Word Count: ~ 11,500 words (in two parts)
Pairing: Ohba, Sakuraiba (bff)
Genre: Slow Burn, Drama
Summary: Aiba family loses in the famous annual baking competition for the first time in years. It becomes Masaki’s responsibility to figure out how to trump the new winner and win the family’s honor back.
Notes: I ate a lot of cheese tarts while writing this story ;) Written for aibaexchange 2016. Big thanks to aibaexmods for being super awesome, as always <3 Also those who have been so nice and kind to read this story back in the Exchange, thank you! I am so very grateful <3<3
[Aiba Masaki has been busy in the kitchen the whole Sunday morning.]
Aiba Masaki has been busy in the kitchen the whole Sunday morning. He carefully removes a tray of piping hot cheese tarts from the small oven and puts it on the kitchen counter.
“It smells delicious!” Sakurai Sho, Aiba’s roommate, cries out. Sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, Sho perks his nose up in the air and breathes in the appetizing scent. Their apartment is full of sweet, delicious aroma from the freshly baked cheese tarts. Sho licks his lips in anticipation.
Seeing how his friend is like, Aiba cannot help smiling. He has never seen anyone being more appreciative of food than Sho is. Aiba uses a spatula to remove a tart from the baking tray and puts it on a small plate in front of Sho.
“This is exciting! You know, you have never baked even once since we’ve lived together.” Sho comments as he helps himself with the piece. “Umaiii~,” Sho cries out in surprise. “Oh man, this is fantastic!” He continues to give compliment with his mouth full of tart.
Aiba gives Sho an appreciative smile before taking a bite from another piece. “Hmm… The base is too dry… Needs more salt.” Aiba mumbles quietly. “The cheese filling...hmm. the taste, the texture… None is right.” Aiba shakes his head. He puts the rest of the tart away, losing appetite to finish the whole piece.
On the other side of kitchen counter, Sho starts munching the second cheese tart he takes from the tray. There is no need to wait for Aiba to serve him. “You are too hard on yourself, Masaki. These tarts are great. You are such a good baker.” Sho is clearly enjoying the dessert far more than Aiba does. Aiba smiles at him endearingly. It is heartwarming to see Sho eat. Also, Aiba must admit, it is encouraging to have someone expressing the appreciation for his skill.
“If you like it, you can have them all.” Aiba offers, still feeling slightly dishearted from the failure. The tarts don’t come out right. They are of no use to him now. However Aiba quickly corrects his offer seeing Sho enthusiastically reaches for the third tart right away, “You know, Sho-chan, I didn’t mean you have to eat all of these right now.” Aiba certainly does not want Sho to get a heart attack. He quickly pulls the baking tray back and places it on the counter behind him. Sho stares at the tray with pleading eyes. Aiba knows he needs to stay strong. “I will pack them for you. You can bring some to the office tomorrow if you’d like.”
Realizing that he will eventually get to eat the tarts later, Sho smiles happily while rubbing his hands together to get rid of the left-over crumbs. Aiba is not done with Sho though. He slides a small plate that he has put aside just minutes earlier. On it, there is another piping hot cheese tart.
“Can you also try this one?” Aiba offers. Sho does not hesitate. He takes one bite and stops right on track. Noticing the change in Sho’s expression, Aiba’s lips curl up.
“How’s it?” Aiba asks. Sho does not answer right away. He slowly munches through the piece with wide eyes. His beaming and radiant smile is noticeable through his chewing mouth.
“This is…” Sho swallows the tart before continues, “This is unbelievable! THE best tart I have ever had!” Sho’s voice is almost a scream. His eyes glister with joy it makes Aiba smiles. “You are such an amazing baker, Masaki. This tart is absolutely fantastic. Even better than the ones before.” Sho cannot stop giving compliments.
Then, Sho notices something, “Wait, isn't this from the same batch you’ve just baked. How come it tastes different?” Sho asks, bewildered.
“Because I did not make that last piece, Sho-chan. I only re-heated it in the oven.” Aiba explains. Sho’s expression suddenly turns into question, so Aiba continues with the explanation, “It is from a bakery in Chiba. I got it yesterday.” And it still tastes wonderful… Aiba leaves the last comment to himself. The fact that one-day-old cheese tart still tastes unbelievably great reflects the exceptional quality of the tarts and the skills of its baker. It makes Aiba’s heart heavy just thinking about what he needs to accomplish for his family.
Recreating that cheese tart is going to be one tough challenge.
It all began two weeks ago.
Aiba Masaki loves coming back home. His Family gatherings are always joyful occasions. Aiba remembers fondly of love, warmth, and laughter as the family members exchange stories, share jokes and enjoy homecooked meal together in their Chiba family home. However, Aiba family gathering two Saturdays ago was not one of those merry occasions. They had just gotten back from the Annual Chiba Baking Competition where the entry from Aiba family won the second prize in the tart category. It was a significant difference. Last year, and many years before that, it had always been the first-place trophy sitting on their diner table after the competition. It was safe to say the emotions around the table weren’t the best.
“This is outrageous!” His father cried from the head of the table. Although he had retired as the head baker, he still supervised the operation. The loss hit him hard. “How could the judges think our family entry was inferior to some unknown bakery?” His grandmother said dejectedly. It was heartbreaking to see a gentle elderly woman looking so brokenhearted. Their wins at the annual competition had been their family’s pride. The recognition also helped bringing in customers from all around Japan. Everyone, local and tourists, knew that they must visit Aiba’s family bakery for the best cheese tart in town. After this year competition, it was no longer the case.
On the far side of the table, Aiba’s brother turned paler every passing second. His brother had been the head baker for the last three years after their father had stepped down. He also represented the family bakery in the competition. “This is all my fault. I am so sorry.” His brother said in a bitter voice. He probably took the loss harder than anyone else.
“No, it’s not.” Aiba could not stay quiet and let his brother feeling miserable for the loss. “I tasted your tarts. It was as delicious as ever." Aiba knew the family tart was as perfect as it could possibly be. There was no change in taste and texture of the tarts from the years before. However, Aiba never ate the winning entry, so he could not vouge for its taste and quality. But Aiba’s testament only left one possibility. The winning entry must be better than theirs.
Everyone at the table became quiet. The family understood the implication of Aiba’s sincere and truthful observation. Aiba noticed his mother staring at him with narrowed eyes. He knew the look. THAT look. Trouble was brewing. To be specific, his trouble was brewing. Aiba knew his mother was concocting a plan to fix this serious family problem. And Aiba, whether he liked it or not, would be the center of the plan.
“You are going to fix this for us, Masaki.” His mother stated plainly.
Aiba blinked, twice.
Fix this? How?
Ignoring Aiba’s perplex and confused expression, his mother continued, “If that tart tastes better than ours, we need to figure out how to make it, what go in those tarts, what techniques are used, and Masaki can do that.” She turned to her eldest son, “Use your skills. Figure out the tart recipe for us. We are going to make our tart better. Next year, we are going to take the title back!”
Aiba blinked. His mother made it sound like an easy procedure – duplicating a recipe. Aiba was about to protest when he saw flare in his mother’s eyes. Her eyes were full of confidence – the confidence in her eldest child. The one that previously denied his family responsibility and refused to work in their bakery.
Consumed by the guilt, Aiba did not have a heart to say no.
His mother always says Aiba has great taste buds. Since he was little, Aiba would be able to describe the taste of what he ate to descriptive details. Through his parent training, Aiba learned to differentiate the taste and the smell of various ingredients. He grew up being able to tell the components of a dish to its almost exact composition. Aiba’s mother had always been so proud of him. She thought Aiba’s “gift” would be helpful to the family, especially when Aiba took over the business.
But Aiba never took over the family bakery. He moved away and attended university in Tokyo. Aiba’s natural, God-gifted ability to detect ingredients in food has been used for something else. Aiba landed a job as a culinary consultant in Tokyo. Now he works for various employers, from food companies to celebrity chefs to television producers, creating and recreating food recipes. Aiba thinks the job is fun and challenging. He never thinks about going back to his family business. Yet, he still feels guilty for not taking up the family responsibility. That's why, when his mother requires his help, Aiba feels obligated. This is one thing he can do for them. This is when they really need him. Aiba must figure out how to replicate the recipe of the winning cheese tart.
For the past few weeks, Aiba has been visiting the first-place bakery to get the prize-winning cheese tarts as samples. The bakery was so much smaller than what Aiba expected. There is a small cash register with a shop assistant in the front section of the bakery. A small open window and a door connect the front room to the kitchen in the back of the building. Rows of pale blue boxes and paper bags used in packing the tarts fill the two sides of the walls. The bakery has been opened for just a few months and it still looks very new. Aiba was told that, since the competition, the order line has been long. The waiting time is almost unbelievable, especially on weekend, which unfortunately is the only time when Aiba is free to come. Aiba guesses that the shop only makes the tarts in small bashes. That, coupling with each customer buying a lot of tarts, results in the line moves very slowly and almost always remains long.
Today is the same as any Saturdays, Aiba is in line waiting for his turn to purchase freshly baked tarts. The only difference is that Aiba is not alone. Sho has accepted his invitation to come and try the tarts fresh out of the shop’s oven. They have been in line for more than an hour. With the wait this long, it helps to have a friend being in the queue with you. Unfortunately, Aiba forgets to tell Sho in advance that his hometown this time of the year can be quite cold and windy.
“I didn’t know Chiba would be this cold.” Sho complains through the pulled-up collar of his fashionable jacket. He has buried half of his face underneath it for the last hour. Sho’s voice is partially muffled by the fabric but his misery is evident. Aiba laughs seeing Sho tries to lower his face further. This is too adorable. “Why did I believe you when you said this is the only proper way to appreciate cheese tarts? I was happy with the re-heated ones.” Sho grumbles.
Aiba giggles good-naturedly. He knows that, given how much Sho loves and appreciates great food, Sho only complains jokingly. “It’s going to worth it, Sho-chan.” It is true from Aiba’s experience. When he first set out trying to crack the winning recipe, Aiba only had supply of cold cheese tarts that his family purchased for him. After a month or so of prolong frustration of not being able to figure out how to match the exact taste and textures, Aiba drove to Chiba and got in the line to try the fresh tarts for the first time. That first experience was eye-opening. Aiba wants Sho to experience the same blissful enjoyment he had with the dessert.
“Of course, it is going to worth it." Sho admits although he looks like he's about to sneeze. "I just figure out that the baker of this shop is so famous. I mean, the previous bakery he worked at in Hokkaido is legendary.” Sho explains quickly through his jacket's stretched collar, “I heard it from Toma. You know I love talking to him about food, right?” Of course, Aiba reminds himself, Toma is their university friend and a food magazine columnist. He travels all around Japan visiting and doing scoops on great restaurants and bakeries. “Toma said the original shop in Hokkaido has the best cheese tart in all of Japan.” That may sound a bit over-reaching to others but Aiba knows Toma has tasted a lot of food all over the country and abroad. His opinion on food means a lot to Aiba and Sho. If Toma says the tart is the best, it surely is.
That kinds of make Aiba’s life difficult though. How is he going to imitate the same quality cheese tart as that one?
“It’s good that the baker moves to Chiba. Lucky you, Masaki. You can have it every time you visit home.” Sho says with a trace of real envy in his voice. It makes Aiba laugh.
They stay in the line for some more before Sho breaks the silence again with a completely different subject, “Hey, you never tell me the shop assistant is this good-looking.” Sho mutters when the line moves along far enough to see inside the shop. “Oh, you mean Jun. Yeah, I guess he’s kind of cute.” Aiba agrees, looking in the same direction as Sho. Aiba has befriended the shop assistant over his weekly visits to the bakery. Like Sho commented, Jun is what anyone would call ‘attractive’. He always stands behind the counter receiving order and packing cheese tarts for customers. He always wears white shirt with the bakery’s signature dark blue apron wraps around his waist. His constant smile brightens the store significantly. Aiba wonders if Jun’s attractiveness contributes to the long line of housewives queueing for the tarts as well.
“He does help making the long queue bearable, doesn’t he?” Aiba teases. Sho’s cheeks suddenly turn red. Sho mumbles a weak protest that causes Aiba to laugh again. Aiba wishes Sho could see how he looks right now. Sho is cute when he’s embarrassed.
The line moves again and they are almost in the front. Then several ladies before them start to order the maximum amount of cheese tarts each customer can buy. Jun busily packs the tarts to their orders and those women leaves the shop with many bags full of cheese tarts.
So when it comes to Aiba and Sho's turn, the store has run out of tarts.
“Aiba-san, I am very sorry. There are no more tarts.” Jun tells them and bows apologetically. Sho whimpers in disappointment, which makes Aiba feeling guilty. He drags his friend to wait in the bad weather for nothing.
“Isn’t there any left at all? I mean, not even just one? My friend here comes from Tokyo for the first time. I really hope he can taste your fresh tarts.” Okay, Tokyo is not exactly that far but Aiba really does not want his friend’s misery to be a waste.
Jun looks at Aiba understandingly. His thick eyebrows narrow in as Jun considers his options. Then, he seems to find it.
“Please wait here for a moment. Let me check in the back.”
Jun excuses himself and disappears behind the door. Aiba turns to smile his most encouraging smile to Sho. Behind them, people from the long line disperse and disappear. They know the tarts are gone and the shop is closing. There are only Aiba and Sho still standing in front of the counter. Aiba can hear faint conversation from behind the door. Two voices are talking back and forth.
Finally, Jun emerges, holding a small paper back in his hand. He hands it to Aiba and Sho.
“Here you are, Aiba-san. A complimentary from our baker.” Jun says with a polite smile. Aiba takes the bag and hands him an appropriate banknote for the cost of the tarts. However, Jun does not take it. He shakes his head a little and explains, “These tarts aren’t for sale. They are our baker’s. He wants you and your friend to have them.”
“Then, at least let us thank him in person for his kindness.” Sho chips in. Jun looks reluctant at first, then he nods and says he will go get the baker. Another minute and another round of conversation later, Jun returns. This time, a small man follows him.
“Here are the customers I told you, Aiba-san and his friend. Aiba-san, this is our baker, Ohno Satoshi.” Jun introduces everyone. Ohno, the baker, bows slightly to Aiba and Sho who return bows.
Seeing that Aiba hasn’t said anything after the initial greeting, Sho decides to take initiative. “Ohno-san, thank you so much. You are so kind to give us these delicious tarts.” He gestures at the bag of tarts they received from Jun earlier and nods at Ohno appreciatively. Aiba mumbles something in similar nature. Sho continues, “My friend Aiba here is a big fan of you and your tarts.” Sho turns to Aiba’s direction before adding, “He has been trying to make tarts like yours for the last two months.”
Aiba is shocked at Sho’s unintentional reveal of his secret. But to be fair, Aiba hasn’t told Sho why he has been making so many cheese tarts lately. It is only natural Sho would think that Aiba is obsessed with Ohno’s tarts. Feeling embarrassed, Aiba glances at the baker to check his reaction.
“Is that so?” Ohno comments on Sho’s reveal and gives a slightly nervous and shy smile. “Then, please enjoy the ones I give you.” He mumbles before quickly excuses himself. Ohno walks back where he comes from. His movement is surprisingly smooth and graceful.
Aiba’s eyes secretly follow the back of Ohno until it disappears behind the kitchen door. Without realizing, Aiba lets out a relieved sigh as soon as Ohno is gone.
After the visit to the bakery, Aiba and Sho spend the rest of the day visiting Aiba’s family. They joke about Sho keeping Aiba in Tokyo and about Aiba’s countless fail attempts to make cheese tarts as good as their rival’s bakery. In the evening, Aiba drives Sho to a train station. Sho has to return to Tokyo while Aiba intends to spend the rest of the weekend at his family home. Aiba has a lot to talk to his mother and he is yet to spend enough quality time with his nieces.
While driving to his parents’ home, Aiba spots a familiar man walking on the side of the road. Looking carefully, Aiba realizes it is the baker he met earlier. Ohno is walking alone to where Aiba can only assume is his home. Aiba hesitates for a bit before he decides to slow his car. He lowers the window and shouts at the walking man.
“Ohno-san, do you need a ride?” Aiba hopes he looks friendly enough because Ohno is giving him a strange look. Aiba adds another reassuring smile as he leans toward the door on the passenger side. “Please, it is cold and it is getting dark around here.” Ohno hesitates so Aiba shots him another friendly beam. Finally Ohno agrees to get in. He mumbles a weak ‘thank you’. Aiba notices Ohno does not look straight at his face while saying it. Ohno must be very shy.
“Are you heading home?” Aiba asks in a friendly tone. The baker mumbles an affirmative reply.
“So, Ohno-san, tell me. Do you stay at your shop or it is somewhere else?
“Right on. The shop it is.” Aiba confirms enthusiastically. “And what are you doing around here? Come to send someone off at the train station?” Aiba asks further. Ohno’s reply is hardly audible. Aiba isn’t even sure whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He can only guess that Ohno does not want to talk about it. So Aiba asks a few more questions. However, all of them get only lukewarm responses.
Then, he realizes.
“Oh God, I must look like a stalker to you.” Aiba blurts out.
Of course, Ohno does not want to talk to him. He just learnt that Aiba was obsessed with him earlier today. Now Aiba just magically appears, offers to take him home, and asks so many questions about his whereabouts and schedule. Aiba knows he sounds just like a crazy fanboy.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to look like a crazy stalker.” Aiba babbles anxiously. He tries to laugh it off but even that sounds weird.
“It’s okay.” Ohno mumbles in reply. He still does not meet Aiba’s eyes.
Surprised by another indifferent response, Aiba chuckles nervously and decides to keep his mouth shut. He lets the song on the radio fills the uncomfortable atmosphere inside the car.
After a few songs on the radio, Ohno breaks the silence.
“I remember you, you know?” Ohno states quietly. Aiba is puzzled. He turns to Ohno with a big questioning expression. Ohno elaborates, “I mean, from the competition.” Oops…Aiba does not expect that. Ohno’s eyes fixate on the road ahead as he continues, “You are the other son from that famous bakery, right? The one they said always won the first prize.” Of course, Aiba and the rest of the family were there in the audience cheering on his brother. Their competition space was right next to Ohno’s. It was possible that Ohno would notice them. There is no point denying.
“Yes, you are right. I am the eldest son.” Now, his behaviors would look even more ill-intended than before. “I don’t work at the bakery though. I work in Tokyo.” Aiba is not sure why he makes the excuse. Or why it would even matter that he does.
“Do you really like my tarts?” Ohno asks another unexpected question.
“Of course, I do. It tastes better than any tarts I’ve had.” There is no point in lying. Aiba does love the tarts. Ohno turns slightly red. “You are too kind.” He mumbles. Aiba believes he is not imagining it when he sees Ohno blushes. Aiba feels a little warm on his face so he turns away and keeps his attention to the road ahead.
They remain quiet for a while before Aiba realizes the car has reached the destination.
“Here we are. Your shop.” Aiba parks in front of the bakery; however, Ohno does not leave the car. Instead, the baker turns to face Aiba. This time, Ohno no longer looks shy nor nervous. Aiba is surprised at the sudden change. He cannot help giving Ohno his full attention.
“Your friend said you have been trying to make cheese tarts like mine.” Ohno pauses a little before he ends, “Why?” This voice is so soft it is surprising that Aiba can still hear the question. Aiba is not sure how to respond. He decides to go with the truth.
“My family wants me to recreate your recipe." Aiba admits, "The thing is, I may not work at the bakery but I work as a culinary consultant. My usual job is to create new dishes, as well as replicate various recipes. Desserts and pastries, included. So, I am to recreate yours.” Aiba looks at Ohno guiltily. Secretly Aiba cannot help wondering how Ohno would be knowing Aiba's intention. He is so ready for Ohno to be angry and start yelling at him.
To Aiba’s surprise, Ohno does not look angry or even disappointed. In fact, he looks kind of…sympathetic. Huh?? No matter what, Aiba still wants to apologize. “I am sorry. I should have been more straight-forward with you earlier this morning.”
“Why? There is nothing related to what happened this morning.” Ohno smiles softly and reassuringly. “Also, now that I ask, you decide to tell me truthfully. It’s all good.”
“If that’s going to make you feel any better, I can tell you I cannot recreate your cheese tarts.”
“You mean, not yet.” Ohno says playfully. He laughs a little. That’s the first laugh Aiba hears since Ohno got into his car. Aiba is surprised. He would not expect Ohno to laugh about it. Isn’t the recipe of his famous, award-winning cheese tart supposed to be his livelihood? Aiba’s attempt to imitate it should be considered a hostile offense and a risk. Yet, Ohno only responds in good-nature. If Aiba doesn’t know better, he would say Ohno looks almost like he does not care.
With that cleared up, Aiba expects Ohno would leave his car. But Ohno still doesn't. After another brief moment of silence, Ohno stares into Aiba's eyes again.
“Aiba-san, since you are so straightforward and truthful to me, I will be blunt with you. I have a favor to ask.” Ohno gentle smile still plasters his face. His eyes suddenly glister differently. “I am new to this town and I don’t have a lot of friends. In fact, I don’t know anyone here.” His smile changes for a brief second into something Aiba cannot put a word on. But Ohno soon looks friendly again. “You sound like a nice guy. Maybe we can hang out sometimes?”
Aiba looks at Ohno’s soft eyes staring at him. Somehow, Aiba cannot say no.
The next Saturday on his weekly visit to Ohno’s bakery, Jun greets Aiba with a knowing smile and hands him a small note from Ohno. The baker asks Aiba to meet him at a nearby park after the bakery closes. Aiba looks the time. It should be around noon when the tarts are sold out and shop closes. Aiba decides he can go straight to the park and wait for Ohno there.
The local park is relative small. There are a few benches scattered around a small lake. Ohno’s note does not say where they should meet exactly so Aiba randomly picks one of the benches. GIven the park size, Ohno should not have a problem locating him wherever he sits. With nothing significant to do, Aiba stares into the peaceful lake and soon loses in his own thoughts.
Aiba does not know how long the time has passed when he is pull back from his thoughts. A blue paper box appears in front of him and Aiba’s senses return to the present. He glances up to the hand holding the box and finds Ohno smiling warmly at him. Ohno pushes the box forward in Aiba’s direction.
“Please take the tarts. Jun told me you didn’t get any today.” Ohno adds. Aiba gasps realizing that he was so distracted by the note and the prospect of their meeting that he forgot why he was at the bakery in the first place. Aiba smiles sheepishly and takes the box. There are four small tarts neatly arranged inside. The tarts are still very warm. Ohno must have baked them right before coming here. Aiba mumbles a ‘thank you’ before taking the bite.
Aiba is temporary lost in the wonder of Ohno's cheese tarts until he realizes that Ohno is still standing awkwardly in front of him. Aiba moves to one side and invite Ohno to join him on the bench. “And please, share these tarts with me.” Aiba offers, handing Ohno the box. The two men sit quietly munching the dessert. Aiba is uncertain how he would break the silence. Despite his cheerful, friendly exterior, Aiba has never been the one with a lot of courage to initiate conversation with strangers. Strangers often make him nervous. Since Ohno is the one that wants to hang out, Aiba secretly hopes that Ohno would start conversations. Instead, Ohno seems content to just sit on the bench and appreciate the view.
The tarts are long gone now and they are still sitting silently side by side on the bench. Aiba tries hard to dream up something for his brain to do while sitting quietly. Next to him, Ohno continues to gaze toward the lake. It seems he keeps staring at a few ducks swimming here and there in the clear water. The quietness is becoming too weird for Aiba to handle.
Then, Ohno suddenly gets up, which prompts Aiba to stand as well. The baker turns toward Aiba and bows slightly.
“Thank you for hanging out with me today. Maybe we can do it again some time.” Ohno says softly and starts to walk away.
“Wait a minute! This is it?” Aiba cannot contain the surprise in his expression. Ohno looks at him questioningly as if he does not understand Aiba’s bewilderment. Aiba feels the need to clarify, “I mean, don’t you want to do something?”
“I thought we just did.” Ohno replies. There is a hint of confusion in his voice. Aiba gasps.
“Er, Ohno-san, may I ask what do you usually do during your free time?”
“Well, I would sit in a park, like today, or taking a stroll, like last week.” Ohno replies.
“I mean the things you do for fun.” Aiba cannot help prying further.
“What do you mean? This is fun.” Ohno looks like the most confused kid in class. It is adorable. Obviously, Ohno does not get off on the same “fun” stuffs most people do. What he does in his free time wouldn’t help him making any friends. No wonder Ohno said he did not know anyone here.
Now, Aiba understands the situation. He reaches out and pats Ohno on a shoulder,
“Look, Ohno-san. You ask me if we can hang out. Why don’t you let me show you how I hang out?”
“So, let see if I get this right. You drove him around Chiba the whole afternoon?" Sho reconfirms Aiba’s weekend story after Aiba got back to Tokyo. Aiba nods.
“And where did you say you brought him for dinner afterward?"
“You know, my favorite seafood restaurant near the beach we’ve been to in July. The place you said they got the best grilled clams." Aiba explains patiently. He smiles just recollecting the experience the past Saturday afternoon.
“And you finished with a night time sightseeing of harbor.” Sho concludes in astonishment.
“Yes, yes. All that. I have just told you what we did minutes ago. Why do you ask me to repeat it all again?” Aiba begins to question Sho’s unnatural amazement in something Aiba finds very simple and normal. Seeing Aiba’s naïve expression, Sho shakes his head. Sho lifts his chair and relocates it to the spot right next to Aiba. He bends forward until thier faces are right in front of each other. Sho stares directly into Aiba's eyes.
“Masaki, it's a date.”
“What?! A date?!? No, no, no!” Aiba protests in high pitch noise. “It's two guys spending time together in a friendly manner.” Aiba insists. “Besides Ohno hardly say anything. We didn't 'connect'. I don’t even think he enjoys it that much. He definitely doesn't think anything of sorts.” Aiba talks so fast Sho cannot help grinning at how obvious his roommate is. Aiba suddenly realizes he gives too many denials and excuses. It makes the truth sounds like the opposite.
“Come on, Masaki, he could remember you from the baking competition. No one remembers anyone that day. There were so many people. It was so crowded even I couldn't find you.” Sho tries to reason with his friend. If Aiba needs someone to help him see light, Sho would gladly be that person. “If he said he noticed AND remembered you, I'd say he's got something about you.” Sho points out.
“You always think something is up whenever I hang out with someone other than you.” Aiba protests.
“But, am I ever wrong?” Sho jests lovingly.
Aiba makes a face. Of course, both know the answer. Aiba just does not want to be reminded that most guys he befriends with are more interested in hooking up rather than hanging out with him.
Aiba decides it's probably better not to argue when Sho has his mind set on something.
Aiba never expects that the one seemingly random request from Ohno for them to hang out would develop into something much more.
Despite what he said to Sho, Aiba finds himself getting seriously committed to hang out with Ohno and to be his friend. They continue to meet every Saturday afternoon. Ohno, as Aiba finds out, is a very quiet man. He is reserved and sometimes shut-in. Left to himself, Ohno would just sit quietly until he eventually dozes off. This makes it difficult for Ohno to befriend people. Ohno also does not open up to people – at least not naturally. After several weeks in, Aiba learns that he cannot just ask Ohno what he wants or what he likes. Ohno would not give him any answer except a mellow glance and a soft smile. Instead of asking, Aiba has to observe Ohno’s reactions during the time they spend together. Gradually, Aiba learns to notice small hints of Ohno's happiness, the brief moments of when Ohno's eyes light up, his lips curl, and his eyebrows raise. It takes Aiba a few trials and errors to figure out which activities Ohno enjoys and which he doesn’t.
All the while, Sho continues to tease Aiba that he spends more time figuring out the baker than the cheese tarts. Aiba pretends he is not listening.
Little by little, Aiba begin to figure out Ohno's likes and dislikes. Ohno likes the sea. He likes fishing and hanging out on a beach. Some week, Aiba would drive him to a beach where Ohno would walk along the beach and sometimes teach Aiba how to fish. Aiba likes taking a stroll on the soft sand alongside Ohno but he does not particularly enjoy fishing. Aiba tends to feel bad for the fish he (un)luckily catches, yet he likes to listen to Ohno explaining fishing techniques and various types of fish. Ohno, who is usually quiet and lost for words, becomes talkative and lively every time the subjects of fish and fishing come up. It’s something that always makes Ohno happy. And with Ohno being happy, Aiba is also happy.
Ohno also enjoy going to supermarket. He turns a completely different person when he is in a supermarket. The excited and child-like Ohno would glide from one section to another of the supermarket while Aiba picks up grocery. After that, Ohno and Aiba would return to Ohno's bakery to cook dinner. It's another activity that Ohno likes. In fact, it is something that they both can enoy together. They use kitchen in Ohno’s apartment on the second floor of his bakery to transform ingredients they pick up at the supermarket into a meal. Despite being an exceptional baker, Ohno is near hopeless in kitchen. He can cook a few things just to get by but he does not normally cook. Ohno usually eats out at the near-by ramen shop or calls for delivery. Sometimes he eats stuffs that Jun prepares and brings to the bakery. On the other hand, Aiba always like to cook. Even though cooking is a part of his job, Aiba still finds cooking fun and relaxing in therapeutic way. So he teaches Ohno how to cook and how to have fun cooking. After a few times of sharing homemade dinner at Ohno's small dining table, Ohno admits to Aiba that he did not enjoy cooking before because it was sad to cook just for himself.
“Aren’t you lucky you have me to cook for now?” Aiba teases.
It is supposed to be a joke but Ohno doesn’t laugh.