Table of Contents
It was all because of the annoying heat. That was what I concluded, anyway. If everything was as per normal, there is no doubt that I would have never thought of something like that.
Currently, only Osanai-san and I were in the house. In other words, we didn’t need to worry about what anyone might say.
This was definitely not the first time I was alone with Osanai-san. But I had never thought of making a move on her. Not until today.
The air conditioner was supposed to deliver cool wind, but I that seemed to be far from the truth. With my body having taken in the summer heat, I could feel my spirits rise endlessly, but at the same time, I could also feel the area around the core of my head freeze up. Sensing some sweat, I pressed a handkerchief against the bottom of my ear. Since my throat was dry from tension, I picked up the barley tea that Osanai-san had poured for me and took a small sip.
As a reward for my assistance under the scorching rays of the sun, Osanai-san had given me a cold barley tea with her usual temperate smile. At that moment, she probably never thought that she would be betrayed by me.
It is a horrible, horrible thing to have your trust betrayed. I truly felt bad for Osanai-san… but it was undeniable that I was feeling aroused by that.
Well, now that I’ve decided to do it, let’s put it into action. For that to work, I must do it such that it does not come to light.
I stealthily extended my hand.
…Everyone was acting strange because of the annoying heat. So was I, and so was Osanai-san. If everything was as per normal, there is no doubt that I would have never thought of something like that.
Thinking back, it was yesterday when something started to go awry.
It was the summer break in my second year of high school.
Osanai-san came to my house on the first day of the holidays.
I heard the doorbell ring in the evening. Thinking that it could be some sort of solicitation, I went out to the entranceway to see Osanai-san standing there, with a bicycle which had its saddle lowered all the way to the limit next to her. She already looked young, but since her outfit was a glittery tank top and a pink beret, there was a decisive deviation between her appearance and her actual age… her casual attire always seemed to be some kind of disguise.
Under her black hair, Osanai-san looked up at me silently.
As I was wondering about her purpose for coming here, she slowly showed me a map.
“Kobato-kun, do you know what this is?”
It was obvious enough that I could tell what it was in one glance. It was a map of the town. However, it had some notes written on it. Red marks were imprinted on the map in various locations, with what seemed like proper nouns written next to those marks. At first, I couldn’t tell what they were for, but it hit me as soon as I saw the name “Humpty Dumpty”. I answered in a voice mostly filled with exasperation.
“It’s a map denoting the locations of sweet shops, right?”
Osanai-san gave one small nod, then tilted her head slightly.
“Yes, but not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
She looked at me with an earnest gaze, as if she was telling me a secret.
“This is the thing that will influence the fate of my summer…”
“‘Osanai’s Summer Sweet Collection’!”
I slowly closed the door to the entranceway.
Contemplating about how I should spend the first night of the summer break, I was about to return to my room when the doorbell rang again. Once, twice, thrice. With a sigh, I returned to the entranceway. Osanai-san neither pleaded her case, nor reproached me for my actions, but silently proffered the map to me again.
“Um, I don’t hate sweet things, but I’d really like you to understand that I don’t like them as much as you do, Osanai-san.”
Osanai-san’s clouded over in an instant.
“Won’t you accept this…?”
Well, I don’t have a reason to forcibly refuse it.
“Fine, I’ll take it.”
“Good. Let’s go to a shop tomorrow, then.”
Eh? Gawking, I pointed at myself.
“Me? With Osanai-san?”
I couldn’t understand. Why would I go to a western confectionary with Osanai-san?
It’s not like I had never gone to eat something sweet with Osanai-san. In fact, that was quite a common occurrence. But I could not understand why she would purposely invite me during summer break.
You might be able to say the same for other personality types, but to have the petit bourgeois style is established in the human relationships with other people. The human relationship between us as fellow second-year students is mostly concentrated within the school, and our mutually beneficial relationship was consequently confined to school. Osanai-san and I were often together in school, but we almost never met up on holidays. Not to mention that there was no necessity to meet during summer break. In fact, we never saw each others’ faces during last year’s summer break.
“What’s the matter? Do you have a reason for this?”
I asked. Osanai-san lowered her voice and responded.
“To complete this year’s summer plan… I need someone like you, Kobato-kun.”
I couldn’t see why I would be needed for completion of the Sweets Plan, but declining her request without having figured that out would be exceedingly atrocious. Frustration must have crept into my countenance. It’s not good to display my habit of wanting to contemplate about something without hesitation when conversing with Osanai-san. As I was unsure of what to do with the strong urge to ask her what exactly she was planning, she looked up at me, tilted her head and spoke in a voice that could fade at any moment.
“You don’t want to go?”
If you put it that way…
“No, it’s not that I don’t want to go.”
A gentle smile appeared on Osanai-san’s face.
“I see, that’s good… right, see you tomorrow at one, then.”
She then handed me one more piece of paper. Looking at it, I was left speechless.
|Osanai Sweets Selection – Summer|
1. Cecilia – Summer-Exclusive tropical parfait
2. Tinker Linker 1 – Peach pie
3. Muramatsu House – Candied apple (<- Take note of when it goes on sale!)
4. Ouan – Two-flavor ice cream combination (<- Black sesame and soymilk)
5. Roadside Station Kira Park – Special sundae
6. La France – Peach mille-feuille
7. Berry Berry Sanya-dori shop – Frozen watermelon yogurt (<- With fresh cream topping)
8. Right Lane – Yellow peach parfait
9. Asuka – Ujikintoki2 (<- Note that it has coarse red bean paste!)
10. Jeff Beck3 – Mango Pudding
Honorable mentions (Note that these also include non-summer-exclusive products!):
Little Red Riding Hood – Rare cheesecake
Alice – Grapefruit tart
Plantagenet – Ambrosia cake
Kasuga Confectionary Blacksmith Town Direct Sales Office – Ohagi4 (<- Obon-exclusive5)
Lemon Seed – Canelé (<- Only for takeaway)
Corn Fork – Zitronen6
Humpty Dumpty – Panna Cotta (<- Still banning myself from going there…)
Canossa – Black tea sable
La Roche – Original cookie set
Camellia Garden – Warabimochi7
Tea Time – Chocolate Chiffon
Earl Gray 2 – Tiramisu
Sweet Spring – Anmitsu8
Lex Talionis9 – Half and half cream puff
Guinevere – Pineapple waffle
Ginsendo – Shiratama dango10
Triangle – Peach roll cake
Tricolor Matsunami Building Shop – Savarin11
Cafeteria Kagawa – Grape pound cake
Moonstone – Baumkuchen12
…How should I even react to this…
She can’t possibly be saying that we’ll be going to every single one, right?
The next day. Since Osanai-san had said that we would be meeting at one, I’d been making preparations so that I could leave on time, but I received a message from her that was nothing if not impudent.
“Sorry, but I’ve become unable to leave the house. Please buy two mango puddings and four grapefruit-topped charlottes from the tenth shop, then bring them to my house. Sorry.”
That’s not something that can be consolidated just by having the word “sorry” at the beginning and end of the text. I wonder if Osanai-san had expected this when she came over to my house yesterday? If that was the case, it means that I was being used as an errand boy, but well, I wasn’t particularly annoyed by that. It was common for Osanai-san to make use of me, as it was for me to make use of her.
The thing that annoyed me was the intense, sweltering heat. The “Osanai Sweets Selection – Summer” marked out 30 shops. According to the ranking list, the one in tenth place was “Jeff Beck”. I had never been to that shop, but I was grateful that it was built on the way from my house to Osanai-san’s apartment. If it was located on the other side of town, there is no doubt that I wouldn’t even feel like moving my legs. That was how hot it was today.
With the Japanese Archipelago being surrounded by high-pressure systems, the temperature was surpassing 36 degrees when I left my house at twelve noon. In the case when it is sunny all day round, the hottest point of the day is usually at about two in the afternoon, so it would probably get even hotter from this point. The saving grace was that the heat was simply dry, with not much humidity in the air, but the back of my neck was completely drenched in sweat as I pedalled on my bicycle.
While looking at the map, I searched for “Jeff Beck”. Since it had a French flag waving in the air, as if to appeal, “There’s a Western confectionary shop here!”, it didn’t take me long to find the shop. The eaves and signboard were new, and the shop had beautiful cream-colored walls, but judging by the faded condition of the galvanized-iron roof, I inferred that it was remodelled from an old building. Not that any of that mattered. The important thing was that the shop had a functioning air conditioner.
But that was a needless worry. Western confectionary shops deal with lots of fresh confections, so they have to operate in cool spaces, just like supermarkets, for food hygiene purposes. After manually opening the sliding door that looked like an automatic door, I took a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped my sweat, relieved by the gush of cool wind that blew out.
The first thing to hit my eyes was a pudding in a magnificent orange color. That would be the mango pudding. On the other hand, behind a tag with the word “Charlotte” on it were a line of white, triangular cakes. It looked like the whole cake had been cut into eight pieces, but it was not enough. There were enough mango puddings, but there were only three pieces of the Charlotte. Osanai-san had requested for four.
A woman in an apron appeared from the interior. I asked her a question.
“Excuse me, but if I wait, will the cakes here be replenished?”
The shop employee cast a sharp glance in my direction, then answered bluntly.
“Everything here is all we have.”
I see. Then again, I didn’t have much time to spare with the agreed time of one o’clock, so I wouldn’t have been able to wait, even if they did replenish the cakes. Since I couldn’t buy what was not there, I bought two mango puddings and three Charlottes. No matter how weirdly Osanai-san was acting, she wouldn’t tell me to buy something that didn’t exist.
For how unfriendly the store clerk was, she adeptly packed the two types of cake in paper boxes. With a sideward glance at that process, I typed an email to Osanai-san.
“I’ve bought the cakes.”
“Thanks. I’m looking forward to them.”
I didn’t write that there were fewer cakes than she ordered, but that was simply because I was slow at typing. We would be meeting soon anyway, so I could just tell her then.
Even after I kept my mobile phone, the store employee was still packing the cakes into the boxes. It sure takes quite a bit of time, huh. I wonder if I can take anything here, I thought as looked around at my surroundings. A basket next to the cash register was filled with complimentary pocket tissues, apparently as an advertisement to a local credit union. Since I was currently holding nothing, I extended a hand, thinking of taking some.
“Thank you for waiting.”
At that moment, a voice called out, causing me to withdraw my hand. The cakes were distributed into two boxes, a box for mango puddings, and a box for Charlottes.
With this box size, I could easily fit two of them in the front basket of my bicycle, but a box that could hold all five cakes would be quite difficult to squeeze in. While the shop employee was not very friendly, she was a really considerate person, I thought.
Osanai-san lived on the third floor of an apartment building. It was a nice building, with cream-colored walls. It also held a good number of units. I didn’t get lost, since I’d been over a few times already.
After I knocked on the door, I was shown in by Osanai-san, who was wearing a refreshing white dress.
“Sorry for making you buy the cakes. It was hot, wasn’t it?”
“I’m fine with buying the cakes, but yeah, it was awfully hot.”
There didn’t seem to be anyone else indoors. Osanai-san was an only child with both of her parents working, and they apparently went to work early and returned home late. Because of that, I would always find that it had only a scarce sense of having been lived in whenever I came over. Come to think of it, I had never met her parents. Since they were able to purchase such a nice mansion with their only daughter in her second year of high school, they must have some highly profitable jobs. Either that, or they received a lot of inheritance money. I had never brought up this topic before, and I would probably never do so. The air conditioner was working, but the temperature setting was probably quite high, for I didn’t feel cool at all.
“Please wait in the living room. You want some cold barley tea, right?”
I do need one desperately.
I reached a short table with a carpet underneath in the floored living room. With both hands holding the cake box, I placed it on the table.
Osanai-san brought a beer mug filled with barley tea. Wondering why she’d used a beer mug, I accepted it with a purr from the back of my throat. I felt like drinking it all down, but it was impossible to finish a whole beer mug of ice-cold barley tea in one sitting. I could only drink half of it.
Osanai-san retreated to the dining room again, and returned with a coffee cup in each of her hands. That was too quick for her to boil some water, so she probably used a coffee maker. A rich fragrance, steam and hot air rose from the coffee. Retrieving my handkerchief from a pocket, I dabbed it on my sweat-covered forehead.
Next came the small plates and spoons.
“Shall we eat the cakes, then?”
That means that Osanai-san had really called me here just to eat cakes… even though I’ve said so many times that I don’t like sweet things as much as she does… Without paying any heed to the dumbfounded look on my face, she slowly started to open the cake box with a docile air about her, as if she were opening the tamatebako13.
At that moment, a phone rang.
The ringtone was a simple electronic sound. Thinking that it was mine, I reached for my pocket, but it seemed that Osanai-san’s phone that was ringing, not mine. Was she waiting for that phone call, I wonder? The ringing mobile phone was jumping up and down on the floored ground. Osanai-san gracefully moved towards it.
“Hello, what is it?”
She said, then turned to look briefly in my direction.
“Sorry, wait a moment.”
She said to the person on the other side of the phone call, then spoke to me.
“Sorry, wait a moment.”
She then hurriedly walked out of the living room, leaving behind me, the cakes and the coffees.
I didn’t want to just do nothing while waiting, so I opened the cake box. Although they had been shaken around in the bicycle cage, the mango puddings and Charlottes didn’t collapse.
The mango puddings were in transparent plastic cups. Each orange-colored pudding was garnished with a dollop of fresh cream, one cranberry and one herb leaf. Looking at it closely, I could see multiple cubes of fruit mixed in. It looks delicious… I think. I’ve never really eaten mangoes before.
On the other hand, the Charlottes looked like slices from a large tart, but they didn’t have a pie base, and instead had outer shells made out of browned, soft-looking sponge cake. As for the contents, I was not sure. It was white, but since I had never tried one before, I could not imagine the taste or texture. Each piece was served on a golden cardboard dish and wrapped in transparent film. The underside of the Charlottes was also made of sponge cake, and on top was some ruby grapefruit. They’re supposed to be sour, so would they fit the taste of the cake?
There was one mango pudding for each of us. As for the Charlottes, I took one, and placed two on Osanai-san’s side. If there were four Charlottes, we would be able to eat two each, but since I could only buy three, it was only natural for Osanai-san to get two of them. She didn’t specifically tell me to do that, but me getting two slices of cake while she only gets one is like water flowing uphill; it goes against the providence of nature.
Done with the distribution, I waited. The only thing I could hear was the rumbling noise of the air conditioner. I tried pricking my ears, but I could not hear Osanai-san talking on the phone.
Well, thinking about it, there was no need for me to eat while being face to face with Osanai-san. I certainly hadn’t wished for it, so I don’t know why it came to this, but with cake and coffee before my eyes, there was only one thing to do. Besides, while I might not be a fan of sweet things, I actually hadn’t eaten anything this morning. The intense heat had shaved off some of my appetite, but with food in front of me like this, my hunger rose to the surface.
“…I suppose I’ll start first.”
I muttered, grabbing a spoon.
After some consideration about which one I should start with, I decided on the Charlotte, because the sour taste of the grapefruit would be a better fit to my mood compared to the sweetness of the mango.
However, the Charlotte turned out to be an unbelievably amazing product.
I was hit by admiration while holding the spoon.
It had a light texture that made me feel as if bubbles were melting on my tongue, and a faintly sweet flavor that seemed to ebb and flow. Inside the sponge cake that made up the outer shell was Bavarois14 that tasted like cream cheese. As I was keenly enjoying the cheese taste that was not individually strong, a marmalade-like sauce hidden within unexpectedly tightened up the overall taste. You could easily tell that the slice of Charlotte was a product of the whole cake being sliced into eight pieces, but it was impossible to tell from its outer appearance that such a sauce would come surging forth. They must have inserted the sauce into the Bavarois with a dropper or something or that sort after slicing up the whole cake. That would take quite a lot of time to prepare, but it resulted in a sucker punch that I was absolutely glad to receive. It was my first time tasting something that managed to match sweet and sour flavors so well.
With regards to the Western confections that Osanai-san likes, or in other words, those that have a sweet taste or alcohol flavor distinctly bursting forth, I would have to say that I don’t really appreciate them. I prefer those that have a weaker, lighter flavor, and the Charlotte was the very manifestation of my preferences, so I was uncharacteristically intoxicated by its taste.
The sponge cake base only had a normal taste, but it was filling, which was good since I was hungry. As if in a trance, I continuously shovelled cake into my mouth while occasionally sipping on some coffee, and before I realized, I had already finished it. Wow, that was a seriously satisfying experience. After washing away the aftertaste with some coffee, I let out a deep sigh.
The shop in Osanai-san’s fated summer selection sure lives up to its expectations. Then again, the Charlotte isn’t exactly a summer food, so her main target must have been the mango pudding. Even so, the Charlotte was simply wonderful. Osanai-san would definitely be happy with this.
But Osanai-san was…
“Still on the phone, huh.”
It didn’t seem like she would be returning yet.
I waited for a while, but I could only hear one sound, which was the grumbling of the air conditioner.
That cake was really delicious. Also, since I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, I was quite famished. On top of that, Osanai-san loves sweet things, and has shown and extremely deep attachment to them.
…I want to eat another slice.
I was suddenly hit with such an impulse.
There are still two more Charlottes…
I was horrified by my own thoughts. Feeling some cold sweat, I pressed my handkerchief against my neck.
Am I seriously… am I seriously thinking of making a move on Osanai-san’s slice of cake?
Is that allowed? I was just thinking that me getting two pieces while Osanai-san gets only one goes against the providence of nature, wasn’t I? She probably knew that it was an exquisite product beforehand, too. Furthermore, she thought that I would be buying two for each of us. Osanai-san was supposed to have two pieces, so appropriating a piece would just be…
While I was in a dilemma, I had already recognized my desire.
So I’ll usurp her cake… what a wicked, luscious plan!
“This is troubling… I do want it, though.”
Let’s wait for a minute, no, thirty seconds. If Osanai-san comes back in that time, I’ll greet her with a smile, shower Jeff Beck’s Charlotte with compliments, and silently watch her consume the two slices of cake. But if she doesn’t come back…
In that case, I’ll…
…Osanai-san did not return.
After watching the slow-moving second hand of my watch make a semi-circular path around the dial, I made up my mind.
It was all because of the annoying heat. That was what I concluded, anyway. If everything was as per normal, there is no doubt that I would have never thought of something like that.
Well, now that I’ve decided to do it, let’s put it into action. For that to work, I must do it such that it does not come to light.
I will make Osanai-san have this notion… that there were only two slices of Charlotte in the first place.
There was a series of battles known as the Battles of Kawanakajima. It was an extremely famous set of battles during which two heroes who represented the Sengoku period, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, fought.
However, the Battles of Kawanakajima were actually not significant in the context of history. The Takeda and Uesugi armies contested for control of the island of Kawanakajima five times, but they were mainly minor skirmishes, and only once was there a conflict which was large-scale enough to be called a battle. However, even that battle can’t be called a turning point of history by any standard. Needless to say, it can’t be compared to the Battle of Sekigahara15 or the Siege of Osaka16, but you could say that even the Sieges of Nagashima17 had greater historical impact. In fact, the Battles of Kawanakajima were not included in the history textbook we were using at Funado High School.
So why are the Battles of Kawanakajima so famous, although they were nothing more than a localized skirmish?
The answer lies in the romanticism brought about by the two heroes clashing with each other. Whether it was significant in the big scheme of things, or whether it takes a big spot in history, don’t matter at all. Stories from The Battles of Kawanakajima continue to be told, simply due to the confrontation between the dragon and the tiger18.
I was struck by this thought while I was about to hide the existence of the third slice of cake, with Osanai-san as my opponent. Yes, this would be a battle between me and Osanai-san.
She’ll be a worthy opponent. Quite worthy indeed.
If this were a battle, the battlefield would be limited to the surface of the table.
Traversing my memories, I realized that I never told Osanai-san how many Charlottes I bought from Jeff Beck. All I wrote in the email was that I bought the cakes, and even when I reached her house, the only things I said were “Sorry for intruding” and some words on how hot it was outside. There was a point when Osanai-san was about to open the cake box, but the phone rang, causing her to leave the living room. In other words, she never saw the contents of the box. We would eventually have to calculate the bill, but I still hadn’t told her how much everything cost in total.
Meaning that if I adequately dealt with the items on this table surface, I could hide from Osanai-san the existence of the third Charlotte.
So, what items were on the table? To avoid making the foolish mistake of excluding an item from my consciousness just because it seemed like it wouldn’t bear any relationship to the situation at first glance, I carefully considered each item.
On the one hand, there was definitely a time limit. I didn’t know what she needed to talk about on the phone, but she couldn’t be on the phone forever. I couldn’t hear her talking from her, so I wouldn’t be able to tell when her phone call ended. It was completely unclear as to how much time I had for thinking and taking action. Thus, I should bring about the largest effect with the smallest action.
These were the things on the table:
- The remote controls for the television and the air conditioner. I looked around, but there was nothing that would cause the Bavarois to scatter.
- A box of tissues. However, they were yet to be opened.
- Mango puddings, two, untouched.
- Charlottes, two, untouched. Exquisite products.
- Cake boxes, two. They were empty boxes, but they were not completely empty, for there were paper napkins in them. Also, more importantly, there were paper wrappings stuck to the bottom of the boxes with cellophane tape. What were the paper wrappings for? I understood as soon as I opened the box earlier. They were there to prevent the cakes from sliding and collapsing while they were being moved around. The mango pudding box and the Charlotte box had the paper wrappings affixed at different positions. That was only natural, since the two types of cake had differing shapes and quantities. There were two pieces of paper wrappings in the mango pudding box, and three pieces of paper wrappings in the Charlotte box.
- A golden cardboard dish that used to hold a Charlotte. There was a little Bavarois left on it. Leaving it there was out of the question.
- A bit of film that also used to wrap a piece of cake, also stained with Bavarois. This also directly suggested the existence of the third Charlotte.
- The spoon I’d used, also with some Bavarois stuck on it. On the other hand, the spoon that Osanai-san was supposed to use naturally also had some Bavarois on it.
- Coffee, in two perfectly normal, white coffee cups. Osanai-san’s coffee hadn’t decreased in volume, but mine had decreased by approximately half its original volume.
- Barley tea that Osanai-san had poured for me as a reward for running an errand under the blazing sun. There was about half of it left in my beer mug.
- Small plates. I’d eaten a Charlotte placed on one of the plates with a spoon. However, since the cake was held by the cardboard dish, no trace of it was left on the plate.
Now, how can I pull wool over Osanai-san’s eyes, especially when there’s something sweet involved?
The film and cardboard dish have to be disposed of. Let’s start with that. I scraped off the Bavarois on those items with a spoon, wiped off the remaining bits and stuffed them in my pocket.
Next, the cake box. The problem with it was the paper wrappings to prevent the cakes from slipping on the bottom of the boxes. Looking at the mango pudding box, the paper wrappings were affixed at locations that one would naturally choose to prevent two mango puddings from slipping. As for the Charlotte box, it made me think that though it would be quite difficult to judge, with sufficient ability to interpret shapes, one would be able to deduce that the paper wrappings were in such positions to prevent not two pieces of cake, but three pieces, from slipping. Furthermore, it would be absolutely dangerous to underestimate Osanai-san’s abilities? What should I do with the wrapping paper?
The best option would be to tear off all three bits of wrapping paper, then paste them at positions appropriate for only two pieces of cake… However, the act of peeling off cellophane tape that had been stuck neatly without leaving behind any traces of it, then thinking of appropriate positions and carefully sticking the tape at those locations would consume a lot of precious time. If Osanai-san were to return while I was in the middle of such work and ask, “What are you doing, Kobato-kun?”, the battle would instantly end in my defeat.
That said, I couldn’t possibly leave them in their current state.
Should I peel all of them off, then? No, in that case I would have to remove the paper wrappings from the mango pudding box as well. If not, Osanai-san might get suspicious of only one box having the paper wrappings. Moreover, peeling off all five pieces without leaving any traces would take up a lot of time.
What is the method that would remove all possible deductions from the paper wrappings, yet would take up the least amount of time? …After removing the napkins from the box, I carefully, yet quickly peeled off one of the three paper wrappings, and placed it into my pocket.
Observing the two remaining paper wrappings, I was satisfied. The structure was broken, and now it looked like there was no order to the arrangement. One wouldn’t be able to tell that the paper wrappings were to prevent two slices of cake from slipping, but no one would be able to tell that three slices of cake used to be in the box.
Other than that, there was the item which had direct contact with the cake, which was the spoon. How do I explain the Bavarois stuck on the spoon?
I instantaneously came upon two different strategies. One was to lick the spoon clean of Bavarois. That was the simplest, most perfect concealment method. Even Osanai-san wouldn’t check for saliva stuck on the spoon. Probably.
However, I decided to go with the second method. I reached out to the Charlotte that should naturally have gone to Osanai-san’s stomach but I was trying to usurp, then placed it on my plate. While recognizing the fact that there was no turning back, I used the spoon to break a corner of the cake so that it would serve as an excuse for the spoon being used… at the same time, the Charlotte became mine.
I moved the spoon with the Bavarois on it to my mouth. Perhaps due to the betrayal, it felt even tastier than the piece I had earlier.
Now, I couldn’t forget about money matters. I could ask Osanai-san to pay for one mango pudding and one Charlotte to evenly split the bill, but it would be inconvenient if she asked for the receipt. Speaking of which, the receipt was currently in my pocket, along with the film, cardboard dish and whatnot. I should say that I hadn’t received one. If I had to take it out from my pocket, it would look like I’d thrown it in a rubbish bin, which would only bring unnecessary trouble to myself.
With that, I’d completely dealt with everything related to the cakes. Is it perfect? I looked over the table again. There was nothing left on the table that would point to the existence of three cakes, I thought.
I was about to breath a sigh of relief, but…
I swallowed the sigh back down.
What the heck, isn’t the evidence that could give Osanai-san a decisive suspicion just right in front of my eyes! I held my head in my hands. Why did I have to notice this only after placing the spoon in the cake!
It was the coffee. The coffee had decreased in volume.
I’d come here in the blazing heat. Having been considerably done in by the heat, I’d gulped down half a mug of barley tea in one sitting. That was not unnatural at all. In fact, it was a perfectly natural course of action.
However, on the table right now was the mug of barley, which had not decreased at volume since I drank it at the beginning. In this heat, prioritising hot coffee over the cold barley tea is obviously strange. Why did I drink the coffee and not the barley tea? Because the coffee was a more suitable beverage to take with the cake. If I could notice this, Osanai-san would probably notice it as well.
It was good that I noticed it before I relaxed. However, I couldn’t do anything about the coffee that I’d already drunk down. What should I do? I desperately searched for a solution. Knowing that Osanai-san could come at any moment and ask, “Oh, Kobato-kun, why did you only drink the coffee?”, I felt cold sweat drip down from the back of my neck.
I needed to find a way to return the coffee I’d drunk. A method to increase something that had decreased. As long as the barley tea remained, so would the question of why I’d drunk the coffee. To suppress that doubt, I could drink up all of the barley tea, but then I would have completely drained the entire beer mug of barley tea on top of having drunk half a cup of coffee, which would cause a different seed of doubt to form.
If only I could somehow increase the volume of coffee. What about barging into the dining room and pouring some coffee from the coffee maker that is probably there? No, that is not the behavior of a guest, no matter what. In that case, should I pour some from Osanai-san’s coffee? That might be difficult. If her eyes are sharp, she might notice that her coffee had decreased in volume.
Or I could… But there was no time for me to be stuck on this problem. I shut my eyes tight.
“Guess I don’t have a choice!”
I pulled the mug of barley tea over and placed it by the edge of the coffee cup. Then, I poured the barley tea into the coffee cup.
While the deep black color of the was somewhat diluted by the barley tea, the change in color was not visible to my eyes. Some barley tea had spilled from the edge of the beer mug, but that was solved by giving the table a quick wipe.
How about this? Is it perfect now?
But I was not given any more time to scrutinize the table. The sliding door opened, revealing Osanai-san, who stepped into the room while wiping the monitor of her mobile phone with the sleeve of her dress.
“Sorry, I had a phone call from a friend. You didn’t have to wait for me, too… Wow, mango pudding! Thank you, I’ve been looking forward to this!”
You’re welcome. I grinned.
Osanai-san sat down properly with her eyes focused on the mango pudding, but she immediately noticed it.
“Oh? The Charlottes…”
I licked my lips.
“It seems to be a really popular item on the menu. There were only two left.”
Osanai-san’s eyebrows furrowed by just a bit.
“Yeah, Jeff Beck’s Charlottes are the best in town. But… I see, so they were sold out…”
She seemed to be really disappointed. Ah, that pains my heart.
“Thank you for the food.”
Taking a spoon, Osanai-san compared the mango pudding and Charlotte with a solemn gaze, then pulled the latter towards herself. Noticing that I was looking at her, she went on the defensive for some reason.
“Ah, I’m saving the best for last.”
She gave an explanation that didn’t serve to explain anything at all.
She didn’t seem to be holding any doubts. Of course, even Osanai-san wouldn’t be able to instantly tell in a glance that there used to be three pieces of cake. She was certainly a worthy opponent, but my surprise attack gave me quite an unfair advantage in this battle. Just as I was thinking about that, I was asked an unexpected question.
“Sorry for the long phone call. What did you do while you were waiting?”
Well, I ate the Charlotte and hid all traces of it. I wasn’t expecting to be suddenly asked a question that I couldn’t answer. Swallowing down my inner turmoil, I replied as casually as I could.
“Ah, yeah, I was just chilling.”
“Hm…? In this room?”
Osanai-san reached out for the air conditioner remote control with her left hand.
“Wasn’t it hot? It’s set at 27 degrees.”
It was definitely better compared to the heat outside, but it was certainly set quite high. So me feeling hot wasn’t due to the tension or excitement, huh. Osanai-san pointed the remote control at the air conditioner, which responded with an electronic beep, and the wind intensity increased. Enduring the sweat spreading all over my body, I was able to give a reply.
“I can’t possibly mess with the electronics in someone else’s house.”
“You didn’t need to mind that… But I suppose that’s how you felt. Sorry that I didn’t notice.”
It seemed that no doubts were formed from that topic. I felt relieved.
Osanai-san scooped up some Charlotte with a spoon, then took a bite. For an instant, she lit up in ecstasy. She spoke in a voice that seemed to come from the depths of her body.
“…This is actually delicious.”
“It’s really delicious. It might be weird to say this, but this is my favorite out of all the cakes you’ve recommended to me.”
That was not a slip of my tongue. I had cut a small bit of cake on the plate with my spoon. Like this, I could talk about my thoughts on the Charlotte. Osanai-san gave a small nod, then excitedly scooped up some Bavarois and brought it to her mouth.
“If you like this, I have other recommendations for you. Though they’re not in the Best Ten for summer…”
“Oh? You can tell me about them some time, then.”
She sipped on her coffee. Imitating her, I grabbed my coffee cup, but instinctively hesitated when I recalled the contents of the cup. However, it would be strange for me to place down the cup right after picking it up, so I naturally took a sip as well… Oh, it actually didn’t taste as terrible as I thought. It was just that a slight Japanese scent was somehow added to the coffee fragrance. The taste of coffee was so overwhelming that I couldn’t really tell that barley tea was mixed in.
I also pushed my spoon into the Charlotte. Now, let me enjoy it with peace of mind.
However, I wasn’t able to enjoy that bit of cake. Osanai-san had just somehow gotten some Bavarois on her chin.
She pulled out a paper napkin from the mango pudding box. Like a cat, she rolled her hand into a ball and wiped off the Bavarois. There was one paper napkin left in the box.
Horrified, a weird, muffled sound form at the back of my throat. She took one napkin, leaving one. That means that there were two paper napkins. I instantly swallowed down the piece of cake that I should have slowly savored.
Two paper napkins had been placed in the mango pudding box.
…If so, wouldn’t there be three paper napkins in the Charlotte box?
When I’d torn the paper wrapping from that box, I’d also removed the paper napkins, and piled them up on the table, at an area closer to my side. I would have been able to tell exactly how many paper napkins there were if I had just used one, but afraid of handling them poorly, I’d decided to leave them alone, resulting in this problem. I threw a glance, but it was difficult to judge the exact number of paper napkins in that pile just by looking. Did it have two, or three paper napkins? Even if there were really three paper napkins, Osanai-san might think that the store employee at Jeff Beck had put in one more than necessary… but can I rely on that?
Ah, seriously! I wasn’t given enough time, but what a blunder I made!
“It’s delicious, isn’t it?”
I smiled, and Osanai-san also grinned lightly.
“I wonder why it’s called a Charlotte?”
“Erm, a Charlotte’s a kind of hat. It might be difficult to tell when you see it in pieces like this, but the whole cake looks like a hat.”
“Oh, you’ve had a whole Charlotte before?”
Now, the question is how to deal with the paper napkins without Osanai-san noticing. Or should I leave them alone? Since I was moving my spoon while contemplating about this undercover operation and innocently participating in conversation at the same time, so the Charlotte quickly dwindled away without me being able to taste much of it.
However… the taste of the Charlotte was indeed only secondary.
While I was thinking, I put my fingers on the handle of my coffee cup and caused my fingers to slip. The cup tilted sharply, causing coffee to spill on the table.
The spilled coffee expanded in area, but its volume was a little larger than I’d hoped.
I apologized, then reached for the paper napkins, of course those from the Charlotte box. I grabbed the entire pile in one hand such that it was impossible to tell if there were two or three paper napkins, and used it to wipe the coffee.
“Ah, ah, please wait for a while.”
Osanai-san put down her spoon and tore open the seal of the unopened box of tissues. The paper napkins were already thoroughly soaked in coffee. I rolled them up in a ball in my hand. No matter what, she wouldn’t open up the ball and try to count the number of paper napkins.
With a few pieces of tissue paper, Osanai-san helped with the cleaning of the table. While there was more coffee than I’d thought, it wasn’t like the entire contents of the cup spilled out, so we were able to cleanly wipe off the coffee.
“It’s fine. The bin is over there.”
She pointed to an area behind me. I gathered the paper napkins and Osanai-san’s tissues, rolled them into a ball and tossed it into the bin.
With that, I successfully destroyed the evidence. But would she form any doubts over my awkward movements that made me think of a third-rate act? I was calm, but I still felt more than a little nervous about the superficial tricks that I was not used to. The air conditioner was working considerably better compared to earlier, but I still felt sweaty, so I took a tissue from the box that Osanai-san had just opened, and gently dabbed my forehead.
Surreptitiously, I stole a glance at her countenance.
She seemed to be indulging in the cake. Unexpectedly, her eyes were closed, and she was nodding a few times, apparently savoring the taste deeply. It would be quite sad if she didn’t get suspicious of anything… that was what I thought as I picked up my spoon again.
Finally, Osanai-san’s eyes opened, and she stared at the Charlotte by her hands.
“By the way, Kobato-kun…”
“There’s some kind of sauce hidden in this cake. I wonder what kind of sauce it is?”
I stopped moving my hands. My second Charlotte was still at the stage where the surface of the Bavarois had only been slightly shaved off. I hadn’t reached the sauce yet, so I could only answer like this.
“There’s a sauce? I haven’t gotten there yet.”
Osanai-san looked up, and our eyes met. She was smiling innocently. Generally, whenever she had that smile on her face, it could be assumed that she was either eating an exceptionally high quality dessert, or she had found some fuel for her vengeance.
I instantly felt a chill run down my spine.
“But… You’ve eaten it before, haven’t you?”
I wouldn’t claim that I made no mistakes. There wasn’t enough time. However, I was pretty sure that I’d followed up with each of them appropriately. I couldn’t have missed anything…
But with a smiling face, Osanai-san placed her spoon on her small plate, and stared fixedly at me while propping her cheeks up with both hands. That meant that she already knew everything. It would just be disgraceful if I refused to admit my defeat this late in the game.
I raised both my hands.
“You’re right, I have. It was a marmalade-like sauce, and it was delicious.”
“Did you like Jeff Beck’s Charlotte that much?”
“It was the best.”
I declared. Osanai-san narrowed her eyes and nodded.
“I’m happy that you’re saying as much. I love it as well.”
She then continued.
“So, why did you think of doing something like this?”
“Er… because the Charlotte was so delicious.”
“Yes, you’ve already said so. So, why did you think of doing something like this?”
I see, so she wants to get me to say it. I looked up slightly at the heavens, turned to look down, and sighed.
“Because I was alone with you.”
Even though that sentence was sorely lacking in information, Osanai-san managed to perfectly understand it.
“Basically, you thought that just because we’re alone together, you can test my wits to your heart’s content? Did you think that it would be fun to deceive me?”
As expected of her. After being together for two years, she’d somehow become able to understand my thought process. I nodded.
The Charlotte was indeed delicious. But that was not enough for me to want to appropriate Osanai-san’s portion.
The relationship between Osanai-san and I was symbiotic, not codependent, so there was no need for us to meet in the summer holidays. When she pushed a map onto me without any explanation, cancelled our meeting at the eleventh hour and got me to run an errand for her under the blazing sun, she became indebted to me.
That meant the general reasoning behind my decision to pit her in a test of wits centered around the Charlottes was to get back at her. As people going down the path of the petit bourgeois, we should not show off our wisdom in front of others. However, it is easy for me to remove my limiter when I’m alone with my comrade.
…At some point, the taste of the cake stopped mattering to me. The Battles of Kawanakajima are known not for the meaning of the battles, but for the two heroes facing off against each other. In a battle of wits with Osanai-san, the topic could have been something other than Charlottes.
Moving her right hand away from her cheek, Osanai-san gripped her spoon with the thumb and index finger of that hand, and used it to strike the rim of her coffee cup. Clink! It produced a high-pitched sound.
“There were three Charlottes, correct?”
“I only bought three. It wasn’t a total lie when I said they’d sold out.”
“I see. You didn’t buy three mango puddings, and I can’t imagine you eating three Charlottes. As I thought, there were only three from the beginning.”
Once again, but with a slight emphasis compared to earlier, she struck the coffee cup. Clink! That sound was like the banging of a judge’s gavel to me.
Osanai-san spoke with a brilliant smile on her face.
“Accompany me in the summer holidays. We’ll be visiting every shop in yesterday’s ranking, all the way to first place!”
I also put on a light smile. If there was a price for defeat, I would have to pay it.
As I was about to leave, I asked a question.
“There’s something I don’t get. Did I make a mistake? You shouldn’t be able to easily find out that there were three cakes.”
Osanai-san blinked several times, then pouted as if chiding me for not realizing it myself.
“It’s because you used a tissue to wipe your sweat.”
…Did I do such a thing?
“Right after spilling the coffee.”
I see. I remember now.
“At the beginning, when you came in from the outside, you used a handkerchief to wipe off your sweat. But after I returned from my phone call, you used a tissue. From that, I understood that while I was gone, you had become unable to use your handkerchief.”
I smiled wryly. If I let down my guard like that, it was only natural for Osanai-san to see through it. While I usually act like a master detective, it seems that I’m not suited to be a master criminal.
“A handkerchief is used for wiping something, so I thought that if you stopped being able to use it, you must have used it to wipe something other than sweat, and couldn’t take it out from your pocket. Moreover, the thing that was wiped off was something that you didn’t want me to know of. If not, you would have thought of using the paper napkins instead of dirtying your handkerchief, and even with you being reserved about these things, you would at least open the box of tissues. So, there was something that you didn’t want me to know was wiped off, and caused your handkerchief to be unusable. The only thing that fit the bill in that room was the bavarois.”
In my pocket were the cardboard, film, and my handkerchief. I’d scraped off the bavarois stuck on the cardboard and film with a spoon, and used my handkerchief to wipe off the rest. The box of tissues had been in an unopened state, so I was worried that if I opened it, that would be picked up by Osanai-san, and she would ask about what I used the tissue to wipe. As for the paper napkins, I didn’t want to recklessly alter them in their piled-up state, so I’d avoided using them. It would have been fine if I had some pocket tissues, but I unfortunately hadn’t brought any. I’d noticed that I didn’t have any while I was in Jeff Beck, but I failed by not taking one.
Actually, right after that, I’d used my handkerchief to wipe barley tea that had spilled while I was pouring it in the coffee cup, but I wouldn’t be able to face Osanai-san if I ever admitted that.
I put my hand on the doorknob at the entranceway.
“If I hadn’t wiped my sweat as soon as I came into the house, I don’t think you would have realized it.”
I spoke with a slight feeling of not wanting to admit defeat. Osanai-san thought for a bit, then nodded.
“That’s probably true, but… If I wasn’t aware of it at all, you would have likely given a hint because it’s not fun to have a perfect victory. It’s Kobato-kun we’re talking about, after all.”
…Nah, I won’t do that. I’m a little citizen.
I turned the doorknob and left Osanai-san’s house. On the way back, I was assaulted by the intense sunlight and hot air, causing sweat to instantly form on my body.
Turning to look up, I stared at the summer sun. Seriously, it was all because of the annoying heat.
Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, _Maki
Assistants (Tier 1) : Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez
Thank you very much for all your support!
- This is almost certainly a reference to Twinkle Star Sprites, a scrolling shooter arcade game which features twin fairies, Tinker and Linker, whose weapon is Peach Fairy.
- A Japanese shaved ice dessert made with shaved ice on the bottom, drizzled with green tea syrup and topped with red bean paste.
- Also the name of an English rock guitarist.
- Rice ball coated with sweetened red beans, soybean flour or sesame.
- Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. During Obon, people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars.
- I think this is some kind of lemon cake.
- A kind of Japanese confectionary made from warabiko (bracken starch) and covered or dipped in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour).
- A kind of Japanese confectionery, which is mitsumame dessert (boiled beans, cubes of agar gelatin, and other delicacies with molasses poured on) covered with bean jam.
- Latin for Law of Retaliation. This concept is derived from the Mosaic law “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.”
- A type of mochi made with shiratamako glutinous rice flour, which is made from mochigome (glutinous short-grain Japanese rice).
- A light ring-shaped cake made with yeast and soaked in liqour-flavored syrup.
- A kind of spit cake from German cuisine. The characteristic rings that appear when sliced resemble tree rings.
- The name of the mysterious box that the fisherman Urashima Tarō receives from mistress of the sea (Otohime), after his stay at the Dragon Palace. After ignoring the caution to never open the box and opening the box anyway, he was transformed into an old, white haired man.
- Bavarois, or Bavarian cream, is a dessert consisting of milk thickened with eggs and gelatin or isinglass, into which whipped cream is folded.
- The Battle of Sekigahara was a decisive battle which effectively led to the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for another two and a half centuries after.
- A series of battles undertaken by the Tokugawa shogunate against the Toyotomi clan, and ending in that clan’s destruction, putting an end to the last major armed opposition to the shogunate’s establishment.
- Part of Oda Nobunaga’s campaigns against the Ikkō-ikki, arguably among his greatest enemies.
- Uesugi Kenshin was known as the “Dragon of Echigo”, while Takeda Shingen was known as the “Tiger of Kai”.