Long chapter, and loads of musical terms. Must have spent a quarter of my time researching.
I was packing my luggage in front of the fan, my body drenched in sweat, when I received a phone call.
"Nao, which is better—blue or purple?"
Chiaki threw that random question at me all of a sudden. Through the phone, I could hear music from <Le Grand Orchestre de Paul Mauriat> playing in the background. Blue or purple? What's going on? Also, where are they calling from?
"You see, Mafuyu and I are currently buying our swimsuits. I've already decided on pink."
"Ah. You guys are at the mall?"
"Yup yup. And since it's already the summer holidays, there's a lot of people here. It's so packed."
So Mafuyu really went out with Chiaki to buy swimsuits together? I was quite surprised.
"And Mafuyu just can't decide. Nao, you pick one."
"Because Mafuyu says she doesn't know how to swim! So the swimsuit she's buying will be purely for looks, so Nao has to be the one to choose!"
"I don't know what the heck's going on in your brain. Pick a color yourself!"
"Ah— Forget it. Right, I'll take a photo of her trying on the swimsuit with my phone and mail it to you."
"— Y-You can't!" came the voice of Mafuyu from behind. It sounded like she was close to tears.
And with that, the call was disconnected. What the heck was that?
I repeatedly flipped the phone in my hands—I was actually waiting for that mail for quite some time, so much that I had nearly forgotten to resume packing. A picture of Mafuyu in a swimsuit huh...... will she really mail it? No no no. What the heck am I thinking? Mafuyu would definitely reject that.
But thanks to Chiaki, I remembered something—I went over to my drawers and dug out my swimming trunks, then slipped it into a corner of my backpack. Will we even have time to swim when we're there?
The beach? Everyone will be in their swimwear, right? Suddenly, I began to roll about on my bed for no reason. It was only then that I finally began to understand what my classmates were feeling when they created such a stir back then. It'd be just the four of us there—just the four of us, at the beach, and we'd be staying in a villa. How should I put it? It just feels incredibly awesome.
I quickly returned to normal and sat up on my bed. Our live performance is less than two weeks away. Practice should be our topmost priority.
In any case, tomorrow's the day.
"Nao, how do I heat up the water for bathing?"
"Didn't I just teach you not too long ago?"
"Nao, I don't know where my underwear is."
"How the heck would I know where you put it!?"
On the night of the same day, I tried making Tetsurou do some housework by himself. It would just be for three days and two nights, but it would turn out to be a real headache for me if he couldn't take care of himself with no one else home.
"Hey, it's still not too late. Are you really not bringing me along? I'd be of great help. My specialty is helping girls rub suntan lotion on their backs."
"You can start by rubbing the medicinal lotion on your stinking athlete's foot!"
"Nao, you're way too naive. That's not athlete's foot. It's ringworm."
"Shut up! And don't get close to me."
Tetsurou curled himself up while squatting down in a corner of the room and mumbled things like "I don't remember bringing up a child like that......" I left him alone and returned to my room on the second floor. I checked the changed strings on my bass one last time. I have to be up early tomorrow, so I should go take a quick shower and head to sleep.
We were supposed to gather at Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store—the store Kagurazaka-senpai worked at—the next day. It was a considerable distance away from the shopping street the closest train station was at. The music store was kind of old, and was located in a narrow three-story building that looked as if it would collapse if an earthquake hit. Recently, there had been quite a few regular patrons coming down here; late at night, the store became a place for musicians gather and hang around.
When Chiaki and I reached the store at nine, there was a large white-colored SUV parked in front of the store. Kagurazaka-senpai was just about to lift the drums into the boot. As for Mafuyu, she was sitting in the backseat, with her body sticking out of the car, watching Senpai load the instruments. However, when Mafuyu caught sight of me, she squeezed herself back inside.
"Morning! Hey you two, mind helping me carry the amplifiers?"
Senpai's forehead was covered with huge drops of sweat. That's quite a huge SUV we have here. Even with all the instruments piled up in the car, there was still some space left.
"Urm...... who's gonna drive? Can't be Senpai, right?"
I asked that as I helped carry the amplifiers. I had had an uneasy feeling inside of me ever since hearing about heading to the beach by car. Is it possible that Senpai actually owns a driving license?
"Hmm? We have our very own driver! He'll be picking us up on the way back as well."
"Huh?" Could it actually be the unlucky store owner?
Just then, some rumbling sounds came from inside the store, and a Marshall amplifier, about as tall as me, suddenly appeared before my eyes. The person carrying it out of the store was a very tall man, probably in his twenties. There was a sharp gaze coming from behind his messy hair and bangs—I could even feel his gaze through his sunglasses. The relatively high bridge of his nose made him exceptionally striking.
"Hiroshi, I'll load the amplifiers. Go get the three guitars and place them beneath the seats."
The guy named Hiroshi gave a wry smile after hearing Senpai's instructions.
"Eh? Eh!" When she saw that person's face, Chiaki suddenly let go of the bass amplifier she was helping me carry. I barely managed to move the huge amplifier into the boot. What the hell, that's really dangerous!
"Hamasaka Hiroshi? A-Are you the real deal? Whoa!"
"Nah, I'm just your average driver for today." That Hiroshi guy removed his glasses and showed her a smile. Urm, who exactly is he?
"Chiaki, is he a friend of yours?"
"Nao, you don't know him?"
"Urm...... I'm sorry. I'm not too familiar with Japanese musicians."
"You don't really have to apologize to me in such a strange manner." Hiroshi laughed loudly and continued, "It's fine if you don't know me, as I'm from an underground band. In any case, you definitely won't be able to forget who I am—even if you tried to—once the live performance is over."
That made me feel even worse, so much that I curled myself up on my seat.
I was finally able to make heads and tails of things after piecing together the words of the rather emotional Chiaki, and the casual introduction from Senpai. It seemed Hiroshi was the lead singer in a band called Melancholy Chameleon. He had released albums via an indie record label, and seemed to be involved in behind-the-scenes stuff like song recordings. Altogether, it meant he was a professional musician. He was also the one who invited us to be the guest performers, and it turned out the villa we were using was being loaned to us by him too. I could barely lift my head up when I learnt all that.
"How did you get stuck being our driver?"
Chiaki stuck her head in the space between the driver and co-driver seat and asked. The last row of seats was collapsed to make space for our luggage, and as a result, Chiaki, Mafuyu and I were all sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the second row.
"Obviously because I lost a bet against Kyouko. The original condition stated I would have to lend you guys the villa for three days and two nights, which I thought was too good an offer. If I had known earlier, I wouldn't have offered to drive you all to the villa as well."
Ah, indeed...... so that's how it was huh?
"What did Senpai bet then?" Chiaki directed her question to Senpai, who was sitting in the co-driver seat.
"I told him I would offer myself to him for three days and two nights."
Chiaki and I yelled at the same time.
"Please treasure yourself more!"
Chiaki grabbed Senpai by her two arms and shook her gently.
"But it's impossible for me to lose to a person like Hiroshi. Thinking back, I shouldn't have agreed to just three days and two nights—instead, I should've signed a two-year contract with him."
"Don't be silly. That villa doesn't belong to me alone. I co-funded it with a group of people."
"How exactly did you guys carry out the bet?" I tried asking her for the details, as I was really interested in knowing why the heck she had so much confidence in herself.
"A karaoke duel. What a stupid guy he was for thinking he could easily obtain high scores just because he's good at singing. In actual fact, there was no way he could even win against me, as I had already rigged the scoring system."
That's just despicable...... Why did you do that to a professional musician?
"Damn, shut up. I won't lose next time," Hiroshi tapped his palms against the steering wheel.
"Actually...... you lost the moment you allowed Senpai to decide the rules of the duel. I think it'd be better if you were more careful the next time around."
I couldn't help but give him that piece of advice, as I found him deserving of my pity.
"Really...... you've been fooled by her before?"
"Ah well...... urm......"
In the end, all Hiroshi did was flash a wry smile.
When the car entered the intersection, our conversation finally turned to music.
"It's always been my dream to play the guitar. However, Furukawa—oh, he's the guitarist of our band, by the way—says I suck at it, and thus, has banned me from the guitar. Then again, it seems like he's interested in being the lead singer, but he's not that good at singing. Because of that, we frequently poke fun at each other's poor techniques. Occasionally, we'll secretly switch our roles onstage as well."
He said the rest of the members that joined them later were their close friends. Which means, they have no relationship with the Melancholy Chameleon, right? I was slightly at ease. Even though they were an underground band, they were still professionals, and it would be quite intimidating to perform in front of them.
"You guys may be the opening act, but you can just relax with your performance."
"What do you mean by relax with our performance? No way. We'll intoxicate the audience with our singing," Senpai retorted. Speaking of which, what sort of relationship does she share with Hiroshi? There were just too many mysteries regarding Senpai's social circle. Is she really just a high school student one year older than me?
"You always say you want to play guitar, but you always take the mike away to sing during your secret gigs. If you're not that confident in your guitar technique, shouldn't you concentrate on playing your guitar instead?"
Senpai's words were becoming increasingly sharp. In response, Hiroshi turned up the car stereo. There was a sudden loud blast from the speakers. I could hear cheers, background noises, and the drumsticks tapping out the countdown.
Next flowed the splendid but overly coarse sounds of the Les Paul guitar.
Then came the hoarse voice that sounded like fine liquor.
It was Okuda Tamio's live album—<Umi eto (Into the Beach)>. [TLNote: First part of the performance is the song mentioned here. Also, wiki link on Okuda Tamio.]
It felt like the instruments buried in our luggage were resonating to the sounds coming from the speakers, which caused the instruments to produce some noise.
Despite listening to the rough rock music, I was suddenly assaulted by a wave of intense sleepiness. It was probably because I stayed up late last night to pack my luggage......?
There was a soundproof wall outside the car's window. The roofs of the cars that passed by our SUV glittered brightly under the rays of the sun. Above them was the sunny sky of summer that extended endlessly outwards. As for Mafuyu, who was sitting beside me—the color of her eyes was exactly the same as the color of the sky I was looking at.
I closed my eyes, and allowed my body to immerse itself in the voice of Okuda Tamio.
I woke up. Turning my head slightly, I could see Mafuyu's face right in front of me.
She exchanged sights with me, and her face immediately turned red. I quickly raised my head up in shock—it was only then that I realized I had rested my head on Mafuyu's shoulder while I was asleep.
"It's nothing. Oh, we've reached our destination."
Mafuyu suddenly looked out the window and mumbled...... we've reached?
"Hey, come help us unload the stuff if you're awake."
Chiaki pulled me by my ears all of a sudden, causing my drowsiness to disappear immediately.
I couldn't help but exclaim in awe as I stepped out of the car.
Amid the sparse forestry that consisted of slender trees, stood a pure white villa, bathed in the rays of the sun that filtered through the trees. Past the trees behind the villa, I could see the beach.
After making our way past the villa and through the trees, we found ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff. The uneven stacks of boulders stretched their way to the far side, away from us. The rocky shores were jagged in shape, due to the constant erosion of the waves. The sea breeze carried the rich smell of the water as it blew against our faces; it felt really refreshing. Wait, can we actually swim here?
"It'd be troublesome for us if the villa was located next to a sandy beach, as there'd be lots of visitors around." That was the explanation Hiroshi gave us. "Don't worry though, the rocky shores are really fun too."
"I'll teach you guys how to head down to the shore later." And with that, Hiroshi led us back to the place the car was parked.
The villa looked just like a recording studio. When we stepped through the door, we could see an upright piano, a DJ mixer, microphone stands, studio monitors and recording devices—all located in the main hall. Hiroshi told us he had chipped in some money together with a few of his musician friends to buy this villa. The use of this villa was then rotated among the individuals during summer, where it was used to make music or compose a few songs. I see, so that's the reason they chose such a remote place? This building stood alone among the trees next to the road; no other structures were visible from here.
The sofa and tables in the hall were placed up against the walls, making the place pretty spacious. Even so, the open space was significantly reduced when we finished moving the amplifiers and the drum set in. As a result, we could only have our meals out on the balcony. The ceiling of the main hall was made high, which was readily noticeable given the shape of the huge slanting roof of the building. Seems like the bedrooms are all located on the second floor.
"But we have a slight problem here......."
With the luggage out of the way, Hiroshi suddenly said something as we all quenched our thirst with some cold drinks,
"Well, since it's rare for us to sleep when we're here, we only constructed three bedrooms."
We looked at each other. It was obvious, even without counting, that there were four of us in the band. I then looked at the upper end of the spiraling staircase—there were indeed only three doors along the protruding walkway that extended out from the tall ceiling.
"Well...... what should we do about this?" I looked at Senpai and asked.
"Which means, the question now is—who should I sleep with, right?"
No, that's not it.
"Well, it'll be detrimental to our friendships if I sleep with either Comrade Ebisawa or Comrade Aihara...... It can't be helped. Young man!"
"Definitely no!" "What are you talking about, Senpai!" "That's probably the worst decision, isn't it!"
Senpai seemed to be really surprised when the three of us retorted at the same time. Hiroshi almost fell off the sofa laughing.
"Then...... young man, you shall decide who you want to sleep with."
"Enough! Let's not carry on with any more discussions about that."
The final decision was that I would sleep on the sofa in the hall.
Hiroshi then told us about the routes to the shores, a place where we could buy things, and so on. It was already noon by the time we were done with everything, and that meant it was time for lunch. However, Hiroshi entered the car and said it was about time for him to go.
"Urm...... I'll be preparing some food. So if you don't mind, how about joining us for lunch?"
Though he was doing it because he had lost a bet with Senpai, he was still loaning us the villa for free, and had even driven us all here. It just felt like we were chasing him away when he was no longer useful, and that didn't feel right.
"Nah, it's okay. I'll become really envious if I stay any longer."
Hiroshi rested his arm on the window of the driver's door and said that with a laugh. He then put on his sunglasses.
"Well then, I'll be coming here at noon the day after next to pick you guys up. Hey, Kyouko, make sure you clean up this place properly! I'm lending it to you all for free, but there are still some conditions attached."
And with that, he started the engine.
"Mmm, I know that, you loser."
Senpai's reply was pretty wicked as well.
Chiaki waved her hands energetically at the SUV moving away from us. Mafuyu remained silent.
"Well then......" Senpai turned around to face us all. "Comrade Ebisawa, please proceed with the opening speech for the training camp."
"...... Eh? M-Me?"
"Of course! You're the Chancellor of the Supreme Council! It's your duty to say something at times like these."
"Anything will do."
Mafuyu lowered her head and proceeded to draw a few circles on the sandy ground using the tip of her foot. Chiaki and Senpai maintained an upright standing posture while waiting for Mafuyu to deliver her speech. She suddenly lifted her head—probably because of the pressure coming from the two girls—and said,
"...... T-The training camp shall go on all the way till it is time for us to go home."
And what about after the training camp's over?
Chiaki willfully insisted that we have our lunch at the beach.
"There are plenty of books that say the sea breeze increases the taste of the onigiri by multiple-fold!"
"We'd have to wait till two if we started preparing the rice now. How about sandwiches instead?"
"Uhh—can't help it. I'll give in this time."
What's with that smug look on your face!
"How about we change out of our clothes while we wait?"
"Hold on a second. What's with the sudden desire to swim? What exactly are you here for?"
"To swim and suntan?"
It's to practice! Just as I was about to say that out loud, I saw Kagurazaka-senpai come out of the storeroom with a parasol and a rolled-up mat in her hands.
"So you guys are that excited about swimming!?"
"We can practice after the sun's set, so we should swim while the sun's still up. Isn't that right?"
Well, you're not wrong—no wait, can't fall into her trap.
"Alright, change out of your clothes, Comrade Ebisawa. I'll help rub the suntan lotion over every inch of your body."
With her intentions fully exposed for all to see, Kagurazaka-senpai grabbed Mafuyu by her hand. However, Mafuyu shook her head.
"I hate the sea."
"And I have never swum before. I'm scared."
"No problem. The shores here aren't shallow, so you won't be stepping on anything before long—there's no chance of you stepping on sea urchins."
Chiaki, why are you scaring her like that? Mafuyu remained seated on the sofa and shook her head. I actually thought a little bit about it though—heading to swim right now instead of starting off with practice did seem to be a pretty good idea, as it might help Mafuyu to settle down a little. However, that didn't seem to be the case.
"To think that we had specially purchased our swimsuits together," Chiaki complained while puffing her cheeks.
Senpai heaved a loud sigh, then said,
"Mmm, I get it. It'd be pointless for us to go to the beach if Comrade Ebisawa doesn't want to go. Let's start practicing after lunch. We can leave the swimming for later—when we're all sweating after our practice."
Chiaki began to tune the drum set in the main hall while Senpai tinkered around with the effects unit. As for me, I made my way into the kitchen. The kitchen was a small area right next to the main hall. Sadly, there was no gas, only an electric stove. Thankfully though, there was a large frying pan, which could come in handy if I wanted to make omelettes.
Just as I was about to drain the lettuce dry, the sound of the waves of the sea came in through the ventilators. I see, the kitchen's facing the sea. It was a real shame I wasn't able to see Mafuyu in her swimsuit...... I recalled the phone call from Chiaki. In the end, she never mailed me that photo—what sort of swimsuit did they buy?
"...... Need my help?" Mafuyu's voice came from behind me all of a sudden, causing me to nearly drop the cooking chopsticks on the floor.
"Eh? Ah, n-nah. It's fine."
"Why are you so surprised?"
I can't possibly say I was imagining you in a swimsuit, can I?
Since Mafuyu didn't use any effects units, she had already finished her tuning and had nothing to do. Then again, there wasn't much she could help me with for the sandwiches anyway.
"You cook frequently at home as well? Your father said something about it in one of his articles."
"Yeah. Tetsurou lacks all sorts of life skills."
Why did he write about his son cooking at home in his article? I really didn't understand, but something else intrigued me even more: why did the publisher continue to assign work to Tetsurou, who constantly wrote about stuff like this?
I began to think about Mafuyu's rather amazing life as I peeled the lettuce. It seemed like that was how pure pianists were raised and bred—they were not to injure their fingers no matter what, so they were banned from stepping in the kitchen.
How much despair did she experience when she lost the most important thing in her life—the piano? Or perhaps, she didn't feel any despair at all?
"So...... I do not really know what I should do."
Mafuyu said that as she squatted down at the door connecting the kitchen to the main hall. It felt like there was a deeper meaning to what she said—she wasn't just referring to work in the kitchen.
I guess—she must've been alone this whole time. A pianist is at his loneliest not when he is practicing alone, or when he is recording; he is at his loneliest when he is sitting in front of the orchestra, listening to the cello solo in the third movement of Johannes Brahms' <Piano Concerto No. 2>—that was something I had read in a certain biography.
However, Mafuyu wasn't by herself anymore, and I hoped she could realize that.
Still..... is it really possible? Can I make her understand that in three days, before the training camp is over?
If you asked who in the band moved the most—the answer would, without a doubt, be the drummer.
"But even so, you don't have to drum while wearing your swimsuit! Go change!"
"But it's so hot!"
After taking a short break after lunch, we immediately began our practice. The ventilation in the villa's main hall was pretty good, so it felt pretty comfortable even without any air conditioning. Even so, Chiaki, who sat between the drums and who was exercising her whole body, was already drenched in sweat. She changed into a bikini for her upper body, but still wore a pair of shorts on her lower body. I could catch glimpses of her sakura-pink bikini and her glistering skin—shining due to the sweat—through the drum set, and because of that, I was unable to concentrate even a single bit, resulting in me playing a few notes wrong.
During the practice, Senpai had repeatedly stopped our playing, which rarely ever happened. She then actually said this: "Everyone, just change into your swimwear!"
"Is there any point in doing this?"
"So we can feel the warmth of each other through our skin."
That's the logic? That will make me play worse, so no thanks.
However, I knew Senpai wasn't pausing practice because I was making mistakes. Senpai turned down the volume of her guitar and placed her guitar on the stand. She then walked towards the other side of the hall—towards Mafuyu, who was leaning against the back of her chair. Mafuyu glanced at Senpai before shifting her gaze back to the Stratocaster guitar in her hands.
"Comrade Ebisawa, you have two options right now......"
Senpai raised two of her fingers and showed them to Mafuyu. Mafuyu's body flinched.
"One: change into your swimsuit so we can feel the warmth of each other through our skin......"
"Or two: stop rushing ahead by yourself. You're not the only one playing."
Mafuyu sat down on the sofa. Despite her grumpily nodding her head, she didn't once look straight into Senpai's eyes.
Senpai stared at Mafuyu's forehead for a long while, then suddenly turned her body away.
"Let's take a fifteen-minute break to calm down."
And with that, she opened the glass door and stepped onto the balcony.
I had no idea what to say, and I couldn't get close to Mafuyu either. All I did was turn down the volume of my bass and place it on the stand; I then squatted down on the small carpet.
I lifted my head in surprise when I heard Chiaki speak. At the same time, I saw Mafuyu looking in the direction of the drums with an expression similar to mine.
"You performed much better on the day you first played together with us, you know?"
Isn't that a little too harsh and direct? But I felt the same way as well, and I believed Mafuyu knew it too.
It was on the sixth of July that the four of us played together for the very first time. We had yet to achieve the same standard of playing we had demonstrated in the <Kashmir> I had shown Ebichiri. How exactly did we manage to reach that standard back then? There was a sudden silence amid the stale hot air in the hall, which caused me to subconsciously remember the heat I had experienced back then.
Mafuyu and I exchanged sights for a brief moment. Even though she lowered her head instantly, I knew she, too, was also reminiscing about that time, as her eyes were fixated on my bass—a unique bass that I had customized all over again, to match the timbre of Mafuyu's guitar.
No, I should say...... it wasn't just me. Because there were four of us.
"I know," Mafuyu murmured.
"Then...... why can't we replicate our performance back then?"
Chiaki walked to Mafuyu's side and stuck her face close to Mafuyu's, to stare at her. Mafuyu turned her head away to look out the window.
"Back then, I wasn't—"
Mafuyu stopped abruptly. Back then, you weren't?
"You weren't—thinking about all these things that are troubling you?"
Chiaki knelt down in front of Mafuyu and finished Mafuyu's sentence for her. Seeing Mafuyu nod, Chiaki then went a step further.
"You know...... you can just forget about those troublesome things when you're playing with the band!"
Mafuyu didn't offer Chiaki a reply. Instead, she once again shifted her gaze back to her guitar. She swung the hand holding the pick, and a series of semiquavers flowed out from the high octaves, sounding just like the screech produced when a glass surface is scratched—it was the opening of the song <He Man Woman Hater> by Extreme. Back when I lent this CD to Mafuyu, she seemed to be particularly fond of the opening sequence of the song, which employed elements of the baroque organ. It wasn't long before she had practiced it to perfection. The scary thing was, in the original version, the opening of the song was played utilizing the delay of the dotted notes, and was dependent on the effects unit; however, Mafuyu managed to play out each and every note using only her hands. I hugged my knees silently, and immersed myself in the sounds of her guitar as they rained down on me.
Mafuyu was already so incredible by herself—
Her reason to be in the band, and the things she worried about—perhaps it's actually me who should be thinking about all these things instead? Is the unstable sound of Mafuyu's guitar a consequence of me being unable to catch up to her?
Suddenly, a series of metallic clashes overlapped with the sounds of the guitar. It was Chiaki. Unknown to me, she had already made her way back to her seat at the drums, and was stepping on the pedals of the cymbals in a sixteen-beat tempo to match Mafuyu. Mafuyu's guitar picked up speed, as though it were trying to break itself free of the tempo.
I picked up my bass again, and turned up the volume as I prepared to intervene in the duel between the two. However, I couldn't do it. Where exactly should I step in, and using which note? I was clueless.
It was because I couldn't follow their pace—
I let out a sigh and placed my bass on the sofa.
The words Senpai had said to me some time ago reverberated in my ears again: You aren't following us! You are our heart. You made it sound real easy, but......
Senpai's words forced themselves between Mafuyu's guitar and Chiaki's drums. Even though she wasn't using a mike, her voice managed to get the two girls to halt their performance in shock and turn their heads around. Senpai had re-entered the main hall without us noticing. She then removed her T-shirt, revealing only a blue bikini covering her upper body. I reflexively shielded my face with my hands. Is she for real?
"Ah well, let's just start with this song then. Comrade Aihara, please continue the sixteen-beat tempo. Young man, what are you waiting for? Hurry up and—"
"Urm, eh? S-Should I change into my swimwear as well?"
"Hmm? I'm referring to your bass."
Whoa! Damn, that was a really embarrassing misunderstanding. It's your fault for bringing that up earlier!
"I won't stop you if you want to change into your swimwear here."
"I never said that!"
I quickly slipped my arm through the strap of the bass. Chiaki began stepping on the pedals once again. The irritating tempo sounded as though someone had increased the speed of the ticking of the clock, causing the atmosphere of the main hall to instantly become tense.
"Comrade Ebisawa, come here for a moment."
Mafuyu was slightly surprised by Senpai's instruction. Senpai then asked Mafuyu to head right in front of the bass's amplifiers, and urged Mafuyu on with her hands. She then suddenly hugged Mafuyu—who was still carrying her guitar on her back—tightly from behind.
Mafuyu twisted her body about as she shrieked. What the hell is Senpai doing? Just as I was about to run towards Mafuyu, Senpai shot a fierce gaze at me with those beast-like eyes of hers, causing my legs to ignore my commands.
Senpai continued to tightly hug Mafuyu by her slender waist, using her left arm; she had no intention of letting go.
"Young man, the beats."
Even if she says that, what should I play?
"Anything is fine. We'll go along with you."
I shifted my gaze away from Senpai's face and exchanged sights with Chiaki. Her eyes were telling me "Idiot! Hurry up and play!"
I gave up and muted my bass. I paced myself to Chiaki's beats, then began playing the nearly scaleless opening with the dotted rhythms, which sounded like someone punching his fist against a stomach.
"L-let me go!"
Senpai was still holding tightly onto Mafuyu's right hand. Mafuyu was struggling really hard. Is there really a meaning behind all this? I continued playing with an uneasy feeling. It was obvious Chiaki was really fired up though, as her tempo was slowly picking up speed.
"Nope. Listen carefully."
I could hear Senpai's calm voice amid the beats.
"Music existed way before you were born, and will continue to exist even after you die. So, you don't have to worry. Just relax and listen. Even if you're not playing right now, you should still be able to hear the sounds you played earlier."
Mafuyu stopped struggling.
Just then, I heard it as well—like a surge of electricity, the reverberations of Mafuyu's guitar were wandering between the melodies of Chiaki and me.
"Can you hear it?"
For some unknown reason, I could even hear Senpai's soft murmurs as she whispered behind Mafuyu's ears. Mafuyu nodded her head with a blushing face.
"Do you want to play?"
I didn't catch Mafuyu's reply to Senpai's soft questioning this time around—or at the very least, I didn't notice she had nodded her head in response. The rhythm would become unstable if I didn't focus my attention on my hands.
"Mmm, but this still isn't enough......" Senpai said teasingly, and with that, she took the pick away from Mafuyu's right fingers. "I still can't let you play yet."
Senpai grabbed onto Mafuyu even tighter when she turned her head around. At the same time, the imagined sounds of Mafuyu's guitar were becoming clearer and clearer. I released the mute, allowing the bass to release its clear sounds...... Right there! Mafuyu's guitar should be joining in right there. Each and every descending note I played thereafter called out to Mafuyu—it was like they were slowly pumping blood into her limbs.
"Not yet...... Hold on, we're reaching there soon......."
In response to Senpai's low voice, Mafuyu's sweaty left hand was twiddling the six strings of her guitar. The interweaving noise was sandwiched between Chiaki and I, and the throbbing deepened. Is it not time yet? The pair of hands still isn't moving yet?
"Right, hold on...... Mmm, let's go..... 2, 3, 4"
Chiaki and I held on to our breaths as an electrifying sound blared out from the amplifiers of the guitar. The remnants of the opening of <He Man Woman Hater> in my ears became clear again, as though the missing pieces were completely filled in.
I raised my head as a chill ran through my body. There was a certain someone in front of the amplifiers—the silhouette of the person holding the guitar slowly became clearer and clearer. The fair fingers danced between the six strings while the slightly darker fingers held on to the pick and strummed the guitar around the pickup, creating an intense and incredible melody. I knew Mafuyu was the one pressing the chords with her left hand, while Senpai—who was hugging her from behind—was the one strumming the strings with her right hand. But...... how the hell did they do that? Is that really Mafuyu and Senpai, and not some unknown person whose name I don't even know?
No, I know her. While strumming my bass with my fingertips, constantly sending blood to her body, I realized I already knew what her name was—feketerigó.
She's right here—
The pleasant and numbing series of running notes had finally turned into tapping arpeggios. Senpai's fingers struck the strings with great intensity during the opening rhythm, and Mafuyu's fingers replied with three different notes, which sounded perfectly harmonious with the elaborate rhythms created by Chiaki and me. As the harmony gradually changed, a set of triplets leapt past the difference in the pitch of the scales in a single shot, as though it were streaking through torrential rain. What followed immediately afterwards was another set of incredibly strong triplets that stopped the rhythm.
And then, a moment of silence descended on the main hall—
Mafuyu let out a sweet moan, surprising me. I gathered my senses and took a quick look—Senpai, who was still hugging Mafuyu tightly from behind, had suddenly pulled away Mafuyu's long maroon-colored hair, and had started nibbling softly on her earlobe. What the heck is she doing!?
"Senpai! Geez—" Chiaki rushed towards them to pry them apart, almost knocking down the drum set in the process. Mafuyu finally regained her freedom, and the first thing she did was hide herself behind my back and stare at Senpai with a teary expression, just like that of a cat that had almost drowned.
"I really can't afford to be negligent around you!"
"Sorry sorry. I couldn't hold on any longer, so I accidentally......"
"Accidentally my ass!"
I couldn't help but retort her. What exactly is going through your mind during practice!?
"I mean, there's a delicious-looking pair of ears swaying in front of my eyes, yeah? Young man, you should know what I mean!"
"Who knows what you mean!? Don't drag me down with you!"
"Stupid Senpai! I've already told you you're not allowed to do such things as you please!"
In response to our rage, Senpai replied similarly to how a child throwing a tantrum would,
"But, it felt really comfortable just now, you know? Of course, I'm not talking about it in a sexual manner......"
"There was no need for that strange addition!"
Mafuyu moaned with an "Uhh—". Seemed like she had no intention of leaving my back just yet. I was surprised by her flushed face and teary eyes.
"I'm sorry. Next time, I'll remember to bite Comrade Aihara's ears too. There there, hurry up and return to your drums."
That sexual harasser. Chiaki returned to her seat at the drum set rather unwillingly after she was patted on the head. As for Senpai, she just laughed it off and walked back to her guitar.
I could still feel the remains of the throbbing and the heat in the surroundings of the hall, as well as inside myself.
So...... I guess that's how it is?
Senpai slipped her Les Paul guitar onto her shoulder. The instant she lifted the pick in her hand—there was no exchange of words, and no need for a countdown. We exchanged sights briefly—it felt like a jolt of electricity had run through us. Then, the perfectly synchronized playing began. The heavy beats, the riffs with the sextuplets slipped in, and also—even though I didn't play this song much, the melody of the bass naturally flowed from my fingertips. Mafuyu's guitar solo wove out a rainbow bridge from the peak of our integrated music. Senpai didn't use a mike, but the singing voice of <He Man Woman Hater> had definitely made its way vividly into our ears.
I could feel the warm body on my back. It was Mafuyu. She was right there. Before we knew it, we were no longer separated by a thick door. I could finally come into direct contact with her, and somehow, it felt like I could even hear the sound of her heartbeat.
It was a real pity we didn't record the session that day.
Night came rather quickly.
In the end, we didn't go to the beach that day—there was no time for us to do so, as nearly all our time was spent practicing. Even if one of us called for a rest, Mafuyu would hold on to her guitar and not let go. She would then wander around the drum set, as though she had something to say, and after a while, she would begin strumming a rhythmic jam session. Once she started playing her guitar, Chiaki would join in on the drums; then, practice would start again...... this process repeated itself all the way till night time.
When night descended, our only source of light was a single candle placed on the table on the balcony. The candlelight shone on Mafuyu's face, which was pressed against the neck of her guitar and facing downwards. She just came out of the shower, right? A towel still hung off her shoulders, and her wet hair was draped over it. A refreshing gust of wind blew through the comfortable shade of the night.
Is she thinking of something? Mafuyu finally raised her head when I placed a cup of Oolong tea on the table.
"There's sugar added to this."
"...... Thank you."
After thanking me with a soft voice, Mafuyu grabbed the cup with a complicated expression on her face, and took a sip from it.
"Is it nice drinking it sweet? Wouldn't the Oolong tea taste disgusting with sugar added to it?"
She suddenly lifted her head and looked at me with her eyebrows raised.
"Have you tried it before?"
"Then don't belittle Oolong tea with sugar added to it! Try it before coming to a conclusion."
Mafuyu stared at the cup of Oolong tea in my hand. Mine obviously had no sugar in it—I guess this is probably what you would call a cultural difference? I sat down quietly and took a gulp of my tea.
After putting the cup down, I allowed the night breeze to caress my hot arms and legs as it pleased. It somehow felt as though the asphyxiating sounds were still reverberating in my body.
Could Mafuyu understand my feelings as well? I sneaked a sideways glance. Her face looked furious. She suddenly covered my head with the towel that was on her shoulders.
"...... What's with this!?"
"Because you have a really smug expression on your face!" She was angry. "I-It's not your win yet! The victory has not been decided!"
And with that, Mafuyu went back to staring at her palms again. What a stubborn person she is......
"Still...... everything's good. I feel at ease now," I sighed.
"Because music never lies."
Somehow...... it felt like there wouldn't be any problems in the future if we could continue to play this sort of music. Mafuyu kicked me hard in the calves a few times. That hurts! What the heck are you doing!
"Don't be so complacent!"
Mafuyu picked up her guitar and turned her body away in a fit of anger. She would probably become angrier if I laughed right this moment, right? So, to stifle my laughter, I brought the cup of Oolong tea to my mouth.
"I'm just not thinking about other things when I am playing the guitar."
"Because you feel really happy when you're playing the guitar?"
She was silent for quite a while, and had an unhappy expression on her face; then, she finally gave a slight nod. Isn't that great? I think that should be all there is to it.
The glass door was pushed open, and Chiaki walked out of the hall as she dried her hair with a towel.
"Right, you guys know where Senpai is?" Chiaki asked after sitting down in the chair next to me. "She asked me to tell her when everyone was done with their baths, but she's not in her room."
She probably went somewhere. Then again, there was only the forest, the beach and the road nearby, so there weren't many places she could go.
"Should I take a bath ahead of her then?"
"You can't! Nao has to clean the bathroom and wash our clothes, so you have to bathe last!"
...... I accepted her explanation, but...... something feels wrong somewhere? Why are all the jobs thrown at me?
"Where exactly did she go—"
We looked in the direction of the fence around the balcony, and into the vast dark forest.
The sound of leaves brushing suddenly came from the back of the villa. Chiaki ran to the edge of the balcony and stuck her body out.
A silhouette appeared from the darkness—it was Kagurazaka-senpai. She had let down her hair instead of tying it up as usual, causing the contours of her silhouette to become blurred. She was holding her guitar by the neck, allowing the body of the guitar to hang freely below her.
"Where did you go?"
Senpai said softly, showing a weak smile. The beach? But it's already dark out there?
When I returned to the balcony with Senpai and Chiaki's cups of Oolong tea in my hands, Senpai was already sitting in the chair opposite of where I was sitting earlier.
"Did something happen?"
"Mmm......" Senpai looked into the sky as she pondered on how to continue her sentence. "One song's not enough. But at a time like this......"
I sat opposite of Senpai, and saw an empty score next to the candle. She's still composing? But we're less than two weeks away from the actual performance.
"Fifty minutes should be a breeze if it's just a jam session, right?" Chiaki said. "Not only is Senpai here, but Mafuyu's around as well. It should be a piece of cake for us to play for fifty minutes if we're on a high."
It was definitely possible for Chiaki and Mafuyu to play on and on if no one interrupted them.
"All I've done is bring the score here."
Senpai stretched herself hesitantly.
"I feel like inserting a slow song in the middle. I was thinking I should be able to come up with something if I soak myself in the sea at night...... But I couldn't come up with anything, even after making my way down to the shore."
"That's dangerous! Please don't do that again!"
She was someone who would actually jump into the sea with her guitar on her, so that was quite scary.
"The current me is spoilt for choice."
She said that while staring at the water droplets running down the surface of the glass cup. Spoilt for choice?
"The things we can do now, and the things we can't...... I want to try them all. I mean, it's rare for us to get fifty minutes of performance time."
I thought about it for a while. This'll be our very first live performance, so there's no need for you to go all out for it, right?
"How about we perform some songs by The Eagles? I want to try playing <Desperado>. It should be fine for us to do a cover or two in our performance, right?"
We've always warmed up playing various songs by The Eagles, but why hadn't we played that song before? It was a song I really liked...... but Senpai shook her head gloomily.
"We won't perform that song."
I was surprised at how straightforward Senpai was in her objection to my suggestion.
"I can't exactly say why. And it's not like I really like The Eagles either."
"Urm......" Then...... why are we always practicing their songs? But I could somewhat understand after Senpai said that. Senpai's preference was skewed towards the hard rock of the early days, when the guitar and the bass played together in unison. In contrast, The Eagles was a band that composed melodies that were pleasing to the ears, and their songs had a mature air about them. This rock band—that had released award-winning singles one after another—was kind of an extreme counter example to what she liked.
"What sort of song is that?" Mafuyu, who was sitting next to me, asked.
I was certain the song was in the iPod I brought...... but I swallowed back the words that were about to come out of my mouth. The opening of the song was played by a piano. Somehow, it didn't feel like it'd be a good idea to let Mafuyu listen to that song.
I borrowed Mafuyu's guitar and tried my hardest to recall the fingering I wasn't too familiar with. I began playing <Desperado>. The cheers followed right after the end of the opening melody.
Desperado. Why didn't I notice it sooner?
You been out ridin' fences for so long now—
A hand suddenly stretched out in my direction and grabbed hold of the neck of the guitar, with my left hand still on it. That shocked me. I shut my mouth, lifted my head up, and saw Senpai right in front of me. She had stretched over the table, from the opposite side, to stop me from playing any further.
I couldn't even speak, due to my shock—instead, Chiaki was the one who let out a tiny whimper in my stead. I couldn't pry my gaze away from Senpai's eyes. It was as though the darkness in her eyes was swallowing me up.
What's...... going on?
"Ah, nothing. Sorry."
Senpai forced a smile and released her hand. I was certain that smile was a facade.
"I really...... don't wanna hear that. Not because young man's bad at singing, or because you're playing the guitar badly."
"But he was playing the guitar badly."
Mafuyu mumbled. Sorry about that! Forget it, I won't play anymore. Suffering a blow to my self-esteem, I pushed the Stratocaster back into Mafuyu's hands.
Senpai stood up. Her long hair spread out behind her back.
"I'll be back after a shower. Young man, it's about time you decide who you'll be sleeping with."
"I already said I'll be sleeping on the sofa below!"
Senpai laughed and waved her hand gently, then disappeared into the other side of the glass door. Geez......
What was going on with Senpai just now?
For a moment, her eyes—there seemed to be a hint of loneliness in them.
I cleaned the bathroom after I finished showering. As for the clothes I should've been washing—hold on a second, is that group of girls actually expecting me to wash their swimsuits as well? Please consider for a moment that I'm a guy here, yeah!?
After I finished the chores, I returned to the hall. There was no one to be seen among the guitar stands and amplifiers and stuff. The air felt slightly cold. Even though it was summer, the temperature dropped considerably at night.
Speaking of which, I was supposed to sleep on the sofa, but there weren't any pillows or blankets in the main hall. I'll probably catch a cold if I fall asleep without them. There should be spare blankets in the bedrooms, right?
I was a little troubled when I made my way to the second floor—I had no idea who was staying in what room. Ah, whatever. I'm just here to borrow some blankets anyway.
I knocked on the door closest to the stairs.
"...... It's not locked."
Came a weak-sounding voice. Mmm, it's Mafuyu huh? I was strangely nervous when I opened the door.
"W-Why are you here?"
Looked like she was nervous as well. Mafuyu was sitting on her bed in her green pajamas. The room was all dark. She had curled herself up and was staring in my direction as she hugged her pillow.
"Urm...... are there any spare blankets around? I want to borrow one from you."
Mafuyu nodded her head and pointed at the door of the storage space. She then shifted her eyes back to the screen of the handphone she was holding...... Hmm?
"You brought your handphone here?"
I remembered her saying she didn't when I had asked her earlier.
"Papa wanted me to bring it along. But I don't really know how to use it."
"Ah, I see." That was something to be expected from Ebichiri, who doted on his daughter a little too much.
"And I do not really know how to store phone numbers......"
"Wait a bit."
I walked downstairs to grab my handphone. Then, after returning, I keyed in the number Mafuyu told me and called it. The default ringtone rang from Mafuyu's handphone.
Mafuyu almost dropped her phone in panic, but I managed to catch it before it hit the ground. My phone number appeared on the LCD screen of the phone.
"...... Should I help you store this number?"
As I was exchanging numbers with her and teaching her how to store the number in her phone, a heavy-sounding orchestral ringtone rang from Mafuyu's phone.
"...... It's from Papa," Mafuyu pouted.
What piece is that...... Gluck's opera? It was the aria sung by the character Agamemnon in <Iphigénie en Aulide>—Ah, my lovely daughter. Looks like Ebichiri has already stored his number in Mafuyu's handphone, and set a customized ringtone for it. I had never seen a father who doted on his own daughter as much as he did.
"Mafuyu? Is that Mafuyu? You're still awake? There's a time difference of fourteen hours...... Isn't it twelve midnight over there already!?"
Mafuyu received the phone call by placing her handphone next to her ears. Ebichiri's voice came out of the speakers right after; he was so loud even I could hear him. Damn, you're noisy. If you know it's midnight here, lower your volume already. Mafuyu knitted her brows and tossed the handphone to the other side of the bed.
"I am about to go to sleep."
She said softly towards the phone, which had rolled all the way to the end of the bed.
"Are your fingers alright? Did you apply an ice compress on them? You didn't go down to the beach and play in the water, right? The sea breeze is bad for your skin and your hair, so you will have to—"
How can she converse with him with the phone so far away?
"Mmm, I'm fine."
"Do not even think of not covering yourself with a blanket when you sleep, just because it's summer. How is the place you're staying at? Do they have beds there? You guys are not sleeping together with mattresses laid on the floor, right? I-It can't be that you're sharing a room with Hikawa's son, right?"
Mafuyu answered him with an irritated expression on her face,
"Mmm, he's currently right next to me."
Ebichiri's voice became strange, sounding something like a lion gritting its teeth, so Mafuyu tossed her pillow at the phone to knock it off the bed. She then swiftly proceeded to power it off, though it looked more like she was about to stomp on it with her foot. The bedroom fell into silence once again.
"...... It'll be really troublesome later on, right?"
"Who cares. I do not really care what that person thinks."
Seems like there's still quite some distance to go before the Ebisawa father and daughter can reconcile.
"But how could he hear you despite you being that far away from the phone?"
"Papa specially ordered this custom-made phone for me. He says it would be dangerous if my two hands were tied down when I used the phone. Therefore, he wanted the phone to be usable even if it were hanging off my neck or placed next to the table."
Ah, I see. Mafuyu could only hold the phone with her left hand, since her right fingers were immobile; so both her hands would be occupied when the phone was in use. But to include microphones with that sort of performance just for that reason alone...... isn't that a little too extreme?
"I think it has all sorts of secondary functions as well—like the ability to retaliate against molesters."
Rather than pitying Ebichiri, I think it was Mafuyu who deserved more pity—it was a real pain to have that type of parent. Now's not the time for me to be talking about others though—this time, it was my handphone that was ringing. I glanced at the screen and briefly wondered if I should just ignore the call. However, things might've become even more troublesome if I ignored it, so I chose to pick up instead.
"Eh? Ah, nothing. I heated the bathing water myself, and even finished brushing my teeth. I just want Nao to praise me a little."
Upon hearing Tetsurou's strangely happy voice, my mood plummeted all the way down to the bottom.
"Fine, go to sleep already."
"But it feels so empty sleeping by myself. At least say 'good night' to me or something!"
And so, I switched my handphone off as well. I was irritated to the point that I had no idea what I should say next.
Mafuyu let out a giggle while sitting next to me on the bed. She had finally laughed. Perhaps Tetsurou's idiocy isn't totally bad after all.
Is now the right time for me to talk to her about it? About the things Ebichiri told me, as well as the things about the piano......
Noticing my gaze, Mafuyu returned to her serious expression. I quickly shifted my eyes away. How should I start?
Just then, a series of footsteps came from outside the door. The doorknob twisted, and I stood up in surprise as the door suddenly flung open.
In the next instant, a patch of white suddenly obscured my sight—something impacted my face right after, causing me to fall backwards.
"Sneak attack successful—eh? What's Nao doing in Mafuyu's room?"
Chiaki's question landed on us. I sat myself up, and looked at the thing that fell on my stomach. I finally realized the thing that flew towards me was a pillow.
"...... W-What's going on?"
Mafuyu's uneasy voice came from behind me.
"What else? A pillow fight, of course! It's the night of the training camp right now. Are you really going to sleep now?"
"Night is the time for us to sleep."
"Too naive! Hey Nao, move away!" Chiaki was wearing a set of loose-fitting pajamas. She stepped past my body to pick up the pillow. She then used daijodan Judo techniques and began her assault on Mafuyu, swinging the pillow downwards from above her head. Please, I beg you, quiet down a little! Just then, Chiaki suddenly turned her body to face away, and knocked down an incoming pillow with her arm.
"As expected from a Judo expert. It's like there are eyes on the back of your head."
Senpai, who was standing next to the door, had put on a fearless smile on her face. I was strangely tired all of a sudden, and the only thing that went through my head was something like "So Senpai's pajamas are blue huh."
"Senpai, you're really despicable to sneak an attack on me like that!"
Look who's talking. Didn't you do the same to me?
"Right, so that means young man has decided to sleep together with Comrade Ebisawa?"
"T-That's not......" "Not at all!"
Mafuyu and I objected at the same time, but we didn't continue on after that. Because Chiaki had picked up the pillow again and slammed it in my face at full force. "Geez! Stupid Nao!"
And with that, Senpai came into the bedroom as well, marking the official start of the pillow fight. All Mafuyu did was hide herself on the other side of the bed—the only things she did were defend herself and retaliate, throwing the pillows back in the direction they came from. She was quite accurate with her throws—though most her throws were directed at me.