Confections of a Chocoholic
Disclaimer: The author rightfully respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice.
Author's Note: This story has nothing to do with the Shopaholic series (I don't read the series, so I'm unable to make any allusions). It's just a good play on words for the title. Ü Set after and sister fic to Yearbook Day.
Anna Umenomiya was preparing for a wedding. I could tell by the way the gingerbread men cowered behind the glass case, and how the soufflé deflated when she passed by. Anna was preparing for a wedding, and the customer must be another bridezilla. That was obvious because it looked like a cake had also exploded in there. She must be in a terrible mood.
I stood outside, wondering how best to approach her. One wrong word would send a can of soup flying to my head. Anna was a sweet girl, but in the kitchen she could be Hades. At the moment, she was standing on top of a stool to reach a sack of something, which had been stowed away on the top shelf. I had a hand on the door, intending to offer my services, when I saw the stool wobble when she went on her toes.
I pushed the door open. "Be careful!"
Anna was startled. She yelped then fell backwards with one fist clutching the sack. I launched myself with one foot then flew up to catch her at the waist. She fell against my arm with a soft thump. The sack was eased open and swathed both of us in pink powder. I coughed when I caught some of the sweet dust in my mouth.
Strawberry. Powdered strawberry.
"Kitsu!" Anna cried as she righted herself. Without hesitation, she dumped the sack in my arms, dousing me with a second layer of pink. Her hands were on her hips while I floated next to her. "What are you doing running in here like that? You startled me!"
"You're welcome. I'm fine too. Sure, I'll help," I grumbled then glided back to the floor. Anna got off the stool. "Jeez Anna, are you trying to raise hell with diabetes?"
"Very funny." She grabbed a clipboard to make some notes. "There's a wedding tomorrow and the bride is ready to gouge my eyes out because her dinner rehearsal didn't go as smoothly as planned."
"It can't be that bad. All clients are manageable."
Anna looked grim. "You try explaining to a wedding planner how a tray of cream puffs could just walk off in the middle of the best man's speech!"
I laughed. "Why did they do that?"
"It was a boring toast," she muttered. "It's a good thing the tray was still in the back. But after they walked on gravel, I couldn't serve any of them to the guests."
I reached out and brushed some pink dust off her cheek. Really, she looked adorably stressed out. "You're not controlling your Alice."
"You think?" she asked sarcastically.
"Calm down before the wedding cake starts to tango."
"You're making fun of me."
"I can't help it. You're funny when your food comes to life."
"Kitsu, do me a favor and stop acting cute." She glanced at her watch then suddenly began firing orders. "Take those cupcakes and start on the frosting. They should be in the shape of little pink rosebuds with tiny jade-colored leaves. You got that? Jade. And wear an apron before you come into my kitchen. You look like a hobo. Grab that saucepan too and I'll meet you in the back."
With that, she hurried off and the kitchen door swung close after her. I snickered quietly then grabbed the white apron that hung on the wooden hook next to the door.
"I am a hobo, Anna," I said softly. As I tied the strings of the apron, I caught my reflection on one of the display cases. "I'm a hobo that drops by once in a while for chocolate."
When I pushed the kitchen door open, I was taken aback by the noise. Her kitchen was more chaotic than usual. There were three other chefs helping her out and by the way the French Onion Soup gave off red steam, I realized they all knew Anna was an Alice.
"Hey Ken." I smiled sheepishly at Ken Matsumoto, one of my old juniors who unfortunately chose to worship the wrong person but at least ended up working for the right one. "How's it going?"
"You're here to do the cupcakes? Excellent!" He began clearing a counter for me. The two other cooks began to laugh.
"Relax Ken, or you'll wet yourself," one of them said dryly.
I glanced at Anna's unofficial sous chef, Hidemi Yamada, who was also an old friend from school. "Hey Hidemi. I'm here to do the roses... with green leaves."
"Jade!" Anna hollered from the freezer.
"Right, jade," I muttered. I placed the cupcakes on the table then picked up one of the piping bags. I started practicing on the wax paper then heard Ken talking animatedly to the third chef.
"He was the best student in class! He chopped vegetables in record time and made sushi as though he'd been studying the art all his life. He was called the Samurai."
"Don't forget my lobster bisque," I called out to Ken. I gave a toothy grin. "The judges said it was the greatest thing they ever put in their mouths."
"It wasn't that great!" came Anna's voice from the freezer.
"Right, right," I snickered. "I was just the right amount of great. Right, Anna?"
"Bite me," she said as she breezed out of the freezer carrying a tray of chicken.
I stopped what I was doing to introduce myself to the third chef, Jeremy Flay. I was going to ask how he liked working for Anna and the constant threat of getting beaned by flying objects when on cue a sifter soared towards us. I ducked.
"You'd better get those cupcakes done, Kitsu! We're on the clock."
"I'm not getting paid for this Anna!" I yelled back. "So you just keep your projectiles to yourself or these cupcakes will be emerald, not jade!"
"And that's why they studied in separate kitchens," Hidemi told Jeremy in a sage voice. "That's right, separate kitchens that were at least two corridors apart."
"You used to be such a sweet girl," I accused. Anna stuck out her tongue.
She hated it when I brought up how much she's changed over the years. She hated it even more that I was able to tell people what she was like growing up. She hated it most that I would talk about it when I pleased because we knew each other that well.
I didn't really think I'd be this close to Anna Umenomiya. Back in the Alice Academy, she was attached at the hip to Nonoko, while my partner in crime was Koko. However, hanging out 24/7 with our friends with rhyming names became impossible after graduation.
To be honest, when we left the Alice Academy I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. The diploma in my hand guaranteed my entrance to the best Universities in the world but I wasn't sure I wanted to go down that road. It might've worked well for Yuu and Hotaru, but people like me weren't really cut out for college.
Koko and I spent a lot of time goofing off in the Academy and if you asked me what my hobbies were, a lot of it would be described in detail on conspiracy web sites. The fact was I didn't have a talent. Or at least nothing useful that would make me a functioning adult. Koko, at least, could read minds, but he had to think real hard to find a job where he wouldn't use that talent for evil.
Lest people think we were going to be idiots for life, we did grow up and thankfully acquired the sort of wisdom that came with age. After all, regardless of our personalities, we were still Alices and Alices conquered the world.
Mochu and I ended up entering Aviation school three months after graduation. There we found out a startling difference between us. I like flying. Mochu likes to fly things. With that in mind, only one of us was cut out to be a pilot. Today, Mochu makes transatlantic flights seem like a breeze. With his Alice, he was the only fail-safe pilot I knew and given a choice, I'd only book with him. He found his place, and I flew on.
After failing to fly a plane, I tried many other things: Photography. Graphic Design. Culinary Arts. The last of which is how I got to know Anna.
"That is not jade!" Anna said when she came over to examine my work. She grabbed the piping bag and spurted out a completely different color. "This is jade."
"Show off," I scoffed. "Not all of us can do magic in the kitchen. Some of us need to work really hard before we get a color right."
"Well, use this now." She thrust the piping bag back at me. "And redo those cupcakes."
"You can barely tell the difference."
"The bride can always tell the difference."
I threw up my hands but followed her instructions anyway. At least she didn't throw me out of the kitchen because back in Culinary Academy, she really did.
At first, Anna wasn't thrilled to have me with her in school. To be fair, that was because I asked her about absolutely everything. I don't know what came over me back then. Cooking Class was never my favorite in the Alice Academy. I liked to eat but that was about it. I still remember how much I pestered her during the first few weeks.
"Can I use my own ingredients? Why do I need to marinate overnight? Can I use a spatula to scrape off burnt meatloaf?"
"Kitsu!" Anna cried. "Please, that's enough. Here!"
"A library card. I filled one out for you. Use it."
That was how I learned how blunt Anna Umenomiya could be. So I went to the library and started studying in a way that would've made Yuu proud and angry: proud of my determination but angry because I should've studied that hard back when we were still classmates.
Anyway, it worked. Cookbooks are like crib notes. You follow it close enough and you can ace your exam. I also discovered a heretofore undiscovered talent for practical skills needed in the kitchen. Plus, I was artistic enough to make pretty things out of discarded vegetable parts. So apparently, as my teachers used to say, I was born to be a chef.
Our Academy friends thought this meant I was in competition with Anna, but that wasn't the entire truth. See, when I first entered the school, Anna was struggling with her classes.
Anna was a natural cook and I always knew she wasn't made for the structured classes we had as kitchen neophytes. Also, instead of helping, her Alice tended to act up and it made her cuisine very strange at the most inappropriate times. She aimed to please and the more she grew nervous, the worse things got. At one point, she opened a lid and her broth had emitted an eye-watering stench that stuck to our clothes for hours. It made her miserable.
The same night, I went to visit her loft, which was located a block away from our school. Anna let me in because I was persistent. She wasn't too pleased about it because she was busy crying. I wasn't sure what good my presence would do but I felt a sense of duty because that was what the rest of the gang would expect me to do.
"I was genetically made to do this. It doesn't make sense," Anna cried. I patted her awkwardly on the back. We both wished one of the girls was there instead.
"Are you saying that because of your Alice?"
"Yes! I was cooking for years in the Academy. There's nothing else I want to do."
"Bummer." I handed her my handkerchief then thought over what she said. "But I think that's funny. If we based these things on our Alices, I'm pretty much screwed."
"Because all I can do is defy gravity." I shrugged. "You don't see me trying to make a career out of that."
Anna laughed a little then shook her head. "But I love cooking. I really do. How can I love something, have a unique talent for it, and still be so bad at it?"
"Because you're special," I said plainly. "When you think about it, you don't really need a diploma to be a chef. You already are."
She looked at me as though I had grown another head. "Wow. That was... insightful."
I chuckled. "Yeah, I've been surprising myself too. Turns out, we got a pretty good education at the Alice Academy. I guess it really was an elite school."
I managed to cheer her up and we spent the rest of the night talking about our friends. We tried to call some of the gang over but they declined. Nonoko, in particular, was busy with a lab experiment. She wasn't able to comfort her best friend so I substituted for the night.
After that, we tried to figure out what messed with Anna's cuisine. She did well when she wasn't being graded. Eventually, we realized what was wrong. Anna was channelling negative emotions in class and that caused her to botch up recipes. The Academy pretty much gave us freedom to hone our talents so I guess she didn't have to deal with this back then.
"So when I'm nervous...?"
"The food gives off a bad aroma, like sweating," I answered as we wrote our observations in a notebook. Anna's eyebrows were pulled together.
"And if I'm worried?"
"It welts, like when we you blush."
"And if I'm angry?"
"They walk off."
"I'm serious," I said, tongue in cheek. "When you're furious, the food reaches out and tries to pull our teacher into the pot."
I laughed then handed her the list. "Just keep your emotions in check and I think you'll do better in class. You know how to do that, right?"
"Stop being a woman." Thwack! "Ow! Anna, jeez..."
In time, she did master her emotions. When I think about it now, I guess that means she grew up too. Soon, we really did become rivals and I have to say, if I had to compete with anyone in the school, I'm glad it was her. We both gained admirers and my most embarrassing fan by far happened to be Ken Matsumoto.
In one contest Anna and I were in, we were supposed to create a chocolate dessert. To this day, I have no idea what she put in hers but her triple decker chocolate cheesecake completely blew away my dark chocolate soufflé. Ken had come to the floor to contest the ruling but the moment I put that saccharine bit of heaven in my mouth, I knew I had lost. I only had to pop a square inside Ken's mouth for him to agree with me. That chocolate was that good and I never forgot it.
Things went well for about a year, but after a while my interest in Culinary Arts started to wane. I tried to talk myself out of it. I shouldn't give up cooking. I'd gotten far in the course. I found something I was really good at. But that's when I discovered something important: I can't talk myself out of anything. I was too stubborn to listen to my good sense. So after one month of beating myself up over it, I submitted a withdrawal form to the school.
"Ken's going to be inconsolable," Anna told me as she helped me pack my things. "He worships you, you know."
I beamed. "And that's how I know Natsume was lying when he said he didn't enjoy the attention."
Anna smiled faintly. "Where will you go?"
"I'm going to visit Yuu in Dubai. He said he can put me up for a couple of weeks. After that, I don't know. I guess I'll travel a bit. I'll find out what else I can do out there."
"And what will you do for a living?"
"Blog!" I said gleefully. I pulled out my laptop to show her. "See, I figured it out. Photography, graphic design and culinary arts tell me I can make money as a travel blogger."
Anna looked genuinely worried. "You'll have to establish yourself first before you can earn money from doing that."
"I'll get there," I said cheerfully. "I figured I'll review some nearby places, get myself published then work myself to Dubai. Then I'll work myself back here and review your restaurant by the time you establish one. It's a great plan."
"You're such a drifter," she said softly. "I guess you were genetically made to float around."
I was grateful to hear that. "I guess."
When we finished packing, I saw Anna to the door. Before she left, she reached into her bag and pulled out a small box. "For you."
"Chocolates?" My jaw dropped. "A full box of your extraordinary, melts-in-my-mouth-and-brings-me-to-cloud-nine chocolates? Thanks!"
"I made them last night. I figured it's what you'd want for a going away present." Anna bit her lip. "If you want more... you better come back and visit."
"I won't," Anna muttered.
I laughed at the look on her face because I knew her well enough by then to know that she was going to. My mistake was that I pulled her in for a hug. Anna returned it but when she had her chin on my shoulder she spoke again.
"I like you."
The wind left my sails. "W-what?"
I pushed her back to look at her but Anna turned her head away. I'd have been less surprised if she'd said she wanted to go with me. I couldn't wrap my mind around her words. Before I could say anything, she took a step backwards then ran to the stairs.
I rarely used my Alice for anything useful so I couldn't let the moment pass. Without hesitation, I jumped over the rail and floated down the winding staircase to land in front of Anna before she reached the ground floor. She gave a small shriek.
"Kitsu, you idiot!"
"You said you like me," I accused. "You don't say that then bail. Friends don't do that. It's not cool."
She threw up her hands. "I don't know what came over me, okay? You were leaving and I got emotional. Short of baking exploding cookies, I didn't know what else to do."
That's when I understood. Anna was sensitive. She still wasn't too sure of herself. She was used to being part of a unit because when Nonoko wasn't around anymore, I had taken the spot almost immediately. Anna was afraid of finally being an individual. I convinced myself that was all it was.
"Anna, you don't like me. Not in the way you think," I said as gently as I could. "We're practically family. You just think this way right now because you miss Nonoko, and we hang out a lot and the others aren't with us. That's not romantic. That's co-dependent."
She mustered a smile. "I suppose..."
"You'll be fine without me." I placed my hands on her shoulders and bent slightly to meet her eyes. "You're stronger than you think. You'll be okay on your own."
Anna started blinking rapidly. "If it's not romantic, why am I so afraid of being apart from you?"
"Because you're emotional," I said. It was the first thing that came to mind, "which means you're still very much a woman."
I let her hit me then I pulled her in for another hug, the fears from her sudden confession were kept at bay. "It doesn't matter if it's romantic or not. I'll always be here for you because we were friends first. I think that's even better."
"I'll miss you."
Months later, Mikan would smack be on the back of the head for what I told Anna that night. Whether or not I felt the same, I had no right to sum up her feelings the way I did. Mikan said I was lucky Anna didn't take it against me. She was right about that.
In any case, Anna went on to finish the course. She graduated with honors then immediately went to work as a pastry chef for a five-star hotel. The Executive Chef was very impressed with her and he became her mentor. When she learned the ropes, she left her job and ventured out to start a bakery. The bakery turned into a catering business then eventually she opened her own cafe. When I heard all this, I knew Anna was doing what she was genetically meant to do.
Meanwhile, I went on to become a travel blogger. I went all over the world, feasting and taking pictures. My friends could hardly keep track of where I went. If I dropped in to see any of them, they knew they had to put me up for the night. Whenever I could find lodging at a friend's house, I always felt like I was home.
Anna had called me a drifter and I guess that sums up what I am. Since I never settled down, Koko started the hobo joke and the rest of the gang adopted the title. I didn't really mind because whenever I was strapped for cash, I knew they were right. Still, it was fun. I saw new things all the time. I learned just how big the earth was and sometimes I was even sorry that the Alice Academy had kept us within its walls for years. I wanted my friends to see everything that I did and that's why my blog became extremely successful.
One thing bothered me though. No matter where I went, somehow none of the chocolates I tasted were as good as Anna's. I'd find a close second, or a tolerable alternative, but whenever I wrote a blog entry on desserts, I couldn't help but remember her chocolates— the best I've ever tasted in the world. I suppose that's why I kept coming back.
"Hey Kitsu, stop that for a moment and come here," Anna called cheerfully.
I put the piping bag down then obediently walked over. Anna was stirring a large pot of chocolate syrup. I recognized the aroma at once and my mouth watered. She pulled out the spoon then held it up to me.
Heaven. I traveled the world but the slice of heaven I knew was wherever I could have Anna's chocolates. I closed my eyes and wondered how she managed to capture this delectable taste each time. I told myself it was her Alice but since I was aware her emotions affected her cuisine, I wondered what feelings she put in this chocolate. When I finally swallowed, I looked at Anna so that I can tell her it was perfect. She was looking at me too and we shared a smile.
"Is it any good?"
Someday, Anna would make one lucky guy very happy. I knew I wasn't that guy. Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow. Or in two years. Or in five. But not today. Today we were just friends and that wasn't a bad place to be. Until she finds Mr. Right or if I finally feel that I'm that lucky guy, she'll have to settle for me to say these things.
"Your chocolates are the best, Anna. There's nothing quite like them in the world."