The sun glowed gently in the clear blue sky, its rays peeking through the leaves of lush trees in a beautifully manicured garden. Summer had ended, yet the remnants of its warmth still lingered in the air.
You opened your window and immediately a gentle breeze flowed in, carrying with it the sweet scent of autumn flowers blossoming in your garden. You smiled and closed your eyes for a moment, enjoying the aroma and the soft wind on your skin.
"Oh my, I better start preparing now," you mumbled silently to yourself.
You reached for the apron and tied it loosely around your waist. You then proceeded to gather various cooking utensils and ingredients and arranged them neatly on a large wooden table in the middle of your kitchen. Even though you were not a professional chef, from your extensive experience in the kitchen, you knew that mise en place was key to successful cooking.
And today of all days, you hoped to get everything right, since you were inviting your closest friends over to your home for the first time. The four of you were going to have a little tea party. Your lips turned into a smile as you remembered how it all started.
-- Flashback --
The first time you met, or more specifically, saw Arthur, Kiku, and Yao was at the world conference. You were just a small country so you didn't dare talk to them. Throughout the meeting, you only listened to the big countries speaking and watched in amusement as they started to get rowdy.
After the conference concluded (without any real results), you decided to stop by a tea house you had passed on your way to the meeting venue. This particular place caught your attention because among the many cafés in the area, this shop actually called itself a 'tea house'. You, being an avid tea drinker, was instantly tempted to try it out.
A friendly waiter greeted you and ushered you in as you arrived at the establishment.
"The weather is very nice today. Would you like to sit outside in the garden Miss?" the waiter offered.
"Oh yes, I'd really like that," you followed him towards the back of the tea house into the outdoor seating area.
"It's very lovely," you looked around, admiring your surroundings.
The garden featured a small fountain at the center of it, surrounded by colorful spring-time flowers. Neatly trimmed hedgerows formed a natural barrier that separated the area from the adjoining street, giving the guests a feeling of calmness and privacy.
The waiter smiled and pulled a chair out for you.
"Please let me know when you are ready to order Miss," he handed you the menu and excused himself to serve another customer.
You started flipping through the menu and was delighted to find a vast array of high quality tea from around the world, as well as a selection of sandwiches and pastries that would surely go well with tea.
As you were musing on what to order, you heard a familiar voice with thick British accent calling out to you, "Hello there, aren't you Miss ________ ?"
You looked up and saw a group of men walking towards you. You immediately recognized them as the elite members of the world conference committee, Arthur Kirkland, Kiku Honda, and Yao Wang.
"Oh hello Mr. Kirkland, Mr. Honda, and Mr. Wang," you greeted them politely.
"Fancy meeting you here Miss _________ . Would you mind if we join you?" Arthur smiled.
"Not at all, please have a seat," you were quite surprised that big nations of their caliber knew your name and even wanted to sit with you.
"S-so, what brings you gentlemen here?" you asked, starting to feel a little nervous.
"The tea of course!", Yao answered enthusiastically, "You see, the three of us are tea aficionados."
"Ah, so do I," you said happily.
"Really? It is great to know another person that enjoys tea," Kiku said.
You turned your head to the Japanese man, "Yes, most people these days like coffee but I myself have always preferred tea."
"Well said, Miss ________," Arthur nodded in approval.
After that the four of you found yourselves engaged in a lively discussion about tea, literature, art, and many other subjects. That one meeting had gradually turned into a wonderful friendship that brought you closer to the three tea-loving nations. From then on, the four of you would regularly meet and enjoy interesting conversations over a nice cup of tea.
-- End Flashback --
You snapped out of your daydream. There was no time to waste! You had to make some snacks to compliment the tea. You hurriedly started mixing the ingredients to make manjū, a Japanese confection Kiku had taught you to make.
Ah, Kiku...a blush started to crawl up your cheeks. You had been close friends with the Japanese man for a while now. You had even called each other by your first names, which was a huge deal since he was a very formal man. You had always admired and respected him, but lately a new and foreign feeling had emerged whenever you saw him. When he wasn't around, you caught yourself thinking about him and when you were asleep, his images invaded your dreams.
Half an hour later, you finished all initial preparations for the small tea party. You glanced at the clock; it was four in the afternoon. 'They should be here anytime now,' you thought. Just as you predicted, the doorbell rang only seconds later. You took your apron off and smoothed you hair with your fingers, stopping in front of the mirror hanging in the hallway to make sure you looked okay.
You opened the large wooden front door, revealing all three of your friends.
"Hi guys! Please come in," you smiled.
They greeted you back as they stepped into the house.
You lead your guests out the back door to a white gazebo in the middle of your garden. In it was a round frosted glass table, surrounded by brown wicker chairs with fluffy white cushions. It was the perfect weather to be outside, warm but not too hot. The air was filled with the delicate aroma of blooming flowers.
"Please wait here a moment, I'll get the tea," you started to walk back towards the house.
"I'll come with you," Yao stood up and followed you.
"Thanks Yao, that'd be a great help."
Back in the kitchen, you poured boiling water into the teapot you had prepared before. Yao took out piping hot manjū buns from the bamboo steamer and arranged it on a large plate.
"Thanks again for telling me about this tea, Yao," you said.
"My pleasure," he beamed, "I haven't had it for quite a while too, so I'm really looking forward to this day."
Moments later you both got back to the garden, carrying trays of refreshments for the day. It was a good thing Yao came along to help you, otherwise you would need to make more than one trip to the kitchen.
Arthur and Kiku watched the transparent teapot in awe as you set it down on the table. Inside the clear glass were submerged white and yellow chrysanthemum flowers that slightly bobbed and brushed with each other before the liquid finally settled. From the outside, the teapot looked like a small aquarium filled with flowers.
"How beautiful, what kind of tea is this?" Arthur asked.
"This is chrysanthemum tea. I made it using the flowers from this garden," you replied.
You started pouring tea for your friends, releasing its fragrant steam into the air. Once everyone had been served, you picked up your cup, savoring the floral scent before sipping the herbal tea.
"Ahhh... This is really good," Yao sighed in contentment, followed by Arthur and Kiku.
"Yes, this is the first time I tasted this delicate sweetness," Arthur said.
"It's from the rock sugar I added to the tea," you explained.
"Ah, that is a very nice touch, ________," Kiku commented.
"Thank you," you blushed.
"And what's this?" Arthur asked, taking a rabbit shaped bun from the black lacquered dish in the middle of the table.
"Ah, that must be manjū," Kiku answered for you.
"It looks so cute, reminds me of flying mint bunny."
You all raised an eyebrow at this but didn't say anything. Arthur had been known for quirks such as these and it was easier to let it slide.
You cleared your throat and said, "That one has pumpkin filling, Arthur."
"And this one has red bean filling," you pointed at a heart-shaped bun.
Initially, you had meant to make the buns into a peach shape, but your subconscious must had taken over. By the time you realized it, there was no time left to change them.
"Ah, that is my favorite," Kiku leaned over and took a red bean manjū.
Yao stared at you with a mischievous grin on his face, "Heart-shaped buns for the red bean-filled ones, eh?"
"I-I was just trying to be creative," you stuttered, a light pink dusting your cheeks.
Kiku didn't seem to catch Yao's implied comment and happily munched on the bun.
"Wow, these are really tasty, ________. Did you make them yourself?" Kiku reached for another manjū.
"Yes, I followed the recipe you gave me."
"Yamato nadeshiko..." he whispered quietly.
But Arthur caught his words, "Huh? Yamato nadeshiko? What's that?" he looked at Kiku.
"E-Eh, it's nothing, Arthur-san."
"What? Come on, tell us."
Now everyone was looking at Kiku who started to fidget slightly in his seat.
"I-it means an ideal feminine woman in Japanese culture," he blushed.
"Oooooh, so you think ________ is your ideal woman?" Arthur wiggled his bushy eyebrows suggestively.
"E-ehhh.. N-no.. I mean yes.. Ah, b-but I meant in general..." Poor Kiku, he was now at a lost for words, his face taking on a deeper shade of red.
"Arthur, stop joking around please," you said as you felt your own face heating up.
Arthur and Yao seemed to be enjoying this and started to chuckle.
"A-anyway, how about we go for a walk?" you offered, "There is this place I want to show you while you're here."
"Oh, I'm very sorry ________, but Arthur and I have that... thing we have to do," Yao smirked, "Right Arthur?"
"Huh? Wha... Oh right, that thing," Arthur said with a glint in his emerald eyes.
"Kiku, you should stay and accompany ________," he added.
"No buts," Yao cut him off and started to get up from his chair, which prompted everyone else to do the same.
"Are you sure you can't come with us?" you asked, a bit disappointed that two of your friends were leaving so soon, but also somewhat happy at the prospect of spending some time alone with your crush.
"Sorry ________, we'll make sure to go with you next time," Arthur promised.
The four of you briskly made your way to the main entrance. As they were about to leave, you yelped and lightly smacked your own forehead.
"Wait! There's something I want to give you," with that you rushed back to the kitchen and retrieved two paper bags you had prepared earlier.
As you were walking back to the group, you heard some laughter echoing from the foyer. When you got there, you saw a red-faced Kiku with Yao's hand on his right shoulder, as if he was giving Kiku some encouragement. Arthur and Yao were laughing like mad.
"Hmmm? What are you guys laughing about?" you asked, handing them each a bag.
"Oh, it's nothing really. What's this?" your Chinese friend replied.
"It's some dried chrysanthemums and manjū. Please enjoy them with your family at home," you smiled.
They both thanked you and said goodbye, leaving you and Kiku alone with each other.
Suddenly, you felt your heart starting to race and you had butterflies dancing in your stomach.
"S-so, ________, shall we go?" Kiku took the initiative to break the silence.
"Yes," you nodded.
Your house stood near a hill and behind it, there was a clearing filled with wild flowers. A small road, paved with cobble stones, stretched across the field and gently hiked to the top of the hill. You and Kiku walked side by side in the field, chatting merrily and stopping from time to time to admire nature's beauty. Your nervousness from before had vanished and you were feeling comfortable and light. You grew excited as you neared the top of the hill and broke into a small run.
"Come on Kiku, hurry," you giggled.
"Ah, please be careful, ________."
You finally reached the hill top with Kiku not far behind. He gasped in amazement when he saw the view. Below the hill lay your bustling hometown, with houses and buildings that looked like miniatures from this height, and beyond that you could see the sea curving inward towards the land. You got there just in time as the sun was beginning to set, dipping slowly into the sea. The glowing orb colored the sky with soft patches of pink, orange, and purple.
"Beautiful," Kiku murmured.
You turned to look at him, curious to see his expression, and found that he wasn't looking at the sunset, but at you. His deep brown eyes gazing directly into yours. You expected him to look away, like he had always done whenever your eyes met. But he didn't, and somehow you couldn't seem to avert your eyes from his either. He slowly stepped closer to you, his eyes filled with adoration and determination, and took your hands in his.
"________, there is something I have been meaning to tell you," he said softly.
"Y-yes Kiku?" your heart was pounding wildly inside your chest.
"I... I am in love with you, ________."
You couldn't believe your ears. If this was a dream, you didn't want to wake up.
But the sensation of Kiku's hands gently squeezing yours convinced you that it was real; you were not dreaming.
"I love you too, Kiku," you answered, feeling warm and giddy with happiness.
He smiled brightly and wrapped one arm around your waist. The other reached up to cup your cheek, pulling you into a gentle kiss. Your eyes fluttered close as your lips touched his, your body melting into his warm embrace. He smelled like chrysanthemums in full bloom and tasted even more exquisite than the herbal tea you had earlier.
"You've made me the happiest girl in the world," you said when the kiss ended.
The both of you stayed on the hill top a while longer, enjoying the sunset, your arms wrapped around each other.
"And you have made me the luckiest man in the world," he said lovingly, "For once, Arthur-san and Yao-san actually gave me a good advice."
"Oh yes, they were laughing about something when I got back from the kitchen. What did they say to you?"
"They said I should man up and make a move," he said as he leaned down to steal another kiss.