Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ The Amorous Adventures of Ayame the Ramen Girl ❯ The Stock Is Just Not Good Enough ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

CHAPTER 2: The Stock Is Just Not Good Enough
No one had ever sent flowers to Ayame before, especially not expensive red roses. She immediately unwrapped the roses, but then realized she had no vase in which to place them. The best she could do was a large glass jar that use to hold pickled vegetables. But still she displayed them proudly in the middle of the counter for everyone to see.
Since then, Ayame was on cloud nine! Maybe even cloud 9.5! Her ramen was surpassing all human effort! Service with an extra broad smile and a twinkle in her eyes - the customers now noticed that she was quite pretty. Each male customer thought she was flirting with him, that she was treating him special. She gave each customer extra noodles! Extra toppings! Extra condiments! But her father was not pleased.
“Ayame, what are you doing? You're cutting into the profits. Why are you giving everyone extra noodles, extra toppings and extra condiments? I'll have to raise the prices now.”
“But we're getting more customers now, aren't we? They're also coming back for dinner. It's a better value for the price.”
“Well, that's true. Hmm, I'll have to crunch some numbers to evaluate our profit margin. You know, running a business is like a bowl of ramen. If it's an extra big bowl, you'll have food left over.”
“I don't get it.”
“You know…it means…it means…it's like the law of diminishing returns, you know.”
“Sigh, the food that is left over is wasted and it cuts into the profits.”
Ayame looked at her father quizzically, then changed the subject. “Dad, I also bought a special heating apparatus with a thermal indicator.”
“A what?”
“A new pot and a thermometer.”
“What for?”
“I've been thinking, that in order to make the perfect bowl of noodles, I'll start with the serving temperature. If we keep the stock at slightly above body temperature, it should be not too hot, more than warm, the perfect temperature to drink. This pots heats more evenly and the thermometer will monitor the temperature.”
“You've been really thinking about this haven't you?”
“I'm seriously serious. Now about the size of the vegetables…”
 `Wow, ever since Iruka-sensei sent her those flowers, the ramen at Ichiraku has been amazing!' Naruto thought excitedly as he finished his ninth bowl. Iruka had been too embarrassed to join him at Ichiraku, but that should change soon. When the ramen girl finds out that he, the great Naruto, was responsible for getting the two of them together, why it could mean free ramen for life! That thought excited him more than learning the rasengan!
“Hey, hey, miss, how about another bowl?”
“Another, Naruto-kun? Don't you think you've had enough?”
“Maybe, but I'm not bursting yet. I have to say your ramen is better than ever!”
“Do you really think so, Naruto-kun?” Ayame smiled broadly at him.
“Well, I'm trying to be the best ramen chef in all of Fire Country. Say, why hasn't your sensei been around?” She tried to act casual but her red face gave her away.
“Oh, well, he's been busy, but I'm sure you'll be seeing him soon,” Naruto said while in between gulping down his noodles.
Iruka had never had much luck in love. It seemed girls always fell for the cool dangerous guys, not the nice honest ones, so he was extremely surprised and flattered that the ramen girl had fallen for him. But because of his inexperience, he did not know quite what to do next or how to act in front of her so he had been purposely avoiding the ramen stand. He needed time to think and to plan. He was now having his self-packed lunch, a couple of plum riceballs, at his desk where Naruto tracked him down.
“Hey, hey, Iruka-sensei, how's it going with the ramen girl?”
“Well, I sent her flowers yesterday and I signed up for a package plan so she'll get more flowers tomorrow and later this week.”
“That's it?”
“Well, yeah, what's wrong with that?”
“What about a date?”
“I'm working up to it. Don't worry, I have a plan.”
“Tell me, tell me!”
“For the next bouquet I'll include a note asking her out for a movie and then a late dinner or drinks.”
“You think so?” asked Iruka, suddenly concerned. He had taken Ino's advice:
”Now in the second bouquet, you should include a note asking her out to a movie and then dinner,” Ino suggested.
“You mean dinner and a movie,” corrected Iruka.
“No, no! Why go out for dinner and then a movie? It makes more sense to go to a movie and then dinner. That way you'll definitely have something to talk about during dinner or drinks...”
Naruto insisted, “You're a shinobi. Do something exciting with her. That's what she'll expect!”
“Something exciting? Hmm…like what?”
“Lets see…tree climbing? Mountain climbing? Bungee jumping? Take her on a mission to show off your skills! You can show her the sexy-no-jutsu guy style! Ha-ha-ha! Yeah, that's it!” Naruto started laughing hysterically at the thought of naked Iruka.
“Grrrr…I don't think that's a good idea! Besides, no civilians allowed on missions,” Iruka said angrily.
At the tone of Iruka's voice, Naruto wisely calmed down. “Oh, well, what movie do you plan to see?”
“Sigh, good question.” Iruka took out the newspaper, folded it back to the movie listings and looked at choices available. `Hmm, if I take her to see “Make-Out Violence” what would she think of me? No, not that one. No rated G stuff, she'd think I'm a wimp. Ok, then PG or PG-13. But PG-13 might have some bad language or sexual innuendo. Can't have that, it might make her uncomfortable. Okay, is there a PG family flick?' “I think I'll take her to this one …“
More roses arrived at the little ramen stand. Ayame carefully unwrapped the box and looked for another container to place the new roses. The roses from the other day sat at the far end of the counter. She had originally placed the jar smack in the middle, but her father said it took up too much counterspace and interfered with serving the customers. She settled on an old jar that had held seaweed. She filled it with water, placed the new roses in it, then placed the jar on the opposite end of the counter.
She almost missed the note, but luckily saw it before she threw out the box. It asked Ayame to meet tomorrow for a movie at 9:30PM and a late bite to eat. The stand officially closed at 9PM.
`How considerate, he knows my schedule! I can get off a bit earlier to change. Dad can close up. But what should I wear?' She thought frantically. `Fishnet, what do I have in fishnet. Just one lousy pair of stockings. Okay, what else can I wear? Bandages? Some kunoichi wear bandages around their bodies, but that looks so uncomfortable. And what if…what if things get intimate? It would take forever to unwrap them! Okay, no bandages. Okay, fishnet stockings have to be worn with a dress or a skirt. Hmm, skirt and blouse is a bit less formal. Easier to take on and off too...'
Ayame's thoughts were interrupted by her little accomplice Sakura who dropped by the ramen stand, before running errands, to see if there was any progress with Kakashi.
“Look, look Sakura-chan, he's asked me out on a date for tomorrow, Ayame said excitedly.
“Hey, that's really great! Where are you guys going?”
Ayame suddenly recalled the promise she made to Sakura. `Well, it's the first date, I can't have Sakura tag along yet. Sometime later, maybe the third date. She won't mind waiting a while longer.' “I'm not sure yet. I'm supposed to meet him somewhere… I'll let you know,” Ayame said evasively. “Sakura-chan, what kind of girl does Kakashi-sensei usually like? I mean, what should I wear?”
“Well,” Sakura thought about the books her perverted sensei was always reading, “he likes girls who are forward with their feelings, tough assertive types who know what they want.”
“I see…like a kunoichi?”
“Well, yeah, I guess so…”
Ayame analyzed every piece of her wardrobe and undergarments until she made her final decision - she needed to go shopping! She had less than two hours tomorrow morning before the ramen stand opened.
Most of the shops in Konoha didn't open until past 9AM and Ayame had to be at the ramen stand by 11AM. So hard to be a working girl, she had been working with her dad at the ramen stand ever since she could remember. It was practically all she knew. She had few nice clothes since she rarely needed them. Who would see them underneath her stained ramen robes?
She looked in the store windows and decided on a little boutique that looked quite hip. After waiting for 30 minutes, a young man with hair funkier than Kakashi's, and in a weird assortment of colors, came to open shop. He looked at Ayame and smiled. “Our first customer of the day! What a lovely way to start. Anything I can help with, just ask pretty lady.” He gave her a wink, but somehow Ayame felt he was not interested in women.
“I'm looking for something…exciting. You know, kunoichi-like.”
“Ahh, yes, the kunoichi look. That's the newest, coolest fashion fad.”
“Really? Then you have fishnet and bandages?”
“In any style you want, sweetie.” He showed her an assortment of products: a tube top sewn to mimic bandages coupled with a loose fishnet shirt, shorts that looked like layers of bandages, gloves and socks sewn to look like bandages, some with blood splatters to look even more authentic.
“Hmm…the blood looks a bit tacky, but I'll take the bandage tube top and the fishnet blouse.” She looked around the store at some odd accessories - collars with studs, leather shirts with chains, some items she could not identify, and then settled on a plain leather mini-skirt.
Ayame felt the fishnet stockings cutting into her legs and she could feel welts rising and rashes forming. But she could bear anything for Kakashi! The leather skirt was so form fitting she could barely move and she could barely walk in her high heel sandals. The bandage tube top bound her chest so tightly she could barely breathe. But she could bear anything for Kakashi! Ayame had shoulder length brown hair but it was usually tied up in a kerchief. Now she had it long and loose and moussed up in the front. But she had used too much gel and mousse so that her bangs stood up like kunai blades.
When she arrived at the movie theater, she looked around for the man of her dreams. But she only recognized the man with dark brown hair, tied neatly back in a ponytail, standing there with a bunch of assorted flowers, blushing and looking very uncomfortable. Iruka was dressed in his usual shinobi attire since he had a late day at the office. Ayame walked over, smiled at him and said, “Hello, Iruka-sensei,” while her eyes continued to search for Kakashi.
Iruka practically shoved the flowers at her, saying, “Uh, these are for you.”
“For me?”
“Yes. I thought they'd be a nice change from the roses.”
`The roses…oh crap! He's the secret admirer, not Kakashi!' She felt like jumping into a cold well inhabited by a corpse with telekinetic powers. But Ayame was a practical girl. `Well, it would be impolite to just leave now. I mind as well go through with this date. It's a free movie at least. And Iruka-sensei is a nice enough guy. Should lose that geeky ponytail though…sooo not cool.'
Iruka bought the tickets, and offered to get popcorn and soda, but Ayame declined. `I have to watch my figure for Kakashi,' she thought. Iruka held open the doors, let her in first, and waited until she was seated, a perfect gentleman. The movie was just starting.
About 30 minutes into the movie, Iruka thought about placing his arm around her shoulders, but he looked behind him first to ensure that he wouldn't be interfering with someone's view (because he's such a great guy). He noticed a crown of spiky yellow hair trying to hide in the backseats, and realized he'd been followed!
“Er, excuse me, I need to…buy some candy. Would you like anything?” he asked his date.
“Huh? Oh, no, I'm fine.” All Ayame could think about was, `Why isn't it Kakashi? Stupid, stupid Sakura, it's all her fault!'
On his way out of the theater, Iruka grabbed Naruto by the ear. “What do you think you're doing? Quit following me!” he admonished.
“I just wanted to see if you needed any help,” the boy protested.
“I don't need help from a twelve-year-old!”
“Hey, that's gratitude for you! Who do you think got the two of you together?”
Iruka calmed down and gave Naruto an appreciative smile. “Thanks, Naruto. But it's just the first date. How about some privacy?”
“But I already paid for the movie ticket!”
“Fine, I'll reimburse you later. Now if you don't mind…” Iruka gave him a scowl then returned to his seat.
Upon his return, Ayame looked at him and asked, “So where's the candy? I'd like some, too.”
“Huh? Candy? Oh, I…uh…went to the men's room instead. I'll get some now. Anything in particular?”
“Hmm, just a plain chocolate bar.” `Sigh, I really need some chocolate! It's supposed to be equivalent to sex in terms of releasing endolphins or serotonic or something like that.' Ayame had recently read an article on chocolate in her “Ramen and Sake Magazine.”
Iruka got up again and headed toward the back of the theater when he saw a pretty blonde girl with ponytails and bright blue eyes and… whiskers! “Naruto!” Iruka whispered harshly, "Get of here or I'll…”
After the movie, Iruka tried to engage his date in conversation, discussing the plausibility of henge using a polymorphic potion instead of chakra seals. It was a silly movie about kids in magic school, but it had some decent special effects. Ayame smiled and nodded, but not being a shinobi, she had no clue of the parallels between the fantasy magic movie elements and real life shinobi jutsu.
Then Iruka brought her to a bar, a classy one that served sake in respectable and clean cups. Ayame was silent throughout most of their time together (thinking about Kakashi) so Iruka felt the need to compensate. `She's so shy, how adorable,' he thought. He tried telling her jokes and amusing anecdotes.
“…so how many ANBU do you need to screw in a lightbulb?”
She shrugged, disinterestedly.
“Two, one to screw it in and another dead one to climb on.” `Oh, that was not a good one.' “How many Kage do you need to screw in a lightbulb…”
Ayame thought,`I need to somehow gear the conversation to find out more about Kakashi.' She smiled and pretended to laugh at Iruka's punchline, even though she had no idea what he just said.
“So you and Naruto-kun are pretty close?”
“Oh, yes, he's like a… son to me.” `This way she'll know I'm a family guy.'
“Are you close to any of your other students? I mean, you have so many. Do sensei become attached to their students?”
“Well, we're not supposed to have favorites, but Naruto is special because I'm an orphan like he is.”
“You are?”
“Yes, my parents were killed fighting against the fox demon twelve years ago.”
“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.” `Poor guy, but I need to get back on track.'
“So is Naruto close to his other sensei…Kakashi-sensei…isn't it?”
Kakashi? Not really. Naruto is always complaining about how Kakashi-sensei ignores him and favors his rival Sasuke.
“I'm sure he's fond of Naruto, too.”
“Yes, but he's the type who's too cool to show it.” `Who cares about Kakashi anyway? Arrogant bastard.'
“So he's a jounin and you're a chuunin?”
`Great just stab me in the back and pierce my heart while you're at it,' thought Iruka miserably. He was a bit sensitive about his rank. “Yes, but I'm trying to make jounin. Should be soon.”
“What's the difference?”
“Jounin are usually assigned more dangerous missions, but chuunin missions often develop into missions just as dangerous,” Iruka explained a bit defensively. “But enough about me, what about you? Have you always helped your dad at the ramen stand?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, ever since I can remember…” `So Kakashi goes on lots of dangerous missions. How exciting! Yet worrisome, what if something happens to him?'
“Are you happy running a ramen stand? Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I always try to encourage my students to do their best and achieve their dreams. Like Naruto wants to be Hokage.”
“Well, currently I'm trying to be the best ramen cook in all of Fire Country.”
“Oh, I guess that's a worthy ambition.” `She's quite a simple girl, isn't she, but I like that.' “So are you busy tomorrow? I hear there's a fair at Otafuku Village. It's mainly for tourists but it could be fun. We can catch a wagon just outside the main gate.”
I don't know. I'll have to think about it. I usually work during the day even when there are no customers. We have to do a lot of food preparation. Plus we make our noodles from scratch,” she said proudly. “But maybe after the lunch rush,” she added when she saw the sad puppy dog look of disappointment in his eyes.
“Okay, I'll drop by for lunch and you can give me your answer then. Maybe we can go after that and make it back before the dinner rush hour.”
“Yes, okay we'll see…”
Another date with Iruka? Could she bear it? He's nice enough but…he's not Kakashi!
(Author's note: Endorphins and serotonin are purposely misspelled as part of Ayame's slight lack of intelligence. Also, Iruka means dolphin. (Otafuku is the lodging village 10km from Konoha))
Ayame was confused and depressed. The pound of chocolate she ate this morning hadn't helped at all. `So much for endolphins,' she thought. It wasn't a bad date with Iruka, but it just wasn't anything special. He paled so much in comparison to Kakashi that she looked right past him and his good qualities.
Back at work in the ramen stand, Ayame chopped her vegetables slowly and disinterestedly. When was Kakashi ever going to ask her out? Her ruminations were disturbed when Sakura entered her peripheral vision.
“Sakura! Sakura! What did you do?” Ayame called.
“Me? What are you talking about? What's going on with Kakashi-sensei?”
“Nothing's going on! Nothing at all! That's the problem.”
“What about those roses and the note?”
“They're from Iruka-sensei!”
“Iruka-sensei? He's a great guy, why don't you go for him instead?”
“No, no! I want Kakashi! You have to help me!”
“I already did.”
“But I haven't seen or heard from him. I thought the roses were from him but they're not. What am I going to do? Iruka-sensei asked me out again, but I'm not interested.”
Sakura thought about Ayame's dilemma for a minute. Iruka-sensei really was the better choice, but she knew how love made no sense. After all, she was in love with a guy whose idea of a good time was intensive blindfolded target practice. “Wait a sec, I have an idea. Why don't you go out with Iruka-sensei again, and I'll tell Kakashi-sensei about it to make him jealous, to light a fire under his feet.” ` I wonder if that would work with Sasuketoo.But there's no way I'd go out with Naruto, no matter what!'
“Hmm, that sounds like a good idea. You don't think it will backfire do you?”
“Well, I'll tell Kakashi-sensei that I think you prefer him to Iruka-sensei.”
Ayame carefully evaluated Sakura's suggestion then nodded her approval. That sounds good. Doesn't make me look desperate, and the ball is in his court. You sure are clever Sakura-chan!”
After an hour of tracking, Sakura found Kakashi at one of his favorite haunts - Pink Bookstore. She waited outside until he came out, as it would be inappropriate for someone her age to enter such an establishment.
“Good morning Kakashi-sensei.”
“Good morning Sakura-chan. Uh, did I miss a training session this morning?”
“No, I just needed to tell you something.” `Get yourself a damn appointment book! And a watch!' “I hear Iruka-sensei is interested in the ramen girl. You'll miss your opportunity if you don't do something.”
“Oh, really?”
“Stop acting so cool! Do something! Aren't you interested?”
Kakashi shrugged.
“You do like girls don't you?”
He shrugged again.
“Well, don't you want a nice cozy home and someone to come home to after a long mission? Someone who will draw your bath, give you a massage, serve your food…” Sakura started to think of herself and Sasuke and drifted off
In her daydream, she was home humming while making salmon roe riceballs. After those were done, she skipped over to the bathroom where she turned on the water and added bubble solution. She heard the door open and quickly ran over to greet her love with a passionate embrace. Sasuke pushed her away, grabbed one of the riceballs, and seemingly swallowed it whole, without chewing, on his way to his bath. She followed him to help him remove his clothes. Sasuke suddenly turned to her and scowled, saying, “The bath is cold. Your hands are cold. The food is cold."
At that more realistic vision, Sakura came back to reality. “Anyway, I heard Iruka-sensei asked her out but she hasn't given him an answer. If you hurry, you can get a date with her instead. She really likes you.”
“Well, I'll think about it…”
It was Iruka's day off, an uncommon day with no classes or missions. He hadn't had one of those in a very long time. After running some errands in the morning and preparing for the next day's classes, Iruka made his way over to Ichiraku. Although it was his day off, Iruka still wore his shinobi uniform because he thought it made him look more impressive.
Ayame was in the back cooking, or rather fussing with the heat to achieve the perfect temperature, while her father took the orders.
”What will you have today Iruka-sensei?” He gave Iruka an appraising look and thought, `He's no Kakashi, but he's nice enough. And he does put up with that brat Naruto.'
“Umm, roast pork ramen please,” Iruka said while looking down at the menu, even though he had it memorized. He was too embarrassed to meet his eyes. `I wonder what she told her father. I wonder if she had a good time.'
Iruka thought back to the previous night. He had walked her home in silence. He was trying to think of how to end the night, how to say good-bye. Should he attempt a kiss on the cheek? Anything more would be inappropriate for a first date. But her father was by the door waiting, so he just bowed and said goodnight to them both.
`Ayame sure seems like a nice girl, but what was withthe weird clothes? She's also a bit spacey, but in a cute way. I sure hope she decides to go out with me again. I think I was pretty impressive with my intelligent critique of the movie,' he thought as he waited for his ramen. He continued to pretend to study the menu, all fifteen items.
Someone crashed down on the seat next to him. It was his favorite ramen buddy, and quite often his least favorite person, Naruto.
“Miso ramen today!” Naruto yelled at the ramen guy. “Hey, hey, Iruka-sensei!” Naruto enthusiastically greeted, but then he dropped his voice to an uncharacteristic low whisper. “So how did it go?”
Iruka scowled and whispered harshly back, “You should know - I saw you in the sake house. Your henge is improving, but you still can't fool me. You know underage drinking is forbidden.”
“Hey, I only ordered tea. Besides, I couldn't hear anything. I still haven't learned to read lips,” Naruto said with a frown.
“Well, there's nothing to tell anyway. I asked her out again and I'm here to wait for her answer.”
“Really? What do you plan to do next?”
“None of your business.”
“Come on, come on, pleeeease tell me, please!”
“I'll tell you after the date. I don't want you following us again.
Naruto was finally quiet as their steaming bowls of ramen, fragrant with cilantro, were served. “Have you had the ramen here lately?” Naruto asked as he dove into his bowl.
“Actually, this is the first time in a week.”
“Well, ever since you sent her flowers, it's been awesome!”
Iruka took a sip of the soup, then a bite of the noodles. `Naruto's right, there's something different about it. The soup is more flavorful, has more substance. The noodles have been cooked to perfection. Each strand is separate and exactly the right texture. It's…it's just…amazing!'
Ayame had measured the exact amount of water, added in the exact amount of salt, brought the water to a boil, added in the exact amount of peanut oil, then the noodles. She timed the cooking to the second, lifted and drained the noodles in a colander, rinsed the noodles with cold water, and finally added in a bit of sesame oil to prevent the noodles from sticking and to give them a bit of flavor. Then she placed the noodles in a bowl, added the appropriate stock heated to a constant temperature, then the flawlessly cut to size toppings and condiments. Perfect!
Naruto left after another five bowls, but Iruka waited around for an opportunity after the lunch rush to ask Ayame about their date. After the amazing bowl of ramen, he liked her even more,.“So…uh…do you think you can get off for a few hours this afternoon?”
“Sure, dad can handle it from here.” She gave him a slight smile. ”Just give me a chance to change.”
“All right, should I wait here?”
“Yeah, I'll be back in a flash.”
`I wonder if she's going to wear those strange clothes again…' To Iruka's relief, Ayame returned wearing a normal plain blue dress.
“That's a nice dress. You look very pretty in that,” Iruka said, blushing a bit.
“This old thing? I guess it's one of my favorites. Oh, I need to be back in time for the evening dinner rush hour.” Not really, her dad could probably handle it, but she wanted a short date. After all, he's not Kakashi!
Iruka and Ayame walked out the tall gates of Konoha toward the main road to catch the wagon to the lodging village. But before they reached the main road, two black hooded ninja in gray robes appeared!
`Sound ninja!' Iruka thought frantically, `Is Orochimaru back again? Crap, I'm done for! I'm just an Academy teacher. My last serious fight was against Mizuki and he nearly killed me.At least Ayame is in civilian clothes. If she were dressed like yesterday, they'd think she's a kunoichi (or a call girl) and go after her too. I've got to protect her…while hopefully not getting killed myself!'
“Get down!” Iruka ordered in a commanding voice. He took out his shuriken and kunai to confront the attackers. Both Sound ninja threw shuriken, but Iruka quickly employed kawarimi and the replacement log absorbed the hits. Then he jumped down from a tree to take one enemy out…but it was a kage bunshin!
`Anyone who is capable of that technique would normally be a jounin and I should have been wasted already. Something fishy is going on,' Iruka analyzed. “Naruto!” he whispered harshly, “I know it's you, come out now!”
Blonde hair followed by an orange jacket appeared from behind another tree. “Hey, what you're mad about? I'm just trying to help you impress the ramen girl by showing off your ninja skills.”
“Stop following me! If I catch you again…I'll…I'll…I'll tell them not to serve you any more ramen!” An empty threat since Naruto was their best customer, but it was all he could think of in his anger. But that threat got through Naruto's thick head and he finally left them in peace.
“What's going on? Was that Naruto I just saw? Where are the attackers?” asked Ayame, confused by all the action.
“It was just Naruto playing a prank on me, ha-ha.” `I'll get back at him later, that brat!'
“Oh, did you tell him about our date?” she frowned. `If Naruto knows, then the whole village will know, and then maybe Kakashi will think I'm serious about Iruka.'
“Actually, he's the one who encouraged me to ask you out.”
“Naruto? But why?”
“He told me that your dad told him that you…were interested…” Iruka turned red again.
`Oh crap! Now I understand. That Naruto! What an idiot! Dad too! If they cost me my chance with Kakashi, I'll…I'll…I'll dump my perfect boiling miso soup in their laps!'
At the fair, Iruka won some prizes from darts (despite their inferior quality and poor balance, rigged to prevent normal people from winning), which he presented to Ayame with a bow and great flourish. She smiled politely and thanked him. He offered to buy her various treats available from an assortment of vendors, but she declined.
`I can't have him spending any more money on me,' she thought guiltily while looking around, hoping Kakashi would magically appear. Iruka meanwhile was also looking around for signs of Naruto. Needless to say, conversation was limited as both parties were distracted, one by obsession, the other by paranoia.
On the way back, Iruka was afraid to make any romantic overtures as he was still concerned about Naruto's possible presence. Ayame was still wondering why Kakashi had not been around and whether Sakura did anything to help her at all. Iruka walked her back to the ramen stand where her father was busy with several customers. Ayame quickly excused herself to put on her serving robes and left before Iruka could say good-night and before he could ask her out again.
`This is not going so well,' Iruka sighed to himself as he walked slowly home. `I'll have to see Ino for some more romance tips. I know she's only twelve, but since I hang out with kids all day long,Idofeel a lot more comfortable speaking to her than my peers. Is that weird or what?'
Meanwhile, Ayame performed her waitress duties mechanically, missing Kakashi all the while. She kept a fixed smile on her face but she felt more like crying. Back home, Ayame sat sadly with her head in her hands. There was still no sign of Kakashi. What could she possibly do now? Sakura had spoken to him twice already. It seemed he was not interested in her at all.
Her father knew Ayame did not have the same feelings for Iruka that she had for Kakashi and that was why she seemed so sad. He said wisely to his daughter (not to cheer her up or anything, he just liked spouting ramen philosophy), “Unrequited love is like a bowl of noodles.”
“Don't you mean ramen noodles?” she asked tiredly.
“You see, you want ramen noodles, but instead you get udon or soba. Udon is shorter but nice and thick, while soba…”
“Argh! Stop it! No more noodle analogies!” screamed Ayame hysterically. She ran to her room in tears and slammed the door.
Her father waited a minute before following her. He knocked softly then opened the door even though his daughter didn't answer. “Don't worry Ayame-chan, Kakashi-sensei should be coming by Ichiraku soon. Based on his habitually pattern, he gets ramen about once every two weeks.”
Ayame stopped moping and saw a ray of hope. “Are you sure? How do you know?”
“Oh, uh…I remember stuff like that. You know, the eating habits of our regular customers. It's good for business…yeah that's it.” He scratched the back of his head in embarrassment.`It's not like I'm obsessed with him or anything…'
Iruka spent all night going over the two dates that he had with the ramen girl. It was strange. She didn't seem to like him all that much. In fact, she seemed rather distracted while she was with him, but then again maybe she was just really shy. He wanted to see her again, but they had already had two dates in two days and another one now would be too soon.
The next day, Iruka contemplated dropping by the ramen stand after work to see his potential paramour, but his reservations continued. `Hmm, we've been out the past couple of days. Maybe I should give her some space. But if don't drop by to say “Hi” maybe she'll think I'm not interested. But if I do drop by, I might be pressuring her. I think I'll drop by to see Ino first…'
Luckily for Iruka, his former student was monitoring the flower shop again. She was humming and spritzing the chrystanthemums. “Hello, Ino-chan,” he said in greeting.
“Ah, Iruka-sensei. How nice to see you again. Do you need more flowers? Your package plan has expired you know.”
“Yeah, well, I was wondering if I'm overdoing it. You know, too much pressure.”
“Pressure? Sending flowers is pressure? Please! Women love getting flowers! It doesn't matter whom they're from.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“It means…it means if the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the way to a woman's heart is lots, lots, lots more flowers!” `Mom's going to be proud of my sales pitch!'
“Sigh, well, I sent her all those flowers, but I don't think it's going well. We've been out twice in the past two days. I'm wondering if I should drop by the ramen stand today or give her some space.”
“Of course you should go see her! It's not like you're stalking her or something. Women don't want men to play hard to get. They want men to worship them! Trust me. Now if you think another bouquet is overwhelming, I suggest a single perfect rose…”
Earlier that day, Ino's rival in love, Sakura, dropped by the ramen stand to inquire whether there was any progress with the lazy jounin. “So how's it going with Kakashi-sensei?” she asked the ramen girl who was cleaning the countertop as part of the morning preparations.
“Sigh, it turned out that Naruto thought I was interested in Iruka-sensei so that's why he asked me out. But there's still no sign of Kakashi-sensei at all. Is he on a mission?” Ayame asked hopefully.
“No, he's been around.” Sakura thought about the situation and added, “Just give it up. It's obvious that he's not interested. You don't want to cling to someone who doesn't want you. I mean, how pathetic is that?”
`Take a look in the mirror, barnacle girl!' But Ayame said defiantly, “He just doesn't know yet that he wants me. I'm determined and I can do anything with determination. Taste how great my ramen is now!” Though there was still no sign of Kakashi, Ayame was determined, and with determination she could accomplish anything - even get a date with Kakashi!
“Well, quite honestly Iruka-sensei is the better choice. He's very good with kids. I remember in the Academy he would make us laugh and his lessons were always interesting and fun compared to the other instructors. He obviously likes you so that's definitely a plus.”
“Yeah, yeah, I've thought about all that already, but I don't care. I want Kakashi only. I'm going to have to break up with Iruka-sensei.”
“Well, good luck with that. I tried twice with Kakashi-sensei so it's up to the two of you now.” Sakura was ready to wash her hands of the whole would be affair. Couldn't the ramen girl see it was futile? All Kakashi-sensei cared about were his “Make-Out” books.
Ayame had decided last night that it just wasn't fair to lead Iruka on or to use him to make Kakashi jealous. He really did deserve better. That night, as soon as Ayame saw Iruka walking toward the ramen stand, she took a deep breath and even before he greeted her, she said quickly, “I'm sorry, Iruka-sensei, I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?”
“Yes, you're a great guy and all, but…I'm in love with someone else.”
“Someone else?” He was so stunned that all he could do was repeat her words.
“I'm in love with Kakashi-sensei.”
“I think Naruto must have misunderstood my father.”
“Isee,” he said slowly. `Naruto, I'm going to kill you. I don't care if you have a legendary fox demon within you. There must be a way. Poison, poison should work. I just need to get some arsenic or cyanide or strychnine or ricin or digitalis or all of them…and put it in your ramen! Sigh, but I can't blame Ayame for falling for Kakashi. He is really cool.' “Well, I hope things work out for you. At least we had some fun, right?” `I can't believe how much I spent on those stupid roses! Good thing I didn't let Ino sucker me again.' “But just remember that wanting something and having it are two different things,” Iruka said wisely.
“Umm, what's that supposed to mean?”
“You'll find out.” `I'm not sure, but I need to say something cool and save face.'
“So, umm…what do you know about Kakashi-sensei?”
`I can't believe how she's trying to use me…but I'll help her since I'm such a great guy.' “Well, not much really, he's not terribly social. He's only a year or so older than I am, but we grew up in different circles, so I don't really know him personally. Let's see, he became a chuunin at 6 (he soooo likes to remind people of that fact). Naruto's is his first genin team. He flunked all the previous teams because they failed his test, which was rigged for failure. Umm, he's known as the copy-nin because of his sharingan…”
“His sharingan?”
“Yeah, the eye he has covered up. It allows him to copy his opponents' techniques. He's copied over 1000 jutsu (he soooo likes to remind people of that fact). Umm, that's about all I know really.” `He's also an arrogant bastard who likes to read perverted books, but you'll find all that out soon enough.'
“Thank you Iruka-sensei, you're such a great guy! The ramen's on the house today!”