The doors to the UR are punted open by the dainty insertion of an ankle boot, and a touch over five foot of adorable young woman stumbles in immediately after. She restores her posture with a quick smile and a boisterous upward stretch, "...a day! Oh." Then abruptly stops two steps in, the doors swinging shut behind her.
Emi Goodman looks confused for a moment as she looks about the restaurant interior, blinking slowly and absolutely failing to notice the two customers trying to leave via the spot she's standing in. After the third 'excuse me' she squeaks obligingly and sways aside, using the motion to carry her right toward a conveniently-empty barstool, slipping out her earbuds as she takes a seat.
A raucous din emerges from them; she hasn't turned off her music.
"Well, I suppose I'll have whatever's good! Hello, service?" She's smiling widely as she waves over the top of the bar, with the glassy-eyed look of someone who's never been here before but hopes to make a good impression. And just a little mustard in her hair. Wait, she's... never been here? Is that even possible?
The doors from the kitchen swing open as Yoiko Hibiki and a small entourage of mechanical skutters come out carrying items of food. The skutters go about serving the crowd scattered in booths about the room while Yoiko herself goes behind the bar and starts placing food in front of people sitting there. With a heavy sigh she glances at Emi, takes a second to put on a smile, and then, "Welcome to the UR! What can I get for you?" She was in the back obviously. She's not psychic. To be honest you should be glad she can find her way back out from the kitchen.
The mustard-streaked girl starts a little when that robotic parade begins, relaxing almost immediately to peer around with interest at the proceedings. "That would make my life so much easier," she murmurs wistfully, but more than a little delightedly, before restoring that beaming smile to counter-greet the person apparently doing her job for the evening.
"Hello, hi, howdy," she rattles off, big amber eyes gleaming as if all she needed to wake up was an actual human interaction. "I'm not really sure, but literally *anything* but hot dogs would be delicious. Oh, and no mustard. Do you have chicken? Chicken isn't pigs. I'd like..."
Suddenly Emi makes the most delighted noise in the universe. A nerdy college student in one of the outlying booths promptly develops a nosebleed.
The weird young woman points directly at the front of Yoiko's dress.
"A duck! You have a duck! It's so adorable!"
Well, this is happening.
A few years ago Yoiko would have probably been proud someone noticed the design, but since she's barely had a change of clothes in forever she instead turns beet red. The attention she's suddenly getting from people turning around isn't helping matters. "Um... Yes. Yes I do." Why does she have a weird feeling of deja vu?
Yoiko-chan shakes her head, "Anything but hot dogs, chicken isn't pigs... No mustard. One sec!" She turns towards the kitchen again, but pauses to look at the last thing she'd brought out (a bowl of ramen) and shrug. A minute later she returns with a second bowl with pieces of chicken instead of the last customer's beef and sets it in front of Emi. "You seem new." There's a pause as she notices the mustard in her hair. "...-ish."
Deep empathy flashes across Emi's face as she observes Yoiko's reaction, and an instant later she's sucking in her bottom lip to keep the sheer ecstasy from her features. "Sorry," she half-mouths, half-whispers, raising her voice a little to explain, "I just really like ducks," to the embarrassed party and anybody else who cares to be listening, her earnest gaze flicking left and right.
She follows up with a pleased nod to the other girl, settling back to wait somewhat patiently, preoccupying herself by shifting about to unwrap the cable of her earphones from inside her rather stifling, if fabulous, jacket. As she moves about a little mustard drips from the end of her right pigtail onto the bar. Flushing a little herself, she moves to clean it up and then hastily dabs away what she can see of the rest. There's still plenty up by her right temple.
"Oh, I've been here forever," she confides with a light, self-effacing chuckle when the barmaid returns, manner gentle and pleasant now she's relaxed. She does keep returning her stare to that duck, though. Almost enchanted. "I live on the other side of town, and I'm really busy." A loose shrug, and she reaches with small hands to drag the bowl toward her and take a big, hearty sniff. "You would not believe how hungry I am! This smells wonderful!"
She pauses a beat, blinks, then extends one hand to the duck-having girl.
"My name's Emi. But you can just call me, um, Emi. All my friends do."
After glancing at the other patrons to make sure they don't need anything, Yoiko grabs a clean rag and passes it to her new acquaintance to help with the mustard, chuckling slightly as she reacts to the bowl of food in front of her. Looking down just long enough to grab a glass from under the bar, the girl looks up again just in time to see the offered hand and hear her name. She barely gets out a "Wha-?" before the glass in her hand falls to the floor causing a piece of it to break off.
She stares blankly a moment before reacting to the broken glass with a yelp. "S-Sorry!! Sorry!!! I just.." She picks up the glass and sets it nervously on the bar. "...I just haven't heard that name in a long time." She blinks a few times as if to clear her thoughts and waves as likely Emi has already taken back her hand. "I-I'm Yoiko. Yoiko Hibiki."
"Oh dear, that was probably my fault."
Emi concludes as much rather calmly, watching the glass crack and turning warm amber eyes back to first the duck, and then Yoiko. "It's okay, sometimes that happens. I don't really think of myself as... famous, but..." A faint giggle, and the dark-haired girl downturns her gaze with a bashful smirk, taking up the previously-proferred rag to pass it back to the barmaid.
"Here, use this. Don't cut your hand, okay? It's important to keep everything in; however hypocritical that sounds. I'm really pleased to meet you, it would be a shame if you got hurt at my account."
So, while the hand isn't *gone*, it's now graciously burdened. Emi's smile changes tone as she cants her head faintly to one side, equal parts concerned and curious.
"You seem very young, Yoiko. Most people who come to see us are older and... different."
Yoiko-chan reaches for the rag back almost fearfully, like she's afraid to make contact with Emi. She then proceeds to clean up the glass on autopilot. It's only after she's gotten rid of the broken pieces that she turns back to her and hesitates, "...did you say?" Yeah, that wording was weird, wasn't it? "Um. Young?" She looks down at herself, then turns to glance at the mirror on the wall behind her. She blinks. "Y'know, I have no idea how long I've been here." She tugs at the bottom of her dress with a glance at the UR wardrobe closet. "I have a house... Somewhere?" The girl nervously laughs as she turns back around. "Not that I can do anything about that right now." Was that supposed to justify her age somehow? Probably. Something still doesn't feel right for Yoiko about all this. "E-Emi, right? So what do you do around here? I'm surprised I've never seen you before." She lets out a more genuine laugh this time, "I'd have totally remembered that name."
They're both confused now, the response not precisely what Emi expects, and though she's thus far taken things in stride, her expression shifts to one just a touch more guarded. A touch less than absolute sincerity and trust is not, however, a particularly vast impact on her mood or mien.
That earlier concern also deepens, beautiful ambers boring into Yoiko with less concern for the highly-desirable duck. 'Somewhere?' silently mouths the odd young woman, looking down long enough to stir her ramen and take another sniff. She can't help smiling at that, and her stomach groans from somewhere inside her jacket. Hungry and happy to be? Not the most common combination.
"Emi," she confirms, slowly teasing up a big wad of chicken and noodles. "Goodman, you know? From Aki-Onna?" She asks that as if speaking to a simpleton, though not by any means unkindly. It's clearly not going to get a hit, so she clamps her mouth shut and 'hms' lightly, pausing to gulp a mouthful. And squeak with pleasure, kicking her feet gently against the bar.
"So *good*," she enthuses, "Did you make it yourself? But um, yeah, I'm a singer. Sometimes. Like I said, not really... famous. Right now I mostly sell hot dogs. For Big Dawg." She pauses awkwardly, wrinkles her nose, and starts gathering another mound of food. "You seemed like you knew me. Someone else?"
Yoiko-chan has completely forgotten about the other patrons at the moment, lucky for her no one seems to be very concerned with the skutters helping out. It's a weird moment for her as the rest of the bar just seems to have faded away. "Goodman. Right." She's not going to remember that. "S-sorry. My best friend was named Emi. She looked a lot like you." She suddenly beams, "She liked my duck too." For a brief moment she stands proudly of it before reality starts to creep back into the edge of her perception. She drags out the 'I' as she begins talking again, "I-I-I-I-I've got a reeeeeeeaally bad sense of direction, it sorta runs in my family. Sometimes it gets really bad and I can't get from one room to another without everything just kinda distracting me along the way. I kept finding my way here after I got a job working here," It should be noted she doesn't realize she ever changed worlds, "so eventually I just stopped trying to find my way back home. But Aquairu gave me the place when she left so I don't really even have to leave now." The girl frowns slightly. Not from the amount of information she just gave a stranger but because of what it made her remember, "I miss my dog though..."
At news of her doppelganger, Emi rolls a shoulder in mid-mouthful, making a vague grunty sound that translates approximately to 'yeah, I get that a lot'. Honestly, she probably does. While it's hard to place her exact ethnicity, the combination of pale skin and thick black hair at least gives her a passing resemblance to 75% of young Asian women with a similarly ageless quality.
There's a moment as Yoiko's speech grows more troubled where it seems her conversational partner - and current universal focal point - is instead lost in a foodgasm, but a few rapid breaths and a hasty swallow, followed by some indelicate fanning of the mouth make it clear she just bit off more than she could chew. Ramen is hot! And maybe she's a bit of a klutz...
"You know," she resumes without otherwise missing a beat, and apparently having listened in spite of her theatrics, "This place isn't all that confusing when you get over the whole broken-road thing. Do you play, um." She stalls, makes a face and sets down her chopsticks, leaning in to look very seriously at the younger girl. "Chess. Do you play chess? It's not about where you move, but how. There's rules to everything; all you need to do is obey them. The actual direction becomes clear when you just assume there's an order."
She shrugs, and pops a quick wink at Yoiko, murmuring with deep humility, "That's what I do, at least. Maybe I'm the one who's lost?" Her smile is breezy, sincerely carefree as she sits back and starts rooting about once more for hot chunks of chicken. "Wow, though, you own this place? I'd ask if you're advertising for work but the robots probably have it handled..."
Yoiko's attention, visually at least, is focused on the broken glass she sat on the bar top and never did anything with. (She only cleaned up the broken bits on the floor after all.) Something about a glass with that missing piece just... Her attention snaps back as Emi starts to fan her mouth and she goes about getting her a glass of water in the meanwhile. "Eh, I don't really have much reason to go anywhere else. Every time I try it feels like the whole world just shuffles around when I'm not looking." She shrugs as she sets down the water, picking up the broken glass and throwing it away finally. "Besides, I'm more likely to see family here than at home." She then backs up to the rear counter and hops on top of it so she can keep looking forwards. A few customers have made their way quietly out the door. Weird how that always seems to happen, isn't it? "The UR's always had a policy of letting whomever work here that wants to. I don't really see a reason to change that." It takes about that long for her to remember what she's wearing and cross her legs. Whoops.
Emi eats more quickly once she has a drink to hand, alternately slurping and gulping, doing so not with particular grace but managing to at least not spatter soup across either the bar or her jacket. She has to wipe her face before she speaks again, a note of apology in amber eyes as she tidies herself.
"But... you're in charge, aren't you? Most employers are worried about money, and whether they can afford to pay me. I can't work for nothing, you know. There's rent, and clothes, and it's nice to be able to help people..." Trailing off, the odd young woman stares flatly at Yoiko's attire for a moment. "Is that your uniform?" She asks slowly, hopefully, "Would I be able to..."
She gestures vaguely, gaze wide and a little imploring. Oh god, it's about the duck, isn't it? But, rather than pursue the issue, Emi abruptly clears her throat and smiles. "It's okay, I probably shouldn't just quit when Big Dawg is selling so many Big Dogs. He's saving to move out of my apartment block, and honestly he makes so much noise. I won't miss *his* dog, believe me."
She clears her throat again, and takes a mouthful of water, setting the glass down on the bar with an overt display of care and attention.
"So, you have a family here? It must be nice, having someone to look out for."
Ahh, overlapping conversations and the fun way they don't really reflect in a pose. Yoiko smooths out the bottom of her dress as she listens, her eyes falling on the duck herself out of sheer coincidence. "Huh? Oh. No! This isn't the uniform. Hahaha! I've been wearing the uniform for so long that I couldn't wait to change back into my 'street clothes'. She frowns slightly though, "...not that I had anything but this." Eh, whatever. "We've just always let people work and keep whatever tips they've earned. I don't really make much owning the place, but ....we don't really charge for anything either?" She shrugs, "I've never really understood it, but it works."
Emi's next bit falls in perfectly here and Yoiko nods knowingly (not really) at the comments about dogs. But then we get to, "Oh. Um. No, not really." Wait what? "I-I mean about having family here. They just sorta come and go, but everyone needs food." Her voice perks up like she's reciting a commercial, "Sooner or later everyone comes to the Usual!" Her brow raises as she considers that, "Y'know, that's not bad." With a slight laugh she flips the conversation back around, "What about you?"
After her speech about rules, it's clear Emi is in no position to comprehend how the complete anarchy of the Usual Restaurant seems to function. This does contribute to the gleam of mounting tension in her, the apparent loss of control and accompanying quickening of regular function. Something's... off, she thinks, and the louder this inner niggle grows the less relaxed she appears.
"Me?" Emi starts at that, trying to wave the question off with her chopsticks. One get hooked on her thumb and spins onto the floor. Biting her lip, the young woman stares at it and then looks back to Yoiko, setting down the other stick and sliding to the edge of her seat expectantly. "I don't really have a family. Friends, there's my neighbors and the rest of the band... but, I never thought about it, honestly." A frown slips across her brow. "Excuse me."
Hopping from the stool, she stoops to pick up the fallen chopstick, while she's down there taking a slow look around the rest of the restaurant. The clientele are varied; she expected that, but something else bothers her.
Coming back to her seat, she places the dirtied utensil across her bowl and then slides it, mostly-empty, toward Yoiko, bobbing her head gratefully.
"Thank you!" Beat. "Nobody's ever asked me that before. About family, I mean."
She pulls her gaze up and looks the other girl right in the eye. There's a note of challenge in her expression, far from anything she'd displayed before.
"What did you think when I said my name? Who was she?"
Urk. The sound Yoiko and anyone reading this log is likely going to react with. But let's back up before we get to that, shall we? Yoiko watches her drop the chopstick and has already hopped down to get her another one when Emi sets the old one on top of her bowl and slides it over. Oh well. She goes to clean it up and smiles at the thanks. She didn't really notice the nervousness expressed before that being lost partially in a world of her own at the moment herself. That all changes when she gets asked about Emi. The girl pauses, and the bowl goes onto the rear counter instead of to the sink. Yoiko turns and leans against the bar mostly so she can look at her new friend and sigh. At least she's a step or two away instead of face to face. "...Emi." She forces a smile. "She was probably my best friend all in all. Kinda goofy because of how innocent she was to things, but it was cute too." This time the smile becomes a little more genuine. "She always had this feather in her hair. Not sure why, but..." Yoiko shrugs this time. "A-anyways she's gone. I'm not entirely sure why, but it felt final." Her eyes twitch as she tries to see through the haze in her mind. "Lately I've been having trouble remembering the last time I saw her. It kinda upsets me. I feel like she came in one day and then suddenly..." She trails off as her eyes flash, something about a bright white light. "....and then it's like she was older. Like she was older than I thought she was and I only saw it at the end." She leaves an uncomfortable silence hanging in the air a moment before she adds quietly, "I don't think she's with us anymore. That's why it bothers me so much that I don't remember it right." The girl shakes her head once more, "Like it was a dream I can't quite remember..."
Emi - the other Emi - listens with a polite steadiness, her gaze hard with that fresh intensity. She doesn't look disturbed, precisely, but lost in the moment of a revelation that won't quite dawn. Her breathing has slowed, and deepened, chest rising and falling within the folds of her jacket.
When Yoiko's words fade into the hubbub of the restaurant, faded now into the background for them both, Emi's are quick to follow. Cool, calm, and considered.
"I've been here a long time. I don't remember being anywhere else. But I remember *everything*. I know that, somehow. That there's nothing else to remember. The rest of you..." Stroking at the fronds of her black hair, she glances along the bar. "You've come from different places, some of you are hoping to go elsewhere. Some remember, some forget. But always... other people, other places. It's only ever been here, for me. I don't see myself anywhere else. Every now and again I wonder if I'm really here, if I'm awake or I'm dreaming, but I never feel lost, or sad, or alone. That's not normal, is it?"
Amber eyes narrow, and nostrils flare minutely, the hot graze of a pique briefly alighting upon the young woman's features and then flitting away like an ephemeral moth. "Either something's wrong with me, or this place, it's..." She draws and releases a breath, then smiles distantly, "It isn't right."
A quicker, sharper breath summons up that more familiar smile, a loose shrug quick to dispel the shadow that's fallen across the odd young woman. She's warm again, and genuine as she stands up on her stall to lean across the bar and pull Yoiko in for a hug she's giving no real chance to deny.
It's quick, for her part, she'll disengage quickly and encouragingly renew her smile.
"I'm sorry for your pain. I... knew, somehow, my name was going to be bad news to somebody. I've always done this really silly thing, I apologize or make a joke every time I introduce myself. I think maybe now I know why."
Plopping back onto her stool with a sigh, as if removing a heavy load, she continues, "Could I ask you something, Yoiko? It's kind of a big favour."
Before we get to all that, Yoiko nods her head to the self-reflection but starts to object at the statement of it not being normal. "It's not AB-normal." But Emi goes on leaving her standing awkwardly until she's abruptly hugged. Funny, for the faintest moment the back of her mind assures her that this is what Emi smelled like. It's weird how the brain does that at the strangest times. The moment the hug is broken the words thought is gone as well leaving a confused Yoiko-chan to wonder why she'd ever think the smell of mustard would remind her of her friend. When Emi asks for a favor the wild train of thought is thrown aside with at least a hint of gratefulness. "Sure! I am nothing if not willing and able to help where I can!"
Mustard is a potent and powerful condiment. Also, the same colour as a duckling. Coincidence?
"Right! I thought maybe you were," laughs Emi, blushing faintly for no particular reason that she's aware of. A few conflicting emotions whirl around at the back of her skull, but at this very second she's a woman on a mission, reaching into one of her inner pockets to pull out a cheap plastic CD case. Drawing herself up, the self-proclaimed singer presents it across the bar.
The front insert bears a somewhat tastefully-drawn if extraordinarily graphic image of a leering white-skinned woman bleeding profusely from wide gashes at either side of her mouth. In one bottom corner is what appears to be the silhouette of a small duck - or a small silhouette of a duck - and on the opposite apex, a jagged typeface spells out 'Aki-Onna'.
"It's our demo. Could you maybe listen to it and think about giving us a shot here? We're a bit extreme but we'd *really* like to play somewhere that doesn't have a nightly crime rate in the double digits, and you have such a nice place here. I promise we don't do anything crazy, and honestly we've been doing some really interesting things with our music lately, it's not all noisy and 'grr'."
She smiles, and it's positively dazzling, those amber eyes lighting up with barely-restrained passion. She looks happy, if not in her element then talking about things directly relating to it - and enjoying the anticipation.
"Please, listen to it and call me? Call me anyway, honestly. If you like."
Yoiko-chan blinks at the CD. Then at the girl. Then back at the CD again. Then she lets out the most genuine laugh she's had all day. "How about you just use the stage anytime you like and I'll talk to you until you tell me to get lost?" She grins fangedly, "Which I'm really good at!" Another laugh. "Look, I don't even care what the customers think, I miss seeing that stage get used. We used to do karaoke in here but people just don't care for it any more. The whole place is already rigged up with speakers and everything for it. Just bring your stuff and plug it in!" She looks at the CD and hugs it. Her voice lowering to almost a whisper. "Eeee new music!" Then she starts to look over the back of it, "I don't care what weird magic this place runs off of, do you know how hard it is to know what's new when the jukebox is rigged to play whatever music you can think of?"
At the 'get lost' Emi raises a finger in the air, mouth open, then is beaten to it and just bobs her head agreeably. She was already looking pretty pleased with life, and this just rounds off her glow. Clasping her hands in her lap, she wriggles happily in her seat, looking absolutely nothing like the frontperson of an 'extreme' anything. Her final giggle is just sickly icing.
"Nope, no idea," she confesses, shaking her head enough to make her pigtails bounce, then leaning in conspiratorially, "I go to this weird little place near Eight Treasures, you have to be careful not to wear a skirt or stand in one place for too long but everything's really well-organized, and all the local stuff is on one rack." She playfully pouts, and sits back, folding her arms loosely about her midsection, "Not that anybody else is as good as we are."
That expression's replaced by her habitual breezy smile, as she shrugs. "I could take you sometime. If you hold my hand you won't get lost, right? It's the least I can do if you're helping us reach a wider audience!"
Yoiko-chan pauses briefly to consider the embarrassment factor of being handheld versus getting to go somewhere 'new'. It's not much of an internal debate. "I'd love to!! That'd be so fun!" She pauses to glance around the, wow did the place really empty out already? She's got a lot of tables to clean. "Not that this place isn't fun." She reaches for another clean rag, "I'm glad I met you today, Emi. Too bad we didn't cross paths sooner."
"It might not seem like it," murmurs Emi, slipping once more from her stool but keeping one hand on the bartop. "But everything happens for a reason. If I'd come here sooner, I wouldn't be me, and you wouldn't be you. I, at least, am defined by the total number of Hot Dawg's Hot Dogs I have sold."
Drawing herself up smartly, the young woman clamps a fist to her breast and assumes a serious face that lasts about 1.5 seconds before she grins and bobs a sort-of-curtsy to her 'new' friend.
"Oh, and hey." This time she keeps it up, mouth drawing to a gentle line, head tipping at a faint angle. "Look after yourself, okay? It's good to watch out for other people, but you've got to make time for the things you love. Or if you don't know what those are, find them. Life is... balance, within the chaos."
Smile restoring, she nods and starts to turn away, "That's not a song lyric, that's real life! But it's also more or less a song lyric! Don't forget to listen to my CD!"
Resuming the hustle with which she first entered, Emi - waving all the way - throws herself back toward the outside world - and back into a life that never seems to end...