Here's the completed chapter. I'm actually kinda rooting for Julien. You go girl!
Also, I'll be switching back to Eden.
After a brief intermission, the performance resumed with the third piece of the night—<Manfred Symphony>. <Manfred Symphony> is the longest symphony Tchaikovsky composed; and while the length of the piece might differ depending on the conductor, it typically lasts about an hour. The first movement starts off really slowly and is incredibly gloomy; and coupled with Ebichiri's calm and sturdy style of conducting, the piece was really tiring to listen to. Two seats away from me, Chiaki had already fallen asleep on Kagurazaka-senpai's shoulder.
In the beginning, I thought to myself, "Why are they playing the piece so slowly? The audience might criticize them harshly for that, no?" But in the third movement, the atmosphere somehow became even more suffocating than before, and I was forcefully pulled into the meditative sounds. But when the performance entered the last movement, which had a rigorous military feel to it, I actually sat up and straightened out my sitting posture.
Ebichiri waved his arms and lifted the orchestra to an incredibly high height; then, with a swing of the baton, he ended the most rousing section of the piece at the climax.
After a moment of blankness, which made me feel as though I were looking down from atop a dangerous cliff—
A ray of light descended from the sky—it was an elegant chorale played by the organ. I felt a jolt of electricity run up my spine, and goosebumps appeared all over my body.
I used to think <Manfred Symphony> was a boring piece of music, but in that moment, everything changed. I had never heard an interpretation like that before—with the conductor bringing the whole piece to its climax in such a saddening and theatrical fashion.
The piece ended as if it were sucked into the air. But for quite a long while, there was no clapping—or even coughing—to be heard. Only after Ebichiri had let go of his baton, did the audience finally jolt back to its senses. It started with sparse applause scattered here and there; then, the whole music hall became engulfed in a whirlpool of applause, which only grew larger and larger. Before I had even realized, I was already up on my feet and clapping.
I shot a glance beside me. Mafuyu was sitting in her chair, clapping with an unhappy expression on her face.
"That was really impressive."
I could faintly hear Kagurazaka-senpai's voice.
"I've never heard <Manfred Symphony> go along so well with an organ. The tempo felt like it was barely containing something within it...... So it was all for that final moment?"
The audience continued applauding, even after Ebichiri had stepped down from the stage. The orchestra continued tuning as well. A special feature of Ebichiri's concerts were his encores, which always turned out to be interesting and unique performances. I wanted to sort out my thoughts, so I took out my notebook and pen.
After returning back on stage, Ebichiri spread his arms out, signaling the audience to quiet down. The noise of the audience gradually faded away.
"I am thankful to have the honor of meeting everyone here tonight."
Ebichiri said that with a stern face. He always uttered that line prior to his encore. "Narcissist," said Mafuyu softly beside me. I did agree with her slightly.
"We have invited a special guest here today, a soloist. He should not be appearing here tonight, so those of you in the music industry, please try to publicize this as little as possible, or else I will be in for some trouble with the record company."
A few guffaws came from beneath the stage. A soloist who only appears during the encore? I had never heard of something like that before.
"I believe everyone should know him well, but I think it is only proper that I introduce him. Please welcome Julien Flaubert."
Ebichiri's announcement caused a huge commotion in the audience. I remembered hearing that name somewhere before, so I frantically searched through my memories. I ended up not hearing what Mafuyu was saying beside me.
Julien. Julien Flaubert......
The commotion in the hall turned into a warm round of applause again. I quickly lifted my head in shock.
At the side of the stage appeared a small silhouette of someone holding a violin beneath his arm. He walked past the members of the orchestra and made his way to the conductor's stand at the middle of the stage.
At first, I thought the person was a girl, as I could only see the upper body—the person had huge eyes, fiery red lips, and shiny golden hair that glittered under the spotlights.
However, the petite violinist standing next to Ebichiri was wearing a tuxedo. "Yuri?" mumbled Mafuyu. I finally remembered who he was.
The violinist was more widely known by his nickname "Yuri" than by his actual name. It was his nickname back when he was pursuing his studies at the Moscow Conservatory—a fact that was well known, even in Japan. He was always praised for possessing "the looks of an angel," or "sublime techniques, as if he were Yehudi Menuhin reborn," etc. He was a celebrity violinist with crazed fans all over the globe. It was said that magazine sales would increase many fold whenever his pictures were published. His frequent appearance on the covers of classical music magazines was how I got to know of him. He always wore a serious and stern expression in the magazine pictures, but he actually exuded an air of innocence similar to that of a typical middle school girl (even though he was a guy). He was roughly Mafuyu's height as well. I think he's one year younger than me?
Julien stood at the conductor's stand and bowed elegantly. His movement silenced everyone in the hall.
No one made a sound. Julien lifted his bow, but I saw almost no movement from Ebichiri as he conducted. The clarinets and oboes raised a serious inquiry, and Julien's violin replied with a solo. Then, the background accompaniment of the orchestra began to slowly spread its wings.
This song is—
Alban Berg's Violin Concerto.
The concerto dedicated <To the Memory of an Angel> was composed in remembrance of a young girl that had passed away; it was Berg's final piece before he died due to blood poisoning. The violin solo and the orchestra wove together to create a sorrowful fricative; the melody sounded like it was sobbing softly.
I didn't even notice my notebook had slipped out of my hands.
It really felt like there were wails coming from someone high above.
The intense allegro of the second movement told the story of the girl and her pains struggling against her sickness. An intense chromatic phrase, which felt like it was shaved from Julien's slender body, was finally surrounded by the death that purified everything. The phrase then merged itself with the calm adagio.
The solo violin began playing its highest note, while, at the same time, absorbing all the sounds of 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 completely different compared to that after <Manfred Symphony>.
Even so, the young boy in the middle of the stage placed his bow and violin down. After he showed the audience a gentle smile akin to that of an angel, the atmosphere in the hall melted immediately.
The applause of the audience was like an endless avalanche.
I was clapping my hands together in a daze. I then realized he wasn't offering his smile to everyone in the audience, but only to 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 had actually put a great deal of effort into preparing a bouquet for me to offer to Ebichiri. It's sad to say though—not only did he choose narcissuses, which were out of season, he also told me, "Listen to this properly Nao. 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 in the lobby. Just as I was about to head to the lounge backstage, Mafuyu grabbed the hem of my suit and gave it a tug.
"...... I'm coming along."
Why? I mean, Ebichiri will be in the lounge too, yeah? It's not possible for Mafuyu to want to go there just to see him, right? I then thought of Julien. (It looked like) Flaubert was staring at Mafuyu back then......
There should be a reason for that, right? Perhaps they knew each other?
The corridor leading to the lounge was filled with members of the orchestra, as well as the large instruments. Since the performing band was the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the conversations I heard all around me were all spoken in English. I was at a loss at what to do.
Just then, one of the members of the orchestra spotted Mafuyu hiding behind my back, and walked towards us after blurting out what sounded like "Oh!" We quickly became surrounded by the orchestra. That was proof Mafuyu was famous in the professional world as well.
Mafuyu pushed me aside when I tried to talk to them in Japanese. She began to converse with the middle-aged French horn player in incredibly authentic-sounding American English. She then turned around to look at me, pointed at 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 of someone who came back from America not too long ago, her English was really impressive. For some reason, I found myself more and more useless.
The orchestra member brought us to a smaller lounge deep inside the corridor. Just as I was about to grab the doorknob to open the door, the door suddenly opened from inside. "Mafuyu!" A small person, with a voice filled with excitement, squeezed through the opening and hugged me all of a 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, he hugged me tightly with his slender arms and buried his face deep in my chest. There was a faint scent of roses coming from his hair—no wait! I became flustered all of a sudden and quickly 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, then tiptoed slightly to kiss me lightly on the cheek. I remained rooted to the ground as he turned his attention to Mafuyu.
"I miss you so much, ma cherie!"
What surprised me even more, was that Mafuyu didn't yell at him or hit him, despite him hugging her tightly. She only put on a slightly unhappy expression as she silently let him kiss her cheeks lightly. The French are really impressive—with only half of my brain functioning properly, that was all I could think.
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 every day. Before today's encore, I heard from Maestro Ebisawa that Mafuyu would be coming to listen to the concert, so I requested—"
There was a sudden cough. I finally saw Ebichiri sitting in front of the dressing table deep inside 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 with a serious expression on his face. You're scaring me with your expectations......
The four of us sat down, face to face, on the sofas in the lounge. I was sitting right in front of Ebichiri, while Mafuyu was sitting to my side. And for some unknown reason, Julien sat himself behind Mafuyu and me, on the back of the sofa. Please, can you just sit down properly? You're making me really uncomfortable.
"Critique? He's writing it?"
Julien suddenly grabbed my hair and stretched his body over my head to look at my face, almost causing me to nearly fall over. Even at such a close distance, he still looked like a girl. His peach-red lips were right before my eyes, and I was reminded of what had happened earlier. I do hope he'll keep his distance from me.
"That is rude of you, Flaubert. Sit down properly! The person whose hair you messed up may look young, but he is a music critic. He is our opponent."
Julien disappeared from my sight all of a sudden. I see...... He stood beside the sofa and stared at Ebichiri with his eyes opened wide, then turned his head in my direction and stared at me. It was only up-close that I realized he was really skinny and small. He might actually have a smaller build than Mafuyu.
I thought he was going to sit beside Ebichiri, but unexpectedly, he sat himself down next to me. The sofa was only a two-seater, so Mafuyu, Julien and I had no choice but to squeeze in together. 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. As you already know, I am a violinist. I would be happy if you could address me as 'Yuri.'"
He stretched out his hand as he introduced himself. The content's a little strange, but his Japanese is quite fluent...... Did he learn from Ebichiri? However, there was a strange expression in Julien's eyes, and I didn't quite know what it was. Hostility? Contempt? A sense of wariness? Or perhaps curiosity? His expression looked like a mix of everything, but, at the same time, also didn't seem like any of the above as well.
I hesitated for a while before shaking his hand stiffly. I felt a sense of incongruity. Why do I feel like this?
"My enemy, what is your name?"
"...... Eh? A-Ah. My name is Hikawa. Hikawa Naomi." Even though he was younger than me, he spoke to me in a casual tone, as though he were conversing with someone his own age. I unconsciously responded 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 met with once a month after the divorce, the only other person to address me directly by my real name was Mafuyu.
However, the way Julien pronounced my name was quite different from the way Mafuyu pronounced it—probably because the name "Naomi" is in the English language as well? It just didn't sound like my 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 himself over my shoulder to look at Mafuyu.
"You cannot call him that."
"You just can't."
Why? I was at a loss at what was happening around me. Then again, why does Ebichiri look angry as well?
"Urm, well...... Everyone calls me "Nao," so if you can, please address me as that."
"So what instrument does Naomi play?"
"Listen to what I'm saying here, okay!?" "Stupid Yuri!"
"But I do not 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 introduced yourself!?"
Julien stood up from the sofa with teary eyes and hid himself behind Ebichiri's back. He placed his hands on the sofa like a cat and said,
"Maestro, why is he so fierce with his tsukkomi?"
"That is nothing. Speaking to his father is much more tiring than that. And he has only become like this because he is surrounded by many such people." And you're one of them, Ebichiri!
"So he fits the mold of a critic very well?" Julien replied. Just what exactly are critics in the eyes of you two? Being a critic isn't just about tsukkomi-ing musicians who are hard to communicate with, you know?
"But the skin on your left fingers is very tough, so you should play some sort of instrument, 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 corners of my eyes, I could see an unhappy expression on Ebichiri's face.
"Mmm? So you are a companion of Mafuyu's?" Julien began to play around with my fingers as he said that. I found his reaction a little strange. He's not the least bit surprised that Mafuyu's in a band? Or did he know about it already? Just what is the relationship between the two of them? It's probably not the right time for me to ask him that......
"Are you good with your bass?"
"No, not at all." "He is horribly bad at it."
The Ebisawa father-and-daughter pair answered at the same time, making 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? We only just 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 were a lot of musicians who were like that.
"Mmm. I do."
Like the sun reappearing after a heavy downpour, a bright smile appeared on Julien's face as he answered me straightforwardly. I see. So you hate them huh—I almost wanted to smile when I said those words, to show him I approved 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 loss for words.
"Yuri, stop that."
Mafuyu said that in a very stern tone and actually physically shielded me.
"But Mafuyu, you said before that you also hate those people?"
"But there is no need for you to say such things to Naomi."
"You used to talk about tying critics up and drying them under the sun so you could use them as fertilizer for the grapes. Back then, I thought the Japanese were a bunch of really scary people......"
"I never said that!" Mafuyu stood up with her face red.
"Flaubert is the one who said that."
Ebichiri sighed. The French are a bunch of really scary people......
"Ah, is that so? But I remember Mafuyu talking about how that would make the grapes taste bad, making it a bad idea after all."
"Yuri is the one that said that as well! Geez! You idiot!"
Mafuyu stood up and stretched past my shoulders to slap Yuri hard on the head. Ebichiri and I exchanged looks of helplessness. You two can do what you want, but can you please not sandwich me in the middle of your quarrel?
In order to prevent myself from accidentally 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 Julien with her right hand, he quickly grabbed her hand and entwined his fingers with hers.
"...... You should remember how those people only wrote nonsense after you could not play the piano, right? And recently, after the issue regarding your fingers was leaked, those people criticized you unfairly about your lack of professionalism, saying you were running away from the stage."
I stood up in shock and looked at them. I wasn't in any position to say anything, but—I had never thought the critics would discuss the issue of Mafuyu's fingers so brazenly.
"Are you still continuing your rehabilitation therapy? Though they do seem to be in much better shape......"
However, Mafuyu wasn't angry, and she didn't fling Julien's hand away either. All she did was lightly nod, murmuring,
"You do not have to worry. I will do something about it by myself."
I stared helplessly at Mafuyu's profile.
Since I met her, I had indirectly asked her about her fingers many times. I knew her fingers were immobile mainly because of a psychological issue, but I had never heard anything concrete from Mafuyu about whether or not she wanted to continue playing the piano.
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 she will try to do something "in order to play the piano once more"?
If that's really the case, then—why didn't she tell me?
Was it because it was Julien who asked? Because they both live in the same world? Bask under the same brilliance, the same cheers and the same criticisms? Because they've tasted the same loneliness? Is that why she could say those words to him? If that's the case, then—
It seemed Ebichiri had said something to me, and Julien also, while staring at my face. However, I couldn't remember what I told them in reply. Why the heck am I here? I pondered that question repeatedly in my half blanked-out mind.
"Really? So he's 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 against her forehead and shook her head. Senpai kept hounding me about Julien's sex the moment I mentioned meeting him. What the heck is this person normally thinking?
"What would you do if he were a girl?"
Chiaki, who had become drowsy while waiting for me, prodded Senpai's waist gently as she asked that question.
"Hmm? I guess I'd 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, his Japanese was incredibly fluent.
A brief silence engulfed us. Chiaki kept staring at me.
"...... Urm, what's wrong?"
"You're not going to tsukkomi her?" Chiaki asked, pointing at Senpai.
"...... It's not like I exist in this world solely to tsukkomi stupid lines that are uttered around me."
"I don't live in this world purely for romance either—I have never forgotten about my revolution, you know. France is a country of revolutions as well, so it'll definitely be beneficial for me to learn more about the French."
"That's something you thought up only a second ago, right?"
"Oh! Nao's revived!" Chiaki said with approval. Don't be that happy. I only said it by accident!
I'll forget the content 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 start on my draft.
"Hold on, wait! Nao, you're really mean! Senpai and I waited for you for so long, and you're planning to head home already?"
Chiaki caught up to me with her yells and her footsteps. Then, I heard two more pairs of footsteps—Mafuyu caught up 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 the row of tall trees that encircled 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 pretty late. I didn't realize when I was listening to the piece, but the encore was actually really long, as they had played the whole concerto.
Despite it being a hard piece to understand, due to its complex tones, I was deeply attracted to it, which caused me to lose 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 in response. She immediately put on a troubled expression.
"I'd like to know what the relationship between Julien Flaubert and Comrade Mafuyu is! Just like the young man, right?"
"I'm also curious about—"
Mafuyu's face went red, due to the barrage of questions from all around her. She remained rooted at the spot, and looked a little overwhelmed. I turned my head around and saw her looking at me with a cry for help.
"Urm, well......" I was 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 gone on a tour in America too, right?"
So even Chiaki knew about Julien's existence? I never would've expected fashion magazines to write articles about him as well.
"...... That was a long time ago, when Papa was not the main conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra."
And that meant—he used to go on tours with Mafuyu as well? I do remember him saying something like "I'll be depending on the Ebisawa family during my stay in Japan"......
Mafuyu kept staring at my face. She waved her hands vigorously when I noticed her gaze.
"H-He was not with me that often...... and I was very busy."
"But you two took the same plane and stayed in the same hotel together, right?" Chiaki said.
"Did he enter the male's bath or the female's bath?"
"There's no such thing in the hotels of America, right?"
"Oh right, have you and Yuri performed together before? There are some pieces that are performed only with the piano and violin, right?"
"There were plans for that, but none of them materialized......"
"So that boy is here specifically to see Comrade Ebisawa, right? You two share a really good relationship."
Mafuyu was getting more and more restless as the other two girls barraged her with all sorts of questions. I was following a few steps behind them, and as I stared at Mafuyu's long hair while walking, I suddenly thought of Julien's violin. I recalled his clear eyes and skin, his pale red lips, and those cold slender fingers he grabbed my hands with.
Ahh—yes. The fingers.
Something had felt really out of place back then. Just like how Julien had noticed the skin on my left hand was rough, I had noticed the skin on his left fingers was hard as well. Of course, that wasn't strange, considering he was a violinist. But somehow, it felt like his fingertips weren't as slender as those of a violinist.
Why's that so?
Mafuyu suddenly stopped in her tracks and turned around, causing me to nearly bump into her.
"You know, there is really nothing special going on between Yuri and me. We are just normal friends...... There r-really is nothing between us."
I was stunned. Why's she telling me this?
Mafuyu's face was so red it looked like steam was about to come out of her skin. She then turned her head away and walked quickly towards the train station.
Kagurazaka-senpai let out a snicker, then grabbed Chiaki and me by the arm and ran after Mafuyu.
It was already past ten when Chiaki and I reached our stop. Tokyo's really far away.
Even after the doors of the train had opened, I remained sitting in my seat with a blank expression on my face. It was only after Chiaki stomped me hard on the foot 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?"
As we walked past the ticket gates, Chiaki asked me that with a sinister expression on her face.
"Urm...... Yeah, kind of."
It was the first time I had seen someone speak with Mafuyu like that. Come to think of it, Mafuyu was the one who looked for him (and she did it despite knowing Ebichiri would be around as well). Even though my intentions were quite different from Senpai's, I was still very curious about the relationship between the two of them.
"Didn't Mafuyu say they're just friends?"
"Mmm...... That's true, but......"
For some reason, it felt like Mafuyu was acting really strange back then. She was incredibly flustered, and kept emphasizing that Julien was just a friend of hers—did she do that out of embarrassment?
"What do you mean out of embarrassment?"
"You weren't around, so you wouldn't know, but Mafuyu was okay with Julien hugging her and kissing her...... They might actually be a couple."
No wait, they weren't old enough back then, right? And Julien hugged me as well.
Chiaki stopped in her tracks at the nearly empty bus rotary and stared at me with a dumbfounded expression on her face.
"Do you really mean...... what you just said?"
Wait, the expression in your eyes is really scary! Why are they shining brightly like those of a cat?
Back when Chiaki was still practicing Judo, one time, I attended one of the competitions she was participating in. At the time, everyone was saying she "would 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 I had seen at that competition. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, the night sky streaked past my sight in a flash. My back slammed hard against the asphalt road. I could feel all the air in my lungs being squeezed out of my mouth, and a sharp numbing pain ran through my spine afterwards.
What are you doing!? I frowned. Then, just as I was about to get up, Chiaki's foot grazed my hair—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!"
Frightened, I hid myself in the bushes by the road. W-Why's she so angry?
"I can't take it anymore! I have to punch you! Otherwise, it's too sad for Mafuyu!"
"Why? Sorry, I'll apologize first, but what's wrong with Mafuyu?"
"What do you mean 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'd obediently listen to that request. I continued hiding in the bushes, hugging my head. I suddenly heard someone walking on the grass, and next, I found myself being hoisted up from behind my neck. I raised my head and saw Chiaki's eyes burning with anger.
"Listen real carefully. If you ever say what you said just now directly to Mafuyu, you'd better be prepared for my cross armlock!"
I had no choice but to sit in seiza on the soil and reply to her politely.
After venting her anger out on me without reservation, Chiaki stomped away with the steps of a dinosaur. Damn, tonight's a really crazy night. Why the hell is everyone acting strange tonight?
On the Monday of the following week, I was forced to face the rather unpleasant daily life of school again. Mafuyu turned her gaze away whenever our eyes met; and Chiaki stared at me all the time. And as for Senpai, she was incredibly happy seeing us act the way we were. As a side note, my classmates had been incredibly pumped up ever since our decent result in the chorus contest, and instead of cooling themselves down after all the excitement, they began to focus their attention on the sports day, and were ardently preparing for it. To be honest, just being in the classroom was already tiring for me; but to add on to that, I still had to practice for the school festival's live performance as well, which drained me even more.
Then, that thing happened on Wednesday. Right when I returned home after band practice, Tetsurou came flying out of the living room. I have 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 looked at the aqua-blue envelope Tetsurou had stuffed in my hands. It was from the company Tetsurou was under the care of. But the name "Hikawa Naomi" was written on the letter...... Why?
"Listen to me, Nao—to put it bluntly, the music world's a nest of vagrants, misers and perverts. It's best you don't 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 in the industry right now! "Wait, why's the envelope already open?"
I snatched the envelope from Tetsurou's hand.
"Well...... in my articles, I always write about how delicious Nao's cooking is, so some office lady—at the prime age of twenty-eight—might've written you a letter of admiration. I have to check."
Consider this me begging you—next time, just give me the damn letter right away......
I sat on the living room sofa and checked the contents of the envelope. In it, there was only a ticket and a simple invitation card without the name of the sender. I thought it'd be some sort of classical music event, but instead, it seemed to be a live rock performance. Glancing at the venue of the event, the place didn't seem to be very spacious.
"I thought they sent the letter to you by accident instead of me." Tetsurou stuck his head out above me and said, "But it seems like it's really something for you."
"Uhh, mmm...... But......"
I had no idea who sent it to me. The band performing was a famous band that even I knew, despite my lack of knowledge of J-pop. It was written on the ticket that it was an exclusive concert for their fan club—so why did the company send me something like this?
"Should 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 would do that."
The only professional pop musicians I knew were Hiroshi and Furukawa, both of whom I had met when we had performed together during the summer. We still occasionally met up at the live house—could it be that someone had come to know 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 at you."
Tetsurou said that irresponsibly before scooting back to the sound system. I thought to myself, "A typical parent would've said 'This looks really suspicious, so reject the invitation!'" Am I wrong?
However, they were one of the few recent bands in Japan whose live performances were well-received, which sparked an interest in me. And since it's hard to get a ticket to a fan club performance, I guess I'll just take a look? Though it'll be slightly lonely going alone, as I have only one ticket, if having two means I'd have to go through another crazy fight for the ticket...... I'll pass.
I went to Yoyogi that Saturday night. The thought of going to places like that, late at night by myself, had become less and less intimidating to me since our performance at the live house. Though, honestly, becoming accustomed to something like that was a little frightening.
Located on both sides of the street, were rows of fashion shops, all in decline. As I headed down the street, I spotted a crowd gathering beneath a new building located at the corner. That's probably it? Speaking of which, the small live house isn't done taking in all the people standing at the entrance and around the staircases? Wouldn't that obstruct pedestrians?
There weren't any signboards or anything placed outside, as it wasn't a concert open to the public. I crosschecked the name of the building with the venue written on my ticket, then made my way downstairs to the basement. Upon seeing my ticket, the ticketing lady at the entrance flashed me a slight smile and pinned a blue artificial flower above my chest pocket. What's this? Do all the attendees of this concert need to get one of these pinned on their shirts? But I didn't see anyone else with a flower. I made my way to the end of the stairs in confusion.
I'll never get use to the feeling of pushing open the heavy soundproof doors.
It felt like the air in the live house was electrified. A set of drums was positioned on the jet-black stage in a way that we could only see its faint blue outline. The audience was packed together like a can of sardines, waiting for the performance to start. I still thought I wasn't really suitable for places like these. I grabbed a glass of ginger ale from the bar and sat myself down on a round chair located near the back of the audience seating.
A large number of people behind me began to push me towards the stage, and in the process, increased the thickness of the human wall. Then again, what sort of band is this? Who invited me here, and for what purpose? I hugged my knees half in anticipation, and half in unease.
The lights dimmed—
A loud roar that nearly ripped the hair off my head rang throughout the venue. I saw the silhouettes of a few people on stage, and what entered my ears next, was the high-pitched feedback of the guitars. I knelt on the chair to get a better view of what was going on on stage.
The spotlights on stage lit up simultaneously, and the cheers exploded right after. My face was then assaulted by a vigorous tempo.
The lead vocalist sang with a high-pitched voice that was loud and clear, but occasionally erupted into a deafening scream. I recalled seeing that person on television or somewhere else before. The band was deserving of its reputation as one of the leading bands of J-pop—the tight, undulating melody created a sense of rhythm that made me unintentionally leave my chair to get a step or two closer to the stage.
The appearances of the band members were all thematically black. Their stylish and intricate costumes were perfect for them, and really made them eye-catching on the stage. Despite that, though, they didn't hold back 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 up for the band was <HoleBrothers>, 'cause all the members had slept with the manager before!"
"Oi, I never heard that before!" replied the bassist. Damn, that feels really atrocious. However, the audience enjoyed that exchange—I guess they can only say this stuff at a nonofficial concert.
In the end, their live performance was pretty impressive, and when it came time for the encore, I was already satisfied to the point that it didn't matter who invited me anymore.
"We have a special guest here today who'll appear on stage as the guitarist! But since our guest shouldn't be in a place like this, we have to keep the person's identity a secret!"
Feels like I've heard that somewhere before? As I was racking my brain trying to search for the answer to that question, the spotlights flashed about randomly for a while, then focused all the lights on the left side of the stage. A short silhouette appeared.
Seems like a middle school or high school girl—that was my very first impression of the person, just based on appearance. The person was dressed in a black goth lolita outfit, probably to fit the style of the band. The fluffy skirt was incredibly short, and was coupled with a top that revealed the shoulders. In the person's hands was an aged Stratocaster filled with scars. Even though the person's face was shielded behind a veil hanging off the hat, the champagne gold hair looked like it was burning when the spotlights shone their rays on it......
The unexpected costume of the special guest caused the excited crowd to roar into a thunderous frenzy, swallowing my unconscious mumbling. I was sure the person was Julien. But why's Julien here? And why's he crossdressing? Wait, is the person on stage really him?
The drummer lifted his drumsticks in the air and tapped them, counting down from four.
Suddenly, a series of heavy metal beats sounded from the drums, shaking me. And at the same time, the lead vocalist began screaming a series of intensive twisting pitches, as though he were trying to chew away the microphone.
The melody of the main guitar cleaved open the burning chaos, and with the sharpness of lightning, pierced its way into the darkness of the live house—that was Julien. Those slender fingers slid up and down the strings with incredible speed. It seemed as though Julien were plucking the nerves of the audience rather than the strings of the guitar. The result was a series of very distinct timbres. My knees were trembling nonstop, and I could barely keep my body straight.
Till then, I had never really paid any attention to the so-called "death metal rock" genre. 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 I could never imagine. However, that was the sort of music that was surrounding me. And despite being washed about by the torrential music, the sound of Julien's guitar remained crystal clear to my ears.
There really are times when music can convey the truth better than words.
I knew straight away. It was similar to the timbre that had shaken me back then.
That's right. It was 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's actually a backstage pass.
"Urm...... You can tell Julien I'm fine with meeting him out here......"
"It's okay, don't worry."
With that said, she pushed me into the room.
Rather than a lounge, it was more like a cramped storeroom—filled with amplifiers, drums and lighting equipment, and refurbished with a few tables and folding chairs. The room reeked of sweat, some 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 looks like...... Though it's strange of me to think this, but...... It looked like he was a girl surrounded by four scary, burly men who had stripped her clothes away from her. He looked very out of place.
Julien sprang from his chair and ran towards me.
"You are 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 Yuri invited?"
"Who is he?"
One by one, the band members walked up next to me. It felt really scary, as every one of them looked incredibly strong.
"Well, he is my precious's precious," said Julien, as he turned his head to face me.
"So that means he's my precious's precious's precious?"
"Then...... that makes him my precious's precious's precious's precious!"
"Since when am I your precious, you homo!?"
"You're a homo as well, no!? Yuri's a guy!"
"Come outside and settle things with me right now!"
"Just what I wanted!"
And with that, the lead vocalist and the guitarist grabbed each other by the collar and made their way to the corridor, staring at each other the whole time. What the hell is going on with this band......? The drummer, who looked like someone who often worried about others, pushed a chair next to me and urged me to sit down. "Don't mind them, those two are idiots." The problem was, I could faintly hear loud noises and furious roars coming from the corridor—there's no way I can idly chat in a situation like this!
"Sorry, Yuri. You guys better leave for now. It seems they're really duking it out."
The bassist, who was observing the situation in the corridor, said that with a frown.
"I'm sorry, Naomi. Let's go outside."
Julien grabbed me by the arm and ran out of the room, through the door linked to the stage. I heard shouts of "I'm gonna kill you!" and "I'm gonna impregnate you!" from behind me.
"I met everyone at the hotel I was staying at during my performance in LA."
Julien sat on the round chair next to me and said that while sipping on his drink from a paper cup. The noise of the crowded McDonald's and the ambient J-pop music sounded quiet in contrast to the earlier ruckus.
"The vocalist, Gata, barged into my room when he was drunk. He probably just entered the wrong room, I think? And grabbed my violin out of the blue and strummed it as though it were a guitar. I then punched him to the floor in a fit of an anger, but that incident helped us become friends."
I let out a heavy sigh. I had no idea what to think about these people.
The whole situation of me being in such a place felt really unbelievable as well. Something must've gone wrong somewhere for me to end up sitting next to the prodigy violinist—who frequently appeared on the covers of magazines—listening to him spout these stupid stories as I chewed on some fries.
Why did Julien want to meet me? And why did he invite me to see the concert?
"Right, I have a lot of questions to ask you, but first—"
"Why are you still crossdressing?"
Before we left the live house, he had gone to the bathroom to change out of his costume. I thought he was going to change into a set of ordinary clothes, so I didn't expect to see him come out of the bathroom in a short-jeans-and-T-shirt combo, the same combo Kagurazaka-senpai usually wore. He was wearing a pair of orange sunglasses, and sporting his golden hair as well. People probably would've believed me if I had told them he was the newest upcoming member of the Hello! Project. It felt really embarrassing sitting with him. [TLNote: Wiki link of Hello! Project here. Main point is, it's a female idol collective]
"Oh...... you mean this? It is safer for me to disguise myself."
I see. I guess he's 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 while tilting his head.
I'll probably go crazy if I continue talking to this person here. If I had to describe my feeling at the time, I would say it felt like I had dropped something without realizing, and had walked a long distance away from it already; but, for some reason, I was still very concerned about what was behind me.
Then again, I do have a lot of questions for him.
And the one I'm 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 she is using right now."
I was speechless for a while. I had never considered that that would be the case.
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 the Moscow Conservatory, so it's probably written in Russian.
Despite the fact that none of us could read the name anyway, Mafuyu was still very intent on hiding it. Does that mean she didn't want anyone else to know about her relationship with Julien......?
"Mafuyu's relationship with Maestro Ebisawa has always been bad...... and she was frustrated that she could not play the piano. I had gone through a similar phase back when I was a child, and that was why I started learning the guitar in secret. I thought Mafuyu could use the same method to find a place she could escape to."
Julien suddenly shifted his gaze away from me.
"Though Mafuyu still did not manage to find it......" murmured Julien, as he gently swirled 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.
What I was saying was true though, so I repeated it once more—
"Mafuyu didn't escape to the world of guitars."
"...... Why do you say that?"
Why? Because—it's obvious once you hear it. I knew it instantly, and Ebichiri should've picked up on it when he listened to the recording back then. But I couldn't express it in words.
"So what is your role, Naomi?"
"This is the reason I invited you to the concert—so I could 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 articles you wrote!"
That was unnecessary, Ebichiri......
"Your articles are critiques through and through."
"Thanks for the praise." Though he's probably not praising me.
"Not only do you look down on us, you group our work into different categories, and list what is good and bad about them just so you can earn money. How can someone like you stay by Mafuyu's side?"
"Hold on......" What are critics to you? And my articles weren't really well written, you know? "Look, why do you care?"
"Because Mafuyu is my precious!"
Julien said that emphatically, as he looked at me with a faint smile at the corners of his lips.
So the two of you are indeed a couple, huh? Both of them were used to being the topics of conversations because they were both prodigies. Both of them had experienced the same excruciating and burning pain brought about by their loneliness on the stage. And if the two of them had met each other in America under those circumstances—
All I had to do was ask. But for some unknown reason, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, Julien was the one that asked me the question that lay hidden 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 me? I had never thought about that before. We met each other by chance, then ran away together, and sought our dreams together. And before I realized, Mafuyu was 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 cannot say you two are just companions in the same band! Because I have heard that from Mafuyu already."
I rolled the hamburger wrapper into a ball. I couldn't come up with anything.
"You cannot answer me even though you are someone who earns money by weaving lies?"
Julien said that straightforwardly with an angelic smile on his face. Well, if we wanted to nitpick about details, I'm not actually a critic, just a high school student that has written a few articles to earn some pocket money. I wouldn't even get angry if someone belittled critics. Moreover, the only music critic I knew was someone who was actually much more useless than Julien could have possibly ever imagined.
So all I did to answer him was nod 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 do you regret?
"I really want to create and record lots and lots of music with Mafuyu. I wish I could go on tour with her forever in America and Europe. However, I am not by Mafuyu's side when she is in the most pain. The one she needs is not me."
Julien's gaze floated towards an empty space in the air. It seemed 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 an angel spreading its wings as though it were about to vanish into the air. I was reminded of the ending of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto.
"Mafuyu's timbre 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 the wrists and moved 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 slowly dropped downwards. He then lowered his head and didn't say a single word. I thought to myself...... "Is he crying?"
I finally understood what was going on in Julien's head.
I was in a position that was supposed to be his. The melody of the violin concerto appeared clearly in my mind all of a sudden. If Mafuyu and Julien hadn't been hurt by music, they would have recorded those pieces a long time ago......
A dream that didn't manage to get past the ocean; that, instead, was swallowed up by the waves.
Julien lifted his head and showed an embarrassed smile.
"Nothing can be done about it even if I say such words to you, right?"
Because you are nothing more than a critic—it somehow felt like Julien was going to continue on with that. But that was just my imagination, stemming from my sense of inferiority.
"Has Maestro Ebisawa told you already? It seems Mafuyu is playing the piano again."
That took me by surprise, and caused me to nearly forget everything Julien had said up till then. Mafuyu's playing the piano again? Seriously? I did remember talking about it a little after the concert, but...... are her fingers really okay?
"She is slowly recovering. Thanks to the rehabilitation therapy, she is able to practice on the piano almost every day."
"B-But she......" Mafuyu didn't tell me anything about it. Why? She told me some time ago, that her fingers were immobile because of psychological issues. And she was still unable to use both her hands when she played the piano during the chorus contest. So that means something happened after that? Something happened to result in this turn of events?
I stared at the young boy in front of me—the boy who was so unbelievably pretty.
Is it because—she saw Julien?
"And so, we have decided to record a new album."
I was speechless.
Not only is she playing the piano once more, but she's actually returning to the music industry? She's returning to the world that had harmed her so brutally?
"The plan 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 might recover if she could find the will to pick up the piano again. The reason Mafuyu has taken up the piano again—is it because she has reunited with Julien once more?
"That is why...... I am really frustrated about it."
Julien mumbled. I stared at him and asked,
"...... Why? Isn't it your wish to play the violin with Mafuyu again? And in addition, she'll be performing with you......"
He put on a faint smile.
"That is the reason I am feeling so frustrated! You would not understand, Naomi."
That lonely smile of his looked just like a painting that gave off the illusion of a frozen time.
"Thank you. I had fun today."
Once we were outside the McDonald's, Julien thanked me with a brilliant smile on his face. That's his sincere feeling, and not something he just 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 leading to the train station. I felt someone bump into my back.
"So you actually realized that......?"
"Mmm. But...... I do not think I have done anything wrong to you, so I will not be apologizing."
With that said, Julien stretched his hand out towards me, but I ignored it. It was a little childish, but I couldn't help it. I was just a high school student, so there wasn't any way I wouldn't have been angry after hearing the things he said.
"There is still no way I can allow Naomi to be by Mafuyu's side."
"You know...... it's pointless telling me that......"
"I will not allow it! How can someone as dense as you be by her side?"
"I can say how much I love Mafuyu 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 steering the conversation in that direction!? Please spare me that already!
"...... Well...... Mafuyu's the guitarist of our band, and there's no one else besides her that can play with a timbre like hers."
I was rendered speechless by that straightforward statement from Julien.
"I am better than her in terms of guitar technique as well. You heard me play just now, right?"
He was right. The timbre of Julien's guitar did sound similar to that of Mafuyu's before she had joined the Folk Music Research Club—the same timbre that I had disliked back when she had claimed the practice room for herself. However, his tone was much more polished in comparison.
Therefore, despite my dislike towards Julien, I had no choice but to agree that his guitar technique was indeed a level above Mafuyu's.
"Hey, will you give up on Mafuyu if I say I am willing to play the guitar for you?"
"What are you thinking...... And you don't have the spare time to do that anyway, right?"
"That is nothing if it will make you stay away from Mafuyu."
I was dumbfounded, and stood motionlessly in the middle of the sidewalk. The pedestrian behind me knocked my shoulder, nearly causing me to fall. Is he serious?
"That's what it is like when you truly fall in love with someone."
Really...... so that's how it is when you fall in love with somebody?
"I will be by Naomi's side in place of Mafuyu. How's that?"
Julien grabbed my wrists tightly as he said that. I was confused by him.
"Urm...... that's impossible." In many different respects.
"So that means you are unwilling to let Mafuyu go?"
What's with the "so that means"...... Julien had a wide smile on his face—obvious proof that he had misunderstood my words. Well, it wasn't like I had any strength left in me to correct him.
"You are a critic, no? So why do you not speak up when it is time for you to do so?"
Damn that bastard. Whatever. Just say whatever you want.
"Mmm. I get it. Well then, goodbye, my enemy."
Julien deliberately tilted his body to the side in a cute manner and waved his hand.
"Thank you for listening to our performance today. We will 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.
His guitar and personal belongings were still at the live house, so Julien turned around and walked in the opposite direction of the station. That small and undependable back of his gradually blended in with the pedestrians beneath the streetlights, then disappeared from my sight.
I sat on a road barrier by the side of the road and sighed. That was really tiring.
Honestly speaking, he was a really inconceivable person. During our conversation, the anger inside me did come close to bursting, but instead of being angry at Julien, I was more angry at myself, because I was a worthless person that couldn't refute his words.
But he said he still wished to see me.
Actually, it wasn't like I really disliked him, and if I could, I did wish to see him again. But I was just schooled really hard by him just now, so how should I face him the next time we meet?
When I returned home, I found Tetsurou lying on the sofa with his legs resting against the back of the sofa in the shape of a "V." He was opening and closing them to the rhythm of <Radetzky March>. Upon seeing me, he said to me weakly, "Nao, I'm hungry." I remember telling you that I'd be late today and that you should figure out your own dinner......
But I already knew something like this was going to happen, so I tossed him the paper bag I brought home from McDonald's.
"...... This is my dinner?"
"Yeah. I bought it from Yoyogi, so it's really good." Though it tastes the same all over the country.
There's probably nothing in the world more pathetic than a middle-aged man, with a freelance job, stuffing cold fries in his mouth while tears slide down his face. Even I felt like crying when I saw that. Tetsurou stuffed the food in 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 be the person he is today...... Tell me, Misako, where have I gone wrong......"
"It probably started with marriage—that's what Misako said."
I met with my mother about once a month for lunch; and most of the time, half our conversation would just be us badmouthing Tetsurou.
"It's not like I could do anything!"
Tetsurou suddenly threw a tantrum and flung the bag of fries to the floor.
"I can't earn much through just writing critiques! I was poor, and Misako was nagging me after she started her own career, so I had no choice but to marry her!"
Why are you angry all of a sudden? That marriage did last for eight years, okay? And also, what do you mean 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 the people that are actually slogging away at work!
"Fu fu. Well, I earned that cash outside of what I normally got paid for 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, you're a criminal, okay? "Look—"
I was about to say something, but I swallowed my words right away. Is it okay to ask Tetsurou this? And will he answer me seriously if I ask?
The problem was, I had no one else to talk about it with.
"—Tetsurou, why would someone want to become a critic?"
Tetsurou blinked and stared long and hard at me, 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 that was a long time ago."
Tetsurou finished his glass of whiskey in two gulps.
"And what was your answer?"
Tetsurou's gaze dropped to the floor—
"I'll tell you this. Ultimately, the reason everyone does their job, is so that "they can make someone else happy." If you can't make someone other than yourself happy, you won't be able to earn any money. Am I right?"
"But even after I graduated from the university, I still had no idea how to make someone happy. And since I had studied music history, I figured the only job that was left for me was becoming a teacher. But I had no intention of teaching other people's children, so I asked my professor, in a really honest manner, 'How can I make others happy?' His reply was, 'The only talent you have is fooling others, so work hard in that direction, Hikawa.' I was then suddenly hit by inspiration: if I wrote articles with the intention of fooling my readers, those who weren't fooled by me would feel some happiness when thinking about those who were. I'd be able to earn money from that, no?"
I was dumbfounded. I unconsciously interrupted him.
"You said these things to Misako as well?"
"Mmm. It was those words that made Misako think, 'This guy is hopeless. He won't be able to live on his own.' And she did tell me once, that it was those words that made her realize we had no other option but to get married."
"And if I ever feel like there's no other option but to leave this house, it would also be because I had heard those 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 had only thought of a second ago, I couldn't help but think it again.
I long knew that I had asked the wrong person. I can't complain a single bit if Tetsurou's beaten to death by Julien and Mafuyu.
It was a new week yet again, and an incredibly rare thing happened when I entered the 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'd be staying in Mafuyu's home for a while?"
"Eh, ah, well...... he decided not to, so he is staying at a hotel for now." For some unknown reason, Mafuyu was flustered when she said that to me. "I-It's true! But...... we meet up sometimes for some other reasons."
The reason Mafuyu met up with Julien...... Ah, I got it. Julien said there were 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 a sudden.
"Y-You knew about that as well?"
"Eh? Mmm, yeah. You should've told me your fingers had healed—"
"S-Stop talking about that! Enough! I-I am the one asking the questions right now!" Mafuyu slammed her desk. Those around us were shocked by her sudden action. Even her ears were turning red.
"Why did you meet Julien? D-Did both of you have something important to do?"
I had no idea how to reply to that. Or rather, I wasn't in the mood to do so. It seems everything Julien had said was true. Mafuyu had the will to pick up the piano again—and for commercial purposes as well.
I had never noticed her fingers had already recovered to the point that she could practice with someone else.
No wait, isn't this something to celebrate? It's been a long-running wish of mine to hear Mafuyu play the piano again. But why can't I say anything when Mafuyu's staring at me, asking me about what happened between Julien and me?
"Give me a proper answer, Naomi."
Mafuyu suddenly moved her face close to mine, causing me to push my chair back in surprise; my heart was beating wildly. The chair tripped over something, and I nearly fell on my back.
"The couple's quarreling again?" "They're 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 taking some time to regulate my breathing, I sat back down on my chair and tried to convert my thoughts into words.
"A few days ago, I received a ticket to a live house from some unknown person. I had no idea who the sender was, and it was only when I watched the concert that I figured out......"
"You heard Yuri's guitar?"
"Mmm." I hesitated on whether or not I should tell her, but I ended up telling her anyway. "The timbre of his guitar is similar to yours. It's just like...... the timbre of your guitar before you had joined the Folk Music Research Club."
An awkward expression appeared on Mafuyu's face. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and turned her face away with a "Hmph."
"And then he told me lots of things...... like how you learned guitar from him...... and you playing the piano and stuff......."
"...... What else?"
"Urm......" I think the rest of the things are too dangerous to say.
"Things 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 the door open hard and yelled "Good morning!" as she stepped into the classroom. I had never been as thankful of her presence as I was just then.
"Oho, what's going on? Are you two busy with something?"
Chiaki squeezed herself between Mafuyu and me (though she wouldn't have been able to have gotten to her seat if she didn't). The bell rang right after that. Thank god, I'm saved.
"Hmmm...... Even after being schooled that hard by him, all you did was head home in a listless state without even striking back? That's pathetic. You know, I thought I had already fixed that born-loser personality of yours, young man."
It was after school, and we were in the Folk Music Research Club's practice room. Senpai was sitting on the round chair with her legs crossed; and for some unknown reason, I was forced to sit in seiza before Senpai to explain to her what had happened on that Saturday. Chiaki and Mafuyu were sitting to the side and listening as well. Why? Why am I spilling everything? I didn't mention anything about Mafuyu, but I did tell them everything about how Julien had verbally assaulted me.
"Let's forget the stuff about the critics, or young man being a born loser, or other things like that for now. There's something I can never forgive you for!"
"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 desire of yours!
"Dressing up in goth loli sounds pretty good! Senpai, let's all wear goth loli costumes for the school festival!"
And so, Chiaki started talking about some insignificant stuff.
"I see. We can make young man crossdress as well! That's something I had 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 to tsukkomi them, but I suddenly noticed Mafuyu sitting unhappily in the corner, not saying anything. She quickly turned her gaze away when she noticed mine.
Just like how Mafuyu was curious about what Julien and I had talked about, I was curious about what she had 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 ask. However, Mafuyu turned her head away and began tuning her guitar. Weird. Did I make her angry again? How?
"But isn't Nao at least a little bit irritated with him? He said such harsh things about you and your dad's occupation. You should've vented your anger saying "Don't you dare look down on us critics!" or something like that!"
Chiaki suddenly went back on topic.
"You're still my pride, even if you didn't do that, young man! Do you still remember? I managed to find you just by following the brilliance of your articles in the vast sea of words!"
Senpai went back to reproving me as well. All I could do was shrink my neck.
"Hey critic. The name of Hikawa Naomi is already tarnished. Are you still planning to remain silent despite that?"
"But I'm 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 reasonings, and yet, you were rendered speechless by Yuri's words."
"E-Eh? When did I say that?"
Mafuyu stood up all of a sudden.
Her face turned red in an instant. I raised my arms to shield my face unconsciously. Don't hold your guitar with a reverse grip—it's really scary! I told her before that I was a critic? When was that? When did I say such a thing 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 and walked past me out of the room.
The two of them immediately directed their cold gazes at me. Chiaki looked at me with teary eyes filled with reproach, while Senpai looked at me with mocking laughter in her eyes, as she watched what was going on.
What did she mean by "Y-You forgot!?" I can't remember. Back when she was here alone—that means it's something not known to both Senpai and Chiaki. Was it something that happened when we staked the ownership of this room on our showdown?
I turned my head to look at the soundproof door that had already shut. Mafuyu was no longer in sight, so I rushed out of the room. I remember now! Damn it, how could I have forgotten that!?
Even though it was something I said.
I caught up to her—with the maroon-colored hair on her back—at the corner of the staircase.
"W-Wait, Mafuyu! I'm sorry, I remember. I'm really sorry!"
Mafuyu's long hair trembled. She stopped next to the wall, but didn't turn around to face me. It was just like how it was back in May—there wasn't enough time for us to talk, so we had no idea what the other was thinking.
Back then, I had accidentally talked about how Mafuyu was harshly criticized by the critics in America, causing her to run out of the room in a fit of anger. And just like now, I had rushed out of the room to chase her to apologize to her profusely. When I found her back then, she told me, "There is no reason for you to apologize," to which I replied—
"I'm a critic too...... That's why, I should be qualified to apologize to you, right?"
Even though I was the one that had 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 its intensity had been significantly diminished, due to the embarrassed expression on her face.
"...... You have to take responsibility for what you said."
"I'm already reflecting on it......"
But...... why is she so angry? Are the ramblings of a half-assed critic really that important to her?
"T-That's not it!"
Mafuyu hammered my chest with her tightly clenched fists. At that moment, I thought to myself, "Whoa, so it's true!" Mafuyu really could clench her right hand tightly into a fist. I was so happy I wanted to wrap both my hands around her fists. However, I couldn't move because of the pain in my chest that resulted from her hammering.
"Y-You went back home meekly, without making a single rebuttal, despite the harsh dressing down Yuri gave you. Isn't that right?"
"Yuri...... He wants me to g-give up on you......" Mafuyu couldn't continue her sentence. Instead, she began to hammer my chest again. Just what exactly did that guy say to Mafuyu? Mafuyu shook her head vigorously. She had no intention of continuing on from there.
"Despite the fact that there is nothing else you can beat Yuri at, other than critiquing, you let him look down on you in that area as well. And then you ran away from him when you could not beat him in a war of words!"
Those were some really harsh 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 would be frustrated! You have to pull yourself back together, because you are my—"
...... I am Mafuyu's...?
She swallowed her words again.
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 really is the case—
I sighed in confusion.
But Mafuyu was right. I was really useless on Saturday. Even though the critiques were forced onto me by Tetsurou, I still approached the job very seriously—typing away at the keyboard, I would always ponder on how I should go about writing the article to best allow my words to touch the readers.
But even so, I couldn't come up with a rebuttal against Julien.
Using his cute and innocent face and words, it was as though that person was asserting "A useless person like you has no right to stay by Mafuyu's side."
I clenched my fists unconsciously.
"Mafuyu, can you contact Julien?"
Despite her slightly uneasy expression, Mafuyu nodded her head.
Then I'll give it a try! As a person whose only talent is wordplay, and as someone who has spent more than half his life listening to music created by others, the one thing I can do is—
I'll show that innocent and almost miracle-like violinist what I'm made of.
Bright was the venue of our band's very first live performance. The live house was located in a nearby town that I could bike to in about an hour. It was located in a quiet residential district some distance away from the station, but its name was well-known among the insiders; and with each passing day, the number of customers increased.
It's the same today as well. When I reached the live house, there was already a huge crowd gathered around the entrance of the staircase leading to the basement of the building. Often, amateur bands would pool their money together to share the stage, allocating how much time each band had to perform after covering the rental fee for the whole day. Because of this, customers would always kill time outside, waiting till it was time for their favorite band to play before going in (but personally, I felt it was always better to listen to all the performances, as the entrance fee was the same regardless).
But an event called "Club Bright" was actually being held that day. The live house had invited many disco musicians down for the event, and had been playing dance music nonstop, which was why hip-hop clothes—which I didn't usually wear—dominated the fashion scene at the venue. Amid the dreadlocks and baggy pants, I noticed the eye-catching figure of a short person, and quickly made my way towards him.
Julien's face lit up in an instant. He pushed away the guys around him that were trying to strike up a conversation with him.
"Sorry, the person I am waiting for is here." He apologized as he ran towards me. I couldn't help but press my hand against my forehead as I sighed.
"Look, why are you crossdressing again......?"
Julien was wearing a cream-colored short, ruffled blouse, paired with a skirt, and had even dolled himself up with hairpins and earrings. No wonder the guys were hitting on him.
"I already told you before. It is a disguise."
Please don't twirl around and pose in your clothes when you're saying that.
"Sorry for making you wait. Did you have a hard time getting here?"
"Not at all. I had someone drive me here." Julien answered me with a smile.
"You're probably pretty busy, so thanks for coming."
The live house didn't organize disco parties very often, so I was lucky Julien had time to spare to make it down here. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to accept my invitation.
"I never thought Naomi would invite me to an event. I am really happy."
"No, well...... Actually, I'm here to have my revenge."
I mumbled, as I passed a ticket to Julien. I then started making my way down the stairs.
Despite how narrow the flight of stairs was, 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 will be left at your mercy?"
"That'll never happen!"
I really wished he would word his sentences in a nicer manner.
After opening the heavy soundproof doors, we squeezed into the hot atmosphere filled with rhythmic beats. The cocktail lights danced all around us; and under the guidance of the dim lights, we could faintly see the outlines of the stage. In place of the drum set stood a mixing console. And what came to our attention next, was a rapper rapping in a coarse voice.
"Waa. This is my first time listening to disco."
Julien whispered into my ears, but I still couldn't hear him very clearly. The men and women had all exposed their skin to the heated atmosphere, and were dancing wildly in the darkness that obscured the bottom half of our sight.
"Nao, you brought another girl here?"
I turned around and saw a fat middle-aged man with a bandanna. The Bright's staff T-shirt on his body was close to bursting apart, thanks to his whale belly.
He was in charge of the audio equipment. After coming here a few times, I gradually became close to him. As he stared at Julien, he bluntly said,
"What's this? You've changed girls again? There's gotta be a limit to this...... You've already made so many girls cry. When are you planning to stop?"
"It's not like that. You see......"
I was really close to blurting out "This person here's a guy," while Julien looked at me with great interest.
"So you made someone else other than me cry?"
"When did I make you cry!?"
"It'll be a while before it's 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, for the event, the DJs will mix their own music when they perform. That's why he's so free.
"Who is this 'Tomo' guy he was talking about?" Julien shouted in my ears. We wouldn't have been able to hear each other if we didn't do that.
"He's a DJ I met here recently. He'll be up next soon."
"So you are planning to show me his stuff?"
I nodded. Tomo was one of Kagurazaka-senpai's old friends. We had only known each other for 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 this.
As we grabbed our drinks and sat ourselves down at the table, the emcee began rattling on about some things, but I couldn't hear him. The audience gathered beneath the stage and burst into cheers. The spotlights flashed about wildly, then suddenly, a tanned guy wearing a slanted cap appeared on stage. He was sitting behind the mixing console—that's Tomo.
I waved my hands at Tomo, but he probably didn't see me, as he was focusing his attention on the turntables in front of him.
A 6/8 beat tempo 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 to my side to look at Julien's face—he was slowly leaning towards the stage, and his eyes were fixed on the performance. After a lengthy series of beats that sounded like they were repeating on and on, Tomo began mixing in the beats of the timpani. Next, he slipped in the pizzicato of the bass stringed instruments. It was exactly what I expected from him. I was in full admiration of Tomo's arrangements.
Amid the clear monophony of the piano, the ear-piercing rhythm of the electronic drums began to overflow from beneath. I knew Julien would be surprised breathless by the clear piano monophony. He should have noticed it. 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 glittering eyes. I shook my head silently and pointed at the stage. That wasn't the only surprise I had in store for him—my retaliation had only just begun. In the last bar of the piano's main rondo theme, the glamorous melody of the violin suddenly came barging in on the off-beats. Julien stood up from his chair and nearly let out a cry. I don't think there's anyone else in this world that knows this melody better than he does.
Julien's weak murmurs were swallowed up by the gradually increasing volume of the orchestra. That was the rondo of 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 on his left hand fumbling in confirmation, trying to grab tightly to his beloved instrument that wasn't there. After a brief sampling of Mafuyu's piano and Julien's violin, the two instruments began to weave to and fro in the tempo of the disco beats. At times, they would chase after each other; and at other times, they would overlap. The two melodies galloped in the live house filled with darkness, rays of lights and a heated atmosphere.
In my mind, Mafuyu was right next to me. Actually, I had never thought of helping Julien fulfill his unrealized dream; all I had thought was "I'll have to teach him a good lesson in music, just like I did for Mafuyu." But at that very moment, the sound of Julien and Mafuyu surrounded us, and I could see something shiny glittering in the corners of Julien's eyes.
He was the only one that could make Mafuyu pick up the piano again.
That made me feel really frustrated. Yes, I am frustrated. It was my heartfelt wish to listen to Mafuyu play the piano again, but all I could do was convert those feelings of mine into twisted words. That's the only thing I can do, even though I was by her side all this time. However, Julien's right here—the person who has tasted the same loneliness and glamour Mafuyu has. I actually helped him touch the thing buried deep in Mafuyu's heart—and that made me feel really bitter inside.
What the heck am I doing? I intended to use this piece to teach Julien a lesson, but I was the one who was taught a lesson instead. What an idiot I am.
Still, everything was perfect to the point that it could evoke tears from its audience—from the two Beethoven pieces played by Mafuyu and Julien, to Tomo's mixing. So even after the rondo had become engulfed by the familiar-sounding disco music, there was a period of time when I couldn't bring myself to look in Julien's direction. I had no idea what he was saying to me, despite hearing his emotional speech.
After Tomo's performance was over, it was time for a break, so some relaxing music started playing over the speakers.
"Hey you guys, why do both of you look so restless? You're not enjoying yourselves properly!"
When Tomo saw Julien and I laying our heads on the table, he put on an irritated expression and walked towards us with a bottle of whiskey in one of his hands.
"No, it is because the music was just too incredible. Just listening to it drained a lot out of me," replied Julien.
"Ahahaha. We're only halfway into the event! There'll be four more people going up on stage, so you two better listen to everything, yeah? Hey Nao, how was it? This was what you requested, yeah? Geez, you suddenly came to me with that record a week ago and asked me to mix it 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'm really grateful. Your work greatly exceeded my expectations."
I remained lying on the table as I said that. Tomo kicked my thighs a few times 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 played one of the pieces of music I lent you."
Tomo's mouth dropped open, and he remained motionless for quite a while. Julien got up quickly and said,
"I never thought my concerto could 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're a classical musician, no? Aren't you angry that I messed with your record in that manner?"
"Why would I? It was a great performance! There is no reason for me to be angry."
Tomo forcefully swallowed the words he was about to say. I sort of understood his feelings. Still, the veteran DJ was put in a state of embarrassment, due to Julien's innocent and destructive smile.
Julien wanted to ask him more things about DJing, so Tomo sat down with us to chat.
"My room's only six-tatami wide, and the floor has been nearly destroyed by the weight of my records. I spend nearly all my wages on records as well. Whenever I have time to spare, I listen to my records or surf the internet to look for material I can use for my music. However, only a small portion of those records are usable for my performances. Probably ninety out of a hundred records are unusable on stage, and for those that can be used, I usually only sample 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 this music and all these sounds."
"So my music was one of the usable records out of the hundred?"
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 really long, the parts I ended up using totaled no more than thirty seconds."
"That's okay," Julien placed his hands on Tomo's as he replied. Tomo was visibly at a loss at what to do. Damn, that French is overly liberal with the skinship!
Tomo's stiff expression was melted away by Julien's following statement:
"Because I can sense the respect in your music!"
"I knew right away when I heard it. The reason you used my music was because you really liked my violin, right?"
Tomo turned his head away in embarrassment and emptied the whiskey bottle in a single gulp. Anyone would do the same in his shoes......
Tomo stood up. He said he'd be going up on stage to perform again, and he hoped we could continue to listen to his performance.
"I'll be playing Jimi Hendrix for my next performance. Oh yeah, I'm using that worn-out synthesizer you're so envious of. If it's not broken by the end of the performance, I'm planning to give it to Kyouko. You can then borrow it from her to play around with it."
"Eh!? For real!?"
Tomo's synthesizer was an older model, and was already very worn-out. But he had amassed a huge collection of sound effects in it, and since he kept talking about replacing it...... I had secretly wondered if he would 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 in the chair beside me and sighed at his ignorance.
"I never knew that there was music like this."
That's right. The world is huge. Streams of music had flowed throughout the whole continent before gathering here, in this very place.
"Naomi, is this why you brought me here? So I could listen to this music?"
Julien seemed a little surprised. Actually, that wasn't the only reason I had invited him here. I relieved my parched throat with the Oolong tea, whose ice had almost completely melted away.
"...... That's not all though. This is also my revenge for the previous time we met."
"Yeah. A rebuttal from the untalented critic, in response to the prodigy violinist."
I could finally look straight into Julien's eyes—eyes that were glittering in anticipation and curiosity. Well then, how should I start? I took a deep breath and let it all out.
I jumped straight to the point.
"In my view, critics are somewhat like DJs."
Julien was shaken a little by my words. I took another deep breath before continuing.
"A composer composes a song, and the performers convey it to the audience. On the other hand, a DJ snips, connects, rearranges and overlaps the original piece, to create a completely different product. You never knew such music existed before today, right? The role of the critic is essentially the same."
I looked at my opened palms.
"The critic belongs to the group of literary professions. Ultimately speaking, even if a critic were to put up a front as a scholar, he is still just someone who writes something for readers to read; he makes readers happy, and, at the same time, earns some cash from it. We—"
I was still a little hesitant about lumping myself in with other music critics, as I hadn't written anything impressive yet. But I continued on with what I wanted to say—
"With the pieces composed by different composers as the bases of our articles, we snip, connect, and rearrange the pieces. Then, we add in our own praises and criticisms, to produce an interesting article for the readers. This is probably an area of music that Julien doesn't understand, yeah? However, it's important that you do understand that we wouldn't be able to write anything if we didn't respect our materials."
I looked at Julien's face again. He returned my gaze with a confused expression in his eyes.
Did he understand what I just said?
"At the very least, that's something that applies to me. There might be some bastards out there that hold no respect for the pieces they critique, treating them like records they can crush under their feet. And I do agree with you there, that it'd be best if those critics just disappeared off the face of the world. But reading through an article, you can easily tell whether or not the critic respects the piece he's criticizing. You may think that lies are cheap, and that we can weave as many lies as we want, but that's not the case at all."
My words ended abruptly.
He should understand now, right? Do our words really possess that sort of power? If Julien internalized everything I just said as just a bunch of lies, I might actually punch him in the face.
"—I know that."
Julien said that all of a sudden.
I lifted my head. Julien narrowed his eyes as if there were a backdrop of bright lights behind me.
"I know Naomi is not lying to me."
He gently placed his hands on my fists, which I had unintentionally clenched.
"Because you have put so much effort into replying to the words I had said in jest. I am actually really nervous right now. I cannot look at you directly because of how guilty I feel."
But you've been looking at me this whole time.
"What should I do? I must have said some really mean things to you, right? And I said I would never apologize...... What should I do? What must I do for you to forgive me?"
"Urm, well......" I pushed Julien's icy hands away. "It's fine. I didn't do all this to hear an apology from you. Also, it's not like I'm angry or anything. Just......"
I couldn't remain silent because of how bitter I was. After much provocation from Mafuyu, I had finally managed to get the flame going—the tiny and insignificant pride that resided in my heart.
Therefore, it was okay as long as I could convey my words to Julien.
No, actually, that's not what I'm really concerned about—
Perhaps...... I just wanted to listen to that piece of music.
I wanted to listen to Julien and Mafuyu play together.
I felt strangely uneasy when I imagined them actually playing together, but the music of Beethoven—that had resulted from Mafuyu's and Julien's performances resonating together—still reverberated in my ears.
The atmosphere of the live house heated up all of a sudden, and the music became fast-paced again. The rapid talking of the emcee picked up speed, and I saw someone with a baseball cap standing beneath the crisscrossing spotlights—it was Tomo. Not only was he DJing, he was actually smashing the keyboard with his fists. From the endless beats of the cadence, came the roar of a jet engine, the sound of a downpour and the wail of an incendiary. Purple lights shone throughout the basement, causing the place to be lit in a sea of fire. Julien occasionally let out a 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 sound of the spinning helicopter rotors, shattering the cries of the birds, and what followed after, was an intense fanfare from the horns. It was America's national anthem. The blaring of the cars' horns seemed to mock the simple tune of <The Star-Spangled Banner>, which sounded as though it were coming from an old radio. So that's what he meant when he said he was performing Jimi Hendrix......?
The ecstatic Tomo jumped barefoot onto the synthesizer and began banging on the keyboard of the synthesizer as though he were tap dancing. I never would have expected to see that at a disco event. However, the crowd broke into a loud cheer in response to his act; Julien was yelling excitedly beside me as well. I was the only person praying for the synthesizer to survive till the end.
"It's already dark. Want me to send you to the station?" I asked Julien. However, his reply was, "I have called a car over already, so I am okay." Then again...... I think I cycled my way here, yeah?
Walking on a gravel path, we made our way to the parking lot where my bicycle was. The remaining heat from the ground rose up from beneath us. A constant stream of people from the audience walked out of the live house, and all of them were exhausted due to their intense enjoyment of the concert.
"Naomi, do you listen to such music frequently?"
"I am so jealous. I want to visit more places like this live house."
As a famous violinist, it must be difficult for him to go to places he wants to. I had actually never expected him to cater his schedule to mine.
"I will try my best to make myself free whenever Naomi invites me."
Julien flashed me a sly smile after he said that.
"You rendered me speechless today, so it will be my turn next time. Just you wait!"
It's better that you don't...... Why don't we just end our feud here and now?
"But I cannot stay in Japan for too long. That is why...... I am really jealous."
"I am jealous of Naomi, and at the same time, I am jealous of Mafuyu as well. It would be great if we could be together forever......"
"Look...... my feelings for her are not what you're imagining," I was grasping for words. "Mafuyu...... She's a really impressive guitarist. I liked the sound of her guitar, and that's why I wanted to start a band with her......"
Julien tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, looking at me with a mischievous expression. That pissed me off. I already told you the truth!
"Oh well, whatever. I will take it as the truth for today. However, I still cannot allow you to stay by Mafuyu's side."
"This again? Can we just stop talking about it......"
"But I do not want to. That is why...... I said this before, right? That I would take Mafuyu's place by Naomi's side. I was serious about that. What do you think?"
I shook my hands vigorously. 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 why Mafuyu and Naomi are together."
I don't understand at all—right when I finished saying that, Julien burst into a loud laugh.
"Mafuyu and I are really alike. We can talk to each other easily, and we have both been in the musical world since we were young. Our ways of thinking are very similar, and this applies to our preferences as well. Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. To go on further, there's also Prokofiev, Scriabin, and even Schoenberg......"
Julien listed the music Mafuyu liked. Hearing that...... It seems like Julien has chosen a lot of Bach pieces for his solo performances as well?
"That is 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 both liked Scriabin and Schoenberg. Seeing me nod my head repeatedly, Julien laughed so hard his shoulders started trembling. He was close to rolling about on the floor—that was how ridiculous his laughter was. What's wrong? What's so funny?
Just then, I saw the headlights of a car approaching from the other end of the narrow road.
Julien waved at the incoming car, 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 having you call me 'Julien.'"
"Ah, mmm. Sure......"
No wait, hold on. Who are you to tell me that?
"It's embarrassing for me as well, yeah? So stop calling me Naomi already."
"No way." He stuck out his tongue. "It's too unfair if Mafuyu is the only one that can call you by your real name."
How's that unfair? Before I could retort, he was already kicking pebbles and running towards the car. The blurred outline of his body disappeared behind the tightly shut door of the co-driver's seat.
I guess...... it's my victory today? As I listened to the exhaust of the departing car, I suddenly thought, "When will he strike back?" I had no idea what he would do to me.
I then realized 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 I had to report my duel with Julien to my fellow band members. Senpai must be really interested in it, and Mafuyu's gaze would be incredibly painful if I didn't say anything......
But that was just me overthinking things. Another incident became the root of my headaches at school the next day.
"Look here, everyone. Here's a picture of Julien in drag. He was sticking himself so intimately close to young man, and they were happily chatting away in whispers too. And in 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 her photos out on the table, one piece at a time. Chiaki looked at the pictures excitedly, while Mafuyu stared at them intensely, clearly in an angry mood. The stars of the pictures were none other than Julien and me, when we were both at Bright.
"This...... H-How did you get your hands on these photos? Was Senpai there as well?"
"Why must I do something befitting a stalker? I don't have that much free time. I know lots of people at the live house, so after figuring out when you would bring him there, I got them to take the pictures for me."
"Indeed. Despite being a guy, he's so incredibly adorable. That's really criminal of him."
"Stop trying to change the topic!"
"Oh yeah, DJ Tomo told me about how you subdued Julien. It seems like you had put a great deal of effort into it, right? You've stolen my heart yet again, young man!"
Senpai placed her hands on my shoulders, then flashed a light smile at the infuriated me—my anger vanished in an instant. 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 want."
Mafuyu snatched the photos from Chiaki's hands, and was about to crush them, but Chiaki snatched them right back. Senpai intervened by hugging the both of them tightly. I pressed my hand against my head as it began to ache. I decided to leave the girls alone, so I grabbed my bass and quietly left the classroom.
I'll have to practice even harder—so I can fight against Julien's retaliation as a musician.