Felicity and I headed to the clubroom after school. Time to receive answers about the cooking competition and my role in it.
“Yuki, back me up when I try to recruit him! Our team would be so much better with him,” Felicity believed.
“That’s only if he agrees to listen,” I pointed out.
I knocked on the door, hearing no response. Felicity turned the doorknob and headed inside. All the windows were open, sunlight filling the room. Minato laid down near a window, eyes closed. Was he sleeping?
“Hey, should we wake him up?” Felicity whispered.
“Of course!” I answered, heading towards him.
“Hold on! Let’s wait it out. I don’t want to make him mad,” Felicity hissed, grabbing me by the shoulder.
“Who knows how long he’ll just be there sleeping? Standing here will only make us look like fools,” I disagreed.
“Yuki, consider all the things that could go wrong. One wrong move and he won’t give me a chance,” Felicity argued, tightening her hold.
“Are you even listening to yourself? Let go of me!” I escaped Felicity’s hold.
Pots and pans available everywhere. Perfect! I reached for the cookware, but Felicity blocked me. Really, we were going to do this? I twisted her hand and shoved the woman away. She looked at me in surprise, clutching her hand with pain.
“Ow, where did you learn that?” Felicity exclaimed, still speaking in a low voice.
“Minato! Wake up!” I shouted, slamming the pot’s bottom with a nearby ladle.
Minato didn’t respond. At this point, he was messing with me. Felicity covered her ears, a sad look on her face. Don’t give me that s***. You’re the one who wanted this.
“Yuki! That’s enough!” Felicity shouted over my loud banging.
“He’s just laying down there to irritate us,” I responded, striking two pots against each other.
Minato stirred, stifling a yawn. I dropped a lid and it struck him in the left shoulder. Minato jumped up in surprise. Felicity gasped, rushing over.
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Yuki didn’t mean to do that!” Felicity apologized, bowing several times.
“I’ve gone through worse while cooking. Yuki, huh? I guess Long did say you were stopping by. That was a great nap,” Minato said, stretching.
“Tama, I really want to ask you for a big favor!” Felicity geared up for a big speech.
“Yuki, what do you want to learn today? Pastries, entrees, desserts, I can do it all,” Minato questioned, glancing at me.
“Before that, my friend has a request. She’s uh…,” I blanked on Felicity’s last name.
“Kaisi Konoe, so nice to meet you!” Felicity greeted, shaking Minato’s hand with both excitement and urgency.
“Go ahead, Konoe,” I said.
“I saw you at the cross country practice before and you were just amazing. You have so much talent. I’m sure we could make it to nationals with you,” Felicity gushed.
“Hold on. Are you part of the girls cross country team?” Minato inquired, his eyes filled with slight interest.
“Yeah. We were hoping to get to Nationals this year, but the boys have several injuries. With you there, it would really help out,” Felicity disclosed.
“Why me?” Minato wondered.
“I just told you! It would be a shame for you not to at least try. Look, I’ll make it even easier. Just practice with them, you don’t even have to join. At least you can do that, right? Please,” Felicity pleaded.
“How about this? I join one practice, but you do something for me in return,” Minato negotiated.
What was he after? Felicity’s face lit up with excitement. Calm down. You still haven’t heard his terms yet.
“I heard several people on the cross country team excel at making pastries. You introduce me and I’ll do one practice for you. Sound fair?” Minato offered.
“Yes! Thank you so much for doing this! You have no idea how much this means to me!” Felicity agreed immediately, no hesitation at all.
“Remember, only one practice,” Minato emphasized.
“I’ll make sure you love it enough to join. I have to go tell Coach right away. Hang on, I have to make a call. I’ll be back!” Felicity dashed out of the room.
Minato sat down with a sigh. What a strange turn of events. Did the pastries mean that much to him?
“Maybe I should tell her the deal is off?” Minato glanced at the ceiling, regret entering his voice.
“No, don’t do that. Feli-, I mean, Konoe would be devastated,” I disagreed.
“Yeah, I did agree. Guess I can’t back out. I really do want those recipes,” Minato decided.
“Is it really that special?” I questioned.
“I heard rumors one of the pastries is so delicious it increases relationship points between people. I really want to see that for myself,” Minato answered.
“Those are just rumors, right? There’s no way….,” I started but then stopped.
If magic was involved, the pastry rumor might just be true. Felicity burst in, pointing at Minato.
“Coach will be expecting you tomorrow after classes,” Felicity announced.
“But-,” Minato said.
“The sooner the better! Don’t worry about club. Just focus on running. It might even inspire you to come up a new recipe,” Felicity cut him off.
“Are the members who make the pastries present tomorrow?” Minato inquired.
“Everyone should be there,” Felicity confirmed.
“Yuki, can you pass along the message I’ll be gone tomorrow?” Minato looked over at me.
“Why don’t you just text them?” I countered.
“I’m feeling too lazy. I trust you, Yuki,” Minato responded.
This guy was worse than Shan and Kisai. But of course he was filled with amazing talent. Still, his laid back attitude was much more… refined than Kisai’s?
“I have to run a few laps to prepare for the meet! I’ll see you tomorrow, Yuki! Minato, don’t forget!” Felicity exited with blinding speed.
“I was actually going to sleep, but I realized I needed to tell you a few things,” Minato realized, moving away from the window.
“That’s why I came,” I reminded him.
“Here’s a bunch of stuff. I’ll explain the competition rules while you go through the box,” Minato said, bringing down a sealed cardboard box from the upper shelf of a storage closet.
He tossed me a box cutter, and I slit the tape off, revealing an apron with my name. There was also a badge for my school uniform. It also contained a handbook, utility knife, a starter’s cookbook, and more kitchen clothing.
“How did you get this apron made so fast?” I asked.
“We have a friend in the home economics club. He does quality work for us,” Minato answered, playing with his utiliy knife blade.
“Cool. So about the competition?” I looked at him with expectation.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Long told you we’ll split everyone into two teams, right? The first tier is commonly known as the “Master Cook” category or “Elite/Expert Tier”. The other one is considered “Everyday Cooking” or “Household Foods”. The judging is different for each one,” Minato explained.
“Why the two tiers?” I questioned.
“It’s to give teams better chances of using their member’s skills to the fullest. There won’t be a blatant disadvantage if a team who does better at one category
goes up against one who doesn’t do well at it. And you can’t put all of your best into one part since judging differs,” Minato replied.
“I see. You’ll be part of the expert one, right?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m no good with making plain dishes. It’s not my strong point,” Minato confirmed.
“How many participants are there?” I asked.
“16 total schools throughout the city. There’s also a losers bracket which will make things interesting,” Minato answered.
“16 teams so that means….four rounds?” I calculated.
“Yeah, for the main competition. However, if we include the loser’s bracket, then it’ll be five. When both the regular and losers bracket ends, there will be one more face off,” Minato corrected.
“What a weird way to do the competition. Who’s the actual champion?” I questioned, confused.
“Whoever wins it all,” Minato simply stated.
“It’s just weird whoever wins in the main round isn’t the final champion,” I remarked.
“Well, it’s a good chance to make a comeback. What if we lost in the main round, but somehow made it back to face champions? It’s such a thrilling experience,” Minato pointed out.
He moved towards the window and stuck his head out. The sunlight diminished, but still lit the room, casting shadows. A small breeze picked up, blowing Minato’s hair. Such a strange person. Certainly not the weirdest, but nonetheless, exuded a certain aura. After letting the wind blow his hair for three minutes, Minato yanked his head back in.
“Okay, time to make food,” Minato decided, donning an apron.
“Hold on, you still haven’t explained everything yet!” I reminded him.
“That’s about it. Once we enter the actual competition, you’ll learn all the rules, Yuki,” Minato suggested, taking out ingredients from the refrigerator.
“Yeah, if I only were as carefree as you, Senpai,” I said, shaking my head.
“That’s how it is with me. Want to help me out, Yuki?” Minato offered, grabbing a cutting board and knife.
“I’ll do what I can,” I replied, surveying his ingredients.
He pulled out a piece of chicken, cilantro, other assorted greens, and a block of tofu. What were those vegetables? A gentle and soothing smell wafted from them. Minato diced all the vegetables and pointed at the tofu.
“Yuki, help me cut. Don’t dice but slice them into smaller cubes. About sixteenths of the original piece,” Minato directed.
I realized my knife was dull after slicing into the tofu. Huh, what a weird feeling. I didn’t cook enough to notice things like this before. What a nice life this Yuki led. No weird hero b******* and people were nice. No,Yuki! Enjoy it, but don’t let this reality fool you. Mirei was softening me up with this well-done illusion. Once I delved too deep, she would pounce and make her move.
“Yuki! Watch your hands,” Minato warned, noticing my cuts turning erratic.
“Sorry. I’ll fix it,” I said.
Minato mixed the diced vegetables and chicken in a bowl, before dumping them into a pan. He sprinkled the tofu pieces on top, and yanked the oven door open, placing it inside.
“Yuki, you’re free to go now. I want to think about something and prefer to do it alone. Nothing against you, of course. Something clicked and I focus better alone,” Minato requested.
“No problem,” I agreed.
“I appreciate it. Hope you don’t take it the wrong way, Yuki. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Minato said, sitting up on the window ledge again, closing his eyes.
I sat on the train, reflecting on my conversation with Minato. What was he thinking? I was curious about what sudden relevation struck him.
“Yuki! Hey, Yuki!” someone called my name.
I looked up and saw Kyoi’s little sister. Wait, what time was it? I pulled out my phone and saw it was almost five. Damn, how long did Minato plan on staying?
“Yue, what are you doing here so late?” I asked.
“I just wrapped up my club stuff. I’m bringing Long-niisan something actually,” Yue revealed, holding up a bag.
“What is it?” I inquired about the contents.
“Some food from the garden,” Yue answered, her face beaming.
Such dedication. Most people either grew grass in their backyard or turned it into a relaxation space. Very few residents took the time and effort to till the soil and plant seeds. It required time, which most working people rather spend relaxing, than doing more work. Still, Kyoi gardening? That conjured scary thoughts, ones that clashed against my established image of her.
“I hope he cooks some good dishes. Maybe he’ll even decide to cook my favorite,” Yue said, a hopeful look on her face.
I intended to make a disparaging comment about Long, but recalled he was different here. He actually might pull it off, considering his cooking skills. Plus, he was on good terms with Kyoi, so it made sense to fulfill Yue’s wish.
“I’m sure he will,” I agreed.
“Yuki, do you want to tag along?” Yue asked.
“Sure,” I said.
I was grateful for an opportunity to check out Zhuyu’s house in this reality. More importantly though, discover blackmail material. We arrived at Zhuyu’s house and Yue rung the bell. He opened the door with a soft smile.