Hey, readers! Thanks so much for clicking onto this story! It really means a lot! <3
Here's what you can expect: delicious, mouth-watering desserts, multiple love interests (a reverse harem), and a quirky main character. Also, character names are written first name, last name despite being set in Japan. Don't forget to like & comment! Thanks for reading! <3
Onto the story!
"Oh no. Oh no. Oh no."
All it took was a whiff of something burning to cause my jaw to drop. I yanked my torso away from the distracting television and into the kitchen, turning so quickly I nearly lost my balance. A shocked gasp escaped my mouth upon verifying the smoke hanging in the air. The cake I'd placed in the oven had, in fact, taken a dangerous turn.
It was hectic—racing back and forth between the oven and sink, yanking out the pan with oven mitts, both tossing and fanning it onto the wire rack to save what was left. By the time the smoke dissolved out the windows and the burnt crisps of what I'd call a strawberry shortcake sat on a wide plate, I was a mess. My curly hair had slipped from its once high bun, my cheeks sagged from exhaustion. Even my newly bought apron I'd wasted my allowance on a week prior was soiled in flour and sugar alike.
"Why does this always happen to me?" I whined, prodding at the black flakes that fell off like powder. "I only looked away for five seconds. Just five!"
My heart fell in my chest. I raced to remove my battered apron, then in some inhuman speed, I dashed to tilt a slice of the charcoaled cake into a clear glass container. By the time I'd clasped on its lid and stuffed it into my backpack alongside a petite fork, my younger brother entered the room.
"Did you burn something again?"
Rubbing at his eyelid, Sota's mouth was curved in a tiny frown. His head of dark brown curls fell neatly on his forehead. Not that the same could be said for the rest of his attire. Even in his little uniform, the toddler was definitely too tiny for the dishevelled clothes. His dress shirt was sticking out from his slacks and even his tiny green handkerchief hung messily around his neck.
"O-of course I didn't," I responded, moving so that I could shield all evidence of the burnt cake. "What are you talking about? I wasn't... baking."
Sota's chubby cheeks were unusually puffed as his tiny hand rose and pinched his nose. "I didn't say you were," he said. "But it stinks. And I see smoke. Mommy!"
I screeched, racing toward him and bringing my finger to my lip. "Don't tell her—"
"Sota?" Exactly to my fears, my mom's voice came booming from the second floor. "Where'd you go, honey? I told you to wait for me to help put your uniform on."
Sota's taupe coloured eyes met mine to which I returned a warning stare. Regardless, he opened his mouth as wide as he could and shouted, "Mommy, Koto burnt something! It stinks!"
"Again?" she demanded.
"It's not that burnt this time!" I cried in defence.
My mom's footsteps resounded as she hastened down the steps. Then, she entered the kitchen. Donned in a black blazer and pencil skirt—her work clothes as an accountant—she tucked wisps of her bangs behind her ears, her gaze scrutinizing.
"Kotori, you know how I feel about your baking. You shouldn't be in this kitchen—"
"—unless you're in the room supervising me," I recited, whisking my winter coat off the table and shrugging it on. "I know, I know."
"If you know that, why do you always sneak in here every morning?"
She stormed up to the oven and counters, registering the strewn containers and used pots and bowls. Sota clung to the fabric of her skirt, peering out from behind her legs and compressing his nose further.
"You always make so much of a mess before attempting to burn the house down," she complained onward. "One of these days a burnt cake or two will be the least of our problems."
Forcing a laugh, I slung my backpack straps over my shoulders. "That is why I have such a pretty mom watching over me like my very own guardian angel."
"Now, flattering me won't get you off the hook, young lady."
Gripping her sleeve, I pushed onto my tippy-toes and planted a soft kiss on her cheek. "Love you, Mom! I'm heading off to school!"
I dashed for the front door at that and squeezed into my boots. She gasped after me.
"But what about the cleaning—"
"I'll do it when I get back! I'm already late!"
"Mommy, it stinks! It stinks!"
"The smell will go away eventually, Sota." She produced another heavy breath. "Now come here. Let me fix your uniform before your sister decides to burn that too when I'm not looking."
The door closed behind me. I jerked my head around, slack-jawed. Rude much. Maybe I should go back and defend myself—
One glimpse at my phone screen and the time displayed defenestrated the idea entirely.
I couldn't be late. Not today.
Swallowing back all arguments, I clamped my bag straps even tighter, spun on my heels and went barrelling towards the elevator. After getting down to the main floor of the apartment building, I sprinted outside and along the sidewalk. I ran across the wet pavement at a furious enough speed I was blurring past people and households alike. Even my breath came out in white puffs due to the January cold.
Fortunately, Soetsu High School came into view soon enough. Students were still piling inside, conversing animatedly. I sped past them, through the gates of the school and towards the entrance.
The casual banter of the surrounding teens increased my anxiety as I exchanged my boots for my indoor shoes, and after ensuring there were no teachers around to rebuke me, I bounded up flights of stairs to the second year floor. It wasn't long after I approached my classroom that I spotted a brown-haired girl of short-statured frame currently making her way inside.
She stopped and craned her neck. "Kotori?" she asked once she saw me. "Did you sprint here all the way from your house again—"
"Miko!" I shouted again, practically driving toward her at top speed. Nearby students gawked as I halted, my shoes skidding across the linoleum, emitting an ear-piercing screech. Gasping, I surfaced the container from my bag and thrust it at her face. "Eat this and tell me it doesn't taste as bad as it looks."
My best friend since the beginning of the year took one good look at the container then flashed me a wide smile. "I'm pretty sure it tastes as bad as it looks."
"You didn't even try it yet!"
"I don't want to. I'm not a fan of sweets, remember? Let alone... coal?"
"It's supposed to be a strawberry shortcake!"
My lower lip quivering, I surveyed the burnt slice currently resting in the plastic container. I'd somehow convinced myself that if Miko were to try it beforehand I'd be in the clear, but she never did have an affinity for desserts as I did. And even though I hated to admit it, this piece of 'dessert' I'd burnt terribly was probably better off being used as coal instead of digested.
"How can I show this to Okito?" I demanded whilst pouting. "He'll put on his disgusted high and mighty expression and scoff 'Is that supposed to be edible?' then walk away!"
Miko awkwardly tittered. I stiffened like lead. It was a familiar reaction. More specifically, whenever he was in the area.
"Speaking of Okito Gouda," Miko whispered, gesturing over my shoulder, "he's coming this way."
"No way!" I hissed. "He's early!"
"Good luck," she whispered via a lopsided grin.
After a quick reassuring pat on my shoulder, she ducked inside the classroom before I could beg her not to go. My heart galloped in my chest in frantic rhythms. Should I make a break for it? Tomorrow was always an option, right? Then again, if he was coming up behind me now, should I really just let him walk away?
While rampant thoughts filled my mind, the incoming footsteps stopped behind me. All of a sudden, I couldn't move. Breathe. Insurmountable nerves welled up at the pit of my stomach.
"You're blocking the way."
Inhaling and exhaling to brace myself, I spun around and jutted out the opened container. I couldn't even find it in me to peer at the failure I was extending to him. Amidst the black and dark brown flakes, there wasn't a single speck of colour. You couldn't even identify the strawberries.
And yet, like an idiot, I still said: "Eat it."
Okito Gouda stared down at me, unbothered by the piercing stares of passing students in the hall. His dark eyes didn't carry any means of emotion, similar to the rest of his impassive features, iced into place.
I'd never been bothered by his stoniness. All our lives growing up, no matter what happened, I knew he cared deep down. He was able to stick by my side until the end of our first year of high school, after all. Moreover, he knew just what baking meant to me.
He could see my perseverance radiating off me—that much was obvious. Regardless, exactly as he had done since the beginning of our second year, he rose his chin higher and stuffed his hands into his school uniform pockets.
"And what is that supposed to be exactly?" he asked, deep voice radiating his monotone. "Coal?"
"Strawberry shortcake!" Anger fuelled me as I thrust it further. "Try it! It... probably tastes better than it looks this time. I think."
"'Probably?' 'I think?' So you can't even say it for certain?" Scoffing, he sidestepped around me. "Excuse me, I have to get to class."
"No matter how many times you do this, I'm not accepting your application into the Cooking Club." He spared me a sidelong glance, and without a shred of hesitance, added, "You don't have what it takes."
My top teeth met with my bottom, grounding hard. I clenched the container tighter. "I can work at it."
I was working so hard at it.
"You can proudly say that after looking at whatever you conjured up today?"
I gritted my teeth harder. "Just because you're the vice president of the club in less than a year of joining doesn't mean a thing. As long as I don't give up, I can reach your level in no time!"
Seeing as my conviction wasn't going to waver today either, Okito groaned. It was swift, him slinging off his bag and tossing something for me to catch. Baffled, I stared down at the neatly wrapped golden-brown treats.
The inner glutton in me immediately recognized what it was: canelé.
My inner glutton was also the reason why I couldn't help but drool and eat one despite knowing it'd be a total loss for me if I gave in.
And lo and behold, as soon as I did, my tongue landed on cloud nine. It encapsulated everything one would want in a pastry: a delicate balance of sweet and savoury flavours. A crunchy crust; a custardy interior.
My hand met my cheek, utterly content. "So good...!"
An airy sneer in tow, Okito faced the other direction. "You'll reach my level, huh?"
I woke from my daze after gobbling down a second one. Immediate embarrassment swelled inside of me like a balloon. What was I doing? It was super delicious, but this was not the time to be gushing over his pastry!
Shoving the last one in my mouth, I yelled through my bloated cheeks. "Jush you wait, Okito! I'll mwake you something so delicwious you're the one who's going to be begging me for more!"
He waved me off, already taking his leave to his classroom. I swallowed back all traces of the sweet and stormed into my own. Ignoring all the goggling from my classmates, I tossed out the plastic wrap and surged toward the back of the room where Miko was waiting.