Was that jealousy I heard? I had no idea. Thinking about it, it’s closer to her reaction when finding out about my closeness to the other girls. While it was bereft of suspicion and disappointment, I could probably attribute that to the change that happened in our relationship – even if we wrote off that particular moment.

Finding out that I am acquainted with Michiru just after all that definitely came as more than a surprise to her. She did talk about her and her days with the girl in their club and yet, I never mentioned that I know Michiru.

In my defense, I didn’t feel obligated to do so. Furthermore, it was unimportant when I didn’t even plan to show myself in front of that girl. It just so happened that she chased after Fuyu.

And with that callout, I was left with a choice of whether to reveal my connection with her or act like a stranger. I chose the latter because I thought she would eventually recognize me given how close I’ve gotten with her back then.

“Not really close, no. Do you remember the Sports Festival that she carried? I’m merely an errand boy around her back then.”

After thinking for a while, that’s the answer I came up with. It might not be the full story but it’s at least truthful.

Anyway, I found no reason to explain myself there. Fuyu already saw everything. Besides, she wasn’t looking for an explanation either. She simply aired that out to clear out her muddled head.

“Errand boy. I see…” As much as she tried to sound normal with that, her bitterness was almost poking me in my cheek.

In response, I put on a helpless smile. And a while later, I furtively grabbed her hand as the bus started moving away from that stop.

I expected her to reflexively pull her hand out but that didn't happen. Instead, the girl glanced at me with the same complicated expression she wore when watching Michiru and I converse earlier.

Whatever was in her head, she was probably conflicted once again. I guess, she still hadn’t written off our moment earlier and this was her acting out of it.

For a few seconds, she silently maintained that seemingly drilling gaze into me. Then, Fuyu frustratedly bit onto her lips and shook her head. Instead of vocalizing her thoughts, she gulped it down and decided not to say anything.

Alright. I’ll take responsibility for that. I put her through so much today. It’s criminal to do that when she’s still affected by their loss.

What to do then? Nothing, I guess.

After deliberating for a while, I decided not to say anything as well and simply moved my thumb, caressing the back of her hand.

And since silence would just be suffocating for us again, I organized my thoughts and pulled out a story from the past that I remembered.

Of course, it's not about my escapades of stealing girls left and right. It’s just my normal day-to-day life when I wasn’t around Nao, Yae, Haruko, Miyako, or any of the girls I stole and targeted.

Fuyu was puzzled at first when I started but gradually, she found herself so engrossed in my tale that whatever thoughts bugging her slowly but surely got washed away.

To be fair, my girls also got so engrossed by those stories when I narrated the same story to them. It’s like they’re hearing about a hidden side of me.

I could remember Aya asking me why I didn’t make any friends when it would be beneficial to me in staying obscure or Nami’s look of amazement when I told her the number of times someone thought I was a pushover.

This time, Fuyu had her eyebrows creased when I revealed how I was aware of Akane and her following me around. She then appeared embarrassed before eventually nudging my shoulder with her forehead since her hand remained clasped by mine.

Perhaps to fill me in on what they did when they lost sight of me, Fuyu told me that Akane would be turning to her and complaining about how unfair I was…

That stung a bit, but well, I’m already paying for that bit by bit. Never will I make Akane that miserable anymore.

Before we knew it, the bus already traversed more than half of the road to our destination.

The sky has just started turning orange and it’s an hour at most before night arrives.

We looked out the window and watched the changing scenery outside.

After a while, Fuyu’s phone vibrated.

A message has arrived.

She pulled it up and checked. When she saw who the sender was, the girl’s face crumpled before showing it to me.

Well, not to my surprise, it’s from Akane.

For sure, she already received the news about the Tennis Club’s loss. I informed her about it, after all. Knowing that I was with Fuyu, she probably waited for this long before sending a message to give me the chance to comfort the girl.

She said she wouldn’t meddle with us anymore, after all. So, that’s probably her way of not being blatantly obvious about what she wanted to happen.

Anyway, I nodded at Fuyu and released her hand. No matter how guilty she became, she had no reason not to read Akane’s message.

A few seconds later, Fuyu facepalmed and showed me the screen.

There, I read Akane’s message.

“Fuyu, don’t go home yet. If you’re still with husband, tell him to bring you home. Futaba and Eri will wait for you. Look, we're preparing a hot pot! Let’s drown your sorrow for your match today! Eimi is also here!”

The same as Fuyu, I also couldn’t help but put a hand on my forehead as I felt my head ache a little.

That girl and her antics.

“I guess we should tell little Fubuki that you’ll be late. I’ll walk you home later.”

“… Onoda-kun, you two are unbelievable.” With another sigh, Fuyu muttered. Then, she followed my words and contacted her house to tell her mother and mischievous little sister about it.

“I know, right? We’re a match made in heaven.”

I shamelessly admitted, earning me a scornful look from her. Eventually, she smiled bitterly again.

“Is this fine?”

“Of course, it is. They’re worried that you’ll be down after the loss so they banded together to cheer you up.”

“That’s not what I—Ah. I see. I’m making a fool out of myself again.”

Mhm. I knew her concern was different but to clear her head, I had to act oblivious to not put her in an awkward position.

“You’re not, believe me. Just follow what you think is best. I’ll cheer you on, no matter what.”

Upon saying that, my hand dropped on her head, caressing and patting her gently.

Not knowing what to say anymore, Fuyu could only lower her head while grasping my sleeve in a futile attempt to stop me from making her comfortable.

With our plans changed. We got off the bus at the stop closest to our house. Although reluctant, Fuyu walked alongside me as we traversed the short stretch home. Along the way, she started rehearsing her smile as if that would be effective in hiding her conflicting thoughts from the mind reader, Akane.

In any case, I simply watched that on the side, teasing her once in a while until we finally reached our front door.

With heavy steps, Fuyu carefully trudged behind me as I opened the door.

And the same as any other day, Akane’s figure welcomed us by the door.

With a meaningful smile on her lips, Akane winked at me and immediately went to grab Fuyu behind me while sneaking in her welcome kiss.

Then, after a while, she dragged the girl to our living room. I followed behind them and was greeted by the boiling heat coming from the stove and pot in the middle of the living room where they finished preparing for the hotpot.

The other three girls were sitting on the floor, Eri and Futaba together then Eimi on the other side.

“Heh, good job escorting her back here, Onoda-kun. I’ll give you a ten.” Eri playfully raised her thumb at me.

But before I could react to that, Futaba told her off, “Eri, you’re being rude. This is his house, you know? Onoda-kun, sorry for intruding.”

Thanks to them, the atmosphere instantly became light and comfortable.

“It’s fine, Adachi-san. I don’t mind being praised for a job well done. Right, Kitayama?” I put on a shameless smile which Eri found hilarious as she burst into a peal of laughter right away. On the other hand, Futaba smilingly shook her head.