Asking Mahiru to pick up her portion of the fruit as soon as the package arrived turned

out to be a big mistake. When Amane heard the sound of the intercom and the highpitched, mischievous voice that called ”Aaa-maaa-neee! ” through it, he understood

that he was in trouble.

Amane had been very grateful for Mahirus proposal to make lunch for him on Saturday.

It had seemed a veritable blessing from heaven at the time. Truly, the carbonara shed

whipped up had been delicious. The thick-bodied sauce and the kick of black pepper

were a perfect match, and itd been tremendously tasty.

Mahiru hadn done anything wrong. Those at fault were Amane himself for failing to

recognize in advance what his mother had meant by telling him to be home on

Saturday for the delivery and that irksome, surprise-loving woman herself.

”…Um, Fujimiya? Is that the delivery…? ” Mahiru asked.

”Nope. That would be my mother. Shes probably using her duplicate key to get

through the front door and is heading up right now, ” Amane explained. Thinking back

on it, it had been his own mistake to take what his mother had said at face value. One

way or another, she always created situations that allowed her to come by and check

in on him. Amanes mother could never resist employing a little misdirection.

”…Uh, your mother? ”

”She probably came to see whether Im getting along okay… and she didn tell me she

was coming. Probably because she knew I would clean up in advance. ”

”Uh-huh… ”

”I know its all a bit hard to swallow, but that doesn matter right now. ”

Right now, the problem was what to do with Mahiru. If Amanes mother had still been

in the lobby downstairs, he could have sent Mahiru home, but that was out of the

question now that she was approaching his door. At the same time, his mother was

sure to get the wrong idea if he invited her into his apartment and she came across

Mahiru. There was no doubting that Mahiru would hate that as much as Amane would.

The longer Amane puzzled over what to do, the closer his mother was getting to just

barging right in.

I can believe this is happening… Amane did have an idea, but he didn like it.

”…Im sorry, Shiina, but could you please hide in my bedroom? ”

”Huh, wh-what? ”

”Take your stuff with you, and once I find some way to get my mom outside, you can

go back home. Im really sorry, but please? ”

With no other viable option, Amane took the helm and steered Mahiru into concealing

herself. Thankfully, theyd already finished cleaning up after lunch, so that wouldn

be a giveaway. If he hid her shoes in the shoe closet, they wouldn be discovered, and

Mahiru could just bring her personal effects into Amanes room.

The plan was to let Amanes mom to make a quick inspection of the apartment while

Mahiru was hiding. Amane would mention to his mother that he really wanted to eat

her home cooking, something thatd probably keep her too busy to push her way into

his room.

Whatever it took, Amane had to keep his mother from breaching the bedroom.

He would purposely request that his mother cook something that used an ingredient

he didn have in his refrigerator. If the two of them went out shopping together, that

would provide Mahiru with a window to escape.

Amane hurriedly explained to Mahiru that such a scheme was the only option as he

handed her his extra key and asked her to cooperate with the greatest sincerity he

could muster.

”O-okay, ” she said, nodding in bewilderment.

In truth, the storage room was also an option, but Amane didn want a girl to wait in

there. It had no heating, which meant it was quite cold this time of year. Amanes

bedroom had a proper heater, as well as soft cushions. It wouldn do to have Mahiru

sitting on a bare floor while she shivered from the cold.

”…All right, Im counting on you. I have to deal with my mom, so… ”

Even before meeting his mother, Amane looked dejected. He headed for the entrance

while Mahiru quietly slipped into the bedroom. After making sure that the angel was

hidden, Amane reluctantly opened the front door.

”My goodness Amane, that took you long enough. Im glad to see you
e looking well. I

was starting to wonder if you were asleep. ”

There was Amanes mother, standing just outside his apartment. He hadn seen her

since summer break.

Although she was a parent, it would have been difficult to tell from her looks alone. It

wasn just that her face looked young, she never acted her age, either. She wore the

same sort of happy expression she often had back when Amane was still living at home.

”Yeah, yeah, Im perfectly fine, so how about heading home? ”

”How can you say that to your own mother? It took me several hours to get here, you

know? Don I even get a thank-you? ”

”Thank you very much for traveling a great distance, now please go home. ”

”Come now, don say such things. Its not very endearing. You should act more like

Shuuto, your father! ”

”Men don need to be endearing, do we? ” While Amane had spat his words acidly, his

mother, Shihoko, didn seem bothered at all, instead breaking into a fit of laughter.

”Youve really hit your rebellious phase! ” she said. ”I hope you
e not planning on

having me stand outside all day. Im coming in, okay? ”

”Wait, nobody said you could— ”

”Have you forgotten that your father and I pay the rent on this place? ”

There was nothing Amane could do to argue or refuse his mother once shed played

that card. Reluctantly, he allowed her to enter.

To keep her from going into the bedroom, Amane casually guided his mother to walk

past the bedroom door and into the living room.

”By the way, you really should tell me beforehand when you plan on visiting, ” said


”Now, I wouldn be able to get a proper picture of my sons living situation if I didn

show up unannounced, would I? ” Shihoko replied.

”Ugh… Look, theres no problem, okay? Im keeping the place clean. ”

”You certainly are; Im surprised. You never kept your room clean at home, but you

doing better than Id expected. Im surprised. ” Shihoko nodded seriously, looking

genuinely astonished as she surveyed the living room.

The unspoken truth was that his place was only clean because Mahiru had helped

Amane tidy up. Her advice and constant scolding was a big part of how his place had

managed to stay clean, too. Really, Mahiru deserved most of the credit, but there was

no way Amane was going to tell his mother that now.

”Your skin looks good, too; you must be eating well, ” Shihoko observed.

”…Yeah, ” Amane admitted, unable to meet his mothers eyes. Even his improved health

was something he owed to the angel.

e even cooking properly, huh. Oh, but it looks like you
e cooking for two? ”

Shihokos manicured finger was pointing at his dish rack. Two people had eaten lunch,

so naturally there were two sets of dishes. Carelessly, Amane had forgotten to put

them away. He shouldve remembered how perceptive his mother could be.

”Yeah, I had a friend over. ” Amanes answer was not quite a lie. Hed spoken as

indifferently as he was able, doing his best to stop himself from shaking. It was fair to

say that he and Mahiru had built up to something resembling a friendship, so it wasn

exactly untrue. There was the small matter of hiding that the friend in question was a


”Hmm, ” Shihoko replied with a tone that suggested she didn really accept that

explanation at face value. She scanned the living room again.

”I suppose you get a passing mark. You
e doing so well, I can hardly believe you
e a

boy living on his own, ” Amanes mother finally conceded.

Somehow, Amane had been able to deceive her, though only just barely. Strangely, he

felt a chill run down his spine, and he was sweating bullets. On the other hand, maybe

he shouldn have been so surprised to have passed his mothers inspection. Mahiru

really had turned some things around for him, after all.

”See, there was nothing for you to worry about, Mom. ”

”I suppose not; though I can hardly believe it. You could barely do anything for yourself

at home. Youve certainly grown up. ”

”…Im basically an adult, ” Amane replied, though inwardly, he scoffed at himself for

having the audacity to say such a thing.

”Good job, ” Shihoko praised, smiling.

It made Amane a little uncomfortable to hear that, since of course he hadn done any

of it on his own. There was no way he could risk telling his mother the truth, however,

so he would have to leave things as they were and try to get her out of there.

Shes pretty much finished her evaluation, right? I wonder if I can get her to leave

without saying anything about wanting to eat her cooking or whatever, Amane thought.

”That just leaves the bedroom check, I suppose, ” Shihoko mused nonchalantly.

Amanes eyes went wide at the drop of that bomb. Mahiru was still in there. If his

mother found a girl hiding in the bedroom, a far greater disaster would ensue than if

Amane had just revealed Mahiru from the get-go.

”Hey, don joke around. Even if you
e my mom, I don want you digging around in my

bedroom. ”

”Oh? Something in there you
e feeling embarrassed about? ” Shihoko prodded.

”Theres probably one or two embarrassing things in any high school guys room, if

you think about it. ”

”So you admit it? ”

”Yeah, I admit it. Please don go in there. ”

Even though it was shameful, thered been no other choice. Amane had been forced to

go along with his mothers assumption to keep her from entering the bedroom. If she

discovered Mahiru in Amanes room, she would most assuredly get the wrong idea.

For both his own sake and Mahirus, Amane needed to avoid that at all costs.

When Amanes mother saw him blocking the door to his room, desperately trying to

keep her from getting through, she could tell right away that he was hiding something.

Closing in on her son, Shihoko said, ”I suppose you are grown up, if you
e hiding those

sorts of things from your parents. ”

If it came down to it, Amane was prepared to keep his mom out by force if necessary,

though he admittedly didn like that idea. He stood ready to stop her, but then…

Thump. There came a noise from inside the bedroom.

”Amane… ”

”Yes. ”

”What are you hiding? ”

”…It has nothing to do with you, Mom. ”

”So you say. ” A wide grin spread across Shihokos face.

It was the kind of coercive smile that could not be denied. Amane became extremely

uncomfortable every time she looked at him like this. It had a way of sapping his

willpower to oppose her.

Amane groaned, and Shihoko saw an opening. She put her hand on the doorknob to

his room, and by the time Amane noticed, it was far too late. Shihoko slipped past

Amane, intent on discovering the source of the noise on the other side of the door.

What met her eyes beyond that barrier that Amane had failed to protect was the figure

of a beautiful girl. She was leaning her back against the side of the bed while hugging

a cushion to her chest. The girls eyes were closed, and her breaths were a gentle

rhythm. Mahiru had dozed off by the time Shihoko discovered her.

A warm room with a heater running and a full stomach after lunch were the perfect

conditions for an afternoon nap. Amane couldn help but wonder whether Mahiru

often slept in boys rooms, but all this really confirmed was that she found Amane to

be harmless enough to doze off in his bedroom.

He couldn exactly blame her for it. Sitting motionless so as not to make any noise had

probably gotten real boring real fast.

The main problem was, obviously, Shihoko, who had arrived at just the wrong moment

to witness a situation she was sure to misunderstand.

Had he been the third party, Amane would have gotten the wrong idea, too. He would

have assumed they were so intimate that Mahiru had no problem drifting off for a nap

in his room.

Grimacing all the while, Amane glanced over at his mother and saw that her eyes were

sparkling. He could only imagine the commotion she was about to raise.

”Oh my, Amane, youve got such an adorable girlfriend! ” Shihoko shrieked in her

youthful voice. ”This isn the kind of girl you can just hide away in a corner, you know! ”

Amane felt a headache coming on.

She had immediately jumped to possibly the worst conclusion available, and to make

matters worse, she was clearly very excited about the idea that her son was dating

such a lovely girl. There was no doubt that even Amanes mother was smitten with

Mahirus beauty.

Mahiru looked so vulnerable when she was asleep. The practiced air of elegant

refinement that she always wore like a mask had melted away, revealing the full

captivating nature of her looks. Her cute face had never looked more peaceful—or

more pretty.

Amane had grown somewhat accustomed to Mahirus appearance, but seeing her like

this, he was once again struck by her incredible charm. Her cherubic face held such an

innocent serenity. Once again, he felt the urge to reach out and touch her. Her sleeping

figure, hugging Amanes cushion tight, awakened many desires in him that were best

kept private.

This truly captivating girl was Amanes girlfriend, or so his mother thought. It was no

wonder she was excited.

”I suppose the reason you didn want your mother looking in this room is because

your girlfriend is here? Look at you, growing up right before my eyes. ”

”Thats not it! Youve got it all wrong! Shes not my girlfriend or anything! ”

”Come now, you don have to make excuses! Your mother has no intention of opposing

your relationship, Amane. ”

”No, Im telling you, thats not the issue here! We
e not in a romantic relationship!

Youve got it totally wrong! ”

”Well, whether Im right or wrong, shes in your bedroom right now, isn she? ”

”Thats because you showed up all of the sudden! We were just hanging out in the

living room, but I knew you would misunderstand! ”

”You see, the problem with that excuse is that you would never let a girl you don like

into your apartment. And I really don think a girl would just waltz right on into the

apartment of someone she didn like, would she? ”

Amane struggled to find a way to argue the issue. His mother was right; Amane was

awfully territorial about his living spaces and wasn inclined to let just anyone into

his domain.

The first time Mahiru had come in, shed practically forced her way, but ever since

then, hed welcomed her over, even when she wasn coming to cook for him.

I guess that means I really do like her.

As far as Amane was concerned, he was sure he liked Mahiru for her personality, not

her appearance. He enjoyed that seemingly contradictory part to her. There was a

biting and honest side of her that she didn show at school, and yet she found it hard

to be open about her feelings. He liked her curt and annoyingly helpful attitude and

the reserved way she conducted herself. When she was taken by surprise, she would

get flustered, and the mask would drop momentarily, which was another thing he

enjoyed. Most of all, Amane especially liked that rare angelic smile that hed only seen

cross her face a few times. He supposed that each of those attributes were all precious

parts of Mahirus appeal.

If he had to say whether that was a feeling of romantic love, Amane would have

insisted that it was something else, but he couldn deny that Mahiru was a wonderful

girl for many reasons.

”I care about her as a friend. Not every relationship between members of the opposite

sex has to be romantic, you know. And Im pretty sure she doesn feel that way, either. ”

Amane was not the kind of mamas boy who would obediently play along with

whatever Shihoko said. Plus, Mahiru would certainly object to the suggestion that she

had feelings for him.

”Now, you don know that, Amane! Aren you being rather presumptuous, thinking

you know exactly what her heart wants? ”

”What can I say to get you to understand that our relationship is not like that, Mom…?

Shiina, please, help me out here… ”

No matter how he tried to explain, Amanes mother had already made up her mind.

Amane pressed a finger to his forehead, stumped on what to do. With all possible

urgency, he wished Mahiru would just wake up.

”Nn… ”

Either Amanes unspoken prayer had been heard or all the ruckus had, because

Mahirus eyelids fluttered open, and she made a sweet noise as she raised her face.

Her flaxen hair slipped over her shoulders. The girls shining eyes, the color of caramel,

were blurry with sleep, and she looked so vulnerable that it felt somehow wrong to

look directly at her.

Maybe she wasn quite fully awake yet as she looked up at Amane vacantly, her eyes

still relaxed and drowsy. Amane pointedly stared in another direction.

”Shiina, I don mind that you fell asleep, but theres been a misunderstanding, so

please help me clear things up. ”

”Misunderstanding…? ”

”Hey, hey, Miss Girlfriend, whats your name? ”

Mahiru was still clearly confused over what had happened, but Shihoko didn hesitate

to approach her, beaming with an amiable, carefree smile and an overly familiar


Mahiru was visibly flustered, still trying to get her bearings.

”Huh, uh, um… ”

”Its important to tell each other our names when we first meet, you know! ”

”Ah, I-Im Mahiru Shiina… ”

”Oh, Mahiru, what a cute name that is! I am Shihoko; please don be shy and call me

by my first name, okay? ”

Mahiru had reflexively given her name when pressed for it. She looked up at Amane,

her eyes begging him for rescue. Unfortunately, Amane was helpless. He had been

hoping Mahiru would save him somehow. Regretfully, he shook his head. He knew that

once his mother got started, there was really no stopping her. She was set on learning

more about Mahiru, and nothing would dissuade her now. It was unlikely shed ever

realize just how uncomfortable she was making the poor girl.

”A-all right, um… Mrs., that is, uh, Shihoko… ”

”See? That sounds more like my daughter-in-law. ”

”Fujimiya! ”

”That could be referring to either of us, you know? Right, Amane?

”Mom, you
e bothering Shiina. ”

”Amane, you mustn be so formal with your sweet new girlfriend; call her by her first

name! ”

Shihoko didn seem inclined to listen to anything anyone said. Amane scowled at her,

but she didn show any sign of letting up. Her smile was wide and utterly shameless.

”Uh, um, Shihoko? ”

”Yes, dear? ”

”He and I— ”

”Why, I don know who you mean. He who? ”

”…A-Amane and I; we aren dating. ”

Even though she was obviously flustered by his mothers verbal assault, Mahiru tried

her best to set the record straight. Unfortunately, shed looked right at Amane and had

even been forced to call him by his first name, which was apparently exactly what

Shihoko had been after. The older womans smile grew even wider.

”Well, I suppose it takes time for things like this to blossom. Something to look forward

to, ” Shihoko said, quite presumptuously.

”Eh, ah, um, thats not…, ” Mahiru said, trying to object.

”Oh no, I must have intruded just when things were getting good! ”

”U-um, I want you to let me explain properly! I don have that kind of relationship

with… Amane. We were just having lunch together because Amane can cook! ”

”What a wonderful bride youll make, sweetie. My Amane set out to live on his own

even though hes incapable of doing any kind of housework, you see. So I really do

appreciate you supporting him. ”

”No, uh— ”

Mahiru had put up a heroic effort, but she may as well have been banging her head

against a wall at this point. The moment shed mentioned visiting Amanes place,

cooking there, and sitting at the same table as him, the sparkle in Shihokos eyes had

changed. The pushy mother somehow looked even more unhinged than usual to


Once Shihoko got like this, he knew there was nothing he could do to stop her. The

only person who ever stood a chance was his father, Shuuto.

”Shiina, just give up. My mother won listen to anyone when she gets like this. ”

”You can be serious… ” Mahiru sounded extremely dismayed.

Amane realized that they weren getting anywhere. Trying to explain the situation

wasn working, and he clearly couldn stop his mothers wild speculations.

”At any rate, my Amane did quite well to snag such a beauty. Im surprised. ”

With Amane exhausted from arguing, and Mahiru having no clear idea what to do,

both simply went quiet.

It was possible Amanes mother took their sudden silence as a sign of agreement,

though Shihoko had doubtlessly already assumed that their embarrassment was proof

enough of her suspicions. She was looking at Mahiru with no attempt to hide the wild

curiosity in her eyes.

”What do you think, Mahiru? Can my Amane really make it, living on his own? ”

”Uh… Thats… Well…, ” Mahiru stammered. ”…Enough to stay alive… ”

”You shouldve just said Ill be fine! ” Amane interjected.

”I remember the place being pretty bad, ” Mahiru reminded him.

”Don bring that up. Im keeping it clean now, aren I? ”

”And Ive been helping you with the cleaning this whole time, haven I? ”

”Thats true, and Im grateful for it, ” Amane admitted. ”All of it, truly—the food, the

cleaning, and everything else. ” Mahiru was inarguably the reason that hed been able

to live so comfortably, and he would bow down in thanks to her without any hesitation.

He knew that she wouldn have done so much if shed hated it, but he always strove

to make his appreciate known.

As shouldve been expected by now, Amanes mother interpreted the exchange in a

different light.

”Well now, Amane, so it wasn just todays lunch! Mahirus been doing everything for

you this whole time, you useless child. The way you speak to each other—its like

e already living together! ”

”No! How did you even reach that conclusion?! We only live next to each other! ” Amane

fired back.

”Aha, so it was fate! Isn that wonderful, Amane. You got me such a beautiful daughterin-law. ”

”Im not denying that shes beautiful and talented, but Im totally against calling it fate

or destiny or whatever! ”

”Doesn it sound more romantic that way? ”

”Thats not what Im bothered by! Im telling you we don have a romantic relationship

at all! ”

”How persistent. ” Clearly, Shihoko was choosing to believe that Amane was still too

embarrassed to admit the truth.

Amanes face contorted into a progressively deeper grimace, and he heaved his

heaviest sigh of the last few months. He couldn recall how many times hed suffered

at the hands of his mothers wild imagination. Shihoko was really the kind of woman

who just did whatever she wanted.

As for Mahiru, the one whod been caught unawares by the full weight of Shihokos

overwhelming enthusiasm, she could do little else than look helplessly back and forth

between Amane and his mother, utterly bewildered.

”Mahiru, this is probably a parents love talking, but my Amane isn very good with

words, and he isn very up-front about his feelings, but he is faithful and gentlemanly.

Id say hes a pretty good catch. Plus, he doesn have any experience with girls, so

youll be able to get him to do whatever you want. ”

”What on earth are you saying, Mom? Seriously, cut it out. ”

That last bit especially is none of her business, Amane thought angrily.

”I mean, its true, isn it? If not, then why haven you had any other girlfriends? You

resemble your father, so I don think its your looks. Maybe its because you
e a little

immature? ”

”Its n-none of your business. ”

”You really should try harder to act cool in front of Mahiru, you know. ”

”I will not, and shes not interested, either, ” Amane protested.

”Oh, come now! Sweetie, you can train him to suit your own preferences, you know.

Amane cleans up pretty good if you dress him up. ”

Shihoko, grinning madly, struck poor Mahiru again, who could do nothing but offer a

vague sort of smile in return. Not even an angel could retaliate in a battle like this.

Amanes mother was truly something else.

”Mom, you
e bothering her. Please go home. ”

”What a big man youve become, telling your mother to go home. ”

”Im serious, please. Its really obvious that you
e making her uncomfortable. ”

”Oh? Is that true, Mahiru? ”

”Don ask her; shell definitely just say what you want to hear. Just this once, please

head back. You can come back some other time. ”

”Well, if you
e going that far, I suppose I get the message. I did barge in while you were

alone with your girlfriend, after all. Its only natural youd be upset to lose your alone

time. ”

”Fine, you can explain it however you like. Just hurry up and go! ”

Amane was beyond tired of arguing with his mother, and this whole situation had to

be taking a toll on Mahiru as well. He looked over and saw that she also looked


Vowing internally to shower her with appreciation later, Amane shooed his mother

away and got a look of sour disapproval in return. Even so, Shihoko didn make an

effort to stay, so at least she kind of cared, though it was obvious her view of reality

was still quite different.

”Ah, Mahiru, lets exchange contact information, shall we? I want a full report later on

how Amanes doing, among other things. ”

”Uh, o-okay…? ”

In a last-ditch effort, Shihoko tried to sink her hooks in again. Caught in the womans

powerful momentum, Mahiru wound up exchanging contact information with her.

Now Amanes mother would be able to reach her directly. The thought made Amane

want to press a hand to his forehead.

Beaming wide, Shihoko gripped Mahirus hand and reminded the girl to look after her

son. Amane resolved to send his father a message later, asking him to rein Shihoko in.

”Im exhausted… ”

”Sorry; shes like a hurricane. ”

Shihoko hadn stayed all that long, but shed left the two completely ragged.

After flumping down on the couch, Amane put his head in his hands and sighed deeply.

Mahiru gingerly took a seat, too, but her usually perfect posture was bent and haggard.

Amane had thought that the angel could handle anyone, but even she had no energy

left after the encounter with his mother. He was unsure if he should try to apologize.

”I really didn want to let her go home still believing the wrong thing, ” Amane admitted.

”Well, theres no real harm done…, ” Mahiru said.

”No, I think there is… If she was acting like that, it probably means that shes taken a

liking to you… One way or another, shes gonna be an issue… ”

It was truly unfortunate that this was going to put a burden on Mahiru. Shihokos love

for all things adorable, coupled with her mistaking Mahiru for her sons girlfriend,

almost certainly meant that Amanes mother would be finding new ways to poke her

nose where it didn belong in the days to come. Trouble was on the horizon.

”Shihoko really cares about you a lot, doesn she? ”

”Thats a nice way to put it, but sometimes she really just refuses to listen… ”

More than just an overly affectionate parent, Shihoko doted and fawned on Amane

even though he hated it. He knew he shouldn complain too much, since it was

probably at least partly his own fault because he was such hopeless slob. It wasn as

though he was ungrateful for all his mother had provided, but she could be a real pain

in the butt, and he wished shed give him more space.

”…How nice, ” Mahiru mumbled quietly.

Amane looked up at her. ”What is? ”

”Your mother is quite a character but also very kind. ”

”That means shes loud and loves to meddle. ”

”…Even so, I think its nice. ”

Mahirus words weren an empty compliment; she really did seem envious as she

mumbled and averted her eyes.

A gloomy expression was plain on the girls face. So much so that Amane thought she

might break down into tears at the drop of a hat. Anyone could have sensed how fragile

she was right now. It was clearly more than simple exhaustion.

Mahiru must have noticed Amane looking at her, because she suddenly looked up and

forced her lips into a small smile. Then, just as quickly, she regained her usual

composure and leaned back against the sofa, something she rarely did.

”Mahiru, huh? ”

”…What are you saying all of a sudden? ”

”Nothing… I was just thinking that its been a while since anyone called me by my first

name. Most people only address me by my family name. ”

It was pretty surprising to know that someone who seemed as popular as Mahiru

didn actually have any friends close enough to call her by her first name. Everyone at

school saw her as a flawless angel. Even Mahirus acquaintances probably maintained

some degree of formality with her, and nobody had the courage to really get to know

her. A lot of students only ever addressed her by a nickname that Mahiru herself didn

even like.

”Well, I guess if you don have any close friends, that would leave only your parents,

right? ” Amane asked.

”My parents would never talk to me that way. Absolutely not. ” Mahirus reply was cold.

Looking her over, Amane saw that Mahirus face was an expressionless mask. She

resembled a beautiful doll, completely devoid of feeling. That, too, only lasted a

second, however, and Mahirus visage changed again when she noticed that Amane

was looking at her. Her eyebrows lowered, as if she was troubled by something.

”…Anyway, it doesn happen often, ” she muttered, before letting out a sigh.

Amane had been wondering for a while if Mahiru had a bad relationship with her

parents. It had been easy enough to imagine that she had problems at home from her

frosty demeanor whenever he touched on the subject. Plus, she never went out to eat

with her parents and hated her own birthdays, but Amane never wouldve thought

Mahirus parents were so distant as to not even call the girl by her first name.

Thinking back to how Mahiru had quietly said she enjoyed Shihokos personality,

Amane wondered how the angel must have felt in that moment.

”Mahiru. ” Rather suddenly, Amane blurted out the word. Hed never called his

neighbor by her first name before. The girl in question blinked her caramel eyes. She

looked stunned, and Amane could tell that hed caught her off guard. The momentary

surprise had revealed a youthfulness about Mahiru that she normally kept hidden.

”Its your name. Someone ought to call you by it, ” Amane reasoned.

”…I suppose you
e right, ” Mahiru answered bluntly. A few moments later, a tiny smile

appeared. Amanes chest felt fluttery when he spotted it.

”…Amane. ”

When he heard her small voice pronounce his own first name, the flutter turned to a

storm. Maybe it was because, until just a moment ago, his mom was the one calling

him by his first name, but when Mahiru called him by his first name face-to-face, he

felt the uneasy, impatient stirring in his chest churn and roar.

”Please don call me that outside, okay? ” Mahiru reminded.

”…I already wasn planning to. That goes for you, too. Don slip up outside the

apartment. ”

”Understood. Its our secret, right? ”

Amane couldn bring himself to look directly at Mahiru, as she was still grinning a

little. Looking away, he responded in agreement and shifted in his seat, turning away

to escape the angels smile.

Though Shihokos Saturday invasion had been a nightmare, nothing much had

changed aside from how Amane and Mahiru referred to each other.

They hadn suddenly become any closer. Addressing each other a little more directly

wasn a big deal. At most, perhaps Mahirus demeanor had softened a little, but that

was it.

”…Um, Amane? ”

Mahiru had come over earlier than usual for dinner on Sunday, perhaps feeling a little

uneasy, because she looked troubled.

Amane was glad to let her in, but he was confused by her peculiar attitude. Hed

thought that maybe using their first names didn sit right with her after all, but when

the time had come, shed said his name without hesitation, so there must have been

something else bothering her.

For the time being, they sat on the sofa together, and as he waited to see what Mahiru

would do, she pulled a handkerchief from her skirt pocket.

As Amane continued to wonder what was up, Mahiru opened the neatly folded

handkerchief to reveal a tarnished silver key. It must have been the one hed given her

the day before.

”Im returning your spare key. In the end, I never got the chance to use it, and then I

forgot to give it back. Im very sorry about that. ”

”I see. ”

Apparently, Mahiru hadn been able to rest until shed returned the key. Satisfied that

he understood the cause for her strange behavior, Amane stared at the bit of metal

resting on the handkerchief.

Now that he thought about it, Mahiru came over to fix dinner in his apartment almost

every night. Usually, he met her at the door, but sometimes it took him a while. Thered

even been times where Mahiru had been forced to wait because he wasn home. It

must have been inconvenient for her to have to wait outside for him, especially during

these colder months. Somewhere, Amane had heard that chilly weather was a girls

worst enemy, and now that he thought about it, he wouldn have been too happy

waiting in the cold, either, had the situation been reversed.

Since Mahiru was basically coming over every day, he wondered if it wouldn be easier

for her to have a key to get in.

”Thats fine; I think you should keep it, ” he said.

”Huh? ”

”You can give it back to me whenever we stop spending time together. ”

It seemed perfectly reasonable to Amane. Now that Mahiru had the key, she might as

well keep it—but she didn seem convinced.

”B-but… ”

”I mean, going to the door every time you come over is a hassle. ”

”Ah, so thats what this is about. ”

”I doubt you
e going to misuse it or anything. ”

”Well, thats true, but… ”

Amane had been sharing meals with Mahiru for more than a month now, and he

figured that he knew her pretty well. She was sensible, considerate, and kind. He was

certain that she would never hand the key over to anyone else or do anything while

Amane wasn around. If there was anyone he could trust, it was Mahiru.

”Besides, you must think its a pain to have to ring the buzzer and wait out there all

the time, ” Amane said.

”Even if it is, I feel like you
e being a bit careless. ”

”But Im giving it to you because I trust you. ”

At that, Mahirus eyes went wide, and she floundered for words. Confusion, along with

something else that Amane didn really understand, passed over the girls delicate


The truth of it was that Amane had only wanted her to have the key to save himself

some trouble, but if she really hated the idea, he was prepared to back down.

As for Mahiru, she looked intently back and forth between Amane and the key for a

few moments, then finally let out a gentle sigh.

”…Understood. Ill hold on to it. ”

”Mm. ”

”You know, Im never sure if something is a big deal to you, or if you even care at all,

Amane, ” Mahiru jabbed with a slightly prickly tone. She sounded fed up, and Amane

couldn do anything but smile wryly.

”Suits me well, don you think? ”

”You shouldn say things like that about yourself, ” Mahiru admonished.

Amanes smile grew wider. Mahiru seemed to be growing more comfortable with this

kind of silly back-and-forth. They were now on a first-name basis, of course. It

wouldve been strange if they hadn built up some kind of rapport. While Mahirus

eyes were still full of exasperation, as if to say that Amane was really a hopeless case,

her gaze wasn cold. In fact, there was a noticeable bit of warmth to it. She understood

that Amane was just joking around.

”All right then, I won hesitate to use this. I might even do something to your

apartment without telling you. ”

”Like what? ”

”…Like… a surprise cleaning! ”

”I would be grateful for that. ”

”…Or how about if your fridge was suddenly packed full of food? ”

”Itd make breakfast easier, and wed have more options for dinner, too. ”

Mahirus idea of a prank clearly needed some work. Amane wouldve been glad to

suffer under any one of her suggestions. That she couldn come up with a real threat

even when she truly tried only reminded Amane of Mahirus gentle nature. It was quite

charming and brought a smile to his lips.

”Are you sure you
e not making fun of me? ” Mahiru looked like she ready to pout,

which wouldve been cute in its own right, but Amane didn want to upset Mahiru any


Suppressing the grin that threatened to break out, Amane said, ”Course not. ”

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