“Would you mind making me your girlfriend?”

After the night where he passed out after getting drunk, he woke up the next morning on the bed in her room.

And with a Runa perching, almost straddling, over himself, fixing him with a sincere gaze.

Hearing from her mouth the declaration that they are now her lovers made Ichigo freeze stiff for a couple of seconds.

……But.

“Runa-san.”

“……Yes?”

“First, could you get off me, please?”

At Ichigo’s shift to a more composed state, Runa says, Runa said, “Ah, yes,” and obediently moved herself off of him.

“Thank you.”

Ichigo extends his foot over the edge of the bed and sets his feet on the floor.

Even if he meant it, even if he was serious when he said it, even if he was honest, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not doable.

She must be still a freshman in high school too…… probably 15 or 16 years old.

She is still a kid.

If it was the result of something he said last night and she took it as a serious statement from the bottom of his heart, then he needs to take responsibility and do something about it.

He needs to be the logical person and carefully…… out of good faith, try to persuade her otherwise.

So, Ichigo thinks.

For Ichigo, whose job requires to be able to quickly and accurately analyze and make decisions in any given situation,  he wasn’t one to easily let himself be caught in a shameful state like panic or fright.

……Now…

He tries to recall the exchange up until now.

This expression, this demeanor ── Runa also seems to have no intention of backing down now that she’s brought it up herself.

This could also be because of her youth, but there is also the possibility that she is not of the type to back down easily.

At any rate, he has to find a way to make her drop the idea and settle this matter.

“Runa-san, first I──”

“Right, let’s have breakfast first.”

Interrupting Ichigo’s serious talk, Runa made her way to the table.

Upon looking at the table, he could see that breakfast had already been served on top of it.

It seems that Runa, who had gotten up first, had made it.

“Could we have this conversation while we eat? It’s almost time for me to leave for school.”

.”…….”

Breakfast consisted of toasted bread.

As well as a mug of corn potage.

Probably of the instant cup soup kind.

A rather simplistic menu.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is that because I live alone, so I don’t really have dishes for more than one person. I’ll see if I can get one until next time.”

After this apologetic remark, Runa promptly sat down on the chair.

“……Haah.”

It was a light meal, but it still piqued Ichigo’s appetite, who despite just waking up felt a tad hungry.

Letting out a sigh of frustration, Ichigo got up from the bed and sat down in a chair.

Naturally, he didn’t follow her lead to satisfy his aforementioned appetite.

He just didn’t want to bluntly refuse the meal she had gone out of her way to prepare for him, and also because he thought that a face-to-face conversation would be better.

My clothes……

For good measure, Ichigo checks over his current appearance.

The clothes he is wearing now are…… as expected, still the same ones from yesterday.

Though they are crumpled up, they at least don’t seem to have been taken off.

Thank goodness ── he felt truly relieved.

He didn’t want to even think about it, but if he had somehow laid a hand on her, he couldn’t see himself recovering from it.

Ichigo sits down on the chair, and looks at Runa, sitting across from him.

Runa, in an adorable gesture, tilts her head slightly sideways, and stares back at Ichigo. 

Oddly enough, in the same manner as yesterday.

“……Well, since you’ve already prepared it for me, I’ll have a bite then.”

“Good, feel free. Oh, and I’ve made some coffee too, let me get it for you.”

With that, Runa headed for the kitchen.

The fragrant black liquid was already shimmering with steam inside as she removed the kettle from the coffee machine.

She poured it into a mug, garnished it with sugar and milk after the “yes” from Ichigo, and then placed it before him.

She has a good dexterity paired with thoughtfulness.

This implied a good upbringing, and from her small mannerisms, he could feeI could sense a resemblance to Sakura.

So in the end, she is her blood daughter……

“Runa-san”

The meal is over in a few minutes since there is not much substance to the menu.

As Runa sipped her coffee after the meal, Ichigo took the opportunity to broach the subject.

“About what you said earlier, about us being lovers thing.”

“Hm.”

“I was actually drunk last night, and may have given an ok then but…. think about it for a minute. That was just a joke. As you can see, it is clear that you and I cannot be lovers.”

“Why not?”

Runa asked, tilting her head with an innocent look on her face.

“You’re a fifteen, or sixteen, year old freshman in high school.”

“I’m fifteen.”

“Fifteen, then. And I’m a 28 year old working adult. We’re more than a dozen years apart in age.”

“That’s about the same age difference my mom and dad had when they got married.”

……That hit him right on the sore spot.

Right, she was a daughter of a family with a bit of a special situation.

She is Sakura’s daughter.

Honestly speaking, this situation is far too much for Ichigo’s mind.

The daughter of the person he dearly held as his first love back then, is now right in front of him, just as she was back then.

Directing affection towards him, moreover.

……He needs to remain firm in his reasoning.

“It’s fine. I’m definitely not going to cause trouble for you, Ichi.”

Runa says so, though unclear whether or not she knows about Ichigo’s conflicts.

Calling him by his old nickname, in an intimate, casual tone, instead of the reserved, formal language she had used last night.

Maybe it was because she was already considering herself as his girlfriend, and she wanted to close the distance between them, but it only helped to add on to the illusion that the Sakura of those days was back right in front of his eyes.

“I’d never betray your trust in me, Ichi. If someone says anything I’ll make sure to dodge it. And if other adults suspect something, we can just tell them the truth. That it’s isn’t like you are doing something wrong, and that you’re not taking advantage of me. And that everything is because I asked for it.”

“……It’s not that simple, you know.”

That’s more or less what a 15 year old girl would say with her perception of the situation.

However, no matter how many words he strings together, Runa still shows no signs of backing down.

It seems that he will need to continue to persuade her even more earnestly and perseveringly.

Once he takes a deep breath, Ichigo opens his mouth.

“Anyway…”

“Ah, it’s already this late.”

Runa then interrupts Ichigo’s words, saying while looking at the clock.

“Ichi, isn’t it almost time for you to go to work? It’s time for me to go to school, too. If I don’t hurry, I’ll miss the bus.”

It seems that time has passed by in the meantime and it’s now time for Runa to go to school.

From what he can tell from the uniform she’s currently wearing, the high school she goes to is a well-known high school in the area for young ladies.

If he’s not mistaken, the school has a private bus service that departs from the station.

“Anyway, let’s stop this here for now and leave the house, shall we?”

“Ah…… Ok..”

Ichigo stood up from his chair as Runa urged him, “Hurry up, hurry up.”

“Oh, right.”

Not forgetting his work computer that he had brought with him yesterday, Ichigo steps out of the door first.

Then, after moving the dishes to the sink, Runa also exited the apartment, student bag in hand.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Ichi…… Huh? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing……”

Ichigo was waiting around the landing of the stairs, a little far off from Runa’s apartment.

It was because he thought that the other residents might find him suspicious if he was standing right in front of the high school girl’s apartment.

“Haha, it’s okay. There are hardly any people living in this condo, actually. I’ve hardly ever met anyone who lives here before.”

“I see.”

“Besides, even if people see us, I’ll make sure to gloss over it, so it’s okay.”

“……I’m telling you, it’s not that easy.”

They didn’t encounter any other residents or even the keeper on their way to the bottom of the stairs and through the entrance, just as she had said.

“So, uh……”

They walked through the front of the apartment building and looked around, but there weren’t any people in sight.

There is only the stillness within the slightly moist air characteristic of mornings.

Perhaps there are not many people living in this neighborhood in the first place.

They had already gone with the flow up until this point, now what to do next.

Ichigo glanced at Runa’s direction, as if to keep her in check.

“Hey, Ichi.”

At which point, Runa looked up back at Ichigo.

“I know we don’t have much time, but… can we talk until we get to the station?”

Her request was seemingly out of consideration for Ichigo and his desire to have a conversation, and also a small part out of her own desire. She made that suggestion that he could hardly refuse.

※※※※※

“Good morning, Ichi.”

Morning──.

It was time for him to go to his junior high school.

At his time of being a first year at junior high, Ichigo would always meet up with Sakura at her house, as she was a third year student at the same school.

Having said that, it was not a routine born from the start of junior high school.

Since they grew up in neighboring houses, Ichigo had naturally been going to school with Sakura ever since elementary school.

Even when Sakura, who was three years older than him, entered junior high school ahead of him, they still went to school together up to the split between the routes of the two schools.

As for Sakura, she neither refused nor found Ichigo’s offer bothersome, and always waited for him to arrive so that they could go to school together.

Due to her family’s business, Sakura’s house was not exactly a mansion, but it was still bigger and more luxurious than that of most families.

When he arrived at the front door of the house, he would be greeted by the sight of Sakura in her school uniform, looking every inch the elegant young lady that she is.

In the morning, under a sky overlaid with the chirping of birds, the two of them walked together along the path to school──.

──Just now, the memories of those days replayed in Ichigo’s mind.

“Thank you, Ichi, you’re very sweet, you even walked with me to the bus stop.”

“Not really…. Weren’t you the one who sugested it?”

Obliging to Runa’s earlier proposal, Ichigo walked her to the bus stop near the station.

……Not exactly. He didn’t accompany her just for the sake of it, but rather to continue their unfinished conversation.

Runa said that there are not many people living in this area, and on top of that, at this time of the day there is hardly any flow of people.

So, there is little concern about receiving any strange stares.

So, taking what she said into account, he judged that there would be no problem and decided to entertain her request.

.”…….”

Ichigo took a fleeting glance at the image of runa walking beside him.

Truly, she looks a lot like the Sakura from his memories.

The image of that time ──of when they went to school together when they were children── directly overlaps with the profile he is seeing beside him.

“What’s wrong, Ichi?”

Runa then catches Ichigo’s gaze and asks him.

Flustered, Ichigo hurriedly returns his line of sight back forwards.

“No, nothing ……”

“Fufufu…… are worried about someone seeing us that much?”

She must have assumed that Ichigo’s strange behavior was due to aprehension.

Runa then says while sporting an amused smile.

“No need to be so worried about it. We’re just a couple walking together, it’s not any sort of a spectacle.”

“……That was not what I was worried about, but…… Rather than that, with the way you and I are dressed now, it would be much more natural to be seen as an office worker father that is going to work and his student daughter.”

Ichigo is carrying his work bag, while Runa is in her school uniform.

Though their age difference may seem a bit off, this feels like would be the more common assumption to be made.

Ichigo says so to prod at Runa’s slightly off-beat insight, at which point she releases a gleefull giggle.

“Haha, I knew it. You’re very funny, Ichi.”

It was at the very moment he heard those words.

The memories of those days came rushing back once again to Ichigo’s mind.

The memory of when he and Sakura used to walk to school together.

On their way to school, Ichigo would talk with Sakura about things like the TV shows he had watched the night before, or about silly things that had happened at school on the previous day with his classmates.

And she would happily listen, occasionally throwing in a comment or two every now and then.

“Your stories are always fun to listen to, Ichi.”

Ichigo would feel honestly overjoyed when she said that.

He didn’t know if she meant it or not, but her lively smile filled him with a sense of satisfaction nonetheless.

Much more mature in both appearance and demeanor, she was a person he admired.

She, and the time they spent together, are beyond precious to Ichigo.

However ── as they eventually approached their destination, namely the school, the presence of other students on their commute would be more and more abundant.

Some of Sakura’s classmates would call out to her, and their conversation would be cut short.

It was no surprise that Sakura, being the beautiful and good-natured girl that she was, was quite popular.

Then Ichigo, who was years behind, would naturally part ways with her at these moments and head to his own classroom.

──And now, there, right in front of him, is her daughter, Runa.

This Runa he is looking at now is about the same age as Sakura had back in those days.

As a result, it almost felt like he was talking with the Sakura of that time right now, like his senses are being warped in some way, or that he is watching a hallucination.

“Not really. I don’t think I’m that funny.”

“You are, just like my mother said.”

“…….”

Ichigo regains his senses after what Runa just said.

Right, she’s not Sakura.

Shaking his head, he recovers himself from the crazy line of thought he was about to fall into.

“Ah, there it is.”

While he was busy with his thoughts, soon enough, they had reached the bus stop in front of the station.

They were already short in time, and because his spontaneous inner turmoil had him reminiscing about old memories, they ended up not being able to properly talk about the lovers thing.

“There’s going to be a bit more people around ahead, I’ll be fine from here.”

Looks like she had even given that some thought.

Runa then spun around to face Ichigo.

“See you later, Ichi.”

.”………”

She said in a somewhat hushed voice, perhaps out of consideration for the surroundings. And, with a small wave of her hand, she scuttled off towards the bus stop.

And Ichigo was left there alone.

“……Can’t help it.”

Even if he just stood there, time would still keep ticking.” So, Ichigo too, decided to go home.

※※※※※

Ichigo returns home to his own company housing from the condo where Runa lives.

It was a company-leased stand-alone house, provided as part of the company’s benefits package.

“I’m back.”

Despite voicing it at the entrance, naturally there was no one to answer back.

[Being a manager of an S-ranked store, it wouldn’t seem appropriate for you to be living in the company dormitory with the other single employees!] said the regional manager as a final word, and he was given a house that was supposed to be reserved for employees with families. But, being single, Ichigo still felt like it was a waste of space..

In fact, there were a number of rooms that he doesn’t even use.

“……Phew”

Ever since last night, he has been experiencing a series of seemingly extraordinary events that he cannot tell if they are just dreams or really happening.

Despite feeling exhausted by the recurring memories, Ichigo continues his preparations to head to the store.

Currently, it’s just before nine in the morning.

And the store opens at ten.

Luckily, the scheduled time is a little later today, so there is no need to rush.

He stripped off the wrinkled clothes and tossed them into the laundry basket, then went to the bathroom to take a quick shower.

Turning the temperature up a notch, he let the water run over his head to drive away the lingering discomfort of his hangover, he then exited the bathroom and dressed in his work shirt and slacks.

After throwing on a jacket over that and grabbing his bag, Ichigo left his house.

He got into his car and drove for more than ten minutes to the shopping center located in the suburbs of the city.

He parked his car in the employee parking lot on the roof, went down the ramp, and walked directly to the back of the store.

“Ah, manager, good morning!”

“Good morning, sir.”

“Thanks, good morning.”

While exchanging greetings with the security guards, cleaners, and the part-timers he met on the way, he went through the commercial entrance and into the office at the far end of the back of the store.

“““Good morning, sir.”””

When he entered the office, he was greeted by the employees already present.

After a brief exchange with them, Ichigo sat down at the manager’s desk and started up the work computer he had brought along.

First, he looks through the messages that have been sent to his personal company e-mail address.

Along with requests from the general manager, from other store managers, or from the headquarters, he also checks e-mails from business partners.

After verifying, he sorted out the documents that he had worked on yesterday and sent them via e-mail.

After finishing the usual morning routine like such──.

“Manager, good morning.”

A woman came up to him.

With long chestnut-coloured hair tied up in a bun up to her neck and sporting glasses, she is a woman with a quite intelligent outlook.

“Right, good morning. Wakane-san.”

This woman, refered as Wakane, is the assistant manager of this store.

She has a long standing history with the company, holding even a year of seniority over Ichigo, but still holds a subordinate position.

“Are there any particular changes to report?”

“None, sir. Other than what I reported on the phone yesterday, nothing specific occurred.”

With an intellectual voice and intonation to match, she gave her report with the proper respect to even the younger Ichigo.

However, as stated earlier, there was nothing specific to be added.

There were just things like the progress of the sales floor plan that she had been in charge of, and information regarding the hiring of new employees.

“Manager, excuse me for asking, but could you tell me where you went last night after work?”

“No problem, I was getting some work done at a café in front of the station. The place has a calm atmosphere, perfect for doing paperwork.”

“By any chance, did something unusual happen?”

Wakana asked, Ichigo missed a beat for a moment.

“No, not particularly…… Er, why do you ask?”

“I see. I heard that there was an incident last night around that station where a drunken man assaulted a passerby

“Is that so. I asked because I heard that there was an incident last night around that station where a drunken man assaulted a passerby and was arrested by the police. It happened around the time that I called you, manager, to report about the store, so I was worried that you might have been involved.”

“Ah…… I see.”

“But I’m glad to hear that nothing happened.”

Wakana smiled as she said that.

……Perhaps, that drunkard could very well have been the same man whom he spared Runa from.

If he was so out of control that even the police had to act, then he was indeed quite dangerous.

……I guess its a lucky thing that I was able to help her before something bad happened.

But, if just for a moment, he was caught off guard when Wakana asked him about last night.

……Well, it’s not like he did something to feel guilty about…… or so Ichigo tells himself.

Now, with the basic morning chores over, Ichigo begins his rounds in the store.

The store had only just opened, so there were few customers.

He only catches the sight of a few here and there throughout the store.

This store that Ichigo runs started out with selling furniture and other daily necessities, up to the current selection, that includes everything from hand tools and construction materials to many other crafts.

The store also has a studio/workshop available on-site for customers to use.

With the recent special articles on DIY for women on social networking sites and magazines, as well as the rise in the number of creators who introduce people to the hobby on video sharing sites, DIY and it’s demand has seen a surge in popularity, with a growing presence of even the younger generation.

Although it is still calm at the moment, the number of customers increases sharply around noon.

.”…….”

As usual.

Everything is just as usual.

So much information was thrown at him last night that he still had a hard time believing if all of it was real.

The person that was his first love, that he knew since childhood, is gone.

No, it’s not that he can’t believe it, it’s more like he doesn’t want to believe it.

Whenever he tries to sincerely acknowledge the fact, he feels a pain welling up in the center of his heart, and before he knows it, he finds himself unable to stay standing.

Because of this, he is forced to stop and try his best to divert his thoughts.

Then there is the matter of Sakura’s daughter, Runa and all the commotion she brought about this morning, which, fortunately or not, is helping to keep his mind occupied.

Because that’s exactly what is making him doubt whether it was actually real or not.

But it certainly was real.

He will have to talk with Runa properly before people find out about his relationship with her and they get into some strange situation due to misunderstanding or an aggrandization of the facts.

“……Speaking of which”

Suddenly, Ichigo realized.

He did talk about how he and Sakura were childhood friends, but did he even mention anything besides that to her?

At the very least, things like his current job, where he works, and what his position is…… He may have glossed over such information in passing, but he doesn’t recall ever explicitly saying it to her.

……In fact, if anything, with the hectic morning, I must have lost track of it, but we never even exchanged contact information.

It’s not that he is wary of her or anything, but he is still wondering if there is a silver lining to this……

No, it’s not that.

If that’s the case, he wouldn’t even consider trying to meet her again.

Ichigo didn’t think that it would be irresponsible to avoid seeing her again, or to give excuses for not meeting again.

It’s just that the idea of Ignoring her like that feels… wrong.

……I could try to find her by the time her school ends…… I also could find her again around the same time I did yesterday or perhaps, head to her house again?

Being the daughter of his childhood friend, it is the least he could do in order to settle things properly and in good faith with her, after she has shown him such genuine affection.

Ichigo silently pondered how he could possibly meet her again. ──However he would find later that his worries were unnecessary.

※※※※※

While he was trying to figure out a way to meet up with Runa again, he was also carrying out his normal duties, and before he knew it, it was lunch time.

The store staff then began to start their lunch break, alternating between shifts.

“Manager, what will you be doing for lunch?”

At his office, Ichigo was groaning in front of his computer as he tried to come up with a solution to one of the regional problems that the general manager had given him regarding labor cost reduction.

It was then that Wakana asked Ichigo.

“Oh, is it that time already?”

The lunch policy at this shop is to either bring your own lunch or eat out at the food court in the neighbouring shopping mall.

Those who prefer to order delivery are asked to do so in a collective order.

Given that Ichigo always orders delivery, and that this time would be the same, probably came to ask him about it.

“Ok,, then……”

Naturally, Ichigo didn’t come with his own lunch, and as usual, he was about to choose a dish from the menu he was given──.

Then, it happened.

“Excuse me.”

There is a knock on the office door, followed by its opening, to a security guard swooping only his head into the room.

“Can I help you?”

One of the office staff asks the security guard, and he, while scratching his head, pulls the door a little more open.

“Ah, no, it’s just that this girl came to see the manager.”

Saying this, the figure of a high school girl appeared from behind the security guard.

Everyone in the office couldn’t help but to admire the girl and her beautiful features, from her long black hair to her fine lines and beautiful eyes framed by her long eyelashes.

That is, except for one person──Ichigo.

“……Runa-san?”

There she was, (not surprisingly) in the same outfit she was wearing when they parted ways earlier this morning.

For a moment, Ichigo was just as stunned as everyone else around him── only to feel a chill run down his spine immediately afterwards.

“I’m sorry to bother you all.”

Meanwhile, contrary to Ichigo’s predicament, Runa’s voice took on an angelic tone, and in a graceful gesture, she bowed at the waist and lowered her head.

“I am Hoshigami, I’m a first-year student at Hime-Suhara Girls’ High School.”

A courteous bow accompanied by a polite greeting.

As expected from a young lady’s school.

Even the etiquette of their students is first class.

……No! This is not the time!

Scolding his head for attempting to avoid the situation, Ichigo set his thoughts into motion.

On why she appeared at this place.

However, this question of the distraught Ichigo is easily answered by Runa’s following words.

A statement that ends up causing even more confusion.

“I’ve come here today to bring lunch for Kugiyama-san.”

While saying so, Runa took out said item from the handbag she was carrying.

You could make out a lunch box wrapped in a cutesy colored napkin.

It appears to be homemade.

She probably made it this morning while she was preparing breakfast.

Stop──this is not the time to dwell in these carefree thoughts.

The office staff are beginning to buzz about the fact that a high school girl came to bring him a lunch box.

Even Wakana, who is standing right beside him, is flabbergasted in a state of suspended animation.

Briskly walking through the midst of them, Runa came up to Ichigo and, with a bright grin on her face, presented the bento to Ichigo.

“Here you go.”

“Co- Come here for a minute!”

At that moment, Ichigo takes a hold of Runa’s shoulder and spins her around so that she is facing away from everyone.

Then, turning to the same side, he looks at Runa and speaks to her in hushed tones.

“Why are you here?!”

Finding his flustered state amusing, Runa seemed to be holding back from blurting it out.

“My high school is pretty close to this place. It only took me about ten minutes to get here after switching transports and stuff.”

No, that’s not it.

That isn’t what he wants to know right now.

Leave that aside for now.

“How do you know where I work?”

“You told me last night, remember?”

Runa says, tilting her head to the side, as if it were a matter of course.

How could it be…

He really doesn’t remember.

Thinking back, there are a lot of parts that are unclear about what they were talking about before he drank himself to sleep.

Just how much did he tell her about himself?

“You also gave me your business card at the time.”

“Here, look”, said Runa as she took out a piece of paper from the pocket of her skirt and held it out with a beaming smile.

Without a doubt, it is his business card.

It shows the name of the company that runs this large general store, as well as his position as shop manager.

It seems that, although he has no recollection of it, he gave this card to her last night.

That’s how she knew exactly where he works and what he does.

He brought all of this upon himself── Ichigo could do nothing but hold his head in his hands in silence.

In the meanwhile, the office staff are also in a state of confusion.

A mysterious high school girl comes to visit Ichigo, the manager of the store, and to bring him a lunch box, on top of that.

Since Ichigo has never been married, he obviously has neither a wife nor a daughter.

And that begs the question, how is this girl related to Ichigo?

This situation could easily lead to the grave conclusion that Ichigo might have made a move on this high school girl.

Both Ichigo and the staff are completely still, in a state of stupor, as is the whole atmosphere of the place.

“Oh, err……”

At which point that, after a long pause, Wakana nervously opened her mouth.

“Excuse me, but, um, can I ask you how you are related to the manager?”

She also seemed to be shaking considerably.

With a subtle break from her usual rational demeanour, she asked Runa a direct question.

Nevertheless, since she is talking to a member of the public, she is careful to be polite.

To which Runa replies

“Yes. Kugiyama-san helped me out of a complicated situation in front of the station last night when he called out to a drunken man who seemed to have had too much to drink.”

She proceeded to give the staff a reasonable explanation of the situation.

“And I came here to the store today to bring him a bento lunch to thank him for his help.”

When Runa explained the situation, the staff seemed to be somewhat convinced, going on to say, “Oh…… I see” and “So that’s what happened” or “That’s our manager.”

There is an impression of pure innocence in the figure of that young girl.

Even the fact that she brought a lunch box as a token of gratitude was taken as a suitably cute form of expression of gratitude.

That seems to have been convincing enough.

After listening to the story, Ichigo gets a lot of praise from the staff.

When he incidentally turns to look at her, Runa beams at him with a big smile on her face, whether she knows about Ichigo’s distress or not left unsaid.

But then again, it was the sort of gesture that was more endearing than upsetting, which even made Ichigo begrudgingly let go of the matter.

“Could it be that man I mentioned this morning, the one who got into trouble with the police, was involved?”

Wakana also asked Ichigo a question, seemingly just recalling the conversation.

Well, yeah…… I’m not sure if it’s the same person, but, at any rate, she was in trouble because she got caught up in something for that matter.”

“So that’s what it was. If that was the case, you didn’t need to hide it.”

Wakana gives Ichigo a sudden smile, filled with her goodwill and respect towards him.

Her expression is somehow one of pride for him.

“But I would say that’s just like the manager we know.”

Anyhow, it seems that he has managed to keep his social life intact.

Inwardly, Ichigo feels relieved.

Looking at the situation from the sides, Runa appears to be happy.

※※※※※

Afterwards, Runa handed over the bento and left without sticking around.

No wonder── She slipped out during the midday break at her school to come here.

So, she naturally has schoolwork to do.

The lunch she brought was very well made for a high school student.

There was one slightly large onigiri.

As for the side dishes, centered on a salted and grilled pork rib, with a rich colored selection of boiled vegetables, such as spinach dressed with sesame sauce.

To top it all off, a soup jar filled with consommé soup is also included.

Ichigo’s initial thoughts were── this is completely different from the breakfast menu.

Usually, the contents of the bento is related to the contents of the breakfast menu to some extent, with leftovers either packed in the bento or leftovers from the bento menu appearing on the breakfast table.

In other words, that means she must have made up her mind from the start to bring him a lunch box and also to surprise him with a visit.

……What else could be said, this is a result of the devil-may-care spirit of someone of her age with some enigmatic unpredictable behavior combined.

Having said that, she still went the extra mile to bring it to him, so he couldn’t just ignore it── though, he was already eating it, and the taste was nothing short of delicious.

It had a very domestic flavour that you don’t find in those sold in convenience stores.

Honestly, it’s even on par with what he could make himself.

“It must be nice for the manager. I wish I could eat a bento handmade by a high school girl.”

Said a staff member to the others as they were taking their meal in the break room.

“I wish I could meet a high school girl like that too……”

“I think that’s impossible for you. You have to be like the manager, be able to act quick and smart.”

One of the younger employees is teased by an older woman who works part-time.

“Manager!”

A moment later, a voice rang out above the rest.

A young man with a large build strode out towards Ichigo.

“What’s the deal with that beautiful girl just now?!”

This person that cried out is a young man called Aoyama. He is a part-timer who is majoring in physical education.

Having a strong and sturdy body, he is often involved in the heavy lifting.

He’s also a bit of a hothead.

“Nothing special, just a high school girl I bumped into yesterday by chance.”

“She said that the manager saved her from being assaulted by a molester.”

An older woman who works part-time adds to Ichigo’s statement from the side.

“It wasn’t a molester, though……”

“Well played, manager! By the way, did you get her contact info!?”

“No, I didn’t.”

When Ichigo said this in a dumbfounded manner, Aoyama exclaimed, “What? Why not?” in an exaggerated reaction.

“Well, you wouldn’t normally do that, right?”

“No, you don’t normally do that, do you?”

“No, no, of course you do! You’d be like, [It was fate that brought us together, after all!]”

“Wow, you couldn’t be more crude. You know, you are the only one using that kind of corny stuff.”

A pair of part-time college girls laugh as they say this from the side.

“The manager is a gentleman, he isn’t a dirty mind like you.”

“Hahaha……”

I can’t say that I didn’t have any ulterior motives, can I……

Remembering last night, Ichigo chuckles inwardly at the thought.

“But, that’s pretty impressive. I wonder if today’s kids can cook something quite like this?”

It was even other part-time students who said so after peeking at the lunch box in Ichigo’s hand.

“Not at all, this is the work of someone who is used to it. Don’t you always make your own bento?”

“Or maybe you asked your mother to tell you the step for step?”

──She is probably used to making them.

While everyone was exchanging guesses, being the only one aware of the family situation of the rumored high school girl, Ichigo already knew the right answer.

.”…….”

Then suddenly, a question arises in Ichigo’s mind.

She would, naturally, make her own lunch.

But she lives alone.

……Then this lunch box is……

──And so, the working hours passed without any particular issues, and now it’s night.

“Thank you for your hard work.”

“Thank you for your hard work, manager!”

Once the shop has closed, the staff who have finished their work for the day leave the office first.

As one by one they go home, Ichigo sends them off as he too is finishing up his work.

After a day of thinking through the proposed measures to reduce labour costs, he synthetizes it into a document and is then ready to be emailed out at any time.

“Well…… I guess I should leave soon.”

The locking of the shop is entrusted to the security guards, so all he has to do is leave the shop after handing them a few things.

With the absence of the daytime bustle, Ichigo leaves the shop now filled with silence.

He took the exact opposite route he takes when he arrives── through the commercial entrance and then went to the rooftop car park.

“……hm?”

And then, near the commercial entrance, by the power generation equipment.

I saw a figure leaning their body weight against the fence, apparently waiting for someone.

.”…….”

Ichigo walked up to the figure.

“What are you doing here?”

“Ah, Ichi, good work today.”

Who else would it be but Runa.

Once she noticed Ichigo’s presence, she turned around and put on a soft smile.

“I just came to ask for my bento box back, what else?”

She says merrily on a devilish note, narrowing those slightly upturned eyes of hers and even putting on a charm that belies her age.

It reminded him of the expression full of feminine charm that the girl with whom he was in love at the time occasionally showed.

And, on top of that, it’s the sort of emotion that she never flashed to him back then.

It was the sort of thing that would take away your ability to think straight if you were to get caught up in it at close quarters.

However──

“No, you clearly look like you’ve been waiting for the end of the business hours.”

Ichigo, for his part, manages to keep his composure to the best of his ability and responds.

“Look at the time too, it’s almost nine in the evening. Is dangerous to be walking alone at this hour.”

Runa blinkered a couple of times at the words out of genuine concern for her.

“It’s fine, it’s fine.”

Says Runa with a disarming smile.

To her credit, she has the ability to think and act and initiative to boost.

But on the flip side, she also has a weak sense of crisis management.

“There is no choice… I’ll take you home.”

“Huh?”

Runa looked surprised at what Ichigo had said.

“But, it’s really okay, you know? There are still buses and trains running.”

“It’s faster by car. And because of what happened last night, you know that it’s not safe for a girl to be walking alone in the middle of the night like this, and besides, we can have a proper discussion about what you can and can’t do from now on.”

That’s right…

Then Ichigo takes out an empty bento lunch box from his bag.

It is the lunch box and soup container that Runa gave him at lunchtime today.

He already washed them in the store’s break room, and now returns them to Runa.

“Your bento, were you really fine with that? This was your own lunch, wasn’t it?”

“You found out……”

She herself said this morning that she didn’t have tableware for two people since she lived alone.

Then, it was only natural to assume that she wouldn’t have two lunch boxes.

Runa used her own lunch box for the lunch she prepared for Ichigo.

……And Im sure she made a slightly larger portion just to give to me.

After all, it was a little too much food when you think it’s for a high school girl.

Ichigo’s deduction proved to be correct just then.

As Runa’s stomach made an audible growl~ sound.

“Don’t tell me that you didn’t eat anything at lunch?”

.”…….”

Runa faces away, her cheeks flushed.

Did she spend most of her lunch break getting to the store?

Regardless of what he thought, Ichigo understands that she is hungry after skipping a meal.

Haah, he sighs in exasperation.

“Shall we grab a bite of something?”

He suggests to Runa.

“We can stop on the way to your home. Eating out is…… out of the question, so we can pick up something at a drive-through on the way home.”

“Is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s a bad idea, I guess.”

When Ichigo said, Runa blinked her eyes for a couple of seconds, only to after──.

Have a slight smile appear on her face.

It was as if her heart couldn’t contain itself in the face of someone dear to her── in other words, it felt like an affectionate smile.

“Ichi, you are so kind.”

“?”

Ichigo, who only thought to be suggesting something natural, did not understand what Runa meant by that.

But, on a sudden realization, he notices that things seem to have turned out exactly as she wanted them to, and he wonders, “Did she plan all this?” with some skepticism.

“Anyway, let’s go to the rooftop parking lot. My car──”

“Hey, is there someone there?”

His heart skipped a beat.

Even Runa widened her eyes in surprise in front of him.

Ichigo turns around to the voice that called out from behind him, and hides Runa behind his back.

He can see a figure walking towards him.

The outdoor lights still don’t reach them, so they can’t tell who it is.

“Runa-san, hide.”

“Huh? Hide? Even if you say that……”

In a heartbeat, Ichigo steps next to the wall of a nearby building.

Runa follows him, despite her consternation.

She sticks as close to the wall as she can and hides herself behind Ichigo’s body.

Since this place is slightly out of the way of the lights, she is able to hide in the dark…… probably.

Before long, the person coming from the darkness turned out to be──.

“Oh, it was you, manager.”

“Wakana-san…… did something happen?”

It was the assistant manager, Wakana, who was supposed to have gone home.

As she approached, Wakana finally recognized Ichigo and showed a relieved expression.

“I’ve just come back to get something I forgot. And you, manager, going home now?”

“Oh, well, kind of.”

“I thought I heard you talking to someone, but…”

Thud.

His heart leaps.

“No, I’m alone here.”

He makes an effort not to be aware of Runa, who is trying to hold her breath behind him.

Trying to be oblivious of her presence, as if there was no one there, to not be noticed even by the atmosphere.

“It sure looks like it.”

Ichigo’s desperate deception manages to work, and Wakana seems to have no suspicion at all, and believes that Ichigo is the only one there.

Ichigo allows himself a small amount of relief──

“By the way, about that girl from this afternoon…”

Which didn’t last long, as the next words that comeout of Wakana’s mouth made his heart restart it’s painfull drumming session.

“Huh? Oh, you mean that high school girl?”

It had to be just when the same girl is hiding behind his back.

He wonders if Runa got nervous too. She is trying her best to stick even closer to Ichigo’s back and make her presence less obvious.

“That was a nice girl, wasn’t it? Young like that and still going out of her way to thank you.”

“Yeah, right.”

He can feel Runa’s body heat against his back.

I wonder if the rapid beating of my heart is also reaching her through my body.

His rapid heartbeats might also be reaching her through his body.

It was also a little embarrassing as it seemed to expose his agitation.

“……By the way, manager, about this.”

“Yes?”

Wakana keeps the conversation going.

Although he can’t break his concentration, he just can’t help but give a raw reply.

“Did you prefer to eat bento for lunch, manager?”

“Huh?”

“No, it’s because I always asked for delivery for lunch because it’s what you customarily do, but you looked so pleased with the bento you got today. So, if you prefer a more domestic taste, or you have any other preferences, I can arrange for a lunch box to be delivered to your home…… or, if you like, I could also make it for you on days when you can afford it……”

“Huh?”

Unable to fully focus on the conversation at hand, Ichigo asks back.

“Ah, no, forget it, it’s nothing.”

“Wakana-san, what about the thing you forgot? The security guard will probably be finishing locking the doors any minute.”

He’s sorry, but he has to end the conversation quickly, so Ichigo changes the subject to remind Wakana of the goal that brought her here.

“Ah, that’s right. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yes, have a good evening.”

With the success of his tactic, Wakana hurried towards the commercial entrance.

“……now!”

Taking the opportunity, Ichigo left the scene with Runa in tow.

“Let’s hurry.”

“Ok…… that was nerve wracking.”

“Yeah, really bad for the heart.”

Together, they trudge up the ramp to the rooftop parking lot where Ichigo’s car is parked.

“Right, you know just now, about what the assistant manager said……”

At which point Runa asks Ichigo.

“How was the bento? Did you like it?”

“Yeah, well…… it was delicious.”

He gave her his honest opinion and Runa smiled happily.

“Oh, that’s nice to hear, I’ll make you another one, then.”

Seeing the very motivated Runa, Ichigo creases his brow.

She had barged into the store bringing a lunch box── which was not the kind of thing that the Sakura he knew would do.

But on the other hand, if she had a lover at that time……

He could see Sakura acting like this for such a person.

As for Runa’s shocking surprise, it left him bewildered, but at the same time he felt a kind of thrill at that, a sense of guilty pleasure── two feelings that conflicted with each other.