22 days until the show
Friday, the next day…
The whole way to school I had been wracking my brains, wondering how to explain things to Ogiso, and I still hadn’t come up with anything by the time I arrived.
Well, the next rehearsal wasn’t until the following Tuesday. I could find some way to gloss it over in the meantime.
Of course, the best thing would be if I could get Touma to join the Light Music Club by then…
As I pondered this vaguely, I bumped into someone in the hallway.
“Ow… Sorry. Oh, Touma. Sorry for spacing out… Wait, Touma?!”
The sheer coincidence made me shout. How had I crashed into Touma multiple times in the past twenty-four hours?
“Ah, sorry… Wh-What’s going on, though? The bell isn’t going to ring for another fifteen minutes.”
This was the first time I had ever seen Touma at school this early.
“Well… after yesterday…”
“Look, I kicked you yesterday…”
“Yeah, you did.”
I had no idea what she was trying to say.
Before she could get to anything that made sense, Touma suddenly cut herself off.
Her eyes darted behind me, and then, for some reason, her gaze grew distant.
But I had no time to wonder what was going on.
“Good morning, Kitahara-kun!”
I turned to find Ogiso, trotting up to me.
“Huh? Yes, it’s me.”
“Ah, r-right. Good morning, Ogiso. Haha…”
There I went, shouting again.
“It’s too bad about yesterday. I thought we were going to get to rehearse. You said there were students using Music Room #1? That was sudden. I wonder what they were doing?”
“Oh, yeah, who knows?”
Right. That was the lie I’d told.
“I’m kind of sad that I won’t get to rehearse with you until next week. We don’t even have a month left before the school festival.”
“Right, yeah. You just joined, I want to start rehearsing as soon as possible, too, ahaha…”
“Yep. We can do this, Kitahara-kun.”
Setsuna grinned. She seemed… excessively happy, but maybe I was imagining that.
“Uh… See you later.”
Meanwhile, Touma, who had an extremely iffy look on her face, started to leave.
“Ah, Touma, wait!”
“Um, are you two friends?” Ogiso asked, tilting her head.
Shoot. How was I going to explain?
I hadn’t expected to run into Ogiso this early in the first place. Nor Touma, for that matter. But both at once? Did that make me lucky, or unlucky? Regardless, I was stuck.
After my brain spun in circles for a second, I heard myself speak.
“Let me introduce you, Ogiso. This is Kazusa Touma. She’s the keyboard player for the Light Music Club.”
A few steps away, Touma froze and spun back around to face us.
Ogiso muttered to herself, but Touma wasn’t looking at her.
Because she was making a beeline for me.
“Screw you, you son of a bitch!”
Excruciating pain, in the same spot as yesterday.
Ogiso laughed, looking a bit uncomfortable.
But—not to steal Takeya’s line—anyone with a trained eye might have gotten the wrong idea, had they seen this exchange.
I still wasn’t sure whether to consider myself lucky or unlucky.
After school, I stood in front of the school gate, waiting. When I spotted Ogiso quickly walking past, I called out to her.
“Kitahara-kun? What’s wrong?”
“I need to talk to you about something… Are you on your way to work now?”
“Yes. Although, it’s my last day.”
Ogiso was so determined to be our singer that she had decided to quit her job, saying it was because she wanted to focus all her energy on band rehearsal.
“Sorry to make you feel like you had to do that…”
“No, I was the one who asked to join. You don’t have to worry about a thing, Kitahara-kun. I only ever did odd jobs around the store anyway, since I’m a high school student and there was no telling when I might get busy. My dad knows the person who owns the store, so there was some flexibility.”
“I did have fun there, so I’m a bit sorry to go. But… This coming month is going to be even more fun, right?”
Something in Ogiso’s face as she smiled was even more charming than usual.
So much so that my breath caught.
In the face of that, my certainty that I couldn’t lie to her any more strengthened.
“Oh, so what did you want to talk about?”
“Well, it might get a little long. Do you mind talking and walking at the same time?”
“Huh? Oh, that’s fine.”
We set off together, but I kept talking about trivial nonsense, unable to broach the main subject. Even though I had resolved myself to tell her directly, believing that a text or phone call would have been a cowardly choice.
You could also say I was too embarrassed to tell her over text or the phone.
An outsider might have taken us for a poorly matched couple… But there was no time for me to daydream about that. We were seeing fewer and fewer students around us now.
“Kitahara-kun, maybe we could talk about it after I’m done with work?”
It was considerate of Ogiso to offer, but I could foresee it getting more and more difficult to say the more I put it off.
“No, this is fine. I don’t want to put any obligations on you.”
“Really? It wouldn’t be that much of an obligation…”
“Nothing. Um, I’m listening, then.”
“Yeah. Um, here’s the deal…”
I inhaled deeply.
“There’s actually something I absolutely have to tell you, Ogiso.”
“I don’t know what you’re going to think of me after I’ve said it, but… But I have to tell you. There’s no other choice. I can’t keep hiding my own feelings this way.”
Ogiso was plainly starting to freak out.
After what had happened this morning, I figured she might have had some notion of what I was going to say, but now that she was about to hear it for real, I guess it made sense that she would panic a little.
“You may not want to hear this, it’s possible that you’ll be disillusioned with me over my selfishness, but I want to tell you straight out.”
“W-Wait, Kitahara-kun… It’s not that I don’t want to hear, but, um, this is so sudden, I don’t know whether I’m mentally prepared…”
“I know. I understand. But I don’t want to drag it out any more…”
“B-But… Ah, aaah…”
I stopped and turned to Ogiso.
“I’m sorry, Ogiso! The girl from this morning isn’t actually a member of the Light Music Club! She still… She isn’t our keyboard player yet!”
Ogiso’s voice was quiet, her face stunned.
I’m sure she understood, but the shock must have left her in a daze.
“I’m so, so sorry! I’m sorry for lying to you. All of this is on me.”
“Um, what actually happened is…”
As I explained the circumstances, Ogiso watched me with a face almost devoid of expression.
But that made me think that she was speechless with anger. How could she not be angry?
“So, she’s just someone who happened to join in on my practice sessions. She wasn’t involved with the Light Music Club at all.”
“Um… I had no idea she was one of my classmates…”
Timidly, I asked, “Are you mad?”
“No, I’m not mad.”
In spite of her answer, Ogiso’s cheeks were slightly puffed out.
It was… kind of cute, actually… But this was no time to be thinking about that.
“I’m sorry! I’m really, truly sorry! I should have been upfront with you from the beginning…”
“I’m not mad about that,” Ogiso muttered with a sigh.
“Anyway, this is my fault, and I’m sorry. But I’m going to convince her to join, whatever it takes.”
“But, considering what happened this morning, won’t that be hard?”
“Yes, well… she doesn’t like me all that much. But I don’t want to give up on this yet.”
“It really has to be her? It can’t be anyone else?”
“We barely have any time left before the school festival. There isn’t much more searching we can do.”
“Is that all?”
There was a meaningful look in Ogiso’s eyes as she asked.
“Well, um, since we’ve spent so much time playing together, I know her piano-playing ability is incredible… Oh, I mean, you yourself would agree that she’s good at it, right?”
That day, up on the roof…
When the three of us came together to perform “White Album”…
If all Ogiso had heard then was my lousy guitar, she probably wouldn’t have started singing.
It was Touma’s playing that brought it all together.
“You assumed the person playing the piano was in the Light Music Club, didn’t you? You wanted to do it all together, right?”
“I did, but… Well, I thought it might be a girl, but I didn’t know it would be that one…”
“Nothing, never mind. But, Kitahara-kun, do you really think you’ll be able to convince her? You said she doesn’t like you. Are you sure you’ve got a chance?”
“Well, uh, about that,” I said, clearing my throat, “I was thinking I might tell Touma about you.”
“Not everything, of course. Just that, even though you’re Miss Houjou High, you actually really like doing solo karaoke. Something like that.”
“Wh-What?! No, you can’t. How could that possibly convince her?!”
“Please, Ogiso! I know I probably won’t be able to do it on my own. But if I bring you into it… If I can get her to understand how much you love singing, maybe Touma will feel some kind of sympathy, don’t you think?”
“W-Well, maybe… But I don’t know how I feel about anyone other than you knowing my secret…”
“Don’t worry, Touma won’t tell anyone. I mean, not that she knows anyone to tell, but also, she’s just a good person.”
At this, Ogiso’s brow furrowed slightly.
“A good person? You two must be close, then?”
“Huh? Ah, well, I’m at the level where we can’t really have a proper conversation about much…”
“But she’s still a good person? Because she’s been joining your practice sessions?”
“I guess that’s part of it, but…” I was floundering around a bit. “Will you promise not to laugh?”
“All right, I won’t laugh.”
“Thanks. She… actually taught me how to play the guitar.”
“The guitar? Not the piano?”
“Yes, the guitar. Just one lesson… over summer break.”
During summer break—back when the Light Music Club still had a full lineup—we kept on with our rehearsals twice a week.
I, being the substitute, continued staying behind to practice after everyone left, and the piano next door played along with me like always.
In other words, just about everything was as usual, except for one day—one special day.
That day, shortly after I had begun my overtime practice session, Touma suddenly showed up.
Her tone as she asked what I was doing there was devoid of interest, but for the moment I was stunned. First of all because I never expected to see her at school during summer break, and second because this was the first time she had spoken to me herself.
In spite of my surprise, I managed to explain that I was in a band, and I was practicing guitar for it, even though I was just a backup member.
Then, Touma told me to give her the guitar for a second, and took it.
The next moment, the music room was taken over by a torrent of sound, born of finger movements that carefully, nimbly tore up the strings, as contradictory as that sounds. And in the face of that storm, I just sat there, gaping, undoubtedly with a stupid look on my face.
In the midst of my daze at this wildly different level of playing ability, the guitar was handed back to me, with the command, “Try playing it.”
Touma’s assurance that she would give me a little bit of advice if I needed it snapped me out of it, and, of course, I was more than happy to ask for it.
In this way, Touma kept company with my clumsy plunking for about two hours.
Those two scant hours were the reason I could declare Touma a “good person.”
“For Touma, it was probably just a whim. We’d never talked that long before, and we haven’t since. But I was thrilled. Even if it was just a whim, or a time-killer, she sat there with me and my guitar.”
“Apart from that, the only thing that ever accompanied my guitar was my ‘neighbor’ on the piano. Though that neighbor turned out to be Touma, too. Now that I think about it, she probably came over to complain at me for playing so badly.”
“Of course. Why didn’t I realize it? I didn’t hear the piano from next door while I was rehearsing with Touma that day. And, considering my neighbor could also play drums and bass, it makes sense that she would be able to play guitar, too. Sheesh, I’m slow.”
“That’s… certainly true.”
“What was that, Ogiso?”
“Kitahara-kun, you seem to spend a lot of time thinking about Touma-san.”
“Oh, well, I… Wait, Ogiso, I think you’re getting the wrong idea! I’m just thinking about the Light Music Club! Listen—”
“I know. I know.”
Was there something… pressing, in Ogiso’s smile? Maybe I was making it up.
“I get it, okay? Listen, Kitahara-kun, you can tell Touma-san about me.”
“Yep. Like you said, I do want to spend more time with the piano that I heard on the roof. I’ll do whatever I can for the Light Music Club.”
“Thanks so much, Ogiso. I owe you one.”
Perfect—Ogiso did feel the same way I did.
Now it was just up to me.
Yes. Ogiso had taken it upon herself to join us, and I had to make it succeed.
“Are you sure talking about me will help, though? I’m not that big a deal.”
“No, I’m sure. I’ll explain it all, how good you are at singing, how determined you are. This might not be the best way to put it, but I’ll sell you as best I can.”
“All right. I’ll leave that to you, then.”
I’m sure some part of me picked up on the weird sense of significance in the smile Ogiso gave me at that moment, but I didn’t question it. Because something else had just struck me.
“Yeah, leave it to… Oh, shoot, I’m sorry, I wound up going on way longer than I thought. Can you still make it to work?”
“I’m already late, it’s okay.”
“Ack, I’m so sorry!”
As I apologized profusely, Ogiso just told me to give it my best tomorrow.
“Oh, and you don’t have to wait for me out in the cold. You can call me or text me whenever you like.”
Ogiso gave me a small wave and left, before I could ask what she meant.
“Did she have me figured out?”
Maybe she thought I was trying not to overwhelm her?
It seemed Ogiso was just as good a person as Touma.
Now that I had Ogiso’s permission, I was fully determined to win Touma over.
I would make her one of us.
For the show. I had to.
Looking up at the evening sky, I clenched one hand into a fist.