Youko Touma checks in with her daughter concerning her readiness for the upcoming concert. Kazusa assures her that the healing is progressing: she can play lightly now, and will be able to increase her pace next week.
She’s not going to screw up this time. This isn’t going to be a repeat of her last concert. No more clumsy displays. She’s going to be completely ready. Not like last time. Not like last time.
So she insists, but Youko doesn’t seem entirely convinced.
“Are you really, absolutely sure?”
“How many more times are you gonna ask me the same thing? When did you turn into such a worrywart, anyway?”
This question isn’t about the concert, it’s about her motivation.
“Because it sounds like you’ve chosen grey, rather than black or white. And with only a limited time left.”
“!… Where did you hear about that?”
“Oh, no one’s saying a word. I just guessed based on reactions from the parties concerned.”
There’s no getting anything past Youko. Kazusa and Haruki are too bad at lying for that.
Youko wants to know whether Kazusa is going to spend the rest of her life just running away, instead of either overcoming her problems or falling honorably to them.
Kazusa points out that Youko herself “ran away,” after she gave birth to Kazusa; Youko insists things were different with her.
“I value making considerations so as not to ruin the other person’s life. …As long as you don’t end up getting destroyed yourself.
“Do you think you can live the rest of your life on a moment’s pity, without ever having reached a clear conclusion?”
“Why do I have to think that far ahead?”
“Because you’re different from me. Because it’s doubtful you’ll ever be able to find a new love, a new man.”
“…Even without a man, or a family, I’ll be plenty capable of looking after you when you’re old. Calm down.”
“It’s not my old age I’m worried about, it’s yours…”
Kazusa tells her mother to just outlive her. Stalk the bars late at night, drink the blood of young men, whatever it takes.
Youko thinks Kazusa’s sense of filial respect is a little lacking.
“Sooo… To the future happiness of Haruki Kitahara-kun, who finally managed to pull it off, and Setsuna Ogiso-san, who somehow managed to pull the worst short stick of a lifetime…”
Haruki’s not sure how he feels about that one.
“Congratulations on the engagement no one thought would happen! Cheers!”
Everyone cheers, and drinks.
It’s a Wednesday. Not even a weekend. Haruki had received a very dire-sounding call from Takeya as he was leaving work—“I need to talk to you, and it has to be today”—and rushed off to the usual bar, though not before leaving a message containing the number “1” (“I’m going to be late”).
“Haruki, Haruki…! I’m so glad! I’m so happy for you! I seriously never thought the day would come…”
When he reached the bar, Takeya was nowhere to be seen; then, he heard a familiar, boyish female voice from one of the tables, and spotted a certain group taken up camp there.
I began to suspect a surprise party.
“H-Haruki-kun… I’m sorry, I…”
Even as she snuggled up next to me, just like always, Setsuna’s voice and expression were extremely meek.
As it turns out, Io pulled Setsuna in with precisely the same trick that Takeya used on Haruki. Setsuna figures Takahiro must have let on to Takeya. She apologizes, as usual, even though it isn’t her fault—or anyone’s fault, for that matter.
“Everyone is gathered here to celebrate with us. Why would anybody need to apologize?”
That gathering at the Ogiso house last week is what started it all. Takahiro passed something to Takeya, and then it spread all around and grew into something bigger, and more definite, than it actually was.
Haruki just wants to know why this had to happen on a weekday, but this only leads to more playful needling about how he and Setsuna always become mysteriously inaccessible during weekends. To say nothing of Setsuna’s upcoming birthday, and what a special one it’s likely to be, in such a special year…
Haruki tells them all to quit racing ahead: it’s not a settled deal yet. Specifically, he says—startling Setsuna, after the week he’s spent acting so vaguely about it—Setsuna’s father got a bit cross when the topic came up, so it’s going to take a little more time to convince him. That’s all.
Finally, a statement with some conviction behind it.
Their friends move on to playfully interrogating them instead.
“How much did that ring cost? Tell us in terms of how many months’ salary you spent.”
Haruki passes on the questions, which means they move to Setsuna: How did he propose? How much did he spend? How many months along is she?!
Poor Setsuna is too flustered to do anything except tell Tomo to quit calling her “Secchan.”
Seemingly embarrassed, and pretending to hide behind me…
Setsuna pressed her face into my back, casually wiping off her tears.
But everyone else, completely unaware of the important exchange going on right in front of them, continued to have a blast teasing Setsuna.
He’s not thinking, not worrying. Just like Kazusa said. Is this what she wanted?
All he has to do is keep telling Setsuna the truth, and then lying to Kazusa later, right? Saying he’s happy. Saying he’s not worried. Saying he hasn’t betrayed anyone. Lies that will make everyone happy.
Then no one will be hurt. No one, except for a single person.
“Setsuna-chan, Setsuna-chan… Well, looks like she’s down for the count.”
Snuggled up next to me, just like always…
Setsuna had finally leaned over against my shoulder, and was beginning to nod off.
“She must have been really happy. …I haven’t seen Setsuna loosen up like that in a long time.”
“…She’s worn out from work. Apparently things have been pretty busy lately.”
“Oh, that’s right. She took her first overnight business trip last month. It seemed like she’d been super energetic ever since she got back.”
Her peaceful sleeping face, visible over my shoulder, was so adorable that it would have made anybody smile.
But the girls aren’t entirely convinced that the trip is what’s had Setsuna in such high spirits. Sure, whatever “dramatic” thing happened could have happened in the middle of the trip—her mood before and after was markedly different—but, then, she was in Osaka. A three-hour trip away…
Haruki doesn’t like where the girls’ sharp intuition is leading them. The two of them suggest removing to some place quieter, where they can take their time probing a little further. Haruki tries to talk them out of it—look how tired Setsuna is, can’t they just call it off for today?—but it’s no use. Even Takeya points out that he’s only digging himself deeper by trying to escape. It’s clear that this won’t be easy.
“All right, where to? Somewhere we can keep drinking until morning, at least?”
At this rate, Haruki may have to change that “1” to a “2” (“I won’t be coming home”).
Tomo doesn’t want to spend any more money out drinking, so the plan quickly shifts to just buying some alcohol and heading back to Haruki’s place—a completely understandable progression, under any kind of normal, decent circumstances, but as things are now, this would be completely disastrous for Haruki. It’s entirely too late at night for him to suddenly send a “4.”
He tries to fumble for an excuse—his apartment is too much of a mess for company. That doesn’t work. Tomo offers to clean it up for him and Io and Takeya both know that Haruki’s apartment is never a mess.
Even if he could get in touch with Kazusa, they could easily cross paths with her on her way out, and then what? That disguise would never get past Takeya and Io; they’ve known her for too long.
Then, just at the point of crisis, Setsuna speaks up.
It’s the middle of the week. Haruki has work tomorrow. They aren’t college students any more. It’s time to break it up for the night. Simple as that.
Her quiet, sleepy voice of reason has just saved his skin.
Tomo points out that Setsuna’s judgment in this particular matter is unreliable.
“Because you’re going easy on him, Setsuna. You want to believe everything he says, no matter how suspicious it is. …You don’t want to know the truth, so you cover your ears.”
“No… No, I don’t.”
“If Kazusa Touma showed up from next door, you’d probably just go, ‘Oh, wow, it’s great to see you! It’s been so long!’ and just leave it at that.”
“Tomo… Why do you have to talk like this? You don’t know anything about the three of us…”
Of course, Tomo doesn’t hate Kazusa. Or Haruki, for that matter. She considers herself their biggest fan.
But, out of the three of them, her number one is the girl on vocals.
“Listen… I’m not opposed to things with you and Kitahara-senpai. I just… want you to be happy, okay?”
“I’m sorry, Tomo… But, I’m sure things will be fine with Haruki-kun.”
“…Y’know, normally, I hear you use the word ‘definitely’ when you’re talking about him. Where did that go?”
It’s three in the morning by the time Haruki shows up at Kazusa’s apartment. In spite of the hour, in spite of the fact that he sent her nothing more than a number, in spite of the alcohol on his breath, she embraces him, welcoming him. And when he topples onto the bed, halfway to passing out, too worn out to even get undressed, she catches him in her arms.
Holding my head against her soft chest, she slowly, carefully carded through my hair, running her fingers over my cheeks and lips…
“What… What are you doing?”
“Mmm… I’m memorizing the way you smell. So I’ll remember it forever.”
As she inhaled and exhaled deeply, her breathing became heavy, as though she were excited.
“I don’t… understand.”
“Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about me. Just sleep.”
Haruki can tell Kazusa wants him, and it kills him because he’s too tired and too drunk to do anything with her. Their moments alone with each other are so few as it is.
All Haruki tells her is that Takeya dragged him out barhopping. In reality, even after Setsuna’s call to wrap things up, Haruki and Takeya wound up keeping on for a good while. It seems as though Haruki’s “results” with Setsuna have finally given Takeya a little gumption where a certain other friend of theirs is concerned.
Kazusa wonders aloud whether Takeya and Io, too, are still dragging things along. The “too” is not lost on Haruki. She can probably sympathize.
But it’s a contradictory feeling—too far, and she’ll end up sympathizing with Setsuna, as well. So Haruki tries to brush it off casually, remarking on how much beating around the bush Takeya is doing when everyone already knows how things are going to end up, but that doesn’t help, either. Every word he picks seems to rebound and lodge itself in the two of them.
Haruki brings up how Takeya once tried to make a move on Kazusa, back in high school, but she says she doesn’t remember anything apart from their final semester. Says she probably just instinctively wipes unpleasant memories from her recollection.
Even though that final semester was probably loaded with unpleasant memories.
They spend a quiet while, a while shot through with the lies of omission that Kazusa so desires, talking about Takeya. Takeya just called him to talk through some stuff that was bothering him, not to celebrate any engagement. It was just him and Takeya, the whole time. No women. No Setsuna. He doesn’t know how much of this Kazusa sees through. All he can do is believe the lies are enough to satisfy her, to keep the truth from hurting her.
“Haruki… Hey, Haruki…”
“C’mon, wake up… Please…!”
“Don’t… leave me all alone…”
Haruki finally stirs, then wakes up, blearily.
“Ah… Sorry. Guess I drifted off for a second.”
It was pitch-black, whether I had my eyes shut or open. All I could see was the clock, telling me it was past four in the morning.
Kazusa insists that he has nothing to apologize for.
A warm droplet traveled down my cheek, and I found myself touching it.
The droplet hadn’t come from my own eye. …It seemed to have fallen from above.
“I shouldn’t have done that… Why did I wake you up? You have work tomorrow.”
Kazusa’s voice shakes as she explains that she tried to sleep, herself, but her mind won’t stop racing over pointless things.
Haruki knows what he has to do. He reaches up toward her face, and when she takes his hand, he laces their fingers tightly together. He assures her he’s awake now. He promises to stay awake until she falls asleep. If she doesn’t fall asleep, then he’ll stay up the rest of the night with her. He comforts her like a child.
Because, right now, Kazusa was the very image of a child who woke from a nightmare in the middle of the night, and cried herself to sleep in her parents’ arms.
…Even though, in reality, I was the one being held.
He tells her to take deep breaths. He’s not really sure whether all of this is working, but…
Nevertheless, Kazusa’s sobs gradually abated, and her grip on my hand loosened, bit by bit.
“…God, I’m hopeless. Completely hopeless.”
“Don’t talk like that. This happens to everyone.”
“But you see… Setsuna would never say selfish things like this, would she?”
“Setsuna would be patient. Setsuna would put you first.”
And, with all the kindness that showed in her face, there would be weakness, too, born of that kindness.
“But, for me… It’s all about my own love for you…”
Even though she had finally calmed down—in fact, because she had calmed down—she had begun reflecting more calmly on the parts of herself that she hated.
“I can’t suppress my own selfishness, which just makes trouble for you. …That’s how things turned out this way.”
She’s found the presence of mind to look back on everything she’s done wrong.
“I’m an awful woman. I’m trash. I can’t become Setsuna, I can never be as good as her…”
And, as someone who has committed those same wrongs, Haruki knows just where this is going.
“I’m sorry, Haruki… I’m unable to become the woman you want…”
He tells her she doesn’t have to be Setsuna.
“The one I admire, the one I yearn for… Cool, fake-tough, timid, adorable… That’s all you have to be. Just be Kazusa Touma.”
His reassurance soothes her.
“Hah… ah… haaah… I’m sorry, thank you… Now, I’m…”
Kazusa’s embrace grew stronger.
Kazusa begins nuzzling her cheek against his, apparently unbothered by whatever alcohol smell may still be on him.
“I love you, Haruki.”
The feelings she lets out are as hot as her breath against his neck.
“Do you not… believe me?”
“Do you still not understand… how much I love you?”
“How could I not believe you? …Of course I understand. I can’t think of any other reason that you would stick around with me like this.”
“You could have realized it sooner… Stupid.”
If I applied the process of elimination, the only possible conclusion was that Kazusa’s powerful feelings for me were nothing but pure, genuine love.
He knows he hasn’t done anything to inspire vengeance in her, or to make himself necessary to her as a pianist, or to awaken her as a woman, so what else could it be?
Still, he doesn’t understand why she would feel that way for someone like him.
Kazusa tells him not to say “someone like” him: he doesn’t get to deride her man that way. He turns it around on her.
“You’re a professional pianist. You won an international competition. You caught Japan’s notice, and now you’re known worldwide.”
“How could someone as exceptional as you be so serious about an ordinary guy like me, living an ordinary life?”
“And, what’s more, we went five years without seeing each other. Yet, somehow, you didn’t even forget my face.”
All this time, all this distance, differences in their stations and paths in life, built up a wall that feelings alone shouldn’t have been able to surmount. So why didn’t their hearts fold completely?
Kazusa admits that she doesn’t understand Haruki’s reasons for bothering with her, either, five years ago. Why someone so well behaved concerned himself with a fool who had no regard for anything or anyone around her. Why someone so well regarded in the world got serious about such an utter black sheep.
He was so desperate to win her favor. As she says, he was serious.
He couldn’t leave her alone.
He loved her.
“The moment a stray dog opens its heart… that’s it.”
“Its owner might have plenty of other dogs. But for a lifelong stray dog like me, you’re the only master I have in the world.”
“I could never forget you.”
This genius fool is serious about a man who was never anything more than “well behaved.” This proud wolf has abased herself as a stray dog for an ordinary human like him.
And I, in the face of this heart, twisted and genuine, beautiful and yet fleeting…
He tells her it’s a simple reason, a stupid reason. A reason that would snap her out of the love she’s felt for him for the past five years. She begs him to snap her out of it. That would make everything so much easier.
He tells her it was because he thought she was attractive. That’s all. He was a high school boy. No better than Takeya.
Kazusa is shaken. She thought he was different from the other boys. Mister honors student. But it was just her face? That’s why he bothered with her, talked to her, asked for her help? He was just looking at her as a girl?
(Well, he points out, she was the best-looking girl in class, far and away.)
That was all. He thought he might have a chance with her.
Kazusa has become agitated again. She tells him he’s horrible. She tells him he’s an enemy to all women.
But, when he asks if she’s been disillusioned now, she tells him she loves him. He tells her the same.
He knew she would say that, in the end. She could never hate him.
This absolute fool, Kazusa Touma, who never once forgot about me in five years…
He’s relieved, sad, happy, all at once. He shuts his tear-blurred eyes.
A few more droplets fall onto his cheek from above.
At dawn, he finds Kazusa sleeping soundly, with a deeply satisfied look on her face.
The same face he so loved back then, dozing in class at the desk right next to his.