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 was embarrassing to open it before her. He wanted her to notice it before she returned home, if possible.
Unfortunately for him, Mahiru seemed to have noticed something else in the bag, and peered into it.
“…Why is there another?”
“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, can I get away from here now, Amane wondered as he stared at her…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, large enough for an elementary school girl to huge.
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? In high school?
No matter the age, girls often do like cute things. But this was what he chose after hearing Chitose’s advice.
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 will like this.”
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 discreetly 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, he joked, having determined so. 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 her favorite toy taken away, and like a mother embracing it lovingly.
One could say that she really treasured the bear from the way 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.
He put his hands on his face, affirming how hot his face was, 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, for 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 squeeing.
“…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.
“…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.