À La Carte

À la carte (pronounced /ælæˈkɑrt/) is a French language loan phrase meaning "according to the menu", and used in restaurant terminology as:
* A reference to a menu of items priced and ordered separately, in contrast to a table d'hôte, at which a menu with limited or no choice is served at a fixed price.
* To designate an option to choose, at no extra charge, a side dish to accompany a main course item.

prepare (prĭ-pâr')
to get (a meal) ready for eating, as by proper assembling, cooking, etc.

It started on a calm Spring day just like any other. The bell rang at 9AM and dozens of students hurried to their homeroom; the fear of tardiness overpowering the feeling of dread.

"Alright class, settle down," The teacher ordered, "Before we begin today's lesson, I want to introduce your new classmate."

A girl with chestnut brown hair stood in front of the class. Her crimson eyes skimmed around the crowded room hoping to see one friendly face. No one; not a single person she knew. She drew a deep breath and stood up tall. "I'm Hamuko Arisato. It's nice to meet you."

"Wow, such enthusiasm," The teacher chuckled slightly as she watched the new student bow slightly. Pushing her soft brown hair behind her right ear, she turned her attention back to the class. "Everyone, do your best to make Hamuko feel welcome."

"Yes Ms. Toriumi!" The class responded in perfect unison.

"Now then, please take the empty seat next to Yukari." She waited as Hamuko made her way across the class and sat in the only vacant seat in the room. The girl in the next desk had medium-length light brown hair and wore a light pink sweater over her school uniform. She remained silent, but nodded her head in acknowledgment to the new girl. "To review yesterday's lesson, who can tell me what Julienne style is?"

Hours passed by in what seemed like no time at all and before Hamuko knew it, school was over. The second the bells rang, students fled from their homerooms to either their extra curricular activities or usual hangouts to meet with friends.

"Hey," Turning, Hamuko saw who the teacher called Yukari. She smiled faintly and leaned over Hamuko's desk to engage in a conversation. "Sorry I didn't get a chance to introduce myself earlier. I'm Yukari Takeba. You live on campus too, right? I heard from Ms. Toriumi that I'll be sharing a room with you."

"Oh, that's right." Hamuko replied, recalling the meeting she had earlier with her teacher before school started. She looked her in the eyes and returned her smile. "It's nice to finally meet you."

"S'up Yuka-tan?" A voice interrupted. "Making friends with the new kid?"

Yukari sighed and looked behind her. "Ugh, Stupei…can't you see I'm busy here?"

"Hey, hey, hey." He placed a hand on the bill of his baseball hat and huffed. "I just wanted to introduce myself to the new girl. I'm Junpei Iori, but you can call me stud!"

"Sheesh, can't you introduce yourself without hitting on her?" Yukari sighed with frustration before turning back to Hamuko. "By the way, are you going to be alright finding your way to the room? I have practice to go to."

"If you want I can show you to your room!" Junpei chimed almost instantaneously.

Yukari quickly shot him a dark look, "You better not be thinking of something perverted."

Junpei pulled back a little, then shrugged his shoulders. "I resent that! I'm just trying to be a nice guy here."

"Sure, that would be great." Hamuko agreed.

With one final goodbye, Yukari was out the door leaving Hamuko in Junpei's care. The two navigated through the narrow halls which were flooded with students from different classes. "It's really crowded here, isn't it?" Hamuko asked, frowning a bit.

"I guess so. I've never really thought about it before. Try to stay close, I wouldn't want to lose you. Who knows what Yuka-tan would do to me." Junpei laughed.

Despite their initial thoughts, the human-traffic didn't last long and soon they found themselves in an almost deserted hallway. "So Gekkoukan High, huh? What made you want to study here?"

She looked at him with surprise. "Oh, um...actually I've been researching this school for awhile. For a high school it has an amazing reputation for it's culinary arts integration. I'm kind of hoping to open up my own place one day. How about you?"

"Honestly...I don't know why I'm here," he said levelly as he strolled down the hallway. "I'm not that great at cooking or anything...I guess I'm here cause I don't know what else to do."

"Oh..." She trailed off, wondering if the question was a bad idea.

Sensing the tension, he decided to lighten the mood. "But now that you're here, if you ever get lonely feel free to call me and we'll hang out! I know how tough it is being new around here."

Smiling gently, she nodded her head. "I'll be sure to remember that, thanks."

"Hey, Junpei."

Junpei instantly turned around to where the voice came from. Standing at the other side of the hallway were two people. His expression softened and Hamuko assumed they were friends of his. "Oh, Akihiko-san. Mitsuru-senpai. You two heading out?"

"Mitsuru's got Student Council duties and I've got my club activities." The silver-haired male shook his head. He peered over Junpei's shoulder then focused back on him. "Who's your new friend?"

"Oh sorry, this is Hamuko," Junpei introduced. "She just transferred here today."

Hamuko took a step forward and bowed her head slightly. "Hamuko Arisato. It's nice to meet you." Looking back up, her eyes met a steady gaze.

"I'm Akihiko Sanada and this is Mitsuru Kirijo." Akihiko said, motioning to his hallway companion. "So you just transferred here today? Are you liking it so far?"

"Yeah," Hamuko agreed. "Yukari and Junpei have been really helpful." She shifted her gaze towards Mitsuru, and found her simply staring at her- almost refusing to say anything.

Cutting into her daydreams, Akihiko added, "If you have any questions, feel free to ask me for help."

"Thanks, Sanada-san."

"No need to be so formal," he laughed. "Just call me Akihiko."

Her cheeks flushed a light rose color. "Thanks, Akihiko-san."

"Alright! We've got to get going." Junpei interrupted once again. He draped his arm around Hamuko's shoulders and drew her in close. "I have to show Hamuko here to her room. I'll see you around senpai!"

Akihiko gave a farewell wave before Junpei nudged Hamuko along. Moments later, they were completely alone in front of her room; number twenty-two. Upon arriving, Hamuko let out a sigh of relief.

"Thanks for showing me to my room Junpei," she started while pulling her key out of her pocket. "I don't know what I would've done without you." The look in her eyes was a distant one and Junpei wondered if she knew how transparent she looked.

"Hey," he said, trying to draw her attention. "Um, about Akihiko-senpai..."

Hamuko turned to him with one eyebrow raised. Her key was resting against the lock and her hand held it idly. "Akihiko-san? What about him?"

"Try not...to get too close to him, alright?" The tone in Junpei's voice was heavy with concern.

"What do you mean?" She asked, surprised. There didn't seem to be anything strange about Akihiko, otherwise she would've picked it up right away. She always had a very good sense of character.

Taking his gaze away, Junpei waved his hand as if to dismiss the conversation. "Ah, nothing. Anyways, I gotta go. I'll see ya later!"

Before she knew it, he was gone and she was completely alone.