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Living Memory

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"The soup broth is bubbling, Kimihiro-kun."

Watanuki looked up from the sea bream he was cutting. "Then it's time to add the first ingredients, Kohane-chan. Do you remember which ones?"

"Mushrooms," she said, picking up the bowl of sliced shiitake. "And the clams ... and shrimp ... and scallions ... and cabbage. And that fish."

"It's ready," he said, and used the knife to slide the chunks of fish into the simmering broth.

"Now what?" she asked.

"We let it come to a boil again, and skim off the foamy stuff. Is the table laid, Kohane-chan? This will be ready very soon."

"Yes, it is. I made it as pretty as I could."

"Then I'm sure it is perfect. Look, the soup's starting to boil again."

"Can I try skimming it?"

"Yes, but be careful. You don't want to splash yourself with any of the hot broth. Good ... that's just how to do it!"

"Is it time for the tofu and greens?"

"Turn the heat down first - the soup should just barely be simmering."

Kohane watched the stoneware pot intently as Watanuki started to clear up the kitchen. "Like that," she said, after a few moments.

"Yes - here, I'll get the tofu."

"And I have the greens. Should I stir it?"

"No. See how pretty it looks, with all of each ingredient separate? But you can turn over anything that doesn't look like it's cooking evenly."

"It really does look pretty. And it smells so good. I'm glad I don't have to worry about being a medium anymore, so I can eat all kinds of foods. Is it ready now?"

"Yes. Can you pour the water into the teapot and carry it in? I'll take the do-nabe pot - it's much too heavy for you."

"Someday it won't be! Someday I'll make the yosenabe on my own, and carry it in, and serve it to you."

Watanuki smiled at her, then carefully picked up the big earthenware dish. Kohane led the way out of the kitchen to the dining area at the rear of the shop. Mokona appeared from nowhere and bounded over to sit in one of the chairs at the table. The old fortuneteller looked up from her newspaper and smiled at them.

"Is dinner ready, then?"

"Yes, Obaa-chan," said Kohane. "Look at the hotpot we made! Isn't it beautiful?"

"It is beautiful. And it smells delicious, Kohane-chan. Watanuki-kun is turning you into a very fine cook. Why don't we sit down and eat it before things get cooked too much?"

But Watanuki was simply standing by the table, looking at the dish as though his thoughts were very far away. After a moment, Kohane spoke gently.

"Did Yuuko-san like this hotpot, Kimihiro-kun?"

Watanuki was silent, but then he shook his head slowly. Mokona answered: "Yes!"

"Yuuko-san liked lots of things," Watanuki said, at last, crossly.

"Then we will have to eat it for her," said Kohane.

"That just sounds nice!" said Watanuki, tightly, and then he stopped. "You really mean that, don't you?"

"Of course she does," said the old woman, softly.

Watanuki sank into his chair. "All right, then. Please, eat."

Mokona bounced in its seat. "Mokona wants shrimp!"

"Guests first!" snapped Watanuki, straightening up and going red in the face.

The old fortuneteller smiled again.

"Itadakimasu," said Kohane.