"I remembered! What happened here? You sure glowed up. I failed to recognize you!"

As though she found a magnificent exhibit before her, Michiru closed in and inspected me intently. It's not an act. She surely remembered me as the junior who helped her during that Sports Festival.

Perhaps if not for her hands being full with her bags, she'd also reach for my forehead to emulate my previous hairstyle; the scrawny cut with my fringes almost covering half of my face.

After a while, Michiru’s lips stretched into a pleasant smile as she looked at me with a hint of pride.

As I expected, she still considered herself a senior I respected and looked up to. Those eyes she was using to look at me were like a mother lion pleased with her young cub who succeeded in his first hunt.

If I remember correctly, this kind of treatment stemmed from how I always ran to her for help. In the first few instances, I drew her ire for being annoying but eventually, she found me silly and she couldn't help taking the mantle of a senior to guide me patiently.

I guess that's her most prominent trait. She's a doting senior once you get into her favor.

Thinking about it, including that deliberate attempt to get close to her, I was already that close to setting up the stage to steal her. I was only biding my time until the Sports Festival ended so her boyfriend would return to his normally busy schedule.

Alas, I found out that she's in the same club as Fuyu and she's also close to the girl. All those setups were immediately thrown into the bin and I never openly approached her again.

Though there were times that we ran into each other before she graduated, those ended with either of us just greeting each other, or some other times she would tease before separating there.

Wait. Did she ask me if I was avoiding her? I couldn't remember. Probably not.

"I've learned not to neglect my appearance, senpai. That's all." I answered honestly but neither Michiru nor Fuyu believed that. The former leered at me before snickering while the latter had her eyes widened, slightly taken aback finding out that I am acquainted with her senior.

“Good for you! You look really great! Am I right, Yuuki?” Still beaming with pride, she then gave Fuyu who was stuck speechless a side glance.

Taking into account how I answered her question about our relationship, I could take a guess that Michiru believed that I was in the middle of courting Fuyu. Hence, she’s trying to get a reaction from the girl here.

Looking at that flash of mischief that would occasionally appear on her face, she’s definitely trying to help me out here.

“Y-yes. He looks great.” Fuyu, whose mind was occupied with other thoughts, could only answer like that.

It elicited a sly grin from Michiru and a second later, she stepped forward and closed in on me again, “Since you said you’re not in that relationship. Can I be annoying and pry on why you’re together? Onoda is even carrying your bag, Yuuki.”

This girl… She’s cornering Fuyu, huh? But at the same time, she’s also trying to see if I would once again step in for Fuyu.

“I came to watch her match, senpai. You two got me at the edge of my seat earlier. That was amazing.”

“Oh! You watched our match! I see. Did you cheer for me? Let me guess… No, right?”

Playing along with her, I scratched my cheek as I sneaked a glance at Fuyu again, “Sorry, senpai. I never anticipated that you’d be the one she’s playing against so…”

“Boo… I’m disappointed, Onoda.” Michiru pouted and acted disappointed but the playful smile on her lips lingered. She’s having fun teasing us like this. In fact, she’s more enlivened to see Fuyu’s reactions.

I mean, the girl couldn’t look straight at me and she also couldn’t answer properly. I guess that’s my fault. After everything that happened between us, it was difficult for her to be put in this situation.

“Uhm. Michiru-senpai, give Onoda-kun a break. He came to watch because I asked him.” Somehow, Fuyu opened her mouth just to defend but then again, why was she claiming that when I was the one who brought it up first earlier?

Ah. Right. Unlike me, she’s still feeling conflicted about what happened between us and the decision she made. Despite attempting not to let Michiru get a wrong assumption from us, she’s doing a poor job at it.

Besides, if she mentioned Akane and the fact that I’m her best friend’s boyfriend, it’d just create more questions for our senior.

“Heh. Is that true, Onoda?”

“Mhm. She’s not wrong. But I must say that I also came to watch because I liked to.”

“I see. I got the picture now…” With a meaningful smile, Michiru nodded a few times. She narrowed her eyes and alternately looked at us. “Okay, since you two aren’t a thing. Can I borrow Onoda from you, Yuuki?”

“Huh? O-okay, I guess.” Fuyu’s expression cycled through different emotions such as surprise, conflict, and confusion. In the end, after glancing at me and deciding on the spot, she could only say ‘yes’ to her senior.

“Great!” Michiru jubilantly clapped before walking up and grabbing my arm to drag me to a corner. Just a distance away from Fuyu.

“Wait. Senpai, what about my consent?”

“You’ll come with me on your own, right? Come on. I’m trying to help you out here.”

As I expected, this girl was trying to stir up the storm. How should I say this? Was she being a helpful senior or not? I had no idea.

In any case, as soon as we got sufficient distance from Fuyu where the girl wouldn’t be able to hear our conversation, Michiru elbowed me and started her interrogation.

She asked me what I thought of Fuyu. Her attempt to confirm her guess about us. I naturally answered properly but not in all honesty.

It frustrated her a bit but she persisted in trying to act like she could give me sound advice on how to capture the girl.

I pretended to listen to her for a bit while occasionally glancing at Fuyu who could only stare at us from where we left her behind.

Whenever our eyes would meet, a complicated expression would surface on the girl’s face before eventually averting her gaze.

After a while, when Michiru finally exhausted her advice and questions, I put on my usual smile and turned things around, “I’m enlightened, senpai. You’re still as helpful as before. But I apologize. I might not be able to put them to use.”

“Huh? How so?”

“Because I think it’ll be inappropriate to do so.”

“Onoda, if you don’t take a step here, how can you reach your goal? Uh. You already made progress by fixing your appearance. There’s no reason for you to stop there.”

“Ah. You’re still misunderstanding us, senpai. Like I said, we’re not in that kind of relationship. In any case, I haven’t congratulated you yet, senpai. Good luck with winning the tournament.”

Although I wouldn’t mind admitting what I feel for Fuyu, denying it like this would be for the better.

“Guh. You’re hopeless, Onoda.” She shook her head, looking a bit disappointed at me. But she probably understood that I wasn’t looking for advice from her. A second later, she smiled and thanked me for that encouragement. “If you can, come and watch our match too.”

“Mhm. If it aligns with my free time then I will.”

“That sounds like a no. You’re still avoiding me.”

That last part was said in an almost inaudible volume. Something like she just added while looking at me bitterly.

I pretended not to hear that and aimed my reply to the first part, “Really? I never thought ‘no’ is already that long of a word.”

“You smartass. Nevermind. Let’s go back. Yuuki is already becoming uncomfortable. I don’t want to be a wedge between you two lovebirds.” With a click of her tongue, Michiru pinched my arm. She then walked past me to return to where Fuyu was.

I watched her back for a few seconds before following her.

A while later, Michiru’s clubmates arrived and dragged her back to their prepared transportation.

Left behind, Fuyu and I could only continue to the bus stop. Of course, the atmosphere between us became more constrained but it’s just because none of us was bringing up a topic.

By the time we took our seats inside the bus, Fuyu released a sigh before whispering, “I have no idea you’re also close to Michiru-senpai, Onoda-kun.”