The Orphanage’s Current State
「Nom nom nom nom nom!」
「Om nom om nom nom!」
「You two sure are digging in.」
「Wow Fran! You’re so awesome!」
「Yeah! Look at Urushi! He’s super amazing too!」
We were currently at the orphanage, where Urushi and Fran were both rapidly tucking Io’s curry away. They were eating so vigorously that I was starting to worry whether they’d give themselves stomachaches.
I was also concerned as to whether or not it was okay for them to eat as much as they were, given that they were at an orphanage. Fortunately, Io didn’t really seem to mind. In fact, seeing them eat the way they were had caused her to break into a smile.
「I’ve made a whole lot, so eat all you’d like.」
「How large a serving would you like?」
In the end, the pair ended up eating five super large servings apiece, to which the children reacted with both admiration and a bit of resentment. It seemed like they’d probably be able to have curry the next morning so long as Fran and Urushi didn’t eat it all.
Some of the kids had actually cared much less about that, and much more about how much Fran could actually eat. Though they seemed a bit less attached to the curry itself, a fair portion of them still ended up gazing at her a bit reproachfully because their incorrect predictions had caused them to gamble away a part of their breakfast.
I figured it’d probably be a good idea for us to pay Io back later for all the food we ate. The orphanage was definitely much better off than it’d been before, but it was still an orphanage nonetheless.
「No, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as you did.」
Fran patted her now swollen stomach a few times to express just how content she felt. The curry Io made was clearly ridiculously delicious, so much that she almost seemed a bit envious of the fact that she couldn’t have it on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t something I was capable of imitating. Io was running an orphanage, so she obviously hadn’t used any super expensives spices. She was only really using the standard kinda stuff, meaning the curry she made was only as delicious as it was because of her abilities as a chef. I would’ve been able to mimic her variation of the dish had I watched her throughout the entire preparatory process, but I hadn’t.
The children had already finished their meals, and didn’t have much of a reason to stick around, so they went off to play. The only people left in the cafeteria were Fran, Urushi and Io.
Fran stood up and got ready to go as she stroked her stomach.
「Already? You should really take it easy and stay around for a while. I’ll even make you some tea if you do.」
「Brewed by Io?」
「Mhm. I can even get you some snacks with it if you’d like, though unfortunately, all we have is baked sweets.」
Fran had been presented a chance to have herself some Io-brand tea alongside some Io-brand tea time snacks, a chance her more gluttinous side simply refused to miss.
Driven by her appetite, she sat herself back in the chair with a series of graceful, flowing movements. Likewise, Urushi, who shared her dietary interests, also positioned himself in a chair while clearing his expression of all but composure.
「Don’t worry Urushi, I’ll make sure you get your share too.」
The baked sweets Io made were quite simple. They only contained sugar, flour, and eggs, but a simple glance at the way Fran and Urushi reacted to tasting them made it quite apparent that they were delicious regardless. The same went for the tea even though the leaves used to brew it were considered rather cheap. Both gluttons enjoyed the experience so much that they ended up wearing expressions of bliss throughout the culinary experience.
Io watched over the two with a smile basically the whole way through. More specifically, she waited for Fran to finish draining her tea before addressing her in a much more serious tone than usual.
「Thank you very much.」
Her expression turned serious as she bowed as she spoke a few words of appreciation.
「I admit I splurged a bit for today’s sake since I knew you were coming, but it was well worth it. Your actions have brought genuine smiles to the children’s’ faces. They’ve just been overflowing with joy ever since you reached out and offered us your help.」
Fran stayed silent and listened as Io continued to speak.
「We, the children and I, used to spend our days with the constant fear that we wouldn’t have enough to eat. The children still used to smile, but not the pure, carefree way they do now.」
They never knew when the orphanage would end up having to shut down, so it only made sense for them never to really have peace of mind. Children had the tendency to be naive, but that didn’t mean they were stupid. The building they lived in was more or less decrepit, they only had very little to eat, and they’d even been bothered by a loan shark every once in a while. The signs were all there, and they were more than obvious enough to tell the children that the orphanage wasn’t doing too well.
All the adults involved would always try their best to hide their financial troubles from the children. This would stress them and cause the children to notice their displeasure, which in turn stressed the children out, which of course only lead to the adults redoubling their efforts. It was a vicious cycle with no end in sight.
「Thank you very much for allowing the children to smile again.」
「Helped by Amanda. Not me.」
「You’re right. Amanda was the one that helped us out of our conundrum, but that was something she’d only done because of you. She would’ve never had the opportunity to help us if not for you informing her of our plight. Thank you, thank you so much.」
Io pushed herself into an even deeper bow, as if to demonstrate that she couldn’t thank Fran enough for what she’d done.
And so, an hour flew right by.
Things ended up getting a bit awkward after Io finished apologizing, seemingly because both parties were feeling a bit embarrassed. The two had been on pretty good terms to begin with, so they managed to drive the discomfort out of the air around them and get back to engaging in conversation.
「I’m sorry I kept you for so long.」
Io escorted us all the way over to the orphanage’s entranceway. We tried to offer her some cash given all we’d eaten, but she ended up stubbornly refusing any form of payment. She insisted that she’d only fed us as a way of expressing her thanks, and that there was no way she could charge us for it.
（Master, what do?）
In the end, we ended up holding onto the money we’d planned on giving her. I figured it would be rude to force her to take it after all she’d said, and that she’d actually be much happier not accepting it.
Speaking of happiness, Fran seemed to be in a great mood. She’d even hummed a rare tune as we made our way back to the inn.
『Was the curry she made really that tasty?』
Oh god damn it. I’m going to have to try really hard not to let her best me.
「Seemed happy. Both Io and orphans.」
『That they did.』
To Fran, the orphans under Io’s care weren’t just strangers. They were people whose situation paralleled her own. She too had lost her parents at a young age, so, she must’ve empathized with them. Seeing them happy had tugged at her emotions and filled her with a wholehearted sense of joy.
『Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m also glad everything ended up working out in their favour.』