The next day found Sakuta standing dumbfounded in the living room . It was a few seconds after he had flipped the TV on for the short time before his toast would spring up .
He’d thought the program would be the same regardless, but there was a happy story on about finding ten-million yen buried in a garden .
“Good morning, today is Saturday the twenty-eighth of June . I think we should start with an astounding story today…”
The announcer was in his early forties and had the typical face of a breakfast show presenter . While he was still calm, his animated speech didn’t exactly grate on Sakuta and he just let the report drift in through his ears, so it took several seconds for him to comprehend the words, delivered with no real urgency .
“…He just said the twenty-eighth, right?”
“He did . ”
At some point in his introspection, his panda-pyjama clad sister Kaede had come to stand next to him and peer at his face .
“He said Saturday, right?”
“He did . ”
Sakuta gave no reply .
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Kaede, pinch my cheek . ”
“Sure, got it . ” Kaede said, reaching out her hand and pinching his cheek, hard .
“Ouch . ”
“I-I’m sorry . ”
“Nah, it’s fine . ”
It wasn’t fine at all, he thought, if this wasn’t a dream, it was reality, and because it had hurt, that was probably the case . Without even the time to reconsider, tomorrow had come . It wasn’t a normal twenty-eighth of June either . Originally, Mai would have agreed to date him and today would have dawned with them as boyfriend and girlfriend . Yet despite all of that, they weren’t, and Mai had borne witness to a strange misunderstanding . Tomorrow had come in the worst possible way .
“This isn’t funny anymore…”
This was truly the sensation of falling from Heaven to Hell .
Sakuta staggered over to the phone and lifted the receiver .
“Onii-chan?” Questioned Kaede worriedly, only to get an absent-minded word of assurance as Sakuta dialled his friend’s number . Three rings later, the phone connected .
“It’s Azusagawa . ”
“What do you want so early on a Saturday?”
Rio’s clear voice showed that she had probably been up for a good while already regardless .
“Build me a time machine,” he said bluntly .
Immediately afterwards, the phone disconnected wordlessly . Maybe she had poor signal, this was why mobiles weren’t worth it, thought Sakuta as he quickly redialled .
…However, regardless of how long he let the phone ring, there was no answer . Apparently, it had actually been intentional .
His persistence was eventually rewarded when she answered on his tenth call .
“If you say something stupid, I’ll hang up,” warned Rio .
“I was deadly serious . ”
“I’m in the middle of changing though . ”
“How far through are you?” He asked immediately .
“I just need to put my socks on,” she answered .
“Huh, that’s an odd order . ”
“It’s a normal order, right?”
“I start from my socks you know?”
“That’s odd . ”
“It’s normal . ”
“So, what did you want?” Rio came back to the target .
“Remember what we talked about yesterday? That thing about the day repeating . ”
“Congrats, you escaped yesterday . ”
“In the worst way, yeah . ”
“You found Laplace’s Demon?”
“Well… Probably, she’s a first-year at our school . ”
It was galling, but he had no recourse but to accept this as reality and look forward . First of all, he needed to think on what had let them escape yesterday .
Repeating the same day over and over would have been unbearable .
There were three main differences between the two loops and the final day . The first went without saying, Sakuta and Mai were no longer dating . There had been the unthinkable misunderstanding and she had been awfully offended…
The second was another matter of romance in Koga Tomoe not being confessed to by Maesawa-senpai .
The third was the football match result, they had won the first two times but lost on the third . Sakuta didn’t want to think that it was his fault for watching it live, but still felt a strange sense of responsibility .
Using these conditions to discover Laplace’s Demon then there was a single conclusion, Koga Tomoe was the true identity of the demon .
“Why do you think that?” Was Rio’s answer when he told her so .
“The culprit is the one that gains the most, that makes it obvious . ”
And on top of that, she was the only other person that had experienced the repetition .
“There’s some logic to that . ”
Sakuta and the Japanese team had both taken a big hit, and Tomoe had benefited . She herself had said that the confession from Maesawa-senpai was an issue, and that a confession from the boy that her friend was attracted to would be completely ignoring the atmosphere…
Without that confession, Tomoe’s worries were settled for at least the current while . That’s why they had cleared the twenty-seventh and had now arrived on the twenty-eighth .
Sakuta had an impression that this was the case, or at least he knew of no other reason . The problem was, however, this hadn’t truthfully solved anything .
Maesawa-senpai had just misunderstood, once he realised the truth, he would probably confess again . And if that was the trigger for the repetition, the same day would come once more . He should notice that Sakuta and Tomoe didn’t have that kind of relationship . The previous month had seen Sakuta confess to Mai in front of the whole school, and seeing Sakuta and Tomoe normally would show they had no point of contact .
Sakuta solving the issue with Mai and starting dating would do the same .
As he reached that conclusion, Sakuta’s thoughts stopped with the realisation that he had fallen into an incredibly burdensome situation .
“Azusagawa, do you know what this kind of thing is called?”
“Yeah… Checkmate . ”
“Good luck then . I’m going to go put my socks on . ”
The phone disconnected with a click .
“So your socks are more important than me…?”
After he finished eating his breakfast with Kaede, Sakuta got dressed for the day . He was wearing his school uniform due to the tacit understanding that all the students would attend a morning of classes on Saturdays for half of the month to cover things that they couldn’t during the normal classes .
Sometimes odd things like this had to be put in place to make up for the gaps between the national curriculum and the necessary education for the real world .
“I’m off then, Kaede . ”
“Right, see you later . ”
Kaede waved him off as Sakuta let loose a grandiose yawn and headed to school .
The world was peaceful, no one was making a thing over the twenty-eighth arriving, and the only differences from a normal day were the lack of office workers and a slightly smaller number of people around the station .
The journey aboard the Enoden from Fujisawa was the same, there were no people making statements like ‘it’s finally the twenty-eighth’, ‘I preferred the first twenty-seventh’, or ‘huh, so it really is the twenty-eighth’ .
The classroom was the same too, there were no oddities in the students when he looked at them from his window seat . Staring at them wouldn’t accomplish anything, so Sakuta turned his gaze to Shichirigahama beach .
The sunlight was shining on the waves, and there was a beautiful gradient in the sky from blue to white, the perfectly flat line of the horizon stretching between the two .
It was a pleasant scene .
“Hey,” he heard a voice .
Anyway, he’d go to apologise to Mai later . She probably wouldn’t forgive him easily, but there was no other way to break the current deadlock .
“Are you listening?” The voice continued, apparently addressing Sakuta . He looked forward again and saw a girl standing in front of his desk .
She was Kamisato Saki, and was standing with her arms crossed, looking down at him . She had a strong gaze, carefully done makeup and wore her uniform with the collar pulled down . She stood out within the class and was the focal point of the clique of the most popular girls, along with being Yuuma’s girlfriend . ”
“It’s rather rude to ignore me, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t think that you’d speak to me anymore,” he explained .
“What’s that supposed to mean? You creep,” What did Yuuma see in her, Sakuta wondered . He didn’t understand his taste in girls . “Come to the roof after school, I need to talk to you . ”
Having given her arbitrary demand, Saki returned to her own seat . Around her seat were a group of four girls .
“Did Azusagawa do something?” Asked one of them .
“Poor Saki-chan,” commented another, continuing the odd conversation .
Sakuta wanted someone to worry over him as he was being treated like the one in the wrong .
“It’s about Yuuma, it’s fine,” said Saki .
“Ah . Oh yeah, I found this yesterday,” one of the girls answered, the topic changing to a fun app they had found the day before .
“This is great!”
“Yeah, let’s all do it!”
The group’s excited voices reverberated around the classroom from their position in the centre .
There was another group of girls watching them from a distance, with clear expressions of displeasure on their faces . They didn’t put their complaints into words though, when it seemed like they might meet the gaze of the other group, they would turn their attention back to their own conversation .
Social situations with girls seemed to be a little more complicated than between boys .
As he considered that, Sakuta suddenly noticed something .
The girls surrounding Saki were a slightly different group than a few days again . He looked around the classroom to ease his foreboding . There was a girl sitting in a seat towards the back of the room, not talking to anyone . She was a girl Sakuta was sure had been sitting with Saki the other day .
Perhaps they’d had a falling out, it wasn’t an uncommon sight within the school . He wouldn’t normally worry about it, but this time, he couldn’t get it out of his mind .
It might have been because she seemed to have a similar feeling about her to Tomoe .
Once the hated first period of English was over, Sakuta stuck his head into Mai’s classroom . However, she wasn’t there, and nor was her bag at her seat .
After attending the rest of the four lessons that day, he looked in on the third-year class as they were about to leave, and she was indeed absent . When he asked one of the students just in case, he was told that she hadn’t come in today by a student holding their laughter in . The confession in front of the entire school was still showing its effects apparently .
“Thank you for telling me,” he answered politely before leaving the third-year’s floor . As he was switching his shoes by the lockers, he had a feeling he had forgotten something .
“Oh yeah, that,” he said to himself . Kamisato Saki had called him to the roof that morning .
“You’re late,” she scolded him irritatedly when he arrived on the roof .
“What’d you want then?” He asked bluntly, ignoring her anger . He had work after this, so he didn’t have much time and wanted to finish this annoyance quickly .
“I told you to stay away from Yuuma . ”
“I’m sure I remember you telling me not to talk to him,” he retorted .
“It’s the same thing . ”
“Ah, the same thing . I won’t forget it . Never in my life, probably . ”
That was how much impact her statement had . It was a rare experience to have someone be so openly hostile . Maybe this kind of thing was what had attracted Yuuma . Calling him up to the roof with none of her usual followers showed immense self-reliance .
“Oh yeah, what’s up with that girl?”
“That girl that separated off from your group?”
“That’s got nothing to do with you,” she said, even more harshly . She was clearly angry, and it wasn’t directed at Sakuta, it was probably at the girl .
“Did she steal a guy?”
“She did,” She answered . Sakuta had meant it as a joke, but it evidently the truth . Saki’s boyfriend was Yuuma though, and he didn’t think that he would be swayed by another girl so easily . “Not mine,” she clarified, “she sneaked off and played with him on her own . ”
Sakuta didn’t really get the details, but he could somewhat understand the general situation from that .
“More importantly, what’s with that girl in the lab?” She asked .
“What kind of relationship does she have with Yuuma? They talk a lot . ”
Even without naming her, she was clearly talking about Rio . He wanted to just quietly set it aside, but the girl had a dangerous look in her eyes . How should he answer?
“Ask Kunimi,” he settled on .
“You get on with her too, yeah?”
“I have no idea what you think’s happening . ”
“You’re so touchy…” he barely avoided asking if she was on her period, swallowing his words and pausing before continuing with: “Are you constipated, Kamisato?”
“I mean, you’re so touchy . ”
“Die! Right now!”
Saki’s face had gone bright red as she stormed from the roof, slamming the door behind her .
“Eat more fibre,” he called after her . Unfortunately though, he didn’t think she’d heard his advice .
This time, Sakuta did change his shoes by the lockers and left the school, exiting through the gate and boarding the Fujisawa-bound train from the platform, riding for about fifteen minutes .
Alighting at the terminus of Fujisawa, he bought a curry bread just past the ticket gates and headed to work as he ate .
“Good morning,” he greeted the manager, who was standing right by the till, as he entered the family restaurant .
“Morning, good to see you in today . ”
“You too,” answered Sakuta as he suppressed a yawn, moving further inside into the break area . The space behind the lockers here was used as the men’s changing room . The women had their own actual changing room, but… well, the world just wasn’t fair .
“Hey, morning,” said Kunimi Yuuma as he stepped from behind the lockers .
“‘Sup,” Sakuta answered as they swapped places and he began to change . “Kunimi?”
He stripped off his uniform and put his arms and head through the restaurant uniform .
“It’s irritating so I’ll just tell you straight up, your girlfriend came at me again today . ”
“Man, what a disaster,” Kunimi laughed, as if it was happening to someone else .
“You need to choose, me or your girlfriend . ”
“Hey, what’s with giving the two extremes like that? I’ll phone her tonight . ”
“Please do, seriously . ”
Sakuta finished undressing from the school uniform and switching to the restaurant’s trousers .
“Oh yeah, Kunimi . ”
“There an older guy called Maesawa in the Basketball club?”
“Hm? Yeah, Yousuke-senpai . ”
So his full name was Maesawa Yousuke, thought Sakuta to himself before asking: “What kind of person is he?”
“Well, he’s the best at basketball at school . ” While Yuuma spoke, Sakuta stepped out into the break room proper as he tied his apron . “He’s fairly popular too . ”
“Give me something that’ll make me hate him . ”
“What on Earth’s this about?” Kunimi asked with a mix of confusion and amusement . “You have a falling out?”
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s bad for my conscience if I think he’s a good person . ”
Though it was an accident, there’d been a strange misunderstanding about his relationship with Tomoe and on top of that, the confession that would have normally happened had not . If he let it lie, it would eventually be discovered, but he still felt a little guilty . Even if the guy had been rather rude .
“Well, I don’t like to speak badly of people, but…” Yuuma said before pausing . Apparently, he really didn’t want to gossip about people .
“I get it, he’s got some kind of deviant hobby . ”
“I don’t know about that, but he was complaining his girlfriend wouldn’t put out so he was thinking of breaking up… He often insults his ex as well . Going like ‘I hope she doesn’t end up the same’ . ”
If Yuuma would go as far to say that, then he really must be a worthless senior . Popularity might just be bad for people’s personalities .
“Wait, he has a girlfriend?”
“Yeah, some third year from another school . She’s pretty cute . ”
“Who’s cuter, her or Kamisato?”
“Kamisato, obviously . ”
She should be thankful that her boyfriend would say something like that . For a moment, Rio’s face floated through his mind and he felt a sense of apology .
“Thanks for the valuable info . ”
Thanks to that information, he could probably hate Maesawa-senpai . Sakuta couldn’t understand his nerve, confessing to Tomoe when he already had a girlfriend .
The hour ticked over while they were talking, so the two of them clocked in and headed out onto the restaurant floor .
“Ah, Kunimi-kun, Azusagawa-kun, do you have a moment?” Asked the manager while they were on their way .
“We do,” they answered while turning back to look at him . Standing next to him was a petite girl, she looked rather nervous and was wearing a brand new waitress outfit .
“Koga-san will be working here from today, please get her acquainted with how things go on the floor . ”
Sakuta recognised the girl, and Tomoe herself seemed shocked to see his face . Next to him, Yuuma spoke to her:
“Huh, you go to our school right?”
“Ah, that’s right, the both of you go to Minegahara High School as well . I’ll leave her with you as your kouhai then, in more ways than one . ”
“I’m Kunimi Yuuma, this is Azusagawa Sakuta, we’re both second years… Actually, you know Sakuta, right?” Tomoe glanced sideways, “ah yeah, he said you kicked each others’ backsides, didn’t he?”
Tomoe’s hands immediately flew to cover said body part .
“Why did you tell people about that!?” She protested in bewilderment, with slightly teary eyes .
“I’m not going to keep something that funny to myself . ”
“I can’t believe you!”
Tomoe glared while flushing .
“It looks like we won’t get on,” said Sakuta, “I’ll leave looking after her to you, Kunimi . ”
“Ah, oi, Sakuta!” Ignoring Yuuma’s calls after him, Sakuta headed out onto the floor first .
Sakuta made up for pushing Tomoe’s training on Yuuma by working harder on the floor that day . He guided customers to their tables, took their orders, and brought their food to their tables as quickly as he could, while standing at the till when there were customers leaving . When he had nothing else to do, he refilled the cups and glasses on the drinks bar .
He caught sight of Tomoe dashing about during the peak hours of her first day of work, working as hard as she could .
She had been given two jobs . The first was to take the crockery back, the other was to re-set empty tables .
Watching her stretch out to wipe over the large tables was rather charming . However, there were several unavoidable annoyances, his heart was in his throat as he watched her clatter away with two trips’ worth of crockery . She actually dropped some and it was only due to Yuuma’s skilful catch that the plates didn’t shatter on the floor . If it had been Sakuta teaching her, those plates would probably be in pieces .
The dinner rush passed and the pace calmed significantly . There were a few tables that remained empty now, and the sky had gone completely dark as the clock hands ticked past eight o’clock .
Sakuta had gone further inside for an order, and Yuuma was in the middle of instructing Tomoe on how to deal with the cutlery in front of the kitchen counter . They worked away while idly chatting .
“Koga-san, why did you start working?” Asked Yuuma .
“I’ve got a lot of expenses, my phone, my clothes… What about you, Kunimi-senpai?”
“Pretty much for the same reasons . ”
The work continued with their conversation . They warmed the tines and blades with hot water and then polished them with a soft cloth . Doing that made the cutlery sparkle, and Tomoe was honestly amazed when she saw the cutlery now looked like brand new utensils .
While Sakuta watched that scene, the bell that signalled new customers rang, and Sakuta walked quickly back out into the main area .
Waiting for him there was a group of three young girls that were somewhat familiar to him .
They all let out a gasp at his face . They were wearing a familiar uniform, and as would be expected from that fact, that was the summer uniform of the school Sakuta went to . The three girls were Tomoe’s friends, and had their collars roughly arranged . He’d seen them together before . The foremost girl had long hair and was looking somewhat fiercely at him . Immediately behind her was a girl wearing large, fashionable glasses .
“That’s why Tomoe’s working here!” Said that girl to the tall, short-haired girl behind her .
“It looks that way,” answered the foremost girl instead .
“A table for three?” Interjected Sakuta with a question .
“Yes,” answered the first girl, apparently their representative . That short conversation had let Sakuta know that this was ‘Rena-chan’ . Her bearing was rather similar to a girl in Sakuta’s class… Yuuma’s girlfriend, Kamisato Saki . Her very expression showed the vivid confidence of a girl who was well aware that she was ‘the cutest in the class’ .
The first sign was her skirt being short, followed by her collar being pulled down and her tie having a fashionable knot in it . She gathered the surrounding girls up, and they imitated her .
‘Cute’ was justice, and ‘unattractiveness’ and ‘being lame’ were evil . Those were the tenants upon which the queen ruled her classroom from her throne .
“Is this to your liking,” he asked, having guided them to a four-seat booth .
“It is,” answered Rena once again . As he saw her face in profile while she seated herself, Sakuta remembered Tomoe’s reason for running from Maesawa-senpai’s confession . Judging by Rena’s clear confidence, things might well develop as Tomoe had thought . Being pushed out of a group happened to students across all classrooms . Sakuta had even seen someone in a similar situation in his own classroom that day .
He had a feeling that Tomoe wasn’t actually over-thinking it .
The other two girls sat across the table from Rena after she had sat . The sequence and lack of hesitation to their actions made it seem like that was usually how they sat . Tomoe would have probably had the reserved seat next to Rena were she with them .
“Once you’re ready to order, please press the button to let me know . ”
“Ah, wait . ”
“You’ve decided?” Sakuta asked, opening the order terminal .
“Are you serious about Tomoe?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t serve ‘are you serious about Tomoe’ here . ”
“I’m being serious here,” insisted Rena .
He had been rather polite but hadn’t shown an ounce of respect . Rather than be annoyed, the three girls had strangely expectant and friendly gazes .
“You were just rejected by Sakurajima Mai-senpai, so it looks a little doubtful,” she continued .
“What are you on about?” Sakuta asked, trying to understand what exactly the situation was .
“Tomoe’s definitely cute, but what about her do you like?” Asked the bespectacled girl .
“I think you’re misunderstanding something, probably . ”
“You don’t need to hide it, we already know,” she laughed .
“Ah, there’s Tomoe,” interjected the taller girl, looking into the restaurant just as Tomoe came out . As if feeling their eyes on her, she looked up and met their combined gazes . She seemed surprised for a moment and then fidgeted . She turned as if to head back but seemed to rethink it and trotted over .
“Y-you really came?” Asked Tomoe .
“We said we would . ”
“You look cute in that . ”
“Yeah, you do . ”
Within a few seconds, they were acting like they were in school, bombarding her with compliments and completely excluding Sakuta . What a laid-back attitude, unable to see anyone but their own youthful, vibrant selves . He really wanted to leave as soon as possible .
“Senpai, we won’t forgive you if you lead her on,” warned Rena from where she was tugging on Tomoe’s arm, though she honestly wasn’t too threatening . Sakuta had been exposed to Mai’s intimidation on a daily basis, so it was like a soft breeze to him .
“R-Rena-chan, it’s okay,” Tomoe insisted with a somewhat vague expression, glancing at Sakuta out of the side of her eye and giving him a signal .
He’d more or less got what was going on from this conversation . Apparently, the trio were under the same impression as Maesawa-senpai, and rather than trying to solve that, Tomoe wanted to leave it in place .
“The beginning is essential with this kind of thing, you need to take the initiative,” Rena warned .
“R-right,” Tomoe said, while begging for help from Sakuta with her eyes . At that moment, a customer entered .
“Koga-san, go guide them to their table,” Sakuta instructed before then turning to address Rena and her friends, “Once you’re ready to order, call me with that button . ”
He then left to take another table’s order . Tomoe clasped hands with the group and gave an apology before trotting over to the entrance and the customer standing there .
As Sakuta took the order from the family group of four, he could constantly feel Rena and her friends’ gazes on him . To avoid them, he headed into the inner area, with Tomoe following a little later .
“Um, Senpai, can we-” She began, before Sakuta cut her off with:
“You finish at nine too, right?”
“We can talk after work . ”
“But, uh, there’s a lot I want to ex-”
Tomoe fluttered about, panicking .
“Until you’ve explained, I’ll leave your friends’ misunderstanding alone . ”
“G-got it . ”
Yuuma called Tomoe and she returned to work . Watching from behind, Sakuta felt that the situation was moving in irritating ways that he didn’t fully understand .
Sakuta finished work at around twenty minutes past nine that night . There was no end to the customers today, so he hadn’t been able to finish at nine as planned .
The same was true for Tomoe, it must have been tiring to have a hard day like this dropped on her for her very first day of work .
Sakuta had finished changing and was waiting in the bike parking area behind the restaurant, using his parked bike in place of a chair . He had left it here the other day during a downpour, and could thankfully take it home today .
Sakuta had decided that he’d leave if Tomoe didn’t come out within the minute, but she came out within ten seconds, looking at her phone . She noticed Sakuta and came running over, still clutching her phone .
“Senpai, I actually have something I wan-” she began meekly .
“I refuse,” he interjected .
“I haven’t even asked yet!” Tomoe pouted .
“I refuse . ”
“At least listen to me . ”
“I refuse to listen . ”
“You pretty much just want me to leave the impression that we’re dating alone, right?” Asked Sakuta with a sigh . If this was a problem with Adolescence Syndrome then he might feel like helping, but something like what he’d just said was a separate matter .
“Senpai, can’ya read min’s?” Shouted Tomoe in surprise, her hands flying to her chest . She’d slipped into her hometown’s accent, but he wasn’t sure if she’d noticed . She probably hadn’t .
“You said yesterday about not wanting to take your friend’s man . ”
“I didn’t quite say it like that . ”
“Something like being confessed to by the guy your friend fancies would be ignoring the atmosphere too much?”
“And so I refuse . ”
“Besides, you’ve got something more important to worry about . ”
For example, the reason that the twenty-seventh had stopped repeating and the twenty-eighth had come… and the reason that the twenty-seventh had repeated initially, they weren’t necessarily as Sakuta had assumed before .
“To worry about?”
“Your Adolescence Syndrome . ”
“It’s today now, so that doesn’t matter,” Tomoe rejected bluntly, “now’s not the time to worry about that! I’m in trouble!”
Apparently, keeping her friendships was more important to Tomoe, her highest priority . Adolescence Syndrome didn’t even register as a concern…
Trying to talk about it would just be a waste of time . With no real choice, Sakuta returned to talking about Tomoe’s request .
“Regardless of the reason, lying isn’t good,” he scolded her, making her flinch and wince at the sound argument, “think about Maesawa-senpai’s feelings too . ”
He honestly didn’t know how serious the guy was about Tomoe from what Yuuma had said, but… Apparently, he hadn’t broken up yet, and maybe he thought Tomoe would put out easily . She did look like the type to fold to pressure .
“That’s fair…” she began, her shoulders dropping at Sakuta’s words .
“And more than anything else, it’d cause me hassle . ”
“That’s so irritating!”
“Besides, how long were you wanting me to leave things like this? Until the third-years graduate? That’s not going to work, we’d definitely be found out, and then things would be even more annoying . ”
“I’ve already planned for that . ”
Sakuta could only make a confused sound in response to her unexpected reversal .
“Ah, you don’t believe me,” she continued .
“Whether I believe you or not doesn’t matter . ”
“That’s really irritating!”
“I get it, sorry . You probably don’t even want to look at me anymore, so I’ll just go . ”
So saying, Sakuta put his feet on the pedals and pushed off, but unfortunately, the bike soon stopped . He turned around to see Tomoe handing on to the saddle and holding it back .
“It’s only for the first term, so please!”
“Nah, I really don’t have any investment in your battle . ”
“It’ll be the summer holidays after that, so we can just say we drifted apart during the holidays, right? Then go back to normal in the second term . ”
“That’s premeditated fraud . You’re unexpectedly wicked, aren’t you?” He asked .
“I’m just desperate!”
“I can tell,” Sakuta said bluntly . She was putting enough force into her grip to stop Sakuta from leaving on his bike after all . Her plan was full of holes though, one of them was Sakuta himself .
“I know this is coming from me, but considering my reputation is trash, do you really want to seem like you’re dating me?”
“Recently, among the first-years, you’ve gone right the way around to desirable, so I think it’s fine . ”
“What the hell?”
How’d he gone right back around? He wanted the details, but decided it was a lie .
“Screaming your love at the centre of the sports field is nothing like normal . ”
“That’s just something for people to laugh at . ”
Though Sakuta claimed that, Rena and the others acted surprisingly normally with him, no one in his own classroom talked to him, but they had .
The rumour that he had sent a classmate to the hospital during middle school had put Sakuta in a delicate position about a year prior . It probably wouldn’t have become so set within the minds of the first years like Tomoe, who hadn’t experienced that change in the school’s atmosphere, it would have just ended up with something like ‘the upper years are saying…’
On top of that, the first term was nearly over, and the first-years themselves were starting to form their own culture, apparently a slightly different culture than the rest of the school .
“I kind of look up to that kind of thing,” admitted Tomoe .
“I wouldn’t do it for you, Koga . ”
“It’d really bother me, so good!”
Whatever else happened, Sakuta would never understand how women thought .
“Ah, that’s right, dating might be a little fast,” she continued, “so going with the step before might work . ”
“So you’re just ignoring everything I say . ”
“You’d be more than my schoolmate, less than my boyfriend I guess?”
“That’s a fine line, that’d be harder than dating . Are you okay with it?”
“Okay with what?”
“With things like dating,” he said, staring fixedly at Tomoe . She was wearing the familiar school uniform, a white blouse, short skirt, blue socks and loafers . Overall it gave her a cohesive, small and compact impression . “Well, I guess you’ve dated before . ”
High school girls nowadays were quick with that .
“Y-yeah,” she agreed, stammering and looking away, “only for a while though…”
“Hmmm . ”
“I was just thinking you seem grown up . ”
“That’s kinda creepy . Okay? You’ll act like you like me then?”
She seemed to be proceeding under the assumption that he’d agree, though Sakuta had no memory of doing so .
“Do you realise what you’re actually planning?”
Lying to just Maesawa-senpai might be fine . But to avoid that being discovered, they would need to deceive others as well . Tomoe had already lied to her friends, and the scope would gradually increase .
Gossip about who was dating who would spread without real help, whether it was a lie or not . Being linked with someone infamous like Sakuta would just exacerbate that . So to deceive Maesawa-senpai, the two would have to lie to the entire school .
“We’d be lying to about a thousand students,” he warned her . It was by no means a small number .
“I already know that,” she insisted, not showing a sign of dismay or surprise .
“Seriously . ”
Should he treat that as having guts, or just purity being twisted? He couldn’t decide .
“Anyway, please!” She clapped her hands together in front of her and bowed her head .
“Say… how does helping you help me?”
He could think of many disadvantages, particularly with respect to Mai . It would just push their dating further away, when ordinarily they should have already been boyfriend and girlfriend . They should have been being lovey-dovey and flirting…
“If you help, I’ll do any one thing you ask . ”
“I don’t really have anything I want you to do,” replied Sakuta immediately .
“E-even though I’ll do anything?”
She looked up at him with no confidence . She really did seem like she was scamming him .
“A teenage girl shouldn’t be saying they’ll do anything so easily . ” It was actually somewhat arousing .
“B-but at this rate, I won’t have a place in my class,” she said, slumping as she looked seriously at her own hands, “I don’t want to be alone at break, eat my lunch alone, or go to the toilet alone . ”
“Go to the toilet on your own,” he scolded .
They certainly didn’t go into the cubicles together . But Sakuta didn’t know that, so as far as he was concerned, maybe they did . Girls were terrifying .
“I think you already know so I’ll admit it, but I lived in Fukuoka during middle school, and I don’t have anyone but my friends at school here… Rena-chan, Hinako-chan, and Aya-chan . ”
“The three from earlier?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, casting her eyes down .
“Being alone is pretty good . You don’t need to be conscious of people around you, and it’s not as lonely as you’d think . ”
In Sakuta’s case, that was because he had Yuuma and Rio, and then as of recently, Mai as well .
“It’s not because I’d be lonely . ”
“Huh? Why then?”
“It’d be… embarrassing,” Tomoe let out in a small voice .
Sakuta felt something slide into his chest .
“I don’t want everyone to think ‘she’s always alone’ or anything,” she continued .
“I get it . ”
He could oddly agree . He took his feet from the pedals and returned them to the floor .
It wasn’t the isolation she was scared of . It was how she would be seen by everyone when she was excluded . She didn’t want rumours spread about her, and the thought that people might be mocking her somewhere was the worst of all .
It was that shame that caused deeper wounds than the isolation on an immature heart . The feelings of being pathetic, of being gradually seen as less and less by people… It robbed you of your confidence, and closed off your heart .
Sakuta wordlessly placed his hand on Tomoe’s downcast head .
“Senpai?” She asked, looking up in puzzlement .
Kaede had said the same thing when she was bullied .
“It’s… embarrassing to go to school . ”
She didn’t want everyone to watch her being bullied, and she stopped leaving the house, afraid of others’ gazes .
An image of Kaede from then seemed to overlay Tomoe to Sakuta .
A reason for exclusion could be the most trivial thing, you never knew if something would cause it . A single moment could create that kind of atmosphere would instantly spread through the surroundings, and then it would be too late . Treating the disease was difficult .
Particularly because girls had a different group culture than boys . Whatever they seemed to be like on the surface, it was impossible to see the relationships within from the outside . If someone fell out with their group, they were unlikely to be able to move to another easily .
“You’re in the main group, right?”
“The group of the cutest girls in the class . ”
“It’s difficult to agree with that,” she answered while pouting, indirectly confirming it .
Making the main group’s leader hate her certainly would cause issues . No one would go against the girl with the most influence in the class . They couldn’t . Hurting her feelings would have them exiled to the island of loners . So they agreed unconditionally . If she said something was cute, it was cute, if she said she hated it, so did they .
And in this case, it was Kashiba Rena in that position, and Maesawa-senpai, who she liked, was after Tomoe . He could understand why she was worried now .
“Okay,” he said firmly .
“I said okay, I’ll lie to all thousand-odd students at school . ”
“I have a condition though . ”
“M-my body?” She stuttered, wrapping her arms around herself .
“Who’d be interested in your underdeveloped body? How rude . ”
“You’re the one being rude! For sure!”
“Anyway, listen,” he insisted .
“R-right . ”
Tomoe nodded with a nervous expression, gulping .
Sakuta let out a single sigh before speaking solemnly:
“Cheer your heart out for the Japanese team in the third group league match . ”
Tomoe’s only reply was a noise of utter confusion .
“If they lose, then it’ll be as if this never happened . ”
“I don’t get what you mean! What are you on about?”
“Alright, that’s it,” Sakuta said, ignoring her pleas for an explanation and putting his feet on the pedals again .
“Ah, wait . ”
“That’s all I have to say . ”
“I’ll support them! I still have a request…” he turned around at this point to see her fidgeting with her fingers, “A-about tomorrow . ”
“What about it?”
“You have work until two, right?”
“I do . ”
“O-once your shift is over… g-g-g-”
“Give you a whack on the forehead, right . ”
“No!” She yelled, covering her forehead .
A couple crossing the road ahead chuckled to each other, the woman saying: “I guess it’s a lover’s quarrel . ”
“G-go on a date with me,” Tomoe finished, her face having grown redder from the couple’s laughter .
After they had finished speaking, Sakuta saw Tomoe to her neighbourhood before riding slowly off towards his own home . They lived surprisingly close together .
Summer was approaching as June ended, and riding against the breeze in that heat and humidity was rather pleasant . White clouds crossed the dark sky as Sakuta looked up at the stars . Even Sakuta knew about the Summer Triangle . Vega from the Lyra constellation, and Altair from the Aquila constellation, otherwise known as Orihime and Hikoboshi, the deities that could meet on Tanabata .
After a while, he remembered something else, the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation . Sakuta’s first love, the high school student Makinohara Shouko was the one that had told him about it when they met in his third year of middle school .
He didn’t know where she was now, or what she was doing . He didn’t have her contact information, and he had never met her again .
He couldn’t even remember her face properly as his memories grew vague . Instead, it was Mai’s unhappy expression that came to mind .
“Now, what to do,” he said to himself .
“G-go on a date with me . ”
And in response, Sakuta had just asked ‘why?’ .
“Rena-chan asked if we were going on a date, and it’s like that…”
“Like she’s saying to go on a date at the weekend . ”
“So she’s telling you to get carried away?”
“Senpai, you’re scaring me!”
“It really was a whack you wanted . ”
Tomoe quickly hid her forehead again .
“Why not just say ‘maaan, I had loads of fun on the weekend~’?” He asked .
“I want to take pictures just in case . ”
“…You’re surprisingly thorough . ”
It wasn’t that he didn’t understand, saying that she’d had a date over the weekend would have the others fawning over her for pictures . And then it would seem strange that she hadn’t taken a single one, what with the prevalence of smartphones and just phones with cameras in general . Such an annoyance…
And so, he had no choice but to go on a date with Tomoe tomorrow .
Things were progressing rather strangely .
How would he tell Mai what was happening? On top of all of this, she had witnessed him holding Tomoe yesterday and so was in a foul mood . Bringing Tomoe up even more in that situation would definitely make her lose the restraint of her anger at him .
That thought was…
“Damn, that seems like it’d be really fun . ”
He didn’t have a single bad thought when imagining the scene . With a smirk firmly on his face, Sakuta pedalled his bike the rest of the way home .
Sakuta had soaked for a good while in the bath to relax after work before putting a pair of underwear on and going out into the living room, where Kaede was sitting . She was watching the TV, a rarity for her, where a program on animals… no, a documentary on the zookeepers at some zoo, was playing . They were worrying over how to care for the newly born baby panda each day .
Kaede was holding Nasuno to her chest, closely watching the panda take tottering steps .
Watching her from the corner of his eye, Sakuta took out a sports drink from the fridge and poured it into a glass before draining it dry . The cold drink was soothing on his warm body, and it was just as he was opening the fridge for another that Kaede called out .
She was pointing at the screen, frantically trying to draw his attention .
“Someone you know on there?”
Sakuta had said it as a joke, but she had confirmed it . Wondering what was happening, he looked around the fridge and watched the advert on the TV .
…It certainly was someone they knew .
It was an advert for a sports drink . The blue-labelled one that Sakuta had in his hand at that very moment in fact .
“Want a sip? Fufu, it’s not for you . ” Said Mai on the screen, kicking white sand at the screen and running away from the camera with a mischievous giggle .
“I-is that the girl you brought over?”
“It is . ”
It was without a doubt Mai . The famous actress, Sakurajima Mai . She hadn’t said a word to Sakuta about the advert though .
The short clip was soon over and the doorbell rang at the same moment .
“Who is it at this hour…?” He grumbled to himself . The clock was already nearing ten PM . With the question in mind, he pressed the button on the intercom and answered: “Yes?”
“It’s me . ” Came the short reply, in the same voice that had just been coming from the TV .
Three minutes later, Sakuta was sitting on his bedroom floor before Mai, who was sat on the bed opposite with her legs folded .
“Why haven’t you come to give your excuses?”
“I’m grateful for the chance to explain, and I do apologise, but I couldn’t request a meeting . ”
It was the truth, Sakuta had gone to class 3-1’s classroom after both break and homeroom, but she hadn’t been there .
“Are you trying to say it’s my fault?”
“I didn’t put enough effort in . ”
“Then don’t you have something to say?”
“Umm, Mai-san, you seem kind of lively today?”
He had noticed when he opened the door for her, she seemed a little different than normal . She had makeup on, and her hair seemed like it had been styled by a pro . Her hair all swept in, completing her cute impression that was just slightly different from her usual trends .
“There was a shoot for a fashion magazine, it wasn’t for you . ”
So that’s why she wasn’t at school, he thought .
“You’re seriously cute,” he said .
“I know . ”
“I love you . ”
“I’ll step on you if you mess around . ”
Mai lifted her black-tight-clad leg and actually placed it on Sakuta’s lap where he could feel Mai’s body heat and the smooth sensation of the tights .
This was a luxurious reward, he thought as he felt his face heat .
“Don’t get happy about it,” she scolded as she retracted her leg . What a waste .
“Oh yeah, I saw your advert . ”
“I see,” she replied with a bored tone as she looked out of the window .
“I’d not heard anything about it . ”
“I knew what time it was supposed to air, so I was going to surprise you with it just before . And yet someone was playing around with a first-year . What do you have to say?”
“I’m really sorry . ”
“Have you reflected on it?”
“I have . ”
“Have you now?”
“I have! But, it’s really hard to say in this situation . ”
“I had a discussion with that first year . ”
Sakuta would need to have a fairly good relationship with Tomoe for the first term . Trying to fight a two-front-war by not telling Mai would be far too reckless . He’d definitely be found out so it was best to tell her quickly .
But even so, telling Mai when she was already in a bad mood was difficult .
“Sakuta . ”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Why don’t you get dressed first?”
Sakuta was still in just his underwear .
Now wearing a pair of trousers and a shirt, Sakuta once more knelt across from Mai and explained about Tomoe to her while trying to judge her reactions . He explained why she was in the room yesterday, why he had ended up holding her, the confession from Maesawa Yousuke, and why Tomoe was in a bad situation . Then, without hiding anything, he explained that she happened to start working with him and that she had asked him to be ‘more than her schoolmate, but less than her boyfriend’ .
However, he didn’t say a word about Adolescence Syndrome… that it had been the third time that the twenty-seventh had repeated, or that Mai had agreed to date him .
He didn’t want to make her worry while her return to show-business was going so well, and telling her that she had agreed to date him felt like breaking the rules .
“Hmmm, it’s tough being a girl,” Mai gave her opinion bluntly when she had finished listening . She should have counted as a girl herself, but seemed not to realise . “I get the situation . ”
She even seemed to have taken everything relatively well, wasn’t she going to remonstrate him?
“Is that it?” He asked .
“If I scolded you, you’d probably enjoy it,” she said, completely seeing through him, “for you, notpunishing you would be more of a punishment . ”
“Tease me more . ”
“No way . ”
“Ehhh . ”
“Don’t act spoilt . ” Maybe he should treat this as a good thing . No, not making an issue of it might not end well . “But I’m not fully sold . ”
“You hate lies like pretending to be lovers, don’t you, Sakuta?”
“We’re not pretending to be lovers, we’re pretending to be more than schoolmates but less than lovers . ”
“It’s all the same . ”
“Well, I don’t think there’s anyone that likes those kind of lies . ”
“That’s why I’m not sold, you’re hiding something . ” Mai leaned forwards and glared at him .
“I’ve actually been looking at your legs and getting excited . ”
“I-I know that,” she said, recrossing her legs and tugging on the hem of her skirt, “d-don’t look so closely~”
“It’s no big deal . ”
“Hurry up and confess . ” Mai glared at him, her eyes serious and steady .
“Koga… she said the same thing as Kaede . ”
“She’d lose her place in the group and in her class if her friend found out that Maesawa-senpai had confessed to her… and said that she didn’t want that embarrassment . ”
Sakuta slowly put his thoughts into words .
“Embarrassing . ” If Tomoe hadn’t used that word, Sakuta would have never gone along with her proposal .
“With Kaede, it went as badly as it could…”
The memories of those times went through his mind .
She refused to go to school, shut herself up in her room and on top of all that, was being tormented by her Adolescence Syndrome, with cuts and bruises all over her body .
His mother had been unable to accept that reality and had gone into hospital with a mental illness . That was why they lived separately now .
The impetus was the trifling thing of Kaede not replying to a message after reading it .
Like a tear in a seam, that had grown ridiculously and even two years later, it still affected their lives . Such a small thing could affect someone this much, so…
“I wanted to do something about it this time . ”
He didn’t think it was necessarily the correct decision himself . It might just be trying to atone for doing nothing in the past, or using Tomoe to deal with his feelings from that . The worries from back then were still dwelling in his chest .
“Sakuta . ”
“What is it?”
“That’s annoying . ”
“I was being serious though?”
“If you bring up your sister like that, I can’t complain . ”
No, he thought, this is definitely complaining, just from how dissatisfied you look .
“I think you already know,” she continued, “but…”
“Make sure you take responsibility for that lie . ”
“It’ll never be found out, I’ll take it to my grave,” he vowed .
“As long as you understand that staying quiet is hard . ”
“Maesawa-senpai’s got a girlfriend but he’s still making a pass at Tomoe, and he’s going to break up with his girlfriend now because so won’t put out… man people that can say something like that with a straight face have it easy . ”
“Men are the worst,” Mai said, looking at Sakuta scornfully .
“You’re the only girl for me, Mai-san . ”
“Acting like more than a schoolmate but less than a boyfriend is going to end up with real love . ”
“You’ve got no faith . ”
“I’m warning you now, I’ll only wait until the end of the term . ”
“So that means that when term’s over, you’ll go out with me?”
“That…” she looked away, “That depends on how I feel then . ”
“Why do you look unhappy?”
“Because I’ve been trying for so long for a reward from you . ”
“That’s rather cheeky seeing as you decided to hold someone else,” Mai said, before opening her mouth when she remembered something, “Do you have work tomorrow?”
“I do . ”
“Until two . ”
“Hmmm,” Mai rather cheerfully swung her legs back and forth, looking rather expectantly at him, “I’m free tomorrow afternoon . ”
Apparently, she was trying to make him invite her on a date .
“The Kamakura hydrangeas are still blooming you know?”
She’d even chosen a place, and all that expectation made his next words even harder .
“Um,” Sakuta hesitantly opened his mouth . When Mai saw this, she seemed to infer something and her expression returned to boredom .
“Oh, have a date with that first-year do you?”
“Not really a date, but something like it I guess . ”
Silence stretched on for a moment .
She then let out an unmotivated sigh .
“Forget it . ”
Sakuta thought that she was going to complain more, but nothing more was forthcoming for several moments .
“You’re not going to say something like ‘do you like her more than me’ or anything?”
“Why do I have to be jealous?”
“Ehh . ”
“I already know you’ve completely fallen to me . ”
“Well, that’s true . ”
“I doubt I’d lose to that first-year . ”
“Woah, such confidence . ”
That was Sakurajima Mai, it was only natural for her .
“And so I’ll let it pass this time . ”
“But, I know…” Mai thought for a while and then smiled teasingly two seconds later, “Just allowing it would be no good for the future, so do something to show some good faith . ”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Think of it yourself . ”
“In which case . ”
Sakuta leaned forwards and started to approach Mai on all fours .
“W-what are you doing?” Mai panicked, leaning back, but her back soon hit the wall . Sakuta showed no sign of concern and continued forwards, “Stay away!” Mai yelled, kicking him right in the face .
Sakuta rolled back from the bed, his nose crushed .
“What were you trying to do?” She demanded .
“I was showing good faith . ”
“That was your lust . ”
“Ah, maybe . ”
“There’s an order to things,” she stressed, “we’re not even dating yet . ”
“Then let’s take this chance to start . ”
“No . ”
“That’s depressiiing . ”
“And whose fault is that?” She asked, glaring coldly at him .
“It’s completely my fault . ”
“Reflect on that then . ”
Sakuta returned to his knees for a third time .
“As far as dates go, are you free next Sunday?”
“I’m in Kagoshima for the next week, filming . ”
“Oh yeah . ”
Mai straightened herself and then looked quizzically at him .
“You don’t seem too surprised?”
That was because he’d already heard about it before, but that was on the first twenty-seventh of June he had experienced .
“I just thought that considering it’s you, you’d already have managed to get a role already . ”
“I have, but…” Something seemed to catch Mai’s attention, and the doubt didn’t leave her eyes .
“Man, Kagoshima, that’s nice . ”
“I’m not going there to play . ”
Mai re-seated herself on the edge of the bed, her legs brushing against a bag on the floor and knocking it over . It was a bag she herself had brought . She picked it up and held it out to Sakuta with a “Here” .
“Take it . ”
He did so, inside was a cute dress, a girl’s of course…
“Is this to use to remember you while you’re in Kagoshima?”
“Give it to your sister,” she said, appalled .
He didn’t really understand what she meant .
“I said I had a fashion shoot earlier, right? They gave me the clothes . ” In other words, Mai had taken this off, when he thought that, he got the feeling he could smell a pleasant scent from it, “it’s more feminine than what I wear . ”
Spreading it out, he saw that the hem and cuffs both had frills on them .
“So you want me to give it to Kaede?”
“She’s only a little shorter than me, so it should fit . ”
“That’s not what I mean…”
He just couldn’t get why she had suddenly given him a present for Kaede .
“It’s a bit of a roundabout way of saying to give some attention to what your sister wears . ”
“That was pretty straightforward though?”
“If she likes her panda pyjamas that’s fine… but she’s fifteen this year, right?”
“Yeah . ”
“If she has some fashionable clothes, she might want to go out a little . ”
Those words settled everything for him . Mai had worried for Kaede, and she had thought that she might not spend the entirety of the rest of her life in the house . It wasn’t sympathy, or saying something like ‘poor thing’… It was actually trying to help .
He couldn’t help but stare at her .
“W-what are you staring for?” She asked
“I’m just happy you’re thinking about Kaede . ”
“Of course I’d do that,” said Mai as if it was nothing . Though she was childish when teasing Sakuta, it bothered him when she sometimes acted so much like an adult like this . He couldn’t contain his feelings, and it always made him feel like he’d never measure up .
“I’ll call her in,” he said, standing quickly .
“Will that be okay?”
“As long as you don’t make a scary face . ”
“I won’t,” she glared at Sakuta with a frown .
“That’s the face I mean . ”
“What face would that be?” She asked, smiling kindly as her irritation vanished .
The speed of the change was somewhat scary itself but if he said that, she really would get angry .
He flung the door open, but it suddenly stopped with a thunk after opening about five centimetres .
Kaede groaned from behind the door . Slowly, he tried again, and it opened this time to reveal Kaede crouching behind it, holding her forehead .
“What are you doing?” He asked .
Kaede looked up and met his eyes . And with a clear sense of being caught, her mouth dropped open .
“It’s not what you think,” she said, even though Sakuta hadn’t suggested anything yet, “I wasn’t playing ninja . ”
“Well, I just thought you were eavesdropping…” apparently she was playing on a higher level . It was probably the influence of the historical novels she had been reading until the last month, “Well, good timing either way . ”
“What’s good timing?” She asked, following Sakuta into his room in puzzlement . She soon noticed Mai and hid behind Sakuta’s back .
“Good evening,” Mai greeted, and Kaede stuck her head out .
“G-good evening . ” She replied in a faint, but still audible to Mai, voice .
“Kaede, this is from Mai-san . ”
Sakuta handed the frilly dress back to where she was clinging to his back . She took it in confusion and finally moved away from him .
“What’s this?” She asked while spreading the dress out . Her gaze was soon fixed on it once she had, apparently, she was interested, “It’s so cute . ”
“Do you want to try it on?” Asked Mai, causing Kaede to look at Sakuta as if for his decision . He gave a slow nod and Kaede dashed off as if she couldn’t wait .
It was a reaction he’d never seen from her before . Girls really did understand each other best .
After several minutes waiting, she returned and stuck her head shyly through the door .
“Onii-chan, promise not to laugh . ”
“I’ll laugh if it’s funny . ”
Kaede pulled her head back .
“It’s okay, it’ll definitely suit you,” Mai encouraged, and Kaede timidly stepped into the room .
“W-what do you think?”
The dress had a summery white base and fell to her knees, fitting her slim body well .
“Yup, it’s cute,” Mai affirmed .
“It’s the first time I’ve worn something like this, so it’s embarrassing . ”
Kaede’s face was bright red and she seemed to enjoy seeing herself in the glass of the window . She turned to the left and right, and then all the way around .
“What do you think, Onii-chan?”
“It’s not funny at all . ”
“Can’t you just honestly call her cute?” Mai teased him .
He had to change the topic .
“Make sure you thank Mai-san,” he told Kaede .
When she and Mai met each other’s eyes, Kaede hid behind him again, but…
“T-thank you,” she said politely .
“You’re welcome,” Mai replied .
Kaede glanced at Mai’s face .
“What is it?”
“Can I call you Mai-san too?”
“You can . I’ll call you Kaede-chan as well . ”
“R-right . ”
“Mai-san, what kind of relationship do you have with Onii-chan?”
“Let’s see…” she seemed to think, before glancing at Sakuta, obviously plotting something, “I suppose he’s more than my schoolmate, but less than my boyfriend,” she said cynically .
“W-will he become your boyfriend?”
“That depends on Sakuta . Apparently, there’s another girl he gets on well with . ”
“I-is that true, Onii-chan?”
“Mai-san, don’t tell lies please . ”
Just as he thought that he’d have to explain to Kaede, the clock chimed as it reached eleven PM .
“It’s late, I’m going home,” Mai said as she stood from the bed, “if I stay any longer, I think Sakuta will do something to me . ”
“W-what would you do?” Kaede asked, peering at Sakuta’s face .
“Something sexual of course,” he said truthfully as he left the room with Mai and put his shoes on in the hall, “I’ll walk you downstairs . ”
“You will? Well, I’ll let you . I’ll see you again, Kaede-chan . ”
“R-right . ”
She was more scared as the distance between them decreased again, but she poked her head from Sakuta’s room and gave a small wave .
Sakuta and Mai left and walked into the lift in silence .
The doors closed and the lift started to move, with that floating sensation starting at their feet .
“Thank you for today,” Sakuta spoke .
“What are you being so formal for?” She asked in return .
“It’s been a long time since Kaede has spoken so much to anyone but me, so I’m just happy . ”
“I can’t mess with you when you’re so honest . ”
While she spoke, the lift reached the ground floor and opened . They stepped out of the auto-locking glass doors and the characteristic summer air draped itself over their skin .
“It’s already summer,” said Mai .
Even though the sun had set, the temperature hadn’t dropped at all, and it was the beginning of sleepless nights from the heat .
“Do you hate the summer, Mai-san?”
“Making sure I don’t burn is annoying,” she said, her tone saying that she was used to it .
“You’re still wearing tights though . ”
“Well, I’ve got modelling jobs… What about you?”
“Do you like summer?”
“If I can’t enjoy your bare legs, then I’ll pass . ”
It was hot, it was humid, and he’d have to show his scars during swimming, none of that was a good thing . While they chatted aimlessly, they reached their destination, the building right in front of them .
“I hope the pretence doesn’t become the reality,” Mai murmured after a pause in the conversation .
“With that first-year . ”
“I already said that you’re the only girl for me, didn’t I?”
Mai gave him a sidelong glance as if she wanted to say something .
“If you don’t understand, that’s fine,” was what she eventually settled with before entering the building .
Mai opened the auto-locking doors and turned back to him .
“Good night,” she said, raising her hand slightly .
The door closed and she disappeared inside . Sakuta watched her go before turning on his heel and returning back to where Kaede was waiting for him .
He had work tomorrow from the morning until a little after noon, so he should go to sleep early . He should, but with the day close to ending, something was bothering Sakuta .
“I wonder if tomorrow will come…” he murmured in the lift .
No one gave him an answer .