Here's the completed chapter. I'm actually kinda rooting for Julien. You go girl!
Also, I'll be switching back to Eden.
We resumed with the third piece of the night after a brief intermission — <Manfred Symphony>. It is the longest symphony ever composed by Tchaikovsky. And while there may be a slight difference in the length of the piece depending on the conductor, it is typical for it to last for about an hour. The first movement is incredibly gloomy and starts off really slowly. Now couple that with Ebichiri's calm and sturdy style in conducting, it's a piece that is really tiring to listen to. Two seats away from me, Chiaki was already sleeping on Kagurazaka-senpai's shoulders.
In the beginning, I was thinking to myself: why are they playing the piece so slowly? That may caused them to be harshly criticized by the audience, no? But at the third movement, the atmosphere actually became even more suffocating, where I was forcefully pulled into the meditative sounds. When we entered the last movement which had a rigorous military feel to it, I actually straightened my sitting posture.
Ebichiri waved his arms and lifted the orchestra to an incredibly high level. With a swing of the baton, he ended the most rousing part with a climax.
After a moment of blankness which felt like I was looking downwards from the top of a dangerous cliff—
A ray of light descended from the sky — it was an elegant chorale played by the organ. I could feel a jolt of electricity running up my spine. Goosebumps appeared all over my body.
I used to think that <Manfred Symphony> is a boring piece of music...... but everything's different now. It's because I had never listened to an interpretation like this before — one where the conductor brings the whole piece to its climax in such a saddening and theatrical fashion.
The piece ended as if it was sucked into the air. But for quite a long while, there were no clapping or even the sound of coughing to be heard. It was only after Ebichiri let go of his baton when the audiences finally jolt back to their senses. It started with a sparse applause scattered about here and there. Next, the whole music hall was engulfed by the whirlpool of applause which grew larger and larger. I was already up on my feet and clapping before I realized it.
I shot a glance at my side. Mafuyu was clapping with an unhappy expression while still sitting on her chair.
"That's really impressive."
I could faintly hear the voice of Kagurazaka-senpai.
"I have never heard a <Manfred Symphony> that goes along so well with organ. The tempo felt like it was barely containing something within it...... so it was all for the final moment?"
The applause were still going on even after Ebichiri had stepped down the stage. The orchestra continued with their tuning as well. The special thing about Ebichiri's concerts are the encores — it will always turn out to be an interesting and unique performance. I wanted to sort out my thoughts, so I took out my notebook and my pen.
After returning back on stage, Ebisawa spread his arms as a signal, and the noise from the audience died down gradually.
"I am thankful to have the honor of meeting everyone here tonight."
Ebichiri said that with a stern face. It's a line which he will always say prior to the encore. "Narcissist," said Mafuyu beside me softly. I do agree with her slightly.
"We have invited a special guest here, a soloist. He should not be appearing here tonight, so for those who are from the music industry, please try not to publicize this as much as possible, or else I will be in for some trouble from the records company."
A few guffaws came from beneath the stage. A soloist who only shows up during the encore? I have never heard of something like that before.
"I believe everyone should know him as well, but I think it is only proper for me to introduce him. Please welcome Julien Flaubert."
That caused a huge commotion in the audience. I do remember hearing that name somewhere before, so I searched through my memories frantically. I ended up not noticing what Mafuyu was saying beside me.
Julien. Julien Flaubert......
The commotion in the hall turned into a warm round of applause once more. I quickly lifted my head in shock.
At the side of the stage appeared a small silhouette of someone clipping onto a violin beneath his arm. He walked through the members of the orchestra and made his way to the conductor's stand in the middle of the stage.
In the beginning, I thought the person is a girl as I could only see the upper body — the person has shiny golden hair which was glittering under the spotlights, huge eyes, and fiery red lips.
However, the petite violinist who was standing beside Ebichiri was wearing a tuxedo. "Yuri?" mumbled Mafuyu. I finally remembered who he is.
The violinist is more widely known by his nickname "Yuri" rather than his actual name. It was his nickname back when he was pursuing his studies in Moscow Conservatory, a fact that is well known even in Japan. He is always praised to possess 'the looks of an angel' or 'sublime techniques just as if he is Yehudi Menuhin reborn', and etc. He is a celebrity violinist with crazed fans all over the globe. It is said that the sales of magazines will increase by many folds whenever they publish his pictures, and since he frequently appears on the covers of the classical music magazines, that is how I got to know him. He is always putting on a serious and stern expression on the pictures, but he actually holds an innocent air around him that is similar to that of a typical middle school girl (though he is a guy), and he is roughly of Mafuyu's height as well. I think he is one year younger than me?
Julien stood at the conductor's stand and bowed elegantly. That movement of his silenced everyone in the hall.
Nothing was said — Julien lifted his bow, but I could see almost no movements of Ebichiri as he conducted. The clarinets and oboes made a serious inquiry, and Julien's violin replied with it's solo performance. Then, the background accompaniment of the orchestra began to spread its wings slowly.
This song is—
Alban Berg's Violin Concerto.
The concerto dedicated <To the Memory of an Angel> was composed in remembrance of a deceased young girl, and it was Berg's final piece before dying to blood poisoning. The violin solo and the orchestra interwove together to create a sorrowful fricative. The melody sounded like it was sobbing softly.
I did not even notice the notebook had slipped off from my hands.
It felt like there was really the wails of someone coming from a place high above.
The intense allegro of the second movement tells the story of a girl and her pains as she struggled against her sickness. An intense chromatic phrase which felt like it was shaved off from Julien's slender body was finally surrounded by death which purifies everything. It then merged itself into the calm adagio.
The solo violin began playing its highest note, while at the same time absorbing all the sounds from the orchestra — when the piece was finally over and the music had faded away silently, there was barely a hint of liveliness left in the music hall. The mood was different from that of <Manfred Symphony>.
Even so, the young boy in the middle of the stage placed his bow and violin down. After showing the audience a gentle smile akin to that from an angel, the atmosphere in the hall melted immediately.
The applause from the audience was like an endless avalanche.
I was clapping in a daze. I then realized his smile was not offered to everyone in the audience, but only at a specific person.
Is it me? No wait—
I realized the shocking truth, and looked at the seat beside me — Mafuyu sank herself deep into her seat with an absent-minded expression on her face.
Tetsurou actually took a great deal of effort to prepare a bouquet for me to offer to Ebichiri. It's sad to be saying this though — not only had he chosen narcissus which is out of season, he also said this: "Listen to this properly. Narcissus means 'conceited' in the language of flowers! Be sure to tell him that when you offer him the bouquet!" What an idiot.
After the concert was over, I told the girls to wait for me at the lobby. Just as I was about to visit the lounge which was located at the backstage, Mafuyu grabbed me by my suit's helm and gave me a tug.
"...... I'm coming along."
Why? I mean, Ebichiri will be at the lounge too, yeah? It's not possible for Mafuyu to specially go there to see him, right? I think thought of Julien right away. (It looked like) Flaubert was staring at Mafuyu back then......
There should be a reason to that, right? Perhaps they knew each other?
The corridor leading to the lounge was filled with orchestra members as well as the large instruments. Since the performing band was Boston Symphony Orchestra, I could hear conversations in English all around me. I was at a loss of what to do.
Just then, one of the orchestra members saw Mafuyu hiding behind my back, and walked towards us after exclaiming what sounds like "Oh!". We were then quickly surrounded by the orchestra. That's proof that Mafuyu is famous in the professional world as well.
Mafuyu pushed me aside when I tried to communicate with them in Japanese. She then began to converse with the middle-age French horn player with an incredibly authentic sounding American English. She then turned around to look at me, pointed to the end of the corridor with an unhappy expression on her face, and said,
"He said Papa finds the interviewers irritating, so he is hiding in that room."
I see...... as expected from someone who came back from America not too long ago, her English is really impressive. For some reason, I am finding myself to be more and more useless.
The orchestra member took us into a smaller lounge located deep into the corridor. Just as I was about to grab the doorknob and open the door, it was suddenly opened quickly from the inside. "Mafuyu!" A small person along with a voice filled with excitement squeezed through the opening and hugged me all of the sudden.
"Mafuyu, I miss you so much!"
My nose came into contact with soft golden hair. Right after I realized the person was Julien Flaubert, I was hugged tight by his slender arms, and his face was buried deep into my chest. There was a faint scent of roses coming from his hair— no wait! I became flustered all of the sudden, and hurriedly pushed his body away.
"W-What are you doing?"
"Ah, sorry. I was mistaken."
Julien looked at my face and said that in a nonchalant manner, before tip-toeing slightly to kiss me lightly on my cheek. He then turned his attention to Mafuyu as I remained rooted on the spot.
"I miss you so much, ma cherie!"
What surprised me even more was how Mafuyu never hit him or yelled at him despite him hugging onto her tightly. She was only putting on a slightly unhappy expression as she silently allowed her cheeks to be kissed lightly by him. The French are really impressive — that was all I could think with only the remaining half of my brain functioning properly.
Mafuyu noticed my gaze and her face turned red. She pushed Julien away.
"...... W-When did you come to Japan?"
"Yesterday. I am planning to stay in Japan for a while, so we can see each other everyday. Before today's encore, I heard from Maestro Ebisawa that Mafuyu will be coming to listen to the concert as well, so I requested—"
There was a sudden cough. I finally saw Ebichiri sitting before the dressing table located deep within the room.
"You are here in Hikawa's place, right? So that means you will be writing the critique? Mmm...... I am looking forward to it."
Ebichiri said that to me with a serious expression. You are scaring me with your expectations......
The four of us sat down face to face on the sofa in the lounge. I was sitting right in front of Ebichiri, while Mafuyu was sitting by my side. For some unknown reason, Julien sat himself on the sofa-back behind Mafuyu and I. Please, can you sit yourself properly? You are making me feel really uncomfortable?
"Critique? He's writing it?"
Julien grabbed my hair suddenly and stuck his body over my head to look at my face, which caused me to nearly overturn. He still looked like a girl even at that close distance. His peach-red lips was right before my eyes, which reminded me of what happened earlier. I do hope he can keep a distance away from me.
"That is rude of you, Flaubert. Sit down properly! The person whose hair is messed up by you may look young, but he is a music critic. He is our competitor."
Julien disappeared from my sight all of the sudden. I see, he had stood up beside the sofa and stared at Ebichiri with his eyes opened wide, before turning around to continue staring at me. It's only at such a close distance that I realized he is really skinny and small. He may actually be of a smaller build than Mafuyu.
I thought he will be sitting beside Ebichiri, but he unexpectedly sat himself down next to me. Since the sofa was a two-seater, Mafuyu, Julien and I had no choice but to stick to each other. What's with this? Is he making fun of me?
"Is that so? Then I am really sorry! Nice to meet you for the first time, Mr.Critic. Just as you have already knew, I am a violinist. I will be happy if you can address me as 'Yuri'."
I stretched out his hand while introducing himself. The content's a little strange, but his is quite fluent in his Japanese...... he learned it from Ebichiri? There was a strange expression coming from Julien's eyes which I didn't quite know what it was. Hostility? Enmity? A sense of wariness? Or perhaps curiosity? His expression looked like it was a mix of everything, but at the same time, did not seem like any one of above as well.
I hesitated for a while before shaking his hand stiffly. I could feel a sense of incongruity. What's the reason for that?
"My enemy, what is your name?"
"...... Eh? A-Ah. My name is Hikawa. Hikawa Naomi." Even though he is younger than me, he spoke to me in a tone as though he is conversing with someone of his own age. I unconsciously spoke to him in a very polite manner.
"Can I call you 'Naomi'?"
I was stunned. Mafuyu, who was beside me, looked like she wanted to say something as well. Aside from my mother whom I meet once a month after her divorce, the only other person to address me directly by my real name is Mafuyu.
However, the way which Julien pronounces my name is quite different from the way Mafuyu does it — it's probably because there's the name 'Naomi' in the English language as well? It just didn't sound like my own name.
"Yuri......" Mafuyu, who was sitting on the other side of the sofa, suddenly spoke. "You can't."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Julien, as he propped over my shoulder to look at Mafuyu.
"You cannot call him by that."
"You just can't."
Why? I was at a lost of what was happening around me. Then again, why was Ebichiri looking that angry as well?
"Urm, well...... Everyone calls me 'Nao'. If you can, please address me as that."
"So what instrument does Naomi plays?"
"Listen to what I'm saying here, okay!?" "Stupid Yuri!"
"But I don't think it's good to shorten the names of others, or address them by another name!"
"Didn't you ask me to address you as 'Yuri' when you were introducing yourself!?"
Julien stood up from the sofa with teary eyes and hid himself behind Ebichiri's back. He hung his two hands on the sofa like a cat and said,
"Maestro, why is he so fierce with his tsukkomi?"
"That's nothing. Compared to that, it's much more tiring to speak to his father. He became like this because he is surrounded by many such people around him." And you are one of them, Ebichiri!
"So he's fits the mold of a critic very well?" Julien replied. Just what exactly are critics in the eyes of both of you? Being a critic is not just about having to tsukkomi musicians who are hard to communicate with, you know?
"However, the skin of your left fingers are very tough, so you should be playing some sort of instruments, right?"
I was shocked. Julien walked to my side and lifted my left hand.
"Naomi is the bassist of our band," said Mafuyu. Julien and I were both slightly surprised by that, so we both stared at Mafuyu's face. From the edges of my eyes, I could see an unhappy expression on Ebichiri's face.
"Mmm? So you are a companion of Mafuyu?" Julien began to play around with my fingers as he said that. I found it a little strange. He's not the least bit surprised at how Mafuyu's in a band? Or does he know about it already? Just what is the relationship between the two of them? However, I don't think it's the right time for me to ask him that......
"Are you good with your bass?"
"No, not at all." "He's horribly bad at it."
The Ebisawa father-and-daughter pair answered at the same time, and that caused me to sink into the abyss of depression. Why did you two have answer at the same time!? I know I suck at playing the bass!
"I knew it. These fingers are not used to create music. Instead, they exist to distort the truth."
I quickly waved Julien's hands away. What's with that!? Why are all his words filled with animosity? It's the first time we met each other, and I don't think I've done anything to piss him off.
"...... Do you hate music critics?" I tried asking him. There are a lot of musicians who are like that.
"Mmm. I do."
Like the sun which reappears after a heavy downpour, a bright smile appeared on Julien's face as he answered me in a straightforward manner. I see. So you hate them huh— I almost said those words with a smile in order to show my approval of his reply.
"Oh, you mean you have not heard about the things those people have done to my precious Mafuyu?"
I was at a lost of words.
"Yuri, stop that."
Mafuyu actually shielded me physically and said that in a very stern manner.
"But Mafuyu, you said before you hate those people as well?"
"But there is no need for you to say those things to Naomi."
"You used to talk about tying up all the critics and drying them under the sun so that you can use them as fertilizers for the grapes. Back then, I thought that the Japanese are a bunch of really scary people......"
"I never said that!" Mafuyu stood up with her face red.
"Flaubert's the one who said those things."
Ebichiri sighed. The French are a bunch of really scary people......
"Ah, is that so? I remember Mafuyu talking about how that will make the grapes taste bad, so it's a bad idea after all."
"Yuri's the one who said those things as well! Geez! You idiot!"
Mafuyu stood up, stretched past my shoulders and proceeded to slap hard on Yuri's head. Ebichiri and I exchanged a look of helplessness between us. Do what you two like, but can you please don't sandwich me in the middle of your quarrels?
In order to prevent myself from falling victim to Mafuyu's slaps, I shielded my head with my arms and ran away from the sofa. At the same time, just as Mafuyu was about to hit him with her right hand, Julien grabbed it quickly and entwined his fingers with hers.
"...... You should remember how those people have written all that nonsense ever since you could not play the piano, right? And recently, after the issue about your fingers was leaked, those people criticized you unfairly about your lack of professionalism, or how you are running away from the stage."
I stood up in shock and looked at them. I am in no position to be saying much, but — I never thought the critics will be that brazen in discussing the issue about Mafuyu's fingers.
"Are you still continuing with your rehabilitation? Though they do seem to be in a much better shape......"
However, Mafuyu was not angry, and neither did she fling Julien's hand away. All she did was to give a light nod and murmured,
"You don't have to worry. I will do something about it by myself."
I stared helplessly at Mafuyu's profile.
I had indirectly asked her about her fingers many times ever since I know her. The reason for the immobility of her fingers is mainly due to her psychological issues. As for whether she wants to continue playing the piano, I have never heard anything concrete coming from her.
I will do something about it by myself— that's what Mafuyu said, and it was my first time hearing her say that.
Does that mean that she will try to do something 'in order to play the piano once more'?
If that is really the case, then— why didn't she tell me?
Was it because it was Julien who asked? Because they are both living in the same world? Basking under the same brilliance, the same cheers and the same criticisms? Having tasted the same loneliness? So that's why she could say those words to him? If that's the case, then—
It seemed like Ebichiri said something to me, and Julien did the same while staring at my face. However, I could not remember what I said in reply. Why the heck am I here? I pondered on that question repeatedly with my half-blanked mind.
"Really? So he is really a guy...... What a shame."
There were only a few people left in the lobby. Kagurazaka-senpai said that as she pressed her hands on her forehead and shook her head. Senpai kept hounding me about the sex of Julien the moment I talked about how I met him. What the heck is this person normally thinking?
"What will you do if he is a girl?"
Chiaki, who was all sleepy from waiting for me, prodded Senpai's waist gently as she asked that question.
"Hmm? I guess I'll start by learning how to speak French......"
"Yuri can speak Japanese, and he is much more fluent at it than I am."
Mafuyu said softly behind me. Indeed, he is incredibly fluent with his Japanese.
A brief silence engulfed the scene. Chiaki kept staring at me.
"...... Urm, what's wrong?"
"You are not going to tsukkomi her?" Chiaki asked while pointing to Senpai.
"...... It's not like I exist in this world solely to tsukkomi the retarded lines that were said around me."
"I don't live in this world purely for romance as well - I have never forgotten about my revolution, you know. France is a country of revolution as well, so it will definitely be beneficial for me to learn more about them."
"That's something you've only thought of a second ago, right?"
"Oh! Nao's revived!" Chiaki said with approval. Don't be that happy. I only said it by accident!
I will forget the contents of the concert if I continue on with this stupid conversation. I began walking towards the exit of the concert hall. I better get home quickly to work on my draft.
"Hold on, wait! Nao, you are really mean! Senpai and I have waited for you for so long, and you are planning to head home already?"
Chiaki caught up to me with her yells and her footsteps. Then, I heard two more pairs of footsteps as well - Mafuyu caught up to me as well with Kagurazaka-senpai by her side. In the end, the four of us walked out of the main entrance together.
After walking past a row of tall trees that encircles the huge concert hall, I could see the rows of streetlights that were installed on the soundproof walls of the Tokyo highways. It was already late. I did not realize it during the piece, but the encore was actually really long as they had played the whole concerto.
Despite it being a hard to understand piece due to its complex tones, I was deeply attracted to it. That caused me to lost track of time.
Mafuyu called me. I turned my head around to look at her.
"Are you angry?"
"...... Why are you asking me that?" Angry? Who me?
I asked Mafuyu that question in response. She immediately showed a troubled expression.
"I will also like to know the relationship between Julien Flaubert and Comrade Mafuyu! It's the same for young man as well, right?"
"I'm also curious about—"
Mafuyu's face went red from the bombardment of questions coming from all around her. She remained rooted on the spot and looked a little overwhelmed. I turned my head around and found her looking at me with a cry for help.
"Urm, well......" I am curious as well. "Is he your father's friend?"
Mafuyu mumbled something before nodding her head lightly.
"I remember seeing him on the cover of some fashion magazines. He and Ebichiri had went on a tour in America too, right?"
So even Chiaki knew of the existence of Julien? I never expect the fashion magazines to write articles about him as well.
"...... That was a long time ago, when Papa was not the main conductor of Boston."
And that means— he used to go on a tour with Mafuyu as well? And I do remember him saying things like "I'll be depending on the Ebisawa family during my stay in Japan"......
Mafuyu kept staring at my face. She waved her hands hard when I noticed her gaze.
"H-He's not with me that often...... and I was very busy."
"But you two had taken the same plane and stayed in the same hotel, right?" Chiaki said.
"Does he enter the male's bath or the female's bath?"
"There's no such things at the hotels of America, right?"
"Oh right, have you and Yuri performed together before? There are some pieces which are performed only with the piano and violin, right?"
"There were plans for that, but none of them materialize......"
"So that boy is here specially to see Comrade Ebisawa, right? You two share a really good relationship with each other."
Mafuyu was getting more and more restless as the other two girls pelted her with all sorts of questions. I was following them a few steps behind, and as I stared at Mafuyu's long hair while walking, I suddenly thought of Julien's violin. I then recalled his clear eyes and skin, his pale red lips, as well as those cold slender fingers which he used to grab my hands with.
Ahh— yes. The fingers.
Something felt really out of place back then. Just like how Julien had noticed my left hand, the skin on his left fingers were hard as well. Of course, that is nothing strange considering the fact that he is a violinist. But somehow, it feels like his fingertips are not as slender as those of a violinist.
Why is that so?
Mafuyu suddenly stopped in her track and turned around, which caused me to nearly bump into her.
"You know, there is really nothing special going on with Yuri and I. We are just normal friends...... There r-really is nothing between us."
I was stunned. Why is she telling me that?
Mafuyu's face was so red, it looked like steam was about to come out of her skin. She turned her head away and walked quickly towards the direction of the train station.
As for Kagurazaka-senpai, she gave a snicker before grabbing Chiaki and me by our arms and ran towards Mafuyu.
It was already past ten when Chiaki and I reached our train station. Tokyo's really far away.
I remained sitting on my seat with a blank expression even after the door of the train had opened. It was only after a hard stomp on the foot from Chiaki that I realized we had already arrived. I got off the train in a hurry.
"What are you spacing out for? Still thinking about Mafuyu and Yuri?"
Chiaki asked me with a sinister expression on her face as we walked past the ticket gates.
"Urm...... Yeah, kind of."
It was the first time I saw someone speaking with Mafuyu like that. Come to think of it, Mafuyu was the one who looked for him (and to add on, she did it despite knowing Ebichiri will be around as well). Even though my intentions were quite different from Senpai, I was still very curious about the relationship between the two of them.
"Didn't Mafuyu say they are just friends?"
"Mmm...... That's true, but......"
Somehow, it feels like Mafuyu was acting really strange back then. She's incredibly flustered. She kept emphasizing that Julien is just a friend of hers - did she do so out of embarrassment?
"What do you mean by embarrassment?"
"You're not around, so you wouldn't know, but Mafuyu was okay with Julien hugging her or kissing her...... They may actually be a couple."
No wait, they were not old enough back then, right? And Julien hugged me as well.
Chiaki stopped in her track at the nearly empty bus rotary and stared at me with a dumbfounded expression on her face.
"Do you really mean...... what you had just said?"
Wait, the expression of your eyes are really scary! Why are they shining brightly like that of a cat?
Back when Chiaki was still practicing Judo, I attended one of the competitions which she took part in, and everyone at then said she 'will definitely get into the district finals'. When she closed in towards me with lightning quick speed and seized me, I was reminded of those perfect steps of hers during the competition. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, the night sky streaked past my sight in a flash. My back was slammed hard on the asphalt road. I could feel all the air in my lungs being squeezed out of my mouth, followed by a sharp numbing pain that ran through my spine.
What are you doing!? I frowned. Chiaki's foot then grazed past my hair just as I was about to get myself up — it looked like she was trying to crush my head.
"Are you trying to kill me!?"
"You're unbelievable! Stupid Nao! You might as well die!"
I hid myself into the bushes by the road side in fright. W-Why is she so angry?
"I can't take it anymore! I have to punch you! Or else it's too sad for Mafuyu!"
"Why? Sorry, I'll apologize first, but what's wrong with Mafuyu?"
"What do you mean by you'll apologize first!? Come out right now! That throw was for Mafuyu, and now this body sweep will be for me!"
There's no way I'll be that obedient and listen. I continued to hide in the bushes while hugging my head. I suddenly heard the steps of someone walking on the grass. Next, I was hoisted up from behind my neck. I raised my head and saw Chiaki's pair of eyes that were burning with anger.
"Listen up really carefully. Should you ever say what you said just now to Mafuyu directly, then you better be prepared for my cross armlock!"
I had no choice but to sit in seiza on the soil and reply her politely.
After venting her anger out on me without reservation, Chiaki stomped away with steps of a dinosaur. Damn, tonight's a really crazy night. Why the hell is everyone acting strange tonight?
On Monday of the following week, I was forced to face the rather unpleasant daily life in school. Mafuyu would turn her gaze away whenever our eyes met, while Chiaki would stare at me all the time. As for Senpai, she was incredibly happy to see us acting the way we were. On a side note, my classmates were incredibly pumped up ever since our decent result in the chorus contest. Instead of cooling themselves down from the hype, they began to focus their attention on the sports day, and were preparing themselves for it. To be honest, it was already tiring for me to be in the classroom; to add to that, I still have to practice hard for the live performance during the school festival as well, and that drained me out even more.
That thing happened on Wednesday. Tetsurou came flying out from the living room just as I returned home after our band practice. I had a bad feeling about this.
"Nao, Nao! Did you get yourself acquainted with someone from the music industry? It can't be, right?"
"...... What are you talking about?"
"Company M sent you a letter!"
I took a look at the aqua-blue envelope which Tetsurou stuffed in my hands. It's from the company that Tetsurou is under the care of. But it the name 'Hikawa Naomi' is written on the letter...... Why?"
"Listen to me, Nao— to put it bluntly, the music world is the nests of the vagrants, misers and perverts. It's for the best if you do not associate yourself with those people!"
"Those are all referring to you, yeah?"
"I-I am not a pervert! I did create you properly, no!?"
"Ah, enough! Shut up, you vagrant miser!" And also, apologize to all the people of the industry right now! "Wait, why is the envelope already opened?"
I snatched the envelope from Tetsurou's hand.
"Well...... I always write in my articles on how delicious Nao's cooking are, so there may be some OL at the prime age of twenty-eight who wrote you a letter of admiration. I have to check."
Consider this as me begging you - next time, just pass me the damn letter straight away......
I sat on the living room's sofa to check the contents of the envelope. There's only a ticket in it, as well as a simple invitation card without the name of the sender. I thought it is some sort of classical music event, but it seemed to be a live rock performance instead. Taking a glance at the address of the event, the place does not seem to be spacious.
"I thought they sent the letter wrongly to you instead of me." Tetsurou stuck out his head from above me and said, "But it seems like it is really something for you."
"Uhh, mmm...... But......"
I had no idea who sent it to me. The performers are a famous band that even I know despite my lack of knowledge in J-pop. It's written on the ticket that it is an exclusive concert for their fan club — so why will the company sent me something like that?
"Shall I call the editor to ask?"
"I asked already. He said a member of that band asked them to deliver it to you."
"Ehh? But I can't think of anyone who will do that."
The only professional pop musicians I know are Hiroshi and Furukawa, both whom I met when we performed together during summer. We do meet up occasionally at the livehouse as well. Could it be that someone came to know of me indirectly through them...... No, that's not quite possible, right?
"Whatever, just go and take a look, yeah? Doesn't seem like a prank to me. Just run away if someone throws a job to you."
Tetsurou said that irresponsibly before scooting back to the sound systems. I thought to myself: a typical parent would have said this: "This looks really suspicious, so reject them!". Am I wrong?
However, they are one of the few recent bands of Japan whose live performances were well received, and that did provoke an interest in me. And since it is hard to get a ticket to a fan club performance, I guess I'll just take a look? Though it will be slightly lonely to go alone as I have only one ticket, but if having two means I'll have to go through another crazy fight for the ticket...... I'll pass on that.
I went to Yoyogi on the Saturday night. Ever since the performance at the livehouse, the idea of coming to places like these by myself late at night is getting less and less repulsive. I found this to be a little frightening.
Located on both sides of the street are rows of fashion shops which are in the decline. As I head down the street, I saw a crowd gathering beneath a new building located at the corner. That should be it? Speaking of which, the small livehouse is not done taking in all those people who were still standing at the entrance and around the staircases? Wouldn't that be obstructive for the pedestrians?
There was no signboards and stuff placed outside as it is not a live concert that is opened to the public. I crosschecked the name of the building with that written on my ticket before making my way down the stairs to the basement. Upon seeing my ticket, the ticketing lady at the entrance flashed a slight smile and pinned a blue artificial flower above my chest pocket. What's this? All the audiences for this concert will need to get one of these pinned on their shirts? But I don't see anyone else receiving the same treatment as me. I made my way to the end of the stairs in confusion.
I will never get used to the feeling of pushing open the heavy soundproof doors.
It felt like the air in the livehouse was electrified. A set of drums were placed on the jet black stage in a way where we could only see its faint blue outline. The audiences were packed like a can of sardines, waiting for the performance to start. I still think I am not really suitable for places like these. I took a glass of ginger ale from the bar and sat myself on a round chair located at the back of the audience seats.
A large number of people began to squeeze me towards the stage from my back, and in the process increasing the thickness of the human wall. Then again, what sort of band is this? Who's the one who got me here, and for what purpose? I hugged my knees half in anticipation and half in unease.
The lights dimmed—
A loud roar which nearly ripped the hair off my head rang through the place. I could see the silhouette of a few people on stage. What came to my ears was a series of high-pitched feedback from the guitars. I knelt on the chair so as to get a better view of what was going on at the stage.
The spotlights on the stage lit up simultaneously at the same time. The cheers exploded right after that. My face was then assaulted by a series of vigorous tempo.
The lead vocalist sang with a high-pitched voice that was loud and clear, which was interrupted occasionally by a deafening scream. I remember seeing that person on the television or somewhere before. The band are deserving of their reputation as one of the leading bands of J-pop
— the tight, undulated melody created a sense of rhythm which caused me to leave my chair unknowingly so that I could get closer to the stage by a step or two.
The appearances of the members were all of a black theme. Their stylish and intricate costumes were perfect for them, and made them really eye-catching on the stage. Despite that, they did not hold back on their words. The lead singer peppered his sentences with lewd words without any hesitation, which I found to be really crass.
"The very first name we thought of for the band was <HoleBrothers>, 'cause all the members have slept with the manager before!"
"Oi, I never heard that before!" replied the bassist. Damn, that feels really atrocious. However, the audiences enjoyed that exchange. I guess they could only talk about these stuff during a non-official concert.
Their live performance was pretty impressive. When it was time for the encore, I was already satisfied to the point where it does not matter who invited me here anymore.
"We have a special guest for today. The guest will be appearing on stage as the guitarist! But since our guest should not be in a place like this, we'll be keeping the person's identity a secret!"
Feels like I had heard that somewhere before? Just as I was wreaking my brain in search for the answer, the spotlights flashed about randomly for a while before focusing all the rays on the left side of the stage. A short silhouette appeared.
Seems like a middle-school or high-school girl — that's my impression from my very first look at the person. That person's dressed in a black goth lolita fashion, probably to fit the style of the band. The fluffy skirt was incredibly short, which was coupled with a top which revealed the shoulders. In the person's hands was an aged Stratocaster filled with scars. Even though the face was shielded with a veil from the hat, the champagne gold hair looked like it was burning when the spotlights shown their rays on them......
The unexpected costume of the special guest caused the excited crowd to go into a thunderous frenzy, which swallowed my subconscious mumbling. I was sure that the person is Julien. But why is Julien here? And why is he crossdressing? Wait, is the person on stage really him?
The drummer raised his drumsticks in the air and rapped it as he counted down from 4.
A series of heavy metal beats from the drums shook me. The lead vocalist screamed a series of intensive twisting pitch as though he was trying to chew away the microphones.
The melody of the main guitar cleaved open the burning chaos and pierced its way into the darkness of the livehouse with a sharpness of lightning — and that's Julien. Those slender fingers slid up and down the strings with an incredible speed as if Julien was actually plucking the nerves of the audiences instead, and that resulted in a series of very distinct timbres. My knees were trembling non-stop, and I could barely straighten my body.
Till then, I had never really paid any attention to the so called death metal rock. The idea of 'using the voice as an accompaniment' and giving the guitar the freedom to run crazy with its main melody was a form of rock that I could never imagine. However, that was the sort of music with surrounds me. And despite being washed about by the torrential music, the sound of Julien's guitar remained crystal clear to my ears.
There are really times when the music can convey the truth which would otherwise be difficult to do so via words.
I knew straight away. It's similar to the timbre which shook me back then.
That's right. It's the sound of Mafuyu's guitar.
Upon seeing the artificial flower on my chest, the young and pretty female manager nodded her head and led me to the lounge. I see, so the flower is actually a backstage pass.
"Urm...... You can tell Julien I am fine with meeting him here......"
"It's okay, don't worry."
With that said, she pushed me into the opened room.
Rather than a lounge, it's more like a cramped storeroom filled with amplifiers, drums and lighting, and refurbished with a few tables and folding chairs. The room reeks of sweat, metallic smell and some other messy odor. Julien was still wearing the black leather sleeveless top. He sat in the middle of the four other members who had already changed out of their concert costumes and into their regular clothes. Somehow, it feels like...... though it's strange for me to be thinking of this, but...... it feels like he is a girl who was surrounded by four scary, burly men who stripped her away of her clothes. He looked very out of place.
Julien sprang off his chair and ran towards me.
"You're here! That's great!"
Seeing that he was about to hug me tightly again, I shoved his face away. Calm down, French.
"Is he the one whom Yuri invited?"
"Who is he?"
One by one, the band members came next to me. Feels really scary, since everyone of them look incredibly strong.
"Well, he is my precious' precious," said Julien as he turned his head to face me.
"So that means he's my precious' precious' precious?"
"Then...... that makes him my precious' precious' precious' precious!"
"Since when am I your precious, you homo!?"
"You're a homo as well, no!? Yuri's a guy!"
"You go outside and settle things with me right now!"
"Just as I wanted!"
And with that, the lead vocalist and the guitarist grabbed each other by their collars and made their way to the corridor as they stared at each other. What the hell is going on with the band......? The drummer, who looked like someone who is easily worried about others, pushed a chair to me and urged me to sit down, "Don't mind them, those two are idiots." The problem is, I could faintly hear loud noises and furious roars coming from the corridor — there's no way I could chat idly in a situation like this!
"Sorry, Yuri. You guys better leave for now. It seems like they are really brawling it out."
The bassist who was observing the situation of the corridor said that with a frown.
"I'm sorry, Naomi. Let's go outside."
Julien grabbed me by my arm and ran out of the room via the door that is linked to the stage. I could hear shouts of "I'm gonna kill you!" and "I'm gonna impregnate you!" from behind me.
"I met everyone at the hotel which we were all staying at during the my performance in LA."
Julien sat on the round chair next to me and said that while sipping the drink from the paper cup. The noise of the crowded McDonald's as well as the ambient J-pop music sounded much quieter in contrast to the earlier ruckus.
"The vocalist, whose name is Gata, barged into my room when he was drunk. He probably got into the wrong room, I think? He then took my violin out of the blue and strummed it as though it was a guitar. I punched him onto the floor in a fit of an anger, but that caused us to become friends."
I gave a hard sigh. I had no idea what to think about these people.
The whole thing about me being in a such a place feels really unbelievable as well. There must be something that went wrong somewhere to result in me sitting next to the prodigy violinist who frequently appears on the covers of magazines, and listen to him saying these retarding things while I am chewing on the fries.
Why did Julien want to meet me? And why did he specially invite me to see the concert?
"Right, I have a lot of questions to ask you, but first—"
"Why are you still crossdressing?"
He went to the bathroom to change out of his clothes before we left the livehouse. I originally thought he will change into a set of ordinary clothes, so I never did expect to see him coming out in the short jeans and T-shirt combo which Kagurazaka-senpai usually wears. He was wearing a pair of orange sunglasses and sporting golden hair as well. People will probably believe me if I tell them he is the newest uprising member of Hello! Project. It feels really embarrassing to sit with him. [TLNote: Wiki link of Hello! Project here. Main point is, it's a female idol collective]
"Oh...... you mean this? It's safer for me to disguise myself."
I see. I guess he is a famous person after all...... but there should be other ways of doing it, right?
"Don't you have other questions you want to ask?" asked Julien as he lowered his sunglasses slightly and tilt his head while doing so.
I'll probably go crazy if I am to continue talking with this person here. The feeling's just like how you dropped something without knowing and had walked a far distance away from it already, but you are somehow very concerned about what's behind you.
Then again, I do have lots of questions for him.
And the one which I am most curious about is—
"...... Did you learn the guitar together with Mafuyu?"
For some reason, Julien said that with pride. He shook his head and continued,
"I am the one who taught Mafuyu how to play. And also, I gave Mafuyu the guitar which she is using now."
I was speechless for a while. I never considered that.
And so...... this guy here is Mafuyu's...... teacher? Is that it?
I suddenly recalled the name that was carved inside Mafuyu's Stratocaster. Oh right. 'Yuri' was Julien's nickname back when he was studying at Moscow Conservatory, so it's spelled in Russian.
Despite the fact that there was no one among us who could read the name, Mafuyu was still intent on hiding it. So that means that she was unwilling to let anyone else know about her relationship with Julien......?
"Mafuyu's relationship with Maestro Ebisawa has always been bad...... and she was frustrated about how she could not play the piano. I went through a similar phase back when I was a child, and that was the reason why I learned to play the guitar in secret. I thought that Mafuyu could use the same method to find a place where she can escape to."
Julien suddenly moved his gaze away from me.
"Though Mafuyu still did not manage to find it......" murmured Julien as he gently swirl the orange juice in the paper cup.
"— It's not a place for her to escape to!"
Julien raised his head in shock. I was surprised by what I said as well.
Whatever I was saying is real though, so I repeated it once more—
"Mafuyu did not escape to the world of guitars."
"...... Why do you say so?"
Why? Because— it's obvious upon hearing it. I knew it instantly, and so should Ebichiri when he listened to the recording back then. However, there was no way I could express that with words.
"So what's the role you have been playing, Naomi?"
"That's the reason for inviting you to the concert — so that I can ask you this question. You are a critic, so why are you staying by Mafuyu's side?"
"Don't call me a critic!"
"But Maestro Ebisawa showed me the stuff that you had written!"
That was unnecessary, Ebichiri......
"Your articles are critiques through and through."
"Thanks for your praise." Though he's probably not praising me.
"Not only are you looking down on us, you grouped our work into different categories and wrote what's good and bad about them so that you can earn money through it. How can someone like you stay by Mafuyu's side?"
"Hold on......" What are critics to you? And my articles were not really well written, you know? "Look, why do you care?"
"Because Mafuyu is my precious!"
Julien said that emphatically as he looked into me with a faint smile at the corners of his lip.
So the two of you are indeed a couple, huh? Both of them used to be the topics of conversations because they are prodigies. Both have experienced the same excruciating and burning pain due to their loneliness on stage. And if the two of them meet each other at America under those situations—
All I need to do is to ask. But for some unknown reason, I could not bring myself to do it. Instead, Julien was the one who asked me the question in my heart.
"Naomi, what is your relationship with Mafuyu?"
Julien's question pierced straight into my heart.
What's the relationship...... between Mafuyu and I? I never thought about that question before. We came to meet by chance, and then we ran away together and sought our dreams together. And before I realized, Mafuyu is already by my side. I can't really explain even if you ask......
Julien tilted his head slightly.
"Is it such a difficult question to answer?"
"...... It is."
"You can't say you two are just companions who are in the same band! Because I have already heard that from Mafuyu."
I rolled the hamburger wrapping into a ball. I could not come up with anything.
"You cannot answer me even though you are someone who earns money by weaving lies?"
And Julien said that in a straightforward manner with an angelic smile on his face. Well, if I am to go into the details, I am not a critic, just a high-school student who had written a few articles so that I could earn some pocket money. I won't get angry even if there's someone who belittles the critics. Moreover, the only music critic whom I know is actually someone who is much more useless than Julien can possibly imagine.
So all I did is to answer by nodding my head silently. Just go ahead and look down on me if you want.
However, Julien suddenly looked at me with tears in his eyes and said,
"...... I am actually filled with regret."
What are you regretting?
"I really want to create and record lots and lots of music with Mafuyu. I wish I can go on an American and Europe tour with her forever. However, I am not by Mafuyu's side when she is in the most pain. The one who she needs is not me either."
Julien's gaze floated towards the middle of the air, as though he was looking past the ocean towards the gloomy faraway skies of North America. His feeble voice was just like the sound of the angel spreading his wings as he was about to vanish into the air. I was reminded of the ending of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto.
"The timbre of Mafuyu is really, really special, but I cannot protect her. But I don't get it. Why? Why can you do it?"
Julien suddenly grabbed me by my wrists and pulled his face close to mine.
"Why can Naomi play the bass by Mafuyu's side......"
His slender and fair hand landed weakly on the table with a *pa*. His long eyelashes were dropping downwards slowly. He then lowered his head and said not a single word. I thought to myself...... is he crying?
I finally understood what's in Julien's head.
I am in a position that is supposed to be his. The melody of the violin concerto appeared clearly in my mind all of the sudden. If Mafuyu and Julien were not hurt by music, they would have already recorded those pieces a long time ago......
A dream which did not manage to get past the oceans, and was swallowed up by the waves instead.
Julien lifted his head and showed an embarrassed smile.
"Nothing can be done even if I am to say such words to you, isn't it?"
Because you are nothing more but a critic— it somehow feels like Julien will continue on with that line. However, that was just my auditory hallucination due to my sense of inferiority.
"Have Maestro Ebisawa told you this already? It seems like Mafuyu is playing the piano once more."
That took my by surprise, and caused me to nearly forget about everything Julien had said up till now. Mafuyu's playing the piano once more? For real? I did remember talking about it a little after the concert, but...... are her fingers really okay?
"She's slowly recovering. Thanks to the rehabilitation, she's able to practice on the piano almost everyday."
"B-But she......" Mafuyu said nothing about it to me. Why? She told me some time ago her immobile fingers are caused by her psychological issues, and she was still unable to use both of her hands to play the piano during the chorus contest. So that means something happened after that? Something happened which resulted in the turn of events?
I stared at the young boy in front of me - the boy who is so unbelievably pretty.
Is it because — she saw Julien?
"And so we've decided to record a new album."
I was speechless.
Not only is she playing the piano once more, she's actually returning back to the music industry? She's returning back to the world which had harmed her brutally?
"The plans for her comeback is to perform a duet with me. Mafuyu has already agreed to it as well."
"Together with you.....?"
I see— so that's how it is.
Ebichiri once said that Mafuyu's fingers may recover if she can find the will to pick up the piano again. The reason for Mafuyu to take up the piano again — is it because she has reunited with Julien once more?
"That's why...... I am really frustrated about it."
Julien mumbled. I stared at him and asked,
"...... Why? Isn't it your wish to play your violin together with Mafuyu once more? And she will be performing with you......"
He then put on a faint smile.
"That's the reason why I am feeling so frustrated! You won't understand, Naomi."
That lonely smile of his looked just like a painting that gives the illusion of the frozen time.
"Thank you. I had fun today."
Once we were out of McDonald's, Julien thanked me with a brilliant smile on his face. That should be his true feelings, and not something said out of courtesy, right?
"And also...... I have said things to Naomi that are extremely mean, have I not?"
I jumped in shock and froze on the busy street which leads to the train station. I could feel someone bumping into my back.
"So you do realized it as well......?"
"Mmm. But...... I don't think I've done anything wrong to you, so I will not be apologizing."
With that said, Julien stretched out his hand towards me, but I ignored it. It's a little childish, but I couldn't help it. I am just a high-school student, so there's no way I will not be angry after listening to the things he had said.
"There's still no way I can allow Naomi to be by Mafuyu's side."
"You know...... It's pointless telling me that......"
"I won't allow it! How can someone as dense as you be by her side?"
"I can say how much I love Mafuyu for a hundred times, or play a hundred songs to show my feelings for her. But what about you?"
"Wait...... even if you put it that way......"
"Will you listen to me if I ask you to leave Mafuyu's side?"
Why are you taking the conversation in that direction!? Please spare me from that already!
"...... Well...... Mafuyu's the guitarist of our band, and there's no one else aside from her who can play the timbres like hers."
I was rendered speechless by that straightforward line from Julien.
"I am better than her in terms of the guitar techniques as well. You heard it just now, right?"
He's right. The timbre of Julien's guitar do sound similar to that of Mafuyu's before she joined the Folk Music Club — the same timbre which I dislike back when she claimed the practice room for herself. However, his tone is much more polished in comparison.
Therefore, despite my dislike towards Julien, I had no choice but to agree that his guitar techniques are indeed a level above Mafuyu's.
"Hey, can you give up on Mafuyu if I say I am willing to play the guitar for you?"
"What are you thinking...... and you won't have the spare time to do so, right?"
"That's nothing if it can make you stay away from Mafuyu."
I was dumbfounded, and stood motionlessly on the middle of the sidewalk. The pedestrian behind me knocked into my shoulder, which nearly caused me to fall. Is he for real?
"That's what it is like when you truly fall in love with someone."
Really...... so that's how it is like when you fall in love with somebody?
"I'll be by Naomi's side in place of Mafuyu. How's that?"
Julien grabbed me tightly by my wrist as he said that. I was confused by him.
"Urm...... that's impossible." In many different aspects.
"And that means you are unwilling to let Mafuyu go?"
What's with the 'and that means'...... Julien was putting on a wide smile on his face, an obvious proof that he had misunderstood my words. Well, it's not like I had any strength left in me to correct him.
"You are a critic, no? Why are you not speaking up when it's time for you to do so?"
Damn that bastard. Whatever. Just say whatever you like.
"Mmm. I get it. Well then, goodbye, my enemy."
Julien tilted his body to the side deliberately in a cute manner and waved his hand.
"Thank you for listening to our performance today. We will still be performing a few more times in Japan, so can I send you the tickets? I do wish to see you again."
I nodded with a stiff expression on my face.
As his guitar and personal belongings were left at the livehouse, Julien turned around and walked away in the opposite direction of the station. That small and undependable back of his gradually blended itself within the pedestrians beneath the streetlights before disappearing from my sight.
I sat on the road barriers by the side and sighed. That's really tiring.
Honestly speaking, he is a really inconceivable person. The anger in me did come close to bursting, but instead of blaming that on Julien, it's more of me being angry at myself because I was a worthless person who was unable to refute his words.
But he said he still wish to see me.
Actually, it's not like I really dislike him, and if I can, I do wish to see him again. However, I was just schooled really hard by him just now, so how should I go about facing him the next time we meet?
Back home, I found Tetsurou lying on the sofa with his legs resting against the back of the sofa in a 'V' shape. He was opening and shutting them to the rhythm of <Radetzky March>. Upon seeing me, he said to me weakly, "Nao, I'm hungry." I remembered telling you that I'll be late today and that you should settle your dinner by yourself......
But I already knew something like this will happen, so I tossed him the McDonald's paper bag which I bought earlier.
"...... This is my dinner?"
"Yeah. I bought it from Yoyogi, so it's really good." Though it tastes the same throughout the country.
There's probably no one in this world who is more pathetic than a middle-aged man with a freelance job stuffing cold fries into his mouth while his tears slide down his face. Even I felt like crying when I saw that. Tetsurou stuffed the food into his mouth like a squirrel and mumbled,
"I worked hard for sixteen years and put in an endless amount of love to raise Nao to the person he is today...... Tell me, Misako, where have I gone wrong......"
"It all probably started with that marriage — That's what Misako said."
I meet up with my mother about once a month for lunch, and half of our conversation would be us badmouthing Tetsurou.
"It's not like I could do anything!"
Tetsurou suddenly threw a tantrum and flung the bag of fries onto the floor.
"I can't earn much just by writing critiques! I was poor, and Misako was nagging at me after she started her own career, so I had no choice but to marry her!"
What's with you being angry all of the sudden? That marriage did last for eight years, okay? And also, what do you mean by you can't earn much as a critic? You can afford a house, and it's not like you can't afford to eat decently or anything. I think you should apologize to those people who are actually slogging it out in their work!
"Fu fu. Well, I earned that cash outside of what I get from my critiques! To put it nicely, I am the industry's ruffian."
"That's not even nice to begin with!" And to put it badly, it means you're a criminal, okay? "Look—"
I was about to speak, but I swallowed my words back straight away. Is it okay to ask Tetsurou this? And will he answer me seriously after I asked?
The problem is, I have no one else to talk about it.
"— Tetsurou, why does one want to be a critic?"
Tetsurou blinked and stared hard at me. He then washed down the fries in his mouth with a glass of whiskey.
"What's wrong? Why are you suddenly asking me this?"
"Someone asked me that question, and I couldn't come up with an answer."
"Misako asked me the same question before, but it was a long time ago."
Tetsurou finished the glass of whiskey within two gulps.
"And what's your answer?"
Tetsurou's gaze dropped to the floor—
"I'll tell you this. Ultimately, the reason for everyone doing their job is so that 'they can make someone happy'. If you can't make someone other than yourself happy, then you won't be able to earn any cash. Am I right?"
"But even after I graduated from the university, I had no idea how to make someone happy. Since I studied music history, I guess I was left with becoming a teacher. However, I had no intention of teaching the children of others. Therefore, I asked my professor in a really honest manner, 'How can I make others happy?'. The reply from the professor was, 'The only talent you have is fooling others, so work hard in that direction, Hikawa'. And so I was hit by a sudden inspiration: if everyone is to read articles written by me with the intention of fooling his readers, then those who are not fooled by me will get some happiness in comparison to those who are fooled. I'll be able to earn from that, no?"
I was dumbfounded. I interrupted him subconsciously with,
"You said these things to Misako as well?"
"Mmm. It's those words which made Misako go - 'this guy is hopeless. He won't be able to live by himself'. And she did tell me before it was those words which made her realized we have no other option but to get married."
"And if I ever feel like there's no other option for me but to leave this house, it's also because I have heard these words from you......"
"Nao, that won't do...... You're voicing your inner monologue."
Ah, it's true....... And even though it was something I thought of only a second ago, I couldn't help myself but to think about it again.
I long knew that I had asked the wrong person. I cannot complain a single bit even if Tetsurou is beaten to death by Julien and Mafuyu.
It's a new week yet again. An incredibly rare thing happened when I entered my classroom on Monday — Mafuyu actually came to talk to me.
"I heard you and Yuri met each other."
"E-Eh? Y-Yeah, that's right...... But how did you know?"
Mafuyu's gaze wandered about. She seemed to be hiding something. Our classmates gathered around us out of curiosity.
"Ahh, right. I remember him saying he'll be staying at Mafuyu's home for a while?"
"Eh, ah, well...... he decided not to, so he's staying at a hotel for now," for some unknown reason, Mafuyu said that to me in a fluster. "I-It's true! But...... we meet up sometimes due to some reasons."
The reason for Mafuyu to meet Julien. Ah, I got it. Julien said there are plans for him to release an album together with Mafuyu. She should be referring to that, right?
"Urm, well...... are the two of you practicing together?" I tried asking her. Mafuyu's face turned red all of the sudden.
"Y-You knew about that as well?"
"Eh? Mmm, yeah. You should have told me your fingers are healed—"
"S-Stop talking about that! Enough! I-I am the one who's asking the questions right now!" Mafuyu slammed on her desk. Even her ears were going red. Those around us were shocked by that sudden action as well.
"Why did you meet Julien? D-Did both of you have something important to do?"
I had no idea how I should reply to that. Or rather, I was not in the mood to do so. It seems like everything Julien said is true. Mafuyu has the will to pick up the piano once more — and in a commercial sense as well.
I never noticed her fingers have already recovered to the point where she can practice with someone else.
No wait, isn't this something worth celebrating? It's been a long-running wish of mine to hear Mafuyu play the piano once more. But why couldn't I say anything when Mafuyu is staring at me and asking what had happened between me and Julien?
"Give me a proper answer, Naomi."
Mafuyu suddenly pulled her face close to mine, which caused me to push my chair backwards in surprise with my heart beating wildly. The chair tripped onto something, and that nearly caused me to fall on my back.
"The couple are quarreling again?" "They are quarreling." "Looks like our dear Princess is serious this time." "Just die already, Nao!"
I had no time to listen to what my classmates were whispering.
"Was Yuri the one who invited you? Or—"
"Eh? Ah, yeah."
After regulating my breaths, I sat back on my chair and tried to convert my thoughts into words.
"A few days ago, I received a ticket to the livehouse from some unknown person. I had no idea who the sender was, and it's only when I watched the concert that I knew......"
"You heard Yuri's guitar?"
"Mmm." I hesitating on whether I should say it, but I did anyway. "The timbre of his guitar is similar to yours. It's just like...... the timbre of your guitar before you joined the Folk Music Club."
An awkward expression appeared on Mafuyu's face. She crossed her arms before her chest and turned her face away with a "Hmph".
"And then he told me lots of things...... like how you used to learn guitar from him...... and you playing the piano and stuff......."
"...... What else?"
"Urm......" I think the rest of the things are all dangerous ones.
"Things that you cannot say?"
Don't put it like that! Everyone will misunderstand us! See? The guys are all getting excited for some unknown reason!
Just then, Chiaki pulled open the door hard and yelled "Good morning!" as she stepped into the classroom. I was never as thankful towards her as I am now.
"Oho, what's going on? Are you two busy with something?"
With that, Chiaki squeezed herself between me and Mafuyu (though she will not be able to get to her seat if she didn't), and the bell rang right after that. Thank god, I'm saved.
"Hmmm...... Even after being schooled that hard by him, all you did is to head home in a listless state without even striking back? That's pathetic. You know, I have always thought I had already fixed that born-loser personality of yours, young man."
It's after school at the Folk Music Club's practice room, Senpai was sitting on the round chair with her legs crossed. For some unknown reason, I was forced to sit in seiza before Senpai and explain to her what happened on that Saturday. To add on, Chiaki and Mafuyu were listening from the sides as well. Why? Why am I spilling it? I never mentioned anything about Mafuyu, but I told them everything about how Julien assaulted me verbally.
"Let's forget for now the stuff like the critics, or young man being a born loser, or other things like that. There's something that I can never forgive you!"
"Why didn't you take some pictures of him when he was crossdressing?"
"Who gives a damn about that!?"
I can't possibly cater to each and every taste of yours!
"Dressing up in goth loli sounds pretty good! Senpai, let us all wear goth loli costumes for our school's festival!"
And that ended up with Chiaki talking about the insignificant stuff.
"I see, and we can make young man crossdress as well! That's something I have never thought of before!"
"And Nao's real name is pretty feminine too!"
Wait a second...... what are you girls talking about now? I was about to stand up and tsukkomi them, but I suddenly noticed Mafuyu sitting in a corner unhappily and not saying anything. She quickly turned her gaze away upon noticing mine.
Just like how Mafuyu was curious about what Julien and I talked about, I was curious about what she heard from him as well. Moreover, I had no clue what that person would say to her.
"Hey...... what did he say about me?"
I couldn't help but to ask. However, Mafuyu turned her head away and began tuning her guitar. Weird. Did I make her angry again? Why?
"But isn't Nao the least bit irritated by him? He said such harsh things about you and your dad's occupation. You should have showed your anger and said, 'Don't you dare look down on us critics!', or things like that!"
Chiaki suddenly went back on topic.
"You are still my pride even if you didn't do that, young man! Can you still remember? I managed to find you just by the brilliance of your articles from the vast sea of words!"
And Senpai went back to condemning me as well. All I could do was to shrink my neck.
"Hey critic. The name of Hikawa Naomi is already tarnished. Are you still planning to remain silent despite that?"
"But I am not a critic......"
"But you are a critic, no? That was what you told me......" Mafuyu murmured. "You are only good at coming up with all sorts of weird and twisted logic, and yet you were made speechless by Yuri's words."
"E-Eh? When was that?"
Mafuyu stood up all of the sudden.
Her face turned red in an instant. I raised up my arms to shield my face subconsciously. Don't hold your guitar with a reverse grip, because it's really scary! I told her before that I am a critic? When was that? When did I say such things to her?
"It was back when...... I was here by myself—"
Mafuyu noticed Chiaki and Senpai staring at her as she said those words with a grimace. Her gaze fell to the floor. She then leaned her guitar against the wall before walking past me and out of the room.
The two of them immediately directed their cold gazes towards me. Chiaki's eyes were teary and filled with reproach; as for Senpai, she was looking at me with a mocking laughter in her eyes as she spectated at what was going on.
What does she mean with "Y-You forgot!?"? I can't remember. Back when she was here alone — that means it's something unknown to both Senpai and Chiaki. Was it something that happened when we staked the ownership of the room for our showdown?
I turned my head to look at the soundproof door which was already shut. Mafuyu was no longer in sight, so I rushed out of the room. I remembered! Damn it, how can I forget this!?
Even though it was something said by me.
I caught up to her the maroon colored hair on her back at the corner of the staircase.
"W-Wait, Mafuyu! I'm sorry, I remembered. I'm really sorry!"
There was a tremble from Mafuyu's long hair. She stopped next to the wall, but she did not turn around to face me. It's just like how it was back in May — there was not enough time for us to talk, so we had no idea what was going on in each other's minds.
Back then, I accidentally talked about how Mafuyu was harshly criticized by the critics in America, which caused her to run out of the room in a fit of anger. Just like how it is now, I rushed out of the room to chase her and apologize to her profusely. Back then, she said, "There is no reason for you to apologize". To which I replied—
I said, it's because I am a critic — that's why I have the right to apologize.
Even though I was the one who said those words.
Mafuyu pressed her hand against the wall and slowly turned her head around. There was still a hint of anger in her eyes, but that was toned down a lot due to the embarrassed expression on her face.
"...... You have to take responsibility for what you had said."
"I am reflecting on it already......"
But...... why is she so angry? Is the ramblings of a half-assed critic really that important to her?
"T-That's not it!"
Mafuyu hammered me on my chest with her tightly clenched fists. I thought to myself, "Whoa, so it's true!" Mafuyu can really clench her right hand tightly into a fist. I was so happy I wanted to encase her fists with both of my hands. However, I was unable to move due to the pain in my chest from her hammerings.
"Y-You went back home meekly without making a single rebuttal despite the harsh dressing-down Yuri gave you. Isn't that so?"
"Yuri...... he wants me to g-give up on you......" Mafuyu could not continue her sentence. Instead, she began to hammer my chest once more. Just what exactly did that guy said to Mafuyu? Mafuyu shook her head hard. She had no intention of continuing on from there.
"Despite the fact that there's nothing else you can win Yuri at other than your critiques, you were actually looked down by him in that area as well. And then you ran away from him when you could not beat him in a war of words!"
Those are some really stinging words...... but Mafuyu was spot on. "Well, my bad, but...... even if I had lost to him in a war of words, why are you so frustrated about it?"
"Of course I will be! You have to pull yourself back together, because you are my—"
...... I am Mafuyu's...?
She swallowed her words once more.
It can't be, right? I mean — if Julien had told her about how he wanted me to give up on Mafuyu — b-but...... wait, that's not possible, right? If that is really the case—
I sighed in confusion.
But Mafuyu's right. I was really useless on Saturday. Even though the job was forced onto me by Tetsurou, I still treat the job very seriously — while typing away on the keyboard, I would think on how I should go about writing the article so that my words will touch the readers.
But even so, I could not come up with anything in rebuttal against Julien.
Utilizing his cute and innocent face and words, it was as if that person was emphasizing this: a useless person like you has no rights to stay by Mafuyu's side.
I clenched my fists subconsciously.
"Mafuyu, can you contact Julien?"
Despite her slightly uneasy expression, Mafuyu nodded her head.
Then I shall give it a try! As a person whose only talent is in the game of wordplay, and as someone who has spent more than half of his life listening to the music created by others, the thing which I can do is—
I'll show that innocent and almost miracle-like violinist what I am made of.
Livehouse <Bright> is the place where our band had our very first live performance, and is located in a nearby town where I can reach in an hour by my bicycle. It is located some distance away from the station in a quiet residential district, but since its name is well known with the insiders, the number of customers is increasing with each passing day.
It was the same for today as well. When I reached the place, there was already a huge crowd gathering around the entrance of the staircase which leads to the basement of the building. Most of the amateur bands will share the stage by pooling their money together. After paying the rental fees for the whole day, they will then allocate how much time each band gets to perform. Therefore, the customers will kill time outside until it is time for their favorite bands to play before going in (but personally, I always feel that it's better to listen to every single performance, since the entrance fee is the same).
There's an event called 'Club Bright' which was held today. The livehouse had invited many disco musicians down for the event, and it had been playing dance music non-stop. That was the reason for hip-hop fashion to dominate the fashion scene here, which is something that I do not usually wear. Amid the dreadlocks and the baggy pants, I noticed an eye-catching figure of a short person, and hurriedly made my way there.
Julien's face brightened up in an instant. He pushed away the guys around him who were trying to strike a conversation.
"Sorry, the person whom I am waiting for is here," he apologized as he ran towards me. I couldn't help but to press my hand against my forehead and sighed.
"Look, why are you crossdressing again......?"
Julien was wearing a cream-colored short ruffled blouse paired with a skirt. He had even dolled himself up with hairpins and earrings. It's no wonder why the guys were hitting on him.
"I said it before already. It's called a disguise."
Please do not twirl around and model in your clothes while you are saying that.
"Sorry for making you wait. Did you have a hard time getting here?"
"Not at all. I had someone to drive me here." Julien answered me with a smile.
"You should be busy, so thanks for making your way here."
They do not organize disco parties often, so I was lucky Julien had the time to spare to make it down here. If not, he would not be able to accept my invitation.
"I never thought Naomi would invite me to an event. I'm really happy."
"No, well...... actually, I am here to have my revenge."
I mumbled as I passed a ticket to Julien and made my way down the stairs.
Despite the narrow flight of stairs, Julien insisted on walking by my side.
"Mmm, because I was schooled hard by you a few days ago."
"Uhh...... and that means you will be bringing me to a dark basement where I'll be left at your mercy?"
"That'll never happen!"
I really wish he can put his words in a nicer manner.
After opening the heavy door, we squeezed ourselves within the hot air that was filled with rhythmic beats. The cocktail lights danced around us. Under the guidance of the faint lights, we could gradually see the outlines of the stage. In place of the drum set stood a mixing console. What came to our attention next was a rapper who was rapping in his coarse voice.
"Waa. This is my first time listening to disco."
Julien whispered into my ears, though I could not hear him too clearly. The men and women were all exposing their skin to the heated atmosphere and dancing wildly in the darkness which obscured the lower half of our sight.
"Nao, you brought another girl here?"
I turned around to see the fat middle-aged man with bandanna. The <Bright>'s staff T-shirt on his body was close to bursting apart thanks to his whale belly.
He's the in-charge for the audio equipment. After coming to here a few times, we gradually got close to each other. As he stared at Julien, he said this bluntly,
"What's this? You've changed to another girl again? There's gotta be a limit to this...... You've already made so many girls cry, so when are you planning to stop?"
"It's not like this. You see......"
I was that close to blurting "This person here's a guy". Julien was looking at me with great interest.
"So you had made someone else other than me cry?"
"Since when did I make you cry!?"
"It will be a while before Tomo's turn on stage. You requested him to do something for you, right? What do you have up your sleeves again? Whatever. I'll be looking forward to it."
The middle-aged man dragged his colossal body towards the bar. Oh right, due to the event, all the DJs will mix their own music when they perform. So that's the reason why he is so free.
"Who's the Tomo guy whom he talked about earlier?" Julien shouted in my ears. We would not be able to hear each other if we did not do that.
"He's a DJ whom I met recently at here. He'll be next soon."
"So you are planning to show me his stuff?"
I nodded. Tomo's one of Kagurazaka-senpai's old friends. We have known each other for only about two months, but he still accepted my unreasonable request. What a great help he is.
I'll be teaching Julien a really good lesson with that.
Just as we took the drinks and sat ourselves down by the table, the emcee began rattling some stuff which I could not get into my ears. The audience gathered beneath the stage and burst into cheers. The spotlights were flashing about wildly, and suddenly, a tanned guy with a slanted cap on his head appeared on stage. He was sitting behind the mixing console — that's Tomo.
I waved my hands at Tomo, but he probably did not see me. That's because he was focusing his attention on the turntables.
A 6/8 beats began its course. The rapper mumbled a series of murmurs in sextuplets into the microphone, and that monotonous harmony continued on for quite some time. I shot a glance towards my side at Julien's face — he was slowly leaning towards the stage with his eyes fixed onto the performance. After a lengthy series of tempo which sounded like it was repeating on and on again, Tomo began adding in the beats of the timpani. Next, he slipped in the pizzicato of the bass stringed instruments. It's just as expected from him. I am in full admiration of Tomo's arrangements.
Amid the clear monophony of the piano, an ear-piercing rhythm of the electronic drums began to overflow from beneath. I knew Julien should be breathless in his surprise from the clear piano monophony. He should have noticed it already. Not only was it the rondo from the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Concert No. 5 - <Emperor Concerto>; it was actually played by Mafuyu.
Julien looked at me with his glittering eyes. I shook my head silently and pointed towards the stage. That's not the only surprise I had in store for him — my retaliation had just begun. At the last bar of the main rondo theme played by the piano, the glamorous melody of the violin came barging in suddenly on the off-beats. That made Julien stood up from his chair and nearly let out a cry. I don't think there is anyone else in this world who knows that melody more than he does.
Julien's weak murmurs was swallowed by the gradually increasing volumes of the performance by the orchestra. That's the rondo from the third movement of Beethoven's <Violin Concerto in D major>, and the person playing the solo was none other than Julien himself. I could clearly see the fingers of his left hand fumbling in confirmation before grabbing tightly onto his beloved instrument which was no where near him. After a brief sampling of Mafuyu's piano and Julien's violin, the two instruments began to weave to and fro the tempo of the disco beats. At times, they would chase each other; other times, they would overlap together. The two melody galloped in the livehouse filled with darkness, rays of lights and a heated atmosphere.
I had the illusion that Mafuyu was right next to me. Actually, I never thought of helping Julien fulfill his unrealized dream. All I was thinking was I'll have to teach him a good lesson in music, just like how I did to Mafuyu. But at the very moment, the sound of Julien and Mafuyu were right around us. I could see something shiny glittering at the corners of his eyes.
He's the only one who can make Mafuyu take up the piano once more.
That made me feel very frustrated. Yes, I am frustrated. It's my heartfelt wish to listen to Mafuyu's piano once more, but all I could do is to convert those feelings of mine into some twisted words. That is the only thing I can do even though I am by her side all these while. However, Julien's right here — the person who has tasted the same loneliness and glamours as Mafuyu did. I actually helped him touch the thing that is buried deep in the heart of Mafuyu — and that made me feel really bitter inside.
What the heck am I doing? My intention of using this piece is so that I can teach Julien a lesson, but I was the one who is taught a lesson instead. What an idiot I am.
Still, everything was perfect to the point where it can evoke tears from its listeners — from the two Beethoven pieces played by Mafuyu and Julien to Tomo's mixing. So even when the rondo was engulfed by the familiar-sounding disco music, there was a period of time where I could not bring myself to look in the direction of Julien. I had no idea what he was saying to me despite hearing his emotional speech.
It was time for a break with some relaxing music when Tomo's performance was over.
"Hey you guys, why are both of you looking so restless? You're not enjoying yourselves properly!"
When he saw Julien and I lying our heads on the table, Tomo showed an irritated expression on his face as he walked towards us with a whiskey bottle in one of his hands.
"No, it's because the music is just too incredible. I am drained just from listening to it," replied Julien.
"Ahahaha. We're only halfway into the event! There's four more people going up on stage, so you two better listen to everything, yeah? Hey Nao, how was it? This was your request for me, yeah? Geez, you suddenly came to me with that record a week ago and asked me to mix this for you. The tune was off by half a key, and the rhythm was unstable too. Think about how hard it was for me."
"Yeah...... I am really thankful. Your work has way exceeded my expectations."
I remained lying on the table even as I said that. Tomo gave me a few kicks on my thighs in response.
"Why are you so lacking in your youthfulness despite being a high-school student? Since you've brought your girlfriend here, go dance with her or something!"
"Nah, this person's a guy. Also, he's the one who played the piece of music which I lent you."
Tomo's mouth dropped open and remained motionless for quite a while. Julien got up quickly and said,
"I never thought my concerto can become something like that! It was amazing!"
He grabbed Tomo's hand and swung it up and down.
"Eh, ah, yeah......"
Tomo shrunk his body and was about to escape.
"Why are you running away? Did I do something—"
"No...... but you're not angry?"
"You are a classical musician, no? Aren't you angry that your record was messed up by me in that manner?"
"Why would I? It was a great performance! There's no reason for me to be angry."
Tomo forcefully swallowed the words that he was about to say. I could sort of understand his feelings. Still, the veteran DJ was put into a state of embarrassment due to Julien's innocent and destructive smile.
Julien wanted to ask him more on the things about DJ, so Tomo sat down with us to chat.
"My room's only six tatami-sized wide, but the floor is nearly destroyed by the weight of the records. I spent nearly all of my wages on records as well. Whenever I have time to spare, I will listen to the records or surf around the internet to look for materials which I can use for my music. However, only a small portion will be usable for my performance. Probably ninety out of a hundred records will be unusable on stage. And for those which can be used, I can usually extract only a few seconds of the whole thing. How should I put it? There are times when I feel really apologetic towards the creators of all these music and sounds."
"So my music was one of the usable ones out of the hundred records?"
Julien looked at Tomo's face ecstatically.
"...... But I messed it up really badly, yeah? I snipped out a few parts, put them on repeat and cranked up the tempo. Also, while the original piece was a really long one, the parts which I ended up using was no more than thirty seconds in total."
"That's okay," Julien placed his hands on Tomo's as he replied him. Tomo was visibly at a loss of what to do. Damn, that French is overly liberal with the skinship!
Tomo's stiff expression was melted away by Julien's following line.
"Because I can sense the respect in your music!"
"I knew it straight away when I heard it. The reason you used my music is because you really like my violin, do you not?"
Tomo turned his head away in embarrassment and emptied the whiskey in a single gulp. Anyone would have done the same in his shoes......
Tomo stood up. He said he'll be going up on stage to perform again, and he hoped we can continue to listen to his performance.
"I'll be doing Jimi Hendrix for my next performance. Oh yeah, I am using that worn-out synthesizer which you are envious of. If it's not broken by the end of the performance, I am planning to give it to Kyouko. You can then borrow it from her to play around with it."
"Eh!? For real!?"
Tomo's synthesizer is of an older model, and it is already very worn-out. However, he had amassed a huge collection of sound effects in it, and since he kept talking about replacing it...... I had been secretly wondering if he will be willing to give it to me.
"See you later!"
Julien waved his hands as he sent Tomo off.
The slow-tempo music was still playing. Great, looks like we can chat a while longer. Julien sat down on the chair besides me and sighed at his ignorance.
"I never knew that there was music like this."
That's right. The world is huge. The streams of music had flowed through the whole continent before gathering here at this very place.
"Naomi, is this the reason why you got me here? So that I can listen to these music?"
Julien seemed a little surprised. Actually, that was not the only reason I got him here. I relieved my parched throat with the Oolong tea with its ice close to melting away completely.
"...... That's not all though. This is my revenge for the previous time we met."
"Yeah. A rebuttal from the untalented critic in response to the violinist."
I could finally look straight into Julien's eyes — the pair of eyes that was glittering in anticipation and curiosity. Well then, how should I start? I took a deep breath and heaved it out.
I went straight to the point.
"To me, critics are something like the DJs."
Julien was a little shaken by my words. I took another deep breath before continuing,
"A composer composes a song, and the performers will convey it to the audience. On the other hand, a DJ will snip, connect, rearrange and overlap the original piece to create a totally different product. You never knew that such music exists, right? It's the same for the role of a critic."
I looked at my opened palms.
"A critic belongs to the literary group. Ultimately speaking, even if he is to put on a front of a scholar, a critic is just someone who writes for the readers to read; to make the readers happy, and at the same time, he can earn some cash from it. We—"
I am still a little hesitant to lump myself with the other music critics, because I have not written anything impressive. Still, allow me to finish what I wanted to say—
"With the pieces composed by the composers as the basis of our articles, we snip, connect, rearrange the pieces. Next, we add in our praises and criticisms, before finally producing an article that is interesting for the readers. This is probably a territory of music which Julien does not understand, yeah? However, there's no way we can write anything if we do not respect our materials."
I took another look at Julien's face. He returned my gaze with a confused expression in his eyes.
Did he understand what I have said?
"At the very least, that is something that applies to me. There may be some bastards out there who hold no respect for the pieces, treating them like records which they crush with their feet. I do think it's for the best if they disappear off the face of the world. You can easily see if the critic has respect for the pieces that he is criticizing. Perhaps you may think that lies are cheap and we can weave as many lies as we want, but that's not the case at all."
My words ended abruptly.
He should be able to understand, right? Do our words really possess that sort of power? If all I had just said were nothing but a bunch of lies in Julien's ears, I might actually punch him in his face.
"—I know that."
Julien said that all of the sudden.
I lifted my head. Julien was narrowing his eyes as if he was looking at me against the bright lights.
"I know Naomi is not lying to me."
He gently placed his hands on my fists which I had clenched unknowingly.
"Because you have put in so much effort to reply to the words which I have said in jest. I am actually really nervous right now. I could not look at you directly due to how guilty I am."
But you have been looking at me all the while.
"What should I do? I must have said some really mean things to you, right? And I said I will never apologize...... what should I do? What must I do for you to forgive me?"
"Urm, well......" I pushed away Julien's icy hands. "It's fine. I am not doing all these to get an apology from you. Also, it's not like I am angry or anything. Just......"
I could not remain silent due to how bitter I was. After much provocation from her, Mafuyu had finally managed to get the flame going — the tiny and insignificant pride which resides in my heart.
Therefore, it's okay as long as I can convey my words to Julien.
No, actually, that's not what I am really concerned about—
Perhaps...... I just want to listen to that piece of music.
I want to listen to the part where Julien and Mafuyu play together.
I will become strangely uneasy just from imagining the actual scene of them playing together. However, the song of Beethoven which had resulted in the resonances from their performance was still reverberating in my ears.
The atmosphere of the livehouse heated up all of the sudden, and the music was changed to a fast-paced one. The fast-talking of the emcee was picking up speed. I could see someone with a baseball cap beneath the crisscrossing spotlights — it's Tomo. Not only was he taking the role of a DJ, he's actually smashing on the keyboard with his fists. From the endless beats of the tempo came the roar of a jet engine, the sound of a downpour and the wail of an incendiary. Purple lights were shone throughout the basement, and that caused the place to be lit in a sea of fire. Julien gave an occasional shriek and even shielded his face with his arms. Tomo actually managed to replicate such realistic sounds of the battlefield with only a single synthesizer......
Next came the sounds of the spinning rotors of the helicopters which shattered the cries of the birds, followed by an intense fanfare from the horns. That's the national anthem of America. The blaring of the cars' horns seemed to be mocking the simple tunes of <The Star-Spangled Banner> which sounded like it was coming out from an old radio. So that's what he was referring to when he said he's performing Jimi Hendrix......?
The ecstatic Tomo jumped barefoot onto the synthesizer and began banging on the keyboard of the synthesizer as though he was tap dancing. I never expected that from a disco event. However, his act got the crowd to break into a loud cheer, and Julien was yelling excitedly besides me as well. I was the only person praying for the synthesizer to survive to the end.
"It's already dark. Want me to send you to the station?" I asked Julien. However, his reply was, "I've called a car over, so it's okay." Then again...... I think I cycled my way here, yeah?
We made our way to the carpark where my bicycle was via the gravel path. The remaining heat from the ground rose its way up from beneath us. There was a constant stream of people from the audience that were walking out of the livehouse, and all of them were exhausted from their intense enjoyment of the concert.
"Naomi, do you listen to such music frequently?"
"I'm so jealous. I want to visit more places like the livehouse."
As a famous violinist, it must be difficult for him to go to places he wants to. I never did expect him to cater himself to my timing though.
"I will try my best to make myself free whenever Naomi invites me."
With that said, Julien flashed a sly smile.
"You made me speechless today, so it will be my turn next. Just you wait!"
It's better if you don't...... why don't we just end our feud here and now?
"But I can't stay in Japan for too long. That's why...... I am really jealous."
"I am jealous of Naomi, and at the same time, I am jealous of Mafuyu as well. It will be great if we can be together forever......"
"Look...... my feelings for her is not what you are imagining," I was grasping for words. "Mafuyu...... she's a really impressive guitarist. I liked the sounds of her guitar, so that's the reason why I wanted to start a band with her......"
Julien tilted his head and narrowed his eyes as he looked at me with a mischievous expression. That pissed me off. I had already said the truth!
"Oh well, whatever. I'll just take it as the truth for today. However, I still can't allow you to stay by Mafuyu's side."
"This again? Can we just stop talking about it......"
"But I want to. That's why...... I've said this before, right? That I will take the place of Mafuyu and stay by Naomi's side. I am serious about that. What do you think?"
I shook my hands hard. There's too many problems with that suggestion of yours. With a slightly depressed expression on his face, Julien muttered, "I see....." But he reverted back to his cheerful smile within seconds.
"I think I finally understand the reason for Mafuyu and Naomi to be together."
I don't understand at all — just as I was done saying that, Julien burst into a loud laughter.
"Mafuyu and I are really alike. We can talk to each other easily, and we have been in the musical world since we were young. Our ways of thought are very similar, and it applies to our preferences as well. Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. To go on further, there's Prokofiev, Scriabin, and even Schoenberg......"
Julien listed the music which Mafuyu liked. With that said, it seems like Julien had chosen lots of Bach's pieces for his solo performance as well?
"That's why I understand. Because Mafuyu and I will fall in love with the same person as well."
Indeed, there must be some striking similarities between the two of them if they like Scriabin and Schoenberg. Upon seeing me nodding my head repeatedly, Julien laughed so hard that his shoulders were trembling, and he was close to rolling about on the floor — that's how ridiculous his laughter was. What's wrong? What's so funny?
Just then, I could see the two headlamps of a car approaching us from the other end of the narrow road.
Julien waved at the incoming car. He then suddenly turned his head around to look at me.
"Oh. I have a request, Naomi."
"I did ask you to address me as 'Yuri', right? It feels really embarrassing if you are to call me 'Julien'."
"Ah, mmm. Sure......"
No wait, hold on. Who are you to be telling me that?
"It's embarrassing for me as well, yeah? Stop calling me Naomi already."
"No way." He stuck out his tongue. "It's too unfair if Mafuyu is the only one who can call you by your real name."
How's that unfair? He was already kicking at the pebbles and running towards the car before I could retort. The blurred outlines of his body disappeared behind the tightly shut door of the co-driver's seat.
I guess...... it's my victory for today? As I listened to the exhausts of the leaving car, I suddenly thought: when will he strike back? I had no idea what he would do to me.
I then realized that I was actually looking forward to my next meeting with him. I was surprised by that feeling of mine.
I was in a really solemn mood when I realized that I have to report to my fellow band members about my duel with Julien. Senpai must be really interested in it, and Mafuyu's gaze would be incredibly painful if I do not say anything......
But that was just me thinking too much into things. That incident became the root of my headaches when I went to school the following day.
"Look here, everyone. This is the picture of Julien in drag. He was sticking himself so intimately next to young man, and they were happily chatting away in whispers too. And this picture — they were actually holding hands......"
"What are you doing!?"
When I reached the practice room after school, I was infuriated by the scene of Senpai proudly spreading out the photos on the table one piece at a time. Chiaki was looking at the pictures excitedly, while Mafuyu was in an angry mood as she stared at the pictures intensely — and the stars of the pictures are none other than Julien and me when we were both at <Bright>.
"This...... H-How did you get your hands on these photos? Senpai was there as well?"
"Why must I do something that is fitting of a stalker? I am not that free. I know lots of people at the livehouse, and after knowing when you will bring him there, I got them to take the pictures for me."
"Indeed. He's so incredibly adorable despite being a guy. That's really criminal of him."
"Stop trying to change the topic!"
"Oh yeah, I heard from DJ Tomo about how you had subdued Julien. It looks like you have put in a great deal of effort into it, right? You've stolen my heart yet again, young man!"
Senpai placed her hands on my shoulders and flashed a light smile at the infuriated me — and that caused my anger to vanish instantly. Forget it. It's pointless to talk to her anyway.
"Senpai, senpai. I want this, this and this."
"Sure. Feel free to print as many photos as you like."
Mafuyu snatched the photos off the hands of Chiaki, but they were snatched back by Chiaki just as Mafuyu was about to crush it. Senpai intervened by hugging the both of them tightly. I pressed my hand on my head as it began to ache. I decided to leave the girls alone, so I grabbed my bass and left the classroom quietly.
I'll have to practice even harder — so that I can fight against Julien's retaliation as a musician.