“ Tsubasa -san has not been entirely honest,” Hibiki mused.
Miku , who was scrubbing her back, halted for a moment. “What makes you say that?”
“I might have forgotten to tell you. When I dropped by the HQ last time, we headed over to Flower for a quick snack,” Hibiki said.
Miku shrugged. “It’s just like you to forget things like that. So, what happened?”
“Well, we got to talking about how she just...left Maria-san at the HQ that day. It kinda rubbed me the wrong way at the time, but I had to set that aside and get Tsubasa -san out of her awkward situation. Tsubasa -san said there’s something complicated going on between the two of them, but she didn’t elaborate on that. Made me think that something was up.”
Miku hummed. “Could it be that Tsubasa -san...”
“Yep. It could be.”
“ Ne , Hibiki , I wonder when they’d both come clean about their feelings?”
“It’ll come at the right time, I guess,” Hibiki said. “ Miku ?”
“ Hm ?”
“ Lemme scrub your back.”
“Not until you promise not to stray your hands too far,” Miku said, her tone growing stern.
Tsubasa was at a patisserie one morning and was perusing the baskets for something to buy. Funny enough , it was where Maria had once quipped about buying her favorite pastry. She had stepped out of the apartment complex and walked aimlessly minutes earlier, and she found herself in front of the shop. She scoffed at herself then she stepped inside and decided she might as well buy something to eat. Tsubasa then found Maria’s favorite and saw that it was the last one in the basket. As she grabbed for it, another hand had also reached out. Tsubasa stepped back to see who the other person was.
To her surprise, it was Shirabe , carrying a cloth bag filled with groceries. The younger girl was surprised to come across Tsubasa as well, and they were now at a standstill as to who gets the last piece of the pastry.
Shirabe was the first to retreat. “You can have it, Tsubasa -san.”
Tsubasa shook her head. “Ah, no, you go ahead. It’s for Maria, isn’t it?”
“You seem to have been aiming for it since you stepped inside.”
“Well, you probably had your eye on it for a while. Go on, I can buy something else.”
Shirabe then sighed with a smile and picked up the pastry. Tsubasa settled with another variant and they headed over to the cashier to pay. As Tsubasa was about to head home, Shirabe called out to her.
“If it’s not a bother to you, can we stay a bit for coffee?” Shirabe asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Tsubasa said. “Sure.”
The two took a seat at one of the tables at the side of the patisserie. Shirabe ordered coffee for the both of them and declined when Tsubasa offered to pay for it. Tsubasa leaned back into her seat, nervous at what Shirabe had to say.
Shirabe was frozen in her place. She had jumped to the urge to keep Tsubasa from leaving, but she wasn’t ready with the words she wanted to say. She couldn’t just say that Tsubasa had caused Maria a great deal of pain, since the bluenette was actually unaware of Maria’s long-harbored feelings.
“I...” Shirabe began. “I’ve heard about—”
“The set-up,” Tsubasa spoke, a smile forming on her face. “Word gets around fast, huh.”
Shirbae shrugged. “We’re not that much of a huge circle of friends, it’s bound to happen.”
“I’ll have to agree on that,” Tsubasa said. “ Yukine definitely gets the news fresh and piping hot.”
Shirabe giggled. “So it seems,” she said. “So, how have you been doing, Tsubasa -san?”
“I’m doing fine.”
Shirabe took a sip of the creamed coffee. “She’s okay.”
“Ah, I see.”
“ Tsubasa -san.”
“ Hm ?”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you end the set-up?”
Tsubasa adjusted in her seat. “Did n’t Maria say anything about what I told her?”
“She wasn't really elaborate.”
“I see.” Tsubasa wrapped her hands around the coffee mug. “I needed some space, that's all. ”
Shirabe nodded thoughtfully. “Was she becoming too much for you?”
Tsubasa was internally mortified by Shirabe's question, but she concealed it with feigned perplexity. “No. No, she wasn't. It's just… she has nothing to do with it, to be honest.”
“It’s nothing to be gloomy about, really. It’s not like something’s changed after the set-up ended.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Shirabe then finished her coffee. “Oh, you should drop by our place sometime. Kirika misses playing videogames with you.”
“I’ll let you know once I’m free.”
The two finally parted ways. As Shirabe looked on at Tsubasa walking away, she tightly clutched at the cloth bag’s straps.
There’s no harm in being honest, Tsubasa -san , she thought.
Maria had cheered up a bit when Shirabe gave her the pastry, and she helped around the kitchen for dinner. Shirabe had half a mind to tell Maria about seeing Tsubasa at the patisserie, but she decided not to so as to give Maria some respite.
“Ah, so you’ve talked a bit with Senpai ,” Chris said before biting off the burger. “Oh, have some fries.”
Shirabe had met up with Chris this time, at a nearby diner. She and Kirika were on a date at the time, and they decided to grab a bite to eat before heading somewhere else. They came across Chris who had just sat down at a table by the window, a tray full of supersized combo meals laid out before her.
“Thank you,” Shirabe said, picking up the french fry from the carton. “ Tsubasa -san seemed...dodgy. When I talked with her, that is.”
“ Hmph . Just as I expected.” Chris sloppily wiped off the ketchup from her lips, earning cringes of discomfort from Shirabe and Kirika . “That idiot...she’s too afraid of jumping in.”
“I think it’s reasonable,” Shirabe said.
Both Chris and Kirika turned to Shirabe . “What makes you say so?” they both asked.
Shirabe was taken aback for a moment, then she composed herself and began her explanation.
“ Tsubasa -san’s fear of admitting her feelings isn’t something we should just be mad about,” she said. “What if the situation here was that Maria had no feelings at all towards her? What if the set-up really had no strings attached? If you were in Tsubasa -san's place, and you’ve developed feelings for Maria during those three months, surely you’d be scared of having those feelings out in the open without the assurance of having them reciprocated.”
Chris blinked. “That’s...an insight.”
“So you say,” Shirabe said. “But to be honest, I’d really like to give Tsubasa -san a hit on the head for making Maria cry.”
“My sentiments exactly,” Chris agreed with an eye roll.
“So, what’s the big plan?” Kirika asked. “ Tsubasa -san’s too chicken, and Maria breaks down at the mere mention of the set-up. They are very much far from being capacitated to act on their feelings.”
“There is no big plan, shortstop,” Chris said, wagging a ketchup-coated french fry at Kirika . “We’re not gonna do anything major.”
“But what about Maria?” Kirika asked.
Chris frowned. “It wouldn’t be right of us to interfere. We can give nudges, but when it all comes to it, Senpai and your darling onee will be the ones throwing down. They should be.”
As Chris spoke, she had turned her eyes to the window, frowning not at the bleak outdoors but at the matter at hand.
Genjuuro knew that something was amiss.
He dropped by the apartment one morning and was expecting to see it neat and tidy, only to be met with clothes strewn on the floor, dishes waiting to be washed, takeout boxes on every surface available, and a sulking Tsubasa on the couch.
“ Tsubasa ,” he called.
Tsubasa didn’t respond.
“You left your door unlocked,” Genjuuro said.
“I got takeout. You free for a dinner with your good ol ’ uncle?”
Tsubasa didn’t say anything in return, so Genjuuro walked over to the dining table and cleared it out for the food he brought.
“Has Maria dropped by?” Genjuuro asked.
“No, she hasn’t,” was Tsubasa’s terse reply.
Whew, she can still talk. “I see. Hey, come on here and grab a bite to eat. You look like you haven't eaten for days .”
It took almost a few minutes before Tsubasa rose from the couch and joined Genjuuro at the table. They began eating the takeout meals without so much as exchanging words. After the meal, Genjuuro took to cleaning up the mess while Tsubasa resigned to head over to the bathroom and take a quick shower.
Something must have happened, but Chris hasn’t said anything yet , he thought.
He found it oddly humorous that Chris would be the first one to know what’s up with Tsubasa .
Genjuuro took care of the unkempt living room and settled himself on the couch. Tsubasa joined him at the living room as he watched TV. Genjuuro made small talk as they watched and bit by bit Tsubasa had begun to open up a little.
“You okay, kiddo?” Genjuuro asked later on.
Tsubasa stared at the TV as she propped her arm under her head , then she slowly nodded while biting her lip. It didn’t take long for her to start shaking her head, and a tear started to trickle down her face.
“What happened?” Genjuuro asked.
Tsubasa sniffled then she sighed and smiled wistfully. “I crossed the line.”
He was quick to understand what his niece had meant, but it surprised him nonetheless. “W-What did she say?”
Tsubasa grasped at her hair, her smile forced and watery. “I didn't tell her that I started having feelings. I just ended the set-up and told her I needed space.”
Genjuuro was incredulous. He had the urge to spill out what he knew from Maria's side, but he chose to keep quiet about it and focused on his niece instead.
“You could have at least tried to tell her the truth,” Genjuuro said.
“Then what? She'll distance herself from me and things will get awkward between us,” Tsubasa said indignantly. “ We agreed not to fall for such things when we started the set-up. I failed my end of the deal, and it's only right of me to end it before I lose whatever control I have over my feelings for her.”
Fool. “ But still, you could have taken a shot at it,” he said. “You were not one to back down from a fight, even if the one you're fighting against is yourself. How is this any different?”
“It ’ll hurt me a thousand times over, I just know it.”
“How can you even tell? You’re sitting here, moping.”
“What do you want me to do, then?”
“I don’t know. I’m not you, Tsubasa .”
Tsubasa fell silent at that. With that, Genjuuro settled in his place at the couch and let Tsubasa simmer down. He eventually had to leave for home a couple of hours later.
“There is one reason why it’s impossible for us to see a definite and solid future,” Genjuuro said as he headed for the door. “It tends to change depending on what we decide to do in the present, so we can’t exactly get a clear image of it no matter how hard we try.”
“What are you getting at?” Tsubasa asked wearily.
Genjuuro sighed. “ Tsubasa , how could you tell that something’s gonna happen in the future when you haven’t done anything at all now?”
Miku visited Maria’s apartment one afternoon. Maria was cooking when Miku rang the bell. She had taken to watching Shirabe in the kitchen in the past few weeks and decided to focus on honing her cooking skills. Shirabe then gave her easy recipes to practice, and Maria was close to perfecting them.
“It’s nice how you’ve gotten better with these dishes, Maria-san,” Miku said after tasting the latest meal that Maria had made. “I still have a long way to go in making Hibiki’s other favorites.”
“You focused too much on stroganoff,” Maria said with a laugh. “But that’s not to say you haven’t gone far.”
Miku nodded thoughtfully, then she sighed. “So, how have you been, Maria-san?”
Maria shrugged. “I’m doing okay.”
Miku smiled knowingly, but not with the intent to mock Maria. Maria let out a weary sigh.
“I’m doing okay,” Maria said. “For the most part.”
Miku nodded again. “Have you ever thought about making a move, Maria-san?”
Maria blinked for a bit in surprise, then she let out a laugh and shook her head. “I don’t see the point of it, really. She ended the set-up, and if I tell her the truth, she’ll—”
Maria gestured with her hand and Miku hummed in response.
“I once thought that Hibiki would only see me as a friend, ” Miku began. “Like, in the same way she does with our classmates. I asked myself what the point would be in coming clean about my feelings when it ran the risk of not being returned.”
“But it turned out that Tachibana is just as deep in it as you are.”
“Yes, thankfully so. But here’s the question—what if she didn’t? Then I’d surely get rejected and it would be painful for me. I wrestled with that possibility so much that it ended with me clamming up and keeping it all to myself. One is not forbidden to keep secrets, but sometimes, Maria-san, it pays to reveal some truths in you because it frees you.”
“What if it ends up badly? It’s not like the two of us share the same fate when it comes to confessing to the people we love. You were lucky that Tachibana’s feelings were mutual with yours. As for Tsubasa ...you know how she is.”
“True, but still, Maria-san, you can fight for it. I refused to fight for my feelings in the past because I let my fears get to me, and I ended up suffering disastrous consequences. I should have stepped up and took a gamble in the first place.” Miku reached out and held Maria’s hand. “I do not want you to suffer the same pain I went through just because of fear.”
Maria leaned on the table and rubbed her hands nervously. “Tell me, Kohinata -san, how should I go about it?”
Miku smiled like a sage. “That, Maria-san…is merely up to you.”