, Kiyo had long since learned that standing between people and the snacks they were purchasing made assholes out of the kindest of souls. And being on the other side of the wrath could turn saints into murderers. For every purchase, Kiyo couldn’t help but calculate it in terms of hours he would have to work to pay for it, and the customers would snap or dismiss him on top of it? They deserved the arson.
The moment the clock hit seven, he was already moving to leave. While there was nothing he could do about the teal-and-white monstrosity of a jumpsuit he was forced to wear during work, he could at least let his long, black hair out of its ponytail. He purchased some low-quality sushi using his employee discount—only 10%, but a discount was a discount—and clocked out, escaping out the backdoor and into the alley.
“—tty. Kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, pretty kitty, come here~!”
The pungent odor of the neighboring restaurant’s plant and meat scraps plagued the back alley. The employees at the restaurant were careless in their disposal though, so numerous pieces of garbage had escaped the dumpsters. This included lettuce, ground beef, and an entire onion that had been lying against the wall for three weeks, rotting in on itself until only the skin and black mush remained. However, the disgusting state of the alley did nothing to deter the girl laying on her stomach right in front of the dumpsters.
Kiyo watched in naked horror as the girl slid closer to the dumpster, dragging her shirt through who-knew-what as she reached under. Even her hair—thick black curls—were touching the ground. As Kiyo watched the crazy girl, a small black paw swiped at her hand. She barely her hand back in time to miss a trip to the hospital and laughed. “Aw, prickly baby! Sweet kitty~!”
Determined to ignore the crazy girl, Kiyo walked over her to the exit. What he couldn’t ignore was her small hands snatching his dinner out of its grocery bag. “Hey!”
“Thanks! This will definitely work.” Without any regard to the fact that she was stealing his dinner, the girl broke open the plastic box and grabbed one of the nigiri pieces with her dirty hands. She held it out to the dumpster. “Here, kitty, kitty. Come get some nummy fishies!”
Fists clenched, Kiyo took a deep breath. His karma, he had to remember his karma. Plastering on his best customer-service smile, Kiyo asked, “What are you doing?”
“Saving a cat’s life!” She chirped back. “Some kids were throwing rocks at him earlier. I chased them off, but the poor thing ran off under here before I could take him to the vet. Been trying to get him out for like, half an hour? Something like that.”
“How noble of you,” he allowed, and it was. Not many people would waste their time trying to help an injured animal, himself included. If children were throwing rocks at it, then there were probably some broken bones, maybe internal bleeding; the cat wouldn’t be able to survive more than a few days without treatment. “And what, exactly, does that have to do with my dinner?”
“Your din—? Ah!” She looked at the sushi, then at him, then at the bag dangling limply from his hand. “Oh. Um… sor—he’s coming out!” Her normal volume dropped down to a whisper as the black cat crept out from under the dumpster. It sniffed the fish. Dubious quality aside, the cat accepted the offering and ate from the girl’s hand.
Freezing, Kiyo watched the girl continue to handfeed the beast his dinner, crouching down so he could get a better look. The cat was definitely a stray—there were a few patches of grey on its front that hinted at white fur and its ribs were visible through its skin. Still, once a few pieces of fish were in its stomach, it acted like a completely different animal, purring up a storm as it kneaded the girl’s leg.
As much as Kiyo tried to focus on the cat, though, his eyes were drawn to the girl. She grinned as the cat started to trust her. It wasn’t a pretty smile, practiced in the mirror for hours like his own. There were too many teeth, slightly crooked and too big in her mouth, but it was bright and it lit up her eyes so much that her happiness was visible even through her thick glasses.
Despite her unconventional appearance, she was so happy that she looked prettier than a supermodel.
The cat crawled onto her lap and she started petting it, indifferent to any fleas that might be in its fur. “Aw… hi, Dumpy baby. Are you all done being scared now?”
The cat sneezed in response.
“Then let’s go to the vet, okie-doki kitty-cat? Just in case you have any owies they need to heal.” The girl stood, cradling the cat in her arms. Kiyo stood too, his legs throbbing. Upright, he was a full head taller than her. “Thank you, for your dinner. I’m sorry about taking it, but I can buy you something to eat! After I take this little guy to the hospital first…”
Kiyo considered dropping the subject and returning home without demanding recompense. He wasn’t needed here, after all. But… scrounging up a meal in his empty apartment, verses getting a meal with a cute girl that he didn’t have to pay for… his stomach and wallet won in the end. “There’s an animal hospital a few blocks away that’s near a good Thai restaurant. We could order takeout while the doctor works,” he offered, balling up the plastic bag and throwing it in the dumpster.
She grinned again. “That sounds fantastic! But it’s my treat; I have to do something to make up for stealing your food.” The girl strolled towards the exit, Kiyo following, only to jerked abruptly, freezing like she’d been struck by lightning. “Oh no! I never told you my name! I’m Annie Sanell.”
“My name is Korekiyo Yamamoto; Kiyo is fine though.” Kiyo finished his introduction with a small bow.
“It’s nice to meet you, Kiyo!” balancing the cat’s weight with one arm, Annie grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the alley. “Let’s hurry! I got hungry for Thai food the moment you brought it up!”
“You’re going the wrong way though!” he protested, but didn’t remove his hand from hers.