Here's chapter 6 of SPS. Things are heating up.
I ended up turning to Tetsurou for assistance in my search for Mafuyu's present.
"<Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band>? Don't we have one in the storeroom? You're in charge of the rock music, so search through it properly."
It was after dinner, and Tetsurou was lying down on the sofa like a Mafia boss, swirling his whiskey glass around as he chewed on dried shredded squid.
"Ah—mmm. Actually, I already gave that to someone else."
I lifted my eyes to look at the expression on Tetsurou's face and tried my best to look apologetic.
"Then head to the record store or something. You should be able to find one there."
"Urm, it has to be the vinyl record. It's complicated, so I can't explain. And it can't be the American or Japanese version—it has to be the original from Britain."
I snuck another peek at Tetsurou's face.
"So I thought I wouldn't be able to find it, even if I tried looking in some secondhand store. But if it's Tetsurou—you should be able to do something, right?"
"Look, that thing can cost up to ten thousand yen, you know?"
"I know. Please, the only thing I can depend on now is the power of the industry's ruffian!"
"Oh, so Nao has finally realized how great being the industry's ruffian is? So you understand now that you should be respecting me? Great, I'll teach you some exercises that'll get you on your way to becoming an industry ruffian right now!"
"Nope, I'll pass on that."
"Let's go into a little more detail. There are two major moves. Stretch your arms out wide—"
"There's no need for you to demonstrate for me!" I slammed the switch to turn off the <Turkish March>.
"Are you sure it's okay for you to talk to me like that? I may decide to not help you find the record, you know?"
"Ughhh......" Being indebted to the worst possible person really sucked.
"Whatever. As long as you genuflect before the power of my personal antenna."
With that said, Tetsurou actually managed to get his hands on a copy of <Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band> the very next day. And it was way before Mafuyu's birthday, so there was no need to worry at all.
"Well then, how will Nao show his respect for me? Oh boy, I can't wait—"
Grinned Tetsurou, as he danced around while holding the record in his hand. Are you an elementary school kid or something? I swallowed that thought and tried to nurture the minute feelings of gratitude inside me, saying,
"...... I guess we'll have sukiyaki today."
"Matsusaka beef? Or Kobe?"
"Get your ass to work if you want beef like that!"
But even Australian beef was enough to make Tetsurou tear up. I have it easy with a father that's so easy to please. I mean, it's all up to the chef anyway when it comes to the food.
I hid myself in my room after dinner. I might've been acting with undue haste, but I immediately wrapped the record carefully with wrapping paper, and even bound it with a ribbon. After I finished, I went to go lie down on my bed. I buried my face in my pillow in embarrassment when I imagined myself handing Mafuyu the present. Crap. Will I even be able to remain composed? And I had to visit Mafuyu's house too.
A girl inviting me to her house—I had visited Chiaki's room several times before, but if you removed her from the equation, it was my first time experiencing that. What should I do?
"Do you want me to pretend to be Ebisawa Mafuyu for your imaginary practice? I'm great at mimicking people's voices."
Asked Tetsurou, who had popped his head in through the door.
"Get the hell out!"
I threw my pillow at him to chase him away.
Kagurazaka-senpai didn't show up to morning practice the following day. That was the first time she had missed a practice since the school festival had ended. Given her absence, the three of us had no choice but to practice by ourselves until the lessons started, but she didn't appear even after the preparatory bell had rung.
"The audition's coming up soon. Maybe she's busy running around preparing for that," suggested Chiaki. I see. Senpai might be planning something again.
"But we won't be able to decide on the guitar arrangement for the string part without Senpai......"
"But Mafu-Mafu's guitar solo earlier made me shiver. Play like that for our actual performance too."
Said Chiaki, as she turned to face Mafuyu as Mafuyu was packing her Stratocaster into her guitar case. Mafuyu's eyes widened.
"...... That was because Kyouko was not around, so I played the vocalist's part in her stead......"
Murmured Mafuyu shyly. But I felt the same way Chiaki did. We had already chosen the last piece for our performance—John Lennon's <Happy Xmas>—but since Senpai was absent, Mafuyu had played the melody of the lead vocal instead. It was a vivid and commanding solo—a performance that Chiaki and I would never forget.
"It would definitely be cool if you suddenly joined in with your solo during the first chorus! All we need is Mafuyu's guitar and the synthesizer."
"But I only have two hands."
"Ah, you're right."
I gave Chiaki's suggestion a thought as well.
<Happy Xmas> was a song sung by John Lennon, and, just as its name suggested, it was a melody that celebrated Christmas. But the song also featured children singing <War is Over>, a melody that yearned for peace. It was a song that consisted of two melodies being sung together at the same time.
And by having already reproduced John Lennon's part with her solo, it was as though Mafuyu was tossing that song into the air. It would be marvelous if we could combine that with the children's prayers, <War is Over>. And if so, all that would be left is simulating the organs using the synthesizers.
The idea was gradually taking shape in my head as I tidied up the instruments.
And when we left the room, I could almost hear the melody of the Christmas song behind that tightly shut door. After we had exited, Chiaki locked the door and looked to the sky as she rested her hand on the handle.
"...... If only we could be together forever."
Mafuyu and I turned around when we heard Chiaki's words. A faint smile appeared on Chiaki's face—but it disappeared in the blink of an eye. She continued,
"It'd be great if we could clear the audition in a spectacular fashion and spend Christmas together."
Mafuyu looked at me hesitantly. When our eyes met, she broke eye contact with me and turned her gaze towards Chiaki.
"...... Let us do our best," Mafuyu nodded with a soft murmur.
"Mmm...... At the very least, the four of us can be together."
Chiaki's smile was much lonelier than the skies of the early winter, but I couldn't say anything at all. It's time for our lessons—said Chiaki softly, before breaking into a run.
Our fourth lesson of the day—physical education—had just ended, and the guys had already finished changing. We were making our way back to the classroom from the sports complex when a bicycle burst through the school gates at an incredible speed, catching the attention of many of us. Those braids danced in the air like the tail feathers of a bird. She disappeared between the buildings.
"...... That's atrociously late." "And she's wearing casual attire. With a mini-skirt to boot, even though it's winter." "The sight of her back and her long slender legs when she was standing on the bicycle was just amazing."
Kagurazaka-senpai just reached school......? What on earth is she doing? I rushed back to the classroom, placed my bento on Chiaki's desk, then dashed to the practice room. The lunch bell rang when I reached the lawn near the back of the building.
When I opened the door to the practice room, I froze on the spot.
"Oh hi, young man. You're here early."
I crossed sights with Senpai, who was sliding her arm through the sleeve of her blouse, and quickly retreated backwards. Not only could I clearly see her bra, but her skirt was unbuttoned as well. "S-Sorry!" I yelled and turned away.
"I can't close the door if you don't step in, you know?"
"Quit your nonsense and get dressed right now!" I roared angrily with my back facing her. Senpai's giggles were cut off by the closing of the door. I took in huge gulps of air as I rested my hands on my knees.
"You can come in now, young man."
Those words slipped through the opening of the slightly ajar door. I walked in gullibly, and what greeted my eyes were Senpai's creamy shoulders and smooth bare back.
"—W-Why did you strip?"
I rushed out of the room in shock.
"I wanted to change into my victory underwear, so I thought I would get young man to help me with the hooks."
"Hook it yourself!"
"What a pity. I'm done changing. Don't you worry, you can step in now."
Really? I mean, really? I opened the door a millimeter and peeked through the tiny opening. Senpai was wearing the school uniform's coat—so I walked into the room.
"I thought it might not be a bad idea to openly seduce you once in a while, but it ended up a failure, I guess."
What? I have no idea what you're talking about. To shake the image of Senpai's smooth skin out of my mind, I turned my gaze away from her and tried my hardest to focus on setting up my bass. I had seen her in her swimwear before, but that felt like a totally different matter altogether.
"I've been wondering this for a while—don't you have any sexual desire, young man?"
"What do y-y-you mean by that?"
"I'm pretty confident about my back. Haven't you seen it five times already? Aren't you the least bit excited?"
"I've seen it only twice!" What on earth is this person blabbering about?
"So you remember the actual count. That makes me really happy."
Senpai flashed me that beastly smile of hers, something I hadn't seen in quite a while. I tried to retreat to a corner, but Senpai pressed her hands against the wall on both sides of my head to prevent me from moving about.
"...... S-Senpai? You're acting strange today. Is something wrong?"
"Mmm, something has made me really sad. I actually went to go meet the organizers of the Christmas performance just now."
"They've decided the date of our audition. It'll be next Saturday."
Saturday—I searched through my memory, then heaved a sigh of relief. It was the day before Mafuyu's birthday.
"I hoped they would change the time. I even went there in person to negotiate, but it was all for naught."
"Urm...... Saturday's no good?"
"Rather than that, it's more like it has to be on Sunday."
"Comrade Ebisawa's birthday falls on the next day, right?"
I was shocked. I couldn't comprehend the meaning behind Senpai's words, so I just stood there for a while in-between Senpai's arms, stunned.
"I want our audition to clash with her birthday."
"You're asking me why?" Senpai suddenly moved her face close to mine. The tips of our noses were almost touching. "Why else but to prevent you two from celebrating her birthday by yourselves?"
"I managed to hinder you two on Christmas Eve, but it looks like I've lost this time."
Christmas Eve? Did she just say Christmas Eve? So that means our participation in the live performance was—I see, so Senpai did know about my plans to invite Mafuyu to that performance.
But why? What's going on here?
"You really have no idea, do you? You're so amazingly dense, it's actually quite touching to watch."
Smiled Senpai, as she finally released me. My face was burning as though it had been placed in a furnace.
"Alright. The reason's actually quite simple, but I guess I'll start from the beginning, so that my feelings will reach your heart."
Senpai leaned against the wall and took her Les Paul out of her guitar case. At the same time, I rested my back against the wall and slid to the floor.
"I told you the reason I was born into this world. Do you still remember?"
I nodded. What's going on here? I could feel an unfathomable and scary attraction coming from the revolutionary of love in front of me. The jet-black guitar slung around her shoulder was like a deadly weapon that could gouge someone's heart out without harming the person's body.
"I have no idea what you're thinking, but I really do want to start a revolution in this world. Ever since the inception of the capitalistic economy, countless numbers of losers have died while on their quest to become the final revolutionary. With that said......"
Senpai sat on the desk and blinked.
"Why do you think those revolutionaries failed one after another?"
I cocked my head about two millimeters to the left and to the right.
"The reason's simple: they had the order wrong. You can't declare yourself a revolutionary right at the very beginning—because a fighter will die when his fame reaches its peak. It's pointless if he turns to ashes right after he's done spreading his message to the world. However—"
Senpai plugged her guitar into the amplifiers. A *pa* sound reverberated when she turned the power on—like the sound of a thick vein bursting apart.
"John Lennon was different; he was the most successful revolutionary in history. By becoming a musician first, he already had the attention of the world even before he started his fight. Even if the world forgets the name of Mikhail Bakunin or Lev Trotsky, John's name will forever remain in everyone's heart. Why is that so? Fundamentally speaking, you can't carve your feelings into other people's hearts with just words alone. There are only two ways to truly transmit your words deep into someone's soul: by bleeding, or by spreading them via song."
Senpai flicked on the switch of her Les Paul. A noise permeated the practice room. It felt like I was in someone's heart at that moment.
"If all revolutionaries chose to spread their words by throwing away their lives, then revolutionaries as a whole would die before the wake of dawn. I can't do something as stupid as that. What's the point of sacrificing your life in exchange for two or three lines recorded in a huge tome of famous quotes? You have to sing if you really wish to change the world. Singing will bring me to the top; and there, I shall say my words. I'll change this world, just like how I'd sculpt a wax figure with the warmth of my skin."
I could barely understand what Senpai was saying, but I understood one thing.
Senpai is bleeding right now.
But it wasn't her words that had reached me; it was her pain, oozing out all over, that had hit me in my heart. Why is this so? Why does she have such a sorrowful expression on her face?
"But I guess I'll probably die before I can achieve my dreams, like how John Lennon died at the mercy of four bullets. A king, even if he's at the top of the world, is helpless when it comes to evil and death...... Or rather, it's precisely because he's at the top of the world. But I have an advantage John didn't have. What do you think that is?"
That wasn't really a question. She just needed some time to take a breather as she bewitched me with her eyes and a lick of her lips.
"It's my gender. I'm a woman in love, get it? I can have a baby. I can ensure that the new life will not be harmed by bullets, and can put my all into raising him. I will not allow my revolution to end with my life. Even if I die, my child can continue the march into the dawn of the new world."
Senpai rested her hand on the strings and looked up at the ceiling before letting out a sigh. The heavy atmosphere froze the air of the practice room. Senpai's fingers began to move all of a sudden. It was <La Marseillaise>—a song from the French Revolution that was bathed in fresh blood.
"...... Well, that's the prologue."
"That's the prologue!? It's too damn long!"
That retort was the first thing I said when I finally managed to take a breath. Senpai let out a loud laugh.
"Now then, with the speech done and over with, it's about time I confirm your doubt."
"By my doubt, you're referring to......" I had forgotten about it, as listening to her long speech had left me drained.
"The reason I prevented you from celebrating Christmas Eve with Mafuyu."
Ahh, yeah, that's right. Moving the topic of conversation back to me all of a sudden made me dizzy, but I tried my hardest to remain standing and propped myself against the wall.
"Then again, it'd be great if you could understand everything without needing me to explain any further."
"Nope, I don't get it at all."
"Given what I said, I'll need a child to inherit my ambitions. And if I require a child, there must be a father as well."
"Do I really have to say something like 'Please be my husband' or 'I'd love to have your genes' to get you to understand me?"
I was speechless. I slumped to the floor as Senpai removed her Les Paul from her shoulder and closed in on me with a bewitching smile on her face—
"Eh? Ah, no, e-ehhhhhh?"
"Do you still think I'm kidding here, young man?"
But, because you......!
Senpai knelt down in front of me and brought her face close to mine, then whispered in my ears.
"I've expressed my love for you several times already since we've met."
It felt like my innards had been doused in freezing alcohol. I searched through my memories and recalled the words Senpai had said to me previously. But, why? That was—
"You know, young man, this is the first time I've ever tasted such a complete defeat since I was born. The man I love was stolen away by the girl I love, and the girl I love is about to be eaten up by the man I love. You don't have to say anything, young man. I might just cover your lips up if I hear your voice right now."
At a distance where even a slight change in the angle of our faces would result in them coming into contact with each other, Senpai's lips were adorned with these words.
"I've long known for whom the narrow space in your heart is reserved for, but even so, I had no choice but to make my last stand. I'd rather not be born than give up my love."
"So I tried my hardest to prevent you and Comrade Ebisawa from spending time alone together. I ended up succeeding in one area, but failing in another. Simple, isn't it? Do you now understand how hard I've been trying to stop you two from getting together?"
Senpai flashed me another calm smile. I should be the one trying my hardest to stop you.
She's serious. She's definitely not lying here. Her feelings for me are real.
"With this, the friendship and trust that once existed between us—our normal friendship—will burn and disappear into nothingness. It's a shame, but it can't be helped."
Disappear into nothingness.
The relationship between Senpai and I could no longer return to the way it was before, as if nothing had happened.
Is this...... really it?
"That's right. This is what a confession of love means. What a scary thing it is. The rational fantasy people have about others is all gently taken away by love; and after, the only thing that remains, is blades. Hey, young man. Have you ever wondered why I have never once addressed you as my comrade, despite having forced you into my revolutionary army?"
I held my breath.
You're asking me that at a time like this?
"It's because there would come a day when you would turn into my dear enemy—I knew that the first time I saw you."
The first time we met. That was when Kagurazaka-senpai was sitting on the roof of this practice room—looking at me, captivating me. But I had already captivated Senpai's heart way, way before that.
"There's no need for you to reply to my feelings, young man. I do not wish to know."
"You're asking me why? I am but a woman in love if you strip the armor off my body. I do not wish to hear an answer that will sadden me. I'm already holding back my desire to hug you tightly and cry my heart out."
I saw no lies in the eyes that were staring intently at me.
"...... B-But, why...... me?"
Senpai pressed her finger gently against my lips and whisked away the rest of my words.
"Ninety percent of the world's happiness and misfortune would disappear if we could freely choose whom we fell in love with. And there would be no one who would be in a relationship. Isn't that right? Comrade Aihara."
I heard something scraping against the wall, so I turned my head around. At the same time, Senpai stood up in a flash, opened the door, and stretched her hand outside.
"There's no need for you to run. Come on in."
Said Senpai, with an amused expression on her face as she dragged a certain someone into the room. It was Chiaki. Her face became even redder when she crossed sights with me.
Did she hear our conversation? I tried to remember if I had closed the door after I had entered the room, but...... it was all hazy. No, but......
I couldn't say anything. I crouched against the wall and saw Senpai hugging Chiaki as she said something to her. Where's Mafuyu? She's not here, right? That was what I was worried about—and it was the only thing I was clearly aware of amidst the chaos in my head.
Mafuyu finally appeared halfway into our lunch break. Seems like she made a trip to the infirmary first. But she spoke very little—perhaps because she detected the tense, explosive atmosphere lingering about the room.
My hand was totally unresponsive during our lunch break practice. Of course, there wasn't any way I wouldn't have known which way I was facing, or who I was exchanging glances with, but I was mostly just praying hard for the bell to ring as I played several notes wrong. Surprisingly though, it looked like everyone else had already reached their limit.
"Nao, enough is enough!" "You don't have to force yourself, young man—" "Stop playing if you are not in the mood to do so, Naomi!"
A moment of silence followed after that avalanche of words. I couldn't reply to anyone, or look anyone in the eyes. I just put my bass away.
When school ended, the only thing I said to Chiaki and Mafuyu was, "Sorry, urm, I'm a little...... I'm not attending practice today." And with that, I heaved my bass onto my back and left. My head was about to burst.