Well, we've got two new editors in our team. Trarc and Asololo. They'll probably be helping out in SPS and Mismarca. I'll leave it to them to decide if they want to do an introduction of themselves.
Anyway, here's chapter 11. Enjoy.
Burying my body into the seat of the train, I traveled the entire Yamanote line, which I had taken by mistake, twice, before finally transferring onto the correct line to return home.
Anyway, here's chapter 11. Enjoy.
Burying my body into the seat of the train, I traveled the entire Yamanote line, which I had taken by mistake, twice, before finally transferring onto the correct line to return home.
As I was walking out of the station, I grabbed my cellphone to check the time. Five in the afternoon—no wonder it's so dark already. I had a number of missed calls—six from Chiaki, and one from Senpai. The hazy and unreal stress that I had felt behind my ears the whole time, suddenly pressed itself into my shoulders.
Just as I was about to slip the phone back into my pocket, it rang.
"Geez! You finally picked up! Are you back? Did you see Mafuyu?"
"Eh? Ah, m-mmm."
Chiaki's ear-piercing voice made me feel at ease. I was no longer sure where my heart was.
"I saw her. Urm, I went to the orchestra's practice room. Yuri, Ebichiri and Mafuyu were all there."
"...... Did something happen? You—"
Chiaki's voice shriveled all of a sudden, and I recalled Mafuyu's painful cries. I can't tell Chiaki and Senpai.
I switched my cellphone to my left hand, gulped, then sat down on the stairs of the station, where there weren't too many people.
"Urm, it isn't anything huge. Well, you know, Mafuyu was chased around by reporters some time ago, right? It looks like the paparazzi are on her tail again."
I said it as slowly as I could to prevent my voice from splitting or rising in pitch.
"They chased her to her house, so she's currently hiding in a hotel in Tokyo. I think they wanted some help from Tetsurou, but they couldn't contact that idiot, so they asked Yuri to give me a call."
Incredible, I'm lying through my teeth without even trying. As I spoke to Chiaki, my voice and heartbeat began to steady themselves. I never knew I had a talent as useless as this. I'm the worst.
"I misunderstood things and went all the way to Shinagawa. What an idiot I am."
"Is that...... so? Thank goodness......"
When I heard Chiaki's warm and gentle voice, my chest hurt as though it were being pierced by a drill. She believed me, she actually believed me. But I guess that's reasonable, since I was the only person that had felt something was wrong with Mafuyu's right hand when listening to the violin concerto—I guess that was to be expected.
"Why didn’t she give me a call? That's so mean! Senpai's worried too!"
"Y-Yeah." I tried to conjure up an excuse, but it was as if I was wringing the towel dry. "Because it seemed like the reporters were checking up on the band as well, and Mafuyu said she didn't want to trouble you. And if you knew where she was, you might've forced your way into her place to meet up with her."
"Nao's the only idiot that would do something like that!"
You're right. I'm the only idiot who would do that.
"And so? Will she be coming back tomorrow?"
"Eh? Ah, urm, I’m not too sure, but it probably won't be long."
What now? How long is Mafuyu planning to keep this a secret? It's quite impossible for her to do so forever. Why am I lying just like she asked me to?
"Let's work on our outfits then, alright? I've got a really interesting idea, so I'll bring the sample tomorrow."
"Mmm, I got it. Urm, can you explain everything to Kagurazaka-senpai for me?"
"Nao, you should tell her yourself—"
"Nah, she'd scold me silly if I was the one telling her."
Chiaki let out a giggle.
"Okay, I got it. I'll pass the message on for you. Will you be coming back to school later?"
"Ah......" Right, I left my coat and bag at school. "Mmm, I'll be there later."
I hung up and slid my phone into my pocket. It felt like my hands had come into contact with some sort of stinking oil or something.
The reason I had asked Chiaki to pass the message on for me was because, if I had told Senpai myself, she would've definitely seen through my lies in an instant. But I still had to make the trip back to school. I felt really horrible, and couldn't even stand up—but if I head straight home, Chiaki will definitely deliver my stuff to me, and that would make things awkward.
I sat myself down at the corner of the stairs and buried my head between my legs for a good ten minutes, until the cold seeped through my body. It was difficult to stand back up, even with the help of the railing.
The next day, Mafuyu didn't show up for morning practice again.
"Mafuyu's not coming today either? But I made a new T-shirt already."
Said Chiaki unenthusiastically, as she adjusted the pedal of the bass drum while we were tuning.
"Hmm, I'm not too sure either."
I had called her a few times yesterday night, but she never picked up.
After tuning her instrument carefully, Kagurazaka-senpai spoke.
"Young man, you have something to say to me, right? If you want, we can go somewhere where we'll be alone."
A shiver ran down my spine. Senpai said that in a half-joking manner, but there was no hint of mischief in her eyes.
Does Senpai know something? I mean, it's her we're talking about. It's possible that, during these last two days I was moping, she found out about Mafuyu's whereabouts and what happened to her right hand.
No, there's no way she would remain silent if she knew.
feketerigó can never fly again.
"Regardless of what I have to say, Senpai always ignores me anyway, right? So I've given up already."
I continued my lie and even put on a smile. Why am I doing this? I wasn't too sure myself. But there was no way I could look into Senpai's eyes—eyes that could see through everything—so I heaved a sigh of relief when she turned her attention to Chiaki.
"It's unlikely we'll agree with your design, but let's see the clothes you've come up with this time anyway, Comrade Aihara."
"That's just mean, Senpai! I’m planning to give Mafuyu a huge surprise, so I'll keep it secret a little while longer."
I listened to their reassuring conversation from afar, and pretended to spend the bulk of my time tuning my bass. The bell rang not long after.
Mafuyu wasn't in the classroom either, and didn't show up even after homeroom was over, or after our lessons had started. It was already the fourth day, and I was being bombarded with questions like "Our Princess isn't at school today either, does Nao know why?" from my classmates, including Terada.
What’s going on? Is she still undergoing checkups? Or did Ebichiri lock her up in the house? That's highly possible, judging from what she said yesterday before we parted. She said she would definitely participate in the Christmas performance. What the heck was she thinking? It's possible she won't even be able to move her right hand.
She wouldn't fly to America without informing us, would she? No, Ebichiri should be busy preparing for his performance of Beethoven's Ninth.
But it should be okay for her to attend school, right? I wanted to see Mafuyu so badly.
I wanted to see her.
I spent the rest of the morning lessons gripping my desk hard, enduring the uneasy thoughts that were swirling inside me.
I had no appetite during lunch break, so I passed my lunch box to Chiaki and headed to the office to grab the keys to the practice room.
"Oh, Nao. Good timing."
I was caught by someone at the entrance of the office. It was Miss Maki, the music teacher and the advisor of the Folk Music Research Club. She looked visibly tired. It was quite a waste of her young and beautiful face, which was perfectly suited for tricking the male students of our school.
"Mafuyu's here in the music preparatory room."
She whispered. I jumped in surprise and looked at Miss Maki's face.
"I heard the details from Maestro Ebisawa. In any case, you should head over there for now. I have to make a trip to the administration office."
I nodded my head stiffly.
"You didn't tell Kagurazaka or Aihara about Mafuyu's hand, right?" asked Miss Maki in a hushed tone.
"...... Yeah, Mafuyu told me not to tell them."
"Even so, it's impossible to keep it a secret forever."
Miss Maki was right. But the only thing I could do was keep my lips shut.
"Think about what you can do."
She gave me a slap on the back as I dashed in the direction of the stairs.
On the fourth floor of the school building, there was a sliding door located to the right of the metal door of the music room. That was the entrance to the music preparatory room—a place no student would enter under normal circumstances. Miss Maki's territory, to be exact.
When I opened the door, my eyes were greeted by the rays of the sun of the winter noon. The curtains in the room were open, and the maroon-coloured hair was waiting on the other side of the piano, which took up half the space of the cramped room.
Mafuyu stood up in front of the backlighting and opened her eyes wide as she moved her chair backwards. Her hair was fluttering, and the scores in her hand dropped to the floor.
I was expecting her to hit me with harsh words, but all she did was to lower her eyes and sit back down on the chair.
I stepped into the room and closed the door, then leaned against the wall on the left to avoid the sunlight coming from the window.
Both of us remained silent for quite a while. I could almost hear the sun inching across the sky.
Mafuyu finally spoke.
"For what happened yesterday."
I shook my head. She apologized first. And that filled me with guilt.
"Yuri...... he is not...... angry, right?"
"He wasn't, but he cried."
Back then, Yuri had refused my offer to see him home and had dashed out of the reception room. After he left, I collapsed onto the sofa helplessly, and was unable to move for a while.
"Yuri...... he is not in the wrong."
Mafuyu shifted her gaze to her opened right hand and murmured.
"This is not Yuri's fault. I will come up with something."
"You'll come up with something?"
"I just have to endure until the Christmas performance is over."
"You're still saying stupid things like that?" I moved towards the piano unconsciously. "Now's not the time to be thinking about the concert, is it? You might never be able to play the piano ever again!"
"Why does the piano matter......"
Mafuyu said that unconsciously and reflexively gripped her arm with her right hand. She then swallowed her words.
"I-I do know it is really silly of me to be thinking this way, but......"
"If that's the case, then......"
"But I want to take part in the concert! I do not want to be unable to play the guitar!"
"That's why I'm telling you not to push yourself. What if you really break that hand of yours?"
"It does not matter even if I break it!"
My heart was pierced by Mafuyu's words.
With her right hand pressing the area above her heart, and her eyes filled with tears, Mafuyu continued.
"Because, I am doing it all for Naomi......."
"That applies to the piano, and the guitar as well. I am playing them for Naomi's sake. My hand is as good as broken if I cannot perform on the same stage as you. I cannot accept that Chiaki and Kyouko can perform together with you, but not me."
I stumbled against the icy cold wall.
"Why...... are you willing to go to such lengths?"
What the hell am I asking? Am I an idiot? It felt as though there were a calm persona in my head kicking me hard in the skull. Mafuyu's face looked as though it was melting.
"Why? You are asking me why? Do you not have the slightest idea at all?"
That was enough to shatter me, who was already filled with cracks all over.
"Wait, Mafuyu. I'm sorry—"
"Do not say any more!"
Mafuyu covered her ears and screamed.
"I do not need your concern! I do not want to hear that from you!"
"Then what should I do?"
"I do not know! I do not know!"
Mafuyu hugged her head and slumped down onto the piano chair. Her shoulders were trembling violently.
The world felt light all of a sudden. The walls, the bookshelves, the piano and the chair were all flying around me. What's happening? I looked around in bewilderment and realized that I had collapsed onto the floor. I leaned against the wall and straightened out my legs.
It felt like every ounce of my strength had been sapped away by the icy floor.
Why have things turned out this way?
Is it because I can't express myself properly? Does Mafuyu know about Kagurazaka-senpai's confession, as well as my inability to decisively reject her? And about how I've been pushing the conclusion of that issue further and further back all the time?
Even if she didn't know about all that, Mafuyu still celebrated her birthday with me despite the uneasiness inside her that arose because of my excuses for not moving forward.
She was trying her hardest to stand on the same stage as me on Christmas.
I’m the worst.
There's nothing I can say now that would help Mafuyu's right hand. Our Christmas is totally wrecked already. There's no salvaging it.
Still, I straightened my knees out and stood up, using the edge of the piano cover to support myself.
Her frail shoulders flinched.
The words following that were stuck on the edge of my mouth, unsure about where they should've been going. Then, they arrived at a frozen place.
"Mafuyu's body is way more important. The Christmas concert will be there every year, but Mafuyu's right hand is irreplaceable. You have to get it treated."
What the hell was that? I wasn't planning to lecture her. There should've been something else that I wanted to say. Mafuyu swayed her maroon hair.
"I know that. Please do not say the same things Papa did."
I couldn't even touch her shoulders despite being so close to her. I was frozen in place.
"I know that. Of course I do. But Naomi might not be around the next Christmas."
"How can that be......"
I swallowed my words.
I'm the cause of the unreasonable unease inside her, isn't that right?
I was at a loss for words. And Mafuyu just hugged her shoulders and curled herself up.
A long period of silence lingered between us for god knows how long. When Mafuyu finally stood up, the sun was still lurking somewhere around the roof of the sports complex. It hadn't move an inch.
"Where...... are you going?"
I was forced to ask that question when I saw Mafuyu squeezing past the narrow gap between the piano and the wall, making her way towards the door.
"To the practice room."
A cold answer.
"But...... you can't play the guitar, right?"
With her hand pressed against the door, Mafuyu nodded with her back still facing me.
"Papa has confiscated my Stratocaster."
"Then what are you planning to do? How long are you planning to keep it hidden from Senpai and Chiaki—"
"I know that!"
Mafuyu walked out of the room. And I chased after her footsteps in a hurry.
Kagurazaka-senpai was already in the practice room by the time we arrived; and when we walked inside, she tossed the scores in her hand onto the synthesizer, stood up, and gave Mafuyu a sudden and tight hug.
Mafuyu swung her arms about painfully as her face was forcefully buried in Senpai's coat.
I tried to break them up, but Senpai hugged Mafuyu and dodged my attempt.
"You can't have Comrade Ebisawa all to yourself, young man."
"What do you mean by that!?"
"It..... hurts. Please let me go, Kyouko."
"I won't be able to fill the loneliness I've suffered in the past three days if I don’t do this."
Mafuyu, who was planning to shove Kyouko away, dropped her arms weakly to her side.
"There's no need for words right now. I just need a confirmation."
Senpai whispered into Mafuyu's ears. Ahh, she knew something was going on—that was what I had noticed earlier. I retreated to a corner, sat down on the floor, and watched on like an idiot as the two girls continued to hug each other.
"...... I am sorry."
Mafuyu murmured, with the tip of her nose buried in Senpai's bosom. Senpai stroked Mafuyu's hair quietly before she finally let Mafuyu go and allowed her to take a seat.
"You didn't bring your guitar with you, did you?"
Senpai's question caused Mafuyu's shoulders to flinch. It was her silent confirmation.
It seemed like Senpai was at a loss for words as well—which was surprising, given that she was an expert with words.
A creaking sound suddenly echoed, and cold air flowed into the room. The three of us looked in the direction of the door at the same time.
"Mafuyu! You should've come to the classroom if you were at school! I was so worried about you!"
Chiaki pounced at Mafuyu and hooked her arms around Mafuyu's neck.
A disturbed expression appeared on Mafuyu's face. She pressed her cheek against Chiaki's arm, and it was then that Chiaki noticed the heavy atmosphere in the room. She glanced at Senpai first, then shifted her gaze to me, as if she had just noticed my presence in the room.
"...... Did something happen?"
Finally, Chiaki looked at Mafuyu. Mafuyu shook her head.
"Nothing happened. Everyone's just waiting for Comrade Aihara to heat things up!"
Lied Senpai, with a stiff smile on her face. There was no way Chiaki couldn't tell something was amiss, but she tilted her head and said, "Well then"—then pulled a paper bag out from under the table. She's probably planning to do just what Senpai said.
"This...... is feketerigó's new T-shirt! Though there's only one for now, since it takes quite a bit of effort to make."
Chiaki pulled a bright yellowish-green, long-sleeved T-shirt out of the paper bag and displayed it for all of us to see. The rings around the neck and sleeves were red.
"Mmm, rejected. I guess we can sell it as fan merchandise though." Senpai's reply was instantaneous.
"That's mean! It took me a great deal of effort to make this! See, this is the badge for <Lonely Hearts Club Band>, and I've included the armband too."
Mafuyu and I were shocked by that incredibly flashy shirt.
It's true. The badge was printed right there on the chest, and the V-shaped red-and-yellow armband was printed on the sleeve.
"This is scanned from the cover of <Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band>, which Nao had given me. Same size as that on the record. Beautiful, isn't it?"
"...... Naomi...... gave it to you?" Mafuyu's voice was trembling. "...... The Beatles?"
Chiaki's expressions darkened as she nodded her head. I heard something crack inside Mafuyu. When she turned around, her gaze was devoid of any warmth.
"...... Why? You gave it to Chiaki too?"
My mind went blank. When I nodded my head, I could feel my dry throat spasm in pain. I didn't try to stop Mafuyu as she prepared to leave after kicking her chair.
"W-Wait, Mafuyu? W-What's wrong?"
Chiaki ran over to Mafuyu and grabbed her shoulder, but Mafuyu turned around and swatted her hand away. Chiaki leaned her back against the wall, her face so ghastly white it looked almost transparent.
"D-Do you hate this shirt that much? U-Urm, you don't have to wear it on stage if you don't want to."
Mafuyu shut her eyes tight and shook her maroon hair with all her might.
"I will not be going on stage ever again anyway."
"I can no longer play the guitar. For the past two days, I have been undergoing checkups in the hospital. The doctor said my wrist would not be able to withstand the stress if I continued playing the guitar the way I do. And so!"
Stop. I wanted to yell. But the air in my throat had leaked away, and I couldn't make a sound. I couldn't even stand up. There...... There should be a better way to resolve the situation...... But Mafuyu had been pushed into a corner because of me. It was my fault.
Mafuyu dashed out of the room just as Chiaki was about to get close to her. She had likely kicked the door open as she was leaving, as the building was trembling slightly. The cold air entered the practice room once more, and blew away the remaining warmth that was enveloping my body.
I stood up. I have to chase after Mafuyu. But Chiaki grabbed me by the collar.
"W-What? What was that just now? Hey, what did Mafuyu mean when she said 'You gave it to Chiaki too'?"
My guilt and the dizziness that resulted from standing up too suddenly became mixed in a blackish-red patch in my mind. I wanted to puke, but I endured the nausea by pinching the side of my body and replied,
"...... It was Mafuyu's...... birthday present...... that I had given her. The vinyl record of <Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band>."
The same present I gave Chiaki. I'm an idiot. A hopeless one. *Pa!* A strong force suddenly caused my neck to twist, and a stinging pain spread throughout my cheek. Chiaki had slapped me.
"You idiot! D-Don't chase after us! I'll go instead!"
Chiaki dashed out of the room, and the door of the practice room closed once more. The wind pressure of the closing door caused me to fall backwards, but something soft behind me supported me and prevented me from falling to the floor.
I looked up and saw Kagurazaka-senpai's emotionless face.
She was supporting me with her arms positioned beneath my armpits.
I wanted to stand up and move away from Senpai, but she refused to let me go. She clasped her hands around my chest.
My body heat was leaving me.
As if all the blood inside me was flowing out of my ears.
Chiaki and Mafuyu never returned, even after the preparatory bell—which signaled the end of our lunch break—had rung. After Mafuyu and Chiaki had left, I just sat silently on a chair, hugging Chiaki's feketerigó shirt in my chest. As for Kagurazaka-senpai, she was facing the desk with her guitar resting on her thighs, scribbling nonstop on the staff papers. Listening to the occasional phrases she strummed, I could tell she was rearranging the piece for a single guitar.
At the same time the preparatory bell chimed, Senpai closed her notebook shut and put her guitar back into its case.
The silence was finally broken.
"You know, I did something really despicable. Do you know why I chose to confess to you at the time I did?"
Was there a reason to it?
"It was a curse."
I was stunned. My eyes were staring blankly at Senpai.
"Confessing to you meant I would destroy the balance in our relationship. And by refusing to hear your answer, young man, I was preventing you from doing to Mafuyu what I did to you. A curse."
"Because I wanted to have you so badly. Even if there was a ninety-nine percent chance of me failing...... Even if I had to run away, or was forced to inch forward by crawling...... I still wished to stake everything on that sliver of a possibility. I'm not ashamed of the despicable things I did, but......"
Senpai snapped the spring buckle of her guitar case and leaned the case against the wall.
"As someone who failed to see an ending like this, I find myself to be the worst. I'm disgusted with myself."
What's she talking about?
Senpai's not the one in the wrong here. Everything is my fault.
Just as I was about to sink deep into a dark mire, without much consideration for my feelings, Senpai forcibly pulled me up.
"Young man, I will never smile in front of you ever again."
"I've lost interest in this battle with no enemies. It's not even worth using all my despicable tricks. My love for you shall be frozen as of now."
Senpai stepped out of the room without even turning her head around to look at me.
"The next time I show you my smile, will be the day Comrade Ebisawa returns."
The door suddenly shut. I slid down the wall and curled myself up on the floor.
Alone by myself in that room filled with dust, I heard the second bell chime.