Outside, Adam had been patiently waiting for him without moving an inch.
Ren felt bad for making him wait while he talked to a cat, and apologized to him even though Adam said he didn’t mind.
They were about to make their way through the dirt road when their teacher called out to them from afar.
“Hey you two! Where do you think you’re going!?”
Even though technically they weren't doing anything wrong, Ren felt as if he had been caught red-handed. He also knew Adam wouldn’t answer, so he decided to walk over to their teacher at a brisk pace.
“Sorry. We woke up early to avoid the crowd. We’re heading off to go foraging for mushrooms.”
“You and… Adam Stoker?”
The teacher opened her eyes wide and covered her mouth with her palm.
“Are you two friends already!?”
“Oh, I’m so glad!” She placed a hand on Ren’s shoulder, the other clutching her chest. “I thought us teachers would have to pair up with him for activities or something! Oof!”
Ren frowned at her, and the teacher winced, pulling her hand back quickly and straightening up.
“Ahem. I mean… yay, friendship…”
Ren rolled his eyes.
“...So, is it okay if we leave now?”
“Yes, yes, go ahead! Make sure to come back before 3:00 pm, though. We have lots of activities planned for you kids! If you come here after sunset you’ll miss out on all the fun!”
Neither the teacher nor Ren believed there was any real fun to be had here, but he nodded politely anyway.
“Thanks. Excuse me.”
Ren briskly walked away from her and back to Adam’s side, apologizing once more for making him wait.
The sun was bright over the clear sky, with some clouds occasionally obscuring it. The high trees in the woods offered some much needed protection from its brightness, and the cleared dirt path was easy to follow all the way to the creek.
As soon as they made their way over the log, they could hear some voices on the other side, laughing and having a good time.
It was Emma, Julius and Rika, who had joined Agatha, Airi and Yusei in their mushroom picking adventures.
Ren was seeing Agatha for the first time.
It was also the first time he saw Emma talking so much about her interests with someone else.
“...Do you know them?”
Adam said in a quiet voice from behind Ren. It snapped him out of his shock.
“Ah, yeah… come on, I’ll introduce you.”
Ren approached them, lifting his hand hello while Adam trailed closely behind.
“Hey, you made it,” Rika said while she placed a few mushrooms in her bag.
“Good day, Dahl,” Airi greeted him as she stood up along with Yusei.
Ren knew Airi and Agatha would be here, but he had no idea Yusei was with them, too.
“You’re here too, Wilde?”
“What? Is that a crime?” Yusei snapped at Ren.
“No… I’m just surprised. I had no idea this is where you went when you woke up so early.”
“I just felt like going for a stroll, what’s it to you, huh?”
At that moment, Emma realized Ren had arrived and tugged Agatha’s arm to come meet them with her.
Yusei wiped his dirty palms on his pants, and his eyes landed on Adam.
“Whoa. What’s he doing here?”
His loud voice also got Julius’ attention, who was doing absolutely nothing but observing them all while he leaned on a tree with his arms crossed.
Ren stepped aside and gestured towards Adam now that he had Airi and Agatha’s attention.
“This is Adam Stoker. He’s staying with us in our cabin.”
Emma rushed over to shake his hand quickly.
“Nice to meet you, Adam! I’m Emma!”
“You met him this morning, Emma.”
“Oh! That’s right! You have a dragon!”
Adam blinked at her as she shook his hand nonstop, grimacing.
It seems not even Adam’s impassiveness was any match for Emma’s fast-paced enthusiasm.
Airi stepped over, bowing politely at Adam.
“Nice to meet you, Stoker. I’m Airi Carroll. This is Agatha Fitzgerald.”
Agatha had hidden behind Airi out of instinct, peeking her head out to look at the two boys.
Her eyes locked with Ren’s, and Ren swallowed.
The truth is, Ren was nervous about meeting Agatha.
This whole Cupid thing had put some weird ideas in his head - like what if he ends up developing feelings for this girl? Or what if they become friends? What if she dislikes him? What if…
Agatha greeted him hesitantly.
Ren realized she was talking to him.
“Ah, s-sorry. I’m Ren Dahl.”
“Oh!” Agatha perked up immediately. “You’re Emma’s friend!”
Ren felt his face heat up.
He’d never been referred to as Emma’s friend over anything else.
He contained his enthusiasm by simply nodding.
Agatha smiled at him, stepped away from Airi’s back, almost as if she felt more comfortable now that Ren had acknowledged the title.
“Hehe. Emma’s been so nice to me since we met!”
“Ah, yeah… Emma’s… nice.”
…Why did I say that? What a dorky answer.
“Are you into 2.5D actors just like she is?”
“Uh, not… particularly.”
Agatha didn’t even try to hide her disappointed face.
Ren rubbed the back of his neck a little awkwardly, then his eyes unconsciously wandered off to where Emma and Adam were.
Emma was essentially talking at Adam, not with him, all while Adam listened in silence - clearly trying to process in his mind whatever nonsense Emma was spouting at him.
I wonder what Adam thinks about her.
Is he annoyed?
Agatha’s voice made Ren look away from them and back at her.
Ren looked down, and realized he was stepping over a particularly big mushroom - now more mush than room.
He pulled his foot away from it quickly.
“Aah, sorry. I didn’t realize…”
“I-It’s okay!” Agatha waved her hands, flustered. “I wasn’t going to get it, I just didn’t want you to slip over it!”
“Y-You don’t have to apologize again…!”
Ren felt bad regardless of what she said; he knew they were there to pick up mushrooms - mostly for the novelty of it rather than because they wanted to eat them, but still, he ruined a perfectly good one right in front of her.
He looked at her arms and saw she was carrying a small tote bag almost filled to the brim with mushrooms.
She really meant it, then. She didn’t need the extra one. Ren was relieved.
Her bag looked pretty heavy, however, so Ren stepped closer and offered to help.
“I’ll carry that if you want.”
Agatha blushed instantly, as she did any time anyone spoke to her at all.
Ren looked at her, waiting.
Agatha fidgeted for a moment before nodding, carefully removing the bag from her shoulder and handing it to him.
Ren took the full bag with one hand while he reached for a pocket on his backpack with the other; he took out and offered her a folded tote bag he brought along specifically for this. He had gotten it for free at a convenience store after buying one of their products on sale.
“A-Ah, you don’t have to–”
She began to humbly protest, but then her eyes landed on the bag.
She reached for it and unfolded it, and she saw it was the exact same type as the one she brought with her.
Her face immediately lit up.
“You bought the new spicy caramel potato chips at West Egg, too!?”
Ren was impressed she recognized it.
“Yeah. The cashier said they had this bag promotion for them because nobody really buys them.”
“Hehe. It’s true, I’m the only one in my family that eats them!” She said a little sheepishly.
Ren felt a sense of kindred with her over this.
It was silly and unremarkable, but it somehow put him at ease.
And that was… bad.
He sighed, upset at himself for thinking that even his own genuine feelings of camaraderie were now contaminated by doubt.
Agatha looked so happy.
Ren averted his eyes.
“...You can keep my bag, if you want.”
“Really!? Is that okay!?”
“It was free, so…”
She held onto it tightly. Ren couldn’t help but snicker.
“Do you really like it that much?”
Agatha gave him a fierce look.
“It’s my pride as a collector! Whenever I get something I like, I always have to have a copy of it for keepsake aside from the one I display or use! This bag was a limited promotion, so I could only get one, though.”
Ren couldn’t understand this mentality, but it seemed to be important to her.
“I see. I’m happy for you, then.”
Agatha smiled, putting the bag away instead of using it as Ren thought she’d do at first - though after her explanation, he could see why she did that.
When she was done, she beamed him a smile.
“You’re very nice, Ren. Are you friends with Airi and Rika, too?”
It seems everyone is always asking them if they’re friends with each other— granted, they were all together since they got off the bus yet they didn’t exactly act like regular friends, so he couldn’t fault them for being confused.
He shook his head.
“I knew Emma from before, but I met the rest of them for the first time on this trip. We all sort of met at the same time, really”
“Oh… I see. That’s what Airi said, too.”
“What about you? Do you know anyone else on this trip?”
Agatha shook her head.
“No. I’m here because my grades are good, that’s all…”
They must be very good for you to be here, he thought.
“I see. Did you even want to come?”
She played with her braid, looking away with a small smile.
“I… I’ve never been camping before, so I figured doing it with other students in a safe place would be a nice place to start…”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“W-What about you, Dahl? Why are you on this trip?”
“I’m a delinquent.”
“E-Eh!?” Agatha took a frightened step back.
“...I-I’m kidding,” Ren said awkwardly after her exaggerated reaction.
Yeah, he would never try to be funny again, not even to make a nervous girl feel less nervous, he decided.
“The truth is… pretty boring. I submitted a written proposal to the school board to ban this camp altogether, so they invited me to come along and see for myself what actually happens in it.”
Agatha couldn’t believe her ears.
“You wanted to cancel the trip!? Why!?”