"But why?" began Daiki's inevitable query as he walked alongside his best friend.
"Because," Ryosuke countered with a practiced air of patience, "I look forward to eating the waffle cone after finishing the ice cream... and don't tell me I could just eat a bowl of ice cream and then a waffle cone separately, it's not the same at all."
"But it is so messy! Look, it's already started dripping all over your hands. You wouldn't have had to deal with that with a proper single-serving cup," Daiki argued, brandishing his plastic spoon to punctuate his righteous statement.
Ryotsuke glanced down to the small bead of melted ice cream threatening to converge upon his index finger and rolled his eyes.
"Besides," Daiki continued, "when you finally reach the cone part, it will be so soggy by then. What is the point in eating waffles if they are not crunchy?"
Ryosuke was relieved to be distracted from yet another inane argument by the sight of another familiar face appearing by the end of the block. "Hey, Teppei! What are you doing here?"
Teppei jogged over to the two of them and hunched over to catch his breath. "Finally! I've been looking all over the place for you two."
Daiki, now officially distracted from the argument over waffle cones, patted Teppei on the back. "We haven't seen you in forever! When did you get back from that NRIPS internship?"
Teppei peered up and smiled. "This was my last week. I just finished and wanted to come back to visit everyone."
"That's great!" Ryosuke exclaimed, "The both of us just finished our classes today too."
"I know, I was looking for Daiki first, so I checked in with Kaburagi-san who then asked Natsuigawa-sensei who told me that she hadn't seen you since you both met up and left together after her last autopsy and so--"
"--Hey, Teppei, I think your phone is ringing," Daiki pointed out.
"Huh?" Teppei straightened and, indeed, there was a foreboding staccato emanating from his pocket.
"Hey, isn't that the theme from Jaws?" Ryosuke asked.
"Oh yeah, it must be Hanei-san," chuckled Teppei as he fished his cell phone from his jeans. "Sorry, one minute, I just need to answer it.... Hello? Oh, hi. Yes, I'm actually with them right now. Oh. Yes, yes, I'll tell them, don't worry. Yes. Okay, then, bye."
"What was that about?," Daiki wondered aloud.
"I'm going to meet up with Hanei-san now but he said that he forgot to remind you both that he's making unadon tonight and he told me to tell you that if you don't come along to his place at nine o'clock, he won't spare your lives," Teppei replied and then coughed slightly. "I'm pretty sure he was just kidding, but...."
He trailed off with a significant look. Ryosuke took the cue and failed to suppress an involuntary shudder while Daiki remained slightly confused.
"Sure, we'll be there! I already confirmed with him that I'm coming, " agreed Ryosuke.
"I told him that I wasn't sure. I was going to watch that new drama with the battling chefs tonight," Daiki objected.
Ryosuke clapped a hand on Daiki's shoulder. "Hey, don't worry, I'll buy you the DVD when it comes out. You really should come to Hanei-san's place with us.... it'll be like the good times we had last semester."
"Yeah, plus, he's offering to make us free delicious food!" Teppei suggested.
"I'd rather not go," Daiki replied, but his tone was tempered as the fastest way to his good graces was, still, through his stomach and Akira's culinary skills had always conquered on that front. He paused to sigh. "but, fine, I'll be there. And, by the way, Ryosuke, you've now got ice cream all over your jacket sleeve. Just like I had told you."
Ryosuke glanced down and swore, more because of Daiki's incredibly smug expression.
A delicious, lingering aroma and the welcoming smile of Akira's mother greeted them as they entered Chura-chan.
"I haven't seen you two for so long!" she exclaimed as she led them inside to the table, where Teppei was already sitting and enjoying a soup. "I know you are all busy with your own schedules these days, but that's no reason to not stop by every now and then."
"We're truly sorry, Hoko-san. Were it up to me, I would have crashed here every day but my seminar was just ridiculously tough these past few months," replied Ryosuke.
"At least they came," grumbled Akira from behind the counter at the far corner as he prepared his garnish. "They've been avoiding me all semester, don't you know?"
"I'm sure it's not like that, Akira," Hoko assured her son as she joined him to help with the finishing touches. "I bet they've just been working hard."
"Yeah, we weren't avoiding you, Hanei-san, we were just, well, uh, really busy, you know?" Ryosuke assured him with a weak grin as they took their usual seats.
"And, besides, I see you every single day in our Forensics class," Daiki interjected defensively. "I don't understand how I could be avoiding you when I'm the one still carrying your fainting body out of autopsies."
Ryosuke had to quickly swallow his laughter under Akira's menacing scowl.
"Hello! I'm so sorry for being so late, but I made it," came a familiar voice from the entrance.
"Just in time," Akira muttered as he placed the bowls of unadon onto the table.
As the other three clamored for a portion of the enticing dish, Ryosuke peered past Daiki's head and ogled the visitor. "Aki-chan?"
"Are you still determined to call me that?" Kanako replied irritably, striding in with a large shopping bag.
Daiki, always the suave one, swiveled his head around so quickly that he needed to massage his neck as she took her seat next to him. "A-Aki? What are you doing here?"
Kanako rolled her eyes. "Is that how you choose to welcome me after so long?"
"I invited her, you idiot," Akira replied in turn.
"No, but I think what Daiki meant was that you had written to let us know that you wouldn't arrive here until next week," Teppei clarified.
Kanako huffed. "Yes well, I had said that because my stupid brother lived near the airport and I was going to crash his place for this week since it would have been the most convenient option for me."
"Oh, Yuuki-chan? How is he doing?" asked Teppei.
"He's still his infuriating self," Kanako scowled as she helped herself to a bowl. "Apparently, he didn't realize that he was moving to a new apartment this week with a new roommate and had no room for me to stay there because he's already made it look like a dump. He picked me up at the airport and then just dropped my jetlagged self at the bus station with not much more than a 'How was your trip?'."
"Oh, that's, uh...," began Teppei, not sure how to respond to her in this angry state.
Akira's mother shook her head in sympathy, "Yes, unfortunately, that's just how these little brothers are, Kanako. You should see how frustrated I get when Akira's uncle comes to town."
Akira nodded as he sipped his beer with a knowing smile.
"Well, at least you're here," Teppei finally offered in consolation. "You made it to our reunion of sorts."
"Thanks, Teppei-kun," Kanako said before sampling a portion of the unadon and sighing. "Mmmm, this is delicious, Hanei-san."
"So, did you have fun in Los Angeles? Make a lot of friends?" Ryosuke asked.
"Yes, of course! So much was new to me there and I had a blast with all the people I worked with, but I've had the worst case of homesickness these past few weeks."
"I bet you missed us very much," Daiki blurted, grinning weirdly at her.
Kanako, chopstick paused half-way to her mouth, raised her eyebrow at him. "To be honest, I've missed good food like this the most."
After they concluded the dinner, Kanako eagerly brought out her shopping bag. She had filled it with small souvenirs she had managed to find for them while in the U.S.
Akira, Hoko, and Ryosuke all enjoyed their gifts, but it was Teppei who was perhaps the most pleasantly surprised as he opened the wrapping of his gift and squeaked in surprise at the CSI logo.
"The Complete 9th Season? W-Wow, I don't even know what to say! I was going to wait until next year for the boxed set but this is amazing! Thank you so much, Aki-chan!" he gushed.
"You're welcome," Kanako replied, looking rather pleased. "The man in the store said that it's only Region 1 or something so I don't know if you can watch it on any DVD player but he said you should be able to watch it on any laptop."
Akira chuckled. "Like that would make any difference with Teppei. It's just going to go straight to the top-most shelf of his 'collection'. Pigs will fly before he decides to open these DVD's and actually watch it."
"Hey, that's not fair," Teppei tried to argue above the laughter of Akira and Ryosuke, but it was futile.
Daiki, however, was preoccupied with the apparent emptiness of her shopping bag. "You don't have anything left! Did you forget me? That's not fair at all!"
"I didn't forget you, idiot. No need to get so impatient with me. This," Kanako said, pulling out a slip of paper from her purse and sliding it in front of Daiki, "this is for you."
Daiki gingerly picked it up to read the English script aloud. "Best of luck, Daiki. Signed, Denzel Washington!! Wow!"
"Wow," Ryosuke, Teppei, and Akira all echoed, looking deeply impressed.
"You shouldn't understimate me, you know. This is for agreeing to never comparing me to Yoshio Kojima ever again," Kanako stated as Daiki still stared admiringly at the autograph.
"Oh, how sweet," Ryosuke remarked, "maybe we should clear out of this room to give these two some space."
"Oh, shut up," Kanako snapped. Daiki picked up a spare chopstick on the table and pretended to launch it at Ryosuke's face.
"Okay, okay, I was just kidding, but for someone who says didn't miss us all that much, you sure bought a lot of souvenirs for us," Ryosuke pointed out.
"I never said I didn't miss all of you, but being with you guys finally reminds me of all that I didn't miss when I was away," Kanako retorted.
Akira raised his glass. "That right there might be the most sentimental thing Kanako has ever said in reference to us."
Ryosuke mockingly clicked his glass with Akira's as he giggled. "Cheers!"
Teppei and Daiki both raised their glasses in unison to join in, whereas Kanako stared at the rest of them in bewilderment.
"C'mon, Aki-chan, you're going to have to deal with these four for at least another year," Daiki stated. "You might as well assimilate."
"All of you are so bizarre," Kanako muttered, but she lifted her mug as well.