I can tell just by looking that Hitomi isn't pleased.
Hitomi: "Useless man, try one of these egg rolls!"
I'm sure that any normal food would just taste horrible now that I have experienced Sumomo's cuisine. Reluctantly I reach for one of Hitomi's egg rolls. It doesn't look bad, but it's just plain and boring.
I swallow it in a single gulp. As I suspected, its taste is as mediocre as how it looked.
Hitomi: "Hey! You need to chew it more! You can't appreciate the sophisticated flavors of my bento if you swallow everything like a pig!"
Sumomo: "Meito-kun, eat one of my shrimp in tempura. Open your mouth..."
Whoa! She's offering to feed me with her own chopsticks! Is this for real?! Is it really all right for me to accept this? Those are the same chopsticks that she just put in her mouth, the very same that were touched by her lips and her tongue!
This is no good! This is psychological warfare! I can't possibly resist something like that!
Hitomi: "Uaaah! Sumomo-chan, that's not fair!"
Sumomo: "Uh? What's the matter? Why do you think it isn't fair?"
Hitomi: "It's not fair because it's not fair! You're trying to corrupt the judge!"
Sumomo: "Isn't offering my food part of the challenge?"
Hitomi: "That's not the issue!"
Hitomi has a point, but I don't care! The fear to lose this rare chance completely sobers me up. Why am I even hesitating? I quickly grab the tempura shrimp with my teeth from Sumomo's extended hand.
Another explosion of pleasure in my mouth. The tempura was fried to perfection and complements the unique savor of the shrimp nicely.
Hitomi: "You need to eat my chicken now! My chicken!"
Meito: "Don't rush me, there's only so much I can eat at a time."
Hitomi: "You were a lot quicker with my egg roll!"
Sumomo: "Meito-kun, be sure to eat one of my fried hanpen, they are the most delicious part of my bento."
Meito: "Oh, sure! Don't mind if I do..."
Hitomi: "What?! You haven't eaten my chicken yet! And you need to eat the veggies too!"
Meito: "Whoa, wait! Stop pressuring me!"
Sumomo: "Fruits are important too, you can't call it a complete meal without them."
Hitomi: "What did you say?! Are you pointing out flaws in my bento?!"
Sumomo: "Oh no, I'm sure it has an absolutely perfect ratio of rice, proteins and others."
It is me, or is it getting hot all of a sudden?
In the end what was originally supposed to be a relaxing lunch with friends was turned into an all out and hectic war. With all this tension in the air, my stomach is going to have cramps for sure...
Anyway I somehow manage to survive the ordeal, the fried hanpen with cheese was indeed a groundbreaking experience.
My hunger quenched and my soul sated, I bite the last bit of my sliced apple reveling in this rare moment of calm and happiness. The food is finished and I can finally relax... a bit...
The two girls are silently looking at me, obviously they are waiting for a verdict. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I wasn't feeling their burning stares on me, but this is still better than being constantly pressured about eating this and that.
Anyway, no point in delaying this. I clear my throat.
Hitomi: "Wait a sec, useless man, we need to talk!"
Meito: "No! I already know what you want to talk about!"
Hitomi: "It's important! You'll regret it, if you don't listen!"
Meito: "Why can't this wait for later?"
Hitomi: "It can't!"
Sumomo: "It's all right, Meito-kun, I trust you."
How can someone maintain their mental stability when they hear a cute girl saying things such as that?! This psychological warfare is too hard for me to handle!
Hitomi: "S... see? Sumomo has no qualms about it, so just listen to what I need to say!"
Hitomi grabs me by my neck with her right arm and takes me aside. I no longer have the strength to oppose her, so I just let her have it her way without complaining.
Hitomi: "You know, I have a lot of pictures from the time we were kids."
Meito: "I know... so what's your point?"
Hitomi: "I have a special folder named: 'useless man's most embarrassing moments'. It's incredibly funny!"
Meito: "Kh... why are you bringing it up now?!"
Hitomi: "Absolutely no reason!"
You devil! I knew you'd try to blackmail me from the beginning, but this time I won't yield to your cheap tactics!
Meito: "Well, thanks for the info! Is that all? If so, then I'll announce the winner of this context."
Hitomi: "Not so fast, useless man! I still need to tell you the important bit."
Meito: "What is it now?"
Hitomi: "To be honest, I don't really care about Sumomo's cell strap..."
Meito: "What?! Then why did you specifically ask for that? That doesn't make sense!"
Hitomi: "I'm just saying that when I'll win, I'll give it to you, since I don't care about it all. I just wanted you to know."
Stop everything! A sudden realization strikes me. Of course, I should have expected that from such a diabolic woman! She planned it all from the beginning! When Sumomo challenged her, she knew she had no chance to win, but her pride couldn't allow her to withdraw. So she quickly elaborated a strategy to turn the tide in her favor at the very end. She accepted the challenge at one precise condition, and that condition was for the winner to get the loser's cell strap! But it wasn't something that she wanted, it was something she knew that I wanted!
This is amazing, Hitomi, I am truly impressed and I have a higher opinion of you now. I used to think you were just a thug and a bully, but now I know that you are indeed an evil mastermind! One day you might even become one of those super villains from the american comics! You have come far, I'm proud of you!
Okay, Meito Oda, you need to assimilate this new important information and think how to proceed now.
There is no doubt that Sumomo's bento was by far better than Hitomi's. If I wanted to give my honest and impartial opinion I would declare the winner right now without any hesitations. The problem is that I never intended to be honest from the very start!
Sumomo is the girl I love, so I really want to make her happy. If I would let her win, she would certainly rejoice. Conversely she might become sad, if she had to relinquish her cell strap. I don't know how much she treasures it. What if it's important to her, what if it's a gift from her...
Wait, there's no way she would have accepted to wager it, if it was that important. Unless she was absolutely sure to win. Was she? She doesn't know how I feel about her, she has no reason to believe I will definitely choose her. She isn't the type to be so overconfident about her skills either.
It's probably safe to assume she doesn't care about winning that much, unlike Hitomi she's a very easygoing person. She would take her loss with fair play. Conversely Hitomi would definitely rage and get her revenge on me. There's no telling what she could be capable of, if I made her brilliantly planned strategy fail.
And then there's to consider what I would gain from either decision. Let's say I choose Sumomo, I would probably gain a few points, but it would be ultimately useless and I don't think our relationship would significantly improve or worsen in either case. Now let's say I choose Hitomi, I wouldn't need to worry about her retaliations and on top of that I would gain Sumomo's cell strap. It would become a precious memento for me, something that I would treasure and that would always remind me of her.
One day our paths will divide, but something that belonged to her will remain with me, forever...
Think carefully, Meito Oda, is this what you really want? It isn't just a matter of deciding the winner of an ultimately meaningless challenge. Sumomo said she trusted me, would I be able to face her without feeling guilty, if I were to betray such trust? And what if she finds out that Hitomi bribed me and I let her corrupt me? That would be a most terrifying scenario!
I need to come to a decision. The two girls are staring at me again, I can't make them wait forever.
It's time to declare my verdict.
1) The winner is Sumomo.
2) The winner is Hitomi.
Wait, what am I doing?
This isn't something that I should reason about, this isn't something that I should coldly analyze. This isn't one of those turning points that can go either way. There is one and only one possible decision I can make, and I've been a complete idiot for hesitating this long. This isn't a matter that I can choose, it's already settled.
Meito: "Sumomo, you're the winner."
I said it.
It was the right choice. Deep in my heart I know it was, I feel relieved.
Sumomo raises her arms to the sky in celebration and her face brightens with a wonderful smile. There can't be a better reward for me than this.
Hitomi looks shocked, she must have been pretty confident that I wouldn't have missed such a rare chance. She thought that she knew me well enough, and that I couldn't possibly surprise her anymore.
She was wrong.
People are not that predictable, no matter how well you know them. Hitomi is learning an important lesson today. But that goes for me too. If you asked me a while ago, I would have stated with confidence that Hitomi would be yelling at me now and that she would be already actualizing her vengeance.
I was wrong.
Hitomi looks just a bit disappointed now. I don't sense any real anger from her.
Hitomi: "Well, whatever! I didn't prepare this bento anyway, my mother did. So it wasn't my real cooking skill on trial."
I knew it!
Meito: "I'm glad it was your mother's cooking, I wouldn't be alive now if it was yours!"
Hitomi: "What?! That's rude!"
Meito: "Honestly now, have you ever cooked anything before?"
Hitomi: "Of course I did!"
Meito: "What? Instant noodles? Ramen cups?"
Hitomi: "I can cook rice!"
Meito: "With a rice cooker?"
Hitomi: "Don't think it's that easy! You wouldn't understand, you've never tried!"
Meito: "You mean you've messed up at cooking rice even with a rice cooker?!"
Hitomi: "S-shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
Sumomo: "Ha ha ha! The two of you really get along well!"
Sumomo: "Am I wrong?"
Meito: "The way I see it we are like cat ad dog. We are completely incompatible!"
Hitomi: "What the useless man said. I hang around him only because I can take advantage of him."
Meito: "Kh... Wait! Didn't you just contradict yourself?! If you take advantage of me, that means I'm of use of you!"
Hitomi: "Not nearly enough... that's why you're an useless man."
Meito: "See?! How can I get along with someone like that?!"
Sumomo: "But to me, it looks like you're having a lot of fun!"
Meito: "Nope... unfortunately it's not fun at all..."
Hitomi: "It's fun!"
Hitomi: "It's a lot of fun teasing him!"
Meito: "That's completely one sided!"
Sumomo: "But in the end you keep hanging out with her, so I think that deep down even Meito-kun thinks that this is fun."
When she says it like that... I almost believe it...
Is that the truth? Do I unconsciously enjoy the constant bickering? Does that mean that I also like being mistreated and insulted? Wait! What the hell am I? A masochist?!
Meito: "No, no, no! That can't be!"
Sumomo: "Anyway, Hitomi. Can I have it?"
Sumomo smiles and extends both her hands forming a cup toward Hitomi. My childhood friend seems quite displeased, I guess she really doesn't want to part with her cell strap.
Meito: "A promise is a promise. You lost the bet, you need to pay the price!"
Hitomi: "I know! I know!"
Reluctantly Hitomi pulls her cell phone out from her pocket and drops it in Sumomo's hands.
Hitomi: "It's a bother to remove a cell strap, so do it yourself."
Wow, she really took the loss in a bad way. She turns her back to us and starts looking in the distance with an annoyed and bored expression.
I look at Sumomo and then I shrug my shoulders. Sometimes Hitomi can be pretty childish, and by "sometimes" I mean "fairly often".