「Hmm. Well, whether you pass or not for now is a matter of whether I pity you. This does not live up to my expectations. If I have to rate it, I give it 25 points.」
I’d stuck a note with my email at the door to Mizuhara’s lab.
He replied at lunch break, using the subject line of the email while leaving the actual body of it empty.
Well, it’s fine, but you’re supposed to use the body…
「Oh my, I apologize for that!」
So that was his evaluation of the apple pie I’d put even more effort than usual into. I hadn’t thought he’d give me a rave review, but this reaction..
25 points means I’d failed. Apparently I couldn’t pass even with his pity points.
Mizuhara had started scarfing down two of the three slices of apple pie I’d brought him. As I watched, I took out my own lunch.
Since he’d called me at lunch break, I’d given up on going to the cafeteria, and instead bought a sandwich from a convenience store.
「It looks nice, carving out leaves onto the lattice top was a rather good idea.」
「Why, thank you.」
My mother had helped me come up with an idea for how to decorate the rest of the top left over once I was done with the leaves.
「You used Jonathan apple for the inside, right? Although the balance between sweet and sour is very good, the fact that it’s cheap is a minus. Use farm-fresh apples.」
「What’s wrong with using supermarket-fresh apples?」
「They’re not fresh.」 Mizuhara got started on the third slice while speaking. He ate really fast, as if scarfing down the entire thing in a breath.
I tuned out his non-stop annoying remarks into the background, and started gulping down my own sandwich.
「And the worst thing by far is: the amount!」 Finishing the pie in the blink of an eye, Mizuhara pointed at the aluminium sheet with nothing but crumbs left on it.
What did he mean by the number? 3 pieces is a good number. 4 is just ominous, though.
[1. TL Note: in Japanese, ‘four’ can have the same pronunciation as ‘death’ so it’s considered an unlucky number, kind of like 13 in the English speaking world.]
「I expected your pie to be whole. Judging by the way you’ve cut it, you’ve simply taken half and divided it into three. In other words, the pie you’ve brought me is only half of what I demanded.」
「Huh? What are you talking about? 3 pieces is already plenty.」
Mizuhara pouted, displeased, and brought out some pound cake from the drawer.
After three slices of sweet apple pie, he was going to eat pound cake.
And on top of that, he was drinking cocoa.
God, his choice of food was enough to make me draw away.
「Let’s say I asked you for money. A sum that you could barely pay… 10,000 yen sounds right, doesn’t it?」
「There you go again, talking about money. Why do you have an image of me as a poor, needy person?!」
「You’ve returned half of 10,000 to me. That’s what giving this pie to me is like. There’s a limit even to being rude. We had a deal!」
「No, what kind of reasoning is that? Even if that was true, I’ve still returned 5000 yen.」
Cutting money in half is one thing, but there’s no problem with cutting a pie in half. Three slices should already be more than enough.
「Let me speak my mind: Where has the other half gone?!」shouted Mizuhara.
Just what is up with this guy?
I ate the other half with my parents, one slice per person.
「So this half-pie doesn’t count. Fetch me another pastry next week — and this time, a whole one.」
「Whaaat? That’s just… Well, fine. Since I broke a promise, making you wait.」
「Ah, that’s fine. I realized what happened after reading the newspaper extra from the newspaper club at noon.」He handed me the school newspaper, saying,「Look.」
The headline was 『The Sweets Prince Finally Finds Miss Chocolat!』
Even though it’d just happened this morning, the newspaper club was lightning fast. I knew that news had to be fresh-hot, but this was professional speed.
「Finally, Miss Chocolat appears in front of the Sweets Prince (Michel François). Miss Chocolat is in reality, last year’s Grand Miss K winner, Kinoshita Yui. The prince immediately confessed his love to her, and Miss Kinoshita accepted right there; two beautiful people publicly became a couple today. Although the only thing binding them together was a cookie, the two are already so sweet. Just like a scene out of a fairytale, the spectacle fascinated onlookers.」
Mizuhara read it out smoothly, as if disinterested, even though he knew I was actually Miss Chocolat. I felt some very complicated emotions at it.
But Mizuhara barely cared.
「You’re the perfect foil right in the corner of this image, a side character that enhances the main scene since you’re the opposite of it.」
「Well, my bad.」
When I looked at the picture, I was standing absentmindedly beside the two gazing at each other.
Calling me a foil makes it sound like I’m the only one though, while there’s more people in the background.
「I certainly felt angry when when the bell rang as I was waiting for you at the entrance and you still didn’t come. But seeing your cramped face in the newspaper has cleared up my anger.」
「Thank goodness for that!」
To be honest, my heart was racing when the sweet cinnamon smell of the apple pie wafted throughout the area. Especially when the scent grew stronger when we moved to a small, empty classroom for the interview and picture.
「I’ll repeat. This pie doesn’t count.」 He brought out his sketchbook from the rack.
Requesting something specific is fine, but whether I can make it or not is another question.
「Even though this didn’t count, I’ll still give you more money for the ingredients. And I can’t stand seeing you in that shirt. I hope it’s not because of the pie.」
「It’s not because of the pie!」
Just how does Mizuhara keep sensing poverty from my shirts?
I tugged at the T-shirt I was wearing.
I didn’t think I grew out clothes fast, but hearing that from someone still made me worry.
I’d better go shopping next holiday for a new shirt…
「Here, take it.」
I opened the envelope he handed me, and saw 30,000 yen inside. He’d given me 3000 last time.
「You’ve made a mistake here.」 Mistaking 10,000 yen notes for 1000 yen notes is already terrible enough, but it’s even more surprising that he has that kind of money.
「It’s correct. That’s for 10 portions.」
He was insulting me before with all that talk about failing and pity, and now he wanted me to make 10 portions! 「Eenie, meenie, miney, moe,」 Mizuhara said, flipping through a pastry cooking book.
「Did… Did you actually like my pastries?」
「They weren’t bad.」
「You’re so contradictory…」
He’d praised my sweets, so I wasn’t upset.
I made them as a hobby. It really wasn’t a problem to give some to him.
「But I can’t give you all of them because I have to taste them too, and I get advice from my mother as well. That’s why I don’t need 30,000.」 I returned the envelope to him. It was way too much for the necessary ingredients.
「The money doesn’t matter that much. I won’t voice a single complaint even if you steal it and use it to buy a shirt.」
「It should matter to you. And I’m not going to buy a shirt with it!」
「Besides, that’s just money I simply earned with my own sweat. So don’t worry about it. Well, if you do worry, then make 15 portions.」
Simply earned it… If I asked him how much he made an hour as a working student, he’d probably want to kill me.
「…Well, I’ll accept 10,000 yen then. Because even if I make the pastries, I’ll eat half with my family. We eat them right after I make them, since they definitely taste the best fresh from the oven.」
「Hmm… Are they really that good freshly made?」 Mizuhara stopped flipping through the book.
「Oh, definitely. Though it depends on the pastry itself. Things like pies, cakes, cookies, definitely taste the best freshly made. The pie’s crust is just so crispy and hot. Pudding is delicious when it’s cold too, but freshly made pudding is tasty in its own way. Sweet potato is the best when it’s cooled down just a little so you can taste just how soft it is. Cream souffle is the absolute best when it’s freshly made and has cherry liqueur on top, it’s so fluffy and sweet. Freshly fried donuts covered in sugar just melt slowly in your mouth, sticky and irresistible…」
「Well, by the time I give it to you it’ll have cooled down so you just can’t experience that. Oh, right, isn’t summer vacation starting the week after next week? So I’ll give you your pastries after next week, in September’s first Economics class.」
「If it’s September, the fruits will have gone rotten by then, so I can’t bring fruits. Food poisoning is a hazard. I use fruits to accentuate the pastries often. Seasonal fruits do have a bad shape, but they’re tasty and cheap, so I can get my hands on them easily.」
「Mizuhara? Are you listening?」
Mizuhara stayed silent. Had he actually fallen asleep? I shook his shoulders, and he suddenly looked up.
「What are you doing for summer vacation?」
「Uh… Oh, right, I’ll be participating in my club, working, hanging out with friends, and finishing up my homework in my free time. It’s like that every summer vacation.」
「Your summer vacation is so mediocre, I can’t even give it an honorary 1 point.」
「Well, I’m sorry about that! Then what are you going to be doing?」
「Every year, without fail, I indulge myself with pursuing the best sweets in the entire country.」
「That’s… Ah, I can’t understand it.」
「But this year, there are essays I have to write, meetings I have to attend, exams I have to take… I cannot pursue sweets anymore. It’s going to be a terribly regretful summer.
「You can just order sweets online, can’t you?」
「I’d be doing that if I could. It’s because I can’t that I have to go buy them myself. You could guess that much, you ignorant, poor, small-breasted, triple-handicapped fool!」
I kicked up the wheeled chair he was sitting on, and he ended up stuck between the desk and the chair.
He groaned, his voice full of pain, so I dealt him the finishing blow and kicked the chair again.
He clapped his hands on the desk again and again, a signal of surrender.
「What are you doing?! You’re a thug!」
Upon seeing my foot on the back of the chair, ready to strike, Mizuhara cleared his throat, swallowing down any more insults he might have said otherwise.
「Just hear me out. Will you come to my house to bake pastries this summer vacation?」
It took a while for his words to get through my head.