He invited Mahiru into his house, and sat her down on the sofa.
She showed a feeble smile, and was on the verge of falling over. He held her hand, sat down, and moved his hand from her wrist to her palm, wanting to wrap it, it seemed.
Once he gently wrapped her hand, and her eyebrows drooped.
“…May you hear some pointless words from me?”
Ten minutes or so passed since they arrived in Amane’s apartment, before Mahiru started to confess.
“My parents did not marry out of love. I shall not mention the details, but they got married simply because of family matters, and mutual interests.”
Mahiru flatly noted, but such a marriage reason was increasingly rare in modern Japan.
Typically, people would marry out of love. It was not impossible to marry out of mutual interests, but it felt so archaic to mention it.
It seemed she was someone of the upper class, and one could assume her parents were the same. Amane could not say it was completely impossible for them to marry because of such reasons…but he found it unbelievable.
“So…actually, they did not want to have a child, but a night stand happened. They gave birth to me, and they had no choice but to offer money. They never had any intention to raise me.”
“They didn’t want to raise a child….”
“…They usually do not come home. Even if they do, they just treat it as a hotel.”
I never saw much of my parents’ faces since I was young, Mahiru lamented softly, looking so frail.
“I do not remember them doing anything typical of a parent. The parent who raised me was in fact the housemaker. They have affairs, and usually focus on their sides. All they do is to give me money and discard me, saying that I am not needed. No matter how I work hard, or try to be a good child, they just would not look at me.”
At that point, he finally understood why Mahiru projected herself as an angelic child.
Mahiru yearned for her parents to look at her, even a little.
If she acted as a good child, they might show concern for her, and praise her…she maintained such behavior even with the faintest of hope, and missed the opportunity to stop even at this point.
She continued as she was still clinging to that little possibility, or perhaps it was a facade she had to maintain, so that that nobody could see her inner self.
He did not know the reason why, but he understood that Mahiru really did not wish for it.
“But they never showed concern for me. No matter how pretty I have become, how good I am at studies, capable of sports and housework, those people never once looked at me…my hard work has been for naught, but I am still working hard. It is foolish of me, no?”
Even though I knew I will not be repaid. This despondent lament suffocated his heart.
“Those two cannot divorce with me around. They are not willing to be my guardians, for that will cause trouble for their affairs and their work. I cannot look to my grandparents for assistance either. I have been waiting until I graduate from university, and once I am capable of being independent, I will not have any relation to them.”
“…I was shocked to be told directly… that I am not wanted. I gave up, and just went to the swing in the rain.”
Upon hearing those words, Amane finally understood why she was in the rain at the park several months ago.
Back then, she was shaken by her parent’s words, wandering sadly, and arrived there.
She felt she had nowhere to go, and showed the expression…of a lost child, immature and uneasy.
She had no one to turn to for help, and could not accept such depressing words. She was at a loss, so she just went and remained there.
He imagined her thoughts back then, and the taste of blood spreading in his mouth.
It seemed he had unwittingly bit through his lips, for the slight pain and unique scent spread in the mouth. The unreasonable truth might have inadvertently caused rage to arise within his heart.
“…If they found it inconvenient, they should not have given birth to me.”
The really feeble mutter seemed as painful as a stake being hammered into his chest, leaving him unable to move at all.
At this point, his heart was incensed, his mind turned blank as he directed his rage towards the actual parents Mahiru spoke of.
She became so delicate because she never received love from her parents, unable to show how fragile she was. She was acting tough, but deep inside, she was crying, and she was unable to turn to anyone for help.
She removed her façade as a good child, and looked so utterly fragile and fleeting.
How could they push her this far?
He wanted to question out loud, but the two people who abandoned Mahiru were not present.
Furthermore, he did not know what to do.
He was furious at the harsh family environment Mahiru suffered through, but he was not family to her.
It was bad for him to interfere with Mahiru’s family situation, and the situation might worsen if he did. He could not do anything, for he considered that anything he said could potentially hurt her.
But if he was to leave Mahiru as she was, it seemed that she would sublimate into the air…he laid the blanket next to him over her head.
He covered her, her face hidden in the shadows. While she remained confused, he brought her into him arms.
It was the first time he took the initiative to embrace, her petite, helpless body seemed prone to snap if he exerted too much strength.
Amane embraced Mahiru in his clutches, for the latter never able to rely on anyone, and always endured in silence alone.
“…I think I’m starting to understand why your personality is like this.”
“The part about me not being cute?”
“Not that…more like, how patient you are, yet so stubborn.”
She had to endure, for if she once showed weakness, she would surely collapse.
The housemaker appeared to really care for Mahiru, but was merely a hired outsider, unable to help Mahiru.
And so she could only endure this silently, without being able to ask anyone for help, and for that reason, she ended up faking herself.
“…I can’t interfere with your family, so I’m not going to lecture them here and there.”
As an outsider, Amane should not be talking about something as sensitive as family matters.
But it did not mean he could not help and support Mahiru.
“…I’ll pretend not to see, so just cry all you want. You’ll just feel suffocated holding it all in with that face of yours.”
To be honest, he really did not want her to cry.
But if this continued to pile up, she would crumble apart one day.
Thus, he hoped she would cry; that she would release all the stress she had endured silently.
If she was suffering, he wanted her to talk it out; if she felt lonely, he wanted her to express her loneliness. Only then would Amane be able to stay by her side, listening to her.
He was powerless in the face of her plight, but at the very least, he could share some of her burden.
At one point, he thought he was getting too ahead of himself, but she started moving in his clutches, buried her face into his chest, and dissipated all his worries.
“…You swear you will keep it a secret?”
“I’m not looking. I don’t know.”
“…Then, lend me…a moment.”
He did not answer her quivering mutter, and merely put the blanket over her head once again before embracing the helpless back.
After a moment, he could hear faint sobbing.
Not loud, but it was clearly a sob, from Mahiru.
She never bemoaned her fate, and endured it alone. After hearing her plead him for ‘support’, Amane himself had the urge to cry as he embraced her little back.
“…You were watching after all.”
She did not cry for long.
He did not look at the time, but it was about ten minutes or so.
He felt it was fine for her to let out the 16 years of suffering, but she might be too tired from crying for so long, and her body just stopped tearing. The mental exhaustion might have tacked on to her physical exhaustion, and the brain was probably forced to sleep.
Mahiru lifted her face towards Amane, her eyes still moist, but had regained some semblance of vigor as they looked back at Amane, rejuvenated.
“Well, you’re on my chest. I made sure not to look before you started crying.”
He removed the blanket that had slipped off, and saw the little smile on her face.
“…Thank you very much.”
“I don’t know, what for?”
I wanted to do this, and I don’t remember doing anything to thank me for. He turned his head aside, and once again, Mahiru buried her face into his chest.
“Please let me do so for a little longer.”
He could not leave Mahiru as she was in this state. After all, he wanted to support her.
He tried to play it cool as he embraced her firmly, and gently patted her head.
If nobody else would praise Mahiru, Amane would do the honors.
You really worked hard. You don’t have to force yourself in front of me. So he thought as he gently caressed her head. She seemed to have calmed down, looking up at him with the expression of one with her strength sapped from her.
But perhaps she was just a little too worried about various things, for she did not appear to cheer up.
“…What shall I do in the future?”
Mahiru muttered softly, showing a perturbed smile towards Amane’s eyes.
“I worked hard, but the two of them never cared about me. The others too call me the Angel, but they never really needed me. What they liked what they need, is the angelic Mahiru Shiina…not the real me. I was the reason for this outcome, but I am suffering because of this. Is it not ironic?”
I was the one who drove myself to despair, she bitterly noted, and latched onto the fabric on Amane’s chest.
“The real me is not cute at all, timid and selfish, and unpleasant in personality…I am not attractive in any way.”
“Well I like that, somewhat.”
He unwittingly blurted out his true thoughts.
Mahiru instantly blinked away, and he stared back at her, continuing,
“Well, you have moments when you aren’t cute, but I often have thoughts that yeah, you’re cute, I want to protect you. Besides, your forthright personality is something I like, and nobody with a bad real personality will actually worry about that.”
You’re thinking about it backwards, he flicked Mahiru’s forehead lightly. The latter was somewhat dumbfounded, the negative expression gone from her face.
Mahiru’s self-deprecation was really something Amane could not understand at all.
Everyone could tell she was a hardworking, kind girl, no matter how they looked at her. She might be a little too blunt in her words, but she was being reasonable, and saying things for the good of others.
She said she was timid, but that was not a bad thing. She was merely too hurt, and being defensive so that she would not be hurt again.
And if she was really not cute, Amane would not have become so restless because of her.
Rather, he hoped she realized that she was cuter if she was being her true self.
“Don’t belittle yourself. There’s one guy in front of you who likes to see your true self. ”
She might have lacked self-esteem because she was not loved. However, Amane was not the only one who liked her. There were many others too who felt the same, and he really lamented her grave misunderstanding.
Chitose too felt that the real Mahiru was cute, and kept clinging onto the latter. Clearly, that Chitose would not simply look at appearances after all.
He stared into Mahiru’s caramel-colored eyes, implying so, and her eyes began to swim around.
Furthermore, the little red color at the corners of her eyes instantly covered her face.
One might say her face was the color of rose, and by the time he realized her shame might be out of embarrassment, she shriveled up, her eyes just wandering around.
Looking at Mahiru’s state, Amane realized he might have said something inappropriate, and his face too turned red.
“N-no, look, Chitose and the others feel the same! I-I don’t mean anything else! It’s not just me! Mom, dad, Chitose and Itsuki like it when you’re not being the Angel! So, actually, I think…your personality is more popular than you think.”
Amane hastily explained, and Mahiru finally looked at him.
But even for a moment, the fact remained that a misunderstanding happened , and she quivered with a blushing face, probably embarrassed by Amane’s words. Amane too would feel embarrassed, but she might be more embarrassed than he was, since she was the one hearing these words.
“Erm, if you can’t take it, or you had enough of those parents, you can hide in our house. My parents will shelter you once they know of your situation. So well, just think of it as healing.”
“My parents really like you, and I feel they’ll let you stay with them forever…well, I don’t think they’re going to let you go until you gain happiness. We can’t interfere with your family matters, but we’ll continue to shelter you until you make up your mind, or support you.”
Amane did his best to explain and quell the misunderstanding, and Mahiru once again had tears in her eyes.
“Wh-why are you crying again?”
“Because I feel blessed…”
“Well, you haven’t been fortunate, so you can be a little more selfish.”
She was financially well off, but she received nothing else. She did not receive the love she deserved, and it was amazing that she managed to grow up without being twisted.
He felt that Mahiru could fawn to anyone as much as she pleased, and be impulsive, after all the hardship she suffered. Since nobody else would hear her sufferings, he decided to make up for it, even by a little.
“…So, may I request for something?”
As long as I can do it, he quipped, but she smiled, “this is something only you can do, Amane-kun,” and muttered,
“Please look at me some more.”
“I’m looking at you working hard. I won’t know where you’ll run off to if I look away, so I’ll keep watching you.”
“…Please catch me well.”
“I’ll hold your hand then.”
Is that all? He looked towards Mahiru’s face, who stared back, before giving a bashful look.
“For today, please catch me with your body.”
Once she said that, she wrapped her arms around Amane’s back, burying her face into his chest. His heart raced for a moment, but he thought it would be bad to have malicious thoughts, so he suppressed those thoughts before embracing that delicate body once again.