7 Bake Expectations

Mr. Coffee: This reader/fan request was made by a lover of DGS – and Trite’s great-grandparents, who for the sake of my Western tongue, I prefer to simply call Su and Ryu. Can the Japanese defense attorney make sure his baking efforts for his legal assistant rise to the occasion and don’t fall flat?

“Hold it!” Ryūnosuke Naruhodō cried out with dismay, frantically putting a hand on Gina Lestrade’s arm, which was vigorously whisking away. “Please subdue your actions! You are turning the cream into butter!”

“Give me a break!” The blonde teen scowled at her friend. “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? The recipe for this weird foreign cake of yours says to cream together the sugar and butter until well combined!”

“I – I am sorry,” Naruhodō withered under the heat of her indignant glare. “I do not mean to seem ungrateful for your kindly assistance, Gina-san. I only mean to –”

“To what? Drive me mad by your harping expectations of me to transform from prize pickpocket to some sort of pastry chef all of a sudden?” She puffed out her cheeks and stamped her foot. “I’m doing the best I can, you know!”

“Now, now, there’s no need to get so tetchy!” Iris Watson chided as she set down the bowl of Shiro-an vanilla frosting she’d been mixing for the confections. Her red spirals bounced atop her head as she came over and reassuringly patted the frazzled young man on the shoulder. “Number one, it’s not a weird recipe – it’s his mother Sayuri’s family secret recipe for traditional Japanese Butter Mochi Cake…”

“SAY- YOOR-EE?” Gina interrupted, pursing her lips. “Bugger and blast! Do none of you foreigners have names that are easy to pronounce?!”

“My mother’s name Sayuri, translates into a small lily, a much favored floral, as well as tea, back in my native home country, Gina-san.”

Naruhodō stifled back further sharp rebuttal to the rude commentary, then resumed his painstaking tending to the Sakura-mochi he’d been laboring over for the past few hours and silently agonized over why everything in his life had to be so damn complicated!

Sayuri Naruhodō, (née Riko, which meant logic child, even though the stubborn family matriarch was anything but that!) had been descended from one of the Emperor’s royal chefs and had insisted on maintaining her ancestor’s inherited gastronomic passions, traditions, and recipes. Ergo, her husband, Hisahito (which translated into virtuous, calm, and everlasting), and only child had long been spoiled as the key consumers of her delectable feasts and desserts, which were all fit for any emperor or king!

The only problem was that her personalized twists of trademarked chef genius were so convoluted, they were nearly impossible to emulate for a culinary neophyte like her son, whom she’d always shooed away from the kitchen whenever he’d offered his assistance!

A great example was this particularly complex recipe for cherry blossom rice cakes. They’d been Naruhodō’s favorite indulgence and he fervently hoped to impress with them, as well. Conventionally, the sakura-mochi should’ve been sweet and pink on the outside with a red bean paste filling and a pickled sakura leaf for the covering. The thing was, his mother had never really been someone who’d be considered “by the book” and had her personalized spin on the Japanese treat. When preparing the anzuki beans for Anko red bean paste, she’d also cut up plenty of red Kyoto cherries before reducing them in a pot to make a delicious syrup.

Afterward, she’d mix the Anko and cherries with a small portion of the cherry syrup, thus making the filling, and then using the remaining syrup to dye the white rice a more pinkish color, making the mochis more daifuku than actual mocha. Finally, instead of topping the tasty treats with the traditional pickled sakura leaves, Sayuri’s final flourish was to take dried sakura flowers and coat them in sugar water. He wasn’t sure what kind of kitchen magic his mother used, but it always ended with the cherry blossom petals looking sparkly and pretty, a delight to both the eyes and taste buds alike.

Unfortunately, in this case, Naruhodō’s expertise seemed to be limited to the courtroom, where his hands were best used for desk slamming, and likewise, his not-so-nimble fingers were only effective for pointing at his rival prosecutor – in the kitchen, he was all thumbs!

The family’s gifted cookery genes had come to a screeching halt with Sayuri, as this final decorative task was taking him forever to complete. Also, to his mounting dismay, the mangled sticky – not shiny! – conglomerate lump of petals was nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as his mother’s, nor did they resemble any sort of flower that existed in nature!

He moaned softly under his breath and cursed his rotten luck, along with his keen eagerness to achieve what appeared to be mission impossible. Any other sane man would have given up by now and just purchased a local, store-bought baked item at this point, such as the Victoria Sponge Cake which those of the British Empire seemed to favor so much.

However, Susato Mikotoba loved all things conventionally feminine, such as the color pink, (as evidenced by her choice of regular attire) sweets, and of course, flowers. Moreover, his legal assistant distinctly adored sakura, and wistfully sighed every time they’d pass a cherry blossom tree.

So how could he not attempt to gift her with both her heart’s desires, today of all days?

“Ginny, be nice to Narudy for once!” Iris had her hands on her hips as she sternly chided the visibly petulant Gina for her misconduct. “It’s obvious he wants to give Sussie a taste of his family’s traditional recipes from back home, and as his friends, we agreed to help out with this, so no more grousing!”

“Fine! Quit your nagging already!” Gina grumbled as she began icing the large Butter Mochi cake. “I gave my word that I’d help play ace baker, and I meant it, so you needn’t worry about me going along with his besotted game of ‘I Want You to Want Me, I Need You to Knead Me and I’d Love You to Loaf Me’!”

Naruhodō’s grasp of the English language, which had been nonexistent up until a few months ago, was remarkably good, but as a non-native speaker of the language, certain idioms and witticisms still went right over his head.

Which meant he was left utterly flummoxed as to why the former sneak thief’s last words resulted in the genius inventor’s orbs begin brimming with tears of mirth.

“Meaning you’re going to batter up, and it’s all or muffin?” Iris twittered. “Because all your griping was baking me crazy!”

“It’s a crumbly job, but I knead the dough!” Gina quipped as her eyes twinkled with merriment. “So this is how I roll!”

Naruhodō was as confused as a homeless man on house arrest as both girls then dissolved into uncontrollable gales of laughter. His bewilderment was evident, as the ever-perceptive Iris noted his lost expression, and sobered instantly.

“Sorry, Narudy just a little baker’s humor there to lighten to mood,” she apologized, then turned back to Gina. “Let’s show some compassion for the poor man here! He’s only acting like such a perfectionist drill sergeant because he wants everything to perfect for Sussie’s surprise birthday dinner tonight!”

“I don’t understand why you adults have to play these silly, coy games!” Gina shook her head. “The Orient is going through all this trouble because he’s so madly in love with her! Why the buttoned-up lip? Try being honest for a change, be a whisk-taker, and just tell her, for heavens’ cake!”

Naruhodō felt his cheeks flaming at hearing his innermost, yet transparent emotions for the Asian beauty, who’d first gotten under his skin, then flooded his mind, and finally, his heart, stated so bluntly. Denial obviously would get him nowhere, so he threw up his hands in resignation before plopping his elbows down onto the kitchen counter and buried his head in his hands.

“It’s not so simple, Gina-san,” he explained miserably. “Aside from the fact that I have no idea how Susato-san feels about me…”

“We already know she loves to Susato-Throw you to the floor whenever you get out of line!” Gina snickered relentlessly. “I need her to teach me that Susato-Drop move of hers, too! A girl can never be too prepared, you know!”

The lawyer eyed her despairingly, failing to comprehend how reinforcing the belief that the girl of his dreams had more of a yen for manhandling him, rather than for him, was supposed to make him feel any better!

“Don’t worry about her tossing you through the air like pizza dough, Narudy.” Once again his expression gave away his thoughts, and Iris smilingly patted his sugar encrusted hand. “At least Sussie always looks sincerely sorry right after she does it! And lately, she’s even offered you a hand to help you get back up when it looks like she may have tossed you a bit too hard!”

“Methinks her flinging you around like a ragdoll is how she shows her affection?” Gina mused slyly, flashing him a wicked grin. “Or maybe that’s her decorous way of trying to assess whether or not she can just go ahead, get on top of you and pin you down…”

Yameru, Gina-san!” Naruhodō cried as he raised a hand to stop the unseemly words. “Please! Y –you mustn’t even make jest about Susato-san’s impeccably genteel character! She is the perfect example of hospitable respectability and never exhibits anything other than good manners and propriety behavior towards everyone she encounters!”

The scamp’s eyes widened, as she was so unaccustomed to the normally mild-mannered Asian ever raising his tone, even though this time, it’d been to defend his beloved’s good name from any sort of slander, even as a joke.

“Cor blimey, she is your chuckaboo, isn’t she?” Gina breathed, her voice filled with wonder. “I can’t even take the mickey with you about your demure fair maiden ever being anything but bang up to the elephant – you’ve got her on that high of a pedestal! What I can’t fathom is how you can go on feeling this way about her but keep bloody mum about it!”

“The Japanese don’t say, ‘I love you,’ as often as people in the West do, mainly because of cultural differences,” he explained helplessly, feeling his cheeks warming again. “Instead, love is expressed by manners or gestures….”

“Which is why Narudy felt a need to ease Sussie’s homesickness with some homemade recipes on her birthday, rather than just buying her some trifle and sticking a candle in it,” Iris added matter-of-factly. “I’ve been reading up about the ways of the land of the rising sun. When the Japanese do put their feelings into words, they’re more likely to use the phrase “suki desu” which literally means “to like.”

“Like whom, if I may be so bold to ask?” A familiar voice inquired mildly, making the three friends spin around in surprise as they saw the topic of their chinwag standing in the doorway, having caught the tail end of the conversation.

Susato-san!” Naruhodō felt the blood drain from his face as he frantically pondered how much the birthday girl, who was presently standing beside him, had overheard. “W-we didn’t expect you to be back so early – nor return without Holmes-san!”

“I did not intend to eavesdrop.” Susato bowed her head slightly, but still bore a puzzled smile. “Yet I could not help to have my curiosity piqued, due to the subject matter.”

“Wherever is the good detective?” Demanded the normally pacifist man, who at that moment would have cheerfully throttled his friend, who’d had but one job that day – to keep Susato out of the house until the festive preparations were ready that night! “We thought you two would not return until this evening!”

“Holmes-sama took Susato to the Old Bailey library to explore some wonderful historical crime archives and photos,” she explained. “But then he mysteriously vanished while she was engrossed in some riveting periodicals, and by then, it was closing time, so Susato had no choice but to come back home.”

“Stop looking so worried, Narudy! I invented this thing to have multi-purposes!” Iris finally paused in the act of firing decorative icing rosettes onto the cake with her ever-present shooting gadget and turned to gawk at the Asian girl. “Wait! Do you mean to tell us that Holmsies just left you there and made you have to find your way back across town all by yourself? That’s not very nice! He needs a good talking to!”

“I can’t wait to hear his explanation for this one!” Gina frowned and crossed her arms. “And you wonder why I don’t trust adults! Holmes couldn’t even be trusted for this sole task!”

“Did I manage to beat her back here?”

At that moment, Holmes himself stumbled into the room, slightly out of breath, and the goggles which rested atop his head knocked askew. The detective’s gaze immediately fell upon the indignant Iris, the flustered Naruhodō, the accusing Gina, and the completely confused Susato standing together and he blew out a labored breath. Then with a resigned shrug, he clamped his pipe back between his teeth and turned his palms up towards the ceiling.

“Well, I tried! Stop looking at me like that – I ran as fast as I could! I truly didn’t think I could be outrun by a girl wearing a dress!”

“It’s not a dress, it’s a kimono!” Gina snapped. “Even an uneducated street kid like me can tell the difference!”

“Holmsies!” Iris scowled, then expertly shot a blast of icing at her foster father, hitting him square in the chest with a bullseye cake rosette, ignoring his shocked expression. “How could you just leave Sussie behind like that, you big meanie!”

“I took the young lady for an in-depth, exclusive look into some fascinating true crime cases in our nation’s history – my own, of course, being amongst them – but my unprecedented negligence was partially the fault of those daft fools who chronicled my cases! I felt it was my forsworn duty as a historically famous figure to advise the grossly inaccurate reporting for The Sign of the Four! The murder weapon was a blow dart, not a playing dart!”

Holmes sounded somewhat sheepish as he attempted to brush off the sugary bullet from his trench coat.

“Unfortunately, I was given word the curator had left for the day and was across town! I assumed my captivated guest would be so absorbed in her reading that I make the trip, inform the misinformed good man about this gross historical inaccuracy, and make my way back before she even noticed my absence. I miscalculated my deductions about how long the jaunt would take. I apologize for this inconvenience.”

The silence that met this explanation was so deafening you could have heard a pin drop.

Holmes awkwardly cleared his throat and fiddled with his pipe to avoid the incredulous three sets of eyes glaring disapprovingly at him. Luckily for him, the unassuming brunette broke the reproachful reticence with her trademarked graciousness.

“Please do not worry yourself, Holmes-sama. It was still a most pleasant day spent, nevertheless. I enjoyed learning about the fascinating cases in the history of the British Empire, so thank you kindly for taking me.” Susato smiled sweetly. “As I walked back from the Old Bailey, I took the scenic route and got to see the splendorous Hyde Park, which has the most magnificent trees and florals in bloom. And speaking of things that are blooming…”

She cast a sideways glance at Naruhodō, then dropped her eyes before speaking again.

“Susato apologizes for ear-worming, as they say here, but it seems the Western adage is true in this case, is it not, Naruhodō-sama? ‘In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.’ Whoever is the most fortunate one to have taken a hold of your heart? Is it someone she knows?”

Naruhodō gulped and felt his throat closing up, as his worst nightmare was coming true. It would have been mortifying enough if Susato had overheard their entire conversation about his unrequited affections – but this – this was far worse! She actually believed he fancied another! How in the world was he going to get out of this sticky situation – which was somehow a bigger mess than the one he’d made with the Sakura-mochi?!

His panicked eyes swung towards Gina and Iris and realized that he’d hit a dead end there in gaining any assistance as they were both awkwardly shuffling their feet and avoiding his pleading glance.

“Ginny, you have got to show me that sleight of hand, pickpocketing technique of yours again,” the Sherlock Holmes writing genius announced swiftly, grabbing a hold of the teen’s arm and tugging her towards the exit. “Holmsies, you need to see this, too! Come on now, let’s chivvy along!”

“But – aren’t we going to having some of that splendid-looking birthday cake?” The forever gormless Detective asked blankly, failing to clue into a blatant hint, as was tradition. “I’m actually feeling a bit peckish after my harried excursion today…”

“We’ll eat it later when the other guests arrive!” Iris hissed in a stage whisper, waving her shooting device menacingly in the air. “Now come along, Holmsies – don’t make me have to use this thing again!”

“Let’s keep calm and carry on then!” Holmes wisely hurried after the two girls without another word, leaving Susato and Naruhodō alone in the room, with her question hanging over their heads like a dark cloud.

Birthday cake?” Susato’s rosebud lips parted into an O of delighted surprise as her almond eyes, at last, noticed the cake and the other sweets on the counter. “I –is that… for me?”

All of this was for you, Susato-san.” He nodded morosely and spread out his arms. “We wished to bake some treats in honor of your birthday. A thousand pardons that the element of surprise was ruined… along with the sakura floral decoration for the rice cakes, even though I followed my mother’s recipe to the hilt.”

He smiled sheepishly.

“I feel you have been extra homesick as of late, hence my efforts to make you some accustomed dishes of our people. Ah, perhaps if you scrape off the petals, the Sakura-mochi will at least still taste the same as they do back home…”

“The appearance does not matter to me, Naruhodō –sama.” Susato placed a placating hand on his arm, her fair cheeks pink with pleasure. “I –I am most touched by your considerate gesture. How lucky I am to have dear friends who cared to go to all this trouble for my benefit! You are not unsuccessful in surprising me, as this is a most unexpected but pleasant discovery nonetheless! I am especially tickled in knowing that above all, you  tried your hand in the unexplored kitchen – for my sake!”

Realizing she was still touching his arm, she hastily removed her fingers from his sleeve, then clasped her hands together and dropped her gaze.

“You are truly kind, Naruhodō-sama. T – the young lady who has your affections is most fortunate, indeed.”

Naruhodō felt a lump forming in his throat. It didn’t even matter anymore that Susato was so courteous that she would overlook, and even be thankful, for his less than picturesque dessert efforts. The fact that she believed he could do all of this for her sake, and still have room for another woman in his heart made him feel positively ill. He couldn’t let this go on for another instant!

Unaware that he was gathering up his courage to make the biggest gamble of his life, Susato’s eyes remained on the ground.

“I can understand your infatuation, surely. These girls of the British Empire are so incredibly fetching to behold, what with their big, jewel-toned eyes and peaches and cream complexions…”

Oyame nasai, Susato-san!” He cried desperately, using the polite – and in this case, pleading Japanese command for her to cease any more assumptions. “I – I cannot bear to hear you speak about such matters for another minute!”

“Have I said something which displeases you?” She regarded him quizzically. “Am I inaccurate in my assessment that you find these Western girls to be pretty?”

“Sure they are… b –but so are you!” He blurted out before he could stop himself.

There was a heart-pounding moment of stillness between them that felt like ages until Susato shook her head, the oval loops of her raven mane swaying as she did so.

“Do not feel a need to pretend with me, Naruhodō-sama.” Her voice sounded unsteady. “You know I am not worthy of such a compliment. While I do not believe myself to be displeasing to the eye and know I am not ugly, I am certainly not pretty.”

Susato Mikotoba truly is a swan in a country full of peacocks, he thought with a trace of amusement. Her overt modesty about her own appearance only makes me love her even more.

She peeked up at him through her lashes and noticed the strange look on his face now. It seemed like he had stopped breathing.

“What is it?” Her heart skipped a beat. He was studying her. Taking in every line of her ethereal visage from her finely sculpted jaw to her pastel cheekbones to her satiny ebony tresses.

Naruhodō reached over suddenly and ran his fingers quickly through her hair, brushing a stray strand away from her forehead. Before her mind could register the unfamiliar intimacy of the gesture, he drew his hand back and surveyed her solemnly.

“I agree with you. You are not pretty.”

Her heart plummeted to her feet at the cruel words, which only fed her underlying insecurities. But the attorney wasn’t done just yet.

“I like how you look,” he continued, his voice shaking slightly. “You are highly intelligent – more than I could ever be. You came here to a foreign country with a man you never knew so you are courageous and brave. You never let me give up even when it seems all hope is lost because you are so loyal and encouraging. That is why I cannot concede that you are merely pretty, Susato-san, for to me, you are absolutely beautiful.”

“B-but these Western girls,” she stammered, still unwilling to believe what she was hearing. “T-they are all so uniquely distinct in appearance that they are otherworldly levels of beautiful…”

“So are you,” he insisted. “And in a very different way from these Western girls. You exude such a deep-rooted inner poise and dignified radiance, it makes your own delicate beauty far beyond any other in comparison.”

Susato said nothing to this because she had nothing to say. Beautiful. Nobody had ever called her that before, except her late mother, which didn’t count. Mothers were required to think you were beautiful. She gazed into his captivating mocha eyes and was sure she was making him uncomfortable with the staring, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop. Ryūnosuke Naruhodō was so handsome, in that endearingly boyish charming way of his. And he had called her beautiful. She felt a warm tingle all the way down to the tips of her toes.

“All right,” she said finally. To her relief, her voice sounded normal. It was a further relief to finally look away from him as she turned around. “After all the efforts you, Iris-sama, and Gina-sama went through for me, I – I should at least help clean up some of this mess made from earlier.”

Susato made a move to step around him and head towards the sink full of pans and dishes. In between one step and another, she saw a silver spark gleaming on the floor: It was the knife he’d been using to cut the butter, lying on its side. She jerked hastily back to avoid stepping on it, and her shoulder bumped his. Just as she turned to apologize, he put a hand out to steady her.

The unanticipated tactile contact resulted in her emitting a tiny gasp. As her hand flew to her lips, making the sleeve of her kimono fall back, his warm fingers gently closed over her bared arm. His hand rested gently against her flesh, not passing through or sinking in. She made no resistance as he pulled her toward him, and then she was somehow in the circle of his arms. Her startled wide orbs met his dark ones, which were filled with emotion. For a breathless second, they remained on hers, and he didn’t speak. Then he took her face in his hands, his fingers strong against her skin, and leaned in close.

“In a room, or even a nation, full of these British girls, I only have eyes for you, Susato-san,” he whispered, and then his mouth, so warm and soft, brushed over hers, once, twice … and lingered.

For an infinitesimal moment, Susato froze. She had no idea what to do with herself. No idea where to put her hands or whether to move her lips or how to even breathe.

Kiss him back, for God’s sake! She told herself.

Then she stifled a surprised, embarrassed, happy laugh and did as she was told. She returned his pressure and instinctively wound her hands into his hair, as she’d wanted to do since the first time she’d seen him. His jet-black spikes curved around her fingers, silky and fine and so much softer than they looked.

He pulled back, out of nowhere, and looked her in the eyes. “Is this okay?” he asked shyly.

Susato mutely, dumbly, breathlessly nodded. She just wanted his lips on hers. He smiled and kissed her again. His lips softened, and she tasted him as he tasted her, reveling in the faintly sweet sensation of cherries in his mouth. This time she stood up on her tiptoes, leaning her body closer to his. What she couldn’t believe was how perfect this felt. How excited and happy and thrilling and safe all at the same time.

Why did I waste my time sneak-reading all these Victorian romances, when real-life romance has been awaiting me? She wondered as he lightly trailed a finger down her cheek. How could I have been so busy burying my nose in my books that I failed to see Naruhodō-sama was right here, all along?

She could feel the rapid beat of his heart against the wild pounding of her own and savored the feeling of those sweet lips on hers, now familiar—ones she’d imagined, dreamed about, memorized a million hours ago.

And then it hit her: Ryūnosuke Naruhodō was the one.

The one she’d always first want to share her great news with. The one she could talk to. The one she always thought of when something funny or weird or interesting happened. He was smart and hilarious and kind and thoughtful. And she loved him. Oh, how she loved him.

When they drew apart, at last, she was loath to leave the warm shelter of his arms, and snuggled closer to his heat, bracing her free hand against the nape of his neck as she stared up searchingly into his tender gaze.

“Happy Birthday, Susato-san.”

Doumo arigatou gozaimasu. I need you to know that I never feel homesick when I am with you, Naruhodō-sama,” she whispered. “For you are my home.”

His heart was in his eyes as he leaned down and touched his forehead to hers, finally speaking the words he’d yearned to say for so long.

Aishiteru wa, Susato-san.”

Aishiteru yo, Naruhodō-sama.”


Heart-Warming Java Shots Copyright © by JordanPhoenix. All Rights Reserved.

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