"Wow! Are you really open all night?"
"Like, all night, all night?"
"And we can get anything no matter how late it is?"
Satsuki laughed merrily as new customers and regulars filed into Maid Latte.
"Just for tonight," she said cheerfully. "I wanted to see what it would be like to run an all-night diner. I told my girls the last one standing gets to pick the next theme day."
"I'm betting on Honoka," a young college student said.
Honoka, passing by, smiled in surprise at the seeming compliment.
"…because she can't stand for anyone to be better than her."
Honoka frowned. Of course.
"I think Erika has a good chance, she's so enthusiastic."
"No, I'd bet on Misa if we were betting. She's the hardest worker here."
It was fortunate that neither Misa nor Honoka heard this. Misa scorned popularity and Honoka—well, she was just…Honoka.
As the customers settled in to start their orders, the pace started picking up. Table ten needed five burgers, all "well done but not too well done" and a group of high-school girls (surprising, as even one girl dining at Maid-Latte was unusual) at table five spent five minutes gawking over the guys before they realized Subaru was waiting for their order.
And a regular, an aloof but distinguished professor from a nearby, college, had earned enough points to pose with a maid of choice for a photo. He picked Gon-chan, who was still holding a tray full of miso soup bowls.
"Let me just put this down, first, Master," she said worriedly.
"No, hold it up," the man said crisply. "I want to see you in action. Okay, put your other arm around me…"
A crashing sound and the tinkling of glass immediately followed the request.
"Dammit," Gon-chan cursed softly.
The professor turned to her and spoke as if she was a student that needed scolding.
"Look at that! Now there is soup on my leg and my shoes! You're lucky it wasn't hot soup! You really need to be more careful!"
Gon-chan turned white but did not react, cleaning up the mess with a mop and bucket rushed to her by Saru. When the man looked at her as if expecting an apology, she levelled her gaze with a strained dignity.
"Honestly, if you can't balance trays properly, you should find an easier job, if that's possible," the customer harassed her.
"Is there something wrong, Master?" an icy voice asked, a voice Gon-chan was stunned to discover belonged to Satsuki.
The café manager was looking at the professor with a reproving glare; gone was her usually cheery countenance.
"Pay your bill and get out," she snapped. "I won't have you treating my girls like that. It was an accident. You should try working at a restaurant, I bet you wouldn't last a week."
The furious man threw a wad of bills on the table and stalked off, too aware of the outraged expressions and whispered but pointed remarks of the other patrons.
Satsuki herself took over Gon-chan's table while the humiliated young woman finished her work quietly and then went to the break room to collect herself. Subaru, who was on a break, was quick to comfort her.
Meanwhile, Sayu was serving a very unusual customer.
"They only come out at night," she muttered to herself as she approached the table.
The customer was about Misa's age. His hair was styled into spikes with hair gel, and each spike was a different shade of the colors of the rainbow. He wore a necklace with a skull pendant on it, a leather jacket with metal studs, and frayed blue jeans with a skull pattern on them. Completing the outfit were brightly sequined high-tops.
"Can I get you anything, Master?" Sayu asked as politely as possible, trying not to stare at the bizarre getup.
The strange young man leaned back lazily in his seat as he gave his order.
"Let's see…I'll have the create your own burger…two slices of cheddar cheese, exactly five jalapeno slices, onions sautéed a light golden-brown, a tablespoon of sweet relish, and hold the ketchup. Oh, and I'd like the custom tea cake topped with powdered sugar, cocoa, chocolate shavings, and marshmallows."
Saru felt like her head was spinning as she wrote down the order at a rapid rate. Who was this guy? He was as demanding as five customers put together!
"God, that's the stupidest order I've ever gotten."
When the bizarrely attired boy looked up, Saru realized she had spoken aloud.
"I-I-I'm so sorry, Master!" she stammered. "I didn't mean to be so rude. I—was just a little surprised, is all. I never knew a customer with such unique tastes!"
"Relax, Saru," Misa paused on her way to the kitchen with a stack of dirty plates. "Usui, would you stop being a pain?"
"U-Usui?" Saru stared.
"Nobody else gives these insane orders," Misa said, grinning at the "stranger". "And he might be able to disguise himself with that ridiculous get up, but he can't hide those eyes."
Her last few words ended on an affectionate note and she immediately turned away, blushing, but not before Saru gave her a teasing grin and exchanged a knowing wink with Usui.
"Just get that order to the kitchen," Misa snapped, "and please apologize to the chef for him."
She glared daggers at her boyfriend.
By midnight, the staff was exhausted. When the last of the customers finished eating, the CLOSED sign was put in the door and the work of closing up began.
At last an exhausted Satsuki and her staff sat down.
"Well, I've been watching all of you tonight. You've all done splendidly, but I've decided who the winner is," Satsuki said. "Hanoka, you had the most tables of all and some of the most demanding customers, and didn't even mind when that group from the anime convention walked in at the last minute. You get to pick the next theme day!"
The other girls began to offer their congratulations, but Honoka interrupted.
"No, thank you," she said, surprisingly humble.
The other girls stared. Honoka continued to speak.
"Gon-chan deserves it. I couldn't have held it together when that professor was so cruel to her. I would've either run out or said something I couldn't take back. But you"—here she turned to an astonished Gon-chan with a genuine smile—"really kept up your dignity. I bet that pig didn't expect you to be so nice."
"You mean it?" Gon-chan gasped.
"Of course I mean it. I always mean what I say and say what I mean," Honoka sniped, back to her usual tartness.
"Then it's settled," Satsuki said proudly. "You really were fantastic, Gon-chan, and I can't wait to see what theme you come up with!"
The entire team enthusiastically agreed with Honoka's generous gesture.
A/N: the professor in this story is based on the rude customers I and my coworkers have encountered in retail. One in particular stands in my memory, a woman who got angry when I packed her bags "too heavy" and then when I repacked it to be lighter, said I was damaging the environment by using too many bags!
Unfortunately, my manager at the time never backed up any of her employees like Satsuki did.