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Chapter 152 Interval, Part One - 1


「There will be a break for lunch before the third event. The third event will start in fifty minutes, and the assembly point is in front of the entrance of the main building, so please be there without delay」
 
 As the staffs announce the start of the third event, the buzz in the kitchen grows louder.
 Some of the participants praised their friends for their good fights, some were disappointed at their defeats, and others turned their attention to lunch.
 Chihiro, Yotsuba, and Marika remain standing motionless.
 
「I'm sorry, I couldn't win」
「...It can't be helped. They were just a little bit better than us」
 
 Yotsuba spoke softly to Lucille, who was not moving from her chair and slumped her shoulders.
 Lucille turned her head and met Yotsuba's eyes. Yotsuba's eyes meet Lucille's, conveying her apology to her fellow competitors. When she realized that Chihiro was looking at her, she turned her face away from him, but her feelings were fully conveyed in less than a second of [Mind Reading].
 It hurts to have already been put in the queue.
 However, Lucille could not be blamed for it.
 
**a
「I have experienced the pain many times. I guess it's not a matter of skill or knowledge, but a result of difference in experience」
 
 Chihiro wanted to say that was not true, but he kept his mouth shut, afraid that he might blame her for it.
 
「In the next event, let's make the most of the advantage we have」
『Winning』
「...hmm. That's right. We've got three more events to go and this is no time to get discouraged」
 
 With a wry smile, Lucille staggers to her feet and moves over to an empty table with no oil or small plates on it. She pulled out a chair and sat down.
 
「I don't want to eat for a while. I'm going to take a break and go to bed, so you guys can go ahead」
 
 She then drops to her face.
 No doubt she wants to be alone, but in fact, after eating so much, she can't move quickly and needs a break.
 Yotsuba gives a silent wink to Chihiro, and the rest leave the kitchen together.
 As they pass through the doorway, Marika looks into the room.
 
「Hazuki-senpai?」
『......』
 
 She looked at Kaname. She seems to be consulting or asking a question to the management staff of the tournament. But the content of the conversation is inaudible.
 
『I'm sorry. I was just curious』
 
 Marika shakes her head and turns her gaze back from the room.
 It is not unusual for students participating in a competition to talk to the staff. So, she's probably right, though it's probably just her imagination.
 
(I'm a little concerned about it)
(Maybe Nii-san care a little too much, though)
 
 Could it be because it is Kaname?
 And then, Yotsuba quietly told this as the group walked down the corridor.
 
「Just in case, let's be on our guard」
「Yes」
『Yes』
 
 The destination was the men's locker room in the training area where Chihiro and Kamishiro had changed their clothes. Aika had informed that she would be waiting here.
 And they invited Marika to join too.
 
「Thanks for your hard work, Chihiro-kun」
「Kurohane-senpai and Hazuki-senpai also thank you」
 
 When they arrived, Aika, Maria, Riko, Suzu, and Ayase were all there. Hana, who had stayed at the training site with Kamishiro, was also there.
 There was a leisure sheet on the floor, and a stacked box and water bottles were placed on it. This must be the lunch box they had prepared.
 
「Mishuku-san, where is Kamishiro-kun?」
「I was going to invite him, but Yuse-san and Shiramine-senpai have him. Ah, I've healed his injuries as much as I could. I'm sleepy now thanks to that」
「Thank you so much. Do you want to take a nap again?」
「I will. And I took my lunch early」
 
 Again, Chihiro give Hana his [Sleep Aid].
 After receiving the ability, Hana said, "Well then," and left the locker room. She said she would sleep for a while in the quiet women's locker room.
 
「Well, let's have dinner, too」
 
 Riko said and put her hand on a heavy lunch box.
 The three-tiered lunch box contained an onigiri (rice ball), a main dish, and vegetables and dessert in the remaining one. The rest was filled with vegetables and desserts.
 
『Are you sure I can join?』
「Of course. I mean, don't you think I'd look out of place with all the young girls?」
「You're still young enough, Nee-san」
『This person is Yotsuba-chan's sister』
 
 It seems that Marika has relaxed as she talks.
 Now she sits down and joins in the meal.
 
**b
「Well then, let's eat」
『Itadakimasu!』
 
 Chihiro first reaches for an onigiri (rice ball) after everyone has said that.
 Then, he feels the girls' eyes on him. It seems that they are paying attention to his movements, but what exactly is this?
 
(Well, what was it?)
(Eh? Chisato must know...)
 
 Thinking that Chihiro's knowledge is enough to answer the question, he takes one of the rice balls in his hand without knowing.
 He takes a bite, and Aika breaks into a smile.
 
「Thank you, Chihiro-kun」
「Eh...? Uh, well, um, yeah」
 
 Apparently, as they were making lunch, it occurred to them that whose dish would Chihiro pick up first. Anyway, even though it was an unimportant topic, he decided to pay attention to it.
 As it turns out, there is a subtle difference in the shapes of the rice balls.
 Chihiro must have unconsciously picked up the shape he was used to in his usual bento.
 And to this, Ayase giggled.
 
「Izumi-kun, you're surrounded by all girls, aren't you?」
「Ayase-senpai, you shouldn't look in the mirror first...」
「Yes. I'm a "girl" now」
 
 Indeed, "she" looks so elegant sitting sideways on the leisure sheet that it's hard to believe that "she" is a man.
 
『Who's your true love, Izumi-kun?』
 
 When he turned around, he saw Marika holding an onigiri (rice ball) with both hands and biting it in her mouth.
 
「My true love is Aika」
「That was a quick answer」
「No, it's not respectful to her if I'm worried about it」
「Ah, ugh. I'm glad, but I'm embarrassed...」
 
 Aika's cheeks blushed and she turned her head down when she answered Ayase's teasing.
 Riko sees this and laughs, "You should be proud of yourself."
 
**c
『Hmm...』
 
 Snap! Munching...
 Marika, who had taken the trouble to give her a sympathetic response, chews her onigiri without saying another word. It seems that the ingredient was Japanese plum. By the way, Chihiro's was bonito-flavored.
 Ayase tilts her head.
 
「Hazuki-senpai, are you interested in Izumi-kun?」
『It seems so』
「That's what she says, Izumi-kun」
 
 To this answer, Chihiro doesn't know what to do.
 
「...I thought Hazuki-senpai wasn't interested in me」
『Until recently, I wasn't at all』
「Oh, I see」
 
 He is still at a loss for a response.
 Well, with her and Ayase, it's hard to tell the line between joking and being serious. To begin with, he's not sure if the interest is romantic or not.
 
「Hazuki-senpai, are you going to leave me?」
『Aoi-chan, why don't we seduce Izumi kun together?』
「That's a good idea. But I just kidding」
 
 Finally relieved, Chihiro just let Marika and the others' tricks slide. It is more important to savor the lunch box.
 With an onigiri in one hand, Chihiro tucked into a variety of side dishes, ranging from the standard fried tofu and egg rolls to more unusual items such as deep-fried spring rolls.
 Each of the girls has done their best in their specialty, and all of them are delicious.
 Considering the fact that he was going to exercise afterwards, he probably should have eaten at least eight portions, but he ended up eating too much when he tried to eat all the dishes.
 
「Thank you for the food」
『It was delicious』
「Thank you very much. You two, have a good rest」
「Yes」
『Of course. In fact, we haven't done anything yet』
 
 And then, they all finish up with dessert, and take a break from eating to put away their leisure sheets and such. After that, they met up with Hana after her nap, collected Ayase's clothes that she had brought in, and headed for the entrance.
 On the way, Hana asked Ayase.
 
「Ayase-senpai, do you have any costumes like camouflage clothes? If so, I'd like to borrow it for the fourth event」
「Yes, I do. Then, I'll prepare it for you」
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