All Bets are Off
(Written for the 2021 Kyoko's Birthday Minibang. A continuation from Fried Chicken and Assumptions.
Go to ch. 24 of this collection if you want to read it first for some context. Or proceed forward with reckless abandon. I respect it.)
Kyoko's birthday dinner was winding down, though the conversation was still lively between the usual suspects who attended. Thus far, both she and Ren managed to avoid suspicion about the status of their as-yet-unnamed relationship. Of course, she couldn't help but exchange glances with him every now and then while he sat across the table next to their manager. Nestled as she was between Kanae and Chiori, that was about all she could do.
Lory's voice boomed from across the table, causing Kyoko's head to dart up and her entire body to go rigid.
"Am I correct in assuming something has occured between you and that guy over there?" He nodded his head in Ren's direction. "Your dynamic has changed significantly."
"I… uh… well, you see—" Kyoko stammered while her hand clenched her water glass in a death grip.
"With all due respect, that is between myself and Mogami-san, sir," Ren was swift to come to her defense.
"Oho, so something has changed!" The older man clapped with delight. "Was it a result of the two of you spending the day together yesterday?"
She watched Ren's mouth hang open for the briefest second before he snapped it shut again. "Okay, first of all, I'm not even going to ask how you know about that. Second of all, that is still our business and not yours."
"With the way you keep protesting, you're basically ordering him to keep begging you for more details," Chiori chimed in, taking a sip of whatever beverage she'd ordered that fizzed purple in a tall glass.
Choruses of 'yes' and 'tell us' came from almost everyone present. Kyoko kept her sigh on a short leash and locked eyes with Ren. His answering reluctant nod was, apparently, seen by more than just her, judging by the sudden wave of excited murmurs.
"Tsuruga-san and I discussed our feelings for each other last night, all right? Is that what you wanted to hear?!" She took the cloth napkin from her lap and draped it over her head the moment the words left her mouth. Instead of an eruption of congratulations, the room was filled with a series of murmurs and the sound of shuffling paper. Pulling the napkin from her head, she looked around to see small stacks of money exchanging hands between the others at the table.
"Hey, wait, I get half of that because she's still not calling him by his first name," Kanae demanded from her left.
Yashiro and Lory both divided their stacks in half and passed it across the table to the actress' waiting hands. Kyoko stared at the exchange, her mouth opening and closing as errant thoughts journeyed all the way to her lips before doubling back and retreating.
Ren, bless him, took up the slack. "You all actually placed bets on us?"
"If you had to sit by and watch the seemingly endless 'will they, won't they' going on between you two, you'd make it worth your while as well," his manager defended with a dissenting snort.
"So, who confessed first?" Chiori continued to leaf through the bills in her wallet as she spoke, seemingly unperturbed by the visible distress of her friend. Kyoko let out a groan and closed her eyes tight before shaking her head. Across the table, Ren took a strange and intense interest in staring at his hands in his lap.
Everyone else muttered 'ohh' and 'of course' before more money changed hands.
When Kyoko spotted her erstwhile guardians, the sweet owners of Darumaya, also handing over money, her face formed an expression of abject horror. The wife only offered her a tiny, sheepish wave and an even more sheepish smile in exchange.
"Well, I suppose that settles everything right?" Lory asked with his usual air of authority as if he were presiding over an important meeting.
To his right, Maria tugged on his sleeve and looked up at him with wide, pleading eyes. He looked at her, perplexed for a moment before nodding in understanding at the silent question she was asking.
"My dear, she won't even call Ren by his first name," he reasoned with her in a soft voice. "There's no way they've kissed."
Kyoko choked on a lungful of air while Ren slouched as far down into his seat as he could. Neither of them would look at the other or anyone else. Lory hummed thoughtfully at this and dragged their attention to him with a sharp clearing of his throat. He brought up one finger and pointed between the two of them.
The napkin found itself haphazardly over Kyoko's head once more—barely covering anything, much less her face—and the room filled with shocked gasps. And one excited cheer.
"Yes!" Maria cried out in victory.
"Aren't you a little too young to be gambling?" Yashiro grumbled, passing over a tidy sum while the others grunted in agreement.
"Just because I'm willing to give him away, does not mean I don't know my man," Maria giggled with gleeful defiance. "He's too much of a gentleman."
It was right around that point when Kyoko yanked off the napkin and slammed it onto the table. All heads snapped around to face her. An intense redness had bloomed on her face, only it wasn't from mortification.
It was from rage.
"I— I can't believe all of you! Today is my birthday and you're all here settling bets that you made about me no less!" her hands flailed while she ranted. "This is ridiculous!"
They all began to apologize at once. She whipped a hand into the air and glared at each of them.
"Save it," she commanded, her face stern. "I don't want to hear another word. Now that you all have your money, I hope you find something worthwhile to do with it since you've profited from our embarrassment."
Silence threatened to suffocate everyone in the room and no one dared to move or say anything for fear of reigniting Kyoko's wrath. The taisho and okami were the first to break it by shuffling from their seats to place a scant few bills on the table in front of Kyoko. With deep bows, they apologized.
"We should have known better," the okami admitted. "Please forgive us."
Once they left, Kanae and Chiori moved next, adding their portions to the money already on the table.
"We were going to use it to plan a girls' day out with you," Kanae explained in a low voice soaked in regret. "But we'll save up on our own so we can still do it."
Chiori only nodded in agreement and followed behind Kanae on their way out of the dining room. The rest all followed suit, leaving behind their respective shares. Yashiro was the last to leave, offering to clear both of their schedules for the next two days as an apology. Once the room was empty save for the two remaining actors, they looked at each other across the table.
"You know, I don't recall rehearsing that particular outburst of yours." Ren got up from his seat to sit beside Kyoko. "As usual, that was some brilliant improvisation."
"I think you'll be less impressed when you learn I only put the napkin over my head so that I wouldn't start laughing."
A chuckle escaped his lips and he helped her collect the multitude of bills on the table. "Well, either way we got the money as planned. What did you want to do with all this anyway?"
Kyoko grinned up at him as she stuffed the wad of cash into her purse. "You and I are going to get changed into something a little more comfortable," she purred, running a hand up the lapel of his dark suit jacket, "and we're going to do something really crazy."
Hours later, they sat on a bench in an empty park, catching their breath with satisfied smiles. Kyoko's legs were tucked up against her chest and she rested her head on her knees. A green winter cap was pulled low around her ears and she leaned against the man beside her.
"Only you would come up with something like this," Ren said between breaths. "But, did we have to do so much running?"
"I didn't want us to be spotted," she huffed. "It's no fun if someone sees you doing it."
"So, was that the last of it?"
Kyoko shook her head, smiling. "We have two unexpected days off and enough money left over to still get ourselves into some trouble."
Ren raised an eyebrow at her.
"Wanna shut off our phones, buy some train tickets, and disappear?" she asked with a glitter of mischief in her eyes.
Ren's face melted into nothing but complete adoration and a smitten sigh left his lips. "God, I love you."
"Save the romantic declarations for February," she nudged him with her shoulder. "For now, we have a train to catch. You and I still have a lot to talk about. We can work on the whole relationship defining thing later."
"I still love you, though," he insisted.
She snorted. "I should hope so. I never wanted to be proven right when I accused you of being a playboy, you know."
A warm arm wrapped around her and Kyoko snuggled further into Ren's side.
"I got the best Christmas present that I believed could only ever exist in my dreams." She felt him pull her closer. "I'd be a fool to not appreciate that."
The following morning began much like any other. However, on that particular morning, numerous people who made their homes on the sidewalks and under overpasses in the city awoke to find small bundles of a few thousand Yen hidden in their blankets and sleeping bags. There was no envelope, no note explaining how or why. Just a roll of bills tied in inexpensive, festive ribbon purchased in haste from a convenience store.
And on that same morning, the good samaritans responsible for the gifts were on the other side of the country, pointedly ignoring their phones for the next forty-eight hours while they talked of old memories from their pasts and new plans for their futures.