I’m back in my happy-go-lucky World A(kane). I look at my phone to see a message from Mary. She’s going to meet me in front of the school gates. Akane had already left early to do some errands for my mother. Daisuke’s birthday was coming up, and she was still a long way from even making something edible. I had to give her props though, since I’ve never seen her put in more effort on anything before.
If only she was like this for tests.
I look up towards the afternoon sky. Life was peaceful in this world, unlike how complicated things are in my own. Even though the people of this world are different, I can’t shake how it feels like déjà vu. Yuki-san and Daisuke are confirmed to be in a relationship together in my world, and it didn’t help that things got way more complicated between Mary and I. Considering that I had just made up with Akane, I’m not sure if bringing up that I’ve failed miserably would be the best idea. I still don’t know how to tell her that Mary asked me out on a date too, and I unfortunately went along with it. Maybe it was because there was no way I could say no to one of my closest friends, or maybe it was because I felt lonely.
Maybe I wanted to spite Daisuke a little?
There are no easy answers for the problems clouding over my head. At least in this world I could somewhat keep the drama to a minimum.
I just wished there was a way to stay in this world.
I feel something pressing on my shoulder behind me. I turn around to see Mary suddenly appear before me.
Mary recoils. It seems my surprise took her by surprise as well.
“Geez Kazuki…” she sighs. “It’s just me.”
“W-Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting you to sneak up on me.” I reply as I try to salvage whatever amount of pride left in me.
“Whatever, let’s go! We’re burning daylight now.”
Hopefully we could get this done quickly. Apparently the forecast tonight was some light showers.
“This is hopeless…”
Mary voices her defeat, her face pale white from the flour. Her apron looked like it was in rags, and her blonde hair had splotches of chocolate stains. Worse, my kitchen is a complete mess! Dirty bowls and half-baked cake batter littered the countertops and sinks.
Akane is going to kill me if I don’t clean this up…
“I did everything you said! Maybe your instructions were wrong!” Mary pouts.
“I’m sorry Mary.” as I sigh deeply.
Mary suddenly turns silent. She moves in closer to me, inspecting me up and down.
“Are you okay? You’ve been acting all weird today.” she points out. “It’s like you’re doing one thing, but then thinking about something else…”
I suppose that was one way to put it. Usually there would be quips back and forth. Now that I think about it, it just felt weird to be around her. Anyone else would have lost their temper by now. The last time Mary was anywhere near a kitchen, she nearly burned down the place. Besides being known as the Roadrunner, she had another reputation – the Roadkill of Kasumigaseki High. Everything she made turned out to look like a burnt raccoon or tanuki.
“Nothing. Just a little tired is all.” I reply.
Mary looks at me suspiciously. I don’t think she bought it.
“C’mon dude, you have that look again. We’ve been friends for a while now. What’s really going on?”
Do I tell her the truth? Do I tell her another version of you asked me out on a date?
Before I could speak, Mary fills in the blanks for me.
“Let me guess…you got problems with Akane?”
“N-No! Well, yes but-“
“See, I knew it!” she interrupts me. “Akane talked to me about it.”
“She has?” I say with a confused expression.
Mary nods. “Yep, we’ve been having girl talk y’know.” she reveals. “I won’t say much, but the sooner you two are honest about each other’s feelings, the sooner everything will get better.”
That was a surprisingly profound statement from the usually airheaded Mary Kaneko. Maybe the best solution was to be honest to with Akane. I just have to separate the Mary from here and the other world.
“Now stand up Kazuki! Is this the kind of loser Akane fell in love with?” she tries to pump me up.
“Yeah! E-Except the loser part.”
“So tell me the secret to making this cake!”
Mary eagerly awaits my answer.
“Look Mary, you just have to put some uh…” I paused.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this but…
“Some…what…?” Mary asks.
“Some…” I sigh. “Some…love.” I cringed.
Her face squirms up and it was obvious she thought I was being sarcastic.
“L-Love…?” Mary frantically asked.
I take another bowl out from the cupboard and begin to start again.
“I asked Akane what the secret was to her cooking. She said that the secret ingredient to everything she did was “love.” So let’s follow the recipe again Mary. Maybe this time it’ll be different.”
Mary nods and starts packing her measuring cup with flour and pours it into the bowl. Unlike her previous run where it seemed like she threw everything into a blender, Mary then adds in the rest of the ingredients, carefully and one at a time.
“Yeah that’s it! You just have to put some love into it when you mix everything together.” I try to encourage her.
Although it was a bit awkward and cringey, I seemed to be getting through to Mary. She takes out a whisk and starts mixing things together.
“L-Like this…?” she nervously says.
Slowly the ingredients started to form a creamy batter. It wasn’t full of bits and pieces like last time.
"Everybody has their own way of showing love for another person right? Maybe your way for Daisuke isn’t exactly normal…”
Mary takes out the whisk and points it at me like a rapier.
“W-What’s that supposed to mean?!?”
I raise my hands in caution and start to laugh it off.
I’m this close to lighting her fuse.
“Uh…every time I see you and Daisuke, it seems like you’re really embarrassed or something. Like you kinda love-hate the dummy.” I comment.
She puts the whisk back into the bowl and starts to vigorously mix the ingredients. She was becoming more and more violent every second.
“I-It’s just that Daisuke-kun is an i-idiot! He always goes out of his way for me-“
I hadn’t seen this side of World A(kane)’s Mary before. I could tell she was pouring her heart and soul into this cake. Maybe this would be the first perfect result.
“He’s super nice. He always listens to me. He understands everything. I-I just-”
Mary’s mixing was at full force. She was putting in way too much love.
“M-Mary, maybe you should calm down!-“
“I-I just wish I wasn’t scared!” she shouts.
At the same time, her sudden outburst caused the mixture in the bowl to go flying out of it. It was like a centrifuge from chemistry class that was off-balance. The cake batter was flying out of the bowl – right into my face.
“M-My bad Kazuki!”
Mary hands me a towel and I wipe the creamy batter off my face. I resisted the urge to throw the sticky towel at her, since I didn’t want to make an even bigger mess. However, the batter didn’t taste half bad.
“Let’s try again…” I sigh.
Mary steps onto a small stool to reach into the cupboard for some more ingredients. She shuffles around a bit, pushing empty boxes around and muttering to herself.
“Oh no…I think that was the last of the ingredients!”
I can’t believe that we had gone through almost a bakery’s worth of ingredients, and still haven’t managed to get a decent result. I look at the time – it was nearing 6 o’ clock.
“I guess we better go get some before it gets dark out.”
Mother did tell me to get some more milk anyways…
“Alright! Let’s hurry and start over again quick!” as Mary went towards the front door. I stopped her quickly though, since she looked like a mess.
“Not looking like that, you’re not.” I said to her.
“R-Right! Tee-hee!” laughed Mary as she went to the bathroom to wash up.
It took a while, but we were finally at the neighborhood supermarket. Usually I would tag along with Akane and mother, since those two were always clipping coupons from the papers and wanted to get the best deals. This supermarket had all kinds of ingredients, ranging from stuff from the Middle East, even to some things from countries I’ve never heard of. Even around this time, the supermarket was packed with people still getting groceries. I grab a red basket at the front entrance. It should be enough for our ingredients.
“Let’s grab the stuff and get outta here Kazuki.”
The Roadrunner wanted to speed through everything. However, I was enticed by the various deals listed around. Being a frequent customer here, I was looking around for what I could get with my rewards card. There were bright red clearance stickers plastered all around, which were only for rewards customers.
“Let me get stuff for my mother too.”
Mary reluctantly agrees to tone it down a notch or two. She begins to walk with me like a normal person.
This is kinda awkward…
Although I did go shopping here with Akane and my mother before, this was actually the first time I went shopping with a girl. Alone. Together. And it was with Mary of all people.
“Y’know Kazuki…” said Mary.
She was rubbing her trademark Masked Avenger pin ever so slightly.
“If people didn’t know any better…they would think we were a couple-“
Before she could finish her sentence, my hands cover her mouth and I grab her to hide behind a cardboard cutout display of the Masked Avenger; the show was advertising a cross-promotion with a potato chip company.. A chill suddenly runs down my spine.
“Shh! I don’t think she saw us…” I whispered silently into her ear.
I could feel Mary’s face was getting warmer and warmer. She was mumbling something underneath her breath. It wasn’t until she pushes off my hands and gasps for air.
“I-I’m sorry!” I whispered. Luckily the store was still busy, so nobody was paying too much attention to us.
Why did I do that…?
Mary takes a deep breath and composes herself.
“W-What was that about you pervert!” she scolded.
“Quiet down!” I loudly whispered to her, still crouched behind the cardboard cutout.
“For what?“ as she scans afar into the crowd of people by the produce section.
Mary finally noticed what I was talking about. She immediately jumped to my side, hiding her terrified face behind a bag of Masked Avenger chips.
“W-What is she doing here?!?”
“I forgot! Today is grocery day for our house!”
I slowly raised my head to peek out of the display. She was in the produce section, holding a massive shopping basket in her arm, filled to the brim with food. It was Akane.
We have to keep incognito. If Akane finds out, it’ll ruin the surprise! I can’t imagine what it would look like too if she catches us.
Mary and I look at each other, and our faces were filled with dread. We both knew what was at stake here. If Akane saw us here, she would immediately know what we were up to. There was no way we were going to jeopardize our mission at this point.
I can’t let all my progress on Mary’s baking go down the drain like this!
It was possible that we could wait out Akane until we knew for sure she left, but it was almost closing time. This simple grocery run had become a dangerous stealth mission.
“Let’s quietly maneuver our way around her…” whispered Mary.
Mary and I quietly tip-toed the other way down the aisle, moving towards the baking section. From my memory of the grocery list posted on the refrigerator, our house didn’t need anything down there anyways.
“I’m getting this too.” as Mary drops the crumpled bag of Masked Avenger chips into our basket.
As we quietly walked the other way down the aisle, I couldn’t help but feel a need to stay a reasonable distance away from Mary. Even though the Mary here was technically a different person from the one in my world, it was difficult for me to shake the uneasy feeling I had in my stomach. This Mary was with Daisuke, and the last thing I wanted was another misunderstanding that would ruin everything.
Stay calm Kazuki.
We finally reached the aisle, only to see the shelves mostly empty except for a few boxes left. It was plastered with those red clearance stickers all around. It seems like we had just missed a bargain deal on everything here.
“It costs how much?!?”
Mary did a small hop and managed to find a small box of cooking chocolates. Unfortunately for us, our only option left was the premium stuff, which was almost three times the cost of the regular version.
“If only you were more careful we wouldn’t be here right now…” I sighed.
Mary gave a long sigh. She promptly took out her wallet and looked inside. She had no other choice as she drops the box of chocolates into the shopping basket and walks away without a word.
“You’re so lame…idiot.” she said coldly.
Daisuke will appreciate it.
“Oh wait! I almost forgot the milk.”
As I turned around to walk towards the dairy section, I see Akane appear suddenly in the corner of my eye!
“Let’s go Kazuki, before we’re spotted!”
Mary started to pull me the other direction from behind. For some reason I could almost feel the disappointment from my mother coming. But, it was nothing compared to Akane’s burning curiosity if she managed to spot us together.
We quickly pay and get out, only for me to bump into someone.
“Sorry!” as I pass the stranger. He says something but I couldn’t understand his accent.
And it’s raining…
“It was sunny all day! What gives!” said Mary as she jumped back to dry land.
“C’mon, my place isn’t that far away from here.” I said.
Just our luck.
I run through the rain, using my jacket to cover my head.
Mary covers her runny nose with the sleeve of her track suit. I quickly place down the wet grocery bags on the table and rush to the bathroom. I grab two towels, one to dry my soaking hair, and one to give to Mary.
“Thanks…Achoo!” I hand her a towel and Mary lets out a quiet sneeze.
I couldn’t tell whether my body was drenched in sweat or the rain. My body definitely felt like it was getting warmer, and my head feels dizzy right now. Compared to Mary, she was still shivering, her arms rubbing up and down her body. Her face was a bright red, probably because her body was reacting to her soaking wet clothes. Mary unties her ponytail, and begins to wring her hair of water. I instinctively extend my hand towards her forehead.
It’s burning up…
“W-What are you d-doing?!? Pervert!” as Mary’s face filled with embarrassment.
Looking at her condition, Mary was on the verge of getting sick. There was no time for us to practice anymore. If I didn’t do anything soon, next thing you know I would have the Roadrunner of Kasumigaseki High passed out in my living room.
How would I explain that to Akane?
“You’re soaking wet, and your temperature is burning up.” I explained to her.
“I-I’m f-“ as Mawry interrupts herself with a deafening sneeze.
This stubborn idiot.
Time was of the essence. Mary was still standing, although her eyes were getting sleepy, and I can hear she was breathing heavily.
“Mary, you need to get warm somehow, or else you’re going to get sick.”
Most of all, the last thing I wanted was to get sick as well. Even though it was comforting to entertain the idea of Akane taking care of me bedside, I couldn’t risk getting sick right now. I still have things to fix in World B. I sigh and reluctantly tell her my plan.
“I’ll prepare you a bath.” I could feel the blood rush to my face. “I-I’ll get you a change of clothes too.” I bury my face in my hands.
“W-What do you mean?!?” N-No way!” as Mary crosses her arms in an x-formation.
“L-Look, I really don’t want to. B-But there’s n-no other option okay? You don’t want to be sick before Daisuke’s birthday right?” I replied.
Mary lets down her guard and tilts her head towards the wet floor. A small puddle of rain water was collected near her feet. There was no other choice. Akane was going to be home any minute. She sighs and walks towards my bathroom.
“F-Fine!” she pouts.
“B-But if you peek, I’m gonna kill you Kazuki!”
What have I gotten myself into?!? Calm down yourself Mary!
I lock the door behind me, hearing the comforting “CLINK” noise.
If that idiot peeps!
I quickly scan the bathroom to look for any holes or openings.
I slowly take off my wet red track suit. Although I was used to running in the rain before, this red track suit had seen better days. I notice that the sleeves were stained with subtle black marks.
That’s weird…when did this happen? I don't remember ever wearing mascara?
I could feel my teeth chattering. I quickly toss aside my red track suit and begin to undress myself.
“I-I’ll be outside if you need me Mary!”
I instinctively feel the need to cover my chest as I heard Kazuki through the door. I breathe a sigh of relief once I realize I’m probably being paranoid. I continue undressing, and then put all my clothes neatly into a basket Kazuki provided for me. I dip my toe into the steamy bath water, and then step full in.
This feels nice. Splish! Splash!
I couldn’t tell if it was the water or me, but I feel really warm right now. I feel this strange sensation in my chest, this odd uneasy feeling. I was sitting in Kazuki-kun’s bathtub.
I’m so embarrassed…!
I bury my head underneath the water. The water began to bubble violently. I couldn’t believe the ridiculous situation I was in! Thoughts raced through my head.
Kazuki…Kazuki gets naked in here!
The strange sensation in my chest became more noticeable.
But wait! A-Akane lives here too doesn’t she?!? D-Do they take b-baths…together?!?
I finally raise my head above the water, and take a deep breath. I cover my face with my hands, and I could feel my cheeks were burning hot. My imagination runs wild, picturing Kazuki sitting and commanding Akane to wash his back!
“Wash it well Akane…or you’ll be punished!” as the filthy pervert gives a maniacal laugh.
“Yes my master-nyan!” Akane would say in her sultry voice as her soap-soaked bosom presses against Kazuki’s back.
I look down into the water and press my hands against my chest. It was big enough that I could cup my hands around it, but was miniscule compared to Akane’s.
T-This house is full or perverts! G-Get those lewd thoughts Mary! C-Control yourself!
I lightly slap my face to compose myself. I try to clear my mind, and I lean my head back to stare at the ceiling. It was a pale tan, like any typical ceiling I guess. But for some reason, it felt comforting to look at. It reminded me of how simple life is sometimes, despite how ridiculous it could get. Kazuki’s an idiot, who’s dense and oblivious to everything around him. Akane is almost the complete opposite of him.
I wonder if he and Akane are really okay…
Kazuki was definitely acting weird around me earlier today. Sure I had some feelings for that knucklehead, but he’s with Akane now. I’m glad they both found each other, since they seemed like a great pair together. I’m lucky I found Daisuke too, but I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had Akane rejected him.
Would we be…a couple?
I’ve been in here long enough that the water was mildly warm. Also, it would be a good idea to get those stupid thoughts out of my head. I get out of the bathtub and take the Masked Avenger officially licensed towel and begin to dry myself off.
He wouldn’t mind me borrowing this…
I notice that Kazuki already had a pile of clothes prepared for me. It was neatly arranged from top to bottom. I pick up the top piece, and it was about two sizes too big for me.
So this is a boy’s clothing…?
I have no other choice, so I put it on anyways. The shirt was definitely too big for me. It manages to drop past my waist and go all the way down near my knees. Out of curiosity, I raise the shirt towards my nose and take a sniff.
Smells like strawberry.
It was a surprising, but pleasant smell. It probably wasn’t the idiot’s scent, but more likely Akane’s detergent or something. No way the dummy knows how to work a laundry machine!
Not that I do either but…
My chest was feeling tighter! I could feel my heart was beating rapidly, loud enough that I could hear it. I’m wearing Kazuki’s clothes, something I wanted to get out of quickly as possible, but didn’t mind.
“A-Are you done yet M-Mary?” he startles me through the door.
His sudden voice takes me by surprise. Kazuki was waiting outside the door the whole time. He must be soaking wet as well.
I better hurry!
I quickly grab the basket of messy clothes and dry my hair with the towel. I place my hand on the wet doorknob, and unlock the door.
“S-Stop staring…you’re embarrassing me…”
Mary opens the door and a huge cloud of steam escapes the bathroom. I couldn’t help but compare her to a tiny little angel, with her blond hair flowing down from her shoulders. Mary was still trying to get the last of the water out of her ears, as she shakes her head side to side. She hands me her basket of wet clothes.
“I’ll put them in the dryer, thanks.”
“T-Thank you…” Mary quietly mumbles.
Her face was bright red, but she looked like she was feeling better. The change of clothes I provided her was too big, as it was drooping down to her knees. There’s something cute about a girl wearing a boy’s outfit though. With Mary’s personality, wearing a guy’s clothing didn’t seem that weird.
Maybe I should have borrowed something from Akane’s closet…?
No way was I going to borrow clothes from Akane’s closet! The last thing I needed was evidence of our secret training today, and obviously of what just happened. I walk towards the laundry area in our back room, and place each of the items in the dryer. I think that should be enough.
Track suit, t-shirt, shorts, spats, bra-
I immediately toss in Mary’s bra. Although it wasn’t as big as Akane’s (from observation), it was still sizable enough for me to hold in my hand. I squeeze my hands into a fist a couple times instinctively.
C’mon Kazuki! Keep yourself together!
I shake my head and compose myself. I close the door and turn it on for a quick dry. I put the basket away, only to notice a pair of blue-striped panties on the floor. I immediately throw it into the dryer and turn it on. I rest my back against the dryer and catch my breath; it seemed like everything was going according to plan.
Without a moment to spare, I rush towards my kitchen and see the pot of soup I prepared was boiling violently. It was a quick and easy chicken soup that I made with leftover ingredients. This chicken soup was one of Akane’s secret recipes, which I had to persuade her to share. I take it off the heat and then taste with a spoon.
Mary finally walks out and enters my living room. I motion her to sit down at the kitchen table.
I place a bowl of hot soup in front of her.
“Y-You didn’t have to!” she says with surprise.
“Just eat it.” I tell her. "Or drink it, whatever."
I sit across from her with my bowl and begin to warm myself up.
“W-Well…s-since you went through all the trouble.” as she finally takes a spoonful of soup.
“I-It’s delicious!” Mary delights with a grin on her face.
“Buh it’s ruhlly hawt!” as she sticks out her tongue.
“Careful you hothead….” as I chuckle. I couldn't help myself.
Mary’s expression turns silent, as she looks at my quip with cringe and disdain.
I thought it was funny…
Suddenly, there was this awkward tension in the air. It was quiet enough that I could hear the sound of our spoons dinging the metal bowls. I still didn’t fully process everything that just happened. It happened so quickly, that I’m still running on instinct.
“You really didn’t have to do this y’know.” said Mary.
That was true. I didn’t have to go out of my way to do this for her. But why? Did I feel some sort of obligation to not disappoint her? I know I’m trying my best to dissociate this Mary to the other Mary, but internally I’ve been holding myself back from breaking down.
This feels like déjà vu.
Her silent expression is followed by a quaint smile. Maybe something was bothering Mary in this world also.
Mary is interrupted by the sudden ringing of the doorbell.
“Kazuki-kun! Do you mind opening the door for me? I’m holding a lot of groceries for tonight.”
That was the unmistakable voice of my girlfriend. It was Akane! She had just come home from running errands.
“You need to get outta here!” I loudly whispered to Mary.
Shivers run down my spine. I definitely, absolutely, positively cannot be seen with Mary like this. My thinking turns blank, with only the sound of the doorbell ringing in my ears. I needed to think of something fast!
“H-Hellooooooo Kazuki?” Akane was getting impatient.