And here's chapter 7. The beginning of the end.
Tetsurou was not around when I reached home. It felt much colder indoors than outside. I put on a duffel coat and spaced out for a bit while laying on the sofa in the living room. My head had finally cooled itself down, so I recalled everything Senpai said to me earlier. I was calm enough to understand the bloodstained emotions hidden in the exaggerated speech by Kagurazaka-senpai.
When did it start?
When did Senpai start having feelings for me?
That was something that I could not question myself. Senpai has been saying this all these while, hasn't she? It was from the moment we met.
"Therefore, I had my eyes on you for a long time already, young man."
"— I want you."
"I guess I've finally found the Paul who belongs to me."
"It's actually very simple, young man. It's much simpler than what you're thinking."
Indeed. It was really simple.
I just did not notice it.
However, I had no idea what I should do, even if I had realized it. Audition was just around the corner. No wait, Senpai said the live performance and audition were arranged so that she could prevent Mafuyu and I from spending time together alone. That was just her mixing up her personal gains into work. Then again, that was the sort of person she was.
I curled myself up on the sofa. My back hurt. I felt something snap, and that was when I realized that the bass was crushed beneath my body. My face turned pale as I quickly pulled the instrument out of its case. Shit, what the heck was I doing? Was it okay? I checked the four knobs, the bridge and the pickup, heaving a sigh of relief when I was sure that I did not break anything.
I hugged the bass before my chest, pulled my feet up onto the sofa and curled myself up again. I should not be frustrating myself by thinking all these things at a time like this. Why did she bombard me with that lengthy speech of hers when we were in such a busy period of time? What should I do if Mafuyu were to know about this? I was clueless about how well the two girls got along with each other. Senpai teased Mafuyu all the time, and it looked like Mafuyu was not too against it either. However, the two girls would attack each other with a timbre that sounded like two cobras going for the each others' necks whenever they played together. You could call it the style of feketerigó, but the difference in the tones of the melody was incredibly obvious when the girls were playing. My bass was insufficient to carry the middle voice of the melody. I wished I could receive some assistance from the sounds of the synthesizer.
Hold on. Oi, now was not the time for me to be thinking about the band. That was just me running away from reality, wasn't it? I knocked my fist against the body of my bass. The thing that I should be worrying about at a time like this was—
Shouldn't I be worrying about the band at a time like this? Was I really okay?
I was disgusted by the various thoughts surfacing in my mind. The opposing guitar solos from Mafuyu and Senpai, along with the rhythmic phrases by Chiaki and me reverberating from afar — I was unable to stop them from awakening within my ears. I tried to construct the missing strings or organs from the song in my mind. Feketerigó lacks the fifth person, but the ideas were already there in my mind. It came to me when I was listening to Mafuyu's solo rendition of <Happy Xmas>.
The blueprint and program were gradually forming up in my head.
How ironic this was. The music was blocked out of my ears when we were practicing in the room as I was overly conscious of Senpai's gazes and the things she said. But here I was, all alone by myself in the house planning to think about the stuff Senpai said with a cooled head — and yet the music kept surging their way into my brain.
Simply put, I was subconsciously trying to find a place to hide.
The god of music will get angry if I kept running away from reality with music as an excuse. However, I had no option but to do so. It was the only place I could run to.
I stood up from the sofa.
I went back to my room, opened the cupboard and took out an old synthesizer and a toolbox. Looks like I'll have to spend my night like this. But I guess working on machines would be a much more productive way of spending the night as compared to watching the clock tick while I hid myself distressingly in my bed.
At the very least, it'll feel like I was moving forward.
"Did you not have any sleep? The dark circles beneath your eyes are really something!"
Asked Chiaki as she stared hard at my face. I answered by nodding my head while trying my hardest to hold back a yawn. My voice was slightly hoarse.
It was morning at the station platform. The sky was still dark as the sun was not out yet. However, the grayish concrete and Chiaki's checkered red skirt stung my eyes, since I stayed up all night.
"I couldn't sleep, so I worked till the morning."
I moved the heavy luggage from my shoulder to the floor. I brought the synthesizer along with my bass as well. My hand almost snapped from the weight.
"Something must have happened, right? But Senpai refused to say anything."
Chiaki's eyes were fixed onto me; they teared up gradually as she put on a sorrowful gaze. Two conflicting feelings flooded my heart. Thank goodness she did not say anything; why didn't she make things easier by voicing it all out? I had no idea if I was nodding or shaking my head.
"Why is no one willing to disclose anything......"
Why was Chiaki so gentle with her words? I thought to myself. Why did she not ask me forcibly by making me "spew it out quickly"? That was how she used to be. It was what happened on the night when I was shaken up by Mafuyu and Yuri's <Kreutzer Sonata>.
However, this was not just my problem alone...... I could not tell Chiaki about it.
"Senpai said 'I love you, please embrace me' to you, right?"
I fell backwards and almost rolled into the tracks.
"Nao's just too easy to read," Chiaki laughed shyly.
"So you did h-hear everything?"
She heard Senpai asking me to embrace her...... or rather, words that were along that line, didn't she?
"I didn't hear that much, but I do know Senpai is in love with Nao right from the start."
"You knew about it all along?" I went all polite unconsciously.
"I should say everyone does. Even the girls in our class."
I squatted down next to the synthesizer. I might have fell flat on concrete from shock. Come to think of it, that should be the case. Kagurazaka-senpai's attitude towards me was clear as day right from the beginning.
"Forget it, I'm not surprised by this. It's normal for Nao not to realize this."
I should just skip my lessons. I could not bring myself to face the rest of the world.
I came into contact with the synthesizer next to me.
But I can't do that.
Chiaki squatted down opposite of me, beside the synthesizer's case. It felt like I would be captured by those powerful eyes of hers should I lift my head up, so I kept staring at my hands instead.
"Just as I had expected, Senpai's really strong."
"Though I can't comprehend why she chose to say it with such a bad timing."
That was something...... I could not understand as well. Thanks to that, I was in tatters right now.
"...... That's something which I can't do. I should be shocked when I came to know of this."
Right. Chiaki loved Senpai as well. There was no way she could act like nothing happened.
"Urm, well, sorry."
"You have no right to apologize to me, so shut up."
I almost stumbled backwards onto the ground when Chiaki dissed me with a fierce smile on her face.
"I'm alright. I am not as strong as Senpai is, so a weird mechanism in my mind will kick in and ask me to take it easy so that everything will remain the same."
"...... Isn't that being strong?"
"That's being weak. This is too hard for Nao to comprehend. You'll probably understand nothing even if I explain it to you."
I remained silent when Chiaki pointed her finger at my nose. That may very well be the case.
One thing I was very certain of though; Chiaki's smile was lonelier than the cloudy dawn of early December.
"So, having skipped yesterday's practice and spent the whole night thinking, did you decide on what you are going to do?"
What I am going to do? Where should I escape to? What should I do from now on?
I nodded my head slowly.
"...... In theory, I modified the flanger so that it will only take in the note values from the synthesizer."
"Hold on a second, what are you talking about?"
"The arrangements, of course."
I rapped the synthesizer.
"I made this effect unit myself. It will connect Senpai and Mafuyu's guitars to the synthesizer and use the delayed effects as a backing. It'll adjusts the tones as well."
Chiaki lifted her hips slightly in a dumbfounded state. She remained speechless for a while.
"Wh...... What's this? That's what you did without any sleep?"
"I can't help it."
I could create some breathing space if I was to direct all my attention to music. Therefore, I focused my consciousness and fingers onto the soldering iron, the screwdrivers and the pliers, burrowing myself in the modification work. I linked the effect unit, the bass and my computer to the synthesizer and modified the arrangements of the codes as I checked on the sounds repeatedly.
And this is my answer. The black box placed in the back pocket of the synthesizer case.
Chiaki burst into a laughing fit. It started with her hugging onto her stomach and bending forward, but when she heard my hesitant "Chiaki?", she covered her face with her hands and roared.
"...... Hold on, sorry...... Ahahahahaha, ha, Nao, you're really......"
"D-Did I say something strange?"
Chiaki shook her head as she held back her laughter. She wiped away the tears at the corner of her eyes.
"Now I'm the one who looks like an idiot. If only I can be like you."
No, I just pushed the problems aside for now......"
I will still see Senpai when I'm at school. I did not even know what expressions to put on when I see her. However, if it was music, then they will gush into the silence and fill it all up regardless of how hopeless the situation is.
An announcement signaled the arrival of the train, rushing past us as it came to a stop in front of the platform. It caused our hair to flutter in the air — that was the end of our conversation.
When we reached school, what surprised us was the fact that the keys to the practice room were nowhere to be found in the key box. There was someone earlier than us. Chiaki and I exchanged a look before making our way to the practice room located at the back of the school complex.
"How close were you and young man together? Something like this?"
"Eh? Ah, uh......"
"Did he place his arms around you? There's not much space there, isn't it?"
"Naomi would not do something like that......"
"But it's cold outside, so he should have at least done this, right?"
"Yaa! Kyouko, stop!"
"What are you two doing......"
I was speechless when I opened the door. Kagurazaka-senpai and Mafuyu were sitting together on tables placed together, with Senpai wrapping her arm around Mafuyu's waist. Looks like Senpai was harassing Mafuyu sexually.
"Geez, Senpai! Here I am wondering to myself why you're here so early today!"
Chiaki pushed me aside and dashed into the room. She then clamped her arms onto Senpai's neck to save Mafuyu. With her hair and uniform in a disheveled mess, Mafuyu hid herself behind Chiaki's back with a timid expression in her eyes.
"Because she and young man had their love talk at the water tower on the roof, so I am grilling her for the details. As the president of the club, how can I not keep myself updated on things like that?"
"That has nothing to do with you being the president, isn't it? And there is no need for you to remove your tie either."
"But everyone has forgotten about the fact that I love girls as well, so I took the opportunity to emphasize that once more."
It was okay even if you didn't emphasize it. Man, she was just...... I happened to exchange sights briefly with Mafuyu when she turned herself in my direction. Her face was dyed with the colors of the setting sun. I turned my gaze away on reflex.
I had already decided on the expressions and the things to say should I bump into Senpai or Mafuyu, but it looked like it was all for nothing. Who would have expected a scene of sexual harassment going on when I walked into the practice room? I heaved a sigh and laid the luggage against the wall.
"So you brought the synthesizer as well? Are you planning to do some arrangements? I was thinking of having a guitar showdown with Mafuyu. If so—"
Senpai leaned herself over and looked past my shoulders to the area my hands were at. She pressed her chest tightly against my back and rested her chin on my shoulder, causing my body to freeze while I was about to take the synthesizer out from its case. My body was stabbed by the painful glares of Mafuyu and Chiaki.
"Urm, well, I am going to take the synthesizer out. P-Please move away."
No one said a word while I installed the wires. Compared to the complicated installation and tuning of the synthesizers and effect units, they were much faster when it comes to the preparation of their instruments.
When I passed one of the connecting wires of the synthesizer to Senpai, she gave a gentle smile and said,
"Is this your answer?"
What? What did she mean by my answer?
The answer to the grand, unreserved and heart-bleeding confession Senpai made yesterday?
How was that possible? There was not a single word or thought I had in me which I could use to answer her. It was just that I had no idea what I should do to get things back to normal—
Senpai plugged the wire into her Les Paul without waiting for my reply. I still could not bring myself to look at Mafuyu when I passed her the wire, so I fixed my gaze on the control panel of the effect unit instead. The bars on the display sprang to life, a signal that the two guitars were connected to my machine.
"Chiaki, you start off with the high hats. Senpai, please join in during the second chorus. Mafuyu will perform solo for the first."
There was a silent and yet heated atmosphere in the room. I tapped against the body of the bass to begin the count down. Like the minute echoes of the bell reverberating in the snowing sky, Chiaki began the drumming of the faint beats.
I did not tell them the song which we will be playing. However, there was no need for me to. All we need was a breath and we were transported to the silent night of Christmas Eve, where the falling snow was about to cover up everything — be it the soldiers, trenches, corpses or the weapons.
As though she was exhaling the air out of her chest, Mafuyu's Stratocaster began to sing. So this is Christmas and what have you done, Another year over, a new one just begun......
The remnants of the beautifully decorated lines of the main melody led the clear hymns of the organs and began to spread. I could hear someone gulping. No one was touching the keyboard. It was done solely by the effect unit connected directly to Mafuyu's guitar, which located the harmony between her guitar and my bass.
It felt just as if there was another Mafuyu standing right here. I finally raised my head, but the illusion disappeared in an instant without a trace. On the other side of me was Chiaki behind the drums, playing the sounds of the falling snow; there was Mafuyu, her eyes lowered as she wove the song with her Stratocaster; Kagurazaka-senpai was there with her Les Paul held tightly in her hands, looking at the shattered fragments of the illusion together with me.
I crossed sight with Senpai. Her eyes glittered like melting snow. She gave the pick in her fingers a swift flick in the direction of her Les Paul, overlapping the whispering melody of Mafuyu's Stratocaster with a simple and powerful stroke. I could hear the children singing the prayers of peace. War is over, if you want it, war is over, now......
I could feel a slight difference in the tone. The bright strings exploded. Goosebumps ran through my body. Was there really just four of us here? Was this the music created by just the heart and limbs of feketerigó? Even though none of us were making any sound, I could hear the voice of John Lennon and the chorus of thousands of children; I could even hear the bombings of the jet fighters, the explosions of the incendiary bombs, the cries of the orphans as well as the furious roars of the people.
Chiaki's fill0in came bursting in like a lightning which streaked through the night sky and dragged us all into a rock tempo. The hymn broke free from John Lennon and the hands of the children. Supported by the wings of Kagurazaka-senpai and Mafuyu, it changed into a complex variation, spiraling at a dazzling speed as it climbed upwards. It dragged all the timbres from the synthesizer, shot its way into the sky of Christmas night and burst apart. Should I be a split second later with the entrance of my bass, the harmony would become distorted and fragmented, covering up the brilliant stars in the sky. The scattering particles of light were burning my body. I had to rely on the faint vibrations detectable only by the tips of my fingertips to pump blood continuously into the wings of feketerigó.
No one stopped.
And so, the thing that hindered Senpai and Mafuyu from going on and on for eternity was the bell which came from far away.
When I finally stopped my fingers in exhaustion, the night sky faded away. Chiaki's beats were slowing down considerably, while Senpai and Mafuyu's guitar were restraining each other as they stopped their singing and counted the lingering echoes made by their counterpart.
None of us spoke for a long time even after the end of the preparatory bell. The room was filled up by a comforting numbness.
"— This has to be our best yet, right?"
Murmured Senpai with heated breaths. Her eyes were wet.
"The auditions, the actual performance, and even places higher than that. It's all within sight, isn't it?"
I had no idea who started it, but we were all nodding our heads. Even the synthesizers and the effect unit as well — it felt like they were giving off an unsatisfied glow in reply.
As the volume of the amplifiers dropped step by step, the lingering heat finally slipped away from our body, and replacing them were the air of reality on our skin.
It was a really scary scene.
When I thought back on this, feketerigó then should have been torn apart into pieces already.
Even so, we were bounded tightly together by the machines I hooked up and the music. Despite the fact that I did not reply to Senpai's feelings, nor my own thoughts.
And that was my first mistake.