White Album 2 Short Story Collection
This work makes use of characters and settings from the game White Album 2, by Aquaplus and Leaf.
Also, both of the stories included here serve as sequels to Setsuna’s route in Coda and the Mini After-Story from the original game.
Cover illustration: Touya Ayase (Blue Garden)
Cover design: Einshalt
About half a year had passed since Haruki and Setsuna had moved into their new home in the winter. June was not far off.
“…Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Early afternoon on a weekday, when the sunlight shining in through the windows was almost too bright. A table for two in the back of a café that stood on a corner in the business district.
As Haruki, in his button-up shirt and necktie and out of breath, gave his greeting, the one who had sat at loose ends while waiting for him to show up—Kazusa Touma—turned to look at him, her long hair fluttering.
“You’re late. Do you always make people wait when you call them somewhere?”
“No, no, the meeting I was in ran long…” Haruki quickly sat down in the seat across from her as he gave his excuse, but when he noticed the piercing glare aimed his way by the other party, he hastily shut his mouth and revised his words: “I’m sorry.”
Evidently he had forgotten—perhaps because it had been so long since he’d met her this way—that the standard explanations that would be understandable in his workplace would not pass here.
“Christ. Ever since you turned into a grown-up, all you do is give excuses every time I see you…”
Dropping her shoulders and relaxing the severity of her eyes and expression, as though seeing Haruki acting so meek had satisfied her a little, Kazusa crossed her arms and changed her face to a sulk.
“This now, on top of the constant lecturing and the pushiness… You’re just getting worse with age, huh.”
Until Haruki had spoken to her, she had probably sat looking perfectly unruffled; but the second he showed his face late, it was like a dam had burst—sounding a bit like his mother or something, actually—and he found something a little amusing in her rapid-fire criticisms.
But if he let any flicker of that show through, it would just be throwing oil on the fire, so he kept his face stiff with an iron will.
“You’d better pay for all the coffee I drank while I was waiting for you.”
Having strung together everything she had wanted to say, Kazusa once again crossed her arms.
Haruki took a glance at the large mug sitting in front of her, with only a thin coffee-colored film left at the bottom.
With nod and a wry smile at the sight—her sudden focus-switch to something tiny was just as it always had been—he replied, “Right, yeah.” He got the feeling that all sorts of vitriol had been spat at him that he’d simply screened out, but at this point, when he had skipped out of work, it didn’t really matter what was said or how.
“Anyway, we’re short on time, so before I forget…”
That said, he also wasn’t exactly thrilled by how much was being spat at him, so he forestalled by speaking up before she could continue.
He carefully withdrew a small paper bag from his satchel, set it on the table, and pushed it to the center.
“It’s a bit early, but happy birthday, Kazusa.”
Her tone of voice and expression changed slightly in response to Haruki’s polite greeting. She took the bag, blinking, evidently somewhat surprised.
Since he’d told her that he had “something to give her” today, it must have been well within the realm of her prediction that he might give her a present… but she looked happy anyhow.
From the bag, Kazusa pulled out a small, carefully wrapped box.
She turned it around, gazing at it, perhaps because it was heavier than it looked, then turned her eyes to Haruki with a strange expression.
“Can I open it?”
“Of course.” With no reason whatsoever to say otherwise, Haruki immediately nodded. “And, just to be clear, Setsuna and I picked it out together,” he added, watching as Kazusa picked at the package with its high-end brand logo.
As he had appended “Just to be clear,” Haruki himself realized that what he had said was probably unnecessary—but, for some reason, he couldn’t help saying it. To himself, primarily.
With her eyes dropped to her hands, continuing carefully unwrapping the package, Kazusa threw a single up-turned glance at Haruki. “I know that. You don’t have to tell me.”
Haruki, seeing her reaction and feeling a bit as though a nail had been driven into him by implication, swallowed the impulse to say, “All right, good,” and simply nodded.
Taking no notice of Haruki’s strange ambiguous mood, Kazusa opened the small box and made a sound of wonder.
Coiled in the box was a women’s thin leather belt, with a gleaming silver buckle. Though its design was simple, it had an air of class that was immediately noticeable, and it was easy to imagine that kind of price tag that must have been on it.
Having taken it out, Kazusa once again turned it around in her hands, looking at it from all sides. At her unexpected utterance, Haruki forgot his odd mood and reacted in an almost hysterical voice.
He hadn’t exactly been aiming for a laugh, or trying to make a joke. What on earth could she mean?
Now, faced with Haruki’s own curious reaction, Kazusa smiled somewhat teasingly.
“Oh, nothing… I was just imagining what kind of outfit you and Setsuna must have been thinking of when you bought this.”
A small vocal reaction slipped out of him at her remark.
The sort of clothing that a leather belt with a silver buckle would go with—well, really, the sort of thing she was wearing right now—it probably wouldn’t be too far from those lines.
“Of course, I’m not about to suggest that something frilly and cute would work on me. Even I know that.”
Unsure of whether he should nod in agreement at this, Haruki abruptly silenced himself. He still wasn’t completely up on the grammar—er, rather, the etiquette—when it came to appraising women’s fashion.
“I mean, that would work for Setsuna, right?”
Kazusa couldn’t have guessed that Haruki was having trouble finding what to say, but the moment her words entered his ears, his eyes snapped to her face.
His face turned serious as he made an earnest attempt to picture it, but nothing exactly right came to mind, and he had to tilt his head.
He couldn’t really recall having seen Setsuna wearing that kind of thing all that many times. Granted, with her fundamental outstanding loveliness, just about anything would suit her, but…
“C’mon, I just handed you the perfect opportunity to gush about your girl. You’re so dense.”
A word that had happened to float through his head pushed its way out of his throat, in an exasperated voice.
Had he actually taken the bait and gushed about Setsuna, one of two things would probably have happened: either she would have turned sullen, or else a very chilly gaze would have been sent his way…
“Or, what? Are you going to say she’s not the right age to wear that kind of thing any more?”
“No, I don’t even remotely think that.”
This time, she had perfectly pinpointed what was in his mind, and he was panicking inwardly even as he denied it aloud.
He hoped he had managed to disguise it well enough, but he wasn’t especially confident.
Why was this happening again? Why did she have to be so brutally sharp sometimes? Or maybe he was just easy to read… Though he’d never had that image of himself.
“Suspicious. I’m telling Setsuna.”
“Whoa, no, hang on.”
Seeing Kazusa pull her phone out of her bag, Haruki ceased to disguise his panic, reaching out his hand to stop her.
And Kazusa, with a rare smirk at his reaction, shut her phone with a snap. It had all been a bluff.
“I’m kidding. Calm down.”
“Y-You are so…”
When had she learned to toy with people like this…? She already had a grasp of his weaknesses—well, that might be a misleading way of wording it, but she was one of the very few people who were aware that Haruki could not take too strong a front against them, and he had a small inkling that a new potential source of worry had been added to his list.
“Mm. Thank you, though, seriously. Tell Setsuna I said thank you, too.”
Now that Haruki was lost in his own anxiety, Kazusa, seemingly satisfied after her interlude of messing with him, returned her expression and manner to that of a short while before, and once again began examining her present with keen interest.
It was as though she had simply snipped out the preceding few moments entirely and joined the dangling ends together; Haruki, unable to follow along with her sudden shift, only barely managed to reply, “Y-Yeah… Of course.”
She had really managed to keep the upper hand this entire time. It was that kind of day, apparently.
“Actually, to tell you the truth,” Haruki said, after taking a moment to collect himself, “I’d wanted to have everyone get together to celebrate, but every date I looked at, someone or another already had plans…”
Kazusa turned to look at him with a small utterance.
Yes, now that they’d all been full working members of society for a few years, even a simple weekend was almost impossible to pin down—all the more so to find a day that worked for everyone in a group of five or six people.
Even so, when it came to the usual suspects (Takeya and Io), something could generally be worked out; but throw a nonstandard product (Kazusa) into the mix and things got difficult again.
“Well, I’m not going to be in Japan the day of, anyway. A certain someone decided to put me on a tour that includes my birthday.”
Running one fingertip around the rim of her coffee cup, she looked off in another direction, her expression suddenly sullen.
“So, Youko-san was the one who pulled—er, the one who suggested that?”
Haruki watched the side of her face, recalling the tour pamphlet he had laid eyes upon the other day, which included a performance bearing the extremely obvious designation of “Birthday Concert.”
Kazusa turned only her eyes to him, her expression and the direction she faced remaining the same, and replied.
“Who the hell else would have come up with a money-grubbing maneuver like that?”
A strained smile flickered at the corner of Haruki’s lips. Of course.
That, even with a serious illness ravaging her body, her shrewdness when it came to her own daughter should not have weakened in the slightest, was this woman to a T.
And this reaction, the appearance of displeasure, but with a hint of pride that could not entirely be hidden, whenever it came to this mother of hers, was Kazusa to a T.
“Well, we’ll make something work next month. Everyone wants to see you.”
“You don’t think they’re more interested in Setsuna or Yanagihara than me?”
“No, listen. Every time we meet up, everyone asks how you’re doing. Every single time.”
In response to Haruki’s deliberate repetitions for emphasis, Kazusa simply nodded and answered briefly.
Having been certain that some manner of cynical jab would have been returned to him—something like, “So?”—Haruki found himself betrayed, in the best way possible, by Kazusa’s reaction, and mentally apologized to her for assuming the worst.
After pouring three heaping tablespoons of sugar into the coffee refill the waitress had just brought, Kazusa brought it to her lips, her face appearing to stay the same—but now, as she held the cup in both hands, though no one from the outside would be able to see, Haruki could tell that she was now looking somewhere far away.
“I’ll get in touch as soon as I come up with a date that works for everyone. I’m sure that a single day should be manageable once we get into next month.”
“Yeah, sounds good. Thanks…”
Halfhearted though her reply was, Haruki found something charming about the sight, and felt his lips relaxing into a smile.
The way that, whenever she seemed happy, she would so blatantly feign indifference—well, blatantly to Haruki or Setsuna, maybe—was also wholly unchanged from the past.
“So, I assume Setsuna’s doing well?”
There wouldn’t really have been anything to gain in talking to Kazusa about his work at Kaiou.
In fact, she probably would have seen it as him arrogantly going on and on about things she didn’t understand, something which had turned her mood toward him sour in the past, so in fact it would have had a pointedly negative effect. Apart from that, they did at least have music at a common point, but Haruki had yet to surpass the limits of a novice in his musical understanding, and thus would not have been able to hold up his own end of the conversation.
All of that being the case, their talk naturally moved to the person who was most dear to them both.
“Yes, nothing’s changed there. Things have settled down for her recently. She actually just went back to her parents’ place this week, so I’ve only been talking to her on the phone, but…”
“What, did you do something again?”
“No, there’s just a lot of preparing to do. Childbirth, you know,” Haruki replied, half groaning, suppressing every impulse he had to shoot back at Kazusa’s “again.”
At no point in his life could he recall having done anything to warrant an “again.” With the sole exception of that which had happened between him and the woman sitting across from him.
As he watched her, Kazusa muttered a brief “Okay,” then appeared to be pondering something before shutting her mouth altogether.
Years before… Well, previously, anyhow, he had a feeling there would have been a tiny bit more of a reaction, like he’d carelessly stuck his hand out and gotten snapped at… Whatever face she might make, he felt like there would be a bit more… something.
Feeling almost a little let down, or a tinge of emptiness, at her response, Haruki too shut his mouth, gazing at her over his coffee cup.
Actually, he understood well enough that his thinking this way was in a sense selfishness on his part, and more than that, he understood that this calming-down in and of itself was a demonstration of having grown and matured. Still…
He almost missed the days when attempts to address her would be met with one of three responses—being ignored, glared at, or sent flying with a kick.
Yes, so long ago—and, he considered, the two of them had aged enough that those days could be called “Long ago”—all of those memories flashed through the back of his mind, and he narrowed his eyes, getting lost in deep emotions for a short while.
It could be that this sense of not-quite-right he was feeling regarding Kazusa’s reaction in this moment was the result of his unconsciously projecting her past self onto her current self. Those present here in this café were both years away from that by now…
“Man. You’re gonna be someone’s parent, huh.”
As Haruki was absorbing himself in recollections of the old days, finding himself filled with an emotion he couldn’t describe, he suddenly noticed that the lady herself was there, looking at him, with an impish smile—or maybe it would be better described as sarcastic, even mean-spirited—on her face.
“People make bitter jokes about how you can pick your friends but not your family, but this must be exactly what they’re talking about.”
This came before he could aim an indignant “ What?!” at her expression, and she followed it with a smug grin.
The words, “Oh, you’re one to talk,” leapt immediately into his head, but he knew it would only serve to reopen his own old wounds, so he kept it inside and darted his gaze around, trying to escape his eyes as he searched for a response.
“I… don’t love hearing that from you, honestly…”
And yet, his endurance failed him, and before he realized it he was voicing the feeling anyway.
Proof, maybe, that he hadn’t entirely become an adult, since he couldn’t grit his teeth through something like that.
“It’s all the more meaningful, coming from me.”
But it seemed that Kazusa had taken the possibility of that response into consideration; and her declaration, which came after a moment or so in a lowered voice, left no room for anything, not even a grumble, certainly not any of Haruki’s accustomed quibbling, putting him quite literally in a corner. All he could do was shut his mouth.
There hadn’t been many times in Haruki’s life when someone had talked him down in an argument like this, but the fact that he somewhat mysteriously didn’t get angry over it was probably because the one who had cornered him was Kazusa.
As Haruki sat unable to respond, Kazusa gracefully rearranged her hands on the tabletop, resting her pretty chin atop her interlaced fingers. The charm of her movements threatened to arrest Haruki’s eyes, and he simply waited for her next words.
“In any case, you’d better learn a little self-restraint. If you keep on with your work, work, work from sunup to sundown, your kid won’t even recognize your face.”
“I don’t need you to tell me that.”
“You sure? You don’t exactly have a good track record on that front.”
Kazusa seemed largely unconvinced by Haruki’s retort, admittedly delivered with a bit of a wince, and gave her reply while draining what remained of her coffee.
The grounds that came to mind to back up her remark were all too numerous, and Haruki smiled wryly. It wasn’t awkward, exactly, but she was really the only one, with the exception of Setsuna, who could strike home this directly and painfully.
“Granted, it’s not like a kid can’t grow up without a dad around.”
Still, when her talk turned this pointed, his eyes snapped back to her.
This was an even trickier topic than her bringing up what had happened between the two of them—now, even more at a loss for words than he had already been, he just stared at Kazusa’s face.
To be honest, his history with her was nothing more than rust for him at this point, so whatever she might say about it, his two options were either to apologize or to blame himself.
When it came to the circumstances of the Touma family, however—particularly this aspect of it—he had a difficult time gauging the distance to which he ought to poke his head in.
He wasn’t shameless enough to just stride right in like it was his territory, and as things were between the two of them now, he no longer had grounds to stroll in, either. On the other hand, he had been too deeply involved in her life to declare that it was no concern of his at all.
“I’m kidding. I swear, you think about this even more than I do.”
When Kazusa gave him this lifeboat, perhaps unable to sit and watch him flounder in his awkwardness any longer, he replied vaguely, while internally sighing with relief. He himself knew he must look like an idiot, but he hadn’t been able to come up with anything cleverer to say.
A calm voice brought Haruki’s attention back to the one across from him, and he found her returned to her expression and posture from a moment before, looking up at him from beneath her eyelashes.
Her gaze was piercing—or more like she had seen straight through something—and he held his breath, feeling as though he had been abruptly pinned down.
At the same time, the sounds he was hearing seemed suddenly to have quieted down, though he could well have been imagining that.
“When you were talking about the kid back in January, you seemed a little more humble about it, and it actually made you come off like you were really happy, but now you look like you’re completely used to it, like it’s not a big deal any more…”
“Keep on like that, and sooner or later even Setsuna’s patience will run out.”
Her tone wasn’t especially harsh as she said this. In fact, it was the epitome of gentleness.
To be spoken to like this, like an offer of advice, or a warning, by Kazusa of all people—whatever Haruki’s circumstances might have been, in fact, no matter how correct he had believed himself to be, he couldn’t help feeling a momentary chill.
And, for Haruki as he was here and now, what she had said had in all likelihood hit the mark exactly.
With such a deep chord struck, he spent a moment reflecting, with a chastened countenance, before once again looking at Kazusa’s face.
Yes, Kazusa had proven unassailable to the last today.
“All right.” He nodded meekly. “I’ll be careful.”
He himself had the self-awareness to acknowledge that he was a contrarian, but here, right now, he had sufficient humility to nod his head without hesitating.
“Yeah,” she said. “Do that. Please.”
About fifteen minutes later…
After bundling Kazusa into the taxi she was taking to her next engagement and watching her leave, Haruki looked up at the brilliant blue May sky peeking in through the gap between two buildings, then opened his phone.
“Setsuna? Yeah, it’s me. I just saw Kazusa, and I gave it to her. She loved it. And she said to tell you hello.”
“Huh? Yes, really. I’m talking about Kazusa. You can trust me on this.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll try to leave as early as I can today.”
“Yes, I’m going to make the very best effort I can, I promise. Yes, yes. All right, see you later.”
Once their brief phone call had ended, Haruki took some time to savor the echoes of Setsuna’s laughter remaining in his ear, then shut his phone and turned around.
“Guess I’d better head back to work.”
It was about time to wrap up his stint as an irresponsible adult. There were still mountains of work waiting for him that had to be finished by the end of the day. Though, as he had just heard on the phone, Setsuna would be returning from her parents’ house tonight, so he couldn’t push it too late…
Then, realizing that in walking step by step through his plans this way, he was falling back into his old ‘Something will work out if I just put enough time in’ thought pattern, he shook his head at himself.
Chasing that out of his mind with a spoken word, Haruki readjusted his mindset and began walking back to the office.
He had to grow out of this, like she had said, even if only little by little…
For the child soon to be born. For his best friend, who cared so dearly for him.
And, of course, for Setsuna.