”Amaneee, howd you do? ”

Semester exams had finally ended. Having survived their collective hell, the students

gathered in their classroom, more exited and animated than usual.

Amane and Itsuki, both relieved that they had wrapped up all their tests, were

comparing their performances.

”Mm? Oh, pretty average, ” Amane answered. ”Not that great, not that bad. ”

The exam had covered the expected material, so for anyone who studied daily, it wasn

that difficult. Amane had done about as well this time as he had with other tests,

leaving little to say about his academics one way or the other.

Amane got bored easily, but he nevertheless always made sure to study. He was able

to retain most of the things taught in class, but it was far too difficult to get a perfect

score, so his scores usually floated between a solid eighty and ninety.

”I bet youll make it into the top thirty, if you didn outdo yourself… you egghead, ”

Itsuki teased.

”Its because I study every day, ” Amane shot back.

”Well, how nice for you! ”

”Don start; you
e the one forgetting to study cause you
e too busy flirting. ”

The difference between Amane and Itsuki probably had less to do with their intellectual

capacities and more to do with which one of them spent all their free time with a

certain girlfriend named Chitose. Itsuki had the ability to make it into a pretty high

score bracket if he ever bothered to study seriously, but since Chitose was his real

priority, his actual rank was much lower than Amanes.

”…Girlfriends are great, you know? ” Itsuki said wistfully.

”Yeah, yeah. ”

”Hey, Amane, you should get a girlfriend, too! ”

”If guys could just get girlfriends whenever they wanted, the men of the world

wouldn shed so many bitter tears. ”

There were plenty of unsatisfied men who would have taken offense at Itsukis

thoughtless remark. Amane, though, wasn really inclined to get angry with him over

it. In fact, hed never really felt that way about any girl, so he was content to let the

comment pass.

”Assuming I did get one, what then? ” Amane inquired.

”A double date, ” Itsuki replied.

”That would end in a bad case of heartburn for my fictional girlfriend and me. Wed

have to break up. ”

”You could flirt in front of us, too, yknow! ”

”Do you really think I can find a girlfriend, the way I live? ”

”…I guess its impossible. ”

”Right? ”

Amane was honest to a fault, even with himself. Hed always found other people difficult

and exhausting, and he was aware that many people found him to be standoffish. That,

plus the blunt way he spoke, meant he was not all that popular. Amanes social status

wouldve made it hard to find a girlfriend, even if he was looking for one.

Against all odds, if Amane did somehow find a girlfriend, he was sure they wouldn

be like Itsuki and Chitose. He couldn picture himself flirting in public with a girl,

oblivious to anyone who might see.

”Come on, you should at least find someone you like, Amane. If you just cut your bangs

a little shorter, cleaned yourself up, and maybe found a style that worked for you, the

girls would definitely look at you differently, Im tellin ya. ”

Assuming Amanes self-evaluation was accurate, he didn have the handsome looks

of a pretty boy like Yuuta or a Romeo like Itsuki, but he definitely didn think he was

ugly, either. Amane figured that if he just spent more time on his grooming and paid

more attention to his clothes, he could rival most of the other boys his age. The

problem was that he didn know enough about fashion to dress well, and he was

certainly not smooth enough with his words to win any girl over.

”Im not interested in the kind of girl who picks a date based on appearance, ” Amane


”You say that, but if you don get them interested in the first place, you won even get

to know them well enough to judge their personality, right? ” Itsuki argued back.

”…Even if thats true, Im not really looking for a girlfriend right now. ”

Were some hypothetical girl ever actually interested in Amane, it would be all over the

second she saw how he lived. Amane was a slob with no life skills, and on top of that,

he had a difficult time getting along with other people. If there was a girl who was

drawn to him, despite all that, hed like to meet her. Such a hopeless thought was

enough to bring a bitter smile to Amanes face.

Besides, since Mahiru was cooking dinners for him now, a girlfriend could introduce

some unpleasant complications. Not that Amane intended to pursue a relationship in

the first place, but that was simply one more strike against the idea.

Amane felt that Mahirus delicious cooking was worth more than the possibility of an

as-yet-unseen girlfriend, and that conviction was not likely to be easily overturned.

”Ugh, you
e so boring… How about I get Chi to introduce you to one of her friends? ”

offered Itsuki.

”You care way too much about this. Most of Chis friends are too… excitable. Its hard

for me to hang out with them, even as friends. ” Amane quickly shot down the idea.

”Only because you
e so gloomy. ”

”Oh, shut up. ”

”Well, if you say so, I won say anything to her for now. But as a blossoming high school

boy, isn it sad to live an empty life, all by yourself? ”

”I don need a girlfriend; they
e too much trouble. ”

Just what do you think we
e supposed to be doing at school anyway? Amane thought.

Even if he wasn actually that serious about his studies, he still didn see the point in

spending so much time worrying about romance. Above all, finding a real match was

no easy feat.

”…What a waste, ” Itsuki grumbled.

”Yeah, yeah. ” Amane shrugged.

”But listen, youll change your tune when you find a good one, Amane, ya hear? ”

”What makes you so sure? ”

”Because girls particularly like to fuss over guys like you. ”

”Whatever you say, man. ”

Amane couldn imagine acting so sentimental; it didn seem possible. He decided to

simply ignore his friends words. Itsuki was looking at Amane with an exasperated

glare, when suddenly, his line of sight shifted, and his face relaxed.

”Itsukiii! Lets go home together! ”

”Ah, Chi! ”

Just then, Chitose appeared. Apparently, Itsuki had promised to walk her home, which

brought a swift end to their conversation.

When Amane turned to see where his friends attention had shifted, he saw a girl with

medium-short light-brown hair tinged with red, looking their way with a radiant

smile. Well, to be more accurate, she was only looking and waving at Itsuki.

The girls lively aura and bright, smiling face were enough to make Itsuki beam

whenever he saw her. That was the kind of effect Chitose had on people, and for better

or worse, she was always the center of attention.

Chitose was a different type of beauty than Mahiru. She had a great big smile as she

rushed over. With any luck, she wouldn have much to say today, because usually

whenever Chitose talked, she made fun of Amane.

”You agree, right, Chi? Amanes the type of guy who needs a girlfriend to take care of

him, don you think? ” Itsuki asked.

”Don stick your nose where it doesn belong, ” chided Amane.

”Wait, what, do you have a girlfriend, Amane?! ” Chitose exclaimed excitedly.

”No way. ”

”Aw, bummer, ” Chitose said, pouting. ”If you did, Id want to be friends with her. ”

”Knowing your idea of friendship, I would feel bad for my imaginary girlfriend, ”

Amane said.

”Oh, so you have an imaginary girlfriend? ” Chitose asked.

”Weren we just talking about what if I had one?! ”

”Kidding, kidding. ”

”I get tired just talking to you… ”

”Thats just because you don have the stamina to handle me. ”

”Don have the patience, more like… ”

Even a short exchange with Chitose was mentally exhausting for Amane. Most of the

time, he tried to keep his head down and avoid other people, like at school. When he

found himself forced to carry on a conversation with someone as extroverted as

Chitose, it was really demanding.

Chitose didn let Amanes sour attitude bother her at all and flashed the exhaustedlooking boy a truly joyful-looking smile. ”You
e such a mess. ”

Itsuki smiled in the same way and tossed out some perfunctory advice. ”Youd better

get your act together, buddy. ”

Amane was already too worn-out, managing only to let out a deep sigh.

”…What are you doing? ”

After returning home and gobbling up Mahirus handmade food, Amane returned to

the living room once he was finished doing the dishes and saw Mahiru with a question

sheet spread out before her.

Thered been no agreement about cleaning the dishes, but Amane took the initiative

to shoulder the burden whenever possible. While hed been tidying up, Mahiru had

gone to sit in the living room. It would have been inexcusable to make her do

everything and then hurry on home.

”Im grading, ” Mahiru answered.

”I mean, I can see that. ”

She seemed to be reviewing her answers with her textbook out, checking that she

hadn gotten anything wrong.

”So whats the result? ” Amane asked.

”Well, if I didn make any recording errors on my answer sheet, then its… a perfect

score. ”

”I can think of anything to say except It figures. ”

Just as Mahiru didn show much of a reaction in regard to her errorless work, Amane

didn have a very exaggerated response. He wasn surprised, because her name was

practically always written in the top spot of the periodic exam results. He knew Mahiru

was more than capable of a perfect score, so he was not the least bit surprised by her

performance here.

”Its because studying doesn bother me. Ive actually already completed all of this

years coursework, so now its enough to simply review, ” Mahiru explained.

”Whoa, you really go all out…, ” Amane replied.

”You study a lot yourself, Fujimiya. ”

”You know what my grades are like? ”

”I sort of remember your name in the ranking list. ”

Apparently, Mahiru had known a little bit about Amane before they ever spoke. She

must have noticed him among the top ranks, because she recounted his exact placement

on the most recent test without hesitation, almost like she was looking at the list right


Amane did work pretty hard at his studies, but it wasn because of some earnest drive

for success or anything. It was because of an agreement hed come to with his parents.

In order to live alone, he had to maintain good grades.

”Well, its a condition for my current lifestyle: I have to keep my grades up. ”

The only other facet to the agreement was that Amane had to visit home at least once

every six months, but he could take care of that over long school breaks. Basically, as

long as he was keeping his grades up, there were no problems.

”I study hard enough to keep my head above water, but nothing like you. You really put

a lot of effort in. ”

”…I have to try hard, ” Mahiru mumbled, casting her eyes downward. Her expression

was hidden by her bangs, and while Amane couldn get a proper look at it, anyone

would have recognized it wasn a happy one. Before he could get a read on her, though,

she quickly looked back up, once again wearing her usual expression.

Even if there had been time to point out the curious change, Amane probably wouldn

have. He could tell that Mahiru was carrying some kind of painful burden by certain

things she did or faces she made.

While Amane made sure to never ask Mahiru what was bothering her or what was so

unpleasant, he still got the impression that she was struggling with something. Amane

imagined that, whatever it was, it had its origins in her home life. It was hardly the

kind of subject he could just casually broach with the girl. He understood that this was

not an area in which an outsider like himself could intrude, and so Amane never

touched the subject, and he persistently tried to maintain a sense of distance

appropriate for a neighbor.

Everyone had things they didn want to talk about, even Amane. Treading thoughtlessly

on Mahiru would be rude, and he was sure that she appreciated the fact that he

pretended not to notice her distress.

Having disguised her abrupt change in mood, Mahiru declared in a clear voice that she

would be heading back to her own apartment. She put her textbook and her answer

sheet back into her bag.

Amane didn have any intention of stopping her, so he replied simply ”Mm-hmm,

sounds good ” and watched Mahiru get ready to leave.

When the angel had finished putting everything away, she stood up from her seat, and

Amane noticed that shed left something behind next to her empty cup. He picked it

up and discovered it was a case holding Mahirus student ID, the kind any student

would have. Shed probably pulled it out along with her textbook and forgotten to put

it away.

Along with her name and picture, the little plastic card displayed common

information, like her student number, birthday, and blood type. After staring at it for

a second, Amane called out to Mahiru, who was in the entryway and putting her shoes


”You forgot this, ” he said.

”Oh, sorry for the trouble. Well then, good night. ”

”Night. ”

Mahiru gave a quick, polite bow and turned her back on Amanes apartment. With a

small sigh, Amane watched her leave.

Thinking back to the birth date listed on Mahirus school ID, Amane put a hand to his

forehead as he realized something.

”…Thats in four days, isn it? ”

If he hadn unintentionally seen the girls ID, he likely never wouldve found out.

Amane wished that hed known about Mahirus birthday a little earlier and let out

another sigh, a deep one.

”Hey, I was wondering, is there anything you want? ”

The following day, Amane tried to see if there was anything Mahiru might like as a gift.

There was no ulterior motive behind the gesture. In fact, Amane had been thinking for

a while that it might be nice to get something for the girl who had been taking care of

him every day. A birthday seemed like the perfect time.

There must have been something odd about the way Amane phrased the question,

however, because Mahiru gave him a puzzled look. One that made Amane begin to

regret asking such a direct question.

”Why are you asking all of the sudden? ” Mahiru inquired.

”You don seem very materialistic, so I was just curious. ”

”Out of nowhere again… ”

Amane thought that he should probably have tried to play it a little smoother, but it

was too late for that now. The one possible saving grace was that Mahiru didn seem

to have realized that this was about her birthday. As far as she knew, Amane shouldve

had no way of knowing her date of birth. Hopefully, that would keep her from catching


”Well, lets see, there is one thing I need. I guess thats what I want right now. ”

”What do you want? ”

”A whetstone. ”

”A… whetstone? ”

Unconsciously, Amane repeated Mahirus words, because the girls answer had been

far too unexpected.

No one couldve expected that kind of answer from a high school girl. Normally, youd

think they would want cosmetics, or accessories, or bags, or something like that, Amane

thought. He would never in his wildest dreams have expected a girl to want a tool for

sharpening metal.

”Thats right, a whetstone. I already have several, but I want one with a finer finishing

surface, you see, ” Mahiru explained.

”Are you sure you
e really an ordinary high school girl? ” Amane asked.

”Please don expect me to be ordinary. ”

It was difficult for Amane to object to that. Mahiru could not be called an ordinary high

schooler, by any standard. Describing her as an angel seemed entirely accurate.

Mahiru was a prodigy who was good at school and sports. Whats more, she was an

excellent cook and a skilled housekeeper. As if that wasn enough, Mahiru was a noble

young lady who spent so much time taking care of a slob like Amane that she couldve

been mistaken for a married woman.

Still, who could have imagined shed want something like a whetstone?

Mahiru had to be the only high school girl in the whole world who wanted such a thing.

”You can buy it yourself? ” Amane wondered aloud. She was well-off, after all.

”Its not exactly that I can buy it, you know. Its just—I won have that many

opportunities to use it, and its pretty expensive. After considering all that, I couldn

really justify the purchase. I already have one that can put a decent edge on, so I keep

telling myself that I don really need it. ”

Amane had to admit that it was more than a bit frightening to know that Mahiru

owned several whetstones already.

”…How many high school girls out there sharpen their own kitchen knives? ” he asked.

”Quite a few, ” Mahiru replied.

”Even if there are, you
e the only one I know, and you
e also the only one who wants

another whetstone. ”

”Well, I suppose its nice to be unique. ”

”If you say so… ”

This certainly was an angel with unusual interests. Amane couldn make heads or tails

of her.

Mahiru tilted her head in confusion as Amane stood there looking baffled. Hed

completely lost sight of his original objective.

”Hey, Itsuki? ”

After completely failing to decide on a gift that Mahiru might appreciate, Amane had

decided instead to consult with his best friend. Itsuki had a way with womens hearts,

as well as a girlfriend to consult, so Amane expected that he would probably have

some grasp on what a girl would normally want. While he wasn really sure it was a

good idea to try to apply normal standards to someone like Mahiru, he expected that

she wouldn outright hate things that made someone elses girlfriend happy.

”Whats up? ” Itsuki replied.

”When you give Chitose presents, what do you usually get her? ”

Amane thought it would be best to start by asking what Itsuki bought for his girl, but

all he got back was a blank stare.

”Huh, you planning on giving a present to some sweetheart of yours? ”

”Do you think I have it in me to do something like that? ”

”Nope. ”

”All right, then. ”

”In that case, why are you asking? ”

”Someone I know has a birthday coming up, so I wanted to ask you. ”

While Amane was planning on listening to Itsukis advice with the utmost attention,

he was also keen not to reveal too much about his own circumstances.

”Hmm… for starters, you should try finding out what they want. You know, its

important to do that sort of research on a regular basis. Its the secret to a harmonious

relationship, Im telling you, ” said Itsuki.

”I told you that this isn for a girlfriend, ” Amane reminded.

Setting aside the potential grave danger the other boys at school would pose to

Amanes physical safety if word ever got around, Mahiru was too awe-inspiring to even

consider asking out in the first place.

Sure, he was comfortable hanging around with her, and they got along well enough as

two frank individuals, but there were absolutely no romantic feelings between them.

Sure, she was cute, but that didn mean Amane wanted a relationship.

”What they want, huh…? And what if you don know? ” Amane asked.

”Depends on how close you are. If you
e good friends, an accessory or something is

good, but if you
e not close, something practical that they can use is a safer bet. There

are lots of girls who
e happy to get flowers but don know what to do when they

receive them, ” Itsuki explained.

”…You sure know your stuff. ”

”Well, Ive done a fair bit of research, I guess. ”

Itsuki and Chitose hadn always been so wild about each other. Their relationship had

slowly developed, first starting in middle school. Amane had gone to a different middle

school, so he didn really know all the details, but apparently, theyd gone through a

lot together, and their relationship had grown from those experiences to the point

where these days, they wouldn shut up about each other.

To hear him tell it, Itsuki had also been fairly lost the first time hed had to give Chitose

a present, so Amane figured he could benefit from his friends experience.

”Oh, and no girl hates hand cream, ” Itsuki added.

”Hand cream? ”

As Amane was pondering this unexpected option, Itsuki grinned and explained

proudly, ”No matter what age they are, every girl has some use for it. If shes a student,

her hands get dry from handling notebooks and textbooks in class; if shes in the

workforce, her hands dry out from typing and air conditioning; and housewives cook

and clean, so their hands take a beating, too. You can go wrong with that stuff. ”

”Hmm. You sure know an awful lot about womens hands…, ” Amane said.

e the one who came and asked me! ” Itsuki snapped.

Itsuki slapped Amane on the back, but there was no power behind it. The two friends

shared a laugh.

Hand cream, huh? I guess that is a pretty safe bet.

Amane had been taking the initiative on washing the dishes after dinner, but Mahiru

obviously did her own dishes at home, so he could imagine her hands could use some

moisturizing. More importantly, Amane was sure she took care of her hands already,

since they were so smooth. A gift she could use right away really was the best plan.

”Cool, thanks for your thoughts, ” Amane said.

”Lets try asking Chi, too. As a fellow girl, she probably has a better idea, ” proposed


”…Eh… ”

”You gotta warm up to her. ”

Amane certainly didn hate her, but Chitose was not exactly his favorite type of girl,

and being around her always made him feel awkward. Usually, he tried to avoid

interacting with her altogether. Itsuki slapped Amanes back again gently, smiling in


”Whaaa—? Amane, you
e giving a girl a birthday present? ” Chitose was smiling—no,

smirking—at this rare development, and it was all Amane could do not to grimace.

He had gone to Chitoses classroom to talk to her after school, and sure enough, she

seemed greatly amused. Incidentally, Itsuki had sent Chitose a message saying that he

wasn worried about her being alone with another boy as long as it was Amane, so he

had gone on home. Amane had sighed softly, while Chitose had worn a wide grin.

I told him I didn want to ask her.

It was obvious that she was definitely going to pry and ridicule him, so he hadn

intended to turn to her for help at all. Amane certainly didn hate Chitose, but he

couldn deny that there were some things about her that he just couldn stand.

”Okay, so Itsuki wrote here that Amane was hoping youd give him some pointers. So

you want my help, huh? ”

e the only girl I can ask, Chi. ”

”It doesn sound very nice when you put it like that, you know. ” Chitose looked at

Amane with clear pity, but he let it pass.

The truth was, Amane had no female friends outside of Chitose. Every single girl in his

class barely counted as acquaintances, and he wasn close enough to any of them to

be able to ask for help with things like this.

Actually, Amane was usually rather quiet in school. If one of his female classmates

tried to talk to him, he probably wouldn know what to do.

”All right, well, I can imagine you really understand how girls think, Amane. But don

worry! Miss Chitose is here to advise you! ”

”…I guess Im in your hands, ” Amane said.

”You guess? Whats to guess? I may not look it, but I know womens hearts perfectly! ”

”I mean, you are a girl, after all… I guess. ”

”Watch it with those guesses, buddy! Im not sure I like what you
e implying! ”

Chitose cleared her throat and thrust out her chest. Compared to Mahiru, who Amane

saw every day, the result was underwhelming at best. Amane awkwardly stared at the


Regardless of what he personally thought, Chitose was popular with guys. Personalitywise, she was cheerful and friendly, and she talked to everyone without playing

favorites, so hers was a different kind of popularity than Mahirus. She got along with

boys and girls alike. She really was the epitome of a life-of-the-party kind of person.

She had apparently been a member of the track-and-field club in middle school, and

her slender build and toned legs certainly didn hurt her popularity. It was a verifiable

fact that her legs were beautiful, so much so that Itsuki had warned other guys in

school that hed get angry if they stared at her too much.

”Ah, right, right, ” Chitose chittered. ”Something for a cute girl, lets see… ”

There were definitely times when she got too friendly, but Amane wouldn deny that

Chitose was cute. He could understand why other guys in school liked her.

”…You know, ” Chitose added, ”that glum attitude of yours is seriously gonna give

people the wrong idea. ”

”Gee, thanks for your concern, ” Amane replied.

”Fine, fine. So you
e giving something to a girl, right? Well, what kind of girl? ”

Chitoses question didn leave him much room to maneuver, but Amane knew that if

he was careless with what he told her, she wouldn let him live it down, so he chose

his words gingerly.

”Shes an acquaintance of mine, and shes relatively young. Beyond that, Im exercising

my right to remain silent. ”

”Uh… if you won tell me her about her personality or what she likes, even I can come

up with any ideas, you know. ”

”Can you just tell me some things that you would like to get as a gift? Then Ill choose

from among them. ”

”I get it; you don want to tell me anything about her. Fine, well do it your way. ”

Chitose made a good point, but if he told her any more, she would know that Amane

was close to a girl their age, and it was likely that the conversation would veer off in a

strange and uncomfortable direction from there. If he really slipped up, Chitose might

even end up figuring out that he was talking about Mahiru.

Amane wanted to avoid that if at all possible, so hed decided not to tell her anything

that wasn strictly necessary. Chitose also seemed to understand that he wouldn

willingly reveal much more, and thankfully, she was kind enough to back off on the


”Hmm, lets see… I don know what type of relationship you have with her, but if shes

an acquaintance you speak with fairly often, Im assuming she would be happy to

receive something from a person whos about as close to her as I am to you. In that

case, generally a consumable or everyday item thats not too expensive should be good. ”

”Itsuki told me pretty much the same thing, ” Amane said.

”Obviously. He understands how girls think. Now, if you
e looking for a casual gift,

some sweets and a handkerchief or some small item might be good. If I got an

expensive accessory from you, Amane, Id totally be like A bribe?! or something. ”

”I don think I would get anything out of bribing you, though. ”

After shooting Amane a glance that seemed to be asking for some sort of recompense

for her help, Chitose smiled and answered, ”Well, youve got that right. Anyway, little

things like that are safe. ”

”…Gotcha. ”

”You sound kinda unsatisfied. ” Chitose cocked her head.

”Its not that Im not satisfied, but… ” Amane trailed off. In truth, he just wasn sure

that Mahiru would appreciate the sort of gift that he would select. She probably had

impeccable taste, and she seemed like the type to choose things that combined quality

and functionality. Amane wasn sure if his choice would measure up.

Chitose could sense a slight hesitation in Amanes demeanor, and she hummed a bit to

herself. ”…Lets see… Another option might be… something cute? ”

”…Such as? ”

”Depends on the persons tastes. For example, a stuffed animal or a keychain with an

adorable character on it. I think giving her something like that might work. ”

Amane blinked back at Chitose after hearing the unexpected suggestion, and Chitose

smiled knowingly. ”Most girls enjoy cute things, you see. There are even some people

who keep collecting stuffed animals long after they grow up, and lots of girls like them

in general, right? ”

”…A stuffed animal, huh…? ” Amane didn know whether Mahiru had any girly

interests, but she did wear clothes decorated with cute frills and ornaments, so she

probably didn hate cuter things like stuffed animals.

Amane could certainly imagine Mahiru being happy to receive a plush toy.

”Oh, do I sense some interest? ” Chitose smirked. Apparently, she had caught the

minute change that had come over Amane. He nodded, though he was still unsure, and

let out a small sigh.

”…But itll be too weird for me to buy a stuffed animal, I think, ” Amane admitted.

”Its a present; you
e not buying it for yourself. Whats the problem? ” Chitose asked.

”I mean, a guy my age, carrying a stuffed animal to the register…? ”

”You really are pathetic, you know that? ”

”Mm-hmm. ”

There was no denying it, but it still hurt Amane to hear it. He ought to be able to get

over such a petty hang-up, but even walking into a store that carried stuffed animals

by himself was enough to make him feel embarrassed.

Fortunately, Chitose was with him today. Amane thought he might be able to convince

her to accompany him to a shop on the way home. It certainly wasn out of the question,


”…Chitose, come with me, ” said Amane.

”Whatcha mean? ”

”…Please accompany me to go shopping. ”

”Hmm, I wonder if I should… ” It was just like Chitose to tease him like this.

Of course, she didn really have any intention of refusing Amanes request, but there

could be no doubt that she was putting on a deliberate act, both to make fun of Amane

and to force him to beg for her help.

”Im asking you, please. Im really counting on you, ” Amane pleaded.

”Mmm, I guess I could go… By the way, Amane, I feel like eating something sweet. And

the crepe stand in front of the station has a super-delicious-looking limited-time

item… ”

”…Please allow me to treat you. ”

”Yay! ”

Amane grimaced at Chitoses clever manipulation, but he realized it was a small price

to pay for her help. It was way better to pay for one crepe than to go into a cutesy shop

all on his own. Amane let out a powerful sigh as he looked at Chitose, who was grinning

impishly, then mentally calculated his approximate budget based on what was in his


After consulting Itsuki and Chitose, Amane had at last made a decision on what to give

Mahiru for her birthday. Staring at the back of the girl in question, a nervous

expression overtook Amanes face.

As compensation for a deluxe crepe from the shop in front of the station, the

Wintertime Limited Edition Berry Berry Special to be exact, Amane had asked Chitose

for one more thing. It and the actual present were now sitting in a bag together. The

problem was that Amane was completely at a loss for when he should give the gift to


The birthday girl was fixing dinner as usual, with no change in demeanor.

Amane didn know what was on the menu, but it had the air of Japanese food and

certainly didn seem like anything special. She seemed relaxed as she went about her


Mahiru had made no indication at all that today was anything but another regular day.

She was acting so normal that Amane wondered if perhaps she even knew.

As Mahiru started setting the table, Amane couldn help but notice that her face

remained completely unchanged. The two ate an extremely typical dinner and held a

totally normal conversation. Through it all, Amane remained completely unsure of

when best to present her with the gifts hed gotten. Frowning, he glanced in the

direction of the paper bag hidden behind his sofa.

He decided to wait until they had cleaned up after dinner and returned to the living

room, when he could take a seat beside Mahiru on his two-person sofa. Shed brought

some books to look over after their meal, so that seemed as good a time as any.

True to her nickname, the angel was just as beautiful when she was reading.

Without knowing why, Amane hesitated a little to sit next to her, but even if he

hesitated, there was no way around it, so he grabbed the paper gift bag from its hiding

place and sat down next to Mahiru.

Immediately, the girls head snapped up. Whether shed noticed Amanes presence or

heard the sound of the crinkling paper bag was unclear. Either way, her caramelcolored eyes turned toward Amane before shifting to what he was holding.

Mahiru looked confused, as if she still hadn realized that this was about her birthday.

”Here. For you. ” Amane placed the bag on Mahirus knees, and the girls expression

grew even more puzzled.

”What is this? ” she asked.

”Its your birthday, right? ”

”Thats true… but wait, how did you know that? I don remember telling anyone. ”

Mahiru was suddenly on guard.

”Remember when you dropped your school ID in my apartment? ” Amane reminded


She seemed to understand, and her normal expression returned. ”I really wish you

hadn gone to the trouble. I… don celebrate my birthday. ”

Amane was certain that hed heard a bit of cold detachment in Mahirus voice when

she spoke. The look in her eyes told him that even the word birthday was something

she avoided.

I see, he thought. So the reason why she didn act any differently, even though its her

birthday, wasn because she forgot… Shes been purposely ignoring it. Something about

it must bother her.

Amane figured that if that wasn the case, Mahiru wouldn have spoken like that.

”Okay then, call it an expression of gratitude for everything you do for me. I just

decided to give you something to repay you. ”

Setting aside any mention of Mahirus birthday, Amane pressed the bag on her,

justifying it as his way of thanking her for her daily kindnesses. She cooked delicious

meals for him every evening and helped him with his cleaning sometimes. When it

came down to it, Mahiru did a lot to take care of Amane. He wanted to repay that debt

in whatever small way possible.

Amane held out the present to Mahiru, but she shrank away. First, she looked confused,

then she frowned at Amanes determination. Finally, she accepted the gift bag.

”…Well, can I open it? ” Mahiru asked.

”Yeah, ” Amane said.

Mahiru nodded and gingerly pulled out the box that was inside the paper bag, then

she carefully untied the ribbon and removed the wrapping paper.

Something about watching Mahiru open the gift made Amane extremely nervous.

Inside the box was the hand cream Itsuki had suggested. It was nestled in a largish box

alongside some sweets. Apparently, itd been some kind of set. It wasn the kind of

hand cream that smelled particularly nice, nor was it all that stylish. Instead, it was

the scentless kind that was gentle on the skin. That way, it wouldn cause any trouble

while doing housework. This was the sort that was advertised as moisture-retaining.

Amane had made sure to check the reviews of the product on the Internet, so he was

certain of its efficacy.

”Yeah, sorry its nothing too crazy. I just thought that since you do a lot of housework,

your hands might get dry. They had scented ones, too, but I thought you might have

some of those already. Apparently, its effective and easy on the skin. ”

”It is… quite practical, ” Mahiru said.

”I thought you would value practicality over anything else, ” answered Amane.

”Yeah, you
e right. Thank you very much. ” Mahiru smiled slightly, as if she understood

Amanes reasoning. A little less nervous now, Amanes expression softened a bit as

well. It seemed like hed made a good impression.

There was one more present, though, and Amane felt embarrassed to have Mahiru

open this one in front of him for some reason. Hed hoped that she would only notice

it after she had gone back home.

However, Mahiru was peering into the paper bag, looking as if she had already noticed

that there was one more thing hiding within it.

”…What, a second one? ” she asked.

”Ah. Yeah, there is. Its a bonus; I picked it out myself, ” Amane answered.

”What does that mean? ”

”…Exactly what I said. ”

Amane averted his eyes. Mahiru tilted her head in confusion for an instant, then

promptly pulled the second gift from the bag.

To purposefully disguise this other present, Amane had intentionally wrapped it in

paper the same color as the interior of the bag. Hed hoped that would make it stand

out less—and that Mahiru would only notice it later when he wasn around.

Unfortunately, it was large enough that Amane shouldve known it would be

impossible to miss. There was honestly no way Mahiru could have overlooked it.

Unlike the hand cream, this present didn come in a box, just a polyester bag. It was

just about the right size to fit comfortably in Mahirus arms. The bag was tied up with

a navy-blue ribbon, and Amane watched Mahiru undo that carefully as well,

wondering if it would be all right for him to stand up from his seat. Finally, Mahiru

carefully pulled out what lay inside.

She held the bags contents up gently with both hands, blinking her large eyes

dramatically, looking truly surprised.

”…A bear? ” Mahiru mumbled.

It was a stuffed animal. Not too large, it was perfectly proportioned for an elementary

school student. Its light-colored fur was soft, much like Mahirus own hair. A light-blue

ribbon was tied around the toys neck to form a collar. It had a rather cherubic look

stitched onto its face, and the round, cute button eyes had a luster to them that

reflected Mahirus face as they stared at her.

Doubtless, the girl was wondering why Amane had given her such a thing when she

was in high school. The truth was that Amane had taken a risk and chosen it based on

Chitoses advice that girls liked cute things no matter how old they were.

Of course, he had been much too embarrassed to go buy the bear alone, so Chitose had

come with him to make the purchase, though only in exchange for the deluxe crepe

from the shop in front of the station.

Chitoses smiling face had loomed over Amane throughout the whole process of

buying the bear and getting it wrapped. In the end, he couldn help but think it

mightve been better if hed just gone alone. Though, there was nothing he could do

about it now.

”…I thought it looked like something a girl would like, ” Amane mumbled to no one in

particular, scratching his head. He was terrible at stuff like this.

The last time hed gotten a present for a member of the opposite sex was when hed

given gifts to his mother as a little kid. Amane had never once thought hed have to

pick something out for a girl.

So it doesn faze her to get a cute stuffed animal from a boy, huh…?

Risking a quick glance at Mahiru, Amane saw her staring directly into the bears face.

He couldn tell from her expression whether she was happy, only that her eyes were

fixed on the stuffed animal.

”I mean… If you don like it, you can just toss it, ” Amane said, hoping to diffuse the

situation with some light humor.

Mahiru turned sharply toward him and drew her eyebrows tightly into a frown. ”I

would never! ”

”S-sure, I, uh, didn think you would or anything. ”

The response had been so absolute that Amane couldn help but flinch and barely

managed to nod in answer. Mahiru looked back at the bear in her hands again.

”…I would never do such a cruel thing. Ill treasure it. ” Slender arms embraced the

stuffed bear, as if to wrap it up entirely. Amane couldn decide if Mahiru looked more

like a child with a favorite toy or a mother protecting an infant. Either way, she

certainly embraced the bear enthusiastically, looking down at the thing as though it

were the most precious object in the world.

Mahirus face was not the stony mask she kept up at school, nor was it the face she

often wore when she was exasperated with Amane. This time it was peaceful, soft, and

somewhat affectionate—an unmistakably sweet expression.

Amane felt an innocence in her, and her pure smile was beautiful enough to take his

breath away. She was really exceptionally cute.

I shouldn be staring, Amane thought. Mahiru was liable to notice if he kept looking at

her like that.

Amane was certain that he wasn in love, but seeing a beautiful girl make a face like

that, and knowing that he was the cause of it, undeniably made his heart throb. She

looked so adorable as she sat there with a faint smile, hugging the stuffed animal to

her chest. Anyone who saw her wouldve been captivated by the sight. Amane certainly

was, despite his usual reservations.

Just pressing a palm to her face wouldve made it immediately apparent how much

warmer it was than usual. Embarrassed after being so open with her emotions, she

swore under her breath. ”…Damn. ” The word was so quiet it could barely be heard.

Fortunately, Mahiru did not seem to have noticed how Amane was looking at her,

because her face was half-buried in the stuffed animal that she was clutching to her


She still looked extremely sweet, and Amane was worried he would say something

strange in spite of himself.

”…Im really glad you like it. ” Thankfully, Amane managed to keep what he said brief.

Quickly, Mahiru turned to face him. ”This is the first time Ive ever received something

like this. ”

”Huh? With how popular you are, I thought youd be getting presents like this all the

time… ”

”What do you take me for…? ” It came as a relief to see Mahirus usual behavior return,

but that was only because Amane couldn see her current expression behind the bear.

”…I never told anyone when my birthday was, ” Mahiru continued, looking back down

at the stuffed animal. ”I hate that day, so I don really share it. ”

Mahirus expression softened as she looked at her gift, though her words remained

sharp. The apparent dissonance set Amane on edge a bit.

”Normally, I hate getting presents from strangers, so I don accept them, ” Mahiru


e accepting this, though, ” Amane said.

”…Fujimiya…, ” Mahiru said quietly, ”you
e not a stranger. ”

Face still half-buried in fur, Mahiru looked up toward Amane again. She wore a dreamy,

innocent expression. It was captivating, and as Amane gazed at the angel sitting on his

couch, he realized he was in trouble.

Mahiru was so cute that Amane found himself reaching unbidden to stroke her hair,

and he had to quickly stuff his hand behind his back before he did something really


…That was close! If Amane had let his guard down, he probably wouldve started

patting Mahiru on the head right then and there. Doing something so inappropriate

would have destroyed everything hed built with her.

”…What is it? ” Mahiru asked.

”N-nothing, ” Amane replied shyly.

Perhaps Mahiru had seen his arm move, or maybe shed noticed his obvious distress

as he struggled to keep his alarming feelings from bubbling to the surface. Mahirus

head tilted to one side in puzzlement. That simple movement was enough to leave

Amane speechless, and it occurred to him that beautiful girls possessed a terrifying

power. Still, he felt embarrassed for being so captivated by Mahirus cuteness. He was

also confident that if he told her how he felt, she would just be confused.

Something about the feeling instilled a sense of danger in Amane, and he did his best

to push it deep down.

”…Thank you very much, Fujimiya, ” Mahiru said in a soft voice, but Amane had already

turned away from her.

”Hey, hey, Amane, howd it go with that girl you got the present for? ”

Obviously Chitose was going to pry, since Amane had convinced her to come along

shopping with him. The day after Mahirus birthday, Amane was confronted by

Chitoses grinning inquiry.

Chitose was in a different class but had come to his classroom after school. That alone

wasn much of an issue, but hers was the sort of smile that made Amane feel like she

was up to something. Today especially, he felt the urge to turn and run.

”Nothing happened—at least, not anything like you
e imagining, ” Amane answered.

It was the truth. He definitely wasn holding on to any amorous feelings, and he hadn

given Mahiru the present because he hoped it would lead to the start of something

more. Sure, shed graciously accepted the gifts, but there had certainly been no

romantic developments of the kind that Chitose anticipated.

”Now hold on, ” Itsuki interrupted, ”The fact that you were so concerned about

someone at all is a pretty rare thing, you know. You suddenly have some acquaintance

that you seem involved with, and its a girl. Very suspicious. ”

”Its nothing like that. ” Amane knew he had to shut this down now. He was happy that

Mahiru had been pleased with her gifts, but he was starting to think that bringing

other people into the situation was more trouble than itd been worth.

Not wanting to feed their curiosity anymore, Amane had answered as bluntly as

possible, but Itsuki had his hand to his mouth, as if he was pondering something.

”…Hmm… say, Amane? ”

”What is it? ”

”Is it possible that the person you gave the present to is… your neighbor? ”

Itsuki was smart and very perceptive, which at times like these could be a real pain.

”…What makes you think that? ” Amane asked nervously.

”Well, shes the only person I could think of that bothers taking care of you. And you

not from around here, so you don know many people. Plus, you don hang out with

many girls. She brought you dinner that other day, right? I was thinking that maybe

this was about you wanting to return the favor. ”

”Well… ”

”Hmm… Amane has been looking very healthy recently, right, Chi? ”

”Oh, I thought so, too. ”

”She must be bringing him meals pretty frequently, huh? I wonder if thats why he

wanted to give her a birthday present, to thank her? ”

Amane fought to maintain a blank expression as Itsuki perfectly described the

situation to Chitose. It was so accurate that it was like he had been there to watch it all

go down. Sometimes Itsuki was scary like that. Amane could see why his friend was

so popular. He was a bit of a show-off but also smart and thoughtful. Amane just

wished Itsuki would save the grandstanding for his girlfriend.

”What an overactive imagination…, ” Amane interjected.

”Well, you won fess up, so imaginations are all weve got. Cmon, spill it! ” Itsuki pressed.

”Who knows…? ”

e holdin out on us! ”

”So stingy! ” Chitose chimed in agreement.

”Shut up. ”

No matter what anyone said, Amane wasn planning on confirming the truth. If he let

anything slip, Itsuki and Chitose would never stop hounding him until hed spit out

the whole story. Really, Itsuki was only the tip of the iceberg; Amane was in the

presence of a high school girl who loved gossip, especially when it came to romantic

affairs. While there wasn the slightest bit of romance to be found here, if Chitose got

one whiff of the person involved, Amane would never hear the end of it.

Sighing in exasperation, Amane finished packing his things and shouldered his

backpack. Hed decided on a strategic retreat, before his two friends gave him


”See ya. You two can go ahead and flirt all you like in private, ” Amane said.

”We were gonna do that whether you said to or not! ” Itsuki shouted.

”…Itsuki, weren we gonna tail him and try to meet the girl in question…? ”

”Yeah, uh, you probably shouldn discuss your operation in front of the target… And

anyway, theres nothing to see. Even if there was, you two would never make it past

the lobby! ” Amane scolded.

”Tch! ” Chitoses lips curled into a cute pout, but her eyes were serious. Apparently, she

really had been planning on tailing Amane. Nervously hurrying out of the room,

Amane left his friends behind.

”…That was a close one, ” Amane grumbled without thinking.

”What was? ” Mahiru asked him curiously.

It was still a little early to make dinner, but Amane and Mahiru had gone shopping and

come back to his apartment. Theyd been relaxing for a bit, when Mahiru overheard

Amane talking to himself.

Mahiru had been acting the same as usual; there was no trace of the girl whod been

so enamored with the stuffed bear. The same placid expression remained, and Amane

wondered if perhaps hed dreamed up the whole birthday incident. Actually, he

preferred her this way. He wasn sure his heart could stand regularly seeing her look

at him the way she had the other day.

”Ah, well, Itsuki and Chitose were suspicious about the present. ”

Amane intended to explain that hed consulted them about the present, but Mahiru

seemed to remember Itsukis name, and she exhaled, saying ”Ah, I see ” as if she


”Well, it didn seem like the sort of thing you would buy on your own. ”

”Thats not what I was concerned about… ”

Apparently, no one thought Amane was capable of getting a gift for a girl. If he was

being honest, he really didn think hed ever experience the many sweet and bitter

feelings that were supposed to accompany love all at once.

”My shopping is my business. Why does everyone think that way about me anyway? ”

Certainly, Mahiru was cute, and yesterday hed felt a desire to reach out and touch her.

That much he couldn deny, but what young man wouldn have felt that way? Mahiru

was outrageously beautiful, after all. Amane had been caught up in her beauty; that

was all. Nothing about what had happened was evidence he had any deeper feelings.

Mahiru was a great person, but Amane was not interested in her like that.

He glanced over at Mahiru. She was just as beautiful as ever, but Amanes heart didn

pound like it had the night before. Once again, he reminded himself that he didn care

for Mahiru in any meaningful way.

Worried that Mahiru would say something if she caught Amane staring at her, he

looked down at his phone instead. When he did, he realized hed received a ton of new

texts. Thinking it was probably Itsuki, Amane decided to check them, but it turned out

they hadn come from his friend.

Amane frowned at the senders name: SHIHOKO.

She was one of only three female contacts in Amanes phone. There was Chitose,

Mahiru, and… Amanes mother.

Wondering what she could possibly want, Amane tapped the message thread. He

hated dealing with his mothers high-strung questions, always asking him how exams

were going or whether he needed anything. He could barely handle Chitose, and yet

some members of his family were just like her. In fact, Chitose might become very

much like Amanes mother as she got older. Shihoko wasn so bad that Amane outright

hated her, but he couldn stand his mothers personality.

”I brought some fruit back from Grandfathers, so Im going to share it with you, Amane.

Im sending it over, so be at your place on Saturday afternoon! I won forgive you if you

refuse delivery or aren there to get it, okay? ”

”So you can just decide my plans all on your own…? ” Amane muttered. Now, he didn

actually have any plans for Saturday, but he thought his mother ought to have at least

contacted him a little earlier.

”Did something happen? ” Mahiru must have heard Amanes whisperings, because she

looked over at him with her usual calm expression.

”My mom picked some fruit at my grandpas place, and shes sending it here on

Saturday afternoon. Probably apples and stuff, ” Amane explained.

”Do you peel your apples? ”

”…I guess I could do that, with a peeler. ”

”That would peel them, but… itll take off a lot of the flesh, too, so its a little wasteful. ”

Mahirus words sounded like something Amanes mother would say, and he tried to

swallow that thought before it surfaced.

”If it comes down to it, we can just eat them whole, ” he said.

”How savage. ”

”Its a pain to peel them. ” Amane shrugged and grinned haplessly.

e such a mess. ” Despite Mahiru sounding annoyed and giving a rather brutal

assessment of Amanes table manners, the way she held herself also showed some

understanding. ”I guess its all the same once you eat them. ”

”You know, Im not sure Ill be able to eat them all before they go bad. Do you want

some, too? ” asked Amane.

”Sure, Id be happy to take some. Fruit is expensive, after all. ” It was kind of a domestic

thing to say, but then again, that was the kind of person Mahiru was.

”Saturday, right? In that case, Ill make us lunch beforehand as thanks, ” Mahiru said.

”But you
e always taking care of me already, ” Amane protested.

”Like Ive told you, I really don mind making food for you, Fujimiya. ” Mahiru smiled

very slightly. Somehow, the little grin made Amane feel awkward. It called to mind the

events of the previous day, and Amane couldn help but avert his eyes from the

beautiful angel in his apartment.

”…All right, thanks, ” he replied curtly.

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