In a corner of his heart, Amane had a feeling they might meet again.
They never left this place, fooled around during the summer, and all lived near their middle school.
However, he never expected them to meet at this moment.
“It’s really you, Fujimiya. I couldn’t remember your name until it was mentioned.”
The name…was Tojo, and he was looking at Amane. Tojo did not look too different from when Amane last saw him at the middle school.
In contrast, Amane had greatly changed over the past two years away. He was dressed in outdoor clothing and hairstyle, so Tojo might not have recognized him immediately.
Tojo’s smile was as frivolous as Itsuki, who too was of similar demeanor. While Itsuki was a cheerful, good boy, Tojo instead was more of a hoodlum.
“It’s been a while, Fujimiya.”
“Thought you left this place. Now you’re back?”
“Only in the summer vacation. Looks like you’re rather lively.”
Amane answered more normally than he expected, probably because while he was shocked, he did not falter.
Tojo was a local lad, and it was to be expected that he would appear here. It was merely a coincidence after all. After all, Amane’s residence was nowhere near, and Tojo was a mere unrelated stranger.
He felt goosebumps in his heart as he recalled the past, but once he sensed Mahiru’s warmth next to him, they dissipated.
“What’s with her? You bluffed her?”
“Of course not. She’s my girlfriend.”
Tojo sized up Mahiru. He looked peeved to hear Amane mention the word girlfriend.
Tojo would occasionally show such a face back when they were on better terms, and it was then that Amane understood why Tojo did so.
That expression was shown only when others had something Tojo did not have.
“You’re good, getting a girlfriend. You used to be so cute, and now you’re a man now.”
Tojo leered at Amane, but the latter had no thoughts. Amane assumed he would be hurt, but he really thought nothing about it, and instead, was worried that Mahiru next to him would be furious about him being belittled.
He glanced aside at Mahiru, and found her blinking, before she smiled.
He never knew if he should be relieved by such a smile, and was uneasy at her reaction. Tojo then showed a gleeful smile.
“Hey girlfriend, do you know? He’s better now, but we used to tease him for looking like a girl, and he nearly cried.”
“Now that’s nostalgic.”
Amane showed no reaction towards those malicious words.
First off, Mahiru was holding his hand by the side, and more importantly, Amane merely felt nostalgic about meeting Tojo, and found the latter to be such an ordinary person.
In the past, Tojo had the better physique and size. He was cheerful, would earnestly raise his own views, and had many friends.
Amane was once scared of showing hostility against someone who was outright superior. He also suffered much from Tojo’s betrayal.
Amane remained completely calm, not to the point of nonchalance, but he was capable of calmly looking back at the past, thinking that it all happened. Despite verything that happened, Amane no longer shivered as he did back then.
Tojo’s face was a little red, probably displeased that Amane appeared to react flatly. he raised an eyebrow.
“You look rather calm…so girlfriend, what value do you see from this guy? he doesn’t have any outstanding points other than his background, right? You know how he used to be such a wimp?”
Tojo turned towards Mahiru, but the latter’s poised smile showed no change.
“Amane-kun told me everything. Well, I did not know how cute he was…”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo to show.”
“Fufu, but I just saw it.”
He was cute, so she quietly chimed, and Amane looked towards her unhappily. she showed her original smile for an instance, only to revert to her angelic smile thereafter.
“…That aside, you did mention that he does not have value, no?”
She stood next to Amane, straightened her back, and stared at Tojo, who looked a little intimidated as she was mesmerizingly stern.
“Do you only choose those who are rich? Do you choose your friends based on the value they can provide you with? I do find that lonely.”
“Even with money, I was never really satisfied…my heart remained cold even though I have money.”
Mahiru put her hand on her chest as she muttered quietly, and Amane’s heart was gripped.
Mahiru herself had a decent background, and her family was wealthy enough to hire a homemaker. Everything she had was valuable. She once said that her parents only gave her money.
Thus, she valued money lightly, and prioritized human feelings over it.
Amane was not hurt by Tojo, but his heart ached once he thought of Mahiru’s situation. The reason was that he had long forgotten about Tojo.
“After I met Amane-kun, I felt happiness in my heart for the first time…it is not money nor appearance that decides a person’s worth, but the inside. I will not use external factors to determine his worth.”
Mahiru firmly stated, and neither pitied nor rejected Tojo. Instead, she merely stared at him calmly.
“If there is nothing valuable other than money to you, that is fine. I will not deny anyone’s values. I just need Amane-kun to understand that I value him most.”
The angelic smile became the original smile, directed towards Amane.
That alone was good enough.
“That’s enough, Mahiru.”
“Actually, I’ll feel embarrassed listening to that…though I’m happy. You can leave it for when we’re alone together.”
If Amane did not stop her, Mahiru might rattle off all of his good points, and would reveal how much she liked Amane.
Her purifying smile would be shown to Tojo, which Amane would find inappropriate, for Tojo was a mere stranger, not something to be involved with.
He muttered, and shielded Mahiru by standing before her.
Amane quietly called out, and received a flustered sounding response.
…I guess he’s really just passing by.
Amane had no further thoughts about seeing Tojo like that, probably because he had taken the latter for the past, and severed ties with him.
He was looking so calm, he never expected himself to be so when he left his hometown, terrified of seeing Tojo. Mahiru too sensed Amane’s mood behind him, and did not stop him.
Unlike the poised Amane, Tojo clearly looked sheepish, and waited for him to continue.
And Amane merely smiled back.
“I’m grateful to you now. You used me, and we broke our ties, but I was really happy back then. It’s a kind of redemption for me when I was so naive.”
Amane had no intention to begrudge Tojo.
He was hurt, he suffered, but he used that as an experience. It was that incident that formed his present self.
He liked his present self, and because he ended up like this, he met Mahiru, and bonded with her.
“Looking at the outcome, I guess it’s great that I was friends with you. Now I met Mahiru, and I think you using me was great for both of us. I was hurt, but I was able to mature because I managed to overcome that adversity. I got a priceless thing because of you guys.”
In a certain sense, Tojo and the ex-friends who were not present did form a crucial part in Amane and Mahiru’s encounter.
“Thanks…I’m not going to be friends with you, and I have nothing more to say. That’s just what I want to say.”
The words of thanks were parting words.
Amane had no intention of getting involved with Tojo. Since he lived near his current school, he intended to continue his studies there.
Amane and Tojo were in different schools, lived in different areas, and learned different things. They were to be mere strangers, just former friends.
Tojo seemed thunderstruck by Amane’s earnest words. Amane turned his back on him.
The goosebumps from Tojo had dissolved.
“Let’s go back then, Mahiru.”
Amane held Mahiru’s hand, and she looked slightly bashful.
She too abandoned all concern for Tojo, and looked only towards Amane.
Amane showed a wry smile at that, and left the park without looking back, abandoning all interest in his former friend.