Kazusa Normal Ending – VIII

Note: There are many “flashback” scenes in this part of the story.

Half an hour before Kazusa’s concert, Takeya and Io are out in the audience, trying to figure how this night’s turnout compares to the last performance. Are there fewer people, or are they just quieter, more interested in the music than in the popular phenomenon of Kazusa herself?
Of course the most important question is: will Haruki show up this time?
Takeya finally managed to get in touch with him this week, but all Haruki said was not to ask him about anything yet. Io says Haruki needs to get it together and quit jerking Setsuna around.
Naturally, Haruki knows. He knows that better than anyone.
But, if he refuses to give them any reasons, to tell them why he just disappeared…

Takeya
“It might be… that we need to make our own decision.”

Io
“A-About what…?”

Takeya
“…About whose friendship we pick.”

Youko arrives at the dressing room and confirms with Miyoko that Kazusa hasn’t tried to run off again. She wants to “encourage” Kazusa—meaning, tease her—right ahead of the concert, but Miyoko won’t let her in.

Miyoko
“Yes, she finally fell asleep… It’s the first time, you know? Since she came staggering back a week ago…”

Youko
“Wait, then will she be able to wake up at all? If she does, will she be able to play?”

Miyoko thinks it’s better than that she should plunge right into the concert, at least, considering how frayed she was when she got back.

Miyoko
“What are you two even thinking, anyway? There was already no time to prepare, and then you’re changing the entire program on top of that…”

Youko
“She’s the one who skipped off until the last minute. She’s the one who decided to change the program. She’s the one who spent the whole week playing without any sleep…”

But maybe, Miyoko argues, she could have stopped her. As her employer. As her mother.

Youko
“She’s the one who said she would see it through, even if it killed her… I had no reason to oppose her.”

Just as Youko is about to launch into another story about how the man she was with wouldn’t let her go the night before a concert, Kazusa appears at the door.

……

Haruki speaks with Hamada out in the concert hall. He promises to come back to the office next week so he can start catching up, but Hamada tells him not to rush. Apparently Mari called him yesterday to give him an earful for his negligence as a supervisor and said that, the next time this happens, she’s just going to take Haruki off to America with her. (Though he’s not sure how she caught wind of the situation in the first place…)
She has a point, Hamada says. With how busy everything’s been, he failed to notice the signs that something like this might be on the horizon, and he apologizes for that.

The fact that I had stopped coming to work because of the flu, and suddenly gone silent, had understandably caused some problems for the editorial department.

Skipping on his two different jobs—his usual work for the Graph, and the special for Ensemble—left Hamada and everyone else in the department to clean up his mess.

Hamada
“Come to think of it, you’re still only in your first year here. Putting you in such a principal editorial role may have been unreasonable in the first place.”

Hamada
“Since we’ve been heaping all this stuff on you since your part-time days, I guess we just sort of forgot that you were a newbie.”

…And yet, not one of them blamed me. They divided the work I left behind perfectly between them.

Matsuoka-san’s grumbling lessened; Kizaki-san helped without a word; Suzuki-san continuously said things like ‘God, this is too much,’ but kept at it anyway; and, above all else, Hamada-san hurried around with his head bowed, making everything work.

In doing this, they all diligently protected “the place I would return to.”

When I read about all of this in an email from Suzuki-san, it brought me such happiness, and such pain, that tears came to my eyes.

Hamada tells him they’ve heard from Youko Touma’s office, too—saying she might have made too hefty a request of him—and he realizes it’s not just the editorial department that have been burdened with all of this: other people, people precious to them, have been telling lies on his behalf, protecting whatever shred of honor he has left.

Even though I had the warmth of so many people wrapped around me, I turned my back on all of it, fled to a different world…

And yet, in the end, I had returned to the former world, as though nothing had happened.

One week ago…

Our trip, that I believed would last forever, ended abruptly on the morning of the third day.

After Kazusa’s sudden declaration that she wouldn’t go anywhere with him after all, Haruki was left in such shock that he could barely muster up enough of his voice to ask what she’d just said, what she was talking about.

Kazusa
“What did I… Well, to sum it up, I’m saying, ‘Goodbye.’”

Kazusa stood up and brushed the snow off of herself, staring at the sun, as though nothing had happened.

Kazusa
“It’s my fault for deceiving you by acting serious. Sorry for dragging you into this risky game with me.”

With that look on her face, I couldn’t tell whether she was about to cry, or whether it was just too bright outside…

Kazusa
“I decided from the beginning… that today would be the end of it, that here is where we would part ways.”

Haruki
“I don’t get it…”

Kazusa
“I’m saying, let’s make this place our last stop.”

Haruki
“I still don’t get it! I don’t understand at all…!”

To Kazusa’s eyes, at that moment, I must have looked like a complete loser.

Haruki
“From the beginning…? Since when? When are you talking about?!”

To Kazusa’s ears, at that moment, my voice must have sounded completely disgraceful.

Haruki
“We made a promise yesterday! And the day before, and before we left for this trip!”

He knew he must seem that way to Kazusa, because it was horribly evident to him, himself. So unsightly and shameful.

Haruki
“That we would always be together, wherever we went. Just the two of us, forever.”

Haruki
“And you agreed… You said you were happy, you said you wanted to be together!”

Kazusa
“I was lying. I’ve been lying to you this whole time because I wanted you to love me.”

Haruki
“So how long have you been lying? Since the night before we left? Since the night we slept together for the first time in five years? Or since the night we met back up in Strasbourg?!”

He begged her to tell him she was lying about lying. That she was messing with him by pretending to mess with him. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.

Haruki
“I’ll be mad, but I’ll take you in my arms again right after… I’ll punish you however you want, just like I always do…”

Had she lost all affection for him? Him and his flaws?

Haruki
“We promised each other a future…”

Kazusa
“Yeah, that was fun… Pretending to be married.”

But that had only been a few hours ago.

Kazusa
“Yeah, exchanging vows… You, swearing to make me your wife… Ahaha, thinking back on it now makes it seem so stupid…”

There was nostalgia in Kazusa’s voice, and some embarrassment, as though she had dug up a distant memory.

Kazusa
“I mean, you didn’t believe it either, right? It was just like a little fantasy scenario we were playing out.”

Of course he believed it. They swore oaths to each other.

Kazusa
“What, oaths we swore on our own, with nobody around? No one would… Not even God would acknowledge that.”

Kazusa
“Well, who cares, though? The sex we had afterward felt way more incredible than usual. That alone was enough to satisfy me.”

Haruki
“My view of this is so completely different from yours… I don’t think that’s how you really feel in the first place!”

Haruki
“Why can’t we do this, Kazusa? Why won’t you come with me…?”

She just muttered that he was annoying.

Haruki
“You’ve known that since five years ago! Why didn’t you shake me off back then?!”

Kazusa grimaced in pain, then. She’d probably meant that remark as an attack on his weak spot, but he didn’t falter the way she thought he would.

Haruki
“I wanted to keep you in my arms forever. If I could do that… then I could stay my normal self!”

Words couldn’t stop him now. He’d never been one to lose in battles of words.

Kazusa
“…Your… normal self?”

Kazusa
“That’s… what you consider your normal self?”

Kazusa
“You won’t even care if we fall into the pits of hell together…?”

Kazusa
“That… That warped and broken-down version of you… is supposed to be the real you? That’s not my Haruki!”

Kazusa
“Like hell… As if I’d be deceived by such a stupid lie! Quit ridiculing my feelings!”

……

Youko asks Kazusa whether she slept well.

Kazusa
“I was dreaming.”

Kazusa
“He was in the audience. He was finally hearing me play…”

Youko
“…That was more than a dream. I spotted Guitar-boy in the front row.”

Kazusa
“Really… So, he’s actually here. He came…”

Youko
“Frankly, I don’t know how this concert is going to turn out. You haven’t practiced enough, slept enough, eaten enough, or promoted enough. There’s just too much lacking.”

For once, and only once, Kazusa apologizes for the trouble she’s caused. Youko says it’ll all be fine as long as she makes up for it with all her future performances, as long as she makes it bigger.

Kazusa
“I will… I’m gonna keep playing until I can sell out every concert, no matter what country I’m in. After all, I don’t have anything else other than my piano anymore”

And, maybe, if she manages to get that famous, a certain promoter of hers will quit being so hung up on Japan.

Youko
“You really don’t plan on ever coming back to Japan? You intend to separate yourself completely from the country where you were born?”

Kazusa
“Yes. I’ve made my decision.”

The show is about to start, so Hamada splits off, after promising to have Haruki make up the work.

Hamada-san, who had been sitting in the empty seat next to mine as we talked, departed for his own seat on the second level, displaying concern for me to the last.

Checking up on me in a place like this when I hadn’t been coming to work, shutting his eyes to various scandals, working to keep a place for me to return to.

This special treatment, too, was because of how gingerly the editorial department was handling me at this point…

When I returned to work, my atmosphere was apparently so unstable that it put everyone in that mindset.

‘We heaped all of this work and responsibility on the new guy, and he had a mental snap because he couldn’t handle all of it.’

Really, it was entirely a private problem, but that was the air that proliferated around me, and it became a problem for the editorial department as well.

…It all came down to the managerial ability of Hamada-san, and the copyeditor, and the editor-in-chief.

That was how, even here, I kept up that cowardly behavior.

Plastering over everything with lies to dodge responsibility. Protecting myself to a nauseating extreme.

He feels so much hatred for himself for all that, and yet, even when he tries to explain what really happened, no one will accept his apologies. He’s left with the guilt, while his colleagues keep going all these extra miles for him.

And that guilt threw my mental balance further and further off.

As the tone announcing the beginning of the show resounded, the stage curtains opened.

There, a single grand piano awaited the night’s hostess.

His heart wants to run away, to its fantasy world. But he won’t let it hide—not this time. He’ll drag it out, with whatever force is necessary, and make it face the reality there on the stage.

Because I still hadn’t resolved my greatest problem.

I still hadn’t received my punishment for my deepest sin… my betrayal.

Just before the performance begins, someone asks whether the seat next to him is open.
It’s the only open seat in the front row. And the one who saw to it that this particular someone received that ticket… is about to take the stage.
Someone sits down. There’s a roar of applause. Someone, in a black gown, appears onstage.
Haruki’s judgment begins.

……

Kazusa
“No, I don’t want to leave… Like hell I would.”

Kazusa
“I really did want to stay shut away with you, in our own little world… just the two of us, forever.”

He had been so confident that he could talk her down…

Kazusa
“But you’re falling apart! While you’re spending time with me, you’re breaking down further and further!”

But he was so bewildered by what she was saying that he couldn’t figure out how to fight back.

Kazusa
“Trying to protect me, trying to keep me from breaking, trying to keep me from feeling sad…”

And I didn’t understand at all.

The idea that I was fallen apart. That I had picked nothing but the wrong choices, over and over and over.

Kazusa
“You put all that effort in, forcing yourself, enduring so much… destroying yourself, over something so stupid.”

But, what if the fact that I didn’t understand was just another sign that I was broken?

Could he no longer understand the language of their former world, because he had shut himself away in their little world for so long?

Kazusa
“Haruki… I do love you. I admit it. I lied.”

Kazusa was the first one to fold.

Kazusa
“Until last night, I wanted to run away with you. I would have gone anywhere with you, as long as you held out your hand to me.”

The lie was a lie. The messing with him was a lie. The love was real.

Kazusa
“…No, I still… I know that’s what would make me the happiest out of anything in the world.”

That meant he’d won. He got the answer he wanted out of her.

Kazusa
“The determination to part wasn’t long ago. …It was actually just moments ago.”

Kazusa
“And before that, my head was just running all over the place, deciding, changing my mind, deciding again… I couldn’t get anything in order.”

So, why couldn’t he find anything to say now?

Kazusa
“I knew I would never be able to decide with you right next to me, so I ran way from you…”

Kazusa
“But I was finally able to make my mind up, the moment I saw your face… The moment you smiled at me…”

Kazusa
“I understood… I figured it out…”

Kazusa
“That, compared with you finding normal happiness and living a long life with a smile on your face, my  restristed happiness  would be… insignificant.”

He knew that not saying anything would mean accepting what she was saying. And still, he couldn’t get a single word out of himself.

Kazusa
“I was made painfully aware of it.”

Back in the concert hall, Setsuna greets Haruki.

The first piece was over.

The applause raining down now was plainly different from that before the show—louder, longer, changing into something of higher quality.

In a mere ten minutes, the enthusiasm level in the venue had altered completely.

Setsuna
“Wow, it’s only been… what, two weeks? It feels like it’s been ages.”

But the air between the two of them is suffocating.
Setsuna remarks upon how awkward they’re both being. It’s kind of scary to her, as though they’ve lost something.
She knows very well what they’ve lost, but naming it aloud would be too painful to bear.

The second piece began…

……

Kazusa
“Listen, I… I want you to be happy, Haruki.”

Kazusa
“That’s what would make me the happiest. …And I’m not lying this time.”

Leaving the inn, inside the taxi, at the platform, they hadn’t said a word. Now they were on the train, heading through a tunnel.
Not a train further north, but a train back to Tokyo.

Kazusa
“Because the only one who could be happy with that… is me.”

He kept trying to tell her. Her happiness was his happiness. She should go with him, stay with him forever.
Kazusa told him to stop talking like that, pressing her weak point.
She reasserted that she was genuinely the only person, the single person, who could be happy that way.

Kazusa
“You couldn’t possibly be happy in a situation like that. You know that, right? You get it, right?”

He kept trying and trying. His happiness was right here. Right…
Kazusa shut him down. This wasn’t really the happiest he’d ever been. This was about his real happiness, not the lie.

Kazusa
“Not wanting happiness for other people? Not worrying about the ones you love? That’s not the real you. That’s not my Haruki…”

In that instant, his whole body broke out in sweat.
The next instant, he was assailed by chills and a screaming headache.

This was what I felt then…

When I betrayed her. When I lied to everyone close to me.

Those symptoms that dogged him back at the start, as he was withdrawing from the world he’d always known.

Kazusa
“I want you to be happy. …I really wanted to make you happy, myself.”

Kazusa
“But, I can’t… I tried and tried hard, but I couldn’t…”

His heart felt as though it might jump out of his mouth. Goosebumps ran all over his body.

Kazusa
“My most valuable treasure in this world… will break if I hold it.”

Watching sadly as I underwent this sudden transformation, Kazusa addressed me in a choking voice.

Kazusa
“I tried to cherish you, I tried so hard to protect you, but I’m so clumsy that I just wound up making you crumble…”

Kazusa
“So… it’s best if I return that treasure to someone who can cherish it properly.”

But her self-control ruptured, her voice becoming a crying voice, tears running down her cheeks…

Kazusa
“To her, to the one who can protect you…”

They left the tunnel. The world wasn’t white any more.
It was the world of everyone else.

……

Back in the concert hall, Takeya and Io have both been left stunned by Kazusa’s performance.

Takeya
“…This is still the same Touma, right?”

Io
“Man… I’ve got goosebumps. It feels like she barely even gave herself time to breathe.”

Maybe all of this—the standing ovation, the goosebumps, the shivers—is because they’re all laypeople, simply getting swept away by something that seems amazing to them.

Takeya
“Still, that’s a phenomenal talent. …There’s no question that Touma’s incredible today.”

……

Setsuna is in tears already, even though the concert isn’t even halfway done. Haruki gives her his handkerchief.

Setsuna
“I don’t really understand it, but I know it’s amazing… I guess some things really are like that.”

The two pieces Kazusa had played were equally incredible, to be sure.

…Well, maybe a layman’s assessment didn’t mean that much, but this layman certainly found it incredible.

Setsuna recalls how she cried five years ago, too, when Kazusa played in that contest. She knew today’s performance would outstrip that one by far, but Kazusa has still managed to go beyond what she imagined.
Haruki feels the same way.
For all the time they spent together, Kazusa never played these pieces for him. Said he’d have to wait for the concert, said she’d surprise him, smiling with a bit of mischief and a bit of sadness.
Now, Haruki really knows why. If she’d played for him, he would have realized what she was shutting away just to live in their little isolated world for two.

Because, if I came into direct contact with this sound, my arms that held Kazusa were bound to loosen.

Because I would hesitate to let this talent of Kazusa’s, that had been opened to a world far, far larger than me, rot away in a sunless, darkly festering world.

Now, through her talent, through something more than talent, Kazusa has demonstrated this much:

‘You and me… We aren’t a good match.’

A message to me, in irony mixed with tears. A strong-willed parting from the stagnant world the two of us had lived in.

An empty alibi, claiming it had nothing to do with their relationship, she just couldn’t keep up this affair with him from a temporal or situational standpoint. A tragic solution.

Kazusa
“You need to go back… To the world where you can be of use to so many people, where they deeply love you even though they act annoyed with you.”

Back to Setsuna’s world, she said.
He wanted to accuse her, call her unfair for bringing Setsuna’s name into it, say she’s the one who made things this way, pulled him in.
But he didn’t. Because he knew all of that was actually his fault, and because he knew she would agree that everything was her fault.
He said Setsuna would never forgive him. Things could never go back to how they were between them.
Kazusa wondered why he was being so stubborn. He spent all this time pretending Setsuna wasn’t there, for the sake of his relationship with Kazusa. He kept lying to her, saying she was the only one.
Haruki tried to say it wasn’t a lie, before realizing he couldn’t even do that any more.
He really lied to her, and he lied to himself when he blotted out his feelings for Setsuna in order to sleep with Kazusa.

Kazusa
“I’ve broken you, but I believe Setsuna will save you.”

Kazusa
“…I’m an awful woman. Maybe I shouldn’t even have been born.”

They might be back in the real world, surrounded by people, but Haruki wept aloud, regardless.

Kazusa
“I can’t protect you, Haruki. The only one who can do that is Setsuna.”

Kazusa
“…This isn’t about a difference in our emotions for you. In sheer strength of feelings, I won’t lose. I may be a poor loser, but I’m not willing to give on this.”

He’d finally realized she wasn’t going to change her mind.

Kazusa
“After all, I’m willing to offer anything for Haruki’s sake. I could even throw everything away.”

Kazusa
“And yet, no matter what I sacrifice, or who I offer it to, protecting Haruki is not something I’m capable of.”

He was the only one left in their world.

Kazusa
“But, Setsuna wouldn’t have to throw everything away… Just by trying to protect you with all the power she has right now… Just by doing everything she can do…”

Kazusa
“With that alone, she can save you. She can bring you peace of mind. …She can make you happy, forever.”

Because I knew. I knew that was Kazusa was saying… was right.

Kazusa
“There are things that feelings alone can’t do. I never tried that in my life before. I never learned the way.”

He was sobbing now. Screaming.

Kazusa
“…It’s just that, once I got here, the bill finally arrived.”

Kazusa
“I’m not someone who can protect you.”

Kazusa
“I am a good-for-nothing that can only love you. I am a weakling that can’t support you in anything.”

Kazusa
“I could never… be a match for Setsuna.”

Setsuna offers him his handkerchief back, seeing how overwrought he’s suddenly become. He claims he’s just got something in his eye, but this show of warmth from Setsuna, warmth he doesn’t deserve, puts him even more at the risk of tears.
Haruki can tell this concert is going to be legendary—and it’s all for the sake of his happiness as Kazusa conceives it.

The third piece ended…

……

As the performance progressed from piece to piece, the applause, cheers, and commotion among the audience swelled up greater and greater.

Setsuna’s getting more and more swept up, too, crying her eyes out even as she tries to dab at Haruki’s own eyes with the handkerchief.

Setsuna
“The two of us… once stood on stage with her.”

Haruki’s hand is shaking, and she sets her other hand on top of it, paying mind to him even though she could be applauding.

Setsuna
“She’s amazing, incredible, completely astounding… I’m so glad I got to be friends with her.”

Yes, Setsuna might just save him.

Setsuna’s inexhaustible kindness awakened my dark heart, the heart that wanted to deceive and betray her.

I could end up dragging her to hell with me.

Setsuna remarks that Kazusa has come back to them. Haruki can’t bear to hear it. The more she says, the closer he comes to breaking, wasting all the effort Kazusa put into sacrificing herself so that Haruki  could go back to how he was.
All he had to do was not say anything about Kazusa.
But, in the face of Setsuna’s kindness, he finally breaks.
He tells her he and Kazusa have been living together. They’ve spent the last who-knows-how-many days together.

……

The intermission started after the third piece. All around them are people leaving their seats, returning to their seats, buzzing with excitement over the performance.
And, in the midst of that buzz, Haruki and Setsuna sit in silence.
Then, Haruki starts laughing, defeated. He’s figured it out: she knew.

Haruki
“You knew that I’d lied again. You knew that I’d betrayed you again.”

She tries to cut him off; but once he’s said it, she shows no surprise. She doesn’t even try to laugh it off.

Haruki
“I’m sorry, Setsuna… I’m sorry.”

Setsuna tells him not to apologize. If he apologizes, that makes it seem like he’s done something wrong, something unforgivable.
She knew. And, evidently, she wanted to go right on pretending she didn’t.

Haruki
“I… loved Kazusa. No, I still love her.”

He tells her ever since they reunited five years ago, Kazusa has been the one on his mind, even when he was making love to Setsuna.

Setsuna
“I’ve known that since five years ago. I know that it hasn’t disappeared, and it never will.”

Haruki
“If I had just been thinking of her, maybe it could still have been okay. …But, I actually did it with her.”

Setsuna
“…”

Setsuna’s hand, lying on top of my own hand, clenched tightly.

Haruki
“Somewhere along the way, I stopped being able to make compromises with my own feelings.”

At that moment, her nails dug into my skin, just slightly…

But no more than that. Even now, Setsuna can’t bring herself to hurt him. Can’t blame him, can’t acknowledge that he’s done wrong.

Haruki
“Surely… Surely that isn’t forgivable. Even you must know that…”

Instead, she asks whether he’s going to go with Kazusa. Instead of lamenting how she’s been treated, or taking him to task for all he’s done, she expresses concern for his future.
Just as Kazusa put her concern for his future ahead of her own feelings.
He tells Setsuna he’s not going anywhere. Kazusa’s world is too different from his. That’s what she’s saying now, through the piano.
Really, that’s probably what Kazusa was trying to convey to Setsuna, in an attempt to cover up the truth of what went on between her and Haruki. But Haruki’s gone and trampled that whole plan underfoot.
He can hear Kazusa in his head again, chastising him for never being able to take a hint.

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun… What are you going to do?”

Haruki
“Don’t try to give me the right to choose…”

And yet, in the face of this cruel reality, Setsuna works valiantly to maintain herself.

Haruki
“I’m… going to go to hell on my own. I’m going to accept my punishment. That’s my only option.”

Setsuna
“I can’t just let you do that… If something that terrible happened to you, I…”

Haruki
“Just stop… You have something more important to do than worry about me.”

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun…”

This wasn’t the attitude of a woman who had been betrayed.

Haruki
“Show some consideration for your own heart… You may not know exactly how badly battered it is because of me…”

Those foolish, honest eyes—almost infuriatingly so, almost inviting blame themselves.

…Those sinfully kind eyes, threatening to give me hope I didn’t deserve to feel.

Setsuna
“Hey, Haruki-kun… Did you forget all about me?”

Setsuna
“You said that when you had me in your arms, you were thinking about Kazusa.”

Setsuna
“So, when you were making love to Kazusa… Did you never think about me? Even just a bit?”

He asks her what point there is in a question like that. No matter what he says, it won’t change the fact that he betrayed her.
She knows. She wants an answer anyway.

Setsuna
“I just wanted to ask for my own reference. I’m not going to make anything out of it.”

But how could he possibly answer it? Now, after all this time, how could he make that kind of entreaty to Setsuna?

If I could have thought of only one person, had feelings for only one person, this whole time, then all of this useless suffering wouldn’t have happened.

Just as phantoms of Kazusa flitted through my head every time I saw Setsuna, every time I held Setsuna…

Whenever I spent time alone with Kazusa, whenever we connected so deeply, I heard Setsuna’s voice resounding gently in my head—every time.

So, because I shut my heart… I broke myself…

Setsuna was there, and I…

Haruki
“Yes, I forgot you. My whole heart betrayed you…”

…What point was there in saying that? They were the thoughtless words of a man beyond help.

Setsuna gripped the back of her left hand tightly with her right. As if to hide her ring finger…

……

He apologizes. Tells Setsuna she doesn’t have to forgive him, or accept this. He’s going to carry it forever.

My punishment was already decided.

My own, selfish punishment, that wouldn’t bring Setsuna any relief, but would keep me suffering in hell forever.

She tells him if he does that, he’ll be crushed under the weight of his own sense of responsibility, just like he was five years ago.
But that’s the point. He’s done the same thing he did five years ago, after all.
And it’s crushing him already, anyway. His punishment started the moment he did the deed.

Setsuna didn’t belong with me any more.

He tries to tell her, but she cuts him off: the intermission is over. It’s time to listen to Kazusa again. Time to accept Kazusa’s earnest expression.
The final piece begins.

……

Schumann.
Piano Sonata No. 2, in G minor, Opus 22.

Kazusa plays through all four movements, in about twenty minutes.
Then, the program is over. Kazusa Touma’s Japanese performance is over.
…She disappears from Haruki’s view.

……

Haruki cried pieces when they parted. He didn’t care. He couldn’t control his feelings any more. He couldn’t hold it back. Not in this moment of ultimate grief.
She told him to stop crying, told him it wouldn’t change her mind, told him he’d get on fine without her—really, he’d live better without her.

Haruki
“But, you… Are you really fine with this? Will you be okay without me…?”

She was a woman full of defects, who abandoned all the life skills that normal people used in life—cooking, cleaning, doing laundry—and couldn’t do anything except play the piano.

If she were to lose the piano, if she were to lose the one important thing she had apart from me…

She promised she’d figure things out somehow, with her mother. Find a new man…
That last part was a joke.

Haruki
“You don’t have to bluff. You don’t have to endure all that. That isn’t what I want.”

Kazusa
“But this is what I wished for. I want you to be happier than me. For that reason I’ll put on a brave face, I will endure.”

Kazusa
“Carry on as the strong person that you are… I want you to live forever like the Haruki you were when I first met you, the one I loved.”

He remembered how she’d ripped into him when they first met. Annoying, shameless, terrible at the guitar.
The way he lived then was the way he ought to live, Kazusa said—a little inflexible, but steady, working his way toward happiness step by step. So, he should stop crying. She wasn’t going to cry any more, not for the rest of her time in Japan.

In spite of that promise, Haruki is sobbing now, right in front of Setsuna, now that the performance is over.

Damn it, she was incredible. Kazusa’s piano-playing was too incredible to bear.

And she was growing distant from me.

The second half of the concert only made more electrically obvious how different their positions in life are—as if her fingers themselves were telling him, “Don’t follow me. We’ll never cross paths again.”

So frustrating, sorrowful and lonely… So intense I can’t help but be moved…

She may be at a level far beyond where she was five years ago, but it’s still the piano Haruki’s always loved. Once, it played along with his lousy guitar. Once, it played along with their still-immature White Album.
This time, it’s left them behind.

……

Io
“That’s… weird…”

Io
“I just completely cried my eyes out… That’s never happened before.”

Io actually accepts Takeya’s offer of a shoulder to cry on, which takes him by surprise. He remarks that something must be up with her right now.

Io
“No, there was something up with that piano performance… Look, there are people crying all around us. Why did this have an effect that powerful on the general public?”

Takeya
“Isn’t it… because she was crying herself?”

Io
“Yeah, right… We’re in the second level. No one could see that.”

Takeya
“I can… I can always tell when a woman is crying.”

……

At Youko’s remark that Kazusa’s final show in Japan has just ended, Miyoko reassures her that with a response like this, she’ll be drowning in offers. They should start planning performances in Japan for next year. Maybe a nationwide tour this time.
Youko, somewhat distracted, agrees. She’d love to hear her play again, after all.

Earlier, Youko had been forced to confirm with Kazusa that the latter genuinely had no intention of ever returning to Japan, the country of her birth. Kazusa had reiterated her resolve.

Kazusa
“I’ve… given up on him.”

Youko
“…You finally made that crucial decision.”

Kazusa
“But I’m never going to give up on loving him for as long as I live. So… it’s alright if I don’t see him anymore”

Youko
“You won’t regret it?”

Kazusa
“Of course I will. How could I not when I love him?”

Kazusa
“I love the fact that he’s no big deal.”

Kazusa
“The fact that he’s weaker than he looks… The fact that he was stupid enough to be attracted to the likes of me… I love it so much it’s unbearable.”

Kazusa
“Well, I’m sure you figured it out ages ago, but I just wanted to tell someone. …How incredible my love is.”

Then, Kazusa told Youko that she would have liked to be the sort of mother who talked to her adult daughter about love, some day.
Youko told her not to give up hope.
Then, it was time to go. For the first time in her life, Youko called Kazusa her “treasure,” to her face. Said she didn’t regret giving birth to her.
Kazusa answers she loves her.
After she was gone, Youko prayed that she herself would live a little longer yet.

……

When Kazusa gave her blessing to Haruki, telling him to be happy with Setsuna, she also told him not to give up, even if Setsuna did figure out what had gone on between them. Setsuna wouldn’t hate him over a thing like that. Setsuna was more stubborn than Kazusa, more obstinate… and more hung up on him.

Kazusa
“Therefore I can entrust you to her… She’s the only one who can save you, now that I’ve broken you.”

Kazusa
“After all, I hate Setsuna. From now on, she’s my mortal enemy.”

Kazusa
“Because she has everything I don’t have. Because she has the power to do everything that I can’t. …Because she’s going to take away the man I love.”

With these last words, Kazusa’s eyes fell just the slightest bit, but she quickly raised her face again, smiling faintly.

…All traces of tears had disappeared.

Kazusa
“Haruki… Thank you for everything.”

Their entwined fingertips were the only thing connecting them. As soon as that point of connection broke, they would go their separate ways. Kazusa, deeper into the city, into the crowds that surrounded them; Haruki, to the station. Haruki, back to his true self. Setsuna’s Haruki.

Kazusa
“I’ll never forget that I was your wife.”

No looking back. To see the other’s face would mean losing. Not that there would be any penalty; after all, if their eyes met, that would mean they’d both lost.

Kazusa
“Even though it was just for one night, even though I never did anything remotely wifely…”

Kazusa
“And yet at that time… I can say with certainty, I was the happiest bride in the world…”

That was their promise. Their brief, holy rite of divorce, after a marriage that lasted only a day.

The very last moment seemed to last for ages. Neither of them wanted to be the first to let go.
Finally, their hands parted.
Finally, they turned away from each other.

The final look I saw on Kazusa’s face…

In fact, she desperately kept her face turned away from me. She didn’t commit the hideous error of letting me see it.

……

The applause after the final piece ends is uproarious. Haruki has never heard anything quite like it. It grows, in volume and pitch, filling the whole hall, and only builds further as the lady at the piano stands, turns to face the audience, and modestly bows her head a few times in acknowledgement.

And, finally, Kazusa Touma vanishes out of his life.


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