381 – Life Counseling – Yuri
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An elevator slowly climbing to John's office.

Yuri stood inside, wringing her hands as she tried to think about how the conversation with John would go.

This would be the first time in a while they had a private conversation together. Actually, would it be the first since that time John made that bowl of ramen for her?

Yuri didn't remember. A lot had happened since then so her memory wasn't that good. But anyway, the point was that she hadn't really been respectful to John in the past.

Uncle Kai said that it wouldn't be a problem. John wasn't the sort of person to hold grudges.

But Yuri was pretty sure that Uncle Kai hadn't pissed John off to the point where he went out of his way to show just how easily you could have died.

Yuri could still remember that knife pressed against her back and John's cold words.

But that was before John's wife showed up, and also when the yakuza were still acting up in the city.

While Yuri didn't know exactly what John and his family went through, from how Alphy-senpai and John had acted when she first met them, they had probably just gotten out of the underworld crime stuff.

So it made sense that John would have been a bit strung up when they first met and acted like that.

But he was a good guy. After all, if he wasn't, he wouldn't have been able to make that bowl of ramen that changed Yuri's life and helped fix her sense of taste.

Right. So... there was nothing to worry about.

The elevator chimed, arriving on John's office floor.

Yuri quickly glanced at her phone to check the time.

3 PM on the dot. Perfectly punctual.

Yuri took a deep breath and watched the doors slide open. Smiling to get rid of her nerves, she stepped through the doors and opened her mouth to say hello.

And then she saw the state of the office.

A table broken to pieces and scattered across the floor. A comfy lounge chair flipped over, with a shattered platter of cookies next to it. Shards of a pitcher next to a damp spot on the carpet...

Yuri slowly walked into the center of the room and looked around.

Just what in the world had happened here? This was definitely John's office, but there wasn't anyone around and-

"You're here earlier than I expected, Yuri."

Yuri jumped and reflexively spun around with a kick.

John caught the kick with the back of his left hand and then chuckled. "And looks like you've still got that bad habit of kicking people around."

Yuri blushed and lowered her leg. "S-Sorry, John."

John lowered his hand and then reached up to adjust the white dress shirt he was wearing. After that, he brushed his hands down on his jeans and said, "It's fine. You're still a lot less violent than a few of your senpai..." He paused and then said, "Technically, all of your senpai."

Yuri blinked. "Really?"

"Ah, said that out loud, huh?" John shook his head and said, "Looks like my bad habits are coming back again too. Hah... Probably need to go have some cuddle time with Yue and Aurora later."

Yuri glanced at the state of the room and then slowly nodded. "If this is how you let off steam then I think you definitely need to get some rest, John."

John blinked and then chuckled. "Sure. Let's say that happened. Anyway... Time to clean this up and get ready for your life counseling session."

John clapped his hands.

Yuri blinked and then said, "What's clapping your hands going to-" Before she could even finish, the surroundings started to change.

A faint haze hung over everything in the room except for herself and John. And then, with a soft splash of gold light, everything in the room flickered and dissolved. Immediately after, the room flickered again and a pair of comfy lounge chairs set across from a coffee table laid out with a platter of crackers, various cuts of ham, and various slices of cheese.

Yuri blinked again and rubbed her eyes. After that didn't change anything, she looked at John.

"What?" John smiled and said, "After all the crazy tech you've seen, you're surprised by something like this?"

"...Hah." Yuri shook her head and plopped herself in one of the chairs. Grabbing a cracker, she munched on it and said, "I don't even know anymore."

John sat down across from Yuri and said, "And that's why we're here. To talk about how things are going, future career stuff, etcetera etctera."

Yuri tensed and then said, "Is that all?"

John reached behind his seat and pulled out a pair of soda cans. Handing one to Yuri, he said, "Of course. What else would we be talking about?"

"N-Nothing." Yuri cleared her throat and then cracked open her soda can, sipping on it.

A sharp bubbly sensation against her tongue. Sweet, but stinging. The familiar taste of cola... but surprisingly not as chemically as she expected.

And come to think of it, the cracker had been the perfect flaky and savory balance as well, with just a hint of salt...

Yuri blinked and then looked at John. "Where do you get all of this food, John?"

John cracked open his soda can as well and said, "I make it. Can't trust people to make food as well as I do these days with how mass produced things are."

Yuri looked at her soda and said, "Even the soda?"

"Even the soda. Which is surprisingly easier to make than you might think, you know? Some dry ice, water, the proper syrups, etc." John grabbed a cracker and then sipped on his soda. After that, he said, "So... how's it been? Oh, and how's your grandpa? Haven't talked to him in a while now."

Yuri pulled her legs up on the chair to make herself comfortable and then said, "Grandpa's been doing well. Ever since losing to you in that food war, he's been relearning the basics and remaking his old recipes." She paused and said, "The last I heard from him, I think he was heading to Europe to try out beef wellingtons?"

John blinked and said, "Beef wellingtons? But wasn't your grandpa a noodle and sashimi guy? Knife work was his thing, right?"

"Mmhm." Yuri nodded and said, "That's why he's trying out new fields." She sipped on her soda and smiled. "I'm glad too. Grandpa's finally doing something he likes again."

John smiled and said, "Yeah, old guys finally doing something fulfilling is always pure and wholesome." He sipped on his soda and said, "But how about you, Yuri? Are things going well for you?"

Yuri swirled her soda around and said, "I think so?"

It was still a mixed bag of emotions for Yuri.

She was definitely having fun being part of Prodigy with the other girls. And being able to host her own little show for thousands of people to watch while she experimented with cooking was always something she wanted to do since she was little.

"Mm..." She sipped on her soda and said, "I think... I think I'm happier now, at least."

Yuri didn't have to worry about being her grandpa's weakpoint. While her sense of taste was still extreme compared to most people, it wasn't crippling now.

She didn't have any worries hanging down on her, and she had even reunited with an old friend of her mother who begrudgingly told her stories of the past when she dropped by the udon shop.

John let out a bright smile and said, "I'm glad to hear that. Now... can you tell me why you dropped out of school a few months away from graduation?"

Yuri froze and then let out a nervous laugh. "W-Well..." She sipped on her soda and said, "I-I had other plans in mind and it just so happened to turn out that way...?"

John slowly sipped on his soda as well and said, "Okay. Would you mind telling me what those plans are?"

"U-Um..." Yuri shrank back in her seat and mumbled, "Spending my time practicing cooking so I can open a world class restaurant...?"

It was a great idea! Yuri was more talented than most people and had her extreme sense of taste that would let her perfect recipes and dishes. Plus, the sooner she got her skills polished, the brighter the future could be in the future.

And she could also get training from Uncle Maji interning as an udon chef there.

That plus the fact that she didn't have to worry about living expenses or bills with the salary and superchats she got from working as Miya meant everything was great!

...So why did she feel ashamed when facing John's stare?

"Uh-huh..." John sipped on his soda and then set it on the table. After that, he picked up a tablet from behind his chair and started writing things down. "Future plans... world-class restaurant..."

Yuri felt her face warm up and she said, "I-It's a great plan! And I can do it!"

"Oh, I don't doubt you." John smiled and said, "You've got the proper skillset and mindset to do it. You don't buckle under pressure... well, other than when you broke down crying that one time..."

"Hey!" Yuri pointed at John and said, "T-That was one time! And you scared me first!"

"It was two times. Though, I guess the ramen wasn't fair."

Yuri blushed.

...Right. She forgot about that.

Oh god. Did John stand there the entire time watching her cry before he left?

...Yuri wished she could just bury herself in a hole right now after having that realization...

"But overall, decent plan. And you're in a good headspace now too. It's a bit concerning that you won't have a safety net if you fail, but you're practically an adult." John scribbled some more things down and said, "Mm... it'd be good to have some backup plans, but you're still young too. Won't be too late to head to college if things crash and burn."

Yuri nodded along until she heard that last part. When she did, she glared at John and said, "Crash and burn? You think I'm not going to make it?"

"Now don't put words in my mouth." John paused and then said, "Could make a joke there, but I'll pass on it for now."

"What?"

"Anyway." John pointed at Yuri and said, "I was just saying that it's a possibility that you should be aware of." He smiled and said, "Don't worry though. Even if you do, we can get you into a college somewhere somehow to get you back on your feet."

Yuri gave John a blank stare.

John smiled.

After a long silence, Yuri said, "...Is that it?"

John nodded and said, "Yep! Just making sure things are going well and you have a plan. I could go more in-depth, but I'll leave that for Kai. Don't want to step on his shoes when he's finally got something right going for him."

Yuri got out of her seat and then gently set her soda down on the coffee table. Giving John a stiff nod, she said, "Thank you for the talk, John."

"No problem! Let me know if something else comes up."

Yuri nodded again and calmly walked to the elevator.

On the surface.

Internally though...

'That smug bastard...! I knew it! That ramen was definitely a fluke! Thinking I can't make it... Hmph! Just because he made that one ramen... Argh. I'll show him. I'll show all of them!'

xxx

The elevator doors slid shut. Shortly after, a chime echoed and the elevator left, taking Yuri with it.

John sat there sipping on his soda and then wrote some more notes down. "Okay. So Yuri's pretty stable now and easily motivated by telling her she can't do something... good to know. Definitely more dere than tsun... unlike a certain other yakuza involved young lady I know."

He pulled out his phone to check the time and said, "Not even ten minutes either for our meeting... which means I've got fifty minutes to kill until Shu comes in."

John hummed and said, "...I definitely need to have a proper chat with Yuri to just get to know her. This time was a bit messed up because of Rin. Hm... Maybe we can chat over Korean BBQ sometime. For now though..." John got up to stretch and said, "I need some cuddle time."

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