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The smell of friendship is that of Bolognese sauce!

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Kouji’s phone rang just when he had finished the book he had been reading for college. He checked it and saw Takuya’s name on the display. As soon as he accepted, he heard his friend frantically yelling “Kouji, Kouji, I’m on the brink of madness. My mom has invited our family over but she was called to an emergency at work and left me to do all the cooking!”

“Shh, shh, Takuya. Take a deep breath and count to ten” Kouji said “it’s gonna be alright.”

“Nothing’s gonna be alright! I’m all on my own and supposed to be cooking dinner for fifteen people!”

Kouji paled a bit. “Fifteen people? I didn’t know your family was that big.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a few of my parents’ cousins and their kids. And just when this is about to happen Dad has to work on Saturday and Shinya is on a class trip and will just make it to dinner. Do you see my despair now?” Takuya breathed deeply.

Kouji still had to suppress a chuckle which Takuya luckily didn’t hear. “Yeah, I do. But that’s nothing that can’t be fixed. Leave things to me and I’ll be with you in not later than an hour.”

Takuya sighed in relief. “See, that’s why I called you! Thanks, Kouji, you’re the best.”

Kouji rolled his eyes. He would remind him of this the next time they were arguing about something. He hung up and dialed another of his friends’ numbers.

“Orimoto?”

“Hi Zoe, this is Kouji. You as the half-Italian should be an expert in haute cuisine, shouldn’t you?”

There was a moment of silence at the other end of the line before Zoe erupted in hearty laughter. “No, Kouji, sorry to disappoint you but I’m not. But I can cook alla mamma if that helps.”

He smiled, imagining the slender blonde girl commanding her family like a voluptuous and resolute Italian matriarch. “Well”, he said, “as long as we can feed fifteen people with that I’m good with that, too.”

Zoe goggled. “Fifteen? Are you gonna cook for a whole football team?”

“No, but Takuya needs help with serving his extended family.”

Zoe made thinking noises before she said “Have you thought about burgers? It’s easy to make them in big quantities.”

Kouji looked sternly ahead while he coughed and replied. “Do you remember the disaster with the Burgermon? I don’t want this to happen again.”

Zoe nodded in recollection. “Mmh, fair enough. Ah, got it! I’ll give you my Nonna’s recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese. You just have to recalculate it for fifteen instead of six. Do you have anything to write?”

“Wait a second.” He rummaged around for his pen that he found under a pile of books and pulled his notepad to him. “Fire away!”

“Okay, 750gr minced beef, two tins of diced tomatoes, 75gr tomato paste, 500ml red wine - but if you have children at the table you just use broth instead - about 4 carrots, ¼ celeriac, two onions, 1 garlic clove, salt and pepper of course, and oregano, marjoram and thyme. You first fry the beef and add the finely diced vegetables. Put in the paste, let it cook, and then deglaze it with the liquid and add the tomatoes and spices. Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for an hour. Goes with all kinds of pasta really. And a nice fresh salad makes the perfect side dish.”

He wrote it down, observed it for a moment and then said “Thank you so much Zoe. By the way, that sounds as if you’re running a food blog.” He laughed.

“In all honesty, I was toying with the idea. But I don’t really have the time to run it beside college.” Zoe was studying medicine.

“Yeah, time’s always the question. But I think you could definitely pull it off, with that interesting combination of Italian and Japanese of yours. Anyway, you have definitely saved Takuya from a nervous breakdown.”

“My pleasure. Under different circumstances I would have asked if I could join you but you have enough work to do as it is. And I still have stuff to learn for that exam coming up. Just tell me if they liked the recipe.”

“Sure, though I’m not sure what there would be to not like. Thanks again, Zoe, and I’ll see you around!”

“Yeah, see you, Kouji!”

He put his phone down and quickly calculated what he needed for Takuya’s family. Then he got up from his bed, grabbed his wallet and keys as well as a couple of canvas bags, and walked out of the room.

***

After he had gotten everything from the shop close by and had cycled the few miles to the apartment house where the Kanbara’s lived, he rang the bell there.

“Is that you, Kouji?”, sounded Takuya’s hopeful voice from the speaker.

“At your service!”, he replied cheekily.

The “thank goodness” was nearly drowned in the buzz of the door. Thankfully, the Kanbara’s lived on the first floor so Kouji didn’t have to haul his shopping (which was getting heavier by the second) for much longer. Also, Takuya was so eager to finally get started that he came towards him to lift some of the bags from him.

“Good that you’re here and thank you so much for helping me out!” he exclaimed delightedly and led Kouji into the apartment.

“You know I’m your best friend, of course I’m willing to help.”

Takuya eyed him for a moment, lost in memories, and a fond smile crept up on his face. “And it still amazes me, considering that our start wasn’t exactly one for the books.”

Kouji laughed. “Oh, it was one for the books alright. Don’t you think that ours was much more interesting than one where two strangers click immediately?”

Takuya shrugged and set down the bags on the kitchen counter. While he examined their contents he said “Yeah, maybe. But it would have certainly cost me fewer nerves. You as well, I should add. But anyway, what are we supposed to cook with this?”

“Oh, I nearly forgot. I called Zoe after you had called me and consulted her. She gave me a recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese so I bought everything for that and also the stuff we need for Tiramisu as dessert. We’ll give your relatives an authentic Italian evening! I just didn’t buy any beverages like wine or so because I don’t know what your relatives like.”

Takuya shook his head, grabbing Kouji’s hand and squeezing it. “You’ve done more than enough. Mum left me money to buy groceries so I’ll give you that in a minute. And Dad has already bought things to drink yesterday when he got home from work earlier.” His gaze fell on the clock over the sink. “We still have a bit of time but we should get started nonetheless.”

“Yeah, especially since the sauce has to simmer for an hour.”

Takuya made wide eyes, then he marched over to the countertop. “Okay, I’m going to cut the vegetables, if you could put on the pots for the pasta and the meat?”

Kouji nodded, and in silence they set to work. Kouji decided to split the pasta on two pots at the back of the stove, and he found a particular large pot for the sauce. While the pasta water was starting to boil he set to work on the Tiramisu. He wanted to start with soaking the biscuits in coffee but stilled. “How old are the kids that are invited?”

Takuya halted as well in dicing the onions, a task for which he had retrieved his goggles from his room to prevent his eyes from watering. “I - I don’t know exactly”, he said while going slightly red. “but they are not in fifth grade yet so they’re not older than eleven. Why do you ask?”

“I wanted to know because you make Tiramisu with coffee and I’m not sure if they like it or are even allowed to drink it” Kouji explained.

“Oh, okay, I see. You know, why don’t you just make two batches? One with coffee and one with cacao. We should be on the safe side with this.”

“Good idea! Takuya, I’m surprised even you sometimes have them.” Kouji said laughing.

Takuya pursed his lips in feigned indignation. “How dare you? I was your leader in the Digital World, of course I have good ideas.”

“Yeah, you were leading us alright. But it always depends on the destination, you know.” He chuckled.

“Hey!” Takuya called and threw a piece of carrot after him.

Kouji elegantly dodged it and said “Has your mom not taught you to not play with food? Anyway, you can add it to the meat now. That looks ready for some funky vegetables.”

Takuya eyed him with disbelief. The Kouji he had gotten to know in the Digital World, the always slightly brooding lone wolf, would have never said “funky vegetables”. But then again had this been ten years ago, and people changed a lot in a decade. He couldn’t help but imagine Kouji as a “funky” vegetable, a carrot with sunglasses and an extravagant hat getting down on the dance floor, and he fell into a full-fledged laughing fit, causing quite a few pieces to tumble down beside the pot.

Now it was Kouji’s turn to watch his friend with furrowed brows. “Are you done now?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good” Takuya replied still a bit shaking. He picked up the missing pieces and tossed them into the pot.

*** 

The Tiramisu was chilling in the fridge and the sauce was simmering in its pot. Enough time for Kouji and Takuya to tidy up the living room and lay the table. “Honestly, Kouji, I can’t thank you enough. I would have never made it without you on time. To get all this done, I would have needed to start in the morning but I had absolutely no idea what to cook.”

“Takuya”, Kouji stopped in putting down the forks “do you really want me to say it again? I’m your best friend. It’s my pleasure to help you. We’ve been friends for ten years, and in ten years we’ll be still friends, I promise.” He smilingly grabbed his hand and squeezed it.

“Really? I’m not too big of a bother for you?”

Kouji rolled his eyes. “No, of course not. On the contrary, you helped to become a little less cautious. That helped me a lot.”

“Oh Kouji!” Takuya wrenched his hand from Kouji’s and instead embraced him with a strong hug.

“Uh…” Kouji stiffened.

Suddenly they heard the click of the apartment door. “Takuya, are you here?” his mom called from the door.

The friends quickly entangled from each other and Takuya replied “Yeah, we’re here!”

His mom came into the living room and clapped. “Oh, you’re nearly done! Thank you so much!” Then her gaze fell on Kouji. “Oh, Kouji, hello! Did Takuya invite you to come along?”

“No, Mom, he helped me. I was about to lose my head so I called him and asked for help. Zoe and he rescued me and now we’re ready to welcome the family.” He beamed.

Suddenly his mom wrung her hands. “Yeah, about that. Shuji called and said that his children are laid low by the stomach flu. And Natsumi and her family are stuck in Setagaya because their car broke down so they probably won’t come as well. I’m sorry that you two worked so hard for about nothing.”

“Oh, really? Damn!” Takuya slumped his shoulders and looked at the nearly finished table.

Kouji sensed his friend’s unease and quickly thought about a solution. “Well, Mrs Kanbara, if you don’t mind I would like to stay and maybe invite our friends? We’ve made enough Bolognese for a whole football team.”

Mrs Kanbara smiled and said “That’s a very good idea! Would you call your friends? I will have a look in the kitchen.” She turned to Takuya. “Your Dad and Shinya are on their way as well.”

“Great, than this is still going to be a nice evening!” Takuya smiled, happy that all their work hadn’t been for the birds.