Chapter 17:

The Aftermath

ALLEZ CUISINE! Gourmet Battle Girls

I came home much earlier than I had expected to see Mako smoking her usual cigarette, but leaning up against the front entryway to the building instead of leaning outside her window as she usually did.Bookmark here

“Hey,” she said. “You all right?” she asked.Bookmark here

I didn’t really know how to respond. We had left soon after the paramedics had arrived, so we didn’t see what had happened with Tsukiko in the aftermath. All we knew was that a few minutes after I got onto the train going home, an announcement had gone out on all the official channels that the rest of the night’s broadcast was cancelled, and that the broadcast of the next two divisions would be postponed until early next week.Bookmark here

“I haven’t heard anything about her,” I said. “But…it was pretty bad.”Bookmark here

“I heard. People were posting pictures online. They didn’t have the camera focused on her when it happened, but…” Mako blew out a plume of smoke, making a disgusted face.Bookmark here

I rolled my eyes. “I’m exhausted. I’m gonna go to sleep.”Bookmark here

“Night.” Mako stubbed out her cigarette on the door post as I walked in.Bookmark here

As I approached my door, I heard footsteps, and turned to see Tenmyouji coming down the stairs. His eyes met mine.Bookmark here

“Evening, Sakamoto-san,” he said.Bookmark here

“Evening,” I replied, but inside, I had a thousand questions. Tenmyouji approached me, standing a few feet away.Bookmark here

“Hey. Can I talk to you for a second?” he asked.Bookmark here

I rolled my eyes and said nothing, but Tenmyouji approached, still keeping his distance. “I wanted to apologize for the way I talked to you that time,” he said.Bookmark here

I shrugged. Honestly, after everything that happened tonight, I didn’t want to argue. “Apology accepted. Hey, I was wondering. Were you at the cooking battle earlier?” I asked.Bookmark here

Tenmyouji nodded. “I was, but I had to leave early…guess I missed all the excitement.” He shuddered. “I saw the pictures…”Bookmark here

“I didn’t know you were a fan of gourmet battles,” I said.Bookmark here

Tenmyouji chuckled. “I’m not. I’m a fan of Ludovic St. Germaine,” he said.Bookmark here

“…Oh.” That made sense…kind of.Bookmark here

“I’ll take my leave. You look like you’ve had a rough evening.” Tenmyouji turned his back and walked back upstairs as I unlocked my door and stepped back into my apartment.Bookmark here

It was hard to sleep that night. The sound of the light bar crashing down onto Tsukiko was replaying in my mind, and the nagging thoughts of what if it had been me and what if it had been Yomogi were running through my mind. I clutched the stuffed cat that Emi had given me the other night as I tried to calm myself down. I thought of all the good and gentle things that had happened today: seeing Ryotaro’s happy smile, getting congratulated by my class, seeing Yomogi bursting into happy tears after her match, Taiga touching my shoulder…Bookmark here

I remembered the day Taiga had met me in the cafeteria and gave me a pep talk. He seemed to be a really caring guy with such a warm, soothing smile. Thinking about him…started to make me feel warm. I thought about seeing him again at school, and eating lunch together in our usual lunch spot. I thought about going to see him the night of the Washoku Division championships, until I remembered they were cancelled. Then the worst of today’s events came crashing down on me. (I know. Poor choice of words.)Bookmark here

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I don’t know when or how I drifted off, but I woke up to hear rain pattering on the glass outside. I lifted my head and fumbled for the alarm clock, and noticed it was around 7 AM—the right time to wake up on a weekday, but early for a Saturday. Groggily, I reached for my phone and saw a bunch of messages from my friends.Bookmark here

From: Kei To: Me
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How are you feeling? Couldn’t sleep all last night :(Bookmark here

From: Emi To: Me
OMG! Were you there when the lights fell? Is that girl all right????Bookmark here

From: Caroline To: Me
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Are you OK?Bookmark here

From: Michael To: Me
You doing OK?Bookmark here

Finally, a message from Yomogi that told me everything I needed to know:Bookmark here

From: Yomogi To: Me
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I got a message from Yukiko
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Tsukiko’s in the hospital
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Concussion & broken bonesBookmark here

“Damn,” I muttered, as I pulled the sheets off my futon and got ready to start my day.Bookmark here

I spent the next hour groggily cleaning my apartment and listening to the rain outside. As I was finishing up scrubbing the tile in my bathroom, my phone rang—and it was the ringtone specifically reserved for my mother. I sighed, pulled off my rubber gloves, and stumbled into the main room to answer it.Bookmark here

“Hello, Mom,” I said, sleepily.Bookmark here

“How are you doing, Vanilla?” she asked. “I heard about what happened last night from Ryotaro.”Bookmark here

“Yeah…I couldn’t sleep or anything,” I murmured.Bookmark here

“I am coming into Tokyo for the day tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll be visiting Ryotaro and Caroline, and you are welcome to join us.”Bookmark here

Part of me wanted to just snap at her and go back to lazing around, but the other, more rational part was telling me not to pass this opportunity up, so I said, “Yeah. What time?”Bookmark here

“Can you meet me at the Ikebukuro Station at 2 PM?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” I said.Bookmark here

“Then I will see you then.”Bookmark here

My mother hung up the phone, and when I went back to cleaning, my thoughts drifted. Suddenly, I recalled Tenmyouji’s words to me from last night, and pulled out my laptop computer and looked up Ludovic St. Germaine on Poogle. His Quickipedia entry appeared, giving his vital statistics, as well as a list of his famous associates, like my father. (I avoided looking at his Quickipedia page. It was painful to see him listed as “presumed deceased.”) It also listed a bunch of other things he’d done, like mountain climbing and participating in a celebrity car race. Then, there was a listing under the heading “Controversies.” I clicked on the heading to open it up.Bookmark here

St. Germaine was reported by daily newspaper Le Mondial to have attended a rally for a politician connected with Return to Glory. When confronted by reporter Anais Morisette of French TV station Bonjour Gourmet, St. Germaine confessed that he only did so out of curiosity. However, this led to one of his major sponsors, Les Fermes Bon Vivant, dropping him, stating that “we do not move backwards, we only move forwards.”Bookmark here

I noticed the words Return to Glory were highlighted, so I clicked on them. It opened a smaller page, which I skimmed through.Bookmark here

Return to Glory is a radical group claiming membership in countries throughout the world, with much of their membership concentrated in America. They have been under investigation for various acts of violence, hacking and sabotage against government officials, food production sites and company databases, as well as on computer systems operated by supermarkets and chain stores that participate in the five star ranking system. Much of their capital was raised by the selling of information gathered by hacking. Since an FBI raid on their main base of operation in Nevada in 20XX, their numbers have dwindled, and many of their followers have recanted their support.Bookmark here

Rather than tumble down a Quickipedia rabbit hole, I closed my computer and continued the deep clean of my department as the rain continued to fall.Bookmark here

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The next day, I dressed in a modestly dressy outfit and wore my hair back in a single braid before departing to the train station to meet my mother. When I arrived at Ikebukuro Station, I saw her carrying two large paper bags marked with the logos from two of the higher-end department stores—stores that had some of the most delectable restaurants in the basements. She was dressed in one of her nicer outfits and had her face made up to look youthful and vibrant. I sensed immediately that Caroline and I were probably going to be third and fourth wheels.Bookmark here

“How are you doing today?” my mother asked as I approached.Bookmark here

“I’m fine,” I replied.Bookmark here

She pulled her phone from her pocketbook and tapped on it, inputting a set of directions. “We can walk to his place from here. Oh, can you carry this one for me? Be careful.” She held out one of the two bags, and I took it by the handles carefully. It was taped at the top, but I took a quick peek inside to see that it was none other than Patisserie Midori’s famous green tea tiramisu—the one they sold in limited quantities every day.Bookmark here

I followed my mom past the station and turned down a side street to a fairly quiet residential area. Most of the buildings in the area were high rise apartments, but here and there was a single family house or a commercial building with a shop or a doctor’s office. We stopped in front of a tall, glass-walled tower with a sign outside, reading “Blue Park Ikebukuro,” as my mother started tapping on her phone again.Bookmark here

“They’re expecting us,” she said. “Come on.”Bookmark here

She approached the building, and the glass doors slid open to reveal a beautiful marble tile hallway. The walls were painted pale blue with white wood trim and pillars, making the entire entryway look like it was a palace of clouds. She proceeded towards a bank of elevators and pressed the button for the 16th floor.Bookmark here

“What’s in the other bag?” I asked, watching the numbers change on the indicator above the elevator doors.Bookmark here

“You’ll see,” my mother said. Her normally passive expression seemed a little more animated than usual.Bookmark here

We boarded the elevator and waited as it slowly glided up to the 16th floor. When we exited, I looked around to see huge floor to ceiling glass windows, with a sweeping view of the city beneath them. If it were a little more clearer, you could probably see all the way to the mountains.Bookmark here

“This way, Vanilla,” my mother said, as she turned towards the hallway. Right at the end was a single door, marked 1605, and she knocked on it sharply. There was the sound of high pitched barking from inside.Bookmark here

“Paddington! Hold still!” yelled a familiar voice from inside, and the door opened to reveal Ryotaro. He did not look like he was in a good mood. His hair was messy, his face was covered in stubble, and his eyes looked bleary behind thick framed glasses. He was wearing a simple baggy T-shirt over a pair of wrinkly khakis, and it was obvious that we’d probably interrupted him when he was cleaning or something.Bookmark here

“How are you, Ryo?” my mother said. She’s started shortening his name, I thought, feeling a little queasy at the prospect.Bookmark here

“I’ve been better,” he muttered. “Come in.”Bookmark here

Behind him appeared Caroline, who was holding a wriggling small dog in her arms. He was letting out high pitched barks and growls at us. “Paddington! Be quiet!” Caroline scolded.Bookmark here

I walked through the door and took my shoes off in the genkan as I handed the bag I was holding to Ryotaro. “Thank you for having us,” I said.Bookmark here

“I appreciate you coming,” he said. “I just wish it was under better circumstances.”Bookmark here

My mother leaned over and kissed him on the lips. “Well, I hope I can brighten your day a little more,” she said. I felt my stomach turn again.Bookmark here

I glanced over at Caroline. Paddington (if that was the dog’s name) had settled down in her arms, and was now panting happily.Bookmark here

“I didn’t know you had a dog,” I said to break the tension.Bookmark here

“His name’s Paddington,” Caroline replied. “He’s almost a year old.”Bookmark here

“He certainly does look like a little teddy bear,” I said. I went over to him and held out my hand for him to sniff, which he did enthusiastically.Bookmark here

Caroline set down Paddington, and he trotted along obediently beside us as Ryosuke led us inside. His apartment was pretty big—maybe about as big as our house back in Chichibu. He led us through a hall to the living/dining/kitchen, where he and my mother placed the paper bags onto a table and started opening them. He pulled a package of beautifully arranged sushi, which I recognized from being from Suzaku Sushi.Bookmark here

“Sayuri, you didn’t need to,” Ryosuke as he opened the package of sushi.Bookmark here

“You’ve had a rough couple of days! Of course, you need pampering,” my mother replied.Bookmark here

“Vanilla-san, want to see my bedroom?” Caroline asked, and I nodded. Better let the two lovebirds alone for now. I followed her, along with Paddington, through a door that was off to the end of the living/dining/kitchen.Bookmark here

“Here it is,” Caroline said, opening it up.Bookmark here

Her room was probably a little smaller than my apartment, but it was bright and filled with light. Lining the wall were various low bookcases filled with books in both English and Japanese. There was a small vanity table in one corner, while in the other was a small desk with a closed laptop and a miniature crystal chandelier dangling above. Her bed was neatly made and covered with stuffed animals. And decorating the walls were pictures cut out of magazines of all sorts of beautiful outfits.Bookmark here

“It’s really cute!” I said.Bookmark here

We sat down on her bed together as Paddington hopped up alongside us. He rolled over onto his back, and Caroline stroked his belly as I looked at the titles on the spines of her books. Bookmark here

“These are all my favorites,” Caroline said. “My father and I had to give a lot of our collections away before we moved here.”Bookmark here

“It must’ve been hard to move across the world,” I said. Paddington’s shiny wet nose started sniffing my hand.Bookmark here

“So…what happened Friday night, exactly?” Caroline asked. “All I know is what my father told me. He was busy all day yesterday…interviews and such. Even the police are apparently involved.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know. All I remember is hearing a cracking noise…then it happened. We left around the same time the paramedics arrived. I heard from my friend Yomogi that she’s got broken bones and a concussion.”Bookmark here

Caroline nodded. “That’s what we’ve heard. No changes since then, huh?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

We spent a few seconds in silence. I could hear my mother and Ryotaro talking in the other room, but I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. Finally, I thought of something.Bookmark here

“Hey, so…you know about cultural festivals, right?” I said. “Do they do them at your school?”Bookmark here

“Yes, they do, although they call it an open house,” Caroline said. “But we do presentations and plays and such.”Bookmark here

“We’re having one at our school in a few months, and my class is going to do a fortune telling shop.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s really neat! So like Tarot cards and crystal balls and such?”Bookmark here

“I guess…I don’t really know about any of that. I have time to learn and all, but…”Bookmark here

“Wait, hold on. I might have something…” Caroline hopped down from her bed and scanned the bookshelf, until she pulled out a slim book and handed it to me. “Here!”Bookmark here

“Tass…Tase…” I tried to read the word on the front cover, but Caroline swooped in to save me.Bookmark here

“Tasseomancy,” she said. “It’s all about tea-leaf reading! You pour tea into a cup without a strainer and drink it, and then you tell the future based on how the tea leaves fall inside the cup. My father got it for research for a play. This book’s in English, but…”Bookmark here

I leafed through it. It was full of pictures, and I could surmise some of the meaning from the captions. “I think I can handle this. Yomogi-chan’s really good at English, so I can get her to help me out if she’s not busy. Thanks so much!”Bookmark here

Caroline smiled. “You looked like you needed some help,” she said.Bookmark here

“Hey, can I ask you a personal question?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“What do you think of my mom?”Bookmark here

Caroline leaned back on some pillows, and Paddington got up and trotted over to her, his little fluffy tail wagging. He put his paws on her middle and Caroline reached down to stroke his head.Bookmark here

“Well…she seems like she doesn’t really like the fact that you’re a gourmet battler,” she said.Bookmark here

I nodded. “She and my father never saw eye to eye with each other about that.”Bookmark here

“And…she doesn’t want to admit it but…she’s proud of you.”Bookmark here

I blushed a bit, growing flustered.Bookmark here

“Also I think she seems to like work a little too much, but she knows when to relax.”Bookmark here

I nodded. We grew silent, and the voices of our parents were still carrying on in the other room, until I heard footsteps. “Think I’d like to dive into that wonderful sushi you brought, Sayuri,” I heard Ryotaro say.Bookmark here

“Well, let’s go join them, then,” I said to Caroline.Bookmark here

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After we had our fill of sushi and the green tea tiramisu (try it if you ever see it on a menu, it’s really good), Caroline took me over to a wall that had been decorated with tons of photographs of the family. The first photograph was actually a page torn out of a kids’ magazine, showing a promotional image of Ryuichi Koizumi as Naoki Kurenai, the red uniformed of the Winged Warrior Birdman team, holding his Bird Crest right before leading the Birdman team in a transformation.Bookmark here

“Wow, he was really handsome back then,” I said.Bookmark here

“And he still is now,” my mother retorted.Bookmark here

“They made you take a stage name, huh?” I asked Ryosuke.Bookmark here

“Well, I was playing the leader, after all,” he said.Bookmark here

There were a few photos of Ryosuke wearing Renaissance costumes, labeled as being parts from various Shakespeare plays, as well as a few other costumes from other plays. I recognized some of the names of the plays and characters, but not others. Ryotaro was telling us all about how he fell in love with Shakespeare and Renaissance theater when he studied abroad in England.Bookmark here

Then there was a photo of an English woman standing next to Ryotaro. It was a photo taken in a sunny garden, and the two of them were smiling. “Was that your wife?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Yes. That was my engagement photo with Sophie.” His smile was wistful and very solemn. “And here’s a photo of her holding Caroline the day she was born.”Bookmark here

“Wow…she was really pretty,” I murmured.Bookmark here

There were more photographs of the family together, until we reached the end of the wall. It was a photo that had obviously been taken when Sophie was very ill, as she looked extremely thin and had pale shadows underneath her eyes. Her eyebrows had been drawn on and she was wearing a very lovely head wrap. In the photo, she was sitting down with Ryotaro standing behind her, arms wrapped around her, with a younger Caroline standing to the side and holding her hand.Bookmark here

“Every year when Caroline had her first day of school, we took a photo together,” Ryotaro said, as his gaze lingered on the last photograph.Bookmark here

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We left after Ryotaro showed us a video of one of his plays, where he played the title role in “Macbeth.” He mentioned all the superstitions associated with it as well, such as calling it “the Scottish play” whenever they were rehearsing. As we turned to leave, he whispered something to my mother, and followed it up with a big kiss. Get a room, you two, I thought as I put my shoes back on.Bookmark here

“Well, did you have fun?” I asked my mother as we walked out of the apartment building back to the train station.Bookmark here

“I did. His mood seemed to really brighten up with us there,” she said. “The whole situation at the studio’s got him really stressed out.”Bookmark here

“Did he say anything to you about it?” I asked.Bookmark here

My mother shook her head. “All he said was that the police are involved now.”Bookmark here

The police? I thought. That was telling—those lights falling could have very well been an act of sabotage. What would the next week of school bring?Bookmark here

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As we came closer to the station, we heard a commotion. A man was standing on a large platform that was decorated with a huge sign reading, “Return the world to its true glory!” He had a megaphone and was shouting into it, but no one seemed to be listening to him.Bookmark here

“You ignorant ones turn your back on what the world could truly be like. You are smothered under the soft blanket of the world government and have no idea of your true potential! There is no happiness for you, only suffering!”Bookmark here

“What the hell is his problem?” my mother muttered. As she and I walked towards the station, another person walked in front of us.Bookmark here

“We seek to return the world to its true glory,” said the person, thrusting a pamphlet into my hands.Bookmark here

“Excuse me?” my mother said, glaring at the person. “She did not ask you for one of your silly papers.”Bookmark here

The person glared at my mother, who put her hand on my arm and urged me forward. “Throw that away,” she murmured as we walked out of sight. I looked back to see the two of them continuing their crusade, thrusting pamphlets into peoples’ hands and shouting nonsense at the crowd.Bookmark here

At the gateway to the terminal that would take my mother back to Chichibu, I stopped her. “Are you going to see me in the championship battle?” I asked. “Because I want you there.”Bookmark here

My mother looked down. “I’ll try,” she said. “We’ve…come up on a huge problem at the resort and they need me there to help sort things out.”Bookmark here

“I want you there, Mother,” I said. “Because you need to see me compete. My friends need to know the kind of person you are. And if not for me…do it for Ryotaro. Please.” I hated to play this card, but I knew it was one of the only ways she’d listen to me.Bookmark here

She sighed. “Like I said. We have problems at the resort. But I’ll do my best to make it there.”Bookmark here

I nodded. “All right. Safe travels.”Bookmark here

My mother turned and walked towards the turnstiles. I watched her pass through them and down the tunnel to the terminal before I turned and went down to where my train was waiting.Bookmark here

I wanted to know if what Caroline thought was true.Bookmark here

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The next day was extremely gray and rainy. I came into school, shook off my umbrella and stored it in the shoe locker as I joined the students making their way into classrooms. The events of last Friday night were still fresh on everyone’s minds, with everyone asking each other if they had heard the latest news about how Tsukiko was doing.Bookmark here

Masamune Shiotani got up in front of the class at the beginning of homeroom. He looked somewhat solemn as he read from a statement supplied by the school chairman.Bookmark here

“’This past weekend, one of our students, Tsukiko Asahina, second year class B, Yogashi division, was involved in a serious incident during the taping of the Summer Invitational at Ginga TV. She was admitted to the hospital with a broken collarbone and a concussion, and it is believed that she will be released later this week,’” he read. There were murmurs of relief from around the classroom.Bookmark here

“’Due to her injuries, she will not be able to compete further in the Summer Invitational, and Misaki Katsura has been named the second year champion,’” Masamune continued. “’The competition will continue this evening, featuring the third year Yogashi Division championship, followed by the Washoku Division Championships on Tuesday evening and the Wagashi Division championships on Wednesday evening.’”Bookmark here

There was another buzz from my classmates—they were continuing tonight. It kind of made sense, as the division championship battles would be going on as scheduled for later this week. Still, was it true what Ryotaro told my mother about there being police involved in what happened? Was it safe?Bookmark here

Masamune put the paper back down on the teachers’ desk, which meant there was nothing else to the announcement. I nervously clicked the button on my mechanical pencil, feeling apprehensive about the days ahead. Was everything really all right?Bookmark here

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Kei and Yomogi had the same concerns as me as we met in the cafeteria to eat our lunches. It was pouring out, and apparently the weather forecasts were calling for more of the same for the next few days.Bookmark here

“I still can’t get over the thought that it could’ve been me,” Yomogi murmured.Bookmark here

I nodded. “Me too,” I said. “But here’s the crazy thing. When we went to visit Koizumi-san and Caroline yesterday, my mom mentioned he told her the police were involved.”Bookmark here

“The police?” Yomogi said. “You mean, they think it wasn’t an accident?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” I said.Bookmark here

“Well, it might not be as bad as you think,” Kei said. “Like it’s part of their protocol whenever something like this happens.”Bookmark here

“Maybe. I just hope that this is really just a freak accident,” I said, as I looked down into my empty food tray. Bookmark here

“Yeah, you’ve got your next round to think about!” Kei said. “Just think, both of you! You’re going to the championships!”Bookmark here

Yomogi and I looked at each other and smiled, the events of the previous weekend forgotten as we realized what we’d be up against by the end of this week: very strong opponents.Bookmark here

“Yeah. I’m going to win this for Tsukiko-sempai,” Yomogi said.Bookmark here

“And I’m going to get that rematch with Michael-san. I can’t wait,” I said.Bookmark here

Buoyed up by our hopes for a great championship battle, I spent the rest of the day feeling much better than I felt when the day began.Bookmark here

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The rain didn’t let up all day, and I came home to my apartment completely soaked. I opened my door to my apartment and immediately got out of my soaking clothes.Bookmark here

I made myself a simple dinner of fried rice. My usual go-to is leftover rice mixed with scrambled egg and whatever bits and pieces of vegetables I have left, flavored with soy sauce and a little bit of pickled red ginger. With that made, and homework to be done, I decided to settle in and watch the third year Yogashi Division battle that had been so rudely interrupted the other night.Bookmark here

I hadn’t had a chance to watch either of the two previous nights of competition, so it was weird seeing the same kitchen I had competed in on the small screen. The way the cameras were positioned made everything seem cavernous and huge.Bookmark here

As Ryotaro walked out on stage to cheers from the audience, he signaled for quiet. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make before we start our next battle,” he announced. “Last Friday night, one of our competitors, Tsukiko Asahina, was injured while competing. I have word from her family that she has been doing very well, and will be released from the hospital tomorrow afternoon.” There was polite applause from the audience. “Because of her injuries, she has withdrawn from this year’s competition. However, Chairman Mimori has announced that she will be given automatic qualification for the Division Championships in next year’s competition.” There was another round of applause.Bookmark here

That’s good, I thought. She’ll have another chance next year after having it ripped from her hands.Bookmark here

“This past weekend, we inspected every studio at Ginga TV to make sure what happened Friday will not be happening again, and you have the assurance of station management that it will not. And now, without further ado, we will be returning to the action. This battle will be for the third year Yogashi Division championships!”Bookmark here

There was a cheer from the audience as pictures of the two competitors appeared onscreen: Nadeshiko Enomoto and Kohei Sano. I had met Kohei at the banquet, and he struck me as the strong, silent type. He was a member of the swimming team, and had a physique to match. I want to cheer for him, I thought, but honestly, does he have any sort of chance against Enomoto?Bookmark here

“Our first contestant loves all things sweet and frilly. She is hoping to study abroad at France’s most prestigious culinary college! Presenting Nadeshiko Enomoto!”Bookmark here

Nadeshiko stepped out on stage. She was wearing what appeared to be a maid uniform under her cook’s jacket—I could see a petticoat peeking out from under a bell skirt, and her shoes were patent Mary Janes. Her hair was pulled back in a huge updo that was tied with a floral scarf.Bookmark here

“Her opponent is also the owner of the school record in the 100 meter butterfly, and hopes to one day compete for Japan in the Olympics! Please welcome Kohei Sano!”Bookmark here

Kohei stepped out on stage, his expression stoic. There were loud squeals from the audience, mostly female, and struggling to make herself heard underneath them, I could hear Nadeshiko shrill, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE CHEERING FOR ME!”Bookmark here

The roulette wheel came up on screen, and the graphic showed the wheel with portraits of the two of them on either side—a live reaction shot. The wheel began to spin, and eventually landed on a single wedge: Blueberries.Bookmark here

“Blueberries!” Ryosuke announced, and there was a burst of applause from the audience. Then the camera cut to the panel, as Ludovic St. Germaine began to lecture on blueberries in French, which was translated to Japanese by the translator.Bookmark here

I settled back onto my futon, and as I did, heard a scratching and meowing from the window. Ebifry wanted to come in. “Hey, you. You have a house,” I said, as I tapped the window, but he was insistent. Sighing, I opened the window wide enough for him to pass through, and he jumped down, shaking water from himself.Bookmark here

“You know you can’t stay in here,” I said, but Ebifry didn’t listen and walked over to the coverlet of my futon and curled up, making a perfect circle. He lifted his head and yawned.Bookmark here

“Well…if it’s just tonight, I guess…it’s okay. I don’t want to deal with you right now,” I said, as I took my clothes off and tossed them across the room. I grabbed a nightshirt and pulled it on, then carefully flopped down on the futon. I reached over to Ebifry and gave him a few strokes on his head, and was rewarded with his low purr.Bookmark here

He snuggled up to me as I watched the battle. It was pretty epic, as Nadeshiko made a perfect blueberry pie, while Kohei turned his blueberries into a jam served with scones and clotted cream. However, Nadeshiko was the one who won the day with a unanimous victory. She raised her arms in triumph and laughed as she claimed her trophy from Chairman Mimori.Bookmark here

I reached for my phone and sent a message to Yomogi:Bookmark here

To: Yomogi From: Me
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Nadeshiko-sempai won. Good luck!Bookmark here

A few seconds later came the reply:
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To: Me From: Yomogi
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Thanks, I’m gonna need itBookmark here

I put down my phone after realizing how late it was, and turned off my TV. Ebifry was still snoozing alongside me, and I gave him a soft stroke on the nose. He made a “rrrt” sound and went back to sleeping.Bookmark here

“Just for tonight, remember,” I said, as I turned off the light and settled into my futon. “Sleep well, Ebifry.”Bookmark here

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I awoke to the bright sun blaring through the windows, minutes before my alarm would start blaring. I sat up in my futon and felt an unfamiliar weight on the blanket—that’s when I remembered I had had a visitor. Ebifry was curled up, still asleep. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I reached over to wake him up.Bookmark here

“Okay, Ebifry, it’s time to get up,” I said, and then my hand touched his body.Bookmark here

It was cold.Bookmark here

“Ebifry?”Bookmark here

Normally, he’d lift his head and yawn, but there was no movement whatsoever. Not even from the tip of his orange fried shrimp tail.Bookmark here

A feeling of pure horror erupted from deep inside of me as I realized what had happened. My eyes suddenly turned liquid, and my voice quavered.Bookmark here

“E-E-E-Ebifry?”Bookmark here

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