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VOLUME 2: ~Naïve~
Chapter 2 “Workshop Girl”
Days continued to dawn cold, and the times spent lamenting about the summer heat now seemed so nostalgic. Even the path to school, which used to be paved in cherry blossom petals, is now coloured scarlet due to the cherry blossom leaves. I was sure even they would soon start falling, too.
We had changed to our winter uniforms as well, and it felt like a coat would soon be needed. Since the end of the summer vacation, I had been kept busy by events in school and at work at the revamped MAHO-do. Before I knew it, autumn was upon us.
Even though we still left school at the same time, the sky grew dark more quickly these days, and it just made my tummy rumble with hunger. As such, I sometimes ate some cake or sweets at the MAHO-do, but I still craved the taste of real “meat” after work. Like a rare steak dripping with juices…
No, I must not start talking about food, or I’ll never stop.
But let’s rewind a little to talk about a certain cla.s.smate of mine.
More than half of my current cla.s.smates were people I did not know prior to entering high school. However, I was lucky as my cla.s.s atmosphere still managed to be friendly regardless. At first, we were all seated according to our order in the cla.s.s register, but from the second term onwards, we were all made to switch seats. It was really quite exciting.
“Oh, s.h.i.+dou-san! Nice to meet you!”
“…Oh, Harukaze-san. Nice…to meet you.”
With these polite words and a shy smile, s.h.i.+dou Yuuna-chan, who was now sitting in the seat in front of me, nodded her head slightly at me. She was a somewhat short but cute girl who gave off a gentle, kind vibe. She also had a head of soft, brown, natural curls.
In the beginning, I thought she was mixed-blood. Even her belongings and the bag she carried were all cute, just like Yuuna-chan herself.
“It’s tiring to say Harukaze, so you can call me Doremi, like everyone else does. Can I address you as Yuuna-chan, too?”
“Yes, that’ll do.”
With that, Yuuna-chan flashed a relieved smile at me. Maybe she was just nervous, as she was now seated apart from her good friends, or maybe she just wasn’t the type to strike up a conversation with others. I was sure she would have been more at ease if she had friends who went to the same elementary and middle schools as her, like myself.
Anyway, she struck me as the type of girl who needed others’ protection. I mean, her shy smile was just so cute. I hope we could become good friends in time.
One month after switching seats, I should have had many chances to chat with Yuuna-chan. However, since I had many other friends in cla.s.s, and it was also busy at work, I was always running around. In the end, I could not find the time to get to know her more.
“The same thing happened to me, too. In fact, I was in the exact opposite situation as Doremi-chan’s,” Ai-chan shared.
In the first term, Ai-chan was seated behind Yuuna-chan. Ai-chan’s motto was to come up with retorts for any silly or funny remark that came within her hearing, but,
“She’s no good. She’s not silly at all, nor does she say anything funny,” Ai-chan complained, looking disappointed.
“…So even Ai-chan’s over-the-top Kansai-style energy could not get a response?” Hazuki-chan sighed.
“Hmm, so she’s seated in front of Doremi-chan now? I really pity her,” Momo-chan teased.
Thanks for nothing, Momo-chan.
“You’ll be switching seats again next term, right? Since you’ve got the chance now to interact with someone of a different personality, I think you should try to talk to her more. That’s how you’ve been making friends since kindergarten, right?” Hazuki-chan reminded me.
“I know, but I don’t have many chances to talk to her,” I said.
So far, we’d only greeted each other in the mornings, or exchanged a few words during cla.s.s discussions, but we never really spoke to each other aside from that.
“I guess she just isn’t your type, but I’m sure Doremi-chan will get through to her,” Ai-chan said.
“Fufufu, I think so, too,” Hazuki-chan agreed.
“Do tell her about the delicious sweets at MAHO-do! I’m sure Yuuna-chan will love them,” Momo-chan added.
But Yuuna-chan was really everything that I was not. Even though we were sitting so close to each other, how was I ever going to come up with a common topic between us to talk about?
With regards to that, an unexpected person showed me an unexpected side of the story.
Since Yuuna-chan was sitting near me now, I got to notice lots of things about her. I’d noticed that her belongings, including her bag and accessories, were mostly handmade items.
“Wow, these look great,” I exclaimed.
I had made Yuuna-chan show me her mobile phone strap. It was a collection of miniature cutlery, which gave off the image of Alice in Wonderland’s tea party.
“Oh, s.h.i.+dou made all those parts herself,” a fellow cla.s.smate, Miyamae Sora-kun, told me when I asked him about it.
“Ehh, that’s awesome. How did she make those things?!” I asked.
When I took a closer look at the strap, I had noticed that the spoon, cup and pocket watch were fas.h.i.+oned out of metal. Even the tiniest details were worked in, making it seem like the original item was shrunk to miniature size.
“Idiot, you’re too loud,” Miyamae-kun shushed me with a finger to his lips. I then learnt that Yuuna-chan’s family owned a workshop which specialized in metalwork. Miyamae-kun had shushed me up because it seemed that Yuuna-chan did not want anyone finding out that she lived in a workshop.
We had been chatting along the corridor after school. Was my voice really that loud? But honestly, Yuuna-chan seemed just like a princess, so it was hard to imagine her living in a workshop in the suburbs.
But wasn’t Miyamae-kun being overly cautious? If Yuuna-chan and I had attended the same elementary school, I would have done my best to become friends with her. What her parents did for a living shouldn’t be a problem at all, right?
When I reached the MAHO-do, I immediately updated everyone with the news. Onpu-chan was there too, so we were at full strength, and work progressed quickly as we chatted happily about girls’ stuff, even though our voices were m.u.f.fled since we had to wear masks in the kitchen.
“Ehh, I didn’t know that,” Ai-chan exclaimed.
“If she’s alright with decorating her strap with things she made in the workshop, then there’s no reason why she would dislike the place. Maybe she just doesn’t know how to talk about it with others,” Onpu-chan suggested.
“That’s right. I won’t stop talking to her just because she lives in a metalworks shop,” Hazuki-chan added.
As everyone had said, if Yuuna-chan did make the strap on her own, we wouldn’t have understood what she was talking about even if she had told us about it.
“I won’t be able to come up with retorts if I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Ai-chan said.
“Metalworks? That’s totally different from baking, but I’d like to see that strap too,” Momo-chan added as her eyes sparkled. I wondered what image she had conjured up in her mind, but it was good to see her showing interest.
“We speak about workshops and metalworks in general, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Anyway, why has everyone stopped work?” Onpu-chan pointed out.
At that, we went about decorating cakes once again. However, Momo-chan remained unmoving, staring at the madeleine cakes she’d brought out of the oven.
“Is Miyamae-kun still making airplanes?” Hazuki-chan asked nostalgically.
Miyamae-kun had attended the same elementary school as all of us. In 6th grade, we learnt that he had a secret base in which he made airplanes. His airplanes could fit people and still fly, even though it fell down almost immediately. Looking back now, it was amazing that he managed to make such large airplanes.
“I heard that he’s enrolled in the science club and builds robots now,” Ai-chan offered.
“Robots? You mean like the Galicson Z? That’s awesome!” Momo-chan shouted.
“What? Momo-chan, he’s probably only working on plastic models. It’s impossible for a high school student to build a Galicson Z,” I retorted.
“Doremi-chan, I don’t think the problem is with him being a high school student,” Hazuki-chan sighed.
“There’s the Robocon, right? Our school’s not really into that, so he doesn’t have a chance to take part now, but I heard that he wants to partic.i.p.ate in the future,” Ai-chan added.
The robots featured in the robot contest, also known as Robocon, were quite different from the robots of my imagination, which look like humans and are able to fight enemies. It was all quite difficult for me to truly understand, but I’d heard that it was extremely hard to programme a robot to perform even a simple action like walking.
“That’s right. It would be difficult to take part unless you’re from a specialized school or university. But I’m sure Miyamae-kun is enjoying what he’s doing now,” Onpu-chan said.
She was right. Miyamae-kun might be all grown up now, but he was still the same person inside, and knowing that gave us a sense of relief.
“So, does that mean Miyamae-kun wants to scout Yuuna-chan?” Ai-chan asked.
“How did he know that the s.h.i.+dou family owns a workshop?” Hazuki-chan added.
“I’m sure he visits the workshop often to source for robot parts. Maybe he noticed that the workshop bears Yuuna-chan’s family name…?” Onpu-chan guessed.
Ai-chan and Hazuki-chan were naturally full of theories, but I was sure that Onpu-chan, who had only just heard the story, was the one who had gotten it right.
“s.h.i.+dou is truly a rare family name. And it sounds cool too!” Momo-chan said.
She was right. The “s.h.i.+” in s.h.i.+dou was a rare character we seldom ever saw. Anyway, I’d never seen Miyamae-kun speak to Yuuna-chan at all. Onpu-chan really had a logical mind.
“Do you think that Miyamae-kun is interested in Yuuna-chan?” Hazuki-chan asked. At that, I realized that Miyamae-kun was seated next to Yuuna-chan in cla.s.s.
“Now that you mention it, he does sneak glances at her sometimes. When he told me that she works in a metalworks workshop, he did seem really envious,” I mused.
“Maybe he’s not scouting her, but he really likes her”
“He’s finally found something that he can talk to Yuuna-chan about, but maybe he’s too shy to act?”
“Maybe, but it’s still something. And Yuuna-chan seems really nice,” Ai-chan added.
I just couldn’t imagine Yuuna-chan with images of the science club nor Robocon, but it was still interesting to try.
I mean, for starters, he could send her a formal invite to join the club activities. Miyamae-kun was already a high school student; surely he possessed that much people skills.
However, I knew that Yuuna-chan sometimes read really tough books filled with lots of complex symbols. She had decorated it with a cute book cover, so I had thought it was a normal novel at first, but I never imagined it being filled with information I could never understand.
As everyone was present that day, we took turns to man the store, bake in the kitchen, and decorate the baked goods. By the end of the day, most of the items had been sold out. We chatted about Yuuna-chan whenever we had the time, but Momo-chan suddenly stopped joining in the conversation.
“Momo-chan, what’s wrong?” Onpu-chan asked as she approached Momo-chan, who was waiting in front of the cooking stove for the goods to bake.
“Is there something wrong with the madeleine cakes?” Ai-chan asked.
“Maybe she’s thinking up a new creation,” Hazuki-chan offered.
Momo-chan was staring at the madeleine cake mould. Madeleine cakes, which were usually made to resemble sh.e.l.ls, were truly a cla.s.sic baked pastry. We sometimes made them with chocolate chips, or in tea and macha flavours, so maybe Momo-chan was just thinking of a new creation for the upcoming winter season.
“Momo-chan, do share any ideas you may have with us. We’ll help to think of more ideas too,” I said as I patted Momo-chan on the shoulder. At that, her face suddenly lit up with a ma.s.sive grin.
“It has to be hearts! Yes, because hearts are eternal!” Momo-chan exclaimed as she placed the madeleine cake mould on the kitchen counter. “That’s right! Heart-shaped madeleine cakes, what a nice idea!”
“Singing your own praises aside, you have Yuuna-chan’s workshop in mind, don’t you?” Ai-chan asked.
Madeleine cakes were made by placing the batter into moulds and baking them. Come to think of it, we might have changed the cake’s flavour from time to time, but our madeleine cakes always came in the same shape. I had just taken it for granted, a.s.suming that the shape was what made madeleine cakes madeleine cakes. If we wanted to bake them in a different shape, we would surely need a different mould.
“That’s an idea for Valentine’s Day, not Christmas. But heart-shaped goods will surely sell well,” Hazuki-chan said.
She was right. Many of our handmade items also came in heart shapes, regardless of whether it was Valentine’s season or not.
“But it has to be the perfect size for MAHO-do’s oven. We need to get the moulds made and try them out as soon as possible,” Momo-chan said, sounding exactly like a professional.
“That’s right. When we first started the MAHO-do sweethouse, we had to work extra hard to settle on each pastry’s ingredients and baking durations,” Ai-chan added.
“Momo-chan really has lots of ideas when it comes to baking sweets,” Onpu-chan praised.
“Yes. Heart-shaped madeleine cakes… Fufu! I’m sure they’ll look lovely with toppings. We’ll help out too, Momo-chan,” Hazuki-chan giggled.
We were all eager to help Momo-chan with the baking process.
To think that she was already thinking of Valentine’s Day, when Christmas wasn’t even over… Momo-chan truly had lots of solid ideas when it came to baking.
“Momo-chan, I’ll do my best to help out with the baking,” I said.
“You mean with the eating?” Ai-chan teased.
Ai-chan had hit the nail on the head, but before I could retort, everyone had burst out laughing.
The next day, I mentioned Momo-chan’s madeleine cake mould idea to Miyamae-kun.
“I’ll also try asking the club chairman for you; I’m sure he will know more about this,” he said, and we arranged to head down to the club room together after school.
The science club chairman was a third-year student named Narita Akira, though neither Ai-chan nor myself knew him personally. At times like these, s.h.i.+makura Kaori-chan’s information came in useful.
“Narita Akira? Oh yes—, he’s a good-looking senpai, but rumoured to be a disappointment.”
Kaori-chan was full of information, but we knew that we couldn’t take her too seriously.
“What do you mean good-looking, but a disappointment?” I asked.
“Well, it means what you think it means,” Kaori-chan said as she looked from the corridor we were at down onto the school courtyard, and motioned for Ai-chan and me to look, too. “He’s usually in the library or down at that courtyard during lunch break, reading books. Look, there he is now, with s.h.i.+dou-san.”
Following Kaori-chan’s finger, we spotted Yuuna-chan and Narita-senpai standing and talking. I couldn’t really make out his features, but he wore gla.s.ses, and was of a slim, tall build.
“He seems quite good-looking to me. I don’t see what’s so disappointing about him,” Ai-chan observed.
“They seem like good friends, too.”
“I heard that they’ve been this close since elementary school. They live close to each other, and, since s.h.i.+dou-san’s family owns a workshop, you would imagine that he has lots of reasons to visit her place… But everyone just ignores their relations.h.i.+p, and that’s why he’s rumoured to be a disappointment!” Kaori-chan finished.
“What? I don’t understand,” Ai-chan stated, confused.
Kaori-chan appeared offended by our confused expressions. “Guess I have no choice,” she sighed as she launched into an explanation with an exasperated look.
It seemed like Narita-senpai was the sort of guy who would not invite rumours, even if he was often spotted talking to a cute girl like Yuuna-chan.
We then asked if he was just the “herbivore”-type of guy, but Kaori-chan immediately cla.s.sified him as “an otaku”.
“He spends his free days at Akihabara. In school, he talks of nothing but robots, sci-fi and computers. I’m sure he has no interest in girls,” Kaori-chan announced. Though she had appeared exasperated before, she seemed to be enjoying herself immensely now.
I could not understand why she was so excited. Maybe he was Kaori-chan’s type?
After school, Ai-chan, Momo-chan and I, armed with all this random information, accompanied Miyamae-kun to the science club room.
The science club usually held its activities in the school laboratory. The teacher in charge was in the preparation next door when we followed Miyamae-kun into the lab. I was shocked, as the place looked even more messed up than I had imagined.
“Be careful not to trip on the wires on the floor,” Narita-senpai said as he brought out chairs for us. Up close, he was truly good-looking, not in the hunky way, but more like a kind big brother.
Momo-chan immediately launched into her ideas about the madeleine cake mould, and both the teacher and Narita-senpai agreed that Yuuna-chan was the best person to help us with it.
“s.h.i.+dou-san does things quickly and well, and I think she has done work on cooking utensils before,” the teacher told us.
“Besides, Yuuna-san is here right now. Shall we invite her to join us?” Narita-senpai offered.
Miyamae-kun and the three of us looked at each other, and then asked if it was true that Yuuna-chan wasn’t proud that her family ran a workshop. The two laughed and told us that it wasn’t true.
Firstly, there were a couple of cla.s.smates who lived near Yuuna-chan, so they would pa.s.s by her house on the way to school every day, hence there was no way she could have hidden the fact from them. The teacher also shared that he was eager for Yuuna-chan to join the science club, as they could apply to represent the prefecture in Robocon with her partic.i.p.ation.
In fact, Narita-senpai also took the initiative to tell Yuuna-chan about Momo-chan’s idea. Now, I understood why Yuuna-chan found him to be such a reliable senior. They might have been childhood friends, but I still envied their relations.h.i.+p. This must be tough on Miyamae-kun, as I was sure that he was interested in Yuuna-chan after all. But at this point in time, I personally felt that Narita-senpai and Yuuna-chan were more compatible, in terms of otaku level.
He was just two years our senior, but he really seemed so mature. I wondered if I would grow to be as mature as Narita-senpai when I became a third-year student myself.
In contrast to Miyamae-kun’s disappointed look, Momo-chan was ecstatic, knowing that everything was going so well.
“Momo-chan, this is great. Now we’re one step closer to our goal,” Ai-chan said.
“Yes! I’ll start working on some drawings to pa.s.s to Yuuna-chan tomorrow. Oh, I need to bring home those madeleine cake moulds as reference tonight. Yay!” Momo-chan cheered. She was so happy that you would think that the madeleine cake moulds were already completed. However, this motivation and energy were truly Momo-chan’s strengths.
After that, things progressed quickly. The next day after school, we brought Yuuna-chan to the MAHO-do, where she quickly got into an animated discussion with Momo-chan.
“Anyway, since you’re here, have some madeleine cakes. We have cupcakes, too, if you prefer that,” I told a nervous-looking Yuuna-chan as I placed the pastries before her.
“Sorry for dragging you here to the store at such short notice,” Hazuki-chan apologized as she poured some tea and placed it on the table. We were all gathered in the lounge area next to the kitchen.
“It must be quite a shock, suddenly having cla.s.smates ask you to create a madeleine cake mould. Momo-chan’s personality is just forward like that,” Ai-chan added.
Once at the MAHO-do, we wasted no time showing Yuuna-chan the dimensions of our oven, as well the some samples of the original madeleine cake mould.
“Our boss will pay you for the work, so please don’t worry,”Momo-chan a.s.sured her as she dragged Majorika into the room.
“I usually leave the pastry design work to Momoko, but I personally think heart-shaped madeleine cakes are a great idea. Will you help us with this?” Majorika asked.
Yuuna-chan had finally relaxed a little, as she replied “yes” in a tiny voice.
“Yay—! Thank you, Yuuna-chan. Please eat some cake!” Momo-chan cheered.
“You can bring some madeleine cakes home, too,” Ai-chan offered.
“Yes. Please do share them with your parents and the workers at the workshop,” I said as I placed some madeleine cakes into a bag, despite Yuuna-chan’s protestations. “Yuuna-chan is interested in programming, too, right? I often see you reading those complex books on computers,” I hurriedly changed the topic.
“Huh?! You knew about that?” Yuuna-chan asked, looking really shocked and panicked.
“I sit behind you, so I catch a few glimpses sometimes. I don’t really understand what those books say, but Yuuna-chan probably does. I mean, you’re really good at computer, math, and science cla.s.ses, and those accessories you carry are proof, too.”
Yuuna-chan’s face had gone scarlet, and she looked really uncomfortable.
“That’s wonderful. Doremi-chan had shared so much about you. I’m really envious that you can create anything using just pieces of metal,” Hazuki-chan said.
“It’s almost unbelievable, judging from your appearance. I think you’ll do great in the science club. The teacher and Miyamae-kun would be delighted,” Ai-chan added.
“I think it’s a good idea. Definitely more achievable than Doremi-chan’s aspiration to become the soccer club manager,” Momo-chan teased.
“What? That’s rude!” I complained.
Yuuna-chan seemed overwhelmed by our banter, but she still accepted the madeleine cakes and the mould. We then waved each other goodbye as she left the MAHO-do.
For some time after that, Yuuna-chan and Momo-chan continued to meet up for discussions. We had lots of heart-shaped items in our store, but Momo-chan was really insistent on the new mould having the exact shape as what she had in mind. So, it was after the end of November and well into the Christmas season when we heard that the moulds were complete.
We decided to hold a tasting session for the new heart-shaped madeleine cakes, and invited Yuuna-chan as well.
“Wow, they’re so cute—!”
Everyone commented in unison. The heart-shaped cakes looked really fluffy and round.
“They’re chubby, cheerful hearts!” Momo-chan announced.
That’s right! They did appear really soft and bouncy, too.
“And that’s not all!” Momo-chan said as she brought out another plate of madeleine cakes.
“Hmm? What is this shape?”
Momo-chan arranged two of the weird-shaped madeleine cakes together, before placing a heart-shaped one in the middle.
“The heart has grown wings! It’s an angel!” Ai-chan exclaimed.
The crisp brown madeleine cakes had been made into the shape of one of Cupid’s wings.
“It was Yuuna-chan’s idea. Thank you!” Momo-chan explained as she embraced Yuuna-chan. At this, Yuuna-chan’s face turned scarlet, but she looked really happy, too.
Momo-chan appeared set to continue standing in the limelight. Aside from original creations, I knew that we could count on her to come up with many more ideas that would make everyone really happy and excited.
Right after the success of the Valentine’s Day madeleine cakes, we dove straight into preparations for Christmas.
At the same time, I was feeling a little down due to the issue of the college prospectus forms. However, I soon found out that Yuuna-chan was in the same predicament as me.
“She told me that she wanted to become a metalworker and take over the workshop from her parents,” I informed the rest.
“I think she’ll be wonderful doing such detailed work, but doesn’t a worker need to possess a certain amount of physical strength, too?” Onpu-chan mused.
She was right. Physical labour might be too much for the tiny Yuuna-chan to handle.
“I think she’ll do well in a profession that works with computers.”
We were working on designing Christmas cards and wrapping paper on the computer in the MAHO-do. Momo-chan was at home, thinking up new cake creations, so there were only four of us in front of the computer now. We had decided on the concept of bright, cute, and fun for our designs.
“I think she really holds lots of respect for her father and the workers. However, she’s the only child, and I heard that her father hopes that she’ll enroll in Karen Girls’ Academy in the future,” I shared.
“She probably respects her father’s wishes. That’s why she never shared that she wished to attend an engineering university,” Hazuki-chan mused.
“Yuuna-chan is really such a withdrawn person,” Ai-chan sighed.
Even so, Momo-chan had started spending more time at Yuuna-chan’s workshop, discussing mould and utensil ideas with her. After lots of interactions with the workers, Yuuna-chan had slowly come to realize that there were many more things she was capable of doing.
“I think Momo-chan’s power gave her the push she needed,” Hazuki-chan said.
“Her speech to Doremi-chan about the Kokuritsu incident was truly powerful too,” Onpu-chan reminded everyone.
“I don’t believe that she came up with that on the spot, so she must have planned it all out beforehand. Either way, I really look forward to next year,” Ai-chan said.
If the heart-shaped madeleine cakes gave Yuuna-chan the chance and courage to speak of her dreams to her family, then I would be really happy for her.
“Anyway, what’s the status between her and Narita-senpai? Are they really together?”
“Miyamae-kun really ran out of luckthis time, I guess”
Hey, what is this? I was just getting started about Yuuna-chan and her father and her ambitions. Was romance the only thing everyone was interested in?
“Even if she wasn’t worried about her future, I doubt Yuuna-chan would have the time for romance. And if she really enrolls in a science & tech university, she can truly have her pick, since there are so few girls there”
Well, I guess that’s just one more thing for Yuuna-chan’s father to worry about.
The truth would surely be revealed during Valentine’s Day. Anyway, I was sure Yuuna-chan would be proud of the beautifully wrapped heart-shaped madeleine cakes when they made their debut then.
1. The Galicson Z robot is a robot featured in anime Gundam.
2. In j.a.pan, the word “herbivore” is used to describe men who shun the idea of girlfriends and marriage.