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“So? What happened afterwards?”
“What are you on about all of a sudden?”

Ōyodo Jun—my classmate who sits in front of me—leans his arm on the back of his chair and turns to me.
It isn’t unusual for Jun to start rambling about something incomprehensible, but it sounds awfully as if he’s talking about Satsuki. She’s a total lifesaver for cleaning Tooru’s room.
Jun lets out a dirty smirk and looks at Tooru.

“Something had to had happened, right? She’s totally fallen for you.”
“What, do you think I’ve got the balls to do anything to a girl as cute as her?”
“… you’re being serious. Well, I guess not.”

For some reason, Jun dejectedly pouts as he shifts his arm from the seatback to Tooru’s desk.

“What a letdown, man. You gotta get better stories to tell.”
“Why do I have to make sacrifices just to amuse you?”
“That’s the way how things work. Hurry up and get a girl.”
“Ow, cut it out.”

Tooru pushes Jun away, who was smacking him on his head, and then places his elbows on his desk too.

“First of all, you don’t have a girlfriend either. You better check yourself first.”
“Gah! Straight through the heart! You don’t mince words, do you?”

Ignoring his exaggerated reaction, Tooru instead overhears the conversation of another group.

“Didja hear about Miyamoto Amane’s little sister?”
“Yeah, dude. They she’s a total babe, unlike Amane. Go hit her up.”
“You crazy? I’m not about to poke the bear, thank you very much.”

Already famous on the second day of school, eh? Well, she was well-known to begin with anyway, so no surprise there.
Seems like everyone is so scared of Amane that no one is willing to get close to Satsuki. That was Tooru’s plan too, but somehow things ended up this way.

Luckily, Amane is another class so Tooru hasn’t got mixed up in her business at all. Unlike Satsuki, there’s not much noteworthy about how Amane looks, save for her chest. She’s probably number one in school in that aspect.
It’s a mystery what she thinks about her younger sister, but Tooru isn’t about to march up to her and ask.
And why does Satsuki look so down as well?
It’s gotta have something to do with her family, but she didn’t seem like she wanted to talk about it. As he’s just her acquaintance, Tooru can only remain an outsider—whether for her sake or his own.
Seems like Jun has overheard the other group too. Still sitting backwards on his chair, he faces Tooru.

“Must be tough then.”
“It’s not too bad. We’re gonna be going home separately.”
“Huh? You two are planning to meet every day?”

Tooru had dug his own grave and Jun has a shit-eating grin on his face.

“You’ve finally showed your true colors.”
“It’s not like I’ve done any—”
“Shut up! And treat me to something with your paycheck!”
“What?! Why do I have to?!”

Tooru dodges Jun’s attacks and then sits back, spacing out. Satsuki’s face pops into his mind.
They’re friends or something or other now, right? She’s not alone anymore like that winter day, right?
His daydreams are cut short by the bell.

Tooru always eats lunch at the same place—a sunny spot behind the school.
It’s his daily routine to sit on the concrete outside of an unused classroom on the first floor. And of course, if it’s raining or snowing, he’d eat lunch inside instead.

But today, the warm spring air lulls the sandman. To have lunch while basking in the sun was Tooru’s thing and this is his place. Or was.
He spots a familiar figure and waves.

“Hey, Miyamoto. Fancy meeting you here.”

Satsuki was sitting there about to open her lunch box. Her face is bright red like she was taken by complete surprise.
After making sure not a single other soul was around, Tooru sits down next to Satsuki, leaving but a little room between them.
On the other hand, perhaps still surprised, her face was still flushed red.

Sitting side by side again, Satsuki is small. She’s probably not even 160 cm tall.
On the other hand, Tooru passed the 180 cm mark already. Sure, the average height of high schoolers is going higher and higher, but Tooru himself didn’t even think he’d grow this much.

That’s why it was natural for him to be able to look at what she has for lunch.
Wieners cut into the shape of octopuses, omelette, and veggie stir-fry with a small portion of white rice. You could even say that this is the traditional Japanese packed lunch.
On the other hand, Tooru’s lunch was fried chicken from the freezer section and rice. He had just had an earful from Jun, saying how he’s soon going to get fat. So, Tooru retaliated with a punch.

“Your lunch sure looks good.”
“Oh, you think so?”
“I’ve only got some previously-frozen chicken and rice. Probably isn’t doing my body any good.”
“That’s true…”

Though he would’ve preferred her saying otherwise, Tooru relaxed after seeing Satsuki strain a laugh.
He’s not sure what to make of it, but Satsuki suddenly waving her hands around.

“Umm, I would still like you even if you get a little chubbier too, though!”
“Et tu, Satsuki?”

Tooru was at a loss as he opened his lunch box.
Is that my future? I’m destined to be overweight?
But even then, he’s busy in the morning getting ready for school and busy at night studying. He just wants to keep his grades up is all.

Still, how scary it would be to get fat before graduating. Like, actually.
Not wanting him to feel down, the seemingly flustered Satsuki gives him a little fist pump.

“It’s okay. If you’re worried about it, then I’ll help you out!”

Satsuki bursts out with absolute energy. He had been hanging his head down but looks up at the girl so full of enthusiasm and responds like a burnt-out boxer.

“Support? What kind of support?”
“How about making you both lunch and dinner?!”

Of course, he was shocked.
Not only is Satsuki bound to be busy in the morning, but wouldn’t she be like his mom packing him a lunch? He hesitates to put such a burden on her.

“No way I can do that to you…”
“It would not be a big deal. If anything, it’s hard to cook just one portion, you know?”

He could only nod back. It doesn’t seem like she’s even half-joking.
Tooru isn’t familiar with cooking enough to have a sense for that, but it sounds plausible.

And this would be good for his health too. Tooru could avoid the whole getting fat thing. However, he couldn’t just ask for this favor all of a sudden; it’s a lot more time and effort. Isn’t there something he could think of?
Satsuki looks up at the thinking Tooru. Her youthfulness really felt like as if she were his younger sister. He’s seriously contemplating ideas, but still almost reached out to pat her head.

Needless to say, though, Tooru had neither the guts nor the feelings for her. He shakes the thought off and keeps thinking. And then, an idea, though a trivial one.

“In that case, I’ll pay you for each lunch.”
“But, you’re…”
“You’ll be using your own ingredients, right? It’d only be right for me to pay for my share.”

Satsuki looked like she wanted to say something, but she lets out a small breath and nods with a smile.

“Okay then, if you’re fine with that.”
“Alright, it’s a plan. Thank you, Madam Miyamoto, for saving me from obesity.”
“You’re exaggerating… and call me like you normally do.”

Satsuki waves her hand as if she were a little embarrassed, making him want to protect her even more. Even if she might be feeling down from her home situation, it doesn’t seem like it’s such a big deal to her.

“Anyway, shall we eat? Lunchtime is almost over.”
“You’re right. I salute you, frozen food. You have served me well.”
“Frozen food sure is handy.”

Tooru responds with a quipping laugh as Satsuki teases him.
And then, once again, he looks at her lunch.
It looked good the first time he looked, and it still looks good now. He’d love to try a bite.
Seeing through him, Satsuki grabs a piece of omelette with her chopsticks and looks up at him. Her hair flows to the other shoulder.

“Want some? A taste-test.”
“Uhh, you sure?”
“Of course. Consider it research to see what you like.”

Oh, thank you so much. Even Tooru was doubting whether his chicken was enough for lunch.

“Oh, you don’t have to feed me it… it’s a little embarrassing.”
“Oh, really?”
“Aren’t you…? Anyway, you can just put it in my container and I’ll eat it myself.”

Satsuki’s face turns bright red again after hearing what he said. Then, she silently puts the egg on top of his food. So, it wasn’t on purpose yesterday after all.
Tooru then looks down at the omelette.

It looks well-made and smells slightly sweet. There’s no way it won’t taste good.
He opens his mouth and stuff his cheeks with the omelette. Tooru looks over to his side to find Satsuki with a nervous look on her face.

His eyes open wide.

Delicious. It’s perfectly seasoned with both salt and sugar. There’s even slight undertones of broth to it. Tooru has never had an omelette this tasty before. It’s even better than his mother’s.

“Miyamoto, this is amazing.”

He tells her with his mouth full of food and Satsuki chastises him for being improper. The tension had been completely cut and she relaxes her shoulders.

“Thank you. I’m so glad you like it.”

Her smile is as dazzling as always. Tooru didn’t think she could smile this brightly at first, but now he knows better.
Swallowing his food revealed a light aftertaste of sweetness and broth. She’s even accounted for aftertaste.

“I’ve got great hopes for tomorrow’s lunch now.”
“Look forward to it, okay?”

Their time together was soft and comfortable, if over too soon.

: // // // // /ch005/ /next/

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