Note: Cafe Rouge et Noir is a parody of the Rouge et Noir series and, while there are differences in the setting compared to the CDs, there are still some spoilers. Please be aware of this.
A man walked through the light snow that fell onto the city. Dressed in a well-tailored long coat with a slender scarf and his towering height, he drew people’s eyes in the Christmas crowd. Many women who passed his defined features unconsciously looked back, but his pace didn’t slow. In the end, where he stopped was in front of an antique but stylish cafe.
The moment the man—Arlen Clive—opened the door, all the female customers inside the almost filled Cafe Rouge et Noir became noisy. There were quite a lot of female customers who visited the cafe not for the coffee or cakes but for the staff, however they rarely had the chance to see the staff in plain clothes. In short, they were excited at unexpectedly seeing Arlen’s private appearance.
Arlen, who passed through the gazes of the women without hesitation, proceeded to the back of the store where Suou stood at the kitchen entrance with a sour look.
“Good morning. Is something the matter?”
“Don’t something the matter me. I’ve constantly told you to use the back entrance during business hours.”
“Ah, my apologies. I forgot.”
In contrast to Arlen’s smiling response, a vein on Suou’s temple jumped.
“Anyway, today your shift starts at bar hours, right? What are you doing at this damnably busy last day of Christmas, vice-manager?”
“I have some business. I’m going to use the office.”
Suou looked like he still had something he wanted to say but after seeing the waiting dishes lined up on the kitchen counter he gave up.
“I’m going for lunch first.”
Several minutes after Arlen went into the office, Gilles picked up the pasta that was prepared on the kitchen counter.
“Ah, Lagrene, hold on. Before you go on break, there’s something I’d like to ask you to do.”
Gilles, who was already trying to withdraw to the storage room, stopped with his pasta in hand and an annoyed look.
“Bring this to the office.”
Saying that, Kurusu held out a plate with a familiar cake.
“This is Arlen’s birthday cake, right? That guy’s not gonna be here until the bar opens.”
“He’s in the office right now. Said he had some business.”
“When you were smoking out in the back.”
Kurusu showed a smile that could only be expressed as a sweet grin, but his voice clearly had thorns. It seemed like his hiding out for a smoke was seen through.
“Can I ask you to do this?”
“… Got it.”
Gilles dropped his shoulders in defeat and exchanged his pasta for the cake from Kurusu.
“Also, take this.”
As if he almost forgot, Kurusu placed a glass bottle in Gilles’ hand. What should have originally been jam in the bottle was now several rolled up message cards. The cap on the bottle was decorated with a red and green ribbon in good fashion. Gilles didn’t need to ask to know that the decoration had been done by Kurusu. He was the only one in the shop who could do such delicate things.
“I can’t believe a day came where I’d write a message card for Arlen’s birthday…”
Gilles showed an inexplicable smile.
“Normally, everyone would celebrate during our downtime, like what we did for you and Makabe. But customers are going to be endless tonight and, on the other hand, if we do it after the shop is closed then the 25th will be over.”
“Well, it is Christmas after all.”
“Yup, yup. So… that being the case, I’m entrusting the vice-manager to you. In fact, you can even sing the birthday song.”
“I’m not singing.”
“It was a joke.”
Kurusu took Gilles’ comment to the back and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Excuse me, Arlen.”
After a light knock, Gilles opened the office door.
Arlen, who was facing the desk and doing something, looked over his shoulder.
“I have a birthday delivery for you.”
Gilles put the plate with the cake on the desk first.
“Normally, Kurusu would do a bunch more but, unfortunately, the shop is like this today and so the messages from the other members are here.”
Following this, the bottle was placed beside the cake. However, Arlen didn’t move at all.
“… If you like, I could sing a birthday song? I can’t guarantee the product though.”
Hating the strange silence between the two of them, Gilles half-desperately brought up Kurusu’s joke. When he did, Arlen chuckled lowly. In the next second, Gilles’ eyes widened.
Because the smile Arlen showed was one he had never seen. Unlike the faint smile he frequently showed, this one had the innocence of a young man and it had more than enough attractive power to bewilder Gilles.
“… Arlen? Was the joke that funny…?”
“No, I wasn’t laughing about that.”
Arlen’s shoulders shook and then he gently touched the bottle with the messages.
“This is a good store.”
Gilles nodded, unclear and not understanding the words that made it sound as if it were another person’s business.
“Thank you and tell that to everyone. Also, I’ll listen to your singing some other time.”
“『Yes, sir』. I’m leaving then.”
Relieved from the bottom of his heart that he didn’t really end up singing, Gilles left the office.
“… Now then, it’s about time.”
Around the time the digital clock on the desk passed four o’clock, Arlen stood up and put on his coat. This time he exited the shop through the back entrance. Gilles stood in front of an ashtray at the edge of the parking lot.
“Huh, are you going home, Arlen?”
Gilles, who was just about to light his smoke, seemed to have trouble getting a light and, holding the cigarette in his mouth, he flicked the lighter multiple times.
“Did you run out of oil?”
“Looks like it.”
Grumbling about how he was unlucky, Gilles shoved his lighter into the pocket of his mods coat that he wore on top of his uniform. When he did, Arlen silently reached into his own coat and brought out a lighter to light the cigarette in Gilles’ mouth.
“You can smoke with this now, yes?”
Confused, Gilles managed to squeeze out his thanks.
“Well, I’m gonna go now. Try not to let this happen next time.”
Arlen suddenly smiled and then turned to leave, the hem of his coat fluttering.
“… Does he smoke? I haven’t seen him do that lately though.”
Gilles knew that Arlen smoked more or less, but compared to his own heavy smoking the frequency that Arlen smoked wasn’t much at all. It was to the point that Gilles had thought he stopped smoking, so it was unexpected to see him walking around with a lighter. Of course, as his boss, he had no memories of Arlen ever lighting his smoke like he did just now.
“… It was probably just on a whim.”
His relationship with Arlen was relatively long. He knew that Arlen occasionally liked to do things on a whim to confuse him.
“Guess I should go back now.”
After reluctantly taking in his last deep drag, Gilles pressed his cigarette into the ashtray. Then, when he was about to return to the shop, he suddenly realized something and stopped.
“… ‘I’m gonna go’?”
Turning around, there was no one at the end of Gilles’ line of sight anymore.
By the time it was six o’clock, there was a thin blanket of snow on the ground of the parking lot. The snow had stopped once but it began to fall again in the evening.
“It’s unusual for Kaasa to snow like this.”
Arlen, who entered the shop from the back entrance, took off his coat and lightly brushed off the snow before opening the door to the office. There, his eyes widened at the sight.
There was a cake and bottle on the desk, as well as a small present box. However, the cake was half-eaten and it was accompanied with a handwritten note.
『It was so delicious.』
Arlen picked up the note and read out the written message.
“Delicious… Don’t just say that, good grief.”
Identifying the person from the penmanship of the message and guessing as to how this situation was created, Arlen’s mouth relaxed and his expression softened.
He sat down in the chair like that, tapped on the screen of his phone, and made a call. After the ringing continued for a while, the call connected.
“Are you the culprit who stole half of my birthday cake?”
Towards the mischievous words, which were the first thing out of Arlen’s mouth, at the other end “he” laughed and nodded.
“You’re a bad man.”
Like he was drawn in, the corner of Arlen’s mouth also rose and he picked up the present box.
“I received your present. And the ones from everyone in the shop too.”
Through the phone, “he” nodded. In the background, the vague announcement of an airplane arriving could be heard. “He” was likely at an airport right now.
“When did you come here?”
This morning, “he” said.
“That’s just like you.”
Arlen understood this phantom “him” better than anyone else. So, he didn’t blame him. After he said this, “he” told Arlen that he was going to board the plane now.
“Mm, until next time.”
Arlen said those last words to “him” and ended the call. He placed his phone on the desk and smiled gently.