For now, I decided to go with the special-sized fried rice as I was quite hungry. I thought about ordering more, but Miu-san warned me that the portion was already substantial enough. Looking at the menu, it’s evident that this place specializes in home-style cooking, and the prices are reasonable, which is great for a high school student like me.
It turns out that Ginzo-san is the main chef, and Miu-san assists him as needed while also handling customer service. Despite being short-staffed, they manage to run the place since there are hardly any customers coming in. I couldn’t help but feel grateful for their warm welcome and delightful conversation.
Sitting at the counter with my teacher, the atmosphere became awkward. I wondered what to talk about with my teacher in this one-on-one setting. It’s true that after the false accusation incident, we had more opportunities to talk at school, but it’s different being alone with him like this.
However, Yuki-sensei didn’t seem to be conscious of the situation at all. She enjoyed her beer and even smoked casually, regardless of having a student next to her.
“Is it alright for you to act like this in front of a student?”
“What are you talking about? My work for today is over. Right now, I’m just a customer, not a teacher. Oh, if you don’t like the cigarette smoke, I can put it out.”
“No, it’s not about the cigarette. I mean, you always have this composed and dignified image, so seeing you like this is refreshing.”
“Haha, well, if that’s how I usually appear to you, I’m glad. But to be honest, my real self is quite sloppy, you know? As you can see, I drink and smoke. Not too long ago, I even went on my first group date.”
“Eh, Yuki-sensei went on a group date!? That’s surprising…”
I felt a sense of familiarity with my teacher as she behaved slightly differently than usual, more carefree. She was popular among the students at school, known for being approachable. However, due to the recent situation, I had always stuck to serious conversations with her. So, hearing her talk like this was quite refreshing and felt different from what I was used to.
“Oi… Is it really that surprising? I’m already 27, you know? Of course, I wanted to experience a little romance or two. Well, I tried going to a mixer, but all the guys there were just flirts, so I left after a second.”
“Ah, that’s like the usual teacher.”
“What do you think I am?”
“Well, you’re more like an older brother than a teacher.”
As soon as I said that, I received a light shoulder tap. Well, it was still a bit painful.
“There, at least call me ‘big sister.’ Seriously… By the way, talking about going to a mixer was probably not something I should have mentioned to a student. I might have had a bit too much to drink… Yagami, keep it a secret from the others, alright?”
While saying that, the teacher smiled, and there was something different about her. Maybe it was the atmosphere, or perhaps the slight blush on her face due to the alcohol, but she seemed more charming than usual, and it made me feel a bit flustered.
Witnessing this side of her in person, I realized that the rumors about her being approachable were indeed true. Well, if you disregard her position as a teacher, there’s only about a one-year age difference between us.
Though it’s out of the question for me since I have Mio, there might be some students who could fall for her adult allure and develop a genuine crush.
As I was caught up in these trivial thoughts, the teacher suddenly turned serious.
“About Rinto and Saito… They’ll be coming back to school soon. It pains me to tell you this as the victim, but I think you deserve to be the first one to know. I can’t avoid making you suffer, but my inability to punish those two and expel them is all due to my own inadequacy… I’m truly… sorry.”
Her words were whispered in a volume only audible to the two of us, leaving me speechless.
Frankly, I don’t even want to see them anymore. It’s obvious, but I feel frustrated and resentful. I can’t forgive Rena, of course. But because I had always thought of Rinto as my best friend, my anger towards him is even stronger.
When Rinto told me in the classroom that day, “You were the only one who thought we were friends,” I was overwhelmed with confusion and sadness, despite suspecting him as the real culprit. However, after much reflection since then… I no longer have the confidence to forgive Rinto.
No matter what their reasons were, they committed unforgivable actions. Because of them, I lost many things, not only my classmates but also my relationship with my sister and little sister. I feel like I’ve lost something important within myself as well.
Even so, it’s not a problem for the teacher to shoulder. Just like with Tachibana before, I don’t want the teacher to carry the burden of something she hasn’t done wrong.
“No, it’s okay. Honestly, I can’t stand them, but as long as I have nothing to do with them, it’s fine.”
I have to do something about the principal. And since I don’t want any more trouble, I don’t think I’m going to do anything about it, at least not right now.
Right now, all I want is some peace of mind for my exhausted heart after this month of turmoil. I just want to live through ordinary days without thinking too much.
In the slightly awkward atmosphere, unaware of everything, Miu brought the fried rice with a smile.
As Miu had said, the amount was truly worrisome for the restaurant’s sales. It looked like regular fried rice, but the aroma was incredible.
“How about it, kiddo? Looks delicious, doesn’t it?”
Ginzo-san said with a smug expression. I took a bite, and yeah, it tasted more ordinary than I had expected. It was delicious, but it had a home-cooked feel to it… Even so, there was something about it that made my chopsticks move rapidly. I could understand why the teacher had become a regular customer.
“Oi oi, take your time and eat… Oi, why are you crying?”
“Yagami… Are you alright?”
As Ginzo-san and Sensei said that, I realized for the first time that tears were streaming down my face. No matter how much I tried to wipe them away, it wouldn’t stop.
I remembered now. It felt familiar. The reason the taste seemed nostalgic was that my father used to make fried rice for me and my sister when we were little.
He wasn’t particularly good at cooking, but the love and care he put into it made it a favorite dish for us.
“Oi oi, was it that delicious? You knew it, right, kiddo? You’ve got taste!”
“It’s… delicious, but not to that extent…”
“Are you picking a fight, kid!? Damn, that hurt, oi! Miu!?”
“You idiot!! That’s not what it was about! How can you not understand something like that? Dad you really… Taiga, are you okay? Onee-san will listen to you anytime.”
Seeing the warm interactions between the father-daughter pair, and feeling their kindness, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own family, which had changed so much.
We used to be a close-knit family, just like Ginzo-san and Miu. But now, my relationship with my sisters is at its worst, and I constantly burden my mother with my troubles.
If my father was still alive, what would he say to me now? He was a kind and strong-willed person. Ah, this is bad. Eating this fried rice makes me miss my father so much.
As I quietly finished every last grain of rice, Ginzo-san, Miu, and Sensei watched me with gentle expressions.
“It was fantastic… Uhm, can I come back here again?”
“Ou! You’re welcome anytime!”
“Yeah, come back anytime! I’m really bored, so I’d love to have someone to talk to! If you ever want to talk about anything, just come to me, okay? I’ll listen and support you with anything!”
“I can treat you occasionally too, you know? Hmm? Is it inappropriate for a teacher and a student? Well, never mind. Let’s go out for a meal together again sometime.”
Their kind words brought tears to my eyes again. In this place, I felt like I could forget everything and regain my smile, even if only for a moment. I strongly felt that I wanted to come back here again.
As we said our goodbyes, I thanked Ginzo-san and Miu from the bottom of my heart for the delicious meal and the warmth they had shown me.
Walking back home, I felt a sense of peace and comfort that I hadn’t felt in a long time. This encounter with Ginzo-san and Miu had reminded me of the importance of family and the warmth that can be found in unexpected places.
Though my family situation might not change immediately, I knew that there were good people out there, like Ginzo-san and Miu, who were willing to listen and support me. And with that thought in mind, I decided to face the challenges that awaited me with a newfound strength and determination.