Location and date: kitchens, April 24
Summary: Maki witnesses something in the kitchen that makes her lose her confidence, and she considers resigning
Horikita Maki was no stranger to the kitchen, and even the flurry of activity inside Firefry didn't usually phase her. Being one of the resident fish and seafood specialists, she quietly and diligently went about her work. Being a bit on the shy side, she didn't spend a lot of time socializing with her co-workers. Not that she wasn't well liked, it was just that a lot of people didn't know very much about her. If they did, they might have discovered her secret; that fear which she kept so well hidden. Long ago, she had decided to leave the cooking world behind because of it, but soon the call of the kitchen was too great, and she was lured back despite herself. For the most part, she had managed to hide things well enough, but she really should have know that it couldn't last forever.
Her shift started out innocently enough as she prepared her station for the impending dinner crowd. Soon, things were in full swing, and she was busy filleting, sauteing, steaming, and plating. And then she heard it; an apprentice working at the station next to her let out a cry, and she turned her head to look. Blood. The unfortunate apprentice had looked away from his work for an instant, and wound up cutting himself. All Maki could see was the red liquid gushing out of his hand.
Maki-chan, you're my star pupil...Maki-chan, don't show any fear when you wield your knife....Don't worry, Maki-chan. You didn't cut me badly at all...
Jumbled phrases from her past flew through her mind as her hand went slack. The knife that was in her hand went clattering to the counter. Maki could only feel panic, and remained frozen in place - unable to help, unable to continue.
Whew! It certainly was busy tonight! Tomohisa was doing everything he could to keep up, following Jin's instructions. He felt he was doing pretty well, and had come into the kitchen to get his next order. It was then that he saw the new chef. For a moment he thought he was back in Chiba, seeing the girl of his dreams leave him for another. But after a moment, he realized that it wasn't her. There was a similarity, but she was definitely different. He saw the apprentice cut himself and he saw her freeze.
Looking around, he moved over to her side and picked up the knife. Placing it in her hand, he wrapped her fingers around it and gave her a soft smile. "Horikita-san dropped this."
Before she knew what was happening, Maki felt warm fingers curl around her own. She could feel the knife handle being pressed into her hand. And who was this smiling gently at her? Her mind wasn't ready to process anything just yet, but at the very least, her eyes found a place to focus, and she found herself staring into friendly eyes. Her own expression was one that someone who felt completely lost might wear. "....I....I don't think I can do this...." Her own grip was still weak, and the only thing keeping her from dropping the knife again was his hand wrapped around hers. Somehow, all the confidence she felt had vanished.
"No? Not even for me?" Tomohisa smiled down at her, his hand still wrapped around hers. "I've been waiting anxiously for Horikita-san's cooking." He leaned close and whispered into her ear. "He's okay. Things like that happen a lot in a kitchen, so Maki-chan shouldn't let it bother her so much."
Waiting for your cooking...He's okay...Lots of things happen in a kitchen, Maki-chan...Somehow, his words managed to filter into her consciousness. His kind and gentle voice seemed to calm her, and she felt some of her usual self return. Gripping the knife more tightly, she swallowed before nodding and giving him a shaky smile. "T-thank you, Yamashita-san..." She knew she was supposed to be getting back to work, but there was just something about this particular waiter. Maki couldn't seem to tear her eyes from him.
"You're welcome," Tomohisa smiled happily at her, letting her hand go. He glanced back guiltily as one of the other chef's yelled that they should get back to work. He grinned, saluting before winking at Maki before gathering up his order and dashing out of the kitchen.
Maki blinked before realizing that she was being scolded. By that time, Yamashita had already left. "Yes sir! Right away sir!" And with that, she turned back to the salmon that was sitting patiently on her cutting board. She worried her eyebrows before continuing where she had left off.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Finally, her shift had come to an end. Maki didn't know how, but she'd managed to keep her composure and finish with only a few near-misses. Her concentration just wasn't what it usually was, and she didn't have to guess as to the reason for that. She stood in front of her locker with a letter in her hand: her letter of resignation. It was clear to her that if she couldn't keep it together, she had no business being in the kitchen. It was really too bad - she was starting to like it at Firefry.
"You're not actually going to submit that are you?" Tomohisa asked from his spot near the door. He leaned against the door frame, already out of his uniform and in his street clothes, he held his leather jacket over his shoulder, looking at her earnestly.
Caught off-guard, Maki turned to face whoever was addressing her, her mouth forming a small 'o' of shock. "Yamashita-san!" She looked at the letter in her hand as she pulled the elastic out of her hair, the shoulder length locks falling into place. "I..." She gave him a sad smile before nodding. "I don't belong in the kitchen. Not alongside all these talented chefs."
"Bah! You're just as talented as they are." Tomohisa came in, straddling the bench and looking up at her. "You wouldn't have been hired if you weren't an awesome cook!"
"Well, they didn't know about..." Maki bit her lower lip and looked at the young waiter. "Yamashita-san...you saw what happened to me in there. If you hadn't been there to snap me out of it..." She took a long, hard look at the letter in her hand. "It's not that I want to leave...but...well, you know that old saying...if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Offering him one last small smile, she pulled her bag out of her locker and closed the door. "But thank you for caring."
"If you leave, I think you're making one of the biggest mistakes ever. And I'll prove it." Tomohisa reached out, snatching the letter from her hand. "We'll make a deal. You cook me dinner. If it's as bad as you say it is, then I'll give this back to you and you can give it so Sakurai-san if you really want. But, if it's good, you'll stay."
"Yamashita-san!" Maki's eyes widened in shock as the letter was snatched out of her hand. "Please give that back. Sakurai-san deserves better than someone who freezes up in the middle of work." But even as she said it, Maki could feel her resolve crumbling. What was it about this waiter that was making her rethink her decision? Well, it wasn't like he was telling her to stay. All he was asking was dinner. Once she showed him that she had been right all along, then things would be decided, and she'd give Sakurai-san her letter. "Alright," Maki sighed, nodding her head. "Dinner then. And then you'll see what I meant."
"Hmm...all right. It's a deal then!" Tomohisa stuffed the letter into his pocket and grinned. "So, show me what you're made of, Chef-sama!"
Despite how disappointed in herself she was feeling, the expression on his face and outright enthusiasm couldn't help but lift her mood up a bit. She nodded and handed him the menu. "Okay...take your pick."
Tugging her out of the locker room, he checked the kitchen and was glad everyone had left for the night already. They'd have complete privacy for their "bet."
Sitting down at one of the counters, he pulled out the menu and looked it over. Ah! Here was a good fish meal. Grilled Stripped Bass with Orange-Saffron Butter. Yum! It was pretty detailed too and it was something customers hardly ordered, so it wouldn't be something that she cooked often. "That one!"
Maki looked where his finger was pointed and groaned quietly. He had to pick the one that needed careful fish selection (can't pick ones that are too thick or too thin, after all) precision filleting, and grilling to boot. "Are you sure about that? Hardly anyone orders that one."
"I know! I've always wanted to try it!" Tomohisa nodded eagerly. He'd always wanted to try, but no one ever ordered it because it was so expensive. He'd have to remember to tell Nishikido-san about this. If it went well, that was. He was sure Ryo would appreciate him saving one of their chefs from leaving!
"Alright. if you're sure. A deal's a deal." Maki took the elastic from around her wrist and tied her hair back once more. Since she'd changed out of her uniform, she opted to put on an apron before starting. Washing her hands, she went over what she'd need in her head. I don't know why he's bothering...I'm not cut out for this...With that thought in her head, Maki began working. She opened the fridge with a sigh, surveying the fish available. It didn't take her long to find the perfect one, and despite her initial misgivings, she found herself becoming wrapped up in her craft. She didn't speak, but it was obvious that a quiet calm seemed to wash over her as she cut, seasoned, and cooked the dish. The heat of the grill was somehow soothing, as was the feeling of knowing just what to do. Before she knew it, the dish was ready. Arranging it delicately on a plate, she set the fish down in front of him. "And there you go, Yamashita-san. Now if you don't mind, can I please have my letter back now?"
"Not till I try it!" Tomohisa was stubborn and refused to give the letter to her till he tried it. Picking up his fork, he took a bite of the dish. His eyes widened and he stared at her in awe. "Umai!! Maki-chan is an AWESOME COOK!" He concentrated on the dish till it was half gone, then remembered the letter. "Oh! Right." he pulled out the letter, then tore in quarters and grinned. "Guess Maki-chan will be staying after all."
She wasn't sure why, but something inside her was supremely interested in what Yamashita would think of her cooking. She supposed it was only natural considering, deep down, every chef wanted to please who they were cooking for. Despite herself, she smiled a little as she watched him tear into his food with enthusiasm. It had been a while since she'd seen someone enjoy her cooking so much. Oh! But her letter!! She was about to reach out for it when he started to rip it to pieces. Her eyes widened in surprise, before she shook her head. "Well, I suppose a deals a deal. But just so you know, this doesn't prove anything. Cooking when you're the only one in the kitchen doesn't compare to when we're at a full compliment of staff." She took her apron off before sitting down at the table, across from him. "But I'm glad you're enjoying it.""Of course I'm enjoying it, Maki-chan made it!" Tomohisa grinned, finishing off the meal. "You just need some confidence in yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to do. And I know you can do this if you really want to. It's obvious you love cooking, so don't let this fear beat you down!"
Maki tried to think back to when someone last had so much faith in her. It had been a while since some one had encouraged her so. She nodded, her own lips curling into a smile; it was hard not to smile when looking at him. "I'll do my best then, Yamashita-san. Thank you for believing in me." Her eyes met his, and for some reason, she couldn't stop staring. There was just something about them. Maki didn't know how long she stayed looking at him, but she was snapped out of her daze by the restaurant clock's chime. Realizing what she had just been doing, she blushed as she got up from the table. "Um...I'd better clean up...otherwise Nishikido-san'll be mad..." She reached out for the plate on the table, not allowing herself to look at him again."I'll help!" Tomohisa reached for the plate, his hand brushing against hers as he did so. He flushed, pulling his hand away at the last minute.
She let out a quiet gasp as his hand brushed hers. A tingling sensation seemed to jolt through her hand, and up her arm, and it made her drop the plate. It clattered to the table rather loudly, but thankfully didn't break. Maki didn't want to have to explain why they were a plate short. "Ah! Gomen!" She could feel her cheeks heating up - why were they doing that anyway? "Um...h-how about you handle the tableware, and I'll clean up the kitchen?" It seemed like a good compromise. What was it about him that was making her feel so nervous anyway?"Oh no I apologize! It wasn't your fault, I'm just clumsy." Tomohisa apologized profusely, bowing his head and giving a nod before he took the plate and silverware and headed to one of the spare sinks. He tried not to look in her direction, but it wasn't that easy. For some reason, he couldn't get her out of his mind.
"No, no! I've seen you working - you're definitely not clumsy." Maki countered before she realized that meant she'd been watching him earlier. Realizing her slip, she cleared her throat and started to load her own sink with the pots and pans she'd been using, and rather loudly at that. It was as if she thought she could hide behind the noise. As she washed, she caught herself looking up every now and then to glance at him before looking away once more.
Maki rinsed out the last of her dishes, wiping her hands on her apron. She nodded to him with a soft smile. "All done. We should probably call it a night, Yamashita-san." She took off her apron in one smooth motion before pulling the elastic from her hair and shaking it out. "Thanks again, and I'm glad you enjoyed the food." She bowed to him before heading towards the locker room. As she was just about to pass him, her foot caught on a bumpy part of the floor, and she felt herself stumble. "Ah!" And as her luck would have it, she stumbled right into him. "G-gomen..." Why was it so hard to speak any louder than a whisper?"It's...okay. Are you all right?" Tomohisa looked down at her in question, obviously worried. His arms, instinctively, wrapped around her. Holding her body close to his, he caught his breath, his eyes transfixed while gazing into her own eyes. It seemed forever before he blushed and stepped back, mumbling something incoherent before he rushed to where his locker was to get his things.
"I...I'm fine...T-thanks..." But was she really? Now that she was caught in this semi-embrace with him, it felt like her heart was going a mile a minute. The time they spent that way felt both like an eternity and an instant. When he let go, Maki stood frozen in her spot for a moment before she swallowed nervously and head over to her own locker to grab her things. She carefully kept her gaze on the floor so she wouldn't look at him, afraid that the fact she must have been tomato red from her toes to her ears would give something away. With her bag and light jacket it hand, she closed her locker and turned to him. "Um...have a good night, Yamashita-san. I'll see you tomorrow." She bowed politely to him before deciding to make her escape.Tomohisa watched her go, his expression one of confusion and uncertainty. He wasn't quite sure what he was feeling at the moment. One thing was for sure, he liked her. A lot. It was the weirdest thing too; she wasn't the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, but she was kind and caring. He could sense there was some deep seated emotion that made her want to quit, yet she didn't. She followed through with his "bet." "You too, Maki-chan. And...call me Tomohisa." He didn't know if she heard him, but he hoped she did.
She had indeed heard him, and stopped for a moment, turning around to look at him. Call him Tomohisa? She wasn't sure she could. Wasn't that being kinda...familiar? And yet she didn't mind a bit that he had started to call her Maki-chan. Giving him a shy smile, she nodded. "Take care...Tomohisa." And with that, she adjusted the bag on her shoulder and stepped out of the back door. Even though the night air was crisp, it didn't clear her head at all. In her mind's eye, all she could see was his smile, and she wondered just what that might mean.