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A Closed Door

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"Chibita-kun." Ofuran sighed. "You are lucky I even hired a teenager to work here. So stop asking me to let you cook, go back to washing dishes!"

Chibita twisted his chef's hat in his hands. He knew he could do it. If only someone would give him a chance! Being a chef was his greatest dream. He wanted to own his own restaurant! He would be able to feed so many hungry people. 

His stomach growled, as if reminding him how hungry he was. When he had a restaurant, no one would be hungry. Everyone would be well fed! But he couldn't do any of that if his boss wouldn't let him cook! "Please, please Ofuran-san. Just let me have one chance!"

Chibita could prove himself! He just needed that one opening, then the rest of his life would open up for him. No more going to bed hungry. No more sleeping in the park. He could have a real meal in his own apartment. His eyes filled with tears, just thinking of such luxury. 

Ofuran folded his arms against his chest. "I'll give you one shot kid. If you mess it up, you're out."

This was it! This was his big chance! He was practically vibrating from excitement. "Thank you sir! I won't let you down!"

"Alright, why don't you prep the salads." Ofuran directed him over toward the prep station.

"Isn't that too easy-" Chibita stopped once he saw the look on his boss’s face. He better not push his luck. The door was open to his future now! So Chibita just needed to keep pushing forward. If that started with making salads, then he would make salads. 

With determination, he placed his slightly crumpled chef's hat on his head, making sure no stray hairs were loose that might fall into the food, and headed over to the table. He rolled up his sleeves. This should be a piece of cake. He watched the other cooks make salads so many times, he could do it in his sleep.

Chibita started out chopping the lettuce, then the tomato and red onion. Finally he mixed together the house dressing using oil, vinegar, and spices. Perfect! He got to plating the salads. This was going so great. Chibita felt like he hadn't smiled this much since he was a kid. It was an easy job, but he was doing work in a kitchen. He was actually "cooking" even if it was just preparation.

Now to put the salads in the fridge for later. Chibita picked up the tray to move all the salads to the opposite side. It was a little difficult to lift since his arms were short, but he never let that stop him before! Nothing could stop him! 

Nothing except a sudden wave of dizziness. Shoot! Chibita hadn't eaten anything since yesterday. He didn't have any money. Today after work he would have some, so he could eat then. He just had to keep going for a little longer! Chibita was strong, he could do it.

The tray wobbled dangerously in his hand. His head felt like it was far too light. Chibita knew the warning signs of a fainting spell. Well even if he went down, he wouldn't let his hard work go to waste. Chibita lifted the tray to place it on a nearby table. Good, done! Now he could faint, it would be fine.

Except his elbow caught the edge of the tray, sending the salads flying into the air as his body fell down. The last thing Chibita saw as he hit the ground was all his hard work hitting the floor around him.

 


 

"Chibita-kun!" A voice nearby. It was comforting. Soft, such a nice voice. But he was so tired. So very, very tired. If only he could sleep for a few more minutes.

"Chibita-kun! Please wake up!" Someone was shaking his shoulder. Chibita carefully opened his eyes. There was a girl standing above him. Long, brown hair. Brilliant big blue eyes. She looked like a fairy.

Except she wasn't. The reality of the situation hit him once he felt the cold hard tiling of the floor beneath him. That's right. He had passed out at work. "Hana-chan?"

"I was so worried! You collapsed all of a sudden." Hana placed a hand behind his back and helped him sit up. 

His coworker Hana was too sweet for her own good. She was the one who convinced Ofuran to give him the job here in the first place. Being so kind could have downfalls, as their boss took advantage of her kindness by making her work all kinds of crazy hours. But Chibita couldn't fault her for that. There was so little kindness in his life. The softness of her smile was a guard against the harsh world.

"I'm alright. I just haven't eaten today." Chibita tried to get up, but another dizzy spell hit him. He sat back down hard.

"Oh no! Let me get you something. Just hold on a second, Chibita-kun." Hana stood up, but before she could even go anywhere, Ofuran stood before her.

"What are you two doing?" Ofuran crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Chibita. "Did you drop the salads I asked you to prepare?"

"It's not his fault!" Hana replied. "He's so hungry he can't even stand up straight."

"That sounds like it's exactly his fault." Ofuran stomped over and bent over Chibita's small form. "I thought you said you could do it? If you can't even prepare salads without making a mess, what makes you think you can be a chef?"

"I-I-i" Chibita felt tears welling up in his eyes. He couldn't cry, he had to be strong! He quickly wiped his face. "I can do it. Just let me try again."

"Why should I? You already wasted all this food! I'm going to dock your pay for this." Ofuran's face was going red. "You should know your place. You wash dishes. You'll never be anything more than that."

"Stop it!" Hana stomped a foot on the ground. That was the loudest Chibita ever heard her. He wasn't even sure she was capable of yelling before that. "He's just a kid! He doesn't even have any family! Don't you have any compassion?"

"Kid needs to learn that no one is gonna look out for him." Ofuran turned back to Chibita. "It's a dog eat dog world. Don't expect people to give you handouts. And don't try to bank off sympathy just because you’re an orphan. Playing that card ain't gonna get you anywhere in life."

"But I wasn't-" 

"Leave him alone!" Hana shouted over Chibita.

"Listen here, Hana-chan. Do you want to end up in the same boat as Chibita-kun? Don't talk back to me. Or else you'll end up fired, and then who will take care of your sick mother?" Ofuran smiled. He looked like the devil to Chibita. Hana was looking down at her feet, trying to hold back tears.

He was a monster.

Chibita found strength he didn't know he had and jumped to his feet. "Don't threaten Hana-chan!"

"To hell with you! You're fired!" Ofuran screamed.

Whatever! Chibita didn't want to work in this hellhole for another minute anyway! He ran from the kitchen and out the front door. It was then that his dizziness returned, his feet losing traction as he slipped and fell to the ground.

It took him a few seconds but Chibita pushed himself back up to his knees. Tears came to his eyes and this time he did nothing to hold them back. The full weight of the situation hit him in the chest.

He had no money. He couldn't even buy a cup of ramen to eat. Not like it mattered if he could, he had no way to heat up the water anyway. He seriously had nothing now. What was he supposed to do? Start his job search all over? Work from the bottom up at another restaurant?

He was so hungry. He was so tired. No one was going to help him. Any kindness in the world is stomped out by people like Ofuran. 

There was just nothing for Chibita. He stood up and started walking down the street. People passed by without even looking his way. Why should they? He was nobody. He was…

"Guess I really am a failure."

He took off his chef's hat, letting his hair fall back down. There was no point in wearing it. He wouldn't ever be a chef.

Chibita kept walking. Where was he going? He didn't care.

"I'm so hungry."

At some point he came across an oden stand. A man was working it, a big smile on his face as he sang a song to entice customers. He looked so friendly, Chibita wanted to ask if he could have just a little food. He would pay him back. Honestly. He was so hungry. His stomach growled at him, begging for food.

Ofuran's words came to mind. He shouldn't ask for handouts. 

Yeah.

Besides, how could Chibita pay him back anyway? He had nothing. So he walked away with a sigh.

Honestly he didn't want to walk anymore. He was too tired to keep going. He had nowhere to go anyway. Maybe it was time to give up. Throw in the towel. He had given it his best shot, but it was time to quit.

A tall building loomed above Chibita. It was tall enough, right? He couldn't go on anymore, anyway. He walked inside, taking the elevator up to the roof. It was windy up here, and in the distance he could see the sun setting. It was oddly beautiful, in a way.

He took off his shoes and stepped onto the ledge. The wind howled by, taking his hat from his hands. He didn't even watch as it was blown into the distance. Where he was going, he wouldn't need it anyway. 

No one to leave a note for. No one would even care. Chibita would die the same way he lived. Alone.

He closed his eyes and took a small jump.

...

"No!"

Something grabbed onto the back of his apron. Chibita found himself dangling in the air, the straps of his apron cutting into his arms. What? He looked up to see Karamatsu holding onto him as leaned far over the side of the building.

"Chibita! Grab my hand!" Karamatsu yelled, reaching down with his other hand, taking away some of the support keeping him from tumbling from the building.

"Let me go! Before you fall too!" Chibita yelled back.

"I won't let you go." Tears fell from Karamatsu's eyes. "Please, Chibita."

Chibita couldn't let Karamatsu get hurt. He reached up and took his hand. With a grunt Karamatsu pulled Chibita back onto the rooftop.

Well that hadn’t gone as planned. When did anything go the way Chibita wanted it to go, anyway? Karamatsu was kneeling next to him, panting for breath, tears shining in the corners of his eyes.

“You should’ve let me jump.” Chibita sighed.

“Why would you say that!” Karamatsu yelled, and just like Hana, it was much louder than Chibita expected of him. “I don’t want you to die! I don’t want that…”

With that Karamatsu was full on sobbing. He reached out and pulled Chibita to his chest. Chibita resigned himself to his fate and gave Karamatsu a pat on the back. What might have been a sweet or tender moment was interrupted by a rather loud growl from Chibita's stomach.

Karamatsu pulled away and looked at him. "Are you hungry? Wait just a second." He got to his feet but then looked down at Chibita while biting his lip. "Um, don't go anywhere."

"I won't." Chibita grabbed his shoes that were sitting nearby. A sudden feeling hit the pit of his stomach as he put his shoes back on and it wasn't hunger this time. He really almost killed himself. A cold sweat broke out over his face. Oh Akatsuka-sensei, what had he been thinking? 

Karamatsu jogged over from the other side of the roof, holding his school bag. He dug inside of it and pulled out a wrapped piece of bread. He handed it over to Chibita. Hmm, curry flavor. Not exactly his favorite, but he was in no position to complain. 

Actually, should he even take this? He shouldn't take handouts… that's what Ofuran said. 

But Ofuran was awful. Honestly just the worst. In Chibita's bad mental state he had taken his words to heart. He knew that those words weren't true. Everyone needs help sometimes, even though Chibita didn't want to ask for any most of the time. It was okay to accept help from his friends. He took a bite of the bread. Tears started to roll down his cheeks, it was so delicious. 

"Don't cry." Karamatsu's lip trembled as he reached out and wiped away one of Chibita's tears. The sentiment was so sweet that Chibita started to cry more, sobbing into the bread.

It took him a few minutes to calm down, but eventually his tears started to slow. Chibita was so grateful to Karamatsu. There were people who cared about him. For some reason he forgot about that too. "Thank you Karamatsu. I really appreciate it. But," there was one question plaguing his mind now. "How did you know I was up here?"

"Oh, um." Karamatsu looked down into his lap where he held his two hands together. "I wanted to visit the restaurant you work. Er. Worked at. But then I heard a lot of yelling and you ran out crying. I wanted to talk to you, but I didn't want to upset you right after you got fired, so I ended up following you. I didn't think. I didn't think you were that sad. I'm sorry I should've said something sooner."

"It's okay Karamatsu. I don't think I would've talked to you anyway. I was in a really bad place. Thank you for stopping me." Chibita still had a pile of problems, but at least he was alive to solve them now.

"What happened? Was it just what happened at work? Or are you still sad about stuff? I want you to talk to me! I don't want you to feel like," Karamatsu looked over at the edge of the roof and gulped.

"Well." Chibita started, but his stomach growled loudly again.

"Chibita, when did you last eat?" Karamatsu asked with his eyebrows creased in concern.

"I ate yesterday morning." 

"Oh my goodness." Karamatsu put his hands up to his face. "No wonder you're so upset. There is an oden stand nearby. Let's go, it'll be my treat."

 


 

Chibita sat down at the oden stand. Just sitting near the golden broth was warming him up. It smelled delicious. Karamatsu ordered and soon Chibita had a plate full of oden in front of him. He took a bite and put a hand to the side of his face as he grinned. It was so good! The best oden in the world!

"So tell me what happened." Karamatsu asked as he took a bite. A very similar happy look came across his face. That look! That's the one that Chibita wanted to give his customers! Well, that wasn't really possible anymore.

"Well I asked my boss Ofuran-san to let me cook. I can do it! But I ended up passing out because I was too hungry and ruined a bunch of salads. I got docked my pay and fired." Chibita explained.

"That's not fair!" Karamatsu exclaimed. "Your boss is a!" Karamatsu scrunched up his face like he was trying to think of a word bad enough to describe Ofuran. "An ass!"

Chibita chuckled. "Yeah. He really is. I don't have any more money now. I don't have anything. I guess I gave up all hope." Chibita grabbed his apron and clenched his fist. "I just want to make people smile with my food. Just like how this oden made you smile, Karamatsu. I want everyone to be well fed and happy! That's what a restaurant should do!"

A loud sobbing sound came from the other side of the cart. Chibita looked up with confusion. The man running the stand had tears pouring down his face. "You're hired!"

"Eh?" Chibita gasped.

"That passion for cooking! I've been looking for an apprentice, and you are exactly the kind of person I want to teach the art of oden to!" The man bowed down deeply. "Please, please allow me to be your teacher."

Chibita's eyes went wide. This man wanted to teach him? He was practically begging him. How could Chibita say no to that? Besides, he loved oden! "Of course! I would love that. Thank you! I'm Chibita!"

"I'm Ryou Sato!" He used his ladle to scoop out some more for Chibita. "Eat up! I can't have my new employee going hungry."

Just when Chibita thought all doors had closed on him, a brand new one opened up. It wouldn't be easy, but Chibita was going to give it his all!