It was a given that no matter how relaxed she became, Fuyu would still fall on awkwardness when faced with Akane. Thankfully, with that silly girl being the way she was, her teeming energy was enough to brush that awkwardness away, preventing Eri and Futaba from seeing it being different from just her sadness for her team's loss.

Thanks to that, the hotpot party that they prepared successfully reached its goal; cheering up Fuyu.

Or at least, that’s how it was on the surface. Fuyu participated in the fun and thanked all of them, including Eimi. Still, when occasionally glancing at me, I would notice how her guilt was eating her.

Akane being the one closest to her noticed that particular detail. And as if a miracle, that guilty look in Fuyu’s eyes seemingly disappeared after Akane whispered something to her.

Of course, I could only try to guess what she said to her but that salvaged the situation.

Besides, Akane didn’t know what happened between us yet. All she had was an assumption that during the hour that we were together, there had been progress in our relationship.

Thinking about it, it’s probably another reason why she’s more than eager to arrange this hotpot party for Fuyu. She wanted to gauge it while also trying not to be meddlesome.

From what I’ve seen, she was successful but I’d probably hear the details about it later in our bed.

Anyway, during our meal, I minimized my involvement in any conversation topic they brought up. I only listened to the side while occasionally answering them when they needed my opinion.

Furthermore, I would step out at certain moments, utilizing various excuses to give the girls and Fuyu the space to breathe.

After all, despite Akane’s success, my presence remained like an invisible rope constricting Fuyu and her guilty thoughts. It was tied around her.

Akane and Eimi understood my intention so they assisted me and prevented Eri from her attempts to keep me on the same table as them.

At the moment, I was on my fifth time stepping out. We had just emptied the pot so I went to the kitchen to get us cold drinks and a dessert.

Picking from numerous choices, I grabbed a tub of vanilla ice cream that was sitting in our freezer. That would be a nice way to conclude that scrumptious moment, right?

Even if they prepared everything already, I was still the host of the house so… I have to continue playing that part.

After getting a tray, I placed the ice cream, scooper, spoons, and a few bowls that we would be using before going back to them.

Right as soon as I got spotted by Eri, the girl’s eyes sparkled at the sight of the tray I was carrying.

“Geez. You don’t have to trouble yourself like this, Onoda-kun. You don’t have to bribe us with an ice cream.”

Or so she said. But as soon as I placed the tray on the table, she immediately picked a bowl and waited for me to get her a scoop.

Alright. In their group of friends, I’m now going to rank her second to Akane when it comes to being shameless.

Like a dog eagerly anticipating her most awaited treat, Eri seemingly wagged her imaginary tail as she watched her bowl be filled with ice cream. When I handed it back to her, the girl forgot everything and immediately stuffed her mouth with it.

Next, I picked up another bowl and turned to Futaba.

The girl bit her lips and averted her gaze right away as though she was avoiding being tainted by sin. And in her most embarrassed tone to date, she murmured, “I’m fine, Onoda-kun. I’m on a diet. More sugar won’t be... good.”

While that statement was true… what I saw minutes earlier was contradictory.

As I started scooping up ice cream for her, I said in passing, “Are you sure? I heard this can help counteract the corn cob and three thick pieces of meat you munched on from the pot.”

Obviously, that’s just bullshit I pulled out from nowhere. Nonetheless, it’s enough to get her riled up.

Her chest bounced a bit as she seemingly reacted reflexively. Matched with a glare and a pout, she placed her hands on the table and leaned forward.

“Where did you hear that from?!”

To her horror, it was at that moment that an involuntary burp escaped her mouth.

Her eyes instantly widened and her face immediately turned from pink to bright red as steam rose on top of her head.

Without saying anything else, the girl grabbed the bowl from me, turned around, and started stuffing her mouth with the ice cream – her attempt to alleviate the heat and cool her head down.

On my side, I noticed Eimi trying her best not to burst out laughing from watching the two.

Unfortunately for her, the same as last time, she’s not safe from being teased just as well.

Although it’s milder than what Futaba experienced, it’s more than enough for the girl to be reduced to the same bundle of red.

She then joined the two on that side while occasionally shooting me miffed glances.

My take on that? I’m glad that Eimi was fitting in with their group.

Following that, with three down from the treat, I faced the pair of last bosses – Akane and Fuyu.

As bright and cheerful as she was, Akane stuck herself as close to Fuyu as possible, hugging the girl from behind.

On the other hand, Fuyu was like a helpless raccoon, trying to send an SOS signal to me.

It’s not that she’s uncomfortable with Akane keeping her locked in the girl’s embrace, she simply found herself at a loss on how to deal with her mischievous friend who probably wouldn’t stop at trying to comfort her by any means possible.

I inched closer to the two while holding the scoop and a bowl.

Akane then playfully winked at me, “Husband, you know what to do, right? Feed us. Our hands are tied.”

“Huh? My hands are free though.” Fuyu tried to refute but Akane was quick on the uptake.

“No, they’re not. Can you lift them to your mouth?”

Yeah. She couldn’t do that. Her arms were also locked in that silly girl’s embrace, after all.

Acting like I didn’t hear Fuyu’s protest, I answered Akane, “No problem. That’s what I planned to do anyway.”

“I know I can count on you, husband.”

“… Ugh. You’re both unbelievable.”

Akane’s lips stretched into a beautiful grin while Fuyu repeated what she just said earlier on the bus.

“Mhm. We know. You can sit back and relax, Yuuki-san. We’ll take care of you.”

“Fuyu, we’re going to sweep away what’s making you conflicted. Whatever that is.”

Helpless, Fuyu could only put on a wry smile as she resigned herself to her fate.

Just like this, the hotpot party eventually concluded with the girls emptying the whole tub of ice cream.

Eri demanded more after emptying her bowl.

Futaba begrudgingly did the same when the few scoops ended up being insufficient to satiate her desire for sweets.

Eimi went back to my side and nudged my shoulder. I gave her headpats before also feeding a few spoonfuls of ice cream.

Akane was already on cloud nine from being fed by me but she ended up resting her chin on Fuyu’s shoulder.

And lastly, Fuyu who succumbed to her fate grabbed the hem of my shirt while her eyes conveyed her call for help in extracting the silly girl from her back.

This time, I helped her out, pulling Akane to my side.

As this occasion was for cheering up Fuyu, there was no reason to complicate things further than it already was. There would be a better time for it.

Eventually, the girls started their preparation to go home. Looking at their satisfied expressions, I guess everything still worked out in the end apart from how I earned negative points from the duo of Eri and Futaba.