Here's part two.
Also, there's David, our newest member of the team. He'll be helping me with SPS and Eden. As for the introductions, I'll leave it to him.
I did not catch any glimpse of Tetsurou when I reached home. His shoes were not in the shoe cabinet when I took a look inside. That means there is a high possibility that he went for a drink with his friends (Tetsurou usually goes out in sandals). Thank god, I do not have to prepare dinner tonight. I did not have much of an appetite after going through that strange form of torture. Not to mention, my back is still aching......
I took out my bass after I was done changing in my bedroom on the second floor. The words said by Chiaki during the day was still echoing in my mind.
"So Nao is feeling frustrated because he could not do anything for Mafuyu?"
Mafuyu, Kagurazaka-senpai, and Furukawa whom we performed with together on the same stage last month—
And more than anyone else, there's Julien.
After coming into contact with quite a few outstanding musicians and listening to their music with my very own ears, I was always left with a complicated feeling within me. I understood how immature I am, and that was mixed in together with a sense of helplessness.
Should this continue, I will just become someone who happens to be in the band by chance. I will even drag the band down. Furukawa had once said this straight out: "You should quit the band". My reply to that was nothing more than just a farce.
What should I do? What step should I take next? I have no idea at all.
It was until I met Julien that I finally saw it.
I understood the question which I have to answer.
Am I able to become Mafuyu's greatest pillar of support?
Not just to the guitarist Mafuyu, but also to the pianist Mafuyu — can I continue to stay by her side by taking on the role of the heart who pumps her blood and life?
The timbre of Mafuyu's piano is bright and clear, and its tempo is forceful and dynamic. Some of the conductors who performed with her before had commented that her piano is 'as forceful as the river that corrodes the fjords continuously'. The reason for the harsh criticisms of Mafuyu's playing is because there are very few orchestras capable of accepting the force of her playing. And so Mafuyu's fingers were frozen, and the sounds of her piano had disappeared before she could locate her true place of belonging.
I used to think that she will not be returning back to the embrace of the piano. That was not the case however. Perhaps Mafuyu was just searching for that place.
Someone who can be next to or close to her while support her playing — a place that exists forever.
Do I...... have the right to be there?
Perhaps Yuri is the only person who can reach that place for now.
But how much further do I have to walk before I can reach that place as well?
I switched on the stereo and inserted the CD. My fingers were searching for the simple overlapping bass lines accompanying along with Mafuyu's solo of Rachmaninoff's <Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini>. Mafuyu's piano led the orchestra methodically as she changed the tempo of the variation rapidly .
I gradually lost hold of the sounds of my bass. I could not keep up with her pace at all.
In my mind was the image of Mafuyu sitting before the piano as she appeared on feketerigó's stage. Before the raised wings that were giving off a black luster, I could see the drums that were giving off a faint glow, as well as Chiaki's brown colored hair. When I turned my head, I saw the back of Kagurazaka-senpai standing there, grabbing onto the microphone on its stand tightly as she faced the passionate audience.
It began with the piano chorale that was rising from silence, followed by the careful integration of the drums via fill-ins. Next is the inclusion of the overlapping clean tones of the guitar, and finally the coarse vocals of Senpai which can seep into the deepest areas of the body. [TLNote: Fill-in is a sort of drumming technique or something, not sure if named similarly in English]
But where do I stand?
How should I go about carving my rhythm on the stage?
I had no idea. That place is just too far, too high and too dazzling for me.
Rachmaninoff's piece had ended, and the stereo at the head of my bed was no longer playing. I was pulled back to reality, back into my room. I realized that I was deep in thought while sitting on my bed with my bass in my arms.
What should I do?
That was replied to with Chiaki's voice in my head: "Do I even have to say it? Practice". She's right.
I really want to plug my bass into the amplifiers and practice at the loudest volume possible! There's a limit to the time I can spend in the school's practice room, and I'll be distracted by Senpai and Mafuyu's timbres anyway. Tetsurou's not at home, but it's not like I can use the speakers in the living room either, since I'll be disturbing the neighbors if I do that.
I checked the time on the clock. It's still not eight, so I should be able to make it. After packing the bass into its casing, I jumped onto the bike and left my house.
The southern entrance of the sizable train station is about twenty minutes away from my house by bicycle. The building where Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store is in is located a few steps away from the overhead bridge, at the boundary between the shopping street and the residential area.
It's Senpai's working place, and I've been under their care for numerous occasions. There are three studios on the third story, though they are rather small and cramped. However, since Senpai holds the weaknesses of the store manager (though she calls it the privileges of the employees), the store manager said the members of feketerigó can use the studios for free as long as they are not occupied.
I do pity the store manager, but as a poor student, I am grateful for the privilege as well.
When I walked into the store where even the walking space are filled with guitars, the store manager revealed his face from behind a music magazine. Looks like he is manning the store by himself. With his hair tied up roughly behind his head, it seemed like he was a hippie. However, that look of his made this store look even more like one that is on the brink of collapse. There was no customer around for today as well.
"Did you guys agree to meet up beforehand? She went up already," said the store manager while pointing towards the ceiling.
"...... Eh? Are you referring to...... Senpai?"
Upon opening the ridiculously heavy soundproof door, I was greeted by a series of intense drumming at the corridor. However, the beats stopped all of the sudden.
Chiaki was sitting between the drums with her forehead glistering in sweat. She froze with her mouth opened wide when she saw me. Though that applies to me as well. Why is Chiaki here? Were all that practicing we had earlier still not enough for her?
"Hey? What's going on here?"
Chiaki walked towards my direction. Her face was giving off a radiant glow. She was only wearing a T-shirt and short pants even though it was already October. It was very much like what she wore during our summer training camp though. Then again, it is indeed hot and stuffy in the studio.
"Eh? Are you actually here to practice?" She asked when she saw my bass casing.
"Y-Yeah...... I want to practice with the amplifiers on."
"You'll have to end the practice if there are any customers here," with that said, the store manager pushed me into the studio and closed the door. The smell of tobacco from the walls was mixed with the sweet scent of sweat. For some unknown reason, Chiaki was happily setting up the bass' amplifiers for me.
"What a coincidence. I am very surprised. I was feeling very uneasy due to the lack of practice today. Did Nao come here because you find the amount of push-ups lacking as well?"
"Nope, I have had enough of push ups. Also, am I bothering you here?"
"Not at all, because we are the rhythm section. It will be better for us to play together."
But if possible, I hope to practice on my bass alone......
"Oh well, let's start! Just treat me as a metronome and play your bass!"
After starting on our practice, I realized it's just like what Chiaki said — the bass and drums are no enemies. Just like the sounds of heartbeats and footsteps, the instruments resonate with each other in order to move forward. The quavers, semiquavers and triplets — Chiaki was supporting my stiff wobbles with her steady steps.
What an inconceivable feeling. Come to think of it, this may be my first time playing together with Chiaki alone. There would always be the sound of Kagurazaka-senpai's guitar (which is like the scattering rays of the sun) or that of Mafuyu's guitar (akin to the crystallization of the cold air in the night bathed in the moon's light) mixed in between us.
It's mind-boggling. Compared to when Chiaki was drumming alone by herself, the sounds the drums made were much brighter than before — I could clearly hear each and every beat from her. Each time I pumped blood into my bass via my fingers, I will be reciprocated by the comfortable sound of a footstep. I could almost grasp the glimmer of the two hi-hat cymbals with my hands.
"...... Wait, Chiaki. Let's rest for a while."
We had been practicing nonstop for god knows how long. Thanks to my sore wrists, it took me much difficulty to pull my fingers away from the strings in order to request Chiaki to stop. Drops of sweat were trickling down from my hair.
"Mafuyu can still continue playing, you know?"
The red-faced Chiaki said that provocatively as she swerved her knees and shoulders happily.
"Nope, sorry. I can't do that."
I took a gulp of bottled water. I finally can kind of understand the reason for Mafuyu to play together with Chiaki nonstop, as if she was bitten by a tarantula or something.
Because the 'legs' will move on their own. There is no way we can stop.
With a smile on her face, Chiaki stood up from her chair to snatch away the bottled water from my hands before chugging it down. Water seeped out from the sides of her mouth and flowed to her collars along her neck.
After the sigh, Chiaki took off her hair clip and shook her head. Some of her hair were stuck to her wet lips. I quickly diverted my gaze for some strange reason.
"It has been a while since I had so much fun with drumming."
"...... Aren't you having fun all the time?"
Chiaki gave me a puzzled look as she stretched her wrists while holding onto the drum sticks.
"That's not the case. I am actually very nervous whenever Senpai or Mafuyu is around."
I looked at Chiaki's face in shock.
"Those two girls...... though it's not nice to be saying this, but they are practically monsters. I'll feel very uneasy whenever I am drumming behind them. There will be times where I think to myself: can I really sit here?"
I slowly sat myself down on a round chair with uneven legs and stared blankly at Chiaki's face. It looked like her gaze was on a place far away.
So she does experience such feelings...... as well, huh?
"I know, Senpai invited me into the band without any having expectations of me as a drummer, but there is nothing I can do about that. I just hope she can say this to me, that 'we cannot do without you'."
There was nothing else I could say. Chiaki was around Senpai much earlier than I have, and she was deeply attracted by Senpai's tone. However, she too knows she lacks the abilities to respond to Senpai's timbre. And she is following closely by Senpai's side precisely because she knows that.
— That's just like the way I am now. However, she did not turn her eyes away; neither did she run away from anything. She did not remain stagnant due to her sense of helplessness. She was not defeated by it.
And that's how impressive Chiaki is.
"...... Chiaki is already our indispensable drummer."
I tried to say it to her truthfully.
A brief look of loneliness flashed in Chiaki's eyes. She then smiled shyly and said,
"Thanks. I hope that there will be a day when Senpai says that to me as well."
"Senpai must have felt so all along, yeah? You're already very impressive, Chiaki. To think that you can make it till now just because of your love for Senpai—"
Chiaki suddenly stretched out her hands and pressed the tip of her drum stick against my collarbone.
"Nao, you've just said something really rude."
"I do not only like Senpai. I am not so simple as to bind myself tightly to the band just for that reason alone."
Yeah...... her relationship with Mafuyu has improved as well. She did like hard rock all this while, and she never backs down whenever we have some disagreements on the arrangements of the songs.
"...... But my biggest misfortune is probably the fact that the person who I like is in the band together with me right from the beginning."
Chiaki suddenly leaned weakly against the wall and murmured,
"I am very satisfied with the way things are right now. Even if there are no improvements in our relationship...... but isn't it great for us to be together like this for now? And I have no idea what I should do. Moreover, our relationship may become irreparable if I am to force our relationship to the next step, and we will never be able to revert to the way things were. If that is the case, then I might as well keep things the way they are......"
I have no idea why, but I can more or less understand her feelings. If we are talking about Senpai, it is impossible for things to end well regardless of what they do, since they are both girls. No, Senpai will probably think that things will work out by themselves or something. I really can't tell if she is serious about the things she says. But at the very least, they can be together at the same place for now.
But that will not do. Things will go nowhere if she is content with the status quo. There will be a day when Senpai finally dumps her, and by then Chiaki will never be able to catch up with Senpai again.
It's the same for me as well.
I am by Mafuyu's side, and at a much closer distance than Julien is.
But that status quo is only something that happened by chance.
Just then, Chiaki began drumming me on my shoulders, forehead and chest with her sticks. Owowow! I lifted my arms in an attempt to shield myself, but that ended up with them being rapped by her mercilessly as well.
"H-Hold on, Chiaki, it really hurts! Why are you hitting me? What's wrong?"
"Nothing! Hey, rest time's over, so let's get going! We'll never catch up to them if all we do is rest."
Chiaki roared at me all of the sudden. She then tossed the bottled water towards me and returned to her seat between the drums. What the heck's with that?
"Didn't Senpai say this already? We'll be performing multiple suites during the school's festival! There will be no time for both of us to rest, so we have to practice more on the variations that we can use during the buffer."
When she returned back from the student council's office, Senpai told us that she had managed to obtain permission to use the sports hall. However, that means they will have to reschedule the timetable all over again, so we do not know how much time we will be allocated. Because of that, Senpai suggested that in order for us to fully utilize the limited amount of time given to us, we should work on pieces that take up a longer duration. While the vocals and guitar solos would be separated by different phases, there would be no time for the rhythm section to pause and rest. There is a high possibility that we will be depended on to maintain the heated atmosphere of the performance.
"There is no charm in Nao's bass at all!"
I do kind of realize it as well. However, that is one of the most truthful and harshest criticism that I've received from others. I see, so it lacks any charm......
"You know, you are over-coordinating yourself to me. It may be safe for you to play along to the bass drums, but you will never get to be in the spotlight like that. You are to add in a phrase whenever I pause. Understand?"
"...... Got it."
"Let's start from the intro!"
After twirling around Chiaki's right palm once, the stick landed straight on the floor tom. I squeezed in a series of low notes from behind the beats which sounded like they were digging against the ground. The cramped stage was once again engulfed by the passionate heartbeats.
So when people say that one will 'forget the time', they do really mean that.
With that, we continued playing despite being drenched with sweat. We did not even have time to catch our breaths. When I regained my senses, I heard someone singing. I was wondering to myself where I have heard the voice before, and then I realized the singer was none other than me. The bass and drum forms the 'shape' of a band, of which we can use to expand on the imagination of all the notes. I could not bring myself not to sing. We did not even notice the lighting up of the red light which signaled the end of our time. It was only when the store manager came in gingerly to stop us by switching off the power supply that we realized we were exhausted — we slumped onto the floor in exhaustion.
I could still faintly feel the vibration of the strings on my fingers. That feels just great.
From the next day onward, Chiaki and I decided to head to Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store everyday after school. Since Senpai cycles to and from school, and Mafuyu lives in the opposite direction as us, we are the only ones to take the train home.
"Let's practice in secret and surprise them!"
Chiaki said that to me excitedly. However—
"You and young man have been frequenting the studio lately."
"Eh? W-What do you mean?"
Chiaki feigned ignorance when she was questioned by Senpai. Then again, Senpai's an employee there, so it's natural for her to know that.
"Then again, to think that both of you were hiding it from Comrade Ebisawa and me. That's very cold of you two."
"Because we were planning to surprise the hell out of you two during the actual performance after we have undergone a series of intensive training in secret!"
"Whatever. I shall make use of the time to deepen the friendship between Comrade Ebisawa and I."
Mafuyu, who was strumming her guitar in the corner of the room while sneaking peeks at us, suddenly jumped up in shock. Her hair rose upwards for an instant.
"You guys probably don't know this, but Comrade Ebisawa recently came to me crying. As she hugged me, she complained about how young man has been ignoring her. I have no choice but to console her."
"Stupid Kyouko! I did not do that!"
Mafuyu stood up with her face flushed red. Quit staring at me! Don't you worry, I did not believe a single word of Kyouko.
Senpai ended the topic frivolously by hugging Mafuyu tightly and tapping her gently on her shoulders. She then turned to face me and said,
"I am glad to see that everyone's fired up."
But something happened that poured cold water over us.
It was after school on a Friday. Since the sports day is coming close, Chiaki and Mafuyu were required to join in the practice for our fight against the other classes, so they will only be coming for club activities later. Since I had nothing to do on my hands, I decided to take a trip to the music preparation room to find some classical music scores that we can use for the performance.
Everyone had already gathered at the practice room after I returned there with a bundle of sloppily picked music scores. It seemed that Chiaki and Mafuyu had rushed down to our place straight after from their practice — they were still wearing the blue and yellowish-green cheerleading outfit. However, the atmosphere in the room was incredibly heavy. It was as though the colors of their costume were dulled due to that. Just what is happening here?
"It seems like we are allocated only twenty minutes for our performance......"
Said Chiaki in a distressed mood.
"I am talking about the amount of time we can use the sports hall for during the school's festival. They said that the schedule is filled up by performances by the Drama Club and Karate Club, so they can only spare us a maximum of twenty minutes."
I was at a loss for words. It would be okay if we can perform four to five songs within twenty minutes. However, fifty minutes went by in a flash when we were performing live back in summer.
There is no way Chiaki and I can showoff the results of our special training should we be allocated such a short amount of time. No one was done with the preparation of their instruments, perhaps because of how depressed everyone was from the bad news.
"There's nothing much we can do within only twenty minutes. It would be over when we are just done with heating up the atmosphere."
"...... Kyouko, is there nothing we can do?"
Mafuyu looked at Kagurazaka-senpai, who was hugging one of her knees as she sat on the long table in the room.
There was no response from Senpai, however. Nothing was said; all she did was to press her forehead against her knee.
"Mmm? Ah, nothing. Sorry. I was just...... thinking about something."
Senpai must have suffered a huge blow from the the way the committee members dealt with this. However, knowing Senpai, she should be thinking of a way to break the deadlock......
"My eyes are drawn by their cheerleading outfit. What do you think, young man? Let's wear that when we get on stage."
"Please be more serious about this!"
I slammed my fist into the wall without even thinking. Senpai said unhappily,
"I am thinking about it seriously. I think they should be here soon."
"Who are you referring to?"
When the school bell rang at five (a nominal indication of the end of school), the door of our practice room was suddenly rapped hard by someone. We were practicing on our ensemble, so the room was filled with the sound of rock. We would not have realized there was someone knocking on the door if I was not leaning against it.
And so I raised my hand to stop our playing. That is my responsibility as part of the rhythm section. The music will come to a stop very quickly should the sounds of either the bass or drums be missing.
"...... Someone's here?"
Asked Senpai as she wiped her sweat. I nodded my head and opened the door.
"Hello, sorry for interrupting—"
The first person who stepped into the room as he greeted us with a stupid-sounding voice was a tall second-year student with a funny face. I've seen him a few times in the student council's office, and he is indeed one of its members. Another two to four people came in after him, and the room of Folk Music Club was cramped as a result.
"Well then, Kagurazaka. As per our agreement, I have brought them here. You can discuss your things over there."
And with that, the students council member waved his hand irresponsibly. The scary thing was, two of the people behind him consisted of stocky guys in their karate gear. There was also two...... girls(?) dressed in kinagashi with a pair of daisho hanging around their waists. I had no idea what was going on around here. Mafuyu hid herself behind Chiaki in fear. [TLNote: Daisho wiki link here. Google for the image of kinagashi]
"What, why are we discussing at a place like this?"
One of the girls in the vagabond garb asked unhappily.
"Didn't I explain it already?"
The student council member answered in a irritatingly relaxed tone.
"Because the timing for the classes' performances are untouchable! There's the masquerade contest, after which we have to split up the two hours between the Drama Club, Karate Club and Folk Music Club. Negotiate among yourselves should you have any problem with the allocation decided by us."
Oh, those two samurai are from the Drama Club — so they came here in their costumes. I was shocked by their appearances earlier on......
"See ya, Kagurazaka."
The student council member waved his hand gently and walked out of the practice room after he pushed the samurai and the karate duo aside. Meaning to say, the student council and the committee members have shoved the problematic scheduling away from themselves. How could they be so irresponsible?
"The Folk Music Club should perform at the music hall!"
Said one of the tall black-belt irritatingly as he sat on the bass amplifiers.
"That will solve everything. Things are so complicated because of you guys cutting in from behind."
"It's the Karate Club who cut into the queue in the first place......"
One of the Drama Club members said that softly, and she was greeted with a fierce stare from the orange-belt. It felt like he shot a glance at me as well. Fear began to swell up in my heart.
However, Kagurazaka-senpai pushed me aside and stood herself before the black-belt.
"Will the Karate Club be responsible for any injuries that may happen during our performance?"
"What does that have to do with us? We've already decided to perform more than a hundred variations of moves, followed by a talk given by a master. If the Folk Music Club must join in the fray, then you guys will have to end your performance in ten minutes."
"Hold on, don't decide that by yourselves. We are already done choosing our script!"
The vagabond interrupted.
"The Folk Music Club and Drama Club will have to finish everything in forty minutes! And even with that, we are still running very tight on time for our preparation!"
"What? You've got to be kidding me!"
"You should have told us earlier that you want to use the sports hall! We have been preparing for this since last year!"
"Why don't you guys perform at the music hall as well? They can fit in more audiences there."
"The stage is not designed for plays! Stop talking if you know nothing! Also, why don't you guys perform at the combative sports center instead?"
"Where the hell are we going to get our audiences from!?"
"It's not like anyone will be interested anyway."
"What did you just say!? Are you asking for a fight?"
Why the hell are you people quarreling in our practice room!? I have no chance of interrupting them, so I scanned around the room once to see if there is anyone who could save us. Just then, I saw Kagurazaka-senpai beside me lick her round her lips once. Oh god, this person here is actually enjoying the atmosphere.
Just as Senpai was about to join ithe battle, the cymbals behind us gave a sudden clash.
I reacted a second slower than the karate guy and the vagabond who were about to brawl it out. We turned our head backwards in shock.
"Stop stirring up a ruckus in our practice room! Now is not the time for us to be quarreling. We should at least know how much time each club needs!"
Chiaki stood up furiously behind the drums.
The members from Drama Club finally sat themselves down after being pointed at by Chiaki's drum stick.
"We definitely need eighty minutes. However, that is just the performance. We'll require ten minutes for the preparation of the large props."
Chiaki then directed her sight on to the black-belt.
"We need forty minutes for our performance."
There is really no time to spare even after we've excluded the Folk Music Club. And we did not even factor in the time needed for preparation and packing-up.
"How much time does the Folk Music Club want?" the Drama Club member asked exasperatedly as she crossed her arms before her chest.
"There will never be enough, even if we multiple forever by itself. But conservatively speaking, we need at least an hour."
Kagurazaka-senpai made yet another provocative line of hers. The two Karate Club members put on a haughty expression and grunted.
"That is definitely unacceptable. Darn, one of you two should just give up already."
"It's the sports hall we are talking about here, so the cultural clubs should scram already!"
"What? I don't understand a single word of what you've said!"
Another round of meaningless squabble. I stole another glance at the profile of Senpai. Her face was filled with energy. My intuition told me: ah, it's about time for her to say it.
"How about this then......"
Even though she did not yell, her voice was penetrating. Everyone that was quarreling stopped and looked at her silently. Senpai then said,
"Let's decide via a competition."