Here's chapter 10. Sorry for the wait.
On the side note, I've finished Oreimo vol 12. Average end, I guess. Kirino's dere is pretty sweet, but Kyousuke's a retard for not going for Ayase end.
Yuri called me on Mafuyu's second day of absence from school. It was lunch break then. When I saw the name of the caller on the phone, I jumped out of my seat, attracting stares from my classmates, then dashed out of the room and into the corridor.
"Naomi? Urm, right now—"
"Yuri? Is that you? Thank god, I finally got in touch with you. Urm, it's about Mafuyu. Do you know what happened to Mafuyu? She missed school, she doesn't pick up any of my calls, and when I went over to her house, I was turned away by Miss Matsumura—"
"Calm down, Naomi. There is something I have to tell you in regard to that. I had to go back to France to take care of some matters, so I could not receive your calls. Sorry about that. Also......"
Yuri's voice felt really heavy, causing the uneasiness inside me to grow larger and larger.
"Do you know where Mafuyu is? Where is she?"
"Well, I will fill you in on the details when we meet. Hey, calm down. There is nothing to worry about."
"Why are you......."
"Are you free this evening? Or tonight? I can wait until really late if necessary."
"Of course I am. Where are you right now? Can I go to you now?"
"Sorry, I am in Tokyo right now. Urm......"
Yuri told me about a practice room that the orchestra often used that was very well known in Japan. Tetsurou had brought me there once before, so I was sure I could find it with the help of my cellphone.
"I'll head there right now."
"Eh? But your classes......"
I disconnected the call.
I turned my head around. Chiaki was standing in front of me with her arm leaning against the door, her eyes filled with unease.
"Were you able to contact Mafuyu?"
I nodded my head hazily. Well, I didn't really contact Mafuyu herself. Damn it, why is everyone not being clear or straightforward about what's happening?
Mafuyu hadn't shown up at school since that day she had left early. However, in the meantime, she did send me two short messages:
"I am on leave because of work."
"Sorry, I am currently in Tokyo. I will explain when I return."
And that was all. She refused to take my calls; and when Chiaki and I paid a visit to the Ebisawa household, Matsumura put on her usual expressionless look and said, "Mistress is not around, as she has currently gone to Tokyo to meet Mr. Ebisawa. I do not know the reason for her visit," and prevented us from entering the house.
Is she going to disappear without saying anything again? I felt a shiver run down my spine. That won't happen—that was what I wanted to believe. That will never happen again. Is she together with Yuri right now? Did something happen?
"In any case, I'm heading over there to find out."
Chiaki's eyes widened.
"W-Where are you going? We still have classes in the afternoon!"
"I'll be leaving school early. Please inform our teachers and Senpai for me."
My wrists were restrained just as I was about to run out of the room. I was about to fling my arms down on reflex, but I froze in place when I saw Chiaki's teary eyes.
A murky voice escaped from Chiaki's trembling lips. The grip of her hands loosened, and slipped weakly off my wrists.
"...... I'm sorry, it must be because...... it's Mafuyu. Nao is giving his all because it's about Mafuyu."
"It's nothing." Chiaki kicked me in the butt. "Get going!"
But you're the one who grabbed me, no? But upon seeing Chiaki trying her hardest to hold back her tears, I swallowed those words back down my throat and turned away in silence.
I rushed onto the train in my uniform, then transferred onto the fast line that led to Zushi when the train reached the terminal. It'll take me about an hour to reach Shinagawa. I only noticed the passengers' gazes after I had grabbed onto the handles and stopped, panting because of all that running around. What's going on? I briefly looked around me and realized everyone was wearing warm winter attire. I had rushed out of the school without my coat on, and yet, I didn't notice the freezing temperature around me. I loosened my tie and slipped it into my chest pocket.
I took out my cellphone and opened up Mafuyu's messages, which I had already read a countless number of times. The messages didn't look out of the ordinary. What happened exactly? Did it really have to do with her right hand?
When I flipped my phone shut, I was gritting my teeth so hard I could feel a slight twinge of pain. So I listened to the sound of the train rumbling on the railway to calm myself down.
I almost missed the Shinagawa station because my eyes were closed and I was deep in thought; I had to slip my body past the closing doors to disembark the train. Calm down. It'd be incredibly silly of me if I were to get lost or encounter some sort of mishap right now.
I confirmed the location of the practice room using the navigation system on my cellphone, then walked past the ticketing gate. When the wind howled past my ears and neck, I finally regretted not bringing my coat along with me. I began running past the passersby, their faces hidden by the shadows.
The practice room was located in a residential area where there weren't many high-rise buildings around. It was a pretty modern-looking cubic structure, very easy to spot. Should I just go to the information counter and mention Julien Flaubert? Or should I give Yuri a call? Would he even be able to receive my call in the music studio? Those questions immediately vanished the moment I walked into the lobby. The golden-haired silhouette, huddled up in the sofa next to the elevator, sprang up the instant it saw me.
Yuri rushed towards me with his eyes all puffy. It was obvious he was crying not too long ago.
"Y-You really came right away. Sorry, urm, Maestro Ebisawa is not here yet."
"Ebichiri? You're meeting Ebichiri here? So Ebichiri's the one that wants to speak with me? Is Mafuyu together with him? Hey, what on earth......"
"Naomi, it hurts. Let go...... of me."
I snapped back to reality and saw my fingers digging hard into Yuri's frail shoulders.
"I-I'm sorry, but Mafuyu......"
"Let us go inside. It is not convenient here."
Yuri scanned the lobby with his teary eyes. The lady at the information counter was approaching us in shock, but Yuri waved his hand to show her he was alright. He then grabbed my hands and pulled me away. My brain had finally cooled down a little. What the hell was I doing back there?
We went up two stories and walked into what looked like a reception room. Inside, there was a glass table, two short sofas, a very plain bookshelf, and some other simple furniture. Photos of the past conductors were hanging neatly on the walls, and were staring down at us.
Yuri sighed, then walked behind the sofa to lean his hands against it to rest himself. He was wearing his male attire—a simple wool sweater and long pants—which really emphasized his slim figure.
"Sorry for frightening you......" I started off with an apology. Thinking back, my attitude did become kind of scary after I received Yuri's call. But Yuri just wiped the bottom of his eyes with the back of his hand and forced a smile.
"I should be the one apologizing to Naomi instead."
Is it related to Mafuyu?
"Urm......" Yuri's gaze landed on my fingertips. "It is not very appropriate for me to explain, and Maestro Ebisawa should be here soon."
"Has the condition of Mafuyu's right hand...... deteriorated?"
I looked straight into Yuri's eyes, which were crystal clear because of his tears. But I knew my premonition was correct long before he nodded his head.
"Naomi is the only person who noticed. I-I am such a failure. I did not notice anything despite my multiple practices and rehearsals with her. It is all my fault."
Yuri's fingers, which were pressing against the back of the sofa, were trembling slightly.
"Why? It's not Yuri's fault—"
"They have been examining her for the past two days. I am not quite sure about the details, but her wrist...... The joint of her wrist is injured. Because she has been using the force of her wrist to make up for the lack of strength in her fingers."
I wasn't the least bit surprised, which was really intriguing to me.
Perhaps it was because I had already guessed that that was the case. I had already prepared myself mentally before he had even told me the news. When I ran from school to the train station, and while I was on the train...... No wait, maybe I noticed it when Mafuyu had stopped coming to school...... Or did I predict all this as soon as I noticed something was wrong in the sample tape?
Yuri's words reverberated in the canals of my ears.
Using the force of her wrist to make up for the lack of strength in her fingers.
He wasn't talking about the piano. There was no way she could play the piano with such a technique. But—
She could do that if we were talking about the guitar. That was possible.
"...... If this continues, there is a possibility that her right hand will never be able to move again."
Yuri covered his face with his hands and continued,
"It is all because I...... I did not teach her the right method of playing the guitar."
It felt like his voice was gradually sinking into a mire.
"Mafuyu might have been playing the guitar the way she was used to, even after her fingers had fully healed...... And since she had also begun practicing the piano again......"
An irritating metallic sound echoed behind me—the door had opened. But I forced myself not to turn around.
"—So you are already here."
After saying that, his footsteps began to close in on me. I turned my head around stiffly, and there stood Ebichiri, with a heavy coat on his body. He was looking at Yuri and me sternly. I wanted to greet him, but it felt like I was having difficulty controlling my head.
"You should have heard the news from Yuri."
I wanted to reply with a "Yes," but the voice that seeped out of my throat sounded more like the screech of a blackboard duster scraping across the strings of a violin.
"Why are both of you standing? Take a seat."
Yuri and I couldn't move despite his invitation. Ebichiri heaved a sigh.
"She went back for a second checkup this morning. I am forbidding her from touching a guitar ever again."
My feet moved reflexively as I walked towards Ebichiri. But when I saw him pursing his lips painfully as he shifted his gaze away, the words that were flowing up my throat turned into nothing more than a helpless sigh.
"I will send her to America as quickly as possible. We cannot have her losing the piano as well."
An uneasy feeling gushed up inside me, and I dug my fingers deep into my arm to hold myself back. What about the Christmas performance? Everyone's going up on stage, no? Chiaki and Kagurazaka-senpai have worked hard to ensure that this will be the best Christmas Eve ever—and Mafuyu as well—
I swallowed my words. It was pointless telling Ebichiri things like that.
"I understand your feelings."
Ebichiri's voice was dry as usual, but I could feel his warmth.
"The band has made it past the auditions, has it not? That girl has told me all about it. She must have been elated if she told me that without me asking."
I didn't want to hear that from him. It might've been selfish of me, but that sweet memory should've been kept to himself.
"However, I hope you understand."
"...... I...... do understand."
I spat those words out after much difficulty. It felt like I was a criminal having his sentence announced to him.
All the practices that would put strain on her hand would be stopped immediately, and she would be heading to America for treatment and rehabilitation. That's what's best for Mafuyu.
Even if it means she will never be able to play the guitar ever again.
"The doctors said her recovery should not take too long. Two months. She should be able to resume her studies if we time it to the winter holidays. However, for the guitar......"
Why must you say these things with an apologetic face? An indescribable anger was surging up within me. You should be talking to me in an unreasonable manner. Who can I direct my hatred towards if you're speaking with such reason?
I clenched my fist hard, to the point that my nails were almost cutting into the skin of my palms. I waited silently for my unreasonable anger to subside.
"I am really sorry for having you make this trip down. Mafuyu is being stubborn, saying she does not want you to know about this. But how can that be possible? I wanted to tell you personally at the Hikawa residence, but I have a discussion with Mafuyu's record company after this."
"Where's...... Mafuyu? Where is she...... right now?"
"She is waiting in the car."
My heart ached as if nails were flowing into it.
Mafuyu is here. My desire to meet her and the thoughts of what I should say to her after we met were all mixed up in my veins. My vision darkened, and I almost knelt down.
"I am sorry, but I think it is best that you two do not meet today."
I nodded my head in agreement. Just then, a flurry of footsteps could be heard coming from the corridor. The door opened all of a sudden.
"Papa, I heard Naomi is here—"
Mafuyu froze right as her eyes came into contact with mine. The only thing that was moving, was Mafuyu's trembling lips. For some reason, her deep-blue dress looks very much like a mourning dress—a part of my brain was actually observing Mafuyu calmly in an unnatural way.
"W-Why?" Mafuyu's voice was like the final leaf left hanging on the tree branch in winter. "Why is Naomi here?"
"I asked him to come here."
Yuri, who had been silently sitting on the sofa the whole time, finally spoke.
"Flaubert told him everything."
Ebichiri added with a painful voice. Mafuyu's face turned white in a flash.
"Why!? I told you not to tell Naomi, didn't I? Yuri is an idiot! Dummy!"
Mafuyu bent her body and screamed as she gripped the handle of the opened door. Even though my eyes were fixed on Mafuyu, for some reason, I knew Yuri's face was contorting in sorrow behind me.
"Mafuyu, there is no point in blaming Yuri."
Mafuyu swung her hair about as she rejected her father's words.
"I will be participating in the performance regardless of what Papa says! Everyone....... Everyone has been practicing hard, so how can I let it all go to waste!? I definitely will not!"
In my mind was the sound of Earth opening up. Ebichiri's face turned red with anger as he let out a roar, probably yelling something along the lines of "What are you talking about, you idiot?" But I could no longer process the sounds naturally. The only thing I could see was Mafuyu's lips, trembling because of the remnants of her pained voice, and her blue eyes, blurring because of her tears.
"Naomi! You must not tell anyone!" Her voice stabbed into my heart once more. "You must not tell Chiaki and Kyouko. Please. I will play the guitar properly, and I will definitely make it through the whole performance."
"What...... are you talking about?"
It felt as though I was tossed into a shattered world. I wasn't even sure if I was speaking right.
"It's your hand we're talking about, you know? You may never be able to play the guitar ever again, much less a live performance."
"I c-can still move it, it does not hurt at all. It is okay, it is just that my hand tires easily."
"Mafuyu!" I could finally hear Ebichiri's voice. "Did you not hear what the doctor said? It is even more dangerous because there are no obvious signs or symptoms! Stop being so willful!"
"I must get on the stage! I have decided already!"
With that said, Mafuyu retreated and slammed the door hard behind her. I could hear the sound of her receding footsteps on the other side of the wall.
"Do not follow us. You should head home for now."
Ebichiri yelled and stopped me just as I was about to run towards the door, then dashed out of the room himself. The footsteps were once again blocked off by the door.
My hand that was reaching out for the door, slumped down weakly to my side.
Is there nothing I can do? Even if I catch up to her, is there nothing I can say to Mafuyu?
A sob sounded behind me. I turned around and saw a tearful Yuri leaning against the back of the sofa. He stood up after much difficulty.
"...... It is all...... my fault."
His painful words flowed down with his tears.
No, it's not Yuri's fault, Yuri isn't in the wrong here. I couldn't offer him those disingenuous words of consolation—because the person that gave Mafuyu her guitar was none other than Yuri.
The only thing I could do was to walk to his side to support his body before it collapsed onto the floor.
"Sorry, Naomi. I am sorry......"
The young violinist buried his face in my chest and cried, while I buried my hand in his golden hair and hugged him tightly. If I hadn't done that, I probably would've fallen to my knees, covered up my ears, and buried myself in the darkness as well.