Chapter 10: Hiro, plus Cake
“Why are you staring at me like that?” San frowned. The boy had been surreptitiously looking at her for the last 10 minutes in silence. It was starting to make her feel uncomfortable.
“Oh, sorry, was I staring?” He recovered, and had the decency to lower his gaze slightly. The boy looked sheepish, glancing left and right as if hoping someone would challenge the fact.
This only served to raise San’s suspicion. She twitched a brow skeptically. He was smarter than he was pretending to be. This innocent boy’s act wasn’t going to fool her.
“Soo...” Hiro started. Just when she thought he’d given up on talking, the boy gave her a curious side-way glance as he sat in one of the chairs. “What’s the deal with you and Tadashi?”
In her head, San suppressed a deep sigh. It didn’t bother her so much of how frank Hiro was being. But intuition was already warning her of where this talk was leading to. When it seems conversation with Tadashi Hamada’s younger brother won’t be any easier than with the elder one, she began to wonder if interrogation was a family hobby.
“We’re lab mates.” came her off-hand reply. This wasn’t what Hiro really wanted to ask, she knew, but he should really think twice if he thought she’d simply pander to his expectations.
“Just lab mates?” Hiro peered up at her, not bothering to cover up his suspicious tone.
“What else did you expect?” Classmates? A distant acquaintance? A hardheaded rival? A friend with a mutually painful relationship?
“More?” The boy with the messy hair shrugged.
Upon closer inspection, San saw that the Hamada brothers were remarkably similar. Yes, take away that spiky hair and the baby teeth and the rounder face, Hiro would be a mini, ultra-shrunk version of his older brother. But other things were missing. The look of virtue and the perpetual smile she was used to seeing in Tadashi was missing in Hiro.
This boy, she noticed immediately was much more devilish. A glint in his eyes shows just how much he relishes in tricks and smarts and outsmarting other people. If Tadashi was a god of goodness, Hiro would be a little devil monkey.
She could already guess that Tadashi had told something about their falling out with his brother, never anticipating that they would be meeting so soon. But fate wasn’t in the mood for unlikely things that day.
“Well, I guess I’d call him a friend.” She said, after taking a moment to consider it, faintly hoping that would please the boy.
Hiro almost snorted. “I’d call it one-sided, since only one of you’s making all the effort.”
This brought a smile to her lips. So, he was finally confronting her. No more round-a-bout questions. Just being frank about his feelings. And he was being quite clever about it, too!
“I guess not, if he told you that much.” She said, unmoved by his growing attitude, tracing his expression with a light smirk.
Hiro didn’t think she’d admit to it so easily. Why did she look like so casual about this? She should be looking uncomfortable, she should be avoiding his gaze, she should be saying with regret. Remorse. Shame. Anything but this mild indifference!
This caused Hiro’s temper to spike. Did this girl have a conscience? It’s like talking to a brick! Here he was, trying to get her worked up. And it backfired. Tadashi was right. San made a comeback difficult.
Screw it. He just wanted to do give her a piece of his mind He didn’t care about repercussions. This was on Tadashi’s behalf!
“I just - I just don’t get you. You and Tadashi. Why’d you have to treat him that way? Tadashi’s just trying to be nice. Nice! Something you clearly can’t be bothered with, seeing stepped on him like that.”
“Do you know how that made him feel? Of course you don’t! But I do! But I bet you don’t care how he feels now, do you?” Before he knew it, Hiro was exploding in her face. “I don’t know why he bothers. You think you can do everything by yourself? You think it’s a sign of strength? Well let me tell you sister. It’s a sign of weakness.”
Hiro stopped and realised he was gasping for breath, his chest was heaving like he’d been racing. His throat became hoarse with all that shouting, which he admitted sounded way better aloud than his mind.
Although a small part of him whispered for him to apologise, Hiro was determined not to. He was only speaking the truth. He was right.
She was the one who had wronged his brother.
He was right.
Even after all that shouting Hiro found that there was still so much resentment in him for this one person. So what if he’d hurt her feelings? At least, at least she would know what Tadashi felt.
This child, brown eyes was ablaze in anger as they hunted for a reaction on her face. As time went on and San’s face was as unchanging as ever, his confidence began to falter. Doubt sprung to his mind. Had he said too much? Frantically, he began to question himself.
Contrary to his expectations, San didn’t yell back. She didn’t raise her voice. She didn’t try to defend herself. She only appeared as stoic as ever, towering over him with her long shadow. Her gaze was hardened - but not angry, not even furious. It would’ve made him flinch had he not felt so furiously stubborn.
“So what do you want me to do?” She asked him, after a long, pressing silence.
She didn’t look mad. Hiro even thought she looked even a little empathetic towards him, but he quickly discarded the thought.
Hiro’s mind became blank. Everything now confused him. What should he do? His body was already winding down. His words stumbled over each other as they came out. He hesitated before saying. “Try...Try to get along with him, would you?”
She snorted. “Like everyone else?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” He shrugged. So long as Tadashi was happy, nothing else mattered. This time San let out a sigh.
“Does it really bother him that much that one person just won’t?” She asked.
Hiro didn’t say anything. His eyes wouldn’t meet hers. San already knew the answer. Finally, she smiled. “I’m not doing you any favours, Hiro Hamada.” She said, perfectly serious. “Unlike someone we know, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Hiro stared at her. He kind of thought she would say that.
“Fine, you’re not my problem anyway.” He said while turning away. He picked up a game console and started playing, completely ignoring San’s presence in the room.
Long minutes passed by with neither of them saying anything to each other again. The only sound within the cafe before then was the quiet murmuring of the ceiling fan. The girl was also silent and concentrating, though for a different reason.
“Something’s burning.” Her body was tense.
“Yeah, sure.” Hiro replied. He’d decided that he should just ignore her. She’d given them enough trouble as it were.
San seemed equally unimpressed with Hiro’s dismissive attitude. Kids... She rolled her eyes...The fire alarm hasn’t bleated yet, so that means...
She said. “You don’t have anything cooking, do you?”
“Course not, why would I...- HEY!!!”
San had disappeared from her chair and was striding bursted through the café’s back kitchen. Hiro quickly up shot up from his seat frantically. Aunt Cass would roast him if she found out a stranger had been in her kitchen. When he entered though his nose was bombarded with a scorching scent. San had pried open the oven and reached for the off-dials.
The stove seemed to let out a long-held breath. A thin sheet of smoke that obscured Hiro’s vision. His hands flew to cover his mouth and nose, his nostrils and lungs burning with each sharp intake of air.
“Open the windows. NOW!” She ordered, her hand reaching for a pair of baking gloves. “Holy crag, it stinks!”
Hiro heeded her command and ran to the windows. Once open, it let in a fresh breeze. The horrible charred smell slowly began to fade away, and the stifling heat in the room dissolved.
Meanwhile, San pulled out the smouldering baking tray and set it near the window for examination. Both stared at it, wide-eyed and shocked.
The outer layer of the cake had an ugly black brownish colour, with mottled spots. On close inspection, they saw that the surface of the cake had cracked open in the middle, forming a somewhat pitifully twisted smile.
“I -...er..erm..., okay” Hiro was the first to regain his speech. He poked at it nervously, as if the cake might come alive any second and exact some terrifying revenge. “It’s not as bad as it looks...is it?”
“...No, and I guess Tadashi didn’t twist his ankle chasing a balloon.” San replied, smiling wryly at the boy.
“Hang on. We can fix this. I’ve seen Aunt Cass do it before!” Hiro quickly defended, staring up at her desperately. “When I was six, she decided she wanted to bake me a birthday cake herself. Her first try was a disaster, but she cut the burned part away. Granted, it did look like black pudding... but point is, it’s edible.”
“I don’t know about you, but I doubt your aunt’s guests will pay to eat black cake.” San coolly replied. “Besides, that method only works for slight burns. I think we both agree if this cake could talk, it would’ve fourth degree burns.”
Hiro’s shoulders sagged. “Oh, I am so dead.” Hiro fell back against the fridge, eyes wide with fear. “This is supposed to be our Saturday Dessert Special. If Aunt Cass finds out about this, I’m dead!”
While Hiro began to pace around and lament the demise of the cake and (more importantly) his subsequent demise at the hands of a furious Cass Hamada, San was looking better composed. The fact that Hiro was still ranting uncontrollably next to her was painfully obvious, and San wrestled with herself not to be distracted.
Of course, she found being in the presence of yet another distraught Hamada in need of her help highly unappetising. But at least she was a better picture than Hiro right now, who was biting his nails and started pulling at his hair.
Hiro turned to her with a pleading expression.
“We have to do something. Can we make another one?”
San eyed him. “Show me your ingredients.”
After the edible food contents of the cupboards and drawers and fridge in the kitchen had been emptied out and shoved back in by two pairs of hands, they came to one inevitable conclusion.
San clicked her tongue. “We don’t have enough ingredients to bake another one.”
“I can run to the store and buy them.” Hiro asked desperately.
“Yea-... no. There are 9 missing ingredients. By the time you found them all, guests will have come in through that door and so will your aunt. Besides,” San explained, pointing at the remains of the cake. Hiro blanched visibly. “this isn’t just your typical cookie or muffin. This is a cherry cake. Takes a buttload of trouble to make one.”
Hiro glanced at the clock. San was right. The cafe would be open to customers in another hour. Aunt Cass would’ve returned by then, expecting her cherry cake to be ready to serve her guests. And when she found out it had been hoplessly destroyed...
“AAA, She’s going to eat me alive! I’ll be eating nothing but kale for a month!” Hiro ranted hysterically. “I can’t live like that! I’m packing my things.”
“And go where?” San asked, mildly surprised.
“Japan. We have a cousin there. No wait, she destroyed my laptop in third grade.” Hiro’s hands flew to his head again. “Well, can’t be any worse than staying here.” He blurted out in an incoherent string. He began shuffling around the kitchen, mumbling the list of things he was going to take with him on the supposed life-time excursion to Japan.
San’s hands suddenly grabbed Hiro’s shoulder, her grip as unbreakable as a hawk’s. Hiro was made to stop in his tracks. And he found his face suddenly found hers. His confused and shocked eyes searched hers for an explanation.
“Calm down. We’ll make another batch.”
Hiro blinked. “What? You’re not making any sense. I thought you said we can’t bake one in time!”
He thought he caught mischievous twinkle in San’s eyes. “Pay attention, will you? I said make, not bake.” She said cryptically “Come on. Here’s the plan.”
She bent down and whispered something in his ears. Hiro listened with rapt attention, his eyes widening in surprise, which then narrowed into doubt.
“Impossible! I’ve never tried making it before. How can we pull off something like that in an hour?” He exclaimed, sinking back into despair.
“I’ll show you. It’s not difficult once you get the hang of it.” San said wisely. “Do you know the Japanese saying 打たないショットは、100％外れる Utanai shotto wa, hyaku-pāsento hazureru?” She asked gently. Hiro shook his head. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
“Isn’t that just, like, a Wayne Gretsky quote?” Hiro’s brow shot up.
Ignoring his comment, San briskly went on (though he thought he saw her brows twitch). “Have you heard of the proverb ふくすいぼんにかえらず Fukusui bon ni kaerazu? It means spilt water will not return to the tray.”
“Like don’t cry over spilt milk?”
“Precisely.” San smiled, and nodded.
Her smile was small, but it brimmed with confidence. Hiro didn’t really understand what she was saying, but his gut told him he did. He stared deeply again into San’s eyes. They were resolute and firm. “Hey, I’ll help you.”
“You will?” Hiro asked, eyes widening in disbelief.
Hiro remembered what he’d said to her a moment ago, the horrible things he’d accused her of, and looking at her eyes again right now, Hiro couldn’t help but feel a little shame. Was she really going to help him? Isn’t it possible she’s only doing this so she could rat him out later to Aunt Cass and make his life worse?
Suddenly, San flicked his forehead lightly with her finger. “Hey, stop being so serious. I’m not hatching a convoluted plan. You have to trust me. Okay?” Smiling teasingly, she said.
She was Tadashi’s rival, or so he was told again and again. If so, then regardless of what had transpired, she had to have an ability to work miracles that all but justify the title. She may be confrontational, he realised, but she was also honest and unafraid. If there was one person here who would succeed at her plan, it would be San.
Hiro began to grow more confident in this plan. In him lit up bright spark that erased all doubt and distress. Suddenly, he felt if it was San who said it, even tall tales must be true.
Her presence... is kind of like Tadashi, Hiro thought. Her calm energy and calculating mind was contagious. Hiro took a deep breath and smirked.
“Alright, let’s do this!”