"Blueberry waffles? You're kidding."
Even after the morning had changed to dusk, Koyuki still wasn't letting it go. We stood in the second year's home economics room, the source of all this madness rested back on a plate on the table.
Koyuki leaned forward, staring at the mess of 'waffles,' face scrunched from disgust. It was a look of mass disbelief, as if he'd lost all faith in humanity just by staring at what I'd conjured up.
"I get it. They're burnt," I huffed, locking my arms over each other. "Stop making me feel bad already."
To save me from my mortification, Koyuki reeled away from the table. Setting his hand to his hip, he let out a breath and properly raked me over with his eyes.
"Sakurauchi, is this the first time she's burnt waffles?"
"Nope," Miko was quick to respond. "Kotori possesses no skill in the kitchen whatsoever."
"I see." The next look he shot me was back to being demoralizing, making me jolt. "And you're telling me this mess of a person actually wants to become a pastry chef?"
I pursed my lips. "Do you have a problem with that or something?"
"Not really," he said. "Just, as someone who used to dream the same thing, I must say I'm disappointed."
Surprise painted both mine and Miko's faces. Animated stars filled my eyes.
"You wanted to become a pastry chef, Tamura?" Miko demanded.
"This is why we'd be the perfect team!" I cried, racing toward him whilst beaming from ear to ear.
A warm blush pooled from his cheeks as if realizing what he'd confessed to, and what it had done to excite me. "As I said, that was the me of the past. I gave up that aspiration a long time ago."
The dazzled look of mine faded. More so, when he rotated to avoid staring at Miko and me.
"I used to put in hours upon hours all my life baking to reach that goal. And whenever I messed up I'd start over from scratch. I really cost my parents a lot of money, but I loved doing it. Especially when it came out of the oven in perfect shape—I got all excited like any kid would."
"I bet that kid who loved the idea of being a pastry chef is still inside you now!" I said, my own means of excitement washing over me.
"Even if he is," he said, directing a frown over his shoulder, "I'm not pursuing that career anymore. Sure I did dream of it once, but what kid doesn't hold unrealistic dreams? I loved the idea of it, but I didn't consider what exactly it entailed. You can't get by with passion alone. Your waffles and I bet whatever other pastry you've made in your life, is proof of that."
All joy within me dissolved altogether.
"You can't bake, and yet you want to start up a 'Baking Society'?" he mocked, gesturing to my waffles for emphasis. "There has to be a limit to how idiotic someone is."
Miko placed her hand on my arm, rising to her feet. "Kotori tries really hard every day—"
Koyuki and Miko froze at my booming declaration.
"I can't bake," I went on. "Becoming a pastry chef is impossible for me."
The silence that loomed through, the heaviness weighing down on my chest, the stinging tears prickling the corners of my eyes; deep down, I'd always known his words were true. I'd heard them too many times. From Okito, Miko, my mom and brother. Even countless other relatives who I'd attempted shoving my desserts down their throats. Nevertheless...
"If you realize that then stop reaching for it," Koyuki said. "We still have next year. If you pursue something else now you may still have a shot at getting into a good university—"
Koyuki blinked, swivelling to face me. Miko from beside me was also flabbergasted.
"I've decided what I did." Clenching my fists, I took a brazen step forward. "I'm becoming a pastry chef."
He bent over to stare me in the eye. "I know you're thick-brained, but you don't have talent."
"I don't," I agreed, returning his smouldering gaze. "But I don't care. I'm becoming a pastry chef and that's final."
Koyuki's mouth twitched along with his brow—a clear indication of his aggravation. Before I could come to terms with why he pivoted on his foot and made his way toward the kitchen, he threw on a white apron and went toward the fridge and cupboard to scrounge up ingredients.
"Is he... baking?" Miko gaped.
"That's my Tamura!" I cheered, throwing my fists into the air. "Go, go, my pastry chef soulmate!"
"Be quiet," he snapped.
My cheer subsided at that and I slowly lowered my arms. Koyuki set the eggs as well as sugar and baking powder down on the counter, bending over so he could grab some bowls and measuring cups. He no longer paid us any mind, working quietly but precisely—the way he had yesterday.
"What's he making?" Miko whispered five minutes into this overbearing silence. She reached for my sleeve again. "You're the one who wants to become a pastry chef."
I twisted my body left and right to get a better glimpse of what he was adding and whisking. "It could be anything," I said and gasped. "Wait, he grabbed the waffle iron!"
"Waffles?" Miko gasped.
I practically jumped, unable to keep my exuberance in. "And he grabbed the blueberries!" I said, squeezing her in a tight hug. "He's recreating my failure!"
"Should you really be saying that so happily, Kotori?"
Ignoring the truth in Miko's words, I continued hopping up and down like someone who had their entire system made of caffeine. Koyuki worked diligently, and in less than an hour, a mouth-watering aroma consumed the room.
My stomach rumbled loud enough to reach my ears. Miko was equally entranced by the scent. When Koyuki finished his final touches, he turned around, a large plate in hand. He ambled toward us, a bit miffed by my sparkly-eyed state.
He set the plate onto the table. Another whiff of blueberries wafted.
"Don't eat it yet," he warned me.
It was so darn hard not to, though. After heading back to the cupboards and fridge, he returned with two small plates, butter and a bottle of syrup. After placing two waffles on each small plate, he sliced up perfect squares of butter. He then reached to pop open the lid and promptly tipped it upside down. I watched as the liquid fell around the waffles. The syrup met the butter, melting the little squares from the heat radiating from these blessed creations.
"That's the work of someone who hasn't touched a spatula in a year," he said, pushing one plate to each of us. "It's not angel-like like you were going on about this morning. It's the pathetic work of an amateur. And if this is the work of an amateur, look at where you stand and reevaluate your said dream—"
Koyuki woke from his daze to take in that I had half the plate eaten, my cheeks stuffed to the brim.
"You're already eating it?" he demanded.
"This is really good!" Miko said.
I jerked my head right in time to find my best friend slicing the warm waffle and placing it into her mouth. Eyelids creased shut, her cheeks were chubby. But she was smiling through each chew, radiating just how much she loved the taste.
My jaw fell slowly. No way. Miko was so picky when it came to breads and pastries and yet she was gobbling it right up! Not that I really blamed her. These were that blissful.
I suppressed a laugh and returned to tossing more bites into my mouth. Each time I wanted to savour the flavour of blueberries and its complementary buttery crunch, but I could only shovel more and more into my mouth before that could happen.
"So fluffy...!" Miko dreamily muffled.
"I know right," I agreed, my taste buds still dancing. "Tamura!"
He propped his body against the counter. "Yes?"
"Please stay by my side forever!"
A sigh left his mouth. "You're way too misleading for your own good."
I cocked my head to the side.
Koyuki only coughed, and continued, "Why don't you get that I'm telling you to give up?"
"Tamura, did you give up on becoming a pastry chef because you wanted to?" Miko spoke up.
She set her fork and butter knife onto her now empty plate, licking her lips to salvage any lingering flavour.
Koyuki glanced her way and frowned. "What does it matter?"
"If you give up on something on your own terms, there's little to regret," Miko reasoned, smiling. "But if you're forced to give up something you really want to do... Even if you suck at it and cause trouble for others... It'll really sting for the rest of your life. Other people tell Kotori to give up all the time, so you saying that is kind of pointless. She really wants to make this a reality after all."
"I do," I mumbled, cheeks filled to the brim like a chipmunk's.
"If that really is true stop stuffing your face to tell me that instead of Sakurauchi," Koyuki snapped.
I laughed. After swallowing the last of my second waffle I set down my fork and butterknife. "Sorry. Your waffles are just that good. It really makes mine look like trash."
"It didn't taste far from that either."
"Look," he went on. "Even if that is your situation, I'm afraid I still have to turn you down."
"As much as I'd like to get you off my back, I'm busy with the Film Club." He untied his apron and slipped it off. He picked up a waffle off the large plate and ate it plainly like that. "We're working on our final film of the year and it's not coming together as well as we'd like."
"Are you still low a member?" Miko asked.
"Yeah," he answered. "We've been filming for almost a month now but have no progress. Plus, we asked the Light Music Club if they could compose a song we can include in the film but they're still ways from completing it."
"Why are you in such a hurry to finish this film?" I asked. "You still have three more months until the end of the school year, don't you?"
"There's a competition we want to enter and the due date is coming up." He tossed the last of the waffle into his mouth and licked the remaining crumbs off his fingers. "We actually think we have a shot of getting recognition for it this year so we want to do our best. But as it is right now, short a cast member and no OST to boot, we may have to give up."
OST... as in, original soundtrack? I guess they didn't want any copyrighted content in their film. Still, if that was one of the issues... "Miko's really good at playing the piano."
Miko recoiled. Koyuki performed a double-take.
"I-I'm not," she refused.
"She's won trophies at city-wide competitions every year since elementary school," I boasted.
Koyuki flinched to standing. "First place?" he demanded.
"I didn't win first place last year," was Miko's excuse, waving her hand vehemently. "Only second."
"Only second place?" he parroted again. His gawping that followed was understandable. Miko was a music prodigy and an undeniably amazing best friend. She had the whole package. "I... I never would've guessed," he sputtered.
"Right?" I wrapped my arms around her in a hug. "My Miko is the best."
"Yours?" she meekly reiterated. "I don't remember giving myself to you."
"There was no need to discuss it."
"Sakurauchi, do you compose songs?"
Koyuki's sudden question allowed her to sweatdrop. "Well—"
"All the time," I babbled in her place. "Whenever she isn't working at the Ozaki Flower Shop, she's cooped in her room writing music. Her compositions are a-ma-zing."
"Kotori!" she cried.
I removed my hands from her then raised them in defence. "I'll be eating waffles now."
I grabbed one from the top of the plate and promptly filled my cheeks so I could keep quiet.
"Sakurauchi," Koyuki said, and dropped into a bow, "do you think you could—"
"Ah, don't bow!" she cried, jumping to her feet. "I... They're not that great!"
"Anything is good! Please!"
Miko's mouth wilted the longer Koyuki kept his head down. She cracked soon enough. "All right, so stop bowing, Tamura!"
Koyuki's head snapped upwards, his pearly smile reaching his eyes. He leaped from his bow, fist-pumping. "Yes! Thank you so much, Sakurauchi! Now all I need is an actor and we could get things moving again."
"Actually," she drawled. "I know somebody who's done drama all their life that would qualify."
I jolted, goosebumps shooting across my arms. I cautiously turned my head to find my premonition right—a devious smirk had indeed crossed Miko's face.
"You do?" Koyuki asked, handsome grin still broad on his face. "I stopped by the club but all the members said they were too busy with an upcoming play."
"Don't worry, this one quit the club as soon as she realized she wanted to become a pastry chef."
It didn't take long for Koyuki to figure out her implications. His gaze hesitantly shifted to me. I stuffed the last of the waffle into my mouth.
"You don't mean... Teruhashi?"
I stiffened, again. "Miko," I said through bites, "stop running your mouth!"
"Consider it payback," she returned sweetly.
"Teruhashi, you can act?"
I avoided looking at Koyuki, already knowing what was coming. "Sorta...?"
"Don't you mean yes?" Miko corrected. She turned to Koyuki. "Even if her baking skills aren't the best, she's really good at acting and singing."
Koyuki raked me over with his eyes another time. He clearly didn't buy it. Nonetheless, that didn't erase the hope fixed in his features. I swallowed hard, downing the last of the waffle.
"No, it's fine. I won't ask you."
Astonished, both Miko and I looked at the guy.
He went on, "I mean, I am the one who turned you down for your club. I don't have the right to force you to fulfill my request."
Miko and I shared a glance. Although he'd said something noble, his face gave away his disappointment. He really wanted me to act in his film; I was his last hope.
Matching smirks spread back mine and Miko's lips. As always, my best friend read me like an open book.
Ascending from my seat, I sauntered up to Koyuki. He peered down at me in confusion, and as soon as he saw my emanating smugness, he flinched.
"Wh-what do you—"
His eyelids fluttered rapidly, pondering the saying. "Isn't... that from some anime?"
"Yup," Miko responded, giggling.
"It applies to this situation perfectly," I reasoned, extending my index finger toward him. "'Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.'"
I could tell something in his mind clicked. His complexion blanched. "Wait... are you saying..."
"I'll become this character in your film if you agree to join my club in return." I pushed myself onto my toes, beaming as I yet again invaded his personal space. "How about it, Tamura? Do we have a deal?"