The first lights of dawn peeked into the kitchen.
Akane was busy presenting her food on the table.
Salmon baked in aluminum foil, mushroom miso soup, and mixed rice (Takikomi Gohan (Japanese Mixed Rice) 炊き込みご飯 • Just One Cookbook). It is usually unthinkable one could prepare this much in such a short amount of time before class.
Saito used his chopsticks to unwrap the aluminum sheet, letting the steam escape along with the sweet aroma. It had an exquisite taste, much different from normal salmon.
There were a wide variety of mushrooms in the miso soup, from enokitake (Enokitake – Wikipedia), to shiitake (Shiitake – Wikipedia), to nameko (Pholiota microspora – Wikipedia), creating a great mix of taste.
Meanwhile, every grain of rice in the mixed rice dish was thoroughly soaked with soy sauce, and the crispiness of gobo (Arctium lappa – Wikipedia) and carrot gave it a superb texture.
“So? I want to hear your honest thoughts.”
Akane asked with a smug face in her uniform and apron.
“I don’t think it’s wise to try so hard for a mere breakfast like this.”
“Which means, this is the best meal ever, right? So you admitted losing to me, and so, you have to listen to my every command, yes?”
“Why am I a loser for praising your food?”
“Of course. The dog that ate the kibi dango also followed Momotarou home.”
“I’m not a dog”
“Sorry, I’m mistaken. You’re more like a monkey.”
It’s barely a new day and yet she was abusing him with words. He didn’t like this expression of hers with a touch of contempt. It’s as if the rare cute expressions she showed him lately were lies.
While Saito was thinking to himself if that was just a dream, he asked.
“Then what do you mean by ‘you already have a wife, so being so cozy with another girl is not okay’?”
Akane dropped her miso bowl, and Saito caught it.
They were moments before the disaster. If his instincts were one instant slower, the food would be coated in miso.
“Wh, wh, wh, what do you mean by what do I mean?”
Akane’s eyes flickered, sweats gushing out.
“Exactly what I mean… I want to know what’s in your mind when you said that.”
“N, nothing special, I didn’t have anything special in mind! I didn’t know why I said such a thing! On the contrary, what did you have in mind when I told you that?”
“N, no… I didn’t have anything…”
Saito felt flustered for asking such an egotistical question.
“I just… erm… yeah! I just want to say that – Don’t let our grandparents see you too close to other girls, else we will violate the terms of the marriage! Yes, it’s just that!”
“That, that so… I see, so we should be careful…”
“You should really be. Since you’re such a dummy!”
Akane crossed her arms and turned away. The tips of her ears were a bit red.
To summarize, the pair’s marriage was one born from vested interests, not one born from love.
Their serious talk together and setting house rules helped ease the atmosphere in the house, but it didn’t mean their relationship now was a positive one. Saito also regretted digging too deep into Akane this time.
“And more importantly! I have something to interrogate you!”
“Not a question, but an interrogation…?”
He could somehow imagine interrogation tools being used.
“I have been growing some parsley in the garden… but it’s gone this morning… Surely you did not mistake it with grass and weeded it away?”
“Ah, so you planted that? It sprouted, and looked nutritious so I ate it.”
“Ate it? When? How?”
“Last night. Raw.”
Akane was shocked.
“Just like that!? Are you a cow or a rabbit!? I was going to use it to make Italian food, so I tried hard to tend to it, yet you!”
“Either way, it ends in the stomach.”
“But it’s bitter.”
“Of course! Also…. The onions and vegetables I was in the middle of planting have all disappeared……Don’t tell me you already ate it?”
“Thanks for meal,”
“Are you a herbivore!!”
Akane held her head on the table.
In a marriage, caring for the other is an important thing to do, so Saito called out to her.
“Do you have a headache? If you don’t feel well, take a break from school…”
“My headache is your fault! You’re such a genius……But I can’t understand your tastes…The porridge I ate when I was sick also had a strange taste……”
“I didn’t put anything filthy in there? To get you back on your feet quickly, I added a lot of supplements.”
Akane looked at Saito with dead eyes.
“That’s what I thought…It’s been a while since someone made me porridge so I’m not exactly complaining about that time……”
“So was it delicious?”
Saito showed a calm smile.
“I told you it tasted weird!”
“You should get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to that!”
“You will learn to accept it with a calm heart.”
“I don’t want to accept it at all! Stop inventing weird things! Just focus on cleaning after the meal!”
“That’s not fine. We have already agreed that we both will share the housework”.
“Isn’t it fine to focus on what you’re good at?”
Saito raised his thumb.
“I am very good at cooking.”
“Are you being serious?”
“It’s true. While you had a cold, I had completely memorized 10 books on nutrition science. My head now contains information on all the nutrients required to sustain your body.”
“I am not talking about nutrition!”
Akane was out of breath.
Every time they thought they had become closer, the daily arguments like today proved that they had not.
Saito ate his breakfast quickly and slipped out of the kitchen.
When Saito arrived at school and was walking down the hallway, he heard footsteps behind him.
He turned around to see Akane chasing him with the expression of an oni. It was a face that looked like it was plotting Saito’s murder. Maybe there was something else she was angry about.
Saito felt threatened, so he quickly created some distance.
Akane also sped up and chased after Saito.
The two of them played cat and mouse, creating a chase scene at school in the early morning.
“Wait! I said wait!”
“Wait for whom? I actually prefer living!”
“I’m not going to kill you! But if you don’t stop, I’ll shoot!”
“What are you using to shoot?”
This was also the first time Saito has received such a threat pulled directly from a Hollywood movie. A serious person like Akane wouldn’t break the weapon ownership law, but there was a risk that she had invented an original weapon.
Saito stopped, and Akane smashed a box on his chest.
Saito braced himself for a powerful attack, but the hit was much lighter than he thought.
And what hit his chest wasn’t a gun, but a bento box wrapped inside a handkerchief.
“Why didn’t you bring your bento along? Don’t just leave it on the table like that!”
“Ah……Sorry. I forgot.”
Due to his argument with Akane in the morning, he forgot about the existence of the bento box. Although Saito’s memory was scarily good, he didn’t have a robot’s precision on everyday trifles.
“Forgot it? Really……Or did you not want to eat the bento I made myself.”
“No, I’m really glad for that homemade bento.”
This was homemade food by Akane, a famous model-class beauty if she kept quiet. If he refused, punishment will immediately come.
“T, that so……In that case, fine.”
Akane averted her gaze. She nervously swayed her hips slightly.
“I worked really hard to make it……so don’t leave any leftovers!”
Her cheeks were flushed with the pale pink of cherry blossoms.
Though annoyed, Saito had to admit it. The destructive power of the expression she seldomly showed had the power to make him forget the fact that she was his natural enemy.
“If you put it in the fridge, you can eat it when you get home.”
“It will lose its taste if left outside for such a long time! I want you to have it at its best!”
Akane quickly waved her hand.
“Ah~, no, not you specifically! Who, whoever it is, I won’t forgive them for wasting the deliciousness of the food I’ve made! You are terrible, go to hell!”
“That would be bad huh……”
Although he didn’t believe in the supernatural, even Saito would prefer going to heaven rather than hell. And even if he didn’t, he was grateful for the bento Akane made, compared to buying dry bread for lunch.
While walking down the empty corridor, Akane spoke.
“There’s a super sale for eggs at the supermarket today.”
“Even if we don’t aim for a discount, we still get the full living expenses paid for by our grandparents.”
Saito was transferred an amount of money that was more than enough to shock him. Perhaps the current CEO of the Houjou Corp, Tenryuu, didn’t understand the standard of living of commoners.
Akane raised her index finger.
“When we grow up, we would both need to earn money to pay for our daily lives. It’s not good to get used to a luxurious life.”
“What’s wrong with being deep!?”
“Just admiring you.”
When Saito said the truth, Akane froze.
“E, even if you praise me, I won’t give you anything!”
“There’s no need to give me anything.”
“I, if you want something no matter what, then I will go to the home economics classroom and make some food right now……”
“You are doing it now? There is no need for something like that.”
“Th, then what is it? What are you plotting……? I, if it is a request to do this or that to my body, it’s won’t not okay……”
Akane stepped back, using her hands to protect her body. She glared at him while looking like a trembling small animal.
“I didn’t ask for that!”
Saito tried to lower his voice so that the other students wouldn’t hear.
“Anyway, I’m going to go shopping today. We have to redeem ourselves of the disgrace of last time.”
“We are going to be ripped apart.”
The housewives were always scarily energetic whenever the supermarket had a discount, there’s no way mere high school kids can compete. However, he also felt that that moment was the turning point of his relationship with Akane, so maybe, not all failures were bad.
Akane’s eyes lit up like a crimson lotus.
“Unforgivable……This time we will win, no matter the costs or tricks we have to use……”
“Costs and tricks huh.”
“Yes, you don’t have to worry… Which are more effective, darts or honeycombs?”
“Don’t engage in guerilla warfare within a residential area, idiot.”
There’s nothing but worries in his mind. He might have misunderstood her words, but he didn’t know what she would do once Akane lost her cool.
“Saito has to help too. Meet me at the back gate after school.”
“I didn’t expect the day of being invited by you after school to come……”
“D, don’t say stuff like that which invites misunderstandings! It’s just going shopping! Shopping for supplies essenscial for life!”
“You didn’t even pronounce the word ‘essential’ properly.”
“Y, you’re so annoying~! I just bit my tongue off!”
“It’s fine if you bite it, but isn’t biting it off a bit too much?”
Saito was taken aback.
By that time, the two of them were already close to the third-year’s Class A.
Akane put her hand on the door, then she turned towards Saito.
“From here on, pretend to be a stranger! Our marriage must be kept a secret!”
She stuck her tongue out to tease him, and headed into class with a sour face like usual. As if she was a stray cat, refusing to warm up to humans.
However, recently, Saito could feel himself warming up to the newly wed life with the girl he despised.
When Saito opened the bento box on his desk, Shisei ran up to him.
“Bro, I’m so hungry. Give me all the bentou.”
“You know you just suddenly gave me a terrible request?”
Shisei nodded as Saito was shocked.
“Without a shred of hesitation.”
“That, I know.”
“No guilt, neither.”
“That, I know too!”
Saito grabbed both of Shisei’s hands who was trying to steal the fried egg, trying to defend so that she wouldn’t get close to the bento box.
Two wild beasts were fighting. And this was their battlefield.
“At this rate, Shise will starve to death. Brothers are obligated to provide food for their younger sisters.”
“You already ate breakfast like there’s no tomorrow!”
“As a matter of fact, I had three full servings of rice.”
“See, you ate more than me.”
“This and that are different.”
“What difference~? You also brought bento from home, right?”
Even Shisei’s parents understood her extraordinary appetite. In order to prevent Shisei from being lured with food by strangers, they must have prepared a proper meal for her.
“I brought it with me. However, what Shise wants to try is a bento filled with lo -mofumofumofu.”
Saito used his palm to cover her mouth that was about to say the word ‘Bento filled with love’, then he held Shisei in a deadlocked position from behind.
Shisei sat on Saito’s lap, looking satisfied as she let out a puff~ from her nose.
Saito whispered into Shisei’s ear.
“I told you not to say anything like that!”
“Anything about what? Shise’s memory is bad.”
“Lying as naturally as breathing…”
As a member of the Houjou family, Shisei’s mental capabilities were unmatched.
Usually, her math test scores were perfect, and she could do it all within 5 minutes and take a nap for the rest of the time. Well, it would be fine if all she did was nap. Saito didn’t know what to do with her when she pulled out some pineapple crackers in the exam
Sitting on his lap and facing Saito, Shisei clenched her fist and brought it to her mouth.
With her glittering jewels-like eyes, she whispered a cute line.
“Big, bro, ther……Shise, wants to eat rice.” (Shisei usually calls Saito Ani-kun / Bro, but she calls her o, ni, i, chan in this sentence)
This is Shisei’s full body tantrum pose.
Even Saito, who was used to Shisei’s otherworldly beauty, was stunned.
To their classmates who didn’t have immunity to Shisei, their morale was broken in an instant.
“Shisei-chan, how pitiful~!” “Give her some food~” “Just give it all away!” “Saito-kun is so inhumane, daring to monopolize her alone!”
He received reproaches from the class regardless of males or females.
Saito couldn’t understand why was receiving insults to this extent just by protecting his bento box. He was even more upset when Shisei made a V sign in a place where people couldn’t see it.
Normally, Saito wouldn’t object to sharing food with Shisei, but this was the bento that Akane made for Saito.
Besides, Akane was sitting at her place and briefly glancing over at Saito’s place.
If Saito gave Shisei the lunch box she made, he didn’t know what kind of war would ensue when he got home. He wanted to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere at home.
“Alright fine……Just one bite..”
‘Okay?’~ he signalled Akane with a wink, but she tilted her head. There was absolutely no sign of communication being established. Telepathy was a tad bit too high level for this couple.
While Saito was pondering, Himari looked at his bento box.
“A-re? Saito-kun’s bento box……Isn’t that the same as Akane?”
Both Saito and Akane froze.
Saito felt a constriction on his cheeks while trying to stay calm.
“What, what are you saying? There, there’s no such thing…Are you hallucinating? You might be seeing a desert mirage.”
“I am not hallucinating~. The food arrangement and their portion sizes might be different, but the contents are the same!”
Himari placed both hands on Saito’s desk and stared at the bento box.
The class became agitated.
“Really!” “Good observation Himarin~!” “So what does that mean?” “Did Sakuramori make this for him?” “As expected, the two of them are dating?”
Stabbed by the gazes of many people, Akane blushed all over and shouted.
“W,w,w, we are not dating!”
“Is that so? But your face is turning all red, isn’t it?”
Himari commented on the strange observation. The class also became excited.
“My face has been like this since birth!”
“If you always had such a red face, it would be a serious medical condition! Besides, you’re not always that red!”
“That’s, I just bathed in blood……I……committed a crime……”
“Turn yourself in, I’ll go with you! If you do it now, the sentence would be lighter!”
Himari grabbed Akane’s hand and persuaded.
That’s the proof of their close friendship……Saito once again thought, but this was not the time for admiration. He didn’t know what Akane would do when she was agitated and pushed into a corner.
“Whatever. We are! NOT! Dating!”
Akane slammed her hand on the table to drive the point clear.
“Ah, ah. She’s speaking the truth.”
Saito also assured.
—Although they were already married!
There was no love between the two, nor did they feel guilty of not holding any affection for their partner.
The two of them were just married.
“But~, that’s weird~” “Houjou and Sakuramori, they look like husband and wife from the beginning~” “The bentos looking alike is evidence enough~”
Their classmates were still pursuing relentlessly.
“Th, this is because……”
The number one in their grade, Saito, was about to launch into a grand argument when he discovered a terrible little thing.
The lunch box was now completely empty.
Sitting on Saito’s lap, Shisei’s cheeks were bulging like a squirrel while her mouth was moving.
Saito knew for a fact that the culprit couldn’t have escaped yet.
“I told you, you could only have one bite!”
“That’s bad manners, stop eating and then talk!”
Shisei chewed down the food in her mouth, then took a sip of tea from Saito’s water bottle and let out a sigh
“I ate it all in one bite though?”
“Are you a monster!”
“I am not denying I’m not an existence beyond human understanding.”
Shisei whispered to Saito.
“I want you to thank me. Because of Bro, I erased all the evidence.”
“I’m just bullshitting. I just wanted to eat.”
Since she technically did save him, Saito patted Shisei’s head.
After Saito and Akane finished their lunch, the two of them ran to the empty classroom, avoiding the attention of their classmates.
An emergency meeting was called just for the two of them. The topic was about formulating a plan to prevent something like lunch break from happening in the future. If they didn’t, their school lives would be in danger.
Akane rested her elbows on the teacher’s desk and held her head.
“That was sloppy of me…Just to be sure, I changed the arrangement of the food, but I still got caught…Himari always had a very good intuition from the beginning…”
“She is incredibly smart huh. She was definitely influenced by her resident local nerd, Akane.”
“Don’t call me a nerd.”
Akane protested in tears.
“First of all, if the fact that we’re living together got out, it will be terrible.”
“If our marriage gets revealed, it will be a big deal. I don’t know what would be written into my transcript if such a thing happened.”
“Our relationship isn’t improper, if you explain the family situation, maybe the school won’t report it…”
Akane banged her forehead on the teacher’s desk.
“No way! They’ll definitely expel us for setting a bad example for other students! My pride will be in tatters if our marriage was known to others.”
“Don’t say such horrible things.”
Saito’s pride took some damage.
“About the contents of the bento, let’s say it’s because we accidentally used the same frozen product.”
“My food can’t be compared to something so meagure.”
“Is there any other excuse?”
“Wouldn’t it be better to say that Saito broke into my house and stole my bento box?”
“That’s not a better excuse, I will be arrested.”
“Just think of this as a life experience.”
“Think my ass. I’ll get a criminal record, and potentially expelled from school.”
And he would actually die of embarrassment from committing such a stupid crime
“In that case, Saito and I go to the same cooking class… about it?”
“What class? I can’t make such a good meal like that.”
“Sakuramori Akane’s class!”
“Your name is there! That’s like saying I’ve learnt from you.”
Akane’s eyes shined.
“You as my disciple……That means you’re below me……That’s fine!”
“Fine my ass. Don’t let the imaginary authority blind you and forget the purpose of our talk.”
And in the first place, the simpler the excuse, the less chances for it to go wrong. The more complicated the setting, the less their story will match.
“In the meantime, I’ll have lunch in the school cafeteria.”
“You mean you won’t eat my bento!?”
Her mood plummeted, as if she was just told she couldn’t have any more strawberries.
“After today, people will definitely keep an eye on our bento. We won’t fool anyone if our food is similar for 2 to 3 days in a row.”
“Then I can just make up a new menu for Saito’s bento, is that okay?”
“Are you okay doing it like that?”
“I will get angry if my food is looked down upon.”
“Don’t suggest it just based on your feelings! As expected, eating in the school cafeteria is our best option.”
“Well……There’s no other choice. But, don’t eat unnutritious food, okay? Even in the cafeteria, you’ll have to have at least 1 soup and 3 vegetables per meal, so don’t let your body collapse.”
Akane raised her index finger and told him.
“Are you my mother?”
Saito smiled bitterly.
“I, I’m not your mother! If the person I live with falls sick, then the one who should be bothered is me, right!?”
“Ah, it’s true, when you had a fever, things were difficult.”
When he tried saying it in a sarcastic way, Akane made an ‘oh crap’ face.
“Ugh~……Ba,basically, that’s that! So as to not cause trouble for both of us, your diet must be managed properly! Understood!?”
She gave him a decree with no room for rebuttal.
“The worst thing that can happen now is people finding out about our living conditions. If we are seen living under the same roof, no amount of explaining can clear up the misunderstanding.”
“It’s the same when going to the supermarket, so it would be better to go to a supermarket that is a little further away. Although it will be hard to bring the groceries back…”
While they were talking to each other, the two heard footsteps in the hallway.
The entrance door was casually opened.
Their relationship was just suspected, and if they were discovered secretly meeting like this right now, the cat would be immediately out of the bag.
Saito and Akane hid under the teacher’s desk. The two jostled each other to hide themselves somehow.
“How many tables do we need?” “Eight of them, right?” “I heard we need more~” “Let me ask the teacher first.”
While talking to each other, the students that had just entered the empty room shuffled around. It didn’t seem like they would be leaving any time soon.
Saito and Akane hid their breaths. The teacher’s desk was quite tight, so there wasn’t any room to move.
The current posture was Akane was on one knee and being hugged by Saito.
Her breasts were being pressed against Saito’s face.
The sweet scent assaulted his nose.
“Oi, oi……get away from me……”
“I would if I could.”
Saito also felt the blood rush to his head.
“Nn, so ticklish~……Don’t talk……”
“You stop talking as well…”
As if trying to silence him or something, Akane used the sleeve of her uniform to wrap around Saito’s head tightly. Because of that, the distance between the two shortened, the soft sensation of a girl’s body tortured Saito.
He could hear Akane’s labored breathing, and the sound of her heart beating faster. No, this noisy beating heart probably belonged to Saito himself.
It was unimaginable to see the two natural enemies, Saito and Akane, glued together like this.
Even Saito himself didn’t feel like this was reality, as if he was inside a dream. And if it was actually a dream, then he was surprised it didn’t feel as unpleasant as a nightmare.
“Do we move the teacher’s desk as well?”
Upon hearing the other student’s voice, Saito and Akane’s bodies froze.
If they were caught in this state, it wouldn’t be written off as a joke.
If these students were their classmates, they would never hear the end of “As expected you two are dating!”, and even if they were students from another class, rumors would spread throughout the school.
“What, what to do now……”
Akane let out an uneasy voice.
“Even if you ask me…”
Saito’s normally flexible mind also grinded to a halt, as if it was covered with dust, unable to be used.
The footsteps came closer.
Saito and Akane nervously leaned on each other.
Just when the two of them thought it was over, another student spoke.
“The teacher’s desk is heavy, so let’s borrow it from another class.” “Ah, that’s right.” “Scram!”
The door was closed, and the footsteps of the students faded away.
After confirming the noise had died down, Saito and Akane crawled out from under the teacher’s desk.
“Haa~……Haa~……T, that was an unfortunate event…”
Akane cupped her cheeks with both hands and adjusted her breathing.
Saito didn’t know what to do, but his whole body was burning hot. He loosened his collar and fanned it with his palm.
Finding it impossible to speak face-to-face after that, the two talked with their backs together.
“I, it would be bad to leave the classroom together.”
“Yeah, erm. I’ll go out through the corridor, and Saito will come out through the window.”
“This is the fourth floor!”
“Just jump, who knows, maybe you’ll live……”
“Live my ass. The only thing waiting for me would be death.”
“So I have to jump!?”
“There is no need to jump. Just go back to class first. I’ll be back after you.”
“G, got it! Then see you later!”
And Akane ran out of that empty classroom.
‘Then see you later’, perhaps this was the first time he was told that by Akane.
Maybe it was her nerves getting to her, but this was a goodbye with the intention of meeting again. It was a big difference from their first two years of school, thinking they didn’t want to see each other ever again.
Saito, feeling surprised, walked out of the empty classroom.
Just to be sure, he took a quick look around, then, as he walked towards his classroom he met Himari on the stairs.
With a light gait, Himari ran down the stairs.
She skipped down the last two steps, puffing her skirt up, and landed in front of Saito.
“You’ll fall if you run down the stairs.”
“It’s okay~ it’s okay! Because if I do then Saito will be there to catch me!”
“Don’t drag me in. I will dodge with all my might.”
“You’re so~mean! Girls wouldn’t like that!”
“I don’t need to be liked or anything.”
“Ahaha, that’s such a ‘Saito’ answer.”
Himari put her hands behind her hips and showed a bright smile.
This close friend of Akane had reached out to Saito since their first year. She didn’t quarrel with him, however, unlike Akane. Their conversations consisted of all sorts of nonsense, making Saito feel comfortable
“That reminds me~………”
Himari said as if she just remembered.
“Saito-kun’s bento box wasn’t really made by Akane, was it?”
Saito was startled. He didn’t show any expression and shrugged his shoulders.
“We’re just using the same frozen food. Well, there might be a possibility that she wanted to imitate me.”
“…Is that the truth?”
Himari asked him in a rare serious tone.
She moved her face closer to Saito, as if to catch his every change of expression.
At this distance, her nose almost touched the side of Saito’s. The scent of her mature-smelling perfume mingled with her enthusiasm and spread.
“You two… aren’t dating, yeah?”
Those staring eyes were twitching.
Saito swallowed his restlessness.
“……Really. Is that so. Right, of course! mmhmm!”
Himari nodded repeatedly.
Saito let out a sigh.
“Sorry for the sudden and strange question! I’ll solve the misunderstandings with our classmates! Good bye!”
Himari gave a flustered smile and left.
Words from a popular person like Himari would surely convince everyone.
Saito felt relieved to finally have his peaceful days return.