Fake Cinderella – Prologue

“… f- freezing…”

I shivered from the cold as I finally made it home.

The house is cold when you live alone.  Not just the physical temperature, but like, it’s somehow mentally cold.

If you say it’s miserable, being past thirty and still single, well, I can’t argue that point, either.

(It’s not really an inconvenience though you know, and it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t on the lonely side, but that doesn’t mean I want to just hurry up and get married to just anybody…)

In ages past they might’ve called me a waste of a woman, but I don’t think I’m a waste at all.

On top of that, I’m pretty satisfied with a life like this, where I can freely do as I please.

“So~ freak~ing~ cold—!”

In a dark home with no one to answer, I fumble blindly for the lightswitch and turn it on.

On the table lies an abandoned recipe, just the same as when I dashed out the door this morning.

“Hot water, hot water~”

I flip the switch on my electric kettle.

It’s become my usual routine; as first thing when I get home, I set to making a hot drink to warm me up.

“What shall we have today, I wonder…”

Talking to yourself might be one of the signs of living alone.  You just can’t help but talk even though nothing’s happening.

Even though there’s no one to answer back.

On the table in a basket, there’s a variety of teas — homemade honey citron tea, and other flavors like bottled bases for ginger tea, and favorites I’ve bought online like cans of white peach oolong tea — all ready and waiting as soon as hot water is available.

I think the joy of choosing is one of life’s little pleasures, personally.

“Welp, today’s on the cold side, so how about some lemon ginger tea?”

There’s sliced lemon and ginger, pickled in honey. This is something I pickled last year.  Once the honey soaks all the way through the lemon, it won’t go bad. Mixed with hot water, it is sweet, easy on the throat, and quick to warm up the body; it makes the absolute perfect sweet, hot drink for winter.  In summer you can mix it with cold water, cool it, and it’s still delicious. In other words, it’s Ginger Lemonade.

I have an air conditioner, but I don’t use it often.  The apartment’s twenty-two years old and full of cracks, so there’s more than enough wind blowing in from outside.

Well, if you say it warms you up, yeah, it does, but the electric fees feel like such a waste of money.  Makes for some pretty iffy cost performance.

While the water is heating, I pull off my coat and head for the bedroom.

“Urgh, I really did forget this here…”

Finding my abandoned cell phone at my bedside was honestly relieving.

It’s a three-year-old model, colored a sweet, rose-gold hue.  The youngsters at work are always telling me how ‘modern’ cell phones aren’t so thick.  Every time a new model gets announced I start debating a change, but I can never seem to find a model that I really like; in the end, I can’t decide and end up not changing at all.

When I look at the screen, seven messages are waiting for me.

It depends on the person, whether seven messages in half a day of phonelessness is a lot or a little, but for me it’s quite a lot. 

“Oh, it’s from Sagisaka-senpai…”

She was an odd person to have a message from, so I went ahead and played it.

“Maya-chan?  It’s Sagisaka.  Since you haven’t messaged or returned my calls I guess you’ve forgotten your phone… call me when you get back.  I’ve got a job for you.”

“…  sorry.  You’re exactly right~.”

Talking to televisions and phone messages is probably another one of those you’ve been living alone too long symptoms.

I brought my hands together and quietly said a prayer of apology to my dear cell phone.

I, Izumi Maya, am a patissier by trade, and work as a part-time cook for a wine bar on the side.

You might say that, since I’m a woman, I should call myself a patissiere; but the shop’s business card states it as Chief Patissier, so I always end up calling myself a patissier.  Whether it’s my regular profession or my side job, I always just say I’m a cook or in the food service industry, and the rest takes care of itself.

My main job is a shop that specializes in fruit tarts in the backstreets of Ginza; it’s a pretty popular place, and is frequently featured in magazines.

I’m one of three chiefs there.

If you include the apprentices, there are 12 patissiers in our shop, divided into teams of four.

The best part about working in teams is that I don’t have to go out and serve customers.  When you’re serving you can hear what your guests have to say, and that’s nice in its own right; I prefer sticking to the baking side, though, so I was happy when I got promoted.

I don’t hate my job, but sometimes it just feels kind of… lacking.

It’s stating the obvious, but the store’s recipes are strictly regulated and there’s no room for personal expression; and though things change a wee bit depending on the season, every single day, day after day, when you make the same things, the stress starts piling up after a while.

My second job serves as a way to make up for that.

Once or twice a week, on the nights before I’m off rotation in the shop, I go cook for at the wine bar one of my senior chef’s husband runs.

It’s the sort of place that has a menu for their alcohol, but not for their food.  Depending on the wine the guests are enjoying that day, I use whatever ingredients are in stock and create dishes to match their choice of alcohol — it’s one of the bar’s best selling points.

You’re always in view of the customers since it’s an open kitchen, and since there’s no specific menu it’s difficult and you can’t let your guard down.   You decide the dishes while communicating with the customers, so even though it’s just cooking, you’ll start feeling like it’s a serious battle. I really love that modest sense of tension.

There are some harsh aspects, too; despite working later at night the pay is less, and while working to please even the pickiest customer with the food, you have to keep in mind the taste of each individual wine, so in the end, I’ve invested a lot of effort in the time I spend here.

People often tell me that working your part-time job on your days off means it’s not a day off anymore; but think of it the same as devoting your days off to a hobby and maybe you’ll understand.

Working people normally spend their days off on their hobbies, right?  It’s the same thing.

In my case, that’s how I even get paid for doing what I like — a perfect example of “two birds with one stone.”

“…  I wonder if she’s occupied?”

I called Sagisaka-senpai back, but she didn’t pick up.

I sent her a message and set off for the kitchen.

There are plenty of cooks who don’t want to cook at home on top of everything else, but I cook at home, too.

I’ve already done all sorts of research, so it’s not odd for novel dishes to find their way to my table.  Of course, the very basics of taking responsibility for these creations is eating every last bite… though I admit, there are occasionally some things that just can’t be stomached.

Apparently my landlord’s grandmother loved cooking as a hobby, and lived in this annex off the house.

That’s why the kitchen is so perfect.

Lots of thought was put into the plans, especially toward ease of use; and more than anything, the fact that it as an oven is just the best.  

It’s super rare to be able to rent a place with a genuine oven in the kitchen.

This oven was the absolute clincher when I decided to rent here.

Today’s Dinner for One is oden.

When I make oden, I always use an earthenware pot.  I cook all the ingredients together, then wrap it pot and all in newsprint, then in a blanket to let it retain its warmth.  If you do it in the morning and then leave it like that all day, by the time you get home the flavor has soaked through everything and it’s absolutely amazing.  You could call it “heat-insulated cooking.” Apparently there are pots made specifically for this sort of cooking, but you don’t need them at all. Earthenware can even be used to cook rice; since it’s got all sorts of uses, a large earthenware pot is simply a necessity for one living on their own.

While the oden was heating up, I started peeling and finely cutting radishes and carrots as a side, and that’s when I realized it.

I don’t have any mustard…

Oden without mustard is like trying to serve flan without caramel sauce on top!   I firmly demand there be mustard!! Well… even if I get upset about it, I’m still living alone.  I’ll have to go and buy it myself.

Nothing to do about it…

I decided to head for the convenience store just a three minute walk away and buy it.

The supermarket would be cheaper, but it’s further away.  Couldn’t quite to get myself to go that far at this time of night.

Things have been a little dangerous out, lately.  It’s still better around here, since the main road is nearby and the street lights are plentiful.  Times like this, I’m grateful for living in the city.

It’s relieving to see the lights of the convenience store.

I’m sure the relief I feel when seeing the signboard with that logo is a by-product of getting used to living in Tokyo.

I’m originally from the middle of the mountains in Hokkaido, but honestly, it’s been over ten years since I moved to Tokyo.

The crossing sign turned green.

The moment I stepped out, the ear-bleeding sounds of screeching brakes and someone screaming ring out.

… bright…

The moment I thought I understood why it was so bright, my body flew through the air, and my mind whited out.

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