23 days until the show
“Hey, Haruki! You were with Setsuna Ogiso last night, weren’t you!”
The next morning, Takeya cornered me the moment I got to school.
“That look on your face… I knew it. I wasn’t just seeing things.”
“H-Hang on, hang on! Quiet down, will you?”
I panicked and pulled Takeya into the hall with me.
“Yeah, sorry. I got a little excited… So?”
Keeping one eye on our surroundings, Takeya fixed me with a hard stare.
“What the hell is that about? What were you and Miss Houjou High doing at that hour?!”
Damn it. We’d been spotted.
“Wait. Don’t tell me. There’s only one reason a guy and a girl would be walking around downtown at night. I shouldn’t put you on the spot for something so obvious.”
“Huh? No, no, you’ve got the wrong idea—”
“How did you do it, though? How did a virgin like you pull Setsuna Ogiso? Since when did you start stealing my technique?”
“Stop, stop, stop!”
“I gotta say, I’m humbled. And, yeah, I’m a little frustrated that you managed to get the jump on me. But it’s that thing, the student surpasses the teacher or whatever. Maybe this is how a father feels, giving his daughter away to be a bride…”
“I just told you, you’re wrong! We just talked about her singing for the Light Music Club. That’s it.”
“At that hour? In a place like that?”
“Well… Some other stuff was going on.”
I couldn’t just blurt out Ogiso’s secrets.
“Listen, though, Takeya, please don’t tell anyone that you saw us yesterday. If not for me, then for Ogiso’s sake.”
“No worries. No one would believe it, anyway. Oh, wait, but didn’t she turn you down? About the singing thing?”
“Yeah, about that, actually—”
“Oh, good morning, Kitahara-kun.”
Just as I was about to explain, someone cut me off. That someone was Ogiso, who apparently had just arrived.
“Good morning, Ogiso. Your timing is perfect, actually. Let me introduce you. This is Takeya Iizuka. He’s more or less the leader of the Light Music Club.”
“You’re Iizuka-kun? Um, I’m Setsuna Ogiso. I’m joining the Light Music Club as of today, so thank you for having me, and I hope we’ll get along. Was that too stiff?”
For just a moment, Takeya could do nothing but blink, flabbergasted. But, before long…
“I’m Takeya Iizuka, Class G. I’m in charge of the Light Music Club, and I play guitar, like Haruki. Nice to meet you, Setsuna-chan.”
He snapped into a grin and offered his hand, perfectly naturally.
“Oh, yes, nice to meet you, too.”
Ogiso followed suit and shook his hand.
…Typical Takeya, casually making a move. And why did he have to call her by her first name?
“We’ve got rehearsal today, so if you could come by Music Room #1 after school… Actually, no, I’ll come and get you, Setsuna-chan.”
“No, you don’t need to do that! Right, about rehearsal, though, Ogiso…”
I was recalling the matter of our phone call the day before.
“Right… He told me I can’t stay too late practicing. If I absolutely have to, he wants to hear about it from the other members.”
“Ahhh, okay. Your folks sound pretty strict,” Takeya muttered.
“I hate to ask, but if the Light Music Club does have to practice late, would you mind coming to visit us at some point? I know that’s a lot… I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no, we’d be glad to. I’m looking forward to meeting your family, Setsuna-chan. Right, Haruki? Ha ha.”
“If you’re along, I don’t think we’ll be able to convince them of anything.”
“Harsh! What, are you gonna go alone, then?”
Meeting Ogiso’s family alone? That could get a little intense (especially with her father, from what I could tell).
But, when I thought about it, having two guys show up could just cause even more worry… This was tricky.
“As long as they understand that we’re taking this band thing seriously, it’ll be fine. My parents are just worriers, that’s all.”
“In that case, Takeya would definitely throw a wrench into it.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Ogiso laughed at our exchange, then said, “Oh, by the way…”
“It’s not just you two, right? There’s a piano player. What are they like?”
I sighed deeply.
“There’s no point getting depressed, Haruki.”
“But, at this rate, our singer… Ogiso…”
I had completely forgotten that, when Ogiso heard “White Album” up on the roof a couple days before, it wasn’t just my guitar she was hearing.
That performance had happened in the first place thanks to the sophisticated piano technique of my neighbor in Music Room #2. Of course Ogiso would have assumed the pianist was connected with the Light Music Club.
I had laughed it off, not wanting to disappoint her—“Sure, I’ll introduce you later!”—but now I was stuck.
“You could just apologize now? I mean, whatever you do, she’s gonna figure it out at rehearsal.”
“I know, I know…”
What would Ogiso think, when she found out that the Light Music Club at this point was just a couple of guitars?
“Or you could try to talk your pianist from the music department into joining,” Takeya added, shrugging.
Yes, if my neighbor were to join the Light Music Club—that would be the best possible outcome. But the fact that I hadn’t made any overtures yet… was because the relationship between the general education and music departments wasn’t all that great.
Even our buildings were different. The seven general education classes were crammed into the main building, but the music department, which only had one class, got the newer, nicer building all to itself.
It was the same with the music rooms. General education students only got to use Music Room #1, while Music Room #2 next door, as well as Music Room #3 in the new building, were reserved for the music department.
The music department students considered all of that to be only natural, and behaved accordingly, which did nothing to reduce the displeasure of the general education students.
The awareness and pride of the music department frequently caused them to look down on the general education department, and they seemed to consider any bands (et cetera) that we might put together to be little more than playing around.
For all of these reasons, I had long since given up on inviting my neighbor into the Light Music Club.
Our relationship had been maintained because we didn’t know each other’s faces, because we held our conversations through music alone, and I didn’t want to risk bringing that to an undesirable end by introducing words into the equation.
“I guess… I could give it a try. I might as well.”
Takeya’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Wait, really? You’re gonna bow down before some snob from the music department?”
“We just managed to get Ogiso to join. I don’t want to give up now.”
I hated to deceive Ogiso, but I didn’t want to disappoint her, either. Big talk alone wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But charging into Music Room #2, and bowing my head before that certain someone in the music department—I could do that much. Knowing, of course, that success was unlikely.
“Eh, yeah, I understand how you feel. We managed to pull Setsuna Ogiso in, of all people. Who knows?” Takeya muttered. “You still haven’t answered my question, though. How’d you do it? I thought she said no, but you came back with a yes. Shoot, maybe you’ve actually got a chance with her?”
“Knock that off. I mean it.”
It was thanks to Ogiso’s hobby, the fact that she loved singing.
“Listen, though, Setsuna-chan joining? That’s miraculous. Who knows? Maybe you could make another miracle happen… Oh, shoot, I gotta go meet up with a junior girl. See you after school.”
As he hurried off, I sighed again.
“A miracle, huh…”
Takeya, being Takeya, had apparently invited several people (girls) from the music department to join; unsurprisingly, they had all refused. It wasn’t going to be easy, but all I could do was try—
I wasn’t paying attention as I stood up, and I bumped into someone.
After reorienting myself, I found my neighbor—my class neighbor, that is, Touma—glaring at me.
“T-Touma? Uh, sorry, are you okay?”
Moments ago, she had been facedown on her desk, fast asleep. When had she gotten up?
“Sorry, I was spacing out,” I apologized, as she shook her long, black hair. Her sharp, beautiful eyes stared at me.
“Oh, also, I should have said this before, but I’m sorry for yesterday. I let myself get dragged into something else while you were talking to me.”
Touma didn’t respond to this. “Sounds like a pretty nice band you’ve got together,” she remarked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Just guitars and a singer, huh? Gonna play some folk songs for the festival?”
It made sense that she would know I was in a band, but how could she know that much?
“Wait, were you listening to our conversation just now?”
“You were literally right next to me making all that noise.”
“W-Well, we do only have guitars and a singer right now, but we’re looking for more members…”
“Oh, really? I don’t think you’ll find anyone wrong in the head enough to join your band this late.”
“Wh-What do you care, anyway, Touma? It’s none of your business.”
The mockery in Touma’s tone made my own tone turn harsher than it should have.
By the moment I realized what I had done, it was too late.
“Oh, riiiight, it’s got nothing to do with me. Yeah, sure, do what you want, whatever.”
She left the classroom, a faintly sullen look on her face.
“Dammit, I ruined it…”
I hung my head at my own stupidity.
My classmates all reacted like Touma was just being Touma, but I couldn’t say anything.
It only took a day for me to get onto conversational terms with Ogiso. Why, after sitting next to Touma since April, could I not communicate with her?
“Well, brooding over that won’t get me anywhere.”
I gathered my nerve back up.
It was important that I do absolutely everything that could be done. And there was still something left.
Why not try it?
First, in order to prove myself to my class neighbor, I would do whatever it took to bring in my music room neighbor.
Touma would see.
“Haruki… You’re serious about doing this?”
“I’m going to do it. I’m determined now.”
After school, in Music Room #1…
As Takeya muttered anxiously, I steeled myself.
“Yeah, I can tell you’re determined… from that get-up.”
More literally, I was binding myself—around the middle, with rope.
“Sneaking in through the window, though? Even for you, that’s… crazy.”
“Maybe it’s crazy, but it’s my only option. They’re not going to let me in if I just knock on the door.”
Indeed, at first, I had tried the door of Music Room #2, but it was locked. No matter how much I knocked, there was no answer. I had waited until I could hear the piano before going, so I knew the room wasn’t empty. Maybe they just didn’t want to talk to me.
I couldn’t say I didn’t understand that. Until mere days before, I myself had been of the opinion that it would be better if we didn’t see each other.
But things were different now. I knew I was being selfish, but I had to make an earnest request for them to become a member of the Light Music Club, whatever it took.
For that, I had to meet with my neighbor. And although the door to Music Room #2 was locked, I had been able to confirm that the window was open—which was how this method had occurred to me.
“Couldn’t you just… wait in front of the door for a second?”
“We have no way of knowing how long that would take. Maybe they won’t even come out at all, with us there. And we don’t have all the time in the world.”
“I—But, that doesn’t mean you need to do dangerous shit like this. You can just—”
“There’s no time!”
“…What the hell is wrong with you?”
Takeya rarely reacted to me like this, but for the moment, I disregarded it completely.
If there was anything I could do for the band, I would do it. I couldn’t just stand around. I knew what I was about to do was stupid, but I didn’t want to lose this momentum.
Just in case, I had told Ogiso that we wouldn’t be able to use the music room today, and apologized.
“All right. I’m going. And I’m going to convince them, whatever it takes. You’ll see.”
With the black and yellow rope I had pilfered from the PE storehouse (the kind used to block off restricted areas and the like), I tied myself to one of the classroom’s support pillars. This was my lifeline.
“All right, man, go for it… Don’t get hurt. I swear to god, if you break something doing this and can’t play the show because of it, I will laugh.”
“I know! Shut up!”
Outside each classroom, a meter or so below the windows, there was a part of the wall that jutted out.
I climbed out through the window, using this as my foothold.
And I began moving toward the next classroom—or tried…
“This… This is terrifying!”
Sure, I had a foothold, but this was the third floor.
While I was just looking at it, I figured I could do it, but now that I was actually clinging to the wall, my confidence had flown. The strong wind whipping at me didn’t help—I was genuinely frightened.
“Wh-Whoa, hey, Haruki, are you sure you’re okay?!”
“Grgh… I’m… I’m doing this.”
Gripping the window frame tightly, I made my way gingerly toward my neighbor.
I suddenly wasn’t sure what had made me think they would be interested in listening to someone who just appeared through the window in the first place. But this was no time for indulging in doubts. I had to keep going…
As the piano melody continued, I went on, step by careful step, until I finally reached the next window over.
Before intruding, I decided to peek inside through the open window.
From my viewpoint, I saw the back of my neighbor, sitting on the piano bench, playing.
But I vocalized without thinking.
Long, lustrous black hair.
A body outline that plainly was not that of a guy.
Slim white fingers, leaping about on the keys.
I recognized all of these features.
“?!” At the sound of my voice, the person turned and looked at me with a start.
And that face, with eyes wide—
Belonged, of all people, to Kazusa Touma.
Why did it have to be her?
For a few moments, we both just gaped.
Touma was the first to snap out of it.
Leaving me behind as I continued to stare blankly, she stood up from the bench, heading for the door—she was about to leave!
I scrambled frantically up onto the windowsill, tumbling into the classroom. In a mad rush I tried to get my lifeline off, but I couldn’t. Touma, meanwhile, possibly in a panic herself, was struggling to unlock the door from the inside.
At the same moment that I managed to get free of the rope, the door opened with a click.
I leapt out into the hallway, pursuing Touma as she fled.
She wasn’t far. I was desperate to catch up with her.
I knew I must be faster; I would be able to reach out and grab her shoulder any moment now—
At that instant, brilliantly, I tripped over my own feet.
I crashed into Touma, who had turned to look when she heard my shout, and collapsed on the spot.
Through the pain, I realized that the floor was strangely soft.
Looking down, I found that the surface beneath my back was not a floor at all—
“Ugh… You’re heavy…”
It was Touma, her voice strained.
I hurriedly jumped up. Apparently, I had landed on top of her when I fell.
“S-Sorry! That wasn’t on purpose, I, um…”
Touma abruptly sat up, looking displeased.
After rising and brushing off the hem of her skirt, she quietly said, “Hey, Kitahara.”
As I waited for what she had to say, my heart pounding slightly—
“That hurt, you son of a bitch!”
Her sudden, angry outburst was accompanied by a sharp roundhouse kick from the short distance between us, and I collapsed from the pain.
Through a haze of tears, I watched Touma’s back as she grew distant.
A few words about Kazusa Touma.
My neighbor in class, and—as I mentioned before—taciturn, apathetic, unfriendly, and constantly either late or absent altogether.
She always seemed listless, and her manner with people was quite severe. She almost never made any overtures to involve herself with other people, and no one else attempted to communicate with her, either—better to let the sleeping dog lie. The teachers often told her off, but she didn’t particularly seem to care.
The only people who tried to strike up a conversation with her were people who weren’t aware of her personality, like Takeya the other day, or me, the class representative—in other words, at this point, only me.
In stark contrast to Ogiso, whom everyone fawned over, she was aloof, nigh impossible to approach.
Still, the fact that Takeya was so taken in wasn’t for nothing—though she was certifiably antisocial, her beauty was definitely on par with that of Miss Houjou High; anyone could see that.
And, as blunt as she was, I knew that she was a good person.
I believed she was.
Still, I was stunned.
“Touma’s been the one playing the piano this whole time…?”
“Haruki, dude, you keep saying the same thing.”
My distracted muttering drew Takeya’s exasperated voice from the other end of the line.
“Yeah, you do. Look, how long are you gonna keep being shocked? Or are you that happy about finding out it was Touma?”
“I-I’m pretty sure I never said I was happy about it!”
“Weren’t you putting the moves on Setsuna-chan? You’ve never dated anyone, you can’t start out with two at once.”
“I’m not making any moves, I’m not trying for two at once, this isn’t the conversation we’re having!”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Did he know? Really? Why did he always have to take things in this direction?
“Well, I guess I don’t have to tell you all the info I got about Touma from all the calls I just made.”
“Please, Professor Takeya, tell me.”
“Ha! That was quick. I knew you were interested.”
“You know I’m not talking about that. She sits next to me, she uses the music room next to me, and I’m the class rep, anyway. In that sense, I ought to know at least a little about Touma.”
“Right, right. You don’t have to beg me, I’ll tell you.”
I almost yelled, “I’m not begging!”, but that would just bog things down, so I decided to keep quiet and listen.
“You didn’t know anything about Touma until she was in your class this year, right? I bet you don’t even remember passing her in the hallway last year or the year before.”
I became aware of Touma’s existence in spring of this year.
“But that’s only natural. Because, for her first and second year, Touma was in the new building.”
“Huh… So, she is from the music department…”
In the few hours between Touma kicking me and Takeya calling me at home, I had considered the possibility a number of times. If that weren’t the case, there was no way she would be able to play so well.
“So, here’s the point. Last year and the year before, Touma apparently almost never came to class. She just skipped.”
“She skipped that much class… But she’s been attending pretty regularly this year, right? Sure, she does skip sometimes, but…”
And sure, she was constantly late, but…
“And that’s why you get to live out your masochistic fantasy of talking to her and being ignored, every single day.”
“I don’t like being ignored! And she talks to me herself, sometimes—maybe once a month.”
“Haha. Listen to this, though, apparently she didn’t say a word to anyone in her class up through last year.”
“Touma was the music department’s top pianist almost the second she entered school. Oh, she won all these contests, we have to take her, Oh, there are articles about her in the local paper, Oh, there are reviews of her in this music magazine. All the teachers lifted her up and praised her up and down as a model student. It was kinda creepy, actually.”
Kazusa Touma? A model student?
“But outside of her piano talent, she wasn’t remotely a model student. Oh, she skips classes, Oh, she snaps at anyone who tries to talk to her. And yet the teachers still treated her as the favorite. I’m sure you can guess how the other students felt about that. Touma was completely alone. She was treated like a landmine. The atmosphere there was way tenser than Class E is now. There weren’t any class reps like you to bug her.”
“But the school kept fussing over her. She herself must have hated it, since she moved into general education for this year.”
Given her personality, it made sense that Touma wouldn’t make much effort to approach others… But that didn’t mean things had to be this way.
“Maybe if people tried interacting with her normally, Touma would be a little more…”
“That wouldn’t be easy, though. You ever heard of the pianist Youko Touma?”
“The pianist? Youko Touma is Touma’s mother, I know.” I remembered seeing that name on the class register. “So, her mother is also a pianist… Hang on.”
Something suddenly caught.
Youko Touma. Pianist.
I had a sense that I’d heard that name somewhere before.
“There was this canned coffee commercial when we were in maybe elementary school? ‘Youko Touma is a woman of distinction…’”
“Ah…? Wait, what?!”
A forgotten memory from several years before suddenly, vividly returned to me.
“No, no way. She’s—? I mean, she’s incredibly famous, isn’t she?”
Interest in that commercial, in which she played the piano, was focused far more on the performer than on the product itself. For a while, she was all over the media, her CD sales setting new records in the world of classical music. I remembered how amazing she had seemed to my young mind.
“My folks barely ever listen to classical, and they still had her CDs.”
“I had no idea whatsoever… Since I haven’t seen much of her lately, I guess just reading the name didn’t ring any bells…”
“Her base of operations is over in Europe now. I mean, she’s a world-famous pianist, and that means, you know, she’s pretty rich. She’s donated a lot of instruments and stuff to the school. So, thinking about that, too, it makes sense that the school would give Touma some special treatment. It sounds like Touma’s been the only one using Music Room #2 ever since her first year. Of course her classmates wouldn’t be too thrilled about that level of discrimination.”
“I had no idea…”
“Anyway, that’s about all I’ve heard. I went down my whole list of girls, but it was pretty hard to get info about the music department.”
“Thank you, Takeya. Just this once, I actually owe you one.”
“Yeah, don’t be shy about thanking me. So, what now? Your plan was to pin down a keyboard player, right?”
The question, after hearing all of this, was—to invite Touma, or not to invite her?
“That’s how she spent her last two years. It sounds like she’s still pretty much the same, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned down starting something new with other people at this point. Still gonna ask?”
I thought for just a moment.
Then, to myself, I muttered, “I’m going to ask.”
“It doesn’t seem right to decide not to invite her just because of a bunch of stuff I learned,” I continued aloud. “Touma is Touma. To me, she’s my neighbor who plays the piano well. And I can’t give up on it. We need Ogiso’s singing and Touma’s piano playing alike.”
That session, that day, when I played the guitar in Music Room #1, when Touma played the piano in Music Room #2, when Ogiso sang on the roof, when we all joined together—I wanted to make that happen again.
If I could do that at the concert…
“You realize what you just said was that you wanted to have both at once?”
“Shut the hell up! That is not what I meant! Anyway, I’m doing it.”
“Well, all right. You can go for it, then. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help.”
Right. Takeya wasn’t Touma’s biggest fan.
“Hey, Takeya, if I do manage to get Touma to join the Light Music Club, will you be able to stick with it?”
“Let’s not talk about hypotheticals right now, yeah? Ahaha… Oh, anyway, as long as you can handle Touma, that’s fine. I’ll take the opportunity to get closer with Setsuna-chan.”
“Are you ever going to learn?! …Ah, wait.”
“Haha, I’m kidding… Ah, wait.”
It seemed Takeya and I had realized something at the same time.
“Haruki… How are we gonna explain this whole thing to Setsuna-chan?”