Here's part one of chapter five, perhaps better named as "The Awakening of Naomi"?
Hopefully I can clear the volume before Christmas.
Three weeks passed by in a flash.
The preparations for the school festival were in the final stage. A tense atmosphere permeated the school, just like how one has muscle pains after an intensive exercise. It even felt like the temperature rose by a degree or two after school.
"Are we really going to perform in these attires?"
I asked Senpai yet again as I stood at the edge of the stage in the sports complex. The area behind me was filled with drums, amplifiers and footlights, while Senpai was standing before the microphone in the middle of the stage.
"Of course. The four of us will be burning on the stage!"
Senpai took a glance at Mafuyu who stood to the left of the stage, and then at Chiaki who stood behind the drums. Her expression became slightly dazed. The two girls wore black dresses with lots of frills. And since Mafuyu had European blood in her lineage, the dress suited her perfectly.
As for me, I wore a black vest with a half apron. The typical attire of a waiter.
Next was Kagurazaka-senpai. Her attire was of a fourteenth century Italian style — a glorious white multi-pleated dress accompanied with a bright red shawl. Simply put, it was her Juliet costume. The reason we wore our attires was because Senpai said we should all go on stage in the attire we will be wearing for our class.
"We'll waste no time in changing. Moreover, all of us can promote the band's live performance during our class activities. What a great plan."
"Well...... you're right."
"Moreover, I want to look at you two in this attire since both of you are ravishing!"
"I've no interest in your true intentions!"
So that was the reason why Senpai wanted us to wear the official attire even though it was just a rehearsal one week before the actual performance?
All the windows of the sports complex were draped over with black curtains, so the stage looked especially bright thanks to the spotlights. After Chiaki was done tuning the snare drums, she began drumming various fills as warm ups.
"Whoa, it's quite hard to drum in this fluffy dress," said Chiaki with a frown.
Senpai walked up to the drums and sank into thought.
"Can't we think of something so that those cute curves of Chiaki's legs can be put on full view for the audience......?"
How could that be possible? Now was not the time to be fretting about things like that, yeah?
"They'll be visible if we switch to transparent drums. How about that?"
"Good idea. I'll check out the warehouse of the Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store. Problem is, there are situations where the contents in your skirt will be in full view to certain audience's angles since you're a drummer—"
I decided to ignore the two girls who were seriously discussing silly things like that and went over towards the wiring for the effector. Just then, Mafuyu at the other side of the stage spoke,
"Naomi, can this thing stores only up to sixteen sets in its performance? I have no idea how to synchronize the memory between these."
She pointed to the two synthesizers that were stacked on top of each other as she said that.
"Ah, hold on. I'll be right over."
A weird lament struck my heart as I looked at Mafuyu who was before the keyboard.
Mafuyu has returned back to this place once more so that she can play the piano amidst the lights once again. But that was something I had never once considered before the end of summer.
"...... Yes?" Mafuyu noticed that I was staring at her face in dazedly. I quickly shifted my gaze onto the control board.
"The memory space for this unit is smaller as it is an older model. We'll set three main tones for the upper one."
"Is there no way we can synchronize it with the one below?"
There were lots of things I could teach Mafuyu ever since she came into contact with synthesizers. This may be just temporary, but I prayed for this luck to go on forever. There was really nothing much I could do for Mafuyu.
"It's about time you guys begin with your rehearsal! The guys after you are rushing us already."
A member of the broadcasting club yelled at us from the temporary PA console erected beneath the stage. I flashed a thumbs up at Mafuyu as Senpai heaved her guitar onto her back and made her way towards the microphone, before I ran back to my bass located at the left side of the stage.
Turning my head backwards, I could see Mafuyu's guitar slung over her back, supported only by a strap on her shoulder. I did think that was quite a crazy idea, but I did want the audience to see Mafuyu on stage as a guitarist as well. She would have to be quick when she change her instruments, so that must be really tough on her.
But I was sure it will be our best performance yet.
The footlights dimmed, signalling a change of scenes. All that was left were the blue lights moving about behind us on the backdrop of the stage.
There was the sound of endless bubbles floating up from the depths of the waters. The metallic timbres of the celesta could be heard vaguely amid the waves. All of a sudden, it felt like I was in the Disney movie <Fantasia>. Just as expected from the synthesizer nurtured by Tomo. It could replicate all sorts of scenes realistically, regardless of whether it was a snowing morning or the seas amid a violent storm.
Next, the bright melody of the piano pierced through the darkness.
It was the main theme of <Promenade>.
The heavily twisted roars of Senpai's Les Paul were was climbing upwards non-stop as it sunk its teeth deeply into Mafuyu's organ. The fugue had already strayed far away from the music envisioned by Mussorgsky and was beginning its sprint. As it approached the highest register, it began to spread its wings apart.
My very own <Pictures at an Exhibition> could not be considered as music without the fingers of Mafuyu — my spine trembled I realized that fact. In order to catch up to Senpai's guitar, Chiaki's fills descended deep into the fugue as the cymbals exploded countless number of times. I paced myself to her temp and suppressed the elation in me as I carved each and every heartbeat into my mind.
When we were done with school, the four of us went down to McDonald's to have our meeting — something which we had not done in a long while. As there was only a week left until the school festival, it felt like we shouldn't waste any of the remaining time we had in our hands. There was no way we could head home straight after school as a result of that.
"Let us sell our feketerigó T-shirts and the CD of our live performances at the entrance of the sport complex!"
And here we have Chiaki with her entrepreneurial mind in full display. She did mention selling the T-shirts before as well. Was she really serious about that?
"We should make use of this opportunity and put the <Ebisawa Mafuyu & Lollipops> T-shirt on sale as a rare item."
Mafuyu knocked into the tray when she stood up in protest.
"I am thinking of recording our live performance on a DVD. I mean, we're going to wear those beautiful clothes."
Senpai was dreaming as well. No wait, she might actually be serious about that. On a side note, we'll have to obtain permission from the students council if we wish to sell things during the school festival, so the actualization of that was highly unlikely.
"Oh right, Comrade Ebisawa."
Said Senpai suddenly with a serious expression on her face. Mafuyu tilted her head in response.
"Are your fingers really okay? You paused in the middle of our rehearsal, and that was no mistake."
Mafuyu's expressions froze. So Senpai noticed that as well?
That was something that happened in the middle of our rehearsal. Catching the news of us rehearsing in our actual attire on stage, the various sports clubs came flocking down to the sport complex to watch us in action (and in a certain sense, the Folks Music Club was incredibly well known in school). We were performing the fourteenth song <Con mortuis in lingua mortua> then. A ray of beam suddenly burst into the sport complex filled with darkness and the whisperings of the spirits, and a group of noisy people came walking into the hall.
We did not stop our performance though. Chiaki and I continued our performance along to the pace which we had practiced to a countless number of times — we did not slow down.
But I knew Mafuyu's fingers went stiff. The promenade variation which were conveying the words of the dead came to a halt in mid air. She returned to normal only when we were at the song <Baba-Yagá>.
"...... I'm okay."
With that said, Mafuyu bit onto her faintly trembling lips.
"I am confident of stuffing the sports complex with people, but are you really okay?"
Mafuyu did not open her mouth; instead, she nodded her head several times in reply. But that just makes me even more concerned for her, since she had once injured her right wing amid the glamour of the stage.
"...... I cannot run away any longer."
Mafuyu surprised us with the her overly unyielding voice. Even Chiaki dared not look at her straight in the eye, but she still stared at Mafuyu with a worried expression on her face.
"I have always wanted to say this."
Mafuyu's hands were encased around the paper cup with iced red tea inside, her eyes fixed onto the straw.
"I will be embracing the role of a pianist once more, and zm now preparing for the recordings. If the situation allows, I'll be performing in a concert as well."
"Then— Comrade Ebisawa will be returning back to the glamorous but icy world?"
Asked Senpai as she clasped onto Mafuyu's right hand tightly. For some unknown reason, she was phrasing the question in the exact same way I had in my mind as well. Oh right, I remember Tetsurou had once said this in a certain critique of his: "a world shimmering in icy rays".
"Then what about the band?"
Chiaki asked gingerly. Mafuyu's shoulders flinched, my arms went stiff as well. That was the question which I could not bring myself to ask and had long decided not to think about it any longer, but Chiaki voiced out the question easily.
"...... I hope to continue playing with the band."
Said Mafuyu while she stared at her own hands.
"I hope". Not "I will".
I should be happy about that answer from her, but the insecure me had decided to dig out the seeds of uneasiness which could be found in each and every crevasse of my heart. I mumbled my question without looking at Mafuyu's face,
"Won't you be busy? I mean, with activities like the recordings or the performances and so on."
I knew the girls were all looking in my direction even though I had my gaze on my knees.
"I don't know. But I will try my best......"
It felt like Mafuyu's voice was slowly fading away.
"Even if you say that now, what will you do should you be on a tour or some other activities?"
"Calm down, young man."
It was only when Kagurazaka-senpai pressed hard on my shoulders that I realized that I had actually stood up. Mafuyu was cowering as she looked upwards at me.
"Comrade Ebisawa has already said 'she hopes to continue'."
Senpai pressed her finger hard against my chest.
"There is nothing more assuring than that. There should not be a problem so long as she wishes for that. We will offer you our strength any time regardless of what happens so that you can realize your dreams."
It was as if Senpai's smile had encompassed my fears as well.
"Just like what you had done before."
I swallowed the words I was about to say and sat myself on my seat.
We could offer our strength any time. Was that really true?
Should Mafuyu's delicate fingers become immobile due to some unfortunate reason in the future...... I won't be able to help her with anything even if I was by her side.
It was depressing to say this, but the person who would be able to help her then will not be me.
Yuri gave me a call that night. I was sorting through some data on the computer for the synthesizer after a bath, and the phone call came not long after I was into the task.
"Naomi? Sorry, I was really busy. My living place was found out by someone from a certain magazine, so I was fleeing all over the place. Ah, right. I've decided to carry a handphone along with me, since I think I'll be staying in Japan for a while. Do remember my number, okay? Japan's handphones are incredible! They're so small and light!"
I had no idea what I should say when I heard the truly happy voice of Yuri. We have not contacted each other since our meeting at the studio in Shibuya. It was because I could not contact him, and I was actually wondering if I should get Mafuyu to pass a message to him. But it somehow felt a little despicable of me should I do that.
I gave a cough. Calm down.
"...... I am really sorry for last time."
"Eh? A-Ah, mmm, it's okay, I did not take it to heart. But Mafuyu looked really depressed, so you'll have to apologize to her, okay? Did you make up with her already?"
He said the same thing as Mafuyu......
"I guess. Back then, urm......"
It was hard for me to explain to Yuri. Simply put, I was jealous of Yuri. Thankfully I was speaking to him through the phone, or else I would have ran away already if I was meeting him in person.
"Are you angry at me, Naomi?"
"No, that's not it. No way. Everything's my fault, I've got everything wrong. I am really sorry......"
"Did Mafuyu and my performance made you unhappy?"
"No, no way. How can that be—" I swallowed the words that were halfway out of my mouth. Actually, in a certain sense, that was exactly what it is. I ran away precisely because my heart was pierced by their <Kreutzer>.
Yuri's voice was filled with a sense of unease.
Perhaps I should tell him the truth. I am tired of constantly running away from things.
I shut my eyes and clenched my fists that were resting on my knees. I then relaxed my body and focused all of my attention on my body.
"Actually...... I am really envious of you."
"Mmm...... because you're the only one who can compete against Mafuyu's piano."
"Hold on, but I heard from Mafuyu you'll be performing on stage during the school festival, no? And Mafuyu will be playing with the synthesizer as well, right?"
Oh right, Mafuyu said she was willing to play it.
"Why are you envious of me? Hey, I think I should be the one who's angry right now. I have always, always been envious of you, you know?"
"Eh? Ah, well......"
Why? Why must I be chased about by your words?
"...... But the reason Mafuyu's willing to pick up the piano once more is because she wants to play together with you...... and the reason Mafuyu's fingers are movable once again is because you've returned."
Yuri sank into a temporary silence after that. Urm...... what was wrong?
"...... Hey, Naomi, I want you to answer me this honestly."
"Do you love Mafuyu?"
My hand slipped by accident and the phone dropped onto the floor.
"What's with that loud sound just now? My ears hurt!" came Yuri's voice that were close to tears when I picked up my phone.
"S-Sorry. Urm, you were saying......"
"I asked you if you are in love with Mafuyu."
I dropped onto my bed, burrowed my face into my pillow and fretted about for a while. I then kicked my legs about in the covers before slumping onto the bed in exhaustion. The phone had never once left my ears during all this while, and I even heard Yuri shout out my name a few times.
There was no way I can run away any longer. I had to give him an answer. And so I gripped hard onto my phone.
"...... It's just as you've said."
I could somehow see the shoulders of an angel-like boy trembling as he tried his hardest to hold back his laughter.
"I get it then. Naomi have said lots of mean things to me today, but it can't be helped if you are in love with Mafuyu. I'll forgive you."
"What are you talking about......" Crap, the hand I was holding the phone with was getting sore.
"But I can't hand over Mafuyu to you. No way. I won't allow it."
"It's not like she belongs to you."
Ah, no, wait. I hesitated for fifteen seconds before asking him the all-important question,
"I have a question for you. Are you and Mafuyu, urm...... in that sort of relationship?"
"Hmm? Well, we did see the sleeping faces of one another, and we do swap our clothes as well. Our relationship's probably something like that."
What sort of relationship was that...... But come to think of it, didn't I see Mafuyu's sleeping face before as well? But I spoke no further as the conversation seemed to be getting more and more complicated.
"Though we used to be together all the time, it's nothing like what Naomi's worried about."
I see. I heaved a soft sigh of relief, but I tried my hardest not to let Yuri notice it.
"But Mafuyu does not belong to Naomi as well, isn't that so?"
"Urm, you're not wrong. No wait, the way you put it......"
"You do love Mafuyu, right?"
Really? was that so? I guess it was.
"Have you told Mafuyu about it?"
"How can I possibly say that!?"
"And you're asking me why not......"
I've been thinking — I don't know what would happen should I tell Mafuyu that.
"Is it that hard? Are you planning not to tell her forever?"
"Don't make it sound so simple, I'm—"
"Listen to me, Naomi......"
"I love you."
I accidentally dropped my phone once more.
"Be careful! It's really scary! It feels like my phone will break down as well!"
Yuri sounded furious when I picked up my phone.
"S-Sorry. No, that's not it. Urm, what did you just say?"
"See? It's easy to say it, isn't it?"
I opened my mouth and froze for a while. I finally heaved a sigh after a short while, though it felt like I was about to puke my innards out as well.
"Can you quit teasing me? I'm at my limits already."
"It's not my intentions to tease you......"
Yuri gave a sigh as well. It seemed like he was actually surprised by my words.
"Just to tell you this, I've said that many times to Mafuyu already."
"Whoa......" I can't take it any more. My head was about to burst.
"Do you want to know just how mean Mafuyu's replies were?"
"Urm, Yuri, I'm sorry. I give up. Please spare me from that."
Yuri snickered. That bastard. I'll pay you back for all the humiliation some day.
"Then I'll be returning back to the topic!"
"O-Oh, mmm......" Speaking of which, why did he give me a call?
"Mafuyu invited me to the school festival. I do want to attend it, but I'll be busy with a rehearsal with an orchestra that I'll be working along with for the very first time, so I will not be able to make it. Please tell her that I'm sorry."
"Why don't you tell it to her yourself—"
"Don't be so pissed! Therefore, I have a favor to ask from you. Can you record the performance and pass it to me? Please?"
"....... I get it."
I dropped onto my bed in exhaustion once more after I hung up the phone. It felt like I had suffered a pretty huge blow, so there was no way I could get up any time soon.