Christmas had passed, and the world was now entering the end-of-year mood.
The night lights remained as they were, but the commonplace Christmas trees had been 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 nowhere to be seen.
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, or so he was told, before receiving such a great gift from her. It was really comfortable, great at keeping himself warm, practical, and trendy looking.
Amane was not one to wear mufflers, but seeing as how he had received it from Mahiru, 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 a 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.
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 so familiar 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 interacting with her willingly , 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.
“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, her face looking brighter.