A high-pitch bell rang at 6.37 p.m.- all the candidates came out of the rooms and quickly gathered into a line at the middle of the vast entrance. Madame Pasta came along with her fan opened. She glared at each one of the candidates. “Listen!”
Maimi stood still. Madame Pasta looked at her then turned away. Maimi raised an eyebrow.
“Your next task is, do home chores,” Madame Pasta told them. Everyone was shocked. Maimi made a mock expression. “First, you’ll need to do the laundry, the dishes and tidy up this place.”
Maimi looked around. She spotted dead leaves were scattered all over the huge ground made by many oak trees. “And clean the bathrooms too,” Madame Pasta added.
“Oh, man!” a candidate retorded.
“Who’s that?!!!” Madame Pasta shouted. The candidate covered her mouth. “Sorry!”
Madame Pasta gave a corny look. “You guys can do the chores as you like. You can start anywhere. Those chores needed to be done perfectly before nine. Got it?” Everyone nodded slightly. Maimi sighed.
“You may begin....NOW!” a whistled was blown and everyone became panic. They ran all the way to the kitchen. But Maimi was the only one who went to the laundry section. Madame Pasta grinned slightly.
Tezuka slipped into his yukata and tabi socks for the night activity-Tea ceremony. All of his family members were resting right now. He was so tired but he felt like taking the night breeze for a while. He walked out of his room and glanced around, looking for the candidates. Glad to know they were having another test, Tezuka went to the front park. He passed the laundry open room and stopped. His eyes locked at a girl’s back, who was washing a pile of clothes.
That ponytails old miss?! Duh! Tezuka told himself. He was wondering where were the other candidates?
“Huh...,” Maimi sighed a relief as she put a white clothe into a basin. Then, she took another clothe from her right and started to scrub the dirts off. Tezuka shifted his weight to his other foot. His heart was beating fast suddenly. He felt a bit uneasy, watching the girl scrubbing.
How if....this old miss be my wife? Who knows? Tezuka thought.
“Tezuka-kun?” one of the judges, Nakata-sama sounded. Tezuka was startled. He looked up to see Maimi turning back. “Tezuka-kun! Hi!” she greeted, waving her brush. Tezuka cleared his throat and left. Maimi formed a weak smile and said, “Nani?”
“Row, row, row your boat! Jumping off the stream!” Maimi sang on her way to the kitchen. She had completed her first stop. The clothes were neatly hung under the shelf. Maimi noticed the other candidates were still washing the dishes. She doffed her head. “Is that bad?”
She went to her area and froze. A big mountain of used plates, cups and other utensils were placed beside the sink. Maimi gulped. Okay, do it slowly. You can do it! Ganbatte! She cheered herself. Maimi wore an apron and started pulling some plates into the sink. She turned open the pipe and ready to wash.
After 15 minutes went by, the kitchen started to thinned. Maimi finished her last cup then placing it into the cabinet. “There!” Another judge of Madame Pasta smiled. She followed Maimi to the entrance.
Maimi put her hands on her hips. “Okay. Let’s do it!” She folded her yukata’s sleeves and grabbed a broom on the ground. She swept the dead leaves under the oak trees and piled them up into two mountains. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and put the broom back to the store. The judge looked around the entrance. It was clean. No more dead leaves. Again, she smiled.
Next, Maimi got to her last stop. The bathrooms. She entered the bathrooms and a bad smell shot into her nose. She covered her nose. “Smelly!”
Anyway, she still needed to clean it. She took a brush and scrubbed the toilet then wiped the mirror until it was so shiny. Later, she poured some bathroom perfume so it smelled so wonderful. She washed another four bathrooms. “I’m done!” she shouted.
“8.40 p.m. I’m impressed,” the judge said. “You can take a rest. There’ll be a tea lesson at 9.30 p.m., so be ready in your usual yukata, okay?”
“Okay!” Maimi smiled.
“Haha! I bet the girls are preparing for the tea ceremony lesson,” Grandma Megu vowed during dinner with the Fujimotos. Mr. Fujimoto nodded. “They did work hard today. I wonder who’ll be Tezuka-kun’s wife.” Everyone sniggered.
Tezuka rolled his eyes. He took a proper sip at his drink. Ayase laughed clapping her hands. “I’ve been wanting a big sis for a long time!”
“Sister-in-law,” Mrs. Fujimoto corrected. Tezuka got up suddenly. Everyone stopped. He bowed slightly. “I need fresh air.”
He left the room abruptly. Sighing. He felt like screaming during the dinner. Everyone babbled about his future wife which he did not even ready yet to settle with a new life. His parents and grandmother were too selfish. They did not even care about him.
Tezuka back-combed his almost long hair and took a deep breath. He needed space. Yes, space. The night breeze was so soothing, embracing the situation. Small fires were set up along the entrance way. The place was so bright.
While he was feeling the scenery, a gauzy white figure wandering around caught his eyes. The figure was turning around and around, finding something. A sudden shock crawled into his body. A ghost? He thought. It could be. That house was built in 50’s. Ghosts were expected to be wandering around.
Suddenly, the figure came near him. Tezuka was startled.
“Tezuka-san?” a high-pitch voice sounded. Tezuka zoomed in his view to see that old miss in white yukata. Her ponytails were still the same.
“What’re you doing here?” he asked.
Maimi smiled then sighed. “I lost my ear ring. It’s for my left ear. I think I lost it while doing my chores here,” she said. Suddenly, Momoko, the maid came and grabbed her away. “Sorry, you guys, both of the candidate and her future husband cannot talk to each other before the ceremony.”
“Hello, everyone. Hajimemashite!” the invited tea lecturer for the night began. She was Mrs. Asuka. The lesson was located in a medium-sized room filled with the ten candidates lined into two. They bowed together along with the two judges in charge, Mrs. Nakata and Mrs. Sukiya.
“Okay, everyone got their own tea set, right?” Mrs. Asuka asked, glancing in front of her. Each candidate checked their tea equipments. “Yes,” some of them replied. Maimi was one of them, smiling brightly.
“Good. Okay,” Mrs. Asuka said. She lifted up an equipment looked like a spoon. “This is chasaku.” Everyone looked at their owns.
“It is used to scoop tea from the tea caddy into the tea bowl,” she explained while exampling the way to do it in raw. Maimi nodded. “Oh...”
“Next,” Mrs. Asuka vowed. She took up a whisk. “This is chasen.” Maimi nodded eagerly. One of the judges smirked and jotted down. The lesson continued with other equipment introductions. There were fukusa, ladle, tana, tea caddy, tea bowl, whisk, and chakin. Just then, the sliding wooden door opened. All eyes darted at the doorway. The candidates screamed.
It was Tezuka. He was forced by his grandmother to be there. “Sorry, sensei,” he said and bow to Mrs. Asuka. She smiled. “It’s okay. Come here.”
Tezuka sat next to her. “Tezuka-kun used to be my former student for this lesson. He’s a great learner,” Mrs. Asuka declared, giggling. Everyone squealed girlishly.
“Oh, senpai! You’re so cute!” One of them said dreamily. “You stole my heart~” the others joined. But Maimi? She just shot a quick smile and got back to memorize the equipments. Tezuka was kind of surprise.
“Okay, let’s continue the lesson, girls,” the lecturer told them. The scene became a bit uneasy. Each candidate always took a peek at Tezuka and flirted him while the lesson still running. Only Maimi gave full attention to the lesson. Every word that came out of Mrs. Asuka’s mouth, she caught it clearly. She watched every move made by the lecturer one by one.
Tezuka’s eyes locked at her seriousness. He had never thought that the clumsy old miss was very into that lesson. He watched her big, round and eager eyes. He started to become more interested in her. She was some kind of different from the other candidate. When he lifted his attention to other girls, all he can see were the flirtations.
It was already midnight. The tea ceremony lesson had ended fifteen minutes ago. Everyone had gone to bed. The house became so peaceful. Only the sound of wind was heard and trees rustled. Tezuka was not too sleep yet. He was at the middle of the entrance to find Maimi’s missing earring. A bright sparkle brought him there to see what it was. He was lucky to find the earring.
As he took it, he examined the earring. It was a hook earring with beautiful sparkling gem hanging. It was clover-shaped. He knew it was an original gem by just looking at its sparkle. He grisped it and went back to the house. As he walked pass a junction, he noticed a length of light came from an opened room.
Who is not sleeping yet? He wondered. He decided to go for a check but the corridor was restricted only for maids. No male was allowed especially the main person, himself. But no one is here. He told himself.
So, he softened his steps towards the room. He stopped just a few feet away to peek. The door room was opened for a few inches wide but he could see the inside. Maimi was there. She was kneeling in front of the tea equipments.
Tezuka watched her practiced preparing the tea. She finished her twisting then, she poured some tea into a tea cup properly. Later, she lent the tea to the front and say, “Enjoy your tea.”
Tezuka kept silent. He was surprised to see her practicing while it was bedtime. Maimi yawned, stretching her arms and sighed. Her eyes swollen and her face seemed too tired. She reached for a pillow and lied down. Just a few seconds left, she had already sleeping. Tezuka breathed out.
“Tezuka-kun,” a harsh, deep voice called him from his back. He turned. “Grandpa.”
Grandpa To smiled and neared him slowly. He leaned forward to see Maimi sleeping with tea equipments in front of her. He grinned and looked at his grandson for a while and then walked into the room. He unfolded a comforter and covered the lady with it carefully. Later, Grandpa To turned off the light, got out and closed the door.
“Peeking at a lady’s room in the middle of the night?” he said. Tezuka looked away. “I want to return back her missing earring.”
Grandpa To shook his head playfully. “Tezuka-kun, as far as I see the candidates, I know which one is suitable for you. I just....keep it a secret and I hope you choose what I choose.” Tezuka looked down.
Only Grandpa To was the most respectable family member for him. Every single word that came from his grandfather, it was very valuable. “Do you remember my wish?”
Tezuka looked up. Grandpa To had asked him to grant his wish before he was ill, or die. The wish was to have a great grand child. Tezuka was the eldest grandson. Since he respected Grandpa To, he agreed to go for a blind date held by Grandma Megu. He was not ready to have a married life. But because of the golden wish, he would do anything to make his grandfather happy.
“Even to just see his or her face once, it’s very treasurable,” Grandpa To said, smiling. He left then. Tezuka sighed, “Anything, grandpa. Anything.”
Maimi opened her eyes abruptly as she heard a loud bell rang the next morning. She got up. “What the heck-“
The bell rang louder. She heard people’s feet rustled outside. “Oh, my, God!” she said, shuffling her feet to get up. She was too late to get showered. “Oh, come on!” Maimi put two popped of powder on her face, tied her hair into rough one and then, she wore lipstick.
“Hurry up!” a loud female voice sounded. Maimi’s heart jumped. A streak of red lipstick was formed out of her lip’s line. “Oh, shit!” She grabbed a small towel and wiped it quickly. But she was too late. Momoko came into her room and dragged her out. “Come on!”
“Wait! Wait!” she called out. As she saw the other candidates were already in a line, Madame Pasta, the judges and Tezuka were facing them. “Oh, no!”
Maimi ran in her last night’s yukata and braked as she arrived at the line. Madame Pasta put her hands at the back and gave a corny look whenever she walked by each one of them. While that, Maimi leaned forward to snoop. Everyone had taken a shower and beautifully dressed up in a new yukata. Maimi spouted.
She leaned back to her position as Madame Pasta came to her way. There. Madame Pasta was standing in front of her. With that lion-like face and double inches make-up. Maimi held her breath. Tezuka looked at her.
Suddenly, Madame Pasta stifled a laugh. Everyone frowned. The judges’ jaws dropped pen. A big laughter was burst out by Madame Pasta. No one expected that. That big woman never laughed! The judges came. They laughed too. Tezuka noticed it then looked away.
“What?” Maimi asked. One of the judges took out her pocket mirror and handed it to her. Maimi took it and faced the mirror. She gasped. A large treak of red lipstick was formed from her lips to her right cheek. Plus, the powder was not smoothly spread made her looked exactly like a clown in white yukata. Everybody laughed.