Part 21: House of Sweets ~un petit nid~ (21)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
“…Hiro-kun, that looks salty.”
Rio widened his eyes across the worktable while Kase shook salt onto the Hamburg steak that he had made for the staff lunch. The lunch was pretty late, and Rio was eating a doughnut for his afterschool snack.
“It was lighter for a while though,” Chise said, sounding worried.
Agi gave Kase a side glance but said nothing.
Kase returned the salt shaker and took a bite of his food. He had shaken all that salt on it, but he barely tasted anything. It felt like dry and tasteless rubber. Kase felt like lately his taste buds had become worse than before.
When Kase thought about it, it made him more and more depressed, so he tried not to think about what caused it. As he ate the rubber, a voice called out, “Hey there,” and the greengrocer came in holding a cardboard box.
“Here are the vegetables you ordered. I also got some good apples in, so I brought one for you to try.”
The vendor handed out a slightly smallish apple, and Chise said, “Let’s see, let’s see,” and cut it in half.
“Oh, it has a nice sweet tartness to it. It’s almost fall, so maybe we can do an apple pie. What do you think, Agi-san?”
Chise brought the piece of apple up to Agi’s mouth, and Agi ate it.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Agi nodded.
Chise told the vendor that she wanted 10 apples and signed the sales slip.
Kase looked away from the scene that was similar to an old married couple. He washed down with water the Hamburg steak that was like rubber and excused himself from the kitchen.
He went out the back door to the garden where he crouched under the shade of the crape myrtle tree that had lost all of its flowers and looked at the view in front of him in a daze. Lately he had been spending his breaks out here by himself. He didn’t want to see Agi and Chise together in the kitchen.
It wasn’t that they acted any different from before. They just went about their work normally, but Kase was the one who had changed. When Agi called out, Good job today, he gave Chise a pat on the shoulder. Told jokes and made her laugh. It was only little things like that, but they sent his emotions into a spiral, and Kase couldn’t stand it anymore.
He shouldn’t have eavesdropped on them.
He became all weird because of it. Agi didn’t tell Kase about what Mutou had said, so Kase couldn’t ask him about how it went either. He didn’t think that it would happen, but if by some chance Agi married Chise, Agi would likely enter a world that Kase couldn’t reach.
When Kase thought about this, he became so anxious that he couldn’t contain himself. He would then cling all over Agi, but then he would tell himself that he shouldn’t do this and pull away from him. But when Kase pulled away, it made him anxious, and he would go back to Agi’s side again. With each iteration, his anxiety would grow and grow. The frequent changes in Kase’s attitude also made Agi confused.
The leaves of the crape myrtle rustled overhead as Kase squatted with his head on his knees. He hated the sound of it. It made him remember that dream. Of himself as a child who ate up an entire house of sweets, his hands and face smeared in chocolate and icing. Of Chise and Rio who were thrown in the hearth. Of the forest which only made the sound of rustling leaves.
The low gentle voice blended with the rustling of the leaves. At the edge of his vision as he hung his head, Kase could see the tips of black shoes. He slowly lifted his head, and against the green leaves in the sky, Agi looked down at Kase.
“Is my break time over?”
“No, you still have time.”
Agi crouched down to face Kase.
“We have a day off tomorrow, so how about we go somewhere for fun?”
Kase tilted his head. “But you like lying around the apartment on your day off.”
“Sometimes I feel like going out. How about we take a day trip to a hot spring and eat some good food?”
Kase’s mouth twitched slightly. He couldn’t taste anything properly.
“Just let your eyes feast on the food. Don’t worry about the details so much.”
Agi pinched Kase’s nose, and Kase lifted the corners of his mouth. Sunlight filtered through the leaves onto them as they crouched on the ground together and talked like junior high school kids. Kase squinted his eyes at this too bright world.
“You’ve only now realized it?”
“You could be colder to me.”
“Liar. You get lonely easily,” Agi laughed.
It was true. He was too lonely, and he wanted more than he was given, and he tormented himself over it. Kase got up, thinking he was like an idiot.
“I have plans tomorrow,” he said without looking into Agi’s eyes. He finished his break and went over to the storeroom.
Kase blended the flour according to the shop’s recipe as he thought about what he would do tomorrow. Since he had said that, he would have to pass his time outside. Maybe he should go to a real estate agency? He couldn’t stay at Agi’s apartment forever. He probably couldn’t think straight because he was too close to Agi.
Maybe he would calm down if he put some distance between them—
His hand scooping the flour stopped. Kase wanted to be with Agi forever, so why was he devising a plan to separate himself from him? What was with the irony of this situation? His hand went limp and dropped the measuring cup. Kase hung his head and gazed at the cup that rolled on the floor of the dim storeroom.
It was the second Thursday of October. Today was Rio’s birthday, and the bakery closed early at 3 pm.
After putting up the closed sign, Chise busied herself with preparations for the cake and food while Agi went all out with the birthday decorations and decorated the dining area with balloons and papercrafts. Agi had grown up in a children’s home, and he still held a grudge from when he received vegetable cookies for his birthday. Now that he was an adult, he had spent an entire week ahead of time working on birthday decorations so that Rio wouldn’t experience that same misery.
Kase’s role was to keep Rio away from the bakery until the preparations were ready. Rio seemed to understand this, and he said that he wanted to go to the park to play catch.
“I wonder what presents I’ll get this year. Will Mommy get me pastels, you think?”
Underneath a large ginkgo tree, Rio wore a smile full of anticipation as he tossed a ball over.
“If you told her that you wanted them, she’ll probably get them for you.”
Kase caught the ball and tossed it back with a single bounce.
“I didn’t tell her that I wanted them. Because she bought me new crayons and paints when I started first grade… But I love pastels because they’re so nice and soft.”
“Right. Your drawings are nice and soft too, Rio.”
“But if I get something else, I’ll be sure to say thank you for it. It’s okay if it’s different. This year, it’s my birthday, but it’s also a party for Mommy too.”
“A party for Mommy?” Kase asked.
Rio giggled happily as he looked at Kase. “Hiro-kun, did you hear about it from Uncle?”
“Hear about what?”
Kase had a bad feeling about it, and his heart trembled.
“Maybe it’s still a secret? But it should be okay to tell you, Hiro-kun. Guess what? I saw something the other day. When there weren’t any people in the store, Uncle Agi went to see Mommy in the storeroom and gave her a ring. He said that it was an engagement ring. That it had been late.”
Fog suddenly clouded the inside of his head.
“But she doesn’t wear it at work. It’s bad if the ring gets in the bread. But when the store is closed, she’ll put it on at home. And you know what Mommy said? She told Uncle Agi that she never thought that she would get one after all this time. She was so happy that she cried.”
Rio bounced the ball like a basketball and smiled.
“Hiro-kun, an engagement ring means that they’ll get married soon, right? So does that mean Uncle Agi will be my Daddy?”
Rio tossed the ball over. Kase stood there in a daze, and the ball bounced away along the ground. His feet felt heavy as he went to get it, and he wanted to crouch down and sit.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.