With a slight but sharp noise.
A glass of iced tea on a tray is placed on the table.
Hana, who had just arrived, took care of preparing the drinks. Once she had finished setting the glasses, she put the tray away and sat down next to Maria.
「...So, what happened? Even if it's Takatsuki-san, I won't forgive you for hitting Maria-chan. But it's depending on the reason」
Aika and Maria are facing each other over a dining table made up of two small tables. Riko sits next to Aika, and Chihiro sits down equidistant from them.
Although he wanted to do something about his girlfriend, Aika, he couldn't favor one of them at this stage.
「I haven't heard much either. So, it would be nice if you could start from the beginning」
He called out as calmly as he could.
Aika and Maria looked up and looked at each other. After an air of restraint, Aika opened her mouth first.
「When I was done helping in the infirmary, I got a text from Chihiro-kun. And it's just the right time to call it a day, so I came here」
And Maria had already come home.
She was in the living room with Riko, and they were chatting normally at first. They casually talked about what Maria had been doing today.
Aika didn't press her, she just asked her.
But the problem was what she replied.
「She told me she was on the executive committee of the school festival.」
Aika's voice was faintly shaky.
...Apparently, Maria was just telling her what happened.
「Yeah, I was surprised to see her there too. That's why I was going to talk to her later but I didn't think Maria would answer honestly」
「Yes, it's not something to hide」
Well, sure, it would be exposed anyway when Chihiro got home.
「But, that's strange. You don't have to keep it from us, do you?」
Aika questioned Maria about her intentions.
But Maria only dodged the question and refused to answer. Moreover, her only reply was――
『It's my decision, there's no need to talk about it』
Her reply doesn't make sense, Aika thought.
She would answer honestly where she had been, but not the purpose of her participation in the committee. Shouldn't she have been more clear about whether she wanted to hide it or not?
Aika, unconvinced, questioned Maria further.
「Well, Takatsuki-san didn't like the fact that Maria was meeting with Chihiro in a place she didn't know anything about」
Aika nodded at Riko's comment.
「Of course. Because I'm Chihiro-kun's girlfriend」
Even if they are friends, it's because they are friends that she can't allow her to contact Chihiro secretly.
...It's only natural.
Aika is a lover.
Maria, Riko and Hana are slaves. They wished to be by Chihiro's side and recognized each other. Then they should have the utmost respect for each other.
In fact, Aika acknowledges the existence of the slaves and tries to get along with them.
That is an extraordinary effort, even though Maria and the others were the ones who were with Chihiro first.
And yet, Maria has trampled on Aika's efforts and trust.
It is no exaggeration to say that she betrayed her.
So, it's understandable to suspect artifice and malice.
『It was nothing special. Just a few words as classmates』
『Then why didn't you tell me? If nothing happened, why didn't you just tell me?』
If Maria had apologized here, the conversation would've ended there.
If she had just bowed her head and said, "I was rash, I'll be careful next time", there would have been no rift between them.
But she did not apologize.
She just ignored it and tried to pass it off.
It was this attitude that caused Aika to become heated.
『I can't understand you if you don't say anything. Answer me properly, Maria-chan』
After a few seconds of silence, Maria said.
『I was just trying to surprise Izumi-kun and the others. Isn't it easier for Izumi-kun if I'm on the executive committee than someone else?』
『Yeah. But it's a lie, isn't it?』
Aika immediately cut her off.
If that's the reason, it doesn't explain why she didn't apologize for everything earlier.
Or perhaps the usual Maria would have said, "Surprised, right?", or something like that.
Not only did she keep quiet, she lied about it.
So, the two of them argued.
Aika was the one who raised her voice most of the time, but when things got a bit heated, both of them decided to move to the bedroom.
『Calm down, both of you. Can't we at least wait until Chihiro comes home?』
『I can't let Chihiro-kun see us like this』
『Right... I agree with you on that』
Riko's mediation didn't have much effect, and Riko called Chihiro to see what she should do. Fortunately, Chihiro was nearby...
「...That's how it is」
Riko ended the conversation with a sigh.
「Thanks. ...Riko did a good job of staying calm」
「Uh, well. I think I missed the timing because Takatsuki-san pushed too hard, so I had to calm down」
She smiles wryly.
But it is true that Riko saved the day. If she too had gotten heated, the situation would have been completely out of control.
Thanks to her, she could sort out what happened.
The conflict is triggered by Maria's participation in the executive committee.
And the cause seems to be Maria's stubborn attitude.
When Chihiro call her name, the dark-haired girl turns to look at him.
Her expression looks calm, but she is suppressing something. She seemed to be trying her best to make an innocent face.
...Fortunately, this is not a case of switching sides, as he feared.
「Why don't you tell me what's going on? Maria's acting like this, I think there's a reason」
――Just like with Hana before.
She doesn't want to talk about it in front of him, so he glances at her and makes his intention known.
But Hana gave him a disapproving look.
At that time, too, Maria was working for Chihiro and the others despite her seemingly stubborn attitude.
This time, she must have been trying to avoid a bigger problem.
「I told you. I don't want you to sacrifice yourself without consulting me」
Even if the best solution is for Chihiro and the others to not know anything.
Not wanting to go through that again, Chihiro stared at Maria.
「Oh, um. Izumi-kun, I'm sorry to interrupt your excitement, but...」
Hana approached her slowly.
The expression on her face is indescribably vague.
「Well... it's just possibly. But I don't think it's like that this time」
And the one who replied is Riko.
She is also looking at Chihiro with a wry, complicated expression on her face.
「To be honest, I think this is Maria's fault」
「It can't be Maria-chan's fault. I think it's Takatsuki-san who came in after her」
Both girls are in distress.
But not in a life-threatening way, and their opinions are at odds with each other.
Chihiro tilted his head.
「...What do you mean?」
「In other words, Maria wanted to be with Chihiro, so she agreed to be a member of the school festival committee. That's all I'm saying」
Hana and Aika are not surprised by Riko's words.
They both knew that.
But for Chihiro, it was an unexpected and outlandish reason.
So, for a while, all he could do is ramble.