This is Chapter 2 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.
As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.
Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for doing a proofread of this chapter.
(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)
Welcome to the Raindance Cafe by Yama Yamasaki
Chapter 2: Waging War (Part 2)
Rei was right. Working at the Raindance Cafe wasn’t going to be easy.
To begin with, I had to do something about the gloomy, desolate atmosphere of this place. As my shift began, Rei was wiping the sweat from her forehead during a quick break. Apparently due to its convenient location–reasonably close to both the nearest train station and the college I was attending–in the mornings a good number of people stopped in on their way to work or school. I don’t think the seats were ever full, but considering that Rei was the sole member of the waitstaff, it was clear this was no easy job. The manager, probably taking this into account, seemed to be hesitant to start a newbie like me in the morning and scheduled my shift to begin around noon when the main crowd died down and there was time to focus on my training. How considerate of him. The tough guy was really something.
Once the clock past 1 p.m, the flow of customers stopped, but in their place I had to deal with a daunting amount of information from Rei.
She went over a bunch of things in quick succession too numerous to count, from mixing simple drinks to cleaning. Since Rei had managed all of these tasks herself every day, I can really understand why the manager valued her so highly. By the way, coffee and food preparation was all done exclusively by the manager; the cafe revolved around a complete division of labor. Rei was just a part-timer after all, and it would be a waste to have someone with her looks hiding in the kitchen.
In addition to doing all these things since early morning with almost no break, today she was also training me, and I felt terribly guilty about this. Furthermore, each piece of my uniform–apron, white dress shirt, and black slacks–had been embroidered with my name in English characters. I was really happy to have escaped a maid costume, but since this had been prepared in under 24 hours she had probably been up until late at night, carefully doing the stitching herself. Even the size was perfect, though I don’t know how she managed that. If she is going to do this much for me, I’ll wear whatever she wants, even a maid outfit. Actually, scratch that last part.
“And when you press this button, the receipt gets printed out…”
There I was, learning how to use the register next to Rei, pulse racing as I wore clothes woven with her kindness and warmth.
To put it bluntly, her way of teaching was extremely easy to understand. She went to great pains so even someone like me–a newbie with no experience working in the service industry, let alone in a restaurant–could understand things systematically, piece by piece. If she could distill this teaching style in a manual and distribute it to a struggling chain restaurant, its employees’ skills would surely skyrocket overnight, along with their profits. I don’t think that is going to happen for this cafe, though she could just sell such a book to make some money. There was a massive amount of information to learn, but it was all being burned into my memory before I knew it. At this rate, I’ll become an expert in no time.
Anyway, enough about that.
More importantly, there was the closeness.
Rei didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, but I had the feeling that proper understanding and retention of her clear instructions were being hindered by a sense of closeness–a feeling our bodies were constantly on the verge of touching. No matter how simple, straightforward, or easy-to-understand her teaching was, I couldn’t ignore the fact that her own body was an obstruction to my learning. Under this pretext, I wanted to get some distance from her. Thanks to her faint citrus scent, I couldn’t concentrate one bit. Nevertheless, her skillful way of teaching really did save me. Had she been bad at this, I’d have inevitably been marked with the stigma of “another hopeless newbie”, and my miserable self would have had no choice but to quit amidst looks of contempt. It probably would have given me a heart attack.
Rei’s subtle change in intonation caught my attention.
“What is it?”
“Are you OK? If you aren’t feeling well, you can take a–”
“No, there is absolutely no problem.”
“Oh…Then could you please stop pounding on the register’s receipt button?”
Rei was staring at something near my hands. When I followed her gaze downward, I saw a slip of paper gently falling through the air. Around the register lay scattered a myriad of receipts.
“Oh…I’m so sorry!!”
“It’s all right. It’s really all right, so please don’t make a face like the world is going to end.”
She smiled bitterly and began to pick up the receipts strewn across the floor.
“Oh, Rei! Don’t worry about those, I’ll take care of them!”
Each time I saw her reaching for a receipt, I rushed to pick it up before she could. I continued picking them up one after another so that she wouldn’t dirty her hands with them.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
The roll of receipt paper was one of the cafe’s expenses. I was well aware that wasting anything was to be avoided no matter what. They were struggling with barely enough income to keep the cafe in business, and I couldn’t waste their precious money like this. Even when asked about my resume yesterday, in her presence I was utterly useless. Without a doubt, it was all because of my lack of focus. Now things were made even worse by the scent of her hair each time I bent over to pick up a receipt, and I couldn’t even look her in the eyes.
“Jun, please don’t worry about those.”
Her fine hand, skin nearly transparent, reached out to grab one of the receipts I was going for.
“You’re new around here, so just leave that up to me–someone with a little more experience.”
When I raised my head, I was suddenly, hopelessly blinded.
It was her smile. It illuminated everything, like the autumn sun filtering through the leaves. Once more there was the sensation of floating on air. The emotions I had felt yesterday for the first time were back in force today, begging for me to indulge in them again.
Barely able to look directly at her face, I did my best to calm my racing heart and continue cleaning up quietly.
“Th-thank you so much. I’m really sorry about this…”
“No worries. As your superior, it is only natural for me to help out. By the way, your face is bright red. Are you alright?”
“Yes, everything is great. I am completely fine.”
With her assistance, the receipt collection speed doubled.
Having picked up nearly all of the scattered receipts, Rei said, “all right…” and stood up.
“This completes your register training. We’re right on schedule, so let’s take a short break now.”
I took the massive wad of receipts in each hand and hesitantly shoved them into the trash can, then followed behind Rei who was heading for the kitchen.
“Manager! We’re taking a break now!”
After hearing the acknowledgement of the manager who was preparing something in another room, Rei washed her hands at the faucet next to the kitchen and then turned to face the counter. I did the same.
“We can take our breaks at this counter when things are slow. Though I guess around this time there usually aren’t many customers anyway.”
Rei removed her apron and sat at the counter, pointing her finger at the nearby stool. Apparently, she was asking for me to sit there. I hesitated for a moment, but knowing it was impossible to refuse her kindness now, I removed my apron and sat there, doing my best to appear calm. As you would expect at a counter like this, the stools were round, black, and (also as you would expect) able to swivel, so I had to take care to not accidentally spin around and get too close to her. I did this–of course–to avoid freaking out, although keeping calm while sitting next to her like this was pretty difficult to begin with.
“So, what do you think? Was the training easy to follow so far?”
As soon as I sat down, Rei asked me in a slightly subdued voice.
“It was perfect! I didn’t have even a single question. It was so easy to remember everything, and by tomorrow I think I’ll be ready to work at full capacity. Thanks again for everything, especially help with the receipts.”
“Wow, I’m so glad to hear that! I must admit that the receipt thing sort of surprised me, but in the beginning, everyone is bound to make mistakes. In fact, the more mistakes you make, the faster you learn. The faster you learn, the easier it is for me as well, and since you seemed to like my teaching style, I guess you can consider yourself fortunate to be paired with such a great teacher…”
Rei was suddenly the ultimate embodiment of a girl, giggling as she poked her cheek with her finger. With this pose, she didn’t look qualified to be teaching anyone.
And yet, she was clearly enjoying what I said about her, so–even though it might be inappropriate, given all the trouble I caused her–I decided to take advantage of this situation and make a valiant attempt to shower her with compliments. Everybody needs a change now and then.
“But Rei, you’re really amazing, always doing so much all by yourself. I think it’s so easy to learn from you because you’re such a natural at this stuff.”
“Really?! No way, I don’t think I am a…actually, maybe you are onto something there…”
“What you talking about?! Rei being a natural? Darling, you sure got bad taste in jokes…”
The manager appeared in the kitchen window, his remark wiping the expression of utter satisfaction clean off Rei’s face.
An appetizing, meaty aroma filled the room. Turning towards the manager in anticipation, I realized he was carrying two familiar-looking steel plates, one in each hand. A glance at what was on those plates had my mouth watering; I remembered we hadn’t eaten anything since morning.
“Here you go! Today’s lunch is Raindance Cafe’s signature hamburger steak, on the house.”
Plates with sizzling meat, knives, and forks were placed before us. This meal was my ticket to beef-induced bliss. Rei likewise ogled the juicy steak as if she’d just gotten her hands on a 100-carat diamond.
“M-manager, what is with you today?!”
“Just a little celebration for Sweety-J getting hired. Rei, I’ll also let you participate since you did the hiring.”
“Wow! What a perfect way to show how great of a manager you are! Thank you so much!”
“T-thank you very much sir.”
“Oh, it’s no big deal. You guys want some coffee?”
When Rei and I answered “Yes” in unison, the Manager grinned and disappeared into the kitchen, where he began pouring coffee from a syphon near the kitchen window.
“Your coffee is the best! I love it! I’m sure Jun will love it too!”
Already beginning to dig into her steak, Rei complemented the manager’s barista skills with a cheerful, infectious smile. It was almost as if his coffee was the only thing she truly loved.
To tell the truth, I’d actually never thought about the difference between various types of coffee. Normally I drank tea sold in plastic bottles, but I couldn’t tell subtle variations in flavor between brands, so there was no way I’d be able to do the same for coffee, which I rarely drank. While I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to truly agree with Rei’s evaluation of the manager’s coffee, having received this special meal I decided that I would clean the plate without complaint.
For now, I simply followed Rei’s example, using my knife and fork to cut the steak into large bite-sized pieces, which I proceeded to savor one at a time. Wow. This was some great steak. It tasted even better than I expected, even for a steak that just came off the grill. The demi-glaze–probably homemade–was a perfect match for the medium-cooked chunk of meat. You may be thinking that demi-glaze isn’t anything particularly unique, but keep in mind a college student’s wallet is generally not too thick. The enjoyment of eating something for the first time in ages is that much more intense.
“You know, even Rei was horrible when she first started here. She was really pitiful. Sweety-J, you’re actually way better than she was in those days.”
The manager’s offhand comment about Rei’s past made her instantly blush in embarrassment.
“It was so long ago that you’d never believe it, but back then she made mistakes taking orders, using the register, and at her worst, spilling coffee onto customers at least three times a day…”
“Hey! Cut it out!!”
Face turning an even more extreme shade of red, Rei tried to stop her manager on the other side of the counter with a force like she intended to jump over it. But he paid her no mind. His smug expression was most definitely a sign he’d achieved his goal–provoking this reaction from Rei.
To be honest, I had sort of predicted that Rei’s early days hadn’t been easy. Even as an experienced waitress, she tends to bite off more than she can chew, and anyone who saw Rei working yesterday would probably feel the same. No offense to her, but when I’m watching Rei I just get this acute sense of…danger, or something like that. But, to become what she is now, she must have really struggled a great deal. When I thought about it that way, what she had said took on an altogether new significance. In my entire life, I’ve never met someone who embodies the phrase “The road to success is paved with failure” more than her.
“But anyway, now she’s doing a great job. Once in a while she still makes a blunder, though.”
“Right, it’s really once in a great while. Or should I say almost never. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have kept me this long.”
“Ok, Ok, you’re so right, honey. Just slow down a bit tomorrow when you are carrying coffee, kay?”
Placing our coffee cups on the counter, the manager laughed off Rei’s protest and disappeared again into the kitchen.
“…But it was just really bad luck today…bad luck that I happened to trip and spill coffee on a customer…”
Rei mumbled this excuse over and over as she feverishly wolfed down the remainder of her steak. I guess she wanted to avoid sullying her image as an experienced waitress at all costs, but it was a little late for that, and more importantly I didn’t care about that sort of thing to begin with.
Rei, having emptied her plate, now drank coffee with a satisfied expression that was a drastic change from only a moment ago. This girl just couldn’t hide her emotions.
“You two really are close, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, after all we’ve been together for so long…”
Judging from her tone of voice and facial expression, she seemed to be absorbed in a post-steak euphoria. I couldn’t bring myself to bother her, and I don’t think she’d come back to Earth no matter what I said, so I just decided to let her be.
And yet, putting aside the fact that the manager was so close to her, Rei herself didn’t seem upset at all about what had happened. It was only natural for her to become attached to a boss who treated her so well. Even so, this degree of reliance on him was probably due in part to his trustworthy character. Everything about this man was huge–his physical build, his broad sexuality, even his humanity. Given all this, did I really have had a chance in hell to compete with this guy? I don’t mean compete as a rival lover, but rather as a member of the human race. With someone like that in her vicinity, a normal guy like me is nothing but another face in the crowd.
I picked up my cup of freshly-made, fragrant coffee. It looked and smelled just as I had imagined it would. Black with a splash of brown. The rising steam seemed to be urging me to drink it.
I took a sip. Something was different. It had a rich flavor, with an aroma far surpassing my expectations, and yet surprisingly refreshing. Truly delicious.
Unable to resist, I took sip after sip. Each time, I tried to feel the difference between my expectations and the actual flavor I tasted in my mouth. I felt betrayed; the flavor was nothing like the coffee’s appearance suggested. Of course, I mean this in a good way.
Feeling almost possessed, I savored the coffee until the bottom of the cup was visible. It dawned on me that what Rei had said about the manager’s coffee was right. But I couldn’t decide whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.