Miso-roasted rice balls, fish cakes and shiitake, and a few carefully cut melon cubes. Not to mention a pair of cute undersized chopsticks and a furoshiki printed with little goldfish.
Saeki Kouji is pretty sure he has a problem.
What makes the problem even more… problematic… is the fact that not only does he have no idea what the problem is, exactly, but also the fact that he has no idea what to do about it.
He munches on a rice ball. It’s delicious, which shouldn’t surprise him but somehow does.
“Well, Saeki-kun~? Is it good~?”
He looks helplessly at his so-called rival. What is he supposed to say to that? He probably can’t get away with not saying anything, tempting as that is. “Yeah,” he responds with what he hopes is a noncommittal shrug.
The lukewarm response still makes Ashiwara-san beam. “I’m so glad! Saeki-kun needs to eat good food!”
For the hundredth time that day, Kouji curses himself for ever letting slip to Ashiwara-san that he eats instant ramen for lunch on Insei days.
Definitely a problem.
As of a week ago, no one had ever made a bento for him – excluding his mother and Aiko-chan in the fifth grade. Her rice balls had been lopsided and her seafood had been burnt; he had had a horrible upset stomach after eating it, she had cried, and he had blushed for three days afterwards because his entire class had taken it upon themselves to tease him. He still blushes if someone brings it up. And that was just lopsided rice balls and burnt squid. Not… this.
“Is it good, Saeki-kun~?”
“You really don’t have to make me lunch, Ashiwara-san,” Kouji insists a little desperately.
“But Saeki-kun, I don’t mind! I like to do it!”
“But I like instant ramen!”
Ashiwara-san blinks at him. “Better than my cooking?” Silence. What is he supposed to say to that? There is no right answer! “I don’t believe you, Saeki-kun.”
He feels like such an idiot.
“Aren’t you lucky, Saeki-kun!” Yumiko-san comments with an adorable giggle. Everything Yumiko-san does is adorable. Every single boy in their Insei class is a little in love with her. Except, apparently, Ashiwara Hiroyuki, who likes to make elaborate bento for his rival. “I wish someone spoiled me so much!”
Ashiwara-san beams some more as though this is really a compliment and not an implication. If it were Kouji (and he somehow magically developed cooking skills overnight), he’d offer to make Yumiko-san one on the spot. Ashiwara-san does no such thing, simply taking the praise for his domestic skills as his due. “I like to cook,” he says with a smile.
“I’m sure Saeki-kun appreciates it, don’t you, Saeki-kun?”
Kouji puts one of his tamago yaki on her plate and wants to die a little bit.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Kouji hisses, his face the color of one of the cherry tomatoes tucked into a corner of his bento.
“Doing what, Saeki-kun?”
“Don’t play dumb! This! You’re supposed to be my rival! My rival is not supposed to be making me lunch every day!” He is mildly hysterical. Everyone is looking at him.
“You don’t like it when I make you lunch, Saeki-kun?”
“No! Don’t you know what we look like!? No!” Ashiwara-san looks like a kicked puppy. “I mean… it’s just… you shouldn’t be wasting your time and…”
“All right, Saeki-kun,” Ashiwara-san says quietly. “I’m sorry. I won’t make your lunch anymore.”
Ashiwara-san picks up his uneaten lunch and walks out. Yumiko-san and a couple of the other girls give Kouji dirty looks. His stomach is curiously unsettled and he realizes he can’t eat another bite of his very last Ashiwara-san bento.
Kouji looks down at the table and slurps his noodles with grim determination. He’s never realized just how dull they taste. Across the room Ashiwara-san is unwrapping his bamboo print furoshiki and sharing his two-tiered bento with Yumiko-san and one of her friends. He refuses to look.
He feels even more idiotic than before.
Ashiwara-san is holding court under a tree with enough food to feed an army, or at least the entire first and second Insei groups. He laughs and ducks a napkin someone throws in his direction. Kouji retreats indoors despite the sunny weather to finish his tasteless lunch in solitude.
It’s miserably hot. Everyone else is outside in hopes of catching a breeze. “I hate my life,” he tells the empty lunchroom.
“I can share mine.” Apparently, the lunchroom is not so empty after all. Ashiwara-san is in the doorway with a bento wrapped in a polka-dot furoshiki. “I mean, if you don’t mind.” He looks about as nervous as Kouji feels.
“No, I don’t. Mind, I mean. I mean.” He takes a breath, lets it out, and laughs weakly at his own awkwardness. All of this is so stupid. It’s not like Ashiwara-san is a girl, after all. Maybe he just likes to cook. And Kouji is hungry. “That would be good. Thanks.”
Ashiwara-san pulls up a chair and opens the bento with a small, triumphant smile.
It’s only a problem if he lets it be.
If he thinks about it, they’re only going to be Insei for a little while longer. Then he will be a pro and earn his own money and buy proper lunches. Besides, Ashiwara-san is bound to get tired of making him bento at some point. Kouji catches himself thinking that it will be too bad as he pops a rice ball into his mouth. He shakes his head to clear it of the uncomfortable thought.
“Is it good, Saeki-kun?” Ashiwara-san asks with his usual sunny smile.
“Yeah,” Kouji admits because why lie? It just ends up worse anyway. “It’s good.”