And here marks the start of the drama.
I woke up to the sounds of the piano.
I could clearly see the grain of the tall wooden ceiling, but for a brief moment, I wasn't sure where I was. I tried to sit up, but I nearly fell off the sofa instead. The blankets were on the floor—perhaps I kicked them off because of the heat?
Hmm? The pillow fight...... what time did we play till? My memory was a blur, as I was exhausted back then. I didn't even remember making my way back to the hall to sleep.
I sat up on the sofa. My view reached all the way to the other side of the hall, and I saw the back of someone with long black hair sitting in front of the piano. It was Kagurazaka-senpai. She used her slender fingers to tap the keys of the piano as lightly as she could, as though she were trying to write on the surface of water. Her singing voice, overlapping with the sounds of the piano, sounded much more tender than usual.
I fixed my sight on her long hair, which swayed to the rhythm of the song, until the song was over.
"...... Morning! You were sleeping really soundly. Were you that exhausted?"
Once she finished playing the song, Senpai stood up from her chair and turned around to look at me.
"The look of your sleeping face is just too cute. I was deliberating between punching or kissing you awake. In the end, I chose to wake you up with my singing instead."
Why weren't there options that were much more normal?
"Senpai, you know how to play the piano too?"
"Me? Well, not really."
Senpai closed the lid of the keyboard quietly, then walked in my direction and sat down on the sofa next to me.
"How was it?"
"How was what?"
"You were listening the whole time, right?"
"...... A new song? The one you mentioned yesterday."
Senpai nodded. I lifted my leg onto the sofa, and swallowed the words I was about to say. How should I go about saying this?
"Somehow, it feels like...... it's overly done?"
"The tune is beautiful, but it sounds like the school anthem of some middle school. We'll just bore our audience if we perform that on stage."
Senpai laughed heartily.
"Those are some interesting words you're using there, young man...... but I get what you mean. This song won't do." Senpai leaned against the sofa and looked up. "How stupid of me to be thinking about such things right now. I was thinking...... that the piece would be better if Comrade Ebisawa was the one playing the piano."
It's..... probably me thinking too much into things? But I don't think the piano should be used for that song.
"Hey, young man. I think I've managed to gather the best members for the band. But that makes me spoilt for choice, and I'm slowly unable to find my own music. What irony. It feels so painful—just because I'm no longer alone; just because there are people around me who can do the things I can't do."
What's happening? Why is she saying all this all of a sudden?
"Senpai, you've been acting strange since yesterday."
Senpai let out her usual laugh, though it seemed a little forced.
"Don't you worry! I'm really happy to be able to partake in a training camp with you guys!"
Senpai then stood up and said, with an exceptionally cheerful voice,
"Young man, I'm hungry. Comrade Aihara should be back from her jog soon, so hurry up and start preparing our breakfast! I'll go wake Comrade Ebisawa with a morning kiss."
Just as I was about to block Senpai from making her way to the stairs, the door of a room on the second floor opened. Mafuyu walked out in her pajamas, rubbing her sleepy-looking eyes. That was close.
"We must have onigiri at the beach today!"
Chiaki said that immediately after we were done with our morning practice. Yes yes yes, I get it.
"I knew you'd say that, so I've already cooked the rice. I've also already filled the flasks with tea."
"Wow, that's impressive of you, Nao. Do you have ESP or something? How did you know I wanted to go to the beach for lunch?"
"Looking at you, it couldn't be more obvious. You've already inflated the swimming tubes, right?"
"Young man, prepare more omelettes. The dishes you make with eggs are really something!"
Senpai began taking the beach equipment—which included a foldable deck chair—out of the storeroom as she said that. These girls are really hyped about playing huh...... didn't you say a single song wasn't enough?
"We have to play when it's time to play! It's not like inspiration will come to me if I lock myself in a room and cry!"
While preparing the rice in the kitchen, I heard the footsteps of two people making their way up the stairs; and not long after, I heard them coming back down.
"Nao, look here!" A voice called out to me from behind.
I stuck my head out to look into the hall, and what appeared before me was Chiaki and Senpai in their swimsuits. Uwaa! Though I had seen them in half of that attire yesterday, the impact of seeing them in their full swimsuits was completely different from before.
Chiaki's swimsuit included a sarong around her waist, which looked a little childish; she also held a gigantic swimming tube and an inflatable killer whale doll in her hands. Juxtaposing Chiaki with Senpai, whose figure rivaled that of a model, there was an incredibly clear...... urm, contrast between the two of them (in many different aspects). Moreover, I could see the drum set, the huge Marshall amplifiers and the rest of the gear behind them—the whole scene just seemed surreal.
"Hey, snap out of your daze! Don't you have anything to say about this?"
"Well...... how about you girls wear this on stage during our actual performance?"
"Senpai, did you hear what he said?"
"Mmm, we can consider it." Don't take it seriously!
Chiaki turned her head around to look at Mafuyu, who was sitting on the sofa tuning her guitar. "Mafuyu, hurry up and change too." Mafuyu shook her head.
"Let's practice instead."
Mafuyu had become a practicing fanatic after our session yesterday. She was the same today as well—she had refused to let go of her guitar ever since we finished our breakfast. She seemed to be in a bad mood, as usual, but I think it was because she couldn't practice even though she really wanted to. There was nothing bad about that though.
"Moreover, I can't swim."
"But you bought a swimsuit!"
Chiaki stepped up her attack against the cowering Mafuyu.
"Geez, Mafuyu is never united with the band!"
Mafuyu seemed shocked. She looked at Chiaki, Senpai and me.
There's no need for you to put it so harshly—Mafuyu suddenly stood up as I thought that.
"...... I understand. I'll come back after changing."
She then made her way up the stairs and into her room.
"Nao, you go change too."
Chiaki kicked me in the back.
"Eh? Me too?" I don't particularly enjoy swimming.
"But of course! Why else do you think we came to the beach?"
Senpai followed up with, "You're a guy anyway, so it's fine if you just join us in your underwear."
"N-No way! I get it, you guys head over there first. I'll bring the onigiri when I'm done changing."
It's really easy for guys to change into their swimsuits, and we don't have to apply that troublesome stuff on our skin either.
Because of that, I had finished kneading the onigiri and wrapping the omelets in aluminum foil before Mafuyu even left her room. She probably needs more time to change because of her right hand? A girl was changing on the second floor while I was preparing the food—somehow, the whole situation felt a little strange.
It seemed awkward to wait for Mafuyu to finish changing, so I yelled towards the second floor. "I'll be going first!" I then put on a sweatshirt and made my way down to the beach.
Mafuyu arrived a while later. After seeing her violet-colored swimsuit beneath her hoodie, I finally understood the reason behind Chiaki's persistence. Their swimsuits were the same style; the only difference was the color.
"Nao, take a photo of us!"
Chiaki ran to Mafuyu excitedly.
"Young man, what should I do? I'm facing a problem here."
Senpai was lying next to me beneath the parasol. She said that to me with a sweet voice, after taking a look at Mafuyu, and then Chiaki.
"The two of them are just too beautiful. What a headache."
How do you expect me to answer that!? Just sleep quietly!
We laid our mat down on a small sandy area between the boulders, and sat down to have lunch. Because the space was small, I could easily see Mafuyu's fair skin at a very close distance. And then there was Chiaki's tanned skin, as well as Senpai's—urm...... in any case, I was the only one eating lunch facing the cliffs. However, they had no intention of letting me off easily.
"Nao, I want to eat the dried plums, so help me peel them."
"Peel them yourself!"
"Young man, I've spilled tea on my swimsuit. Can you help me wipe it off?"
"Wipe it off yourself!"
"Naomi, help me wrap the seaweed."
"Wrap—" No wait, Mafuyu can't do that by herself, right? Since she only had one mobile hand. When I was preparing the onigiri, I packed the components similar to how the convenience stores did—with the seaweed separated from the rice. If I had thought of this earlier, I would've just wrapped the seaweed on the onigiri.
"Nao, you spoil Mafuyu too much! You have to let her do things like this herself."
Didn't you ask me to do everything as well!?
"And so I'll be eating this—" "You can't!"
Chiaki and Mafuyu pounced towards the wrapped onigiri in my hand at the same time, resulting in them crashing into me and crushing me below them. Hey! We're touching each other in a lot of places, and it hurts! As I struggled fiercely beneath Chiaki's tummy, Senpai took the onigiri from me and ate it.
"A peaceful resolution. Can I sit at the very top?"
"Please stop. I'll be squashed to death."
I crawled my way out from beneath Mafuyu's and Chiaki's bodies, and immediately distanced myself from all of them to catch my breath.
I don't remember Chiaki's chest being that well-developed, so when did they—no wait, what the heck am I thinking here!? Calm down. Deep breaths. I looked at them while squatting down and saw Chiaki and Mafuyu staring at each other. The view of both of them in their swimsuits reached my eyes once again, and for a long while, I couldn't make my way back to the mat.
We were all sweaty after lunch, so Chiaki pulled Mafuyu to the beach right after they had both finished eating. Putting an unwilling expression on her face, Mafuyu protested, "But I said I couldn't swim!"
"I told you it's okay! Just hold onto Torajirou!" Chiaki said, as she roughly patted the giant inflatable killer whale doll. So you even gave it a name huh......
"B-But...... what if I fall off?"
"Nao and I will be there beside you. Isn't that right?" Eh, I have to follow along?
"Geez, are you trying to disrupt the unity of the band again?"
Mafuyu finally nodded her head, rather unwillingly. Seemed like we could get her to do whatever we wanted as long as we mentioned the unity of the band.
Chiaki had already pulled Mafuyu's hoodie away from her. Mafuyu grabbed tightly onto the killer whale Torajirou, but the moment the tip of her toes came into contact with the sea, a frightened expression appeared on her face.
Chiaki said exasperatingly, "It'll be even more dangerous if you continue to bend your legs like that. You'll fall off!"
"But I'll get wet......"
"We're at the sea, so of course we'll get wet!"
Chiaki pushed Torajirou into the sea without hesitation.
"Nao too. Quick."
I quickly went into the water and swam to the left of Torajirou to help maintain its balance. I accidentally touched Mafuyu's thighs just once—I quickly retracted my hands in shock, and nearly drowned while doing so. Mafuyu's smooth legs and her incredibly slender waist were so close I could reach out and touch them. I dared not face her at all, so the only thing I could do was continue staring at the nose of the killer whale doll. I could feel my heart thumping in the cool waters of the sea.
Mafuyu shut her eyes as she hugged the killer whale doll tightly. She even trembled for quite a while before she finally stopped struggling and let down her legs. The sea was not shallow; even though we were only a slight distance away from the beach, the water had already come up to my shoulders. Because I was only wearing a pair of beach slippers, I could occasionally feel the sharp edges of the rocks below.
"It's so cold......" Mafuyu mumbled.
"But it feels comfortable, right?"
Chiaki, who was on the other side of the killer whale doll, said.
Mafuyu opened her eyes timidly. Because Chiaki had been swimming forward nonstop, we were already a considerable distance away from the beach. From where we were, we could see the contours of the seawall, which was made up of multiple wave-dissipating blocks stacked together. A bunch of cumulonimbus clouds were gradually gathering right above it. The waves were constantly pushing us back to the shore, but we went against the current and swam further outwards.
In front of our eyes was a stretch of deep blue, and a stretch of sky blue above it. At the boundary of the two—at the horizon—white overflowed. It felt like my limbs had dissolved into the cool waters of the sea—the only thing that proved I existed there was my heartbeat.
"...... It's beautiful."
Those words slipped out from between Mafuyu's lips. Ever since we hit the waters, Mafuyu had been grabbing my right arm tightly. I could feel the trembling of her hand gradually dying down.
I lifted myself up onto the left fin of the killer whale doll and scanned the surface of the sea.
The sea that stretched endlessly outwards was the same color as Mafuyu's eyes.
How I wish time would just stop like this.
If the skies forever continue to be as clear as they are now, Mafuyu and I could probably swim anywhere we wanted.
However, my slowly drifting thoughts were pulled back to reality by Chiaki's voice.
"And next, we have to get Mafuyu used to coming into contact with the water."
The inflated doll shook violently, and a splash of cold water flew into my ears. I quickly grabbed hold of Mafuyu's arms to support her.
"It's fine, it's just seawater!"
Chiaki began splashing the water onto Mafuyu's body. From the sound of Chiaki's voice, she seemed to be really happy. Mafuyu kept moving about in an attempt to avoid the attacks from Chiaki, which forced me to waste a lot of effort maintaining the balance of the killer whale doll. Though this time around, Mafuyu did retaliate against Chiaki.
After having her fun bullying Mafuyu, Chiaki said, from the other side of the killer whale doll,
"It's about time for us to head back?"
"I want to go back as soon as possible." Mafuyu's voice sounded like it was close to tears.
"Nao and I will be swimming back first. Do your best with Torajirou!"
With her face turning pale, Mafuyu grabbed me tightly by my arm, so much that her fingernails dug into the back of my hand.
Even after we had our fun at the beach, the summer sun was still shining high above the skies. When we were all done showering, Senpai instructed us to "take a little rest" before she locked herself up in her room. I saw her take her guitar with her, so she's probably trying to come up with a new song?
The food stocks were about to be depleted, so I decided to go out to do some shopping.
As I was walking back to the villa, carrying the plastic bags in my hands, I heard the sound of a piano coming from inside.
After walking past the forest, I could see inside the hall through the balcony. Sitting on the piano seat was a person with long maroon-colored hair, swaying herself slowly to the gentle tempo of the accompaniment.
Perhaps it was because she had heard the sound of my footsteps—Mafuyu closed the lid of the keyboard and stood up. Her ears are as sharp as ever.
What song was she playing......?
When I opened the door and entered the main hall, Mafuyu was shaking her head vigorously, despite me not having asked her anything.
"Y-You heard wrong. There was nothing at all."
I glanced around the hall. Chiaki was curled up, sleeping on the sofa. I guess she must've been dead tired after the morning jog, the practice and the swim. After seeing how bad her sleeping posture was (she was about to fall head first onto the floor), I pushed her back onto the sofa and covered her tummy with a blanket. Regardless of how hot summer is, you shouldn't sleep with your navel revealed.
"Senpai...... is she still upstairs?" I asked Mafuyu, while placing the stuff I had bought into the fridge.
"I haven't heard the sounds of a guitar, so she might be asleep."
I see, sounds like a good time for a quick nap. Ah, no wait—this may be my only chance to speak alone with Mafuyu, as Chiaki had barged into Mafuyu's room and disrupted us yesterday.
When I walked back into the hall from the kitchen, Mafuyu was already out on the balcony. She was playing the tune she had played earlier on the piano with her Stratocaster guitar, though it wasn't connected to the amplifiers. I grabbed my bass and walked past the glass door to join her.
"This is Senpai's composition, right?"
"This is the first time the band has tried to write a song about love, so we probably don't have much of an idea of how to go about it. How should we compose the song?"
"I don't know why, but somehow, it feels like all the songs Kyouko has written are not compatible with her own voice at all."
I looked at Mafuyu's face in surprise.
"...... What?" Mafuyu tilted her head with a confused expression on her face.
When did she start...... addressing Senpai directly by her name? And that means...... no, I don't think that's the case.
"You were talking about them being incompatible..... What does that mean?"
Mafuyu looked in the direction of the second floor as she spoke.
"Whenever Kyouko composes songs, she seems to compose them with a male singer in mind."
Upon hearing Mafuyu say that, I realized it might actually be true. Senpai deliberately lowered her vocal range whenever she sang—but I didn't pay any particular attention to it, as I thought that was just how she sang.
"And so...... if the song is slow, she can no longer conceal it with her voice."
I gave an "Oh—" and couldn't help but stare at Mafuyu's face for a long time. Thinking about it a little deeper, this girl had been growing up in the world of music since she was born—perhaps that's why she notices these minute details so quickly?
However, Mafuyu didn't go on any further than that. It was my turn to take over. In order to prevent the quiet song from being destroyed, I'd have to support Senpai's voice. But how should I go about doing it?
I couldn't come up with any ideas, despite hugging onto my bass for a while. I was suddenly thrown into an illusion, where dust piled endlessly on my shoulders, and thus, prevented me from moving.
"But I think the piano will make things even worse."
I raised my head hesitantly when I heard Mafuyu say that.
"...... You heard...... the song in the morning?"
"Were you the one playing the song this morning?"
"Nope, that was Senpai."
Mafuyu placed her immobile right hand on the table. Despite being someone who wore her heart on her sleeve, I couldn't read the expression on Mafuyu's face at that moment.
"Mafuyu, don't you...... hate it?"
I tried asking her. Mafuyu turned her head to face me.
"The piano. You were playing it just now, right?"
"I have already decided not to think about those things anymore."
Which meant she had been thinking about such things till not too long ago. I mean, she hadn't even chosen music as her elective.
"Moreover, all over the world, there is evidence of me playing the piano. There is no point in shutting my ears and ignoring it."
"That's quite a unique way of looking at things......"
"Because Papa always plays my CDs when he is at home. I would not be able to hold on if I didn't think that way."
Ebichiri...... that's just too much! That's why your daughter hates you!
"If so, then......" I chose my words carefully. "If your fingers could move again—"
I paused halfway into my question to take a quick peek at Mafuyu's face. She wasn't angry. Probably.
"—Would you play it again?"
"Did Papa request you to ask me that?"
"Ugh!" I made a weird sound on accident. Shit, I've been found out!
"Papa said he went to your house, and he said you were much more decent than he had originally thought."
So Ebichiri's the one who told her that! But then...... there was nothing wrong with that either. I mean, he must've told her why he suddenly allowed her to join the training camp. Urm, what to do? There's no point in hiding it with the way things have developed, right?
"Mmm, something like that. But that's not all there is to it......"
I, too, wished to hear Mafuyu play the piano again. I had said it before, but Mafuyu didn't give me a response back then. What should I say for now?
"Do you want to hear me play the piano again?"
Mafuyu actually took the initiative and asked me that question, which surprised me a lot. I was stunned speechless for a moment, then finally answered with a silent nod.
"But...... you've already listened to all my CDs, right?"
"That's not the point, is it? They didn't record the pieces I like."
"Things like Beethoven's <Les Adieux> sonata. You said in an interview before, that you liked that piece, right? I want to listen to the complete recording in full clarity! The sound quality of the tape you sent me was no good at all. And there's also <Waldstein>—even though I don't like it that much, it'd just feel like something was missing if you didn't record that on a CD. As for <Appassionata>, you'd have to play that properly too! Felix Mendelssohn...... you'd have to at least record the whole of his <Lieder ohne Worte> series. Additionally, aside from all that, I hope you'd also consider recording some fugues for the piano—Urm, wait...... that's not the point!"
Without me realizing, I had rattled on and on about my own feelings, and was even laughed at by Mafuyu. Geez, I can't go on any further if you do that. I shut my mouth unhappily, and allowed my gaze to fall on my bass.
"...... But, I am not in the band to play the piano, right? Because I am a guitarist here."
"Eh? Ah, no......"
"So let's not talk about that for now. Because I am not really sure about it myself."
Somehow, it felt like Mafuyu had misunderstood something. If, in the future, we composed a song that required the accompaniment of a piano, and if Mafuyu's fingers were completely healed by then, wouldn't it be natural for me to want Mafuyu to play the piano for that? No wait, you can't really put it like that......
The problem doesn't lie in whether she's a guitarist or a pianist—
I tried asking her again, "Well...... have you solved your problems with regards to the band?"
"You should understand...... your reason for joining the band, right?"
That was the promise between Mafuyu and me. However, she shook her head.
"Haven't you figured it out yet? We were that......"
"It's you......!" Mafuyu suddenly interrupted my words loudly. "It's because you do not understand!"
I was stunned.
"You said..... I don't understand?"
"You do not understand me."
Mafuyu stared at me with tears in her eyes. Of course, I never understood her that well, and now was no exception. "But...... that has nothing to do with what we're discussing, right?"
Mafuyu suddenly turned her head away to face the forest; so I could only swallow half that question back in my mouth.
"Then what is your reason for joining the band?"
"...... Why huh? It's because Chiaki and Senpai invited me to join."
"I don't mean it that way."
If you don't mean it that way, then what other reason is there for me to join the band? To play the bass? To pump the blood into the hands and legs? Is that really all there is to it? Why does it have to be Mafuyu? Why does it have to be me? There should be a deeper reason to that—
That's right. I shouldn't be here just for the sake of playing a musical instrument. If there was a reason I had to be in the band, despite the huge difference in skill compared to the other members, then it'd be because I could see the things Senpai couldn't see from her perspective. The things she couldn't realize if she didn't feel it with her heart—the sounds she couldn't imagine if she didn't hold the bass in her hands.
Just then, a song suddenly appeared in my mind.
I could almost hear the final product produced after weaving our music in with Senpai's singing voice. I picked up my bass once again. Because of that sudden strike of inspiration, I left my words hanging halfway.
At that moment, I had planned to say something important—something really important—to Mafuyu. I should've said it back then. If I had, maybe we wouldn't have passed each other by.
However, the me back then was already engulfed by music. I tried replaying the sounds in my head, strumming the strings with my fingers. Can I materialize it? I wouldn't know without recording it and listening to it. We had a recorder around, but Senpai and Chiaki were sleeping. Moreover, it'd be really embarrassing if I failed, so I preferred to try it out alone.
"What's going on?"
Mafuyu asked me suddenly. She probably found it strange that I was in a sudden fluster.
"Mmm...... I want to try something. If possible, I hope to do some recording by myself, but I don't want to disturb the two of them."
Mafuyu looked at me with a pair of moist eyes. Back then, I really should've noticed the slight feelings of blame and dependence towards me in the expression of her eyes. Mafuyu stood up from her chair and pushed the glass door open. I heard her walk up and down the stairs, and before I knew it, she had returned to the balcony.
Mafuyu took out a recorder from a torn and tattered synthetic black leather box. That was the precious item Mafuyu's mother had left for her—and that I had helped repair.
"...... Can I really borrow this from you?"
"The recordings may not be crystal clear, but it has a large recording range."
Since it would just be a trial recording, it should be more than enough. The recorder still wasn't spoilt yet. Seemed like Mafuyu had been using it really carefully, which made me a little happy.
I placed the bass back in its case, and stuffed the mini-amplifiers and the recorder into the pockets, then crossed over the balcony fence.
"Where are you going?" Mafuyu sounded like she was close to tears.
"Eh? Urm...... to a place where I won't disturb anyone, even if I sing."
"T-Then I too shall—"
Urm, you can't. What would happen if the trial ended up a failure? It'd be really embarrassing!
"Since both of them are still asleep, you should just stay here instead."
Mafuyu became visibly depressed, but I really had no idea why. I walked away from the villa, past the cries of the cicadas, and made my way towards the beach.
I returned to the villa when the sun was about to set. The door opened just as I was about to reach for the doorknob. Chiaki stuck her head out and said, with an expression as though she was about to pounce on me,
"Nao, you're back? Geez, where did you go? I'm hungry!"
Chiaki energetically pulled me into the villa. I saw Mafuyu sitting down wearily on the sofa, hugging her guitar.
"Is Senpai still holed up in her room?"
"Mmm, so the two of us could only practice by ourselves. Hey, Mafuyu, let's start!"
Chiaki returned to the drum set and gently twirled her drumsticks. Mafuyu seemed dead tired from all the playing—she wobbled as she tried to stand up, but instead, weakly sat back down on the sofa. Go take a rest if you're that tired.
As I entered the kitchen to prepare to stew some vegetables, Chiaki began to play the drums by herself. I heard a set of semiquavers on the hi-hat; it sounded just like the buzzing of a mosquito. I already knew what the song was just from that short section alone. Mafuyu should've realized in an instant, right? Shortly after the beats came the guitar solo, which sounded like someone running barefoot down a mountain of spikes.
It was <He Man Woman Hater>. A chill ran through my spine, causing goosebumps to appear on my skin.
What a miracle that was—all Chiaki needed to convey her thoughts to Mafuyu, was four bars of drumming. That power formed the foundation of this band's jam sessions.
Mafuyu and Chiaki's performance went on endlessly like a kaleidoscope. It suddenly felt like they had added in the overture of <The Marriage of Figaro>; and as the melody spiraled its way up to the peak, Chiaki brought in <Paradise City> by Guns N' Roses.
I gently touched Mafuyu's recorder, which had been placed on the fridge.
Mafuyu was alright already. I'm the one who should be worried about my reason for being in the band. I probably won't be able to do much during the performance, right? If so, I'll just have to do the things I can do.
I recorded it multiple times, and listened to it many times as well. I didn't really know if it would be successful though. I really wasn't too confident of myself.
After dinner, Chiaki said she wanted to play with the fireworks. She had even prepared fireworks that fired off from the ground—that girl was really meticulous only when it came to things like this.
"Don't put those fireworks on your hand."
Chiaki immediately retorted,
"But it's more interesting this way!"
"You caused a small fire when you played with them like that way back in elementary school!"
We're loaning this villa from someone, so what would we do if something happened?
Mafuyu was almost shocked to tears by the spinning firecrackers, whereas Chiaki was bundling the sparklers together to make an unbelievably thick bunch. When we were done with all the fireworks, it was already late into the night.
It was decided, yet again, that I'd be the last to shower. And after I finished washing our clothes, I was to make my way back to where we played with the fireworks to clean up the rubbish. The thick smell of gunpowder lingered in the air in front of the balcony. The smell was only present during the summer nights, but I quite liked that smell sometimes.
In the end, I didn't have a chance to show Senpai my recording, even though the recorder was in my pocket the whole time. Damn, it's all Chiaki's fault!
I was scanning through the bushes, seeing if there were any remains of the fireworks left, when I suddenly heard the sound of the glass door opening.
"I'm really sorry for making you do everything, young man."
Seems like Senpai just finished showering. She was wearing a tank top and a pair of shorts. While drying her hair with a towel, she sat herself down on the fence of the balcony.
"Is the bathroom empty?"
"Not yet. Comrade Ebisawa's still in there. She'll probably come over to inform you when she's done with her bath."
After I finished splashing water around the surroundings, I made my way back to the balcony, with the pails in my hands; I then sat on a chair some distance away from Senpai. What's with her wet hair sticking to the areas of her exposed chest!? I dared not look at her at all. However, Senpai took the initiative and got close to me. When she sat down right next to me, I suddenly became nervous.
"Somehow, it feels like young man's the one looking after us during this training camp."
Senpai hung the towel around her shoulders and showed a lazy smile. That didn't sound like something she would usually say, which made me uncertain of how to respond.
"...... Don't take it to heart. I'm used to doing all these things already."
Ah, right. I couldn't just head to sleep like this. I lifted my body slightly and took the recorder out of my pocket.
"Well...... I tried to record something while I was out."
"It's the song composed by Senpai. Though it's only me singing along to the accompaniment of the bass."
Senpai stared at me as though I were some brightly shining object, then pressed the play button on the recorder. I could hear the sound of the tape rolling, as well as the rhythmic background noise. And then—
The sounds of the waves. And over them, were the soft and elegant chords of the bass.
A simple harmonic progression played using the shuffle rhythm.
Next, was the stuttering sound of my hoarse voice.
"...... I can't really sing, so I might not have been able to convey the feelings in it. This is the opening of Mr. Big's <Green-Tinted Sixties Mind>. The song would be ruined if the acoustics were too heavy, so I decided to use only the bass to play the chords—"
Senpai pressed her finger lightly on my lips, causing me to swallow back the words I were about to say. She grasped the recorder with her other hand, as though she were trying to listen to my singing through her sense of touch as well.
When the main chorus ended, Senpai stood up all of a sudden and pulled me past the glass door. I couldn't help but cover my face with my hands. As expected, I was meddling too much...... Even someone as incredible as Senpai had racked her brain trying to come up with an arrangement for the song, without success. How could someone like me be able to come up with—
"Young man, mind helping me rewind the tape?"
I responded by making a noise. When I lifted my head, Senpai was already standing before me with her Les Paul electric guitar in her hands.
"I want to listen to it all over again, from the beginning."
I was stunned for a while, and just stared at Senpai's eyes—her eyes burned with passion. I then quickly pressed the rewind button, rewinding the tape all the way to the beginning, and played it again.
Senpai added a few simple phrases in-between my singing voice and the bass. Rather than calling them arpeggios, they were more like the whispers produced by the sand, when it's washed about by the waves. Senpai's guitar had connected the blank stutters of the bass in a natural way, and thus, etched out a smooth line of melody.
When the song ended, we remained silent for a long while. The only thing I could hear was the tape rolling on—and that too, was disrupted, by the sound of the button springing up as the tape reached its end. When the recorder quieted down, all that was left were the sounds of the waves and the insects, as well as the occasional roar of the faraway car.
"You should be the one to sing this song."
Senpai said softly.
"...... Eh? But......"
"So that's the nature of the song huh...... but why didn't I realize it? Even though I had written the song."
Senpai leaned the guitar against the table. After rubbing her eyes with her fingers, she looked at me. Perhaps it was because of the backlight, but her eyes seemed slightly wet.
"Urm...... Senpai? Are you angry because I rearranged the song and lowered its pitch—?"
"What are you talking about? I'm not angry! Ah, geez, can you stop talking to me with the voice you use when you sing? Just stay quiet for a while, or I won't be able to control my urge to hug you tightly!"
I immediately quieted down. I could feel my throat burning up in an instant.
"In any case, this song belongs to you. You will be the one to sing this at our actual performance, alright?"
Senpai's gaze remained fixed on my body. I could only nod my head slightly.
I let out a soft sigh. Senpai finally broke her sight away from me, thus returning me my freedom.
"Why didn't I notice it sooner? It wouldn't do if we used my voice. No wait, perhaps I had already noticed it a long time ago......?"
I suddenly recalled what Mafuyu had said—
That...... which means...... is it really that?
"...... Mafuyu, she......"
"Hmm?" Senpai turned to face me. Her eyes were slightly red.
Should I ask or not? That thought suddenly appeared in my head. However, for some unknown reason, I couldn't stop myself from asking.
"Mafuyu said something like that before. That each and every song you compose, is designed for a male vocal. Is that really true?"
With that, I lifted my head to look at Senpai. This time around, there was an obvious gloominess about her face, just like the dark sky prior to the incoming downpour. Senpai then used a slight smile to force that gloomy expression away, and said, in a murmuring voice,
"She's a really sharp girl."
Senpai smiled lightly, and raised her head to look at the sea of stars scattered across the night sky.
"There used to be this person in the third band I was in. I thought he was my Paul McCartney, but—I was wrong."
I forgot when it was exactly, but Senpai had said something like this before—John Lennon had Paul McCartney, someone he could call his "other half." Similarly, Senpai was looking for her own Paul.
There used to be someone who stood next to Senpai—a guy. Which means that, even now, Senpai's songs are still bound by his voice?
"In any case, that person's no longer around. Everyone will eventually leave me, and move away from my side."
Senpai gripped her exposed shoulders as she whispered that out loud. I trembled from the strange chill I felt. From the side, Senpai's face seemed like it was shrouded by a patch of dark clouds.
Everyone will eventually leave. The bands Senpai used to be in had all disappeared as well. Senpai used to say these things half-jokingly with a carefree expression on her face, as though she didn't care a single bit about them.
But, if she really didn't care—
She wouldn't be wearing that expression on her face right now, right?
"...... It'll be fine."
Upon hearing me say that, Senpai turned her face slowly towards me. Her eyes were like melting glass.
"It'll be alright this time around. We won't disappear. I mean, this is the band Senpai started herself!"
"That's true, but...... things are going too smoothly, and that makes me afraid. The thought of my fellow members leaving me, one by one—the thought being left alone yet again. I become uneasy whenever I think about things like that. It should be fine if I just don't think about them, but I know very well—I know that people can easily, very easily, just suddenly disappear someday and never return. It has happened again and again, so......"
Kagurazaka-senpai quietly placed her hands on the silent recorder on the table. Her hands were trembling slightly.
"So I've decided to keep moving forward. Be it the training camp or the live performance, I'll decide everything myself. I have to act one step ahead of everything...... to not suddenly wake up from this beautiful dream."
I could no longer say anything.
People can easily just suddenly disappear one day—that was something even I knew. Someone close to me had disappeared when I was only six, leaving me, and the man who used to be my father, behind. The man who shared the same uneasiness as me.
But even if I knew, I couldn't come up with anything to say to Senpai. If that overwhelming confidence of hers that pulled us all forward, was nothing more than an act—a facade—then the actual source of power helping us accomplish everything was just incredibly depressing.
"How strange......" The smile that appeared on Senpai's face was like the pale white sky signaling the arrival of dawn. "I actually said everything out loud. Perhaps it's because I feel at ease. Perhaps this time, it really will be okay."
"...... It'll be fine."
I could only repeat that line.
"Mmm, that's right. I think I've already found the Paul McCartney that belongs only to me."
The person standing next to Senpai......
"...... You mean...... Mafuyu?"
Senpai stared intently at my mouth. A strange expression briefly appeared on her face—half laughing, half crying.
Shortly after, it transformed into a dumbfounded expression.
"Comrade Aihara does always say you're an idiot and a dense person......"
Damn it, she's actually talking behind my back...... Urm, no wait, did I...... just say something incredibly stupid?
"You're really an inconceivable guy! Should I call you sharp or dense? You're not just pretending you don't know, right?"
"Urm, sorry, you mean—"
"Paul McCartney's a bassist, right?"
Senpai's words continued to echo in my head. For a moment, I couldn't understand the meaning behind those words. It wasn't until I felt the warmth of Senpai's hands on mine, that I finally understood.
"Urm, well...... B-But......"
Senpai moved her face closer. Her smile was returning back to her normal, confident one. As for me, I looked incredibly embarrassed—as though my strength had been totally sapped away from me.
"B-But I'm not good with my bass......"
"Mmm, I know that. You'll have to practice harder in order to become my pillar."
"I can't compose as well as Senpai does......"
"For someone who snatched my melody from me and thoroughly converted it into something of his own, you sure know how to talk."
Why am I forced into such a predicament? I was getting more and more confused.
"But I should be the secretary or something right? I can boast about things if I want to, but all I've really contributed to is getting Mafuyu in the band. After that......"
"Didn't I tell you before? I had my attention on you from the very beginning."
You did say that......
Senpai increased her grip on my tightly clenched fists.
"I found you among the hundreds of articles your father had written, you know? If that isn't something special, then the rest of the encounters in this world are nothing more than just small accidents."
Senpai continued talking while staring at me from the side. My heart was beating faster and faster.
"It may have just been an excuse when I asked you to invite Ebisawa Mafuyu to the band. In actual fact, I had ways of accomplishing that even if I had to do it myself. However, I wanted to let you do it. You do understand what I'm saying, right?"
Of course I do. What if she wasn't using me to get Mafuyu into the Folk Music Research Club, but the other way around......? No wait, but...... is this person being serious? Her face was close enough to nearly touch the tip of my nose, and her expression had returned to that of a schemer, who played around with me in her hands. Perhaps the tears she had shown me earlier were all just an act!
With my mind in chaos, I could no longer pry my eyes away from Senpai's lips.
"Are you...... serious?"
I finally squeezed those words out of my mouth.
"I am serious all the time."
Senpai moaned sweetly.
Just then, I heard a *pa* sound coming from behind Senpai.
I quickly moved myself away from Senpai, and in the process, nearly fell off my chair. I stood up, using the table for support. It was all because I had seen the white silhouette of someone behind the glass door. That person had given up on trying to shut the door that was left ajar. With her hair swaying close to her body, she made her way back to the hall.
It was Mafuyu.
I brushed aside the chair and swiftly made my way across the balcony, squeezing into the hall through the slit in the glass door. Why am I so anxious? I had no idea at all.
When I shouted that, the person in her pajamas—with her back facing me—stopped on the spiraling staircase.
"...... The bathroom's empty. Go take your shower."
Her voice sounded really stiff, and she didn't even spare me a glance. Why? Did she happen to hear the conversation between Senpai and me? How much did she hear?
My tongue was twisted up in my mouth. Is it alright for me to stop her? I didn't know. All I knew was that a bone-chilling air was blowing straight at my face. Is she angry? Why is she angry?
"So I am just an excuse."
Mafuyu then ran up the stairs, rushed straight into her room, and slammed the door shut. The echoes rang throughout the ceiling of the hall.
I could only stand at the side of the drum set and stare blankly at the silent door that had swallowed Mafuyu.
The door of the room next to Mafuyu's opened slightly, revealing Chiaki's sleepy face.
"What's happening? Is something wrong?"
I shook my head. Since I couldn't bring myself to look straight at Chiaki, I could only fix my gaze on the door of Mafuyu's room.
The sound of footsteps, as well as the scraping of the closing door, could be heard behind me. But I remained rooted in place, and couldn't turn my head around at all.