They took an hour car ride or so from where Amane stayed, and arrived at a rather famous shrine in this area. As expected, there were much fewer crowds compared to what they saw on TV, but there were still quite a few people around.
“There’s a lot fewer people, but there’s still quite a few of them ”
“Mahiru-chan, don’t get lost here. We’ll keep an eye on you, and you have your phone. It won’t be too difficult to keep in contact, but it’s better to go to the shrine together.”
The kimono-clad Mahiru had the most inconvenience moving about, and was moving slowly despite wearing boots; the kimono would slow her greatly, and it was natural for her to move slowly.
It was not to the point where they had to squeeze their way in, but people were bumping shoulders, and they had to keep an eye on each other.
“Shall we go then?”
Shihoko led them into the crowd, first to the Chōzuya to rinse their hands and mouth. As expected, Mahiru was garnering lots of stares.
There were quite a few dressed in kimonos, and logically, Mahiru should not stand out too much even in kimono…but this did not seem to be the case.
To be honest, even in school uniform, and without ornament, she was attracting lots of attention. It was impossible for a traditional innocent looking girl to not attract attention while in Japanese clothing.
Even the manner she rinsed her mouth was so beautiful, and stares were gathered upon her.
“…Is anything the matter?”
He was displeased about others eyeing Mahiru, but he did not voice it out. He rinsed his hands and mouth as his parents did, and followed them.
He wanted to slow down and wait for Mahiru, but she was dressed in a kimono, not her usual clothing, and she had difficulty dealing with the hem, it seemed. There were many people present, and she was walking slower than usual.
“Mahiru, you alright?”
“This, this much is…hya!”
She lost her balance as she bumped into someone else on the shoulder, and was about to fall over, so Amane grabbed her arm.
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“Okay, lend me your hand.”
It was necessary to take care of her, especially when she was walking around while unused to such clothing.
He reached his hand to the little palm extending from the sleeve, and she looked up towards him.
Seeing her in such a state, Amane was about to reel his hand in, thinking she might be unwilling, but she hastily placed her hand onto his, looking up at him once again. He was left confused, and looked back at her.
Jiii, they stared at each other for quite a bit, and Mahiru was first to avert her eyes, grabbing Amane’s palm firmly.
There was no time for Amane to show any doubt, and they soon arrived before the Saisen box. While experiencing the touch felt from the hand, he buried the little doubt into his chest.
“You took quite a long while. What did you wish for?”
They left the crowd after making their prayers, and Amane asked Mahiru who had quietly prayed.
Mahiru prayed with an ideal beautiful action, her eyes closed and hands together for about twice as long as Amane did. He was nearly mesmerized by the elegant gesture after she moved her hands aside, and only then did he remember to ask what she prayed for.
“Just no illness or calamity.”
“That’s rather ordinary.”
But well, it certainly was just like Mahiru to wish for this.
He was thinking that she did not have much desire, and wondered what else she could have prayed for. It was as expected, and he was a little disappointed.
“…I want to live some peaceful days like this.”
This really was just like Mahiru.
It was something she would wish for, given that she disliked drastic changes, and liked peace and tranquility.
“That’s not going to happen with my mom around.”
“But that is fun in its own way.”
Is that so…? So he wondered, but he kept quiet after seeing how happy she was, and held her hand with a gentle look.
After all, they were still passing through a crowded place, and his parents were awaiting afar after finishing their visit. It would be troublesome if she was to trip over at this point.
Amane held her hand while thinking so, but she blinked slightly, lowering her eyes bashfully as she held his hand back.
“You two, over here~”
Shihoko’s voice was loud and lively, easily distinguishable.
Both of them approached the parents as though prompted, and Shihoko widened her eyes, her hand on her smiling mouth as she stared at them.
“You naturally held hands there, didn’t you?”
Upon hearing those words, he realized his mistake in holding hands before Shihoko.
Would this mean Mahiru was a special someone to Amane? Shihoko implied with a smirk, but it was not a joke to Amane.
“…I just don’t want her to get lost there. It’s easy to trip over in a kimono.”
“Of course. It is difficult to move around in kimono, and she needs an escort. I did the same with Shihoko-san.”
Shuuto was understanding, and did not find anything amiss about him holding Mahiru’s holding. Like Amane, he gently held Shihoko’s hand.
It would not be tiring if he could hold the hand as nimbly as his father did, but he could not do so because of his personality, so he was grateful that Mahiru held his hand obediently.
Upon seeing that Shihoko diverted her attention to Shuuto, Amane heaved a sigh of relief, but Mahiru did not release the strength in her hand.
Kyuu, it was controlled, but he understood that she was unwilling to let go, he whispered to her, asking what it was about, but she did not answer, her slender fingers still holding onto Amane’s.
“Mahiru-chan Mahiru-chan, I’m getting some hot drinks. Which do you prefer, Oshiruko or Amazake?”
“I shall have Oshiruko.”
Shihoko interrupted him from asking and letting go, so he could only continue to hold Mahiru’s hand.
“Then what about you?”
“…Amazake for me.”
But he was fine with Mahiru not hating him at least, so he restrained the slight itchiness arising in his heart as he told Shihoko what he wanted, before holding Mahiru’s hand again.
Soon after, Shihoko returned from the shop, and handed them their orders. They could not eat without letting go of their hands, so both decided to let go for the time being and rest.
His parents savored the Amazake together, beaming away.
While they were not alone in their own world, they were getting all touchy-feely. Amane was not in the mood to talk, and drank the Amazake he had just received.
It was drinkable in sips, and nutritious, but what Amane enjoyed was the sweetness and richness of the rice that spread in his mouth, and he could not help but sigh in relief and amazement.
He really could not give up on choosing the Oshiruko, but given that it was the New Year, and considering the mood, he chose the other. Given his personal preference, he was correct.
He glanced aside at Mahiru, and found her looking poised, sipping the Oshiruko from the paper cup.
He saw her enjoy the Oshiruko that much, and was increasingly yearning for it. It was troubling to him.
“Is the Oshiruko nice?”
“It is delicious.”
“I’ll like to have some?”
“Sure. May I have some too?”
Since they had this chance, they decided to exchange drinks and have a taste. Amane took the cup, and brought the slightly viscous red bean Oshiruko to his lips.
There was the distinct scent of red beans, and he took it to his lips. As expected, there was a sweet, rich scent, a little too sweet for him, for he was not the type to like sweets in the first place.
It appeared Mahiru liked sweets, and this sweetness was perfect for her.
“It is delicious.”
It seemed Mahiru too was fond of the Amazake, her eyes relaxed as she smiled.
“…You two just did that so naturally.”
Shihoko muttered, having watched over them.
“Don’t mind us…it’s a cold day, you’re lucky.”
“Obviously it’s better when the weather’s hot.”
“Might be the case for you two, but for us…huh?”
Shihoko asked Shuuto, who too was watching them. He gave a calm…somewhat wry smile, “Of course.”
Amane’s shoulders shivered awkward in the face of that incredulous stare, and Mahiru looked mystified as she stared back at Amane.