Volume 3 completed.
Tetsurou's no Gendo, but he's still quite an awesome dad.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas.
Three weeks passed by in a flash.
Preparations for the school festival were in their final stages, and a tense atmosphere permeated the school, like muscle pains permeating the body after an intensive exercise. It even felt like the temperature had risen a degree or two after school.
"Are we really going to perform in this attire?"
I asked Senpai yet again as I stood at the edge of the stage of the sports complex. The space behind me was occupied by the drums, the amplifiers and the footlights; and in front of me, in the middle of the stage, was Senpai, standing before the microphone.
"Of course. The four of us will be burning on stage!"
Senpai glanced at Mafuyu, who stood at the left of the stage, and then at Chiaki, who stood behind the drums, and her expression became slightly dazed. They were both wearing a black dress with lots of frills; and since Mafuyu had European blood in her lineage, the dress suited her perfectly.
As for me, I was wearing a black vest with a half apron—the typical outfit for a waiter.
And lastly, there was Kagurazaka-senpai. Her attire was fashioned in the style of 14th-century Italy—it was a glorious white multi-pleated dress accompanied with a bright red shawl. Simply put, it was her Juliet costume. We were wearing those outfits because Senpai had said we should go on stage in the outfits we would be wearing for our class events.
"We'd waste no time changing, and we can promote the band's live performance during our class events. What a great plan."
"Well...... I guess you're right."
"Actually, I just want to see those two in their outfits, since they're both so ravishing!"
"I have no interest in your true intentions!"
So that's why Senpai wanted us to wear our performance attire despite this being just a rehearsal? The actual performance was still a week away.
Black curtains were draped over all the windows of the sports complex, making the stage appear especially bright under the spotlights. After Chiaki finished tuning the snare drums, she began drumming various fill-ins to warm up.
"Whoa, drumming in this fluffy dress is quite hard," said Chiaki with a frown.
Senpai walked up to the drums and sank into thought.
"Can't we come up with something to display those cute curves on Chiaki's legs in full view of the audience......?"
How would that even be possible? And now isn't the time to be fretting about things like that, yeah?
"They'll be visible if we switch to transparent drums. How about that?"
"Good idea. I'll check the warehouse of Nagashima's Musical Instrument Store. The only problem is, some of the time, the contents under your skirt will be fully visible to the audience at certain angles, since you're a drummer—"
I decided to ignore the two girls that were seriously discussing silly things like that, and started walking towards the wiring setup for the effects unit. Suddenly, Mafuyu, who was on the other side of the stage, spoke.
"Naomi, can this thing only store up to sixteen sets for performing? Also, I have no idea how to synchronize the memory between these."
She pointed to the two synthesizers that were stacked on top of each other when she said that.
"Ah, hold on. I'll be right over."
An odd sense of lament struck my heart when I saw Mafuyu standing before the keyboard.
Mafuyu has returned to this place once more, to play the piano under the lights again. That was something I had never thought would happen before the end of summer.
"...... Yes?" Mafuyu noticed me staring at her face in a daze. I quickly shifted my gaze to the control board.
"This unit's an older model, so its storage capacity isn't as large. We'll set three main tones for the one on top."
"Is there no way we can synchronize this with the one below?"
After Mafuyu had been introduced to the synthesizers, I had found that I was actually in a position to teach Mafuyu a lot of things. This situation might only be temporary, but I pray this luck will continue on forever. There was really nothing much I could do for Mafuyu.
"It's about time you guys begin your rehearsal! The guys after you are rushing us already."
A member of the Broadcasting Club yelled at us from the temporary PA console erected beneath the stage. I flashed Mafuyu a thumbs-up as Senpai heaved her guitar onto her back and made her way towards the microphone. After that, I ran back to my bass on the left side of the stage.
I turned my head around and saw Mafuyu's guitar slung over her back, supported only by a strap on her shoulder. I had thought that that was quite a crazy idea, but I did want the audience to see Mafuyu as a guitarist on stage as well. She would have to be quick when changing instruments—that must be really tough on her.
But I'm sure it'll be our best performance yet.
The footlights dimmed, signaling a change in scenery. The only lights that remained were the blue lights moving around behind us on the backdrop of the stage.
Then, the sound of endless bubbles floating up from the depths of the water emerged. The metallic timbre of the celesta could be heard vaguely among the waves; and all of a sudden, it felt like I was in the Disney movie <Fantasia>. Exactly what I expected of the synthesizer nurtured by Tomo—it could bring all sorts of different scenes to life, whether it was a snowy morning, or the turbulent sea during a violent storm.
The bright melody of the piano then pierced through the darkness.
It was the main theme of <Promenade>.
The heavily twisted roars of Senpai's Les Paul climbed upwards nonstop as her guitar sunk its teeth deep into Mafuyu's organ. The fugue had only begun its sprint, but had already strayed far away from the music Mussorgsky had envisioned. As it approached the highest register, it began to spread its wings.
My rendition of <Pictures at an Exhibition> couldn't even be considered music if it weren't for Mafuyu's fingers—my spine trembled when I realized that fact. To catch up to Senpai's guitar, Chiaki's fill-ins descended deep into the fugue, with the cymbals exploding countless numbers of times. I paced myself to Chiaki's tempo and suppressed the elation inside me as I carved each and every heartbeat into my mind.
When school was over, the four of us went to McDonald's to hold a meeting—something we hadn't done in a long time. The school festival was only a week away, so it felt like we shouldn't have been wasting any of the remaining time we had left. And because we felt that way, there was no way we could've just gone home right after school.
"Let's sell our feketerigó T-shirts and a CD of our live performance at the entrance of the sports complex!"
And here we have Chiaki with her entrepreneurial mind in full display. She did mention something about selling the T-shirts once before. Was she really serious about that?
"We should make use of this opportunity and sell the <Ebisawa Mafuyu & LOLLYPOPS> T-shirt as a rare item."
Mafuyu bumped into her tray when she stood up in protest.
"I'm considering recording our live performance to put on DVD. I mean, we're going to be wearing those beautiful outfits."
Senpai was dreaming as well. No wait, she might actually be serious about that. As a side note, if we wanted to sell anything during the school festival, we had to first obtain permission from the student council, so the actualization of Chiaki's idea was highly unlikely.
"Oh right, Comrade Ebisawa."
Said Senpai suddenly, with a serious expression on her face. Mafuyu tilted her head in response.
"Are your fingers really okay? You paused in the middle of our rehearsal, and that wasn't a mistake."
Mafuyu's expression froze. So Senpai noticed it as well?
It had happened in the middle of our rehearsal. Having heard that we were rehearsing on stage in our actual attire, various sports clubs had come flocking to the sport complex to watch us in action (and in a certain sense, the Folks Music Research Club was incredibly well known at school). We were performing the fourteenth song, <Con mortuis in lingua mortua>, when a beam of light suddenly burst into the sports complex filled with darkness and the whisperings of the spirits. After, a group of noisy people came walking into the hall.
We didn't stop our performance though. Chiaki and I continued to play at the pace we had practiced a countless number of times—we didn't slow down.
But I knew Mafuyu's fingers had gone stiff. The variation of <Promenade>, which conveyed the words of the dead, had come to a halt in midair. Mafuyu recovered only when we reached the song <Baba-Yagá>.
"...... I am okay."
Mafuyu bit her faintly trembling lip.
"I'm confident the sports complex will be packed with people, so are you really okay?"
Mafuyu didn't open her mouth. Instead, she just nodded her head several times. But that just made me even more concerned, because she had already injured her right wing once amid the glamour of the stage.
"...... I cannot run away any longer."
Mafuyu surprised us with her resolute voice. Even Chiaki dared not look at Mafuyu straight in the eyes; but she still stared at Mafuyu with a worried expression on her face.
"I have wanted to say this for a while now."
Mafuyu's hands were wrapped around the paper cup holding her iced red tea. Her eyes were fixated on the straw.
"I will be embracing my role as a pianist once more, and am currently preparing for the recordings. And if the situation allows, I will perform in a concert as well."
"Then—Comrade Ebisawa will be returning back to that glamorous but icy world?"
Asked Senpai, as she clasped Mafuyu's right hand tightly. Somehow, Senpai's question was phrased the exact same way mine was in my mind. Oh right, I remember Tetsurou once wrote this in a certain critique of his: "a world shimmering in icy rays."
"Then what about the band?"
Asked Chiaki gingerly. Mafuyu's shoulders flinched—my arms went stiff as well. That was the question I couldn't bring myself to ask, and had long decided not to think about anymore. But Chiaki voiced that question so easily.
"...... I hope to continue playing in the band."
Said Mafuyu, while staring at her own hands.
"I hope." Not "I will."
I should've been happy hearing that answer from her, but the insecure me decided to dig out the seeds of uneasiness that could be found in each and every crevasse of my heart. I mumbled my question without looking at Mafuyu's face.
"But won't you be busy? I mean, with activities like recordings and performances and so on."
Even though I was staring at my knees, I knew the girls were all looking in my direction.
"I do not know. But I will try my best......"
It felt like Mafuyu's voice was slowly fading away.
"Even if you say that now, what will you do when you're on tour, or when you're busy with some other activity?"
"Calm down, young man."
It was only when Kagurazaka-senpai pressed hard on my shoulders that I realized I had actually stood up. Mafuyu was cowering as she looked up at me.
"Comrade Ebisawa has already told us she 'hopes to continue.'"
Senpai pressed her finger hard into my chest.
"There's nothing more assuring than that. And there shouldn't be a problem as long as she wishes for that. Regardless of what happens, we are happy to offer you our strength at any time, to help you realize your dreams."
It was as if Senpai's smile had engulfed my fears as well.
"Just like you had done before."
I swallowed the words I was about to say and sat down on my seat.
We can offer our strength at any time. Is that really true?
If Mafuyu's delicate fingers became immobile again, due to some unfortunate reason...... I wouldn't be able to help her with anything, even if I were by her side.
It was depressing to say, but the person who would be able to help her then wouldn't be me.
Yuri gave me a call that night. I had just finished my bath, and was sitting at the computer sorting through some data for the synthesizer. But not long after I started, I received a phone call.
"Naomi? Sorry, I was really busy. Someone from a certain magazine had found out where I was living, so I was running all over the place. Ah, right. I have decided to carry a handphone with me, since I think I will be staying in Japan for a while. Do remember my number, okay? Japan's handphones are incredible! They are so small and light!"
I had no idea what I to say when I heard Yuri's voice filled with happiness. We hadn't contacted each other since we had last met at the studio in Shibuya—because I had no way of reaching him. I had actually wondered if I should get Mafuyu to pass a message to him, but it somehow felt a little despicable of me to do that.
I let out a cough. Calm down.
"...... I'm really sorry about last time."
"Eh? A-Ah, mmm, it's okay, I did not take it to heart. But Mafuyu looked really depressed, so you have to apologize to her, okay? Did you make up with her already?"
He's saying the same thing Mafuyu said......
"I guess. Back then, urm......"
It was hard for me to explain to Yuri. Simply put, I was jealous of him. Thankfully we were just talking over the phone, because I would've run away if we had arranged to meet in person.
"Are you angry at me, Naomi?"
"No, that's not it. No way. Everything's my fault, I got everything wrong. I'm really sorry......"
"Did my performance with Mafuyu make you unhappy?"
"No, no way. How can that be—" I swallowed my words halfway. Actually, in a certain sense, that was exactly what it was. I ran away precisely because their <Kreutzer> had pierced my heart.
Yuri's voice was filled with a sense of unease.
Perhaps I should just tell him the truth. I'm tired of constantly running away from things.
I shut my eyes and clenched my fists, which were resting on my knees. Then, I relaxed myself, and focused all my attention on my body.
"Actually...... I'm really envious of you."
"Mmm...... Because you're the only one that can compete with Mafuyu's piano."
"Hold on, but Mafuyu told me you would be performing on stage during the school festival, no? And Mafuyu will be playing the synthesizer as well, right?"
Oh right, Mafuyu said she was willing to play.
"Then why are you envious of me? Hey, I think I should be the one who is angry right now. I have always, always been envious of you, you know?"
"Eh? Ah, well......"
Why? Why must I be chased about by your words?
"...... But the reason Mafuyu's willing to pick up the piano again is because she wants to play together with you...... and the reason she can move her fingers again is because you have returned."
Yuri sank into a temporary silence after that. Urm...... what's wrong?
"...... Hey, Naomi, I want you to answer me honestly."
"Do you love Mafuyu?"
My hand slipped by accident, and the phone dropped to the floor.
"What was that loud sound just now? My ears hurt!" said Yuri, close to tears, when I picked up my phone.
"S-Sorry. Urm, you were saying......"
"I asked you if you are in love with Mafuyu."
I dropped onto my bed and buried my face in my pillow, and fretted over that question for a while. I kicked my legs about under the covers, then collapsed flat onto the bed in exhaustion. The whole time, the phone had never once left my ears; I had even heard Yuri shout my name out a few times.
I can't run away anymore. I have to give him an answer. I gripped my phone hard.
"...... It's just as you've said."
I could somehow see the shoulders of the angel-like boy trembling as he tried his hardest to hold back his laughter.
"I get it then. Naomi has said a lot of mean things to me today, but it cannot be helped if you are in love with Mafuyu. I will forgive you."
"What are you talking about......" Crap, my hand's getting sore holding the phone up.
"But I cannot hand Mafuyu over to you. No way. I will not allow it."
"It's not like she belongs to you."
Ah, no, wait. I hesitated for fifteen seconds, then asked him the all-important question.
"I have a question for you. Are you and Mafuyu, urm...... in that sort of relationship?"
"Hmm? Well, we have both seen the other's sleeping face, and we do swap clothes as well. Our relationship is probably something like that."
What sort of relationship is that...... But come to think of it, haven't I seen Mafuyu's sleeping face before as well? But I spoke no further, as the conversation seemed to be getting more and more complicated.
"Though we used to be together all the time, it is nothing like what Naomi is worried about."
I see. I heaved a soft sigh of relief, but tried my hardest to not let Yuri notice it.
"But Mafuyu does not belong to Naomi either, isn't that so?"
"Urm, you're not wrong. No wait, the way you put it......"
"You do love Mafuyu, right?"
Really? Is that so? I guess it is.
"Have you told Mafuyu yet?"
"How can I possibly say that!?"
"And you're asking me why not......"
I was thinking, "Because I don't know what'll happen if I tell Mafuyu that."
"Is it that hard? Are you planning to not tell her forever?"
"Don't make it sound so simple, I'm—"
"Listen to me, Naomi......"
"I love you."
I accidentally dropped my phone again.
"Be careful! It's really scary when you do that! It feels like my phone will break as well!"
Yuri sounded furious when I picked up my phone again.
"S-Sorry. No, that's not it. Urm, what did you just say?"
"See? It is easy to say it, isn't it?"
I opened my mouth to say something, but froze up instead. After a short while, I finally heaved a sigh, though it felt like I was about to puke my innards out as well.
"Can you quit teasing me? I'm at my limit already."
"It is not my intention to tease you......"
Yuri let out a sigh as well. He actually seemed surprised by my words.
"Just to tell you, I have said that to Mafuyu many times already."
"Whoa......" I can't take it anymore. My head was about to burst.
"Do you want to know just how mean Mafuyu's replies were?"
"Urm, Yuri, I'm sorry. I give up. Please spare me that."
Yuri snickered. That bastard. Someday, I'll pay you back for all this humiliation.
"Then I will be returning back to the topic!"
"O-Oh, mmm......" Speaking of which, why did he call me in the first place?
"Mafuyu invited me to the school festival. And I do want to attend, but I will be busy rehearsing with an orchestra I have not worked alongside before, so I will not be able to make it. Please tell her that I am sorry."
"Why don't you tell her yourself—"
"Don't be so angry! Because I cannot make it, I have a favor to ask of you. Can you record the performance and pass it on to me? Please?"
I hung up. Exhausted, I collapsed onto my bed again. It felt like I had suffered a pretty huge blow, so there was no way I was going to get up any time soon.
"Why are we having sashimi-don for dinner in November? I want something hot."
Tetsurou complained relentlessly at the dining table during dinner.
"I don't have the strength to cook."
I drenched the tuna in a thick layer of soy sauce. How could I possibly cook after that energy-draining phone call?
"Oh well, whatever...... But isn't this miso soup leftover from morning—"
You don't have to eat if you have any complaints.
Despite all that he said, Tetsurou still ate twice as fast as I did. While pouring himself a cup of after-dinner whiskey, he suddenly remembered something and asked,
"Oh right, about Mafuyu from the Ebisawa family—"
"I heard she'll be playing the piano on stage during the school festival?"
"How did you know that?" I don't remember telling you that. Or did Ebichiri tell you? No way, Mafuyu would never tell her father something like this.
"Nah, I heard it from a fellow industry ruffian. The news is already spreading—you know, since Ebichiri Mafuyu is famous and all."
"you're right, but why are you asking about that now?"
When Mafuyu and her father had returned to Japan from America, they had stirred up quite a huge commotion in the media. But after about a month, the media stopped reporting on the topic, so Mafuyu and I were completely unconcerned about the possibility of the news spreading.
No wait, Ebichiri...... Was he still concerned about this?
"Because, based on what had happened back in June, it seemed like Mafuyu's right hand was already a goner, right? No one knew the details of the situation, and Mafuyu wasn't saying anything either—so everyone had just assumed that Mafuyu had retired already. And that lacks news value. But Julien Flaubert has come to Japan, hasn't he? That has attracted everyone's attention, since the entire industry is aware of the news of him and Mafuyu playing together in Mafuyu's comeback album. So, as a result of all this, a lot of people are interested in knowing whether or not Mafuyu will be playing the piano during your live performance."
"Ah...... I see."
I understood the musical world very well—the closed society of Japan's classical music circles was shockingly small. And Yuri had said the media had information on his whereabouts as well.
This will be quite troublesome for Mafuyu. For some reason, I began to worry about the live performance for the school festival. I hope nothing bad will happen.
"From what I know, there are quite a few companies that would be happy to sink their teeth into any news related to Ebisawa Mafuyu."
"Hold on. Tetsurou, are you really planning to use Mafuyu as a means to earn cash? Don't do that!"
"Oi oi, what's wrong? You think you're a knight or something? Daddy will be heartbroken if you're that interested in girls."
"I'm being very serious here!"
"You know, I've written countless crass and horrible articles to earn money to support you growing up."
"Bring those words with you to your grave! Listen up, Mafuyu's dealing with one of the toughest periods of her life right now, so don't use her for your article!"
Tetsurou made a silly face in response. Damn that bastard, is he planning to visit the school festival?
"Actually, I'm much more interested in the goth lolita café your class is doing."
"How the hell do you know about that!?"
"Heheh, don't underestimate the industry's ruffians."
"What sort of industry are you in!?"
"Just kidding, Chiaki told me. She's really a good girl—she even knew that the legs of high school girls in stockings are what I love the most."
"Don't you dare come! You're banned from coming! I'll call the police if you do!"
"Nao, it's not good for you to keep all the girls to yourself, even if you're in charge of the café. It's not like you'll lose anything if we share."
"I'll have to be in the kitchen...... No wait, stop leading me astray!"
Tetsurou ignored the furious me and ran to grab his digital camera. He then began wiping the camera lens eagerly in anticipation. God damn it, I'll throw you out of the school if I see you that day.
The emcees in charge of the school's broadcast rambled on and on as they helped guests navigate through the festival—I guess even real disco DJs would feel shell-shocked listening to all those announcements. The three performance venues were the sports complex, the music hall and the audiovisual room; and the performances consisted of dramas, homemade movies, mimes, orchestras, manzai and rakugo. [Note: Manzai is a type of stand-up comedy where two people exchange jokes, mostly involving puns, at high speed. Rakugo is sort of a one-man show, where one person acts out a long comical story.]
The school's corridors were filled with visitors, whose numbers dwarfed the students in uniform by about a factor of three. The ramen store waiter and the mobile advertiser, who had a billboard hanging from his body, were yelling with loud voices; a lost child was crying; and the festival community members, who had logos on their arm sleeves, were running about endlessly with pale faces as they communicated via walkie-talkies.
The school had turned into a battlefield the day of the school festival.
Given how heated the atmosphere was during the chorus contest, it was no surprise the school festival was turning out the way it was. Despite that, though, we hadn't expected our food and drinks to sell out by morning.
"Manager, I bought the bread and ham, but forgot to ask for the receipt."
The student running into the home economics room slammed two full supermarket bags on the table.
"Don't address me as Manager. And cut the ham into halves," I replied hastily, as I quickly diced the onions for the hotdogs.
"The red tea's almost done as well. You should've checked with us before you got the items!" "Can we dilute it with water?" "Just add more ice to it!" "Can't do, the tea's hot." "No problem, they'll never notice."
They definitely will! Don't do that. We're not some unscrupulous shop that rips people off.
"Manager, there's a customer that wants to take a photo with a waiter."
"Again? But I'm really busy right now!"
"Doesn't matter, taking pictures is also part of your job. Now go!"
After being kicked in the butt, I dropped the knives and dashed out of the home economics room. I didn't know whose idea it was, but aside from serving food and drinks, our class also offered customers the opportunity to take a photo with the waiters and waitresses (but they'd have to pay, of course). Thanks to that, our shop had become one of the most popular destinations of the school festival. Of course, the majority of the customers were there for the waitresses in goth lolita costumes; but occasionally, a female customer would request a photo with the waiters, and I would be called upon to take part in that photo, despite the fact that I was already being run ragged by all the work in the kitchen. I've already lost count of the number of times I've run to and from the classroom and the home economics room. Do they want me to die or something?
The entrance of our classroom was decorated with styrofoam that had been made to look like a bricked gate. To enhance the effect, the styrofoam was covered with a layer of ivy—looks like everyone has put in a great deal of effort into this. My head hurt even more when I saw the long queue waiting outside the café. Today's only the first day of the school festival...... Won't it be even more chaotic tomorrow since it'll be a Sunday?
"Welcome...... Oh, it's Nao."
I almost bumped into Terada, who was dressed in a fluffy waitress dress, when I squeezed myself into the heated classroom.
"Come over here, the customer's waiting for you. Let's take a picture."
After five minutes, I was finally spared from the flashes of the camera. However, just as I was about to head back to the home economics room, someone grabbed me by the arm.
"Nao, listen. There was a really weird customer earlier today."
It was Chiaki. She was wearing a headdress instead of her usual hair clips, so I almost didn't recognize her.
"A weird customer?"
"Mmm." Chiaki shot a glance into the classroom. Mafuyu was standing to the left of the tables, taking orders from the customers. She was the only one that looked like she wasn't from Japan. But it wasn't just the color of her hair and skin, or how her body was perfectly shaped for wearing a dress—even the surroundings around her looked especially different.
"A middle-aged guy had come looking for information about Mafuyu. We're lucky she wasn't serving customers at the time."
"I was questioned as well."
Terada jumped in on our conversation all of a sudden.
"I was asked about what she usually wears, whether she attends the music lessons, things like that. It was incredibly irritating. Also, it seems like the person that approached me was different from the person that spoke to Chiaki. I was approached by two middle-aged men and a young man that looked like a university student. It's really disgusting having so many perverts around."
So there are multiple people asking for information about Mafuyu? Not just one?
"What should we do? Should we make Mafuyu stay away from the classroom?"
But Mafuyu's our star waitress, and there's actually a whole bunch of people who want to take photographs with her......
"Since they brought their cameras along with them, we barred them from entering our café."
Whispered Terada, after briefly scanning the café. I see, as expected of our competent class rep.
"They gave off a really suspicious feeling. One of them was wearing a baggy coat; and another one, who looked quite young, was wearing a jersey and sandals."
I froze. A jersey? With sandals?
I looked at Chiaki. Seems like she has noticed as well.
"Was the guy in the jersey also carrying a camera? Urm, unshaven, wore a pair of massage sandals and looked like an unemployed man?"
Terada's eyes opened wide when she heard my question.
"That's right...... You know that guy?"
"How can that possibly be? I don't know anyone that fits that description; and there's certainly no one like that in my family either."
I said something strange without thinking. Chiaki sighed and shook her head in resignation. So Tetsurou actually came!? And was asking questions about Mafuyu? I told him time and time again, but that bastard's still planning on writing that damn article? I'll definitely sever our father-son relationship if he does something like that.
"Call me again if anything happens."
I left the classroom after exchanging a nod with Chiaki. I somehow have a bad feeling about this.
A thunderous cheer erupted inside the sports complex when I was walking towards it past the courtyard. I had almost mistaken it for an earthquake.
It was already three in the afternoon, so the First Class of Second Year's <Romeo and Juliet> performance had just come to an end. The cheers of the audience rang crystal clear in my ears when I entered the sports complex through the back door.
We had turned one of the storerooms into our personal green room. Lots of large and expensive items, such as the amplifiers and the drum set, were stored inside, and things like foldable ladders, extension wires, old bicycles, cupboards, and even a fridge, were piled up in a heap next to the wall. Inside the room were also what looked like props from the Drama Club—either that, or just typical large-sized junk.
I was about to dismantle the drum set, to make it easier to move, when an emotional Kagurazaka-senpai walked into the room with her face flushed red. Her long skirt made it difficult for her to walk.
"Sorry I'm late! The curtain call took quite a bit of time."
"How many people are in the audience?"
"Enough to flood the sports complex with their tears alone. Let's quickly begin our performance...... Where's Comrade Ebisawa and Comrade Aihara?"
"They couldn't leave because there were too many photo requests. But they should be here soon."
"I too, want to queue up to take a closer look at them in their waitress outfits."
You can look all you want when we're on stage!
But the two girls still hadn't shown up even after the First Class of Second Year had finished cleaning up. Moreover, I had already finished moving the amplifiers and the drum set on stage. We were allotted thirty minutes for cleanup and preparation...... But if they don't make their way here soon, it'll be time to start our performance.
"I'll go to our classroom to see what's happening."
I dashed out the back door after yelling that at Senpai, who was busy setting up the PA system and facing the other way.
After walking past a flight of stairs, I entered the car park, and heard Chiaki's snide voice.
"Stop following us already! Please move away, we're short on time! Didn't Mafuyu say she doesn't want to already?"
They were in the courtyard. I quickened my pace and turned past the corner of the building.
There, I saw the backs of four men in trench coats and half coats, and could also faintly see two black dresses. It was Chiaki—and hiding behind her, was maroon hair.
Chiaki was protecting Mafuyu from those men with all her might, despite the fact that they were cornered at the trees next to the fence. Who are those people? Every one of them had a camera in his hands. Are they the ones that visited our café earlier to get their hands on information about Mafuyu?
"As I said, all I want to do is to ask Mafuyu some questions."
One of the men moved his face close to Chiaki and said with a disgusting voice,
"Eh, are your fingers healed already? What made you want to play the piano on stage today?"
"We heard you'll be releasing a CD with Yuri. When's that coming out? Do the two of you meet up frequently?"
"Please, everyone's looking forward to Mafuyu's comeback."
I ran towards them right away. They're from the media! It was just as Tetsurou had said.
"You haven't played the piano on stage since your concert in London two years ago."
"You suddenly decided not to continue on with the concert anymore, and there was no official apology from you after that. How do you explain that?"
I yelled from behind the reporters, who turned their heads around in surprise. Chiaki's expression softened as she relaxed a little, and Mafuyu, cowering behind Chiaki, lifted her head up. I pried apart the guys surrounding them and grabbed Mafuyu and Chiaki's arms.
"Let's go. Senpai's waiting."
"Oi, wait a second."
A reporter placed his hand rudely on my shoulder. I shoved it away and pulled the two girls along as I walked briskly towards the sports complex.
"Hey, come on, please. We're not here to play!"
Those crass voices came chasing after us. I knew Mafuyu was already close to her limit, as Chiaki was already helping her with her steps, so the reporters caught us in no time.
"You do know the London incident has become something quite serious, don't you? You disappeared from the music world without even holding a public conference. Please let us in on the details if possible."
What the heck is that!? Are they that insensitive? Why are they asking Mafuyu these questions? I could sense Mafuyu trembling with unease through her palm.
"Was it related to your father? Is it true you're on bad terms with him? Did that happen after your parents divorced?"
"We heard you went to look for your mother when you were performing in Germany. Is that true?"
Mafuyu's hand flinched. My arm was hit by a sudden shiver that stopped me in my tracks.
Yelled Chiaki sadly. Mafuyu was squatting down on the asphalt of the car park; her hand gripped the sleeve of my shirt tightly. The reporters caught up to us and surrounded us.
"I'll call the police if you guys don't stop!"
Chiaki's voice was trembling as well, but the reporters just looked at each other and shrugged. The fury hidden in my heart was burning. What the hell is wrong with these people? Why are they trampling on Mafuyu like this?
"We haven't even done anything to her! I told you already, we just want some answers from her."
"Eh, we won't take up much of your time. Why don't we head somewhere where you guys can relax, and we'll have our interview there. And oh, let's take some photos as well."
As I was clenching my fists, Chiaki's arms appeared before my eyes.
"Nao, take Mafuyu and run! Hurry!"
"Don't worry, just go!"
Chiaki moved like a black whirlwind—I saw her lower her body, but couldn't catch what she did after that. I wasn't sure if she had rammed them with her body, or sent them flying with a kick; I just knew that two reporters on opposite sides of me had collapsed due to some impact to their body.
I picked Mafuyu up and carried her on my back as I started running. She felt much heavier than she did the last time I had carried her—probably because her limbs were overly stiff. I could hear the angry howls of the reporters behind me, but I shook them off and scrambled up the stairs. We squeezed our bodies through a gap in the back door. I was really worried about Chiaki as well, but decided to leave that concern for later—first, I have to bring Mafuyu to the green room. Mafuyu was slumped over my back in a shattered state; and her breathing was rough and uneven, which made me feel really uneasy.
I bumped into Senpai in the corridor in front of the storeroom. Looks like she's making her way back from the stage.
"What's going on—"
It was only when I pointed at the door that I realized my throat was parched. "Chiaki, she—" were the only words I barely managed to squeeze out of my mouth.
Senpai turned around right away and sprinted towards the back door. At the same time, Chiaki came stumbling into the building, and the two of them knocked into each other. Chiaki's headdress and dress were a mess.
"Are you alright, Comrade Aihara?" asked Senpai, as she helped support Chiaki's body.
"I-I'm alright. They didn't follow me here."
The four of us retreated to the green room. All of the large items had been moved to the stage already, so all that was left in the room were the guitars and the two synthesizers stacked on top of each other. I used one of the large props as a makeshift chair and set Mafuyu down on it. Her body was still trembling, and her lips were pale.
"Mafuyu, are you okay? Mafuyu!"
I called out to her right next to her ears. She responded with a nod, but her eyes were dazed—her reaction was so minute, it just looked like her chin was shaking because of her trembling.
"It looks like those guys were loitering around our café."
Said Chiaki in disdain.
"They approached us all of a sudden when we were crossing through an empty area. They're disgusting."
"So what happened to them?"
"I ran away immediately after I kicked them, so I have no idea. They probably went into the seats for the audience."
Mafuyu's shoulders flinched in fear.
"Sorry, if only I had been more careful—"
It isn't Chiaki's fault. They're the ones who are at fault.
"...... I knew it."
I didn't realize Mafuyu was the one that had murmured those words. When I turned my head around, Mafuyu's body wasn't trembling much anymore, but she was still tightly grasping my wrists. Her eyes were fixed on a certain spot on the ground.
"Those guys knew about Mama."
Her voice sounded like a dead person's moan, which made me shudder. I knelt down beside her to look at her eyes, but she shut them tight to avoid eye contact with me.
"Why? I had forgotten about it already. I had already decided to forget about it......"
Mafuyu's empty words landed drip by drip onto the folds of her black skirt.
"I was really composed the day I met Mama. I even thought to myself, 'Oh, I never expected to be this composed. I must be a really cold person'. B-But......"
The announcement coming from the school's broadcast sounded especially loud—"Three-thirty, Folk Music Research Club <feketerigó> will be holding their very first live concert at school in the sports complex." The announcement acted like a catalyst of some sort—I could hear the cheers and the footsteps of the audience even though a wall separated us and them.
It had already begun. I could feel the rumbling of the sports complex. Mafuyu gripped my wrists even harder, which made me realize something.
"I was not composed at all. When I was about to go on stage the second day...... I heard it...... the sound of applause—"
Mafuyu should've been holding my wrist tightly with her right hand, but her grasp was weak. Why? Because only Mafuyu's thumb and index finger were wrapped around my wrist—her middle, fourth and baby fingers were slumped weakly to the side.
"Mafuyu! Your fingers—"
Mafuyu shook her head hard, as though she wanted to tear her head from her body.
"It is okay, it is alright now. I am fine."
"How are you fine!? Just now—"
Senpai and Chiaki realized as well. Senpai bit her lip and leaned her body against the wall, while Chiaki quickly ran over to Mafuyu and grasped Mafuyu's knees.
"Mafuyu, a-are you okay? Do you want to go to the infirmary?"
"I am fine. It's okay, I will be alright after a rest."
The fingers on Mafuyu's right hand were twitching strangely. Fine? You're like this and you say you're fine?
"Now's not the time to be worrying about the concert. Let's get a doctor here."
Senpai said that in a calm voice. but immediately after, Mafuyu grabbed my shoulder tightly and stood up while wobbling.
"Don't call the doctors!"
"Objection overruled. We have to fix your body......"
"I will think of something! Please, I am really okay. Please do not cancel the concert."
"Why are you so insistent on this—"
I had never seen Senpai so speechless, but I was thinking the exact same thing. Why is she so insistent on this?
"I-I want to stay here, I want to stay in this band! So please!"
"You shouldn't force yourself even if that's the case!"
Chiaki grabbed Mafuyu by the shoulders and gave her a hard shake. The noise and footsteps of the audience were getting louder and louder. How much time do we have before the concert starts? There's no way we can continue on with the concert, right? Since Mafuyu's already in such a state—
"This is something made possible by everyone's efforts. I do not want everything to be wrecked just because of me."
"I have no interest whatsoever in hearing you talk about your willpower."
Senpai cut Mafuyu's unnecessary speech off with her incredibly cold words.
"Ten minutes. I'm canceling the concert if your fingers aren't fixed in that time."
After saying that, Senpai grabbed her guitar and left. Her back looked really gloomy.
"It'd be pointless for us to perform if we're down a member. I'll check the stage and be back in a jiffy."
Looking past Chiaki's shoulders, I watched Senpai's back become swallowed up by the closing door.
"Mafuyu, is there anything...... I...... I can do to help?"
Mafuyu shook her head and released my hand. She could barely stand up with the help of the synthesizers next to her.
"Wait for me at the stage...... I will think of something myself."
Chiaki looked at me, and then at Mafuyu. She wanted to say something, but decided against it in the end. Instead, she just lowered her head and bit her lip in frustration. Not long after, though, she raised her head again and pressed her fists into my chest.
Please think of something—somehow, through her fists, Chiaki had conveyed to me the words she couldn't say out loud. She then left the room without looking back even once.
"Naomi, you too......"
Said Mafuyu, as she rested her hands on the control board of the synthesizer.
"Go. I am okay, I will—"
"How can you recover in your current state?"
Mafuyu lifted her head in shock. Even I was surprised by how cold my voice sounded. Her eyes were close to tearing.
"What on earth are you thinking? Why do you insist on doing this? Are you an idiot? You should know very well the condition of your body!"
But I couldn't help but think, "What the heck is going on with me as well? Why am I so angry?" It was because I knew I couldn't do anything for her. Mafuyu had stood up by herself, for some reason unknown to me, but now, was collapsed before me in a place I couldn't reach. This is just...... pathetic.
But I couldn't stop myself. I continued,
"It's okay for you to not play the piano right now. We won't disband because of something like that, and yet, you're forcing yourself to play the piano in front of everyone—"
Mafuyu cut me off as she cried.
"You are the one that told me—you wanted me to play the piano for you on stage. But, but I could not do it then, so I was disappointed in myself."
I...... said that? I asked her to play the piano for me?
The air in my throat solidified into a lump. That's right, I did say that—back when the two of us were alone in the music resource room. That time when we performed <Ave verum corpus>—when I heard that miraculous piano accompaniment that blended the singing and the conducting together. Back then, I did tell her I hoped to hear her piano in an actual performance and not just during practice. But I never thought—
"But I still wished to play the piano for you. I had actually planned to live in a world far away from the piano if you had never asked me to play, but......"
Everything was for....... me.
"But, my fingers...... gradually became able to move."
Mafuyu continued on in her depressed voice.
"It happened after the chorus contest. It was all because of you."
My throat was trembling slightly. I couldn't speak. Her fingers healed not because she met Yuri, but...... because of me? Mafuyu picked up the piano again because I asked her "Please play the piano for me"—how can that be?
"It is okay to force myself because you are here. For now, no matter what, I will—"
Mafuyu gripped the keyboard tightly and stood up with difficulty. Her frail arm—that she would use to play the piano once more, for my sake, even if it meant doing so beneath the cruel lights—was trembling nonstop. It hurt me to see her like that.
I wished to stay by Mafuyu's side forever; and I hoped to give her strength whenever she was in pain. But half of the reason why Mafuyu's in pain right now is because of me, and the other half is because of herself. If what she said is really true, what should I do at a time like this?
"But you have never once responded to me. You had said, many times, that you wanted to listen to me play the piano, and because of that, I tried to get you to listen. I had even recorded all of Beethoven so you could listen to my piano. I wanted to tell you that my fingers were all healed, and that everything should be fine now. But I never knew...... I was so...... weak. That I would become like this just because—"
The fingernails on Mafuyu's left hand were digging deep into her right hand when she said all that. Her fingertips were even turning pale as a result of her tight grip.
"...... Mafuyu," I did my best to squeeze my voice out from my parched throat. "Calm down."
That was the only thing I could say—a line I thought was totally stupid and corny.
"Why are you doing so much for someone like me?"
No wait, that isn't what I wanted to say.
"—Sorry, I never noticed."
That Mafuyu had already picked up everything again.
"I never noticed myself either."
With her wet eyelashes lowered slightly, Mafuyu continued on with that hoarse voice of hers,
"I never thought I would want to play the piano for someone."
I had already lost everything—Mafuyu murmured. Her words fell onto the scarred black cover of the synthesizer.
"I do not know anymore. I have no idea what I should do. I do not know where I should return to. I have never played the piano for someone else's sake."
"How can that be"—was what I wanted to say, but I swallowed my words.
Back when we had run away from home together, Mafuyu told me that her last memory of her loving the piano was of a time when she was together with her mother. That unfillable hole caused Mafuyu to become immobile due to her fears. And it was those damned reporters that brought back memories of a time that she would never be able to return to.
Mafuyu reached towards the casing of the synthesizer with her fingers. Her face was filled with tears when she turned around to face me.
"...... Go. Kyouko and Chiaki are waiting for you."
Mafuyu's voice sounded like the cracking of ice.
"I...... I will come up with something....... But if I do not make it in time, then just go on without me. The rest of the songs can be performed with just three—"
I raised my fists and slammed them down on the synthesizer to interrupt Mafuyu. I couldn't listen to her any longer. Her long maroon hair trembled slightly; and her blue eyes, filled with unease, looked up at me in fear.
"I don't want that."
My voice was cold but crystal clear.
"I definitely won't walk out of this room and leave you alone in here."
"Why? B-But I may never be able to play the piano again."
"No—it has nothing to do with the piano or the band."
I stared straight into Mafuyu's eyes, which looked as though they were about to sink into the bed of the ocean, and said,
"I've already decided to stay by Mafuyu's side forever."
We used to be connected only by music.
If that's true, what would happen if someone became unable to sing or couldn't continue playing? The only thing we could do then, is stay rooted to the spot. I don't want to carry on like that.
It was because I loved Mafuyu. I wanted to stay by her side even if we lost our music.
Those feelings of mine turned into bubbles and vanished on the surface of the ocean between us. Mafuyu's pale face was dyed with a faint dash of redness. She lowered her head in an attempt to hide her embarrassment.
"But, even if you have decided to stay here......"
I can't do anything for you even if I'm by your side? Is that really the case?
"I have never once played a melody for you successfully. What should I do? I have no idea."
What should I do? What must I do to help Mafuyu pick up the piano once more?
I won't be able to help her if I'm only standing by her side. I couldn't speak. All I could do was stand there, frozen in a daze. My hands wouldn't come into contact with where she needed my help—
Just then, that melody, the darkness, the howling of the wind, and the smell of the raindrops appeared in my mind once more.
It had happened before.
"...... You did."
"Mafuyu did play the piano for me before."
Her blue eyes trembled slightly in confusion, as if they were melting. She shut her eyes.
Has Mafuyu really forgotten about it already?
I could still recall that miracle very clearly. I shot a glance at my bass, which was resting on its stand to the side. That fragment of my body was still around precisely because Mafuyu had played the piano for me.
Perhaps it was just an auditory hallucination. Or just magic, constructed by the howls of the sea, the echoes and the thick mist. But what I heard was certainly the sound of Mafuyu's piano.
If that's true, then what should I do? How can I get Mafuyu to remember?
I can do it.
Before I realized, I had already opened my tightly shut eyes. The world before me was enclosed by the dirty concrete walls of the dark storeroom. Me, Mafuyu, my bass and the synthesizer were leaning tightly against each other under the gaze of the junk by the side of the walls.
Can I really do it? Can I summon her memories?
I have no idea, but the only thing I can do is try.
Her head was still lowered when I called out to her.
"Mafuyu, step back. I want to make some preparations."
She lifted her head when she heard my words. Her eyes were still swollen from crying.
I silently pulled Mafuyu away from the synthesizer, then knelt down to stuff a stack of scores beneath one of the legs. The angle of tilt should've been something close to this.
Next, I scanned the room and pushed the fridge down on its side and moved it next to the synthesizer. I then leaned the upside-down bicycle against the door, and dumped the cupboard and desk clock onto the floor. Finally, I moved the drawers in front of the keyboard.
"Take a seat."
Mafuyu stared intently at me with her teary eyes.
"What are you doing, Naomi?"
"Don't ask. Just take a seat."
I pushed Mafuyu's back to get her to sit on the drawers, then stood behind her and flipped the switch of the synthesizer. Can I really do it? For a brief moment, I thought what I was attempting to do was incredibly ridiculous.
If that really is a special place.
If that really is Mafuyu's greatest wish—
"Close your eyes."
I stretched my arms over Mafuyu's shoulders to reach the keyboard, then fumbled around with the control board to locate the switch for the sound effects.
It started off with the sound of the raindrops.
The gentle drops of rain that landed on the buckets full of holes, the roofs of the scrapped cars, and the broken cupboards.
That sound became overlapped with the faint roars of the waves of the sea.
The sounds of the waves that passed by the endless trees.
The rustling of the leaves of the forest.
The howl of the wind as it breezed past the mountains.
The sound of the passing train in the distance.
The sound effects that were hidden in the machine were appearing before the darkness of my eyelids, one after another, and were passing through my hands, spreading endlessly outwards. We couldn't hear the commotion of the audience; only silence, formed by the stoppage of time, surrounded us.
<The Department Store of Hearts' Desires>.
It was the junkyard where we had first met; the same place where we had found what we had lost. But at the same time, it was also a place located at the ends of the world, where the remnants of dreams accumulated.
That was my long-standing wish. I had made a wish back then; I wished I could listen to Mafuyu's piano once more. And in that moment, Mafuyu had responded to that wish, and I heard the fugue that night. The miraculous power that allowed me to find my bass was Book 1 of Bach's <The Well-Tempered Clavier>.
As I was praying, I switched on the other synthesizer. The lights on the control board lit up, and an influx of white noise appeared amid the rustling of the forest.
Unknown to me, Mafuyu was already staring at me with her head lifted. There were still remnants of tears on her upside-down face. Both of us had opened our eyes, but the magic had yet to cease. We were still located at the ends of the world, where the miraculous department store was.
"Do you remember now?"
Mafuyu gently nodded her head.
I chose my words carefully in my head, and spoke each and every word out slowly. I had to say it before the magic disappeared.
"I hope you will continue to play the piano. I wish to listen to Mafuyu play."
"...... But I have no idea what I should play."
Said Mafuyu, as she rested the back of her head on my chest. Her eyes were like that of a nestling that had lost its way after separating from the flock.
"...... You decide, Naomi."
But I also had no idea what she should've played. Bach's fugue had just ended in my mind, and dawn would be approaching soon.
I allowed the LCD screen of the control board to guide my fingers as I sought out the answer on the keyboard.
Then came the final sound effect.
A screech called out to Mafuyu. And the fluttering of a pair of wings could be heard amongst the trees as the bird prepared itself for its flight into the dawn. Mafuyu's hand struck the keyboard once, releasing the cold sound of the piano.
Perhaps it was due to the constant striking of the G note, but it felt like our heartbeats were inseparably overlapped. Mafuyu counted the remaining traces of the tiny ripples on the black-and-white keys with her fingers—the fingers of both her hands—while attached to the gradually weakening rain.
The misty veil was shred into pieces.
The light of dawn.
The song that was about to break free from my mouth disappeared at the edge of my lips.
This whole time, this song has always existed between us.
And until the magic subsides, the only thing I want to hear is the sound of the piano.
A while later, the final note finally disappeared after dispersing itself on the surface of the water. The blackbird had thrust itself off the branch to soar into the sky. The rain stopped; and the wind died down. We were getting further and further away from the ocean.
The back of Mafuyu's head was still firmly pressed against my chest.
We had returned—to the center of the messy storeroom, where the synthesizers were impatiently giving off an unstable rumble. I could faintly hear the chatter and the footsteps of the audience through the walls.
For a while, I didn't know what to say. Mafuyu was staring at her hands in silence, and was clenching them and opening them to reaffirm the dampness of the rain that had just been surrounding them.
I gently called out her name.
Mafuyu didn't turn around. Instead, she removed her hands from the keyboard and placed them on my arm, then gripped my wrist hard with all five fingers of her right hand. I couldn't believe it. I felt a sense of elation surge inside me, but what had come before that was a much stronger throb. But I couldn't move my hands away just yet.
She may not be fully recovered, but Mafuyu has returned back to this place.
Thank goodness. I could barely speak out my thoughts with my hoarse murmurs.
"...... T-Thank... you......"
Mafuyu replied in stutters.
It felt like I should've said something, but that was a way too difficult task for me. I couldn't really come up with something quick to say.
"...... Or perhaps...... I should get you to play something for me?"
Since it was really rare for Mafuyu to ask me for a song request. Darn, I should've asked her to play the <Diabelli Variations>, since it's not on any of her CDs......
She scratched my wrist with her fingernails...... It hurt quite a bit.
She stood up and turned around while still in-between my arms. Our faces were almost touching when she raised her head to look at me.
"If it is Naomi...... you can ask me...... anytime."
Mafuyu's face turned beet red halfway through her sentence. She even pushed my chest with both her hands, almost causing me to fall backwards.
"A-Anytime...... so that means—" Why did she phrase it that way? Because it's me? It was only then that I realized that I had said something really incredible to her. I said I'd be by her side forever...... and she definitely heard me. So that means....... Mafuyu, she...... no, but, it can't be, right?
"I-I already said I will play!"
Mafuyu pushed my chest with both her hands again.
"You are the one that brought me back here! Didn't you say you wanted to listen to my piano? Why are you acting as if you do not know anything?"
Mafuyu pushed me aside and turned to face the synthesizer. She switched it off to prepare it for moving.
"A person like you should just stay dense forever! All you need to do is flip the scores and play the bass! Now help me with the other side, we will be moving it onstage!"
After slinging the straps of the bass around my shoulder, I quickly walked to the other side of the synthesizer. Mafuyu turned her burning face away unhappily.
"...... Can I?"
I tried asking.
"Can you what?"
Asked Mafuyu softly, as she lifted the synthesizer.
"Can I play the bass for you and help you flip your scores forever?"
That was the only thing I could think up after racking my brains out. Because I loved Mafuyu—and I wanted to tell her that several times, but I couldn't bring myself to say it.
"You are my bassist, are you not?"
That was Mafuyu's reply.
I see. I heaved a sigh of relief in my heart.
For now, the only thing connecting us together is music. The tears on Mafuyu's face had disappeared completely, and she had returned to her normal self with her stinging words.
That made me feel a lot more at ease—I'm really useless.
When Mafuyu pushed open the door, a thunderous mix of cheers and footsteps greeted us.
Leaning against the wall of the corridor was a girl in a frilly black goth lolita dress...... Chiaki. She tightened her grip on her two drumsticks and slowly lifted her head.
She flashed me an icy stare, then directed her attention to Mafuyu.
The three of us didn't speak for a while. The noise of the audience, seeping through the walls, sounded like nothing more than just the breeze of an oncoming wind. Chiaki stepped away from the wall. And as she did that, I lifted the synthesizer off Mafuyu's hands to carry it myself.
Chiaki moved towards us one step at a time, then clamped her hands around Mafuyu's right arm. Confused, Mafuyu looked at her arm, and then at Chiaki.
"...... It's because Mafuyu always disappears all of a sudden."
Mumbled Chiaki, as she slumped her shoulders. It looked like she was close to tears.
"And Nao's the only one that knows where you are. Always."
"I do hope you realize how frustrated I am."
Mafuyu nodded. Chiaki pressed her forehead against Mafuyu's.
"Nao, you can't spoil Mafuyu like that. She can move her hands now, right? Let her carry her own instrument."
"Eh...... Oh, m-mmm."
I gently passed the heavy synthesizer to Mafuyu. Can she even carry it? I couldn't help but worry when I saw those delicate arms of hers.
"And also, come here."
Chiaki grabbed my ear and pulled me away from the stage. My mind went blank for a brief moment when I saw the person squatting against the wall next to the door.
Grey jersey, messy hair, and a bruise near his eye—that guy's none other than Tetsurou! But I tried to convince myself otherwise, that he was nothing more than just an illusion. No wait...... why's Tetsurou here backstage?
"Oh? Ohhhh!? You're finally out? Hey brat, you can't have your customers waiting, yeah? Look, everyone's getting impatient already, so get going!"
"W-Wh......" My voice was stuck. "Why are you here?"
"I said I'd pay you a visit, didn't I? Can't a father attend the school festival his son is participating in?"
Tetsurou shrugged nonchalantly.
"T-Tetsurou, could it be that you......"
Is he here to write articles about Mafuyu—
I then noticed a few straps hanging from his hands, and connected to them, were cameras—four of them, all expensive looking and equipped with giant lenses.
"...... W-What are those for?"
"Hmm? Ah—well......" Tetsurou scratched his head. "You see, I saw four familiar faces at the entrance. They're the parasites of the industry and they pissed me off, so I gave them a good beating and confiscated their cameras."
So that's the reason behind that bruise next to his eye? Please don't fight in your son's school......
"S-So what happened to them?"
"Nothing much. Probably cried their way home?"
I was at a loss for words. So what was his reason for loitering around our class and asking stuff about Mafuyu?
"Don't you underestimate the industry's ruffian! I'll be heading off then~"
With that, Tetsurou waved his hand and opened the back door. He's planning to leave just like that? Didn't he say he was here to watch?
"I'm here to see the goth lolita! Who gives a shit about that horrible bass of yours? Now now, get going, everyone's waiting for you!"
He then heartlessly shut the door, just like that.
I couldn't help but wonder—
Did he know Mafuyu was being targeted by those reporters? So he actually came down here just to stop them—so he could protect Mafuyu.
Tetsurou actually took the initiative to protect her? That totally useless guy actually did something like that? That's quite a silly deduction...... but......
"Nao, hurry up!"
I was pulled back to reality when Chiaki tugged my sleeves. I saw Mafuyu, hugging the synthesizer that was about as tall as her, slowly walking down the corridor with unsteady steps. Chiaki pulled me—with my bass on my back—by the arm and caught up to Mafuyu.
And before us—
In the midst of the light coming at us from all angles, there was a silhouette of a person standing amongst the cheers, teasing the audience with her long hair and the hem of her skirt. I couldn't quite make out the expression on her face, as we were staring into the lights, but I was absolutely certain of the sort of smile Kagurazaka-senpai was wearing at a time like that.
Everyone's...... waiting for us.
I caught up to Mafuyu and briefly exchanged a glance with her. We nodded in unison. It's alright, everyone's here.
Chiaki let go of my arm to walk a step or two ahead of me.
As for me, I chased her, and made my way down the promenade stretching towards the light.