As declared, the relationship between Amane and Mahiru remained that of passing strangers.
He recovered the day after he was cared for, and so happened to bump into Mahiru while shopping at the convenience store, but they did not truly interact. It appeared Mahiru was a little relieved to see Amane looking fine.
Class started on Monday, and nothing changed. Same for everything else.
But if there was a little change, it was that when he went to school, he would lower his head while greeting others at school.
“Ohh, you’re looking great there, Amane.”
“Thanks to your care.”
Itsuki was worried after seeing Amane half-dead the previous week when they went home, so he was waiting for Amane at the school building entrance, wanting to check on the latter. Over the weekend, he sent him a message, “You ain’t dead right?”
Amane messaged back, saying he was fine, but Itsuki remained skeptical, and only after seeing Amane all lively did he sigh in an exaggerated gesture.
“Well, even I would be worried seeing you like that. You’re better now, but you should pay more attention to how you live. Start from cleaning up.”
“Sounds like what someone else said.”
“Ah, it’s nothing…I knew that over the weekend. Will be cleaning up these days.”
No, you get down to it now, so the retort, but Amane ignored that.
That probably could not be done within half a day.
So he shook his head, and Itsuki did not pursue the matter further, instead looking dumbfounded.
“Well, it’s your house, so do as you please. Make sure there’s enough space to step on the next time I go there.”
“…I’ll see how it goes.”
While Amane frowned as he changed into the indoor shoes, he heard a commotion in the neighboring classroom, and inadvertently looked over.
Looking through the window, he found Mahiru showcasing her usual beauty, surrounded by both boys and girls.
She was smiling calmly as she responded to them, yet she looked a completely different Mahiru from days ago, so he thought with a wry smile.
And Itsuki, having seen Amane’s expression, looked over as well; he understood once he spottedMahiru.
“Ahh, Shiina-san? Still as popular as before. She’s pretty after all.”
“Well, she’s the angel after all…you find Shiina cute too, Itsuki?”
“Of course. I have Chii around, so she’s just there to be marveled at.”
“Stop flexing already.”
To be precise, the Chii Itsuki spoke of was his girlfriend, Chitose Shirakawa.
Those two were a lovey-dovey couple, and whenever they were together, it was just too dazzling for Amane’s eyes.
Stop flexing over here, so Amane waved away at Itsuki, but the latter did not look unhappy. After all, it was normal for them after all, “This guy’s hopeless.” so he laughed.
“What about you, Amane? Don’t you find Shiina cute?”
“She’s a beauty. That’s all.”
“Well, she’s a flower on a peak we can’t reach. There’s no reason for us to get involved with her, so all we can do is look.”
“You’re not wrong.”
While he hid the fact that she took care of him days ago because of certain events, they were living in different worlds after all.
Amane did not foresee himself getting along well with Mahiru. Outstanding humans would only mesh well with other outstanding humans.
And Amane, so painfully self-aware of how useless he was, could not possibly have anything to do with Mahiru, so cute and capable she was.
Yes, Amane assumed he would have nothing to do with her anymore.
“…What are you eating?”
And that notion was turned upside down when Amane was at the veranda, drinking his jelly juice as he looked outside.
He found it a hassle to go down to the convenience store, and was slurping at the jelly drink he usually kept at home, leaning on the railing as he breathed in the air outside, only for Mahiru to appear on the veranda herself.
Once Mahiru spotted Amane, she leaned over the veranda like he did, noticed the jelly juice he was drinking, and frowned.
Amane never expected himself to be approached, and could only remain rooted for a while.
“You see, it’s jelly that replenishes my energy in dozens of seconds.”
“…Are you planning to eat this for dinner?”
“What else then?”
“A high school boy with a big appetite is eating this?”
“Stop being a busybody.”
Typically, he would have survived on bentos from the convenience stores, or sides from the supermarket, and not eat that little. On this day however, Amane was too lazy to cook dinner, and was in no mood for cup ramen, so he decided to have jelly juice instead.
It was unlikely to fill him, and he might have some snacks or sweets thereafter.
“Cooking…I guess I shall not ask, since you do not seem to be capable of doing that. I cannot imagine how you are living alone when you cannot cook or clean up…”
“Shut up. That has nothing to do with you, right?”
The scathing truth hit him, and so he frowned and finished his jelly juice.
He had suffered before, and already planned to clean up days ago, but being told this for days had his motivation turn opposite.
Amane in turn was curious as to why Mahiru was being a little naggy; she stared back at him, and let out a little sigh.
“…Please wait for a moment.”
Before he could respond or refuse her, Mahiru left the veranda, and returned to her apartment.
Upon hearing the windows clatter shut, “What was that?” Amane asked.
She said, but what did she want him to wait for?
He looked towards Mahiru’s apartment with surprise, but naturally, there was no response.
（Guess I’m cooled down, time to go back.）
He was waiting for her, as she told him to, but the winter night was colder than he thought. A sweater was insufficient.
In any case, he did not know why he was waiting so obediently.
The temperature was cold enough for him to be breathing white air. He exhaled, and there was an electronic sound buzzing from the corridor.
He immediately turned towards the door once he heard the bell.
There was only one visitor he expected.
He did not know why she would appear, but he evaded the messy pile of clothes and magazines as he went towards the corridor.
Even without looking through the peephole, he knew who it was. He dragged his sandals towards the door, unchained it──and as expected, slightly beneath his eyes was flaying flax-colored hair .
“…What are you doing?”
“I had enough seeing how unkempt you are…these are leftovers, but here.”
Mahiru retorted tersely as she reached her hands forward.
The hands much smaller than Amane’s were holding a tupperware. The translucent lid vaguely showed the cooked food inside.
The contents were still warm, and there was some water droplets on the lid. It was unclear, but there should be some cooked food inside.
He blinked a few times, and once she saw that his eyes were trying to comprehend, Mahiru let out a deep sigh.
“You would not eat properly. Supplements are simply supplements, not to be taken as the main course.”
“Are you my mom?”
“I do think what I insist here is normal. Also, you should be cleaning up your apartment, no? It is difficult to stand in there.”
Mahiru glanced behind Amane, and narrowed her eyes in exasperation, leaving him speechless.
“…I can still walk through.”
“Not at all. Clothes typically should not be on the floor.”
“Well, they just drop.”
“They will not if you wash them, dry them and fold them properly. Please pack up all the magazines you have read. It will be troublesome if you slip and fall.”
There was some spite in the words, but Amane knew well that Mahiru was showing concern for some reason, and could not retort at every point.
It was true that the last time she took care of him, both of them nearly slipped as the room was too messy, and it was no wonder he was being told off.
Grrr, Amane, unable to retort, showed a grimace, his lips pursed as he received the tupperware from Mahiru.
The warmth slowly spread through his palm, and it was comforting amidst this cooling weather.
“So, can I eat this?”
“I will discard it if you do not want to.”
“No no no I’ll eat it. It’s not often we get an ordinary dinner made by the Angel herself.”
“…Please do not call me that. Seriously.”
He tried to get back at her by using her nickname at school, but her white face was clearly starting to turn red.
It seemed calling her Angel itself was truly embarrassing. Looking from her viewpoint, Amane too felt uneasy about it, and it was to be expected.
Her cheeks were flushed, and she glared at him with a teary look, which Amane could only grin at.
“Sorry. I won’t call you that again.”
Any more, and he would really ruin her mood, so it would not be appropriate for him to joke anymore about this. Furthermore, they were not on such familial terms to joke about, and it would be better not to go overboard.
It appeared Mahiru really did not want to be called such, and she cleared her throat, showing that she was rejuvenated.
Her cheeks remained strangely red however, and she looked not too different from before.
“Well, I’ll be accepting this graciously. You don’t have to be sorry about me getting sick.”
“Not at all. We are even now after I had taken care for you. I am doing this for self-satisfaction…but I am relatively concerned by how you are not living a proper lifestyle.”
“I get that.”
Amane had always been in a hapless state whenever she saw him, and her decision might be expected from a certain perspective.
Even at this point, the entrance behind Amane was a complete mess, and Mahiru had seen it all when she took care of him. There was no point hiding.
“…Do eat proper meals and live a proper lifestyle now, okay?”
“Are you my mom?”
While Mahiru lectured away with a completely serious look, Amane retorted back in exhaustion.
He brought the gift handed to him back, frisked for disposable chopsticks from the supermarket, and sat on the living room sofa.
How would the food Mahiru shoved to him taste like?
He was thinking that the porridge from before tasted good. His tongue was insensitive due to the cold, but the taste of the porridge, cooked from uncooked rice, did enter his stomach gently.
It was likely that given Mahiru’s food was delicious just like that, how would it taste this time?
Harboring some expectations, he opened the tupperware lid with some trepidation, and drifting out was undoubtedly the fragrance of cooked food.
It contained some root vegetables and chicken. The soup was mild in color, clearly showing the bright colors of the carrots and the green beans garnish.
Food of various colors were chopped into bite sizes, whetting the appetite of Amane, who had only eaten jelly.
He quickly split the chopsticks, and first brought the carrot to his mouth.
The taste was obvious at once.
As to be expected of the health conscious Mahiru, the seasoning was mild, but the fish stock was rich. This was not the powdered form usually bought from the supermarket. It was stock boiled from bonito flakes and kelp. The taste was completely different.
He slowly chewed, savoring the stock, seasoning and vegetables spreading in his mouth.
The freshness of the vegetables was thoroughly emphasized while the soup flavor was absorbed. Amane himself disliked eating vegetables, but even he could enjoy it well.
Do eat more vegetables, so the implied message, for there was little chicken inside. The chicken was really fresh and tender, not overdone, and nothing to nitpick about aside from quantity.
The ingredients were relatively plain for a high school girl’s cooking, yet it clearly emphasized her skills.
One could say it was a stark difference from those who had just learnt how to cook.
It would be better if there was some rice or miso or soy sauce, so he thought, but unfortunately he did not cook any rice…or rather, he had finished his rice, and this little wish was unfulfilled.
It was too late for him to say so, but Amane regretted not going out to buy two packets of rice.
“The Angel’s really amazing.”
So Amane praised the superhuman who was perfect at studying, sports, housework, yet terrified and unhappy about being called that. He continued to savor the ideal taste of these root vegetables.
“I’m returning this. It’s really delicious.”
The following night, Amane brought the borrowed tupperware along as he visited Mahiru’s house.
Amane was truly bad at doing housework, but he was fine with washing. It was proper etiquette to wash and return after all. So he thought as he brought along the thoroughly washed and dried tupperware.
Mahiru might have expected Amane to ring the bell at this time, for she opened the door without checking.
She was dressed in a bordeaux red knitted one piece dress, and narrowed her eyes slightly once she saw Amane.
She glanced at the tupperware, “It is impressive that you washed it well.” and praised him as she would to a child, causing him to frown unwittingly.
“Thank you for doing this much. This is for you.”
Mahiru received the tupperware, and that would be fine, but then, she passed another tupperware to Amane’s hands.
As expected, or so it seemed, it was warm.
It probably contained fried pork and eggplant. As it was a little colder, the lid was not covered in steam, and through the lid, he could see the eggplants, the cooked meat, and the sprinkled sesame seeds.
Looking at the color, it seemed the sauce was made from miso. The slightly charred eggplant and glossy meat looked appetizing.
This really looked delicious, so he thought.
But he could not understand why she brought him food again.
“No erm, I’m just here to return the tupperware.”
“This is tonight’s dinner.”
“I know that, but,”
“Just to ask, you have no allergies, right? I do not care about your food preferences.”
“Not really? But if I keep taking more from you.”
How would it turn out if he was to have two consecutive dinners from her?
Amane was utterly grateful, especially given his improper balance in nutrition, and Mahiro’s cooking were far superior to girls her age. The taste would be remarkable.
So too would the food inside the tupperware be delicious.
But it would be an utter tragedy if the people from his school was to see this. Of course, the tragedy would be on Amane’s peaceful high school life.
Each apartment here was to accommodate a person, but considering the facilities and geographic location, the rental was expensive. There were no other schoolmates aside from Mahiru nearby, and he did not need to worry about them being spotted, but he had some hesitation on such a relationship being exposed.
“I made a little too much for myself. Will be glad if you accept some of mine.”
“…Well, I’m glad to accept this, but usually, this gives others a wrong impression that you like them.”
“You think so?”
“Nope, not at all.”
Are you an idiot? Given that she was making such a face, Amane had no reason to think that much.
Furthermore, the beautiful prodigy Mahiru was showing concern after witnessing how Amane was so useless at cleaning up, and it was impossible to imagine her having any goodwill to him.
It was true that receiving dinner from a cute neighbor would be fitting for a romcom manga development, but there was no love between them, any comedic element difficult to find. Just to note, Amane had no rice at home.
The only aspects present were the Angel’s vicious words and the pitiful compassion showed.
“It should be fine then. You are planning to buy some bentos from the convenience store or some side dishes at the supermarket, no?”
“How do you know?”
“The kitchen didn’t look like it was used properly, and there’s a lot of disposable chopsticks from the convenience store and supermarket. Also, anyone can tell without thinking, given how unhealthy you look. Your face clearly looks unhealthy.”
She saw through everything with just a single trip to his house, and Amane’s face twitched. It was an undeniable fact however, so he could not say anything.
“…Now then, I shall be returning.”
Thud, once she was done with what she wanted to say and give, Mahiru returned home.
Clank. The chain behind the door was latched up, and Amane looked at the tupperware in his hands.
Within his palms was the still warm dinner, and he let out a sigh before returning to his apartment.
The eggplants and pork with sesame seeds were really delicious, and he had a craving for rice.
Thus, every day, he would exchange an empty tupperware for one with food, his food nutrition taking a drastic turn for the better.
Mahiru’s cooking was not particularly heavy in flavoring, but they were extremely appetizing, so every dinner, he would prepare precooked rice to eat with these dishes.
There were different dishes every day, whether they were Japanese, Western, or Chinese, and they were all delicious, impossible to refuse.
Amane looked forward to each opportunity to eat every day. He was apologetic about that, but it seemed he was being domesticated, melancholic if he never got to eat her food.
Perhaps the Angel’s cooking was truly addictive. While thinking this was not a good thing, Amane obediently accepted the tupperware, and indulged himself in the food.
“…You’re looking great recently. Got your food sorted out?”
Amane was looking a lot better, probably due to having sufficient nutrients from dinner. It was lunchtime when Itsuki stared at his face.
Amane was having udon at the cafeteria, and was shedding cold sweat in the face of the usually perspective Itsuki.
“Itsuki, I think you’re looking scary.”
“What, did I hit the bullseye?”
“No…well, I had to reflect on that.”
He would be told off whenever he met Mahiru at the apartments, and given that he was receiving dinner from her, it was to be expected that his quality of life had improved.
He wanted to express his thanks to the Angel, but at the same time, he felt she was somewhat a busybody.
So he confirmed ambiguously, and Itsuki gleefully giggled away.
“Of course. Your old unhealthy look was because of your living habits after all.”
“But you managed to get it fixed just like that?”
“…I was forced, sorta?”
“Haha. Your mom knows?”
“…Not exactly, I would say.”
Mahiru’s tone was similar to his mom.
She was way too young and cute to be called his mom, but Amane did not want to reject Mahiru, who had been taking care of him all this while.
“Say Itsuki. Did I look really unhealthy?”
“Yeah. Mostly because you looked too pale. You’re tall, but skinny, and your face just looked unhealthy.”
“But my face’s like this.”
“I know. You can be livelier in your expressions though.”
“That’s impossible…I see, a dead looking face…?”
As he hardly checked his face in the mirror, Amane hardly knew how he looked, but to others, he appeared to be utterly sickly.
Perhaps Mahiru was worried about Amane because he usually looked dead.
“Amane, you should pay attention to how others look at you. You’re always looking down, and not very approachable. You don’t really go out to interact with others, and people just find you dull.”
“Are you just rubbing it in?”
“No, what else can I do without saying it plainly?”
Itsuki took the opportunity to coax Amane into focusing on his health and appearance, “None of your business.” but the latter merely retorted and looked aside.