Chapter 17:

Never Face to Face

One Wish They Never Wanted

He instantly came face to face with a red tie and dark suit jacket, so he looked up.

"Bro! Where have you been? You disappeared one day and that was it." Contrary to how Takuma thought he'd react, he acted as if nothing had happened between them. However, seeing Max in formal getup was indeed a rare sight, enough to keep Takuma silently fixated. "Not listening to me now, are you? Where's that spunk you used to show?" Due to all the valedictory commotion in the background, they continued their conversation in as quiet, yet audible, tones as possible.

"...I no longer wanted to associate with you. You clearly went down the wrong path. I don't blame you if you're not even admitted into uni based on your exam results. I know you socialise too much." Takuma tightened the grip on the shiny rock from Quartz in his pocket when he told his former friend this, but averted his gaze.

"The thing is...I straightened up when you left, 'kay? People do dumb things sometimes, including being so wrapped up in each other's anger they forget why they held grudges at each other. Including leaving regrets long overdue." He turned and winked at Amelie, prompting Takuma into a frown.

"You trying to impress her?"

"Nah," the brunette shrugged. "I just have a vague idea of what she's capable of."

"I used to think, 'You're not capable of changing if you know what you want to do is right for you.'" Takuma balled his fists and reached out to punch his former friend, but he knew if he caused a stir today he'd probably get thrown out of the venue, so he retracted it before it looked threatening. "But I've realised no matter what sort of painful circumstances anyone goes through, sometimes the right choice doesn't match the one you think is easiest..."

"I guess this monologue means you've forgiven me?" Max gave him a forlorn smile to mirror Takuma's own.

"...pretty much."

For some reason, that was the thing that seemed to do the trick, even though Takuma knew he could have graduated along with all of his former classmates.
To make up for all her manipulations, Amelie got her dad to take Takuma home.

"What have you done with my little girl?" her father, a prematurely greying man about her height, joked with a throaty chuckle when she introduced him, but otherwise their trip home was deathly quiet.
A few days later, it was the signing event for Hiromasa Mutsumi, but just as the staff of Toragai were setting up, a ponytailed woman in jeans and white "Familiar of Forty" shirt came in, Kris (in the same getup) not far behind her.

"What are you here for?" Amelie interrogated the redhead, hands on her hips. Aside from a slight sweat she had worked up just from facing him, she was successfully keeping up her on-the-spot charade of familiarity.

"She's my friend. How could I not see her when she's in town?"

Amelie, still with an eyebrow raised, robotically turned to the woman who was now sitting in the seat for the mangaka...but then she connected the dots, and almost fell over from the resulting surprise.

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