THIS IS A FAN TRANSLATION, THOUGH THE WEBSITE NAME…HAS MTL IN IT…
The 1-day camping farewell party
The group ‘Wakiaiai’ to which Touko-senpai and I, along with Karen and Kamokura, belong has an event on the first third of December every year, the ‘farewell party for juniors’.
This was because juniors, being in their third year already, would need to center their efforts in earnest at job hunting as soon as we returned from the New Year’s.
Because of that, the farewell party was held usually around the middle of December.
(TL Note: Not sure if it was a typo from the author changing from ‘first’ to ‘middle’ third of a month)
And though our group had by now become a group where any kind of event was accepted, due to it originally having been a group focused on camping and outdoor activities, the farewell party was the only event that followed tradition and was cemented as an outdoor camping event.
Still, even this camping event had been losing its original impetus in late years, becoming a 1-day camping trip from which we could return before the day was over. In other words, we had a barbeque and then called it a day.
“This day is the last chance you’ll have to raise your popularity among the girls.”
Touko-senpai stared fixedly at me while she spoke. I nodded in silence.
“At present, the opinion of you among the girls from our group is quite high, Isshiki-kun. Especially among the four girls you met at the girls-only meeting from before.”
“The four I met at the all-you-can-eat cake shop, right?”
I had once before carried on with a certain plan to infiltrate a girls-only meeting that included mainly girls from our group. To do so, I had pretended to meet them by chance in order for them to let me join them and then proceeded to raise the girls’ opinion of me.
By the way, the one who came up with the plan and set the board in place for everything to proceed smoothly was none other than Touko-senpai.
It was during that time that I first started to interact with four of the most influential girls from our group: from the Economics Department, the sophomore, Mina-san, and the freshman, Ayaka-san; from the Department of Literature, Manami-san, a sophomore; and from the Business School, another freshman, Yuri-san.
“Yes. All of them are almost central figures in our group, and they hold great influence among the girls. Having them like you is already a big advantage for you. That said, I would still like for you to make one last appeal to the other girls too.”
“It was with that in mind that I volunteered myself to be in charge of cooking in the farewell party camp.”
I too had been thinking about this ‘appealing to the girls’ that Touko-senpai spoke of.
And the answer I had arrived at as a result of that was volunteering.
It had been decided that each of the boys that liked cooking would present 1 dish during the camp. I was one of those boys.
Boys who liked cooking were a rare sight nowadays, so I wasn’t sure about how much of an appeal to the girls this could be for me. But if you asked me about the things I could do better than others, I had nothing except programming and cooking. I had no other choice.
In addition to it, because I often went camping with my family when I was a kid, I had all the basic knowledge about camping and barbeques.
“Oh, right. You’ve always been very good at cooking if I remember correctly. Have you already decided on what you’ll cook at the camp?”
“Yes. Since a barbeque would be too clichéd, I was thinking that maybe I should make some roasted chicken using a Dutch oven.”
This was a specialty dish of my dad. This was a splendid meal that involved using one whole chicken in its entirety. By submerging the meat beforehand in brine, which is used for things like smoking, you could bring out an exquisite flavor from it throughout. Finally, if you stuffed the chicken with, say Japanese chestnuts or turnips, along with carrots, potatoes, and broccoli, you could present a particularly sumptuous dish.
(TL Note: Who the hell taught the Japanese the French word for ‘brine’ instead of the English one?)
“Sounds good. Also, as a plus, it would be great if you could prepare some kind of dessert. Girls like their sweets a lot, and unfortunately, food at a barbeque always ends up focused on heavy dishes.”
“In that case, how does a dessert made by mixing yogurt and canned fruit sound to you? It won’t take too much effort to prepare, and it’s light and refreshing to boot.”
“I believe that should be fine.”
Touko-senpai seemed satisfied with my answer.
“Are there any other things that you think I should take into consideration?”
I honestly couldn’t understand a girl’s feelings. There had been many a time when despite thinking that something was for the best and acting on it, it turned out to have the opposite effect. That was why all I could do here was take Touko-senpai’s opinion into consideration.
Though I couldn’t deny how pathetic I was, always having to depend on Touko-senpai…
“First is, you have to speak with various different girls, treating them all equally and speaking a moderate amount with each. Talking too much with a single girl is an absolute no-good. Second, you have to always be relaxed when holding a conversation and keep it going smoothly, never being too obstinate about anything. Focus especially on helping out girls who have any kind of problems or worries. If you do that, you’ll be able to hold a natural conversation with them.”
I see. It was the same ‘treat all girls equally’ that she had mentioned before too.
“Aside from that, you should just act like normal, if you ask me. Isshiki-kun, from among the boys, is there anyone that you hate or are bad at dealing with?”
The first name that came to my head was ‘Kamokura Tetsuya’, but for the time being, I didn’t mention that.
“Not really, no.”
“Then you’ll be fine if you do like always and enjoy yourself together with the other boys. Girls like boys that are in groups and get along, after all.”
In that case, since it was my normal way of being, there shouldn’t be any problems.
“Also, on this time alone, try not to act too concerned about Karen-san, okay? I want you to focus your efforts as much as possible on getting points with the other girls.”
“Of course, having her getting completely sulky on us would be a problem. A point where you get her a little jealous is just perfect.”
And so came the second Saturday of December. We were participating in the ‘1-day camping farewell party’.
The place it was being held was a camping site in the vicinity of Mount Fuji, in the prefecture of Shizuoka. It was an extensive area with a nice view. It seemed that every year, our group would use either this camping site or go camp out in the wild in Izu.
Being one of the people in charge of cooking, I had brought my family’s minivan over. Incidentally, Ishida had ridden together with me.
Unfortunately for Touko-senpai, she had to ride with Kamokura in his car. Given that at the moment, Touko-senpai continued to be ‘Kamokura’s girlfriend’ in the eyes of everyone, this couldn’t be helped. Kamokura too had brought his family’s car, especially for today, a BMW Sedan.
The guys who were coming by train would gather at Shinjuku Station. We would then meet up with them there and divide ourselves into the various cars we had.
Thanks to our having departed in the early morning, it was only 10:30 am by the time we had arrived at our destination, the camping site.
“O~kay! Well then, those in charge of cooking, start making your preparations as soon as possible. The first thing you’ll need to do is start a fire for yourselves!”
I assembled my 3-legged camping fire pit and above it, I placed some charcoal and lighted it up with the help of some firelighter.
Because I have been going out camping with my family since I was a kid, these procedures were already second nature for me.
Other university girls who were next to me came over.
“Heeh, Isshiki-kun, you’re quite used to this, aren’t you?”
“Sort of. I used to go camping a lot with my family.”
“We’re not sure why, but the fire at our spot just won’t light at all.”
“Is that so? Want me to take a look at it?”
“You’d be saving us if you did!”
I followed that girl and headed over to where the fire pit she and her friends were looking after was.
I immediately knew what was causing the problem. To start with, the charcoal they had brought was Binchoutan. Binchoutan was high-grade charcoal that, while it could burn continuously for a long time, had the negative side of being hard to set alight. Also, regardless of that, the charcoal itself was too big.
On the other hand, the firelighter they had was one in the form of a chocolate bar which you could easily buy at a dollar shop.
It was no surprise that they were having a hard time getting it to light up.
“Where did you get this charcoal?”
“It’s some charcoal that we had in my house. It’s a leftover from the last time my family and I went to a cottage.”
“This charcoal is Binchoutan, a high-grade charcoal which can continuously burn for a long time, but in exchange for that is difficult to ignite.”
“Is that so? I didn’t know. I thought that anything would be fine so long as it was charcoal.”
“I’ll share with you a little of the charcoal I brought. You should be fine if you let the Binchoutan burn on top of that one.”
I brought over some finely chopped charcoal and firelighter from my own spot. Using that, I first started a small fire.
Once it had burned to a certain degree, I placed the Binchoutan they brought on top of it in a position that let the air flow nicely. Before long, the Binchoutan too began to burn a bright red.
“This should be enough. All that’s left is to watch over the state of the fire and either take out or add some charcoal.”
“Thanks, Isshiki-kun! You saved us!”
“If you have any other problems, feel free to call me.”
I left their place after saying that.
I then saw Touko-senpai and Kazumi-san next to each other and looking at me from a place a slight distance away.
Kazumi-san gave me a quick thumbs-up. I imagine that meant ‘good job’.
I gave a small smile as I said thanks with my eyes.
When I returned to my own fire pit, the charcoal fire was burning a healthy red too.
I put the onions, carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables at the bottom of the Dutch oven and placed on top of them the whole chicken, which I had already prepared beforehand. I sprinkled coarsely ground pepper and pink Himalayan salt on its surface, bathed it thoroughly in olive oil, and closed the lid of the Dutch oven.
I hanged the oven on top of the 3-legged camping fire pit by using a chain. I then placed a few pieces of charcoal on top of the lid of the oven too. With this, it should be heated slowly and evenly from both the top and the bottom. All that was left was to look at the state of the fire every now and then.
Ishida then drew closer to me.
“You finish already?”
“Yeah, all that’s left is to wait for it to get cooked now.”
The girl from before then came over to us with a different girl in tow.
“Sorry, there’s another thing we would like to ask your help with. Would it be ok?”
“It’s ok. What is it?”
“This girl here, she says that she doesn’t know the intensity of the fire needed to cook the meat.”
The girl that had come together with her then began to speak for herself.
“I had thought to cook a relatively big piece of meat, but despite the exterior getting all burnt, the interior isn’t getting cooked at all…”
“Is that so? For starters, I’ll go see what’s happening. Where are you cooking it?”
“Just over there.”
I turned over to look and discovered it wasn’t even 10 meters away from my fire pit.
I went over to her side and saw that, indeed, the meat had parts of its surface burnt black here and there, but once you tried cutting it, the interior was nearly raw. Given that it was beef, it would have been fine to eat it even if it was somewhat rare, but eating it while cold would not be pleasant.
“Do you have any other meat?”
Hearing my question, the girl took out another chunk of meat from her cooler.
“Ah, when cooking a big piece of meat like that, you need to take it out of the cooler beforehand to let it reach room temperature.”
I next looked at the barbeque stand. The charcoal gathered in the center was crackling viciously.
“Add to that that this fire is way too strong. You need it to be possible for you to place your hand about 5 centimeters above the grill and be able to keep it there for around 5 seconds.”
The girls then showed me a look of utter confusion.
“We, we don’t really know how to determine what’s a good level of intensity for the fire…”
“Since I’m just waiting for mine to finish cooking itself, I’ll help you do it.”
As soon as I finished speaking, I took the grill off their barbeque stand and distributed the charcoal piled up in the center evenly throughout the pit.
I took out one slender piece of charcoal, thus leaving only a single place on the barbeque stand’s edge without any charcoal in it.
I smeared some olive oil on the grill which goes above the barbeque stand, put it on top of the stand, and placed the piece of meat on the corner where there was no charcoal below.
“With this, once the meat has warmed up to a certain degree, you can start cooking it in the center. As for the intensity of the flames, it’s like I told you before. If the flames weaken, you can add more charcoal, or you can gather the charcoal at the center and cook the meat above it.”
At some point during that conversation, without my noticing, the other girls had gathered all around us.
All of them were listening attentively to my explanation of how to prepare a barbeque.
“Thanks, that helps a lot!”
“You really are used to this, honestly.”
“Could I ask you to come to look at my fire pit too?”
“I had wanted to ask you about this from the start, you know!”
“We’re using a hot pot for this… How long should we cook it in our case?”
“What are you preparing, Isshiki-kun? Eh? You’re making a whole roasted chicken with a Dutch oven? That’s incredible! You’re going all-out for this, aren’t you?”
“How nice! I want to try your dish, Isshiki-kun!”
Ooh! I wasn’t sure what was going on but, wasn’t this some awfully great reception on part of the girls!?
I could tell that the muscles of my face were forming a smile.
Uh oh. I wasn’t supposed to get all smitten with the girls here, right?
For now, I told the girl who say she wanted to try my dish that I would call her once it was finished and she could come over, to which all the other girls replied with a ‘Me too!’.
Karen then appeared and pushed her way through all of the girls that had gathered around until she reached me.
Without stopping for a moment, she hugged me from the back.
“Heey, Yuu-kun. Is the food ready yet? Karen is already hungry from waiting!”
This girl… She was making her stand by telling all the other girls that were around us that she was the one who held the title of ‘my girlfriend’, wasn’t she?
And all this despite her having been wandering around the places where the other boys were cooking and talking with them until just now.
What a crafty woman she was, honestly.
Once the roasted chicken had been properly cooked by the fire, I took the Dutch oven off the fire pit.
All while still keeping a few of the charcoals on top of the lid.
That way, I allowed the juices inside to circulate gradually throughout the oven with the remaining heat.
In the meantime, I threw a package of ready-made minestrone inside of a new pot and added the cabbage and bacon I had cut beforehand. With this, once I let it boil for a few seconds, it would be completed.
I cut the baguette into loaves of around 2 centimeters each.
“Ok, I have finished preparing the roasted chicken and the minestrone!”
It seemed that, despite having chosen a dish that required a lot of preparation, I was one of the people to finish the earliest.
Thanks to that publicity (?) I made before, a lot of girls gathered around me.
To each of them, I gave a cut-up slice of roasted chicken together with some of the vegetables placed atop paper plates and poured over them a sauce I had made by mixing the left-over juices of the chicken with ginger, shoyu sauce, and honey. The minestrone went in a paper cup apart.
“Feel free to take all the bread you want.”
I addressed them. A circle of all the girls had formed around me.
“This is delicious!”
“Yes! This is even better than what you eat at a restaurant!”
“The flavor of it has permeated nicely through both the meat and the vegetables.”
“Are there Japanese chestnuts in it? The soft, flaky sensation is scrumptious!”
“Today’s cold, so having this minestrone warm us up is the best complement to it!”
I did it! These were super high marks now, weren’t they?!
It was then that Kazumi-san and the girls who were with her during the girls-only meeting, Mina-san, Ayaka-san, Manami-san, and Yuri-san, came over. Behind them was Touko-senpai too.
“Let’s us try it too! We want to eat Isshiki-kun’s dish, too!”
“I was well aware of that. I already made sure to separate all of your servings from the start, Kazumi-san.”
I started to distribute their portions one by one to them after speaking.
When I handed Touko-senpai hers, she gave me a sweet smile and nodded.
That must’ve meant ‘well done’.
Kazumi-san moaned as she took a bite from the roasted chicken.
“How delish! It’s incredibly tasty! I never imagined I’d get to eat this kind of first-class food in this place.”
Mina-san followed after her.
“It really is good! Isshiki-kun, do you cook on a regular basis?”
“No, it’s only every once in a while. It’s just that both of my parents work, so it became kind of inevitable for me to learn how to cook.”
“But, if you can cook this well, you’re well set already. There’s nothing lacking from you as a husband.”
Kazumi-san then spoke in a loud voice.
“For real! Isshiki-kun, won’t you become my bride?”
“Isn’t that the other way around?”
Everyone in the vicinity laughed.
Most probably, Kazumi-san had already come up with that line from a while back and was waiting for the best moment to say it.
Even if I knew that, I still felt somewhat happy.
Touko-senpai didn’t say anything, but she had a satisfied look on her face.
Next to her was Karen, looking like she had something to complain about as she glared at Kazumi-san and me. I imagine she didn’t find it amusing at all.
All of a sudden, I felt my cellphone vibrate.
I took it out and was surprised at seeing that it was a message from Touko-senpai.
Even though she was less than 5 meters away from me…??
Still harboring the doubt inside, I opened the message.
> (Touko) Let me ride in your car on the way back!
> (Yuu) I don’t mind, but would that not seem too unnatural?
> (Yuu) You came here in Kamokura-senpai’s car, did you not?
> (Touko) There’s no need to worry about that. Kazumi is certain to get around that problem deftly.
> (Touko) Tetsuya’s been too forceful today. That’s why I don’t want to go back in his car!
… In other words, this means that Kamokura is trying to take Touko-senpai forcefully to some place…
Instantaneously, I felt an unexplainable burst of ire begin to burn inside of me. I won’t ever allow him to do that!
> (Yuu) Understood. Please ride with me in my car on the way back. Would you like for me to call out to you, Touko-senpai?
Should it be necessary, I was prepared to bring Touko-senpai back with me, even if it meant I had to lay bare all the things that we had kept secret!
> (Touko) There’s no need to do that. I have already asked and arranged with Kazumi to have her be the one to call me out.
I had my own apprehensions about it but trying to argue with her about it would be in vain.
Not to mention that, in this place where everyone was gathered, it was possible for someone to find it strange that both Touko-senpai and I were fiddling with our smartphones for a long time.
> (Yuu) Understood. Talk to you later then.
I sent my reply and put my smartphone away.
… Dammit! Kamokura, that bastard!…
However, the fact remained that to the public eye, Kamokura was Touko-senpai’s boyfriend while I was an outsider.
I was vexed that we couldn’t take any actions openly at the moment.
… Nonetheless, should the situation demand it, I’ll protect Touko-senpai no matter the cost…
I swore that to myself.
The mix of yogurt and canned fruit that I presented as a dessert after the roasted chicken and minestrone was also favorably received.
Thanks to that, I was able to have a conversation with every girl without exception.
Though Karen coming every now and then to make her ‘I’m his girlfriend’ appeal while looking so displeased was annoying.
After the barbeque, we passed the time playing frisbee and volleyball relaxedly. It was only us men playing with the frisbee, but we were still having a great time. That is until one person came and encumbered us.
“Karen wants to play too~!”
How we were originally playing was that one person threw the frisbee in the air, and then six other people ran after it and caught it with one hand. Obviously, for Karen, who was a girl, there was no chance of winning. We then proceeded to give Karen a handicap but given that she couldn’t even catch the frisbee in the first place, it was futile.
To put it bluntly, Karen joining us took all the fun away from it.
“What do you say we change the game to volleyball so that the other girls can join too?”
I was the one to propose that. I called out to the girls who were watching us from close by. Boys and girls mixed together, we played simple things like ‘how many times could we hit the ball without it hitting the floor’ as we enjoyed ourselves congenially.
(TL Note: The word I translated as congenially is actually 和気藹々 [wakiaiai], which makes this a play on the group’s name and the meaning of the word itself)
Soon after, it was time to go back. Though I was still worried about Touko-senpai, I began to put away the barbeque equipment, and while doing so, Kazumi-san came over accompanied by Touko-senpai.
“Isshiki-kun, your car is a minivan, right?”
Kazumi-san asked me that in an excessively loud voice.
“Yes, that’s right. Why do you ask?”
“Are the back seats fold-flat seats?”
“Of course, they are.”
It was then that Kazumi-san raised her voice even more. Enough so that everyone in the vicinity could hear her as she spoke.
“Then, would you mind letting me and Touko ride in your car? You see, Touko appears to have injured her back. She says that even being seated is painful.”
I see, so that was the plan. All three of us, Touko-senpai, Kazumi-san, and I, lived close to each other.
And when your back hurts, all you can do to ameliorate it is to lie down and rest.
Riding for long hours in Kamokura’s automobile while seated would’ve been quite an ordeal.
“Understood. I will make the preparations to leave, so both of you, please get inside the car in the meantime.”
I too answered in a loud voice.
Immediately after, Kamokura’s expression changed, and he flew over to our location.
“Hey! What’re you deciding on your own here? Touko is coming with me on the way back just like she came here with me.”
I glared at Kamokura. As if I’d let him get away with doing things the way he wanted every single time.
“Touko-senpai said that her back is hurting. Riding in a normal automobile will only worsen her lower back pain unnecessarily. With respect to that problem, because the backseats of my minivan are fold-flat, she can lie down on top of them while we return. That way we can minimize the burden on her back.”
“She’ll be fine in my car too if she reclines the passenger seat, you know?”
“Isn’t it precisely because she believes that that’ll hurt her that Kazumi-san is saying that my car is a better option?”
“Are you a doctor or something? Stop talking like you know everything about someone else’s girlfriend!”
“Can’t you see that even she herself is saying that your car is too uncomfortable?”
Everyone was starting to gather around us, wondering what all the fuss was about. Kazumi-san took a few steps toward us from among that crowd.
“Kamokura-san, Touko is saying that her back is really hurting her. She’s saying that she couldn’t possibly withstand the long hours of riding back home in your Sedan. That’s why I asked Isshiki-kun for help.”
However, Kamokura too refused to give in.
“There’s no problem. I am Touko’s boyfriend. I’ll take care of those things you mentioned and take her back. On the off chance that her pain is too intense, we can just stop in the middle of the way and rest. Those kinds of things are part of the reason why I should be the one to take Touko back home.”
This cur! Even though she was saying that her back hurt, he was still thinking of taking her someplace else?!
“Touko said that her parents aren’t coming home today. And she also seems to have some business to attend to tomorrow. To say that you’ll stop somewhere along the way, you’re just ignoring Touko’s circumstances!”
“In that case, even if we take a few breaks, it’ll be fine so long as we’re back at her house by tomorrow morning!”
Kazumi-san’s eyes became sharper and sterner.
“You, you really are a self-centered man, aren’t you? Then what’ll you do if Touko wants to go to the restroom in the middle of the way? Touko’s saying that even walking is painful for her right now! You mean to say that you, a man, will lend her your shoulder and walk with her inside the women’s bathroom? Aside from being able to have Touko return while lying down, I also need to ride together with her!”
Kamokura seemed to want to answer back to her, but it would seem he couldn’t find any arguments with which to do so.
Perhaps sensing that trouble was brewing, the president of our group, Nakazaki-san, came over. Nakazaki-san is a friend of Kamokura who’s been with him since their days in the soccer club of our high school, and as such, he’s the only person who could talk some sense into Kamokura at times like these.
“Hey, Kamokura. Touko-san is saying that her back hurts, right? Don’t you think that Isshiki-kun’s car, where she can lie down and take it easy on the way back, is the best option?”
“I know that you may be worried about her as her boyfriend, but Kazumi-san is saying that she’ll go together with her. There’s no problem then, right?”
Even so, Kamokura glared at us for a while. Ultimately, Nakazaki-san said this to him.
“If you’re so worried about her, Kamokura, you could just as well follow after Isshiki’s car with your own, no? If something came up, you could also call his phone.”
“I got it, Nakazaki. It’s not like I’m that much worried about it either.”
As his parting gift, Kamokura glared at me one last time before leaving that place.
“I see. So that’s what was going on…”
The one to say that while we were all inside the car and on our way back was Ishida.
In the end, it was decided that Ishida and I, together with Touko-senpai and Kazumi-san, would be riding back home in my car.
“I swear… I never knew that Kamokura-san was that stubborn a person.”
Kazumi-san said in an exasperated yet mocking tone.
“Tetsuya is the kind of person who very rarely goes back on something once he has decided and said that he’ll do it. He’ll try to force his own opinion on others until the end.”
“I too didn’t have any intention to fall back on this occasion.”
I spoke unable to hide the anger inside of me.
“It’s because I knew that that I intervened. Since, in what’s a rare display of yours, you were showing your unadulterated intention to fight, Isshiki-kun.”
Kazumi-san explained while laughing.
I hadn’t intended to show my emotions so clearly, but is that how it looked like for those watching us back then? Be that as it may, that could be a hindrance to our future plans.
Lastly, Touko-senpai lowered her head slightly.
“Still, you really saved me. Tetsuya was unusually forceful today. It honestly scared me. It’s thanks to you, Kazumi and Isshiki-kun, that I managed to escape that plight.”
Kazumi-san lightly patted Touko-senpai’s head as she comforted her.
“Tis’ no problem! Leave it all to me! I won’t ever let you become the victim to some unfaithful man, Touko!”
After that, Touko-senpai drew her face closer to me, who was seated in the driver’s seat and holding the steering wheel.
“Isshiki-kun, thank you, honestly. I was very happy when you stood up for me.”
She whispered those words to my ear.
Was that subtle sultriness I felt in her words just now simply my imagination?