Saturday, June 21st, 2014
Hisako ducked shyly into the Cooking Club. She felt awkward—alright, more than awkward—since she had only went to one meeting and afterward vanished for several weeks, but the faces inside brightened at her reappearance. Kaori insisted they sit together and even asked if she'd like to pick that day's recipe (since evidently two first-years had been bickering over it for three meetings in a row).
"Um, is a cake of some sort too complicated?" Hisako asked.
"We might be a little bored during the baking time, but we've done cakes before. What kind?" Kaori asked in return.
"A regular cake? Whatever's easiest."
"Yo, Takkun, do we have enough eggs to make cakes today?" the club president shouted.
The ace first-year in the hat and glasses practically teleported over. Takeshi gave Hisako his most charming smile and she felt butterflies in her stomach despite herself. "We do if we partner up. Be mine?" he asked.
"I guess our newbie has decided it! We'll make curry on Wednesday, and then freekeh next Saturday. No more arguments," Kaori announced and left them to the table.
"What's freekeh," Hisako whispered. She barely knew the different types of curry.
"Green wheat that's roasted."
"That seems very… specific. For something that hadn't been decided yet."
"We change our minds all the time on what we're making. We keep quite a lot of things in our store room, and there's this really great market just down the street and around the corner. Next time we go on a food run, I'll take you," Takeshi said. "So, what kind of cake do you want to make?"
"Don't we decide as a club?"
"Each pair can make their own, experiment with the recipe, change things up."
"I'd really rather just learn the basic recipe, first."
"Can we at least make it chocolate?" he pouted.
Kaori pulled up a recipe from a book and wrote down the basic instructions and ingredient list on the whiteboard. Takeshi had already raided the store room for an armful of boxes and bags. Hisako flitted between following the president's pace and trying to keep up with her partner, but eventually, she had to settle on Takeshi, especially when he began adding extra ingredients.
And she shouldn't have been surprised when he handled most of it himself. He worked impressively, with a flair that only came with great confidence in his skills, but she felt a little useless. Halfway into mixing the batter, he seemed to notice her hovering at his side.
"Is there, um, anything I can do?" she asked in a small voice.
"Oh. Hmm." He cast about for something, which didn't exactly make her feel any better. "I can get the pan greased and ready, so can you finish folding the whipped cream into the batter?"
She almost wished she was merely taking notes again. Takeshi pattered back off to the store room, leaving her alone with a large bowl (that she wanted to eat raw, judging by how heavenly it smelled) and no knowledge of what folding meant in cooking. It looked as if he had just been mixing it before, so she carefully stirred while she waited for him to return.
As soon as he did, she shoved the bowl back at him. "I have no idea what folding is. I-I'm not good at cooking or baking and a lot of the terminology is lost on me."
"You're cute when you're confused, you know."
"I'd really rather learn some cooking skills instead of listening to you try too hard," she grumbled. First-years trying too hard to seem cool wasn't a new concept to her, but she had forgotten how pinpoint his attention could be.
Takeshi laughed and took it in stride. "Folding is a way of mixing, I guess. You scrape from the bottom and then up over the top, like this, see? It's for more delicate ingredients or mixes, usually in baking. And dear Hisako-chan," the nickname sent a shiver up her spine, "I could never try hard enough for you."
"Senpai. I'm your senpai." She imagined Atticus and Octavia with half of Takeshi's confidence in flirting. It was a terrifying idea.
"Well then, senpai, want to try the batter before we put it in the oven?"
She had been eyeing it for awhile. "If you insist."
Takeshi dipped his finger in it and offered it to her. She rolled her eyes and snatched the spatula from him instead, intending to sulk on her own side of the table with it.
But she had underestimated his skills. "Oh gosh, this is delicious!" Why hadn't she ever tried cake batter before?!
As Takeshi preened, Kaori called over, "Don't eat too much of the batter! That's for all of you—I see you over there, Miyake-kun!"
There were several clatters as guilty parties got rid of spoons and spatulas. With a grin, Takeshi took the spatula back from her. "I'd still like this recipe," she mumbled, hoping her cheeks weren't too pink. "Could you write it down for me?"
"Anything for you. But only if you tell me why you wanted to bake a cake, of all things. You struck me more as a cheesecake sort of girl."
"I want to add a lot of things to the very short list of what I can currently make. But I'm thinking I might make an apology cake and—"
"Don't worry, I forgive you," Takeshi said smoothly and handed her the spatula again, since he was done pouring the batter into the pan (and the president wasn't looking in their direction).
"For what?" Hisako asked, wary, but she took the gift all the same.
"For missing club meetings. I missed you, but you probably had a lot going on, huh?"
"...Yeah. But you don't have to butter me up so much, you do know, right?"
"Who says I'm buttering you up?" he asked with a sly smile.
"You get enough attention without me here from what I've seen. I'm sure you could survive without Hisako Fujihara in the Cooking Club."
He surprised her by dropping the flirty pretense. "I really did miss you. It's nice having a newbie in the club, especially one so easily impressed."
"You… missed me," she repeated, struggling to find his angle. As much as she liked Takeshi, she couldn't shake the disingenuous feeling she got from him. While he sounded serious, something remained off. "You hardly know me."
"I know you like being a second-year. And I know you want to improve your cooking. And you have awesome taste in club partners. What's not to like?" When she opened her mouth to protest, he leaned across the table and put a finger to her lips. Takeshi lowered his voice and told her, "I like you, senpai. I can't explain it any better than that. Most girls would count that as a confession."
He covered his move by swiping a bit of chocolate batter off her mouth, and then licked his finger with a wink. She was embarrassed, face hot again, but there was still something that rang hollow. It mitigated her mortification enough for her to choke out, "Y-You're lying."
"Yeah, I am," Takeshi answered and for the first time that meeting, he sounded genuinely happy.
The flash of light startled her so bad she fell off her stool. "Thou hast established a genuine bond…" The words were clearer that time. She'd heard it enough times to piece together most of it, but it had been steadily growing louder, too.
"I'm sorry!" Takeshi exclaimed.
"Are you alright?" Kaori asked. A couple other members chattered in alarm but Hisako waved them off. The only thing bruised was her pride. She became friends with someone because they didn't like her?
"Do you need me to kiss it and make it better?" Takeshi tried, leaning in close.
She nudged him back out of her personal space with a wry grin. "I think you've done enough, Mr. Hermit."
Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
Baking a cake on her own was infinitely harder than watching Takeshi do it. He had outlined a very detailed recipe for her, adding in specific notes and even a little drawing of the final product, but she had a bad feeling about hers.
Her father was out with coworkers for the afternoon, which conveniently left her alone with her shame. Did she taste the finished cake to make sure it was alright? Was that rude? She couldn't give Octavia a cake with a bite missing, but what if it tasted horrible and upset her further?
It smelled okay. Definitely chocolate-y and cake-y. And the batter had been alright, if a little less sweet than Takeshi's had been. She had enough ingredients to make another, but she was worried about the time. She wasn't sure she had enough to make another cake and give it to Octavia. And probably Atticus. He had been on her side since then.
"This is a dumb idea," she groaned to the cake. It didn't respond.
She ended up frosting it—store-bought, the cake was enough experimentation for one day—and forcing herself to go through with it. She set it, plates, and silverware on the table, changed into a nicer dress, and moved her bedroom's mirror to the living room. The Velvet Room's ornate door looked absurd, but to be fair, it would look strange anywhere in their apartment, and that was the only place with enough blank space.
Hisako pushed the door open and peeked her head inside. Atticus looked up with his usual puppyish enthusiasm. Octavia politely inclined her head. "S-So, um… I'd like to apologize, again, and thank you both for being nice with my friends the other day. I'll try to stop bringing people into the Velvet Room."
"There are no technical rules against that," Octavia replied. "The guest is allowed to steer their journey as they see fit."
"Er, right. Well, it still feels a little strange, and we'd like to keep this secret. As much as possible at this point. But I, um, have an apology cake, and I-I was wondering if you two would like to share it with me?"
The pale-haired woman turned back to the blue book she was writing in. Atticus sighed and pushed himself out of the seat opposite her. "Dear Hisa-chan, nothing would please me more. But I'm afraid my sister had her heart set on the city date you promised us."
"Hey!" Octavia said, clearly scandalized.
"We can still do that another day!" Hisako said hastily. "I'd really love it if you two could go to that pet store with me to see this parrot—"
"I do not require your cake and I will be your friend once prior promises are fulfilled!" Octavia burst out. She gathered up the book and hurried into another train car.
"Ah. I am terribly sorry about that, dear Hisa-chan," Atticus said after a pause in which it was clear his sister was not returning. "In order to soothe her, I had discussed seeing your promise as a sort of quest to fulfill…"
She wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. "Thank you for your help, at any rate. We can go out into the city later this week, I'm free after Thursday… Do you want to share the cake with me? I can't eat an entire one by myself and I have to get rid of it by the time my father gets home."
"I would love to!" he exclaimed and pounced upon her, nuzzling her cheek. She felt a little unbalanced without Octavia on her other side.
"Off, off! Still want personal space!"
He was persuaded to take her hand instead, even if it felt awkward to simply walk the five feet back into her apartment with him. She gestured to the table and sighed at the third plate and fork. "May I ask why you can't share this with your father? Are apology cakes restricted to non-family members?" Atticus asked as Hisako pulled out a seat for him.
"No, you can make them for anyone—and that's not an actual type of cake. It's not a flavor or brand or anything. My dad's birthday is on Wednesday, and I'm practicing baking in secret."
"Right, humans celebrate those!"
She gave him an incredulous look over her shoulder from where she was putting away the extra plate. "You can't forget that after you bought me a crepe on mine."
"I didn't forget birthdays exist," he backtracked, worrying the napkin in front of him, eyes everywhere but on her. He wasn't a terribly good liar for a… whatever he was. She wasn't certain she knew any decent liars, come to think of it.
"Then what?" Hisako pressed. She hovered over the cake with the knife, making it clear she was holding it hostage.
"It is embarrassing to admit for someone of my station."
She gestured to the small kitchen and dining room. "You're not in the Velvet Room right now, you're a guest in my home. And—"
"This is your home?" Atticus said, eyes wide, and he began looking over everything with fresh enthusiasm.
"You're obtuse about strange things," Hisako said, giving up. "I can't figure you—or your sister—out. All the magic aside, half the time you act all-knowing, and the other half, you act like an excited tourist."
"I will admit to both of those," he replied cheerfully.
"I don't know why you'd assume I'd serve you cake anywhere else, I don't understand your embarrassment about birthdays, and I'm still suspicious of how much you know of human culture."
"You have never made a door in your residence before, I made an error, and I don't know how to quantify that answer."
She sighed. As precise as ever. "Just eat the cake." He happily dug into his piece, as messily cut as it was. Hisako hovered over her own piece, caught between watching him eat and dread at what she'd discover about its taste. If she didn't try it, then she could pretend to herself it was still delicious. He had no reserves eating it, so that had to be a good sign, right? "How… Um, h-how is it…?"
"A second piece, please, dear Hisa-chan!" Atticus announced, holding up an empty plate.
Gratified and proud of herself, she gave him another. "S-So it's good, right?"
"It's mediocre at best!" he replied in that same perfectly pleased tone he'd used before.
"Oh, and you've tried a lot of cakes?!" she snapped back, peeved at his smile at eating her supposedly mediocre cake.
She slumped into her seat, defeated. "Sorry. I'm still practicing and I guess I messed up somewhere," she mumbled. She wasn't even embarrassed. Just annoyed at herself.
"It is still the most wonderful cake I have ever tasted," Atticus told her solemnly. He set his (empty) plate down. "And I would like another piece."
"You don't have to indulge me," she muttered as she pushed around her own piece. She was a little afraid of trying it now. What did a mediocre cake taste like?
"I was being perfectly sincere."
"How can you say that right on the heels of 'mediocre'?" Hisako asked, eyes narrowed.
"Because you made it for me," he replied.
"That's something a parent would say to a child with a crayon drawing."
"I would not object if you made one of those for me as well. I wouldn't object to anything you create or do."
"I'll give you another slice of cake if you tell me why you were embarrassed about birthdays," she told him.
Atticus pressed his mouth into a thin line and appeared to weigh his options. Hisako stayed silent and let him sweat it out. After a long silence, he said, "I… had forgotten you were human."
She gaped at him and struggled to process that.
"Not that you don't appear human! You are very human in appearance and manner. It is simply that you are so special, dear Hisa-chan," he added imploringly, leaning over the table. His tie dropped into the frosting, but he didn't seem to notice. His sharp, gold gaze was only for her.
Hisako had to avert her own eyes. "I'm really not. I don't even have that Wild Card thing that I should have."
"While an enigma, that does not discount your inherent value. In general, or to me and my sister."
Neither of them flinched at the burst of light or the tarot card that came spinning down between them. She felt as if she cheated on that one. Octavia wasn't there, and Atticus was idealizing her situation. Their situation. "...Your tie has frosting on it," Hisako murmured and reached over the card on the table to pick his tie out of the cake.
Atticus sunk back into his seat, either guilty or sulky. When he put the tip of his tie in his mouth and sucked, she decided it was sulky.
"I appreciate the importance you place on me and my circumstances, but the Velvet Room is supposed to operate for owners of the Wild Card. I don't have it. Aside from using it as proof of supernatural things, I don't really have a use for it yet."
"We serve other uses for you," he mumbled and inspected the edge of the tie. It was clean, aside from a damp spot, but he still fiddled with it.
"And I'm grateful," Hisako said carefully, "but you can't pretend I'm something I'm not. Please. I'm human, and not much more than that."
"You'll always be special to me," Atticus told her, locking eyes with her again.
She grinned, for his sake. "At least you're not lying to me."
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
"Did you come back to school to give me more cake?" Yuri asked incredulously. She had already given him and several other classmates (anyone who would take a piece, in fact) cake at lunch, and yet there Hisako was, a stack of boxes on the desk in front of her. Again.
"Has Shunya-senpai been back to Art Club yet?" she asked, searching the room as if he'd appear out of a cupboard. She paused to smile sunnily at another club member who asked to have a piece. It was her fourth cake, and if she said so herself, there was a marked improvement. And dropping off treats was a good excuse as any to see how their poor upperclassman was doing.
"I saw him in the hallway earlier, but we'll see if he appears—"
On cue, the auburn-haired boy slid open the door. Hisako and Yuri's eyes pinned him to the spot. Shunya slowly paled, trying bravely to keep a smile in place, but as a couple other club members cheered about cake, he had no choice but to enter. Yuri grabbed Hisako to make sure she didn't ambush him.
"We have to go with our plan, remember?" he told her in a low voice.
"I can't even offer him cake?" She really, really wanted to get rid of it.
"Just sit down." Yuri yanked her onto the stool beside him and pointed with a paintbrush at an empty easel.
Their plan was to pull a Shunya: sit innocently nearby, making him uncomfortably aware of their presence, and let him explode on his own. It had worked on Atticus. It certainly worked on Yuri and Suzuka. Hisako only hoped it'd work on him, too.
"Can I have another piece?" a pigtailed girl asked.
Hisako liked her. "Of course. The club is free to have all I brought. Y-You can give the president a piece, too, if he'd like one."
Yuri glared at her, but in her defense, it wasn't direct contact. It was a guarantee of one less piece to eat herself and reminding him of their presence. A strategic move. He tried to teach her how to paint with watercolor while they waited for Shunya to circle and check on the club members. She ended up with faintly colored water on her skirt and legs and very little on the canvas. Forgetting her socks turned into a good thing.
Shunya's poker face wavered more and more the closer he got to their section of the classroom. Yuri was nearly vibrating in his seat, too, but she figured his indignation at getting ditched outweighed his nervousness. Or perhaps he was worried.
He finally made it to their easels. Hisako beamed up at him in front of a washed-out blue smear. Yuri glowered at him over a half-painted portrait of Octavia. Shunya didn't speak, but he didn't move away from them. It prompted her to ask, "What do you think, senpai? I think it looks very good, considering he did it from memory."
"You're in remarkably good moods," he said quietly.
"Liked the sketch better, but if you had been here on Thursday, you would've seen it," Yuri growled. Hisako placed a hand on his wrist to calm him. He snorted, ducked out from her touch, and returned to his canvas. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine enough."
"Are you angry with us? Afraid of us?" Yuri asked with the sort of speed that meant he'd been fretting about that for some time. Hisako paused in a brush stroke, searching Shunya's face for anything that confirmed those fears. She hadn't thought about him being afraid of them, but angry had crossed her mind.
"What? No, no." Shunya pulled over a free chair and sat between them. He put his fingers in a steeple and stared hard at the blue watercolors on Hisako's paper. "That's the wrong weight to use for watercolor. Yuri-kun, that's rude, to teach her the wrong thing."
"I just set her there to keep her from forcing more cake down my throat."
"This one wasn't that bad," she said in defense of her poor baking skills.
"And don't change the subject, senpai," Yuri added, not agreeing or disagreeing with her statement.
Shunya reached out and crinkled the edge of Hisako's painting. "Normally, you use a thicker paper, so it absorbs more of the water. It's not supposed to look this runny—and it's not supposed to drip off onto your legs."
"I figured that part out."
"Are you going to join the club? To continue to haunt me?"
"Hm, no. I don't think I could balance two clubs and our secret double life," she told him and he drew back with a slight frown. "If it gives you peace of mind, you can just pretend that you never learned any of that. It's not as if we're asking you to join us."
"I'm not really cut out for adventures," Shunya said quietly and forced a smile to replace his frown.
"We're not trying to force you into anything."
"We're just trying to make sure you're okay and you're not going to freak out on us," Yuri told him. He folded his arms and squinted in judgment at his painting. "Why does she wear so much cobalt if she's so pale? This is getting annoying. And her eyes—this is looking more and more unappealing. She's not even that pretty normally."
Hisako smacked him, hard. "Don't be a jerk about my friend!"
"What? Look, this is turning out to be a creepy white figure in too much blue—"
"How long has this been going on?" Shunya interrupted. They returned their attention to him, although she hit Yuri again with the opening. "It's this year, isn't it?"
"I'm a transfer," Hisako replied. "But it started not too long after I got here…"
"The eleventh of April," Yuri said.
"That long…" the upperclassman murmured, sounding sad. "I think I remember you being sick, but aside from spats with Mika-san, I had no idea…"
"Yeah, well, we've had some time to adjust," Yuri said awkwardly. He sighed at his painting and moved to smear his paintbrush over Octavia's face. Hisako quickly grabbed his wrist to prevent that.
"Don't ruin it!"
"I don't really want to finish this. It's not that pretty."
"But don't ruin it! I-I'll buy it from you!"
He gave her a haughty look she didn't feel she deserved. "You don't know how much that would be."
"Yuri-kun, stop teasing Hisako-san," Shunya interrupted again with his own sigh.
"I'm not teasing her!" Yuri snapped with a red face. She quickly stole his paintbrush while he was distracted and dunked it in her water cup.
"I'm glad to see you two have adjusted to your new lifestyle, and I'm very glad to see that Yuri-kun has other friends to share this with. I guess that's one of the few things that's stopping me from, uh, freaking out? Is that what you were worried about?"
"You did already. A little."
"I was shocked, can you blame me? But what else can I do now? It's a thing, a real thing, and you're involved. If anything, I'm afraid for you. I hope you're ready for an even more worrisome senpai," he said happily.
"So no more skipping practice?" Yuri asked, clearly torn between hopeful and suspicious.
"I won't avoid you, either—any—of you." He paused, as if counting them for the first time. "Where is the third one? The short red-haired girl?"
"She was our plan B for you," Hisako answered with a grin.
Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
"I won't accept another piece of cake from you," Mathias said seriously. Hisako blanched. She had worked up her courage the day before and he'd gladly accepted it, and she had managed to ask him again today—and the fourth cake was the best yet!
"I'll take it," Suzuka volunteered, literally poking her head into their conversation.
Mathias's cheeks reddened and he hastily explained, "I won't accept another cake unless you let me repay your kindness and take you out on a date."
Oh thank goodness, he'll take the cake, was her first thought. Then, the rest of his statement caught up with her. She could slowly feel her face heat up as Suzuka cracked up beside them.
"Smooth! Give the girl a heart attack to soften her up, right?"
"I didn't think you would arrive and try to take my piece," Mathias sulkily replied and took the offered box before the redhead could steal it. Avoiding eye contact, he opened it and began eating, his lunch forgotten on the side of his desk.
"Certain parties haven't agreed to this deal yet," Suzuka said and poked Hisako in the side. Mathias shyly—cutely, but definitely shyly—peeked up at her through his bangs with those pretty blue eyes. "...I think you broke her."
"I," Hisako eloquently said.
"I-I did not mean to sound so firm!" he backpedaled, blushing again.
"A d-date, with—just us?" she squeaked, hitting notes she hadn't thought possible. She was certain she was as red as a tomato by then.
"And here we have the birth of an idiot couple. I should have seen this coming, but I guess I had more hope for you, Matt-chan," Suzuka deadpanned. She laid dramatically across the desk in front of her and put a hand to her forehead. "And Haruka said you were so cool and composed!"
"Pis, a a menti," he whispered from behind his cake. "I didn't mean for this to go this way. I-I will just eat this. Thank you, Hisako-san."
Suzuka pulled Hisako down (before she could implode on the spot) and whispered, "We weren't gonna do Irkalla today anyway! Just go out with him!"
"Don't you dare say you want to go home and make another cake."
"I won't say that then."
Suzuka sighed and told her, "This is for your own good. Please, remember our friendship fondly in your later years." That was ominous, but she didn't have the chance to question it. Suzuka turned back to Mathias and said, "Ask Hirose and, uh, some other guy, and we'll grab another girl, and we'll make it a mixer!"
Mathias' eyes slid over to Hisako for a moment before he looked down, thinking. "Okay. I have never been to a mixer, so this will be fun, too."
Suzuka grinned and wrapped an arm around Hisako's waist. The blonde, for her part, was puzzled; she didn't particularly feel the urge to strangle her friend like she'd implied. Suzuka steered her back over to their desks in the front, took another piece of cake for herself as a trophy, and looked expectantly up at her. "I don't get why I'm supposed to be mad," Hisako said.
"I'm hoping you figure out the pros before the cons. Less pressure on you, less pressure on him, and you probably won't be put on the spot."
"Those are very good pros. I'm waiting for the drawback here."
Suzuka poked at her cake, lips pursed, and took a bit before she mumbled out, "First, we're going to have to find another girl who's interested. I'm sort of lower on female friends than what I'm used to lately. Wait—think we can ask the boys to invite Shunya-senpai along?"
"We aren't going with plan B."
She blew a raspberry, making Hisako jump. "I'll see if Shimizu or Goto from the team want to come. Unless you've made friends with anyone in the Cooking Club?"
Hisako groaned and admitted, "I know a boy. I'm quite sure he'd jump in very happily."
"So what's wrong with that? We'll see if Matt-chan or Hirose know any girls, then."
"He's… sort of an attention hog. I'm worried the girl side won't be able to resist him."
"Weeeeeell," Suzuka said with a nervous laugh. Or was it guilty? Hisako narrowed her eyes. "My loyalty only goes so far, and I need to make sure you have an incentive to be an active participant instead of clamming up and looking cute."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Suzuka put her hands over her chest. Hisako stared, uncomprehending, until it clicked. Suzuka started laughing at the face she made. "We can get dressed up together, but I'm only human! I'm gonna make you work for his attention—not that it'll be hard."
"Th-That's cheating, still!" Hisako replied, distressed and embarrassed. She hunched over in her desk, arms crossed over her poor, flat chest.
"It's an incentive!"
"And it's not even my final form!" At Hisako's stricken expression, Suzuka burst into new peals of laughter. "Okay, okay, that one was a joke! Maybe I'll only get the girls out and—"
"We're dropping this conversation! Except to think about another girl!"
"Go find your other boy and ask him, and I'll go tell Matt-chan that we're swapping."
"I don't know what class he's in," Hisako muttered petulantly, but Suzuka shooed her off. She still had time during the lunch break, but Suzuka's plan had disheartened her. Between Takeshi and Suzuka, she was going to fade into the wallpaper. But maybe that would be a good thing?
She didn't find him in any of the first-year classrooms, and she didn't spot him from the window in the courtyard, so her last guesses were the roof or the Cooking Club room. Mercifully, he was in the latter, so she didn't have to waste her entire lunch period.
The door was open, so Takeshi didn't hear her as she entered. He was talking to a girl, both of them lounging across several chairs, an impressive spread of food on the table between them. She's not in the club, Hisako noted as she entered, but she's pretty. Did he always flirt with girls? She wasn't sure why she had thought it was contained within the club.
The girl looked up as she neared, expression half-hidden by her straight-cut bangs. Takeshi twisted in his seat and immediately brightened at seeing her. "Senpai! Had to seek me out even during school hours? Or are you here to mooch more food?"
The girl, bizarrely, gave the back of Takeshi's head an incredulous look at how he responded to Hisako. Jealous? "Uh, no. Actually, I've been bringing most of my class cakes I've been making."
"Practicing at home?"
"A little." Hisako and the other girl exchanged a cool look. Everything about the girl looked soft—she had a round face and plump lips, only accented by her long, thick hair that was a soft grey, almost lavender—but her neutral expression was borderline intimidating.
"Ume, be nice, this is Hisako Fujihara, a member of the Cooking Club. Senpai, this is my best friend, Ume Tokunaga. So, what'd you want?" Takeshi asked.
Direct as always. She tore her eyes away from the impromptu staring contest, unable to place why she got into it in the first place. "Um, actually, we're a boy short for a mixer. Interested?" Wait, is it dumb to ask a first-year? She had only been to exactly one before, so maybe she should have let Suzuka take the reins.
"Need any girls?" Takeshi asked.
She briefly hesitated. "Yes."
"What do you say, Ume?"
"Not interested," she muttered.
Takeshi gave her a long look, half-turned from Hisako so she couldn't quite see his expression. Did best friends always stare at each other, or did they have minor telepathy? She would have sworn Suzuka and Haruka had at times. He turned back to Hisako with a grin that was only half as forced as usual. Interesting. "Have a date planned yet? Are the other girls as cute as you?"
Oh, he and Suzuka-chan are going to be terrifying together, she thought and had to smile at the image. "I think so. Going to lie about liking more girls?"
Takeshi instantly blushed and Ume snorted into the drink she'd been sipping. She broke into the first smile Hisako had seen from her, wide and a little sharp. "You're lying about liking girls?" she asked with laughter in her voice.
He pulled his hat down over his face to hide himself. "Hisako-senpai, why'd you have to say that? I thought upperclassmen were supposed to be cool!"
He whined wordlessly as he shrank down underneath the table, Ume shaking with laughter above him. Hisako couldn't help but redden herself, confused and a little flustered at his response, but also amused. Takeshi flapped a hand over his chair and said, "I'm in if you don't embarrass me again! Just tell me the details whenever, I'll give you my number later when I can look you girls in the eye again!"
As Hisako left and Takeshi slunk back into his seat, she saw Ume lean in, intimately close, and whisper something.
There's no way I was that weird when I was a first-year, she decided.
By the time she got back to their classroom, Yuri had returned, too, scowling at the cake left on his desk. Hisako breezed past him with a brave face. "Suzuka-chan, am I a cool senpai?"
"If you have to ask—did you invite a first-year to the mixer?"
"It was him or Yuri-kun, and I decided to spare us all that."
"Thank you," he gratefully chimed in.
"I don't think we could get another girl if he was on the roster," Suzuka said thoughtfully, earning a glare. "But any chance you know any girls, Kikuchi?"
"Just ask a classmate."
"Yeah, but it's more fun with friends!"
"I wouldn't know," Yuri mumbled.
"Don't say that! You'll make me want to force you to come along to take your mixer virginity."
"Like to see you try."
"Let's just think about another girl!" Hisako broke back in. "And stop pushing that cake around."
He sulked harder and, if anything, was rougher with the cake he was batting around his desk. "You're gonna give me a cavity."
She turned in her seat to face him fully. She wasn't sure if she was trying to stare him down or establish some sort of psychic, cake-themed bond, but he was cowed almost at once. "I don't think it counts if you have to bully the boys into accepting," Suzuka remarked. "Though I can't wait until Valentine's Day if that's your technique."
On reflex, she turned to peek at Mathias. It had nearly killed her yesterday to give him the first piece of cake, but she was up to two, and she was on her way to a group date with him. Surely, by then… And Christmas was before then...
"Don't give her any more daydream ideas," Yuri sighed.
"You should have seen them earlier. You should come along just to see them then."
"No thank you."
The bell rang for afternoon classes. Mr. Tsukino shuffled in, prompting Suzuka to remember only then that she had a worksheet to finish, and Yuri dumped his cake box unceremoniously into his bag. Hisako pouted at him until the teacher rapped on the whiteboard for attention.
After classes—most of which she spent alternating between notes and hoping Yuri's cake wouldn't be too squished—Hisako was surprised to be cornered near the shoe lockers. By Mathias, which always brought excitement and dread. "Can I walk you home?" he asked with a fidget.
Yuri made a gagging face behind him. Hisako threw her slipper at him and smiled at Mathias. "Um, sure, but I wouldn't want it to be out of your way…"
"Haruka told me you don't live far from Suzuka-san, and Haruka doesn't live far from her," he explained, face already lit up at her positive answer. Her heart did a funny little flutter at his earnest smile.
Yuri set her slipper on her head as he passed to leave. She tried not to drop her smile. Mathias tracked Yuri's movements behind her, expression impossible to read, and Hisako quickly slipped on her shoes. "Ignore him, he's just grumpy because I'm foisting twice as much cake on him than you or Suzuka-chan."
His expression brightened again when he returned his attention to her. "I believe I missed the memo for all of the cake. I know it's not a holiday because Haruka was just as confused as I am. Was. Er, thank you, again, f-for the cake."
Inwardly, she squealed at the pinkness on his cheeks. "Tomorrow is my papa's birthday, and I was hoping to bake for him myself." As they walked, Hisako found herself wishing she could walk all the way home instead of taking a bus, even as her stomach flopped over with nerves at his proximity.
He said something fast in English and coughed to hide his slip. "I meant to say, I'm sorry."
"I think I was too forward at lunch?" Mathias scratched at the back of his head. "I think the Japanese are not as—they are more—how the hell do you say conservative?" He groaned at the sky, took a breath, and tried again. "You may have been unsure of my wishes. I think group dates are more common here, but I am used to many single dates."
"Um, I think so." Not that she had much experience either way.
"B-But I am still looking forward to that!" he quickly added. She nodded and hid her smile with her hand. Her heart was definitely all a-flutter and she would probably have to scream into her pillow at this rate. "Viarge du Criss, I am so tired of this. Japanese is difficult."
"It's been getting a lot better this past month, I can tell. Do you often switch languages mid-sentence?"
"Yes," he replied with a lopsided smile. "I miss English and French, to be honest. Haruka has me on Japanese-only music, and I have watched so much anime. So much. I can't be tempted to switch languages since I still need to learn so much more. It has been very difficult."
"You could watch dramas or the news instead," she suggested.
"Haruka only suggests anime and sad movies. Do you have any you like?" he asked, perking up.
Hisako looked away when she admitted, "I mainly watch toku shows and cheesy romantic things."
"Anything to keep me from remembering I can't watch Sherlock until it's dubbed!"
"I'm sure you could watch shows you like."
"I am worried Haruka will enlist help if she suspects me of going back to anything western," Mathias whispered with a shudder. "But the other side is that she is stuck with all of the English. She tells me she misses Kyary and Kanamin. I told her she can have her music when I get BBC rights back. It is more fun to be on that side."
Hisako tried to imagine Haruka into anime, idols, and girl groups. It actually made a little bit of sense, considering her magical girl jokes. "Are you homesick a lot? Or is it mostly the language you're having issues with?"
"I-I'm not having issues, am I?" he asked, alarmed.
"No! Your Japanese is very good!"
"I'm sure your English is still good."
"I'm not falling for that," she said flatly, and he shrugged and chuckled in defeat.
"The language is a headache, but I am homesick for other things. The buildings are very different here," he said, gesturing to the tall building behind them, as they waited for the bus, "and the food is very, very, very different."
"What is the food in Canada like?" she asked curiously.
"Hm, heavier. Laugh if you like, but I really miss poutine and syrup. Actual syrup, not what Haruka's parents got me." He stuck out his tongue. "And Tim's. I would drop kick a puppy for coffee from Tim's."
"I'm not sure I wanted to know what that sentence was. Who is Tim?"
"It's a fast food chain. Like Wild-Duck Burger or Starbucks." They both jolted at a harder stop from the bus, and she bumped into his chest. She drew back at once, her face feeling warm, but he just smiled that adorable smile of his and her heart melted a little more. "Is it a date if I offer to take you to one if you are ever in Canada?"
"U-Um," she replied, pleased but tongue-tied, and tried to imagine herself in a foreign country. "You would have to be my translator." Her stop arrived, and to her surprise, he departed, too. He insisted he'd just walk from there, though she was a little nervous about letting him.
She thought, for the tiniest moment, of inviting him home with her. She could offer to let him borrow a DVD or something, or even try to bribe him with more cake, but most of those thoughts sounded like Atticus in her head. In her opinion, it took far too long for the responsible Octavia voice to pipe up and tell her how inappropriate that would be.
The silence stretched between them a beat too long. His clear blue eyes searched hers, and she found she couldn't hold his gaze for long. "Do I make you nervous?" he asked, quiet but gentle.
She was about to respond when she was betrayed by the sudden light of a social link—and she jerked back, of course. Mathias started in surprise, too, but he managed to hide his hurt expression with a fast smile. "No!" Hisako blurted out. "I-I mean, sometimes you do, but a lot of things do—I'm just—I didn't mean to…"
"I am not very good at this either, and if it's any comfort, you're easy to get nervous around, too. And with that, I will leave!" Mathias saluted and marched away, pace stiff but fast.
Hisako managed to wait until she was in her own room to bang her head against the wall. Traitorous Lovers card.
Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
"What, no escort home today?" Yuri drawled by the shoe lockers. Hisako looked up from her phone—Saturday after school would be the mixer, just great—and frowned at him.
"You don't usually take interest in what I do with Mathias-san. You usually avoid it."
"In my head, I'm calling this 'making sure you don't overwork yourself', rather than showing an interest in your love life."
"Yes, because walking home with a boy is such a workout."
"Maybe it isn't if you don't look like you're about to hyperventilate every time you talk to him for more than five minutes." He shrugged. She started to reply, indignant, but he added, "Between Shunya-senpai, your cake binge, and whatever the weird Velvet people did to get you upset, you've sort of got a full plate. Add in boy troubles and I'm worried you'll pop."
"I'm working on Octavia," she muttered, eyeing other students as they passed. No one seemed to care. "My baking spree ends today, I thought we handled Shunya-senpai, and it's not boy troubles. It's just—a group date. And a lot of me embarrassing myself."
"You can't break my record with the girls, so don't worry."
"Not that I'm not grateful for your concern, but I'm still puzzled by it."
Yuri let out a long, aggrieved sigh. "Do you know how much Poirier stares at the back of your head in class? It's a little distracting, even to me."
"Why are you looking back at him?" Hisako asked, hands on her hips.
"It's, uh, sort of a habit," he admitted. It took her a second to figure it out; Mika's desk was in that direction for him. They both fidgeted, too uncomfortable to comment on the obvious. She certainly didn't know what to say to that.
"I won't lie and say I'm unhappy that he seems to be—"
"Acting like a puppy?"
"—interested. I was going to say interested," she huffed, face feeling warm, "but maybe the mixer will fix something. Or do something. I don't know. Have you ever been to one?"
"No, and no matter what you or Sakuraba say, I'm not changing that." He folded his arms, a little defensively, and hunched his shoulders. It looked a little silly on such a tall boy.
"Have you…" No, bad idea, don't ask him, her inner Octavia broke in, saving her.
But Yuri prodded her shoulder with a sour look. "Don't leave me there."
"You're not going to like the question."
"Definitely don't leave me there."
"Have you ever had a girlfriend?" she asked in a small voice.
"You're right, I shouldn't have asked," Yuri agreed, running a hand over his face. "Why do you keep asking me what all of these normal human relationships are like?"
"Because you are worldly and knowledgeable and won't go running to Mathias-san about this?" she asked with a hopeful smile.
"I may be those things, but you are the queen of forgetfulness. You're the only girl who's willing to talk to me, remember? Even Sakuraba doesn't talk to me without you around," he said and poked her again. She rubbed her shoulder, so he switched targets and poked her forehead. She jabbed him in the side in retaliation for that one.
"I have to go bake my last cake for a long time. I don't have to stand for your abuse," Hisako told him, nose in the air, mouth pursed to prevent a grin.
"Don't you dare bring any leftovers tomorrow."
"Most boys would be happy to get home-baked goods from a girl!"
"Then give it to the other guys! Next piece I get I'm going to smear on a canvas," he called after her as she departed.
He probably would, she realized, unsure if she should be amused or horrified. And then, Why can't I talk that comfortably with Mathias-san?
She bought the ingredients for her last chocolate cake on the way home, and tried to do the math for timing it with her father's arrival home. She ended up having to guess. Hisako was endlessly pleased that that cake turned out the best of all her attempts, even if it was slightly burnt on the bottom.
Her father walked in when she was still frosting it. She stared at him for a long moment—and he stared down at the cake on the countertop—before she demanded, "Close your eyes! Go to your room!"
"Grounded, on my birthday?" Koichi asked, the amusement in his voice letting it be known that he'd seen. Hisako grumpily frosted the rest of the cake. So much for the element of surprise.
When she let him come back out into the kitchen, the cake was finished and she let him 'ooh' and 'ahh' with pride. "We have to eat an actual meal first, but I made it myself."
"I thought this was my birthday dinner. Sure it isn't?" he asked and stuck his finger into the frosting. She swatted at him and retrieved the spatula to smooth over the hole. Koichi beamed at her around the finger in his mouth. "Thank you, Ma-chan. It's good so far."
They ended up ordering take-out (she couldn't begrudge him his choice of birthday dinners) and settled in on the couch. She was glad to see he was in a very happy mood, humming along to commercials, not having a single complaint about work, but she was worried. He had been coughing that morning.
And he still hadn't heard what she had given him for the day.
"Cake time!" Hisako announced proudly, a plate in each hand. Truthfully, she was a little sick of cake herself, too (not that she'd ever admit that to Yuri), but it was worth it for the look on her father's face.
"I had been wondering why the apartment had been smelling so sweet lately." And she had been lighting incense almost constantly to try to hide it. Subtlety was not her forte. "This is very good, thank you, Ma-chan. Did you learn how to bake this in your Cooking Club?"
"Ah, yes. It's the only thing I've managed to actually pick up so far."
"My compliments to the chef."
She preened under the attention. It wasn't often she got compliments on her cooking, Suzuka's gluttony aside. Hisako waited until he was finished, heart thrumming in her chest, before she broached the subject of his gift. "So, papa, about your present…"
"No bow on the cake?" Koichi joked.
"No, that wasn't it! I, um… You don't get a bow on it, either."
"Do I get to guess?"
"No, you wouldn't ever guess it." There was no way to handle it except bluntness and bracing herself. "I-I didn't know what else to do so I paid off next month's rent and you can do what you like with that."
The smile on her father's face slowly slipped, replaced by surprise—and concern.
Hisako quickly added, "I already did it, and the landlady was okay with it, so no take-backs, papa."
"How did you—did your mother help you?"
"What? No!" She hadn't even thought about asking her mother to help. Come to think of it, it would have been the perfect cover—plus the added bonus of mother and daughter teaming up for him—but she would have had to have talked to her mother for that to have worked.
"How did you come up with all of that money?"
It hadn't quite been a third of her Irkalla money. "I, um, got a job. It's just a little thing, but you said I could pick one up now that we're settled…" She felt terrible, lying to her dad on his birthday, but it worked as a cover.
Koichi opened his mouth, then closed it without a word. He pulled Hisako into a hug and against her hair, murmured, "You didn't have to do that, and I don't want you doing it again. But thank you—I appreciate that, Hisako."
"You're welcome, papa." She didn't comment on doing it again. "Happy birthday. Now eat more cake."
He pulled away with a laugh and a slightly wobbly smile. "If it's alright with you, I'd actually like to save some of it for tomorrow. And you'd probably get after me if I ate too much of it tonight, wouldn't you?"
"Tomorrow, the rest of the cake. And maybe this weekend we can do something with this newfound pocket change of mine, hm?"
"That doesn't mean just spend it!"
"Maybe it'll be a special occasion! My wonderful daughter, all grown up and paying rent!"
"I'll pay more of it if you keep joking!"
Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Hisako had been nodding off in class when the classroom door slid open to reveal an aide with a message for her. "Fujihara, go to the faculty office. Please, wipe your drool before you leave," Mr. Akiyama said. She burned with embarrassment but waited until she was out in the hall before scrubbing at her face. It wasn't like she dozed all that often.
She didn't think to be alarmed until the vice principal was the one who greeted her at the office. "Er, miss Fujihara, we've just gotten a call about your father." The alarm caught up with her entirely and her heart thudded painfully against her ribcage. "I understand he has some sort of medical condition."
"What happened?" she choked out.
"It seems he collapsed at his office and is now in the hospital. You'll be excused for the rest of the day…" She didn't hear much after that.
She signed off on a form, stopped herself from running in the halls, and tried to calm herself. It had happened before, several times. They had moved to the city to be closer to better hospitals. One of her father's doctor friends was there and knew about his disease. He had been fine that morning—but hadn't he been coughing yesterday?
She ended up sprinting to the bus stop. Hisako wiped at her eyes during the ride, trying to figure out how she could get to the hospital, looking at train maps on her phone. It was almost a routine, her father collapsing suddenly and she rushing to make sure he was okay, but it panicked her each time. It only took one time for it to be the last.
He'll be fine, she told herself as she boarded the train. It was mostly empty that early in the day, before the lunch rush, and she was thankful fewer people had to see her biting her finger to stop from crying in public.
Hisako was familiar with hospitals. She hated it. Seeing Dr. Arakida in the hall prevented her from panicking further, and he soothingly explained that it was nothing serious, nothing new. She could have sobbed with relief. "C-Can I go see him?" she asked during the first break in the explanation.
"Yes, you can—"
She didn't wait around for further permission and rushed to his room.
But there was someone already in there. Hisako pulled up short in the doorway, eyes wide, mouth slack. Renora Fujihara looked up from the chair, and hid her own surprise by tucking a lock of long, blonde hair behind her ear. "...Hisako," the woman said, voice calm and even and not at all tinny without the phone between them.
"Mother," she replied.
Knowledge: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
Confidence: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
Charm: ★★☆☆☆ (+4)
Empathy: ★★★☆☆ (+0)
"Thou art I... And I am thou... Thou hast established a genuine bond..."
Hisako Fujihara has established the Connoisseur social link of the Hermit arcana!
Hisako Fujihara's Twins social link has ranked up! The Moon arcana has reached rank 3.
Hisako Fujihara's Linguist social link has ranked up! The Lovers arcana has reached rank 2.