Some time after I reached my apartment, Ms. Aria arrived home. Since she was a little later than usual, I was already waiting for her outside her door.
"Good evening, Ms. Aria. It seems you were held up today."
Normally she would show a smirk and say something irritating, but this time she gave a pained smile, which was completely uncharacteristic of her.
"Ah, you could say that."
I raised an eyebrow at her strange attitude and approached until I was close enough to touch her.
"Are you alright?"
Worry quickly replaced my depression as I looked at her face. Despite how much she always teased me, I never forgot how grateful I was to her. She might not have saved my life, but her kindness had been a light that pulled me out of the darkness after that incident, so I could easily put aside my own issues for her sake.
For a couple seconds after I asked if she was okay, she kept a pained expression before seamlessly switching to her usual carefree smile.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"I said yes, didn't I? Or are you that worried?"
As she responded with playful look in her eyes and reached out to brush her finger across my cheek, I quickly backed away and released a brief sigh.
"Looks like you're the same as usual."
I didn't regret being worried about her, only slightly embarrassed. To hide this embarrassment, I turned away from her and went towards her apartment.
"Good, I'll start making dinner."
"Oh actually, I want to order food tonight."
"No reason, I just feel like it."
I stared at her relaxed face to try and dig out her true intentions, but I didn't have much hope that I could see through her. I wondered if this was related to what was happening at school, but it wasn't that odd for her to want to order food either.
'Well, it's her decision after all.'
"Fine. Do you have anything in mind?"
Her response was as swift as I expected so I stopped worrying about her. After we entered her apartment and she went to change, I ordered from a Chinese restaurant that I had on speed dial. This was the first time she wanted to order Chinese food and she didn't give me a preferred place so I went with my own choice. Though I didn't get the chance to eat there too frequently, I remembered praising it in front of Ms. Aria after the last time I went, so this was the perfect chance to expose her to it as well.
Once our orders were placed, I checked my messages to kill time. Unlike before, there was more casual banter in the club group chat, though it was mainly about the cat and between Arisugawa and Kirisaki. This was likely the effect of a shared interest and them getting more familiar with each other.
Sad that I wasn't able to squeeze my way into their conversation, I exited the club group and looked at one of the other school groups I was in, the class 1-B group. Messages constantly popped up in this group chat to the point where I had over 1000 unread messages. I wondered if any of these messages were about me however, I was reluctant to open this Pandora's Box.
I could handle their loud whispers and minor pranks, but I saw no need to put myself through the pain that would result from reading these messages.
Soon after, our food arrived and Ms. Aria and I ate together. As we agreed last time, I would pay for my own food. Although she said that I didn't have to, I knew I would feel bad eating food with her money when I wasn't even the one who cooked it.
We both had fried rice but she got spicy boneless chicken while I stuck with regular sweet and sour chicken. My apologies to the experts but I didn't know if this was authentic Chinese food, I just liked it because it tasted really good.
'Aw~,not bad, not bad.'
As I indulged in the juicy yet subtle flavour, my heart felt cleansed. Even though my funds weren't that tight, I didn't go out for food often, but this made me reconsider. Especially since my days would be rough going forward, maybe it would be a good idea to help myself relax with food.
"Whew~, you have good taste Haruto. Nice choice," Ms. Aria complimented.
With both of our containers empty, neither of us felt willing to move as we sat with a hand on our stomachs. This simple moment seemed like one I could cherish for a long time, but naturally my teacher wouldn't be satisfied before teasing me some more.
"By the way, I heard you walked to school with your club. How was it?"
"Well, it was good I guess," I answered casually.
I made sure not to look her in the eye as I suppressed the first emotion that I felt once I recalled that time, but like a mind reader she saw through me easily.
"Hoho, you sound calm but I bet that's not how you really feel. You were excited, weren't you? To walk next to your crush."
"Tch, shut up."
As immature as I knew I sounded, once she revealed my true feelings there was no way for me to go against her. But this wasn't my fault, anyone else would be really happy if they got to walk to school with their crush too, even if they weren't alone. I was just unlucky to have a carefree employer who loved to tease her employee about his private life.
"Oh don't be like that, I want to support you."
"Hmph, mind your own business. I, can handle this myself," I replied while blushing at the thought of getting even closer with Arisugawa.
"Kukuku, how innocent. By the way, why did you fall for her? She doesn't like a suitable target considering your situation."
Ms. Aria didn't look serious, but as she asked this question she sat up and looked straight at me with eyes that made it hard to refuse.
'Should I tell her?'
It would be one thing if it was an embarrassing story, but the tale of how I developed a crush on Arisugawa was pretty boring actually.
"Hmm, well I suppose I can tell you. It was a regular day in the first week of school.
Back then I was still bothered by the bet I made with the headmaster and wasn't that close with Naoya yet, so I was a complete loner. As soon as the bell rang, I packed up my stuff and left for my part-time job. Although I knew that this was a sad way to spend my youth, I didn't mind it that much. On that day, I passed by a crying little girl on my way to the train station. I wasn't in a rush so I took a glance to see what was wrong with her. It seemed she was crying because her sneakers were stuck in a tree.
Based on the eyes of the children who I could see laughing at her from some distance away, she likely wasn't the one who threw them up there. She still had the pair that she was wearing, but naturally I felt the urge to help her. However, the tree was decently tall and I wasn't confident in my climbing skills either. While I was standing there, hesitating, Arisugawa appeared."
"And saved the cat right?" interrupted Ms. Aria.
If I was in her position I would think the same thing so I couldn't blame her, but she was wrong.
"No, her attractive figure that instantly caught my attention gracefully left after taking a single glance at the situation."
"What? And that's how you got a crush on her?" Ms. Aria asked with a severely confused expression.
I shook my head and continued, "Let me finish. Though she was wearing our school uniform, I mistook her for a model or some type of celebrity so I wasn't even upset that she didn't help or at least offer to. Since time was ticking away, I eventually decided to give climbing the tree a try but by then I spotted a police officer coming to help. He got the sneakers down and scolded the kids who were laughing at the girl."
"Hmm? Then why did you start liking Ms. Arisugawa?"
"Well, after he got down the shoes and scolded the kids, I asked him how he knew that something was happening here. And then he told me that a 'noble lady' had informed him. From his description, I was sure it was her and I started to become interested in her until that interest eventually became a crush."
As I reminisced about that time, a natural smile made it to my face.
"Hmm, that's less exciting than I would have liked," Ms. Aria commented with a pout.
"What do you expect? It's not like I can choose how I feel." I said with a roll of my eyes.
Despite how boring that memory was, I still thought fondly of it as the first time I met Arisugawa.
"I guess. So, when do you plan on confessing?"
"! That, came out of nowhere."
"Really? I thought that confessing was the next step after falling in love."
"Putting aside whether or not that's true, it's too early for me. I'm not good enough for her," I said while shaking my head.
"Did she say that?"
"Then how would you know? That's her decision, not yours to make."
As Ms. Aria took a gulp of her drink, I frowned at her response. She wasn't wrong but I just couldn't accept it.
"That may be true, but if I'm not confident enough to believe it then there's no point."
"Fufufu, true. I just hope you don't use that as a reason to run away."
The urge to say , 'of course not' quickly took over my heart, but my mouth stayed shut.