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Hearts of Storm

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Steam rose from the three dishes placed beside a beautiful cake, carefully laid out in front of the two placemats. The pleasant aroma filled the room.

“Happy Birthday, Gavin.” Yui whispered as she looked across the dining table towards the empty seat.

Yui managed to pull herself back together after the bombing incident several months ago. Although she felt unsure if she’d ever be the same without Gavin, at the very least, she was no longer allowing herself to drown in her sorrows anymore.

Today, however, she allowed herself to regress.

Spring came and went, but the beautiful Summer never arrived. Loveland City was still covered in snow even though it was late July, reminding her of the harsh reality.

But today, staying in this room, she wanted to escape. Even if only temporarily.

Here, she could imagine that Gavin was still with her and that nothing had changed.

She woke up early today to bake his birthday cake and spent the afternoon carefully decorating it. Gavin’s eating habits had improved since they became an item, but he still relied heavily upon take-out food. So she rolled up her sleeves and cooked up some of his favorite dishes, making sure that they were not only tasty but also nutritious. Once preparations were done, she set the table for both of them, making sure she put extra rice in his bowl.

She wasn’t delusional. She wasn’t expecting Gavin to miraculously show up, but she had promised to celebrate his every birthday. Regardless of what she had done, regardless of whether there would be a chance for them to celebrate this day together again in the future, she didn’t want to break this promise.

Staring at the dishes in a daze, she remembered the first time she cooked for Gavin at his place. Yui could clearly remember the day when she showed up at his apartment, ready to prepare a home-cooked meal for him only to find that he had absolutely nothing in his pantry. As time went on, little by little, the counter and the cupboards of his kitchen filled up with condiments and herbs that she would bring every time she went over to his place to cook.

Then once in a while, she would find brand new items that she didn’t buy for him but were necessary ingredients for her cooking. When she asked Gavin, he would scratch his head and tell her that he saw it in a store and thought she might want to use it the next time she cooked.

Yui knew she wasn’t the best cook, but Gavin never complained. He always enjoyed the food as if it was the best thing he had ever eaten. Her heart always warmed just by watching him devour her cooking.

Her chest tightened and she could feel a lump in her throat as she looked at the empty seat across from her. She bit down on her lower lip as she released a long, deliberate breath.

Today was Gavin’s birthday, there should be no tears. Leaning her head on the back of the chair, she stared at the ceiling, her hand idly caressing her ginkgo bracelet.

She didn’t know how long she stayed in that position, but by the time the ache in her heartfelt more manageable and she picked up her chopsticks to put a piece of the food in her mouth, it had already cooled.

She swallowed the bite of food without tasting anything. Sighing, she slowly put down her chopsticks. She didn’t feel like eating, didn’t feel hungry at all despite not having a proper meal since she woke up this morning.

Giving up on the food, she got up to put things away, but only got the cake back in the fridge when she heard the lock on the door turn. Yui turned around just in time to see Shaw walking in.

“I smell food,” he yawned as he propped his bass guitar against the wall.

Yui had been staying at his workshop since they announced that the bombs had done some structural damage to the apartment buildings in the area, including her own. Construction companies had been working hard to repair the damage, but all residents were required to vacate the building until further notice.

Since then, she had gotten used to him dropping by unannounced. After all, the place was only a quick walk from Live House and Shaw seemed to have no sense of privacy. At least when it came to her privacy.

“You cooked this?” Before she could stop him, Shaw already planted his butt on the chair across from her and shoved a piece of chicken in his mouth. Immediately, he frowned. “Damn! How much chilli did you put in this thing?”

“Then don’t eat it. It’s not for you anyway.” She reached her hand to grab his wrist in an attempt to stop him, but with a quick twist of his wrist, he dodged her and smacked her fingers with his chopsticks.

“Don’t be so stingy,” he tsked as he picked some more meat to put in the bowl of rice that he decided to claim as his. “I’m starving.”

It was undoubtedly annoying that Shaw showed up out of the blue and started eating the food she prepared for Gavin, but as she sat and watched him eat, she thought that perhaps it was for the best. At least, this way, the food wouldn’t have to go to waste, and she wouldn’t have to eat the leftovers for the next several days.

“Don’t be picky. Eat the vegetables too.” She couldn’t resist putting some broccoli in his bowl when she realized that he was only picking out the meat in the dishes.

He tutted again but didn’t argue.

She watched as he demolished the food and when he held out his empty bowl and asked for more rice, for a moment, she thought she had Gavin back in front of her again, smiling at her with those amber eyes.

“Hey, you got more rice?” Seeing that she was simply staring at him in a daze, Shaw waved his bowl in front of her and repeated.

She snapped back to reality.

What was she thinking? She shook her head before quickly taking his bowl and walking over to the rice cooker.

She must have gone crazy to see Gavin in him again.

“Grab me a can of coke too.”

“Did you break your arm or something? Go grab it yourself.” She snapped back. Sometimes, Yui wondered how everyone else could stand this brat.

“Awww, come on. You’re right by the fridge.”

She rolled her eyes but obliged. “You just like bossing me around.”

“Well, there’s that too,” he replied shamelessly.

By the time Yui returned, she found her bowl overflowing with food. Her eyebrows shot up as she stared at the disproportionately high vegetable-to-meat ratio.

“Don’t be picky. Eat the vegetables too.” He threw her words back at her with a crooked smile.

“Brat,” she muttered under her breath, but couldn’t stop a smile from forming on her face. She was about to tell him she wasn’t hungry when her stomach growled. Embarrassed, she shoved a piece of food in her mouth without thinking and immediately regretted it.

Her face turned red as she forcefully swallowed the food down her throat. Sticking out her tongue, she fanned it with her hand. Reaching over the table, she grabbed Shaw's coke and downed it in a few large gulps.

“You’re hilarious!” Shaw burst out laughing. “Hey, don’t glare at me, I didn’t do anything.”

“Gah, I couldn’t feel my tongue anymore.” Grabbing a tissue, she wiped off the sweat on her forehead.

“Why’d you make it so spicy if you can’t take the heat?” He put another piece of meat in his mouth as if it wasn’t spicy at all.

“It was because…” she stopped short. She wanted to say it was because Gavin liked spicy food and she was cooking to his taste, but she thought better of it. Shaw was likely to make fun of her if she told him the truth. So instead she said, “It’s none of your business.”

“Next time do hot pot instead. And, remember to put less chili pepper. I can’t taste anything except for the spice.” He criticized but didn’t stop polishing off the food.

“Hot pot,” she rolled her eyes. “All you think about is hot pot.”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind fried chicken or barbecue either,” he shrugged.

“I’m not cooking for you,” she stuck out her tongue at him.

As much as what he said was infuriating, she couldn’t help but smile again watching him eat. Ever since she came to this dimension, she hadn’t had the opportunity to cook for anyone. It had been so long that she almost forgot how good it felt to have someone enjoy her home-cooked food.

Bringing the emptied dishes to the sink after he was finished, Yui was surprised to see him follow her to the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” She asked when he pulled out a knife from the drawer.

He reached into the fridge and pulled out the birthday cake she baked for Gavin instead of answering her.

“How did you…”

“I told you,” he leaned towards her with a smirk. “I’m not as dumb as you.”

“Have you been spying on me?” Yui frowned.

It was his turn to roll his eyes. “You think I’ve got nothing better to do?”

“But…” Yui opened her mouth to argue.

“You think too much,” he shoved a fork full of cake in her mouth.

She glared at him as she tried to swallow and saw him stabbing the same fork into his slice of cake again. This time putting a good-sized bite into his own mouth.

“Ew, it’s sweet,” he frowned as he complained.

“Of course, it’s sweet, it’s a cake.” Sometimes Yui wondered if conversing with him would make her roll her eyes so much that they would permanently get stuck to the back of her head. “What else do you expect? A hot pot flavored one?”

“Or a pizza-flavored one,” he smirked.

“The only person who would want a pizza-flavored cake is you.” It was obvious that he was jerking her chain, but she just couldn’t seem to stop herself from responding to his trolling.

“Yah yah, it wasn’t for me… blah blah blah…” he mocked.

Yui’s face fell at his words. How could she have forgotten? She had made this elaborate dinner for Gavin and it was Gavin’s birthday cake being devoured right now.

With all the bickering with Shaw, for a brief moment, she had forgotten the misery of not having Gavin by her side.

She was grateful for the distraction, yet deep inside her, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt.

“I’m stuffed,” he said out of the blue as he stood up to stretch.

“Of course, you ate two people’s worth of food and half a cake.” She half expected him to explode the way that he finished everything.

“Go put a coat on.”

“Why? Are we going somewhere?” Yui asked, confused at the sudden change in the direction of their conversation.

“You really haven’t learned a thing, have you? Stop asking questions. Let’s go!”