The Missing Score – II


I, Koharu Sugiura, work as personal manager to Kazusa Touma, a pianist with Youko Touma Offices.

I am three years younger than she is, which made me her junior at Houjou High School.

“Kitahara-senpai” was a close male friend and classmate of hers in high school. Kazusa-san, Kitahara-senpai, and a third friend, Setsuna Ogiso, all came together and performed at the school festival in their third year. The show went down in legend, the tale told from generation to generation of new high school students.

In the interval between that and graduation, Kitahara-senpai and Setsuna-san were dating, as I understand.

Kazusa-san, desiring to become a professional pianist, made up her mind to cross to Vienna, where her mother, Director Youko, lived, after graduation.

But, as far as I’m aware, on the day of the graduation ceremony, something happened between Kitahara-senpai and Kazusa-san; and when Kitahara-senpai and Setsuna-san went to Narita Airport to see Kazusa-san off, something else happened.

Left behind, Kitahara-senpai and Setsuna-san spent a long time locked in a cold war, before beginning to date again.

And five years after moving to Europe, Kazusa-san was crowned with a high rank in an international competition and gave a celebratory performance in Japan. I understand that all sorts of things happened between the three of them at that time, but ultimately, Kitahara-senpai and Setsuna-san were married.

Kazusa-san remained to the two of them, as a dear friend and an even dearer thorn in their sides.

And I was, well—a friend?—of Kitahara-senpai’s, starting when he was in his third year of college.

The point being that my position is a bit strange.

In the autumn of my third year of high school, a friend of mine, Mihoko, confessed her feelings to Kitahara-senpai, who was working as her cram school teacher. He rejected her in very harsh terms. The shock to Mihoko was so great that she stopped leaving her house entirely. Infuriated that he should send my friend into such a state at the most crucial point when it came to reaching college, I went to the university myself, waited at the front gate, and made my strongest objection to him personally. That was how we first met.

At first, I thought he was very cold.

After that, through conversing and interacting with him at our workplace, I came to see that he was earnest, kind in spite of his bluntness; and, to be honest, I started to fall for him.

That was a dangerous situation.

Thinking back on it now, I was not the only woman jerked around by Kitahara-senpai during his cold war with Setsuna.

But we can set that topic aside.

He really is a nuisance, for all his blustering and self-important logic-driven arguments.

Though I believe he’s sincere, as well.

I know that Kazusa-san holds the most complicated feelings of all in the matter, so there’s nothing more for me to say.

Kazusa-san and I got to know each other at Kitahara-senpai and Setsuna-san’s wedding.

We were sitting at the same table, in fact.

“Hey, were you the girl Haruki cheated with?”
“Excuse me?!”

This less-than-ideal opening started us on a somewhat heated discussion, which then turned to a lively chat over just how insensitive and cruel a man Kitahara-senpai could be, and ultimately, we hit it off.

After that, as I was seeking employment, I was scouted by Youko Touma Offices for my foreign language skills and confidence in negotiations.

I have gone along on every one of her concert tours since.

Even during her extended stays in Vienna for European tours.

She is brilliant, the sort who can do anything she puts her mind to, but there is also something precarious about her. I worry about leaving her on her own.

There were also times, near the beginning, when her selfishness and whims wore me out and angered me internally.

But I believe that, at her foundation, she is enormously kind and caring. For all her bluffing, she is quite timid, and she gets lonely easily.

So, I don’t want to leave her alone.

Director Youko herself has asked me to help her.

So, as you see, she needs me.

 

***

 

Olivia Macaron was incredible. The macarons in their vivid array of colors were lightly fragrant, and each bite melted in our mouths.

Her purchases baffled me, though. When it came to North American treats, macarons were on the subtle side in terms of sweetness; why such a quantity?

That said, I wasn’t going to make her carry them, given that her hands were the tools of her trade and it wouldn’t do to let anything happen to them. The bags might be lighter than they looked, but carrying was my job.

Still, part of me did wish that she would stand in my shoes for a second before buying…

My next thought was to visit Dean & DeLuca across the street for tea, but she nixed that idea (“I had tea this morning”), so we rambled around instead.

“I just remembered, there’s a flea market being held nearby. Why don’t we go take a look?”

When we got there, though—ehh…

“Kinda shabby, huh. Not sure why it’s so famous.”

…And, as usual, she put it right out there.

The flea market was being held in a school parking lot, peopled heavily by locals. The scale was pretty small.

But it was well known for its bargains on antiques.

Maybe it just wasn’t the best place to take someone like her, who didn’t have much of an eye for value in accessories or buildings…

With this running through my mind, I glanced to the side, only to find that she had vanished.

Startled, I turned around and found her caught in the booth of an elderly man who was selling dusty old books.

She had her hands thrust into a pile of paper sheaves crammed carelessly into a cardboard box, wearing disposable gloves and paging carefully so as to avoid doing any damage.

“See anything you like?”
“…”

Wordlessly, she pulled out a single scrap of paper, quite old and worn, and folded in half.

Hm? Was that…

“Ah, that’s a musical score.”
“…”

Yet again, complete disregard.

Evidently, she was entirely in her own world…

At moments like this, my own voice became “words out of reach.”

But what value could there be in a filthy, worn-out bit of sheet music?

The music notes written on it were scarce, the lines were shaky—it was a mess. A child appeared to have doodled on it in colored pencil.

It seemed to be a drawing of many falling stars.

“How is this even possible?”

After her lengthy contemplation, the voice that escaped her was shaking slightly.

Her eyes were practically glittering.

“Sir, where did you get this sheet music?”
“It was left behind by an old Jewish lady who passed away recently. I don’t know any more than that.”

So blunt… The man looked ill-natured, with thick glasses and the corners of his mouth tugged down in a perpetual frown.

“All the sheet music here, all these papers, did they all belong to that lady?”
“Yes.”
“Did she live in Vienna originally?”
“Oh, because of the German? Maybe.”
“Hmm.”
“By the way, young lady, do you want that score you’re holding?”
“I think I do.”
“What on earth for?”
“I play a bit of piano myself. Whenever I see an old score like this, I just have to have it.”

This was certainly the first I’d ever heard of this tendency.

“I’m not selling it on its own. You’ll have to buy the whole box.”
“The whole box? Seems heavy. All right, how much?”
“Five hundred dollars in cash.”
“What?” I couldn’t help exclaiming in Japanese. “You’re kidding. For this bunch of scrap paper?”
“If you want it, you’d better buy it quick. There was another guy here earlier who was pretty interested. I told him three hundred bucks, he went off to withdraw the money. If he comes back, I’ll have to make it an auction for the two of you.”

Who could possibly be taken in by a price inflation that predictable? Certainly not us.

“All right, I’ll take it.”

Wait, seriously?

“I was just gonna throw it out, actually,” the man said, after receiving the money. “You Japanese buy the weirdest stuff.”

He looked up at her, laughing sardonically.

“I guess we do,” she replied, smiling.

How strange… She never responded well to assertions of dominance or sarcasm or the like, and yet she’d just turned it aside effortlessly.

“It is like a stone from the moon, you know.”
“What on earth does that mean?”

She responded with a bold chuckle.

“Wait… You look a lot like a famous player. There’s this Japanese lady…”
“Oh, the pianist with the long black hair, you mean. Yeah, people mistake me for her a lot. I’m just a simple roving master of music.”
“…Uh-huh.”

Turning away from the dubious old man, she looked cheerfully my way.

“Well, Koharu-chan. Can you carry this to the hotel for me now?”

My job, yet again…


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