Retsuko’s cafeteria was bustling, the faint buzz of a hundred conversations filling it from wall to wall as they took shelter from the rain. Masumi’s usual habit of finding somewhere to sit by himself had been interrupted by the slew of students, leaving him with a seat by the doors while conversations happened with all the students around him. He’d already started on his bento box when he realized he probably could have gone elsewhere, but he was committed at that point. People would notice him moving away, and that would be worse than noticing he was quiet.
He was pulled out of his food-based reverie when the doors of the cafeteria opened to the tune of many squeaking slippers. The group that entered was filled with a lot of people, but Masumi’s eyes were only drawn to the person at the center of it. Like the rest of the wet students, Yui’s hair was sticking to her head and her uniform held the dotted pattern of a brief spell in the rain. The collective paused in their various accusations and complaints when their eyes fell on the filled-up cafeteria.
Masumi hurriedly turned his head away from the group, lest he make Yui uncomfortable by staring at her. Not that he was staring at her, just the group. It wasn’t like it was illegal to look at groups of people – they’d never be able to convict him for that, not even in Tokyo.
He tapped his chopstick on the edge of his bento box and silently chastised himself for panicking over the simple act of looking at something. He’d done it too many times already. It was difficult not to notice Yui, now that he knew who she was, and her height didn’t help matters.
“Masumi?” Yui asked, and the boy blinked as he turned his head to face her. She was standing right by his table, with the rest of her crowd dispersing among the other groups to fill in the few empty spaces. “Hello.” She flashed a smile at him. “Do you mind if I sit with you? Some of my friends decided that we wouldn’t get rained on in the central garden and, suffice to say, that didn’t turn out well.” She patted down her slightly-wet skirt.
“Yes, um, go ahead.” Masumi bobbed his agreement and gestured to the seat opposite him. It wasn’t so much empty as half of it had been taken up by the other students wanting more personal space. They shuffled up the bench with only a few muttered complaints. “Who said you wouldn’t get wet?”
“Let’s not start that conversation.” Yui laughed softly as she took her seat and pulled a plastic bento box out of her pack. “There’s some debate over the answer and if I said who it was, somebody will come back to argue about it later.”
“Oh, that’s okay.” Masumi bit his bottom lip as he pondered just how he should act around Yui. He wanted to act how he normally did, but they were surrounded by other students. Not like the last two meetings, where he could act how he wanted. “Don’t you want to heat that up?”
“No, actually. I have this thermos pack. They were doing one of those bulk sales on television, so me and the rest of the dorm bought some together.” Yui smiled. “What about yours? It looks fancy.”
“When I started making my own, my parents thought that I shouldn’t have to reheat them as much, so they got me this.” Masumi tapped the side of his box again. “It’s like your thing, I think, but it’s the box, and the segments are separated so I can have cold stuff stay cold and hot stuff hot, in the same box. Sorry, that’s boring, isn’t it?” He stopped himself from giggling. That was just a thing that had to happen. “Um, what do you have there? It looks like...rice, mustard leaf, kelp, and...some kind of fish? Right?”
“You’ve got it in one. Salmon and cod roe.” Yui nodded, having taken a bite while Masumi was examining it. “What do you have?” She peered over the desk, narrowed her eyes in concentration. “Looks like...food.”
Masumi nodded as he grinned. “Yep. Um, do you actually want to know what it is, ‘cause I can tell you, if you want.”
“Please do.” Yui said. “It smells delicious.”
“Okay! It’s skewered yuzu and sesame chicken, crab crystal rolls, tuna sashimi, salmon and avacado maki, vegetable maki, pickled vegetables with seaweed and edamame, and cucumber, sesame, and spring onion salad.”
“So I was close.” Yui said, her eyes wide as she took in the listing. “That’s amazing, Masumi. Did you make all of that just for your lunch today?”
“Um, not quite. I make all of my bento boxes for the week on Sunday afternoon, and it’s the one recipe I have every day.” Masumi explained, as he nudged some of his food around in their compartments. “That way, I can do things with a lot of preparation and I don’t have to rush in the morning to do it, and it’s all really tasty! Um, I mean, that’s cocky, isn’t it? Sorry, I mean, I think it’s good.”
“I believe you.” Yui laughed. “It looks like something a chef would make their partner.”
“Do you want to try some?” Masumi gently nudged it in Yui’s direction. “Then you can tell me if it’s good.”
“Are you sure?” Yui’s eyes flicked up just in time to catch Masumi’s nod. “Then I will.” She nodded, her chopticks hovering around the bento box until they settled on a particularly plump crab crystal roll. She put the whole thing in her mouth and made a few little sounds of joy as she chewed. Masumi watched her eagerly, until the whole thing was gone and she sighed contently. “And the reward for the most delicious bento boxes in the world goes to Sanada Masumi.”
“Th-Thank you.” Masumi’s cheeks blazed pink at the praise. “I work really hard on them and, um, yeah. I can’t believe you ate that whole roll in one bite!”
“I am a growing young woman.” Yui defended herself with a sly smile. “You should take it as a compliment that I was so confident in your talents. If I hadn’t liked it...well, this table would be a lot messier.”
“Gross.” Masumi shook his head. “Do you want to try some more of it? I don’t mind, really.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I couldn’t possibly eat any more of your lunch. It would be rude.” Yui said. “Even if you don’t think it is.”
“Okay.” Masumi frowned, but only for a second. “How about I make you a bento box of your own? That way you can taste as much as you want and you don’t have to worry about taking my food.”
Yui scratched her neck as she looked from Masumi to the bento box. “You would really do that for me?”
“Yeah! We have lots of ingredients anyway and I like cooking, and you’re my friend, right? So it’ll be fun to make you one!”
“Thank you, Masumi. That would be wonderful.” Yui placed a hand over her heart. “I can’t believe you’d do something so kind. But start with just the one – I don’t want you to commit to making any more if it turns out to be too much work.”
“It won’t, but okay.” Masumi said.
Yui was about to speak when a presence suddenly made itself known beside their table, in the form of a short student with her hair cut short and her uniform ruffled.
“Yui!” The girl declared, as though Yui wasn’t sat half a foot away from her. “This is where you went, is it? You disappeared and I had to search through the entire cafeteria for you. Urgh. I can’t believe you’ve done this!”
Yui blinked at the girl. “I told everyone that I was going to sit with my friend. Perhaps you weren’t listening.” She glanced at Masumi. “Sanada Masumi, this is Mori Akira, and vice versa.” She gestured to the girl. “She’s in Theater Club, as they thought it would be a good place for somebody with such vast overreactions.”
“Hey there, Sanada.” Akira said, after a shared glare with Yui. “It’s not an overreaction when I’m abandoned!” She huffed. “Shift up, will ya? I haven’t got anywhere to sit.”
“No.” Yui said. “And you’re not sitting on my lap.”
“One time I asked.” Akira held up her finger. “One time!”
“Um, you can sit with me if you want to, but there’s not a lot of space...” Masumi offered, and adjusted his position on the bench.
“That’s not enough for one cheek!” Akira shook her head. “Thanks, but I’ll squat.” She said, then did just that. Her shoulders were just slightly over the edge of the table, providing her with a long view of all of the food. “What’s the word?”
“Masumi offered to make me a bento box.” Yui said. “I was telling him how kind it was.”
“Cool, cool.” Akira said. “Is that what you do, Sanada, cooking and stuff like that?”
Masumi bobbed his head as he tried to figure out where he recognized Akira from. It wasn’t helped by the fact that she was squatting, and he, for one of the first times in his life, actually had to look down to speak to someone.
“It’s a thing that I like.” Masumi said. “I, um, do it a lot and I go to cooking club.”
“That’s smart, if you can handle it. The only reason I’m not the size of a freaking CAR is that it’s too much effort to cook.” Akira laughed.
“You told me that you got your breakfast from that fast food place around the corner.” Yui pointed an accusatory chopstick at Akira. “That’s not healthier than homecooked meals.”
“Pfft, what do you know?” Akira rolled her eyes. “I work out all the time. There’s baseball and all kinds of crap. I’m active. I’m even doing squats right now!”
“You’re doing a single very long squat.” Yui pointed out.
“Um, I mean, if she’s still fit, then it must be working?” Masumi said, and immediately regretted his decision as both pairs of eyes turned to him. “Wait...I know where I know you from.” He warily met Akira’s eyes. “Didn’t you trip Kiryu down the hall the other day?”
Akira broke out into a wide grin. “I don’t know. Could have been anyone. Could have been him. But it was funny!”
“Um.” Masumi glanced to the side. “Well, uh, did you know he had to go to the hospital?”
“What?” Akira’s grin suddenly waned. “What for?”
“He broke his nose...” Masumi said. “He has to wear a nose mask and everything until it’s okay.”
“Urgh. Crap!” Akira banged her fist on the table and rose from her squatting position. “Now I just feel like crap. I thought he just fell over. Great. Where is he?” She spun her head around in search of the tall boy.
“What are you planning to do?” Yui asked.
“I’m gonna...I don’t know!” Akira glared at nothing in particular. “Apologize in a way that isn’t admitting to it. I’ll slip him a few hundred yen. Yeah, that’ll do.” She nodded. “Later!” Then ran off to the rest of the cafeteria.
“She’s not always like that.” Yui said to Masumi with a smile. “But when she is, you’ve got to make sure she doesn’t run right over you.”
“She, um, it’s nice that she went to say sorry.” Masumi said. “I thought she might have just been proud of it, but she wasn’t, so...that’s nice.”
“Indeed.” Yui smiled as she took another bite out of her bento box. “I see what you did there, by the way. Tricking her into going.”
“I-I don’t know what you mean...”
“I’m not mad; I know you’re shy, and she’s the opposite. But I’ve got my eye on you, Sanada Masumi.”
Masumi watched the chopstick Yui was using to point between their eyes, then picked up one of the maki in his bento box and stuck it on the end. Yui stared at it for a moment, then at him, then ate it in one bite.
“You win this round.” Yui smirked. “What is this, salmon?
“Yep.” Masumi nodded. “And what if I don’t just make you a bento box, but you come over for dinner? When, um, you’re not working, I mean. That way, I can make it fresh for you, and my parents aren’t around until late, so it works out.”
“How could I say no to an offer like that?” Yui swiped her finger over her lips, as though any remnant of the sushi might remain for her to taste. “Would you like me to sneak over there, lest the neighbors spot our scandalous rendezvous?”
“Uh. No. Yes. Maybe?” Masumi furrowed his brow at his once-more loss of control. “Just, um, don’t look too pretty and it’ll be fine!”
“You don’t want me to look pretty?” Yui leaned back in her chair.
“I mean, you’re pretty anyway, but if you can try to, not, when you arrive, then we can use my makeup on you if you want and you can join me on the stream. Until curfew anyway, ‘cause, I know that’s a thing you have to deal with, and that’s okay, and we can play games together!”
“I understand. I’ll show up to your home as unattractive as I can be. We’re talking messy hair, ruffled clothes, and not a single drop of makeup.”
“Okay! I’ll send you my address!” He said, then paused as Yui started laughing. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Just...you.” Yui shrugged. “I’ll be there.”