Todokanai Koi

 

The Love that Would Not Reach, has Reached

“The action committee chairman’s… assistant?”
“Ogiso…?
“Are you, perhaps… the guitarist?”
“White Album”…

A melody that connected Music Room #1 and Music Room #2, that evening on the rooftop, with a month remaining before the school festival—one might call it a coincidence, one might call it an inevitability, one might call it a miracle.

The first song for just the three of them: “He played guitar, she filled it in with piano, and she sang.”

And…

“…What is this?”
“Ah, um, well…”
“A new song. The third one. Our last number.”
“Oh…”

Nearly a month later, on a Friday…

One person became two, two became three, and at last, they had reached the day before the school festival concert…

“Kitahara wrote the lyrics, I set them to music, and you’re going to sing, Ogiso. A song for just the three of us.”

One more song, just for the three of them, was completed here.

Chapter 1 Haruki

“That’s not really a problem. I told you, there’s a second guitar.”
“No, I told you, I’m not doing it.”

Half a year before the school festival, in early May…

Four male students were gathered in Music Room #1 after school, and a heated argument was unfolding.

“It’s fine, Haruki. Even if we start now, we’ll have more than enough time.”
“Quit trying to pacify me, Takeya. I know best what my own abilities are.”
“It’s true that your skills right now are pretty hopeless. There’s not much likelihood of a drastic improvement in half a year. But the school festival is just a festival, right?”
“I’m not playing. Absolutely not, no way.”

No, to be more precise—just now, out of all of them, only two of them were arguing… Takeya Iizuka, and Haruki Kitahara.

The other three around watched their quarrel from a distance, playing the instruments they held, fiddling with their phones, relaxing with a fairly unbothered attitude.

This was because the current discussion was more or less inconsequential, having been born out of a much more serious discussion concerning choosing and inviting a vocalist.

“Concerning the promotion of Haruki Kitahara, substitute guitarist, to an official member”

“Then, air guitar, maybe…”
“Takeya, I hope you aren’t telling me to be a street performer.”

This impromptu band, formed merely one month earlier, the “Light Music Club,” was a gathering of showy, superficial guys who planned on flaunting their own coolness in the school festival six months later, aiming for the arrival of the last-minute popularity that came at the end of one’s school life—with these extremely trivial, flimsy, light motives it was formed.

However, the members, who originally had been steeped in the opportunistic ideology of “If we play instruments then we’ll be popular with girls,” having now sacrificed themselves to this dogma, had somehow or another mostly become more or less an experienced band lineup.

When it was asked whether the one exception to this “mostly,” the guitar abilities of Haruki, who joined after being invited by his friend, would come to something good after half a year, everybody couldn’t help feeling doubtful.

“But it’s the school festival, right? Even you will probably want a girl or two by then, right, Haruki?”
“What do you mean, ‘two’? I’m not you, Takeya. No, forget about that. The point is, I’m not playing.”
“Haruki…”

Even Haruki, who grasped the mood of his surroundings more clearly than anyone, would probably thoroughly reject this proposal from Takeya, even though there was pure friendship in his attempts to lure him in.

“But, there is just one thing I want to do. Can I tell you that?”
“What?”

Right at that moment, as an alternative suggestion, he put forth this single hope, his heart’s desire.

Because Haruki knew.

In order to convey what he really wanted to do, first he had to give the other person a feeling of obligation, forming up an atmosphere for drawing out concessions and compromises—he knew that this was an effective method.

“Ohhh, that might be good, huh?”
“It would. A way of showing some of our real color…”
“It would definitely get all the people at the school festival worked up and excited…”

And so, Haruki’s underhanded… no, clever strategy seemed to have borne fruit…

The other members, who until now had been half-heartedly “pretending to” support Takeya, when presented with this humble alternative suggestion, threw their support behind it assertively, relief showing plainly on their faces.

Because, to them, Haruki was not even remotely a hindrance to the group.

Their abilities as band members were what they were, but to a club that had been just formed this year with no backing, the rumored leverage of the “secret school festival action committee chairman,” and his well-established political strength, were unquestionably crucial.

“So, any objections?”
“What about you, Haruki? You good with things being like this?”
“It’s not about ‘things being like this,’ Takeya.”

Takeya, the only one out of the group with a slight but truly vexed expression, was faced by Haruki, who answered with his own slightly but truly satisfied expression.

“This is the culmination of my three years here.”
“Huh…”

And, that night…

Taking a break from studying in his room, Haruki opened up a new notebook, wrote “Title:” on the first line, and having finished those five letters he flung his pencil away and looked toward the sky.

“Writing lyrics… What the hell have I talked myself into…?”

“Writing lyrics for an original number, to be played at the school festival”

When it came to the school festival concert, what Haruki had wanted was this behind-the-scenes position—in a sense, a very important one.

At the time, thinking from the perspective of his grades in Modern Japanese class, he had judged that this part would suit him best, and believed it to be a solid choice…

But the fact that he had used his academic performance as a basis for evaluation in the first place may in and of itself have been proof that he wasn’t cut out to be in a band.

“If I at least had a question to answer…”

Yes, if this were a problem on a test…

If something like “State the emotions of the main character at this time” were written on the blank page, Haruki could easily cram the paper full of detailed, scathing critiques of every single problem with the character’s attitude and behavior, even going beyond what the question asked…

But, now that he was thinking about it, even that required at least an example sentence to work with.

And so, having finally realized his own extreme ineptitude in devising such an “example sentence,” Haruki still spent an hour, copy-pasting bits of lyrics from recent, major songs he knew and stringing them together… only to shriek in frustration and rip them up in the space of a second.

Then, reflecting that “plagiarism was a bad thing,” he roused himself up to write again, seriously this time, using his own words… and wrote nothing for a further hour.

The fact was, none of the words that came to his mind from his own experiences created images that could be conveyed by melody of a guitar, or the rhythm of the drums.

Haruki’s daily life to this point was completely incompatible with rock music.

He wasn’t dissatisfied with society.

He couldn’t put his gloomy thoughts about his family into words.

Love, then… But there was no such thing in his ashen school life.

“…I’ll do it tomorrow.”

In the end, after wasting three hours, Haruki glanced at the clock—it was almost two in the morning—then put the lyrics notebook sitting before him into a drawer, and took down a reference book from his bookshelf.

And the time passed, and August came.

One evening, toward the middle of the summer holidays…

Haruki rushed at full speed up the stairs of his apartment building, flew into his room, and began rooting around in his desk drawer, without even stopping to get changed or dry off his waterfalls of sweat.

“…Found it!”

And finally, after throwing all of the tidily organized contents into disarray, he found the single notebook resting at the very back of the drawer and held it above his head with a roar of victory.

…This was his moment of reunion with the lyrics notebook, after three months.

In the beginning, he felt embarrassed, trying to assemble words out of emotions.

On top of that, his failure to make any significant improvement with the guitar had caused him to start losing passion for the band.

Meanwhile, even though he was just supposed to be assisting, his duties as festival committee chair were growing more and more hectic, leaving him little time to think.

And so, with one thing and another, for the past three months, the lyric composition for the original festival number had not progressed whatsoever.

But, today, something had happened that renewed his motivation.

He had managed to play a song all the way through.

His favorite song had become the one song he could play.

That excitement, that uplift, reawakened Haruki’s desire to commit his emotions to words.

He didn’t care if it wasn’t in the current popular style. He didn’t care if it was outdated.

He didn’t care if it wasn’t “rock.” All he knew was western-style pop, anyway, so there was no helping that.
And love… Even if he had never felt it, he could picture it now.

“…to be lonely…”

What Haruki tried to picture was his ideal girl, who existed only in his imagination.

For example, that worn-out sense of distance between those who sit next to each other in class.

An aloof girl who had nothing to do with anyone, the kind of setting that would draw the interest of the listeners.

But it made for a scene that was convenient for both creator and listener—directing kind words at oneself, and nobody else.

“…couldn’t help but wonder…”

…and so a particular character began spilling, from these odds and ends that he spun together, so much that he managed to fool even himself.

The girl he was picturing was, without a doubt, a real girl—the one next to him.

The one in the next desk over, who never had anything to do with anyone.

…But, today, she had become his guitar teacher, this classmate with long black hair.

“…Wait.”

And, somehow, he had written a song…

Naturally, as he looked at these overly imaginative lyrics, Haruki gave a strained smile through a cold sweat, but he still nodded in approval, took out a red pen, and began making revisions.

Correcting a piece of work according to set rules was Haruki’s area of expertise.

First, he made the content as ambiguous as possible.

He made the gender of the person singing, and that of the object of their feelings, unclear.

He didn’t use first person. He restricted it to second person—“You.”

Because the hero of this song was not Haruki Kitahara.

Because the “you” was not Kazusa Touma, the one who sat next to Haruki and taught him how to play the guitar.

This was that most common of stories—“An ordinary person, longing for someone they could never reach.”

“…Well, I figure that should do it.”

Haruki looked at the notebook, the text so covered in red that no one apart from him would be able to make head or tail of it, and nodded, slightly embarrassed, but quite satisfied.

For just a moment, he pictured the annoyed face of the girl he had used as his model, and he almost lost his nerve, but it faded quickly.

“All right. Let’s see about the second one.”

Haruki vigorously turned the page of the notebook, unaware that the sun had long since set.

Chapter 2 Kazusa

“…Oh, right, I almost forgot. Read this.”

“What kind of joke are you pulling this time?”

“If you can… I want you to make this guy’s real wish come true.”

“What…”

With this exchange, Takeya Iizuka, temporary head of the light music club, gave her a notebook, wearing an uncharacteristically serious expression.

“…Pff…”

…was the first word she said, or rather the first sound she made, after opening it.

“You’re telling me he came up with this? I don’t even… Aha, ahaha…”

And the next sound she made was this—a laugh that was refreshing, in a sense, though it could have been taken for sneering or snickering.

Kazusa Touma—
Houjou High School, third year, class E.

She was a tall girl, with long, straight black hair that was a point of pride—or rather, it was clear that she had chosen to grow it out herself.

…Incidentally, while she had an aloof personality and did not socialize with anyone, she was a kind girl at the core, with a meddlesome classmate who couldn’t play guitar sitting next to her.

Mid-November…

A late autumn night, a week before the school festival concert.

In the music studio in the basement of her home, Kazusa set the open notebook on the music stand of her piano, and fully enjoyed its contents in several senses.

“So, even he has the kind of sensitivity that leads him to get lost in these pitiful delusions.”

Her feelings, which had been a little hazy after a small argument with a friend shortly before, seemed to be clearing up now.

It was ridiculous that a relationship between two girls should become strained over the kind of blundering guy who wrote embarrassing poetry like this.

To Kazusa, Haruki Kitahara, the one responsible for writing these lyrics, was an irritating classmate who was always flitting around in her line of sight, a thorn in her side, an idiot who couldn’t be left to his own devices, and something like a favored pupil.

To their classmates and teachers, he seemed incomparably trustworthy, reliable, and easy to use to one’s own convenience, like a god who would grant prayers without being given an offering.

And yet, for Kazusa, he seemed only like a hopeless pest, depressing, weirdly dependent, and bringing burden after burden.

And so, this notebook of dark secrets, full of the embarrassing words that he penned, provided a once-in-a-lifetime chance to clear her pent-up frustrations.

As she pondered how best to use this new fact about that overly serious chairman, his secret hidden side as a deluded poet, Kazusa began tickling the piano keys lightly, not bothering to hide the smile on her face.

“Are you pretending to be lonely?”

The melody with her right hand, the accompaniment with her left.

She played a tune she had never used anywhere else, off the cuff, fitting it to these lyrics.

After all, this notebook contained only the lyrics and the name of the lyricist.

No score, no music writing credit—nothing.

Which meant that, as it was, there was no way this could be used in the show.

“Couldn’t help but wonder why…”

She scribbled down notations in pencil on the music paper that she had set up next to the notebook.

Her left hand continued roaming over the keys, seeking out sounds to adorn the melody.

Moments ago, she had thoroughly laughed off these lyrics, but now, she faced them seriously.

Really, she hadn’t had any complaint with the execution of the lyrics in the first place.

Even though they were a little clumsy, and a little too earnest.

That was exactly what made the honest feelings in them come across so directly.

To be fully honest, she found herself just a bit moved.

…At the same time, when she pictured the face of the person who had written it, all she could do was laugh.

“How can I make you see my heart…”

“…Ah.”

But, the moment she reached the B section of the song, Kazusa unconsciously stopped playing.

Her gaze was fixed on the room’s digital clock.

“What am I even doing…?”

It was the day a week before the school festival, not yet past midnight.

In one week, she would get that lousy guitarist into shape, make things work with the second song, “Sound of Destiny,” fine-tune the programming…

And, finally, lead the school festival concert to success.

Out of the three who would appear in the concert, she was the only one with any stage experience, and she would see all of it through.

For Kazusa, who lately had only touched the piano in the spirit of playing around, even for her main profession, this was plainly a burden that could be considered “overwork.”

Thinking rationally, this was no time to be taking the long way around.

First of all, making this still-at-risk show succeed without a hitch was definitely the top priority.

But…

“At this point, will you be able to make it in time? Is this too much, even for you, Touma?”

“…I’ve got plenty of time.”

Finally, Kazusa returned her fingers to the piano.

She put on as much affectation as she could, following along with the cheap provocation that existed only in her own imagination.

“I’m the only one who can save him…”

Long ago, up until middle school, Kazusa believed…

that when it came to music, as long as she put forth a serious effort, there was nothing she couldn’t do.

For a while, the talent was abandoned, forsaken by its real mother.

Still, if it was just making one song…

Just enough to succeed at the school festival show…

At a level that would get a reaction out of that idiot… She had plenty of time.

“How can I make you see my heart, reflected in the mirror?”

Once more, the melody of the piano rang through the room.

Empathizing with these honest lyrics, with all her might…

and driving all thoughts of the one who wrote them from her mind, Kazusa composed.

A song about feelings for someone who seemed solitary.

A song about trying to reach out to a closed-off, blunt, bitter, lonely person.

It was a fortunate misconception.

And a fatal misunderstanding.

Until the very, very end, Kazusa didn’t realize.

The true identity of the someone who seemed solitary.

The name of the lonely someone who never opened her heart.

Not even the plain, honest feelings directed at that someone.

But at this point, for Kazusa, there was no helping that.

Because, at that moment, Kazusa Touma was a completely different person from the character who appeared in these lyrics.

She wasn’t solitary.

She wasn’t lonely.

She was friendly.

She was open.

…Indeed, her heart was open.

Chapter 3 Setsuna

“…What is this?”
“Ah, um, well…”
“A new song. The third one. Our last number.”
“Oh…”
“Kitahara wrote the lyrics, I set them to music, and you’re going to sing, Ogiso. A song for just the three of us.”

With this exchange, Kazusa Touma, true head of the light music club, gave her a sheaf of sheet music, wearing an uncharacteristically encouraging smile.

“A song… for the three of us?”

…was the first thing she said after reading it.

Setsuna Ogiso—
Houjou High School, third year, class A.

She was a girl with the perfect balance of traits that boys idealized, a lovely appearance and a gentle manner that were a point of pride—or possibly an unwelcome blessing.

…Incidentally, even though everyone recognized her demeanor as “the true essence of a school idol,” she was a girl with a slightly impish nature, who was occupied single-mindedly with the most stubborn honor student in the whole school.

Late November…

The first day of the school festival had finally arrived.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, with the main event—the concert—set to take place the next day.

Setsuna, working as a hostess to round up customers for her class’s Taisho-style tearoom, had spotted Haruki and abruptly abducted him, then spirited him down into the Touma house’s basement studio while still in her hostess outfit, where they had spent a day full of many ups and downs.

And the clincher, the biggest surprise that brought all this madness, had just been announced by the owner of this studio.

“The love that… would not reach…”

Until yesterday, Setsuna and the other members of the Light Music Club had been visited by crisis after crisis.

The guitar solo meant to serve as the centerpiece of the second song, “Sound of Destiny,” was still incomplete.

Kazusa, who was supposed to be the primary emotional support for the members, suddenly got sick and had to withdraw.

With Kazusa and Haruki both out of the picture, Setsuna faced her rehearsal alone, only to find that her voice wouldn’t come, either—it was a fiasco.

Mere hours before, considering everybody’s problems, it had seemed uncertain whether they would even be able to stand onstage at all, let alone pull off a successful show.

But now, the situation had changed…

“Well, I, um… Since I’ve been in this club from the start, I figured I should at least write one song, or something.”

Haruki was playing the part of the cool guy, Kazusa had made a full recovery, and Setsuna had managed to reunite with her friends.

This sort of massive turnaround from the brink of disaster should have been cause for great excitement.

In fact, until Haruki had snatched it away shortly before, that was definitely the case.

“Are you pretending to be lonely?”
“Couldn’t help but wonder why.”

“We had Takeya to play guitar, so I never thought that I would actually be onstage.”

Haruki’s sheepish voice seemed to come from a great distance away.

In fact, he was right next to her, practically speaking right into her ear, but barely any of what he said was making its way into her head.

Right now, Setsuna had been left behind by the high spirits of the other two.

“Next thing I knew, somehow…”
“I wanted you more than anybody else.”

“But, well, whether this is the culmination of three years, or just a bit of stupidity…”

She had never understood the meanings of musical notation, but today, her eyes weren’t even seeing it at all.

She was looking below that.

At the lyrics that read, “Kitahara wrote this,” written one-by-one above the notes like phonetic readings.

“How can I make you see my heart, reflected in the mirror?”

The scene began to form itself vividly in Setsuna’s brain, down to every detail.

How could it not?

After all, these words, this song…

An honor student’s clumsy love awakening for the bad girl by the window.

These feelings put into writing, feelings that wouldn’t be conveyed, were too embarrassing to be conveyed, and yet hoped to be conveyed—they were all-too-transparent words of confession.

Feelings so strong that they came across even to Setsuna, who had known both the honor student boy and the delinquent girl for only a month.

“This love may never reach you, but the day may come when it appears…”

And so, Setsuna understood that which had not even entered the brain of the lyricist.

That before the honor student boy’s gaze, there was another girl, from a different class—one he had met only a month before—who was not appearing to him.

“U-um, this part, here!”
“What? Is there something weird? It would help me out a lot if you could give me some harsh critiques.”
“No, it’s not that… Here.”

After looking at the boy’s blank, puzzled expression, she fixed her eyes hard on the girl in front of the piano.

And that girl… Kazusa, shrugged her shoulders in resignation, and smiled at Setsuna with a sigh.

In the depths of her eyes shone a soft, gentle light, full of affection, which she never showed anyone.

It wasn’t composure, or gratitude, and certainly not ill will.

And so, Setsuna understood yet another thing.

That these words, this song, were still in progress.

That the hero’s feelings were still in the air, still hadn’t reached the heroine.

“Ready to go, Ogiso?”
“Y-yes…”

At Kazusa’s call, it finally struck home to Setsuna that the time had come.

The moment when all their individual practice was over, and they would come together as a trio…

The moment when she had to sing Haruki’s song about his feelings for Kazusa.

“Can you come too, Kitahara?”
“Yeah…”

Even at this moment, Setsuna was not confident.

She couldn’t possibly feel confident in her ability to sing these lyrics, this song, all the way through, with a genuine smile on her face, like it was just another solo karaoke performance.

But this was Haruki’s dream.

His greatest dream of the past three years, which Kazusa had worked herself half to death trying to grant.

It wasn’t entirely possible to tell exactly how strong Kazusa’s own feelings were…

But she hadn’t hidden her actions in support of Haruki from Setsuna.

That alone made her an insurmountably formidable enemy.

“Let’s go, then… you two.”
“Yeah.”
“…Right.”

In which case, all Setsuna could do was support Haruki, like Kazusa had.

Her strongest rival had worked this hard, so she couldn’t possibly back down.

The guitar rang out, the piano played on…

In that moment, the scene of that day rose up in Setsuna’s eyes and ears.

The rooftop at dusk, her own slight boredom.

The melody of “White Album,” which beckoned her into something more enjoyable.

“Yes, of course… This is the continuation of that moment…”
“Which means that, now, I can pay it back.”
“To the guitar and piano that guided me then…”
“I will add as much of my voice as I can.”