To those who had no particular interests, spring break was a rather boring period.
Amane himself did not have many interests, mostly just reading and strolling about; his classmates had given him wry smiles, wondering why he had such hobbies.
Because of these hobbies, he would not take the initiative to do any outdoor activities, or attend any leisure facilities. If he was not invited out, he would merely go jogging, strolling, buying ingredients and so on.
Itsuki was dumbfounded, and wondered if it was fine for Amane to not enjoy his youth even though he was a high schooler. The latter felt that he did pay some attention to his health, and had been exercising, so that should be fine.
Mahiru too showed no signs of going anywhere.
Of course, he would occasionally see her exercising, or shopping for necessities. However, she hardly went anywhere to play.
“Is there anywhere you want to go to play?”
He himself had no right to criticize, but he wondered if it was fine for a high school girl in her prime to be like this…so after dinner, he asked Mahiru, and after some deliberation, she showed a wry smile.
“Go to play…well, I have not thought of anything. I do prefer staying at home.”
“Well I’m the same. Don’t feel like there’s anything much outdoors.”
“…Like going back to Shihoko-san’s?”
“We just met in New Year, so that’s fine. We’ll be going back during summer break. That means I won’t get to eat your cooking, Mahiru, and it’s boring.”
He was already used to Mahiru’s cooking, to the point of feeling unbearable if he never got to eat; every day, the desire to eat her cooking intensified. At the same time, he was getting used to her presence next to him, her existence to be expected, which was another reason why he did not want to go back.
While she was cute and adorable, her presence next to him could calm him down. It probably was because the vibe around her meshed well with his personality
“Well, if I go back, they’ll drag me here and there, and that seems tiring.”
“…Here and there?”
“Like, tourist attractions, shopping, and so on. If I don’t make plans, they’ll drag me off to a certain place. I remembered going to a hot spring trip during my winter break in middle school.”
Shihoko liked staying at home, and also liked to go out. One would say she was such an energetic person, happy to do anything.
Furthermore, she really treasured family time. She would drag Amane anywhere as long as she did not have a prior appointment, or if Amane really hated it. She did have a shred of conscience to give Amane some semblance of choice, but once he answered, she would whisk him off.
Theme parks and shopping malls were easy for him, but if they were to go do sawanobori or survival games, she would suggest that they should challenge everything, and he would be forced to participate, which was tough on him. He wondered how that delicate body contained so much energy.
Thanks to that, he learned lots of things, and his body was trained to some extent. He could not deny that because of the downsides, his hobbies were more individualistic and mild.
“…It sounds like you have fun.”
“It’s tiring to do that over a few consecutive days. The enthusiasm leaves me really tired, and I have to start the new semester like that.”
“Fufu, I can imagine that.”
“You can tell if you visit my family. Though her attention will be on you instead.”
“Th-that is true…”
If Mahiru really came along, Shihoko would happily drag her out.
She probably would not let Mahiru do anything dangerous, but she would surely drag the latter off for shopping or other leisure places. His mother always wanted a daughter, so she would be more than happy to raise a girl of this age, Mahiru of all people.
“You’ll know in the summer. She’ll probably bring you out and make you wear all kinds of clothing like a doll.”
“She’ll make sure I’ll bring you along anyway.”
It was true that she had exerted overt pressure on him with her eyes, to bring Mahiru along.
It appeared that during summer break, Mahiru would be personally invited by Shihoko.
“Ah, I can refuse if you don’t want to.”
“I-I do not dislike it! I am happy about it.”
She shook her head vigorously, her hair ruffling like the waves, the shampoo scent stinging at his nose.
“Nn, I’ll go ask my mom, though she’s probably more than happy to welcome you.”
“…Thank you very much.”
“I should be thanking you for helping me take some of the suffering.”
Amane was slapped lightly on the elbow.
Of course, he did not find it painful, just a pinch, but it was a little bad for his heart.
As Mahiru had started a little skinship on him, his heart started pounding wildly.
“N-no, it-it’s nothing.”
“You say that, but your eyes are looking around…”
“Nothing at all. Ah look, you got a message.”
He did not want to show how faltered he was as he tried to change the topic, and pointed at the vibrating, flashing smartphone.
“What is it?” Mahiru looked incredulous as she directed her attention elsewhere, opening the smartphone app.
He thought it would be rude to see the message, and he really did not want to look at her in the eyes, so he looked elsewhere…he then heard a thud, and turned his eyes back towards Mahiru.
He wondered what it was about, and looked over to her, only to be stunned.
Mahiru had dropped the smartphone onto the cushion beneath her knees, giving the teary look of a lost child.
She did not have any tears, nor did she twist her lips…but the impression she gave was that she would shatter upon contact.
When was it when he last saw such a face?
Yes, it was similar to when they first spoke to each other—
“No, it is nothing. Please do not mind.”
Before Amane could ask anything, she responded with a stiff voice.
“Sorry, I should be returning for now. I have something on, and I will not be able to make dinner. My apologies.”
Mahiru said before Amane could interrupt, and she quickly packed her belongings before leaving.
His hand was outstretched, but one had to wonder if she noticed it, or pretended not to. His outstretched palm merely grabbed air.
（…Why out of a sudden?）
Surely the trigger was the message.
Amane knew there was only one possibility as to why Mahiru would make such an expression.
Mahiru would hardly inform others on how to contact her, and only a rare few knew of her ID.
He knew there were him, Shihoko, Chitose, Itsuki, and a few tightly-lipped girls. The only others would be her parents.
Assuming that her parents had contacted her.
Until the previous day, she said nothing. She suddenly said she had something urgent, and ran off; perhaps she wanted to meet her parents
He knew she was on bad terms with her parents, and could only deduce that they were the reason for her expression just now.
He could deduce, but he could not do anything.
As he saw her leave, he spotted the contorted frowning face. Despite that, he could not say anything.
He could only murmur helplessly the name of a girl who was not present, and slammed a fist onto the cushion that once held up her knees.
The weather that day was bad.
Dark clouds could be seen outside the window, nary any sunlight to be seen. If anything was to fall from the sky, it would surely be raindrops rather than light.
Thus, even though they were in the latter half of March, he felt a little cold.
He switched on the heater, and sat on the sofa, but was just so restless. His eyes would look towards Mahiru’s apartment.
It was likely that Mahiru’s parents had plans to meet her.
She said she would not be around to make dinner, for she did not want to show her emotions after the meeting, it seemed.
He felt unpleasant thinking about how Mahiru would look hurt, as though something was stuck within him.
He was really worried, and even sent her a message『if there’s anything, contact me』.
He could not remain as restless as he was, so for the time being, he went to the supermarket to secure his dinner.
But even while shopping, Mahiru’s expression remained on his mind.it would be rather painful for her to show such a face to her parents.
He instinctively bit his lips as he recalled her looking afraid of something.
He reverted his expression to normal so as not to look suspicious, but his mood did not improve.
He was aggressively stuffing the side dishes into the shopping basket, and regretted it as they were a little mangled.
Haa, he sighed, finished payment for the goods, and slowly returned home under the cloudy skies. Then, as he took the elevator back him, he noticed something amiss.
He moved away from the corridor leading to his apartment, and hid himself in a corner.
There were two people standing outside Mahiru’s apartment.
One of them was the girl with the flax-colored hair he was used to seeing, Mahiru.
The other was an unfamiliar woman.
Though he was looking from slightly afar, the lady could be said to be rather pretty.
The woman was facing the petite Mahiru, and looked rather tall. Considering the height difference against Mahiru, it seemed she was as tall as an ordinary male.
Despite that, the woman did not seem to be tall or burly, probably due to her body proportion. He form fitting business suit showed the balanced, curvy body that could be called an ideal woman’s body type.
The bright semi-long brown hair was upon her shoulders, and she looked a little grim.
Even without her makeup, the eyes covered with eyeliners highlighted her strong personality. Her sharp gaze never showed signs of easing even as she faced Mahiru.
She was rather pretty, a beauty, but her appearance and disposition were obviously standoffish, the vibe of a career-woman.
If Mahiru could be said to be an innocent lily, she was a vibrant, glamorous rose. The woman’s disposition and appearance were completely different.
“You really aren’t cute at all. Just like that man. There’s nothing more infuriating than that.”
Amane widened his eyes once he heard such a voice from the lipstick red lips.
Given how she was talking to Mahiru, it appeared she was the mother, but he was stunned to hear the mother actually humiliate her own daughter.
The face and words were not what a parent should be saying to the daughter.
Anyone would have been hurt seeing such an attitude from a parent. Did Mahiru endure such a thing for so long?
“It would be one thing you resemble me…but you just had to resemble that man. Whatever, we won’t be related once you graduate from university, no point nitpicking. Just mail over the necessary documents like usual.”
“That’s all. Don’t bother me with anything unnecessary.”
Mahiru answered softly, and the lady snorted before turning to leave.
She was walking to the elevator hall, and Amane went to the corridor with a slightly awkward mood.
As they passed, she glanced aside at him, before leaving without saying anything.
Mahiru stood there, spotted Mahiru and winced.
“…You heard that?”
He did not lie, and apologized honestly.
He did not intend to eavesdrop, but he could not have left at that moment.
And he could not leave Mahiru as he was.
“Erm, who’s that?”
“…Sayo Shiina. My actual mother.”
Recently, she would show a tender expression more frequently, but she seemed more reticent than their first encounter, as though there would be creaking whenever she talked.
“Just to say, she has been like this all this while. I am used to it.”
Mahiru quietly noted before Amane could ask about her mother.
“I was hated by my mother to begin with. There is no point worrying about it now.”
Her voice was flat and monotonous.
She was just acting tough. Amane concluded so after hearing spent much time with her, watching over her.
The suffering, the pain, the sorrow—it was obvious that she was suppressing such emotions.
As she was about to silently retreat to her room, he instinctively grabbed her hand.
But that instinct might be the correct choice.
If he let Mahiru be, her thoughts might take a turn for the worst.
She was dumbfounded, and showed a faint, feeble smile, wanting to shake his hand off. He held firm though, not wanting to let go at all.
He held her shockingly weak and helpless wrist firmly, yet not forcibly. It was so.
“Come with me.”
Amane said to Mahiru with a forceful tone, one he usually would not use, and she showed an awkward smile on her contorted face.
“…I, am fine, you know? You do not have to worry, Amane-kun.”
“I’m saying this because I want to be with you.”
Even he felt that he was being too arrogant, but he had no intention of retracting his words.
He stared at Mahiru intently, and her face showed an utterly feeble smile, before she stopped resisting.
He impudently took that as an agreement, grabbed her hand, and moved into his place.
He invited Mahiru into his house, and sat her down on the sofa.
She showed a feeble smile, on the verge of falling over. He sat down while holding her hand, and moved his hand from her wrist to her palm, wanting to wrap it, it seemed.
He gently held her hand, and her eyebrows drooped.
“…May you hear some pointless words from me?”
Ten minutes or so passed since they arrived in Amane’s apartment, before Mahiru started to confess.
“My parents did not marry out of love. I shall not mention the details, but they got married simply because of family matters, and mutual interests.”
Mahiru flatly noted, but such a marriage reason was increasingly rare in modern Japan.
Typically, people would marry out of love. It was not impossible to marry out of mutual interests, but it would feel so archaic to mention it.
It seemed she was someone of the upper class, so naturally her parents were the same. He could not say it was completely impossible for them to marry because of such reasons…but even then, he found it unbelievable.
“So…actually, they did not want to have a child, but a night stand happened. They gave birth to me, and they had no choice but to offer money. They never had any intention to raise me.”
“They didn’t want to raise a child to begin with.”
“…Normally, they do not come home. Even if they do, they just treat it as a hotel.”
I never saw much of my parents’ faces since I was young, Mahiru muttered, looking so frail.
“I do not remember them doing anything typical of a parent. The parent who raised me was in fact the housemaker. Mother has an affair outside, so she has been looking there; father was often busy with his work, and would not look at me. Perhaps he too has an affair…all they do is to give me money and discard me aside. I am not needed. No matter how I work hard, no matter how I try to be a good child, they just would not look at me.”
At that point, he finally understood why Mahiru projected herself as an angelic child.
Mahiru yearned for her parents to look at her, even a little.
If she acted as a good child, they might show concern for her, and praise her—even with that faint hope, she maintained such behavior, and even till this point, missed the opportunity to stop.
She continued as she was either because she was still clinging to that little possibility, or that it was a mask she had to put on so that nobody would be able to see her inner self.
He did not know the reason why, he understood that Mahiru really did not wish for it.
“In the end, they do not want to look at me. Even though I have grown to be pretty, great at studies, capable of sports and housework, those people never once looked at me…my hard work has been for naught, but I am still working hard. It is foolish of me, is it not?”
Even though I knew I will not be repaid.
This utter lament suffocated his heart.
“Those two cannot divorce with me around. They are not willing to be my guardians, for that will cause trouble for their affairs and their work. I cannot look to my grandparents. I have been waiting until I graduate from university. Once I am capable of being independent, I will not have any relation to them.”
“…I was shocked to hear… my mother say I am not wanted. I gave up, and just went to the swing in the rain.”
Upon hearing those words, Amane finally understood why she was in the rain at the park several months ago.
Back then, she was shaken by her parent’s words, wandering sadly, and arrived there.
She felt she had nowhere to go, and showed such a face—of a lost child, immature and uneasy.
She had no one to turn to for help, and could not accept such sad words. She was at a loss, so she just went and remained there.
He imagined her thoughts back then, an iron taste spreading in his mouth.
It seemed he had unwittingly bit through his lips, the slight pain and unique scent spreading in the mouth. The unreasonable truth might have inadvertently caused rage to arise within his heart.
“…If they found it inconvenient, they should not have given birth to me.”
The really feeble mutter seemed as painful as a stake being hammered into his chest, leaving him unable to move at all.
At this point, his heart was filled with utter rage turning his mind blank, directed towards the actual parents Mahiru spoke up.
She became so delicate because she never received love from her parents, unable to show how fragile she was. She was acting tough, but deep inside, she was crying, and she was unable to turn to anyone for help.
She removed her façade as a good child, and looked so utterly fragile and fleeting, on the verge of collapse.
（How could they push her this far?）
He wanted to question out loud, but the two people who abandoned Mahiru were not present.
Furthermore, he did not know what to do.
He was furious at the harsh family environment, but Amane was merely an outsider to Mahiru.
It was bad for him to interfere with Mahiru’s family situation, and it might even worsen. He could not do anything for he considered that anything he said could potentially hurt her.
But if he was to leave Mahiru as she was, it seemed that she would sublimate into the air—he laid the blanket next to him over her head.
He covered her, her face hidden beneath the shadow. While she remained confused, he brought her into him arms.
It was the first time he took the initiative to embrace, her petite, helpless body seemed prone to snap if he exerted too much strength.
Amane embraced Mahiru in his clutches, the latter never able to rely on anyone, and always endured alone.
“…I think I’m starting to understand why your personality is like this.”
“The part about me not being cute?”
“Not that…more like, how patient you are, yet so stubborn.”
She had to endure, for if she once showed weakness, she would surely collapse.
The housemaker appeared to really care for Mahiru, but was merely a hired outsider, unable to help Mahiru.
And so she could only endure this silently, without being able to ask anyone for help, and for that reason, she ended up faking herself.
“…I can’t interfere with your family, so I’m not going to lecture you here and there.”
As an outsider, Amane should not be talking about something as sensitive as family matters.
But it did not mean he could not help and support Mahiru.
“…I’ll pretend not to see, so just cry all you want. You’ll just feel suffocated holding it all in with that face of yours.”
To be honest, he really did not want her to cry.
But if this continued to pile up, she would crumble apart one day.
Thus, he hoped she would cry; that she would release all the stress she had endured.
If she felt suffering, he wanted her to talk it out; if she felt lonely, he wanted her to express her loneliness. Only then would Amane be able to be by her side, listening to her.
He was powerless in the face of her plight, but at the very least, he could share some of her burden.
At one point, he thought of himself as getting too ahead of himself, but she started moving in his clutches, buried her face into his chest, and dissipating all his worries.
“…You swear you will keep it a secret?”
“I’m not looking. I don’t know.”
“…Then, lend me…a moment.”
He did not answer her quivering mutter, merely putting the blanket over her head once again before embracing the helpless back.
After a moment, he could hear faint sobbing.
Not loud, but it was clearly a sob, from Mahiru.
She never bemoaned her fate, and endured it alone. After hearing her plead him for ‘support’, Amane himself had the urge to cry as he embraced her little back.
“…You were watching after all.”
She did not cry for long.
He did not look at the time, but it was about ten minutes or so.
He felt it was fine for her to let out the 16 years of suffering, but she might be too tired from crying for so long, and her body just stopped the tears. The mental exhaustion might have tacked on to her physical exhaustion, and the brain might have been forced to sleep.
Mahiru lifted her face towards Amane, her eyes still moist, but had regained some semblance of vigor as they looked back at Amane, rejuvenated.
“Well, you’re on my chest. I made sure not to look before you started crying.”
He removed the blanket that had slipped off, and saw the little smile on her face.
“…Thank you very much.”
“I don’t know, what for?”
I wanted to do this, and I don’t remember doing anything to thank me for. He turned his head aside, and once again, Mahiru buried her face into his chest.
“Please let me do so for a little longer.”
He could not leave Mahiru as she was in this state. After all, he wanted to support her.
He tried to play it cool as he embraced her firmly, and gently patted her head.
If nobody else would praise Mahiru, Amane would do the honors.
You really worked hard. You don’t have to force yourself in front of me. So he thought as he gently caressed her head. She seemed to have calmed down, looking up at him with the expression of one with her strength sapped from her.
But perhaps she was just a little too worried about various things, for she did not appear to cheer up.
“…What shall I do in the future?”
Mahiru muttered softly, showing a perturbed smile towards Amane’s eyes.
“I worked hard, but the two of them never cared about me. The others too call me the Angel, but they never really needed me. What they liked what they need, is the angelic Mahiru Shiina…not the real me. I was the reason for this outcome, but it is foolish, is it not? I am suffering because of this.”
I was the one who drove myself to despair, she bitterly noted, and latched onto the fabric on Amane’s chest.
“The real me is not cute at all, timid and selfish, and unpleasant in personality…I am not attractive in any way.”
“Well I like that, somewhat.”
He unwittingly blurted out his true thoughts.
Mahiru instantly blinked away, and he looked back, continuing,
“Well, you have moments when you aren’t cute, but I often have thoughts that yeah, you’re cute, I want to protect you. Besides, your forthright personality is something I like, and nobody with a bad real personality will actually worry about that.”
You’re thinking about it backwards, he flicked Mahiru’s forehead lightly. The latter was somewhat dumbfounded, the negative expression gone from her face.
For Amane, Mahiru’s self-deprecation was really something he could not understand at all.
No matter who viewed her, everyone could tell she was a hardworking, kind girl. She might be a little too blunt in her words, but she was being reasonable, and saying things for the good of others.
She said she was timid, but that was not a bad thing. She was merely too hurt, and being defensive so that she would not be hurt again.
And if she was really not cute, Amane would not have become so restless because of her.
Rather, he hoped she realized that she was cuter if she was being her true self.
“Don’t belittle yourself. There’s one guy in front of you who likes to see your true self. ”
She might have lacked self-esteem because she was not loved. However, Amane was not the only one who liked her. There were any around him who felt the same, and he really lamented her grave belief.
Chitose too felt that the real Mahiru was cute, and kept clinging onto the latter. That Chitose would not simply look at appearances after all, no matter how he thought about it.
He stared into Mahiru’s caramel-colored eyes, implying so, and her eyes began to swim around.
Furthermore, the little red color at the corners of her eyes instantly covered her face.
One might say her face was the color of rose, and by the time he realized her shame might be out of embarrassment, she shriveled up, her eyes just wandering around.
Looking at Mahiru’s state, Amane realized he might not have said the right words, and his face too turned red.
“N-no, look, Chitose and the others feel the same! I-I don’t mean anything else! It’s not just me! Mom, dad, Chitose and Itsuki like it when you’re not being the Angel! So, actually, I think…your personality is more popular than you think.”
Amane hastily explained, and Mahiru finally looked at him.
But even for a moment, the fact that a misunderstanding happened would not change, and she quivered with a blushing face, probably embarrassed by Amane’s words. Amane too would feel embarrassed, but she might be more embarrassed than he was, since she was the one hearing these words.
“Erm, if you can’t take it, or you had enough of those parents, you can hide in our house. My parents will shelter you once they know of your situation. So well, just think of it as healing.”
“My parents really like you, and I feel they’ll let you stay with them forever…seems like they’re not going to let you go until you gain happiness. We can’t interfere with your family matters, but we’ll continue to shelter you until you make up your mind, or support you.”
Amane did his best to explain and quell the misunderstanding, and Mahiru once again had tears in her eyes.
“Wh-why are you crying again?”
“Because I feel blessed…”
“Well, you haven’t been fortunate, so you can be a little more selfish.”
She was financially well off, but she received nothing. She did not receive the love she deserved, and it was amazing that she managed to grow up without being twisted.
He felt that Mahiru could fawn to anyone as much as she pleased, and be impulsive, after all the hardship she suffered. Since nobody else would hear her words, he decided to make up for it, even by a little.
“…So, may I request for something?”
As long as I can do it, he quipped, but she smiled, “this is something only you can do, Amane-kun” and muttered,
“Please look at me some more.”
“I’m looking at you working hard. I won’t know where you’ll run off to if I look away, so I’ll keep watching you.”
“…Please catch me well.”
“I’ll hold your hand then.”
Is that all? He looked towards Mahiru’s face, who stared back, before giving a bashful look.
“For today, please catch me with your body.”
Once she said that, she wrapped her arms around Amane’s back, burying her face into his chest. His heart raced for a moment, but he thought it would be bad to have malicious thoughts, so he suppressed those thoughts before embracing that delicate body once again.