A piece of rainbow for cielmelodies Part 3
It has been four days, and Souta has not heard from either Saeko or Elena. He wonders if the latter has misunderstood the situation, despite the explanation Souta offered on phone the following day. Elena did not seem to have minded, actually, she seemed thrilled about the plan, laughing at the situation and telling Souta not to worry, she was happy to help. Furthermore, she told Souta how handsome and charming she found Yoshimoto, “No wonder you agreed for him to tutor you. I would have said yes without a second’s hesitation!” Elena told him.
But Elena also witnessed a very well-behaved version of Yoshimoto Kouya that day. Towards Souta, he started out being the creepy customer, who ate his cake too fast, who kept bothering Souta and asking weird questions. He is also the guy who showed up unannounced a few days ago, basically inviting himself to dinner at Souta’s place.
He is weird and unpredictable and shrewd, and Souta has no idea what goes on in that mind of his. So, unlike Elena, Souta is still cautious around him. Especially now, considering the current situation. Only this time, Souta’s hands are tied.
“So, what do you want me to do?” Souta tries to be as bold as possible in asking the question, really not liking the thought of having to do exactly what Yoshimoto says for … How long again? Yoshimoto never mentioned any specific details regarding time.
“You are my dog.” It annoys Souta how easily the tutor smiles. Bastard it so self-satisfied.
“And that entails? Are you not supposed to give me an order then?”
“All in due time,” Kouya looks up at him after chewing thoughtfully on Souta’s newest white chocolates. “Unless you are that eager to take my orders? - This chocolate is really good.”
Three weeks ago, Souta would never have had the audacity to roll his eyes, but he does then. Yoshimoto is just too much, and Souta cannot believe he is the one to bring up the topic, making him appear to be eager to take the punishment of a lost bet. “Thank you.” Souta grumbles and takes the empty plate to bring it to the back.
For the tenth time that day, he checks his phone in the back room once the plate is in the dish-washer, still worried that Saeko might be mad at him, despite how she told Souta to wait for her four days ago. He tells himself, before he turns the screen on, that if she has not sent him a message, he will tell her about the new weekly chocolate which he has been working on, and that it will be perfected for tomorrow, and that he wants for her to come and try it.
Yoshimoto will probably be against the act, but what Yoshimoto does not know, cannot hurt Souta.
Now that he has made up his mind, Souta is stunned to find that Saeko actually has sent him a message. An hour ago, it seems. Naturally, he wastes no time and opens it. Unfortunately, the message is not what Souta hoped it would be. As a matter of fact, it leaves Souta with mixed feelings that make him go straight back to Yoshimoto who is sitting in their ‘workshop’ instead of at the customers’ tables in the shop, which he has done for the past week now. Souta has stopped minding, seeing the benefit of them being alone with their conversations.
Yoshimoto is swiping randomly across his phone screen, while chewing on his lip, seemingly deep in thought.
“Saeko-san messaged me.” Souta blurts out without hesitating. Yoshimoto looks up, but does not change his relaxed posture. “She is being exposed to blackmail.”
He is not sure what he expected, but it was probably more than the disinterested behaviour Yoshimoto is currently displaying. It makes Souta falter in his confidence of confiding in Yoshimoto.
Souta tries elaborating further, feeling rather awkward as he stands in front of the tutor, “That must be why I have not heard from her in four days.”
“You were gonna message her, weren’t you?”
“I cannot allow that.” The statement, said with an underlying threat stuns Souta into silence.
In front of him, Kouya finally straightens and puts his phone away in his inside pocket. He gets up with his head slightly tilted, and walks towards Souta slowly, his eyes piercing. The darkness in his face, in his words have Souta backing away from him, as if on instinct, until the way is blocked by one of the big aluminium tables. Souta is slightly taller than Yoshimoto, but Souta feels smaller than ever.
His father never scolded him like this, but Souta does remember the feeling of being cornered by a group of delinquents in school, how it felt to be like a cornered rat, knowing that their strength was so much greater than his own, offering him no way of being able to fight back, should they throw the first punch. However, their terrifying stares and threatening, harsh voices were worse than being hit.
There is a major difference in the air surrounding Yoshimoto now though. His intention is neither bullying nor hurting, rather he appears highly domineering, threatening Souta into submission.
“I- Sorry.” The words are out of Souta’s mouth before he can stop them, and he immediately hates himself for the display of weakness.
But it helps. Yoshimoto’s shoulders immediately relax and his eyes soften, a smile appearing where seconds before, there was a straight, hard line. If Souta did not know any better, he would believe that what just happened was purely part of his imagination.
Yoshimoto steps back and Souta is allowed space to push away from the table he almost crawled onto, in his attempt to escape.
“To think she would confide such a thing to you. She must trust you a lot, Souta-kun.”
Souta does not immediately understand what Yoshimoto is talking about. Then he remembers. Funny, it seems so unimportant now, “I wonder who would do such a thing.” At any other time, he would have been surprised by the fact that he did not get excited or thrilled at what Yoshimoto pointed out to him. The observation seems almost lost on him, the words meaningless.
“Is it related to her husband?” Yoshimoto wonders.
“I don’t know.”
Yoshimoto’s eyes run over Souta’s form, and Souta is painfully aware of the scrutinizing feel to the stare, feeling a blush creeping up his neck when Yoshimoto smiles crookedly. Knowingly.
Week four – The Garnet: Chocolate au lait with hidden crushed peppercorn and lime ganache in the shape of a brushed red oval
Souta cannot help the brooding feeling of something having gone terribly wrong. The event of last week which was supposed to have been a major breakthrough seems to have been more of a breakthrough for something other than moving closer to Saeko. Reflecting, Souta thinks that maybe things went downhill after Yoshimoto came to visit Souta in his own home. Now, it feels like Souta cannot move at all without being guided by an invisible hand.
Instead of Saeko moving closer to Souta, Yoshimoto has been the one moving closer. In a great leap this time, instead of sneakily advancing. Through the three days of the week so far, Souta has found Yoshimoto beside Souta’s workbench, keeping a watchful eye on Souta through the production of chocolates, mousses, cakes and the chocolate tart that always makes Yoshimoto rise to attention and breathe down Souta’s neck, silently begging for a taste.
Often, Souta feels Olivier and Kaoruko watching the two of them and Yoshimoto’s antics in wondering silence, feels their exchange of looks, but they never say anything, and for that Souta is grateful. In hindsight, he could have easily pushed Yoshimoto away, out of the kitchen, out of his life, but Souta does not find himself really entertaining the thought. Even if the contract and their agreement had not been as strictly in place as it is, he would not have pushed Yoshimoto away. And for the time being, he does not have an answer to why that is.
“Here, stuff your face with this.” He says and sticks a red, oval chocolate into Yoshimoto’s face, once the tutor has been annoying him for ten minutes.
Yoshimoto backs off a little and takes the chocolate between two of his fingers. With no further question, he pops it into his mouth. But instead of walking back to his stool, he rests his underarms against the counter beside Souta and learns forward. From his position, Souta sees him getting eyecontact with Kaoruko who looks far from pleased at having a non-employee in the same workspace.
“Don’t you have to tutor a student today?”
“Why, I am.”
“Your middle-school student. Aren’t his exams soon?” Kaoruko narrows her eyes at Yoshimoto, and Souta knows Yoshimoto is in for a scolding, when she lowers her utensils, “You cannot loiter around here all day. You are distracting! We have a lot of work to do, and you are in the way!”
Where anyone would have been surprised and immediately done as she says – that is the influence Kaoruko usually has in the kitchen – Yoshimoto simply breaks into his signature smile, his creepy catchphrase this time aimed at Kaoruko.
“Good. You are quite the matriarch in this store, aren’t you Kaoruko-san?” Yoshimoto pushes away from the counter and turns cheerfully first to Olivier, then Souta, “Well, she’s not entirely wrong though, I better be on my way. I’ll see you later, Souta-kun.”
And then he grabs his bag and walks out of the store as naturally as if he had done it for years on end in the same pattern, with those annoyingly swinging arms of his, and the bag bumping against his backside.
Kaoruko sighs, “Seriously. I don’t get that guy at all.”
Souta stays silent.
It is only three hours later that Souta gets a shock, witnessing something that makes him wish he had taken the day off.
She might be trying to hide it with a hat, but there is clearly a bruise above Saeko’s left eye, something Souta notices the moment he raises his eyes and catches sight of her behind the counter, seemingly waiting for him to notice her. She waves energetically, smiling, as though putting up a front, hoping Souta will not notice something is different.
For a moment, he hesitates, unsure whether to go to her or continue his work to avoid confronting her. When he reminds himself that he should always be eager to talk to her, he goes to wash his hands and walks into the store. Kaoruko throws him a look when he takes over where she had offered help.
The possibility that Saeko had asked for Souta personally makes his heart momentarily flutter.
“Saeko-san. How are you?” he greets her, and she smiles in return from under the low shade of her hat.
“Un, I am good.” Clearly lying, she casts her eyes down and pretends to be looking at the chocolates, “Souta-kun?”
“I was wondering if you would make my birthday cake?”
Souta suddenly feels a little dizzy. How could he forget Saeko’s birthday? Every year he has remembered and thought of her; come up with a dream scenario of sharing cake with her, watching her blow out the candles and smile brightly at him. He has always wanted to share that moment with her and been sad that someone else were with her on that day. And this time is no different, is it? This year…
“Sure! Of course! Will you be celebrating with your husband?” Souta mentally hits himself for sounding too excited and nervous, imagining Yoshimoto’s narrowed eyes, had he witnessed this. Calm yourself, Souta.
He quickly finds a piece of paper to scribble down the details, “For the 22nd, right?”
“You remembered! I am so happy.” Her smile is blinding in its innocent charm which just makes it worse that Souta actually did not think of it until this moment.
Part of him is relieved that he did not have to face anxiety of whether she would come ask for a cake at choco la vie, part of him is disappointed that he missed the butterflies those imaginary scenarios usually bring along. He realises he has not made up any of those for a while.
“I will have the cake ready for you on the 22nd,” he promises and looks back up at her, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Souta watches and moves in a dreamy state of mind while Saeko picks out various chocolates and a pain d’epices to bring with her home. All for her husband to share with her. He tells himself, he cannot be in any way salty about it, considering how much Saeko always buys. She is one of the best and most loyal customers of choco la vie, and Souta is lucky that she comes around so often.
“Oh, is that your new chocolate, Souta-kun?”
A stab sensation goes through Souta’s stomach when he sees what Saeko is pointing at. It is The Garnet, one of the few chocolates Souta has actually given a name.
“Yes. It is.” He smiles, but his voice sounds hollow.
Why is that? All chocolates are inspired by Saeko, and it is the love for her that Souta pours into the chocolate with every stroke of his metal utensils through the thickening mass during tempering. Every step of the way, he thinks of Saeko. Of her fluttering hair, her beautiful, pale skin, her full lips and her cheerful smile.
Does he not?
“Ohh! I have to try it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Souta swallows, and Saeko must have seen something on his face, because her smile falters. He hurries and explains himself before she starts thinking she has done or said something wrong,
“Ah, sure sure. But it is with peppercorn and lime, so I am thinking it may be too spicy for you Saeko-san,” he mumbles but nevertheless grabs the thongs to place one of the shiny red chocolates in the 20-piece box, he is holding.
“You made it, so I am sure it will taste amazing.” Saeko says, placing faith in his abilities with a smile, “It is so pretty…”
The chocolate definitely stands out amongst the others in the cabinets. For one, it is bigger, and its deep red colour pops like fireworks, in the same way as the peppercorn and lime feels on the tongue. With it, Souta wanted to cause an impact, he wanted something with more power against the amazing creations that Ricdor makes. With the romantic designs of most of his chocolates, he wanted a sharp contrast to underline the pain of being in love, the harshness and cruelty of it…
“I hope you will enjoy it.”
With two bags of various chocolates and cake, Saeko waves and leaves the store. And Souta is left with a tangle of confused emotions.
He has been so sure of choco la vie and its purpose. So sure, that the store was made because of his love for Saeko, that all that is created within is for Saeko to consume; for her to consume Souta’s love, with the hope that she would notice and become addicted to thinking of him, every time a part of his soul enters her mouth…
Souta shakes his head at himself. Such a vile and obscure way of thinking. But it is better than the mess his thoughts are now. What is the purpose of it all when he cannot even feel that heat coursing through his body when he sells a piece of chocolate to Saeko? Where has that warmth gone?
“Today, we are going to follow Saeko-san and her husband on a date.”
“We are spying on them!?”
Kouya is eternally amused at Souta’s astonishment, knowing there is nothing Souta can do about it. He shrugs, “You could call it that.”
“I can’t do that!”
Kouya tilts his head, eyes firmly holding onto Souta’s, and then raises his eyebrows, expectantly. Slowly, Souta pales as realisation hits.
“I am afraid you have no choice. You are to do exactly as I say.”
“No but’s. Be a good dog now. Come on, or we won’t be on time.” Kouya does want to hear Souta bark, but perhaps that is crossing the line for the time being. He grabs a firm hold of Souta’s wrist and practically drags him out of the house, towards the direction of the centre of town in which he knows exactly where Saeko is going to be dining in less than 30 minutes.
“Wait- What about the store?” It is surprising how little resistance other than his words that Souta offers. He lets Kouya drag him along, does not even try to shake off his hand. He even complained very little when Kouya told him to change into his private clothes.
Kouya smirks, “Olivier and Kaoruko will handle it. Matsuri-chan is also helping.”
Kouya speeds up and hears Souta stumble along with him until he gets used to Kouya’s pace. At that point, Kouya lets go and with less of a burden, he can speed up further.
Souta is clearly surprised at how Kouya managed to convince Souta’s younger sister to help in the store, “But my sister has exams next week. And Kaoruko-san never lets me slack off like this. I am the manager.”
“Well, Kaoruko did complain. But she was a minority. I did both Olivier and Matsuri-chan a favour, so they owed me.”
Souta is going to be surprised when he gets home. Playing the game of love really is all about moving the right pieces to the right places on the board, just like any other game.
Kouya chuckles, “Come on. We are almost there.”
Once they reach the area, Kouya walks around the back, towards a set of cherry trees with dark green leaves. They should be well hidden from here, and the spot allows them to look straight through the window of the restaurant, right at the place where Saeko and her husband will be seated in – Kouya lifts his left hand to take a look at his watch – 3 minutes.
“Sensei, seriously. What are we doing here?” Souta whispers to his left, although he has already mirrored Kouya’s slightly crouched pose.
“We are observing.”
“I know! But really, we have no right to spy on them.”
Kouya turns around to face Souta, expression serious. He grabs Souta’s shoulders, “Do you want to win Saeko-san or not?”
“Of course, I do but-”
“Then do as I say.” With that Kouya pats his shoulder once and then brings a finger to his lips to gesture for Souta to be quiet, “Now shh. They are here.”
And not a moment too soon. In the window, they catch sight of Saeko and Yoshioka getting seated across from each other, a rare lunch for the couple together, Kouya knows. But this is no ordinary lunch. Her husband is only taking her out because questions must be answered.
Souta’s body-heat moves closer to Kouya’s as curiosity gets the better of his morals, and he peaks through the trees. A silent, brief smile moves over Kouya’s lips.
There are so many things the chocolatier has yet to realize, with the plan entering its final stages. After today, Souta will be utterly out of depth. There will be no going back after that. The fact that things are starting to change on Kouya’s end too, is however, very unexpected.
They watch on in silence while the couple get their drinks and make their orders for the meals. So far, nothing seems to be off, but Kouya does not expect it to be conveyed so easily through body language either. He does not want Souta to misunderstand, of course, so he has been pulling more than a few strings to make the muted conversation between Saeko and her husband seem natural and romantic. Quite opposed to what it really is.
Only Kouya knows how the couple has been receiving mails from unknown sources of Saeko having an affair with a younger man. And only Kouya knows exactly who has been sending those mails, messing up their marriage, their relationship and their reputation. Since, of course, the mails have not only been distributed to Saeko and Yoshioka. In fact, the entire neighbourhood knows of Saeko’s fake affair now. While Yoshioka knows nothing more than what the rumours tell – that being enough to taint his reputation at work and make him blame Saeko for it all, regardless of whether she is innocent or not – Saeko was offered help from an unexpected source just ahead of when the rumours came out. Safe to say, she is in a very exposed and risky position.
She did, after all, agree to let Tago Yuudai help her see her secret crush and plan to eventually start an affair with him, all without her husband’s knowledge. He is never home, always working, and desperate times call for desperate measures, to secure her happiness. Oh, but that would not do, would it? Not at all.
Tago Yuudai learned that Saeko has been in love with Souta since the very beginning, since she started having trouble with her husband, or perhaps even before that. And Souta never knew. He never knew. That knowledge, to Kouya, is just so damn pleasing. It is hilarious and thrilling and just too damn good. Who is the greater idiot? Saeko, for not realising how Kouya is pulling the rug from underneath her, or Souta, who is too thick and too caught up in learning how to be a bad boy to see what is right in front of him?
The final step, is just to push Saeko over the edge, for her life to become a complete wreck. Really, women like her are the worst, and deserve the worst. And so, Yoshimoto Kouya is more than happy to provide that fate for her. She will be left alone, divorced and with no friends, her reputation utterly ruined and tainted. That is the plan, at least.
As for Souta… Well, Kouya will deal with his aftermath. In an entirely different way.
Kouya reads their lips through the window and cannot hold back a sudden snort. Souta turns to him; Kouya can feel his eyes on the side of Kouya’s face. But he turns back soon after and continues watching,
“Do you think…”
Souta licks his lips when Kouya finally looks at him, “Do you think she and I would make a good couple?”
Kouya shrugs and turns away again, “Who knows.”
“I think- I think she and Yoshioka look good together.” His voice is small, the words hesitant, making Kouya turn to him again. There is a look of resignation and defeat in his eyes, but something else too. Determination and… Self-confidence. “Good~.”
The look Souta shoots him then takes Kouya slightly off guard. Souta is angry at Kouya for forcing him to see this, but he is also angry at Saeko, for having married someone else, for leading Souta on despite of it, and he is angry at himself for not realising sooner.
“I think I have seen enough now, Yoshimoto-san. I am going back.”
Souta straightens up and prepares to leave, but Kouya immediately grabs his arm. “We are not leaving before I say we are.”
Souta’s eyes turn hard. And Kouya chuckles to take the seriousness out of his previous words. There is no reason to stay any longer.
They end up going back to Souta’s house. Yoshimoto has shown Souta what he wanted it seems; gotten the desired effect and seen the outcome.
Souta is no longer in a state of confusion. Rather, he feels an emptiness and lack of motivation, of inspiration. The first chair he sees in the living room, is the one he flops down in. It is big and soft and the room is so nice and quiet. He closes his eyes.
“So, what are you going to do now?”
Souta is forced to open his eyes again, faced by Yoshimoto, who stands across from him, arms crossed. His presence in the house is the only one, aside from Souta. With Olivier and Matsuri looking after the store and his father out somewhere else, Souta has the house to himself. He cannot remember the last time that happened, given how busy he has been. And it was all for Saeko. How stupid. When he should have worked hard for himself, not for others.
“I don’t know.” He confesses, “I suppose I do not need your help anymore. Don’t worry, I don’t think there was anything you could have done with a useless man like me. I am not fit to become a bad boy. That is not me.”
Souta sees the spark in Yoshimoto’s eye too late, and is confronted with the fact when Yoshimoto is suddenly in his space, hands resting on the armrests of Souta’s chair, so close Souta can feel Yoshimoto’s breath on his face, smell him, and watch his lips move into a smile, “You are right. But what now, then? Will you give up choco la vie? Will you give up on love? And your ambitions?”
“I cannot win Saeko, but I cannot betray her.”
Yoshimoto’s dark eyes narrow, and Souta immediately knows he said the wrong thing. With the smile gone, Yoshimoto looks like a man about to kill, “What does that mean? If you are in love, you cannot embrace anybody else? Do you mean to live alone forever?” Yoshimoto growls, his hand swift when he grabs onto the collar of Souta’s shirt, to pull him forward.
Yoshimoto tilts his head, and Souta gasps. Their lips are centimetres apart, and Souta feels very hot.
What? What is this?
“If you give up now, you go down with your dignity, and I will not allow that. Not for a woman like her. You are better than that.” The last words are spoken with venom, and this is so far from the man, Souta has come to know, he is stunned into silence.
Caught in the pools of darkness that are Yoshimoto’s eyes, Souta feels lost for breath. And nothing else seems to matter but this moment. How odd.
Yoshimoto continues, although distance is brought back between them when he lets go of Souta, lets him fall back into the chair. Lets him feel pathetic and hate himself for feeling like this. For a woman. Souta has never been one to give up, but last time he went to Paris. to grow and become someone else. Perhaps, that is the option this time too.
“Go back to your store.” When Souta does not move, Yoshimoto repeats himself, “Go back to your store! Our contract still holds, and you do as I say.”
There are hands at his collar again, and this time, Yoshimoto pulls Souta out of the chair, making Souta stumble and knock into the man, struggling in the hold, “I don’t care about the contract, leave me alone.”
It is enough, it is more than enough now, it is too much. He needs to get his thoughts untangled, he needs to find himself and his purpose again. He needs to be alone, and this tutor has been pulling him around for long enough, like a dog on a leash. Souta just cannot handle any more today. Can Yoshimoto not understand that? If he is so intelligent, can’t he see the pain in Souta’s heart?
With a growl in anger, Souta grabs onto the hands holding him, pulls at them to let him go, but then he somehow loses his balance, trips over nothing, over the unseen, and he ends up on the floor with a loud thud. And he gasps at the pain in his back, at the blackening of his vision when a weight falls down on top of him, hands thwacking at the floorboards, to withhold a body from crushing Souta underneath its weight. Upon realisation of his position, Souta’s first instinct is to push at whatever is in front of him, and his hand comes into contact with firm muscle.
Breath is in his ear, soft flesh ghosting over his lips. And then the world comes back into focus, his dizziness evaporating slowly. Yoshimoto’s eyes swim into view. So deep and dark. Like the darkest chocolate Souta has ever seen, molten and alive.
“Get off me.”
A whisper. Nothing remotely strong enough to serve its purpose, and fingers weave through Souta’s hair, a thumb strokes below his chin, over his mole.
“What a disobedient dog.”
Souta feels a strong shiver running down his spine, like a tremor settling in his bones, and he closes his eyes, forgets to breathe. He does not realise it is so, until the weight is gone, the strong presence and warmth moving away.
“Seriously...” Despite Yoshimoto moving away, Souta does not move to get up. His body is buzzing, it is on fire, his mind a big, black space of nothing, “I am leaving.”
Choco la vie is Souta’s safe haven. It is where he usually goes to reassemble his thoughts, to pour it all into his chocolates as a way for his emotions to materialize and get off his burdened shoulders. It is 3 am., and he is preparing what they usually meet at 6 am. to do: The tempering chocolate, the making of the chocolate mousse and the pastry for the chocolate tarts. The techniques are so naturally integrated in him, that he need not think while he prepares each component to be assembled come morning, for the goods to be as fresh as possible for the customers.
What Yoshimoto showed him yesterday is not supposed to have Souta give up on Saeko. He has been exposed to so many other unpleasant sights and experiences, so many rejections as when Saeko got back together with her ex-boyfriend, when Saeko found a more interesting guy than Souta, when Souta sank so low as to declare six years ago that he would not mind being just a rebound, someone for Saeko to exploit whenever she felt lonely, whenever she just needed company – he wouldn’t mind, he had said. So how come witnessing Saeko have dinner with her husband was such a devastating blow for Souta? Perhaps, a part of him hopes, he finally realised the futility of it all. If he really ended up winning her, if she got divorced, would he really want to be with a woman who let herself be seduced by someone only a few months into her marriage?
Souta scrambles to lie across the counter, barely managing to avoid the rolled-out pastry dough. “What do I do?” he whines to himself, and the only one who answers is the Souta from six years ago. Telling him not to give up and to get back in the game.
So, he does. As soon as the pastry dough is in the fridge, he pulls forth his sketch book to draw a set of possible designs for Saeko’s birthday cake.
And come morning, he receives a big, fat scolding from Kaoruko.
Souta does not receive any word from Yoshimoto that day, and it makes him a little confused, since he usually receives some kind of encouragement or advice in the morning, or Yoshimoto warning him that he will come by choco la vie with “important information”. The loneliness it brings, now that there is nothing but his wallpaper of colourful chocolates on display staring back at him, Souta hurriedly ignores, since the emotion scares him. Instead, he pushes away his worries, telling himself it is Saturday after all, and so it is natural for Yoshimoto not to contact him. Stranger still though is it, that Elena has not been in touch either.
After finishing and presenting his designs for Saeko’s birthday cake to his colleagues, Souta calls Elena, knowing he needs someone to talk to about his messed-up thoughts and emotions; he needs to tell her about what he witnessed with Yoshimoto, how it made him feel. Elena always manages to make Souta feel better. But she does not pick up, and the text messages he sends her go unanswered. For a moment, he worries, but then reckons that she too must be busy this weekend. She did talk about trying to meet with Kurashina after all. Maybe Yoshimoto really gave her some advice, and maybe it really did work. That would mean she is with Kurashina now.
Souta puts his phone down with his heart suddenly feeling heavy.
On Sunday, there is still no word from Yoshimoto, and at night, Souta is haunted by nightmares.
Nightmares of hollow whispers in his ear, close, so very close, of breath brushing over his cheek, across his lips, never touching, but taunting with an underlying threat and hidden cruelty. Then there are flashes of Saeko’s face, of her smiling. But where she was once encased by light, shooting rays of warmth through Souta’s body, warming him in his slumber, there is mist covering the fine light, a cold settled over the picture, like winter in summer, and her smile freezes, like the rest of her warm body.
“You have to become a bad guy.” She tells him.
But her voice is hollow, the words sad and twisted, and as her eyes grow darker and darker, she screams, and again there is a voice by Souta’s ear, the source unreachable, invisible, an echo. Souta can feel the heat from the body behind him, his heartbeat is in Souta’s ears, but Souta cannot turn around. He is frozen solid, like the vision in front of him.
It has the voice of a hissing snake, albeit with mischief and amusement braided through the words.
“I will ruin you.”
Souta wakes with a start, confused and covered in sweat. The ghost of the nightmare flows through him, Yoshimoto’s words floating in the air around him, like cold mist, until Souta shakes his head and blinks hurriedly, desperate to get rid of the images. Knowing there is no escape in consciousness.
Today is the last time Kouya will bring Souta along to observe Saeko. It will be the last push. And it comes with a risk. Although, of course, Kouya expects the plan will bear fruit. Especially after a weekend of silence, where Souta was alone…
“You pulled me out here again.”
There is great difference from the Souta standing beside Kouya now, to the one he met a month ago. He has matured, become calmer, and the naïve innocence is far gone. In this moment, it is substituted with spite. But the spite is a reaction to a much deeper emotion. One that Souta may not recognize yet, “Your job was to help me win Saeko-san’s heart. And you have not succeeded,” sensing something bolder is coming, Kouya turns to look at Souta, watch the determination in his eyes, the hard set of his jaw, “If, after today, she does not come to me, our contract will be null. You are in the way of my work at choco la vie, and it is getting me nowhere.”
Kouya does not let the hostility in Souta’s voice and words affect him. He simply smiles and pushes away the part of him asking whether this is really for the better, “A bet, huh? Well, what if she does then?” as soon as Souta turns to him, Kouya smirks, “If she does come to you, I win. And you will be mine for an evening at choco la vie, after closing time. Alone.”
He really does not expect Souta to get what he insinuates. How could he, when Kouya has shown close to no such interest? When it was not part of the initial plan? Then again, Souta’s subconsciousness might understand. Souta is wearing a jacket with its collar pulled tight around his neck, so Kouya cannot see whether the skin there has turned red.
Souta furrows his brow, clearly not understanding – or pretending not to. But that will just make it easier for him to accept the terms, “Fine. Do what you want.” He clearly does not believe that Saeko will come around. But Kouya knows she will.
And so, they watch on in silence while Saeko holds hands with an unknown man, shares a bentoed lunch with him by the lake and kisses his cheek when they depart come evening. Kouya and Souta leave together, with Souta mumbling under his breath.
“She has not changed one bit.”
Week five – 92% dark chocolate with oozing ivory blackberry filling in the shape of an orb
“Souta-kun? Hasn’t your designs become a bit… Darker, recently?”
Two days before Saeko’s birthday, while Souta is trying to perfect the technique of making a delicate-looking butterfly of chocolate for decorations, Kaoruko makes an observation upon tasting Souta’s newest weekly chocolates.
Night after night now, Souta is awoken by nightmares, always filled with echoing whispers and twisted versions of Saeko’s face. Last night, he had a breakthrough with inspiration hitting like a truck to the side of his head, causing him to jump out of bed and stumble to his desk for pen and paper. The dangerous whispers have materialised into this week’s filled chocolate. But upon listening to Kaoruko’s opinion, Souta wonders whether it is a good idea to market them.
“You don’t like it?”
“It is not that I don’t like it. But – how to say it – it is different. Very different. It is not quite choco la vie’s image.” She offers an apologetic smile, clearly feeling bad about not agreeing with Souta’s vision, “You are of course the manager, so you decide but…”
Souta gnaws on his lip and ponders upon her words. She is right, of course. Since choco la vie is created with the romance and softness of love – of Souta’s feelings at that time, which were defined by Saeko – that is the image of the store, the theme. If they were to change that, the majority of their loyal consumers would most likely leave, seeking their needs elsewhere, since the new chocolates would appeal to another taste. Souta knows this, but he knows no other way of producing chocolates than to have his emotions and state of mind be the source of inspiration for his creations. That is how he makes art.
He cannot go back to how it was before. He realises as much. Yet, he does not know how to resolve it.
“Souta-kun,” Kaoruko calls his name, making him look back up, “Are you ok?”
Kaoruko knows Souta better than anyone, having worked in his father’s store before choco la vie. She knows the way Souta works, knows many of his antics, but there is no way she can read his mind. Not like Yoshimoto so often does it. With those all-seeing eyes of his.
Souta waves her off, “I am ok. Sorry, Kaoruko-san. There won’t be any other new chocolates for this week then, I have been too occupied with preparing Saeko-san’s cake, and with all else that has been going on…” he shakes his head.
“It is ok. I understand.” Kaoruko smiles, her eyes gentle, and Souta feels horrible, half-lying to her like that.
It is Monday, and the store is quiet in the early hours, with close to no customers. Since they do not need more staff than Kaoruko to handle the store while Souta makes desserts and works on Saeko’s cake, Olivier and Matsuri are off from work, with the former coming along to help after noon.
Last night, Souta finally heard the news of the two of them getting together, when they told Souta, his father and Kaoruko at Souta’s place. They had met to discuss the budget for the upcoming month and the welfare of the business overall. But the discussion quickly turned less serious after the announcement, Souta’s father overjoyed at his daughter “scoring so big”, as he had no qualms about calling it. Even Souta had enjoyed himself, happy for Olivier who has liked Matsuri for quite a while. Furthermore, Souta believes Olivier will treat his sister right and perhaps affect her positively, to become more mature and responsible.
For today, Olivier is taking Matsuri out for brunch after her first exam for celebration and will come in after that. Souta will have to remember to press him for details. Their love seems to work as a nice distraction for Souta, who gets to feel and experience love through them, making him forget his Saeko and Yoshimoto for a while.
Suddenly, around 10:30 am., Kaoruko opens the glass door and pops her head into the room where Souta works.
“Yoshimoto-sensei is here. He’s asking for you.”
Later, Souta will tell himself to ignore how fast he put down his tools to walk into the store, leaving the mousse for Saeko’s cake on the counter, for him to discover later and have to remake all over again.
At Yoshimoto’s usual table by the window, Souta is surprised to see that someone is with him, sitting across from Yoshimoto and nibbling at a spoonful of mousse au chocolat with care, the cutlery held neatly between two of his slim fingers.
Yoshimoto is wearing his blue blazer with a grey V-neck underneath and dark trousers, his bag by his feet as always, “Good morning, Souta-kun,” he smiles when he greets Souta, in that self-satisfied way that makes Souta’s skin crawl and know the guy is up to something, “This is Naruse-sensei, my good friend.”
Naruse looks to be close to Yoshimoto’s age, in a dark suit and tie, with a calm, open smile and an equally soft and calm voice when he greets Souta politely.
“He is a lawyer,” Yoshimoto tells Souta, “I told him he had to come try your chocolate mousse.”
“I have never tasted anything like it,” Naruse admits, his happiness at the taste subdued in a way that makes Souta feel both very proud and very embarrassed – as though this person is of high importance and a special guest to choco la vie, “Yoshimoto-sensei told me you were talented.”
It makes Souta speculate upon what kind of associates Yoshimoto Kouya has. For several fair reasons, the tutor does not strike Souta as someone who has many friends. And yet here he is with a lawyer of seemingly high stature.
“I am very pleased you like it,” Souta politely answers, looking between the two of them, heart hammering unnaturally fast in his chest, “Hopefully, we will see you here again then?”
“Why, if Yoshimoto-sensei allows me to come along, I would be happy to visit.” The look he throws Yoshimoto is suspicious; not in the most direct sense, but the two of them seem to know something Souta does not. It looks as though they are sharing a personal secret of some amusement or importance to them.
The thought sends a spike of mixed jealousy and anticipation through Souta that he does not know the source of, nor that he was capable of feeling that way. It throws him off guard, and he immediately gets the urge to be as far away from Yoshimoto as possible, “Well, it was very nice to meet you. I’d better get back to work. If there is anything you need, feel free to ask my colleague.” Gesturing towards Kaoruko, Souta quickly bows and only just catches Yoshimoto’s eyes on him before he turns around and hastily hides with the excuse of his work out back.
Though he walks right past it lying on the counter, to the backroom, occupying himself with cookbooks to pretend he is working on new designs, checking whether the filling for Saeko’s cake is right after all. Only 10 minutes later does he receive a text message from Yoshimoto.
I will see you later then, Souta-kun. Don’t leave the store for too long, or Kaoruko-san will be troubled.
Whether Souta chooses to believe it or not, Yoshimoto ends up being right. Again. It really should not have been a surprise, not at this stage. However, it is. And where Souta imagined it should be an amazing, pleasant surprise, it turns out not to thrill him at all, not bringing stutters to leave his lips or butterflies to spread in his stomach. Instead, the stated consequences echo in his mind. “If she does come to you, I win. And you will be mine for an evening at choco la vie, after closing time. Alone.”
It would have been a surprise, in any case, on any day, to see Saeko show up in front of choco la vie after closing time, with a suitcase and a handbag. She looks like someone who is going away for holidays, but Souta is not so stupid as to assume she is. Not at this time of the evening. It makes no sense either for her to show up in front of the chocolate store right before she goes somewhere. And not so soon after she went out on a date with a man that was not her husband and was not Souta.
“Saeko-san? What is it?”
“Sorry for showing up so late, Souta-kun.” She looks beautiful, in high-heeled boots and a coat, but her eyes are swollen, her hair not as shiny as usual.
Souta shows her inside with no further hesitation, to at least offer her a cup of tea. But he keeps his distance, his sentences short and devoid of emotion. He still hurts, knowing she is the deceiving, cunning woman from six years ago, even with a husband, going out with anyone to get affirmation, confidence. In front of Souta, the fairy is gone – that imaginary picture Souta had of a woman who, in reality, is way too dark for such a dream. Such a pure woman does not exist, they are deceitful creatures, just on a varying scale. Most likely, even Elena and Kaoruko are like that, in their own way. And Souta is not going to fall for it again. He is worth more than that.
It does not scare him to find that once Saeko looks at him, starts explaining after Souta has been awkwardly pacing in front of her, Souta feels as though someone is standing right behind him, whispering in his ear the words of “of course, she would say that.” – “See how she looks up at you with her eyes wide and mouth parted.” – “See how she tries to lure you to the false belief that she is simply a woman in distress? That you are the only one who can help her.” – “Oh, so innocent. Yet not at all. Can you see the secret intentions?”
“You left home?” there is only half the appropriate incredulity in Souta’s voice when he asks. And Saeko nods, eyes still cast down, her hands folded in her lap. But Souta does not see a pitiful woman, “Did you fight with your husband?” another nod.
Of course, that is why she is here. “She is after your love, like she is with anybody else. This is a game to her.”
“I am sorry, I didn’t… I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.”
It is funny, how an indirect confession like this one would have riled Souta up in the past. Merely a month ago, Souta never would have thought this scenario possible – that Saeko would ever come to him, to ask to stay at his place. It seems so fake now, Souta only feels cold. Can imagine the frost surrounding the woman.
“Friends? Your family?”
“I…” she hesitates, clearly not having thought up an excuse for this, “My mother would scold me for leaving my husband. And my friends all have families of their own.” She looks up, her soft, glossy stare lingering on Souta, lips quaking. And Souta wants to scream.
“Saeko-san,” he can act, he can pretend he regrets what he is about to say. And part of him does. But Souta is prepared to let that part walk out the door along with Saeko and her bags. Those holiday bags, with possessions lasting for a week’s time, for the time it takes her to get away from things, to gather her thoughts, to get reaffirmation and satisfy her cravings. After that, she will return home with the dirty laundry, but no dirty conscience, “I am sorry, but we have no guest rooms in my house. Olivier is living with me so…”
She did not expect that. Her face falls, “Oh. Oh yes, of course. I- I am sorry to have bothered you with this Souta-kun.” She is flustered and gets up, nearly tripping over her own feet in those ridiculously high heels. Did she think it would impress him? “I- I am sure I can stay with my friends. Ah, maybe I know a guy…” It is painfully obvious when she hesitates, looks at Souta through her eyelashes, watching for a reaction. “So low~”
But Souta does not move, simply stares at her with disinterest, waits for her to get the hell out. He is sick of looking at her. Saeko makes a series of continuous apologies, slowly making her way out, small step by small step, her eyes continuously flittering to Souta. With each step, another piece is torn from Souta’s heart, ripped off painfully, that light imaginary world he created within choco la vie crumbling around him. He wonders yet again, whether her leaving will be the end of choco la vie. Whether she will ever come back. Whether the place will be the same when she does. And for which purposes would she come back here, now that has Souta rejected her?
The door shuts behind her slim back and black hair, and the store goes silent as a tomb. Effectively trapping Souta within. He feels cold in his simple white shirt, chef’s jacket and scarf out back, along with his work. He is no longer just heartbroken – he is desperately trying to sew the two halves of his heart back together, half of what he just ripped painfully away from Saeko, only to find it no longer fits in his chest. Will it ever fit?
Souta turns slowly to gaze towards the glass window, through which the customers can always watch the chocolatiers work, and he sees himself there, bent over his chocolates, focus solely on creating wonders out of cocoa butter and sugar, caramel and cream, each infused with his wishes for love to come to those who eat them. Remaining heartbroken, he devoted himself to others’ love, satisfied with the thought of making Saeko happy too, of being able to see her face so often.
It is no longer enough, no longer something he will yearn for. Souta sighs, turns fully away from the door to tug the chair, on which Saeko sat, back in, and walk to the back wall to turn off the light.
FOLLOW THE LINK to part 4