Chapter 12. Enjoy.
That night, when I was sitting by myself on my bed in the dark, hugging my knees, I heard a tapping sound on the other side of my drawn curtains.
Someone was knocking on my window.
I curled myself up. For a brief moment, I thought it was Mafuyu. But I could tell it was Chiaki from how the knocks sounded; or perhaps I came to that conclusion because I didn't want to be disappointed by my expectations.
The strong, rapid knocks forced me to respond.
"Come in, the window's not latched."
I was too lazy to leave my bed. First came the sound of the window opening—then, of the curtains being drawn.
Chiaki was standing right there, with the aluminum window frame and the night sky as her backdrop. She had climbed to the second floor window via the tree in the garden. Her slightly orange hair was untied and was fluttering and slapping against her cheeks in the cold wind of the winter night. Despite the temperature though, she was still wearing her school uniform.
She pressed her right hand against the window frame but didn't step in. With my eyes already accustomed to the darkness, I could see that Chiaki was staring at me fiercely while holding something in her left hand.
I gulped my saliva down my parched throat and got out of bed. It was then that I realized that I was still wearing my uniform as well.
"...... What...... happened to Mafuyu? Did you find her?"
They hadn't even returned for the afternoon lessons.
Basking in the light of the night, Chiaki muttered, with a voice that could've been blown away by the wind,
"All Nao thinks of is Mafuyu."
I took a deep breath.
"...... Urm, sorry, it's nothing...... I didn't catch up to Mafuyu. I lost her. I also went to her house to check if she was there, but they said she wasn't around and chased me away. I skipped the rest of school because it was way too troublesome to go back."
"So what about the live performance?"
"What are you still standing there for? That's really dangerous, you know?"—I thought to myself.
"..... Well, Senpai probably......"
"I'm not asking Nao about what's on Senpai's mind!" Chiaki suddenly roared. "I'm asking you about what's on your mind!"
I didn't have anything left in me to think about the band or the performance anymore. It was even taking me a great deal of effort just to stand up using the leg of the bed.
My voice brushed past Chiaki's ears and disappeared into the darkness on the other side of the window.
There was nothing to catch it.
"....... Whatever, I get it."
Chiaki smiled for the first time, then slightly shifted the angle of her face. The streetlights outside were shining on Chiaki's cheeks, and I noticed there were visible traces of moisture on her face. Upon noticing that something off with my expression, Chiaki quickly brushed her cheeks with the back of her hand.
"Here, I'm returning this to you."
Chiaki stretched her left hand through the window. In her hand, was a flat and large squarish—
It was a red record jacket. <Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band>.
There was no way I could stretch my hand out to take it. All I had to do was move forward about two meters and reach out for it, but I couldn't even leave the side of my bed.
"Take it quickly! Stupid Nao!"
She tossed the record jacket at me. It hit my knee and dropped to the floor like a dead moth.
I picked it up slowly, and realized it was strangely light.
"...... Just the jacket? What about the disk?"
Actually, it doesn't really matter. It's okay for her to not return it to me......
"Just the jacket. Because I think of Mafuyu's tearful expression whenever I see it, and that pisses me off. I'm keeping the record though."
"What do you mean 'why'!?" screamed Chiaki, as she gripped the window frame. "How can I possibly return the content to you? That's my treasure, you know!? You should at least understand that much, you idiot!"
Chiaki slammed the window shut forcefully, as if she were trying to break it.
"I've had enough for today! You should just die, Nao!"
Came Chiaki's voice through the glass, before she disappeared from my sight in a flash. The sound of her footsteps echoed on the rooftop, and were followed by the sound of rustling branches and twigs brushing against the wall of the building.
But all these sounds were swallowed up by the night in an instant.
Hugging the empty record jacket, I sat on my bed once more. Her treasure.
My phone rang in the middle of the night. The ring tone, <Blackbird>, caused me to fall out my bed and onto the floor.
I checked and rechecked the vibrating screen multiple times. It was Mafuyu. It really was Mafuyu.
"Mafuyu? Is this Mafuyu?"
I asked that stupid question the moment I picked up the call; and for a while, no sounds came from the receiver. My chest stirred with unease.
"...... Sorry for calling despite the late hour."
It was Mafuyu's voice. But she was speaking as though she was talking to a stranger, and that made me depressed.
"U-U-Urm, with regard to the record incident today, well......"
What now? How should I apologize to her? Should I even be apologizing? What for? My thoughts came to a stalemate as they rumbled around in my eyeballs. I felt like puking.
"It does not matter anymore."
"—It does! Well, I—"
"It does not. I had a proper talk with Papa today, and have decided to go back to America. There are really good doctors there."
The bubbling breaths were stirring up my chest.
"Since I will be staying there for a year, I will not be going to school anymore."
I shut my eyes tight and tried to detect any hint of emotion in Mafuyu's voice—but found nothing. A year? She won't be coming to school for a whole year? Bit by bit, like a transparent liquid spreading outwards, the meaning of her words finally sunk into my consciousness.
"...... But...... your father said it should take only two months or so......"
"I have already made up my mind. I asked Papa to change the plan."
Mafuyu's voice, soft but unshaken, severed my trembling voice.
"Papa is already making preparations. He will be bringing me there as soon as possible, even if it is very demanding of me. We will be heading off early next year at the soonest. Perhaps we might even make it by the end of this year."
When did we first meet? I tried to remember with my blanked-out mind. It was early April, during spring. It hasn't even been a year. But it felt like we had been together for a long, long time.
Therefore? Therefore, what?
But both Mafuyu and I said nothing after that.
I wasn't even sure when the call was disconnected.
I threw my phone onto the bed, then covered my trembling body with a blanket and curled myself up on my mattress once more. I had no idea what time it was, but I wasn't the least bit sleepy. I tried to refrain from thinking any deeper, but my consciousness was having thoughts on its own. Plenty of failures, lots of meaningless propositions—if only I had said that; what if I hadn't mentioned this...... Things like that. All these things were draining heat away from my body bit by bit.
I finally realized that the reason I couldn't sleep wasn't because I wasn't shutting my eyes, but because something was going on in my mind—although my eyeballs did roll around whenever I closed my eyes, resulting in pain.
I kicked the blanket away and sat up. The chilling temperature turned into thousands of needles and pricked my body.
Light from the living room below was filtering in through the slit of my door, and I could hear the faint sound of music.
"...... Oh, you're still up? It's already two. Go to bed after you're done peeing."
Said Tetsurou, without turning his head. He continued to tap on his laptop while lying on the sofa. As for me, my dull mind was trying to figure out what that familiar melody swirling around my ears was.
The cassette player, located in the middle of the sound system, was whirling. It was a violin concerto. The one Mafuyu had given me.
"Ahh, sorry. I played it without asking. It seems like things are getting serious."
Tetsurou's nonchalant statement was a sort of consolation for my battered heart.
I knelt in front of the boombox. Thank god it's <Spring>. I would have frozen in place if <Kreutzer> had been playing. Yuri's warm timbre was fluttering above Mafuyu's slow footsteps like a swarm of butterflies.
I pressed the stop button to retrieve the tape from the player.
The plastic object was lying flat on my palm.
With both my hands grabbing onto the cassette tape, I began putting force into my thumbs. It was almost an unconscious effort. It's all this tape's fault. If only I hadn't listened to it. If only I hadn't noticed.
If I hadn't noticed...... would things still have turned out like this? Actually, the situation might've turned out much worse than it is right now.
But that was of no importance to me. I no longer wished to hear Mafuyu's piano.
It would be great if everything was broken.
The transparent plastic surface was turning murky white. *Kra, kra*. It was an unpleasant sensation.
However, my fingers were drained of their strength in an instant.
*Pa*. The sound came from the tape. A tear had fallen onto the surface. It was a tear that had finally forced its way out of my eyes. There was still a faint trace of heat left in the tape. Even if it was heat caused by the spinning of the machine, the fact that it was heat was undeniable.
The present Mafuyu had given me.
There was no way I could desert it, much less destroy it. Because it is my treasure. No matter what happens, and no matter where Mafuyu goes, the fact that I love Mafuyu will never change. And it was for that reason that I also couldn't abandon those feelings of mine.
A choking voice flowed out from my throat.
I hugged the tape tightly in my chest, as though I were trying to force it through my ribs.
Treasure. The word Chiaki had used earlier. The record I had given her. And the streak of tears I had seen because of the streetlights.
How can it be? But......
I...... see. Why.......
I curled myself up in front of the boombox that was giving off some background noise. The skin on my neck felt like it was about to tear apart. I actually realized something at the worst possible moment. No way, it has to be my imagination. I must've gotten it wrong somewhere. I was trying my hardest to convince myself deep in my mind, that it wasn't true; but at a depth way deeper than that, was the confirmation that came from my soul.
With the tape still nestled in my hand, I dashed out of the living room and climbed up the stairs to pick up my cellphone in my room. As I was searching for Chiaki's number, my fingers stopped. What's the point of calling her now? Is there even anything I can say to her?
What I did to Chiaki was just as bad as what I did to Mafuyu....... No, it was way worse.
I dropped myself onto my bed. My body was an ironic existence as well—it actually felt like passing out at a time like this. And so, with the cassette tape and the cellphone in my hands, I was forcefully dragged off to sleep.