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“Is the meat done?” Mom asked and then saw Ivy awkwardly coming over while her daughter pulled her hand. “O-oh… hello?”

“Aiko is cooking it now.” Kio declared; her lips curved upward. “This is Ivy. She goes to our school. She’s Aiko’s girlfriend.”

“G-girlfriend?” Hina’s head jerked up, a look of surprise on her face.

I remained at my spot in front of the grill. Kio had just dumped all the beef circles on still stuck and frozen. I had to quickly pry them apart and sort them so that they could cook properly. As a result, I wasn’t in a position where I could be involved. I used a rather simple spell so that I could listen in on their conversation though. It was a matter of self-preservation. Who knew what could be said while I wasn’t present?

Hina who had previously been staring off aimless, looking like she had wanted to be anywhere but there. Suddenly, her full attention was on Ivy. The same could be said for Mom, whose mouth fell open slightly. Under the stares, Ivy was looking uncomfortable. Mom snapped out of it first, shaking her head.

“Um… hello. It’s a pleasure to meet a friend of Aiko’s. I didn’t know he had a girlfriend.” Mom smiled pleasantly.

I couldn’t help but let out an irritated sigh. How did it come to this? I had remained a bachelor for my entire thousand-year lifespan, yet a week in the shoes of the goodie hero and I had already gained a girlfriend. This is why pretty boys like the hero were the worst. I supposed it was my fault for clearing up his acne, but that was the only thing I had done to improve his looks, and only because I found acne irritating.

“Do you have any chips?” Maya declared, having gotten up onto the picnic table and immediately started looking through the basket.

“Maya!” Ivy grabbed her daughter, trying to pull her away.

“It’s okay!” Mom smiled, trying to be polite. “Is this your little sister?”

“No, it’s her daughter!” Kio couldn’t wait to announce it.

Ivy’s cheeks turned pink, while mother’s mouth fell open once again. Hina looked just as shocked. Given their expressions, perhaps Maya was a bit young to have a child like Ivy. It was irritating. People should just mind their own business, and such a thing as what creature popped out of you shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. At least, that’s what I thought.

“Um… yes…” Ivy tried to break the silence. “This is my daughter Maya.”

I dropped the plate of burgers on the picnic table, causing everyone to jump. “The food is done.”

“Oh… Aiko…” Mom shot me a look.

I ignored it, sitting down and preparing a plate for myself. As soon as I finished making a plate, two little hands came out and snatched it away.

“Thank you!” Maya declared.

“Maya!” Ivy gave an embarrassed look.

“It’s fine. It was intended for her in the first place.” I responded, making another plate for Ivy.

As I handed it to her, she gave me an odd look before finally taking the plate. Well, I was rusty dealing with people, so most looks were odd looks. I could handle customers at the shop. They came in horny, and they left just as quickly. However, more nuanced social cues were lost on me. That’s why I had acquired her assistance in the first place. That had somehow turned into us being a couple. I could correct the situation, but I felt like that would just be too much trouble.

I made a plate for each person present. Mom still had a look like she had seen a ghost. Hina took the plate timidly. Kio snatched her plate. She immediately grabbed the hamburger and cut it open.

“This is raw! You barely cooked it at all.”

“You’re welcome to put it back on.” I gestured casually behind me as I made my plate.

Although she glared at me, she didn’t bother to go put the hamburgers on the grill. The demons at raw meat, so I didn’t know how long such things were supposed to be cooked. It wasn’t still moving, so I considered it edible.

I ended up sitting between Ivy and Maya. Ivy kept her head down and ate quickly, while Maya acted completely oblivious to the situation.

“Um… Ivy.” Mom finally spoke up. “How did my son and you meet?”

“Oh!” Ivy nearly dropped her burger as she was addressed. “We go to school together.”

“So, you’re… a senior?”

“Yes!” She nodded. “I am.”

“I see…”

I could see Mom glancing between Ivy and the child. It was extremely obvious. The question was clearly on her mind, but she was afraid to ask. After taking a few bites, I finally had enough of watching her.

“The child isn’t mine,” I affirmed.

Mom’s eyes popped open, Kio spat out her drink, and right next to me I could hear choking noises. I raised a hand and slapped Ivy on the back, helping her dislodge a piece of hamburger.

“I-I would think not!” Mom cried.

Still coughing, Ivy shot me a look. “I’m sorry, the father, he isn’t in the picture.”

“It’s fine dear.” Mom waved her hands, trying not to offend.

“It’s okay,” Ivy said, finally regaining her breath. “It’s not much to tell. I developed early, and I did a dumb thing with a neighborhood boy of 13. His parents took him and moved away. We get a check every month which I guess is child support. My parents had freaked out for a bit, and they’re helping me raise her until I can finish my education and get a job to support us.”

I didn’t care about the story, so I focused on eating while everyone else was watching her like this was something interesting. I was a flesh mage. I was very clear on how babies were made. It didn’t seem like a process that needed much explanation. Maybe my sisters needed an education, but my mother who had already had three children should have understood the mechanics.

“I understand.” Mother declared. “I’m sorry for putting you on the spot. It just caught me off guard. Y-you’re the first girl that Aiko has brought home.”

“R-really?”

“Honestly… I was afraid that Aiko wasn’t into girls.”

“Ridiculous.” I snorted. “That guy would follow anything with breasts.”

“What?”

I coughed. I was just remembering back to the time I had met the real Aiko. With three girls hanging off him, I doubted he was a closeted homosexual. He had ultimately abandoned this like too in his pursuit of a princess. Of course, none of them needed to know I wasn’t their real son.

“Nothing,” I responded, glancing at Maya. “Has the child finished?”

“I want dessert!” Maya declared.

“No,” I answered back. “Your hunger is resolved, so go away.”

“Aiko!” Mom shot me a horrified glance.

“I said I want dessert!” She glared defiantly at me.

“Sweetie, they already fed us. We’ll get something sweet later.”

“No! He has to give me something sweet!” Her voice was quite irritating. “If he wants to date my mom, then he has to get something sweet!”

“Maya…” Ivy looked completely helpless.

Although she was irritating, I wasn’t the type to judge the mother. After all, I looked after a hundred demon mothers. Many of them were prone to eating their young if they were too small and scrawny. When that was the metric you went by, it was easy not to question anyone else on their parenting skills. Rather, I felt it much easier to address the problem child directly.

“Very well. If I give you something sweet, then will leave quietly with your mother?”

She thought about it for a second and then nodded. “Yup.”

I sat up and looked into the bag. Mother shot me a look as if to say that she didn’t pack anything sweet. I rummaged around for a moment, and then a found a jar of pickles. I opened the jar, pulled out a pickle, and then handed it to her. She immediately made a face.

“That’s not sweet!”

“Have you ever tasted one before?”

“No! But pickles aren’t sweet!”

“There is such a thing as a sweet pickle.”

“Is that a sweet pickle?”

“If you don’t try it, how will you know?”

She scrunched her face up, sniffed it, and then took a bite. Immediately, she made a face and spit it out.

“Yuck! That’s not sweet at all!”

“Naturally, that’s because I haven’t cast a spell on it yet.”

“A-a spell?”

“Yes, I have an incantation that makes a pickle sweet. Only after I cast the spell will you like the pickle.”

“R-really?”

I nodded while the girls all looked at each other in confusion. I reached out and then began chanting. After about a minute, I pulled my hand back.

“It is done. The pickle will become a sweet pickle.”

She gave me a suspicious look. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

She took another bite, and then she cried out and spit it out. “That’s not any different!”

“Why did you bite it? I said it would become a sweet pickle. It is not a sweet pickle yet. This kind of conversion takes time.”

“You didn’t say that!”

“I didn’t not say that either.”

Her faith scrunched up again. “You’re not trying to trick me, are you?”

“I have no gain from tricking you.”

“Oh…” She looked down at the pickle in her hand and back at me. “I-is it done yet?”

“You may bite it.”

“Pew!” She took another bite only to spit it out again. “It’s just as bad! You’re lying! You’re definitely lying!”

“Really? Here, let me try.” I reached out, and she puts the pickle back in my hand.

I took a bite out of the pickle, and made a face, spitting it out. “You’re right, this pickle isn’t sweet.”

She laughed. “I told you! See?”

“Hmm… I wonder what went wrong.” I lifted the pickle and then shook it, then I took another bite. “Wait… this time it’s sweet!”

I swallowed the pickle immediately. Maya’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I-is it really sweet?”

“It is!” I declared, raising the pickle to my mouth again and taking another bite. “Mmmm…”

“H-hey! That’s mine!”

“You didn’t want it though.”

“It’s mine! It’s mine, I said!” She grabbed the pickle from my hand, and then immediately bit into it.

Her face went from excited to displeased. However, she didn’t spit it out. She slowly chewed on the pickle, even though her expression showed she didn’t like the taste.

“It’s sweet, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Y-yes… it’s sweet.” She responded, forcing herself to swallow it.

She put the last nub that remained of the pickle onto the picnic table.

“So, we agree that it is sweet.” I narrowed my eyes at her.

“Y-yes.” She responded, looking slightly browbeaten.

“You don’t want the rest?” I asked.

“No. I’m full.” She responded.

“So, you may leave with your mother.”

“Yes, I’ll go.”

She gave me a defeated look, and then quietly got up and walked around me to her mother. Ivy’s mouth was open, and she was staring at stunned silence as her child had suddenly become very quiet and polite. She grabbed her mom’s hand and pulled on it.

“M-maya?”

“We can go.” Maya declared.

“Oh… okay…” Ivy got up with Maya still tugging on her.

“I will see you at school,” I spoke up.

She gave a bow to my family. “Thank you for having me. I’m sorry I have to leave abruptly, but we were just supposed to be out for a walk.”

“I understand.” Mom tried to put a smile on her face. “Thank you for joining us.”

Ivy bowed again even as Maya tugged her, and finally, they were pulled away. I finished eating, and when I looked up, all three women were looking at me. I didn’t know what their problem was. I had handled the situation fine. As I had said, I had a lot of experience dealing with children.

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