17 – My childhood friend is too overprotective…
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When we got back to my house, it was around 8 AM.

I took a shower first and got changed before letting Celes use it.

...Mostly because I didn't know if I could shower properly while knowing that a beautiful girl like her had just taken one before me in the exact same place.

But anyway, it was almost time to head off for cram school. Since it started at 9 AM... or rather, since that was when Ayumi Sensei said she'd be ready for us during our lesson last night, I decided to get my stuff ready.

Grabbing my book bag from my room, stuffing the few notes I had, some pencils, pen...

I technically didn't need it since I'd somehow managed to get a photographic memory in my reincarnation... probably one of the few perks that actually helped me since I got here, but memory wasn't a substitute for understanding, so notes it was.

The sound of the shower echoed from above, along with some light humming.

I paused for a moment, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere... while pointedly trying my best not to think too much about Celes being naked and washing herself in the same place that I just did-

$%^$.

I sighed and walked over to grab a water bottle from the fridge.

And then some idiot banged on the front door.

"Kimura-san! Are you home?"

Correction. Not *some* idiot. That muscle-headed idiot friend of mine.

I shut the fridge after grabbing a water bottle and then headed to the front door. "Yeah, I'm home. Don't break down the door with your knocking." After saying that, I opened the door.

As expected, Ren was standing there, already changed into uniform and with his book bag slung over his left shoulder.

I shook my head and turned around. "Come in already and stop making the neighbors wonder why a crazy guy is here again."

Ren cleared his throat. "Sorry. Just wanted to make sure and that you were safe. And to make sure that woman hadn't taken you somewhere weird."

I cracked open my water bottle and took a sip. After that, I sat down at the table and turned to look at my friend.

...It was weird. He seemed strangely on edge and nervous. Was he really that worried about me?

Ren noticed me staring and coughed. "Anyway, sorry about this morning." He sat down across from me and said, "I didn't mean to cause a disturbance."

I waved my hand. "It's fine. Not the worst thing you've done in the past."

Ren laughed. "That's true..." He glanced over at the pile of protein cans and said, "Looks like you tried it out. Is it working?"

I gave him a blank look. "Bro. Protein powder helps, but it doesn't help *that* much. If I got gains after just one time drinking it, it'd be a miracle." I paused and said, "Actually, I'd be worried on where your dad got it since there would have to be some steroids or something mixed in to make that happen."

"Ahaha... Well, you know more about this stuff than I do."

I rolled my eyes. "Of course I do. Some of us have to actually think about optimizing their training unlike you cheat bastard that can gain muscle while doing random stuff. Honestly..." I rolled up my sleeve and looked at my thin arm. "When do I get muscle? We're the same age and you were as out of shape as I was until middle school. What the heck is the difference?"

Ren shrugged. "If I knew, I'd tell you."

"Tch."

Ren looked around and frowned. "Wait... Did you leave the shower running?"

I froze.

Right... I didn't introduce Celes to him yet, did I? This morning, Ren had just yelled and I told him to leave, so he didn't know Celes was here.

And considering the fact that she was showering...

"A-Ah." I coughed. "That's-"

Before I could say anything else, the shower stopped.

Ren narrowed his eyes. "I sense a female presence." He paused and then tilted his head. "...But it's not the same as that woman? No, this one seems... relatively normal?"

"...Your senses are as weirdly tuned as ever. And yeah. I've got a friend visiting."

Ren immediately turned towards me and said, "You have a friend?"

"Yes."

He pointed at himself and said, "Not me?"

I rolled my eyes. "What do you think I am, a person who hates making friends? Of course I've got a friend other than you."

Ren stared at me.

I coughed and said, "Okay. This is a recent friend. I met her the other day and she was in a tough spot, so I'm letting her stay over with me."

Ren frowned. "...Are you sure that's a good idea? Women can be really scary... especially when it comes to you."

I carefully suppressed the memories starting to bubble up and nodded. "I know. But Celes is super nice."

Ren leaned back and hummed. "Celes, huh? So a foreigner then... And I'm guessing that she's around our age?"

I frowned. "What are you, my dad? Why does that matter?"

"I'm just worried about my friend getting conned by someone like my older sister. But I guess you've got a good sense for creeps and weirdos by now..."

"Bro. I might look like this, but I'm not some helpless girl, you know?"

Ren nodded. "I know. But there are some crazy people out there in this world, and I don't want my best friend to get wrapped up in that sort of stuff."

Before I could respond, the door the bathroom opened.

And then I remembered that girls tended to walk out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.

I panicked and jumped over the table, covering Ren's eyes with my hands.

"Gah! What are you doing, Sen!?"

"Shut up and close your eyes!"

"Sen-sama?" Celes walked over, already changed into the uniform I leant her. She still had a towel, but unlike how I imagined, she was using it to dry her hair instead of as a makeshift dress. And when she saw me, she tilted her head. Her eyes glanced towards Ren and then said, "...Am I interrupting something?"

I jumped back from Ren and laughed. "No. Just... Just guys being guys. Right, Bro?"

Ren stood up and rubbed his eyes. "Sure. We'll go with that." He looked at Celes and said, "So you're Sen's new friend, huh?"

Celes blinked and lowered her towel. She didn't respond to Ren, only turning towards me.

Seeing that, Ren did the same.

I coughed and then pointed towards Ren. "Celes, meet Ren. He's my childhood friend and a guy who I owe a lot to. And Ren." I pointed at Celes and said, "This is Celes. I met her the other day while, uh... jogging through Inokashira Park."

"Uh huh..." Ren looked skeptical, but he bowed his head and said, "Nice to meet you, Celes."

"Ah!" Celes quickly bowed her head as well and said, "It is my honor to meet Sen-sama's precious friend!"

Ren raised his head and then said, "Precious friend?"

Celes raised her head as well and looked hesitant. "Did I say something wrong?"

Ren laughed and then turned towards me. "Did you hear that, Sen? Someone finally thinks I'm your precious friend instead of your boyfriend! And a girl too- Gak!"

I lowered my fist after jabbing Ren in the chest and said, "#@[email protected]! Be serious for once you @$$#@#$!"

Celes blinked.

I made a new cover, since I found a picture I could use that looks more like how Azura should be as an idol. Hope it's good!

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