Chapter 59 Is it Love or Bond - Part 2

「...But it just Mishuku-san’s imagination, right?」
「Yes, that’s right. It’s just an imagination based on what I’ve seen and heard. ...Well, I was somewhat concerned about her as one of the targets of my [Looting], and I was able to talk to her like this today, so I don’t think I’m wrong」
 And she continued to say, "Well, it helps that Izumi-kun is so enthusiastic about such girls"
 Then, she walked away from Chihiro’s side.
「Where are Maria-chan and the others?」
「On a bench near the stall, maybe. Mishuku-san, don’t try to reach Maria at a place like this」
「I wouldn’t do that. You know Maria-chan doesn’t like to be forced」
 Whether it’s a kiss or a caress, the pleasure is returned to her with Maria’s 『Retaliation』 after she does it.
 So, as long as Hana doesn’t solve the inexplicable phenomenon of being blamed when she is supposed to blame, it’s impossible to forcibly make Maria fall.
「Well, that’s it then. Just suffer with it」
 ...Hana is very harsh.
 But even though she’s harsh, Chihiro is subtly happy that she’s coming to see him like this.
 Hana would definitely not like it if he said so, so he decided not to.
 ☆   ☆   ☆
 It was like they were having fun, but not so much.
 So, two hours passed with a subtle feeling, and they all gathered near the entrance.
「What do you want to do? I’ll go with you if you still want to hang out, but I’m hungry」
 Riko said, and no one in particular voiced their desire to continue.
 As they all exercise regularly, they still have enough strength, but the summer sunshine is mentally distracting and hunger is unbearable.
 So, they decided to have lunch.
 They could buy yakisoba or frankfurters at the stalls in the pool, but Maria made a suggestion.
「If you don’t mind, there’s a good place I heard about through a friend of mine」
 It’s a private restaurant within walking distance of the pool. Considering what they are about to talk about, it’s quite a nice offer.
 Chihiro is curious about the price, but he heard that Maria’s friend would take care of that too.
「Are you sure, Fukami-san?」
「Yes. I have connections that are useless except on occasions like this, so don’t worry about it」
 There are still many mysteries in Maria’s background, such as the apartment and the fact that she searched for Chihiro all over the country.
 Judging by the way she talks, it’s not her own power but that of someone close to her.
 From the pool, it’s a fifteen-minute walk to downtown.
 The restaurant is located just at the entrance of an area where children are not allowed to enter alone. It seems to be a restaurant that serves various kinds of food, mainly Western, light meals, and drinks. Judging from the shop’s chic exterior, the main menu is obviously alcohol.
「Aren’t we going to get arrested if we go in here?」
 Maria chuckled at Riko’s unusually timid question.
「We’ll be fine. ...Of course, you have to be careful about ordering drinks, though」
 Is she used to this kind of place, or is she just being her usual natural self? Maria walked through the entrance without any hesitation, and Chihiro and the others entered the restaurant.
 Inside the restaurant, there is a bar counter and a few black tables.
「My name is Fukami」
「We’re ready to serve. This way, please」
 A man dressed in a waiter’s uniform ushered them into a back passage. After a short distance, he opened one of the solidly-textured doors and ushered Chihiro and the others in.
 The room is dark, with orange lighting. In the center of the room is a large table, with sofas for three people on either side.
「When the order is ready, please ring the bell over there」
 Chihiro and the others looked at each other as the waiter left the room.
「...for now」
「Shall we sit down?」
 The first person to step forward is Maria. She sat down on one side of the room, and as Chihiro moved to follow her, Riko grabbed his collar shirt.
 A moment later.
 The three remaining girls exchange eye contact in silence. Why did sparks seem to fly between their gazes?
「Okay, Chihiro, you over here」
 Riko pushed him next to Maria. And Riko sat next to him, with Chihiro between them.
 On the other side are Aika in the corner and Hana in the middle.
 The arrangement is rather safe and orderly.
「So, let’s order something without hesitation. We’ve come to this restaurant for free, after all」
 Hana said as she carelessly picked up the menu.
「Mishuku-san, are you going to behave yourself...?」
「No, not at all. If I have to pay for it myself, who knows, but the man can simply go to the bank, right?」
 The subject had obviously been identified and it’s Chihiro, but he held his tongue. 
「What about a salad? Will one big one be enough?」
「Let’s get two different ones. One with Caesar and the other with...」
「Seafood or hot egg style? Maria-chan, which do you think is better?」
「Me? Well, the food will be meat-based, so seafood is fine」
 The girls immediately think about the salad. Then, they decided to order one main dish per person, or two at the most, and if they had different tastes, they would share as they saw fit.
 As they decided, they rang the bell to call the waiter and place their orders.
 Soon, the drink menu is brought out. Oolong tea for Chihiro and Riko, iced tea for Maria and Hana, and mixed juice for Aika.
 *gulp* *gulp*
 After taking a sip of the pale yellow liquid from the straw, Aika looked up and opened her mouth.
「...So, Izumi-kun, can I ask you to answer now?」
 As if prompted by the tense voice, the other three kept their mouths shut and listened carefully to the two.
 ...Chihiro, too, sipped lightly at his oolong tea before answering.
 After nodding, he paused and said.
「I can’t accept what Takatsuki-san said to me. So I want you to pretend it never happened」
「...I see」
 Aika narrowed her eyes sadly.
 She turned her head down, and her expression could not be seen from Chihiro’s position. Her gesture seemed to make everyone, including Chihiro, hesitate to speak to her.
 A few seconds later.
 Aika looked up determinedly and told Chihiro.
「Then, I’ll go out with Kamishiro-kun. Is that okay?」
 That's an obvious conclusion.
 Chihiro, who had rejected the offer, is no longer a candidate, and the boy who was devoted to her would be the top choice.
 ...To be honest, it’s probably for the best.
 Aika would be happier if she and Kamishiro became lovers. The two of them would be the pair that everyone around them admires.
 What makes Chihiro happy is not the same thing as what he wants.
「Sorry, can you wait on that?」
「I want you to pretend that story never happened. It’s not that I want to say no」
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