Seasonal Flavors : Summer Bliss
Entree, Platter A – Sprinkled Sugar
Hmm...okay. What else to add? I remember we're short on soy sauce, so...
Wait...How about some beef cuts for a change? Loin? Steak? It's hard to decide on what things we need to buy now that we're here...
Summer vacation will begin in less than a week, or so my sister told me. She's looking forward to it since this month started. She got so worked up with that she almost forgot about studying on her final exams. I can't blame her since it's her first year in middle school. Maybe it's just me being overly concerned but it was assuring to know that she can adapt to things quickly, knowing that a lot of things came by without much of a hint.
Today was a perfect day to be out again. My ever-enthusiastic sister of mine decided to take me around town like she usually does. She even insisted to put on my sun hat decorated with a lavender ribbon, teasing me how cute it looks on me. Kagami Miyako, a cousin of mine and a close one to us siblings, volunteered to look after the house. She just arrived two nights before and for some circumstances that I couldn't guess, she chose to spend her summer vacation this year with us again. Well, I'm not entirely sure if this was originally planned by herself or her mother's but its fine either way. We could use some company other than ourselves.
Maybe I should arrange a trip with the three of us together in the following week or so. It would be nice, don't you think?
We immediately set off after a quick farewell to Miyako. We went to the a shopping mall to check for clothes which is on sale for the whole week, the arcade, the sweet shop and everything else that catches the eye. After that, we went to the park on a hill overlooking every structure in our vicinity and ate the snacks we bought until sunset. Watching the whole scenery from there always fascinates me for some reason despite of coming there quite often.
On our way home, a drizzle started to pour all of the sudden, forcing us to take shelter to the nearest building – a recently established supermarket a few months back. The place wasn't far from our house but it wouldn't be good to push our luck further with the increasing raindrops from the now gloomy skies. If you might care to ask, we have an umbrella with us for such cases. Aki-chan just...somehow broke it as she opened it after the first signs of rain.
Huh? How did she do that? Let's just say this kind of thing happens once in a while...
Since we're already inside, a little shopping wouldn't hurt and I figured this should help Miyako a little for her turn tomorrow. Luckily, I brought more than enough money today. Perhaps I got carried away? I just hope the rain would subside afterwards and we could cook dinner at the usual time.
This tiring day hasn't ended yet though it was a lot of fun. After all, I'm stuck most of the time at home and my sister is strict about me going out without her knowing. I remember one time when I went out to the convenience store a couple of blocks away from our house late at night. I wasn't even gone for half an hour but she was so worried that she fetched me on my way back. I got a good scolding from her when we got home.
T-That one bit of a memory was totally uncalled for. Sorry for that!
Oh, have I introduced myself yet? I am Mizuki Ayumi, supposedly an 11th grader this year. I'm no different to everyone else around my age except for one small thing. I'm bound to my wheelchair, especially when I need to move elsewhere. Believe me, it's not much of a burden when you get used to it. Maybe more like a challenge to me while doing everyday things like any person would.
Yep, this should do. Maybe we can start this little side quest now, as you would always say.
What is it? Chocolates and cookies? Oh... alright, we'll add it in too...
"Let's split the list for the two of us. It's much quicker, right?" Ayumi asked as she handed a piece of paper taken from her pink-colored notepad. "It's not like we're going to buy everything in one go tonight."
"You sure, sis?"
"Yes." Smiling, she gave a basket to Aki. "I'll do fine like always. We'll meet up here again, okay?"
"Okay! Just give me a shout when you need my help!" The petite girl took off to the other direction before disappearing as she turned to an aisle on her right. That simple suggestion was enough to make Ayumi smile nervously.
She went to the nearby fruit section as planned and examined the display of fruits in season neatly stacked together. Satisfied, she picked a pack of strawberries and some oranges then placed them in the basket on her lap. Being aware of the few customers glancing at her made things more difficult. Was it really that uncommon to see someone like her doing shopping alone? Besides, she had Aki with her tonight. As she continued to navigate every aisle and section for the items on her list, she would also refuse every time she was offered assistance by someone. She quickly discarded the thought of having the image of hers being helpless.
It didn't take her long to acquire the things she needed for what she considered a simple chore and she found herself again in the small section full of fruits jams and spreads. Her panting sister arrived with her own goods.
"Sis, I'm not done yet." She set down her basket in front of Ayumi then she ran backwards. Looking at the basket's contents, Aki seemed to got all of what was needed. Perhaps there was something else she forgot in the list? "Just give me another minute!"
"That's fine but watch where you're..."
Aki almost crashed to the shopping cart of a woman passing by, apologizing before setting off again. Her little sister could really attract unnecessary trouble without even trying. "T-That was close," Ayumi whispered. She could only hope that Aki took a more careful pace this time, saving them from any further predicament.
She decided to browse the selection of jams beside her to pass time and found something new. She wondered if her sister would like it too. "How about that one? It's worth the try, I think..."
The pineapple jam was so close yet out of her reach. In sheer determination, she used one hand on her wheelchair to support herself and attempted for a grab once more. Suddenly, another hand snatched the jar before she could do it herself. A gray-haired boy wearing a dark blue jacket over his employee uniform of the place, examined his prize of a jam while a somewhat surprised Ayumi stared at him complete with an opened mouth and probing eyes.
"Pineapple, huh?" he said. "I'd recommend it."
The plum-haired girl found herself speechless, not entirely sure what or how to respond.
"You alright? You looked like you just saw something you shouldn't." He handed the jar over to Ayumi. "Here."
"A-Ah...no. You really know when's the time to surprise me."
"Don't do something reckless. You have to keep mind about the people around you."
"I know," she whispered.
"Something on your mind?" he asked.
"To be honest, I don't need anyone's pity. It's not something new to see someone like me. I can do pretty much everything like any normal person could. I don't resent them for that reason though." She stopped to check what she had said seconds ago before her face became red in embarrassment. "T-That surely came out of nowhere. Sorry, I didn't mean to confuse you."
As soon as she arrived at the scene, Aki shouted, "H-Hey, what's your problem? Go bother someone else!" Ayumi's eyes quickly darted to the other end of the aisle and saw Aki, hands full with snacks of different kinds. Aki somehow succeeded throwing an instant ramen straight to him but caught before meeting his face.
Aki gritted her teeth as she settled in for a cylinder can of candies and prepared herself for the throw. "Try catching this!"
Then, Ayumi's timely yelp earned the attention of nearby shoppers. She wished she didn't have to resort to something embarrassing but it worked nonetheless. The act made Aki flustered on where she stand, dropping some of the goods she was carrying.
"Hey, what's happening here?" asked a cap-wearing attendant. He looked at the people present in the aisle before noticing his coworker. "You're here too, Yuurei."
"It's nothing important."
"Oh, if you say so." He waved a hand before heading back where he came from. "Don't take long! I'll need extra help in the storage."
Aki gritted her teeth. "Hey! Don't you dare ignore me!"
Ayumi waved her hands as if it was the last and only thing she could do to her sister's outburst. "R-R-Relax, Aki-chan. It's him, remember?"
"The one with the weird name?" Aki asked as she picked up the snacks on the floor. "Yeah, I remember."
The girl on the wheelchair shook her head. "A-Ah. I'm sure she didn't mean it..."
"It's even weird that I actually remembered it. Yuurei, was it?" She pointed an index finger to the boy. Still, Ayumi was impressed that her sister could do that with all the stuff she was carrying. "Don't get any ideas with sis when I'm around!"
He blinked once before asking with the cup of ramen in one hand, "Right. Do you still need this?"
"Of course." Aki approached him with a smug before snatching the cup. "That's why I have it in the first place."
My sister's really like that. I wish I could be a bit like her. Ayumi fiddled the cloth of her shirt. "U-Uhm, I'm sorry. She just mistook you from someone else. My Aki-chan can be impulsive at times..."
"I'll go ahead then." Yuurei nodded a little as he walked to the next aisle. He paused before turning to the corner, looking over his shoulder. "You're doing just fine. It's just you thinking too much."
"It wasn't necessary but thank you anyways," she called out as the boy disappeared from their sight. With the latter out of earshot, she breathed in and released all the accumulated air in her lungs to compose herself. "For a second there, I thought he's upset or something..."
"Are you okay, sis? Just ignore him." Aki placed a plastic bag of cookies and a couple of chocolate bars to fill her basket.
Ayumi faced her sister with an index finger held up. "Aki-chan, you don't throw food to people like that! What if he was an entirely different person?"
"U-Uh, sorry." Aki glanced sideways, hands on her waist. "Maybe you see him as a friend but I don't trust him just yet."
"Well, you say that to almost every person we meet. How can you know if you won't even give him a chance?"
"You have a point sis, but..."
Ayumi moved herself nearer, putting both hands on her sister's shoulders. "I'll make sure you apologize if we meet him again, got that?"
"Okay. I understand."
"Besides, it's not anything like that." She shifted her gaze and shrugged. "We had idle talks a few times back then but you don't have to jump to conclusions. He's still a stranger to me, at least."
"Don't think about it too much. Let's bring our stuff to the counter now."
"S-Sorry, sis. I got carried away."
After making sure that they didn't forget anything else, they continued to an unoccupied check-out lane. At that hour, it was expected that the place wasn't that occupied compared to daytime. When the goods were paid and arranged in three grocery bags, they went straight by the entrance outside. Unfortunately, the condition outside didn't improve in the slightest before they began shopping.
A somewhat subtle presence somewhere added to Ayumi's growing anxiety. She couldn't discern whether it was something that should make her worry in the first place. She caught sight of a familiar purple glow from the pendant on her chest. Curiously, she took it and raised it to eye level. "Hm? It's glowing again..."
Aki bent over for a closer look. "Again? What happened to it?"
"I don't know. It just... happen every so often without any definite pattern."
"R-Really? Maybe it's intended to be like that."
"More importantly, it's still raining..."
"Summer break won't be any fun if the weather's like this every day."
"I guess it can't be helped. We should wait a little longer. This place is always open late at night anyway."
Aki looked at her. "It's good and all but we really need to go home now, sis."
"What's the matter, Aki-chan?"
"We should be home at this hour, especially girls in our age. Miyako's waiting for us too."
"I can't argue with that." Ayumi's lips formed a rather eerie smile as she patted the head of her sister. "My, what's gotten into you? That's not the Aki-chan I know!"
"Eh? Am I weird for saying that?"
"N-Not at all!" Aki puffed her cheeks as she saw her sister fighting off a giggle.
"Your face says otherwise..."
"But you're right. Miyako's alone the whole day, right?"
"How about it sis? Maybe I'll go home first so I can get another umbrella for us."
Ayumi glanced outside then back to her sister, frowning. "No. Shouldn't we just buy another? You'll get drenched easily with all this rain! I know that you'll be off from school in the following days but I don't want you to catch a cold either!"
"Ah, no need!" Aki said as she grinned. "Don't forget that I broke your umbrella. Just wait here and I'll be back before you know it!"
"I'll be fine, sis! This kind of rain won't stop me."
With a defeated sigh, Ayumi gave her sister a nod. "I'll leave it up to you then. Take care, Aki-chan."
"I won't take long." After a wink, she sprinted through parking lot and later disappear as she made a turn to the left.
Twenty minutes passed and a good number of customers already left the building. Ayumi felt that it was better if she had bought an umbrella during their shopping. The possible consequences of allowing her sister to storm through the rain filled her mind. It was like she would actually regret her decision the more she waited for Aki.
Light behind her suddenly went out and commotion inside followed.
Power failure? She gazed at the distant buildings to confirm her doubts. It's just this place, huh?
Her feeling of apprehension increased and it was not because she was afraid of the dark.
In the midst of the parking lot, she caught sight of a figure standing by a car, not moving in a slightest despite of the heavy rain. Not believing what she saw that moment, she shut her eyes for a few seconds before opening them again. Her heart skipped a beat as a set of yellow-colored eyes was already staring down at her, gleaming almost unnaturally. By looking more closely, the figure seemed to be a girl in her high school years. Her clothes were thoroughly soaked but she didn't seem to care at that moment.
Taking up the initiative, she spoke up to break the silence and tension building up. It couldn't hurt to try. Who knows? Maybe the girl would just ask for directions or a specific place. "M-May I help you with something?"
The girl with the cloak took the lollipop out of her mouth and pointed it at her. "Yes, about that pendant. I need to know where you got such artifact."
Ayumi was stunned. All of the sudden, she was asked by a random stranger about something very important to her and it was the last thing she should expect. She mustered up her courage before answering, "Y-You mean this?" She clutched her prized accessory without breaking eye contact. "T-This was given to me as a gift."
The stranger crossed her arms as the gleam in her eyes disappeared. Her attention now shifted to the steady purple light emitted by the pendant. "Hm. Is that so? Are you sure you didn't find it elsewhere?"
"If you want to know badly, my mother used to wear this. I don't see any reason why I should lie."
"Who are you exactly?"
"Your mother. What kind of person is she?"
Ayumi thought that the girl would stop after answering the pendant's very first owner but the questions kept coming one after another. Even with a disposition such as hers, it still had its limits. She had no idea about the stranger's motive for the unexpected interrogation she was in now. Knowing this, she had to at the very least try to defend herself.
"Excuse me, I think you're going a bit too far..."
The eyes of the girl narrowed. "Please answer my questions. It's that simple," she said.
"At least tell me your intentions first for doing this."
The cloak-wearing girl didn't respond for a moment but her expression remained the same. Was it working already?
"You possess something that got my interest. I want to know more about it."
Another figure stood behind the stranger, holding what seemed to be a handgun at point-blank range. She didn't appear to be fazed as she calmly addressed the other without any change in her tone, "And who are you might be? You must be keen enough to notice us here."
"Just a part-time worker of this place. Nothing special." This time, Ayumi almost gasped as she recognized the voice of the other person with them.
"That's not right. Then again, it would be more appropriate if I asked 'What are you?' instead. In that case, won't you answer my question?"
"I don't have to shoot if you'll leave now. It will be a win-win situation."
"I'll take that as a no then." The girl bit a part of her lollipop before walking away. Ayumi somehow caught a glimpse of her face before leaving. The girl seemed to be a tad disappointed for her unanswered questions. "I guess I'll have to ask you more about it some other time," she said. "See you."
Not even a minute passed before electricity returned inside the building, resuming usual activities as if nothing transpired a minute ago. The girl seemed to blend into the darkness, walking like one would do when taking a night stroll, excluding the heavy rain.
"T-Thank you, Yuurei-san. It looks like I owe you one again," Ayumi mumbled, relieved. Maybe she could have handled the situation on her own if she was a bit more steadfast.
She looked at the direction where the mysterious girl disappeared for the last time. "W-Who is that girl? Do you know her?"No idea."
"On second thought..."
She tilted her head as she waited for him in anticipation to continue. The boy waved his hand instead, making Ayumi drop both of her shoulders. "Hmm, maybe she just mistook you for someone else."
She eyed the firearm in his hand. "E-Eh? Y-You have a gun with you?"
"Self-defense," he replied, keeping his pistol under his jacket. "You already know what's happening these days."
"I...I can relate to that at least." She gulped once as she pressed the issue. She had the time to spare anyway. "But, you carry that even while working? Won't you get caught?"
There was a quick pause for his part before answering, "For one thing, firearms won't be of any use if you can't even bring them anywhere."
"That's a valid point, I think."
"What do you think about letting civilians to carry firearms outdoors?"
"Ah, wouldn't that be too dangerous? The negatives outnumbers the advantages of implementing something like that."
"Just a train of thought. It's a stupid idea."
"Uh..." Ayumi stared above, thinking of another answer. "Responsibility of handling those firearms is also another thing, right?"
Yuurei nodded once. "What does she want from you? The cloaked girl, I mean."
She hesitated for a bit, her eyes wandering about. "She started to throw questions at me and I don't really get it myself. I think it's worth mentioning that she also asked me about my pendant."
He glanced at the ornament. "Your pendant, huh? Are you sure you don't have any idea what this is?"
Ayumi opened her mouth with a quizzical look. "What do you mean by that?"
"Maybe you're pendant became a collector's item rare enough for someone like her to notice."
"Really? I don't think it differs much from many other pendants."
"Well, you can't blame rare things that turn out to be the famous or iconic ones. Not to mention that there are people who would go all-out for the sake of getting those."
"T-That's quite extreme. Is she any like them?"
"That aside, your sister's back."
Following where Yuurei was pointing, Ayumi saw the girl wearing a yellow raincoat with flower and butterfly designs. She started to move with her wheelchair but was pulled back, preventing her progress.
"Huh? What's wrong Yuurei-san?"
"If you'll get yourself soaked, then her trouble of fetching an umbrella will be pointless."
"Uh, thanks," she said, giggling. Ayumi couldn't blame herself worrying though. Now that she saw Aki still in one piece, the load on her shoulder disappeared like it never existed at all.
"I'm back!" Aki said as she reached the supermarket's entrance. "Sorry making you wait, sis."
Ayumi smiled. "It's alright. I'm just glad you're safe."
"I was only gone for a while and you're already that worried?"
"Ehh...I can't help it. Thank you, Aki-chan!"
Ayumi attempted to hug her sister, but Aki skipped backwards. "No can do. You'll get wet, sis."
"Aki-chan, are you okay?"
With her clothes under the raincoat wet, Aki was shivering. Her face was both of exhaustion and concern, gasping for air. Despite that, she gave Ayumi a smile but the older sister was not convinced. There was something off.
"This is nothing, sis. Did something happen while I'm gone?"
"N-Nothing unusual..." She began to trail off, looking up to the boy beside her. "Right, Yuurei-san?"
He confirmed with a nod. Aki wasn't satisfied and mumbled something instead.
"You again? What are you doing here anyway?"
"I work here."
"That's not what I meant!"
"Not now Aki-chan. We need to get you back home and take a warm bath." She patted the head and felt the soaked mulberry hair of her sister, noticing the difference of the liquid's consistency. Her eyes widened the moment she realized that her palm was covered in a mix of rainwater and blood.
"Y-You're head's bleeding! What happened?"
The girl crossed her arms over her chest. "I-It's nothing. I rammed the door head-first as I went out."
Yuurei sighed. "I don't think you can open a door with that method. A stupid one, at that."
"I did and it worked. Don't you underestimate me!"
Ayumi coughed once to gain their attention. She knew well enough that her sister wouldn't give up on such arguments, even how insignificant or small it was. "Aki-chan, there's no time for that. We need to patch you up now. Can you still manage on our way back?"
Aki ran behind her older sister and opened up a yellow-colored umbrella enough to accommodate both of them. "Aside from the throbbing part, I'm good to go," she said before pointing at Yuurei. "And I don't need your help!"
He raised an eyebrow in response. "Wait, you're going home?"
"Got anything wrong with that?"
"I just thought of getting some help from the folks inside."
"I said it's nothing, right? Mind your own..."
Ayumi turned her body. "R-Really? You would do that?"
"It's not big of an injury if your sister can still talk like that but she needs to be treated right away."
"T-Thank you! It will be a great help for us!" Before her sister could voice another protest or disapproval, she added, "Aki-chan, just be a good girl, okay?"
"Yuurei-san, I'm sure you won't mind joining us for dinner after this?"
Hearing the invitation was enough to make a horrified expression on her sister's face. "What? Sis, that's..."
"Aki-chan." Ayumi gave her cutest smile that she could make to her flustered sister, blushing as she attempted to avert her eyes. "Please?"
She also saw Yuurei glancing to the almost empty parking lot as she looked at him. "Do I have to?" he asked.
"Yes. Just this once, if you're okay with it."
"I'll take the offer then. I haven't had anything since I started today's shift, so..."
Ayumi's eyes widened and flushed cheeks as if she had said something stupid. She started to wave both of her hands in front of her nervously. "A-Ah, I'm sorry! I forgot about your work!"
"I guess I'm off the hook then?"
"Nope. I insist," she firmly followed as she flashed another smile.
"A-Alright, let's see what I can do about that..."
"Settled! Thank you!"
Aki sighed, crossing her arms. "I'll have to let this slide once."
Ohh... Why did it have to rain this time anyway? It's not that I hate rain, but...
Looking at the dark sky now seems like it is revolting with all the rain it poured since earlier. It just won't stop yet. And so, we began our way back home together with Yuurei-san. Thanks to him, Aki-chan's injury was quickly and effectively treated. It was quite embarrassing for us to trouble a few of his coworkers on duty but they insisted that they were happy to serve a regular customer, albeit in a completely different way. I'm not sure if it's just me or Aki-chan and Yuurei-san would sometimes glance at each other earlier, making things quite awkward. I think my vigilant sister is making him uneasy.
I'm surprised that they knew about me being a regular shopper at their place. Is there a need for them to track their patrons other than they are one or did I missed something I'm not aware of? I don't think supermarkets give special offers or discounts to them. Also, I was quite relieved when he told me that he was allowed to get off his work - something that I felt guilty at. That would be the same for the injury Aki-chan got earlier.
Though, I haven't completely forgotten and never will anytime soon. It disturbs me that a total stranger like that girl recognized my mother's pendant as if she knew something about it. She was more curious why I have it with me too. It might only be sheer coincidence like Yuurei-san said awhile ago. Of course, there are other details I'm not aware of but I'll have to set it aside for now.
I already got a few ideas for the dishes I wanted to try later. Although I know more than a dozen or two of recipes to choose from, I have yet to master each of them. I wonder what Yuurei-san will think about my cooking? Aki-chan would undeniably promote the stuff I cook to anyone, if given the chance to do so. Then again, she is not the picky type when it comes to taste anyway, as long as its delicious and would satisfy her stomach.
Aki-chan? You don't need to force yourself... I can move on my own...
Huh? T-Thank you, Yuurei-san... My sister is really stubborn, isn't she?
The door swung open with an audible creak as a sleepy-looking girl with cornflower-colored hair appeared before them, rubbing one eye to shrug off a bit of drowsiness. She tilted her head to the side as she eyed the group before her.
"Aki-chan, Yumi-chan, welcome back. I was getting worried," the girl said after a big yawn.
Ayumi made a sheepish smile. She had to remind herself to take her cousin with them next time. "You must be bored while we were gone. Thanks, Miyako-chan."
"Not really. It's all thanks to Aki-chan's video games. Also, I hope you don't mind me eating that last cookie pack in the fridge."
"You what?" Aki's eyes flared up instantly. "I was saving that for later!"
"Oh, so it's yours? Sorry about that."
"Why did you take so long opening the door anyway?" Aki asked as she closed her umbrella.
The ponytailed girl rolled her eyes. "Cut me some slack. You woke me up earlier with all that door banging." She soon noticed Aki's head. Miyako shrugged with a blank expression, stifling her imminent laughter. "How clumsy of you. Did you hit your head somewhere after you took off?"
"You're really asking for it, huh?"
"My, can't you take a little joke, Aki-chan?"
"Um, I think we can continue this inside?" asked Ayumi to finish the little squabble that could probably go on for hours until one opposing side admits defeat. Postponing dinner is an effective strategy too but that just won't do this time.
Miyako beamed before turning on her heels. "Ah, sorry about that. Just come in already!"
The group settled down to the cozy and warm living room complete with peach-colored walls, a few framed pictures and abstract paintings, an entertainment set, and fluffy colored cushions surrounding a small table filled with assorted candies and snacks.
"Make yourself comfortable. I should start making dinner right away." Ayumi reached for the detachable basket behind her wheelchair, containing their grocery bags. The younger sister quickly gave her a hand and carried the basket for her instead, placing it on the dinner table. "Thank you."
"I'll prepare the bath for Aki-chan," announced Miyako.
"Huh? You won't help with the cooking?"
"Well, are you sure you want me to be involved for tonight's dinner? We have a visitor this time around, see?"
"Good point," Aki spontaneously replied. "Don't bother with the bath. I'll take mine after dinner."
"You sounded like I can't cook anything edible at all! I'll have you know that I need to cook on my own whenever my mother's out late at work!"
"I didn't say anything about that. Helping sis in the kitchen doesn't mean you're the only one who is going to cook everything either."
"You got me there." Miyako slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Well, if you say so."
"Maybe I can help you too, sis."
"You should rest while you keep Yuurei-san company for a bit."
"Should I help?" asked Yuurei.
Aki stood up and pointed at the boy in an authoritative manner. "No, stay here with me. You're already lucky enough to be here!"
"Please be a good girl, Aki-chan."
"You always say that, sis."
"I will try something new later. Look forward to it!"
"Oh, a new recipe? Make it delicious, sis!"
"Of course!" Ayumi replied. She then gave a nod to Miyako who gave her a lavender-colored apron. "Let's do this, Miyako-chan."
The pair in the kitchen began their work as soon as the dishes to be cooked were settled on. Miyako gathered all the essential utensils and ingredients for dinner, handing them over to her cousin who sat before the stove.
In the course of their cooking, Ayumi could discern her sister's complaints about one of her save files in her game and their guest being 'bothersome' for some reason while the blue-haired girl silently contained her laughter as she transferred the stir-fried veggies and meat on an empty plate. Another couple of minutes went by and the plum-haired girl was almost done with the breaded shrimp with sweet and chili sauce she recently learned from a cooking show.
She should have felt happy after finishing the appetizing dish. After all, she managed to recall the ingredients needed and how the dish was done. Instead, her mind drifted somewhere else as she vacantly stared at her creation. Miyako observed her before taking action.
"Still there, Yumi-chan? You're spacing out," Miyako pointed out, waving a hand to the already conscious Ayumi.
"A-Ah, sorry. Can you bring this to the table now?" she asked.
"I'm wondering about the guy you brought here. Is he a friend of yours?"
"U-Uh, I guess you could say that..."
"If you already got the courage of bringing him here, then you two must be close, huh?" There was a playful smirk on Miyako's face as she took the shrimp platter before rushing to the table as if holding in her words. She returned in a flash with her smile still present. "Yumi-chan, it seems like you finally got-"
Ayumi didn't have to wait to finish her cousin's statement. Her face turned crimson. "I-It's not anything like that at all!"
"Denying it already? That's no fun!"
"Jeez, you don't have to tease me like that..."
"I don't know if you already noticed this, but that friend of yours is quite...different." She crossed her arms and closed her eyes for a moment to concentrate. "Hm, let's just say he's different... in a good way."
"What do you mean by different?"
"A-Ah, don't think about it too much! You know that I'm not good at words."
Ayumi tapped her cheeks for a moment. "Yuurei-san can be strange at times...but he's nice to us."
"I agree with that."
"You think so?"
"Aki-chan always reminds you of this all the time but I'll say it anyway. You have to be careful to every person you meet out there."
"I'm sure he's not that kind of person..."
"By the way, I've been meaning to ask you guys. It hasn't been a whole year since that happened and that exact day is just a month away. Are you doing fine?"
Ayumi didn't respond for a moment as she gazed downwards.
"Yes, I guess so. Aki-chan and I fared to the change way quicker than we imagined at the start. It took some time to adjust to this new environment though." Her lips forced another smile and her hands clutched on her apron. "I was thinking that life itself can be surprisingly unforgiving at some point and eventually, all you can do is to embrace what was granted to you. It's just that...who am I to complain for those things that didn't went well, right?"
Ayumi felt the need to steer the conversation somewhere else. She was starting to get uncomfortable herself for that reason. Miyako stood there without another word, lips pursed. "I-I'm sorry. Forget what I said."
"Uh, yeah. I'm sorry too."
"Why are you apologizing, Miyako-chan?"
"N-Nothing. Forget that I said that too!"
That was odd, coming from her cousin. She knew that her cousin was holding something back there though her intention was long spoiled before she could even try, thanks to her body language. "You sure are weird, Miyako-chan."
"I-I don't know if that's a positive thing or not..."
"You know, I'm really happy when you said that you wanted to stay here this summer," said Ayumi, tears forming on her eyes.
"I'll try to visit more often next time, so, cheer up!" Miyako grinned with a thumbs up. "Hope that I don't get tons of schoolwork and other stuff!"
"You should put greater priority on your studies, Miyako-chan. Your mom's going to scold you again."
The blue-haired girl laughed. "Don't let those things trouble you. Enjoy this year's summer vacation like you usually do. You guys deserve a break."
"Yes. Thank you, Miyako-chan."
"Well, everything's almost done. Should we call them now?"
"Yup." She turned her wheelchair and went to the sink to wash her hands.
"I think we don't have to, Yumi-chan."
She turned her head to the immediate room on her right, seeing Aki whose eyes glimmered in delight. On the other hand, Yuurei just hovered behind her sister, probably intrigued why Aki suddenly rushed to the table. She does that almost everyday too. "Woah, sis. What's with all of this food? Looks like you went all out again."
The table was decorated with enticing dishes as if a feast was going to be held. Ayumi hid her smile as she glimpsed at Yuurei who was taking his time looking at the edible color display with great curiosity. She did tried guessing what was on his mind now since a good chunk of her motivation for cooking those dishes was for their guest who had to skip work just to have dinner with them.
Judging from the boy's expression, her dishes didn't fail her. "You two cooked all of this?" he asked.
"To be precise, Yumi-chan cooked it all while I gave her a hand with the things she needed," Miyako said.
"This is a bit more than we can all take. You don't have to go cook this many, unless there is an occasion I'm unaware about."
Ayumi gasped. "H-H-Huh? You helped me a couple of times already. Think of this as a way to return the favor. I hope you don't mind if most of the food are fried."
"And...why are you staring like that?" he asked Ayumi once more.
With her face burning to deep red and heart pounding faster than usual, she blurted out her reply, "I just want to have your opinion..."
"Opinion? About the food?" She quickly nodded.
"Say something weird or I'll pulverize you on the spot!" Aki muttered as she watched Yuurei taking a final glance to each dish. Ayumi was, more or less, anxious to hear his impression about the food. There's no turning back now!
"The dishes are presentable even though they are homemade. That only proves that you made an extra effort making them more appetizing and appealing to the eyes. I don't know about the taste department just yet but I won't be surprised if they're better."
"Wow!" Miyako slowly clapped her hands. "I agree with you at that. She likes to decorate her dishes like people do on cooking shows."
"Did I said something weird?"
Ayumi shook her head and kept a forming smile to herself. "Nope. Not at all!"
"Yuurei-kun, was it? If you're worried about all of this food, we have Aki-chan here," said Miyako, putting an arm around Aki. "The food will be gone before you even know it!"
"What? Am I a glutton to you? Right back at you then!"
"Yumi-chan's cooking gets better and better each day, don't you think?"
"What are we waiting for? Let's start before everything gets cold!" Ayumi said with a single clap.
"Sis, you still have your apron on."
Today was a lot of fun! I'm sure the following days will be the same...
It's been awhile since our dinner table of four was fully occupied. Since Aki-chan and I are the only occupants in this house, there's no need for two more chairs, isn't it? But I think we don't need to remove them either because of the occasional guests that might come anytime too like today.
After dinner, we stayed at the living room talking about random things in mind while waiting for the rain to stop. A whole hour passed before Yuurei-san left, saying that he will return to the supermarket even though he was off for the night. Things settled down like it used to be, though not completely because Miyako is here with us again.
I know, I'll take a bath with Aki-chan this time! I'll make sure to check her head again while I'm at it...