I delivered it. That should be enough, right?
My breathing hitched in my throat as I recalled setting a note inside Hayate's shoe locker this morning. I rapidly shook my head to rid the memory.
Why did it feel like I gave the guy a love letter or something?
It was more of a simple apology note with a detailed explanation of the club, this time much more coherent than the ramble I'd given last time. I'd even attached a question at the bottom with two little boxes reading: Will you join my club? Check yes or no.
After conversing with Miko and Koyuki on Sunday (the latter giving me a whopping twenty-seven minute speech on how he'd "told me so"), they suggested I go for this kind of approach. It seemed the easiest on Hayate's fragile heart, considering it made things a lot less confrontational.
That, and it was a well-known fact that my body worked before my mind could. If I cornered him in person, I'd probably get too close again and make him uncomfortable. Spitballing misleading enough lines that even Koyuki would blush to seemed plausible as well. All resulting in a not so pleasurable fainting episode for the second time.
With this note I wouldn't have to hurt him, and depending on his answer, I could either rejoice or be left with the task of finding another student to join.
So, logically speaking, this was the best approach.
Personally speaking, however, I utterly hated it.
"Stop fidgeting so much," Koyuki commanded once lunch break began.
"Can't. The anticipation's killing me." I clasped at strands of my bangs and sunk further into my seat. "I want to see him. Like, right this second. Like, really, really badly."
"Kotori," Miko called from her seat, an amused smile in tow. "You sound like you're in love."
"What do you expect?" I returned, extending my lower lip. "I delivered my very first 'I-want-to-be-loved' letter today. I'd rather confess in person than wait in anguish for his response."
"Do you say this stuff intentionally knowing that you're being misleading?" Koyuki questioned from where he was standing.
I shook my head. "Apology letter or not, a girl putting a letter in a guy's shoe locker is the epitome of being intimate. I might as well have skipped our montage of falling in love and awkward almost-kisses during the school year and jumped straight into marriage."
"Kotori, it's just an apology letter," Miko giggled.
I dug into my desk and surfaced two volumes of my favourite manga. Then used it to shield my mouth.
"Jasper's apology letter ended up in an arranged marriage between him and Princess Hanna."
Koyuki face-palmed. "You and your no-name manga."
"Hey," I said, lowering it to reveal my pout. "I will not tolerate anyone slandering Royal Sweets, aka my favourite manga series of all time."
"It's about baking, right?" Miko asked.
I eagerly bobbed my head and flipped it open to show her. Her eyes glazed over the comic's beautifully drawn in desserts. She grinned before long.
"Wow, the artist's pretty good."
"Seriously in another league," I agreed. "Just look at those tasty shortcakes, soufflés, truffles... macaroons..."
"Kotori, you're drooling."
Snapping from my daze, I used the back of my hand to wipe off the saliva currently dribbling down my chin.
"By the way," she continued, "you didn't make anything for Gouda this morning?"
The recollection of Saturday made my stomach flop. Setting my manga aside, I frowned and shook my head.
"I... can't bake at home anymore."
"Why not? Are you giving up again?"
"No, but..." I lifted my head towards the blond currently staring at me in bewilderment. "Koyuki, will you pay me if I let you become my boyfriend?"
His jaw plummeted, appalled. "What?"
"I can accept weekly payments. Monthly if that doesn't work for you."
An angry tic mark appeared on the side of his head. His thumbs were on either side of my cheeks, pinching them mercilessly. "Are you hearing yourself right now? You're telling me to pay to go out with you?"
"I-Is that a no?" I muffled through the pain.
He squeezed harder.
"I-I'm swowwy," I whimpered. "I didn't mean it. Pwease forgive me."
He unhanded my cheeks at that but that didn't stop me from dramatically sniffling and rubbing them with my palms. He hadn't pinched them too hard, but with it, I knew I'd once again stepped out of line. I should've never suggested that, especially with Koyuki of all people.
"So?" he said. "What's the real reason?"
I flopped onto my desk in defeat. "I need a job."
"You?" Miko gasped.
Even Koyuki was shocked. "Impossible."
"Exactly," I sighed. "But I need money or else my mom will throw me out at this rate."
Miko sympathetically patted my shoulder. "She finally got fed up with your baking, huh?"
"First I accidentally cause Hayate to faint, and now she decides to cut me off? If she doesn't give me an allowance how does she expect me to fill my stomach with desserts every day?"
"I don't think she expects that," Koyuki monotoned.
Miko sheepishly laughed.
"Come on, don't be down about it," she prodded. "I'm sure you'll find part-time work soon."
Seeing my relentless pout, she emitted a cry of eureka. She bent over her desk to go ruffling through her bag.
"Which reminds me! I was flipping through these magazines at the convenience store and I found something you'll definitely like."
I twisted my torso her way. "Why? Are there desserts in there?"
"Confections." She issued for me and even Koyuki to come over to look at the magazine in her hands. "Every year, they compile a list of people whose confections stun the world and also feature baking competition winners across Japan."
Miko rustled through the pages. Beautiful confections I'd never seen before as well as photographs of Western and Japanese pastry chefs alike. Miko went ahead to the last section harbouring images of different baking competition winners. She pushed it closer to me.
I whistled upon seeing the page. "Ooh, so handsome."
"Not that one. This one." She tapped the opposite side. "But yeah, I guess he's rather handsome."
"With a side of strawberry ice cream and syrup... mhm, melt in my mouth delicious."
"Not the time and place," Koyuki added in disgust.
"What?" I said in defence. "That anmitsu is beautiful."
"O-oh..." He'd reddened tremendously. "Say that sooner, idiot."
Miko cleared her throat and pointed away from the frozen dessert and towards the boy pasted on the left page.
"Jeez. He is absolutely fine."
"The yokan or the image?"
I bent over to study the gorgeous figure. He was truly a stunning sight. Fiery red hair held back in a small ponytail on his shoulder. Strong cheekbones, thick eyelashes and a god-blessed smile. Even his eyes could make anyone breathless; they brought the term 'golden' a whole new meaning.
I carefully grabbed the magazine from her, unable to control my gawking. Was it seriously possible for someone to be this attractive? Let alone Mr. Handsome from Miko's work, his looks put every Asian model and idol to shame.
"Norihise Yamashiro," I read off the little biography. "He was sixteen when this was made but the year he was born was... No way! He's our age?"
"Don't you recognize him?"
"Is he an actor?"
"He goes to our school!" She appeared completely finished with me. "He's a total heartthrob among the second year girls. But it turns out the beautiful boy everyone always talks about can bake? And that he won a country-wide confection competition?"
"I'm not into playboys," I told her.
She shook her head. "Your type of guy doesn't matter right now. What does is that if he was featured in this magazine last year, that means he's still an incredible high school confectionist today. He'd be so perfect for your clu— Stop ogling the yokan already."
She yanked the magazine from me and my ogling of the beautiful confection. Then, she passed it over for Koyuki to get a better look at.
"Kotori, don't you care about this at all?" she prodded onward. "He isn't in the Cooking Club. You can ask him to join your club!"
"I doubt it." Koyuki's interjection stunned us. "The high school's Cooking Club is famous because they look down on everyone else. They bring back so many trophies, awards and prestige that the principal and majority of the staff completely backs them up. He gives the existing members the right to scout whoever they feel belongs on their level—which, bluntly put, are the students who are the best of the best. They don't associate with second-rate chefs or baker-wannabes at all. If anything, they ridicule them. This... Nori, or whatever, is definitely up there. It's only a matter of time before he joins them."
Miko shared a look with me. "You sure know a lot, Tamura."
He slid the magazine back to her. "I guess."
"My precious Koyuki used to be tainted by them when he was a member," I realized.
"I wasn't tainted," he returned. "But... yeah, I guess it wasn't the best time. The middle school club was more lenient. They let us have fun. And it wasn't all survival of the fittest. But the high school... Man, they pissed me off. How the hell do they have to be raised to have egos that big?"
"You think so too, Koyuki?" I demanded, up on my feet and scooping his hand into mine. "At the beginning of the year when I strolled to their clubroom doors, dessert in hand and ready to formally hand in my club sheet, they ridiculed me. Called my cake an 'insult to mankind' because of how inhumane it looked. Can you believe that?"
Although I expected him to be blushing senseless—I was holding him after all—Koyuki instead nodded in vigorous agreement. "Your baking is terrible, but they didn't have to be so merciless about it."
"Right? I made voodoo dolls for each member after that so I could curse them to fall to illness. I still curse them every day."
Miko snorted. "So she says, but she made all the existing members one except Gouda."
I stiffened, cheeks warming. "That— Okito wasn't an official member when that happened," I excused. "Besides, I don't want that bastard getting cursed. Until I destroy him myself, I won't be satisfied."
"Sounds to me you like still have a soft spot for your ex best friend." Miko peered across my shoulder, in the direction of the entrance. "Then again, it seems he does too."
Her words left an undesirable knot in my stomach. Koyuki followed her gaze, only to have his face contort in surprise. Hastily, I swerved in the direction also.
Okito was standing there, right at the threshold of the classroom. And he was staring directly at me.