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Part 6 
Although it had taken slightly longer than expected, I had managed to make the tom yum goong approximately as instructed. 
And now, the time had come to have Amasawa try the completed dish. 
I never would’ve guessed that I’d be serving a home cooked meal to a girl I had only just met. 
I placed the tom yum goong on the table before turning around and coming right back with an apple in hand. 
It seemed necessary to demonstrate that I was capable of handling the Petty knife in front of Amasawa. 
“I usually use a normal kitchen knife to peel apples, so using this might be a little awkward, but?” 
I spoke these words as a preface to help cushion the blow and set about peeling the apple. 
“Wow~ How amazing! You’re doing perfectly! The way you handle that knife gets full marks from me!” 
It wasn’t professional-looking or anything, but at the very least it didn’t look like it was the first time I had ever touched a knife. 
I then laid out the freshly cut apple slices before her. 
“By the way, when I think of tom yum goong, the first thing that comes to mind is cilantro. Do you not like that or something?” 
Cilantro was not one of the ingredients that she had me buy today. 
“I do though? It’s just like, I thought you might figure out what the dish was if we got cilantro.” 
She had been on guard, having deliberately chosen to leave out the cilantro; That is, she had taken steps to prevent me from pulling any cheap tricks on her. I could understand that she had done so in order to avoid showing me an opening, but it was pretty excessive for her to go that far. 
“Would you mind if I start getting everything cleaned up?” 
I asked, taking the opportunity to put the cutting board and Petty knife that I had used for the apple back in the kitchen. 
“No no no. You’ve gotta sit down right there and wait for the judge to give her verdict, okay?” 
She protested, demanding that I sit down right in front of her. 
Unable to go against her, I gave up on cleaning and made my way back into the living room, just as instructed. 
“Alrighty then, time to dig in~” 
Amasawa slowly carried a spoonful of hot tom yum goong into her mouth. 
She didn’t seem to mind having me sit here and stare at her as she ate at all. 
Though in that regard I wasn’t one to mind either, so she and I were one and the same. 
After she eventually finished eating, Amasawa clasped her hands together, seemingly satisfied. 
“Thank you for the meal.” 
She didn’t seem to be the type of girl who only ate small portions, as she had eaten every last bite of the dish. 
The thing was… I had tasted it before serving it to her, but I had no way to be sure if it tasted right or not. 
I hadn’t made any mistakes with the measurements or anything, so I didn’t think there should be any problems. 
Even so, if Amasawa were to say that it still wasn’t good enough, then this battle would mark the end of the war. 
A war in which we had lost. 
“Your tom yum goong?” 
She paused for a moment before handing down her judgment. 
“Yeah, I guess it was just barely good enough. It wasn’t, like, super delicious or anything, but I think it tasted good enough for me to wanna try it again.” 
She had yet to bring up the part that I cared about most: Whether I had passed or failed. 
“Well for now, I’ll clean up, kay?” 
With that, Amasawa picked up her bowl, spoon, and the other dishes on the table and headed over to the kitchen. 
She didn’t just place the dishes in the sink, but instead began tidying up the entire kitchen for some reason. 
“I’ll take care of it from here.” 
“It’s fine, it’s fine~ I’m the one who forced you to cook for me, so at least lemme do this much. Go sit back and relax, Senpai. I’m terrible at cooking, but I’m pretty good at cleaning up afterward since I always helped out my mom with it.” 
“Well, I’ll take you up on that then. By the way, about our deal… what do you think?” 
Amasawa grew silent as she proceeded to tidy up the kitchen. 
Only the sound of the evening news playing on the TV could be heard. 
“Oh that’s right~ I’ve gotta announce the results soon, don’t I? It’s kinda tricky though~.” 
As she thought about it, Amasawa didn’t seem to be happy with the position of the ribbon holding up her right ponytail, as she unfastened the ribbon and began to tie it back on, using her reflection on the screen of her phone like a mirror. 
Not long after, just as she finished tying back up her hair, she delivered her verdict. 
“As I said just a little bit ago, it was just barely good enough. After all, your technique wasn’t terrible, and the taste wasn’t like, bad either.” 
“Only just barely? How harsh.” 
“Well, I did say I was really picky about taste.” 
Amasawa grinned, looking at me as she spoke. 
“I suppose I could say that whether or not I’ll come back and eat here next time depends on how hard you work, Senpai.” 
This meant that my cooking skills weren’t at the level where she wanted to drop by and ask me to cook her a meal very often. 
Though she had said it was just barely good enough, I still didn’t know if this meant I had passed or not. 
“So this deal with Sud? was a failure, then?” 
I was somewhat hesitant about confirming it with her, but I decided to ask anyway. 
“While I can’t exactly say you passed, it’s true that you can cook. I had you buy all sorts of expensive stuff and like, you did let me eat for free, so I guess I’ve gotta repay you for that. I’ll pair up with Sud?-senpai, outta respect for your efforts.” 
Although it hadn’t been enough to satisfy her, it seemed like, for the time being, I had managed to just barely meet her standards. 
She told me the good news just as I started to think that this might be a little difficult, letting out a sigh of relief. 
“I’m almost done cleaning up, so just hold tight for a bit, kay?” 
I couldn’t just stare at her as she diligently fixed up the kitchen, so I decided to just sit back and watch the news on TV as I waited for her. 
Before long, Amasawa came back to the living room, content with the state of the kitchen. She then took out her phone and submitted an application to partner up with Sud?, showing me the screen as she did. As long as Sud? responded to her offer by the end of the day today, their partnership would be set in stone. 
“Sud?’s off doing club activities right now, so I’ll have him accept it later. Is that alright with you?” 

While this wasn’t exactly a lie, the real reason was that I had his cell phone, so he couldn’t use it right now. 
“Totally okay with me~ Anywho, I don’t wanna stay out too late, so I’ll be heading back now. See ya later, Ayanok?ji-senpai!” 
The plan had gone by without a hitch, as Amasawa headed toward the front door to leave. 
“Amasawa. Thanks for being willing to pair up with Sud?. You’ve done a lot for him, and Horikita too.” 
“Yes yes~ You can shower me with as much appreciation as you want, kay?” 
She quipped back with a light-hearted reply as she put on her shoes. 
“In the meantime, there’s something I’d like to ask you about, but…” 
Just as I was about to state what it was, Amasawa finished putting on her shoes and glanced over at me. 
“Is it that you want me to act as the intermediary between our classes?” 
She responded in my place. Her placement in Class A and her A-rated Academic Ability weren’t just for show, after all. 
Essentially, she was a quick thinker who spoke without the slightest trace of doubt in her words. 
“You’re not wrong. There are quite a lot of students in my class who are having trouble finding a partner, just like Sud?. It’d be great if you could introduce us to some people who’d be willing to help us out.” 
“So~rry, but I don’t think that’s possible.” 
Amasawa lightly put both hands together in front of herself to apologize. She had turned down my request without a second thought. 
“Ah, it’s not because of you or Horikita-senpai, okay? I totally think that I can trust you guys, but like, I’m not real close with the rest of my classmates. Remember how I was all by myself when I first met you guys yesterday?” 
“Now that you mention it, yeah.” 
Back then, many students were at the Keyaki Mall together with their friends, but Amasawa had been there alone. 
“I guess you could say that I like, lack delicacy or something, but it’s cuz I’m not the type to sugarcoat my words. It’s hard to make friends with people like that, you feel? So I can’t help you Senpai. Sorry?” 
“No it’s fine. The fact that you’re willing to partner up with Sud? is already enough for me. If you run into any problems, feel free to rely on me. I might be able to do something to lend a hand.” 
“Mhm, thanks~ Anywho, see ya later~ Bye-bye~!” 
While I failed to establish a connection with Class 1-A, this was more than enough for the time being. 
“I guess that’s that.” 
After I hung up the ongoing call on Sud?’s phone, I called Horikita using my own. 
[Well done. It looks like everything worked out one way or another.] 
Words of appreciation practically flew out of Horikita’s mouth as soon as she picked up the call. 
“I get the feeling that we were saved by Amasawa’s merciful judgment, though.” 
[Even so, this has gone and solved Sud?’s problem. It’s quite the accomplishment.] 
It was wrong of us to have cheated Amasawa, but we made it through in the end nonetheless. 
The only thing left to do now was wait for Sud? to come pick up his phone from my room and accept the application. 
And given the time, he’d probably show up soon. 
[Why did you ask Amasawa-san to act as our intermediary with Class 1-A? Her personality and number of friends aside, you can imagine how difficult it would be for her to negotiate with Class 2-D, right?] 
Horikita had never mentioned winning over Class 1-A back when she was laying out her strategy for this special exam. 
The sole reason for this was the difficulty that would come with trying to establish a cooperative relationship with each other. 
“It was just a formality. It’s true that our class is having a hard time finding partners, so it would’ve seemed unnatural if I didn’t try to put that into words.” 
If we didn’t have any other options, we needed to give off the impression that we were grasping at straws when reaching out to others. 
Not doing so could be taken as a sign that our class was pushing forward with another strategy. 
[In other words… You didn’t want Amasawa-san to realize that we’ve given up on winning over Class 1-A from the very beginning, focusing our attention on Class 1-B and Class 1-D instead?] 
In fact, Horikita hadn’t even considered winning over Class 1-A through Amasawa since she already had the other two classes in mind. From the very beginning, she had decided that she could make the most of the fortunate scenario and just have her partner up with Sud?. 
“Neither of us know what kind of person that Amasawa girl really is. That’s why what happened today could leak out to the other first-year classes, or maybe even the rest of the second-year as a whole. I only acted after taking that into account. I might just be worrying too much, though.” 
Having heard my explanation, Horikita sank into silence for a bit. 
“What’s wrong?” 
[Your way of thinking is… How do I put it…? Extremely calculated, and yet clever.] 
“It’s no big deal, really.” 
[No, it is a big deal. It seems quite obvious when you say it after the fact, but it’s a completely different thing for you to think so far ahead in the moment. I think I better understand the reason why my elder brother paid so much attention to you now. However, if I was having this conversation with the you from the past, you wouldn’t have bothered to tell me anything specific like this. What changed?] 
Horikita asked me a question, curious about the seemingly complete change in my behavior. 
“I don’t have any ulterior motives or anything. Anyway, our next problem is what to do about the remaining students. I’ll let you know when I hear back from Nanase.” 
[Yeah, you’re right. I’ll be waiting.] 
After finishing up my call with Horikita, I went to check on the state of the kitchen. 
The kitchen was spick and span. Not only had the dishes been washed, but the sink and countertops had been meticulously polished off. The way it looked now was by no means inferior to how it was when I first came to the room one year ago. The cutting board, plates, kitchen knife, Petty knife, pot, ladle, and everything else I had used had all been neatly put away as well. There was nothing to complain about. 
Although it had been spearheaded by Horikita, this was the first time I had interacted so closely with a first-year student. If Amasawa was the one from the White Room, it wouldn’t have been strange if she tried to pull something, but I didn’t see any evidence of that. 
I still plan to err on the side of caution, but… 
Given the way she spoke and carried herself, the knowledge Amasawa possessed was nothing out of the ordinary for a normal high school student. 
It would probably be difficult for someone who had only just left the White Room to take on the same mannerisms as her. 
“Most importantly, the chance of Amasawa being the White Room student disappeared when she paired up with Sud?, right?” 
I could also discount the other first-year students who had already decided on a partner. At least, that’s what I would say if I had to make a judgement given the information currently at my disposal. However, it still felt far too early to make that assertion, no matter who it was. 
While it may be true that partnering up with me would be the fastest way to get me expelled, that was only one of many potential strategies they might have. There was a possibility that the White Room student might be looking for another opening by intentionally passing up on the special exam. 
The common knowledge of a high school student wasn’t something that could be mastered overnight, but with enough time, that wouldn’t be true either. 
Besides, there were select parts of Amasawa’s speech and conduct that bothered me. 
It probably wasn’t anything I needed to worry about, but it was probably for the best to completely crush any and all concerns I had first. 
This didn’t just apply to Amasawa either. The same was true of H?sen and Nanase, who I would come in contact with in the near future. Out of the many second-year students present when they came to the second-year classrooms, I was the first they had locked eyes with. 
I should be suspicious of any and every student who comes into close contact with me, regardless of whether they converse with me or not. 
Because from here on out, I’d be stepping into more dangerous territory to find myself a partner. 
Later that night, I received a message from Nanase. 
[May we meet up after school tomorrow?]


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