A piece of rainbow for cielmelodies Part 1, with the biggest Happy Birthday wishes from your author and your mods ^_^/
Title: Make-believe – Of Deceitful Hearts and Clouded Minds, Of a Viper’s Whispers and Chocolate’s conviction [Kazuko Game x Shitsuren Chocolatier cross-over]
Pairing: Yoshimoto Kouya/Koyurugi Souta (Sakurai Sho/Matsumoto Jun)
Rating/Warnings: NC-17; contains explicit sexual content.
Summary: Souta has been unrequitedly in love with Saeko for twelve years and refuses to give up on the love he bears for her. Then he meets Yoshimoto Kouya, a tutor who offers Souta a deal, he cannot refuse.
Notes: So. No matter what I decided to write, I knew you would guess me instantly. For that reason, I decided to surprise you with the content of the fic instead and give you, what I know you have wanted for a very long time.
A few important info bits: I watched the two dramas before and mid-writing to try and capture the essence of the characters, and that means I also included a lot of quotes and actual events that happened in the dramas, and used them to mould and shape this story. You will spot them if you have seen the dramas. Yoshimoto’s knowledge of the practice of seduction is actually based on the novel version of Yoshimoto, who is apparently is quite the seductionist.
The first time he went to choco la vie, he was an ordinary customer, and he ordered a chocolate shortcake. As a matter of fact, Souta did not even meet him, busy as he was tempering chocolate on the marble counter. He simply came to know the customer as the “guy who stuffed his face greedily and finished in five seconds, proceeding to praise the taste and texture of the cake with a wide grin, promising he would be back soon.” Appearing as though he actually managed to notice the texture during the time it took him to swallow the cake like a starving vulture. Apparently, Kaoruko had been rather disturbed whereas Olivier had merely found the man very amusing.
The second time, Souta was busy preparing a special cake Saeko had ordered for one of her parties, so he did not even glance through the window to the store, to see who came and went, thus not witnessing the show when the customer ordered both the roll cake with chocolate-coated almonds and a side-order of Souta’s newest white chocolates with strawberry-filling.
The third time, the customer asked to meet Souta. Kaoruko told Souta the guy had only made it halfway through his piece of chocolate tart before he waved his hand at her and Olivier, demanding he meet the creator of such an “amazing cake”. Although, really, it was a tart.
And even then, Souta did not pick up any weird vibes from the customer, he simply bowed and thanked the man for the great praise he was throwing Souta, promising he would be back every week, always looking forward to the chocolatier’s newest ideas and artful creations. Before leaving, he shook Souta’s hand, handing him a crooked grin that Souta later had to admit was perhaps a bit creepy. But he paid it no mind.
Looking back, perhaps he should have.
Souta has just finished tempering the chocolate to be used to make the afternoon batch of dark caramel chocolates shaped like coffee beans, when he notices a waving movement in the corner of his eye. As soon as he turns his head, his heart skips a beat. Saeko is standing behind the counter, waving energetically at him, and she is wearing this sparkling smile of hers, her hair looking soft as silk, lips red like roses and her eyes shining, making her sparkling earrings pale in comparison.
The distance is too great between them, and Souta almost stumbles over his feet in his rush to dry his hands in his apron and make his way through the glass door.
“Saeko-san.” He greets, out of breath, feeling the strain in his cheeks as he smiles. His heart is beating so wildly in his chest, he is sure his ribcage will burst. It feels like he just ran a marathon.
“Souta-kun! It’s been a while.” She is so beautiful, pulling a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
Souta wishes he was the one doing that, but remains standing behind the counter, unsure of what to do with his hands, so he clasps them behind his back, “Un,” he nods, trying to rein in his smile, “How are you? I made a new bonbon chocolate.”
Saeko’s eyes light up, and it is all worth it.
There might be other customers in the store, but Souta hardly notices, eyes drawn to the beautiful creature in front of him, as she pays for a box of 12 mixed chocolates. The moment she steps out of the door, he misses her. If only he could follow her home, watch her eat those chocolates. Her full, luscious lips wrapped around his creation, the taste filling her mouth, her tongue slipping out to lick the dark taste away…
“Wow, you are really into her, huh.”
Souta startles, nearly pushing the display on the counter off, but saves it before it falls and scrambles to pull it back to its proper place. When did he turn so fidgety?
When he finally gathers himself, he finds the regular customer with the thick, brown hair, oversized bag and creepy smile leaning on the counter, eyes sparkling mischievously.
“Wh- What are you talking about?” Souta stammers, touching his hair in a nervous gesture.
The man only smiles mysteriously, “You know, I wouldn’t have guessed her to be your type, but witnessing you like this, I think I’ve changed my mind.”
Souta purses his lips, refusing to acknowledge this man’s observation skills and what he is hinting at. Souta knows that he is only hurting himself with his love for a married woman, but he is addicted. There is nothing he can do.
“I should get back to my work.” He tells the man, bowing politely before he turns on his heel.
The customer’s eyes linger on him, even as Souta continues working chocolates into perfect shapes, but Souta ignores him, pretending he is not standing there, on the other side of the glass, watching him for 20 minutes.
Even if Saeko is late, and Kaoruko was close to selling the specially-ordered set of baked goods to someone else, Souta is still thrilled to see her. He easily accepts her excuse of waiting for an electrician who was late, even though he – in the back of his mind – realizes that she could have made it here on time, with a little effort. But with that smile and her downcast eyes and sweet voice, how can he not forgive her and let it go?
“You sure love her. Guess Chocolate Princes really do chase after Chocolate Princesses.”
Souta starts. How did he move here so fast? Was Souta just too occupied throwing longing glances at the door after Saeko left?
“Is that why you made this place?” the customer is now leaning over the counter, elbows resting on the glass, and he is smirking so widely, Souta does not know what to do but to take a step away from him. The man chuckles, and Souta can sense the mocking, “You built this shop to impress her, to win her heart. How cute.” He does not look like he finds it cute at all. If anything, he finds it amusing. And pathetic.
Souta already knows he is pathetic, but this is his dream. To make chocolates that Saeko will enjoy. And there is no way this guy waltzing up here and pretending he knows everything will take that dream away.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Souta ends up asking, voice devoid of anything but stiff politeness, “I am rather busy, so if you’ll excuse me.”
He tries not to rush as he walks back through the doors to work on a batch of baked sweets. Again, he feels the customer’s eyes boring into his back like hot iron spikes. Souta does not relent, and breathes a sigh of relief that earns him questioning looks from Olivier and Kaoruko when he sees the customer leave his periphery.
If this continues, he will have to forbid the customer from visiting choco la vie. Souta will not stand to be harassed like this.
“I understand. We will bring the cake to your place at exactly 2 pm. tomorrow. Of course. Thank you.” Souta hangs up, a small smile on his face for landing another job.
They have been doing this for a while now, taking orders via phone and bringing it to the customer. After Saeko’s wedding and the spread in Gourmet Seeker more and more people have been calling the shop. Souta has even been forced to refuse some orders to make sure he at least gets 3 hours of sleep at night. The three of them have been kept busy, so busy that Souta has even had to ask his younger sister for help manning the store.
Souta turns around to face the bustling of the store, and his smile stiffens.
Today, he is not wearing his long, brown coat, and his bag is left at one of the small tables by the window, “I rarely see you out in the store like this Chocolate Prince.”
Souta is so used to that shit-eating grin that it hardly affects him anymore, “How can I help you?”
The guy tilts his head, eyes studying Souta’s face, and Souta almost leaves the customer out of impatience when he finally answers, face more serious.
“I couldn’t help but notice the whispers of praise for your amitié.” He tells Souta, “So could you give me one of those with a cup of coffee?”
Souta wants to refuse him, tell him to go ask Kaoruko, but she is busy with another customer which leaves Souta with no choice, “Of course,” he grits out instead, hands on the sides of his apron, “I will bring it to you.” He gestures for the customer to return to his table, not looking him in the eye.
At least the guy lets him prepare the cake on a plate and brew the coffee in peace, which actually sort of surprises Souta. But he still has to witness his eyes lighting up when Souta brings him the set at his table.
“That looks very good. You know, you cannot get amitié anywhere else in this area.” The guy sounds real and when he looks at the cake, the smile is one of genuine happiness.
Souta cannot help but furrow his brow, and before he knows it, he has taken a seat on the chair opposite of the man, “Who are you anyway?” he blurts out, forgetting to be polite in his curiosity to solve the mystery of this guy who keeps returning to poke at Souta regularly.
The customer raises his eyes to look at Souta through dark eyelashes. He smirks, and a chill runs down Souta’s spine. Then he breaks eye contact to fish around in his giant bag for a business card he hands to Souta, “Yoshimoto Kouya, home tutor, with a 100% success rate at getting anyone, no matter who, into Toudai.” He sounds like an insurance commercial, but accompanied by those eyes that appears to see everything, he just comes across as untrustworthy.
“You really have a 100% success rate?” Souta inquires sceptically, accidentally looking into a set of deep brown – almost black – eyes.
“Of course. There is no way I’d lie.” Yoshimoto nods, pouting offendedly.
For his sake, Souta hopes the man is a little more calm and less like a Cheshire cat when he sells himself to a family.
Since Souta had feared the man may perhaps be a food critic or a journalist, he finds himself breathing a sigh of relief, “Very well, Yoshimoto-san. Nice to make your acquaintance. I hope you enjoy the cake.” With that, he bows his head and rises, returning to work. He is definitely less spooked by the man now that he has both his name and profession.
Souta has to ask Yoshimoto to repeat himself the next time they meet, exclaiming an uncool “Excuse me?” when Yoshimoto presents his proposal.
“I can help you with her. Make her want you, that is.”
Souta blinks stupidly, “You’re a tutor.”
It is just before closing time with only Yoshimoto left in the store and it honestly does not appear to be a coincidence, although Souta is happy for his discreetness for once.
“Correct,” Yoshimoto smiles, “But tutoring a 12-year old kid to prepare him for exams cannot be too different from tutoring a heartbroken Chocolate Prince to win the heart of his beloved Princess. I’d say I know a thing or two about women.”
Souta does not doubt that. The tutor is a handsome man, even Souta can see that, with a simple style in clothes, a sharp jawline and an easy smile. Souta knows that women, including Saeko, like bad guys – which is why he is trying to change himself, as he has never really been like that. He thinks it is not going too well for the time being though. But this Yoshimoto could be a bad guy. No, he certainly is not a good guy, there is some kind of dark aura surrounding him. So perhaps he really could offer Souta some advice on women.
So far, Souta has only managed to refuse one of Saeko’s requests rather harshly, perhaps too harshly, which led to her not showing up in the store for a month. Nothing good came out of that really.
“You could really help me?” Souta is afraid of hoping for too much, but this offer seems to come in his most dire time of need. Olivier is hardly any help – except for in Souta’s dreams – and Kaoruko does not understand Souta’s wish and need to see Saeko. She is Souta’s muse after all, his inspiration, and his destruction. But he wants to be hurt, till the point where he cannot take it anymore. Until she pushes him to his knees, he will long for her.
“And it won’t cost you a thing,” Yoshimoto grins, showing Souta his white teeth, though the latter part of his sentence is clearly no joke, “except for free cake every time I am here, of course.”
There is something convincing and enthralling about Yoshimoto’s expression then, which makes Souta want to believe in him, want to listen to and learn from him. He would not be surprised to find Yoshimoto using the same technique on his students, “Okay. I am in. Please tell me what to do.”
“First off, you can call me sensei,” Yoshimoto’s grin widens, and Souta resists the urge to roll his eyes, “Second, you have to swear you won’t back out. Unless you fall out of love with your princess.”
Souta does not believe that will ever happen. He fell in love with her at first sight, but unfortunately, he cannot seem to fall out of love. It has been 12 years after all.
Yoshimoto nods, looking very pleased, “Good. We begin at your next free module – or day, whichever fits you. Send me your schedule by mail. And I will send you a contract.” The tutor proceeds to scribble down a regular mail address on the notepad on the counter. He offers Souta the ripped-off piece of paper afterwards, their fingers touching.
A contract? Really, is this, after all, a good idea?
If Saeko finds out, Souta is doomed. If something goes wrong, Souta is doomed. He must keep it a secret from everyone, with no risk of anyone exposing his secret.
“Oh, and Koyurugi-san.” Souta looks up again, thrown out of his thoughts. “You can give me a piece of the gateau au chocolat to go, as a sign of good will.” His eyebrows are raised in expectancy. And Souta wants to dry the provocative expression off his damn face.
“You have to become a bad guy.”
The devil with red eyes and dark wings in Souta’s dream now has the face of Yoshimoto Kouya, and instead of Olivier’s face which was merely stern, the devil is now grinning cruelly, sharp fangs shining. Its voice echoes loudly in Souta’s ears and suddenly, the ground beneath his feet is shaking. The church grows dark, the walls crack and the building starts to fall apart around him, caving in and threatening to crush him underneath the heavy, dark stones.
“I will ruin you.”
Souta wakes with a start, sits up in his bed, out of breath and bathed in sweat.
He does not dislike Yoshimoto, not really. He just feels incredibly doubtful and on edge around him. If Yoshimoto is indeed genuine, it appears that it will still take a while for Souta to fully believe that his intentions are good, and that he does not have some kind of ulterior motive.
“I think we should go and have a talk first.” Yoshimoto suggests, his way of walking so fast that Souta has to occasionally run a few steps to keep up. The man’s arms are swinging energetically, almost a little robotically at his sides and he is looking straight ahead, even as his big, brown bag slams against his backside rhythmically.
Souta has Olivier and Kaoruko look after the shop for the rest of the day, with the promise that he will be back no later than 5 pm., to start working on the goods for tomorrow. He cannot possibly neglect his important work for longer than that.
“Talk?” he asks stupidly.
Yoshimoto smiles, but does not turn to meet Souta’s eyes, “Yes, talk. You cannot expect me to give you the best advice without knowing your story, now can I? So, you will tell me everything about Saeko-san.”
Souta’s eyes snap up, “You know her?”
“Of course not.” Suddenly, Yoshimoto stops, and Souta almost bumps into him, “I just happened to listen in on one of your conversations.” He looks completely unashamed as he says this, appearing as though it is perfectly natural to nag in other people’s business.
Souta is starting to think that this guy just does whatever he pleases, with no remorse or consideration for other people.
Maybe this really is a horrible idea.
But on the other hand, Souta hardly ever goes out, so seeing the neighbourhood, accompanied by someone who is neither Elena nor one of his co-workers, is surprisingly refreshing. Although part of his thoughts does not stray far from chocolates and ideas and schedules for the creation of baked cakes and mousses.
Yoshimoto has taken Souta to a park, it appears. And upon further inspection, Souta realizes, with horror, that it is the same park to which he took Saeko on February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day, 2007. He stares dumbly after Yoshimoto while he – without hesitation – proceeds to walk towards the bench where Souta sat with Saeko at his side, so close to getting what he wanted, and yet so far. That day, when his heart was broken. That day, when he almost had to get on his knees to convince Saeko to accept the chocolates he had spent an entire night making especially according to her tastes. And the morning after was when he decided to go to Paris.
What kind of horrible coincidence is this?
He should see his face.
Kouya almost regrets not bringing a mirror to put up in front of Souta, just to show him how utterly horrified he looks.
This is almost too good, and they have hardly begun. All the plans Kouya already has for the chocolatier, all the ideas already set in motion. Once he signs the contract, there will be no backing out for Souta Koyurugi, not until he witnesses the end, either before or after the big reveal.
Kouya wonders how long the young man will last. Given how deep he has already dug himself towards his own destruction, Kouya expects he just needs that last push. But then again, given how persistent he has been; how many times that woman has hurt him, and he has bounced right back, determination even stronger, Kouya is unsure of the outcome. Which is the reason why he got the idea to begin with.
No fun in just witnessing predictable outcomes.
And Kouya by no means aims for choco la vie to close. By no means. That would mean he can no longer partake in the delicious treats from the chocolatier. No, he supposes he just saw a chance for more entertainment than his current student and his family is turning out to be. After the Numata family, everything almost seems too easy.
Unsurprisingly, Souta takes a step back in shock, first blinking before his expression turns to one of anger, after Kouya raises his phone and snaps a quick picture, “What are you doing?”
The reaction only makes Kouya smile, “Good.” Instead of treating Souta to more of an answer, Kouya merely turns back around and sits down on the bench, the metal warm from the sun. He pads the iron beside him in a gesture for Souta to sit.
Where he expects for Souta to hesitate, to retain his sceptic behaviour, it only takes a moment before Souta sits down, perhaps his curiosity winning over any doubt he may have about the tutor. But Kouya expects to remove the doubt and anxiety in the following couple of days, once he presents Souta with results.
Once Souta is seated next to him, Kouya leans back, purses his lips and looks at the chocolatier with expectation, “So, you may begin. How did you meet?”
It is very easy to get Souta to talk about his unrequited love, just as Kouya expected. The man is brimming with love and affection for a woman who is more Souta’s imagination and image of her, than she is a living, flawed human. Saeko Takahashi is definitely a real woman of flesh and bone, but compared to the Saeko in Souta’s head, there are major differences.
A human is only human, but what Souta has made her to be is some sort of over-worldly fairy-creature – he even calls her fairy himself once he really starts going on about why she is so great, Kouya is hardly listening at this point, merely observing and learning Souta’s feelings and way of thinking – of how Saeko is a creature of beauty and innocence. How boring – and severely far from the truth – is that? Kouya does learn how much of a role Saeko plays in Souta’s creations of chocolates, how she is a source of inspiration, a muse, for Souta’s dreams. She is the one who turns Souta’s chocolate creation into an artform.
And so, while Souta blabbers on about how he has been pining for the woman for 12 years, after bumping into her in school when he was 15, Kouya realizes that this matter should be handled with great care. That if he takes Saeko away from Souta – takes her away, not as in physically, but mentally from Souta’s mind – Kouya would need to find a substitute for her. If not, Souta’s inspiration will be vanquished, he will be left confused and unable to see his dreams, thus unable to visualize and create chocolates of the quality they have now.
Being a great lover of sweets and food in general, Kouya thinks that would be a horrible waste. Which leaves him already starting to consider the best following course of action after today.
“And I told her that I did not care if she was exploiting me, if I was simply someone sating her loneliness between boyfriends, or when her current boyfriend was away and she was miserable,” Souta continues beside him, and Kouya does not feel sorry for him at all, “But I was young and rash, and an idiot. I had to beg her to take the chocolates I had spent most of the night making, pretending they were nothing. That they did not mean a thing, despite me pouring all my love into them.” Now Souta turns towards Kouya, and Kouya is a little surprised to see such emotion in those huge, brown eyes aimed at him, Souta’s attention on Kouya despite his mind lingering forever on Saeko, “I do realise how much easier it would be if I could just love someone else. Saeko-san makes a fool out of me, and I dislike that. But I cannot stop. I cannot stop loving her and wanting her to hurt me. If she is not around, my mind becomes foggy. I want to show her my feelings, while becoming someone who is not looked down upon.” Souta is almost out of breath, having inched closer and closer to Kouya’s face.
Anyone else would have probably shied back, but Kouya simply narrows his eyes and stares right back into Souta’s. Until, eventually, Souta slumps back against the backrest with a deep sigh, palms up and arms hanging at his sides, “But I am no good. I try to learn to become more of a bad guy, I know I have to.”
A smirk slowly creeps onto Kouya’s face, “Well, you take the words out of my mouth, Souta-kun.”
If Souta is bothered by the use of his first name, he does not show it, watching Kouya with a little more light in his eyes – hoping.
Kouya continues, “Saeko-san is clearly interested in bad guys, as you said. She is not interested in someone who is easy to get, someone who follows her around like a puppy and licks her feet,” Kouya does not bother hiding the contempt in his voice, “And so, you must become someone interesting to her. Someone she must fight for, someone she has to chase. You need to become a price that is hard to get.”
Souta is a little slow; something Kouya already observed by simply watching him in the store. He is brilliant with chocolates and sweets, but very slow on the uptake when it comes to love and the art of seduction. Curiously enough.
“And you are already well on your way to becoming that, aren’t you-” Kouya tilts his head, “Chocolate Prince?”
Week one – Rippled dark and white chocolate rum truffle, rolled in cocoa powder
Words echo in Souta’s mind, twisting and turning as he considers yesterday’s conversation in the park.
What began as increasingly suspicious to Souta, turned out to give him motivation and even food for thought. With Yoshimoto’s knowing eyes on him, Souta felt as though he only had to tell the tutor half the story, and he would be able to know the rest, by just interpreting Souta’s words, by just looking at him. As utterly nerve-wracking and terrifying as the thought is, Yoshimoto seems to be able to see right through Souta. Right through anyone actually, with those dark-brown eyes. Eyes that have seen and experienced so much. Of that, Souta has no doubt.
There is an air of deep knowledge and timeless wisdom surrounding Yoshimoto Kouya, intelligence not fitted someone so young. Although he must be a few years older than Souta. Perhaps, it is this intelligence and maturity which draws young students to the man; the reason why he has such success with his job. But teaching students and helping someone seduce a married woman, are the techniques for such things not miles apart?
Kaoruko’s voice snaps Souta out of it, the image of Yoshimoto’s creepy grin going up in smoke. Souta realises he has been stirring the chocolate for more than 5 minutes too long.
“A price, huh…” Souta mumbles to no one in particular, and he can see Kaoruko and Olivier exchanging confused looks over the tables while they are helping prepare today’s sweets and chocolates.
Perhaps attempting to foresee mental effects on a person and interpreting what lies beyond the spoken word of love is not so far from solving an equation in math. Perhaps, Souta really has found a guide to help him be able to finally hold Saeko in his arms, to pull her close and kiss her; her soft lips pressing against his, the taste of chocolate lingering in her perfect, warm mouth, the-
“OI! Snap out of it.”
The vision disappears, and Souta is left for a moment confused, wondering where he is, who he is, who spoke to him. But Kaoruko with her hands on her hips and a stern expression is no fantasy, “Quit daydreaming. You still have two batches of caramel chocolates and chocolate mousse to finish, no time to fool around.”
“O- of course!”
Sometimes, Souta forgets himself. When he delves too deep into those sinful fantasies of how it would feel to hold Saeko in his arms, how it would feel to finally have her belong to Souta, he forgets the cruel, dull reality.
He pours the chocolate down onto the marble plate, watching as the thick liquid, like silk, spreads over the cold, white stone, and then he bends down to fold it, stir it and bring it down to the perfect temperature. With chocolate, Souta is in control, and he pours all his love for Saeko into the making of what he imagines to be the world’s best chocolate.
The sound of the phone camera goes on in succession as Kouya walks around the building, watching through the lens of his blue phone. It is 8 am., and the place has not opened yet. However, since Kouya followed him this morning, he knows that Souta arrived at 7 am. precisely, alone, likely to start preparing the sweets for the day. Although the chocolatier will be busy all day, Kouya knows something is bound to make him even more busy. Probably also additionally excited.
Saeko Takahashi has been refused to go on a weekend trip with her friend, by her husband. The man who is 12 years older than her is of the conviction that going out like that as a housewife is out of the question, even if it leaves her home alone doing nothing but cook the food he is home too late to eat with her, as well as wash and fold his clothes, clean the house and do the shopping. This refusal has made her miserable, and the likelihood of her showing up to see Souta soon is therefore very high. Chocolate is her way of reducing stress. As well as seeing men who would follow her around and shower her with attention.
Kouya smirks as he lowers his phone.
But Souta is trying very hard not to be like that anymore, and Kouya is here to help him with that.
Yesterday, Kouya had Souta sign the contract as they split up in the park. Souta had been talking about Saeko for hours, and it had turned dark by the time he suddenly realised he needed to go back to the store, he was late already, and Kaoruko would surely scold him. But of course, Kouya had predicted that Souta would be unable to stop once he started talking about Saeko, and about the things she had put him through. Too caught up was he in their conversation, that Souta hardly noticed the length of the contract, and he most definitely did not consider reading all the points. Almost too easy.
For the chocolatier, the feelings he holds for Saeko are like an addiction. Sweet in the moment, but with horrible side-effects and withdrawal symptoms, should he be deprived of her for more than a week. And now that he is utterly ensnared in Kouya’s trap, he is in for one hell of an extensive rehab.
By the time it is 9 am. Kaoruko comes out to sweep the stones in front of choco la vie, and she momentarily stops in her tracks, a stunned expression on her face.
Kouya gives her a small bow, “Good morning,”
She bows back, “You are early today.”
The woman has been working for Souta ever since he came back from France, and she was his colleague back when choco la vie was Souta’s father’s pastry store. She is in her thirties – a few years older than Souta – and quite sharp, although honest. Safe to say, she knows Souta incredibly well.
“I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“To me?” Kaoruko wears such open expressions, which Kouya finds very refreshing.
He takes a step closer, and knows she will not be doing a lot of sweeping this morning, “It’s about Souta.” Her eyes widen, a soft blush brushing over her cheekbones.
Kouya smiles, “I am aware of his love for that woman who comes here very often, but I wanted to hear your side of the story, what you know of her. Since I have promised to help Souta out, I need information.”
At first, Kaoruko is sceptical, and Kouya understands. One thing is revealing information about one’s boss, another thing entirely is revealing information about a dear friend you have a crush on; even talk about the love that particular person holds for someone else. This whole matter is quite a circle of unrequited love.
How very amusing.
“Well, I don’t know much,” she starts, holding onto the broom with both hands, “Aside from the fact that that woman is using Souta!” Kaoruko’s eyes get a faraway look, and she no longer looks at Kouya but off into the distance. It did not take much to get her started.
Kouya smirks, and whispers under his breath, “Good.”
When Kaoruko returns from outside, it is with Yoshimoto in tow. Souta is honestly a little surprised to see the man this early after last night, although his presence has become a constant in Souta’s store.
“Good morning!” Yoshimoto announces, his signature energetic walk on full display as he makes his way to the counter, “How’s the planning of a new product coming along? Kaoruko-san told me about it.” He looks genuinely interested, and that just makes Souta all the more miserable and mad at himself for being unable to come up with a proper idea for a special new product.
“Still in progress…” Souta mutters.
Beside him, Kaoruko makes her way behind the counter to face Yoshimoto, a professional, albeit strict smile on her face, “Souta-kun has a lot of work with the chocolates already as it is. I am afraid he sometimes bites off more than he can chew, so please do not encourage him. He already lacks sleep as it is.”
Souta gets an unsettling churning in his stomach when Yoshimoto’s smile turns into a wide smirk, but whereas those knowing eyes are usually resting on Souta, they are now aimed at Kaoruko, who blinks stupidly – naturally – very confused at the reaction her statement caused.
“I understand.” Yoshimoto’s voice is dark, slightly gravelly when he tilts his head and continues to just look at Kaoruko.
The woman is Souta’s trusted employee and long-time friend, and so, he takes a step towards her, determined to defend her in whatever mockery or scheme – Souta honestly cannot tell with this man – Yoshimoto is planning, “So, did you want to order anything? Because if not-”
“Of course.” Yoshimoto snaps his gaze back on Souta, effectively cutting him off, “I’d like the orange chocolate shortcake, please.” As if nothing particularly strange just happened between the three of them, as if Souta did not just witness something, he is not quite sure what was.
At least stuffing food in his face will make the guy leave them alone for just 5 minutes. Enough for both Souta and Kaoruko to flee back behind the glass, occupying themselves with the chocolates. Souta looks away just as Yoshimoto takes a picture of the cake. And another. And one of his coffee cup, one of the window beside him…
“Have you heard from Saeko-san?” Olivier’s question tears Souta’s attention away from Yoshimoto, and that is just as well.
They somehow always end up discussing Saeko while making chocolates. She is the source of Souta’s inspiration and the reason why there is a choco la vie afterall.
“She sent me a message, saying she’d come by soon.” Olivier smiles, but then Souta continues, “But I didn’t reply. There is nothing to say really – I don’t want to appear too eager after all.”
His friend nods in understanding, and Souta recalls how angel Olivier turned into demon Olivier. Before Yoshimoto appeared. Souta shivers. When he glances out the glass window, Yoshimoto has left, leaving behind an empty plate. Souta is so often left surprised at how fast the tutor can eat. Then, while his head is still turned, the door opens, the soft chiming of the bell announcing a customer. And time slows down.
Despite there being a wall of glass separating them, Souta can imagine the clank of her high heels against the stone floor, can almost see the imaginary sparks ahead of her before she steps out from behind the shelves, her long wavy hair shimmering in the sun coming through the windows. Souta almost drops the bowl of melted chocolate on the floor in his hurry to go and greet her. But only almost. He stops himself before he can act like a fool, throwing Saeko a nod, stirring the chocolate a bit before leaving the marble counter.
Relaxed and confident, he chants in his head, trying his best to ignore his wildly beating heart and calm his breathing.
“Saeko-san,” he greets once they are face to face.
She smells so good.
“Souta-kun, I came to see you.” She says, flashing her white teeth in a charming smile, and Souta’s knees go weak.
Her lips are so shapely and her lashes so long…
“Yes. How have you been?”
They exchange pleasantries, Souta managing to remain rather cool, until-
“Saeko-san. Is there anything in particular you’d like to eat? Any ideas for a new product?” Souta does not catch himself before the words are out of his mouth, a question he has been pondering for a while.
Due to the steady increase in the shop’s popularity, Souta wants to introduce a new product to maintain the interest of the customers, and since Saeko is the image of the average customer in choco la vie – and Souta’s muse – he has been wanting to hear her advice for a while. And she does not hesitate to answer,
“Pain au chocolat!” she exclaims, so excited that Souta feels himself falling all over again.
“Pain au chocolat?”
“Yes! I love pain au chocolat! If Souta-kun can make them, I think it would be incredibly delicious. I’d come here every day!”
Every day? Souta’s eyes widen, and he swallows an equally excited squeak, “I understand. Pain au chocolat, huh? I will see what I can do.”
When he offers Saeko a soft smile, she sends a one huge back, her eyes slimming and her shoulders rising a little, “I look forward to it! Please let me know when you finish it. Oh, and then I’d like a box of 20 chocolates today. I will have a friend over for tea.”
She is just too beautiful, too cheerful and too colourful. Souta occupies himself with arranging a variety of chocolates he knows Saeko likes, and her face of excitement stays with him for the rest of the day, even haunting him at night.
He really loves her. And he wants to make the most delicious pain au chocolat for her to enjoy. Just for her…
The shutter clicks. And the fifth picture in a row appears on the screen.
Saeko is smiling and throwing her eyes down, a hand raised to tug a lock of hair behind her ear. In front of her, Souta is watching her with a soft smile, warmth and love so obviously evident in his eyes as he rests his weight on the glass counter. The scene is shot through a wide window, the frame in the shot as well.
Kouya smirks, “That’s good….”
Elena’s smile is enough for Souta to forget his worries for a while, to pour his heart out while the girl tells Souta about her unrequited love. It is nice, having a friend who shares one’s pains and pleasures of being in love. It is both thrilling and hurtful, and with Elena, Souta has found a kindred soul.
“A tutor?” Elena asks when Souta mentions Yoshimoto, her full, pouty lips stealing his attention for a second.
He has mentioned Yoshimoto before as the very strange customer who would always leave very high praises for the treats at choco la vie which earned a very amusing reaction from Elena who visibly shivered and voiced out what had been on Souta’s mind; that Yoshimoto is creepy. Now, Souta would rather describe him as hard to read or maybe unpredictable. Despite not trusting him, Souta signed the contract.
“Would you not have done the same?” he asks Elena, turning to face her on the couch, both of them in their nightwear, “For the one you love? If someone offered to help you, to train you to become a price your loved one wanted to win, someone they’d yearn for.”
Elena’s eyes turn sparkly at the prospect, her previous sceptical expression turning into a smile, her cheeks turning slightly red. She nods, gazes charmingly at Souta, “Yes. I would. You are right.” She grabs Souta’s hand to give it a loving squeeze before she nestles down next to him, her body heat seeping comfortingly through Souta’s skin, “I would take any chance I could get to win his heart. And you said, he appeared to be very intelligent?”
“He has 100% success with getting students into Toudai.”
“Wow! I guess that counts for something. Toudai!” Elena agrees.
Later, Elena prepares tea, offering Souta a steaming cup with a herbal smell. She sits down very close to him, one of her naked legs thrown over his, “So, tell me about your tutor. Is he handsome?”
When Souta raises an eyebrow at her, Elena just smiles widely, not innocent at all.
“I guess he is handsome.” Souta starts, thinking of Yoshimoto’s full lips, dark eyes and semi-long hair, “He is no model, with his simple style, but I guess he is manly. A little dark.”
Yoshimoto’s shapely mouth in Souta’s imagination turns upwards into a smile, the creepiness of it proportionate with its size. Souta shivers and shakes his head to clear out the imagery.
Elena tilts her head, clearly imagining how Souta’s customer – and tutor now – looks, “I want to meet him.”
“He is weird though, comes across as a little off.”
“Well, I am weird too.” Elena argues and grabs Souta’s hand to lace their fingers together before repeating herself, “I want to meet him.” And Souta finds the wish quite endearing.
When Souta holds Elena that night, he thinks of Saeko, of how he cannot wait to hold her in his arms like he is holding Elena. Despite not trusting Yoshimoto, there is a big part of Souta who naively believes that Yoshimoto can help; that he can fulfil that dream of Souta’s, that he can bring Saeko into Souta’s embrace willingly, as though she has longed for it for as long as Souta has longed for her. And so, Souta convinces himself that he will follow Yoshimoto’s guidance, whatever it may be. Which was Yoshimoto’s main condition in their agreement, one of the main points in the contract – although Souta did not read them all, simply because there were too many. Five pages and 600 points was going a little overboard.
But now, Souta will not – cannot – back out.
“The famous actress Fujimoto Ryoko has praised your chocolate mousse, Souta-kun.” Yoshimoto shows Souta his phone screen, on which a website called Eatrend is displayed, with a ranking of Tokyo’s top sweets. Choco la vie’s mousse is placed second, “I bet this will bring along a big wave of costumers. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Souta offers a hesitant smile, pride making his cheeks heat up, but refusing to let the information get to his head. With a rival like Ricdor, a second place is not enough to keep up with the other chocolatier.
“I wish I could have been here to handle her order!” Souta’s younger sister chirps in, sighing dreamily and resting her elbows on the glass cabinets recently filled to the brim with chocolates.
They open in less than 30 minutes, and after coffee, Souta’s tutor heads off for work. Yoshimoto informed Souta that he is tutoring a middle school kid whose parents have long since given up on trying to make him work on bettering his grades and preparing for entrance exams. And he is really making Yoshimoto earn his money, although Yoshimoto keeps on boasting about his own skills, how he will have the kid go to school enthusiastically in no time.
He is, however, busy, and since Souta is equally busy, their lessons for the past week has mainly been Yoshimoto learning as much as he can about Souta’s situation, about Saeko and offering pieces of advice here and there. Advice, which turned out to be very useful for Souta yesterday, when Saeko let him know per text that she is going to stop by and has something to ask of Souta. Oddly enough, a few hours before the text arrived, Yoshimoto offered Souta a list of things to say and how to react, should Saeko suddenly ask him to meet her somewhere, alone.
Up until this point, Souta found that Yoshimoto’s advice was perhaps a little too optimistic. He cannot quite imagine Saeko would ask him out when she is married. Which is why he finds himself utterly thrown off balance, when Saeko does just that, in the middle of the store today.
“Do you have plans for the upcoming holidays?” she asks him, right as she comes through the store.
The place is otherwise empty, since it is only about half an hour before closing time.
Saeko continues, while Souta leans across the counter attentively. Kaoruko is watching the exchange quietly, although Souta forgets her presence with Saeko standing so close, looking as radiant as ever, “My friend is getting married, and I thought of buying her some tableware as a congratulatory gift. So, if you have time…” Saeko trails off, her eyes softening along with her voice, making her come across as both a little nervous and hesitant, “I wondered if you’d go out with me?”
Had this been six years ago, Souta would not have hesitated. He would enthusiastically have agreed, not even considering his other plans, putting everything off for Saeko. Anytime. But Souta is not the man he was six years ago, and now, although Saeko’s beautiful eyes rest hopefully on him, Yoshimoto’s words echo in his ears.
“Me?” is what he ends up saying, slight incredulity in his voice.
“Since you are a food professional, I thought you’d have a great taste in tableware,” she explains.
Not a bad reason, Souta thinks, but grows silent, the emotions raging inside him, pushing at him to just accept, accept, accept. He wants to just forget everything Yoshimoto told him, but also recognizes that this would be a great test; how, like this, he can try out what would happen should he do exactly as Yoshimoto taught him to.
So he just looks at Saeko, forcing his face to remain impassive, until he can see how the light in her eyes grow weaker,
“You can’t…?” hearing her voice break pierces Souta’s heart, “Are you busy…?”
He is busy, but not so busy that he would be unable to set things aside for her, not so busy that he cannot accompany her for a few hours. And he wants to, oh, how he wants to. It has been so long, since he has been alone with Saeko, the thought sends warm chills down his spine. But he will not relent.
Seconds pass like minutes with a stare down between them, and Souta’s heart breaks with how sad Saeko seems. He casts down his eyes, “I am afraid it is impossible,” when he looks at her again, she looks as though she is about to cry, “Even when the shop is closed, I have many things to do. I am sorry.”
Yoshimoto’s exact words flow out of Souta’s mouth naturally, and he feels cruel, feels as though this does not befit him. But how much of what Saeko displays now is fake? How sad is she really? With her charm, she should be able to get anyone to help her.
That’s right. Men would line up to take her out like that, to ‘go out with her’ as she herself phrased it. And besides…
“That’s is right, of course you’re busy! I understand! Sorry for asking so suddenly.” Even though Saeko laughs, she still seems sad about it all, lonely even. Since Souta understands that feeling, it makes it even harder. She looks beautiful like this, beautiful as always of course. The expression on her face, the redness of her cheeks, Souta saves the image to his memory, knows he can use it for inspiration, however bittersweet, “Then, I will have two mousse au chocolat, please.”
As soon as Saeko is out the door, Souta starts counting the minutes. Time for the final part of this scheme, as even Yoshimoto himself phrased it. When Souta pulls out his phone, Yoshimoto’s smirk dances in his mind and it is his words that Souta hears in his head, the sentences softly spoken as he mentally practises. Yoshimoto’s words through Souta. Yoshimoto’s scheme. Souta reckons this explains just as much about Yoshimoto as a person as it does Souta himself.
“Souta-kun?” There is the sound of a railroad crossing, signifying where Saeko is. The noise makes the moment even more meaningful, perfect even.
“If it’s Wednesday next week, I would be available. Should we go out to shop?”
Such a roundabout way. So calculated and shrewd. Souta wants to laugh at himself, laugh with no mirth. He is astonished and impressed. By the situation and by himself. Just as Yoshimoto told him he would be. “You’ll get over that feeling.”
And just as the tutor told him, the plan worked to a T.
It does not keep Souta from freaking out over what clothes to wear, though.
Yoshimoto is calmly sipping hot chocolate on a bar stool he pulled along from the back room to the working stations – Souta is not quite sure who showed him his way in – following Souta with calm amusement in his eyes as Souta paces back and forth in front of him, coming up with one alternative after the other, unable to figure out what outfit would be the better choice.
“Wear black.” He says then, making Souta stop in his tracks to look at him, “She usually sees you in your white working clothes, and although you are indeed handsome in that, a change will make you more appealing.” That makes sense, Souta supposes. He considers it while Yoshimoto keeps his eyes resting on him over the rim of his cup, even as he drinks, “Trust me on this one.”
Wednesday arrives, and an odd calm has settled over Souta, despite how hard it was for him to sleep the previous night, with ideas and imagery of what would happen, fluttering in his mind. Now, that he is here, at the square where they agreed to meet, all of Yoshimoto’s advice is making Souta rather composed. Especially after witnessing how well the tutor’s plans worked the last time.
And when Saeko comes running up to him, dressed in a short skirt and high heels, and with her long hair dancing in the wind behind her, Souta’s eyes do not widen at the realization of how incredibly cute she looks. No, he is astonished that Yoshimoto’s prediction was so spot on.
“She is going to wear a short skirt. And probably high heels too, to be closer to you, so watch out and don’t let her throw you off balance.”
He told Souta this so casually, explanatory as if it is the most obvious thing, as if it is completely logical. It is not, not to Souta. Saeko is a married woman, so is she naïve or is she incredibly shrewd? Souta from six years ago would bet on the former, but the Souta now, with Yoshimoto’s words in his head, is not so sure.
As a matter of fact, he is not sure of anything anymore. Aside from the fact that Saeko looks radiant.
“You look incredible, Souta-kun!” she tells him, smiling widely, “Although you are always handsome.”
Not wanting to let it get to him, Souta reins in the urge to chuckle in embarrassment, and simply thanks her, “Shall we go?”
The date does not turn out as Souta imagined. Far from the dream he had envisioned along with the thought of how he would have Saeko all to himself all day. And it is not so much because Saeko seems to use every opportunity she gets to get very close to Souta – at one point even touching her breast to Souta’s arm when she clings to him – or because she smells even sweeter than he thought she would, and it is not because the date itself is a failure. They manage to find a set of cups for Saeko’s friend, even go out for coffee afterwards, and all the while, Souta maintains his composure. Perhaps that is exactly why he seems to experience everything through a wall of glass, as if he is not actually around to feel the effects of being with Saeko. The words flowing from Souta’s mouth come out naturally, but they are not his. For everything that Saeko does and says, Souta finds himself with an advised option on hand, a series of words to say. It is as though he is trapped in a bubble, where words are whispered into his ear in a deep baritone, so close Souta sometimes thinks he can feel the breath of the owner against the skin of his nape. And those words seduce him and guide him, a constant presence all day.
Yoshimoto Kouya does not know Saeko. He is not supposed to have met her before, and yet, judging from the advice given beforehand, one would believe that he has been studying her for years, knowing everything that she is bound to do, knows how she is going to look at Souta, what tone she will use when speaking to him. And as the day progresses, Souta grows colder and colder.
Up until the day is about to end, and the two of them make their way through the station.
Souta is walking with his hands in the pockets of his jacket, careful not to be too close to Saeko. He turns towards her.
“Won’t you join me for tea? I also have some red wine, I received the other day.”
Souta’s heart skips a beat. Saeko is the one speaking to him, but another voice overlaps with hers in Souta’s head, Yoshimoto’s mocking smile momentarily swimming before his vision. Souta stops, blinking for a moment, “I’d love to greet Yoshioka-san, but its almost 10 pm. So, I should be heading-”
“He is not home.”
In Souta’s mind, Saeko has always been a bright, innocent creature, somewhat resembling a fairy, spreading light and sparks wherever she goes, leading to her having such a lasting effect on men – Souta included. But she has also always seemed ignorant of this, always come off as someone ignorant of how she can toy with the opposite sex. Except for those moments, where Souta has found himself thinking what a horrible woman.
But the Saeko in front of Souta now has dark eyes, eyelashes heavy over brown orbs, and her lips are relaxed, slightly parted as she holds his gaze, silence heavy between them. Souta’s heart starts beating faster and faster in his chest, making it hard to breathe.
No way. No way…
A sense of satisfaction courses through Kouya and settles as a pleasant shiver down his spine.
Saeko is tempting Souta, just as Kouya predicted, and Souta is reacting just like Kouya hoped he would. With feelings conflicting, now that Kouya has told him exactly how this date would turn out, there is no way Saeko will be able to ensnare him like she used to. There is no way Souta will follow her home, even though his senses are screaming at him what the woman is implying, what he is in for, should he accept the offer for “tea”. Currently, Souta is confused and stunned, but also hurt.
As Kouya watches their conversation from a distance, not hearing their words but watching their lips move, he perceives that Souta is indeed rejecting her, and that he is indeed throwing words back at her.
Kouya reads “It is not really a date, is it?” and a wide grin spreads over his face.
Souta looks as though he is in pain, trying his best to appear cold and expressionless, but to Kouya, he is utterly failing. With every word he says, his heart must be clenching, since he wishes for Saeko so badly, wanting her affection but not daring to hope for anything. Perhaps this will all go down faster than Kouya initially thought it would. Souta seems to be perfectly capable of getting the stone rolling, now that Kouya has given him just a little push.
What a good student.
Saeko leaves with her head cast down, eyes shining once her back is turned on Souta, and Kouya knows that finding her husband, Yoshioka, at home unexpectedly early and ahead of her will only make her more miserable. What kind of show would one be able to witness there, Kouya wonders.
Only a moment after, Souta walks towards another platform, towards a train that will not bring him home, and Kouya tilts his head. Of course, he will visit his model friend now. How else to pour out his scrambled emotions and receive comfort? Naturally, today will be the last time. Kouya plans on taking her away from Souta too. That will be the next step.
Lowering his phone, Kouya takes a look at the photo he snapped, unable to hide his crooked smirk. If this is the expression Souta shows after receiving all that encouragement, only to realize the state of affairs and get hurt, it only makes Kouya want to cause him more pain, and sooner rather than later. He wants it so much, that he has to remind himself to stick to the plan. To ensure success.
Souta really is turning out to be more emotional than Kouya first perceived. And with dreams slowly starting to shatter in front of Souta, those emotions will come to haunt him.
FOLLOW THE LINK for Part 2