Amane saw a piece of paper with many students’ names pasted on the corridor wall, “Oh that’s why.” and muttered.
The rankings of the exams a week ago was released, and Amane came to look along with his classmates.
He ranked 21st, not much different from usual, not exactly standing out, though decent. He did not feel anything amiss when he did his papers, and was a little relieved to see that his rankings were as expected.
Of course, Mahiru remained 1st in their year.
She truly was an intelligent girl, but he knew she was not lacking in hard work, and could only marvel at how amazing she was.
He saw her studying after dinner.
Well, she was already smart to begin with, but what elevated her to 1st position was the relentless hard work.
“Shiina-san’s still 1st…”
“That Angel uses her mind differently after all, to be expected.”
Amane heard such voices amidst the commotion, and curled his lips unhappily.
“…What is it, Amane? You look unhappy. Didn’t rank well?”
Itsuki too was with Amane as he watched the latter, looking a little surprised.
Just to note, the rankings only listed the top 50, so Itsuki could not find his own name. He merely dropped by to accompany Amane.
“Not really. Just 21st.”
“Ohh, that’s better than the last time.”
“Somewhat within the margin of error.”
“Well, the smart ones always say things differently after all.”
Itsuki ribbed back with a smirk. “Fine fine.” and Amane brushed it off, before looking at the rankings again.
She really worked hard, so he thought.
She was unwilling to show anyone the effort she put in, and while others would have expected no less from her, it was the result of her putting in so much effort.
Even though those around her praised her for being amazing, they knew nothing of her hard work, and could not comprehend.
That must be really troubling to Mahiru.
“…I’ll make up for that.”
“Hm? You said something?”
“Nothing, I’m going back to the classroom.”
“Huh, Amane-kun. What is this?”
Mahiru had changed her clothes, went to the supermarket to buy ingredients, and returned to his house. She was about to put the ingredients into the fridge, only to notice this white box.
“Hm? Ahh, cake.”
The white box contained cake, and Mahiru might have figured it out when she saw the shape, but she wanted to be sure. On a side note, he bought the cake from Chitose’s favorite patisserie; the latter loved uploading photos of that place on SNS.
“…You like cake?”
“Not exactly. It’s for you.”
“You’re first in our year, so here’s a little celebration. Congrats on getting first.”
Mahiru blinked her eyes once she heard it was for her.
It might have been really unexpected to her.
“I-I have been 1st every time. It is not something worth celebrating.”
“But well, you’ve been working hard, so a reward once in a while is fine. You don’t like strawberry shortcake?”
“Eh? I-I cannot say that I dislike it…”
“Hm, that’s good. We’ll eat it after dinner.”
Amane cut off the conversation, having realized how taken aback she was.
Mahiru would feel troubled if he paid too much attention to her, so he should be a little more considerate.
He felt she was one who devoted her utmost to others, but extremely strict with herself. She was the type to not relax unless something drastic happened.
She would have put her head down and do what she had to do, toiling without rest as long as nobody praised and coddled her. He had a feeling she did not know how it was to fawn around. While they did not spend much time together, he somewhat understood her personality, and hoped to repay some of the efforts she spared him all these while.
Amane saw that Mahiru was still rooted in the kitchen. He made a wry smile, sighed, and stared until she moved again.
After dinner, he saw her serve the cake with some nervousness, and burst out laughing.
“Wh-why are you laughing?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
“That does not seem to be the case.”
He was simply bemused to see Mahiru acting so tense.
But if he laughed too much, he would have ruined her mood, and his objective to reward her would be for naught, so he stopped after a short while.
She brought some coffee along with the cake, placed them on the table, and sat on the sofa.
She was acting gingerly, and he had the urge to laugh. However, the person herself was right next to him, and he managed to endure it.
Mahiru looked up at Amane worriedly.
“…Thank you very much. But…”
“Just take it. You worked hard after all.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“Come on, eat it. You should relax once in a while.”
I bought it for you after all, so he quipped. Mahiru looked a little apologetic as she nodded away; she took the fork and the plate with the cake.
“I am really grateful.”
He waved his hand, and she took the fork, cut a bite size of cake cautiously, and brought it to her mouth.
It seemed girls were typically picky about sweets, but it should be fine since it was from the shop Chitose frequented.
The proof was that once Mahiru ate it, her eyes widened, and her mouth relaxed a little.
She hardly showed change in her expressions, but recently, she was starting to show some range of common emotions.
She slowly ate the cake, showing a kind expression, and this one eating scene became a painting of sorts.
“…? What is it?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
Mahiru found Amane staring back at her, and tilted her head in confusion.
The expression was gentler compared to usual, and he, who had been staring at her, found himself looking aside instead.
Instead, it was Mahiru who was staring at Amane. She suddenly thought of something, and took another bite of cake, reaching it towards Amane.
Ahh, she ended up trying to feed him.
“Eh, n-no I don’t really want to eat it.”
“You do not want to?”
“…No, well, that…since you’re giving it to me, I’ll accept it.”
He never imagined this scene to be possible, so obviously, he was bashful, accidentally going along.
They were at such an age, of different genders. Further, a really pretty girl was feeding him, so in a certain sense, he might be considered lucky──but Amane was not at the point where he could discard his shame and be outright happy.
“It is something you bought after all, Amane-kun. You have the right to eat it.”
And Mahiru, the one suggesting this, never realized so as she brought the cake to Amane’s mouth with her usual look.
Typically, one would have some idea of what feeding the opposite gender entailed, but she just looked perplexed.
It was bad for him to reject her goodwill, so he made up his mind and took a bite of it.
Spreading in his mind was an unbelievable sweetness.
“It is cake after all.”
Mahiru did not seem to have noticed anything other than the cake.
He chowed down a little, and found it really sweet. His mental state might have affected him greatly.
“…Feels like you haven’t felt anything.”
He experienced all of the sweetness, shame, and itchiness in his heart, but Mahiru herself appeared fine.
Amane found it really vexing, “Give me that.” so he snatched the fork from Mahiru’s hand, doing the same gesture to her as he handed her the cake.
With this happening to him, how could he not retaliate?
Mahiru looked more perturbed than before, for his tone was a little stiff.
But she had done the same thing to him, and did not seem to have any intent to refuse; like a birdie being fed, she ate it tentatively.
Mogu, she started to chew.
He stared at her, and found her expression changing slightly.
Initially, she was mostly looking confused, but with every bite, her face got redder.
And when she swallowed the cake, her embarrassment was plain to see.
Her flawless, milky white face was red like an apple. Her eyes were a little moist, probably out of shame as they swayed about.
“So what do you think?”
“I-it is delicious…”
“Not that. I’m asking how do you feel about being fed?”
Amane asked, knowing that she could imagine how he felt. She lowered her eyes, her body shaking a little.
“…I would say I am very embarrassed.”
“You get that? You’re going to cause misunderstandings if you do this with someone else. Do it between girls if you need to.”
Now you understand how I feel, so Amane said as he looked aside, “Yes.” but Mahiru replied with a fading voice.
She probably did so because she treated Amane as a safe person.
Her subconscious act had him really worried, but it was not a bad feeling, so there was nothing for him to blame her.
But the sweetness lingered in his mouth.
（I’ll be in trouble too if she’s too careless.）
He was glad to be trusted by Mahiru, but the unwitting careless act was truly astounding.
So he concluded as he looked towards a shriveling Mahiru, gently sighing.