I want to see Mafuyu in kimono too.
That was the fifth time I had seen that car.
After walking past the turn, I was standing in a position where I could see the garage of my house. One look and I knew immediately what was going on—because that was the fifth time already. The sun was already setting, as the days were shorter in the winter. The black hood of the foreign car shimmered faintly under the rays of the porch lights; and from where I stood, I could hear the rumbling sounds of an orchestra.
There was no point in running away (since it was my house), so I sighed and opened the porch door.
"That's why I'm asking you to try it once! It'll definitely be interesting! Since you're planning to play this piece faithfully, you should be faithful in areas like this as well, shouldn't you?"
"Don't be silly! The replacement melody was written precisely because the soloist could not hit the high notes in the very first performance!"
"But it's printed on the published scores too! Come on, try it! You never know, it may just fit!"
"Do you want me to ruin the performance or something? And you are asking me to find a second baritone just for this part? What rubbish!"
"How about you sing it?"
"Enough of your jokes!"
Tetsurou and Ebisawa Chisato, separated by a table with a few pieces of paper on it, were engaged in a heated argument when I entered the living room. The melody of Beethoven's <Symphony No. 9> was booming over the speakers, but the two guys were arguing with voices comparable to the volume of the orchestra. On one side of the table, was a famous conductor with white hair wearing a crisp suit; and on the other, the industry's ruffian—though his sloppy sportswear made him look more like a hobo instead. Seeing them pointing at each other's noses and arguing at the top of their lungs, I doubt anyone would question the fact that they used to be classmates.
I had originally planned to sneak past the kitchen unnoticed, but I was called out by them.
"So you're back, Nao. Listen to me, Ebichiri's just atrocious!"
"Oh right, help me drill some sense into him. Hikawa is coming up with all these crazy suggestions for the arrangement."
Wait, why are you guys throwing your problems onto me? I'm physically and mentally drained already. Senpai had come up with that sudden decision to participate in the live performance just a day ago. And because of the upcoming audition, our practice was really solid.
But performing at the event means I won't be able to invite Mafuyu out on Christmas Eve.
While I was engrossed in my own thoughts, Tetsurou grabbed me by the shoulders and made me sit down at the table. Lying before me, was the conductor score for <Symphony No. 9>.
"Urm...... so what's going on here?"
"Ebichiri intends to faithfully reproduce Beethoven's original orchestration during his performance of Beethoven's Ninth at the end of the year. And as a result, he's ignoring the revisions by Wagner and Weingartner!"
"Oh......" Just let him be.
"This is just unbelievable! He even intends to reproduce the trumpet parts in the final movement that were gnawed away by worms! Muhuhuhu, now I'm burning with anticipation. I'll definitely come up with a great article to blast his performance."
There were various problems with Beethoven's original handwritten scores, so past musicians had modified Beethoven's Ninth by adding in all sorts of arrangements. That is to say, the Beethoven's Ninth that we're used to (regardless of whether it is good or bad), is different from what Beethoven had originally envisioned for the piece. So Ebichiri wants to return it to what it once was?
"The baritone's recitativo is actually supposed to be two melodies, so I asked Ebichiri to change it to a duet as it was originally supposed to be in the scores. But Ebichiri rejected my proposition."
"But of course. It is not supposed to be a duet."
"Who cares, just try it! Listen to this, Nao. Ebichiri, you sing the second part."
Tetsurou stopped the CD and played a tape instead, and what came out of the speakers, was Ebichiri's voice giving the orchestra his instructions. The tape had probably been recorded during a practice. Shortly after, the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth began. The dissonance between the strings and the rest of the orchestra clashed, then reached a climax after the collapse. The two middle-aged men beside me began singing "O Freunde!"—my head hurt listening to their duet. What the hell are they doing? Look at their ages......
"This will definitely become a joke."
Ebichiri snapped. He stopped singing and turned the tape recorder off.
"Why? Our voices were really consistent, no? Oh I know, I'll go on stage as the second baritone. I'll give you a discount on the performance fee—I mean, I did used to be in the choir. What do you think about my singing, Nao?"
"I want to go home......"
I was at my limit. I didn't come into this world to perform a comedy act with these middle-aged men!
"Which home? Are you referring to Misako's house?"
"It's quite problematic for me if you're asking me that question seriously......" Anywhere but here, damn it! I guess I might as well escape to Misako's house.
"But Misako is in Hong Kong until the end of the month, so she's not at home. Her company has plans to expand into China."
"How do you know that?"
Tetsurou said Misako criticized him really harshly every time they met up after the divorce, and there were even times when she refused to speak to him.
"Ahaha, that's because she's actually still in love with me. I occasionally call her, and she always says something like, 'I'll be busy from this date to that date because of these activities, so you're prohibited from calling me!' Her words may be harsh, but she always keeps me informed about her schedule. What a dishonest woman she is! Isn't that really cute?"
"Then don't get divorced in the first place! It's about time you two face reality!"
"I wouldn't have enrolled in the College of Music if I could do what you said."
"Do not lump me together with you, Hikawa. I enrolled in college with the aim of becoming a professional musician."
"Drop that cool act of yours, Ebichiri. You're divorced as well, so we should be fellow comrades, isn't that right? Oh yeah, we're buddies! Let's sing songs filled with happiness and joy together!"
Tetsurou started going crazy and began singing <Ode to Joy>, so I tossed a cushion at him to shut him up. I picked up my bass, and just as I was about to walk out of the living room......
Ebichiri cleared his throat behind me. I have a bad feeling about this.
"Actually, I came here because I have something to ask you."
I placed my hand on the doorknob and tried my hardest to repress the feeling of resignation that was spreading throughout my body. I see, I guessed as much. It always turns out like this.
I placed my bass behind the sofa and sat down again.
"U-Urm. What do you want to know?"
I knew it would be something related to Mafuyu even before he answered. Ebichiri crossed his fingers and rested his chin on his hands. He hesitated a moment before saying,
"My Beethoven's Ninth concert will only go up until the 23rd. I will be taking a break after that."
"And so, well......" Surprisingly, Ebichiri shifted his gaze away. There was a long pause before he continued, "I do wish to celebrate Christmas with my family once in a while."
I knew I was sweating behind my back; and I had a pretty good idea why Ebichiri showed up at my house. I really felt like running away.
"Little did I expect that she would reject me after I told her that yesterday. It seems Mafuyu will be busy on the 24th."
Stop looking at me with upturned eyes. It's really disgusting, you know?
"And then...... mmm...... I asked her what she will be doing, but she refused to give me an answer."
"I know the answer. Isn't there a love hotel located behind the shopping mall in front of the bus station? That must be it. It's the only hotel in the vicinity that cost eight thousand yen a night."
"Just shut up, Tetsurou......"
I had no strength left in me to come up with a retort. "Did you just say a love hotel!?" Ebichiri sprung up in anger, but I was too drained of my strength to calm him down.
That eight thousand yen is useless anyway.
I recalled what had happened during the lunch break that day. Kagurazaka-senpai had barged into the room suddenly when Mafuyu and I were the only ones inside; then, she announced the date of the live performance.
The first person to snap back to reality was Mafuyu.
"...... An audition?"
"Yeah. This is an actual commercial event. I managed to squeeze us in at the very last moment, and have sent in the tapes already. Our audition will be held early next month. A live performance."
Senpai was pacing around the room in circles; Chiaki, who was behind Senpai, had crossed her arms with a look of resignation on her face; Mafuyu was leaning against the sound system; and me, I was leaning my arm against the amplifiers to steady myself. It wasn't the first time I had been shocked by one of Senpai's announcements, but she was acting really swiftly this time. She should've heard about Snow Crash from Tomo around the same time I did, which was only last Saturday.
"I've already confirmed that my fellow comrades will be free on Christmas Eve. I believe everyone will fight alongside with me this time as well, yes?"
Senpai scanned our faces once more as she asked that question with a bright smile on her face.
Mafuyu glanced at me hesitantly for some reason. Our Christmas Eve was shattered just like that, and was left floating between us. What should I do?
Mafuyu moved her gaze away all of a sudden.
"Have you decided on the piece we will be performing for the audition?"
I could feel the lifeline snapping when I heard Mafuyu ask that question. Our date on Christmas Eve—no, it wasn't a definite thing yet, but......
"...... Are you okay with this?"
Asked Chiaki, as she popped her head out from behind Senpai's shoulder. I had no idea if she was directing that question at me or Mafuyu; I didn't know what she was trying to confirm.
But Mafuyu nodded her head slightly in response. She then made her way to the amplifiers and picked up the photocopied brochure of the event.
"A disco event? That means we will have to perform songs of that genre as well?"
"Well, the event will be held at a club, so disco music should be more popular among our target audience, especially if you consider their age. But it'll be boring if all we play is disco, so I have a few propositions in mind."
Senpai pulled a few minidiscs out from her guitar case and stacked them on the amplifiers, then fished out a few stacks of scores as well.
"The audition will be twenty minutes long, and I plan to spend around half the time on passacaglia, to surprise the hell out of our judges."
"I agree that we should make full use of whatever methods are available to us. I have no problem performing that nonstop for twenty minutes if that's what you want." Chiaki joined the conversation at the amplifiers from the side.
"We have the advantage of having two vocals, so I'm planning to show them our prowess in the latter half of the audition."
"I wish to use the synthesizers if possible. The performance at the school festival was nowhere near perfect."
"I do agree with you, but I think we'll be facing quite a few problems visually. I'll have to come up with something."
"Right, if we synchronize with the guitar—"
The only thing I could do was stare at the three girls exchanging their views seriously as I remained rooted to the floor. It wasn't until Senpai pinched my cheeks that my body became unfrozen.
"...... Nao? Hello, Nao?"
I finally regained my senses after my face was slapped repeatedly. When I came to, Tetsurou's face was right in front of mine, so I retreated on reflex, causing me to nearly fall backwards. Ebichiri was staring at me with irritation from the sofa. Shit, how long did I blank out?
"Why are you spacing out? You should at least wait until December before you start dreaming about that passionate night on Christmas Eve."
"T-That's not it!"
I realized Ebichiri was glaring at me with a really scary expression on his face. I swallowed my words immediately.
"Urm, well, in any case, it's nothing like what you're imagining."
"What do you mean by that? Are you planning to spend the night outside together with Mafuyu again?"
"That's right, Nao. It'll only cost you four thousand eight hundred yen if you're resting at the hotel. There's no need to spend the night there."
"Tetsurou—!" "Shut your trap, Hikawa!"
"The love hotel's a really messy place on Christmas Eve, you know? I'm offering you advice because I'm worried about you as a parent." I don't need those sorts of concerns from my parent!
"I-In any case!" I kicked Tetsurou aside and turned towards Ebichiri. I raised my voice.
"It's not just Mafuyu and me. The band will be holding a live performance on the 24th."
"A live performance......?"
The color of Ebichiri's face changed at least seven times—there were times when it was fuming red, and others when it was ghastly white. He then heaved a huge sigh and slumped his body deep into the sofa.
"The band again huh....... But we had talked about her resuming concerts again next year."
There was an obvious displeasure in his voice.
"She's practicing the piano as well, isn't she?"
"Of course. But to be perfectly honest, I am still against Mafuyu playing in the band."
"Why...... is that?"
"According to Matsumura, the amount of time Mafuyu spends practicing the piano is much more than what she used to spend two years ago. But despite that, she is also practicing the guitar as well. You do realize just how straining that is, don't you?"
I clenched my fists unconsciously. She actually increased her practice time? Considering the average time a professional spends on the piano each day, she should be practicing at least six hours every day after she reaches home. And considering that our band practice ends around six in the evening, that means she's always practicing until midnight, at the very least. And she's actually practicing much more than that? When does she sleep?
"Mafuyu is doing all this of her own accord, and that includes the band as well. But you already know she has a bad habit of forcing herself without giving any consideration to her body."
I could only nod my head in response to that.
"And so, how should I put it? That girl is continuing on with the band because she wants to be with you, right? If you tell her that it is no longer necessary—"
"Please, enough of this joke of yours."
My voice sounded like it was pressing against a blunt blade or something; and Ebichiri was forced to swallow his words. I knew it was selfish of me to say that, but those were my true feelings.
"Mafuyu...... she...... she didn't join the band for a reason like that. It's because she's the guitarist of feketerigó, and because she enjoys creating music together with Senpai, Chiaki, and...... me. That's why she's staying in the band."
My words were actually stabbing deeper into my heart than Ebichiri's words ever did. Ebichiri lowered his eyes and sighed.
"...... Is that so? I am sorry."
I shook my head. The things Ebichiri said were right. I really felt like kicking myself to death. That was really embarrassing of me.
Mafuyu chose the band instead of me—although I was thinking that, I knew very well just how abnormal that thought of mine was.
"I will leave Mafuyu in your hands. Please inform me if anything happens."
Said Ebichiri with a calm voice all of a sudden. He then stood up.
"Sorry for interrupting."
Tetsurou waved his hand while still lying on the sofa. As for me, I didn't stand up. The only sounds I heard were the opening and closing of the door, and the exhaust of the foreign car disappearing into the distance in the night. Just what exactly did that man come here for? Did he really make that trip just to discuss that matter?
"That guy has taken quite a liking to you, Nao. That's why he comes over frequently."
"Eh? Ehh? Ehhhhhhhhhh?"
Ebichiri? I don't quite remember doing anything that put me in his good graces.
"Moreover, I'm the only friend he has in Japan. It must be really lonely for him."
"Now that's quite the lonely life he has......"
Tetsurou is his only friend? He might actually be better off without any at all.
"...... Well then, when will Mafuyu come over to greet her new father-in-law?"
"You've been rattling on nonstop, damn it!"
"Because you had called Mafuyu directly by her name several times, and Ebichiri was totally fine with it. Since her father has already accepted you, it'll only be a matter of time."
"Eh? N-No way!"
But then again, t-that might actually be true! Whoa! What should I do? Was Ebichiri pissed off because of that......?
"Hurry up get engaged with her. I'm dying to see Ebisawa Mafuyu in a kimono."
"Get engaged yourself!"
I didn't expect Tetsurou to act out a pretend engagement scene with the music of Beethoven playing in the background. My headache was kicking in again, so I ran to my room with my head in my arms.