Head Games with Hyouka
Things seem to break down when they’re needed most- the air conditioner included.
Suffocating summer heat seemed to envelop the Tanihara residence, plunging its residents into sweltering temperatures. With the sun brutally glaring through the windows, the timing truly couldn’t be worse.
"Ugh, can you fix it any slower?!” Yuji groaned, laying upside down on the couch.
"I can fix it faster than you can.” Yuma shot back, tinkering with the malfunctioning AC unit.
"Bullshit...” He muttered, impatiently bouncing his feet against the wall.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
"Can you stop that?”
“I’m not even doing anything!” Yuji argued.
“You’re being annoying.”
Hyouka was rapidly beginning to regret coming over, trying to tune out their bickering.
Sweat trickled down her back as she sat before an old electric fan- it had seen better days, with blades that made a rather unpleasant whirring noise, but it was far more tolerable than the persistent heat of that July afternoon. Kaiya lounged next to the girl, the fan’s breeze rustling the cat's multi-colored fur.
"Hey, move over.”
Yuji had stopped quarreling with his brother and scooted closer to the fan, his eyelids lazily fluttering shut. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead, threatening to drip down his face.
"You’re sweating like a pig.” Hyouka scowled, using the back of her hand to gently wipe the perspiration from his skin.
"Shit!” Yuji jolted, suddenly grabbing her wrist.
"What are you doing?” Her attempt to escape was futile, for his grip was far too stubborn.
"How are you still cold?” The boy huffed, brows knitting together as he pressed her palm to his cheek.
“What are you talking about?” She narrowed her eyes, watching as he shifted closer. “I’m overheating just as much as you.”
“It feels like you’re already cooling me off...” Yuji mumbled, dropping his head against the crook of her neck and sighing.
Hyouka shivered at the feeling of his breath on her skin, pushing his face away.
“...You’re so sweaty. If you’re that hot, go take a cold shower.”
Yuji's eyes shot open.
“Why didn’t I think of that?!”
Jumping up from the couch, he barreled out of the living room, startling Kaiya, who sprung up like she'd been shocked. Across the apartment, the bathroom door slammed shut, and the shower let out a muffled squeak.
“Stupid...” The albino girl muttered under her breath, soothingly stroking the calico’s fur.
She glanced back to see Yuma’s charming smile peeking over his shoulder.
"How has your summer been so far?” He inquired.
“Fine, I suppose. It is nice to take a break.” Hyouka leaned back, closing her eyes. “It‘s been uneventful though- I’ve mostly stayed home.”
"Oh, why’s that?”
"Summer is so hot and humid.” The albino girl replied. “The sun burns me easily, so I can hardly go out.”
"That’s a shame.” Yuma frowned softly. “Going out and enjoying the weather was one of the things I loved most about it when I was still in school.”
“You’re not a student?”
"Well, I do attend university online. But in-person classes are too difficult with my work schedule, since I’m out late almost every night.”
"How unfortunate.” Hyouka mused, pulling Kaiya to sit in her lap. ”I can’t imagine how tiring it must be.”
"It’s a good kind of tired though.” He chuckled. ”I get paid to entertain and drink with beautiful ladies all evening. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love my job.”
"There certainly are worse things to do for a living.”
"Absolutely. There‘s good reason for why our customers keep coming back.” He hummed. ”If you ever visited me at Club Asmodeus, Morikawa-san, you’d never want to leave~”
“Is that so?”
“Mhm! I just know you’d choose me to be your shimei! We-”
“Hey, the shower’s leaking again.” Yuji interrupted, strolling into the room with a surprising lack of shame, considering the fact that he was only wearing a towel around his waist. Droplets of water littered his bare torso.
Yuma, however, was appalled. The velvety tone of his voice vanished instantly.
“Put on some clothes before you come out here!” He scolded, a horrified and disapproving expression on his face. "Did you forget that we have a guest?! And a lady at that!”
“What?! Oh yeah!” Yuji’s eyes widened as he glanced at Hyouka, who looked him straight in the soul.
A silent staring contest ensued for the next 10 seconds, until Yuji broke away.
“Well, she doesn’t really care.”
“Go get dressed, mongrel.” Hyouka deadpanned.
“Ugh, whatever.” He retreated to his bedroom.
“Show-off...” Yuma seemed to murmur under his breath, before finally snapping a new filter into place inside the air conditioner. “There we go. It should be fine now.”
He reached for the remote control and pressed a button. The machine roared to life, cooler air slowly beginning to flow into the apartment.
“Thank god.” Hyouka softly sighed in relief, tilting her head back.
Yuji soon returned to the living room, this time dressed in a tank top and shorts. His damp hair was held back by a headband, small beads of water dripping onto his shoulders.
The albino girl regarded him without lowering her head, peering through her eyelashes.
“Now you’re somewhat presentable.” She mused.
Hyouka rolled her eyes, sitting up straight again.
“I’m feeling a bit peckish. Why don’t you make me something to eat?”
Yuma smirked at this.
“Yuji’s all thumbs in the kitchen. It may not be up to health standards.”
“Shut the hell up! I know how to cook!” He protested.
“You’ll probably try to poison me, too.” Hyouka stood up, walking towards the kitchen. ”I’ll just make it myself.”
“Then why’d you even ask?!” He demanded, stalking behind her.
“I was just teasing you.” She coolly replied, surveying the room for cooking inspiration.
“I hate you...” Yuji mumbled, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms.
“No, you don’t.”
Hyouka knelt to open a low cupboard, where various pots and pans stared back at her. She moved to the next one, which mostly contained serving platters and dishes.
But they were different from the ones in the overhead cabinet.
Made of white porcelain, they were decorated with beautiful indigo designs. Some were simply adorned with blossoms, while others bore ornate, traditional patterns across the entire surface.
“We don’t really use those much anymore.” Yuji spoke up. ”They-”
Hyouka had spotted something shoved in the back corner. Carefully reaching into the cupboard, she tugged out some sort of notebook, its cover made of dark blue vinyl. As the girl flipped it open, she heard Yuji’s breath hitch as he straightened up.
“Where’d you find that?!”
“It was crammed in the back.” She stared up at him, a little bewildered by his sudden outburst. ”What’s the issue?”
“That- that’s my mom’s cookbook!”
“What’s going on in here?” Yuma appeared in the doorway, as if he had been summoned.
“She f-found-” Yuji stammered.
Gasping at what Hyouka held in her hands, his golden eyes widened too, a stunned expression crossing his handsome face.
“...It disappeared around the time we moved. I thought we must’ve lost it while unpacking.” He numbly remarked, staring down at the notebook. “Was it really here all along?”
“I saw it behind those plates.” Hyouka got to her feet, glancing back at the open cupboard behind her. “Perhaps it was purposely placed it there.”
The two brothers stared at one another, lips hesitantly parting, before closing once more. They wordlessly seemed to come to the agreement that it had not been either of them who had stowed away their late mother’s recipes, looking away.
Flip. Flip. Flip.
Still holding it in her hands, the albino girl began to leaf through the pages. Neat handwriting flowed across them in list form, describing the instructions and ingredients necessary for each homemade dish.
Hyouka inexplicably seemed to gravitate towards a certain recipe, her finger tracing over the smooth black pen it was written in.
“Why don’t we make this?”
She lifted her head to meet the brothers’ eyes, their pale topaz irises appearing almost startled by her proposal.
“Would that be okay?” Yuji murmured, rubbing his arm uncertainly. ”Or...”
“What’s wrong? Do you not like hiyashi chuka?”
“Don’t you think it’s a little...creepy how it just suddenly appeared?”
“Are you saying it’s a bad omen?”
“N-No!” He insisted. “I just-!”
“Well,” Yuma interrupted, glancing at the stove clock. ”It is almost time for dinner, and I didn’t really have anything else in mind. This might be our best bet.”
“Pizza would probably be fast-”
Yuma’s nose wrinkled slightly.
“I’m not eating another greasy meal this week. It’s unhealthy and bad for my skin.”
“You’re so picky.” Yuji scoffed. ”You really think it’ll fuck up your face? Get real!”
“That’s rich, coming from you.” His brother retorted. ”At least I actually put effort into my appearance.”
“Would you both be quiet already?” Hyouka huffed from atop the counter, reaching for a large pot from the cabinet. "I've heard enough petty banter all day, and I’m hungry.”
That seemed to catch their attention.
“Jeez, what’s with you and climbing stuff?!” Yuji quickly tugged her down by the waist. ”Just ask! We’ll get the stuff that’s up high!”
“It seems you were too preoccupied with your idiotic bickering to notice.” The petite girl scowled back.
“I apologize, Morikawa-san.” Yuma’s irate expression melted away almost instantaneously, replaced by a more composed smile. ”I’ll get it.”
With that, he pulled the pot from its shelf, beginning to collect the other cookware they’d need to make the Chinese-style noodles.
Meanwhile, Hyouka and Yuji raided the fridge for ingredients- hopefully, they’d at least have the basics.
“I think we might have fake crab in here somewhere...” The boy muttered, pushing aside items that blocked his view. “Ah, here it is!” He pulled the package out, almost dropping it on the kitchen floor.
“Be more careful.” She scolded from behind an armful of vegetables. “I don’t like cat hair in my crab.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Yuji waved her off, carelessly tossing it next to the sauce and oil bottles on the counter.
“Is this everything?” His older brother inquired, surveying the set-up: packages of instant ramen, a couple large eggs, a small assortment of produce, and a few other items.
"Just about.” Hyouka replied, checking the recipe.
It wasn’t perfect, nor the most sophisticated, but it didn’t need to be.
"Alright then- I'll take care of cooking the noodles.” Yuma flashed a smile, carrying a pot to the sink to fill it with water.
"I guess I can chop up the vegetables then.” Yuji set a tomato atop the cutting board, reaching for a knife.
“You need to wash them first.” The girl reminded him, carefully cracking the eggs into a small bowl.
“Are you kidding me?” He groaned, shuffling towards the sink.
"This is basic food preparation. I certainly hope you don’t always eat your vegetables dirty.”
"I told you that his food might not be up to health standards, Morikawa-san.” Yuma mused, smirking wryly.
Yuji shot him a murderous glare as he thrust the faucet on, causing water to spray them both.
"Ah!” Yuma sprung back, gawking at his soaked shirt, then at Yuji. “What’s wrong with you?!”
"Oops, sorry.” He apologized without an ounce of sincerity, turning down the water pressure so he could rinse off the vegetables.
Glaring, Yuma set the pot on the stove, muttering under his breath as he dabbed at the spilled water with a dish towel.
Hyouka sighed as she whisked her egg mixture, wishing that she had thought to bring earplugs. If they were going to spend all day arguing, then she would at least like to tune them out.
Minutes passed- Yuma had added the noodles to the boiling water, Hyouka’s egg crepe had turned out thin and even, and slowly but surely, it sounded like Yuji was chopping ingredients.
Ready to slice her crepe into strips, she joined the boy at the counter, reaching towards the knife block. However, she faltered, staring at him in horror.
“What on Earth are you doing with that knife?”
“What’s it look like?” Yuji scowled at her, a mangled head of lettuce sitting on his cutting board.
“You’re massacring your food, mongrel.” Hyouka rubbed her temples, moving closer. “That’s not how you do it. Put down the knife and let me show you.”
He begrudgingly did as she said, stepping back.
“Well, you did alright with the tomatoes and ham...more or less.” She mused. While uneven, at least the pieces had the proper general shape. “But with lettuce, you don’t want to just hack into it.”
The girl picked up the knife and stared down at the vegetable, which looked as if it had been attacked by a weed whacker. Barely suppressing an amused smile, she lowered her head.
“We only need about a third of the head, so we’ll cut it into wedges.” She pointed the blade at the bottom of it. “You should remove the core first.”
Hyouka sliced it off, discarding it and the badly damaged outer leaves.
“Holding it like this so you don’t get your fingers,” She made sure Yuji could was watching. “You can now cut it.” After chopping off about a third, she cut that piece in half. “Then you finely slice the wedges, flat side down and holding the knife like this. Do you understand?”
"...Yeah...” The boy grunted, a red glow dusting his cheeks as he averted his gaze. "...I think you should finish cutting shit up. I’ll just make the sauce.”
"I suppose that’d be easier for you. I don’t expect you to be able to julienne a cucumber.”
"Yeah, no way can I do whatever the hell that is.” Yuji scoffed, shaking his head.
"Alright then.” The girl hummed, smoothly moving her knife down the lettuce wedges, hearing the clinking of measuring spoons next to her.
Yuma leaned against the counter, watching them individually prepare the ingredients. Behind him, the noodles lay in a bowl of ice water. His lip curled into a faint sneer, eyes trained on his brother.
"Are you sure you’re measuring everything correctly?"
"Yeah, I read the damn recipe.” He grumbled.
"You’re putting way too much chili oil.”
"If you don’t use enough spice to set your tongue on fire, there’s like no flavor!” Yuji insisted. “I need more!”
"We’re supposed to be following the recipe. It won’t taste the same if you do.”
"You can always add more to your own bowl.” Hyouka unceremoniously interjected, tossing a small strip of ham in Kaiya’s direction. The cat had seemingly grown curious of the aroma that filled the kitchen, gobbling up the scrap.
“You’re right, Morikawa-san!” Yuma smiled down at her, giving his younger brother a pointed look as he turned to drain the water from the chilled Chinese noodles.
"I know.” She humorlessly replied, watching Yuji angrily whisk the bowl of sauce. Shaking her head, she finished slicing the cucumber into long, thin strips, moving them aside before finally starting to slice the egg crepe that she had made what felt like ages earlier.
A muffled jingle of keys was audible outside the apartment. The doorknob slowly turned, hinges lowly whining as the door swung open.
“Dad’s home.” Yuma simply remarked, dividing the noodles into individual bowls.
Hyouka couldn’t help the curiosity that instantly gripped her, staring up at their father.
He was a rather daunting individual, standing tall- even taller than Yuma- and large, with broad shoulders and arms that looked as if they had spent years lifting weights. His impressive musculature could be seen beneath his grey mechanics' jumpsuit, which seemed to be stained by dark oil and sweat. In his early forties, he had the same black hair as his sons, which was slicked back to reveal his forehead and dark brows, sporadically streaked with grey, a faint scruff adorning his chin.
When Hyouka met his eyes, she was stunned by how much of Yuji she saw in them- they were the same angular shape, with those familiar sanpaku irises.
The man stopped in his tracks, staring at the small, ghostly stranger from where he stood in the doorway, kicking off his shoes.
“Who’s she?” He growled, his low voice gruff and unfriendly.
Yuji and Yuma stiffly exchanged glances with one another, a long, silent pause filling the apartment.
The girl’s piercing red gaze didn’t falter, though.
“I’m Hyouka Morikawa, Yuji’s classmate.” She replied coolly, dipping her head in a slight bow. "Pleased to meet you, Tanihara-san.”
“Call me Kyo.” He didn’t bother with formality as he carelessly trudged towards the living room, sitting down and turning on the TV.
Though off-put by the man’s brash introduction, she held her tongue.
Yuji, seemingly prepared to break the tension, spoke up first.
Hyouka hadn't anticipated the awkwardness of sharing a meal with the Tanihara family, but it hit her like a ton of bricks.
She felt as if she were an intruder at their dining table, her small stature and snow-white hair only more apparent in contrast to their larger frames and inky locks. Her face had become an expressionless mask, though her chest betrayed her, painfully constricting.
An uncomfortable silence had occupied the room once more, save for the clinking of chopsticks and the chewing of food.
Was it because of her unfamiliar presence? Or were all Tanihara family interactions so tense?
Her gaze drifted to the chilled noodles before her, topped with a colorful assortment of meats and vegetables. The flavorful recipe was foreign to her, but it tasted like home.
She watched Kyo take his first bite, slurping up sauce-coated noodles. The man's brow furrowed slightly, his irises instantly locking onto hers. His eyes flickered knowingly, before his gaze dropped once more.
A few long minutes passed before even Yuma, the professional conversationalist, attempted to say something, clearing his throat.
“Say, Morikawa-san, you were a big help back there. How'd you learn your way around a kitchen like that?”
“By watching my grandmother. I picked up her methods when I was young, and we cook together almost every day now.”
“That sounds lovely.” He smiled. “It sounds like you’ve learned from the best.”
“I did.” She replied haughtily. “No one else can hold a candle to her.”
Yuma chuckled at this, resting his chin on his hand.
“You could probably single-handedly cook your parents’ anniversary dinner!”
“Her parents aren’t really in the picture, y’know.” Yuji chimed in through a mouthful of noodles.
His brother’s eyes widened.
“Really?! I’m so sorry!”
Hyouka huffed, elbowing the boy in the ribs, causing him to choke slightly.
“I just don’t live with them right now. Don’t make it sound as if they dropped off the face of the earth, mongrel.”
“The hell?” Kyo muttered, glancing between the girl and his son.
“...Don’t ask, Dad.” The tips of Yuji’s ears reddened. Hyouka ignored the man’s vaguely alarmed reaction to the nickname.
Yuma was gracious enough to get the conversation back on track.
“And why don’t you live with them, Morikawa-san? Did something happen?”
The girl shook her head.
“No. My family home is undergoing major renovations, so I’m living with my grandmother for the time being. My parents are staying elsewhere for their work.”
“No wonder I’ve never seen them when I’ve been over at your place.” Yuji mused. “I thought they were just always out.”
“Didn’t I tell you this before?” She arched an eyebrow.
“Well, Yuji’s never been much of a listener.” Yuma smirked.
“Wanna say that again?” He brandished a fist, his eye twitching in agitation. “I’ll kick your ass!”
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” His older brother mocked, lip curling slightly.
“Oh, you’re really asking for it now!” Yuji sneered. “You-”
“Cut that out or I’m gonna make you sleep outside tonight.” Kyo threatened, glaring at his bickering sons. “The mosquitos aren’t as patient as I am.”
That seemed to shut them up rather quickly. Hyouka was almost impressed.
The man groaned lowly as he forced himself to get to his feet, cracking his back.
“I’m taking a bath before I pass out. Don’t bother me unless one of you is about to die. And if I’m asleep and someone drops dead, you’re on your own.” He glowered down at them. “Got it?”
“Good to hear.” Kyo held up a plastic bag, before setting it on the table. “I grabbed this on my way home. Shit’s expensive, so don’t complain about the size.”
With that, he trudged away, disappearing into the bathroom and shutting the door. The two brothers stared at the bag for a moment, silent.
“What are you waiting for? Aren’t we going to look inside?” Hyouka tapped her fingers.
“Chill out, I’m looking.” Yuji scoffed, leaning over the table and opening the plastic bag. He pulled out a small, green-striped sphere.
“A watermelon?” Yuma asked.
“That was nice of him.” Hyouka commented, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“Man, I can’t remember the last time we had one of these!” Yuji grinned, shifting it from hand to hand.
Yuma looked towards the window. Outside, it had darkened somewhat, and the cicadas had begun to sing.
“The dusk is so beautiful. Why don’t we eat outside?”
“That’s fine with me.” Hyouka got to her feet, dusting off her dark sundress.
“If you can start washing the dishes, I'll get this cut up for us.” Yuma took the watermelon into his own hands, getting up.
“Yeah, sure.” Yuji stood as well, grabbing the bowls from the table. “C’mon, Hyouka.”
“I’m coming.” Balancing the dishes in her arms, she slowly followed him into the kitchen.
Streaked with pink and orange, faint pinpricks of light splattered the darkening sky as a summer twilight gradually took over.
The trio loitered on the stairs near the apartment, biting into sweet slices of pink fruit. As cicadas chirped, a tranquil atmosphere seemed to temporarily drown out the memories of that day’s chaos.
Hyouka leaned back slightly, eyelids fluttering shut as a breeze gently caressed her face.
She felt at peace. There wasn’t an argument to mediate, no dilemmas to monitor.
It was purely-
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Her eyes reluctantly opened once more as she turned to glance back at Yuma, who had jumped to his feet, fishing his cell phone out of his pocket.
“Sorry, a client’s calling me. I’ll be right back.” He smiled apologetically, starting to walk away. "Hello?" He answered, leaving the pair to their own devices.
Hyouka turned to look back at Yuji, who sat a few steps below her. He was scowling slightly, a stream of sticky juice running down his chin.
“You’re making a mess.” She remarked.
“Mind your business.” He grumbled, wiping it away with the back of his hand. “That dumbass playboy...”
“I didn’t expect so much quarreling today. What’s wrong with you?”
“So much? Nah, that’s nothin’.” Yuji tossed his watermelon rind into a bush. “We’ve never really gotten along that well. If you’re gonna be hanging out here with both of us, you’d better get used to it.”
Hyouka huffed, kicking off her sandals and resting her feet on his back.
“Why can’t you be mature and hold your tongue? It’s obvious that you both antagonize each other, so just stop feeding into it. He would probably tire of trying.”
“Do you even know what you’re saying?!” He shot her a look. “You heard the way he insults me- and I’m not gonna take that shit! I’ll make him think twice about messing with me!”
“Does it bother you that much?” The girl stared down at him. “They’re all petty things- you being obnoxious or your lack of skill in cooking. Is it really worth getting worked up over?”
“I mean...well, yeah...” Yuji turned away, bringing his knees to his chest. “I’ve always been a total klutz in the kitchen...”
Was this a genuine insecurity for him?
The boy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
“When my mom was still around, she cooked almost every meal for us, and since she passed, we’ve had to figure out how to do it ourselves.” He picked at his cuticles. “My dad and brother are better at cooking than me, but they're both working all the time. If I wasn’t so damn useless in the kitchen, I’d be able to make decent shit so they wouldn’t have to do it themselves...”
Hyouka stared down at him, hesitating. The tips of his ears seemed to lightly flush.
“Wh-What I’m tryin’ to say is...” Yuji mumbled. ”...Can you teach me to be better?”
“You want me to give you cooking lessons?” Her eyes widened imperceptibly.
“Obviously, that’s why I’m asking!” He huffed. “So will ya help me or not?”
“I suppose so.” Hyouka averted her gaze. ”It’s not as if I have any prior obligations. But I expect you to pay close attention to everything I say, mongrel.”
“...Thanks...” Yuji murmured, leaning back against the girl. She could feel the warmth of his shoulders against her bare legs; that familiar, comforting sensation.
Hyouka was glad that he faced the opposite direction, unaware of the faintest smile that tugged at her lips.
“Of course. A master has to reward the efforts of her dog, after all.”
She vowed to make his late mother proud.
A/N: I apologize for the extended delay of this chapter, I've been struggling to make time for my work lately. I plan to release updates on time again, but I will also be revising earlier chapters to improve their quality and make them more consistent with the more recent ones. Thank you for your patience and support.