Maria realized what was happening shortly after the woman's whisper.
She looked back at Chihiro, stared at the woman standing by the side for a while, and then slowly walked up to her.
Is something wrong? Maria asks as she walks up to her.
The woman says something in Maria's ear, probably similar to the words that were spoken to Chihiro, and Maria's face suddenly becomes cloudy.
She understands that Chihiro's identity has been revealed and how it affects them.
If the clerk reported the incident, it would cause trouble.
They don't know if the police will be called, but they should be prepared for a thorough lecture and at least a ban on both of them.
If the store asks the age, their guardians will be informed as well.
In such a case, it would be no different for Chihiro from being turned in to the police, not to mention Maria. In many ways.
...I was careless.
Not only Chihiro who bumped into the woman, but also Maria who brought Chihiro here.
Well, who could have guessed that they would be found out in such a situation?
「You don't have to look like that. I won't tell the clerk」
The woman chuckled.
She looks at Maria, whose face is tense. Probably, Chihiro's face is not so different from Maria's now.
The woman looks at them with amusement.
「What are you two doing here? Shopping for something?」
「...Yes. To buy a chastity belt for men」
The woman blinks at Maria's answer.
Her gaze fell on Chihiro.
「Is that for you?」
「No, it's for someone else」
It's a somewhat condescending question, but Chihiro can't complain.
Well, the woman keeps her voice low enough that it seems her promise not to turn them in to the clerk is true.
Somehow, she nodded her head in agreement.
Then she turns her head and takes Chihiro's and Maria's hands.
It was a quick move.
The two of them are pulled in one direction, toward the entrance of the store. Luckily, they don't head for the counter.
「Tell me more about what happened, if you're interested. At my place」
Chihiro and his friends had no right of refusal.
With the clerk's voice saying, "Thank you very much", they leave the store. They then took the stairs because the elevator does not go to the basement.
And when Chihiro asked her where they were going, the woman answered that it was just around the corner.
So soon? he thought, and the three of them arrived at a coin-operated parking lot.
「It won't take too long to get my home」
After the woman said that, Chihiro and Maria sat side by side in the backseat of a Japanese car that smelled somewhat nice.
And as soon as the car started, Maria's hand rested on Chihiro's hand, which had been stretched out on the seat.
Maria's eyes told Chihiro that she was okay, and Chihiro nodded his head firmly.
The ride takes about ten minutes.
The car enters a quiet residential area and stops at the garage of a house.
Chihiro and the others got out of the car and entered the house through the back door in the garage, as the woman urged them to do.
The exterior of the house was a common two-story house.
「...What is this?」
Her house has very few partitions, and it is easy to look around the house. To put it extremely simply, with the exception of the kitchen, toilet, and bath room, the entire first floor is like one large room.
And there were a variety of things scattered in such a floor.
Canvas, screwdrivers and wrenches, a sewing set, a desktop PC, and what looked like a single-lens reflex camera...
There were also many paints, machine parts, fabrics, etc., which were probably used together with these items.
「Yes, that's right」
In other words, although it is a studio, it is more like a craftsman's workshop than a place where painters work hard at their creations.
「It's my work place, my home. My living space is basically upstairs」
This is probably the result of having as much work space as possible.
The clothes she is wearing now look neat and clean, so it can be assumed that the upstairs is somewhat tidy.
It is easy to see which one won in the weighing of life and work in this house.
However, she did not look like a craftsman.
「Just sit down」
Chihiro and the others look around as instructed.
The interior of the room was as described above. And having given up on the idea that they would have to sit down at random, Maria and Chihiro sat down in an area where there seemed to be relatively few breakables.
It is a good thing that there are no perishable items such as food or drinks scattered about.
And so, after carefully moving out what they could, they sat down directly on the floor.
「Sorry to keep you waiting」
The woman returned in a few minutes. She seemed to have been in the kitchen, holding a tray, a glass, and a plastic bottle of oolong tea in her hand.
She did not pour a glass of oolong tea, either because of her rough character or because she did not want to cut the conversation short.
But Chihiro had a feeling it was the latter.
「Here you go」
「Thank you very much」
Chihiro accepts a glass of oolong tea poured from a plastic bottle and thanks her.
He gulps down half of the liquid in one gulp, and his nervousness eases a little.
「Hmm, good good」
The woman gets up further and comes back to open a nearby window.
Probably for ventilation. The room does not smell bad, but there is an odor of metal and paint in the air. If the room is kept closed for a long time, the smell is likely to be bothersome.
「Well, let's introduce ourselves first」
The woman first introduced herself.
「I am Minakata Nanase. In a manner of speaking... I guess you could call me a creator...」
It was a strange and vague occupation.
Anyway, while tilting their heads, Chihiro and Maria also introduced themselves. They weren't sure what to say about their school affiliation, but she asked them first, "Where did you go to high school?".
Unfortunately, she seemed to know exactly what they were going to say.
「Oh. So, you're my junior」
Nanase blinked her eyes and said something unexpected.
「You are [Lost Item]?」
「You guys are too?」
Nanase smiled mischievously at them, which made them feel indescribable.
However, they had no idea that the person they met by chance was an OG of the school.
Is it a strange coincidence, or are the students and alumni of the school just a bunch of weirdos?
Somehow, the latter is the case here.