“Amane～, how is it?”
The term end exams finally ended, and the students were finally released from the hellish tests. A few groups huddled in the classroom, with more enthusiasm.
Amane and Itsuki were relieved as their exams too ended, appraising their performances this time.
“Hm? Normal, not too bad.”
Amane naturally responded to that question, but there really was nothing much to say. The questions were all within the testing scope, and it was not too difficult given that he had revised properly.
He did not feel much difficulty writing this year, so he did not feel anything different about them this time.
While Amane was one who hated the hassle, he would not slack on his studies. He understood most of the lessons, and while he would have difficulty getting full marks, he could get at least 80-90%.
“You’re probably going to be in the top 30…intelligent, aren’t you.”
“Just revise daily.”
“You’re telling me to do what you normally do daily?”
“I don’t want to hear it from you when you’re being all lovey-dovey and not studying.”
The difference between Amane and Itsuki was not in brains, but because the latter had been spending too much time on his girlfriend Chitose.
Itsuki himself was no fool, and could have gotten a high ranking if he applied himself, but unfortunately he prioritized most of his time on Chitose, and was ranked lower than Amane.
“…A girlfriend’s nice though?”
“Say Amane, you should look for one.”
“Men have shed tears of blood wanting girlfriends.”
There were hordes of people wanting partners, and to certain people, Itsuki’s careless words might have been infuriating.
Amane did not intend to be angry, and at this point, he had no desire for a lover, so he merely intended to listen.
“How do I go about asking for a girlfriend.”
“A double date.”
“So am I supposed to be dazzled along with my imaginary girlfriend?”
“Then show off to us!”
“You think I have the personality for that?”
Amane too had self-awareness of his own bland personality.
He was one to avoid hassles as much as possible, and was overly honest. Some might find him bland, and others typically had a poor impression on him. It was impossible for such a personality to find a lover.
And if he somehow got a girlfriend, the relationship between them would have been really bland. At the very least, it would not be as eyecatching as Itsuki’s.
“No but, Amane, you should find someone you like. Anyway, the girls will have a different view of you if you cut away your bangs, look a little more refreshed, and straighten your back.”
Amane felt he had an accurate opinion of himself. He was not super handsome like Yuuta, or the fine cool looking type like Itsuki, but he was not exactly ugly.
If he had dolled himself a little, and watched his habits, he would be no inferior to a typical high school boy.
But even if he did doll himself up, Amane was not the type to simply approach others.
“Those that latch to you just because of appearances aren’t really the loyal type.”
“You say that, but if they show no interest in you, you can’t understand her personality, right?”
“…Even then, I’m not in the mood to look for a girlfriend.”
And even if he did, her illusion would be broken seeing his daily life.
Amane was a human with zero ability to live on his own, unfriendly to others. Even he would grimace to himself, thinking that he would want to meet a girl who would be attracted to him.
After all, he hated interacting with others, his personality was unsuited for this, and he had no thoughts of getting one.
But with Mahiru cooking at his house, it would be a tragedy if he somehow had a girlfriend. He had no intention of getting one, and was not worried by that, but that one reason alone was dissuading him from doing so.
At this point, his priority was ‘Mahiru’s cooking ＞ getting a girlfriend’, and that would not change easily.
“You really are boring, aren’t you…want Chii to introduce some of her friends?”
“Don’t be a busybody. Most of Chitose’s friends are noisy, and just having one as a girlfriend is enough of a headache.”
“You’re gloomy after all, Amane.”
“Well, if you say so, I’ll leave it be for now. But isn’t it unbearable not to have a girlfriend, just spending your time alone during this wonderful high school life?”
“No need, and it sounds troublesome.”
What do you think school life is about, he did not actually have such a thought, but a girlfriend was really a necessity, and he had no thought to find one.
Besides, it was not easy to find one, and not easy to fall in love.
“…That’s a pity.”
“But well, you’ll change when you have someone you like, Amane?”
“Where’s that self confidence coming from.”
“It’s because you’re such a person that you’ll end up doting on your girlfriend like a kitten.”
“Whatever you say.”
He felt that he definitely would not become such a sickening sweetheart, and could not imagine himself in such a situation, so he brushed Itsuki’s words aside as he went away.
Itsuki in turn stared at Amane dumbfoundedly…looking aside, he seemed relaxed.
“Ikkun, you going homeー?”
It so happened that Chitose popped by, and both of them seemed to have agreed to return home together. Amane’s conversation with Itsuki was merely for the latter to kill time.
So he turned around, and found a tomboyish girl with bright reddish brown medium length hair, beaming as she waved at them, or rather, Itsuki.
The lively vibe and hearty smile was a little too dazzling for Amane. As befitting her appearance, she was friendly, lively, and was always the type to cause a ruckus no matter good or bad.
She was a different type of beauty from Mahiru, and she ran over to them, grinning.
Amane really hoped that she would be silent, because whenever she showed up, he would get bullied.
“Say, Chii, don’t you think Amane’s the type to dote on a lover?”
“Enough with that.”
“Eh, what? Amane has a lover?”
“Ehhhー, whatー. I would have wanted to get along with her.”
Tch, so she clicked her tongue, looking disappointed.
“That getting along of yours is overaggressive skinship. Even I would feel sad for my imaginary girlfriend if I have one.”
“Eh, so you have an imaginary girlfriend?”
“I said if I have one, okay!?”
“It’s tiring dealing with you…”
“It’s because you lack stamina, Amane.”
“Even if I have, it’ll be worn out by you…”
More so than physical stamina, he felt his mind would be the tired part. Amane typically would not speak to anyone other than those he was familiar with, kept a low profile, and lived a listless school life. It would be really difficult for him to talk to a hyperactive person like Chitose.
Despite the aloof reply, Chitose did not mind at all, “You aren’t looking good.” so she said to a tired looking Amane, beaming happily.
“Hurry up and get used to it.” Itsuki too randomly tossed in this advice, and all Amane could do was to make a long, tired sigh.
“…What are you doing?”
Amane returned home, had some of Mahiru’s homecooked food, and after washing the dishes, he found Mahiru laying out the exam papers on the living room table.
Washing dishes was a rotational task for them, but Amane took the chance to wash them first, not wanting to add more to Mahiru’s workload, and so Mahiru spent her time in his living room. She said that if she left it all to Amane and returned home, she would feel a little sorry.
“Well I can see that.”
She appeared to be going through the answers, checking the textbooks, seeing if she did make any mistakes.
“So how is it.”
“If I did not write the wrong answers, full marks.”
“To be expected of you.”
Her reply remained dull as she mentioned that she had full marks, and Amane too showed no extreme reaction.
The lack of surprise was because Mahiru was always first in the year for their school grades.
He felt that Mahiru could have done so, and thought that she would get nothing more than full marks to begin with.
“I do not hate studying to begin with. After all, I have studied through everything that is to be taught a year ago, so all I need to do is revision.”
“Wooahh, as to be expected of you…”
“Are you not good at your studies too, Fujimiya-san?”
“So you know my grades?”
“I have some impression when you were listed on the rankings.”
It appeared she had already known about him somewhat before he first talked to her.
He had assumed those who were not in the single digit ranks were not worthy of her attention, but she mentioned his previous ranking, so it appeared she was paying attention.
Amane would spend some effort in studying not because of a serious thought like…a student’ duty is to study. It was a condition his family gave.
“Well, it’s the condition for me to live alone. Maintain my grades.”
When he was allowed to live alone, he was told not to let his grades slip.
There was also the condition of him half to return home once every half year, but that could be arranged over a long vacation, so his family would not meedl if he maintained his grades.
“I’m just working hard enough for them not to cause me trouble, but I can’t best you. You really work hard.”
“…It is important to work hard.”
Mahiru muttered, looking down.
The bangs covered her expression, obscuring it, but surely she was not happy in the slightest.
Nevertheless, she quickly lifted her head, regaining her usual expression, so he missed out on the opportunity to point this out.
And even if he did have the opportunity, he would not have asked. She seemed to be enduring pain after all.
From time to time, Mahiru would show such an expression.
She never would say why she was feeling so painful, so disgusted, but it seemed she was bound by certain things, struggling as a result.
It was not hard to imagine the cause of it being her family environment.
Thus, it was inappropriate for him to interject.
He knew very well it was an area he as an outsider should not interfere with, so he kept the distance as her neighbor all this while.
Amane too had things he did not want others to talk about. He too often sensed that outside interference was really a rude thing, and found himself more grateful when others pretended not to notice.
Mahiru did her best to hide the emotions she had, “I shall be leaving now.” She said with her usual chirp, and then kept her textbooks and question papers into the bag.
He did not intend to stop her, “I see” and answered tersely as he looked towards her while she did so.
She was done packing all the things she took out, and stood up from where she was seated when Amane noticed there was something not belonging to himself behind an empty mug.
He reached his hand over, and found a plastic case containing the student ID, which every student would have.
It appeared she had taken it out along with her textbooks, and forgot to pack it back.
He scanned her face along with her name, student number, birthday and blood type, simple information, and called out to her right when she was wearing her shoes at the door, about to return back.
“You forgot this.”
“Ahh, sorry to make you bring it to me. Good night then.”
She bowed courteously, and left his apartment. As he watched her leave, he gently sighed.
He recalled the full date written on the student ID…especially the month and day, and put his hand on his forehead.
“…Four days later?”
If he had not seen her student ID, he would never have known about Mahiru’s birthday. If only I had known earlier, so he let out a sigh again.
“So, do you have something you want?”
The next day, Amane took the opportunity to raise this issue to Mahiru over dinner.
While he said it was a birthday present, he did not really mean anything, and just wanted to repay her favors. He decided to give her a present.
But that would have sounded really suspicious.
Even he found his question to be indelicate, brutish even, and started to regret it. But Mahiru stared at him in surprise.
“Why ask this out of a sudden?”
“Well, it looks like you have nothing you want, so I’m just asking because I’m curious.”
“That is still too sudden…”
He felt he could have done better trying to misdirect her, but he could not take back the words he had said.
Luckily or not, it appeared Mahiru did not notice it was about her birthday.
Ultimately, she felt he could not have known about his birthday, and never thought about that.
“I see. So what do I need now? Or what I want?”
“What do you want?”
He asked again without thinking, for the answer was completely beyond his expectations.
Or rather, nobody would have expected a high school girl to say that was the thing she wanted.
Typically, they would have wanted cosmetics, accessories, bags, and such stuff. Amane could not imagine that she would have asked for a tool to sharpen metals.
“Yes, a whetstone. I do have a few of them, but I do wish for a finer polishing whetstone.”
“Hey, you’re a high school girl now.”
“Please do not think of me as an ordinary high school girl.”
Her words left Amane unable to retort.
No matter how lightly they put it, Mahiru truly could not be called an ordinary high school girl.
She was already famous as the Angel in school, equipped with brains and brains, perfectly capable of housework and cooking. Her taking care of Amane, who was completely hopeless at housework, would have one assuming she was a girl already married off.
（But who would have imagined her wanting a whetstone.）
It appeared Mahiru would be the only high school girl who would have wanted a whetstone.
“You’re not buying for yourself?”
“Not that I cannot, but I do not often have the chance to, and it is relatively pricey, so I have not. Also, I have a few polishing whetstone, so I am in no real need for them.”
As she mentioned how she had a few with her, he really could not imagine how she would be in the future.
“…We have a high school girl sharpening her chopper here.”
“There are though.”
“Even if there are, you’re the only one I know of, never mind someone who wants to have a whetstone.”
“Sounds like a rare thing. Not bad.”
“What do you mean, not bad…”
It was really rare to see a girl with such likes, and so he did not know what she wanted.
Amane himself was at his wits end, and Mahiru tilted her head incredulously.
As he did not know what kinds of things Mahiru wanted, he could only go with his last resort, to ask Itsuki.
He had anticipated that since Itsuki had a girlfriend like Chitose, he would have an inkling of a girl’s thought process, a rough gauge of what a typical girl would like.
He did not know if Mahiru was ordinary, but he deduced that at the very least, Mahiru would not hate anything a girl would like.
“What’s the present did you give Chitose?”
He thought it should be fine if he asked what Itsuki gave, so he asked, but the latter gave him an astounded look.
“Eh, you want to give a present to a girl you like?”
“You think I’m the type to do that?”
“So why do you ask?”
“Someone I know has a birthday. Just for reference.”
He would have taken this reference to the next level, and go off to buy one, but he did not want to say that.
“Uh huh. The best thing would be something she likes. Anyway, usually you should be investigating this. This is the trick to keeping a great relationship.”
“I said she’s not my girlfriend.”
Amane could imagine how dangerous it would be if Mahiru was his girlfriend, in various ways (mostly the killing intent around him however), and was terrified by that notion.
It was true that he felt at ease being with her, but these two were simply together, with no desire to get attached. It was not love at all.
While he certainly found her cute, he did not intend for the relationship to end up like that. Such was the feeling he had for Mahiru.
“What she wants…what if I don’t know?”
“Got to look at how close you are to her. If you’re on good terms, some accessories should be fine, but if you’re not that close, a few small items or consumables; she should be happy with flowers, but sometimes that makes things complicated.”
“…You’re really well versed in that.”
“I learned my lesson after all.”
Initially, Itsuki and Chitose were not the lovey-dovey couple they became. It appeared they got closer slowly during middle school. Amane was in a different middle school from them, so he did not know the details, but it seemed they went through lots of hardships before they started dating. Even at this point, he heard rumors of their past.
Itsuki must have brooded quite a bit choosing a present for Chitose, so the choices he raised might have been made after much deliberation.
“Ah, some hand cream should be fine.”
The unexpected choice had Amane pondering. With a gleeful look, Itsuki explained.
“It works for whatever age groups. Students use textbooks and notebooks every day for classes, and their hands dry easily; working adults too get their hands dry typing in an aircon room; housewives usually soak their hands in water, and their hands get coarse easily. It’s really usable as a present.”
“Hmm it’s disgusting how much you know.”
“Well you’re the one asking.”
Pak, so Amane was slapped in the back, but they merely laughed it off, for it was a joke.
It was true this probably would not give her trouble.
Amane had made it his duty to wash the dishes after dinner, but Mahiru would surely be washing things in her house. Her hands would surely turn coase.
It was certain, looking at her silky hands, that she often took care of them. In that case, buying such skincare products should be fine.
“Well, I take that in mind.”
“Go ask Chii later. Those of the same gender might have a different idea.”
“It’s about time you get used to her already, okay?”
He did not hate her, of course, but he found Chitose to be the type he could not handle, and was unenthusiastic about the prospect. Itsuki merely smiled away, patting Amane on the back.
“Ehhー? You’re buying a birthday present for a girl, Amane?”
It was rare, really rare, that was the reaction she had as she grinned away, or rather, smirked. Amane exerted all his strength not to let his cheeks twitch.
After school, he went to Chitose’s classroom to ask, and as expected, she was very enthused. On a side note, Itsuki said he had no worries about Amane at all, so he returned home after sending Chitose a message.
Once he saw her overjoyed face, he let out a little sigh.
（This is why I don’t want to rely on Chitose.）
If he asked her, she would surely question further and tease him, so he really did not want to. She would not be unwilling to help, but the undeniable fact was that he was bad at dealing with her.
“So that’s what Ikkun meant when he wrote ‘I’ll leave Amane to you, Chii’ー. So you need my help?”
“You’re the only girl I can rely on, Chitose.”
“I’ll feel something if you say it that bluntly.”
She was a little speechless as she looked towards him, a look of pity even, but Amane ignored it.
In fact, Amane had no female friend other than Chitose. He only remembered the faces of the other girls in his class, and was not on sufficiently good terms to ask them for help.
To be honest, most of them felt he was never standing out, and would be troubled if he had approached them for help.
“Well, you don’t understand what a girl thinks, Amane. I’ll help you out. This Chitose-san will discuss it with you.”
“…I owe you one.”
“What do you mean, owe me one? I look like this, but I know a girl’s heart perfectly!”
“Well you’re a girl, at least.”
“Why did you add the ‘at least’? How am I like a guy here?”
Chitose lifted her chest proudly, but unfortunately for Amane who could see Mahiru every day, that section was truly conservative, his eyes ended up looking down.
But she was popular amongst the boys.
She had a cheery personality, was friendly, and would not ostracize anyone. Her popularity was different from Mahiru’s, and she was always the mood maker, amicable with just about anyone.
She was said to be part of the track team in middle school, her slender build, taut legs and fine leg profile made her really popular. Even Amane had to agree those were nice legs, and Itsuki had been coaxing other boys “I’ll be angry if you keep staring at my girlfriend.”
“Ah yes yes you’re a cute girl~.”
In fact, she was a little overly unfriendly, though cute was the right term to describe her. Her popularity was understandable.
“…And it’s because of that attitude of yours, people misunderstand you. Seriously.”
“Stop being a busybody.”
“Yes yes. So, for a girl? What kind of girl?”
She asked, basically implying that she did not know how to start without knowing that. Amane understood that if he were to accidentally let slip, he would get teased. Thus, he chose his words carefully.
“It’s a girl I know, a little younger. For the rest, I’ll exert my right to remain silent.”
“Hey…if I don’t know what she likes, what kind of person she’s looking for, I can’t give suggestions.”
“Maybe you can suggest a few things based on what you feel, Chitose? I’ll choose from there.”
“Well I know you’re not going to say it. Can’t be helped then.”
Chitose’s words made sense, but if Amane said so, it would be he was on good terms with a young girl, and the topic would deviate in a strange direction. She might even figure out the truth.
He was trying his best to avoid this situation, and did not say anything more. Chitose too knew Amane would not say anything else, and did not ask any further.
“Hmm, let’s see…I don’t know how exactly the relationship works, but if she’s someone you often talk to…then if I were her, I’ll be happy to get anything from someone like you. Basically, she’s not looking for some expensive consumable or daily item”
“That’s what Itsuki said.”
“Ikkun really understands the heart of a maiden. Well, if there aren’t any conditions, some snacks, handkerchief, pouch, or something small will do. But if I’m to receive an accessory from you, I’ll be thinking like “What, are you bribing me!?”, sorta.”
“What’s the point of bribing you here?”
Can I even get anything good from you, so he shot her such a look, “I guess so.” so she smiled back.
“Something small will be better.”
“You’re not happy about that?”
Of course, he was not unhappy about it, but he was worried Mahiru would not like it.
If he were to give her something small, he would have to consider the quality. She probably had posh preferences, and was the type to choose something with both quality and functionality. Amane did not know if his choice would be acceptable to Mahiru’s eyes.
Chitose seemed to have noticed that Amane was a little unaccepting of this choice, “Hm.” so she thought of a while, and said,
“…Well, you can also give her something cute.”
“You have to look at her interests, but I feel that you can give her cute things…like dolls, keychains and such.”
This suggestion was really unexpected to Amane, who blinked a few times. Chitose chuckled, in more ways than one.
“No matter the age, girls often do like cute things. Some adults still keep dolls, so I think there should be many who like dolls.”
While he had no idea of Mahiru’s girlish tendencies, he did remember seeing the cute frills on her clothes, along with her wearing fluffy clothings. She probably did not dislike cute items, at the very least.
Would Mahiru be happy if Amane gave her a doll?
“Oh, now you’re looking a little interested, aren’t you?”
Once she realized there was a single reaction from Amane, Chitose giggled away. The former was feeling a little conflicted, but he still nodded, and let out a little sigh.
“…But it’s too weird for me to go out buying dolls now, right?”
“You’re buying a present, and that’s what you’re worried about?”
“At this age, it’s embarrassing for a guy to be carrying a doll to a cashier.”
She was completely right, but he felt really conflicted to be pointed out like this.
He should have discarded all his shame, but after all, it was really awkward for him to buy a doll from a shop alone.
Luckily, Chitose was with him. Perhaps there was the possibility of her walking home with him.
A possibility it might be.
“…Go shopping with me.”
“Now what shall I doー?”
But it so happened that Chitose was an impatient girl.
Of course, she was not truly intending to reject her. She was pretending to look frustrated just to tease him, and to harden his resolve.
“I beg of you, seriously.”
“Hmm, I’m fine with that, you know?…speaking of which, Amane-kun, I want to eat something sweet. There’s a crepes shop before the train station selling a delicious limited edition itemー.”
“…Please allow me to treat you.”
Once Chitose slyly asked for a treat, his face twitched. It was cheap though, and he nodded in agreement.
It was a lot easier buying a single crepe than it was to go to a fancy shop alone.
And as Chitose grinned away, Amane let out a long sigh, quietly calculating the budget he had in his wallet.
Once he was done asking Itsuki and Chitose for advice, Amane finally chose the present, and on Mahiru’s birthday, he looked at her back, feeling really tense.
His payment to Chitose was the special crepe from the shop before the station (the winter limited berry berry special), and having convinced her to buy something else, he added that to his present…but at this point, he was wondering how to hand it over to Mahiru.
The one who was supposed to celebrate her birthday was making dinner as usual.
He did not know what the menu was, but it seemed she was making Japanese food. She was acting naturally as usual, nothing too different about her.
He could not sense any birthday vibe from her. The way she acted so calmly, one would wonder if she remembered it.
Even after dinner was served, nothing changed. They did converse over dinner, but ate as normal.
He really did not know when he should give her the present, so he looked towards the paper bag with the present hidden behind the sofa, frowning.
After dinner was over, he cleaned the table, and returned to the living room, finding Mahiru at the two seater sofa. It seemed she brought a book here.
Even when reading a book, she was pretty like a painting. Truly she befitted her moniker of Angel.
He was wondering if he should sit next to her…but he could not simply remain tentative. So he raised the bag placed there, and sat next to her.
She suddenly lifted her head.
She probably noticed his presence and the ruffling of the paper bag, and her caramel-colored eyes looked towards him, and then towards the paper bag he was holding.
She seemed a little confused. It appeared that at this point, she had yet to notice it was her birthday.
“Here. have it.”
Amane nudged the bag onto Mahiru’s knees, leaving her all the more flabbergasted.
“What is this?”
“Isn’t it your birthday?”
“It is…but how did you know? I do not remember mentioning it to anyone else.”
She had a wary glint in her eyes, “You left your student ID on the table the last time”, but once she heard that, she might have accepted this explanation, and reverted back to her usual look.
“You do not have to worry. I do not celebrate my birthday after all.”
Amane might not have mistaken the sudden cold, callous voice from her.
Looking at her eyes, it appeared the word birthday itself was a taboo to her.
I see, so he thought.
Even though it was her birthday, she had no change in attitude not because she did not remember it.
She probably forgot about it because it was troublesome to her, probably.
If not, there was no way she would have used that tone.
“Ah I see. Just think of it as thanks for the daily stuff. I just wanted to repay you somehow.”
So he handed the present to her, with the rationale being that, fine, you don’t have to celebrate your birthday, but a gift for your usual care. Take this as my thanks, and not a birthday.
He ate such delicious food every day, and she even helped him clean up from time to time. These were trivial things, but she really took care of him. Even if it was a small thing, Amane wanted to repay Mahiru.
While he easily accepted her rationale, he insisted on giving her the present, which left her somewhat confused. So she frowned a little, receiving the present.
She looked towards the item in the bag that was wrapped in paper.
“…May I open it now?”
He nodded, and Mahiru nervously reached her hand into the bag, pulling the box out. She carefully peeled the wrapping paper, and undid the ribbon.
Amane himself felt extremely nervous to have someone else open his present before him.
Inside it contained the hand cream Itsuki recommended. He bought it in a set, so the large box contained some snacks too.
Just to note, it was an odorless one suitable for housework, not a scented trendy one. It was gentle on the skin, its selling point being that it keeps the skin moist.
He checked the reviews on the internet, and it seemed he did not need to worry about the effects, probably.
“Sorry that it’s not something valuable. I think your hands will become dry when you do housework. There are those without scent, but I guess you already have them. I heard it’s gentle for the skin, effective even.”
“A practical item.”
“Actually, you emphasize much on practical items.”
“I guess. Thank you very much.”
You understand me well, so she smiled, and his lips relaxed.
It seemed she did not have a bad impression of him.
There was one other item…but it would be embarrassing for him to open it before her. If possible, he wanted her to notice it before she returned home.
Unfortunately however, Mahiru seemed to have noticed there was something else in the bag, and looked into it.
“…Why are there two?”
“Ah, no, well, actually. It’s a selfish, subjective add on.”
He averted his eyes, merely answering so. Mahiru tilted her head, not understanding what Amane meant, but she felt it would be faster to open the bag, so she took the item out.
He used a packaging of similar color to the bag, so that it would not stand out, and stuffed it to the bottom. This item was too big and noticeable however. There was no way she would not have noticed it.
It did not contain a box, but a polyester bag. It was just large enough for Mahiru to hold in both hands.
Mahiru carefully undid the dark blue ribbon, and while Amane was staring at her (can I get away from here now)──she cautiously removed the content.
With two hands, she cautiously lifted the item, and looked rather surprised as her eyes widened.
What Mahiru muttered was the true identity of that thing.
It was a doll not too big, the size of an elementary school girl.
It had faint colored fur similar to Mahiru’s hair. On its neck was an aqua blue ribbon tied like a necklace.
It showed an innocent look, dark glossy buttons sewn as eyes, reflecting Mahiru.
She might be thinking, a doll? When we are in high school?
No matter the age, girls often do like cute things. But after hearing Chitose’s advice, this was what he chose.
It was really embarrassing for a boy to go buy this thing alone, so he had Chitose buy this for him, the payment being the crepe from the station shop.
Chitose kept laughing at him from the choosing part to the very end, and perhaps he would have felt less ashamed if he went alone. Well, bygones be bygones, it was pointless to mention it.
“…I think girls like it.”
He scratched his head, muttering with an explanation to no one in particular.
He really was bad at this.
After all, he had never given a present to someone of the opposite gender, except to his mother when he was young. He never expected himself to do this.
Would she feel disgusted to receive such a cute doll from a boy…he glanced aside at Mahiru, and saw her staring intently at it.
Nobody could tell if she was happy or sad, she merely stared at it stoically.
“Well, I can throw it away if you want.”
Can’t be helped if she doesn’t like it, so he determined as he said this jokingly. Mahiru scowled as she turned her face around.
“I will not do such a thing!”
“Y-yeah. Given your personality, I don’t think you’ll do that, Shiina.”
Her reaction was stronger than he expected, and he nodded while stumbling back. Once again, she looked at the bear.
“…I will not do, such a cruel thing. I will, treasure it well.”
The thin wrists were clinging onto the bear doll firmly, embracing it.
She resembled a kid who did not want the favorite toy taken away, and also the loving embrace of a mother.
One could say that she really treasured the bear as she embraced it.
Gyuu, there seemed to be a fitting sound effect as she embraced it firmly, and looked down at it.
The expression on the face was not the usual aloofness, and not the usual shock whenever she was startled by Amane. It was one of relief, kindness, love, and affection.
Her innocent smile was so pure. He stared at her with bated breath, finding her so beautiful, so adorable.
（──I shouldn’t be looking at this.）
He inadvertently had such a realization as she stared at her expression.
While he was not in love with her, this absolute beauty was showing such expression, which only he saw, and even his heart was beating wildly.
He saw her treasure the doll greatly, showing a faint smile, look so adorable that anyone else would be mesmerized. Even he, who knew his own bland personality, was nearly mesmerized.
To see how hot his face was, he put his hands on his face, and it definitely felt much hotter as usual.
He was obviously too bashful, “…Damn it.” and so he cursed with a volume Mahiru could not hear.
Luckily, she was not paying attention to him, half her face was buried into the bear doll as she embraced it lovingly.
That sight of her was similarly adorable, and Amane restrained himself greatly to avoid squealing.
“…I’m glad that you like it so much.”
He wanted to say something, but he eked out these words, and the eyes stared back at him.
“This is the first time I received such a thing.”
“Eh, given your popularity, I thought it would be normal for you…”
“What do you think I am…”
She sounded a little dumbfounded as she gave him the look, which relieved him a little, for he no longer had to see that face again.
“…I never told anyone of my birthday. I dislike it, and I never said it”
Dislike, so she said as she looked towards the bear.
The eyes she had when she looked at the bear was so calm, completely different from her words, and Amane felt a dissonance there.
“I feel scared receiving presents from people, even those I do not know, or those that I have no relation to, so I would not accept it.”
“But you accepted mine.”
“…You are not something I do not know, Fujimiya-san.”
So she whispered as she buried her face into the bear as she looked at him. He started to regret staring at her directly.
She unwittingly looked up at him, showing a relaxed innocent face befitting her age. Truth be told, she was adorable.
She was so adorable, he inadvertently had the urge to pat her head, and the moment he was about to, he hastily reeled it back in.
（…That was close.）
If he too had relaxed, he would have patted Mahiru on the day. He finally made her happy, and if he did so, all his efforts would be for naught.
“…What is it?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
Mahiru tilted her head in confusion, either having noticed Amane’s hand that had twitched, or the anxiety that was exploding in him.
With that alone, his eyes were seized. Pretty girls are truly terrifying things.
But if he were to admit bluntly that she was cute, even he would be ashamed. “Huh?” and he was sure this would be her answer.
And if he said such words, Amane would die in many ways, so he decided to contain this impulse for now.
“…Thank you very much, Fujimiya-san”
Amane averted his face, and Mahiru’s soft voice entered his ears once again.
“Hey hey Amane, did it go well? The one you gave the present to?”
Given that they went shopping together, he would have to report in. The following day, Chitose was grinning away as she went to hear out from Amane.
He was fine with the fact that she, who was in a different class, came looking for him. However, that kind of smile was something he really did not want to deal with. He really had the urge to just go bye there and then.
“It’s not the relationship you think of, and that development didn’t happen.”
At the very least, he did not choose the present out of romantic feelings, nor did he have any other thoughts.
There was no doubt he was delighted, but there existed none of the development Chitose looked forward to.
“No, but well, is there really nobody that makes your heart flutter? She’s definitely not just an acquaintance, and she’s a girl. Come on, some gossip here.”
“We don’t have an unspeakable relationship.”
With Itsuki backing Chitose up, Amame could only deny vehemently.
Mahiru was happy, yes, but there was still some trouble, and he did not want to discuss this with others.
He did not want to feed into their curiosity, so he answered as callously as possible, and Itsuki pondered a little as he had his hand by his mouth.
“…Hmm. Hey Amane.”
“What is it?”
“Did you give it to your neighbor?”
Truly, Itsuki’s high awareness and EQ was disastrous to him.
“…Why do you think so?”
“If we consider those you know, or those you took care of you, the only one that fits that bill is the neighbor. You ain’t a local, you hardly interact with girls, and someone has been feeding you recently, so you’re grateful to her, right?”
“Hmm…Amane, you’ve been looking better recently.”
“Ah, I think so too.”
“So, she’s been giving you food often, and you wanted to give her a birthday present as thanks?”
Itsuki was completely correct, and Amane did his best not to let his cheeks twitch.
And that was why Itsuki was terrifying, for his deductions seemed as though he witnessed it all. He might appear frivolous, but he was serious and attentive, and also rather popular. However, he really hoped he would shower these aspects to Chitose only.
“You’re coming up with wild guesses now?”
“I don’t know the truth, so I’m just imagining it. So is it true?”
No matter what they said, he was unwilling to be honest.
If he accidentally blurted it out, he would have to spill the beans. Itsuki was one thing, the current high school girls who loved their gossip would have interrogated him like no tomorrow.
In this world, there were magical creatures who could turn anything unrelated to love into something involving love. Troublesome they truly were.
Goodness, so he sighed as he packed his back, lifted it, and returned home.
It was a tactical retreat, and also an evasion against their bombardment of his heart.
“Bye then. Go do your lovey-dovey things and ignore me now.”
“We’ll do that without you saying that though?”
“…Ikkun, let’s go stalk him and find that lady…”
“Who in the world says that before the target? And you don’t have that thought at all. The most you’ll do is to come to my apartment gates.”
Her cute lips formed a pout, but her eyes were serious.
At this point, Amane felt a shiver realizing that Chitose was not joking, and would really do it, so he left the duo behind and hurriedly left the classroom.
“…That was close.”
“What is the matter?”
Once he returned home, Amane blurted out, and Mahiru asked him with intrigue.
It was a little too early to make dinner, even though Mahiru arrived here after buying the ingredients. Both of them rested a little, and Amane’s little whisper was overheard.
Just to note, she was being the same as usual.
That smile she showed the previous day was no longer to be seen. Her usual expression was such that one would doubt if he was dreaming. This should be the norm, or rather, Amane hoped she would be like this. If she was to show the same expression she did the previous day, he would feel his heart aching.
“No, well, Itsuki and the others were gossiping about the present.”
Because I went to discuss this with them, so he quipped and sighed. It seemed Mahiru had remembered Itsuki’s name, “Ahh, I see.” and she too sighed.
“Well, those did not look like things you would buy, Fujimiya-san.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
They already felt it was impossible for Amane to give a female a present, and that was why they wondered if he was in love.
In fact, neither had the sweet, sour, or bitter feelings that came with falling in love.
“Just my own issues. Goodness, what were they guessing?”
It was true that Mahiru was cute, and he had the desire to touch her. He could not deny that.
But he felt every youth would feel this way, and after all, his heart merely jolted a few times when he once again realized Mahiru was a real pretty girl. There was no way it was love.
Even if he did like her character, he did not think of forming such a relationship with her.
He glanced aside, and saw her usual pretty face.
However, his heart did not palpitate as it did the previous night. Once again, he affirmed that he had not fallen for Mahiru, and he sighed.
One had to wonder what she would say if she noticed him watching her, so he turned his eyes towards the phone, only to see an unread number on a chat app icon.
It was probably Itsuki, so he thought as he opened the app, but the name on the new message was beyond expectation.
Once he saw the name Shihoko, he frowned.
Amane had few female contacts, three in fact, including her.
They were Chitose, Mahiru, and──his mom.
What now? So he thought as he opened her chat. It contained the agitated text he really was bad at dealing with, things like how his exams went, if he had any difficulty in life, and so on.
The reason why he was bad at dealing with Chitose was because there was someone like Chitose…or rather, an older Chitose in his family. Amane did not hate her, and could not bring himself to, but his own mother’s personality was too much for him.
『Your grandpa sent fruits, so I’m sending some to you. Will be delivering on Saturday. Do stay at home in the afternoon! I’m not going to forgive you if you refuse or aren’t at home, you know?』
“You just decided on my schedule like that…?”
He had no real plans for Saturday, and was fine staying at home, but should she not contact him earlier?
“What is the matter?”
Mahiru might have heard the mutter as she looked towards him with her usual expression.
“Mom’s delivering fruits she received from grandpa. Probably apples.”
“Do you know how to peel them?”
“…With a peeler, maybe?”
“You may…but it is a waste of nutrients to peel off the skin.”
My mom says the same thing, so he thought, but he swallowed that notion.
“I’ll just eat with the skin then.”
“That is barbaric of you.”
“I’m lazy, you know.”
“That is lazy of you”
He could only show a wry smile at her usual blunt honesty, and shrugged away.
While Mahiru looked stupefied, “Well, it will end up in the stomach after all.” but she somewhat relented.
“Oh yeah. I don’t know if I can finish them all before they rot. You want some, Shiina?”
“I shall have some then. Fruits are expensive after all.”
Her words might seem a dampener, but these words were truly befitting her.
“Saturday, is it? I shall prepare lunch as thanks.”
“I’m the one who’s always being taken care of.”
“It is fine. I do not dislike cooking for you, Fujimiya-san.”
Kusu, so she made a sincere little smile.
Amane averted his eyes awkwardly as her smile reminded him of what happened the previous day, “…I’ll leave it to you then.” so he tersely responded.