The Snow Melts, and Until it Falls Again… – I

Chapter 1: Spring


She’d been dreaming.

The worst kind of nightmare—memories she never wanted to think of again, rushing one after another through her brain like a revolving lantern.

“Touma… hey… Sorry, could you wake up for a second?”

But waking had never been a pleasant thing for her, and Kazusa’s heart was frayed enough that she felt furious even at the one she should have been thanking for calling out to her and waking her up from that nightmare.

…Granted, for the past several years, she had never been capable of anything as admirable as facing another with good will.


She lifted her face to find a uniformed male student, looking sharply at her with wide eyes.

…At least, his expression was stiff enough for her to be able to interpret it that way.


The fact that her present world was two years after that dream, the fact that she was currently in a third-year general course classroom, the fact that it was sixth period… no, based on the noise around her, the school day had probably ended already—all of these facts streamed into her head, bringing her back to reality.


However, as the aforementioned male student was simply standing there, frozen, Kazusa took advantage of the moment and lay her head back down on the desk…

“Ahh?! Sorry, sorry! You’re Kazusa Touma, right?”

At that moment, she was roused again, which made her mood even worse.

Her physical state aside, the dream had left her in a rotten place mentally, and with this flimsy wake-up call on top of it, she finally turned to face the student, making no effort whatsoever to hide her temper.

“You haven’t shown up at all since the first day of school. Have you been sick or anything?”

Her first impression of him… Really, there wasn’t much of an impression to get.

Unremarkable height, unremarkable build, unremarkable hairstyle, unremarkable looks.

“Textbooks. Student ID. Application forms. All those submission deadlines are coming up, in that order.”

The single thing that distinguished him was that, unlike every other male student, the top button of his shirt was done.

“Class itself hasn’t progressed all that much while you’ve been gone, but there are a lot of messages…”

His initial glare vanished, and she could tell that he was showing this calm, friendly, concerned attitude in his face in a concerted effort to make her less wary.

However, he continued looking straight into her eyes, which gave her an unpleasant feeling. Kazusa never met anyone’s eyes.

“Also, here… I grabbed a copy of the student discount application for you. You’re in Iwazu, so you commute here by train, right?”

He continued looking at her as he stacked up books and sheaves of documents on her desk.

“Now, make absolutely sure you don’t forget this one. The parent gathering flyer. It’s starting next week, so give it to your guardian some time today.”
“My guardian…”
“I would have preferred to deliver it straight to your house, but I got busy with some other stuff… Sorry about that.”

He didn’t know anything of her circumstances, and his words, unknowingly prodding at her sore spots, got on her nerves.

He probably believed he was being considerate, but his pushiness was cloying.

And those on-the-spot apologies, which served only to further said pushiness, ticked her off even more.

So, basically, she liked absolutely nothing about the boy standing before her.

“Do you have any questions? I’ll answer whatever I can.”

His way of speaking only magnified her annoyance as he went on, but Kazusa simply gave a small shake of her head in response.

In her early days here, she had snapped at everything she didn’t like; now, with all that she had learned in the past two years, it was too much of a bother.

“Okay, great. Well…”
“…I’ll explain the format of these documents next. First, this jersey order form…”

And yet this shameless boy took Kazusa’s generous compromise all too literally, as though she had said, “No problem, go ahead.”

“…What is it?”
“You’re annoying.”

It was infuriating.

She had finally managed to stop flinging negative emotions at other people.

Even if her reason was something basic and uninspiring like “Arguing is too much of a bother,” the fact was that, as a result, she had managed to avoid discord with those around her.

“I get that a lot, but this is all necessary. And, if I’m that annoying, then that’s all the more reason to commit this stuff to your memory the first time through!”

And yet, and yet…

This tactless, presumptuous, high-handed, arrogant guy here—who the hell did he think he was?

“Oh, uh… right. This is our first time meeting, after all. I’m Haruki Kitahara. I’m the first-term chair for Class E.”
“No one asked for your name.”
“You had a look on your face like you were wondering who I was.”

She didn’t know his name—wait, maybe he’d just told her, but she wasn’t interested in remembering…

“…Are you still not feeling well? Do you need to go to the nurse? I can take you.”
“…Don’t touch me.”
“Huh? Oh, I’m not touching you.”

Was this little stone by the roadside trying to puff itself up into an obstacle for her, with its own enormous hubris? It wasn’t big, or heavy, or sharp, or lying in the middle of the road.

This pure anger that boiled up in Kazusa, for the first time in ages…

“…All right, we can save the rest for later. Oh, right. I can deliver this to your house after school, if you’d like—“
“Don’t touch me!”

Broke past her bounds in an instant.


Around the time that the warm spring sun had begun to set, steadily bringing in a chill that served as a reminder that winter had come not long before, Kazusa exited the school gates alone.

Her expression retained the heat of her earlier anger, and her tightly drawn mouth and narrowed eyes, coupled with the bridge of her nose, produced a sense of sharp, unapproachable beauty.

Of course, the people who passed by her, giving her a wide berth, had no way of knowing that what had given rise to this frightening beauty was something as ridiculously childish as it was.

“His damn fault.”

When Kazusa stormed out of the classroom, all but slamming the door, everyone there—the aforementioned boy included—shut their mouths, staring dumbfounded at her sudden violent outburst.

It was a scene that had played out often enough in the music department classroom that she had occupied until last year, but it wasn’t something Kazusa had meant to happen this year.

At this rate, she didn’t know any more why she had transferred into the general course.

She had planned to keep her days dull and quiet in this new class, with people she didn’t know—people who didn’t know her—avoiding starting anything, considering that she might even be able to graduate; and yet, to her extreme disappointment, her very first day showing up for this class had ended in the same way as ever.

And Kazusa fell into despair.

Nothing had actually changed.

In the closed-off world of Houjou High School, there was not a single person who would understand her, acknowledge her, and leave her alone like she wanted.

…From that way of putting it, it would have been clear to anyone that this interpersonal friction was something she had brought on herself; but Kazusa was never included in that “anyone,” so, in the end, this breakdown event was likely to continue on in its established custom every year, with no alteration.

It had already been two years since she looked up at the sky on the day of the entrance ceremony…

Kazusa Touma still hated the sky.

She had always hated the light blue sky of spring, with its thin clouds.

She hated the teachers, the students, everyone and everything around her.

She had reason enough to hate every single thing that might enter her field of vision.

And so, Kazusa Touma… came to despise the over-familiar male student she had met today.

There were three music rooms in Houjou High School.

Music Room #1, in the main school building, was used for the general course’s music classes during the day, and for the music club after school.

Music Room #3, in the new building, was occupied exclusively by the music department throughout the day, and with its location so far removed from the general course, ordinary students never went near it.

And Music Room #2…

This place, next to Music Room #1, originally reserved for the music department back when it was its classes were still in the main building, now was used neither for classes nor for clubs, and had essentially become a forbidden classroom.

Originally, it had been suitable for access after school—for the several music-related clubs, for example—but there were reasons that neither the students nor the teachers expressed much dissatisfaction with the situation.

It wasn’t an urban legend, seven mysteries, school haunting sort of thing, but rather an accumulation of differences in understanding of respective positions.

The general course students assumed that the room was still reserved for the music department, as it had once been.

The music department students no longer acknowledged any value in the existence of the room.

And the teachers… avoided the subject of the room’s current user.

Today, yet again, the tones of the piano rang out in the forbidden Music Room #2.

One week after the first day of school. Even now, in her third year, having transferred into the general course, Kazusa inhabited this classroom, whether during or after school… the “Master of Music Room #2.”

The guitar part from “Forbidden Games” floated in on the wind, weaving its way through the gaps between the piano’s notes.

In spring, two years ago, when Kazusa was first brought here…

It was a day to be commemorated—the day she drove off the teacher that had brought her here, took ownership of the room, and made definite her own assessment of herself as “the audacious problem child who uses her parent’s fame and donations as an excuse.”

Ever since then, this classroom had become a place untouchable even by staff, and this European-made grand piano her mother had donated, for which three million was apparently a trifling amount, was reduced to her daughter’s exclusive plaything.

Kazusa never returned the key to the staff room, but came here whenever she felt like it, or even when she didn’t especially feel like it; and at whatever hour of the day, she would play the piano, and the various other instruments lying around, at random.

The guitar moved on to “Yesterday.”

Since the competition two years ago, Kazusa had never stood onstage as a pianist.

In fact, after that day, Kazusa stopped enjoying playing the piano.

Which meant that this wasn’t for practice, or for fun—it was simple force of habit.

She didn’t pursue her craft, worry about mistakes, or lament the drop in her own skill—just played and played, not thinking about anything, not wanting to think about anything.

She played intently, single-mindedly, as though to erase everything she hated, everything painful, every sadness, from her memory.

Pleasant, happy memories might end up vanishing in the bargain, but there was no need to worry about that.

She hadn’t experienced anything pleasant or happy in quite some time…

The guitar moved on to “White Album”…

“Oh my god!”

But, that day, Kazusa slammed the keyboard in irritation, seemingly having given up on not thinking about anything.

Not because she had despaired of her own piano playing ability, of course…

“Who is this shitty guitar player?!”

She simply couldn’t tolerate the lack of skill in the guitar tones that floated by on the wind.

She had started hearing it every evening for the past several days.

Once the wind ensemble and choir had all finished their rehearsals and vacated Music Room #1, someone seemed to take it up as a personal after-school practice space, their fumbling solo guitar overlapping with Kazusa’s smooth piano playing.

It was just about the most infuriating thing in the world.

It was probably some new student who had decided to start playing guitar and put a band together now that they’d entered a new school, but the lack of technique or talent was very difficult for Kazusa, who had been blessed with plenty of both from birth, to endure.

In fact, it had started to take a toll on her own performance, and the sense that the sounds were fleeing from her fingertips was sapping Kazusa’s will to keep performing.

“I’m leaving…”

The guitar continued stumbling through “White Album.”

Kazusa clapped her hands over her ears, absolutely determined not to hear any more of that racket, and hurriedly left the building.

Along the way home, she made up her mind to soothe her exhausted brain by giving it a massive amount of sugar…

Kazusa Touma loved pudding.

Actually, she loved everything sweet, not just pudding.

She didn’t know whether it was because she had inherited her own mother’s enormous sweet tooth, or whether it was a result of her mother being the one who fed her, but this childish palate had never changed, forcing a fearsome battle with her dental health to unfold.

Well, no, there had been one little change.

…An astonishing change: she had become even more devoted to sweet things than she had been before.

Understandably, she avoided spicy things, which she had never liked in the first place—but recently, her tastes had come to repel bitter and sour things as well, and hot things and cold things, for that matter, had largely been removed, further narrowing her food options from a list that was already lacking in variation.

Ice cream gave way to cake and pudding, lemon tea to milk tea, and she stopped drinking carbonated drinks or fruit juice…

Her one special allowance was coffee, but even that was most likely a pose put on for her surroundings; if she didn’t disguise it with heaps of sugar and creamer, her throat couldn’t handle the bitterness and heat.

At present, Kazusa herself paid no mind to what was apparently a simple change in preferences.

But, were a counselor or psychiatrist to examine her, they might have realized that the darkness in her heart was having a serious impact on her palate.

Without her realizing it, Kazusa’s brain had been screaming for a long, long time.

Screaming that her palate didn’t want stimulation.

Screaming that that the tip of her tongue didn’t want to feel any pain.

“Give me another one of the same.”
“…C-Coming right up.”

Now, indifferent to these signs, Kazusa downed her second pudding and calmly ordered a third.

Pudding was her favorite food, regardless of type, ingredients, or price… but the pudding listed on the recommendations menu at this restaurant, the Goodies location in Minamisuetsugu, was her number one.

Because, compared to anywhere else, the pudding here boasted an extreme sweetness and richness that would have turned off any first-time customer, a density that brought its recommended status into question—and that meant that Kazusa’s spoon was in constant motion, a satisfied smile on her face all the while.

Then, right as Kazusa was bringing the final bite to her mouth, with a faintly blissful expression that no one would ever see from her at school…

“I’m telling you, you don’t have to think that hard about it. We’re all just going to hang out.”

From right behind her, voices reached her—voices she had heard just recently, somewhere…

“What’s this about? You never even said a word to me until second year,
“Well, I mean… you were dating Takada, right, Yui-chan?”
“…Wow, you knew that?”
“Because I had my eye on you. It came as a pretty big shock when I found out you had a boyfriend…”

Rattling off lines she had heard somewhere before, that set her teeth on edge.

“And, see, just recently, I got my hands on some new information… that you’d broken up.”
“…Mm-hm. Very sharp.”

She turned her head—carefully, so that the speakers wouldn’t notice—and found a couple, dressed in Houjou High School uniforms, chatting lightheartedly.

Kazusa’s guess was half-right: she recognized the boy.

“What, so you thought this was your chance? You thought I would just leap into someone else’s arms?”
“If you want to leap into my arms, by all means, feel free.”
“What if I told you I’m not that easy?”
“An opportunity to test my powers of persuasion? More than welcome.”
“You’re good at this, Iizuka-kun. I’ve heard all sorts of stuff from Sawa-chan.”
“Well, why don’t we see whether any of it is true?”

That slender build, unruly light-brown hair, and wheedling voice and tone brought back yesterday’s memory vividly.

It was the boy who had persistently stuck around her on her way home yesterday.


“Touma-san, from class E, right?”
“Takeya Iizuka, class G. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”
“Well, you know Haruki, right? Haruki Kitahara, the guy who sits next to you.”
“I’m a friend of his. He told me about you.”
“Sooo, I decided to talk to you, because I’m interested in getting to know you!”
“Gotta say I’m surprised. I didn’t know we had any girls of your level in our year… Man, I oughtta have my card revoked for not noticing you.”
“Where are you headed? Why don’t we go grab some tea, if you’ve got a minute?”
“Oh, I don’t really mean anything deep by that. I just wanna chat a little.”
“…You’re the shy type, I see.”
“You were in the music department until last year, right? We don’t get a lot of people transferring into general ed.”
“By the way, are you related to Youko Touma at all?”


It sounded like the guy was ready to keep on yammering at her like that forever, but Kazusa had to stop him there.

…With a sharp roundhouse kick.

“Hmm, well… If you promise we won’t be left alone at any point, I’ll think about it.”
“Oh, that’s fine by me. I love a big fun group.”
“How about it, then? Some time during Golden Week?”

But, today, he seemed to be getting a response with far more potential than yesterday’s catch.

And the girl sitting across from him—the wrong half of Kazusa’s guess, someone she assumed she didn’t know but in fact sat two seats ahead of her—had a lively bounce in her voice, showing that she was enjoying clashing verbal swords with him.

In other words, there was clearly a spark.

“So, the third… How about ten o’clock that morning, in front of the Minami-Suetsugu ticket gate?”
“I’ll find someone to invite along, and I’ll call you when I’ve decided.”
“Great, let’s swap numbers.”

Now both uncomfortable and in a bad mood after being forced to hear a shallow boy-girl conversation like this, Kazusa resigned herself to moving somewhere else, and stood up slowly, so the two of them wouldn’t spot her…

“Really? Kitahara-kun? I don’t know…”

And that name, with which she had become so familiar lately, froze her there.

“Huh? Why?”
“Kitahara-kun… He’s the chairman, right?”

She was forced to hear that name for the second day in a row.

The first boy who had spoken to her in class.

The tactless, pushy chairman.

The only classmate who still insisted on talking to her, now that she had isolated herself.

The friend of the shallow guy she was seeing here.

The snitch who sold her to him.

The embodiment of nosiness, who dug up the fact that she was originally in the music department, and Youko Touma’s daughter to boot.

The nasty, calculating scumbag who approached her precisely because he knew.

All of Kazusa’s anger collected around that perfectly remembered name, “Haruki Kitahara”—even more than it did around the guy in front of her.

Her very first impression of him remained—“This is all his damn fault”…

“Yeah, I can’t think of any girl who’d want to invite him.”
“Why? Something wrong with him?”
“…I mean, you know, right?”

          Yes, I know very well.

“He’s not bad looking, though, right? Don’t worry, I’ll do something about the clothes.”
“No, he looks fine, but isn’t he annoying?”

          Yes. Unabashedly annoying.

“Like, he just randomly showed up at my house the other day. He said he looked me up in the address book.”

          That sounds just like him.

“Were you absent from school that day? Or did you forget something?”
“Well, yeah, okay, I was absent. I was at a big concert the night before.”
“He was probably coming to check up on you, then.”
“Yeah, but what about delicacy?”

          Yep. He’s fatally lacking in constraint.

“Did he come in? Did he make you make tea for him?”
“No, he went right home… But, like…”

          Yes, but…

His extreme interference in other people’s lives produced only disgust…

“…Sorry, something’s come up. I’m gonna go.”

At that moment, the word she had been muttering to herself unconsciously fell out of her mouth.

Because the smooth feather-lightness of his speech had suddenly taken on an unpleasant weight.

“Here’s my part of the check. I had fun today. See you.”
“W-Wait, Iizuka-kun!”

The girl made a slightly flustered attempt to stop him, perhaps having picked up on the same weight that Kazusa had noticed.

“We haven’t settled on everything for the hangout yet! Who’s gonna be there?”
“Oh, right, that…”
“What do you mean, ‘Oh, right, that’?!”
“Sorry, there’s too much to do right now. See you next time.”

But he clearly had no interest in listening to what she had to say any more.

“…Are you angry?”
“You’ve only been in the same class for couple weeks. Don’t talk about Haruki like you know him.”
“Wh-What are you talking about?”

Seriously, what was he talking about?

Wasn’t Haruki the weird one for going to visit someone he’d only been classmates with for a couple weeks, just because she missed a day?

“At least wait until you’ve known him for a whole term. Bye.”
“Wait, hang on! Iizuka-kun, you’re acting completely different from how you just were! Hey, wait, I said!”
“Iizuka-kun” quickly walked right past Kazusa.

But, even though Kazusa was sitting right there, he didn’t notice her. He just left the restaurant, a dry look on his face, as though he had completely lost interest in the other girl.

For that very reason, Kazusa couldn’t take her eyes off of him.

Because some part of her felt, irrationally, as though that condescending look were directed at her.

“…What the hell was that?!”

The frustrated yell let loose by the deserted girl could have come from Kazusa, one day before.

Because she was doing nothing more than representing Kazusa’s own impression. The words that came out of her mouth were Kazusa’s words.

Therefore, Kazusa understood—no, she experienced the same feeling.

A blaze of humiliation, and an overwhelming desire to run away, as though she had been doused with cold water.

Those were, again, the emotions brought about in her by that “Haruki Kitahara,” the class chair.


She’d been dreaming.

A strange dream, that could be seen as wonderful or terrible—she was an ant, sinking in honey.

“Touma… Hey… Wake up!”

Released from her ultimate choice—life, or sugar—Kazusa wiped off the tears and spit that had dribbled out out, and turned to face the one who had brought her back to reality.

“Good morning. It’s weird to see you here before class starts.”
“You don’t have to sigh that loudly.”

It wasn’t a sigh—she had been about to say, “Haruki Kitahara,” and hurriedly cut herself off.

How many years had it been since she last memorized someone’s full name?

“Good morning! Good morning, Touma! The bell’s about to ring! Sit up!”
“Mm… mmph…”

Her attempt to continue sleeping even though she was being addressed, the way she begrudgingly stretched, her attitude of zero interest, was half bluffing.

To be sure, she didn’t want to be interfered with or pried into any further.

…But, even more than that, she didn’t want it to be figured out that she had taken a tiny bit of interest in this boy.

“Sorry to wake you up, but the deadline for the future course interest survey is today at noon.”
“The teacher asked me to collect them. I assume you threw yours away, so here’s a new one. I filled in all the stuff I already knew, like your name.”

Blatant meddling. Cloying friendliness. Transparent nosiness.

Compared with Kazusa’s previous experiences, this was the most similar to the ulterior motives of the adults who swarmed around her—no, around the Touma family’s status, fame, and fortune.

“I won’t watch you while you’re writing, and I’ll put it in an envelope before I take it, so you don’t have to worry about me seeing anything. Just have it done by lunch, okay?”

And yet, Kazusa couldn’t spot any strain of self-interest in his words or actions, which made her feel indescribably ill at ease.

“No, don’t just roll it up. Fill it in.”
“I don’t care about this stuff.”

As a result, she took an unintentionally defiant attitude.

Defiant in a way that was different from a month ago—lighter, not wholly rejecting his interference.

“Whether you’re planning to go to college, get a job, haven’t decided yet, whatever, just write down what you’re thinking about now. Or even that you aren’t thinking about anything, if that’s the case.”
“If you’ve got the time to bother me, why don’t you go pick up everyone else’s?”
“They all got theirs in by yesterday. Yours is the only one left.”
“…Weren’t there three people absent yesterday?”
“They contacted me and I went to pick their forms up. Even the ones with fevers filled them in.”

As always, she was dizzyingly irritated by what he was doing.

But, somehow, strangely, the school’s number-one stickler held the admiration of the school’s number-one playboy.

Kazusa still couldn’t comprehend this contradiction—this close friendship between two such polar opposite personalities, with no apparent common ground.

“Don’t say that. The people in our class are all very reliable.”
“You thought I was talking about them…?”

And because she couldn’t comprehend it, she hesitated to hate him more than she did.

She couldn’t shake the worry that she was operating under some enormous misunderstanding.

“Look, we’re attached to a university. You can just write that you’re planning to go there when you’re done here. They’ll bug you way less for that than if you don’t write anything.”
“No way I’m going there.”

She muttered to herself, pretending to talk back, while looking into his face—casually, but deliberately—with upturned eyes.

“You don’t want to lie? …You’re more honest than I thought. I’m impressed.”
“…Don’t jump to your own conclusions and put me on a pedestal. It’s annoying.”

          No matter how hard I look at him, he’s just normal. Completely ordinary.

          Not ugly enough to make me want to look away, not beautiful enough to make me stare.

          …Granted, guys in either of those extremes probably make up less than 1% of all men.

“If you don’t want people to change their opinions of you, it would be much more effective to blend in with everybody else.”

          But, maybe he’s just a tiny bit above average.

          Maybe he’s like a 5.5, or a 6, instead of just a 5.

“You won’t have people praising you for being like the delinquent who fed a stray cat, so everyone will evaluate you normally.”
“I don’t want anyone evaluating me.”

          As proof, I might not be captivated by him, but looking at him up this close isn’t terrible, either.

          Actually, I could probably keep on looking at him like this…

“I don’t recommend doing it while class is in session. I’d rather you finished it before the bell…”
“You really…”

          No, maybe it’s a mistake for me to try to make that judgment in the first place.

          I’ve never been interested in guys my age… or of any age, for that matter.

          Not even guys who might be my father.

          I don’t have any interest in myself, let alone other people. Why would I try to evaluate someone else…?

          But, in that case, where should I look instead?

          What should I use to decide what’s good or bad about him?

          And what kind of effect will the outcome of that decision have on me…?

“Well, this is a choice that will impact you for a lifetime if you’re careless, so I guess you can mull it over a little more. Anyway…”

Suddenly returning to herself, Kazusa hurriedly dropped her eyes to the paper in front of her and started writing intently.

“There, that’s more like it…”

Her own revulsion at how she was acting and thinking had sent a chill down her spine.

Staring at a boy, pondering him, behaving like some little girl.

“Anything you don’t know how to answer?”
“I’ve been listening to everything you’ve said, so listen to me now.”
“Of course! If there’s anything bothering you, feel free to come to me with…”
“If I ignore you from now on, don’t worry about it. I’m just deeply annoyed and disgusted.”
“Oh… I see.”

          Ridiculous. I can’t be interested in someone else.

          Completely ridiculous.

“There, I’m done. Take it.”
“Whoa, don’t throw it at me. Turn it over first…”

          I don’t care who idolizes this guy.

          It doesn’t matter how much appeal he has as a person.

          This is a problem that exerts absolutely no influence on the world I live in.

“I don’t really care if you see it. I just wrote ‘Go to Houjou University,’ like you said.”
“…Are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know, am I?”

          If I don’t keep that distinction, it’ll only get me in trouble.

          The over-familiar way he’s acting is abnormal in the first place.

          If I go easy on him, there’s no knowing how he might take advantage of me.

“Are we done here? If we are, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Oh, hang on, sorry. One more thing.”
“I get it, okay? …If you ignore me from now on, I won’t think about it too much.”
“Oh… Yeah.”

She’d meant to draw the line.

And yet, the moment she heard his words of resignation, an odd flicker of displeasure came into Kazusa’s face…

“So, you don’t have to worry about it if I keep trying to talk to you, either.”

She’d meant to draw the line.

And yet, the moment she heard his words, entirely lacking in resignation, blatant displeasure splashed itself all over Kazusa’s face.

“Good morning, Touma. Look how nice the weather is today!”
“Wait just a second, Kitahara. I didn’t promise…”
“I’m going to do what you said, so you can do this one thing for me, right?”
“You didn’t just ask for one thing! How shameless can you be?!”
“Touma… Why would you say that now?”

Kazusa cursed.

Cursed her own foolishness in going lenient on someone this irritating and over-friendly.

Over the course of the next month, Kazusa gradually came to understand…

That those who depended on Haruki Kitahara, and those who avoided him, were divided into two clear groups, with clear trends.

As Kazusa was a newbie to the general course this year, she struggled at first to get a clue, but once she realized it, it was a conclusion easily reached just by looking over the student roster handed out each year.

It wasn’t a matter of gender, grades, or personality, but rather of the make up of last year’s classes, and the year before last year’s.

That is to say, a difference between those who had experienced being in class with him before, as first- or second-years, and those who hadn’t.

The latter tried to distance themselves from Haruki Kitahara, hated the way he meddled, reacted negatively to his lectures, and were utterly exasperated with the way he continued to involve himself with them regardless.

And the former had given up on trying to fight Haruki Kitahara from the get-go, and trusted him fully.

What demonstrated this clearly to her was some trouble that got stirred up with the boy who sat in front of her, whom Kitahara called “Hayasaka.”

Hayasaka, who had been appointed against his will to the Sports Day committee at the class’s endorsement, had been skipping required meetings, neglecting to make preparations, and even with the event a mere week away, the players participating in each match had yet to be decided. He had, in other words, created an absolutely wretched situation.

In this moment of crisis for the class, Kitahara swooped in, without panicking, without fussing, and backed him up completely.

Well, maybe the percentage of the arrangements he made was a little too high to call it “backing up”…

Kitahara attended all the necessary meetings in Hayasaka’s place, finished getting the program in order, got the private consent of all the main members to select the athletes, and on his own brought things to a point at which all that remained was a class-wide vote.

And, after carrying all of this out silently, he at last broke his silence, and began lecturing Hayasaka at length after homeroom.

Hayasaka, who had wholly lost face, refused to back down even though he was plainly entirely in the wrong; and rather than just ignore Kitahara’s lecture, he lashed back outright, bringing the atmosphere to an explosive state.

Kitahara didn’t fight him back, however, or act shocked—just earnestly pointed out all of his problems, and suggested that they work on Sports Day together.

But, unable to back down once he had gone on the offensive, Hayasaka got even more heated…

And those who remained optimistic in this critical situation were the former… Kitahara’s “previous victims,” who had been in class with him before.

They had known from the start how to get along with Kitahara.

And they understood him extraordinarily well.

As a result, they didn’t freak out about this flare-up, and they treated Hayasaka with an open mind… or, well, they handled it okay, but were hazy in a few regards.

All they could offer was support that wasn’t really support—“Getting angry is pointless,” “If you take everything he says seriously you’ll end up pulling all your hair out,” “He wants the short end of the stick, so please just settle this now.”

One week later, saddled with these problems, Sports Day took place…

That day, Kazusa came to understand yet another thing.

After skipping all of the events and killing time in Music Room #2, she looked out the window at the evening schoolyard, and saw…

A group of noisy third-years, entering the post-Sports Day grounds with drinks.

The most boisterous among them were from their own class, class E.

And the most roused up of all of them, Hayasaka, had a drink in one hand (probably tea) and the other arm slung around Kitahara, who was drinking quietly (probably tea).

It looked from here like Kitahara was still lecturing him about something, the same as ever, but now, Hayasaka—as though, in a scant few days, he had come to understand—simply, smoothly let the attitude of lecture pass, roaring with laughter.

“At least wait until you’ve known him for a full term.”

Kazusa didn’t want to remember what the shallow guy had said, but it came back to her anyway.

Starting the next week, the vibe in the classroom was markedly different.

The stiffness in the air between Haruki and a certain group of students vanished, and they all began turning to him readily, pushing the most trivial things on him, and letting the forthcoming lectures go in one ear and out the other, laughing every time.

Were that all, there might have been the negative possibility of his falling to the status of class handyman. However, the attitude and mood of those all around was thoroughly bright, with no sarcasm or spite any more, and any inclination to ridicule or reject his sincerity had been purged.

And, most notably, Hayasaka, one of the primary parties concerned, had begun to address Kitahara as “Haruki”—and, in response, Kitahara had begun to call him “Chikashi,” as well.

Everyone acknowledged Haruki Kitahara as an indispensible member of the class.

Actually, none of them were probably aware of that constructive shift in sentiment, “acknowledgement”—they all assumed that they were handling their nagging chairman the same as they always had.

Kazusa was the only one who recognized the change in atmosphere as a change.

Because she was the least necessary person in the class.

The only outsider, watching the Sports Day event from high up.

And… the girl who spent the most time looking at Haruki Kitahara.

For the past while, Kazusa had never taken her eyes off of him.

Making use of the fact that she was ignored by the rest of the class, she made a big show of pretending to nap during class and during breaks, facedown on the desk, while through the gaps between her arms she watched the side of his face, picked up all the voices whispering around him.

…Had her mother, who had poured so much money into the skills she cultivated through playing the piano—breadth of view, acuteness of ear—known that they were being put to this use, what would she have thought?

Leaving that aside, Kazusa cut down on her precious sleeping time to write the following report on Kitahara:

-Haruki Kitahara gives a very bad first impression to everyone he meets.
-This is because everyone hates and avoids his repulsive personality by instinct.
*Anyone who has a favorable impression of him from the start either has very strange tastes or is an idiot.
*I’ve never encountered a weirdo like him before, and I never will again.
-However, within just a few days, he overturns that first impression, and earns the approval of everyone around him.
-He makes this happen through careful, meticulous persuasion, using dirty, cowardly tricks, like the devil.
-He deliberately causes trouble within the group that includes him.
-And, by resolving the trouble himself, he flips around the other person’s assessment of him.
-This is the reputation that comes from being like “the delinquent who fed a stray cat.”
-In addition, because everyone’s spirits are swept up in the midst of the incident, they can’t make a calm judgment.
-In this way, he steadily increases his supporters, and before you know it, he comes to rule the group.

Kazusa was of no mind to present these dreadful research results anywhere, nor to try to save any of those whom Kitahara had tainted.

After all, her “research” of him was just a way to kill time.

Yes, these were terrifying truths, but as long as none of the dust fell on Kazusa, it wasn’t her business or her problem.

As long as she kept her head down and slept in class, erasing her own presence as much as possible, she wouldn’t come under his influence, and neither would she be targeted by his devotees.

She was optimistic about this…

“Good morning, Touma. And happy birthday!”
“It’s today, right? May 28th?”
“Yeah, happy birthday. Well, mine’s in April, so I won’t honor you as my elder or anything, but…”

So, when he spoke to her that day, she walked away at a brisker pace than usual, fighting back the urge to scream, “Wh-Wh-Where the hell did you find that out, you stalker?!”

Two days later, when she saw Kitahara giving birthday greetings to another classmate, she recalled anew that he was just like this with everyone, and without getting excessively self-conscious, she experienced a deep relief.

So much relief that she could kick the classroom trash can hard enough to send it flying.

She had meant to keep on like that, not drawing attention, always ignoring Kitahara no matter how many times he came and talked to her, but circumstances did not progress the way Kazusa wanted.

The ones he had brainwashed had started looking at her with lukewarm eyes. In fact, she had actually started to hear people mutter disgusting things like, “We can just leave Touma-san to Kitahara-kun.”

In particular, when she heard these lines slip out of the female students who normally derisively called him “Mr. Chairman,” even Kazusa, so aloof and solitary, lost sleep from the despair of being left behind.

With all of this, the number of classmates who spoke to her plainly lessened…

With all of this, her irritation with a certain classmate, the only one who spoke to her, increased rapidly.

Kitahara earned the support of his devotees, disguised as an imposition; and, as though carrying out his duty, he spoke to Kazusa almost every day, interfered with her, worried over her, advised her, and attempted on various fronts to protect her from the teachers and the school.

Kazusa found herself driven into a corner, under such stress that she had considered, more than once or twice, saying, “What, are you into me or something?!”, ripping his pride and her own appearance to shreds, pouring lethal derision onto both of them.

          I can’t do this any more.

          I’m gonna talk to that idiot, just once.

          Tell him not to bug me any more, not to talk to me any more.

          Tell him never to try to deceive me again.

          And if he still refuses to comply, I’ll just have to resolve it with force.

          Because this is my limit.

          I’m on the verge of telling him everything that’s on my mind…

“Touma, how much more of a burden do you plan to put on Kitahara?!”

But, as Kazusa held these thoughts, an interference on Kitahara’s behalf came at her from somewhere she never would have imagined.

“Um, Suwa-sensei… I appreciate your concern, but I’m her homeroom teacher, and…”

It was a day in early summer, after end-of-term exams were over, and a momentary relief had spread through the students.

Kazusa, called to the staffroom, was left briefly dumbstruck by this unexpected name, coming from an unexpected party.

“This is what happens when you keep giving her special treatment like this. Touma isn’t the prize student of the music department any more. She’s at the bottom of the general course!”
“Ah… Um, well…”

Of course, she had predicted her reason for being called.

She had heard that she was the only one in her class—in her entire year, in fact—who had managed to fail her exams in every single subject.

“It’s like you’re forcing him to take care of you in everything!”
“…So? I didn’t ask him to.”

And, of course, she also understood why things had turned out that way.

She’d done no lesson prep, no review, hadn’t ever even listened in class, always sleeping at her desk, or pretending to sleep while diligently observing her seat neighbor. It would have been impossible for her to get more than thirty points on her exams.

“I understand you made Kitahara apologize for the fact that you were the only one who didn’t submit your guidance counseling form on time. And you made him lie for you, and say you mistook the deadline!”
“No, I didn’t… The chairman decided on his own to do that.”
“So, you’re putting all of this on him? You’re taking advantage of the fact that Kitahara stuck up for you to make everything his fault, and you’re just fine with that?”

But, in that sense, she wasn’t happy at all about being dragged in and blamed for something Kitahara did, when he was one of the reasons she had been too distracted to study.

“Also, Houjou University? Are you joking? Do you think for one second that you’ll be able to get an endorsement?”
“The chairman said I could just put anything…”
“Listen to that! Shifting the blame again!”

Furthermore, the head guidance counselor, Suwa, had been Kazusa’s natural enemy since the year before…

“You’ve kept on with the same feeling from your music department days, and it’s causing us the same trouble. How long are you going to keep dragging out your first-year glory?”

Ever since the music department as a whole had started to give up on Kazusa, she and Suwa had clashed countless times.

He drew a line, in a sense, between himself and the other teachers who took one look at Kazusa’s face and couldn’t say anything, even though she was nothing more than a student; and he gave all of his advice to her straight, no matter how harsh, holding nothing back, and the things he said were in fact pretty fair and reasonable.

Now, whether Kazusa actually endorsed any of it, or spent any time reflecting on what he had told her, was a different story…

When she interpreted the advice as nastiness, the open attitude as arrogance, the reasoning as petty fault-finding, the mere presence of this single, awful middle-aged teacher caused Kazusa’s misplaced resentment to take even deeper root.

“You were admitted here because we had hopes for your piano playing. We shouldn’t have let you transfer in the first place.”
“I mean, you could just expel me. If you don’t need my family’s financial contributions, then by all means…”
“…! What kind of student talks like that?!”

          What kind of counselor talks like that?!

“S-Suwa-sensei… why don’t we end this here, for today? Touma seems to be doing some reflecting…”
“Really? That looks like reflecting to you?”

          Who’s reflecting?

She could have said it aloud, but the idea of taking Suwa’s inflammatory bait made her feel like he was manipulating her, and she wasn’t interested in that.

“I’m not going to listen to this…!”

After slamming the staff room door shut, Kazusa stormed down the hallway, unable to dispel her anger.

With her comparatively high stature for a girl, long, slender arms and legs, and model-like figure, Kazusa took long strides, making a picture that normally would have captivated any underclassmen who didn’t know what she was really like—but the expression plastered on her face did her no favors in terms of elegance.

“I’ve never heard of a student being allowed to just use a music room alone, whenever she likes.”

          I never asked for it. You all just offered it to me.

“If your mother could see you now…”

          This has nothing to do with my mother.

“If I were in your place, I would feel unbearably guilty for saddling my teachers and parents with this.”

          I’m not like you.

“Either dedicate yourself to studying and keep up with everyone else, or…”

          I don’t have to listen to this.

          I’m getting out of here…

“Oh, hey, Touma! There you are!”

After she had gone to all this trouble to produce her unapproachable air, the same guy approached her anyway, not paying attention to her face, not reading her mood, not thinking at all.

Today was the end-of-term ceremony, so he should have long since gone home…

“What did they say? It seemed like they were chewing you out for a pretty long time…”

It had been Hell.

After taking over, her homeroom teacher had carried on like Suwa’s flunky telling her not to cause any more trouble for Kitahara, causing Kazusa’s irritation to build even higher.

“Still, did you actually use my notes? At least eighty percent of them showed up in the tests…”

Everyone in the staffroom was on the chairman’s side.

Just as Kazusa had once been “the honor of the music department,” he was the current “pride of the general course.”

“You’ll take the makeup exams, right?”

And, though she was a member of the general course now, Kazusa hadn’t managed to become “general.”

From a special prize pupil, to a special disappointment.

The teachers, her classmates, the chairman…

No one would just ignore Kazusa like normal.

“It’s okay, though. One semester should be enough to recover. We’ve got summer break coming up, too. It’s completely possible. If you’d like, I can—“

Therefore, just as always…

Kazusa bared her fangs at them all.


She pierced Kitahara with a gaze so cold that even she thought it might be a bit much, then erased the expression and passed right by him as though nobody were there.

“Ah, um… Touma…?”

All Kitahara could do now was watch her leave, dumbfounded.

This nosy boy, this clueless idiot, was frozen just as he had been when they first met.

Kazusa believed, therefore, that this would finally be the end.

He would never try to speak to her again.

If such a favor, seen as an obligation, were returned with such vicious resentment, then surely anyone would…


Even Kazusa wasn’t sure whether this utterance was directed at him, or at herself.

That day, a tempestuous recital took place in Music Room #2.

The loud, recklessly fast rhythm reverberating across the whole schoolyard through the open window caused the training club members to stop their practice several times, staring up in bewilderment at the third-floor.

Though the end-of-term ceremony might be over, though summer break might have begun, Kazusa was still the Master of Music Room #2.

Then, although it was thoroughly drowned out by the piano, the guitar part from “Smoke on the Water” blew faintly in on the wind.

As Suwa had said, Music Room #2 was an emblem of Kazusa’s violence.

By the simple fact of her being in here and playing the piano, there were people who experienced antipathy, people who were inconvenienced, people who suffered loss.

But she could no longer leave this place.

Because, in the whole of the school, this was the only place where she fit.


Her fingers couldn’t keep pace with her feelings.

She couldn’t regulate the force with which she struck the keys, and her sense of pain started to go numb.

Not just because her skill had fallen, but because, today, Kazusa was clearly, extraordinarily roused up.

The guitar moved on to “Lingering Snow,” disregarding the season.

Summer break would start tomorrow.

On this critical day, Kazusa’s wish to be alone was finally granted.

She had managed to remove the single person who talked to her, the tiresome chairman.

For more than a month they wouldn’t see each other, and he would be unable to bridge the gap that had formed between them in that time, and after that, the distance would just keep growing.

She would probably be able to make it all the way to graduation without any more barging-in.

So Kazusa forgot all about what had already happened, and turned her thoughts to tomorrow and thereafter.

To summer break, when she could fully savor being alone.

          Maybe I’ll go on a trip or something.

          Some tiny little place, not even big enough to be called a town, where no one knows me.

          Shut myself away in whatever place I’m staying, all day long, engulfed in the darkness of solitude.

          Nothing different from how I always am…

At some point, the piano’s sound had stopped.

As she was picturing this delightful vacation, her fingers had ceased to move.

…For some reason, the loneliness that she had brought on herself, by her own power, was horribly painful right now.

The guitar moved on, as it always did, to “White Album”…

“…Shitty guitar player…”

The corners of Kazusa’s mouth twitched up as she muttered this, but the area around her eyes was distorted in a way that couldn’t really be called “smiling.”

It was the same terrible guitar she had heard all through the term, having seemingly made little improvement, if any at all.

Disharmonious, selfish personal practice sessions, cutting into Kazusa’s performances over and over, making mistake after mistake, not giving up when she stopped, losing some heart while she was in the middle of playing.

Even though it was obviously a disruption on her side, now and then, it seemed as though the other sound were trying to accompany her, and she had been shocked countless times by its shows of egotism.



Today’s play-through of “White Album” managed, just barely, to scrape by with no mistakes.

Power began returning to her stationary fingers, little by little.

She began to feel like she might be able to play just one more song.

Right now, the only thing by Kazusa’s side was the clumsy guitar from next door.

Kazusa Touma hated the sky.

She especially detested the deep blue sky immediately after the rainy season had ended, with its great billowing columns of clouds.

She hated the teachers, the students, everything in the world around her.

She especially detested the over-familiar male student, whom she wasn’t going to see for a little while.

But, this small bit of noise… Kazusa Touma didn’t hate it that much.

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