Chapter 3, enjoy.
Before returning home, I showed up briefly at the celebration party and casually asked Tomo the price of the tickets to the Christmas concert . Four thousand yen each. That was expensive — about the cost of a professional concert. Tomo explained, "Can't be helped, the venue is large. It's a really stylish event, and I've even offered you an eighty-percent discount already." And Yuri, who was next to me, was surprised at how cheap the tickets were. I guess the price of the tickets to a concert of a famous classical musician would be on a totally different league.
Kagurazaka-senpai, who was having a drinking game with Taisei, ran up to me all of a sudden and asked, "What's with all the talk about Christmas and whatever?" I ended the conversation quickly in response to that. Yuri seemed to be pretty interested in all the liquor, so I pulled him out of the bar and set foot on our way home.
"Well then, I'll not pray for your success, but I'll still be supporting you anyway. Do your best."
Said Yuri as he went into the car which came to pick him up.
"What you you mean by that?"
"What I mean is, I'll pray for you to be rejected harshly by Mafuyu when you ask her out. You'll then run to me in tears, and I will do my best to console you."
As I pondered for an answer with my jaws wide open, the door was shut tight and the car drove away.
I was exhausted when I reached home, and was not in the mood to prepare dinner. I went straight to the garage instead. Coughing from the all the dust, I tried my hardest to locate the records I wanted . The records of Arthur Honegger's symphony <Pacific 231> as well as the ensemble <Une Cantate de Noël>. Okay. Now I'm done with the first present.
Back in my room, I pondered Yuri's words several times as I flipped through the cashbook. There was the possibility of Mafuyu rejecting my invitation, but Yuri did say "How could she possibly decline you!?". So should I believe him?
I'll never know if I do not properly confirm it with Mafuyu.
However, there were plenty of things for me to do before that.
Because of the unreasonable amount of cash that I spent on my bass, my monthly pocket money was all spent. Now, there was a live concert to attend this month. On top of that, the household finances was running very tight as well.
As I left my room and headed down the stairs, I was greeted by the theme of Rodolfo from <La bohème>. It was the scene where the broke poet was forced to burn his manuscripts for warmth as he was too poor to afford coal. I heaved a sigh in front of the door of our living room. Whenever the royalties came in late, Tetsurou would always put the music on full blast .
"Eight thousand~~~!?" That was my dad Tetsurou, lying down on the sofa in an uncouth manner. He cocked his eyebrows and said unhappily, "Look, you've got quite the guts to ask for that despite knowing the financial situation of our house. Both of our pocket moneys were reduced by substantial amounts due to our daily expenses, isn't that so? Eight thousand yen is a huge sum of money! Huge!"
"I know, but......" My voice became tinier and tinier. For these past months, Tetsurou has not taken up any jobs due to his lack of motivation. Now factor in the royalties that were not yet paid to us, and we had ourselves in a really tight situation.
"Do you know how hard it is to earn eight thousand yen? And you do know how petty the people in my circle is, don't you? Money just disappears in a flash! Just a day ago, the cabaret club I went to was charging eight thousand...... wait wait wait don't flash the knife Nao! I'm lying I'm lying! I went to no cabaret!"
"You'll be revealed sooner or later anyway, so why are you wasting all the cash in secret?"
"Nah, I was thinking: Nao will not notice it if I top up the cash with what I won from horse racing."
"Horse racing!? You just said horse racing!? Despite the amount you squandered the last time you tried it again!?"
"Whoaaa! No wait! Urm, you heard it wrong — I was talking about the gay bar!" [TLNote: Horse racing (競馬) is pronounced as "keiba". And well, it sounds similar to gay bar.]
"Enough with those lame lies, that's not an excuse! Speaking of which, you didn't accept any job recently. Why did you reject requests to advertise the promotions?"
"I still have in me the pride of a critic! Moreover, I do belong to the educated class as well!"
"As someone who goes around snooping for news on Yuri, you've no right to call yourself that!"
"Ah, speaking of which, did you get me the three sizes of Yuri as I had requested?"
"He's a guy, damn it! And what's the point of you knowing that information?"
"You're really silly, Nao. In a highly capitalistic society with differing values, what we need are all sorts of information. The only ones who can make full use of the opportunities are industrial ruffians like me!"
So where did your critic's pride fly off to?
"In any case, the opportunity has not shown itself yet, so it's impossible for me to give you more pocket money. How about cutting down on the cash spent on our meals?"
"I did that already. I've used up all the my culinary techniques on cabbages for the past two weeks."
"Wow, I did not even notice that. Come to think of it, they were indeed all cabbages — that's just what you'll expect from Nao. It's no wonder Mika, Arisa, Rena and Aoi said to me, 'You've slimmed down quite a bit, Tetsurou!'."
"How many cabaret clubs did you visit, you damn bastard!?"
"I'm sorry, I really am!"
While the speakers were playing the bustling theme of Café Momus, Tetsurou squirmed his way through the sofa and the desk, trying to escape.
"O-Oh, Nao. I thought a way of a fixing our financial problems!"
"...... And that is?" I heaved a sigh and asked, chasing him between the television and the foliage plants.
"We can borrow some cash from Misako."
"Do you even have the pride of a man!?"
"Ha ha ha! Should I have that, I wouldn't have gotten married or filed a divorce, nor will I ever have Nao!"
That was nothing to be proud of. Also, can you stop putting on that smile of yours which says, "you'll have to thank me for that"?
"Moreover, what will be your excuse when you ask her for money?"
"Well...... Calling her will be Nao's job."
"What!? Don't screw around with me!"
"But Misako refuses to speak to me! It has been so half a year before our divorce. Come to think of it, I lost a family member when that happened......"
"And you're about to lose another one at this very moment."
"Don't leave me alone, Nao!"
Don't hug me, you're irritating. I sent Tetsurou flying with a kick and made my way to the phone — but not to call Misako, obviously. I have no idea how rotten my father was, but I did have a man's pride with me. I made a call to the publisher. Despite it being ten o'clock on a Saturday night, the magazine's editorial department was not like your typical companies — there would be someone around to receive the call. After informing them of my identity as Hikawa Tetsurou's son, I began rambling about how I used cabbages to make two weeks worth of meals. When I reached Friday's menu, which consisted of cabbage rolls with cabbage fillings, the man on the other end of the phone (whom I guessed was the chief editor) let out a painful cry and said tearfully, "I'll definitely send you the money by Monday!" before hanging up on me.
"...... Nao, you can live just fine even if I am not around, isn't it?"
"Are you insured, Tetsurou?"
"Sorry, it's Daddy's fault. I'll give you the eight thousand yen, so don't be angry."
Nope, it was not my intention to threaten you. But thank goodness — though everything may be for naught, depending on Mafuyu's answer.
"But Ebisawa Mafuyu should be under strict curfews, right? Ebichiri's a worry-wart after all."
"Eh? W-What are you talking about?" I was flustered by Tetsurou's words.
"And isn't eight thousand yen a little too expensive? I do know of cheaper hotels, you know?"
"What the heck are you talking about!?"
It was only until Monday noon that I was able to mention the Christmas event to Mafuyu.
I actually had planned to touch on it casually during our morning practices. However, I had only received a verbal promise from the editorial side. In order to prevent the embarrassing situation where I had no cash to purchase the tickets after Mafuyu's agreement, I actually sneaked out of school during lunch break to check the bank account. It was only after I ensured that the royalties were in did I return to school.
"Nao, where did you go to? The side dishes are finished already!"
Chiaki was pointing at me with her chopsticks while her other hand was holding onto a lunch box. After passing her my bento, she opened the lid immediately and peered at its contents.
"Look look! These may look like fried chicken, but they are actually cabbage! Isn't that impressive?"
Chiaki showcased my bento to Mafuyu and the other girls who were at the table besides me. No, this was nothing to be proud of, so please don't go around showcasing it.
"Nao has always been good at doing things like this — like turning tofu into mock burger patties. I've always wanted to eat this again."
Said Chiaki as she narrowed her eyes into slits. As for Mafuyu, her gaze was going to-and-fro the bento and my face. Terada and the rest of the girls came over, and what followed was a series of exclamations like: "Is this really cabbage?"
"Let's just do a Hikawa Restaurant for next year's school festival," Class-rep Terada's suggestion sent the girls into a frenzy. "Nao, can you make chocolate parfait with tofu?" "How about cakes with cabbage?" You better pray that I can.
Just then, Mafuyu mumbled,
"...... Chiaki has been eating Naomi's dishes all this while?"
"Mmm, they always invite me for parties and stuff. Like during Christmas, for example. Each year, Uncle would always show off the new sounds system that he bought. I couldn't understand a single bit of what he said, but I do know Nao's cooking is delicious."
Mafuyu scowled and moved her gaze from Chiaki to me. Urm, what was wrong?
"Do you two celebrate Christmas every year?"
My heart pumped wildly from Mafuyu's sudden question. I never expected her to touch on the subject of Christmas.
"We spent it together almost every year," answered Chiaki in my stead. I could only nod my head in agreement since she was looking at me with a meaningful smile on her face. From the murderous auras around me, I could tell that the guys in our class was listening to our conversation intently beyond the wall of girls that was surrounding us. "He actually spends Christmas together with Chiaki every year?" "Go die, Nao." "Stuff yourself with cabbage cake." The combined attack of the words of resentments and Mafuyu's gaze was more than I could handle. I came up with a random reply and escaped away from the classroom.
I plugged the bass to the amplifiers when I reached the practice room. I waited for my heartbeats to return to their usual pace before sitting down on the round chair with a sigh.
Oi, why are you running away? — I thought to myself.
Didn't the conversation go unexpectedly towards the topic on Christmas? You should have gone with the flow and asked Mafuyu! Check if she was free this year! How was she planning to spend her Christmas? Wasn't that easy enough?
Of course not. The whole class was watching us. I would definitely stir up something huge should I pop the question before everyone. But then again, could I really find the opportunity to do just that? I am really useless.
I mean, I have never once invite a girl to spend Christmas together. Chiaki did come over most of the time to play, but that was because Tetsurou invited her to.
If I was able to ask Mafuyu out, we will be together alone. On our way home from the livehouse, we will be strolling together on streets beneath the night sky, surrounded by the Christmas jingles. Wham!, Yamashita Tatsuro, or the B'z...... wait a second, why were they all songs about unrequited love? I shook my head hard in an attempt to shake the melodies away from my mind. That was really inauspicious.
I gripped the neck of the bass as I tried thinking about typical Christmas songs. Perhaps that will grant me courage to ask Mafuyu out.
Fumbling the strings with my fingers, a slow melody began to flow.
What was surprising was the fact that I managed to remember the complete Latin lyrics of <Ave Maria>, composed by Gounod. The accompaniment to <Ave Maria> was written to be superimposed over Book I of Bach's <The Well-Tempered Clavier>.
That was the first piece Mafuyu played for me, back on a certain day.
She played it at the junkyard located at the end of the world, so that I could locate this bass.
When did I fall in love with Mafuyu? I recalled every day that I spent together with her while humming to the tune of the hymn.
The spring when we met; the summer when we brushed by each other; the autumn when we were separated.
We were always linked by music.
Perhaps it should not be so. I had no intention of blaming the god of music, but the current me do not even know what Mafuyu has in mind. Songs were always the media used to convey my feelings that I could not put into words—
The door behind me creaked open suddenly, causing me to swallow the melody back into my throat in surprise. My fingers remained frozen on the strings. I turned around, and in the opening of the door was a pair of blue eyes and hair colored maroon.
Why was I apologizing?
"It's okay to come in."
We are to gather at the practice room after we were done with our lunch during the break. I couldn't possibly hog the room by myself just because I was dwelling on some negative thoughts. Mafuyu slid timidly into the room. She then closed the door after a quick peek outside the room.
Our voice overlapped each other's. We exchanged looks, but we turned our gazes to the floor immediately after that. Neither of us said anything. After a brief silence, I worked up the courage to lift my head as I prepared myself to speak, but Mafuyu did the exact same thing as well, so we turned our gaze away once again. What the heck were we doing?
Mafuyu took a seat on the round chair. Since I did not lift my head, the only thing I could see was her feet. An awkward silence permeated the cold and dense air of the practice room. Crap, I have to say something. I mean, it was the rare opportunity that both of us were together alone. And yet I could not come up with anything.
Just as we were about to be worn down by time like two wax statues, a blurry sound came suddenly from the direction of the sun. It was a duet between a horn and a trombone — it probably came from the band practice; the melody played was the all too familiar tune, <Joy to the World>. They were repeating the same phrase again and again, but the speed was getting faster and faster...... wait a second? Hey! Why is the tune changing to the main theme of Lupin III? I nearly fell off my feet. At the same time, Mafuyu stood up angrily and was about to turn around.
We crossed sight. This time around, we couldn't help but to let out laughs. Mafuyu swayed her long maroon hair and returned back to her seat.
"It looks like it's a standing tradition for the band to come up with some sort of prank during their yearly performance."
"I did something like that before."
That was surprising. I never thought Mafuyu as someone that fools around. That was quite unimaginable.
"During my performance of Book 2 of <The Well-Tempered Clavier>, I slipped <Santa Claus is Coming to Town> into its fugue. Back then, I was thinking to myself: Why was I forced to hold a Christmas concert? But I was even more depressed when no one noticed my prank."
I was speechless. Mafuyu's expression darkened as she lifted her legs onto the chair and hugged her knees.
I see. So she had to work on Christmas Eve as well. But what about last year? She should have dropped the piano then already.
"Last year, I spent the whole day together with Hitomi in my house."
Hitomi...... oh, that was Miss Matsumura. She was the young female butler of the Ebisawa household. A mysterious and expressionless lady.
"What about your father? He's probably not in Japan at that time, isn't it?"
"Papa was performing Beethoven's Ninth." [TLNote: short for Beethoven's Symphony no.9]
I see. So the reason Ebichiri came back only at the end of the year was because he forced the performance of Beethoven's Ninth into his schedule huh? Urm, well then...... I took a deep breath.
"...... What...... about this year then?"
Mafuyu's hair shook for a moment. I could almost feel her flinching despite our distance.
I said it. I actually asked. When I regained my senses, my gaze had landed on the floor once more. I have to look at her in the face.
Mafuyu and I looked into each other's eyes.
The deep-sea blue eyes of hers were filled with unease.
"Urm, well, d-do you have...... any....... plans for this...... Christmas?"
I was struck by a sudden pang of nervousness. As I tried to squeeze the words out of me, my eyes landed on the area near Mafuyu's lips.
Mafuyu shook her head slowly.
"I think...... it will probably be the same as last year."
An inconceivable and warm sensation came flowing upwards from my stomach into area beneath my lungs. It was thumping wildly. Now was not the time for me to be happy just yet. The crucial thing was what happens next. Come on, say it out.
"Well, then...... together—"
I was so nervous, I had even forgotten how to speak. Together? Mafuyu tilted her head in response to that word.
Just then, the door to the practice room flung open suddenly. The main theme of Lupin III came rushing into the room, and Mafuyu's hair soared to the gush of air. Next to the surprised Mafuyu was a long, slender silhouette. I swallowed the words that were in my mouth.
There was a tremble in Mafuyu's murmurs. It was actually due to this interruption that I realized I could even feel the thumping of my heart through my ears.
"Nice timing. So you two were here as well."
With her hand resting against the door, Senpai flashed a clear smile.
"Geez, Senpai! That's just too pushy of you!"
A voice came from the back of Senpai — Chiaki popped her head out. Her eyes came into brief contact with mine, before alternating between Mafuyu and I. Her cheeks were all puffed up. What was going on around here?
"The next live performance has been decided."
Said Senpai as she grabbed Chiaki by her hands and walked into the room.
Why the sudden decision...... actually, that was just the way she was. Mafuyu was actually retreating towards the wall due to her shock. Senpai fished out a piece of photocopy paper from her chest and spread it out on the amplifiers.
"Or more specifically, we're not guaranteed a spot on the stage. It's going to be a huge event with the participation of professional bands, so whether we can get on stage will depend on the audition results. Just the thing for our next performance, yeah?"
"Eh, ah, yeah......"
I shifted my gaze onto the piece of paper and froze on the spot.
The event was named <Snow Crash>. I think I heard it somewhere before — yeah, Tomo did mention it at the livehouse back then......
"...... A-And it will be held on?"
I already knew the answer — it was even written clearly on the piece of paper. But I still could not help but to ask that incredibly stupid question. Kagurazaka-senpai flashed what was probably the brightest smile I had ever seen from her yet, and replied.
"24th December. Christmas Eve."