Disclaimer: I do not own Shokugeki no Soma. Please do not sue me. I have no money.
Summary: Nakiri Erina lives a life far removed from that of a normal girl's. After a near defeat in a minor shokugeki, concerns are raised as to whether the young heiress is overworked and stressed. To assuage her grandfather's concerns, she agrees to see a therapist. Peculiar assignments are given in order to address the source of Erina's demons.
Shokugeki no Soma
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Everything about the bowling alley disgusted Erina.
The menu was absolute trash. The buns on the hamburger were overcooked. The hot dogs were too salty and tasted like they were soaking in stale water for days. And the fries were either soggy to the point that they tasted like wet paper towels or so crunchy they were little better than cardboard. And the only condiments were mustard and ketchup, that resembled factory oil more than actual edible sauces.
After dumping the terrible food on the chef's head, Erina threw a wad of bills at the poor teenager working a minimum wage after school job.
"Your severance pay," Erina stated. "Find a new job."
The teenaged chef ran out of the restaurant, crying.
"You don't come to bowling alleys to eat, Erina!" Alice pouted. "Come on, our dates are waiting! It's time to start the next round!"
"Grrr," Erina growled. "Fine."
Erina followed Alice who was skipping back to their lane. Alice had reserved the entire bowling alley so the four teenagers could enjoy their date in peace. It was a dinky place, clearly American-inspired with disco balls, retro furniture, and an outdated computer working the point system. Even the accursed proprietor at the front took Erina's left shoe (just her left one! why!?) before she would rent out a pair of bowling shoes to her.
"Why did you even pick such a place anyways?"
"I adore the atmosphere!"
Erina covered her mouth. A lesser person would have gagged outright.
The pair reached their lane. Ryo, bandana-less, was much more relaxed. He was busy inputting their names into the computer, before they blinked onto the outdated tv set hanging overhead.
In the previous round, he had successfully smashed the neighboring lanes to reach a perfect 0, stuck in a three-way tie for last place.
Ryo glanced up. "You're back milady."
"Where's the food?"
The voice came from Erina's date.
Hayama Akira, the victor of the 43rd Autumn Election, was an acceptable suitor. He was an undisputed master of spices, arguably the greatest chef of the 92nd Generation, with a refined sense of scent known as God's Nose.
"It was all bad," Erina said, taking a seat on the U-shaped bench across from her date. She crossed her legs and folded her arms. "I couldn't possibly allow you all to endure such a travesty."
Hayama's eyes twitched. "Did you at least get me some juice?"
"The juice was inadequate," Erina answered.
"It comes in a bottle."
"The brands were cheap knock-offs. You should respect yourself more than to lower yourself to eating such plebeian brands."
Hayama threw his hands up, clearly knowing when he lost the battle. He sunk back into the bench.
As it turns out, Hayama Akira was also preeetty good at bowling.
Erina, Alice, and Ryo had each bowled a zero.
Erina, who didn't care for bowling, simply rolled her bowling ball which invariably reached the gutter.
Alice, who did her best, kept rolling gutterballs as well.
And Ryo threw on his bandana and kept throwing bowling balls all over the place. Alice asked the manager to send Erina's household the repair bill.
Meanwhile, Hayama had easily scored over 150, a respectable score and nearly god-like to these amateurs.
When Alice suggested a double date, Ryo suggested Hayama due to his impeccable credentials and similar ages. Hayama accepted, on the condition that he was to be given a select shipment of rare spices courtesy of the Nakiri Family.
Still, there was a fifth wheel.
"What is she doing here?" Erina asked.
The 'she' Erina was referring to was Shiomi Jun, the professor of the self-named Shiomi Seminar and an expert in spicecraft. She sat on the bench in the next lane over, doing her best to remain unseen.
Jun looked up from her magazine. "Oh. I'm just chaperoning. Please! Enjoy your date! Pretend I'm not here." Jun returned to her magazine, an extremely satisfied grin on her face.
"What are you smiling about?" Erina asked, an eyebrow raised.
And thus, Shiomi Jun exploded in excitement.
"I'm just so happy that Akira got asked out on a date!" Jun looked so happy, she seemed ready to burst into tears. She threw away the magazine. "He's normal! He's doing something normal! Can you believe it!? When he was little he wouldn't play with any of the action figures I got him. He hates video games. The only thing he reads are books on spices, magazines on spices, blogs on spices… But now he's on a date! Bowling! A date! Hayama Akira!" Tears were streaming down Jun's face. "He's… just a normal teenage boy," she sniffed. "Normal…"
"I'm just doing this for the spices. I'm not even sure what we're all doing here playing a farce of 'dating'." Hayama looked over at Ryo. "What's your reason for being here?"
"I'm doing this because this is milady's idea." Ryo looked up at Alice.
"I'm doing this for Erina to help her get over her heartbreaking betrayal!"
Hayama's eyebrow raised.
Jun's ears perked. She leapt from her seat and leaned in over Hayama's shoulder.
"What!? Betrayal? Please! Spill the tea!"
Alice scooted closer to the two, ready to unleash a fountain of gossip.
"Erina's secretary, Hisako, was caught in the midst of an affair!" Jun gasped at Alice's dramatic reveal. "She, Erina's closest confidant, was keeping secrets! To think that Hisako would ascend the steps to womanhood, leaving her lady behind in the dust…"
Hayam's eyes widened. He whistled.
"So this is a rebound date or something?"
"Exactly!" Alice said, pointing a finger at Hayama. "And you shall mend her broken heart."
Hayama glanced at Erina.
"This is nothing of the sort," Erina snapped. "I just thought this would be a fun outing." Erina fumed, averting her gaze from the others. "This isn't anything like the manga I've read at all…"
"What was that?" Alice asked, curious.
"Nothing!" Erina stood up. "I'm done. I'm going home."
Alice shouted after Erina who was making her way to the exit. "But Erina! The limousine is getting washed. It won't be done for another hour!"
"It's fine! I'll walk back home!"
They were outside of the bowling establishment. "But Erina! It's over ten miles away!"
"Argh! I'll call a cab!"
"But Erina! You don't know how to call a cab! Your secretary always does it for you!"
"ARGH! Just leave me alone then!"
Alice crossed her arms and pouted. "Fine! Have fun walking home by yourself then!"
It was nearing sunset.
They were in the middle of the Downtown District. But Erina was bad with directions (Hisako always guided her). She also forgot to charge her phone and the batteries were dead (Hisako always made sure it was charged). She thought of calling home, but she didn't remember a single number (Hisako always prepared her calls).
Erina wanted to scream.
Was she always this useless outside of a kitchen?
Before she knew it, she found herself in the Sumiredori Shopping District.
It was a back alley, run-of-the-hill shopping district, with a variety of shops. All of the restaurants looked passable, she guessed. She had no ability to speak on the quality of the bars, since she was not yet allowed to drink anything stronger than cooking wine.
"Haven't been to one of these in a while," Erina muttered as she entered. Perhaps she could find a phone and someone to call for her. Pressing a hand against her rumbling stomach, Erina suddenly realized she was hungry. "Maybe there's something decent here," she murmured softly. But she had no money. Any meal would have to come from someone's generosity.
Even though it was late, there were still a good number of people.
They were all holding rolled crepes, with fried chicken karaage inside, and a delicious looking sauce. Upon closer inspection of passerbyers, Erina realized the crepe was a variation on Vietnamese banh xeo. The fusion of Japanese and Vietnamese sent Erina's stomach into a louder roar. A few people noticed, glancing at her. Erina quickened her steps, retreating back to the exit. The fried chicken crepe looked magnificent. It was definitely not suitable for a restaurant, but as an evening snack? It smelled and looked divine.
"Hmph," Erina thought, as hunger gnawed at her. "It'll pass."
As she neared the shopping district entrance, Erina saw two familiar faces approaching the exit as well.
It was Yukihira Souma and Arato.
Her heart shattered.
Erina moved closer. A part of her wanted to stay away. Another part of her wanted to get closer, to listen to their private conversations, a perverse curiosity grinding at her. Erina knew it was wrong. But she wanted to anyway.
And she did.
"You grew up around here?"
"Yeah! My dad's place is around the corner."
"Really? Is it open?"
"Ah. It's closed since he's doing some traveling. I'll reopen it when I get a chance."
"I'd love to try it."
"You're always welcomed at Yukihara's Diner!"
"I'd love to- Lady Erina?"
The pair of lovers turned towards the disheveled Totsuki heiress. They hastened their pace towards her. But it did not escape Nakiri's notice that Hisako took the bag out of Yukihira's hands and held it behind her.
A lover's gift, Nakiri observed bitterly.
"Lady Erina! What are you doing here-"
"Just taking a stroll," Nakiri answered sharply. "I-"
A loud grumble from Nakiri's stomach interrupted her explanation.
"Have you eaten, Lady Erina?"
"Here, Nakiri," Yukihira said, offering Nakiri his crepe. "You look hungry. Take mine. Trust me, I haven't taken a bite yet."
Nakiri took the fried chicken crepe.
She took a bite.
It tasted as wonderful as she knew it would.
"Who made this?" Nakiri asked as she took a second bite.
"Yukihira did!" Hisako answered. "This is apparently where Yukihira grew up. And he helped design this to revive their shopping district. I'd say it was a success."
"Aw shucks," Yukihira laughed.
They exchanged sweet banter with each other before Erina had enough and snapped.
"Hisasko, could you summon the driver? I'd like to return home."
"Oh! But of course, Lady Erina." Hisako turned to Yukihira. "Thank you for today. I'll message you tonight?"
"Yeah. Let me know when you and Nakiri get home safe and sound."
Erina chewed slowly, watching them. They were so close, so friendly. Yukihira bade farewell and departed to check in on his restaurant. Erina finished her crepe as she and Hisako waited for the driver in silence on the sidewalk.
Hisako had a brilliant smile on her face.
It was a smile she had never seen before.
The smile of a girl in love.
She didn't even notice when the driver had already arrived.
Erina finished her fried chicken roll and wiped her fingers with a napkin. Meanwhile, it did not escape her notice that Hisako took care to place the bag in the trunk.
"So what were you doing with Yukihira?"
"Eh? Lady Erina, I… I was meaning to tell you-"
"It's fine," Erina kept her gaze laser focused on the passing scenery. "I don't want to know."
"But Lady Erina-"
"It's fine, Hisako."
"Lady Erina, are you okay?"
"I SAID I AM FINE!" Erina turned to Hisako in fury. "HOW MANY TIMES MUST I SAY IT?"
The driver nearly swerved into the freeway barrier at the sudden outbursts. Hisako shrunk back. Erina had never seen such a look of fear in Hisako's eyes before. Erina turned back to the window. The rest of the drive was uneventful.
When Erina returned to the mansion, she said nothing.
A bath was prepared.
She declined dinner.
Erina told Hisako she would be brushing her hair by herself tonight.
Then she went straight to bed.
Throughout it all, she could hear the servants gossiping and whispering. The driver had undoubtedly spread word of her unbecoming flare up at Hisako. They covered their mouths, turning away and trying to look busy when Erina's gaze turned toward them. It was maddening. She was home, but she felt like a prisoner.
Erina groaned, trying to fall asleep. But the day's memories soured her and kept her awake.
Then Hisako knocked.
"Lady Erina. Would you like me to comb your hair?" she asked through the wooden door.
"No," Erina said loudly enough for her words to pass though. "Go away."
"I am here to talk if you ever need it," Hisako said. "I also asked the chefs to prepare several snacks for you to be kept in reserve if you need it. And I asked some to be on call if you desire something made fresh. Please let me know."
"That was unnecessary," Erina said sharply.
"I know," Hisako said, sadness tinged in her voice. "I also bought you some gifts from you today."
Erina gripped her pillow tightly. The thought of Hisako buying her a gift as she was off in a dalliance with Yukihira spiked her blood pressure. She gritted her teeth, keeping herself from screaming. At last, she replied to Hisako, trying to prevent anger from bleeding into her voice.
"I don't want it."
"Lady Erina… I'll leave it outside by your door. I'll leave it by your door. Please feel free to enjoy them when you have time. It won't spoil. Goodnight, Lady Erina."
"Goodnight," Erina muttered softly into her pillow before burying her face into it.
Everything was in pain.
There was a stinging wetness in the corner of them. An irritating itchiness in her hair, mixing in a pillow puddle. The painful memories that wouldn't leave her mind.
She wasn't sure why she was crying.
She just was.
Her first ever date was a disaster and absolutely nothing like her beloved romance stories. Her best friend was having a secret romance without telling her. And worse of all… that irritating, most infuriating pest named Yukihira Souma was… was…
A single tear made its way to Erina's lips.
It fell on God's Tongue.
It was the saltiest, most disgusting thing she had ever tasted.
Her own weakness.
Chapter Six Fin