Chapter 26:

Culinary Festival

The Day I Forgot About You

Neo looked at the photo of him and Saya in a frame on the table before leaving the dormitory. It hadn't been long since he had bought that frame, placing the picture of him and Saya, a memory that he cherished. He joined Ryu and Uncle shortly after, and together they headed towards the temple located in the northern part of the city. Many stalls were already being set up.

Neo and Ryu assisted Uncle in setting up their own stall. It was a challenging task, as Neo wasn't accustomed to exerting so much physical strength. He felt a sense of accomplishment once it was done – Inogura's Ramen stall looked beautiful, surely catching people's attention, just as Richard's words echoed in his mind: "It's such a joy to see it done." And it was true.

Neo had a feeling of being watched, scanning the surroundings he noticed the other restaurants were just as busy as they were, so it was unlikely that someone was wasting time observing him. Ryu lightly tapped Neo as if to pull him out of his thoughts.

The most challenging part was getting the food prepared and ready to serve. Uncle showcased impressive skill with the ingredients. Neo and Ryu struggled to keep up with the pace – chopping vegetables, boiling broth, and arranging utensils.

Finally, they were ready, prepared to welcome all the customers. Neo felt ready. The drums began, marking the start of the festival. The rhythmic beats echoed throughout, and in just a moment, the once-empty place was flooded with a sea of people. It was so crowded that it felt warmer outside the stall than inside.

Three people were too few to handle the workload. Neo was almost losing his rhythm, whereas Ryu and Uncle were relentless, multitasking efficiently – from welcoming newcomers to serving dishes.

In a way, Neo was curious to explore the festival, but with that massive crowd, he couldn't leave the stall even for a moment. Seeing that Neo was a bit distracted and slower, Uncle decided to put him in charge of the cash register and attending to customers. This arrangement made it easier for them to keep up the pace.

Shike, along with his parents, visited the stall, and his saddened expression said it all – he didn't expect to see Neo there.

As the night progressed, the number of customers wanting to eat started to dwindle, and the workload was winding down. That's when Shike reappeared, making an unusual request to Uncle. "Can I borrow Neo for a bit?"

Uncle looked around and realized that there wouldn't be much more activity. "Go ahead, Neo. Enjoy a bit of the festival. Ryu and I can handle the rest."


"Yes, I can see you're interested in experiencing the festival."

"Thank you!" Neo expressed his gratitude.

Neo wandered through the festival and was amazed by the variety of restaurants and dishes available. The grand stage was concluding a lively kendo performance, and then a girl with short black hair appeared on the stage. She wore Miko attire – a white kimono with red accents – and a fox mask. The upbeat music gave way to a slower, graceful dance.

As Neo gazed at the figure on the stage, his heart began to race. The background chatter of the place faded, and time seemed to stand still. It was as if he was in a dream crafted by the girl's elegant dance movements.

Concerned he might lose Shike, who had walked ahead and disappeared into the crowd, Neo was startled and hastened to catch up with him. Given Neo's height advantage, finding the smaller Shike wasn't too difficult.

The souvenir shops were another highlight of the festival, offering various appealing accessories and trinkets. They seemed to sell everything imaginable. Should Neo buy something for Saya?

Shike's silence had Neo worried. "Shio, are you okay?"

He let out a soft sigh. "I'm worried about the baseball team."

Neo felt a bit awkward, understanding he played a role in this. He enjoyed being part of the baseball club – the practices and games – but he didn't want to participate in a tournament. He disliked competition.

"It's going to be okay. You guys are amazing. You can't lose."

However, Shike didn't share the same confidence. "Without you, I don't think we can succeed."

Neo disliked hearing that. "You're wrong. The entire team is incredible – Takeshi, Tadashi, Nagoya, Pietro, Maeda. I've never seen Lenner play, but I believe he's good. And you, Shike, you're the best pitcher I've seen. Never say you're not capable."

Touched by Neo's words, Shike teared up. "Thank you, Neo. Really."

"That's why I'll say it again – it's going to be okay. You guys are amazing, even without me," he assured, patting Shike on the shoulder.

"But it won't."

"What do you mean?"

Shike hesitated for a moment. "How many players are on a baseball team?"

"Seven?" Neo questioned, puzzled.


Neo did the math and something was off. "Wait, but with me, that's eight."

"Takeshi managed to recruit someone last minute, a council member."

Neo was surprised. "Not Richard, right?"

"No, he doesn't play baseball," Shike chuckled. "You'll meet the last member another time."

Curiosity sparked within Neo about this final member, but his focus returned to the matter at hand. "So, without me, you can't play?"


"Why didn't Takeshi say anything?"

"He respects each member and their personal issues. That's why he's so understanding with Lenner, who has his own troubles."

An awkward silence hung in the air before Neo could speak up. Suddenly, he was embraced from behind. Startled by the impact, he turned almost instinctively. It was the same girl from the stage, but now without the mask. Seeing her face up close, she looked like a doll, incredibly cute.

"Neo!" the girl exclaimed cheerfully.

"Who's this?" Shike asked, puzzled.

"I'm his wife," the girl declared with confidence.

Neo, on the other hand, was getting irritated. "No, you're not. I don't even know who you are." He tried to free himself from her grasp.

"Aren't you Neo?" she asked, perplexed.


"Then I'm right," she insisted, reaching out to hug him.

Neo held her by the arms and examined her closely, making her blush. "I'm sorry, but I really don't know who you are. I think you've mistaken me for someone else."

Seeing that Neo was growing uncomfortable in a seemingly endless situation, Shike intervened. "We're discussing something important. Could you please give us some space?"

He pulled Neo away, blending into the crowd and leaving the girl standing there, perplexed, watching them walk away. After a considerable distance, Shike stopped and continued speaking to Neo.

"Thanks, Shio. You saved me back there."

Taking a deep breath, Shike decided to share his feelings with Neo. "Building a baseball career at Hoshi School is much tougher than at the Academy. My dream was to win the Diamond Clash, one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of Claws. If we win, we'd gain recognition, and I could join a professional team and pursue a career."

"I thought that the tournament happens at the end of the year."

"It does, but there are qualifiers this weekend. If we win, we'll qualify and get to compete."

"Can't you find someone else?"

"No one as good as you. Please, Neo, you have to participate."

Shike stepped closer to Neo, so close that Neo instinctively took a step back, accidentally bumping into someone.


He turned and was surprised by who he saw. "Saya?"

She was wearing a blue kimono with white and gold accents, carrying various foods in her hands. Her hair was styled with a Kanzashi this time.

"What are you doing here?" she asked curiously.

Shike then adopted Takeshi's mischievous grin – it was more wicked than anything. "We were talking about the baseball championship."

"Championship?" she asked, intrigued.

"Yes, and Neo is going to participate," Shike added.

"Hey!" Neo protested.

Saya's excitement was palpable. "Really? That's awesome! I want to see you play."

Neo felt embarrassed, liking how happy she was but also feeling a bit confused. "You want to watch me play?"

"Yes! I used to watch you play whenever I could. You love competitions."

"I love competitions?"

"Yes! When is it?" She turned her attention to Shike.

"Next weekend," Shike gave the date.

Saya pondered for a moment, keeping Neo in suspense. "I can come!"

Neo shot Shike an annoyed look, realizing he had been manipulated. Shike, however, laughed it off, raising his hands and shoulders in a 'what can you do' gesture.

"Do you like my kimono? Sunny made it," Saya changed the subject, twirling around to show off the details.

"Sunny makes all kinds of outfits."

"Yes, she's amazing."

"Incredible clothes for an incredible person like you," Neo said softly, genuine warmth in his voice.

Saya's cheeks turned a shade of pink, and she briefly averted her gaze, appearing both shy and flattered by Neo's kindness.

Her mother called her from a distance. "Saya, it's taking you forever to get the food."

Her annoyed expression turned into a smile as she looked at her company. "NEO! That's why Saya took so long."

But Neo had been away from Uncle's stall for too long, and he thought it would be best to return.

"I'd love to stay and chat, but I need to see if Uncle needs me. It was good to see you, Saya, and you too, ma'am. Bye, Shike." Neo bid his farewells and headed back to Uncle.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon