“What do we do now?” Ryouta whispered to me as soon as Ayano disappeared into the restaurant.
“Just follow what I do.” I instructed, waiting a couple of minutes before entering the restaurant too. Ayano had already eagerly taken her seat at a vacant table like I had hoped she would.
“Over there,” I murmured while shoving Ryouta towards a table in the opposite direction, “Sit.”
Ryouta sat down and stared at me as I took my seat as well, “We’re going to pretend that we don’t know her? Do you think it will work?”
I nodded, “I hope so, for your sake.”
“What do you mean?” Ryouta asked, looking at me suspiciously.
“Plan B is to say that it was all your idea.” I smiled.
“What??” Ryouta gasped quietly, but closed his mouth again as soon as he saw mom walking towards us.
“Welcome back, boys! What would you like to eat tonight?” Mom beamed enthusiastically. Her grin was almost blinding us.
“Pancakes…?” Ryouta asked, already sweating due to the fact that there was a ninety five percent chance that he would get in trouble again tonight.
“What else do you eat at a pancake restaurant?” I asked sarcastically.
“I know right!” Ryouta laughed out loud, clapping his hands like a seal.
That idiot… he’s being so obvious.
“Are you ok, Ryouta?” Mom placed her hand on his forehead, checking for any signs of a fever.
“That’s right! I have a fever!” Ryouta suddenly barked.
Mom blinked, “But your temperature seems to be fine…”
“Excuse me!!” Ayano suddenly called out from her table, waving her hands in the air. She was looking at us with a confused expression and made gestures to call us to her table.
I pretended not to see her and Ryouta nestled further into his seat, trying to hide behind mom.
“Oh! Looks like I have a new customer! Wait up boys!” Mom smiled excitedly and scurried away towards Ayano.
Partly, we were glad that mom mistook that Ayano was calling her over and not us, but the fact that Ayano was now going to talk to mom was far worse.
“Two hundred onions tonight… I know it!” Ryouta slumped forwards in misery, burying his face into his folded arms on the table.
As soon as mom had reached Ayano, they submerged into a rather gleeful conversation. I fixed my eyes on the entrance door. This might be our only chance to get away, but the uncertainty about Ayano making her way home safely on her own made me hesitate.
“Kentaro…” Ryouta almost whined with dread, nodding towards Ayano’s direction.
When I turned to look, Ayano was craning her neck in all angles in attempt to see us past mom’s body.
“Um…” she tried to say something.
Mom turned around to look towards us too, making Ryouta freeze in horror. She looked at us questioningly at first, but then raised her brows in some sort of enlightenment. Only God knew what she had realised.
She suddenly sat down on a chair beside her and smirked at Ayano, who blinked back at her in confusion.
“You think he’s good-looking, huh?” Mom said to Ayano, loud enough for nearly the entire restaurant to hear. I stared at them in disbelief while Ryouta hid his face in his hands.
Ayano widened her eyes as she stared at mom, completely flustered at the random comment she had made.
Immediately her cheeks faded into a burning pink, “P-Pardon?! I wasn’t looking at him!! I mean I wasn’t looking at him because of that!! No I mean, I just looked because I-” She waved her hands in panic but was interrupted by mom again.
“It’s fiiiiinee!” she laughed, “Actually this happens all the time. I’m already used to it! Some girls in this neighbourhood visit my restaurant regularly just to catch a glimpse of him you know! You should come more often too!” Mom started using me as bait to advertise the restaurant again. She did that to almost every girl who briefly looked at me.
Ayano gaped at mom and remained speechless as she continued to babble on.
From the corner of my eyes, I noticed a sudden movement at the front door. Ayano’s gaze momentarily switched to the same glass door too and suddenly her entire expression changed. She looked as if something had just taken the air out of her.
“Hello? Girl?” Mom tilted her head in front of Ayano’s, “What are you looking at?”
“Sorry, I’ve got to go!” Ayano apologised before getting up from her seat and running out of the restaurant in a hurry.
I stood up instantly in concern, “What’s going on? Who was at the door?” I whispered, looking at Ryouta for answers.
Ryouta also got up and shrugged, “Some guy walked past… I don’t know who, I wasn’t paying attention.”
“This place isn’t a playground she can simply run around on!” I hissed in agitation and ran after her, not wanting to let her get lost in this dangerous area. Ryouta followed close behind me.
We couldn’t see her anymore, but we were able to follow her footsteps with all the loud noises she was making.
“AKIRA?” her voice echoed from the direction of our old hangout.
“No…” I breathed in dread, “Ayano!!”
It was too late. She had already disappeared into the dark street, where the most dangerous activities of the town occurred.
“Can’t we just abandon her?” Ryouta wheezed as he grabbed hold of my arm, pulling me to a stop, “It’s her fault for running out of our sight, she deserves it.”
I pulled my arm out of Ryouta’s hand as I continued to walk forward, “We can’t just leave her out here, knowing what could happen to her.”
Ryouta sighed, tired from all the running, “You’re right, I’ll only be satisfied if I kill her with my own hands.” He muttered to himself as he followed me.
“AYANO!” I shouted, knowing there was a possibility that all the loud yelling could attract unwanted attention. But it was still better to find her before someone else did.
“Kentaro?” I heard her voice from a very shady alleyway. I walked into it and found her, staring back at me in surprise.
“Sorry… I just… I thought I saw someone I knew.” She looked down at the ground in disappointment before she turned around to look at the pitch black darkness behind her again, “But I must’ve been mistaken, there is no way that person would be in a place like this.”
“You found her?” Ryouta asked as he caught up behind me.
I wasn’t sure who she was talking about, but at that moment, I couldn’t care less.
I exhaled in relief as I leaned against the wall beside me, “I doubt you know anyone from this area, you’re lucky I found you before anyone else did.”
Suddenly, I stiffened and pushed myself off the wall. I could sense another presence in the alleyway. I heard the shuffle of someone’s shoes, but I knew it wasn’t Ryouta’s.
Ayano turned back around and looked at me, “What? ”
“Ryouta, take her home.” I ordered, never leaving sight of the darker side of the alleyway, “HURRY!”
“Ok!” Ryouta answered, startled at the sudden urgency in my voice. He grabbed Ayano by the arm and dragged her away. She was hesitating as she looked at me in concern, evidently not understanding what was going on or why I wasn’t accompanying them. But she eventually allowed Ryouta to take her away like I had demanded him to.
As soon as they had left, I took a step forward, “Who are you?”
“Not bad…” a low voice answered back like I had expected, “I was surprised when you took notice of my presence.”
I narrowed my eyes as a tall guy stepped out from the dark shadows of the alleyway. He looked like he was around my age and had black hair with eyes that were equally dark. The clothes he was wearing were coal coloured from head to toe too; it was no wonder that it was so difficult to spot him instantly in the murky shadows.
He stopped a few feet away from me and smirked, “Ayano… Is she your girlfriend?”
The utterance of Ayano’s name felt like a bolt from the blue. How did he know her name?!
I stepped forwards and instantly clenched the collar of his shirt into my fist, “I asked who the hell you are!! How do you know Ayano??” I glowered at him.
The smirk on his face still remained intact, “Trust me… You wouldn’t want to know.” He answered as a group of grown men suddenly surrounded us. I was so taken aback by the fact that he knew Ayano that I hadn’t realised it sooner. I recognised their clothing pattern. Black suits… no ordinary men wore suits as roughly and disgracefully as they did. But it was something else that confirmed my doubts.
Some of them had their tattoos visible on their hands or necks.
The red-eyed black scorpion… it was the notorious trademark tattoo of the Yakuza.
Adrenaline pumped through my blood as I tightened my grip instead of releasing him, “Be whoever you want to be, but stay away from Ayano!” I warned.
He chuckled, “But now that you’ve lost interest in my identity, I feel like telling you.”
I aggressively shoved him aside, making him stumble back a little. Still, he kept his composure as he straightened up the collar of his shirt and looked at me, “Akira is my name.”
Akira…? That was the name that Ayano was calling out a while ago!
“Katashi Oshiro’s one and only son,” he added.
I remained silent, trying to absorb the startling information. I hadn’t heard of Oshiro having a son before, but this meant that this guy called Akira was the heir to the Yakuza.
“You know exactly why we’re after you, don’t you.” He mused.
He was right, I knew. I wasn’t naïve to believe that they would simply spare me after I had witnessed an entire murder scene.
“Just get to the point.” I hissed in irritation. I wasn’t intending to be taken down without a fight, but I hated all this unnecessary talk.
“We know about you and your past. You used to be the fiercest around this area they say…” Akira mused, “I was looking forward to seeing you fight, but it looks like there might be a more interesting way to deal with you.”
I clenched my fist as he walked towards me, resisting the urge to punch the smirk off his face.
“Ayano Sakai,” he said quietly as he walked past me. I stopped breathing.
His men followed him as they made their way out of the alleyway, “I’m looking forward to see how you’ll save that girl.”