Hanamori looked at his table and realized that he might have gone a little overboard with the bentos. Today was a special bring your own bento day at school, and as promised, he’d made bentos for Shindo-san and Yukika. He’d gotten up extra early to prepare the food. He made fresh karaage. He’d meticulously cut carrots and cheese into little heart and star shapes. In Yukika’s bento, he’d made a portrait of the alien prince zaShunina from her favorite book made out of sliced turkey and white cheese with thin red pepper slices and nori on a bed of rice. Carrot and cheese stars and hearts filled in the extra space. The second level of her bento held karaage with some decorative toothpicks to eat them with, a mix of carrot hearts, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli on a bed of lettuce, and a selection of green and purple grapes tucked into a cute divider cup.
Shindo-san’s lunch held the same items in larger portions. Unlike Yukika’s small cartoon rabbit bento, Shindo-san had a large beautiful lacquered bento that Hanamori had almost been afraid to touch when Shindo-san had delivered their empty bento boxes to school yesterday. Now it was lovingly filled with rice studded with stars and hearts. Shindo was given a generous portion of the succulent fried chicken as well as a healthy portion of veggies and fruits. Let it not be said that he couldn’t make a healthy, balanced bento, even with fried chicken in it!
His own bento looked a little less neat as he’d just stuffed it full of the leftover ingredients. All of the scraps of carrot, cheese, and nori got mixed in with his rice. He took the bruised tomatoes and oddly shaped grapes, leaving the other two bentos picture perfect. He snapped a few photos on his phone before carefully closing them up. He slid the bands around his and Yukika’s bentos. They both had matching pouches for their bentos, but Shindo-san’s he carefully wrapped in a lovely furoshiki. He couldn’t stop to admire his work much more because he had to quickly clean the kitchen and hustle downstairs. He carefully settled the bentos in the basket of his bike, cushioned on a spare towel. With his bag strapped around him, he took off for school, anticipating the happy look on Yukika’s face when she opened her bento for the first time.
When he got to school, he waved at his fellow teachers as he parked his bike. He carried the bentos inside, resisting the urge to open them up and to make sure they survived the trip. He’d been careful to avoid any bumps or sudden stops, so he was fairly confident that they were fine, but the urge was still there. Once he set everything in his classroom, he put his apron on and headed out into the yard to wait for the children to arrive. He didn’t have long to wait as mothers began arriving with their sleepy children in tow. He smiled as he greeted them, but he was distracted.
“Good morning sensei.”
A deep voice made him turn away from the mother he’d been waving at. Shindo-san stood in front of him with Yukika standing beside him, her bag strapped to her back.
“Good morning sensei,” she echoed her father.
“Ah, good morning Yukika-chan! Shindo-san! I’ve been waiting for you!” Yukika seemed to brighten up at that. “I have your bentos!”
At that, Yukika began to bounce a little. “Can I see them?” She asked.
Hanamori chuckled. “Of course. I left them in the classroom for safe keeping. We should go get your otousan’s so he can take it to work.”
Yukika nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s go otousan,” she said, tugging at his hand.
Shindo-san grinned. “Of course, of course, let’s go see our bentos.”
Hanamori let Yukika lead the way as they trooped into the classroom. He brought them to his desk where he presented Yukika her bento with a great flourish. She reached out for it eagerly, clutching the lunch in her hands and looking positively overwhelmed.
“What’s wrong Yukika-chan?” He asked, worried.
“I’m...I’m happy!” She declared as tears began to stream down her face.
“Oh honey,” Hanamori said, taking the lunch and setting it aside so he could sweep her up in his arms. “I’m so happy that you’re happy.” Yukika whimpered and pressed her face into Hanamori’s shoulder where she cried silently. Hanamori looked at Shindo-san desperately.
Shindo-san was looking a little helpless himself. “She’s really been looking forward to this,” he said. “Her mother wasn’t one for cooking, so she never received a proper bento from her.”
Hanamori felt himself tear up a bit as he squeezed Yukika tighter. The poor girl. Her mother better hope that they never met, because he’d certainly punch her in the nose.
“We’ve had bentos for family picnics with her grandparents, but it’s different from a bento at school,” Shindo-san continued.
Hanamori nodded. “I suppose that means you don’t get work bentos.”
“Only what I can grab from the convenience store. Unfortunately, I’m also not much of a cook.” Shindo-san shrugged apologetically.
“That doesn’t make you any less of a wonderful father,” Hanamori said before Shindo-san could start doubting himself. “And I packed your bento with lots of delicious things to keep you going.” He nodded to the wrapped bento on his desk.
Shindo-san picked up the bento. “I really appreciate it.”
“Consider it payback for all the bentos you’ve brought me,” Hanamori said as he continued to rock Yukika gently.
“I’m sure this is ten times better than any of the bentos I brought you,” Shindo-san said.
“I’d like to think so, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. I hope you enjoy it.”
Shindo-san nodded. “I’m sure that I will.” He shifted nervously.
Hanamori smiled. “Yukika-chan, it’s time for otousan to go to work. Will you tell him bye?”
Yukika nodded and finally pulled her face from Hanamori’s shoulder to look at her father. “Bye bye tousan,” she said with a sniffle.
“Bye my princess. I’ll see you later tonight,” he said, leaning forward to press a kiss to her forehead.
Hanamori flushed as he realized just how close that motion brought Shindo-san’s face to his face. Shindo-san looked up and seemed to realize it too and he quickly stepped back, a tint of color washing over his cheeks.
“Thank you again for the bentos,” Shindo-san said. “I’ll see you both this evening.”
Hanamori nodded. “Have a good day,” he said as Shindo-san stepped into the doorway.
“Bye bye,” Yukika said as she rested her head on Hanamori’s shoulder.
Shindo-san turned and gave them one last tender look before he waved and left.
Hanamori looked at Yukika and couldn't help but deliver a kiss to her forehead. Maybe it was right where Shindo-san’s lips had touched and he was receiving an indirect kiss. And wasn’t that an awful thought to be thinking he chastised himself. “Well princess, are you ready to put away your things and go into the yard with the other children?”
Yukika gave an annoyed shrug.
Hanamori chuckled. “Will you put away your things and you can come with me to watch the others?”
She sighed and nodded.
He set her on her feet and set her bento in her hands. She walked over to her cubby and put away her bag and her lunch. She launched herself back across the room and climbed into Hanamori’s arms quicker than she ever had before. Clearly, the lunch meant a lot to her and it made her clingy. That was fine with him. He carried her back into the yard and held her until she felt ready to face the world again.
Once lunch arrived, Hanamori surveyed the distribution of milk boxes. He made sure every child had a bento and a milk box in front of them before he announced they could open their boxes. He pulled his phone from his pocket and opened the camera, hoping to get a video of Yukika’s reaction. Yukika was very careful pulling the bento box from its bag. She slipped the band off the box and reverently opened the lid, revealing the rice layer and the portrait of zaShunina. Her eyes widened. She looked up at him and he smiled.
“Yaha-kui zaShunina,” she said, eyes watering.
He moved forward, just in case he had to hug away any more tears. “There’s another layer,” he said, hoping to distract her a bit.
She carefully pulled up the top layer of her bento and set it aside, revealing the karaage, fruits, and veggies.”
“I hope you like it,” he said.
“I love it,” she said instantly.
Hanamori smiled. “I’m glad.”
“Will you...will you take my picture with it?” She asked shyly.
“Of course!” He saved the video he’d been taking. “Smile for me?”
She looked up at him with a watery smile and he snapped a few pictures, making sure to get her bento in the picture.
“I’ll send one of these to your otousan, but now comes the best part. You get to eat it!”
Yukika looked down at the portrait of zaShunina. “But it’s so pretty,” she said.
“It’s also delicious. And you’ll always have a picture of it right?”
“Great. Eat up. If you eat the whole thing I’ll make whatever you want for next bento day.”
She looked up, eyes wide. “Anything?” She asked.
“Anything,” he agreed.
“Can I have omurice?” she asked eagerly.
“Finish this one and you definitely can,” he said, petting her hair.
She nodded eagerly as she picked up one of the pastel bunny toothpicks and ate a piece of karaage. She made a happy sound and Hanamori smiled. He looked around to make sure his other students were eating before he moved to his desk to get his own bento. The food tasted so much better when he was watching Yukika enjoy hers like it was the best meal ever. He hoped Shindo-san was enjoying his even half as much. He and Shindo-san had exchanged phone numbers quiet early on when it became apparent that Shindo-san would not always be on time. He often kept Hanamori up to date on his whereabouts and when he should get to school and Hanamori often sent him pictures of Yukika and her after school adventures as they waited for her father. It sort of felt like cheating getting his number that way, but that was their relationship. Teacher and parent of a student. He really needed to get his head out of the clouds and stop thinking of things like indirect kisses. Shaking the thoughts from his head, he sent Shindo-san a picture of Yukika with her bento and was surprised to receive a reply almost immediately.
“Thank you so much. The food is delicious,” Shindo-san texted.
“You’re welcome,” Hanamori sent back. “Yukika has already decided that she wants omurice for next time.”
“That sounds great. Thank you again,” Shindo-san texted.
“You’re welcome,” Hanamori replied with a few thumbs up emojis. Then, he put his phone away to focus on eating and watching the kids. He had to get up a few times to help clean up spills and to make some of the more hyper children calm down, but he managed to finish his lunch. He was finishing his last bite of karaage when Yukika raised her hand and started waving it around. “Yes Yukika-chan?”
“I finished my lunch sensei!” She announced.
He smiled. “Good job Yukika-chan.”
She gave him an excited smile. He could tell she was already anticipating omurice, even though their next bring your own lunch day wasn’t until next month.
“Sensei! I finished my lunch too!” Another child yelled.
This initiated a chorus of children desperate for his attention telling him that they had finished their lunch. He made his rounds, inspecting empty or nearly empty bento boxes and congratulating children with pets on the head. Once every child had happily proved they’d eaten lunch, they all put their bento boxes away and headed outside for recess.
Yukika hovered by his side as he sat and watched the other children run around. “Don’t you want to go play Yukika-chan?”
Yukika shook her head.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I want to stay with you,” she said.
“I’ll let you, but don’t you want to go make friends?” he coaxed.
She shrugged. “Is sensei my friend? You made me a bento.”
Hanamori smiled at her. “Well, you’re my precious student, that’s better than being friends,” he said.
She wrinkled her nose. “No it isn’t. I don’t like the other teachers as much as I like you.”
Hanamori chuckled. “Thank you, I’m flattered that you like me best of all.”
“I do,” Yukika insisted, inching closer to him.
He watched, just to see what she’d do. She gave him a piercing look, which he did not look away from. She seemed to steel herself, then finally she put a small hand on his shoulder and pulled herself up into his lap. He was shocked, but it was a pleasant surprise. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a good squeeze.
She made a weak protest before cuddling into his arms. “I like you best after otousan and jiji and baba and obaasan,” she informed him.
Hanamori gave her another squeeze and pressed his face into her hair, giving her a quick nuzzle. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he whispered. “I like you best too. But don’t tell the other kids. They’ll get jealous.”
She nodded. “Can I tell otousan?”
He blushed. “Sure, you can tell otousan. I hope he doesn’t get jealous though.” He chuckled.
“I’ll share you with him,” she said.
Hanamori sputtered and laughed. “All right. That’s a good plan.”
His laugh had drawn some of the other children over. They were curious and wanted to know what was funny, then they wanted cuddles too. He was able to distract them by pulling them all into an impromptu game of duck, duck, goose. He preferred it to kagome, kagome, which he found left a too much leeway for leaving kids out. Plus, this got them up and running around. Even Yukika seemed to have fun chasing some of the other children around the circle. By the end of recess, the entire class was sitting in a large circle wiggling and giggling with anticipation as the child who was “it” walked around chanting “duck, duck, duck!” Once he yelled “goose” over a friend’s head, he went racing off around the circle, trying to get back to the empty spot. Before he arrived, the bell chimed and the children groaned.
“Sorry kids, it’s time to go back inside. We’re going to roll out our mats for naptime,” he said, standing up from the circle and dusting himself off.
The rest of the day seemed to whizz by and soon, he was finishing up his cleaning tasks while another teacher watched the children in the yard. He emerged from the building and was shocked to see Shindo-san standing in the yard with a gaggle of mothers around him. He looked up as Hanamori walked out and his painfully polite smile morphed into a real smile.
“Ah, Hanamori-sensei. I was hoping I could talk to you,” he called, extricating himself from the circle of mothers with a few polite bows.
“Of course Shindo-san. Let’s take Yukika-chan in to get her things.”
Yukika was already trotting up at the sound of her father’s voice. Her hand immediately went for his. “Otousan.”
“Hello my princess, did you have a good day?” Shindo-san asked, looking down at her.
She nodded. “My bento had Yaha-kui zaShunina in it!”
He smiled. “I know, Hanamori-sensei sent me a picture of you and your bento. It was very nice.”
“Yes. He’s my favorite after you and jiji and baba and obaasan,” she announced seriously.
“Ah, so he’s very important to you?” Shindo-san asked, glancing at Hanamori.
Hanamori could feel the heat on his face as the two talked about him. He was pleased, but it was so direct! Children often were direct. He wasn’t sure what Shindo-san’s excuse was though!
She nodded again. “Yes.”
“Good.” He smiled at his daughter and looked up at Hanamori.
Hanamori knew he was probably beet red, so he turned and headed for the door. “Come on you guys, stop trying to flatter me and let’s collect Yukika’s things.”
“We’re only flattering you because you deserve it,” Shindo-san insisted.
“Hmm, all this sweet talking, you must want something from me. Another bento?” Hanamori asked, giving Shindo-san a suspicious backward glance.
Shindo-san just gave him an angelic look. “Why would I need to butter you up when you’ve already agreed to make omurice bentos for us next time?”
“Maybe you want another one for tomorrow,” Hanamori said.
“While that sounds lovely, I had something else in mind.”
“Ah ha! So you admit to an evil plan!” Hanamori said, turning to point at him.
Shindo-san chuckled. “Who said anything about an evil plan?”
“Maybe it’s not evil, but you admit that you have a plan,” Hanamori said with a decisive nod before turning and walking into the classroom.
“I wouldn’t call it so much of a plan, as an offer,” Shindo-san said, guiding Yukika into the room. Yukika headed to the cubbies to collect her things, leaving Hanamori pinned under Shindo-san’s hopeful gaze.
“What sort of an offer?” He asked, suspiciously, not sure what Shindo-san could possibly want.
“I was hoping that you’d accompany Yukika and I to dinner again tonight,” Shindo-san said. “As a thank you for the bentos.”
Hanamori tsked. “Shindo-san, I told you you didn’t have to do anything for me. It’s a pleasure, really. I got more Yukika cuddles in one day than I’ve gotten in the last week. That’s my payment.”
Shindo-san gave him a tender smile as he glanced back at his daughter, then at Hanamori again. “While I do agree that that’s a wonderful reward, I’d still like to do my part. Though, if cuddles are the only payment you accept, I can give you some of those.”
Hanamori gaped at him, not sure how to respond to that. And Shindo-san’s voice had definitely descended to a sexy new low that made Hanamori’s mouth go dry. Was...was Shindo-san actually flirting with him? Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he was taking this all wrong.
Shindo-san chuckled. “I suppose it’s a bit too early to be offering that,” he said wistfully.
“N-no, I want those,” Hanamori said, like a child watching a sweet that was offered be taken away.
Shindo-san’s smile widened. “And I’d be happy to provide, at another location as we seem to have gained an audience.”
Hanamori’s head whipped to the door where a few of the children were standing, watching them curiously.
One of the mothers was standing there fanning herself a little. “Don’t let me stop you,” she said cheekily.
Hanamori’s face turned shades of red previously unheard of as he raised his hands to cover his face.
Both Shindo-san and the mother chuckled. He heard her ushering the kids in to grab their things.
“Have a nice night Hanamori-sensei,” the mother said. Hanamori couldn't see her, but he could hear the wink in her voice.
He groaned. He was going to be the topic of gossip for weeks to come. The other mothers would probably be glaring at him for poaching such a prime man like Shindo-san, regardless of their own married statuses.
“My apologies,” Shindo-san said. “I hadn’t meant for it to come out quite like that, but I couldn't resist.”
“It’s ok,” Hanamori mumbled, finally pulling his hands from his face. “They would have found out eventually. They always find out. The okaasan information network is scary. Within a week of me working here, they knew my last two boyfriends, my favorite food, and what color and style underwear I prefer.”
Shindo-san laughed. “That is quite scary.”
“Right?!” Hinamori demanded.
“Though, wanting to know who is taking care of your child is understandable. You want to know that they’re in the right hands.” Shindo-san put a hand on Yukika’s head as she came to stand next to him.
Hanamori froze. “Is that what this is about?” he asked, trying not to frown.
“Not at all,” Shindo-san said smoothly. “I’m trying to ask you on a date.”
There was a squeal from the doorway and Hanamori looked over to see the mother from before peering around the frame.
He decided it was best to ignore her since he obviously couldn’t get rid of her. He turned his attention back to Shindo-san, who was giving him a hopeful look. Hanamori knew that he shouldn’t accept. He really shouldn’t, but he was going to, because he’d been crushing on this man from the very beginning. “That….that sounds nice. What did you have in mind?”
Shindo-san’s smile grew wider and Hanamori practically felt blinded by it. “I was thinking the three of us would go out for okonomiyaki.”
“O-ko-no-mi-ya-ki!” Yukika chanted, excited.
Hanamori smiled at her. “That sounds lovely. Let me just ok it with the other teachers.”
“Of course, Yukika and I will wait outside by the gate.”
Hanamori nodded and watched them leave. Once he was alone, he pressed his face into his hands and screamed as quietly as possible. This was like a dream. Shindo-san had asked him to dinner, and this time he specifically said it was a date! A date with Shindo-san! Sure, Yukika would be there too, but it was still a date. He gave himself only a minute to freak out before he headed out to the other teachers to ask them if it was ok if he left a little early.
Shina-sensei whistled when he walked up to her. “Here’s the hot dad thief,” she said.
“Oh god,” Hanamori groaned. “Please don’t say that.”
“I’ve seen at least two grown women start crying because you nabbed the hot dad. I’m sure we’ll get a few more tears,” Shina-sensei said.
“Most of these women are married,” Hanamori protested.
Shina-sensei shrugged. “That doesn’t stop them from dreaming. But to answer the question you haven’t asked yet, yes. Go. Go on a date with hot dad, but know that we will grill you all about it tomorrow!”
Hanamori saw a few of the other teachers nod and he sighed. He supposed that was the price he’d have to pay for this dream to come true. “Thank you so much.”
“Yeah, yeah, get out of here lover boy. Don’t make hot dad wait too long.” Shina-sensei shooed him.
Hanamori ran back inside to grab his bag and then sped out to the gate where Shindo-san was holding Yukika and once again being mobbed by mothers, some were definitely in tears. “Shindo-san,” he called, waving.
Some of the mothers turned, and he was glad that looks couldn’t kill because some of the looks he was getting held the clear desire to incinerate him.
“Sorry ladies,” Shindo-san said in a truly apologetic tone, “But Hanamori-sensei and I have some plans. I’m sure we’ll see you in the morning.”
“Will he be wearing the same clothes?” One of them asked venomously. Hanamori was rather startled by the bitterness of the voice.
“Of course not,” Shindo-san said as if the woman had asked a perfectly innocent question and not one laced with poison. “He’ll be home long before Yukika’s bedtime, virtue perfectly intact.” He held out a hand to Hanamori, settling it on his shoulder and guiding him out of the little knot of women. “This time,” he said as they walked away, causing a chorus of gasps to rise up behind them.
Hanamori gave Shindo-san a wide-eyed look. Had he just really?
Shindo-san winked at him. “This way Hanamori-sensei. I brought my car today.”
The next morning, Hanamori was cornered by Shina-sensei and a few of the others before he even got into the door of the school.
“So? How was it?” Shina-sensei demanded.
“Did you kiss?” Someone else asked.
“Or more?” Another chimed in.
Hanamori flushed brightly and tried to ignore their curious stares. “It was wonderful,” he told them. “And we did kiss, and he’s amazing. But that’s it. After dinner, he dropped me off at home.”
“Don’t want to rush things,” Shina-sensei nodded. “I mean, he’s only been slowly wooing you for months. Figures he’d take his time.”
Hanamori’s head whipped up. “Wh-what?!” He stuttered.
Shina-sensei snorted. “Oh please, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.” At Hanamori’s wide-eyed look of confusion, she started to laugh uncontrollably. “You didn’t notice?!”
Some of the other teachers tittered along with her and Hanamori felt his face heat up.
“I, what do you mean?” He demanded.
“Oh please, he was always watching you and bringing you bentos and smiling at you. So much smiling. He’s really handsome, but he doesn’t smile that much at other people. Only you.”
Hanamori looked at the other teachers, bewildered, and they nodded in agreement.
“He’s got it bad for you,” one of the others agreed.
“Good thing it’s mutual,” Shina-sensei said. “You’ve been pining for almost as long.”
Hanamori groaned. “And everyone noticed but me?”
They laughed. “Yeah, pretty much.”
“Thanks for telling me,” he whined.
“Sorry, it was fun to watch. Besides, nothing good ever comes from meddling in other people’s relationships. We figured you’d both come around eventually.” Shina-sensei shrugged. “And you did. And now it’s happily ever after.”
“Not if the mothers have anything to say about it. One of them implied that I’d come to school today in yesterday’s clothes because Shindo-san would take me home to…” He couldn’t even say it. He shook his head in embarrassment.
“Don’t worry, one of the other mothers confronted her. She shouldn’t say anything again. She’s just one of those people that isn’t very open-minded.”
“Actually, I’ve always suspected her husband was gay,” one of the other teachers whispered. “I think he has a male lover on the side and it’s hurt her deeply, so she lashes out at others.”
Hanamori sighed. While that would suck, it was still mean and he was going to avoid that woman from now on.
“Don’t let it get to you,” Shina-sensei said, slapping him on the shoulder good-naturedly. “You had a good night, just keep that in mind instead of letting some bitter housewife get you down.”
“Hey, look who’s coming,” someone whispered, and suddenly, there was a flurry of movement and Hanamori found himself standing there alone, looking confused.
Hinamori shivered at the sound of Shindo-san’s voice. He had sudden flashbacks to kissing in the car when Shindo-san dropped him off and he was blushing by the time he turned around. “G-good morning,” he said.
“I hope you slept well,” Shindo-san said, standing a little closer than he usually would. A sleepy Yukika was in his arms, her head on her father’s shoulder, watching him.
“I d-did,” he agreed.
Shindo-san smiled. “Good. I’m glad. I had a lovely night.”
Hanamori smiled shyly. “Me too.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll do it again soon,” Shindo-san promised. “But unfortunately, I have an early meeting, so I have to leave Yukika with you now.
Hanamori nodded. “I understand,” he said, holding his hands out to take the girl.
Shindo-san stepped in, pressing Yukika into Hinamori’s arms. “Bye Yukika, Hanamori-sensei. I’ll see you later,” he said, pressing a kiss to Yukika’s head. Then, he leaned closer, pressing a kiss to Hanamori’s cheek. “Have a good day.” He winked before turning and heading back to his car.
Yukika gave her father a little wave and snuggled further into Hanamori’s arms. Hanamori was frozen in shock. Shindo-san turned back once to wave again before he got into the car.
“Oh man, he’s so hot. I’ll need all the details when you finally get him naked,” Shina-sensei said, materializing at his elbow.
Hanamori jumped in shock and Yukika whined. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, stroking her hair. He shot Shina-sensei a dirty look. “Do you want to go in and take a nap until the other kids get here?” He asked Yukika.
Yukika nodded and Hanamori escaped into the building. He could still feel Shindo-san’s kiss warming his cheek and he knew that he was smiling like an idiot.