Is This Love?
September 23, Saturday.
It had been a busy day, more so because of our increasing popularity amongst the visitors. The tales of high-quality food and service flew far and wide. Even more inviting was the fact that only eight tables were set up inside, and thus, anybody who had a chance to dine inside was considered to be a very lucky person. A prestige, if you will.
The people coming in were all very tactful, and to a certain degree, humorous, as they never revealed the proceedings inside the ‘Redundant Restaurant’. Not even the forums had any information about the restaurant, only praises and compliments filled the entire page. Even the other teachers were curious about our establishment, but they were effectively unable to enter and dine during business hours. And due to Nakano-sensei’s stubbornness, they weren’t allowed to make Takumi work even an extra minute.
Everybody in our class acknowledged Takumi’s burden and the harsh predicament he was in but were unable to do anything about it. The most they could do was to let him rest frequently and not stop him when he wanted to leave. Also, money. Almost fifty percent of the money earned was given to Takumi under my unyielding determination. Except for Aoki-kun and myself, nobody knew about Takumi’s circumstances within our class, therefore, I couldn’t compromise on this point, there was only one person who objected to my plea, and that was Takumi himself, however, after my constant pestering, he gave in.
“Ara~ Minami~ This sure is a great place, huh?”
“Mother, you should order soon… You do realize how much I had to plead to get you in here, right?”
My mother silently nodded at my suggestion and proceeded to open the menu I presented her with. My mother’s presence was fine, my father’s was even better as he remained indifferent and unaffected to most matters, however, the main problem was the person staring intently at Takumi, that is, my sister. Her gaze hadn’t left Takumi’s being ever since she stepped into the restaurant.
Takumi had even returned her gaze once or twice with a smile. However, the scorn in my sister’s eyes had never once wavered. My sister was currently immersed in her judging-mode, even at the age of a college student, she resembled those housewives in the neighborhood who’d judge without reason and pass comments about anyone they see. However, in the face of such keen and observing eyes, Takumi remained calm and continued to cook the delicacies that he was being revered for by all the customers.
“I’ll have this, this, this, this, and…”
My mother names multiple dishes, whose names I jotted on my little notepad. When my mother was done reciting the order, my father added to the order and ordered a drink, and finally, my sister spoke with a mysterious voice.
“Hey, Minami… According to the explanation provided, we can choose to sit on the of those stools placed around the chef’s station, right?”
A bad premonition suddenly crept up in my mind… I tried to keep as I possibly could as I replied.
“W-Well… Yes, you can. However, won’t it just be irritating? The heat and the smell?”
“Oh? You don’t have to worry about that… My dearest little sister.”
Her smile is scaaaary~ Takumi, make sure you survive this. My sister stood up from her chair and proceeded to sit on one of the stools placed around the circumference of the circle known as the chef station.
I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but from the changing expression of my sister, I could tell that she was losing in whatever verbal argument she was having with Takumi. I could see her cheeks turning a faint shade of red sometimes and sometimes her lips formed a slight pout of dissatisfaction. And during all of these times, Takumi remained calm and smiled gently as his lips moved and poured words which caused my sister to change her expression every minute.
At about 3 PM, my family left the premises of the school as my father had things to do at his workplace, and after a while, when the ingredients were exhausted and the people were worn out, we allocated funds to some people so that they could replenish the ingredients, and the remaining people grouped and sat in a circle with a drink in everyone’s hands.
Many people decided to tour around the festival, and as such, there were only sixteen of us, twelve of whom were girls, and the rest were boys. I was one of the girls as well because Takumi was sitting here as he was too tired to visit other classes. The other boys were Aoki-kun, Samaha-kun, and Katai-kun. Aoki-kun was one of the people who was supposed to go and retrieve the ingredients, but he begged and begged and begged to Takumi… and that’s how his presence here came to be.
“Another day, another victory! Cheers!”
Nakano-sensei sure is in a good mood.
“Sensei, we didn’t win anything, you know?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Our profits today are an astronomical figure compared to yesterday’s, that in itself is a victory.”
“I agree with Sensei.”
“You have no right to express your opinions, Katai-kun.”
“You just stood around and carried some boxes… Now that I think about it, you are no different than a donkey.”
“Woah! Katai took that one head-on!”
“He can’t argue with his girlfriend. Every man’s pain. It’ll be alright Katai.”
Sitting around, joking and laughing, the class truly resembles a family. Even Nakano-sensei is heartily laughing with us.
“Hey, hey, nobody has asked Kawashima-kun about his cooking skills yet!”
One of the girls exclaimed with an excited expression. Her gaze locked on Takumi’s face. Takumi just continued to drink while keeping his legs folded and an arm on his thigh.
“Yes, Kawashima-kun, we want to know as well… Are your parents working in the culinary industry?”
As soon as she said this, I could feel my hands go cold. My heart instantly felt heavy as if it was hit with a sledgehammer. However, there was one more person whose expression seemed to worsen instead of glowing up, and that was, Nakano-sensei.
“No, it isn’t that my parents are in the culinary industry. It’s just that I was interested in cooking from a young age and have done it for more than eight years.”
“Is that so~? Is that so~? You work part-time as well, right?”
“Well!? Where do you work? Maybe we can visit?”
It seemed like after what had transpired, everyone was interested in Takumi, though it made me feel a bit jealous, I was feeling more heaviness and gloom than anything at this moment. I wanted to stop them, but I wasn’t able to get a single word in.
“It’s the Oracle managed restaurant in Shibuya. I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think you guys will be able to come there by yourselves.”
All of the girls hurriedly took out their phones as they looked up the restaurant mentioned by Takumi. Due to Miya’s encounter, I was already aware of it though, and I honestly am not satisfied. Watching my beloved work so hard for his family and not receive anything in return… Watching him tirelessly take on all the tasks on by himself and complete them with perfection…
Nobody knows him more than I do… His burdens… His fatigue and tiredness… If only I could take them all away from him… Wouldn’t that be just perfect…
I could feel a tear forming at the edge of my eye as I hastily retreated from the class and ran toward the bathroom.
The tears just wouldn’t stop… I don’t know why… My heart hurts so much… It hurts… Is this love… Watching the one you love in pain and unintentionally tearing up… Is this love… This unconditional and pure feeling… This feeling of loss and regret… This feeling of doing anything you can to make the one you love smile… If this is love… Then it’s the most painful yet beautiful thing in this world.
I wiped my tears as I recalled the words said to me by my sister before she left.
“This boy… Kawashima, was it? At Least he’s not like the previous one… However, he seems like there’s more to him… His behavior, his composure, his expression, it was like I was talking to a mature and sophisticated man who has experienced many things in his life… He’s not a bad guy… He’s a repulsive and hateful brat… I am reluctant, but at least he’ll keep you safe, so I approve of him.”
Even my sister had approved of him, so I know that he is an awesome person…The final knot in my heart that held me back has finally been untied as well… Now all I need is a little courage…
I washed my face and decided to head back to my classroom, and as soon as I entered, what I found was that the room was dead silent. There were just some occasional actions of whispering, albeit that, nobody talked and silently sipped on their drinks.
I was afraid that the worst had come to pass and Takumi’s secret was revealed to everyone, but it seemed like heavens had heard my prayers as the actual situation seemed opposite of what I had imagined.
“Hey, you three! Get out now!”
“Kawashima-kun’s sleeping, let him sleep. If not for him, you three wouldn’t be here either, we’ll have some girls talk here, so you all get out!”
One of my classmates exclaimed while keeping her voice low and expression solemn.
“What about Kawashima?”
“Leave him be… He’s sleeping, he won’t be able to hear us.”
“Okay, okay, we’re leaving. No need to show those canines.”
Soon after, three out of the four boys left the class, and as they passed me, they had an envious and jealous expression on their faces. When I took a glance at the situation, there were currently eleven girls in the classrooms excluding me, and there was a certain boy whose breathing was slow and his head was leaning on the back of his chair. Looking at his figure, my body jolted as I finally figured out what had transpired and why were the boys sent outside.
“Ara~ Doesn’t Kawashima-kun look uncomfortable~?”
“He worked so hard for us~ And we’re letting him sleep in such a brutal position, wouldn’t his neck get injured if he slept like this~?”
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was someone who could lend her lap for our dear chef to sleep on~?”
As if coordinated, all of the girls looked at me with sad gazes. EVEN NAKANO-SENSEI!?
One of my classmates got up and arranged the chairs in such a way that there were four chairs beside each other, and on the rightmost chair, Takumi remained peacefully asleep. As if provoking me, she stroked the seat of the leftmost chair as she shot a glance at me…
My hands and shoulders trembled as my face grew hot. I could feel the eleven gazes burning holes through my body. Well… It won’t be so bad… They already know after all…
Nakano-sensei! Why are you giggling!!??
I uncomfortably walked towards the chair was Takumi was sleeping as I shot a hateful gaze toward my female classmates who were busy giggling. I grabbed Takumi’s shoulders as I slowly brought him down and after sitting on the leftmost chair, I placed his head on my lap. Another girl came over while giggling as she grabbed both of Takumi’s legs and placed them on the chair on which he was previously seated. At this point, he was comfortably laying down as his body was nicely stretched.
What am I? A pillow? All I’ve been doing is giving him lap pillows. Well… This situation isn’t that bad either… I subconsciously started shuffling Takumi’s hair as if it was the most natural thing to do.
After about two minutes, when I finally managed to take my gaze off of Takumi’s face, what I saw was an infatuated and dazed expression of all the others present.
“She looked just like a loving mother…”
“Hmph! That Kawashima-kun! He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.”
“Ara~ Ara~ A teacher is also here, so you all should restrain yourselves a little.”
“You don’t have the right to speak… The most shocked one of us was you…”
Well… They’re hateful, but they’re still my friends. Isn’t that so, Takumi?
So they’re Minami’s parents, huh? Is that her sister? Why is she staring at me like that?
While I was cooking the food ordered by our esteemed guests, I felt a peculiar gaze piercing my being, and when I identified the culprit, I was surprised to find that it was Minami’s sister. I was wondering if there was any sort of prior contact between us, but I drew a blank as I couldn’t remember meeting her somewhere before.
As soon as Minami received her family’s food order and presented it to me, her sister abruptly stood up and made her way towards our humble chef station. She came over and sat down on the stool placed directly in front of me, only the wall separated our bodies, if we were to converse now, nobody would be able to hear it except probably my two fellow chefs.
“How can I help you?”
I continued to cook while initiating the conversation.
“Do you know who I am?”
It seemed like she was in thought, after which, her agitated expression changed to a playful and friendly one.
“I’ve heard a lot about you from my little sister… Kawashima Takumi, was it?”
“Yes. It’s my pleasure to have met you today, Fujiwara-san, though I do not know your full name. I apologize for my ignorance.”
A glint of shock passed through Minami’s sister’s eyes as she replied after a bit of contemplation.
“My first name is Mizuha. Just address me as ‘Fujiwara-san’.”
“Understood. Then please, do tell me, how can I help you? Isn’t it uncomfortable sitting here? If you wish to view the cooking process, you can sit on the stools over there.”
I pointed towards the stools which were out of the ‘chef range’ so to speak, the heat from the cooking wouldn’t be as effective there as it was here.
“No… What I wanted to view was you, not the cooking process.”
I was startled for an instant in the face of her unreserved boldness.
“Is that so? I may not be someone worthy to be looked at, but please feel free to do so.”
What the hell am I saying? Listening to my reply, Mizuha’s expression changed as she appeared to be a little flustered.
“*Cough* Tell me, what do you think of our Minami?”
She straight-up went into a marriage-meeting mode?
“She is a very dear friend of mine and a supportive classmate. Also, she gives amazing lap pillows…”
“Huh? Lap pillows? Whatever, it doesn’t matter… Tell me… How do you find her as someone of the opposite sex?”
I looked over to where Minami was busy attending to customers with a wide smile on her face and replied without hesitating.
It seemed like Mizuha was taken aback by my answer as she said in a shocked tone.
“That was a fast answer!”
She then took a long breath to calm herself down.
“Not even the slightest bit of hesitation, huh?”
She then proceeded to fan herself with her hand as the steam coming from the pan I was cooking on became intense. Was it deliberately or subconsciously, but she pulled her t-shirt to a large degree, the space between her skin and the shirt was enough for me to glance inside. However, I just continued cooking as I was uninterested in such things.
Mizuha then abruptly leaned forward and placed her arms on the platform separating both of us, revealing the black undergarment she was wearing to cover her well-endowed chest. I just glanced at her face for a second and continued to cook with an indifferent expression, my gentle smile disappearing from my face subconsciously.
I could hear an embarrassed and shocked gasp coming from my north as I was ready to arrange the prepared food into the plate. I looked up and saw Mizuha’s beet-red face. It took a little while for her to calm down, and when she did, she looked at me with an inquisitive gaze.
“You are quite the absurd individual. Do tell me, are you interested in older women?”
Her expression turned coquettish as her body radiated a seductive charm.
“If it’s someone like you, then no.”
Was it too insulting? I did hold back though…
I could see Mizuha’s shoulders trembling as she bit her lower lip. Then she abruptly stood up and rushed toward her table. I didn’t understand what had occurred, but it seems like the final result is acceptable.
After a bit, the day ended and so did our ingredients. After the people from the class went to get the ingredients, it seemed like I fell asleep for a while as when I woke up, the girls in my class were looking at me with a complicated gaze. Their gaze contained envy and a bit of anger. However, I couldn’t discern the reason as to why they would treat me so.
With confusion still looming in my mind, I silently left and after getting on my motorcycle, I rushed off to my office where my subordinates were anxiously were waiting for my return.