After my mother triple checked that I’m fine, she and my dad left to spend the rest of their day sightseeing other places. That is, of course, after I kept insisting them to. But my father insisted that he drive us to Hideki’s place, before we went our separate ways.
So I took up his offer, and also sent Hideki’s home address to Chiaki.
“My home has nothing, Shin,” Hideki said, as we both stood on his doorsteps.
“This is bad. We need to buy and prepare some food before she arrives.” he scanned the touch pad in front of his door with his key card. Inside this old apartment with only two floors, his room is the second one, after we walked up the stairs.
“Oh, I forgot to mention that Yui is coming later too.” I said, as he invited me in.
“Does she have… you know…”
“She doesn't have a boyfriend, I think. And she can be a bit clumsy.”
Hideki instantly put his hands on my shoulder. “One more thing I need to confirm.”
“I would say they are… more or less on par with Sakura's.”
He immediately stood up. “Say no more, Shin. Go to the convenience store and buy some food back. I’ll clean up this room. Hurry now, we must not make the girls wait!”
Before I could get a closer look on his room, he already pushed me out to the corridor.
“You saw that convenience store in the car, right? Go there! 10 minutes, Shin! Fast!” he yelled on the other side of the door.
“Fine!” I yelled back.
Roughly 15 minutes later, I returned with bags of instant foods, some beverages, and some snacks. I knocked on the door.
“I don’t want to buy anything, try next door!” Hideki shouted from inside.
I sneezed. It’s cold.
“Damn it Hideki,” I said. “Open now or I’ll leave with the food.”
“No, Shin, wait—” I heard his footsteps rushing towards the door.
After a few seconds, the door clicked and unlocked by itself.
“Thanks for having me over,” I said, as I put the food on his kitchen table.
He searched through the foods, and immediately took out the instant ramens and a few packs of tofu.
“Shin… what are these?” he asked, showing me the ramen.
“Why?” he asked.
“Don’t we have these at parties?”
“Oh,” I said. “My bad.”
I looked at the clock on top of his television.
“But I think they haven’t had lunch yet, right? So, we might as well make a hearty lunch.”
He paused at me for a while. “You know what? You’re right. Let’s get cooking.”
He put on his apron and started to wash some carrots from his fridge, and started to boil water.
“Wait, can you actually cook?” I asked, I think I only saw plastic packages of bento inside his rubbish bin.
“Yes, of course I can cook,” he peeled the skin off the carrot, and started to slice the cylindrical tofu in a few pieces. “I just don’t do it because I’m too lazy too.”
“Wear that apron,” he said. “You’re going to be helping too.”
After 30 minutes or so, the bell rang.
“They’re here,” Hideki said. “Don’t panic, we are ready. Are we ready? Yes, of course. We’re ready.”
I unlocked the door for them, ignoring Hideki’s mumbles.
“Welcome in, ladies.” I said.
Chiaki and Yui were both stunned at first, but then they chuckled at my apron.
“Thanks for having us,” they said to Hideki and I.
“Sure, sure,” Hideki replied, and he pulled me to him.
“Shin, you did not lie to me,” he looked at Yui.
“Of course not. Why are you nervous?”
“This is the first time any girl has ever come into my home, plus, this Yui girl has a strange aura on her,” he whispered to me.
Right, he’d been living alone ever since he came to this university.
“What do I do?” he asked, after I did not reply to him. “What do I do?”
“Act natural and you’ll be fine,” I said. “Those magazines though… have you hidden them?”
“Of course. That was the first thing I did.”
“Oh… so many guests you’re having here today,” said an old woman, suddenly standing in front of the door which we had not closed yet. She’s holding a pot of udon.
“Mrs. Yui!” Hideki called out. “What are you doing out here in this cold?”
“Oh, I just wanted to thank you for helping me last time. We had some extra udon sent by our children, and they are expiring today. So, I cooked them and—”
“Oh, Mrs. Yui, you don’t have to.”
“Take it, take it,” she said.
And so, Hideki took it over from her. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Yui.”
“You’re very welcome,” she said, then she waved goodbye at us.
“Stop laughing,” Hideki said.
He must have noticed me covering my mouth, and was trying to stifle my laughter the whole time. ‘Yui’… that’s why he thought I was playing tricks on him.
I then closed the door as we headed back inside.
“So, your neighbor is called ‘Yui’ too?” Yui asked.
Chiaki and I started to giggle.
“Oh, shut up, you two,” Hideki said, a bit flustered.
“I just think that’s sweet,” Yui said to Hideki. “You helping your neighbor.”
Hideki scratched his head. “Umm… thanks.”
I’ve never seen him so awkward in front of a girl before. They have this strange chemistry.
We then took our seats at the kotatsu table, right in front of the television. Four people, Chiaki, sat across from me, Yui sat across from Hideki. And the weird thing was, Hideki was nervous the whole time, his eyes darting around his room.
On top of the table was a hot pot Hideki and I prepared, with ramen, some tofu, carrots, meatballs, mushrooms, and lettuce. I didn’t buy any meat. Then, another hot pot is filled with udon and some chopped spring onions only. And of course, soft drinks, tea in bottles, and snacks.
“Thank you for the meals,” Yui and Chiaki said, as they started to scoop and take their own bowl of food. Or at least, it’s what I thought.
Yui gave the bowl of udon to Hideki, with a piece of meatball on it. Chiaki filled her bowl with ramen and was starting to eat when she saw Yui handing udon to Hideki.
Chiaki looked at me. “Get your food yourself,” she said. Then she started slurping on the ramen.
“T… Thanks,” Hideki said, taking over the bowl.
“You’re welcome,” Yui said as she gently smiled at him.
Hideki looked taken aback, and he immediately wrapped his arm around me and pulled me back, a few feet away from the table.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“She gave you udon?”
“Yes, I know, but why?”
“Because you welcomed her into your home, cooked her food, and she thinks you’re a nice person.”
“That’s ridiculous. Shouldn’t the hosts do all these? It’s a norm, right?”
“Well, I mean… yeah.”
Chiaki coughed. “Are you two finished over there?”
Yui was also looking at us weirdly, biting the end of her chopsticks.
I whispered to him, “Maybe she likes you, as a person. Just accept it.”
“Yeah,” I replied to Chiaki. “We’re done here.”
“Good,” Chiaki said. “The food is getting cold.”
We then sat back and started eating. But before I got to eat, some of Hideki’s hot soup sprayed on my cheek because he started with a quick slurp. I jerked away from it.
“Hideki, eat slowe—"
“Don’t move,” Chiaki said. She suddenly swiped my hair away, taking a closer look at the plaster on the temple of my forehead.
“Does it still hurt?” she asked.
I peered into her eyes. She looked worried. She hasn’t asked me anything after we met because Hideki and I were too occupied preparing this and that.
“No,” I said. “I’m fine.”
I patted her head. “Really.”
“Then it’s fine,” she said, continuing to eat.
Hideki and Yui stared at us with a grin on their faces.
Hideki raised his eyebrows in a quick up-down manner at me.
Yui only smiled, as she put both her hands on her cheeks, like she’s enjoying sweets.
“Shut up” I mouthed at Hideki.
He chuckled, looking less tense already. Then he took a deep breath, and awkwardly, but properly introduced himself to Yui. So was Yui, to him.
After hitting it off, they talked about various university stuff, a bit about their hobbies, favorite time-spending spots on campus and other seemingly unrelated things. Their conversation just flew naturally, on and on.
Chiaki didn’t say anything during their conversation, as did I. We were only busy refilling our food, and adding our laughter, comments occasionally. But I can see from the way Chiaki evolves from small chuckle to big laughter, and her sparkly eyes, that she enjoyed this. Especially Hideki’s lame dad jokes.
"Shin, what do you call a fake noodle?" he asked.
"An impasta," I said.
“Oh, come on! You were not supposed to answer that!”
I chuckled. “Sorry.”
“Apologizing just made it worse,” he frowned at me.
Both Yui and Chiaki chuckled.
“You two are close,” Yui said. “Are you guys childhood friends?”
“No.” Hideki and I blurted out.
“I only met Shin a year ago.”
“You stole my pen.”
“I did ASK for your permission.”
“Oh, really? I didn’t notice it because IT WAS ALREADY ON YOUR HAND!”
Chiaki turned on the tv.
There’s news being reported live.
Cinema. School bus. 10 deaths: children below 10. 2 in critical conditions: the teacher and the driver. 3 severely injured: adults passing by. 10 hospitalized: movie-goers leaving the cinema.
10, plus 2.
When there’s death, there will always be death. This is what Reaper was referring to. The crash site is in complete wreckage, with firefighters rescuing the victims, and some of the victim’s families are devastated, sobbing in public, especially the children’s parents.
“We were just there, a few hours ago.” Hideki said.
“According to the autopsy report released by the local police, the driver of this elementary school bus was found to have a sudden attack, while he was driving the children home. Right after he lost consciousness, he was still stepping on the engine pedal, which made any attempt at stopping the bus futile, as the teacher had tried, in one of these videos. More details on this incident will be updated later. Our deepest condolences to all the victim’s family. Thank you for tuning in. This has been Studio ABC—”
Without saying a word, or looking away from the TV, Chiaki held one of my hands.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She didn’t say anything.
“Don’t worry,” I said, intertwining my fingers with her. “I’m here.”
“It’s that scary, huh?” Hideki said.
Yui elbowed him.
“Well, I guess that’s it then. Our party is coming to a close. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, Shin. For the countdown.” Hideki said.
“Wait, you’re going too?” Yui asked.
“Yeah, you too?”
“That’s nice! Should we gather at Shin’s place, we’ll wait at the station then he’ll come get us.”
Hideki and Yui looked at me.
“Fine,” I said. “8:00PM sharp tomorrow.”
“Roger!” Yui and Hideki cheered.
“You’re coming too right, Chiaki?” Yui asked.
She only nodded.
“Great,” Hideki said. “Then it’s official. Cans up!”
We followed him.
“Cheers, for our last party this year.”