Just before noon on a holiday.
I was at a park near Hoshimiya’s house.

The sun’s rays falling from the sky above me were shining on my skin……

As promised last night, Hoshimiya and I are going to play together today.

We have an appointment with high praises.

Since we live in the same house, I thought we should go out together, but Hoshimiya was very particular about this and said, “The atmosphere is important!”, so I left the house first to meet up with them.

As I sat idly on a bench looking at the entrance to the park, a light-footed Hoshimiya came over to me.

“I’m here~.
Did you wait long?”

“A bit, I guess.”

“Mou, you should have told me you just got here!”

That’s what I’ve been told……

We were in the same house.

Hoshimiya dresses like a gal at school, but her personal clothes were fresh.

Her hair was in a ponytail tied with the usual ribbon.
She was wearing a white big shirt and white shorts.

One would expect her to come in a more flashy outfit, but that was not the case.

As for the skin exposure, I guessed it would be her slender and fleshy legs.

“You’re cute after all, Hoshimiya.”

“Hueh? Ah, um….but….”

Hoshimiya stutters with red cheeks.
She scratches her cheeks in embarrassment.

Apparently, she is not accustomed to being praised.
That’s surprising.

It seemed like she dated a lot of guys…But looking at Hoshimiya now, I don’t think that’s the case.

“Kuromine-kun, you know…Y, you say it so normally…Are you used to complimenting?”

“That’s right, I’ve complimented my childhood friend many times.”

Well, Haruno said, “You must be so happy to have such a cute childhood friend! Hehe!”, instead of being embarrassed she was puffing out her chest.

She is not at all aware of me as a member of the opposite sex.

“Let’s go then.”

“Wait, Hoshimiya.”

“Eh, what?”

I stop Hoshimiya as I step out of the park and onto the sidewalk.
How careless!

“Don’t walk on the roadway.
Move closer to the edge.”

“Umm…There’s plenty of sidewalk space…Isn’t it alright?”

“Are you looking down on your own life?”

“Eeh!?”

“You never know where a car will come crashing in.
Always be alert to your surroundings.”

“Th, that’s right…Un, that’s right.”

Hoshimiya’s face became stiff, but she nodded her head.

We then lined up vertically like a march and walked to the edge of the sidewalk.

“”

 

 

First of all, we came to a family restaurant to eat.

The waiter showed us to our seats, and we sat down facing each other.

“Well, what shall we order?”

Hoshimiya was very excited to see the menu list in her hands.

This pure side of her is probably one of her charms.

“Hmmm, which should I choose? Pasta or hamburger steak…?”

“Ah, then I’ll order one, and we’ll split it———”

“I’ve made up my mind, I’ll order both! And while I’m at it, I’ll order gratin as well!”

“A strong man huh.
You eat so much.”

“You know what they say about a sweet tooth?”

“None of that counts as dessert.”

Hoshimiya’s eyes sparkled.
What is this girl?

A new revelation.
Ayana Hoshimiya was a glutton.

By the way, I decided to order the demi-glace hamburger steak set meal that was on the recommended menu.

We both decided what to order, and I called the waiter to tell him what we ordered.

“Do you want me to get you some water?”

“Yeah.”

Just after I got up and started walking down the aisle.

“Ah———”

A first-grade boy who was running crashed into me.

That’s not all.

The boy was holding a glass of water and…It splashed all over my pants.

My right thigh was soaked.

“U, uh…..um….”

I guess he’s scared that I will get angry.

The boy looked up at me anxiously.

“Ah, it was just too hot, so that cooled me down.
Thank you.
But be careful next time.”

“I, I’m very sorry…!”

“Un.
You don’t have to worry about me, just go”

The child bowed apologetically and hurried back to his seat with his parents.

It’s late, but I’m glad it was a kid who can properly apologize……

“Hee, Kuromine-kun, you’re so kind.”

“Is that so?”

“Unn.
I thought Kuromine-kun was going to get angry.”

“Not that I’m angry…… It was just water.
Besides, you see, his parents warned him too.”

I look at the child and urge him to return to his seat.

A woman who appeared to be the child’s mother warned the child, then looked at me and bowed her head repeatedly.

“Maybe, Kuromine-kun, you are suited for the customer service industry.
You see various things, and you keep the situation civil.”

“I wonder.
I’m pretty bad at talking with people.”

“I don’t see it that way, though.
You seem to be aloof no matter who you’re dealing with.
And you have compassion for the people in front of you, no matter what the situation you are in.
I think that’s amazing.”

“You’re praising me to this degree? It’s embarrassing, so please stop it.”

I quickly turn my head away from Hoshimiya, who is giving me a somewhat respectful look.

If I’m going to be praised anyway, I’d rather be praised for something else.

 

 

After lunch, we went to a large arcade nearby.

The buzzing and tremendous noise shook my eardrums violently.
I don’t like this feeling.

“Kuromine-kun, is there any game you want to play?”

“Let me think.
I——”

“Ah, wait! Let’s play air hockey first!”

“…Okay.”

Why did you ask?

But I’m all for it.
It doesn’t matter what it is.

We walked around looking for air hockey, found a table, and took our positions.

We grabbed a hand-held device (later we learned that it was called a mallet), put a 100-yen coin into the slot, and a disc was ejected from the slot.
The game was on.

“Let’s go, Hoshimiya!”

“Unn! Come at me anytime!”

You’re in an awfully good mood it seems.

Well, let’s go easy on her at first, just to see what she’ll do.

I hit the disk with my mallet.
The disc headed straight for Hoshimiya’s goal———The disc, which was launched back by Hoshimiya with tremendous speed, reflected off the wall with a crackling sound at blinding speed and was sucked into my goal in a flash———

“…eh?”

I blink.
I couldn’t react at all, and the point was scored.

What was that speed…?

It probably happened in less than a second.

While I was stunned, Hoshimiya, who had a slimy air around her, looked up.

“There was one thing I forgot to tell you.”

“…What is that?”

“The neighborhood kids call me the queen of air hockey!”

“I, I don’t know if that’s great! But that was some fast work you did earlier!”

Another new revelation, Ayana Hoshimiya is good at air hockey.

In the end, I suffered a devastating 10-3 loss without ever making a comeback.

She was seriously strong.
She was a queen.

She looked like a pro as she freely maneuvered the mallet and repeatedly hit the disc.

Her happy smile was especially impressive.

 

 

“I’m so tired~”

After the air hockey, I was resting on a bench in the rest area after working up a sweat.

I feel like I’ve been moving around a lot lately.

“No~, I sweat a little~”

Hoshimiya, who had gone to buy a drink, came back.

Her voice conveys that she is very refreshed and content.

“Here, a drink.”

“Thanks———!”

I looked up to accept the carton of strawberry juice offered to me and realized.

Hoshimiya’s clothes are———Transparent with sweat!

The outline of her white bra was clearly visible on her shirt.

“Hm, what’s wrong Kuromine-kun?”

“Ho, Hoshimiya…How much you’re sweating! Underneath, it’s see-through!”

“Eh….Wa, waaaaaaa!”

She hugged herself and crouched down, letting out a scream.

I hadn’t looked properly before, but Hoshimiya was drenched in sweat.

Her bangs were sticky on her forehead, and her sweat-soaked shirt was stuck to her body in a way that highlighted the unevenness of her flesh.
This is bad.

It would be embarrassing to wander around the arcade in this state.

I look around and look for a place to take shelter.

“Hoshimiya, there’s a purikura over there.” 1

“So what about it!? Eh, you’re going to take a picture of me now!? You’re terrible!”

“No, that’s not it.
If it’s a purikura, it’s like a secret room, and you can’t be seen, right? Let’s take shelter there until the sweat dries.”

“…I, I see.
You should have said that first.”

“Is it my fault?”

With mixed feelings, the two of us move on to the Purikura.

Luckily, no one saw us.

It seems that the purikura corner is not very popular.
There were no people there.

We didn’t have to worry about waiting for our turn.

We pushed aside the curtain and entered.
It was smaller than I expected.

I chose a box-shaped one that looked as spacious as possible, but if I stretched out my arm a little, it would hit Hoshimiya.

Well, it’s just for two people, I guess.

“……”

Soon, Hoshimiya moves silently to the corner.

“What’s wrong?”

“I…smell like sweat, right?”

“Not at all.
You smell rather girly.”

“Pe, pervert!”

“……”

Apparently, I made a mistake in my follow up.

For better or worse, I only know how to treat my childhood friend, and it now backfired.

I wonder how I should treat normal girls.

If it’s okay to fool around, I can fool them with the right kind of joke…

I may be more of a communicator than I thought.
Or maybe I’m a herbivorous guy who is not used to women.

“……”

“……”

A subtle, indescribable silence hangs in the air.

The background music from the arcade outside was all that could be heard.

I and Hoshimiya had our backs to each other and didn’t even try to talk to each other.

Perhaps it was the fact that we were in a closed room that made us more tense.

…I mean, did I have to go in too?

Why don’t I just wait outside? I just went in with the flow.

“I’ll be outside.”

“Why?”

“Why you ask…”

“It’s…lonely, that kind of thing.
Stay…with me.”

“……”

I’m staying in this spot.
What should I do?

To be frank, I wanted to run away, but Hoshimiya’s sweat-soaked back looked somewhat lonely, so I had no choice but to stay.

…No, maybe I don’t need to think about anything.

Just as I don’t worry about anything when I talk to my childhood friend, I probably don’t need to think about it when I talk to Hoshimiya either.

If we are together and silence prevails, that’s the natural atmosphere.

And when you feel like talking, just talk.

“Hey, Hoshimiya.”

“What?”

We talk with our backs to each other.

We can’t see each other’s faces, but that’s fine.

“About today, thanks.
I feel…like it’s been a while since I’ve been excited and loud.”

“……”

“Thank you.
I feel refreshed.”

Slowly, and carefully weave out my real feelings.

I don’t know when it started.

When did I stop speaking out my emotions?

Even when I was with my childhood friend, I don’t think I ever spoke out loud.

“Me too…Thank you.
It was a lot of fun.”

“Really?”

“Of course.
I don’t get to get so wild with my regular friends.”

“I see.”

“That’s right.”

Silence again.

But this time, I didn’t mind the silence.

I can’t describe it well, but it was a natural feeling that filled my heart.

 

 

“Nn~~.
Today was fun~”

“I guess so.”

I replied to Hoshimiya, who said so while stretching.

We were walking side by side in the orange glow of the evening sun.

The sound of cars driving and people talking on the street form a single mass of sound around us.

On the street, cars were lined up in a row waiting for the traffic light.

“I took a purikura with Kuromine-kun, huh?”

“I guess so.
Any deeper meaning?”

“No way~.
I just said it~.”

Hoshimiya looked at one of the photos while holding it above her head and mischievously said so.

After that, we took a pukikura together while we were drying our sweat.

I won’t tell her I was a little nervous.

“Ahaha, Kuromine-kun, you’re not used to taking pictures, are you? Your smile is broken.
Ahaha.”

“It can’t be helped.
I haven’t laughed much…”

“Then…You’ll have to smile a lot from now on.”

“———”

Unexpectedly, I was startled.

Hoshimiya’s smile, illuminated by the setting sun, looked really beautiful.

And the next moment———

From behind, puaaaaaaa! And a shrill horn sounded.

My heart skipped a beat.
Memories of the past flooded back into my mind.

In front of me, a family is in one of the cars———

I found myself hugging Hoshimiya tightly as if to protect her from the car behind us.

“Ku, Kuromine-kun!?”

“……”

“Kuromine-kun! Wh, wh, wh, what’s wrong!?”

“……Eh?”

The shock I had feared never came.

“U, um…It’s too early for these kinds of things! We need to get to know each other a little better…”

“….What about the car?”

“Car…car?”

We stared at each other closely, and both of our eyes were trembling.
…Eh?

“No, I heard a horn earlier…”

As I say this, I look back.
It was an uneventful scene in the city.

There was no problem at all on the roadway, and countless cars were roaring with the sound of their driving.

“”

“A, ah, that horn you were talking about.
The traffic light turned green, but there was a car that didn’t move, so the guy behind it honked.”

“I, is that so…”

Apparently, I was mistaken.

“And, Kuromine-kun…it’s about time…”

I see Hoshimiya’s red face in my full vision.

She was still in my arms!

“I, I’m sorry!“

I hurry away.
I’ve done it now~

I bowed my head, ready to get down on my knees.

“I’m so sorry! I mistakenly thought a car was going to ram into us from behind… I’m really sorry!”

“D, does that mean…You were trying to protect me?”

“Well…Un.”

“”

Except the result was a pervert who hugged you out of the blue!

I am worse than a stalker.

“I, I see…”

“Hoshimiya?”

“……”

Hoshimiya abruptly looked away from me and started to walk.

…Aah~, she hates me for this.
I did it~

It’s so awkward~.
And we’re going back to the same house~.

“……”

I walk behind Hoshimiya, keeping a distance of about five steps.

Naturally, we’re not talking.

And Hoshimiya didn’t even look back.

“”

This silence is a bad one……

It had been a fun day, but at the end of the day, I ruined it.

 

◇ (Hoshimiya’s POV)

 

“Uwaaa…What should I do? I can’t even look at Kuromine-kun’s face properly……”

The evening after dinner.

While soaking in the bathtub, Ayana let out an embarrassed sound.

Her red face had nothing to do with the bath, but with her emotions.

“I was squeezed as hard as I could.”

She vividly remembers what happened after the horn sounded.

Ayana clearly remembered the feeling of Riku’s hug, his breathing, and the beating of his heart.

“Kuromine-kun…You risked your life to protect me.
And it was also a reflex…..”

Even if it was a misunderstanding, it doesn’t change the fact that he tried to risk his life to protect her.

After recognizing this fact, Ayana was unable to look directly at Riku.

“It makes me very, very nervous……”

She puts her hand on her own chest and checks her racing heart.

Unable to hide her confusion at her feelings, Ayana sank into the hot water up to her mouth.

“Bukubuku, bukubuku”

As she exhaled and looked at the bubbling surface of the water, Ayana wondered what to do.

 

◇ (Haruno’s POV)

 

This happened———Just before the horn sounded.

“Eh, Riku-chan?”

Haruno, who had come to town to hang out with her friends, stopped in her tracks when she spotted her precious childhood friend.

She immediately tries to run up to him, but stops when she sees Ayana Hoshimiya next to him.

“…Riku-chan has something to do today, right? Why?”

No matter how you look at it, the two didn’t meet by chance.

Walking side by side in the evening sun, they were so close together that their shoulders were almost touching, and they seemed to have an air of intimacy about them.

Then, at the sound of the horn, I see my childhood friend hugging Ayana.

“———”

A shock hit my chest as if I had been stabbed with a blade.

“W, why….
You…can’t play today because of business, right?”

Could it be that you turned down my invitation because you were going to play with Hoshimiya-san?

So last night and the night before that…?

“Riku-chan…”

Haruno’s lingering smile on her face disappeared and looked off at their diminishing backs.

Wow…This was a pretty long chapter, huh? That aside, a lot of things happened in this chapter.
Riku has some kind of trauma because of something that happened in his past? I am really curious.

Footnotes

Purikura is a photo booth machine except the photos are stickers and you can add effects and graffiti to it on the spot.

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