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Chapter 36: Instruction
“Okay, Hacchan~! Are you ready, are you ready? I am~! Let’s go!”
“I’m a bit ex-excited… is it in the council room?”
“Nah~! Shicchan says there’s no sinks or anything, so we have to go back to our kitchen in the dorms.”
“That makes sense… I hope there’s enough time, with just the lunch br-break…”
“It’ll be fine, Hacchan. If it goes too long, Shicchan will just designate it as official council business! That’s what she always does. Wahaha~!”
“That must be nice, to be able to d-do… oh, h-hi Lilly.”
“Hello Hanako, Misha. How are you today? Going to lunch?”
“Sort of, Lilly, sort of~! We’re going to Shicchan’s cooking class!”
“Oh… it’s during lunchtime? I suppose it would be…”
“Wh-what about you, Lilly?”
“I hoped you might accompany me upstairs, but… perhaps…”
“Ah… yeah, s-sorry…”
“Don’t say that, Hacchan. You should come with us, Lilly! It’ll be fun~! Maybe you and Shicchan can even give each other fingers! I mean, pointers~!”
“My, that’s quite an idea, Misha. I don’t know if I’m allowed to attend, unfortunately.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s open to any students who want to go! Shicchan probably wants as many people as she can get!”
“Well, I don’t know how I feel about Shizune ‘getting’ me, I suppose.”
“What else are you going to do, Lilly? You’re not just going to sit in that room by yourself, are you? Are you~? That would be lame, Lilly. Reallly laaame~!”
Hanako pinched her arm, pulling her back a bit.
“L-Lilly…” Hanako said, stepping towards Lilly in Misha’s place. “I don’t want you to go and sit al-alone… do you think, maybe… you could come? For… for m-me?”
Lilly’s face softened at this request, though she hesitated for another moment before answering.
“If Sh-Shicchan says anything mean, then…” Hanako said.
“…We’ll stop her, Lilly. We won’t let there be any more stupid fights, right, Hacchan~?”
“…N-no, I mean, right. No f-fighting!”
“…Okay, Hanako, Misha. I suppose I can’t refuse if I’m under your protection.”
Lilly held her free hand up, thumb and forefinger apart so as to grip a shirt sleeve.
“Shall you lead the way, Hanako?”
Hanako stared at the hand with ambivalence, glancing nervously at Misha for approval. This behavior only drew an amused giggle from Misha, who jumped forward and hooked her arm around Lilly’s instead.
“Don’t worry, Lilly. You can hang on to me!” Misha said.
“Ah… thank you, Misha,” Lilly said, settling her arm into Misha’s.
Misha held out her other arm for Hanako to take.
“Shall we?” Misha prompted.
“Mmhmm,” Hanako answered, taking the offered arm so they could set off as a trio.
“Hey, Lilly, have you seen Ricchan? She wanted to come to this too but we couldn’t find her earlier!” Misha said.
“Well, I haven’t seen her, per se, but…”
“It’s no trouble. I believe she was with Shizune earlier, as a matter of fact.”
“R-really? Maybe she got a head start…” Hanako said.
They were a little bit late due to Lilly’s naturally slow pace. Misha worried that Shizune would make her old quip about tardiness upon seeing Lilly and making this connection. While Lilly’s addition to the group surprised Shizune for a moment, she didn’t say anything about it, rapidly reverting to her usual self-assured expression with a glasses adjustment. Her eyes did seem to linger on Lilly a bit, probably taking advantage of the ability to scrutinize her visually without being seen in return. Misha hoped that it would help to see Lilly attached to her and Hanako.
“Hello, Shizune,” Lilly said, her voice cautious. “Misha, would you please tell her I said hello?” she asked, tugging on Misha’s sleeve.
“That’s okay. Hello Lilly,” Shizune said, more confident than Lilly, who had her own look of surprise at hearing her cousin’s voice. Like Shizune, she put her composure back on quickly, though she struggled to find her next words. Her mouth opened once, then changed its mind and decided to stay closed.
“I’m glad everyone is here,” Shizune said, motioning from the trio of girls to the two other apparent students for the day: Rin and another boy from class 3-3, a serious-looking fellow with a bandage over one ear and a beret. Hanako glanced nervously at him, instinctively drawing a bit closer to Misha as his eyes passed over her in turn. His name was Takashi and he had some kind of ear problem, but other than that she didn’t really know anything about him.
Shizune retrieved a rolled-up poster from the dining room table and turned to the wall behind her, motioning for Takashi to join her. He shuffled over and helped her pin the poster up on the wall using a couple of sticky tacks. Shizune made a bit of a flourish as the two of them stepped away to reveal the picture, giving Takashi an annoyed look that prompted him to do the same, even if it was late. The poster read “1ST ANNUAL YAMAKU ACADEMY HOME ECONOMICS SEMINAR, HOSTED BY STUDENT COUNCIL PRESIDENT: SHIZUNE HAKAMICHI,” with an elaborate illustration taking up most of the space underneath. The text was clearly penned by Shizune, while the illustration was clearly… not.
It depicted a swirling cornucopia of different fruits and vegetables, a rainbow of colors that ran together as they drew in towards the middle of the picture. At the very center was a picnic basket with its top open like a gaping mouth, taking in the melded sludge of food selections. It was quite jarring to look at; both Hanako and Misha immediately knew who had drawn it. Shizune looked at them expectantly, as though they were supposed to clap now.
“Err… did you draw that, Rin?” Misha asked.
“Yes,” Rin answered.
“It’s v-very…” Hanako started, failing to go any further.
“It’s… it’s pretty, Rin~!” Misha insisted.
Shizune nodded in approval, aiming an arm towards Rin with hand held open in presentation.
“Introducing: The Student Council Artistic Designer, Rin Tezuka!” she announced.
“A-artistic… director?” Hanako asked, a little shocked.
“Designer,” Rin corrected her.
“You painted something for the council, Rin?” Lilly asked.
“Well. I’m sure it’s very beautiful!”
“It certainly is,” Takashi agreed.
Misha smiled at Rin, giving Hanako a nudging elbow to do the same. She managed a small, if awkward, smile of her own. For her part, Rin seemed unaffected by any of this. Reclaiming the room’s attention with a snap, Shizune launched into a clearly rehearsed speech about the proud traditions of Japanese culinary arts and the importance of well-prepared food. Her voice was much louder and stronger than it had been a couple of weeks ago, impressive in its use of tone and enunciation. Without prior knowledge, it would be hard to tell that she was deaf.
Once she finished the short speech, Shizune directed them into the kitchen, where their supplies were already laid out. A pair of saucepans rested on the stove while a mesh strainer was ready in the sink; on the countertop could be found salt, sheets of seaweed, cups of fish flakes, measuring utensils, and of course copious amounts of rice.
“R-riceballs?” Hanako asked.
“Correct,” Takashi said.
“Onigiri are a lunchtime staple!” Shizune remarked, another line that sounded like she’d been waiting to use it. “You can put many things in them. Today, we start simple,” she continued, sounding more natural.
“Mmm~! They look yummy already!” Misha exclaimed.
Takashi raised an eyebrow at her, then nudged Rin, prompting her to follow him over to the countertop.
“Excuse me… There is a voice I do not recognize. May I ask who you are?” Lilly asked, turning her head in Takashi’s direction. Her gaze tracked him as he walked across the kitchen, following his footsteps.
“This is Takashi Maeda. He was in the art club with me. Now we’re in the Student Council instead,” Rin explained.
“You must be Lilly Satou. Shizune speaks highly of you,” Takashi said.
“My my. So polite!” Lilly said, using a giggle to hide her surprise at this comment.
the new council members?!” Misha asked, mouth agape.
“What’s so strange about that? The Student Council is a noble calling!” Takashi countered, looking a bit peeved at her incredulity.
Another loud snap interrupted their conversation.
“What’s this about?” Shizune asked, turning pointedly to Takashi.
Takashi opened his mouth to speak, paused, then closed it and began to motion in sign language. His movements were stiff and awkward—even Hanako could tell that he was a beginner. Still, Shizune watched him patiently, appearing to understand without needing any further clarification.
“I should have explained. I forgot!” Shizune said. “Rin and Takashi are new members. Takashi is the Council Historian!” she said proudly.
“It’s… not as important as it sounds,” Takashi said, looking a bit sheepish.
“He’s supposed to keep records of what we do. So far he just does doodles of the president,” Rin said.
“I don’t!… Only
do that!” Takashi protested.
“Historian? You’re just like Saki,” Misha said. “She couldn’t draw though. Wahaha~!”
“Saki? The, uhh… cane girl?” Takashi asked.
“Yeah~! She was the historian before you. She never did anything though! Shicchan always complained about it. So you’re probably way better than her! Ahaha~!”
“My goodness! Are we here to cook, or to gossip about every former member of the Student Council? I’m rather dreading my turn…” Lilly said.
“Enough talk!” Shizune said, cutting through the chatter. “Learn first. Then talk!” she said, pointing emphatically to the cooking setup.
They were definitely going to run past lunch at this rate. Misha wondered if Shizune had planned from the start to use this as a way to skip afternoon classes…
After Shizune handed out recipes—one printed out for each participant, of course, from a healthy stack Shizune had brought—she ran briefly through the steps, then insisted that learning is doing, and so they began. The process started by washing the rice, boiling it in the saucepan, then allowing it to rest and steam for a short time. This produced a fair amount of downtime in between steps during which the participants could talk freely. Rin and Takashi gravitated towards watching (and occasionally correcting) Hanako and Misha, while Shizune and Lilly worked together on the second set.
“We were supposed to do the other ones on our own, but I don’t think Shizune knew Lilly would come. This works just as well, I suppose,” Takashi remarked.
“I’m surprised that, umm… that Sh-Shicchan and Lilly are, err, t-together…” Hanako said.
“Why wouldn’t they be?” Takashi asked.
“No reason. No reason at all~! Wahaha~!” Misha said.
Rin raised her stubs.
“Someone with hands has to help Lilly, if anyone does. Can’t be me.”
“Lilly is the former vice president, correct? I’m sure she and Shizune have much to catch up on,” Takashi speculated.
“Uhh, yeah, Tacchan~! Yeah~! That’s exactly right! Wahaha~!” Misha agreed, flailing her arms around for emphasis.
“So h-how did you, and R-Rin, uhh… end up in the c-council?” Hanako started.
“Maybe Rin should tell that story,” Takashi said.
“It’s not a very good story. When I didn’t want to do the exhibition, Nomiya got pretty angry at me. He said that I wasn’t an artist after all. Takashi heard it and he was pretty angry about that. So they yelled some. I didn’t listen, I just left,” Rin started.
“R-Rin! Really?!” Hanako said, clutching her blouse. “That sounds aw-awful!”
“What was awful, was how that fat, that fat, old… toad
talked to her,” Takashi said, nodding at Rin. “The best art student Yamaku has ever
had. That’s what my parents said about Rin, and Nomiya acted like, like she was… some sort of weird teacher’s pet of his. He couldn’t appreciate that her unique perspective only thrives outside the artificial constraints imposed by contemporary creative institutions!”
“Whoa, slow down! Whaaat~?” Misha asked.
“I think he means Nomiya was mean to me,” Rin said. “Takashi, it’s nothing fancy like that. I just didn’t want to do it.”
“Well, my opinion stands.”
“…your p-parents met R-Rin? Uhh…”
“Not in person. They know of most students in the school, though. They’re on the board of directors, and they’re minor art collectors themselves. My mother nearly had a fainting spell when she laid eyes upon Rin’s work, such was its innovation and beauty.”
“Wasn’t that just the mural I painted for the festival?” Rin asked, sounding thoroughly unimpressed with herself.
a mural!” Takashi snorted. “Such humility. You can afford to take at least a little
credit for yourself, you know. After all, it was your rebellion that finally woke me from the stagnating pit of that fetid oaf’s excuse for a ‘club!’”
“I think you deserve the credit. Your drawings of Shizune are very good. Your technique is especially detailed on her boobs,” Rin said.
“Wh-what?! Rin, it is… not!
My portraits do not linger upon her… chest!
“Pwahahaha~!” Misha blurted.
Even Hanako had to laugh at this.
“What’s so funny?” Rin asked, leaning over the pan of rice to examine its consistency. “I think it needs a few more minutes. Shizune has very well-defined boobs. I think it’s fair to give them attention in matching amounts.”
From the corner of her eye, Hanako could see Lilly’s ears perking up at the far end of the counter. Shizune looked momentarily quizzical as Lilly stifled a laugh. Thank goodness Shizune couldn’t hear any of this, Hanako thought.
“W-wait, so…” Hanako interrupted. “I still don’t know h-how you… joined Sh-Shicchan?”
“Well, that part was simple, really,” Takashi said, happy to change the subject. “I was rather upset the next day. I had to quit the art club as well, of course. Set adrift without a purpose, I felt my pen languishing away, lacking any muse from which to derive inspiration. Noticing my dark mood, Shizune approached me and asked of my condition. I laid bare our troubles, and…”
“She asked if we wanted to hang out with her and talk about it,” Rin continued for him. “So then this just sort of happened. It turns out she’s a really good listener. Did you know that?” Rin asked.
“Wahahaha~! No wonder Shicchan likes you two,” Misha said.
“What do you mean?” Takashi asked.
“Well~! You’re just—I don’t know. Very serious!”
“Dr-driven!” Hanako added.
“Driven! Hm…” Takashi said, looking down and holding his chin in contemplation.
“Oh no. Now you’ve gone and done it,” Rin said.
“That’s his inspiration look. He’ll probably draw a picture of you now.”
“Wh-what?!” Hanako protested.
“Aha! That’s an excellent idea!” Takashi responded, jumping back to life. “Would you terribly mind?” he implored Hanako. “I already have a title in mind! ‘The Driven Purpose!’”
“A-ahh! I, uhh! I d-don’t know! Why is it a picture of m-m-me!”
“Also a good question! Let me consider…” he said, going back to his thinking pose.
Rin shook her head.
“We’re never going to eat rice at this rate,” she said.
“You’re the sensey one now, are you, Rin~?” Misha asked.
“S-sensey?” Hanako and Takashi asked together.
“She means ‘sensible,’” Rin clarified. “I don’t think I am, but I never know these days.”
“The president is the most sensible among us, of course. Hmm.”
Takashi tested the rice with a single chopstick, seeing that it had fully absorbed most of the water it had been boiled in.
“I believe we’re ready for the next step. Rin, would you do us the honor?”
Rin nodded, picking up a spoonful of salt in her mouth and turning her head sideways to pour it into a bowl. She nudged it towards Hanako with a stub, reminding her that at this stage, they would fill the bowl with water and dampen their hands in it before handling the rice, thus adding a salty hint to it without overpowering its flavor.
“Th-thanks, Rin. We can do the rest, if you w-want,” Hanako offered.
“It’s not a problem. I like using my mouth,” Rin said.
“Aha~! You’re good with your mouth, Rin, are you, hmm~!” Misha said, barely containing her laughter behind a mischievous smirk.
“I think so,” Rin agreed.
“The things she can do with her mouth alone are fairly amazing. I’ve witnessed it firsthand!” Takashi said.
“—Wahahahaha~! Aha, hahaha~! S-sorry, I—”
Misha collapsed into another heap of laughter. Hanako wrung her hands near her chest, looking down to hide the fact that she was smiling a bit herself. She’d caught on to Misha’s little joke somewhere between the “wa” and the third “ha.”
“M-Misha… quit being g-goofy!” Hanako said, hooking an arm under her shoulder to pull her back up.
“Yes, let’s return to the task at hand,” Takashi said.
“S-sorry, she’s… always like th-this. Don’t mind h-her…” Hanako said.
“I don’t,” Rin said.
As they began to separate out and knead together the rice balls, filling them carefully with fish flakes, Hanako watched Lilly and Shizune from the side of her view. They seemed to be getting along well enough… they spoke in much lower tones than Hanako and the others, probably because one of them was barely talking at all, with Lilly not needing to put any volume behind her words. Hanako noticed that Shizune leaned in very close to Lilly’s face whenever Lilly spoke, watching her lips carefully to make sure she caught every syllable. Perhaps the freedom to do that without seeming weird actually made Lilly easier for Shizune to talk to, when she did it this way. Combined with their subdued voices, it also would’ve made them seem like an intimate couple engaged in a sensitive conversation, if Hanako hadn’t known any better.
Hanako jumped a bit as she felt Misha’s hands join around her waist from behind.
“They look really nice, don’t they~?” Misha said, her head resting on Hanako’s shoulder.
Hanako looked over her other shoulder at Rin and Takashi, who seemed oblivious to the world for the time being. Rin was making strange shapes out of the rice, manipulating it with her stubs and a chopstick clenched between her teeth, while Takashi stared on as if studying a mad genius at work. For all they knew that was exactly what he was seeing, Hanako thought.
“Y-yeah… they seem, I don’t know… b-better?” Hanako replied.
“Mmhmm. I think so.”
As they looked on, the interaction heated up a bit—Shizune attempted to take Lilly’s hands in her own, which Lilly did not seem to appreciate. Their voices rose slightly for a moment, then Shizune tried again, her hands slower and gentler this time as they took Lilly’s and moved them over the first portion of rice. Hanako guessed that Lilly didn’t actually need any help kneading the rice into its proper shape, but maybe she was allowing this as a way to connect a bit with Shizune. Touch was the only sense they could really share, after all.
“Y-you should close your eyes, Misha.”
“Hmm~? Are you going to make me guess, Hacchan?”
“Sort of. I w-want… to h-help you make rice balls, l-like them.”
“Aha~! That’s cute, Hacchan! Sure, of course~!”
Turning back towards their own side of the counter, Hanako saw that Rin was still working on the first one, having turned it into… something. She had no idea what kind of shape it was, but it definitely wasn’t a ball.
“Whatcha doing, Rin? That isn’t a ball~!” Misha said.
“Shhh. She’s creating art,” Takashi said.
“Waha~! Okay, Tacchan, if you say so!”
“Cl-close your eyes, Misha! No more looking!”
“Oops~! Sorry Hacchan!”
Hanako switched positions with Misha, pressing her front to Misha’s back and moving her arms out over Misha’s own. She was reminded of a time that Misha had been the one to guide her hands… her thoughts wandered somewhat into that memory, though not so much that she couldn’t keep to the current task. It was a bit awkward trying to maneuver someone else’s fingers to shape the rice but Hanako didn’t mind the excuse to keep her hands on Misha’s, lacing their digits together a bit more than was really needed.
“Aha~! There~! It’s perfect, Hacchan. You’re good at this!”
“M-Misha! No looking! We’re not done!”
“Oh~? We’re going to do them all like this?”
“Alright, Hacchan. You’re the boss!”
“You’re bossing people now? You must have done it too, Hanako,” Rin said. “It’s good, isn’t it?”
“Wh-what do you mean, Rin?” Hanako asked.
“She means… you changed, Hacchan!” Misha explained.
“Oh? Really? H-how?”
“Well. The old you wasn’t the boss of anyone!” Misha said.
Rin nodded in agreement.
“Not many people can be the boss of Misha. Shizune is the only other one. Maybe not even her, now,” Rin observed.
“Ah… I don’t th-think I’m anyone’s boss…” Hanako said bashfully.
“Nah~. You totally are, Hacchan.”
Misha leaned her head back against the side of Hanako’s neck, then turned her face sideways to give Hanako a quick kiss.
“Mwah~! You can boss me around allll~ day!”
“Careful, ladies! Public displays of affection are strictly forbidden!” Takashi reprimanded them.
“M-M-Misha!” Hanako exclaimed, turning red.
“Whoops~. Sorry! Ahaha~!”
“Okay, M-Misha… I or-order you, to… make all these rice b-b-balls!”
“Your order is my command, Queen Hacchan~!”
“I think you two are better at this than me,” Rin said.
“Still so humble! Just look at what you’ve created,” Takashi disagreed.
“Yeah. I think it was supposed to be a ball. So now I’ve learned that it’s hard to make balls without hands.”
“…You mean this whole time, you were trying to make it into a ball?” Takashi asked, dumbfounded.
“…What did you think I was doing?”
“I thought you were creating a work of art! Why didn’t you say anything! I would’ve been happy to help!”
“Cooking is art, Takashi. That’s what Lilly taught me.”
Once all of the balls had been made, the final step was to simply wrap them in strips of seaweed and they were ready to eat. Hanako tried to have Misha only wrap the bottoms, but her girlfriend had gotten a bit feisty with their arrangement, trying repeatedly to wrap the strips all the way around their targets. She was probably trying to use them all up faster so they could go ahead and eat, Hanako thought. Clever, but no cigar—Hanako kept a firm grip on Misha’s hands every time they tried to wander too far off course.
“You seem like you are learning sign language, Tacchan~?” Misha asked.
“Yes. Speaking with Shizune inspired me to pursue the craft. She made such an effort to speak in our language, I thought it only fair that I be able to speak in hers.”
“Th-that’s really nice of you,” Hanako said.
“It may also prove convenient when my ear is being especially troublesome.”
“I’m glad he’s doing it. I couldn’t be the new Misha,” Rin said.
“Is that what I am? I suppose I could be Shizune’s new translator. I would consider it an honor, I think,” Takashi said.
“Waha~! Don’t get too excited, Tacchan. I’m coming back soooon~!” Misha warned him.
“Ahh… w-we’ll miss you, Misha,” Hanako said. “In the… n-newspaper club,” she clarified.
“Newspaper club? We all have our crafts, it seems,” Takashi said. “What do you write?”
“Uhhh…” Hanako stalled.
“I haven’t written anything yet. But~! I’m definitely going to write my first recipe this week! Hacchan helped me a lot, and I think I can finally use the computer, a little bit~!” Misha said.
“Your first recipe?” Takashi asked.
“It’s going to be a cooking writing, of course~! If I’m going to write about anything, it has~ to be food. I thought I would make a parfait piece, but~, now I think I will start with onigiri, and work my way up!”
“W-will you have time, Misha? Th-there’s only one more edition before…” Hanako pointed out.
“Hmm~. Well, maybe I can write and
be the vice president! I’ll do it somehow! For sure~!” Misha said.
“You seem quite driven yourself, Misha. I can see why Shizune selected you as her vice president,” Takashi said.
“Thanks, Tacchan~!… Ack! Sorry Hacchan~!”
Misha had jerked her hands in excitement at the compliment, tearing the current strip of seaweed in half.
“Whoops~! Was that our last one? Shoot~! I guess we’re all done. Time to eat! Wahaha~!”
“Y-you did that on p-purpose, Misha!”
“No way, Hacchan. I would never~!”
“Y-you are so b-bad… let’s just eat one, s-sure.”
“How did yours turn out?” Lilly asked, tapping over to them with Shizune at her side.
Opening her eyes and breaking her hands from Hanako’s, Misha took the unwrapped rice ball and popped the whole thing into her mouth, her cheeks puffing out as she munched steadily on it, muffled sounds of happiness conveying her satisfaction with the finished product. Shizune touched her forehead and shook it lightly, while Takashi looked like he didn’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted. Hanako turned her around and brushed a few grains of rice from her lips, resisting the urge to take them off in a different way.
“Tr-try to leave some for us, M-Misha…”
“They’re good, then, I take it?” Lilly continued.
“Mmpff hmmppf! Schuper duper~!” Misha assured her.
Shizune walked over to Rin’s one attempt at a riceball and eyed it warily.
“What’s this?” she asked. “Rice… patty?”
“Rin said cooking is art, so… I believe it’s meant to be an abstract statement on—ah!”
Takashi stopped himself mid-sentence as Shizune gave him a piercing look. He cleared his throat, then resumed speaking, this time trying to sign along with his voice.
“I think it’s—”
He paused and scrunched up his face, his ability to use elaborate language completely stolen by the necessity of matching it in signs.
“—It’s an artistic interpretation of a riceball,” he finally said.
Shizune smirked, holding in a laugh at this explanation. Then she pointed at the “artistic interpretation.”
“Try,” she commanded.
“It’s Rin’s, so~! She should have the first bite!” Misha said.
“Good idea,” Lilly agreed.
Rin shrugged, then leaned down and bit off a portion, looking thoughtful as she chewed and swallowed.
“It tastes like rice,” she declared.
Takashi nodded sagely at this deep commentary while the girls shook with silent laughter. Shizune clapped her hands in approval of the tasting, then spread her arms wide.
“Eat!” she said.
“Let me try yours, Hanako,” Lilly said, holding a hand out. Hanako placed a riceball into it, which Lilly rolled deftly around with her fingers.
“Hmm. A bit lumpy, but not bad. Certainly not for a first attempt,” she said.
“Those lumps are alll~ Hacchan’s fault. I tried to do it properly, but she wouldn’t let me! She kept making my fingers do weird stuff!” Misha said.
“N-no! Misha, that’s not—”
“Here, Hacchan~! You try!” Misha said, stuffing another riceball into Hanako’s mouth to silence her. She accepted, biting off a large chunk, albeit with a lingering pout on her face. The frown went away as she continued to chew.
“Mmm. They really are good,” Hanako said after swallowing the bite. “Even if M-Misha kept trying to m-mess them up!”
“Did not! Did not, did not, did not~!”
“Hmph! H-how… how were y-yours, Lilly?”
“I believe they came out well. Shizune was… helpful. I must admit, I’ve never thought about damping one’s hands in saltwater, rather than adding salt directly. It does affect the flavor.”
Lilly motioned towards the other end of the counter, where eight rice balls sat neatly on their seats of seaweed. Their shape was impeccable, all eight uniform in size and volume, in contrast to the more amateurish attempts on Hanako’s side. Whatever difficulties Lilly and Shizune may have had working together didn’t show in their results.
“Mmm~! They look soo~ good, Lilly!”
Misha bounced right over to the other set of rice balls to eat one. Sensing this, Lilly tutted at her.
“Try not to eat too many at once, Misha…”
Misha nodded at her, not wanting to speak through an already-full mouth of rice and fish flakes.
“Uhh… she n-nodded at you, Lilly.” Hanako translated.
“Some things never change, it seems. But others…”
Her head turned slightly to the other side, towards Rin, Shizune and Takashi. The latter two conversed in mixed sign and spoken language, with occasional comments from Rin. The current subject seemed to be a lively debate on whether the artistic aspect of cooking lay in the appearance of the food or the taste.
“Maybe things can ch-change, Lilly,” Hanako said.
“Perhaps they can. I think you should move along… as much fun as this has been, we’ve surely missed part of our afternoon class by now.”
“Don’t worry about that. The president has declared the Home Economics Seminar as an extra credit session. The teachers approved it. Or somebody did, at least,” Rin said, turning towards them.
“Told you~!” Misha added from their other side.
“St-still… I don’t want to just m-miss all day… and if we don’t go soon, M-Misha will eat everything!”
“Hacchan~! I will not!”
“If you’re done, th-then… let’s go?”
“Grrr. Alright, Hacchan. You’re the boss, after all~! We’ll definitely hang out some more later, everyone. I had a lot of fun~! I’m going to write about this in the newspaper for sure!”
“Ah, Lilly, Shicchan… you should come to the newspaper club, and meet Naomi, and N-Natsume. They’d like to see you, I think…”
Takashi relayed this to Shizune, who adjusted her glasses while considering for a moment.
“A meeting may be proper, yes,” she agreed. “Talk after class later.”
“Okay, Sh-Shicchan. Thanks for teaching us today… I really ap-appreciate it.”
Shizune smiled and nodded at Hanako. They all waved goodbye, then Rin and Takashi stepped out, the latter holding their rice-thing carefully in both hands. Hanako and Misha went after them.
“Lilly? Are you coming?” Misha asked, pausing and looking back.
“In a bit. I’d like to stay a moment and speak to Shizune,” Lilly said.
Misha looked to Shizune, seeing approval in the president’s eyes. She tugged on Hanako’s hand.
“Okay! Let’s go, Hacchan~!”
Hanako gave one last look over her shoulder before they turned into the hallway, seeing Lilly walking back towards the dining room table with her hand on Shizune’s sleeve. They were right about to sit down next to each other when they disappeared from view. She turned back to Misha to catch her with a guilty look on her face and rice on her lips.
“M-Misha! You ate another one?!”
“Aha~! Sorry, Hacchan!”
“That’s o-okay… let me help…”
Hanako looked back one more time to make sure no one could see them. Rin and Takashi had turned another corner farther down the hallway… now she could get that rice off Misha’s lips the way she really wanted to.
| Chapter 37