On the first page of the chapter, Shiharu is in her room at the orphantage, either trying to study, or maybe trying to compose a letter to respond to Nao’s confession, it doesn’t say. Whatever she’s trying to write, she’s too distracted by her jumbled thoughts to get down a single word. She recalls how Rio pointed out to her in the previous chapter that it must be a shock to have the person you like make a horrified face when you confess to them. Shiharu decides that because the feelings Nao-kun has for her are not as family but simply as a man, she needs to respond to him properly, one way or the other.
The next day at school Rio is especially cheerful because their exams (I think it’s winter finals, based on the fact that students now are also preparing for finals before Christmas and New Year break). She invites the other girls to stop somewhere to celebrate on their way home, and they agree but ask where Shiharu is. Rio explains she had something urgent to take care of so she left right after school ended. The scene changes to right outside Nao-kun’s school, where he’s just leaving with his buddies. Nao-kun’s sighing and he’s got a down-trodden expression on his face, and his friend remarks on hit in his thoughts but doesn’t dare say anything out loud. Just then Shiharu shows up, out of breath from running all the way from her school, and calls out Nao-kun’s name. He’s genuinely surprised to see her and asks her what she’s doing instinctively. She apologizes for showing up all of the sudden and tells him she has something she wants to tell him. In a small text it explains that she can’t talk to him about it at home because everyone is always there. Nao-kun’s light-haired friend is a totally KY person [KY= Kuuki Yomenai; aka someone who’s really clueless and doesn’t notice the behavioral clues people give through body language, and so charges on as normal and makes a lot of blunders innocently] and starts chatting Shiharu up like old friends. But Nao-kun’s dark-haired friend is a lot more perceptive and notices how Nao-kun is suddenly tense and quiet, and how Shiharu is also responding to light-haired friend a bit stiffly, and remembering Nao-kun’s bad mood earlier cuts off light-haired friend and makes up an excuse that the two of them have plans somewhere else right now, to give Shiharu and Nao time alone together. Nao-kun, somewhat reluctantly, tells Shiharu that he’s headed to work but he’ll talk to her on the way if that’s okay with her, and she says it is. As they walk away from the school, Hanoka watches them with a surprised(?) expression. This is just my opinion, but the author seems to have been doing a lot of character development for her lately, and to me her character wears her strange behavior like a mask; underneath she’s a sensitive, intelligent and perceptive girl, much like Nao. Anyways, back to Shiharu and Nao-kun’s confrontation; as they walk, Shiharu apologizes to Nao for calling him scary. She tells him that [she realizes now that] up until now she’s only been seeing their relationship from her perspective [as family] and never considered that his might be different. She also explains that because they were always together, and they did so many things together [giving many examples] like how she pictured a real family would, when she was suddenly forced to see him simply as a man, it was like seeing a completely different person who she didn’t know. The two of them end up stopping naturally at the middle of the bridge they are crossing. Nao-kun sets down his bag and leans up against the rail, telling her that she doesn’t need to go through this preamble and says [in not so many words] that she should get to the point, of either accepting or rejecting his confession. Shiharu gets a really emotional look on her face and in her thoughts admits that she wants to ‘close her ears’ and run away without confronting this matter, but she knows if she keeps doing such things that she’ll never become and adult no matter how much time passes. This is my personal opinion once again, but I think that the author might be taking a step towards indicating that Shiharu is maturing into an adult, perhaps mature enough to handle a relationship with Matsunaga-san? Anyways, at some point Nao-kun squats down with his back still resting against the railing of the bridge, and Shiharu tells him clearly that she’s sorry, but there’s someone else she likes. It then switches to Nao-kun’s thoughts and he admits that he doesn’t know when exactly, but he’s already known this for a while, and yet has been struggling desperately against it, but from now on any more resistance is only futile. Nao-kun stands back up and apologizes for pushing her down before and frightening her. She forgives him, and he tells her he better get going to get to his job on time. She apologizes for forgetting the time, and they both say goodbye in a light-hearted way. As Nao-kun starts walking away, Shiharu calls out to him, with a really emotional expression on her face “Nao-kun, thank you.” He doesn’t respond at first but stops walking and looks down for a moment. Then he looks back and gives her a sincere smile, and keeps walking away. As he disappears from view, Shiharu is left behind crying. Walking the rest of the way to work by himself, Nao-kun narrates in his thoughts that, just like that, it’s over without ever having begun. He wonders how he can possibly start living from tomorrow onwards without thinking about her, when for the last 8 years she’s been all he’d been thinking about, and he says it’s probably impossible. Just then, Hanoka pops out from behind a telephone pole, with hearts in her eyes as usual. Nao-kun gives her the usual icy glare, and tells her “You’ve been following me all the way since we left school, haven’t you?! Don’t think I didn’t notice! Go home right now!” Hanoka fakes innocence and tells him that that’s not it at all, she just came along to tell him that she’s “free for his use” on Christmas (implying that she’s free for him to go on a date with on Christmas Eve, as that’s pretty much all “Christmas” consists of in Japan.) He makes a very funny face and in the background that says “What the hell is she talking about…” He ignores her and walks into the shop where he works, thinking to himself that although for him today was as momentous as a meteorite striking him in the heart, everything and everyone around him is exactly the same as usual, carrying on as if nothing has happened.
The scene changes to the daycare where Shiharu has just arrived to pick up the twins. The Teacher calls to the twins to tell them Shiharu is here to get them, and when Shiharu greets them her face is red from crying, and the twins stop mid-squeal to stare. They tell her something in baby-talk (I think they said that her eyes look like a rabit?) which I’m assuming means her eyes are red from crying, and ask her if it hurts. Shiharu insists she’s fine and re-directs the conversation by asking what they did today. They tell her they made decorations for Christmas, and ask if they did a good job. She praises them for a job well done, and as she watches them bicker about who copied whose drawing, she remembers her and Nao-kun bickering the same way over whether or not Santa is real, and it brings a tear to her eye.
**From here on, anyone who downloaded my RAWs before I uploaded this summary will be confused because the pages were in the wrong order. Either move pages 27 and 28 to before 25 and 26, or download the file again from the link provided; I’ve updated it with the correct page order. Sorry about that!
Later that evening, Nao-kun returns to the orphanage and greets his roommate when he enters the room. His roommate asks him what’s wrong, why he’s been so down lately and he says it’s nothing really, except that he got rejected by Shiharu. The roommate is surprised at this (I’m not sure he even knew Nao liked Shiharu like that) and for a minute flounders about, not sure what to say and finally comes out with “There are other girls in the world besides Shiharu, you know.” Nao-kun tells him to STFU and not try to comfort him, so the room mate changes tactics and starts insulting him to make him feel better (?) by calling him a “dog that’s been beaten” and Nao-kun reacts with violence, grabbing his room mate by the shirt and asking him if he’s trying to get himself killed right now. The roommate protests that Nao told him not to try and comfort him, so…. But in the end the roommate lets it drop and leave’s Nao-kun to his own devices. At this point, Nao-kun’s thinking deep thoughts, which I’m not sure even I understand completely, but here’s what I understand: He’s thinking that although he’s not ready to move on from his feelings for Shiharu, at least the uncertainty of not knowing her response to his confession is over, so she *should* be happy, but… The way he’s feeling right now, he can’t force himself to think about it that positively, and if he lets his mind wander he gets sad to the point that he thinks he might cry, and he wonders if he shouldn’t just give in and have a good cry. Then he thinks back on the day in the past that was introduced at the beginning of chapter 67, where Shiharu was sick and Nao-kun went into her room to hold her hand even though the teacher told him not to go in because he might get sick. Only this time we get to see the full events of that day, including one scene that was left out the first time around— Nao-kun leaning down and kissing Shiharu on the lips, before running away! The tag-line in the box at the end says “Fleeting youth; the secret of [his] first love…”
The next chapter will be released in the next issue as usual, on 12/5, and it will have a 2-page full-color intro! This is called “kantou” in Japanese; the first series in the magazine every month has a 2-page full color intro and it rotates which series gets this honor every month.