This is a Twitter thread story, which btw uses the new 280-character limit, made as a gift for (Soji fan forever, thank you) luckychan.
Knowing characters from both Activated and Harmonics is a plus, but you’ll be fine even if you don’t. Hope you like. 🙂
Soji stared at the little sign he found swinging at the coffee shop’s door: ‘Shop will close early today, at 8 o’clock. Thank you for your understanding.’ Already some customers had peered at the sign, shrugged, and walked away from the coffee shop.
He frowned at the kitchen staff and wait staff. ‘Who placed sign?’
Two employees moved. Rowan pointed to one of the cooks,that cook pointed to Rowan. ‘Erm, well,’ Rowan said,’I gave the words, he made the sign.’ It was the cook who also chalked the daily menu board.
‘Who said we’re closing early?’ he asked the staff again.
But all the staff just grinned or smiled back.
Soji crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at Rowan. ‘Rowan. What is going on?’
‘Nothing, chief, sir!’ she stammered,her cheeks turning as red as her hair.
‘Sign outside saying we close early is not nothing!’ he said, his arms still folded.
‘Um, well, at least please believe us that we’re not planning anything bad for business,’Rowan said,turning to the staff. ‘Right, guys?’
The kitchen and wait staff nodded with knowing grins.
Soji scratched his head. But several customers came in through the door and everyone went back to their places in the kitchen,as Rowan headed off to make sure the new people got seated.
He left the sign at the front door,but sighed as another two people peered at it and left.
Other people came in and left,keeping everyone busy,enough that Soji forgot about the strange sign for some times. But other people looked at the sign and also left. All he could do was roll his eyes at Rowan and the rest of his staff.
An hour before the early closing, the coffee shop got very busy with take-out orders. Some of the people who had seen the sign earlier came back after an hour or so, but only to order take-out pasta or muffins.
‘What’s happening tonight?’ some asked.
‘In-store event,’ Rowan said.
But all the take-out orders were filled, as Soji got everyone moving at a good pace to answer the orders. And even he was relieved as the Rowan turned their sign to ‘Closed’, while keeping the first early-closing announcement.
He raised an eyebrow as the staff smiled at him.
Someone rapped at the front door.
Rowan rushed to open it, and let in Master Beika.
‘Thank goodness I’m not on duty!’ she said as she entered. She walked straight up to Soji and placed a box into his hands.
Soji looked down at the box then up at her. ‘Thank you, but why?’
‘What do you mean, why?’ Beika said as she wrapped her arms around his neck. ‘Happy birthday, my favorite Selati.’
This became the cue for trays to be brought out, filled with little pastries and enough pasta for the staff, and maybe some more extra people.
Soji blinked at them all.
Another person opened the main door quietly, and let himself in. He stood by the door, watching the kitchen staff mingle around Soji, until Beika noticed. ‘Hey,Lan!’
Lan smiled slightly as he raised a hand to wave. But Beika yanked him forward with a laugh.
Lan raised a carboard bag held up with yarn, as he smiled a small smile. His pale cheeks colored slightly. ‘For you.’
Soji peered down at the bag. Covered with some paper tissue, but visible from the top,
was a button-down cotton shirt. He bowed to him deeply.
Soji did not get to say anything more to Lan, as Chie and her parents came in, smothering him in hugs and Selati birthday greetings.
‘You keep to yourself too much,dear!’ Chie’s mother, his cousin, said. ‘Let us celebrate!’
‘I…but I…cannot afford…’ he said.
‘That’s what we’re here for,my dear!’ she said, then switched to Pendika. ‘Let us eat,let us eat!’
She had brought peach cake, the way it was done in Selatan, the way his mother made it. Soji made good peach cake,but never like this.
The tables were brought together as the staff gathered the food and sat around. Beika and Lan sat together, as Rowan pulled Soji to sit beside them. On his other side were Chie and her parents.
Just then the door crashed open,as everyone looked to the door.
Marceau tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘What?’ She glowered at everyone as her cheeks reddened. ‘Someone told me to come. Well, here I am. Stop staring!’
‘Of course, green hag!’ Beika led her to the table with them, as Marceau scowled, as Soji grinned.
Last to arrive were Ren and Johann, also bringing small gifts with them. Rowan sat them with her, not so far from her chief.
Soji stood, watching the circle of friends and relatives around him. ‘Thank you,’ he said, bowing low to them all. ‘That is…all I can say. Thank you.’
He gestured to everyone to start the eating, which the kitchen staff began, scooping up pasta and the peach cake. The peach cake also reached the other friends, as Lan and Beika took their shares.
‘Wait!’ Marceau stood, placing a box on the table.’My family sends their greetings.’
The kitchen staff oooohed as they opened the box. It was a sampler of chocolate truffles, clearly from the renowned kitchen staff serving Marceau’s father and family. They quickly grabbed their pieces. Such truffles rarely made their way to the school and business district.
Soji himself, though, assured that everyone was seated and eating, made his way to the kitchen, then the pantry.
He slunk to the floor as the sounds of laughter and conversation reached the pantry.
He buried his head in his arms, as tears fell onto his shirt.
He had told none of his friends in Pendi when his birthday was. Rowan might have gotten the information from Chie. But since he arrived, it was a thing he allowed to pass without fanfare, not even special food.
Being alive and well and accepted in Pendi was a lot and plenty. His birth needed no celebrating. He did not deserve any sort of celebrating of his existence. He did not even deserve to be alive and free. And yet people were making noises and eating, because of him. So he allowed the tears to fall, where no one could see. He was not even supposed to be here, having all this, having people happy for him.
A warmth settled beside him.
‘Soj? You alright?’
He rubbed his eyes and cheeks and looked up at Beika. ‘Yes. No. I do not know.’
Beika placed her hand over his. ‘We love you. We want you happy. That is why we’re celebrating. We love you being with us. We promise.’
‘No buts, my friend. You are one of us now. And it’s your night. Come.’
He wrapped his arms around Beika, as more tears fell onto her tunic. ‘I have friends now. Why. Why.’
‘Because you’re a friend to us.’
‘No buts, my friend. None.’
He tightened his embrace. He had friends. And family.
‘Come,my friend,’Beika said. ‘You’ll miss on the cake. Rowan’s eating a lot of it.’
He chuckled as he let go, as they walked back.
As everyone at the table all started singing happy returns.