Bad For Business by Sereia

Chapter 1

"Another cup?" Kagome asked, flashing the customer a bright smile. Well, as bright as she could manage, given the circumstances. The lady nodded, thanking her before going back to her paper, allowing Kagome to slip into the back and breathe.

Any normal person would've taken time off after the death of a family member, but not Kagome Higurashi. This was something she needed to push through, to distract herself from, and working was the best thing for that.

The cafe was cozy, only allowing twenty or so patrons at a time, so she never felt overwhelmed, even on her best day.

And this was far from her best day.

Even now, she felt the tears welling up, burning the insides of her throat as she tried to swallow the grief she had worked so hard to avoid.

Gramps was gone—had been for a while—but it was the first spring she'd spent without him, and seeing the blossoms form on the trees without his wrinkled smile to go with them was proving to be more challenging than she thought.

He'd been sick for a while, so there was no point in wallowing. He'd told her not to, anyway. Yet here she was, hiding between customers, images of his sunken but smiling face filtering through her mind.

A hand touched her shoulder. "Ya shouldn't have come in today." Bankotsu's face was full of concern when she turned around. "I told ya I'd cover your shift. It's never that bad on Thursdays, anyway." Tanned with broad shoulders, the eldest brother of seven looked more like a yakuza member than a café worker. She'd thought it was a joke when Bokuseno introduced him, but Bankotsu was surprisingly talented in latte art.

There had been an influx of female customers since he'd started, and Kagome had worried she'd have to take on the role of babysitter, constantly shooing away his fans or reminding him to focus on the orders. However, he proved himself a diligent worker, only smiling enough to encourage the women to return but not enough to cause a distraction.

He'd also been an enormous help when it came to stocking inventory, refusing to let Kagome, or anyone else, carry in heavy boxes, and stepping in when the delivery driver tried to short-change them, the man quickly apologizing for the mix-up and promising to bring the missing items during his next run.

How Bankotsu had ended up serving coffee instead of time was beyond her, but she appreciated the compassion she seemed to stir in him. He'd lost his parents just as he'd finished high school, taking on the role of working man and caregiver to his younger brothers instead of accepting the kendo scholarship.

He ran a dojo on the side, or at least, he was trying to, but the café was a steady source of income, and since some of his siblings were still in school, paying the bills came first.

Kagome patted his hand, her smile forced and contrite. "The noise keeps my mind from wandering."

Bankotsu sighed. "Fine. But let me know if ya need an extra break. Jak doesn't like it when you get overworked." A genuine smile tugged at her lips. Jakotsu was the youngest, currently in his last year of primary school, but he'd taken an instant liking to Kagome, bringing her art from school or flowers from their garden.

She'd been worried his crush would end in tears, but Bankotsu had confided that the little boy was trying to set the two of them up instead. Kagome had stammered and tried to come up with an excuse, but he'd just waved her off. "Don't worry, Kags. You're not my type. Besides, I like ya too much to ruin what we've got here."

She'd been relieved, then curious, asking what he looked for in a partner, and he'd flashed her a mischievous grin before holding his hand above her head. "Someone taller."

She'd threatened to cut off his ponytail and use it to strangle him.

The front door chimed, but his hand remained firm on her shoulder. "Focus on clearing the current tables. I've got this one." He walked away before she could argue, greeting a trio of businesswomen on their lunch break before leading them into his section. Torn between guilt and gratitude, she grabbed an empty tray, keeping her eyes down and her hands steady as she collected used cutlery and dishes.

It wasn't long before the door chimed again, and Kagome turned to greet their newest customer, refusing to let Bankotsu take all of them.

"Good afternoon, Higurashi."

She immediately relaxed, waving the man over to his usual table. "Hello, Hojo. Have you had a productive day?"

"As much as can be expected," he replied with a smile. She didn't bother with a menu; Hojo had been a customer for several months, and his order never changed. They only saw each other while she was working, but his expectations were low, always telling her to deal with other patrons before worrying about him.

It always made for an easier shift.

"Would you like some tea while I put your order in?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"Always. Thank you, Higurashi." She filled his cup, then ducked into the back, thankful for another moment to breathe. With Hojo here, she wouldn't have to check in as often as she would with a new customer.

He was one less person she had to pretend with.