grabbed a pair of disposable chopsticks hed gotten at the supermarket and sat

down on his living room couch, eager to sample the flavors of her cooking.

He remembered enjoying the rice porridge that shed brought him before, even though

his sense of taste had been dulled by sickness. The slow-cooked porridge had

possessed a rich, comforting taste that had been gentle on his stomach. If that was any

indication, Mahirus cooking was undoubtedly quite good, but now it was time to find

out for sure.

As he hastily opened the lid of the container, the savory scent of stew drifted gently up

at him. Various root vegetables had been cooked together with some chicken. The

light-colored sauce underscored the vibrant hues of carrots and green beans, all of

which had been cut into bite-size pieces.

Amanes stomach growled, reminding him that the only thing hed had to eat was some

nutritional jelly. He hastily snapped his disposable chopsticks apart and brought a

piece of daikon radish to his mouth.

”Yum. ”

Amanes mouth was greeted with a complex flavor.

Typical of the health-conscious Mahiru, the dish was only lightly seasoned, spiced

mostly with dashi stock. It was immediately obvious that she hadn used storebought, granulated dashi. Instead, shed made it herself using with dried bonito fish

and kombu seaweed. The difference in taste was night and day.

As he chewed it thoroughly, the flavor of the dashi and the other seasonings, as well

as the taste of the vegetables, spread gently through his mouth. Amane had never been

a fan of veggies. He usually went out of his way to avoid them, but in this dish, the

essence of each ingredient came together in perfect harmony, and Amane happily

savored them all.

There wasn much chicken. Perhaps Mahiru had done that on purpose as if to tell him

to eat more vegetables. What little meat there was had been cooked plump and juicy.

There was nothing to complain about there, Amane thought, aside from the quantity.

For something made by a high school girl, the ingredients were a little plain, but her

skill more than made up for it. That Amane so readily enjoyed the food was enough of

a testament to that fact.

It would have been even better with some rice, and maybe some miso soup or clear

broth on the side, but Amane didn have any prepared. He was all out of rice anyway,

so that modest wish was not destined to be granted that night. It was too late now, but

he regretted not buying any instant rice packets beforehand.

”That angels amazing, ” Amane said to himself as he devoured the perfectly seasoned

vegetables, chopsticks never slowing for a second.

To think, shes great at school, and sports, and all kinds of housework.

If Mahiru had been there to hear Amanes praise, she would have hated it.

”Heres this back. The food was good. ”

The following evening, Amane carried the borrowed container over to Mahirus


The boy was certainly bad at housework, but not so bad that he couldn wash

something before giving it back. In his hand, he held the carefully cleaned little box,

knowing that it was good manners to return it only after it had been thoroughly

washed and dried.

Mahiru had appeared the moment Amane rang the doorbell without even checking to

see who it was, as if shed been expecting him.

She was wearing a wine-colored knit dress, and when she saw her visitor, her eyes

narrowed gently. She quickly checked the container and said, ”You washed it and

everything, huh? Look at you. ”

Amane frowned slightly when she praised him like a little child.

”Well, thank you for taking the time, ” Mahiru continued. ”Now take this. ” She pressed

a new, warm container into Amanes hand.

From what he could tell, there was saute ed pork and eggplant inside. It seemed to have

cooled enough that the lid hadn fogged up, for Amane could clearly spy the color of

eggplant, grilled pork, and sprinkled sesame seeds through the clear top. From the

color, he guessed the sauce was probably miso flavor. The sight of the eggplant with

slight scorch marks and the lustrous pork definitely roused his appetite.

No one would deny that it looked delicious, but Amane couldn understand why hed

been handed dinner again.

”No, um, I just came to return the container, ” he tried to explain.

”This is todays dinner, ” Mahiru answered coolly.

”Yeah, I get that, but… ”

”I just want to ask: You don have any allergies, do you? Don get the wrong idea,

though. I won be catering to your tastes or anything. ”

”I don , but… I mean, I can accept your food again. ”

Taking a portion of the girls dinner for the second time in a row seemed wrong to

Amane. His malnourished body was grateful for the food, and Mahiru was clearly a

much better cook than other girls her age, and the meal he was holding was sure to be

delicious, but it also held no small amount of danger.

If someone from school saw the two of them meeting like this, it could turn into a big

debacle. That would be the end of Amanes quiet student life for sure.

These apartments were meant for single occupancy, but the rent was pretty high

because of the buildings location and the amenities. Amane had never seen another

student from their school in the building—except Mahiru, of course—so he was

probably worrying over nothing. Even with that mild consolation, his brief meetings

with the angel still made him wary.

”I made too much, so Im just happy to be rid of it, ” Mahiru explained.

”…In that case, Im happy to take it. But someone might get the wrong idea, since

people usually do this sort of thing for someone they like…, ” Amane said sheepishly.

”And do you have the wrong idea? ”

”Uh, I guess not. ”

One look at Mahirus expression was enough to clear up any misconceptions about her

feelings toward Amane.

There was no way that a beautiful, talented girl like Mahiru could possibly fall for an

oblivious slob like Amane. Sure, a cute next-door neighbor bringing him food seemed

like something out of a romantic comedy, but there was no romance here—and

certainly no comedy. The situation was as devoid of those elements as Amanes own

apartment was devoid of rice.

What kindness existed in the angels barbed words had been born only from pity.

”Well then, theres no problem, is there? And anyway, it looks like you were surviving

on convenience-store meals and side dishes from the supermarket, ” stated Mahiru.

”How could you tell? ” Amane asked.

”Its not hard to see that your kitchen has barely been used, and you have a ton of

disposable chopsticks from the convenience store and the supermarket on your desk.

Besides, I can tell just by looking at you. Youve got an unhealthy complexion. ”

Amanes expression froze. Mahiru had gotten all that just from one visit to his

apartment. Everything shed said had been spot-on; he had no room to argue.

”…All right, Ill be going. ”

Mahiru bowed and went back inside her apartment, having said what shed wanted to

say and given him what shed wanted to give.

Amane looked at the container in his hands as he listened to the jangling sound of the

chain on the other side of Mahirus front door slide into place. The heat from the food

was beginning to warm the palms of his hands. He let out a soft sigh and returned to

his place.

As expected, the stir-fried sesame miso eggplant and pork was delicious. Amane found

himself wishing even more than yesterday that hed bought some rice.

As time went on, Amane began swapping an empty container for a full one every day,

and his diet improved dramatically.

Mahirus cooking was always light and healthy, and since every dish made him want

rice, Amane started fixing microwave packets with each meal. The angel had a variety

of cuisines in her repertoire: Japanese, Chinese, even Western. Each day brought

something new, but every single meal was delicious, and Amane developed an appetite

like never before.

Like a wild animal grown fat on handouts, Amane quickly came to rely on Mahirus

charity. Even as he continued to obediently accept container after container, he knew

it was presumptuous to expect a meal every day. Still, he happily—and hungrily—

licked his chops each time.

e looking good lately. You fix your diet or something? ”

Itsuki took a long, hard look at Amane one day during lunch. Apparently, his complexion

had improved—probably because he was finally supplying his body with much-

needed nutrition.

Amane knew his friend was perceptive, and he felt a bit of a cold sweat break out as

he slurped the udon noodles hed ordered for school lunch.

”Itsuki, you scare me, ” he said.

”Whys that? Do you mean Im right? ”

”Uh, well, I guess you could say Ive had no choice but to reexamine my lifestyle recently. ”

Whenever Amane passed by Mahiru near their apartments, she would chide him

gently to take care of himself, and she was regularly sharing her dinner with him. It

was only natural that his life had improved. On the one hand, he wanted to call her his

guardian angel, but a small part of him also felt like she was meddling where it was

none of her business.

Amane had indirectly confirmed Itsukis suspicions by dodging the question, and

Itsuki cackled with delighted laughter. ”Yeah, I knew it. You always looked unhealthy

cause the way you were living was so crappy. ”

”Shut up. ”

”But what made you decide to
eexamine your lifestyle? ”

”I guess I was forced to. ”

”Ah, your mom found out? ”

e not right, but you
e not far off, either. ”

Mahiru really did sound like Amanes mom at times. She was much too young and too

cute to be a mother, though. Still, the way the girl went to such lengths to care for

Amane made it hard for him to refuse her.

”Say, Itsuki? Do I really seem that unhealthy? ”

”Hmm… Well, to start with, you
e pretty pale. I guess you
e tall enough, but you

gangly. You
e also always shuffling around all apathetic-like, so you look like a zombie. ”

”But thats just how I look… ”

”You think I don know that? Try looking like one of the living for a change. ”

”Don be absurd… Wait, but seriously… a zombie…? ”

Amane wasn really sure because he almost never bothered to closely check his own

face in the mirror, but apparently, he gave others the impression that he was barely

alive. If he looked half-dead even on a good day, that would explain why Mahiru had

been so worried about him before.

”You should pay a little more attention to how other people see you, Amane. You

always hunched over, starin at the ground. It makes you hard to approach, and its not

like you go out of your way to get close to anybody, either. If I didn know any better,

Id say you
e the very definition of a moody teenager. ”

”You sure know how to keep it casual when you
e insulting a guy. ”

”Fine, fine, I won sugarcoat it, then. You look like a corpse, and your life is a mess. ”

Itsuki continued teasing his friend, insisting that he ought to take this opportunity to

pay more attention to his appearance and demeanor, not to mention his health.

Sharply turning away, Amane replied sarcastically, ”Thanks for your concern. ”

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