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Tooru heard not a single word from Amane after that incident and months pass by.
This new term marks the beginning of Tooru’s second year in high school. He was laughing and joking with his friends as they began to head home.

“Yeah, Jun couldn’t get it even after 100 rolls, so he chucked his phone and smashed the thing right up.”
“What a friggin’ idiot!”
“Hey, isn’t that…”

In a turn of surprise, his friend points to a figure Tooru had seen months ago.
Satsuki was standing right there.
The scarf from Tooru was still wrapped around her in this chilly weather.
Before his dumbfounded mind could react, Satsuki rushes over.

“I’m glad we meet again.”

Her voice as cute as a bell weaves her words together.
Tooru, now taller than the last time they met, couldn’t find his words. He breaks into a cold sweat as his friends subject him to dubious glares.

“What’s the meaning of this, Tooru?”
“Why does Satsuki know you? That’s Amane’s little sister, y’know? Aren’t you scared?”
“I-It’s not that I’m not… anyway, Miyamoto, that scarf you got there…”

The girl’s face flushes red almost as if she hadn’t noticed the scarf is wrapped around her until it was pointed out. She’s gripping it tightly, like she’s holding onto a dear possession.

“It is the one you lent me. I was determined to return it back to you today, so I cleaned it beforehand.”
“Wha—don’t tell me you entered this high school because of this.”
“That would be correct.”

The instant response plunged Tooru into darkness.
Her sister, Amane, is a problem child. To an extent, Satsuki might very well be one too.
Tooru’s friends begin their assault on him after hearing the exchange.

“What the h.e.l.l, man? When the h.e.l.l did you meet her?”
“L-Last year, after our midterms. It was freezing that day.”
“You shoulda said, dude! Man, I wish I were you!”
“Even though you just asked me if I were afraid of Amane? More importantly, aren’t you guys gonna scram already?”
“Could you gentlemen to please stop giving him such a hard time?”

Her pouting, protesting face is of an angel’s. Wait, how does she even know my name?

“Don’t worry about me, but what about your sister? If she caught sight of us here…”

Satsuki’s face turns visibly gloomy. Her eyes that were lit up until a moment ago had died and glossed over.
It seems like if Amane saw us, it really would spell trouble. As I was about to suggest that we’d best hurry home, Satsuki spoke up.

“May I drop by your home?”

It is inevitable that the room of a man living alone gets messy.
It wasn’t to the level of not even having room to stand. At least there are no foul stenches in the air or dirty laundry on the floor. But otherwise, it is a catastrophe.
Read manga and magazines spilled over onto the floor and the bed hadn’t been made.

The reason why he lives alone is because Tooru moved from another prefecture to study here. His school is famous even in his home prefecture and his plan was to head straight to university afterwards. Then, start his career in a large corporation and repay his parents.
Initially, his parents were worried for him, but Tooru phones home from time to time. As well, he took a part-time job to pay for his tuition. So, in more than one way, his parents felt relieved.

Back to the scene, Satsuki is standing in the entrance, paralyzed with fear.
As expected. Even if she were to know that a boy’s room would be messy, this is a disaster. Disgust would be a reasonable response.
But this is a room of a guy living alone. It would be unthinkable for Tooru to suddenly visit a girl he liked, but it isn’t any better for a girl to invite herself and come here alone. Tooru, though, blames himself for not properly refusing her.

“H-Hey, Miyamoto. I’ll take the scarf from you. It’d be dangerous to enter for a girl like you.”
“I have faith that you wouldn’t do anything terrible. But your room… that is something terrible.”

Listen carefully and you can hear her words, like an arrow, pierce through my heart.

“R-Right? That’s why…”
“But still, I was hoping to speak with you… unless, I can’t?”

How could Tooru refuse her puppy eyes? He couldn’t bear to hurt her, let alone incurring Amane’s wrath if she were to find out.
Tooru was brought to his knees. Okay, he answered, before clearing away magazines and manga to create enough sitting s.p.a.ce for two.
He sits on one edge, but Satsuki chooses a spot right against him. Her cheeks blush red like she were shy, leading to the same for Tooru.

“Thank you very much for this.”

Calming down, Satsuki unravels the scarf and holds it out.

“You didn’t throw it away, hey?”
“I wouldn’t do something like that. I… treasured it. Always did.”
“Is that right? But, why me? I mean, surely, I gave you the scarf, but it’s nothing.”
“It is not nothing.”

Satsuki responded with force behind her words.

“… all the other students passed me by on that day. It was to be expected. But as natural as it was, it made me a little sad. Then, you called out to me.”

How straightforward.
Tooru couldn’t refute her or weasel his way out.
He knows that she’s speaking straight from her heart.  He’s convinced by how she grabs her skirt; her knuckles, white. The girl felt this way due to Tooru’s hypocrisy.

“And so. After this, could I come visit again? I promise, I won’t trouble you at school.”

She hangs her head as she trembles. But Tooru could do nothing.
Tooru had no romantic affection for Satsuki.
It was all for self-satisfaction anyway. If it could shield her from the cold, even if only for just a little.
That’s why he can’t be careless now. He had to give his reply, but to also take responsibility. To put it harshly, Tooru hesitated to simply accept the feelings of a girl he’s yet to know.

“I personally don’t mind, but what about your sister and your family?”

The passion she had up until now was drained out of her face.

“… I have my parent’s permission and I said nothing to Amane.”
“But isn’t that kinda weird? I mean, after all, you’re a girl coming alone to a guy’s place.”
“Even so, if it means that I can be with you. Please, I…”

Tooru had nothing more he could say to Satsuki, who again hung down her head.
Why is she so attached to Tooru? It may have been alright to ask, but Tooru felt that would be far too cruel.

Seeing how she went that far, Tooru had no more reason to refuse her.
Perhaps it is inhospitable at home for Satsuki. If in Tooru’s apartment were the only place other than school that her smile could endure, then surely, things are less than joyous at her home.
And if so, then Tooru had but one choice.

“Okay. I understand, so please stop hanging your head down.”

Then, Satsuki looks up. Tears, ready to spill over and fall at any moment, are pooling in her eyes.
It hurts to have made her cry.

“Sorry for turning you down earlier, but y’know…”
“I know. You said it out of kindness. That’s why I’m so happy to hear you say yes.”

That smile on her face now seemed fleeting.
It seemed to be made of glass; easily shattered by the slightest contact. That would be the best way to describe her smile.

“But, thanks to you too. I haven’t heard anyone say something so nice to me before.”
“Really? I was almost certain that you have a girlfriend.”

By her forced laugh, it looks like she really did think so.
Tooru has been single as long as he’s been living. Among his friends all trying to get a girlfriend, the least popular one had been Tooru.

“Anyways. So, you’re coming to my place, but when should I expect you?”
“I could even come right after classes…”

No plans to join a club then? It doesn’t seem like her family situation is too satisfying for her. And Tooru has his job, too.

“If we came home together every day, they’ll start spreading nasty rumors too… but scarier than that is your sister.”

It’s about Amane again. Not exactly sure what one needs to get her to accept something like this, but it sure wouldn’t be a surprise if it were anything awful.

“Okay, then I’ll make some arrangements at home before coming back.”
“Huh? Wouldn’t that be a bit of a bother…?”
“I know how to find my way here and my house is pretty close by. So, I thought maybe I could drop by every day.”

With her pressing on like this, there would be no way for Tooru to take back his words and so, he accepts.

“Alright. Then that’s a deal.”

Satsuki beams with a smile. A genuinely happy and fleeting smile.

“Thank you.”

: // /ch002/ /next/