Aine stared up at the too-brilliant display, squinting in displeasure. This was hardly how he'd expected to spend his holiday with Sumire. They had been to Meringue Island before, of course, but never on such business.
Rewind to a week prior.
Sumire was putting the finishing touches on a batch of truffles when there was a knock at the front door.
"Don't they know that we don't open for another hour?" Aine grumbled. He hopped down from the high stool he was sitting on and shuffled over to the front of the shop—Fuji Dawn Chocolatier, famous in the area for its small batch chocolates made to perfection.
Peering through the sheer curtains, Aine could make out only that their guest was a man in a suit. There were plenty of those in their clientele. "We aren't open yet. Come back later!" Aine said through the door.
"I'm here on official business. Is the owner of the store here?"
Oh. This was serious, Aine thought to himself. "Yes, she is. Give me just a moment!" Frowning, he went back to the kitchen. Sumire did not like to be disturbed, but he decided that he had better.
It turned out that the man was from Meringue Island, a popular amusement park. They had heard of Fuji Dawn and had come to give Sumire an offer: all expenses paid for her to come and open a store inside of the park. She would not have to be there every day, but they wanted her unique aesthetic touch. Aine did not blame them; the decor of the shop was trendy and eye-catching. The vintage, homey feel drew customers in and invited them to stay awhile to savor the finest chocolates the duo had to offer. Aine always envied them that.
It was an offer that Sumire could not refuse. She's always loved to create things, Aine thought. Over many months, a new chocolate shop was built inside Meringue Island.
Aine did not much like the name, thinking it misleading, but Sumire insisted that her chocolate was high art. The name would stay.
And now, on their long-awaited holiday, Sumire and Aine were at the park to take a look at the new place. It was the middle of the day and attendance was at its peak. There was a line of people wrapped around the small building waiting for a chance at the chocolates within.
"You go inside," Aine said to Sumire.
"You're not coming?"
"No... I want to look around the park a little."
"Will you be alright by yourself?"
"Here, take this." Sumire handed him the park map. "Make sure you come back to the Atelier when you're done, ok?"
Aine nodded, taking the map with both hands. He walked off as Sumire waved, feeling a bit lower than usual. He knew Sumire was disappointed to have to scope out the new store alone, but Aine just couldn't handle the thought of seeing all those happy children eating Sumire's chocolate. The sight of customers in Fuji Dawn every day was enough to make Aine gnash his teeth constantly in frustration. As much as he cared for Sumire, as much as he wanted to eat her creations and share in that experience, it was something he just could not do. It killed him a little bit each day.
"I can help out at the store because that's where I'm supposed to be... But this is just the second store. I don't have to be here." he muttered to himself as he drew his hood over his head. Hiding in the dark suited him. It made him feel safe. Looking at the map again, his eyes were drawn from attraction to attraction. It had been a long while since his last visit. Meringue Island drew in lots of Otochros and it was not uncommon to see them walking around with their owners or other Otochro friends. So it was with Sumire and Aine on the previous occasions that they visited.
The golden words Chiffon's Château over a majestically illustrated palace in the center of the map caught Aine's eye. He ran over the letters with his fingers, feeling the embossed letters. "I've never been there before." It was an event space, home to the famous King of Meringue Island, but that had nothing to do with Aine or Sumire. He decided to wander, tucking the map away into his pocket.
"You don't look happy."
Aine's tail instinctively stood up in alarm at the voice just next to his ear. He jumped back, knocking his hood loose. "Who do you think you are?" Before him was an elegantly dressed Otochro with a shining crown. Aine felt he recognized the Otochro from somewhere.
"I do not think, I know I am Chiffon." the other replied simply.
"Hmph! And why should I care?"
"I don't know. But you asked, so I answered."
"Well, leave me alone!"
"But you don't look happy. And it's my sworn duty to bring happiness to all on Meringue Island, so this troubles me."
So he was who Aine thought he was. Chiffon the king, the mascot of the park. Still, it didn't matter. "You can't make me happy, ok?"
"That's none of your business!"
"I just told you exactly why it is my busine—"
"Shut up!!" Aine reddened and puffed up his cheeks in annoyed aggravation. He sighed. "If you must know, I'm sad because I can't eat chocolate."
"Yes, it's a dessert."
"I know what chocolate is, but why would you want to eat it? It's not music."
"I just do, ok? You wouldn't understand."
"...Hmm. Hold on a moment."
When Aine looked up, Chiffon was already gone. He had half a mind to just flee the scene then and there, but curiosity grabbed hold of his heart. What would Chiffon do?
"WAH!!" Aine flinched, squeezing his eyes shut.
"...What are you doing?"
When he opened his eyes, Chiffon was there again. "You have got to stop sneaking up on people!"
"I was not sneaking. You were merely not paying attention." Chiffon shook his head and then patted Aine's chest. "You are right, I cannot understand why you would want to eat chocolate. And I cannot give you any to eat. However..."
Aine looked down at his chest and saw an elaborate, jeweled brooch pinned to his mantle. "This... It's chocolate?"
"Merchandise from the park. A gift from me to you, little one."
"Hmph...! Don't call me 'little' when I'm bigger than you!" But at the sight of the sparkling brooch in a chocolate shape, Aine's earlier frustration ebbed away. "...Thank you, Chiffon."
"There's the smile I was waiting for." Chiffon returned Aine's smile with a small one of his own. "Please enjoy your day at Meringue Island... Ah, I did not get your name."
"It's Aine. ...And I will."
"Aine..." Chiffon's smile deepened. "Take good care of that brooch and that name."
And with a flourish of his cape, Chiffon was off, no doubt to find another smile that needed his help to emerge. He had finished his work here. Reassured somehow and wanting to share this moment with Sumire, Aine turned and ran back to the Atelier with a new spring in his step.