With his bike parked and his hair only moderately ruffled by the wind, Masumi turned the corner to the ice cream parlor and came to a sudden stop.
Yui was already standing outside the store, clad in the same green jacket as the day before, but she’d traded in the jeans for sweatpants and her top was tankier. She looked just as good as she did the day before, with the long french braid the apparent ease with her surroundings.
He silently chastised himself for being surprised at her presence and approached with an eager smile plain on his face.
“Hi!” Masumi greeted her with a bob of his head. “It’s me!”
“Like anyone also could look that good.” Yui smiled back at him, and her eyes were thankfully everywhere but on his blushing cheeks. “Hello.”
“You...that’s not fair, I’m not even here and you already...” Masumi shook his head and forced himself to stop pouting. “Anyway! Thanks! You look nice today, too. I love your braid.”
“It gets the job done.” Yui twirled her braid around her finger. “But you really do look good, Masumi. Do you dress like that every Sunday?”
“Um, kinda, but I...put a little more effort in for today.” Masumi tugged at the bottom of his sweater, longing for somewhere he could sit down and hide his fidgeting. “It’s our first real meeting!”
“That’s true. Do you want to head inside?”
“Um, yes. Definitely.” Masumi shuffled through the door when Yui opened it for him. He made it a couple of steps inside before hustling back out, accidentally bumping into the tall girl. Unfortunately, she was built like...a tall teenage girl, which still proved an obstacle to Masumi’s attempt at a rapid departure. So he awkwardly rebounded off of her. “Sorry! Sorry!”
Yui raised both her eyebrows at the panicking boy. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s, um. The store people here know me, and I don’t know if they know you, but they do me, and if they see me here, with you, uh, my parents know that I have a friend and, if they knew that I went to here with you alone and they think we’re dating, it would be, um, bad.”
“...sorry, can you repeat that?”
“Uhhh.” Masumi peered up at her. “My parents told me not to date. And I think that if I go up there to get things for you, then it will look a lot like a date. So...could you buy the things and I take a seat and then they won’t think that’s what it is?”
“If that’s what you’d like.” Yui nodded, as she glanced back and carefully stepped forward. Masumi took the hint to stop blocking the doorway, and backed into the ice cream parlor proper. He quickly pulled himself around the nearest booth, hiding him from the counter. The girl stepped up beside him and smiled. “So, ma’m, what would you like to order? Do you favor something fruity? Chocolate for a change? Go mellow with matcha?”
“I love the amaretto truffle sundae here!” Masumi said. “It’s one of the tastiest things, like, ever, but I can’t have much because, um, diet and everything. So a medium one of those! Please. Thanks.” He peered up at her. “What will you have?”
“I like vanilla.” Yui shrugged. “I’ll go and get your order.” She paused. “Actually. Are you sure that you don’t want to order yourself? I’m sure they won’t take a lot of notice, not with all of the people that are in here anyway.”
Masumi took a peek at some of the other filled booths and tentatively shook his head. “I, um. I don’t want to take any chances...”
“Okay.” Yui paused. “Do you have any money to buy these with? I only brought enough for what I’d have and I don’t think they’d take kindly to me dashing home to get the rest.” She flashed a smile.
“Yeah, no problem!” Masumi reached into his bag and retrieved enough money for both of their dishes, then held it out to her. “I’ll get yours too.”
“Thank you, Masumi.” Yui gently took the money from Masumi’s hand. “I’ll go and get them. Be back soon.” As she headed to the counter, Masumi relaxed back into his seat with a furrow in his brow. He occupied himself by gently tapping on the table and keeping an eye on the other people in the parlor. The music was soft and their chatter similar, but the scent of all the sweet ice cream being distributed and the bright color of the seats did nothing to sate his craving.
“And here we are.” Yui returned with two glass bowls, one drizzled with a chocolate and truffle sauce over velvet-soft ice cream and the other with a couple of creamy vanilla scoops. She placed Masumi’s in front of him with barely a sound, then took a seat on the opposite side and slid his change over to him. “You looked like you were concentrating on something.” She pointed out, as she picked up her spoon.
“Mostly just being hungry.” Masumi admitted, and wasted no time in digging into his ice cream. His spoon took on little more than a sliver of ice cream, which he lavished in running over his tongue before swallowing. “How’s yours?”
“It’s tasty.” Yui concurred after a couple of hefty mouthfuls of her ice cream. “I haven’t visited here very often. I always seem to get surprised by how tasty it is, even though I know it will be.”
“I can be like that sometimes! Not with here, but, like, when it’s something I’m nervous about?” Masumi peered at Yui in search of understanding, but settled for her curiosity. “It’s, there are things I do a lot of times, and I still get worried when I’m going to do them, even if I know it’s going to be fine really and that nothing bad is going to happen to me. I guess that’s kind of the opposite of what you said, huh?”
“No, I get it.” Yui nodded. “I think everyone has that sometimes. It’s something that happens when you stream, isn’t it?”
“Not exactly...” Masumi shifted some of his ice cream around with his spoon. “It did happen a lot when nobody was showing up, and I’d get worried all the time and think that nobody would like me. And it didn’t exactly hurt, like, it wasn’t a thing that happened to me, but it was a...lack of something. And I had to fill that space up with telling myself that it would be okay? I’d always show up excited and I’d leave it thinking wow...I must suck.”
“We both know that’s not true.” Yui smiled over at Masumi, having taken the chance to devour more of her meal while he talked. “You’re in the dance club, aren’t you? Do you deal with a lot of the same things there?”
“At first! But once I started to get into it, I really enjoyed it. It’s really the best part of my week that isn’t, um,” Masumi glanced to the side. “When we talk and stuff.”
“That’s one of my favorite parts of the week, too.” The warmth in her words could have melted their sundaes. “I don’t know that I deal with my concerns in the same way. It’s a matter of organizing them, I suppose. I set out a particular plan for how I’m going to get through my day and that helps, but it doesn’t always work. I need things like your streams, and my friends, just to stop myself from going crazy.”
“Wow...you seem so composed that I didn’t even think that I’d help!” Masumi said. “Like, yesterday when there was that grumpy old guy yelling at you and being mean and you didn’t even let it phase you! You just...shut him down right there! It was awesome.”
“You’re talking about Mr Kikuchi.” Yui leaned back in her seat. “His wife used to work at the library and I don’t think he dealt with it very well. I think that he doesn’t like being there, but it’s one of the ways that he can remind himself of her. It’s contradictory, but that’s what a lot of people are like. Perhaps the rest of his time is so sad that feeling bittersweet is an improvement.”
“I...wow.” Masumi stared into his bowl. “I, um. I didn’t know about that.”
“I probably shouldn’t be sharing those things. I’m sorry.” Yui pushed out a smile. “I’m sitting here with a cutie like you and I’m talking about all the things that make us nervous or sad. Let’s talk about something nicer, like why you’re so worried about it seeming like we’re dating.”
“Wh-” Masumi blinked wildly. “You’re just going to go right back to trying to make me blush, aren’t you?!”
“I would never do something like that.” Yui clicked her tongue. “But let’s suppose I would. Am I not pretty enough?”
“You’re very pretty!” Masumi declared, and caught himself being loud. “Um, it’s just, like I said, it’s because my parents don’t want me to, and I think that’s common, so I don’t want them to think I am when I’m not. And people will think oh, why is she spending time with that boy?”
“Because you’re sweet and I like talking with you?”
“W-Well, yeah, but they don’t know that! They just see a boy and a girl eating alone and think they’re kissing behind closed doors!”
“That’s not an unreasonable assumption.” Yui nodded. “I see what you mean. Now, I am pretty, is that what you said? Very pretty?”
Masumi blushed as he nodded. Something about the smirk on Yui’s lips made butterflies rise in his stomach.
“Oh, that’s good to know.” Yui finished off her ice cream bowl and pushed it to the side. “How do I compare to the other girls you know?”
“Umm. I don’t know.” Masumi glanced from his half-full bowl to Yui’s empty one. “I don’t, haven’t compared the girls I know. Do you want to have some of my bowl? It’ll be weird eating if you’re not.”
“That’s okay, but thank you.” Yui said. “Why don’t you compare now? I won’t mind and they’re not here to hear us.”
“Well...um...” Masumi ate another spoonful of his sundae. “Forty points out of forty points.”
“I didn’t expect you to be so flattering.” Yui laughed and scratched her neck. Masumi felt somewhat proud at the fact that he could see a faint pink in her cheeks. “Does anyone else have such a high score?”
“Uhh.” Masumi thought hard for a few moments. “There’s this woman who helps me find clothes, who I told you about.”
“The one who flirts with you?”
“She just teases me...” Masumi said. “But, um, yes. She’s, like, um,” He made a vague gesture with his hands that curved at two points. “And...yeah!”
“Maybe I’ll have to come with you to Kyoto next time.” Yui said. “So I can see for myself.”
“So you can see for your...” Masumi frowned. “Why?”
“I like pretty people, like everyone else.” Yui explained. “And if she’s got forty points out of forty points...she must be beautiful. And it will give me a good idea of how you see me, since I can’t fairly judge myself.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” Masumi finished off the last of his ice cream and bit his bottom lip. “Um, just, uh, out of curiosity, how...how would you rate me?” He glanced up at her eyes.
“Out of forty?” Yui raised an eyebrow, then drew out her words. “I...would rate you...out of forty points...forty one.”
Masumi never thought that cheeks could go supernova, but his were. “That’s,..you can’t break the scale like that!”
“Oh, okay. Two, then.”
“T-Two out of forty?” Masumi’s face fell.
“Forty two now.” Yui beamed at him. “You shouldn’t be so cute when you’re messed with. I can’t resist.”
“Meanie...” Masumi couldn’t hide his smile.