bowl fire

Chapter Four

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Hiroshi and I have been living in Lady Hacsu's restaurant now. Well, I am. Hiroshi sleeps outside.   


I wake up earlier than everyone else, even Lady Hacsu sometimes. But there is one person who always awake earlier than me. Whenever I quietly come out of my room, I always see Hiroshi with a broom in his hand cleaning the lobby.   


He now wears an old long sleeve waiter suit with a vest that fit him pretty well and he cut his hair, beard, and mustache making him look sharper than before. He was told to have a clean shave to look like a high-class human waiter but he insisted to leave a bit scruffy. I am curious how he would look clean shaved but he looks neater than he did before so, everyone just settled for with medium stubble. Hiroshi also doesn't look pale as when we first came but time to time he would. When he turns pale he isn't himself, he stumbles time to time like a drunk person. One time when he got pale I caught him frantically searching the trash. I asked if I could help him but he denied my offer insisting he isn't searching for anything important but I snuck a view and I have seen him lick something and dig it back into the trash basket. I wasn't ever able to find out what he was eating.   


Hiroshi notices me walking down the stairs, he tells me he will start making some breakfast and heads into the kitchen. A few days ago, when he went into the kitchen I saw the broom left against the table. I thought I could help him by cleaning the lobby where he left off. When he saw me cleaning with my meal in his hand he was very appreciative. Ever since I decided to help him clean whenever he went to make my breakfast.   


As I was cleaning I could hear and smell him cooking. My favorite breakfast is when he makes something called a "pancake" which he has made. I always first to eat, I have never seen Hiroshi eat other than that one time by the trash bin. Whenever I asked he would always reply that he has already eaten. By the time I start eating everyone starts to wake up and Hiroshi would go back to the kitchen and start cooking again. When he first cooked everyone was delightfully surprised but Lady Hacsu was not thrilled for using too much supply but ever since he made pancake she never complained. She is still agitated that syrup takes too much sugar but she likes the syrup too.    

Taillions don't eat together with everyone in the lobby. They remain in their room until the time for work. So, Hiroshi and I go upstairs with trays and dishes. At first, they would tell us to leave in front of the door because they still felt insecure in front of Hiroshi. They never really minded me. They are slightly cautious with Fanglions and the blue-skinned Reptilions. As for the Red skin and the Clawlion, they are clearly intimidated by them, but they really trust Lady Hacsu. Now though, they don't mind opening the door for Hiroshi.   

After we are done eating we start getting ready to open the store. During this time Hiroshi sometimes goes out to resupply food, ingredients, and wine by Lady Hacsu's order. Hiroshi, without complaint, takes the currency Lady Hacsu provided then goes out and gets a wooden two-wheeled wagon and goes into the street. At this time all the girls start getting changed in their room, including me. We get changed into waitress clothing, which is just our casual clothes. The dress Hiroshi bought me has been altered. The big Mammalion, Chocho added a ribbon that goes around my waist and is tightened and tied at the back which made it fit better and it looks cuter. Clawlions ladies were very knowledgeable about fashion. They seem to worry about their looks often fluffing their fur and straightening their tail.   


There are twenty-three girls and Hiroshi who lives and works in the restaurant. There are Seven Taillion, five Fanglion, three Clawlion, four Blue skinned, two Red skinned, Lady Hacsu and me. There is each room for each race upstairs but Hiroshi told me to get along with each of them by hanging and sleeping with them each day. So far, I have enjoyed being with Taillion. They don't complain as much as the other. It's understandable though, they don't have to serve the customers in person. Everyone else gossips, complains, and talk about weird subjects that I did not understand. One night when I was sleeping with Fanglions they asked if Hiroshi has done anything weird to me and I answered honestly. There was one time, even for an ignorant me thought was weird.  


Before we lived in the bar, one night when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling something on my neck. It was Hiroshi sniffing my neck. Too sleepy, tired, and he wasn't harming me, I ignored him and went back to sleep. Time to time though he would take a whiff of me whenever we were close to each other and tell me something weird each time he did. Hiroshi would tell me, "if something happens to me, remember to stay still and quiet," somewhat desperately and seriously. He has told me the same thing dozens of times now. Although not understanding what he meant, having complete faith in Hiroshi I never questioned him. Fanglions started to wonder as well, thinking it's some human thing. Now that I think about it, Hiroshi would approach me on days he is pale.   


It's a little before noon when we are done changing and we start opening. By this time Hiroshi would be serving with us or doing other chores for us like laundries, cooking, cleaning the floor but when he is out to get supply it takes him a while to arrive. When Hiroshi is out I get a little anxious and Lady Hacsu noticed. She lets me wait by the entrance door where she can see me. When I see Hiroshi arrive, I greet him to help.   

I begin to pull the wagon with Hiroshi to the left of the restaurant through the wooden fence gate to a yard that is on the left side of the kitchen outside. There is a shed where I help him to store food that won't spoil easily. Once we're done, we go farther back to the yard and arrive at a hand pump fountain with a metal tub beside it. We pump three buckets full of water then enter the kitchen then along with the supplies. Now we get to work.    

I wanted to assist Hiroshi so I started working as well but it was difficult at first. I have worked in the kitchen, Taillions yelled at me. I worked as a server, I would lose balance often dropping dishes and getting laughed and yelled at. I got so discouraged I cried but Hiroshi told me, "It's ok to make mistakes, just make sure to learn from it." Since I have been slowly getting better but my favorite job is when I am behind the counter with Lady Hacsu and Chocho.     

Chocho has a reddish-brown skin and her fur and hair were like fire. At first, I was intimidated by her appearance, height, beauty and her silence but soon I found out she is very kind. I wash dishes and cups and charge the customers with her. When I make a mistake she gently shakes her head and shows me how it's done without any word. When I do a good job, she gives me a silent nod. I noticed she smiles a little when she does.   

Working behind the counter is easy but what I enjoy is I get to watch Hiroshi. He is very dexterous. He works without a tray because others are using it with none left for him but he carried five dishes full of food at ease. At night I've seen him serve eight bear cups of alcohol at once. But It is not always pleasant to watch him at times. He gets really clumsy and spills drinks or food on the customers or even on our friends. He apologizes very pitifully and at times even get punched and kicked. Some pull out their knife and Hiroshi plead pathetically to put them away, even at times using me, a child, as an excuse not to use it in front of. But later I realized this was all on purpose.  

One day, I was daydreaming behind the counter because there were no dishes to wash and customers were busy eating. Then in the direction, I was daydreaming a big-bellied red skinned Reptilion with a scar on his chest suddenly started to grope Ningnao, a Fanglion older sister, while she was passing by. She gently tells him not now because it's still daytime but he grabs her by the waist and sits her on his lap started to grope her even more. I was starting to feel disgusted as if I was being groped. I almost yelled out to stop and so was the sufferer but before we could, something splashed into the man's face along with some of Nignao's clothe.   

"Oh... dear god, I did it again, I'm so sorry," very sincerely. The owner of the voice was Hiroshi as he was picking himself up from the ground. "Ningnao, I'm so sorry, why don't you go get changed, I'll clean it by tomorrow." Before Ningnao could leave the scene, the molester grabbed Hiroshi's collar and pull in closer.   

"You again?" The chubby Reptilion said with deep rumbling voice angrily and it struck me.    

I remembered one time when I was in the kitchen peeling some vegetable Shusca, blue-skinned Reptilion lady, barged in grumbling. She was yelling in an incomprehensible language then yelled, "I wish I could just choke the life out of that giant oaf!" the Taillion didn't even have the time to complain for scaring us half to death. "I wish I clawed his face in."   

"You know you're not allowed to do that. Hacsu will yell at you... and... You know what happened to the last girl that fought back." The monotone Taillion, Chunchi, said. Shusca sighs.   

"Yeah... I know I'm glad that fur face is so clumsy." Shusca said defusing herself. Later I found out Hiroshi tripped and hit a plate that was on the edge of the table, sending it flying across the lobby and hitting the man that was molesting Shusca. For a few days, Lady Hacsu would time to time burst out laughing out of nowhere sharing the event with everyone.   

There are many similar stories of Hiroshi's clumsiness helping the girls. Slapping a customer with a mop head by walking with the mop over his shoulder. Tripping and causing trouble for the customer in many ways. Afterward, he accepts his punishment without complaining. Hiroshi has been sacrificing himself for everyone here.   

Today afternoon went without incident. The town is slowly starting to paint in orange. It's time to get ready for night shift. We first close and kick all the customers out. If they don't, we won't start nighttime service and even call it a day and we are free for the rest of the day. After everyone is out, we eat our dinner the Taillions gotten ready for us beforehand. Then everyone takes a short break. During this time, we are allowed to take our bath.   

We can take a bath when we are not working. For example, the morning before work, during breaks like now, or at late night after work. Many prefer taking a bath at night because of the lower visibility. The backyard is isolated by the fence but it's not that difficult to peek over. I did not understand why being seen was so bad at first. I took a shower with Hiroshi before and recently I have taken baths with many of the ladies here. But one day when I was about sleep with the Fanglion ladies, one of us who was sleeping on the top of the bunk bed squealed looking out the window in the darkroom, saying, "Ohmigod, his taking a bath!" Then four others rushed to fit into the small framed window trying to take a peek. Then they started to spit out their opinions complimenting and criticizing about his naked body. Fanglions were not the only ones that have seen him that night. Almost everyone talked about him behind his back and for some reason, I felt I should not tell Hiroshi about it. Even now, I do not understand but I have started to become more self-conscience about many things.   


Sometime later, one late night, when everyone was asleep, I woke up from feeling parched. Still half asleep I walked down the creaking stairs and entered the little closet and turn to the kitchen. When I turned in the closet way, in the corner of my eye, I saw something glisten and flickering in the middle of the kitchen. Vision clearing in the dark was a candle on the kitchen counter and Hiroshi turned his back towards me were drying his wet body. I froze on the spot as if my mind went blank but in reality, all the opinions of the girls had of Hiroshi rushed through my mind comparing to what I was thinking.    

He is lean, almost skinny but muscular enough to see most of his muscles move as he bands, twist and turns to dry himself with a cloth. It would have been interesting to watch but as I have seen before when I took a shower with him before, he was full of old scars. I used to think scars were to be born with and would have watched with interest seeing the scars move along with the skin and muscle but I have learned how they were made.    

On his back, there are many little scars and four distinctly long scar overlapping. A deep scar on the back of his right shoulder. There are four small scars on his chest and one large one going across from his left chest to the abdomen. Back of his forearms and legs had about dozens of scars. When Hiroshi had a long beard, it was not noticeable but there is a small patch missing on the left chin. When I heard how scars were made I felt pity for my old caretaker, but when I saw Hiroshi's, my heart cracked.   


Hiroshi turned to get his clothes and before I realized, I quickly jumped back to the little closet way and slammed my back on the shelf making clanking sound of the glass and metal containers of ingredients. He must have been taken a bath after waiting much after all the lights in our rooms go out. He must have realized that the girls have been watching him and decided to take it much later but that's not what I was thinking at the moment. I thought, 'why am I hiding?' Hiroshi asks who's there and I replied while still hiding.    


After he got dressed in his girly tank-top and pants tightened with a rope we talked. I wanted to know more about Hiroshi. I was curious about his scars but I did not have the heart to ask. Instead, I asked what many of the girls were wondering about, including me. "What kind of girls do you like?" He gave a curious expression then opened his mouth but stops himself and closes. He started to stroke his beard, still looking at me then look out the kitchen window. After a few strokes he replied nervously, 'someone healthy'. I decided not to tell anyone.   

Back to the present, everyone has changed, including me. I just change into my second one-piece dress that has also been altered by Chocho, while everyone else change into very revealing clothes. I feel embarrassed from seeing them but they has become accustomed to it. Although not feeling easy, I requested to work behind the counter again for few reasons. To watching Hiroshi skillfully work and his clever way of spoiling harassers, though, I do not enjoy watching him get beaten. Also, to learn about men and woman interaction. When I watch the girls working at night, the communication becomes more ambiguous, intricate, and difficult. During night shift there are many times when the girls accept customer approach without complaint but sometime Hiroshi would trouble the customers without warning. Slowly I started to recognize that the girls are actually appalled but are not complaining out loud. There is one blue-skinned Reptilion girl that has a very difficult time expressing herself and had Hiroshi saved her more times than others.    

Her name is Thios and has the shortest spikes out of all the Reptilions here. I have noticed she is infatuated in Hiroshi. I have seen her watch Hiroshi from the distance time to time. She has come to me often to ask or talk about Hiroshi. She was the first person to ask what kind of girl interest Hiroshi. When she asked I answered honestly that I do not know but now I have heard an answer directly from the source it is still difficult to tell her. One reason is because even I was very disappointed by Hiroshi's answer and it made me worry how the others would view him. The second reason is Thios.    


I had a feeling Thios would do something if I have told her his answer and, I don't understand why, but that bothered me. When she is the first person to treat Hiroshi after he has been battered. When she is talking to Hiroshi in idle time. When Hiroshi helps her in time of need. It felt as if she was taking Hiroshi's time? My time? I still could not understand this feeling so I never reacted. I'm still trying to sort out my feeling, the way I'm thinking. As I was contemplating, she got herself in trouble again, but soon I realize it was no little matter.   

It was the chubby red-skinned Reptilion with a cross scar on his chest who has molested almost every worker here from what I have heard and now he is bothering Thios. This was not the first time he has disturbed Thios, more like, he has been specifically targeting her recently. Hiroshi would always 'accidentally' spoil the molester's fun but I'm sure the molester has figured out that it is no accidents. Thios is trying to push him away but her arms are twigs compare to his. The red molester kept pulling her body to his with his left hand and feeling her leg with the other but the most disturbing was his eyes. His face was feeling Thios's flat chest but his eyes were looking at the direction where Hiroshi was, who was front of the kitchen door holding a broom. I glance towards Hiroshi and he was looking right back at the molester. I glance back at the molester, who was started to lick Thios' chest. Disgusted, Thios started to make a rapid clicking sound from her neck still trying to get away from his grasp. Thios' eyes starts to water and for the first time, I hear her yell.   


"Please, stop!" Thios yells smacking his face with her thin arms. Not bothered, maybe even enjoying watching her hopeless struggle the molester continues. Then suddenly Hiroshi take a step and the bully notices. I was at the edge of my seat and so was everyone in the bar even the customer. Hiroshi continues to walk holding the broom, heads up with both hands steady and calm. I was curious about his expression but could not see from my angle. The molester stopped what he was doing and waited for Hiroshi to arrive to his table. Thios took the chance and distanced herself from his grasp but not too far. Still distance away but she was trying to get in between the molester and Hiroshi. She was looking at Hiroshi's face and her expression was of worry, scared even.   


Then Hiroshi arrivedon the right side of the table and turns toward Thios and with a gentle tone he asks, "are you okay, Thio." It was slight but I was able to see his expression after he turned, it was normal, too normal. As if nothing happened. As if the tension everyone feels is our own imagination. But, as Hiroshi turned to Thios he also turned his body and, in the process, turned the broom which strikes the red-skinned bully. Yes, it struck him, it struck his hand. The bully anticipated Hiroshi's intention and caught the broom before it struck his face. Feeling smug the bully tried to smirks but before he could he was wet head to toe. We saw it all. The moment the chubby molester caught Hiroshi's strike, Hiroshi let go of the broom and grabbed the beer cup still full on the molester's table and poured it on his head. The broom head must have shielded the bully's view to notice.    


"Oh, what happened here?" Hiroshi said ever so calmly but he continues, "but I sure hope this helps you cool down." I could not see Hiroshi's expression but I believe it was calm as his tone. I could tell the bully was the opposite, even with the broom in the way.    


Furious, the red man jumps from his sit tipping the table with his fat and breaks the broom in half with his knee. He then roars with anger and pulls out a lengthy folding knife and points at Hiroshi, almost touching him. Thios screeches at the sight and steps back weak in the knee. Hiroshi quickly put both his hands up in the air.   

"You- really- don't- learn, do you?" The chubby molester said with a deep grumble.   

"I, I don't know what you mean," Hiroshi stutters. I do not know if he is acting or not because this is not the first time someone has pulled out a weapon at him and acting weak and pitiful every time he is threatened or being struck.    


"I know about you though," the molester said provokingly like a child, "How many times do you think I have come by here, huh?" continuing with his tone and dancing the knife in front of defenseless Hiroshi. "How do you plan to protect your little hairy ears if you're so pathetic?" The disgusting man was talking about me.    


A moment after hearing that, Hiroshi slowly lowered his arms. The bully boastfully grins. Then Hiroshi moved. He turns halfway toward his right and lifts his head facing Lady Hacsu who was behind the counter as well. I have never seen Hiroshi's look like this. His eyes were wide with, by all means, FURY. Lady Hacsu knew he was not pointing his extreme anger towards her but even so, she was surprised by the new and frightening side of Hiroshi. As if Lady Hacsu knew what Hiroshi wanted she replied, "Just don't make a mess," and she looks away and light her smoke pipe that was hiding under the counter. As if saying she doesn't want to see what's to come but what's to come was nothing she expected.   


After Lady Hacsu lit her pipe I turned back to Hiroshi. A moment, just for a moment Hiroshi moved but I could not tell what he did, what he moved. Whatever he did he was still facing Lacy Hacsu. While still in my vision I saw something unusual. The bully, the molester, the assaulter, his right arm that was holding the knife, his finger to his elbow were distorted, crippled, broken. The red-skinned molester didn't know until he saw the direction of what everyone else was looking at so silently. After seeing what everyone else was seeing the molester did not know what to do with his good, left hand. Wanting to touch his crippled arm to see if it was real but afraid of the pain which he still has not felt yet. Then suddenly, the molester gets on his knees and cries like a baby breaking the silence from the pain and not know what to do about it. The knife the molester was holding were nowhere to be seen until Hiroshi turned back at the assaulter. The knife was in Hiroshi's left hand and cuff of his shirt was ripped on two sides going up to his shoulder. That's what I saw. His arm was swinging so fast that his shirt ripped. What I saw was his ripped shirt coming back down.   

The man whimper notice Hiroshi looking down at him with his knife in his hand not knowing what to do. Hiroshi then grabs the defenseless man's small A-shirt with his free hand and started to drag the crippled man like a big bag trash towards the front entrance.    

"Wait! Wait! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" the obnoxious molester reduced to a snotty child was bawling repeating himself, pleading and apologizing. Hiroshi ignored his plea without a word and continues to drag him. As the pathetic man was being dragged he flails around not to meet his demise at the same time lifting his bandy arm high not touch anything, even the ground. Halfway through the shirt rips, dropping the weeping man. The man bellows at the sudden movement and hitting the injured arm on the floor.   


"I'm sorry... I won't do it again..." The red skin weeps. Hiroshi ignores him again without a word and grabs his good arm and continue to drag him on the floor. The man starts to bawl again, the only one breaking the unnerving silence with unnerving screams. "I'm sorry! I won't do it again! I won't ever touch any girls again! Please don't! Please don't kill me!" Once through the entrance, Hiroshi set the man lying on his left in front of the entrance. The man quiets down and catches his breath thinking it's finally over. Hiroshi turns to enter back in the bar, at least we thought. Hiroshi was revving up to a kick. Hiroshi kicks the planted man and sending him flying few yards. The man lands and starts coughed up what he ate and Hiroshi finally spoke.   


"I don't care if you threaten me, I don't care if you hurt me, but..." I could not see Hiroshi's face but something was rising within him as he spoke. "If you threaten Aurora- or any of the girls here I'll break your other arm." His voice was steady but like being dropped in the middle of the desert, it steadily getting hotter and drier, an unpleasant feeling in my throat. "If you harm a strand of their hair," he said as he raised the knife. "I will kill you." Then threw the knife on the ground in front of crippled red skinned Reptilion, startling him.   


Hiroshi turns around and enters back into the bar. Complete silence, not even a whisper. Hiroshi walks past the counter. I kept my head down since he entered. Some might be looking at him right now as he walks but I did not have the courage to look him in the eye. For some reason, he reminded me of the past. The red-skinned Reptilion and me, and Hiroshi and my old caretaker. The powerless and defenseless me and the red-skinned bully. Fearful and strong Hiroshi and caretaker. Hiroshi headed toward the kitchen door which was next to me, then Hiroshi broke the silence.   


"I'll work in the kitchen for the night," Hiroshi said and I startle. Hiroshi opens the door and "Aurora" Hiroshi said, startling me again. Before he entered he quietly said for my ears only, "It's still me." I finally turn to see his face but he entered the kitchen before I could. As Hiroshi disappeared into the kitchen everyone relaxes and start to whisper and talk amongst themselves. I was too busy thinking about what he said to join them.    


'It's still me,' ringing in my ears, wondering what he meant. That scary person that threw out the trash is 'still' Hiroshi? Hiroshi, who told me to live and has been taking care of me? Hiroshi, who has been kind to me when I felt ill and discouraged? Hiroshi, who has been helping everyone who needed it? And I thought out loud, "His nothing like him..." I jump out of my sit and rushed into the kitchen but I slowdown in the closet hall and peek into the kitchen.    


The kitchen was going about like nothing has happened. Fighting, screaming, breaking in the lobby is not uncommon, so Taillions ignore them continue to do what they have to. There two Taillions taking a break in the corner one drinking tea, one taking a nap, two pealing vegetables, three cooking with Hiroshi close by. When I see Hiroshi, I did not have it in me to show myself to him. Not because I was afraid, but because I was ashamed, ashamed of comparing Hiroshi to my old caretaker.    


"Hiroshi..." I call out, "I'm... I'm not afraid anymore." I said still feeling ashamed. I glance up to see his expression and he smiled gently.   


"I'm glad," he said and I beamed feeling forgiven. "But I think I should still stay in the kitchen for today," Hiroshi said and he leans forward getting closer to my face. "Why don't you go back and call me if you think someone is causing trouble," Hiroshi said, almost whispering and gave me a little wink. Understanding what he meant I nod and get back.   


When I opened the door to the lobby many people, including customers, were waiting leaning to hear what was happening.   


"So? How is he?"    


"What did you say to him?"   


"What did you guy talk about?"    


Questions after questions rushed to me and I had the answer to all questions, "Hiroshi is still Hiroshi." Everyone looked at me unsatisfied, some confused, some wondering.    

"Of course he is," a crackling voice said to my left. It was Lady Hacsu still sitting behind the counter smoking. "He didn't change," she exhales with smoke. "When he came back in, he looked at us the same as before... but we looked at him different." She pauses. "Even I couldn't help it. Then he looked at me... with a sorry looking face." Then everyone went silent feeling ashamed as I did.    

"Let's be ourself," I said. "Just like Hiroshi is Hiroshi, let's be ourself," everyone agreed and showed their resolve.  

. . . . . .   

The next day everyone acted like nothing has happened, well not in reality. All the girls started to rely on Hiroshi more, almost taking advantage of him. Using him at some customers who were causing trouble. Some girls started to show more interest in him. I felt disappointed in them because some of them didn't show interest in him before and some not even knowing Hiroshi was scarifying himself for them this whole time. I could tell Thios was thinking the same. But as if Hiroshi knew what we were thinking, he would gently avoid those who are a bit overbearing.    


It was not only the fellow workers that showed interest. It seemed the molester that night was infamous around town and the news of a human crippling him spread. Because of this, we have gained too many customers having them to stand in the bar, but thankfully most were not here to be served. Most came to meet the 'hero'. Their first impression of Hiroshi was not impressed so they wanted to compete with him to see how strong he is but Hiroshi didn't want to prove anything. Lady Hacsu though saw an opportunity to make a big sum, an arm wrestling competition. Hiroshi was reluctant so Lady Hacsu dragged me into the conversation saying that she will start paying us if Hiroshi does an arm wrestling competition saying it will be a quick way to pay back what we owe her, for taking care of me when I was ill and the dishes and tables he used to cause 'accidents'. He reluctantly agreed in the end.   

The condition Hiroshi set is to compete only 30 people every night. So, for the first time, the restaurant started up its original arm wrestle competition. At the end of the night, Hiroshi has beaten all the contender.    


So, everything has been peaceful, until I got kidnapped.   



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