Romance is an illusion

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~Romance is an illusion~

Hearts, flowers and chocolates.

Damn it, Matsui Rena was surrounded by hearts, flowers and chocolates. She actually hated every second of it.
Of course, it was no different from any other Valentine’s Day.
Rena had been working at the Chocolates and candy shop for three years now, and every year when the red and green of Christmas gave way to the red and white of Valentine’s Day, she felt like screaming. It was a good job other than those couple months a year, but damn, those couple months were hell. Rena couldn’t remember a time she’d liked Valentine’s Day. In school, when other kids had exchanged at least those stupid little cards with heart shaped decorations, she’d invariably gotten nothing, other than maybe a pity card or two from kids who gave cards to everyone.

When she was in second year of high school, she confessed to her sempai for the first time, but he’d chosen to reject her and she’d remember that day was exactly Valentine’s. After that, Rena had made it a point not to have a boyfriend, not that many guys were interested in asking her out anyway.

So now, at twenty-two Rena was single, cynical and wishing Valentine’s Day did not exist. Along with the stupid candy hearts, heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and bouquets of flowers that the shop owner insisted on carrying at this time of year.

“Miss, what would you recommend I give my girlfriend?” asked the man at the counter. “It’s our first Valentine’s Day, and I don’t want to be too mushy, but I want to make sure she knows I’m thinking about her.”

Rena switched into sales mode. “Well sir, does she like chocolates?”

“No, she doesn’t eat refined sugar.”

Good thing he’d come to a candy store to get her a gift, then. Some of these people had to have left their brains at the curb.

“Then what about flowers?” Rena asked again.

“I think she’s got allergies. I’m not sure.”

“Then I’m afraid we may not be able to help you here, sir. All our candies and chocolates contains sugar, and the flowers are real, which means if she has allergies she’s going to have problems with them. I’d suggest the greeting card shop two doors down; they may have something she’d like.”

“I didn’t come in here so you could tell me to go somewhere else. I came in here to get a gift for my girlfriend. What kind of salesperson are you?”

“The kind who didn’t feel like dealing with an idiot during Valentine season.” Rena muttered to herself, but voiced out a different answer. “Sir, if there was anything we sold here that your girlfriend might be able to eat or to look at without sneezing, I’d tell you. Unfortunately, there isn’t.”

“You can bet I won’t waste my time coming in here again.” He stomped away.

Rena shook her head. Obviously romance made people lose their minds. Romance like that even existed. As far as she was concerned, it was only an illusion, created by the greeting card, candy and floral industries to boost their profits.

The evening wore on, with more frantic boyfriends and a few frantic girlfriends coming in to find things for their partners, interspersed with occasional parents looking for things for their children or children looking to buy for their parents. Finally, with ten minutes till closing, Rena went to the door to lock it. Just as she turned the lock, someone tapped on the window. Rena sighed and opened the door.

“May I help you, Miss?”

“Are you still open?”

It was on the tip of Rena’s tongue to say no, but a glance at the clock showed her that eight minutes still remained. Her boss wouldn’t be pleased if they lost a sale because she was sick of dealing with people for the night.

“Not quite yet.” She replied. “Please, come in.”

“Thank you. I promise I won’t take much of your time.” The smiling customer walked through the shop, stopping at the display of flowers and at the pyramid of candy boxes that Rena had had to rebuild twice that day.

“Are you looking for something for your boyfriend?” Rena asked, hoping to hurry her along.

“Oops… correction, someone I hope might become my girlfriend.” The girl replied, and flashed a playful wink at her. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“O-Oh,” Rena blushed instantly, but tried to cover it by clearing her throat. “Erm— It depends on what she likes. We have a wide assortment of candies and chocolates, and I can put a box together for you if none of our pre-packed boxes appeal to you.” Though Rena hoped the customer would take a pre-packed, so she wouldn’t have to be here any longer than necessary. “We also have flowers, though if you want to wait till Valentine’s Day to give them to her I’d recommend buying them that day so they don’t wilt in the meantime.”

“I’m not sure she’d like flowers, but candies and chocolates usually goes over well.” She walked over to the group of flowerpots that held heart-shaped lollipops. “Or maybe some of these, so she gets both. I think I’ll go with that.”

Thank goodness. A quick decision. “Would you like those boxed?” Rena asked.

She picked out half a dozen of the pops and brought them to the register.

“Yes, that would be nice if you have time. Or you could just give me a box and I’ll do it when I get home. I know it’s late.”

“Not a problem.” Rena carefully put the pops in a rectangular box and rang up her purchase.

Their hands touched as she passed the money and Rena jumped as though she had shocked her. Rena chose to ignored it, though, and told her, “Have a nice night.”

“Thanks. You too.”

Then she left, and Rena finished closing up, then went back to the efficiency apartment she called home, though there was little home-like about it. She didn’t bother staying up for the nightly news, just undressed and went to bed. To her annoyance, she dreamed about her final customer.

___________________

The next day, three days before Valentine’s Day, was more of the same. People demanding that Rena help them find the perfect Valentine gift for their loved one, people asking foolish questions, and the smell of chocolate and flowers combining to make her nauseated. It didn’t bother her any other time of year, of course. Only at Valentine’s Day.
The store was empty ten minutes before closing, but Rena intended to not lock the door, though she could have. She had a feeling that her final customer from the night before might make a repeat appearance. Sure enough, as the clock hit seven fifty five, A lady clad in a dark office suit came through the door.

“Sorry to be here so late again.” She said. “The heart pops seemed like such a great idea, I decided to come see what else I could find, but I didn’t get out of work till a few minutes ago.”

“You must work strange hours, if you don’t get out till this late.” Rena mentally kicked herself.

What difference did this girl’s work hours make to her? She didn’t want small talk; she wanted her to make her purchase so she could go home.

“Not strange, just long,” she replied. “Too long. I was at the office twelve hours today.”

“Does your potential girlfriend know about your hours? Some women would want more time with their partners than that, I’d think.”

Yeah great, like she was even remotely qualified to give relationship advice.

“Oh, I’m sure they would. I don’t have any reason to leave the office now, you see. If she agrees to what I ask her on Valentine’s Day, I’ll have someone to spend time with, and I won’t want to spend quite so much time with spreadsheets and proposals.” She went to a display of chocolate truffles that Rena had set up earlier that day. “I think I’ll take a half pound of these,” she said. “I don’t know if she likes them, but if not, maybe she’ll share with me.”

“Or you could get a full pound, half for her and half for yourself.” Rena automatically commented.

She laughed. “You’re a good salesperson. Sure, I’ll do that.”

Surprised that the customer agreed so easily, especially given the cost of the truffles, Rena weighed and boxed a pound for her and rang it up. This time when she paid, she looked into her eyes; Rena blushed and looked away.

“You’ve been wonderfully helpful.” She said. “My name’s Jurina.” extending both her arm and took Rena’s hand.

“I-I’m Rena. Nice to meet you.”

Jurina gave her hand a soft squeezed, and held it longer than a typical shake. “Nice to meet you. Have a good night.”

“Thank you. You too.” Jurina released her hand, to Rena’s relief, though part of her wished she hadn’t.

What a stupid reaction! Jurina was here buying candy for some woman she had a crush on. Thank goodness she walked out the door without noticing Rena’s reaction.

___________________

The next night, with two days to go before the dreaded holiday, Jurina came in again and bought a bag of jelly beans.

“It’s kind of a kid thing, but maybe she has a playful side.” Jurina explained.

“Could be.” Rena wished Jurina wouldn’t keep talking about her mystery woman; she was becoming unreasonably jealous.

___________________

The night before Valentine’s Day, Jurina showed up to purchase a gourmet chocolate bar.

“A little more sophisticated than jelly beans.” She said. “It’ll be a nice balance.”

“She’s going to gain a ton eating all this candy you’ve bought her.” Rena said.

Damn it, why did she have to sound like such a bitch?

Yet, Jurina didn’t seem to notice Rena’s snarkiness.
“I don’t mind a woman with a little extra. It’s what’s inside that counts, and I think inside she’s a very beautiful woman.”

Oh, god, this girl was a total sap! Rena rang up the chocolate bar and, even though it was in a wrapper, she boxed it for her. Then Jurina thanked her and left, just like every other night.

The next day was Valentine’s day, and it was a sheer nightmare. From the time they opened at nine, the store was mobbed with people desperate for last-minute Valentine chocolates, candies and flowers. Customers knocked down displays, yelled at Rena and the other workers who’d come in to help, and generally made Rena wish she’d gone into some other line of business. Like trash collecting.

But finally, around seven thirty, things tapered off. Most people were either out to dinner with their chosen Valentine or were in bed with them. Rena swatted that thought aside quickly.

She sent the other employees home and started cleaning up the shop. Every time she heard footsteps outside, she glanced up then rolled her eyes at herself. Of course Jurina wasn’t going to be here tonight. She’d probably given the woman of her dreams all the chocolates and candies, and if That woman hadn’t whacked her over the head for loading her up with it they were probably in each other’s arms right now. That mental image made Rena want to punch at something.
She was trying without much luck to sweep up the spilled sugar from a bunch of Pixy Stix in the back corner when the shop door opened. She glanced at the clock; seven fifty five. Her heart jumped, but there was no way…

“Rena?” She heard Jurina’s voice. “Are you here?”

Rena stood up. “Right here,” she said. “Did you think of something else you wanted to give her?”

“Oh, there’s plenty I want to give her.” Jurina held up all the boxes Rena had packed for her that week. “These are for you.”

Was this some kind of joke?

“What… what are you talking about?” Rena demanded.

“You never guessed. I didn’t think you had.” Jurina set the boxes on the counter and came over to her. “I told you these were for a woman I wanted to be my girlfriend. That’s you, Rena-chan.”

“You never even met me before the other night!”

Love didn’t happen that way, did it?

“True, but I’ve seen you for years now. Every night as I walk home from the office, I go past this shop, and every night I see you in here alone. The first thing I noticed about you is how your hair has this brownish glow in the lights. Then I saw how careful you are about arranging things, and how much you seem to like being here most of the time. Except this time of year. Valentine’s Day hasn’t been very good to you, has it?”

“Valentine’s Day is an illusion.” Rena said. “Romance is an illusion. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”

“Neither can I. I never thought I’d work up the guts to tell you how I feel. I might not have talked to you before the other night, but that was because I didn’t think you’d talk to me. I thought a woman as beautiful as you must have a husband, or at least a boyfriend. But you’re here every night till eight, and I’ve never seen someone stop to visit you, so I thought I might be lucky enough to find you unattached.”

“I haven’t had a bo—” Rena trailed off, “er— I mean I’m not in a relationship right now. She finished after a moment.

“And I don’t have any girlfriend. Not many think I’m worth the hours I work. I’m a workaholic, I admit, but there are times I haven’t a choice in the matter.” Jurina took both of Rena’s hands. “But there are times when I know that if I found the right one, I’d probably spend a lot more time outside work. And I think I’ve found her.”

“You don’t know anything about me.” Rena protested.

“Not much yet, but I want to learn. Come to dinner with me. I know it’s late, but I know a place that’s open late tonight, and the food’s pretty good.” She nodded toward the boxes on the counter. “And we’ve already got dessert.”

Rena had to laugh. “Why’d you buy all that, anyway?”

“So I’d have an excuse to finally talk to you. Will you go out with me tonight?”

It was ridiculous. Jurina couldn’t possibly want to spend time with her. She wouldn’t for sure after dinner; she’d probably drive her away somehow. But she seemed sincere, and even if Rena didn’t believe in romance, she believed in miracles. Maybe this was one.

“Sure, I’d like that.” She said.

Jurina quickly kissed her on the lips, sending the same shock through her that the touch of her hand had. Hopefully Jurina would want to see her again after tonight; Rena wanted more of that feeling.

“Great!” Jurina said. “I’ll wait while you close up, and then we can go.”

She started to pick up the candy boxes from the counter, but Rena shook her head.

“Leave them, unless you want them.”

“But they’re your Valentine’s gifts.”

“I know.” Rena grinned. “But I can’t stand candy.”

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