We left the city far behind us and picked up speed on the national highway. At around noon Tadashi pulled over at a small rest stop with a self-service gas station, a convenience store, and a tidy indoor cafeteria with several food vendors. The air was already noticeably cleaner as I got out of the car, even though highrise buildings and smog could still be seen in the distance. There was a lot of pretty greenery around the rest stop – the only downside was the gasoline smell.
Katsumi went ahead of us looking for the bathroom, so I helped Tadashi gas up the car and then followed him into the cafeteria. The seating area wasn’t packed, but there were a decent number of travelers there having lunch. We stood around for a moment looking at the various food stalls.
Tadashi turned to me and asked, “Do you still like cold noodles?”
I was surprised he still remembered. “Yeah, of course.”
He pointed to one of the vendors on the left that had bright orange signs and picture advertisements. “Their noodles are pretty good. And cheap, too.”
We ended up getting cold noodle sets for all three of us. The weather was already pretty hot, so we could fully enjoy it. I insisted on paying, and Tadashi let me do so without a fight. The cashier gave us a number and we found an empty place to sit down.
“Katsumi sure is taking a long time,” I commented.
“Probably buying stuff at the convenience store,” Tadashi said. “He always does this. It’s his last chance to pig out before we spend the summer eating fresh organic farm food.”
I was slightly surprised. “Is his family home on a farm?”
“No, not properly, but he’s got a huge garden. We basically eat from the backyard, the lake, and the farmer’s market in town. Of course, if you’re craving processed foods we can drive you to a place, but that’ll take a while.”
“So that town is pretty small, huh?”
“Very. It’s nice and cozy. There’s a market, a gas station, and that’s about all. They open and close at weird hours, too.”
“Mmm… Sounds like a place I’d like to live.”
“You’ll prefer Katsumi’s family home, trust me. It’s really in the middle of nowhere.”
At this point two of the staff from the vendor brought us our lunch. Tadashi thanked them with a soft smile. As the staff walked away with their now-empty trays, I spotted a red-faced Katsumi entering the cafeteria. I gave him a wave, and he came over to us and plopped down next to Tadashi, setting an armful of snacks and cold drinks on the floor.
“I forgot to bring a bag,” Katsumi fumed. “She offered me a plastic one and I almost walked out without paying.”
“Katsu doesn’t like plastic,” Tadashi explained to me.
I nodded. “An environmentalist?”
“In his own way. You wouldn’t expect it, right?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Katsumi interjected. “Anyway, who paid?”
He looked at me. “Oh. Thank you for lunch.”
I noticed the wildness in his eyes hadn’t quite gone away, and thought to myself, I wonder if that’s just how he always looks? But this theory would soon be disproved.
Together we dug into our meal, savoring it. It seemed Katsumi liked cold noodles just as much as I did. The dipping sauce wasn’t too salty, and the toppings were simple but flavorful. We didn’t talk much, content to just eat and enjoy. Midway through the meal I noticed a guy sitting at a nearby table who kept looking over at us.
I swallowed what was in my mouth and said, “Hey Tadashi, that guy is checking you out.”
“Huh? Who?” He turned to look.
Katsumi burst into laughter. “Hey, this is my girl,” he joked aloud. Tadashi shoved him slightly, blushing.
“He’s kind of pretty,” Katsumi noted playfully. His eyes were less wild now, and I couldn’t help but smile.
After we had finished eating, Tadashi immediately stacked up our bowls, plates, and utensils to make it easier for the staff to clean up after us. I stared at him.
“You’re so considerate…”
Katsumi just laughed.
“They have it hard enough as it is,” Tadashi replied. “They make our food, they clean our messes, they deal with rude customers, and they don’t get paid much for it all. Can’t you empathize with their situation and be nice to them? Anyway, let’s go.”
We headed back outside. Katsumi loaded the things he had bought into the car, while Tadashi stood in the grass doing some simple stretching exercises. Then we hit the road again and moved on.