Comforting her at that place actually didn’t take longer than five minutes. Fuyu was once again overtaken by her embarrassment or just my subtle touch brought her back to reality that I’m Akane’s boyfriend.

Of course, I held back and didn’t insist on continuing to hold her. Instead, I accompanied her as we walked away from the area to where silence was more pronounced... or in other words, in a place away from the other courts, stadiums, and indoor venues.

We picked a covered bench to sit down on and I bought us a drink from the nearby vending machine.

When I returned to her side, we once again spent our time in silence, finishing that can.

I’m aware. I had the strong urge to continue comforting her but to respect her wishes, I couldn’t proceed with doing that.

Thankfully, that was proven a great choice as Fuyu expressed her appreciation of my silence and company through a whisper of gratitude. From there, we started a lighthearted conversation regarding herself and tennis.

“Onoda-kun, thank you for staying by my side.” She started with that along with a beautiful smile which looked like a bud of flower blooming after suffering the harsh winter. “I’ve suffered losses before and while I’m grateful to the people who comforted me with words... I always preferred the silence. It makes me calm down and let go of useless thoughts like blaming others for the failure. We all fought to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, our overall skill fell short.”

“My match with Michiru-senpai can also go the other way. I just got lucky to get away with that tiebreaker. And I believe it became my favorite match to date. When we meet in a Junior Tournament, I’ll make sure to make my win cleaner.” Fuyu continued. Talking about that match in more detail, the girl’s passion for tennis and her respect for Michiru properly showed.

Then following that, perhaps her own attempt to leave behind the gloominess brought about by their loss, she talked about her days of being in the same club as her.

They had competed and won competitions together before. They met during her first year when Michiru was also considered the rising ace of their club. A year later, that girl got handed the position of the Club President and Captain which in turn picked Fuyu as their new ace. Of course, the tradition continued and when Michiru graduated, she handed the baton to Fuyu.

Fuyu regretted not asking Michiru which high school she would attend but when she thought back to choosing to continue going to the same school as Akane and the other two, she let go of that regret even after finding out that Michiru chose to attend another high school.

“Mhm. That was truly an exciting match. Even as someone without that much knowledge of the sport, the hairs on my body stood at the thrilling sensation brought by watching you play.”

“Now, you’re exaggerating it, Onoda-kun. It’s not that impactful.”

“Nope. You’re just being humble. If you only looked at the audience after that match, you wouldn't be able to say that. But you’re so occupied by the adrenaline rush that you immediately go to your seat to turn that down. Anyway, now that I mentioned it, are you not exhausted from it?”

Fuyu put on an embarrassed smile as she agreed to my words. Then she positively nodded before raising her can of juice, “Thanks to this, I’m fully recharged. My arms and legs are a little sore but it will be fine tomorrow.”

Ah. Sore arms and legs were inevitable for every athlete, especially for her who used them for that long match. Her hands were probably the same. It’s already filled with calluses and each time she would play tennis, be it practice or an official match, it would earn more of it.

“I see. Good to hear. Fancy a massage for that? I’m not an expert but... I can probably provide you some relief.”

“Eh? Massage?” Although a bit surprised at my suggestion, the girl eventually lowered her gaze as though she was seriously contemplating whether to take my offer or not.

Shortly after that, Fuyu sneaked a glance at me before her soft voice delivered her answer, “... I’ll be in your care then.”

Upon saying that, Fuyu stretched her arm to my side which I readily received.

“Mhm. Feel free to stop me if it hurts, alright?” I said as I let my hand slide from her wrist to her shoulder.

The girl meekly nodded before closing her eyes and gradually, her head dropped on my shoulder.

Like this, I pooled my experience in massaging my girls and Hayashi-sensei to provide Fuyu with the relief I offered.

The massage went on for around ten minutes for both arms, then another twenty for her legs. Well, it took that long because she was too embarrassed to lift her leg on my lap but when she got the hang of it, Fuyu stopped struggling and simply enjoyed that treatment.

Watching her range of emotions throughout that was another source of a treat for me. Sometimes, I would catch her staring at me but as always, she would quickly try to avert her gaze and use my shoulder to hide her flustered expression.

When I was done with the message, I thought of putting our distance back to how it originally was. However, I have no idea if we’re both thinking the same thing. Instead of inching away from each other, Fuyu and I drew closer, removing whatever sense of distance we had left.

In this way, it became like a repetition of our state on the train recently. My arm stretched to her other side to hold her by the waist while Fuyu used a part of my body to comfortably rest her back on. If Fubuki could see us right now, that mischievous little girl would surely be rejoicing.

Shortly after, silence once again consumed us.

This time, however, it’s only for a minute.

I mean, it’s been what? Three times already. The string holding me back finally broke. It’s about time I melt this icy lake and swim across to the other side where I can be honest with myself.

“Yuuki-san, is it fine for me to hold you like this?” I asked which Fuyu answered with a small nod.

Perhaps like me, she also decided to quit fooling herself. But as always, it might just be my assumption.

“... Akane loves you a lot, Onoda-kun. I think I am starting to understand why.” Fuyu fidgeted a bit. From where I was looking, I could see her biting her lips as if she was feeling some kind of frustration she didn’t want to voice out. Whatever that was, it’s surely related to what she just said.

“Why? Are you also about to fall for me, Yuuki-san?”

“Pfft. There goes your shameless confidence. But to answer your question, it’s your boundless dedication. Once you set your mind to something, you’ll ensure that you’ll accomplish it. For example, today. You have a lot of things to consider and yet, you really showed up here to cheer for me...”

“Well, a promise is a promise. It’s something to be fulfilled, not forgotten. Besides, I’m scouting your performance. How else can I win against you when we finally get to play tennis together? I’m taking notes.”

Fuyu’s giggles continued to resound and eventually, it became a cheerful laughter devoid of her earlier gloominess. She lifted her head to look at me then shook it, expressing her disapproval at my silly thought.

In the end, she played along with me, “So, you have an ulterior motive. I should’ve known.”

“Your fault, Yuuki-san. I’ll wow you both when that day arrives. And if by chance I really win, I’ll hold the two of you like this.”

“Onoda-kun, aren’t you bold? And this... is pretty daring.”

“Indeed, it is. You don’t hate it though.”

With the way she glanced down to check our current state, Fuyu was also finding it intriguing how she could be fine with this. And yet, extracting herself from my hold hadn’t passed her mind.

“... If you say it like that, it feels like I’m the only one who chose to be in this position. Akane will be mad at me.”

“Nope. If it’s Akane, she won’t be. Also, Yuuki-san, you’re not the only one. You just forgot how I shamelessly admitted that I love being this close to you.”

Although not explicitly stated, my words earlier could pretty much be taken like that. Unfortunately for Fuyu, it would be hard for her to get that interpretation.

“Huh...? When did you say...”

Halfway through her words, I made another move. This time, I intentionally caught her off guard.

Before Fuyu could react, my hand on her waist stretched further to completely hook my arm around her. Following that, I linked my hands together, pulling her closer and closer until eventually, I placed her in front of me, locked inside my arms.

“Instead of trying to remember when, I’ll repeat it instead, Yuuki-san. Listen closely. You’re free to interpret this however you want to. I love being this close to you.”

At the same time as I dropped that last sentence, I tightened my embrace around Fuyu and planted my lips on her warm cheek.

... Mhm. I’ve gone and done it. Whatever her reaction will be, I should probably expect a slap or something. In any case, that’s my honest thoughts right now. I’m not going to take those words back.