A small family diner. Seeing how starved the girl was, Neol took her to a place he usually stopped by for dinner when he stayed later than usual on campus. As promised, he paid for her food and got some for himself.
Sitting at a dining table, Neol took a sip from a cup of water and then took a bite from his Caesar salad. As he did, he stared at the girl across from him.
Rena flushed and tucked a strand of hair behind her right ear. “D-Don’t look at me so intently.”
Neol shrugged. “I can’t help it. The contrast between us is too much.” Saying that, he looked down at what Rena ordered.
The largest burger that the diner had on the menu. An extra large order of fries. And then a towering strawberry shake in a paper cup.
Neol looked back up at Rena and said, “That’s a lot of food for a girl with your figure, you know?”
“H-Hmph!” Rena picked up her burger and said, “I was hungry, alright?! I haven’t had a proper meal all day because I was stressed out.”
“Even so, eating that much might make it your last meal, you know?” Neol said that while carefully observing her.
She scoffed and took a big bite from her burger. Thoroughly chewing it, she swallowed and reached for a fry, tossing it in her mouth.
Of course, in her haste she immediately started choking.
Rena’s beautiful eyes widened and she dropped her burger on her plate, reaching for her shake. She took a sip, but since it was so thick, nothing came out of the straw. Scrambling, she grabbed Neol’s water and ripped the lid off, taking a large gulp. But it didn’t help and Rena started to panic.
Seeing that, Neol sighed and leaned over, quickly jabbing her diaphragm.
Rena gasped, coughing, and a soggy French fry flew out of her mouth, landing on her burger.
Rena coughed a bit more. Afterwards, the tips of her ears turned red and she turned her head to the side. “T-That doesn’t prove anything!”
Neol shrugged. “Don’t need to prove anything to me, Miss Fortunate.” He took a few more careful bites of his salad and then waved his fork at her. “But I am curious… The world really seems to want you dead. What’s your story?”
Rena frowned and took another bite of her burger. This time, it was small and careful. She also pointedly avoided her fries. “I think you’re being too superstitious… but I guess I can tell you about myself a bit. I owe you that much for saving my life twice today.”
Rena placed her burger down and wiped her hands with some napkins. “Like you guessed, I’m half and half. I don’t know who my father is, but my mom was a Japanese escort who came to America after him since he was supposed to be some rich businessman. Of course, she never found him and had to make ends meet and raise a baby all by herself.”
Neol blinked. Hearing that, he briefly wondered if she was lying to try and get him to pay for something else too… but he quickly shook off that thought.
The girl was too naïve to be that devious.
After all, what he had done would be enough to be considered sexual harrassment and she hadn’t even brought it up once, so she was clearly too nice for her own good.
Rena let out a sad smile and said, “Since Mom’s life was miserable, she named me Rena. Apparently it means joyous melody… Considering her life was an aria of sorrow, she hoped mine would be different. But…”
“She died, right? Leaving you to work things out by yourself?”
Rena blinked. “How did you know?”
Neol waved his hand. “You wouldn’t be talking like that if it was a happy ending, right?”
Rena nodded. “You’re really smart, aren’t you, Neol? …But yes. Mom died on my sixteenth birthday two years ago. Since then, I’ve had to work odd jobs because I don’t have any relatives here.” She smiled and said, “I’d like to think I’ve been doing a good job at it too! But…” Her smile faded and she said, “The place I was working at recently fired me.”
Neol raised an eyebrow and said, “Let me guess. It’s a job at a café and you were hired on the spot after meeting the manager. You had it for about a year, but then that guy asked you out for lunch or dinner at his place and you rejected him… Probably today, right? And then you suddenly got a text saying that you were fired.”
Rena gasped. “Are you a detective, Neol!? That’s exactly what happened!”
Neol shook his head. “It’s obvious. After all, a girl as beautiful as you can’t work an ordinary job without drawing too much attention and jealousy so regular places wouldn’t hire you. And the people that do would have ulterior motives…” Neol paused and tilted his head. “Considering how naïve you are, I’m surprised you haven’t been taken advantage of yet.”
“That’s mean!” Rena huffed and took a sip from her shake. “I’m not stupid, Neol. Besides, Mom taught me a lot about how bad men act and how to handle them.”
“Apparently not enough to avoid getting fired.”
Rena paused. “…I’ll admit that my manager was a bit creepy, but he wasn’t like that. And if he was, I’d-“
The doors to the diner slammed open. With that, a pair of drunken men staggered in. One of them, a guy that was in fairly good shape, probably an athlete, noticed Rena and turned towards her.
Before they could even take one step, Neol grabbed Rena’s arm and pulled her out of her seat.
“N-Neol?” Rena blinked, caught off-guard at the sudden act, and hastily grabbed her bag. “U-Um-!”
He glanced at her and shook his head. “Don’t question it and just come with me.”
They had already paid for their food, so Neol didn’t hesitate in leaving. He did grab Rena’s shake before they went too far though.
That guy Neol noticed walked over, trying to grab Rena. “Hey, babe! Why don’t you-“
Before that guy could grab her, Neol pulled Rena close and spun her around.
The act caused the guy to fall flat on the ground.
“H-Hey!” His friend called out, turning towards Neol.
But before they could do anything, he had already ushered Rena out of the diner, adjusting his bag behind him as he did.
Once they were outside and a fair distance away from the diner, Neol let Rena go.
The moment he did, she turned to him with starry eyes and said, “That was amazing, Neol! Where did you learn to move like that? No, are you a professional dancer?”
He nodded. “If you consider dancing on the bridge of life and death every day being a professional, then yes.”
Neol shook his head and adjusted his bag. “Nothing. You just pick up a lot of things out of necessity when the world keeps throwing things at you… Ah, and stand still.”
A baseball whipped past Rena’s head, bouncing off the wall of the building.
Her eyes widened and all the color left her face.
“Sorry, Mister!” At that time, a pair of kids ran over, one holding a wooden bat and the other a glove. The one holding the bat bowed his head. “We didn’t mean to hit it so far!”
Neol lightly tossed the baseball back to them and said, “Be more careful next time and play in a park instead of in the streets.”
“We will!” The kids waved and then ran off again.
Rena watched them leave, still shaken up.
Seeing that, Neol held out the cup he snatched on the way out. “Here. You might want this.”
Rena blinked. “What? Oh.” She saw the shake and said, “You grabbed that for me?”
Neol handed it over and said, “Of course. I spent money on it… Besides, aren’t you dirt poor right now?”
“Hmph.” Rena huffed… but she didn’t refuse the shake, quietly sipping on it.