Tuesday, March 12, 2013

[Piano v4] Chapter 8: Birthday

Here's chapter 8. Pace will probably slow down as I am entering the final leg of my semester.

Enjoy.
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Before my eyes stood a large gate with spikes, several conifers, and tall metal railings that stretched to the sides. A large and elegant mansion, surrounded by a courtyard full of flowerbeds, stood deep inside the gated area.

I checked the time on my handphone. Four in the afternoon. Exactly our agreed time.

The last time I had visited the Ebisawa household was in the middle of summer. And the courtyard back then looked vastly different from what it looked like now. "I guess the flowers aren't around since it's December"—I thought to myself, as I stared at the lonely grassland. The two sharp dobermans lying down on the turf suddenly sat up, and came dashing in my direction just as I was about to reach for the intercom on the pillar. I retreated in fear.

The two dogs lay down on the other side of the gate and stared at me intently. They didn't bark or flash their teeth. Do they actually remember me?

I timidly walked forward with that thought in mind, but they stood up again.

"U-Urm, I'm not a strange person." For some reason, I began explaining myself to the dogs. "I'm just here to celebrate her birthday. Honest."

The dog on the right cocked its head suspiciously—do they somehow understand what I'm saying? It looked like the dog on the left was observing me. Do I really look that suspicious? It was an incredibly grand mansion; and I heard that Mafuyu typically dressed like a real lady at home, so I came in my suit to match myself to her. I took two steps towards the gate and squat down before the dogs as they continued to watch me.

"Do I look weird in this?"

"Your clothes, no. But your actions, yes."

"Whoa!"

I sprang up in response to the sudden voice beside me.

Standing next to me was a lady in a fitting light-beige pantsuit. She had come through the side door without me realizing. I hadn't even heard the sound of her footsteps.

Short hair, crisp facial contours, and an icy gaze. The cute pair of dolphin earrings on her ears felt out of place, and did nothing to tone down her sharpness. She was Matsumura Hitomi, the butler of the Ebisawa family that oversaw everything.

"Artur and Fricsay are pretty smart. They can distinguish the different attires worn by you and me," said Miss Matsumura, as she looked at the two dogs. "But sadly, they cannot comprehend human speech. It is pointless to seek their opinions."

"Ah, no, it's nothing......" Someone saw that. She saw me. That was really embarrassing. "S-Sorry, I didn't know you would be receiving me."

"No, I came out because I saw a suspicious person at the side of the gate."

She was as straightforward as ever.

"Ah, urm, it's been a while."

I couldn't think of anything to say, so I stood up, dusted my knees and bowed. "Pardon me," said Miss Matsumura, as she walked swiftly towards me, stretching her arms out towards the collar of my coat. She adjusted my tie as I stood there flustered.

"Welcome. My mistress has been waiting for you."

Miss Matsumura opened the side door and walked into the courtyard while I was still rooted to the ground. She then patted the two dobermans on the head and said a few brief words, and the dogs obediently moved to the side of the flowerbed. After that, she finally granted me entry into the courtyard. That sequence of events seemed really abrupt. How very horrifying.

"Mistress is still in an exhausted state. She practiced the piano for a long time right after returning home from the audition yesterday,"

Said Miss Matsumura, who was walking three steps ahead of me. That statement made me flinch. I continued walking as I fixed my gaze on my palms.

The audition yesterday. The burning sensation of the bass was still stuck to my hands, and was enough to make my body tremble. The metallic smell of the microphones, and the damp atmosphere that had been created by our breaths, still lingered around me. We had separated after giving it our all in that short period of time—yet, she continued practicing the piano even after reaching home?

"I hope Mr. Hikawa will offer your assistance in getting her to rest—"

"Naomi!"

A clear voice, one that sounded like the melting of the morning snow of winter, came towards me. I lifted my head.

It was a dazzling sight, be it the warm, golden hair or the pure white dress. Even her sapphire-blue eyes were sparkling. Mafuyu's body was bathed in light as she came flying towards me.

But she stopped in her tracks when she noticed my unreserved gaze.

"...... What is wrong?"

She tilted her head and looked at herself shyly.

"Eh, ah, no......"

I couldn't possibly tell her I had been bewitched by her looks.

"...... I don't get to see you in this type of attire that often." 

I hastily said those untruthful words. I had already seen Mafuyu in such elegant attire several timeson CD covers, in magazines and on TV. It was nothing new.

"Naomi is the one that is not in your typical attire."

Mafuyu tilted her head and took a good look at me from head to toe.

"It does not really suit you."

That was a huge blow. I almost slumped down onto the grass.

"Ah, s-sorry. Urm, you look much better than you did the time you attended Papa's concert."

"Mistress, you are not making it any better by saying that."

Miss Matsumura's words dealt the depressed me the critical blow.

"Mistress, it would be better if you were more careful with your words."

You're in no position to say that!



Stepping into the Ebisawa mansion for the very first time, I noticed that the interior design of the house wasn't as impressive as the outside of the house had suggested. I had expected the house to be covered with woolen carpets, fur as deep as the ankles, chandeliers larger than a table, or Victorian vases big enough for a child to hide inside. But the corridors and stairs were a huge letdown compared to what I had imagined in my mind. It felt like I was in a brand new art museum—a vast whiteness filled my eyes, and made me more and more restless. Additionally, the temperature indoors was almost as cold as the temperature outside.

Finally, I was led to a room that was about twice the size of a classroom, and filled with curtains and woolen carpets in warm colors. To my left was a grand piano with its lid raised, and on the walls was a classy sound system that would make even Tetsurou envious. The heater in the room had already been switched on, so I could finally remove my coat.

"...... Is this a music salon? Does your family frequently hold family concerts?"

"No, this is my practice room."

I almost dropped the present in my hands. That room alone was almost as big as my house.

While I was looking around the room in a fluster, Miss Matsumura swiftly took my coat from my hands and hung it on the wall. She then led me to a chair and motioned for me to sit. Next to the small, single-legged round desk was a stylish cream-colored tea table.

After Miss Matsumura left the room, Mafuyu sat down in the chair diagonally in front of me and said softly,

"...... Thank you...... for coming over today......"

"M-Mmm."

I wanted to say something cool, but I couldn't think of anything to say despite having contemplated my words for a solid five seconds with my fingers crossed.

It can't be helped. I brought up an uninteresting topic: yesterday's event.

"Were you okay yesterday? You couldn't even stand properly after the audition."

The audition was held at the scheduled venue, a club house; but unlike Bright, there was no smell of sweat. It was an avant-garde place, and was so spacious that my legs were wobbling slightly just from standing on the stage. The other bands leaned more towards disco-style music; and there were even dance groups auditioning as well. Naturally, we were one of the youngest groups there. As we were scheduled to hit the stage last, we had to listen to the high quality performances of the other groups as we trembled behind the stage.

Senpai, however, was completely unfazed. "We'll score a landslide victory if they factor in looks as well," said Senpai. How very confident of her. But when I saw how exhausted Mafuyu was at the end of our performance, my worry about whether we had passed the audition or not was thrown out the window.

"Urm, is the solo for <Happy Xmas> too long? Mafuyu was playing by yourself for a full minute, and it looked like you were breathless at the end of that......"

Mafuyu took a deep breath and shook her head immediately.

"...... I will work hard to last through the whole song."

No, please don't. A chill went down my spine as I recalled what Furukawa had saidthe thing about the burden on her wrist, and how it was inconceivable for her to last through the whole performance.

"And I heard you practiced the piano after you returned home? Miss Matsumura—"

"That's because!" Mafuyu raised her voice to prevent me from saying anything further. "...... Because you were coming today. I would not skip my practice just because I was tired from the audition."

Me? What did she mean when she said it was because I was coming? 

"Whatever! It is my birthday today, so stop talking about things like that!"

"Ah, s-sorry."

Right. Celebrating her birthday alone by ourselves is a rare occasion, so I'll have to get back on topic.

"Urm, congratulations...... How old are you?"

"Sixteen, of course."

Right. What sort of idiotic question am I asking her? Mafuyu quickly continued on, perhaps because she noticed how depressed I was.

"When is Naomi's birthday?"

"Fourth of April." I couldn't recall ever celebrating it together with anyone. In fact, there were even times I had forgotten my own birthday. After all, it did take place during the spring holidays.

"No one celebrates it together with you?"

"Hmm. Maybe when I was still little. My parents might've bought me a cake or something. But they split up before I was in elementary school."

"Ah...... s-sorry."

Mafuyu covered her mouth, and her expression became sullen. I quickly shook my hands.

"It's nothing, I don't mind. That's the way Tetsurou is anyway—it's like a joke to me now."

"Let's also celebrate Naomi's birthday together then."

"What are we celebrating here? A birthday that's eight months late......?" I laughed. Then again, I said something similar to Chiaki as well, and was scolded by her for that.

"...... We will celebrate Naomi being the same age as I am. Naomi was already sixteen when we first met, right?"

I shut my mouth and looked at Mafuyu's face. 

The day we first met. Does she remember even the date? The spring holidays marked our beginning. And at the junkyard hidden between the mountains next to the sea, where time ground to a halt, Ravel's piano concerto had brought us together. And here we are now, with time flying by.

Our hearts were stirred up by the memories. As we lowered our heads shyly after briefly exchanging a glance, we were suddenly interrupted by knocks on the door.

"I am here with some snacks and tea."

It was Miss Matsumura. She pushed a tall, sculptured, two-level metal trolley into the room, and on the trolley, was a long teapot, a basket full of freshly baked madeleines and an overflowing amount of soufflés.

"Wow...... smells great."

"The slightly deformed madeleines on this side were made by Mistress."

"Hitomi!"

Mafuyu stood up with a teary expression on her face and quickly turned towards me with her face flushed red.

"I-it is because I have never once stepped into the kitchen!"

Yeah, since she's a professional pianist, it'd be troublesome if anything happened to her fingers.

"I could not stand to watch on any longer, so I made the remaining half of the madeleines and all the soufflés."

"Geez! Just go away, Hitomi! I will brew the tea!"

A blushing Mafuyu stood up and chased Miss Matsumura out of the room.

"Well then, I will be in the office on the first floor. Please scream if anything should happen. Mr. Hikawa is a man after all."

"Whatever! Get out now!"

The two of us were alone again. "Well, urm......" Mafuyu began serving me tea despite how flustered she was. I was incredibly nervous as well. In the basket were what was said to be a few madeleines made by Mafuyu. Indeed. Four out of eight of the madeleines had a rather peculiar shape to them.

"Urm, w-well, uhh, but......"

Mafuyu shook her hands in panic when she saw me grabbing one of the cakes she made. 

"You do not have to deliberately choose that! Urm, I do wish for you to try it, but!"

"Don't worry, it's delicious. Really delicious."

Here I was, drinking afternoon tea with a dressed-up Mafuyu, in a rather out-of-this-world room (that was her's to boot)—how could anyone possibly remain calm in that situation? But having suffered that preemptive embarrassment earlier, I somehow managed to do just that. Moreover, I wasn't lying when I said the madeleines were delicious.

"I'm hopeless when it comes to desserts. And no one would eat them anyway, since Tetsurou's boozing all day."

"That is the only thing I know how to do. Hitomi just taught me today."

"The kitchen should be a mess......"

"It is not!" 

No, sorry, I was just joking, really! Don't cry!

"You are really good at cooking, so you would never understand the feelings of those that are horrible at it."

Mumbled Mafuyu, as she took a huge bite of the soufflé. What does she mean by that?

"You want to learn how to cook? But nothing good would come of that, you know? All you would get is people ordering you around."

Mafuyu lifted her eyes to look at me. She nodded.

"...... Because Kyouko cannot cook."

"—Eh?"

My heart skipped a beat. Kagurazaka-senpai? Why did she bring her up?

"She can do just about everything, but she cannot cook. There is nothing else I can beat her at."

That means...... Wait, what does she mean by that? Beat her?

"Kyouko......" Mafuyu's face was burning red, and her voice rose all of a sudden. She whimpered and continued, "S-she should not be able to make desserts for you."

Eh? Ah, no, hold on. Mafuyu was staring at me with a serious look in her eyes. I swallowed the words that were at the edge of my mouth. Does Mafuyu know about that? About the things Kagurazaka-senpai had said to me.

If that's the case, I'll have to express myself properly to Mafuyu right now. With Mafuyu around, my feelings for Senpai—no wait, Mafuyu hasn't asked me anything about that yet, so it'd be weird if I just suddenly brought it up.

My brain was about to melt. And the question that came out of my mouth at a time like that, was something so incredibly natural and obvious, it sounded silly.

"...... But Mafuyu still has the piano, no?"

Mafuyu's eyes opened wide. She then directed her gaze at the teacups.

"But, if it is only the piano......"

"As long as I can listen to you play the piano. Ah, no, the madeleines are great too. Mmm."

Mafuyu glared at me as she pouted her lips, causing me to swallow the rest of my words down my throat along with some tea.

Did I say something to upset her? As I was stuffing my fifth madeleine into my mouth while still in a clueless state, Mafuyu stood up all of a sudden.

She wiped her hands carefully with a wet towel, then turned towards me.

"This is my birthday present for you."

"Eh?"

"I will give it to you right now."

I froze on the spot, still holding the half-eaten madeleine in my hand; it looked as though I was posing for a CD cover. Mafuyu's white figure floated away from me. Her pure-white dress, as well as her long maroon hair, could be seen behind the gloomy piano that had its black wings spread out wide. It felt like time would stop forever. Mafuyu's sapphire-blue eyes were fixated on me.

"....... Because we had run out of time back then."

It felt like Mafuyu's voice had woken me up from a long dream.

"I will play anything Naomi wants to hear."

I didn't even notice the madeleine dropping into my teacup.

Mafuyu was about to play the piano for me. For me—and only me.

A present that she couldn't give me if I didn't come to her house—was she referring to this? 

Crap. I was clueless about my situation. What expression do I have on my face? Am I about to stand up? Am I wearing a weird smile? A strange, warm sensation came gushing up from beneath my abdomen, making me feel uneasy. Calm down. I tried my hardest to force myself back into my chair.

"And the first piece will be?"

"U-Urm......."

My voice shrunk back inside me, so I cleared my throat. What should I do? Is any piece fine? Really? Then I should choose something she hasn't released in an album. If only an orchestra were here, then I could get her to play all of the Brandenburg concertos. Or perhaps I should have her play Mozart's <Piano Concerto No. 24> in C minor. No, that's not quite possible, but how about <Variations and Fugue on a Theme> by Handel? Is she good with the works from the early Romantic Era? Would the organ works by Bach be better? How about—

I came close to voicing my greedy desire a few times.

But only one answer remained in my mouth.

The first song I want Mafuyu to play for me has to be none other than this.

"...... Beethoven's Op. 81a."

Mafuyu flashed a faint smile when she heard my answer. But in the next instant, she turned to face the eighty-eight black and white keys and immersed her fingers, her wrists, her bones and her soul deep in that icy monochrome world.

Her eyelashes lowered, and her shoulders swayed. I couldn't help but stand up. I could see Mafuyu's slender fingers pressing down on the keys of the triad that symbolized goodbye.

Next came the whispers of the adagio.

Beethoven's Op. 81a. Piano Sonata No. 26 in E♭ major, also known as the <Les Adieux sonata>. 

It was the first movement, and the friend had just left riding on the allegro. With the train disappearing in the morning mist, the footsteps sounded so clear, but were filled with an indescribable sadness at the same time.

Why hasn't Mafuyu recorded this song before? I remember her saying in a certain interview that this is her favorite piece out of all of Beethoven's pieces.

Is it because this is a song of goodbye? Does the story woven by Beethoven appear clearly before her eyes each time she plays this song, bringing her pain as a result? Or does she fear her fingers will stop before she can even reach the final movement?

Regardless—

The reasons didn't matter anymore.

Mafuyu was playing <Les Adieux sonata>. The emotional andante wandered about aimlessly amid the grey gloominess as it counted the number of days without its other half. And as it sought out the exit like a ray of light, the pitch gradually increasedthen, was finally released. The left and right hands had been seeking each other out since the very beginning, and when their sounds clashed, they broke into a dance of happiness celebrating their reunion. What a clear and simple, yet powerful, harmony.

When I closed my eyes, it felt like the inside of my face was about to ignite.

Can the sound of the piano really be so intense that it feels like it could sear my skin, and yet, at the same time, be as sweet as an intoxicating rain of liquor? Strange. This isn't the familiar sound of the instrument I have heard thousands of times. Is this really the piano? Could it be the chirps of the magical bird that resulted from the painful caress of Mafuyu's fingers? I moved myself forward unconsciously, attracted by the luster of the black wing.

Mafuyu hammered the final chord of the E♭ major, and waited until the final sound permeated the air before lifting her fingers.

"...... Naomi?"

I jumped in surprise when she called my name. Somehow, I had ended up leaning on the side of the piano, my eyes fixed on the keys.

"...... Ah."

"Is there anything wrong? Do you not like it?"

I shook my head hard.

"How can that be? Just...... How do I put it? In any case, it was amazing. Urm......"

I couldn't speak. The music critic genes I had inherited were laid bare for Mafuyu to see.

"What will the next song be?"

"Urmm......" It felt like my heart was right next to my ear—I could hear it thumping away.

"W-What should I choose? I guess Bach would be the best. Well then, urm, <Partita No.2> in C minor."

Mafuyu nodded. Each time I uttered the title of a song, Mafuyu would delve back into that mysterious, pitch-black-and-ivory world. It was a little saddening, but the songs she wove there captivated me again and again, preventing me from escaping. It started off with a viscous question, and was followed by a confirmation in what felt like a repeated stampede on the frost and snow, then ended with a fugue that expanded outwards in the brilliant sky and beneath the water.

Ahh, that's—

It was that unique piano. I finally understood.

It was that piano. There was no mistake. During the fugue, I could hear the sound of the tides drifting in my direction, and the sound of the gentle breeze rustling the leaves. There was also the sound of the rusty bicycle wheel spinning in the air, and the drops of rain pattering on the door of the fridge.

<The Well-Tempered Clavier>, <The Art of Fugue>, <The Musical Offering> and <Goldberg Variations>. I could no longer differentiate which of those songs had been requested by me, and which of them had been played by Mafuyu on a whim.

Mafuyu, who had been playing the piano silently the entire time, finally rested her hands on her knees and exhaled a heated breath towards the ceiling. The drops of sweat on her face glistened in the light.

Her pose made it look like she was praying. I hesitated, wondering if I should call out to her.

Was it because of the exhaustion from those excessive practices? During the final stretches of her playing, it looked like Mafuyu was twisting her skinny body. It was painful to watch.

A light smile appeared at the edges of Mafuyu's mouth. She slowly fixed her gaze on my face.

"Hey, that piano."

Mafuyu's gaze blurred when I spoke, as though she were in a dream-like trance. She tilted her head slightly.

"Is that...... the piano at the junkyard?"

Mafuyu leaned towards me happily.

"You can tell just by listening?"

"Yeah, because......." It was impossible for those sounds to come from anything else. I had already heard it twice, and there was no way I would ever forget it.

But Mafuyu shook her head.

"...... That piano was Mama's."

I took in a deep breath.

"Hitomi secretly moved it to the villa for me, but Papa saw it when he came back to Japan, and threw it away in anger. But I still visited Mama's piano quite a number of times."

And that was how we had met. At the department store located between the valleys at the ends of the world.

"I could not go there often after I entered high school; and the piano could no longer be played anyway, because of the damages sustained from the rain. So in the end, I gave up. But Papa bought this piano for me not too long ago."

Ebichiri did?

"The way I press the keys is really similar to the way Mama did. Mama's piano had been custom made, with the keys being made really light, so Papa asked Yamaha to make an exact replica of her piano for me."

Mafuyu lovingly caressed the golden "Yamaha" label carved above the keys.

"I really do not understand what is going on in his head. He is the one that threw it away; yet, he ordered an exact copy to be made."

I thought I could understand it a little.

Perhaps he granted his forgiveness some time agonot to his wife, who separated from him, but to himself.

"It is inconceivable. I never thought I would get it back."

The same piano as her mother. The item Mafuyu yearned to get back.

It was probably because it was Mafuyu's heartfelt desire.

"...... Magic exists there, you know?"

"Magic? What?"

Mafuyu locked her widened round eyes on me and asked me that seriously. I all of a sudden became shy.

"Urm, nothing."

"How can that possibly be? Explain it to me properly."

Mafuyu's eyes turned serious all of a sudden, and after she pressed me further, I was forced to tell her the truth—about the name I had secretly come up with for that junkyard.

"The Department Store of Hearts' Desires."

"...... Why did you name it that?"

"Why do you want to know......"

"Because it is a good name."

I couldn't help but turn my gaze away. I was happy she praised me, but sadly, the name had come from somewhere else.

"Have you ever heard of the novel <Norstrilia>?"

Mafuyu shook her head. Right. It's not a novel someone would typically come across.

"That name is the name of a special place in that novel. If you can find your heartfelt desire, that place will grant that desire for you, no matter what it is."

I had read the book when I was young, so I couldn't quite remember the details—just a few names here and there. But I did remember that it was a story about a youngster named Rod McBan, who had finally gotten his hands on a collectors postage stamp and returned home.

"Did you give it that name because you are always getting your spare parts from there?"

"Mmm, you're not wrong. I can fix almost anything as long as I make a trip to that place."

Mafuyu's eyes sparkled as she looked at me. I could almost hear the howl of the wind inside my memories.

"Well then, did you find it? Your real desire."

My heartfelt desire.

"...... I don't know."

"I have already found mine."

Mafuyu's desire?

Neither of us could ask the questions that should've followed after.

Because that was the place where we had met. But that fairy-tale way of thinking was purely wishful. Mafuyu's cheeks burned like the flames of a heater just from us briefly exchanging glances. If I had said something, perhaps the distance between Mafuyu's hands—whose fingers were gently resting on the keys—and my hands—that had wings sprouting from them—would've gradually become zero—

A shadow appeared on Mafuyu's face.

Are those eyes, that look like the deep sea, trying to tell me something? It felt like my heart was being squeezed by something when I was about to ask her a question, so I heaved a slow sigh instead.

"...... Well"—my dry sigh finally turned into speech—"I have a present...... I'd like to give you as well."

For a moment, I thought Mafuyu would burst into tears. But she just lowered her eyes and gently nodded her head instead. I almost apologized to her.

I grabbed the bag underneath my coat.

When I passed Mafuyu the wrapped present, I could see her watery eyes alternating between the ribbon and my hands.

"...... Can I open this?"

"Mmm. Urm, well, I'd like to explain the present a little as well."

Mafuyu shot me a surprised look, then untied the ribbon and removed the wrapping. Her eyes widened when she saw the crimson jacket of the record.

"Sorry about how worn out it is; I could only get my hands on one secondhand."

"It is okay...... I have never once listened to a full album of The Beatles."

"Do you have a player?"

Mafuyu nodded and led me to the sound system at the side of the room. She placed the round, black record on an old but solid player and lowered the needle.

Cheers and applause emanated from the speakers as we sat down on the sofa. Mafuyu placed the jacket of the album, which had a wildly colourful group image printed on it, on her knees. While looking at the jacket, she asked,

"Is this a live recording of a concert?"

"Nope. It's a studio recording."

The cheers were broken apart by the resolute beats and guitar riffs.

"Back then, The Beatles were already worldwide superstars. Everywhere they went, they were surrounded by ardent fans and chased around by the media. But because of all that attention, they gradually became weary of the thought of holding concerts."

Paul McCartney finally began singing, and started crooning about the fictitious story of the roots of their music.

"But they still loved performing live, which was expected since they were a rock band, so they created a fictitious band, and conceived a setting to record a live performance of that very band. And thus, this record was created."

—Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

A fictitious name entrusted with their dreams. It was the title of the album, as well as the title of the first and last track.

Mafuyu was sitting next to me silently, sinking her body into the sofa as she listened to Ringo Starr's voice, which had followed Paul's. The mic was then passed on to John Lennon. The brass section, the orchestra, the harpsichord, the sitar...... All the lively instruments that couldn't possibly be accommodated on a real stage, had appeared on that fictitious stage and inside that rock music.

I had left my seat only once—to flip the record over to the "B" side. But it didn't seem like Mafuyu had even noticed I had gotten up.

The live performance was about to end. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band had substituted their closing speech with a song, an impromptu performance. But sadly, it was about time for us to part......

The song ended. The thundering cheers gradually died down, and were quietly replaced by the strums of the guitar, and a piano that came in shortly after.

For some reason, I always tear up when it reaches this part. And to this very day, I still don't understand why the intro touches me so much.

Encore, <A Day in the Life>.

I felt the warmth of a body on the back of my hand.

It was Mafuyu's fingers. She was playing the same melody as the piano in the song.

After a while, the orchestra entered its final crescendo. All the instruments started playing from their lowest note to their highest note, and ignored the clashing and grazing of the disharmony. The piece kept climbing and scaling upwards in its search for the light, prying even the clouds apart—

Shatter.

The harmony of the simultaneous strikes of the three pianos created a buzzing echo, and the shattered fragments scattered across the surface of the sea.

Our hands folded together as we listened to the song's dying moments. Even though the sounds of the piano had been totally sucked up by the air, the record hadn't ended yet; I could clearly hear the sound of footsteps, and of a chair scraping against the floor.

Then, the silence was suddenly interrupted—not by a song or by our words, but by a rewinding sound. Mafuyu's hair flinched. She grabbed my hand tightly.

"...... W-What is this?"

A melody lingering on the brink of existence, with a few voices playing in reverse at the same time. The short verse repeated itself endlessly.

"Urm, this is called <Sgt Pepper's Inner Groove>. The inner groove of the record forms a repeating loop, so the record will continue playing if you don't stop the player."

Thank god the record player in Mafuyu's house is an older model—I secretly heaved a sigh of relief. I also silently thanked Tetsurou for finding another copy of the UK version of the vinyl record.

The records released by the US and Japan either ignored that feature, or just didn't repeat properly. And of course, in the CD version, the track simply faded away.

That was why it had to be the UK version of the vinyl record.

"Why did they design it like this?"

Asked Mafuyu, as she looked at the record uneasily.

It felt a little embarrassing to reply to her with an answer prepared in advance. No no, then what was the point of asking Tetsurou to find the record in the first place? I have to answer her properly.

My gaze fell onto the jacket of the album—onto John, who was carrying a horn and wearing a military band uniform. I chose the appropriate words slowly.

"Urm, it was probably a prank. The Beatles used to love teasing their audience. They were probably saying 'It's over,' but......"

I moved my eyes onto Mafuyu's tiny hand that was resting on top of mine.

"Perhaps they didn't actually want that fictitious concert to end. That's what I think anyway."

I could feel Mafuyu's large eyes fixating on my cheeks.

"That's why I chose to give Mafuyu this record for your birthday present."

The concert will never end if she doesn't lift the needle.

A dream that could never be fulfilled in reality.

When I was finished explaining, I snuck a peek at Mafuyu. Our eyes met; and both of us lowered our gaze shyly, onto our overlapping hands.


Mafuyu let out an inaudible shriek and stood up with her face flushed red. She hid her right hand—that was just on top of mine not too long ago—behind her back and shook her head as she stepped back.

"Sorry, urm......"

"I will switch the player off."

Mafuyu ran to the sound system, with the hem of her dress fluttering around her, and lifted the needle. <Inner Groove> came to a startling halt, destroying eternity. An awkward silence lingered between the two of us. Mafuyu slotted the record back in its jacket, then returned to the sofa with the album hugged in her chest. I felt a little uneasy. Did I make her happy?

"I thought...... I heard something just now."

I tilted my head.

"Well, I thought I heard an incredibly high-pitched sound prior to the repeating voices."

I was dumbfounded.

"...... R-Really? Well, you're not wrong."

That was one of their childish pranks. The Beatles had inserted a high-frequency tone that was supposed to only be audible to dogs right before the <Inner Groove>. She could hear that?

"Dogs? Why?"

"No idea. A joke of some sort, perhaps."

"Ah, perhaps because it is Constable Pepper's band? That might be the dog whistle that summons the police dog."

Mafuyu's voice sounded a little hoarse. She was looking at the album intently as she flipped it around. I see, that never occurred to me. No wait, he's a sergeant, not a constable, yeah?

"There's plenty of other fun stuff on the cover as well. You can even see Sergeant Pepper's arm badge and insignia. And there's also that fake beard."

When I pulled out the cover, a simple yet colourful print came into Mafuyu's view, and a child-like smile appeared on her face. She must be really happy, right?

After a while, Mafuyu slid the cover back in place and hugged the record tightly in her chest again.

"...... I will"

"Eh?"

"I will listen to it again later. Over and over."

"Ah, oh, mmm."

"Thank you. I am happy, really happy. Really really happy."

"M-Mmm, I know."

Mafuyu hugged the record and sat down next to me.

She was even closer to me than before, with her shoulder touching mine. I couldn't shift the angle of my upper body.

Thank goodness, she looks elated. Having vacillated between nervousness and calm repeatedly, it felt like the bones in my body were about to shatter.

"Naomi, why......"

Mafuyu was murmuring next to my ears, so the only thing I could do was turn my face slightly towards her.

"Why do you always know what I want in an instant when it comes to music?"

I-is that right?

"But not understand the thing that I really desire?"

I can't look, or I'll get sucked in by her—despite thinking that, I still turned my head towards Mafuyu. I was immediately held captive by Mafuyu's deep-blue eyes, which were only about fifteen centimeters away from me.

What she really desires, huh.

Why? I knew that all I had to do was convert my answer into words, but I was unable to make a sound. I lacked the courage. It was just the end of the music, but yet, I couldn't breathe.

I only had to convert it into words.

But for some reason, Kagurazaka-senpai's words appeared in my mind at that very moment.

"This is what a confession of love means. What a scary thing it is."

"The rational fantasy people have about others is all gently taken away by love."

It felt horrible just imagining no longer being able to sit next to Mafuyu like I normally would, if I were to let it all out. Isn't that something really scary?

If I choose to remain silent, we can keep interacting with each other, like what we're doing right now. But if I confess, all that will be left between us, is blades.

Moreover, I haven't given Senpai a proper reply yet. She did say she didn't want to hear my answer, but that isn't the point. There was no way I could say the same thing to another girl without having replied to Senpai first. I just couldn't do it.

No, but I have to. Mafuyu's eyes were clouded over by a sorrowful expression. I don't want to see her wear that kind of expression anymore. I have to say it.

But just as I was about to open my mouth—

A shrill guitar riff came between Mafuyu and me. I sprang up in shock and accidentally flung Mafuyu's hand away. She prevented herself from falling by grabbing onto the sofa.

"Ah, s-sorry!"

It was my handphone. And the ringtone of the incoming call<Revolution>meant—

I remembered stuffing my phone into my coat pocket, so I rushed to the wall.

"Hi, young man. Sorry for interrupting, but I called you because I have something important to tell you. But then again, I would've made this call anyway."

On the other side of the phone was Kagurazaka-senpai musing away. I pressed my hand against the wall and lowered my head in dejection.

"Anything important?"

I could feel Mafuyu's eyes behind me. For some reason, I unconsciously turned my body to block my phone from her sight and lowered my voice.

"I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you prefer first?"

I let out a sigh. I had heard that question from her countless times since I first met her.

"Anything's fine. It should roughly be the same thing anyway."

Senpai went silent for a while. Did I manage to surprise her? Damn, this feels great.

"You are gradually metamorphosing into a man of my preferences. Why is that so? You'd be a regular suave guy if you lost that problem of your denseness. Stop making my heart skip a beat."

"No no, what are you talking about?" Mafuyu's right behind me! I doubt she can hear our conversation through the phone, but she does possess a pair of incredibly sharp ears!

"In any case, it's exactly as you said. We passed the auditions. I never expected the results to be out so soon. I hope it'll be the best Christmas Eve yet."

I adjusted my grip on the phone.

We passed the audition. The good and bad news.

"...... H-How's this......" I tried my best to hold on. "So what's the bad news?"

"Your voice is trembling. That's really cute as well," Senpai giggled. "Well then, please pass this message on to Comrade Ebisawa behind you: if you two step over the line today, that means I will have kissed young man as well, though indirectly. Please remember that."

"Kyouko~!" Mafuyu let out a furious shriek. It looked like she actually heard us. The call disconnected. Mafuyu hammered my back really hard; her face and ears were burning red. I was at my limit as well, so I couldn't look Mafuyu properly in the face.

Because of that, I ended up missing the chance to say those important words.

And that was my second mistake.

13 comments:

  1. thank you for your translate, you're doing great! and good luck with your semester :D

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  2. Thanks for the new chapter

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  3. Can't wait for this series to be completely translated.
    Delighted to see that you've kept up on it all this time.
    One of my favorite light novels, and I thank you profusely for it.

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  4. Senpai, What a timing...

    that aside this chapter really give me such a goosebumps by virtually hear Mafuyu play...
    what a blessing...

    thank for the translation.

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  5. the second mistake huh.. com'n naomi.. tss.. anyway, thank you really for the translations!! and gudluck with the new sem.. XD

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  6. omfg Mafuyu is so cute! NAOMI JUST TELL HER D:
    thanks for translating as always. i can't wait to see what happens next.

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  7. now it's a second mistake? what on earth is happening!? I don't get it >_<
    and stupid Nao. If you just told her... gah. :P

    thanks for the translation and good luck on the last terrifying parts of the sem. I'm going through it myself (thank God we're almost done) XD

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  8. LOL if Nao just confessed right now, it might have been the end of the story.. i want to prolong their suffering a little more muhahahaha.. XD badass kyouko FTW!

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  9. Great chapter, though I can't help but relate to Nao in that I'm completely dense when it comes to this stuff...while I can understand why he hesitates, it's hard for me to understand what the girls are feeling. In this case, Mafuyu. I have a feeling about what she wants, but it's unclear until this volume and the encore pieces end. What does it mean? Am I a moron for this?

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  10. I have a feeling that mafuyu might leave or something. Since romance novels usually go that way. Who knows, they might miracuously meet up again in the after-story ( Card Captor Sakura days :3)

    Dear Sensei, Surprise me!

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  11. Um do anyone know where I can read the chinese raws of this novel?

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  12. Hmmm, im kinda hoping it ends with them (Nao an Mafuyu) together and in After-Story they are/get married (prob wont happen, but i can hope)...

    Looking forward to next chapter, keep up the good work!!!

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