The new semester started, but there was no drastic change.
Everyone spent the winter vacation as they wished, but the changes were not as drastic as they were during the summer vacation; nobody went for a major change in image, and the faces in the class remained unchanged.
Amane sat quietly at his seat, observing the class that was noisier than usual, only to be approached.
“Yo Amane, feeling fine?”
“Thanks to you.”
Itsuki arrived at the classroom later than Amane did, still the same as usual.
They never met since Christmas, but he was still having the usual frivolous smile.
“Did you have a good New Year?”
“Why so hesitant? Any progress made?”
“Seriously, what progress…not that, nothing happened.”
He could not say that nothing happened. Neither wanted it, but Mahiru spent the night at Amane’s place. He could not say this however.
He could easily imagine Itsuki telling Chitose about this, and both of them leering and teasing him.
Other than that, his parents dropped by for Hatsumōde; but that probably could count as nothing.
“Well, I’ll take it as it is then.”
Amane was annoyed by the leer, but he let it be, finding it a hassle to retort.
Time to talk about something else…so he looked around the classroom with such a thought, but nothing special actually happened.
The girls were all gathered around the prince of their batch, Kadowaki. Neither his slightly perturbed look in the middle of them all changed, nor did the plain old jealousy of the boys gathered around them.
“Looks like nothing changed at all.”
“Well, that’s Yuuta for you. Same old, same old.”
Amane was just observing out of boredom alongside Itsuki, who had no interest in other girls as he had a girlfriend, giving a wry smile at Yuuta’s popularity. They then looked around.
“Speaking of which, I heard that Shiina-san has a boyfriend.”
A few girls were huddled together, and upon hearing their conversation, Amane stiffened.
“Ah, Lisa said that. She was holding hands with a boy during Hatsumōde.”
“She did she did. Maybe Shiina-san isn’t interested in anyone because she has a boyfriend?”
“I heard that he’s rather good looking, but he never showed up at school. I wonder if he’s from another school.”
Perhaps it was just him, but it seemed all the stares in class were gathered upon the talking girls. Even that Yuuta appeared to be pricking his ears towards them.
Only Itsuki’s stare was directed towards Amane.
“I don’t know.”
“I haven’t said anything.”
“Nothing to do with me.”
Itsuki gave a wry smile at Amane’s soft denial, and suddenly lifted the latter’s bangs.
“Well, you keep it hidden, but you have a nice face.”
“Coming from you, I think you’re just teasing me.”
While Itsuki appeared to be lighthearted and have a frivolous vibe, he might be considered handsome .
And to Amane, a handsome lad telling him that felt sarcastic.
He felt his appearance was merely passable, and did not want to hear others’ opinion of his face.
He waved aside the hand touching his bangs, and frowned, spotting Itsuki’s wry smile.
“That’s how you are.”
“Well, I can say that’s just like you.”
While Amane looked as aloof as before, Itsuki was chuckling instead of looking furious.
“Looks like rumors have spread in school.”
After dinner, he noted to Mahiru who was seated across the dining table. The latter understood what he meant, her face stiffened.
Mahiru herself would be the most perturbed.
It appeared none of the rumors mentioned Amane in person, but it must be exhausting for Mahiru to be asked if she had a boyfriend. Thus on this day, she looked a little rigid when she arrived at Amane’s house, her steps probably heavy because of this.
“…At least nobody found out it was you, Amane-kun, but it was a lot of effort resolving the misunderstandings.”
“Does holding hands make me a boyfriend now?”
“I do not know. Anyway, I denied it, and said he was someone I know. We just have to wait for the rumors to disappear.”
“Nn, well, that’s to be expected.”
He felt apologetic for being assumed as her boyfriend, so he too wanted the rumors to dissipate as soon as possible. It would be really stressful for her to be asked repeatedly if she was his boyfriend.
The same applied for Amane, who would be restless whenever he heard these rumors, out of apology and shame. He wanted people to forget the rumors.
Haa, he let out a sigh, and Mahiru silently lowered her eyes.
“…Do we look like lovers?”
“Who knows? Right now, someone like me can’t be your boyfriend, Mahiru. You can choose a more handsome guy out there, and even if you’re with me, I look more like an ordinary acquaintance.
“You are not just someone.”
Amane looked towards Mahiru once again after hearing this unexpectedly forceful voice; she reverted back to looking gloomy, though for some reason, she looked a little…furious, adamant.
“You have low self-esteem of yourself, Amane-kun, but that is not true. I do think you are an outstanding person, Amane-kun. You are kind, understanding, gentlemanly, good natured…and really cool when you do dress yourself up.”
His cheeks started to blush as he listened to the earnest praise that did not seem to be so.
He never expected her to have such a high opinion of him, and she was overly serious with what she said, which left him embarrassed.
Mahiru might have realized how embarrassing her words were, for she started stammering midway through.
Despite that, she stared at his eyes, indicating that she was being heartfelt; the compliments left him increasingly bashful.
“I-I see…erm, thanks.”
“So-so I say, erm, well…please do not look down on yourself.”
He could not deny it, now that he was praised by her, for the mood would not allow for him to be humble in any way.
Mahiru’s cheeks were slightly reddened as she lowered her head, quivering in shame. Amane too felt the shame rising up within him, and quietly muttered.
“…Well, I’ll go wash the dishes.”
In any case, all Amane could do was to escape sheepishly.
It might be called a tactical retreat, for it was bad for his heart to see her quivering in embarrassment.
Suu, haa, he took a deep breath, stood up, and brought the utensils to the sink. Mahiru went to the living room, sat on the sofa, and buried her face into the cushion. It seemed she too was embarrassed, unused to the concept of lavishing praise.
Once he saw that, “If you’re embarrassed, don’t say this” Amane murmured, but because of her words, he felt some weight lifted from his chest.
He felt quite relieved after receiving approval, probably.
So he thought, but he was still embarrassed. It was winter, yet he was listlessly washing the dishes with cold water.