18 – A slice of summer life
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A beautiful summer morning. Cicadas chirped and the bright sun was mercifully warm instead of burning like it usually was.

With that pleasant weather, me, Ren, and Celes made our way downtown towards Ayumi sensei's house to attend cram school. Ren walked beside me on my left, while Celes walked close to me on my right.

After glancing at the buildings drawing near in the distance, I looked at Ren and said, "Thanks again for helping cover Celes's tuition fee for the cram school, Ren."

Celes leaned over and bowed her head towards Ren. "Yes. Thank you again for helping me." She raised her head and looked troubled. "If I could, I would have paid for myself to not trouble Sen-sama. But since arriving in this land, I have not had the means to withdraw from my savings..."

Ren waved his hand. "It's fine." He grinned and said, "That's what friends are for. Besides." He looked in the distance and said, "Sensei will be happy that she has another student... and one who's actually a girl."

I jabbed Ren in the side. "Oi!"

He winced and rubbed his side. But after that he laughed. "You're getting stronger as always, Kimura-san... So why are you still so thin?"

"I want to know that too, dammit!"

Celes looked between me and Ren and said, "You two are truly close to banter like this." She focused her attention on Ren and said, "How long have you known Sen-sama?"

Ren chuckled. "It's almost been too long."

"And what the heck is that supposed to mean, you muscle head?"

Ren glanced at me and shook his head. "Not much. Just that we've known each other forever. Though..." He looked at Celes and smiled. "It's pretty funny. The first time we met, I thought Kimura-san was a girl and ran away from him. But then he chased me down and beat me up saying that he was a guy." Ren chuckled and said, "He was pretty mad about being mistaken as a girl."

I paused, memories appearing in my mind's eye as he mentioned it.

A tiny Ren screaming his head off while I ran after him with a raised fist. Tackling him and then smacking his face while he begged for mercy. Having to get pulled off by the teacher...

Wait.

I frowned and stared at Ren. "Is *that* why you let girls hit you when they get mad now? What, you scared that it'll be another guy who'll get pissed off and chase you down?"

Ren paused. "...Now that you mention it..."

I rolled my eyes. "Idiot."

Celes giggled. "It sounds like you two had a fun childhood."

I paused and looked at Celes. "That sounds like you didn't, Celes."

"Ah." Celes frowned, her bright expression dimming. "...I did not."

Ren frowned as well and looked at Celes. "I don't want to be rude, but... What happened? Is there something we could do to help?"

"Hey!" I glared at Ren and said, "Stop wrapping me into your offers to help beautiful young women!"

He looked back at me and said, "Isn't Celes your friend, Kimura-san?" He furrowed his brow and said, "Are you telling me you won't help her?"

"Of course I'll help her! But you need to stop that habit! Do you know how many beautiful girls have come up to me to challenge me or declare that they won't lose against me because of that?!"

"Oh." Ren coughed. "Right. I'll try to remember next time."

"You say that every time, dammit!"

Celes laughed, her expression bright again. She paused and then quickly covered her mouth with her hands. But after that she kept laughing.

Ren smiled and stuck his thumb up. "It worked."

"Don't BS me! You did *not* plan that!"

Ren shrugged. "I didn't. But it always goes this way, doesn't it?"

"Argh... whatever." I turned to Celes and said, "Anyway, don't mind this idiot. You can tell us whenever you want Celes. Or don't. It's fine. What matters is that you're safe and happy, okay?"

Ren gave me a blank look and said, "And that's why you get the weird girls chasing you, Kimura-san."

"Hm?"

Celes smiled. "Thank you. Both of you. And..." She looked at me and said, "I will tell you soon, Sen-sama. But for now... I wish to do some more thinking. It is... a long story."

I waved my hand. "That's fine. We're not in a rush, and it's lonely being in the house by myself anyway."

"I thought you didn't get lonely, Kimura-san?"

"You want me to knock you down and beat you until you beg for mercy again?"

"I mean, considering how dainty you are, I think that'll be hard..."

Celes looked at us and blushed.

Wait, what?

I looked at her and said, "Why are you blushing?!"

"N-No reason, Sen-sama!" Celes quickly looked away, fanning her face with her hands. "I-It is just hot! Yes, very hot!"

Ren sighed. "And this is why you need to get muscles, Kimura-san. At least become a bishounen so girls will stop friendzoning you."

"You think it's that easy, you dastard! I'm trying everything here! It's like there's freaking divine intervention keeping me like this!"

Ren stared at me and hummed. "True... With how Hajime oji-san looks, you should be able to grow muscles too."

I clicked my tongue and then crossed my arms. "Don't remind me of that guy. Every time I ask him how to gain muscles, he roasts me and says that I should just give up and embrace the ideal form that is the 'femboy body.'"

Ren laughed. "True. Hajime oji-san is... unique like that."

Celes grabbed my arm and leaned against me. "Worry not, Sen-sama. Even if you take a female form or the world sees you as a female, I will always stand by your side."

"...Why does it sound like you've given up on me too, Celes?"

"A-Ah... I-I mean, I will support your endeavors no matter the struggles you face!"

At that time, a door opened. The one to Ayumi sensei's school.

It seemed like we'd arrived sometime during our chat.

Ayumi stepped out, wearing a modest white blouse and a long black skirt. She was smiling, but when she saw me and Celes, she paused. "...Sen-kun managed to get a girlfriend?"

"SENSEI!"

Ayumi flinched and quickly waved her hands. "Sorry, sorry! A-Anyway, come in! I've got snacks already... and you can sit down wherever you like, Sen-kun's girlfriend."

Celes blushed.

Ren laughed and clapped his hand on my left shoulder "Looks like things are going well for once, eh, Kimura-san?"

I sighed.

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