Table of Contents
It was a Sunday when I spotted Osanai-san in town.
Osanai-san and I do have a reciprocal relationship, but it did not extend to codependence, and we were definitely not inseparable lovebirds. We would hang out after class to eat a dessert, or browse through some books, but we had never made plans to go out on a weekend. Both of us wouldn’t be averse to it if one of us brought it up, but none of us would think of sticking together meaninglessly.
I was drifting around aimlessly in town on a bright Sunday in May, when a girl I thought I’d seen before appeared from a mobile phone dealership. After studying her face a while more, I realized that it was Osanai-san. You might be wondering why I couldn’t differentiate between “someone I thought I’d seen before” and “someone I often see” when I’m usually next to Osanai-san in school, and the main reason is Osanai-san’s clothes.
When Osanai-san is wearing her sailor uniform, it helps to hide her presence, and brings to mind words like “gloomy”, “plain” and “dull”. But today, she was wearing a pink tank top, a white lacy shirt on top and cream-colored denim pants that stopped at the knees. Her amasogi hairstyle was hidden by a plump leather hat, making it inconspicuous. It was a style that seemed to say, “I’m usually an energetic high school girl, but I’m in a state of ennui today.” Even if she was seen by a classmate, they wouldn’t be able to tell that it was Osanai Yuki in a quick glance.
The difference in image was so great it was as if Osanai-san was wearing a disguise. In fact, she might even consider it as a disguise herself. Us petit bourgeois are too self-conscious.
Having perfectly seen through her disguise, I approached her from behind. However, I didn’t get far with my sneaking, and my quarry unexpectedly turned around when I was a few meters away from her. I wasn’t thinking of surprising her, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be surprised myself. With the leather hat worn low over her eyes, Osanai-san put on a thin smile.
“What a coincidence, Kobato-kun.”
“Yes, you’re right.”
I was still shocked that she knew I was approaching her from behind. Reading my expression, Osanai-san showed me something in her right hand. It was a mobile phone. It was a flip phone, and was opened up, but was not turned on.
“I could see behind me by looking at the monitor.”
“Eh? You can see just with that?”
The phone monitor was black, as is usually the case, and didn’t reflect much light. Even if you tried to use it like a mirror, the reflections should be too blurry. Osanai-san shook her head.
“I thought someone was approaching, so I looked there.”
Her finger pointed at a cleanly-polished show window, on which Osanai-san and I were reflected. Yeah, as usual, she has great eyesight. That doesn’t sound like a compliment, so I won’t say that out aloud.
After feeling a bout of admiration, I realized that the phone Osanai-san was holding was different from the usual one. I pointed at it.
“Ah, you changed your phone.”
Osanai-san nodded, folded the open phone and showed it to me again. It had a cold, ivory color and was considerably thin. It also had a camera lens affixed on it.
“Oh, it comes with a camera.”
For some reason, Osanai-san looked a little embarrassed.
“My old phone was way too old, so…”
“Mine’s a lot older than your old one, though.”
“Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
No, I’m not hurt from that at all. I smiled and shook my head.
“So you came here today to buy a phone?”
I asked, but Osanai-san’s face clouded over.
“…Well, there’s that, but…”
“Hm? Is there something else?”
She shook her head lightly.
“I thought I would feel better if I did some shopping.”
She murmured. I tried thinking for a while, but I couldn’t figure out why she would be feeling down. Quite some time had passed since that case of the spring-exclusive strawberry tart, after all.
“What’s the matter?”
“I was called to the Student Counselling Office two days ago.”
“Yeah, now I remember.”
Come to think of it, Osanai-san had been called over via the schoolwide broadcasting system. At that time, I’d wondered why the peaceful Osanai-san would be called to the Student Counselling Office, but I soon forgot all about it.
“Did you do something to make them mad at you?”
She shook her head.
“No, but they asked me all sorts of questions… about the bicycle.”
“Bicycle? The one that was stolen?”
“Yup. It was found at a weird place, they said.”
“Isn’t it good if it was found?”
“Rather than found, it was seen.”
Osanai-san replied with a painfully troubled expression on her face. I was about to stop her and say that it was alright if she didn’t want to talk about it, but before I had the chance, she soldiered on.
“There was a case of burglary last Sunday. My bicycle was seen there.”’
“…The eyewitnesses saw it there?”
With a nod, Osanai-san started speaking quickly.
“In Hondo-chō, the apartment of a student called Io Kibe was hit. There was an election on that Sunday, right?”
Right, the election’s over. Come to think of it, it’s been quiet, with no more election cars driving around.
“That apartment was apparently burgled in the thirty-minute window that the student was out making their vote. Their official seal was stolen, but their bankbook was fine, so they suffered almost zero damages. It was during that time when my bicycle was seen. Some meddlesome… sorry, some observant neighbor thought it strange that some youngsters seemed to be acting as lookouts by the roadside, so that person memorized the number on the bicycle license seal.”
You need a bicycle license seal to be allowed to ride a bike to Funa High. Not that I would know, since I always walked to school.
“There was an inquiry by the police, who found my name using the bicycle license seal number, and called me to the Counselling Office.”
“Did they treat you like a burglar?”
“No. I immediately told them that my bicycle was stolen.”
I might have been overthinking it, but I felt that Osanai-san’s face was colored with a little irony as she spoke. As if spitting out the words, she continued.
“I was scolded for having my bicycle stolen. I felt down after that, so I felt like going out and doing some shopping.”
Well, that does happen.
It was a sunny day, and it was a little hot. I checked my watch to see that it was just past one o’clock. If we continue getting exposed to the sun’s rays in May, the effect of the ultraviolet rays could be frightening. Using my hand to block the sun, I spoke with a smile on my face.
“I see. It’s good that you get to shop to your heart’s content… but before that, how about taking a break somewhere cool?”
Osanai-san didn’t immediately respond to my suggestion, but also used a hand to block the sun, then peered into my eyes, until her gaze finally dropped to my feet.
“My feelings are hurt..”
Then again, it was rare for the modest Osanai-san to coax me into doing something, and while her feelings weren’t exactly hurt, I could tell that she was certainly pissed off. This is a good chance to show my magnanimity. Be that as it may, I should have come here with more money in my wallet.
“…Fine, I’ll treat you.”
“There’s a place with delicious homemade yogurt nearby. The fruit sauce there is wonderful.”
Osanai-san responded without a moment’s delay, though she didn’t have a particularly ecstatic countenance, then adjusted her hat, pushing it further into her head. It seemed that she had planned to go there already. Osanai-san herself probably understood that compared to shopping, eating something sweet had a greater effect on brightening her mood in general.
However, to tell a long story short, our plan regarding Osanai-san’s favorite yogurt sauce was temporarily put on hold. Soon after we started walking off, my way-too-old phone received an email with the contents:
“You’re free, right?”
It was from Kengo. While walking, I sent him a reply that did not conceal any truths.
“So you’re basically free. I’ll invite you to my house. Come over.”
I raised my eyebrows. It was rare for Kengo to make an invite on a day off. I had no particular reason to decline, but it should be fine to treat Osanai-san to some yogurt first.
“I’m walking with Osanai-san. Later.”
A few moments passed.
“That’s even better. I have to thank her for that case about the paintings a while back. How about coming over together?”
Oh, right. Osanai-san was believed to be the one who dealt with the case of the two paintings. Hmm, what should I do? I’m fine either way. This isn’t the only chance for me to eat a sweet dessert with Osanai-san, after all. The question is whether Osanai-san is willing to come along.
During that exchange, while I had slowed down my walking pace to type those replies, Osanai-san had gone a few steps ahead. I called out at her back.
“Hang on a moment.”
Osanai-san turned her head around.
“Kengo asks if we want to go to his house.”
“…Is that so? See you next time, then.”
“He specifically asked if you would like to come as well.”
Osanai-san’s eyes became unexpectedly wide.
“Yes… If you don’t want to, I won’t force you to.”
I thought she would be troubled over this, but without a moment’s delay, Osanai-san recovered from her state of surprise and immediately nodded.
“Yup, I’ll go.”
“Oh, really? He asked us to go over right now, so are you fine missing the yogurt?”
“Yup. Is that no good?”
There was no reason for it to be a bad thing, but it was a little unexpected. Osanai-san is a relatively shy person, and I can’t believe she would throw away the opportunity to be treated with yogurt.
“So, where is Doujima-kun’s house?”
I told her the approximate location. Osanai-san thought for a while, then asked if we could stop by her house. Now that I think about it, Osanai-san’s house is indeed on the way to Kengo’s.
We left the shopping street, and as Osanai-san had wanted, we stopped at her house, where she spent about ten minutes getting a change of clothes. The tank top was replaced with a turtleneck, the denim pants had turned into a long skirt, and the leather hat had disappeared. She was now wearing a plain appearance. In other words, Osanai-san’s disguise was off.
Kengo lived in a house on an old residential street. I’d been invited there two or three times while we were in elementary school. I was wondering if I would get lost on the way there, since it had been so long since I last visited, but our journey there was unexpectedly smooth. It was a house that was less than a meter away from its neighbours, with a concrete-block wall surrounding the two-story building that dominated the landscape. When I pressed the bell, Kengo immediately appeared. He was in a shirt and jeans, a comfortable attire.
“Hey, so you came.”
Kengo said as he tried looking over my shoulder, where Osanai-san was hiding.
“Nice to see you, Osanai-san.”
She gave a little nod in greeting.
“Well, come in.”
Following his suggestion, we went through the entranceway into a wood-panelled corridor. I’d never thought it to be a big house, but now that my body had grown, I felt it was remarkably small. While the living room that we were led to was only about six tatami mats in size, it had few items and large windows, causing it to give off a sense of openness. Also, the air conditioner had been turned on, which I was quite grateful for. The three of us surrounded a table that was a little large, whereupon Osanai-san and I sat down on floor cushions with a checkered pattern.
“Wait here for a while. There’s some delicious cocoa.”
With those words, Kengo left the room.
Osanai-san muttered in puzzlement, probably because the images of the stern Kengo and sweet cocoa didn’t fit with each other. I was thinking for a moment that there could be some roundabout humor hidden here, but I immediately realized it was impossible. Kengo was too straight-laced for that.
After we waited for a brief moment, Kengo returned. He had a tray in his hands, which held cups with cocoa in them, filled to the brim. Taking care not to spill anything, Kengo placed the tray on the table. Each person held out a hand and grabbed the nearest cup.
“You said that this cocoa is delicious, right?”
“Yeah, it’s Van Houten1.”
Isn’t that normal cocoa, then? You can probably find these lined up on the shelves in a supermarket next to Morinaga2 products. I’ve never done a taste comparison, but it’s nothing special. However, I kept silent, not wanting to crush Kengo’s confident proclamation. I glanced to the side to see Osanai-san with blank look on her face.
And thus, we drank hot cocoa in an air-conditioned room on a sweltering day. The cocoa didn’t seem that hot when I brought it to my lips, but when it actually entered my mouth, it was really hot, above the suitable temperature. Thinking about it, or even without thinking about it, I would have definitely preferred something cold. Well, I can’t say something so choosy since I’m here on his invitation. Furthermore, the cocoa was in fact quite delicious. I’m surprised that Kengo can make such delicious cocoa.
“You melted the cocoa powder in hot milk, right?”
“It’s melted well. This is pretty good.”
I don’t have a sweet tooth like Osanai-san, and I’m not a cocoa connoisseur as a matter of course, but I could tell that this cocoa was way better than what I can make. What I usually don’t like about cocoa is the powdery feeling it leaves behind, but I felt no such thing after drinking Kengo’s cocoa.
“Do you know how I made it? I can tell you the trick, if you want.”
“Nah, it’s fine.”
“Well, listen anyway. The taste changes quite a bit with one procedure. With one cup of cocoa, I realized that cooks are indeed craftsmen.”
You shouldn’t have asked if you were going to tell us to listen anyway.
“Procedure? Like putting in salt after sugar?”
“Oh? There’s a way of making cocoa that involves salt?”
Not that I know. I looked to the side to see Osanai-san quietly blowing on her cocoa, since she had a cat’s tongue. Osanai-san would probably know the method that Kengo was talking about, but she had curled up shyly and was seemingly intent on blowing on her cocoa. I decided to obediently play the role of the listener.
“So, could you tell us?”
“Listen well. Put the cocoa powder in a cup and pour hot milk inside. The trick here is to be moderate when pouring the milk.”
“If you add a tiny amount of hot milk and scrape the cocoa powder, it will turn into a paste.”
He made an action that resembled grinding something at a pestle.
When the cocoa powder has completely turned into paste, pour in hot milk again, but only the amount that you want. Put in an appropriate amount of sugar, give it a good stir, and…”
This time, he moved his hands as if he was stirring with a muddler.
“It turns out like this.”
Kengo said as he pointed at the coffee cup. I studied the contents of my cup again. “Oh,” I said as I nodded.
“I see. As you said, there is such a big difference with just one procedure. That was interesting, thanks.”
While I frankly conveyed my gratitude, Kengo had an expression on his face that was hard to describe and seemed to swing between displeasure and confusion. “Hey Jougorou,” he started, but swallowed his words. He cleared his throat, then continued in a conspicuously loud voice.
That was an awkward way of changing the subject. Kengo turned so that half his body faced Osanai-san.
“It was a great help when you lent your knowledge for that case back then.”
He bowed. As the lower half of Osanai-san’s face was hidden by the coffee cup, she stiffened.
“That also helped to reflect credit on my seniors. Thank you for that.”
Looking closely, he was actually retreating slowly while in the seiza position. That’s some deft footwork. Is the main point based on how he uses his big toes?
“I really wanted to give my thanks earlier, because Jougorou and I both don’t know the slightest about paintings. Thankfully, the two of you were acquainted with each other.”
With part of her face still hidden by the coffee cup, Osanai-san sent me a signal with her eyes, probably wanting me to put a stop to this.
“Ah, Kengo, about that time…”
But there was no effect.
“Jougorou was explaining about it so triumphantly, but you were the one who cracked the case without even seeing the actual paintings. I was wondering if you could tell us how you managed to find the key to solving the case…”
Osanai-san finally placed the cup down.
“I need to use the washroom.”
She stood up while speaking. With a disheartened look, Kengo replied.
“You’ll find it if you turn left by the entranceway. Did you get that?”
“I can find it, I think.”
Osanai-san left the room in haste. I apologized to her retreating figure in my heart for not being able to support her.
The footsteps on the wood-panelled corridor grew distant. Kengo, who seemed like he had been listening to those footsteps to confirm that Osanai-san was going the right way, suddenly looked at me. Surmising that he had something he wanted to say to me, I broached the subject.
“So? Do you have anything you want to talk about for inviting me here on a Sunday?”
“Not really. Nothing worth talking about, anyway.”
“You mean to say that you called me here in middle of my walk just to lecture me about delicious cocoa? I can’t exactly say I’m thankful for that. Well, I’m happy that I’ll be able to enjoy delicious cocoa from now on, though.”
I said that in a joking manner rather than in an argumentative one. However, Kengo seemed satisfied with that.
“Hm, it seems that you haven’t lost your edge.”
“What are you talking about?”
Kengo released his grip on the handle of his coffee cup.
“I’m not good with beating around the bush.”
“I’ll ask you clearly, then. Did something happen to you in middle school? The atmosphere you give off now is too different. Where did the old Kobato Jougorou who wouldn’t die even if he got killed go?”
“Really? For example?”
I feigned ignorance.
Kengo’s tone was unexpectedly calm.
“For example, you ask? Everything. Even now. You were only taught the method of melting cocoa powder, and you say, ‘That was interesting, thank you’?”
I sipped my cocoa. As I thought, I would be happier with something cold on a hot day.
“I don’t know. What would my past self have done?”
Kengo glared at me, though he wasn’t worked up. Man, that brings me back. Kengo and I used to often stare at each other back in the day.
“What I know is that you wouldn’t be satisfied if you didn’t get to say everything you wanted to say. If someone knew something that you didn’t, you would use malicious language and be unwilling to admit defeat.
“But now you’re even more vicious than ever, though you’re much gentler when you talk. You’ve become the type of bastard with a horrible mouth and personality, but hides an ulterior motive behind a smiling face.”
…That’s a bummer. Do I really look like that? Even when I’ve spared no effort to become a petit bourgeois who can force a smile on his face and heart. I’m the worst at handling headlong charges when I’m not prepared for them. Osanai-san, who should cut in to help me out, isn’t here, a resounding consequence of me being unable to assist her earlier. I wracked my brains for a plan to somehow avoid Kengo’s interrogation, but no solution came to mind. In the midst of my thinking, I suddenly grew annoyed with it, and spoke softly with a smile still affixed to my face.
“To summarize your question, you’re asking if anything happened to me in middle school, right?”
“I suppose you could put it that way.”
I took one more sip of cocoa, then placed the cup down and lightly raised both my hands.
“It’s simple, then. Nothing happened. I might have been like what you said I was when I entered middle school, but I naturally became like this when I graduated. Like a petit bourgeois.”
Kengo stared at me with a sharp gaze.
“…I don’t believe it.”
“That’s up for you to decide.”
“As they say, the soul of a child of three stays the same. That Jougorou wouldn’t have become like this unless something significant happened.”
“They also say that a man changes after not seeing him for three days. Even more so when you haven’t seen me for three years. It’s just that you’ve changed too little, Kengo.”
I averted my eyes away from Kengo. I’m no longer suited for staring contests. Kengo sighed.
“I get pissed off whenever I hear you say, ‘That’s right’ or ‘Exactly’, since you don’t think that way. You’re a guy who hasn’t ever deemed the word ‘Yes’ to be acceptable, after all.”
That’s not true. I do aim to obediently listen to what others have to say, though I may not be able to do that well yet. Even so, I’m still in practice for that, so please let me off the hook for this.
I could sense that my tone of speech was becoming gradually colder.
“If it pisses you off, you’ll have to get used to it.”
“I phrased that badly, but you should understand what I’m talking about.”
I shrugged and answered quickly.
“Yeah, I understand. But Kengo, you were expecting me to have had some sort of trauma that made my change easy to understand, right? Don’t be stupid, there’s no such thing. Not at all. I have my own reasons for aiming to be a little citizen, don’t I? I might as well ask about your reasons for being a good-natured person. Is that all you called me here to talk about? If so, I’ll…”
That was when it hit me. Even with that sharp retort, I couldn’t go home yet, because Osanai-san hadn’t returned from the toilet. Come to think of it, she’s taking quite a long time, isn’t she?
Once again, I softened my expression. Kengo looked disappointed.
“Ah, I’ll use the toilet.”
“…Do as you like.”
I didn’t actually feel the need to go, but I went to the toilet, anyway. Judging by the “open” sign on the knob, the door wasn’t locked. If so, where had Osanai-san gone? She could have possibly gotten lost in this narrow house which seems like it wouldn’t take much time to clean, right? I stood in front of the toilet to consider Osanai-san’s whereabouts when I heard a voice from somewhere.
“But if you do that, the volume will…”
“You’re right, but…”
It was coming from the kitchen. One of the voices came from Osanai-san, while the other probably came from Kengo’s elder sister, Chisato. Thinking of taking a peek, I inched towards the kitchen, when the sharp-eyed Osanai-san suddenly spotted me.
Having no choice now that I had been found out, I appeared in front of the two of them. Chisato-san shot me a glance, said, “Welcome” and folded her arms. I’ve known Kengo since elementary school, so I’ve also been acquainted with Chisato-san from that time. I’ve heard that she also goes to Funa High, so perhaps I should call her Chisato-senpai instead of Chisato-san? While Kengo had a squarish face, that did not apply to Chisato-senpai. The only similarity their faces had was that they had distinct facial features. However, in Kengo’s case, that characteristic built up an impression of toughness and strength, but for Chisato-senpai, it made her seem like a flashy person who would probably look good in high heels. Currently, her mouth was in the shape of the character へ.
“…What’s the matter?”
I directed my question at Osanai-san, but it was Chisato-senpai who answered.
“We’ve been challenged by that idiot Kengo!”
I must have looked foolish, for Osanai-san giggled. Chisato-senpai unfolded her arms and pointed sharply at the sink.
“The sink is dry!”
“And the only thing there is a spoon.”
I looked in the sink. As stated, there was only a small spoon there, with a chocolate-colored stain on its tip. Naturally, that would be the spoon used in the mixing of the cocoa powder.
“What about it?”
Chisato-senpai brushed her hair upward.
“You’re slow. Kengo brewed some cocoa for you two, right?”
I wouldn’t say that cocoa is brewed. The word “brew” has the connotation of “immersion”, and is of course suitable for tea, but while it is sometimes used in the case of cocoa, it just doesn’t seem fitting. However, I didn’t say anything. It would be rough to be accused of “having an ulterior motive” again.
“You’re right. How did you know?”
“I told her while we were talking…”
Osanai-san replied in a hushed voice. She didn’t need to be so secretive about it when all she did was tell Chisato-senpai that cocoa was served to us, though.
“If milk was used in the cocoa…”
Chisato-senpai said as she spread her hands wide to indicate the entire kitchen
“There must be a saucepan here, naturally.”
Ah, I see. You can’t make hot milk cocoa without warming the milk. For that, there must be some kind of pot. It doesn’t need to be a saucepan, specifically. A wok or stockpot would do the job just fine.
“He washed it, didn’t he?”
I bluntly replied, causing Chisato-senpai to point at me without a moment’s delay.
“You sure are slow. As I said, the sink is dry!”
What an excitable person…
Thanks to that frankly depressing conversation with Kengo, my feelings were a little hurt. And here was Chisato-senpai with her high amounts of energy, which somehow made me feel better, something that I didn’t expect myself. A wry smile rose up on my face as my melancholy largely dissipated. They say that smiling is good for one’s health, and it seems that the type of smile doesn’t matter.
“To make hot milk cocoa without wetting the sink… do you think that’s possible?”
“Who knows? Perhaps Kengo came up with an ingenious plan?”
“So if I were to ask you to do the same…”
“Me too. Neither can that girl over there.”
Being pointed at, the “girl over there” responded with a small nod. Chisato-senpai brought her hand that she had used to point at Osanai-san into a fist and shook it.
“Kobato-kun, right? You’ve known Kengo for a long time, haven’t you?”
“Doesn’t it frustrate you that Kengo can do something that you can’t?”
“You’re right, it is frustrating.”
I replied on reflex, but immediately regretted it. I’d accidentally revealed my true colors. Osanai-san let out a low, sharp voice.
On the other hand, Chisato-senpai seemed satisfied to no end.
“Exactly, exactly. If so, how about tracing Kengo’s actions with me?”
That was certainly a strange turn of events. That said, I couldn’t swallow what I had already spat out. Anyway, Kengo couldn’t have possibly come up with a plan that I can’t figure out by racking my brains for a bit. I should try solving this puzzle her.
In any case, it wasn’t even a difficult puzzle. All I had to do was find a way to heat up the milk without using a saucepan. While the kitchen wasn’t spacious, it was complete with electrical appliances. And of course, it should have that.
I looked around for it, and found it, as expected. I was, of course, referring to the microwave. It was larger than I thought it would be.
“That’s a big microwave.”
I remarked. Chisato-senpai puffed her chest out in pride.
“You can make sweets in this. It works as an oven, too.”
I noticed Osanai-san looking at the microwave enviously, while seeming to hold herself back.
“…It looks like you can even fit a size 8 sponge cake3 in this microwave.”
“So you’re thinking that he heated up the milk with the microwave, aren’t you?”
While I was a little irked by her mocking tone, I nodded.
“If he used a microwave, he wouldn’t need a pot.”
“In place of that, he’d need a non-metallic container, though there’s all sorts of things here made of plastic or ceramic, like that bowl over there. But as I said, you’re slow. This is the third time I’m saying this, but the sink is dry.”
I see, so there’s no big difference, huh.
Then again, he didn’t have to heat the milk up in the same container. I raised three fingers.
“How about this, then? He prepared three coffee cups, filled them with milk, then put them in the microwave. He would have three cups of hot milk.”
However, Osanai-san quietly put in a word of advice.
“But Kobato-kun, what we received was not hot milk…”
“Yes, it was cocoa. So he added cocoa powder from the top with a spoon.”
“But Kobato-kun, what we got was not just normal cocoa…”
So what, I was about to ask, when it hit me. She was right. We were not served just normal cocoa, but delicious cocoa, and we’d just listened to the method of making such delicious cocoa. It required adding only a small amount of milk.
In other words, he must have needed some equipment for pouring out the milk into the coffee cups which contained the final product, cocoa.
And yet the sink was dry. Without thinking, I let out a sound.
Chisato-senpai folded her arms.
“It seems that you’ve finally recognized the problem. Just what did that idiot Kengo do? Even if he didn’t use something like a bowl, or in other words if he placed coffee cups in the microwave, there should be six cups.”
I noticed a small mistake, so I corrected her.
“No, he could have done it with just four cups. He warmed up three cups of milk, then prepared another cup for making delicious cocoa. He dissolved the cocoa powder in that cup, and got one cup of cocoa, and one empty cup. By repeating that three times, he would produce three cups of delicious cocoa.”
But I was corrected once again.
“That’s impossible, Kobato-kun. The spoon would get wet when he makes the first cup of cocoa. He has to scoop cocoa powder out of the bag three times, so there should be two spoons in the sink, but…”
It seems that Osanai-san is going along with Chisato-senpai’s puzzle and my obstinacy, even though she probably isn’t very eager about it. In my heart, I pressed my hands together in gratitude.
“Also, we’re talking about Kengo here. He definitely wouldn’t do something as sloppy as inserting a wet spoon into a bag of cocoa powder. If that’s not it, he could have prepared one cup for heating up the milk and three cups with cocoa powder, so he just has to heat up the milk and pour it into the another cup three times.”
However, this means that he used the microwave three times, which is quite a waste. That can’t be it.
Chisato-senpai shook her head in an exasperated manner.
“You guys sure are unproductive. No matter which of your theories is right, he would have to use four cups, right? But only three cups were used.”
Oh, right. I tilted my head.
However, that conversation was definitely not unproductive, because it helped me see the direction to the correct solution. I mumbled to the two of them.
“Hmm, the way I see it, we can solve the problem if we look at it from another perspective.”
“Look at it from another perspective? What do you mean?”
“Well, I originally thought about it this way: The end result is three cups of cocoa, so there has to be some equipment for pouring milk in, so why can’t we find it? But currently, we can look at the question like this: Given three cups of hot milk, it is necessary for some mortar-like equipment for mixing the cocoa powder to exist, but why is there no such equipment? Now, we’re looking at the question from another perspective.”
A meaningful smile appeared on Chisato-senpai’s face. That was curious, but I was a lot more strongly attracted to the problem that I’d been given.
Hang on. By the previous line of reasoning, four containers are required for three cups of cocoa, but in reality there were only three containers.
“Perhaps this is what happened.”
The two of them focused their attention on me.
“Basically… there were only two cups of ‘delicious cocoa’. The other cup was made by dropping cocoa powder into hot milk, and was conventional, powdery cocoa. How about that?”
That way, whichever one of the two methods Kengo used, he would end up with two cups of delicious cocoa and one cup of normal cocoa.
“I see,” Chisato-senpai replied. However, Osanai-san looked around in the air, then sent a weak gaze in my direction. She wanted to deny my suggestion, but was too shy to do so, I suppose. Why would Osanai-san do that? I thought, and instantly hit upon the answer.
“No, sorry, that can’t be it.”
“Why not? It’s entirely possible that Kengo made his own cup of cocoa sloppily, isn’t it?”
“You were not there, Chisato-senpai, but the each of us randomly picked a cup from the tray, and Kengo was not the first to take his cup.”
If there was some kind of magician’s secret behind it, Osanai-san and I could have been steered towards the correct cups. However, that would be like using a chef’s knife to kill a chicken, and there is absolutely no need to utilize such techniques to distribute cups of cocoa. Anyway, I can’t imagine Kengo having the finesse to pull off such a move.
That means that three cups of cocoa must have been made with only three containers.
Hmm, Kengo, what exactly did you do? You haven’t shown me your clever side before.
The silence continued. The phrases “three cups of cocoa” and “delicious cocoa” kept repeating in my mind. Before my brains turned into cacao, Osanai-san murmured.
“It’s possible to make three cups of cocoa with two cups of hot milk…”
Chisato-senpai and I turned to look at her in surprise, causing Osanai-san to momentarily panic and look around at her surroundings, probably searching for cover. However, we were in an open kitchen, so there was no where for her to hide. In exchange, she shrunk back and looked down, then continued in a small voice.
“He put two coffee cups of milk in the microwave and got two cups of hot milk. He took one more empty cup, and dissolved the cocoa powder in that cup to make two cups of delicious cocoa. Up till here, it’s the same as what Kobato-kun suggested in the beginning. After that, he poured one third of the cocoa in each cup into the empty cup. That way, he gets three cups of delicious cocoa.”
I see. However…
But Osanai-san voiced my rebuttal on her own.
“However, if that was the case, only would have been filled only up to the sixty-six percent mark, while the three cups we got were all filled to the brim…”
“If you knew that it was impossible, then why did you even say all that?”
Osanai-san face turned red upon hearing Chisato-senpai’s reasonable criticism.
“I was just trying to fill the silence…”
That’s heroic. Too heroic.
As my heart was moved into tears, Chisato-senpai suddenly made an exclamation.
“Ah! I got it! That’s it, it’s exactly like what the midget said!”
Osanai-san muttered, apparently dissatisfied with the nickname. Not caring about that, Chisato-senpai spoke excitedly.
“With that method, he would get three cups of cocoa using three cups. All that is left is the volume, meaning that he made three cups of thick cocoa in advance, then added milk to them.”
I immediately objected.
“That would cool down the cocoa. The cocoa that we received was so hot that we couldn’t immediately drink it.”
“He could have put them in the microwave, then. They’d become hot.”
…Well, it’s certainly not impossible to make three cups of delicious cocoa in three containers using this method. However…
“So he heated up two cups of milk, made cocoa, split it into three cups, then heated the cocoa up again. That takes too many steps.”
“He was challenging us.”
“I don’t think so. I can understand if he had asked us to guess how he made the cocoa, but I can’t imagine him going through all that trouble for something that he wasn’t even trying to show off.”
Chisato-senpai groaned, then fell silent. Once again, she folded her arms.
“With this, I can also make three cocoas with three cups, but it really pisses me off that it’d be less efficient than how that idiot Kengo did it. Ah, seriously, why does cocoa have to come in powder form!”
Those words came out as just an outburst of frustration, but they got me thinking.
“I see! What the heck, I might have misunderstood.”
“Yes. I assumed that Kengo made cocoa from cocoa powder, but what if there was some kind of cocoa solution that I didn’t know of?”
Chisato-senpai’s shoulders drooped. She languidly walked over the fridge and opened it. On the other side of the door, below the eggs and beside some packs of milk, was a cocoa-colored bag.
“That’s the cocoa powder. It’s the normal kind.”
Osanai-san added, “It’s Van Houten.”
She was right. That was certainly normal cocoa powder.
“So why is it in the fridge?”
“It’s to keep it dry, right? That’s what I think, anyway. That was what Kengo did, so there shouldn’t be any deep thought behind it.”
Ah, I see. I’ve heard that rice crackers don’t go soft if you store them in the fridge. Although I feel like I’ve also heard that that doesn’t apply for refrigerators today.
Anyway, now we know that the ingredients of the cocoa did not possess some kind of secret that cannot possibly be known to others. Hmm, I think that means we’re stuck.
Hesitatingly, Osanai-san made a suggestion.
“If you don’t know and want to know… isn’t it better to ask Doujima-kun?”
Chisato-senpai’s response was immediate.
I couldn’t declare it so clearly, but I held similar feelings. While it was partly for fun, we’d come all this way, only to get stuck here. Is there really no breakthrough we can make? It’s not like Kengo used magic, either. We need to find a way to compress four containers into three. Is there any magic that can make a bullet hit two people? The question I posed earlier, “Given three cups of hot milk, it is necessary for some mortar-like equipment for mixing the cocoa powder to exist, but why is there no such equipment?” is framed weirdly; it seems to hold some kind of unnecessary preconceptions.
Osanai-san looked at me while I was deep in thought.
At the same time, Chisato-senpai paced around the kitchen.
“Why is the sink dry? The cups and spoons are dry, too. Did he wipe off all drops of water from them? But he left a spoon…”
The sink is dry. For someone in the same household to be so fixated on that point, there should be no dishwasher that we cannot see.
I stared at my feet and submerged into my thoughts. Not because I was accompanying Chisato-senpai, and of course, not because of any rivalry towards Kengo, but because thinking was fun.
The sink had to be wet, because it had to be used to wash and dry the fourth container, for the purpose of making us believe that it had not been used for making cocoa. However, it was impossible that Kengo would wipe off the entire sink just to camouflage it from us. If he hadn’t used the sink, then the fourth container would still be wet, but if it were still wet, there was no way that it wouldn’t be noticed.
“If it’s wet, there’s no way it wouldn’t be noticed.”
I tried vocalizing my thoughts, because I felt that I could organize my thoughts that way.
“Basically, the problem can be rephrased as such: ‘Making three cups of delicious cocoa produces four wet items. What is the fourth item?’ There are three coffee cups wet with cocoa. If the other item was washed, it would be wet with water. If it wasn’t washed…”
There’s no mistaking it. Exactly, this is it. Now, the problem has been properly rephrased. The answer is now clear.
I raised my head spiritedly.
“Please open the refrigerator.”
While bewildered by my sudden burst of vigor, Chisato-senpai complied. Will this be fine? Given the time taken, I believe that evidence should still remain.
“I’ve opened it. What should I do now?”
I pointed to one part of the refrigerator.
“Please hold that pack of milk.”
As I requested, Chisato-senpai touched the pack of milk, and suddenly drew back her finger. “Ah!” a sound leaked out her mouth as she felt an unexpected sensation.
“It’s hot, isn’t it?”
I was hit with a wave of liberation, then a sense of achievement. I felt a smile forming on my face, but repressed it.
Kengo put the entire pack of milk into the microwave and heated it up. Since the microwave can bake a cake, it should be large enough. Something surrounded in metal will not be heated up in a microwave, but if you think about it logically, paper will not block microwaves. What is the fourth wet item? The answer is the pack of milk itself.
I looked up at the ceiling, and let out a deep sigh.
Chisato-senpai raised her fist and shouted.
“That sloppy idiot!”
Kengo was still moody when we stood next to each other in front of the long toilet. He asked me what I was doing, to which I responded truthfully that I was talking with Chisato-senpai. He followed up by asking what we were talking about, and I told him that it was about solving a puzzle.
After that, we had some safe, friendly conversation. Kengo wouldn’t bring out a dangerous topic with Osanai-san around. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, we took our leave.
It was still too early to be considered evening when we started the return journey. I recalled Chisato-senpai’s words.
—You’re good! I always thought you were smart when you were a little kid in elementary school, though.
—Kengo’s worried about you, although he’s strangely reserved and doesn’t say what he wants to.
—But it seems like it’s just needless worry. You’re totally fine.
—You’re good at playing along, huh. You were really immersed in the problem back there.
—Well, I hope you two get along. He’s just my idiotic little brother, though.
Good at playing along, and being immersed. Both of these are traits unbefitting of a petit bourgeois.
Osanai-san hadn’t spoke at all, and didn’t even try to make eye contact with me. Did I say something horrible, or did I do something that put her in a bad mood? The hesitance of a little citizen finally returned to me.
However, I actually knew why Osanai-san wasn’t saying anything.
We were now right in front of her apartment, and we would soon split up with just a solitary word of farewell. If I went off without saying anything, it would become all the more awkward on Monday. I called out at her small, retreating figure.
“It’ll be fine. We won’t do something like this ever again. It’s a Sunday, so we can think of this as letting loose for a bit.”
With a flutter of her long skirt, Osanai-san turned around. And then she smiled. It was a smile that contained no energy, although her smiles were usually weak, anyway.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We have a promise, but that doesn’t place any restriction on what kind of person you will become. The Kobato-kun today was just like the one when we first met. If it’s more fun over there, you can just become that Kobato-kun. I don’t mind.”
Naturally, that was true. The promise of a mutually beneficial relationship we had was not so high in priority that we had to drop everything for it. Becoming a little citizen was our shared aim, but if one of us wanted to drop out, there would be no reason to stop them.
However, I didn’t want to drop out of our agreement just yet. I replied.
“It’s a Sunday. I just played around too much. That is all. I’ll stop showing off my wisdom.”
For a brief moment, Osanai-san looked at me. Just when I was starting to think that she was observing me, she nodded.
And then Osanai-san disappeared into her apartment.
As for me, I decided to walk around on the streets for a while more. I could certainly use a good stroll by the river.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Slush56, Jen Murph, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, Jaime Cuellar, Yazmin Arostegui
Thank you very much for all your support!