Christmas passed, and the world was in the end of year mood.
The day after he spent Christmas with Mahiru and avoided being alone, Amane went out shopping alone. Once done, he returned home, and noticed how the scenery around him had changed.
The night lights remained as they were, but the commonplace Christmas trees were taken down, the various vibrant decorations replaced with Japanese ones.
The shops had begun selling New Year goodies and foods, and all signs of the Holy Night were no longer to be seen. All that remained were a few goods that remained unsold after Christmas, labelled as a clearance sale and left on the shelves at a marked-down price.
Change sure comes quickly, so Amane thought as he looked at how everyone was preparing for the new year around him, burying his face in the muffler to keep warm.
The monotone checkered muffler was the Christmas present he received from Mahiru.
It is important to dress the neck too, so he was told, and received such a good thing from her. It was really comfortable, great at keeping warm, practical, and trendy looking.
Amane typically would not use a muffler, so he wore it gratefully; he checked the contents of the shopping bag in his hand.
While they were supposedly splitting the shopping duties, it was Amane who typically bought the ingredients according to the note he would bring along, all to alleviate Mahiru’s burden.
It was extremely cold, and hotpot appeared to be on the menu, for the bag contained vegetables, mushrooms, meat and the like. There were more vegetables, probably because of Mahiru’s insistence on balanced nutrition.
She really exhibits her motherly nature in this aspect; he made a sly dig at her while she was not around.
Once he saw that he did not miss out on any ingredient, he hurried home, grumbling as the weather got colder.
It was evening when he returned, and Mahiru welcomed him back.
It was a strange situation when an unrelated outsider welcomed him home, but recently, he was getting used to it.
“Nn, I’m back…you don’t mind that I bought some sliced rice cakes?”
“You are intending to scrub the pot, no?”
“Oh. I bought some ramen for later too.”
“…I cannot eat that much, you know?”
“It’s fine, I’ll finish off most of it.”
While Amane was not a big eater to begin with, thanks to Mahiru’s cooking, he was eating lots for dinner.
Her food intake was sufficient enough for her to not gain fat, for she might have been worried about the calories intake; Amane was a little worried as he would eat more than her, and had begun training his muscles.
Perhaps Mahiru was thinking Amane should have some extra meat since he was so skinny. He hoped to gain muscles, and not fat.
“Well, it is fine if you are eating that, Amane-kun. Please give me that, I shall put it in the refrigerator. Do wash your hands, Amane-kun.”
Amane handed the shopping bag over to Mahiru, and went straight to the washroom.
“Anyway Mahiru, how do you normally spend your New Year?”
Amane finished the dinner that was really delicious, as usual, and was cleaning up when he suddenly asked Mahiru in the spur of the moment.
“I find it pointless to head back during the New Year…so I remain here.”
He realized his miscue when he heard such a flat tone from her, but Mahiru did not appear to mind.
She was not on familial terms with her parents, so she would always act aloof whenever they talked about her family.
But in that case, would Mahiru be spending the New Year alone?
Amane had a promise to meet his own family once semi-annually, and before he met Mahiru, he had intended to take a long vacation at his hometown.
“You are going back to your hometown, Amane-kun, no?”
“I guess. They told me to show up anyway.”
He glanced aside at Mahiru, and perhaps it was just him, but her eyes seemed colder than usual.
It appeared she had expected to spend the New Year alone, and never doubted that Amane would return to his hometown.
“…I get the feeling that if I go back, I’ll be questioned about you.”
“That will be tough.”
“I just need to explain to my dad, but mom probably wants to hear more about it.”
“That will be strange given that we are often in contact.”
“Seriously, since when did you get on familial terms with my mom…?”
One had to wonder why and when Mahiru was on good terms with his mom, and for some reason, they were sharing photos and secrets …he felt a little weary just thinking about it, but it appeared Mahiru was willingly interacting with her, unexpectedly well in fact, so he felt that was acceptable, somewhat.
Amane would have to hammer the point into Shihoko not to say anything unnecessary, but leaving that aside, he looked towards Mahiru, not knowing what to do.
He imagined her occasional hollow expression and forlorn eyes, and had the urge…not to leave her alone.
“Well, you just met mom, so sorry about dad, but I think I don’t have to return to my hometown this time. I’ll go back during Spring break after all.”
Thus, if it was not trouble for her, he hoped to have dinner with her, like usual, so he thought.
“Nn, I want your Toshikoshi soba.”
“You are quite the glutton.”
“Because it’s your cooking.”
“…Even though it is sold outside?”
“That’s good enough.”
He was fine even though it was just soba bought from the market.
More importantly was the leisure time they could spend eating together.
“…You are eccentric.”
Mahiru curtly blurted, and Amane deliberately responded in annoyance, only to be met with a little smile.
“…Thank you very much.”
Mahiru said nothing more, and she embraced her favorite cushion, probably feeling somewhat better than before.
And so, it was December 31st, New Year’s Eve.
It was the last day of the year, the day to cap off the whole year.
It was supposedly a frenetic day for many to prepare for the New Year, to do a major clean up—
“Erm, Mahiru-san, ya?”
“What is it?”
“…Is it really fine for me to just laze around?”
Amane was relaxing leisurely on the living room sofa, watching the back of Mahiru as she stood in the kitchen with an apron on.
Mahiru arrived since morning to prepare the Osechi dishes.
Since they decided to spend the New Year together, two people’s worth of Osechi dishes would be a must.
He had intended to simply buy some from the shops, but she insisted on making them. It was shocking how a girl could handle something so troublesome even for housewives.
He was really impressed by her, but she said,
“We need to order that in advance. It is impossible to do so now.”
He understood the reason why Mahiru would personally prepare them once he heard her explanation, but he really had to tip his hat to Mahiru for undertaking such a laborious task.
Of course, Mahiru would skimp on any step she could. Cooking the black beans would take time, and take up a stove, so she bought them at the market instead.
“Amane-kun, you may feel uneasy about not having anything to do, but do you think you can contribute?”
“I guessed so. It is better for you to remain there obediently than to cause me trouble.”
So he obediently remained on the sofa after Mahiru stated her harsh viewpoint, but he was restless as he had nothing to do.
However, it was not that Amane never did anything at all.
They finished cleaning up the previous day, and they had enough ingredients to last for a little while without having to go outside, including those to be used for Osechi.
Not that he did not do anything; he did not exert much effort compared to Mahiru at this moment.
“You should be tired since you moved the furniture and appliances yesterday. Please rest well.”
Mahiru voiced her concern to Amane, who did the heavy work, as she continued to cook without looking back at him.
Just to note, it appeared Mahiru was done cleaning her apartment. She said she would clean it up regularly, and it did not take her much time.
Is this the difference from a person who does it every day…at this point, he felt a great difference between them.
“Well, you say that, but…I feel a little sorry.”
“I do not feel tired since I do like to cook though.”
“It is fine. I really enjoy this.”
Do not sweat it, so Mahiru implied as she focused on her work. Amane cupped his head, not knowing what to do.
“Mahiru, I bought lunch.”
Having realized it was overbearing to have her prepare lunch when she was cooking Osechi, Amane bought lunch from the convenience store. A sandwich pack should be fine, given that Mahiru would not eat much.
Mahiru took off the apron, probably intending to rest, so this might have been perfect timing to her.
“Thank you very much for doing this. Sorry that I do not have the time to do so.”
“No actually, I’ll be sorry to ask you to make you do that when you’re making Osechi…here, eat up.”
It was rest time, and time for lunch, so Mahiru obediently returned to the living room.
“A sandwich and café au lait for you?”
“Yes, thank you very much.”
She received lunch from Amane as she made a little nod, and sat next to him.
“How’s your progress?”
“Some are already done, since they are bought, and I am almost done since I have kept the dishes minimal, most of them are simply waiting to be cooled. Since it looks like you like Datemaki, I decided to make them for you, Amane-kun.”
“How do you know?”
“You said you like egg dishes, no? I suppose that includes Datemaki.”
It appeared she had baked it in the oven, for Amane had heard it being used, though he had wondered what it was for. For that, it seemed.
“You like a little sweetness in that, I suppose?”
“You really understand me well.”
“It has been months, I can remember what you like.”
For some reason, she sounded happy when she said that as she munched on the ham and lettuce sandwich.
Amane ate the onigiri he bought as he looked over at the kitchen, staring at the Jūbako Mahiru brought and left there.
That Jūbako would be used, it seemed.
Amane never expected her to have a Jūbako even though she was living alone, taken aback even when he found it to be posh look, with gold plating on it.
“Seriously, I’ve to be grateful about this…how do I put it, when I started living alone, I never expected to be so nourished in the latter half of the year.”
“I myself am amazed that you are able to live till this day.”
“That’s harsh. I can survive on convenience store stuff and what’s sold out there, you know?”
“But that is not healthy, goodness.”
Mahiru sighed while looking dumbfounded, but there was a grimace in the sly dig, her expression clearly going, guess I have to do something, and that caused his heart to jolt.
“With me living here, I will not alone for any unhealthy eating habits, you know?”
“Are you my mom?”
“It is your fault for being so callous about it, Amane-kun. I am making sure you will eat healthier next year.”
Mahiru appeared invigorated for some peculiar reason, so we’re together next year too? He was a little embarrassed, and averted his eyes.
However, Mahiru took that attitude of his as intent to skimp and live lazily, and she stared back in annoyance. It took him quite a while and lots of effort to explain that he did not mean that.
The sun was about to set when Mahiru was done with all the dishes, and left them in the Jūbako. This time, she began preparing the Toshikoshi soba.
That was the case, but all they needed to do was to boil pre-cooked soba, and add ingredients to them.
The kamaboko was excess leftover that could be added. They just needed to boil the spinach and dice the leek.
The most taxing work would be to deep fry the prawn tempura, but Mahiru kept deep frying them without annoyance.
“Since we have extra pumpkin, let us make tempura out of it too.”
“Ohh…that’s quite the fancy Toshikoshi soba.”
“It is fine once in a while.”
Mahiru said as she finished the Toshikoshi soba, and it certainly was fancier than the one he had back home.
Each had two large prawn tempuras, along with pumpkin tempura, and lots of spinach and leek. The kamaboko was served in a fan shape.
It appeared Mahiru preferred to put the tempura atop, to keep it crispy; Amane’s tempura was served separately on another plate instead, which left him very grateful.
“Please help yourself.”
She served some excess Osechi dishes on small plates, probably thinking Amane would not have enough to eat.
He saw Mahiru sit down, they clapped hands to give thanks, and began eating the soba.
It was pre-packed, but the fragrance of the soba spread as he bit into it, probably because it was a little expensive.
The soup too was neither too thick nor too diluted, the comfortable flavor of salted plum leaving him at ease. The warmth spread from the belly, the flavor suitable for the harsh winter.
“Haaー…now this feels like the end of year…”
He drank the soup…exhaled deeply, and muttered.
Watching TV at home, eating soba, waiting for the New Year; a nice feeling it was.
It was a yearly tradition for Amane to spend time back home eating Toshikoshi soba, waiting for the New Year, and watching the contest, and he was grateful to be able to do the same this year.
Though, the one next to him was not his family, but an acquaintance girl.
“You know, eating Toshikoshi soba like this, It does feel like a year’s ending before we know it.”
“Truly…lots of things happened this year.”
So they said, but most of these things were his interactions with Mahiru.
When he started living alone, he never imagined such a pretty girl to cooking for him, not at all.
“Amane-kun, this is your first year living alone. It must have been tough on you.”
“You’re rather used to it yourself.”
“Well, I can handle most of my business. It is a no go for you to live alone without knowing how to do anything, Amane-kun?”
“Grrr…well, you say that.”
“You truly are a hopeless person, goodness.”
Mahiru reproached him with a smile, rather than simply looking bewildered, her face looking tender.
She maintained a genial smile, not thinking that it would be a hassle to take care of Amane, it seems.
“…I’ve really been in your care this year.”
Echoing what he said on Christmas, he thanked Mahiru again, “Goodness.” So she chuckled.
It stung his heart to affirm this readily, but luckily, Mahiru herself did not seem unwilling.
“…Please continue to do so next year.”
“Understood. You will be completely useless and wasted without me around, Amane-kun.”
“I can’t deny that.”
“…If you understand, you should pay more attention to that, you know?”
“Take it as a next year goal.”
Even if he had the heart to do so, his determination would wilt after Mahiru had taken care of him so thoroughly. He kept his thoughts to himself however, and never mentioned about it.
Of course, he would tidy up his stuff from time to time—but it should be fine for him to ask her to cook.
He found himself enslaved to her cooking, but at this point, it did not matter.
Mahiru told him to change for the better, but all he could do was to laugh it off. He maintained a stoic look, and Mahiru showed a little smile on her face.
“The new year is coming soon.”
They finished the Toshikoshi soba, and were seated on the sofa, watching the TV concert. Before they knew it, time passed, and a new day loomed.
It appeared Mahiru would not watch the TV unless it was necessary, and did not seem familiar with the trendy songs. He saw her enjoy the concert silently, and time passed faster than he imagined.
The screen then showed the Joya-no-kane, and he was reminded once again that a new year was looming.
Next to him, Mahiru’s eyelids were falling as she silently listened to the bell.
And after hearing the 107th bell—
“Happy New Year.”
The moment the day changed, she straightened her back as she turned towards Amane, bowing down, and Amane too followed suit with this New Year greeting.
“Happy New Year…it’s strange, two of us spending the New Year together like this.”
“Fufu, I guess…please continue to take care of me this year.”
“Same here…I guess I should be the one asking you that.”
“I cannot deny that.”
Amane replied a giggling Mahiru with a wry smile, and then noticed the smartphone on his knees shaking.
It seemed Itsuki and Chitose had sent a few New Year greetings over, there were a few numbers on the app icons.
Mahiru too experienced the same, her smartphone was shaking. She had just known Chitose, and never exchanged IDs, so the messages should be from friends Amane knew not of.
Recently, sending out New Year greetings as messages has become enjoyable.
“I shall reply to a few messages.”
It appeared Mahiru had received lots of greetings. For some reason, he felt she never informed any boy on how to contact her.
As she began replying nimbly, “She’s really like a high school girl here”, he thought as he replied to Itsuki and Chitose.
The messages were normal, 『Happy New Year』and 『Are you spending the New Year with Shiina-san? 』 They were right on the mark, but he replied denials to them anyway.
Itsuki immediately replied with『Stop lying now』, and the process of teasing and being teasing repeated itself again…suddenly, there was weight upon his arms.
He then had a whiff of sweet fragrance.
The sudden contact left Amane stumbling. Oh no, so he looked sideways tentatively…and found Mahiru leaning on him with her eyes closed.
（—Wait wait wait.）
He did not voice out, but he was rather flustered.
There were cases of her falling asleep, but who would have expected her doing so next to him, leaning on him?
No further thought was needed to understand why Mahiru had fallen asleep.
It was past midnight at this point.
It was expected that Mahiru, living the prim and proper life, would not stay up late. Furthermore, she was busy making Osechi the entire day, and though she did not show it, she must have been really worn out.
There was no doubt she had no resistance against the sleep demon.
He understood the reason.
He knew, but he never expected her to do so at this moment.
Mahiru fell asleep while leaning on Amane, ignoring how flustered and gaudy the latter was as she showed a serene sleeping face.
The long eyebrows, nice nose, pink lips were all defenseless.
It was not the first time he saw her sleeping fact, but it was the first time he did so up close, and he froze up.
“Mahiru, wake up.”
He called out worriedly, but there was no response.
She had fallen into a deep slumber, devoured by the sleep demon as she was too tired. She showed no signs of waking up no matter how he talked to her or shook her gently.
He patted her gently on the shoulder, shaking her body, but she did not wake up.
Having done that, she started tilting a little forward, and he hastily pulled her up…only to end up embracing her in his clutches, leaving him more flustered than ever.
（…That’s a really nice smell.）
Mahiru went back home to shower, or something else, after they had eaten. Perhaps the shampoo floral fragrance had blended into hers, for she was giving off a sweet fragrance, leaving him very comfortable.
And also, he sensed something soft on him, and was really restless.
She was sleeping so soundly, he could not bring himself to wake her up. He had a feeling that she would not wake up unless he hit her more forcibly.
（What do I do now?）
This happened right after the New Year started, and Amane found himself cupping his head.
Faced with this unbelievable situation, Amane turned towards Mahiru with a conflicted look.
She was really sleeping soundly.
Amane was someone she could trust, so she thought, for she slept soundly. Feeling anxious and embarrassed, his sanity was on the verge of collapsing, and he had the urge to slam his head into the wall.
He did not want to be conscious of it, but his consciousness was gathered upon her touch.
The delicate body was taut and soft, with the tenderness of a female.
Especially on the parts that were touching, the softness that had some weight to them; they were mercilessly wearing at Amane’s sanity.
（—What do I do now?）
This unexpected situation struck Amane along with an unprecedented softness, and he was left really confused.
So a girl’s this soft and nice smelling…it was the first time he recognized this fact, and he was a little amazed, but his sanity slammed the brakes to prevent any unsavory thoughts.
The more he felt he should not be thinking about it, the more pronounced the softness in his clutches, and his mind was in complete chaos.
He tried to figure out how to solve this situation, but he felt it was impossible to resolve this perfectly.
For the time being, he came up with three solutions.
1． Force Mahiru to wake up.
2． Drag Mahiru into her home.
3． Have her sleep on his bed, and he sleep on the sofa.
1, the issue was that he did not want to wake up the exhausted, soundly sleeping Mahiru. He was the reason why she was so tired, and he wanted her to sleep well if possible.
2, this might seem the safest option, but it would represent an arduous situation of mean searching Mahiru’s clothes for the key, and entering a woman’s house. Even if it was Mahiru, he knew it was likely she would be repulsed.
3, to have her sleep on his bed. This would be the safest option, and easiest to execute…except he believed he would be a mental wreck thereafter.
They were usually together, but Mahiru at this point was showing an adorable sleeping face anyone would be mesmerized by, and his sanity, along with other things, would collapse if he left her on his bed.
Any boy would be completely tempted by the thought of having a girl sleep on his bed, let alone a really hardworking, pretty girl.
It was no wonder that he would have various thoughts.
However, this would be the safest option, the best compromise and welfare Amane could come up with for the time being.
He made up his mind, and put a hand on Mahiru’s back while she leaned onto him, his other hand under her knees as he slowly lifted her up.
She was sleeping soundly, and was light as a feather—or not, but she was really light.
It was unlikely that she would wake up that easily, but he cautiously brought her to his room, without shaking her. With her lying down, he had difficulty opening the door, but once he broke through this obstacle, all he needed to do was to lay her on the bed.
Her fine body sank into the bed.
He laid the blanket and futon over her, and was done preparing for the night.
It appeared she had no intention to wake up, the rhythmic breathing sounds entering his eyes.
There was some naiveté to her pretty face, the usual beauty and the innocent sleeping face had Amane’s heart jolting rapidly.
Once he laid her onto the bed carefully, he knelt down next to the bed.
（…This is tough.）
To surmise, the reason why Mahiru was sleeping on his bed, leaving the soft feeling in his clutches, along with a defenseless sleeping face, was because she trusted him enough to sleep in a boy’s house.
Of course, he was glad to be so trusted, but this had him thinking that he was not being viewed as a boy.
It appeared that she recognized Amane as 『a completely harmless, useless boy who needs much care』.
He glanced aside at her, but she knew not of his gripes as she continued to sleep with a peaceful pace.
（She doesn’t know how troubled I am here.）
If she’s so defenseless, shall I just slip in next to her…so he had a momentary thought, but denied it as he thought it would be overboard, especially given that they were not dating.
If he did so, he had a feeling that once Mahiru woke up, she would not talk to him. What are you thinking; she might even give such a cold look. Thus, he decided not to do so for his own good.
Instead, I think it’s fine to tap her lightly on the face, so he reached for Mahiru’s head.
Smooth, silky, glossy; with his fingers, he stroked the smooth long hair that could be described so, and they passed through without getting caught.
Guess she really takes care of this well too, he was amazed and terrified of a lady’s hard work as he gently caressed Mahiru’s cheeks with his fingertips.
The moist white porcelain skin was not too warm, and felt a little cold in Amane’s hand.
Once he was done caressing her with his fingertips, he looked at her utterly peaceful sleeping face, silently showing a wry smile.
She would be shocked once she wakes the next day…or to be precise, later in the morning, so he thought, but he felt it was within the acceptable boundary after she had caused his heart to tickle.
Seriously, you, so he grimaced as he caressed her soft cheeks once again.