18 days until the show
Now, in spite of her drunkenness at the time of our conversation, the strategy itself that Ogiso had thought up was undeniably solid, so we decided to put it into motion on Tuesday. We had no time to waste, so the sooner, the better.
On the day in question, we waited in Music Room #1 after school. “I hope this works,” I muttered to myself.
“It’s going to be fine. I think we can put more across this way than with words. Either Touma-san herself will feel something, or—we’ll get her really, really mad.”
“Do you have to talk about something this important so casually?”
“Well, we can’t put it off any longer, right? We’re losing practice time.”
It was true—we had less than three weeks left before the festival.
“Anyway, we have to give it a try. I’m going to do my best.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Ogiso. I, on the other hand…”
We had done plenty of rehearsing, but to be honest, I had doubts. In more than one sense.
“Have some confidence! I’m nervous, too, but I’ve practiced plenty.”
“Oh, I’m well aware.”
She had sung her heart out on Saturday, after all… Before she got drunk.
“You’re right, though, Ogiso. All we can do is try.”
“Yep! Oh, no, I almost forgot. Why don’t we do one run-through together?”
“Oh, right. Good idea—”
But, at that moment…
A melody began to drift quietly through the window, and Ogiso and I looked each other in the eye.
“Sounds like we’re out of time for that.”
“It sure does.”
After a few deep breaths, I picked up the guitar.
It was fine. I could do this. As long as I kept that day in my mind.
“If this works out, you can leave the rest to me.”
“Thanks. Sorry, I feel like I’ve been leaving a lot of this to you…”
“It’s fine. I just want to make this happen.”
I truly did feel guilty.
But… I was also truly glad that Ogiso had joined.
We looked each other in the eye one more time, and then I began to strum the strings.
The moment I started to play, the chain of command shifted from my brain to my fingers.
The sense within my fingertips gently built the soft intro, a breezy melody that slowly caressed the ears of the listener. From the second bar of the enchanting lead-in, a line took form that was like a staircase, announcing the beginning of the story.
All I could do was pluck the simple sound from the strings, with no extra fills. Somehow, that seemed to produce a tone that was all the purer.
The guitar was shaky, but it maintained its balance as it proceeded. Following the emphatic low note that marked the end of the intro, that clear singing voice joined in.
There at my side, Ogiso’s lips began their graceful battle.
“We oughtta… make Touma-san listen.”
Ogiso had laid out her plot for me with a smile on Saturday, mumbling drunkenly.
“Like… even if we can’t talk to her, we could try music… right? Hic… So, hey, we should play her that song, the one we all met because of… Heehee!”
It was true—that evening, even if only for a moment, the three of us had created music together.
At the time, I had been too worked up to notice, but thinking back on it now, I had never had so much fun before.
With my guitar, my neighbor’s refined piano, and Miss Houjou High’s sweet singing voice together, we had performed “White Album.”
Now, determined to make that a reality again, I continued to work those six strings with everything I had.
Ogiso shut her eyes and sang at the top of her voice.
It was our cry to Touma.
The world turned to white.
I had known from the start, but now that we were together like this, it was all the clearer.
Unlike me and my guitar, Ogiso’s vocals were unquestionably a principal part.
As the song progressed, it became clearer to me that I was here to set that singing off, that the band was necessary in order to convey that voice in its finest possible form.
And, supposing Touma’s piano playing were to enter the mix, this performance was sure to become something thrilling.
You get that, Touma? I thought. It’s going to be a blast.
I know that, with the three of us, we can pull off something absolutely astounding.
Come on—join our band.
Ogiso hit the high point of the hook with incredible volume.
Somehow, the shivers I felt hearing it now were far more intense than when she sang it at the karaoke place. Why?
My senses were oddly sharpened, and the resonance born of my fingers mixed with my own awareness. I felt as though I were drifting along with the music, in some place far away from this music room.
Ogiso’s song ended… and I played to my last note.
Meanwhile, Touma—my neighbor’s piano—did not play all the way to the end with us.
Ogiso and I looked at each other, through the atmosphere of heat and lingering notes.
“That sounded pretty good… Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I think.”
And did I let myself pessimistically wonder whether it hadn’t worked?—No.
“So, should we do it one more time?”
I took another deep breath, then strummed the opening notes yet again.
The flowing intro, Ogiso’s voice eventually joining in.
We were, of course, playing “White Album,” yet again.
Because we had decided to keep playing it until we got through to her.
Twice. Three times. Four, five times.
We made it into something like an endurance race, “White Album” ringing out over and over.
Ogiso was well trained enough to handle it, but my mistakes were getting more and more apparent as I went. The cause seemed to be an issue of focus, rather than stamina.
“Kitahara-kun, are you all right?”
Around the time that we reached the double digits, Ogiso looked at me, worried.
How many times had I drilled myself on this song specifically? This was pitiful.
“Yeah… I’m fine,” I answered, smiling.
But it was only now coming home to me.
How exhausting it was playing to someone in particular, as opposed to just practicing.
And the difficulty of having to keep up with Ogiso’s singing.
I realized anew how lacking I was in training.
“Ogiso, let’s do it one more time. I know Touma is listening. We can’t stop yet.”
“That’s really what you think?”
“It is. And you think so too, don’t you?”
“…Yes, I do.”
As I faced the guitar once more, Ogiso muttered, “All right, let’s do it.”
I got up my gumption again, and calmly began to reproduce the melody of the intro, when—
The door flew open with such force that it seemed like it might break.
In unison, we looked behind us.
“…What the hell are you two trying to pull?!”
And there, with an impressively sour look on her face, was Touma.
“What, were you gonna keep playing your shitty guitar at me until it killed me?! Jesus Christ!”
I could have said, “You’re not dead, are you?” …But I didn’t.
“Oh, that’s great! You were listening to us, Touma-san?”
Setsuna flashed her a happy smile.
“I wasn’t listening, it just kept playing and I couldn’t help hearing it. Don’t get it twisted.”
“But you stayed there that whole time. You could have left.”
“Where I go is my own choice.”
“Well…” Ogiso looked Touma right in the eye, still smiling. “You’re here right now.”
“Kitahara-kun and I made a decision. If you played along with our session, Touma-san, we would come over to you in Music Room #2. And, if you didn’t… we would keep playing and playing, until you came over here yourself.”
“And, it worked!”
Words might have failed, but music was sure to reach Touma’s ears—that was the strategy Ogiso thought up.
And that strategy seemed to have succeeded, to a point. Touma had moved, just as Ogiso expected.
I had my doubts, but Ogiso’s certainty was unshakeable.
The certainty that Touma wouldn’t simply ignore us and leave.
“If you hadn’t come, Kitahara-kun and I would have been stuck playing and playing until we were too exhausted to move. You saved us from that, so thank you.”
“Sh-Shut up. I just came over here to complain…”
“Yes, you came all the way here to complain. You listened to our song that many times.”
Ogiso shut her eyes. After a few moments’ hesitation, she spoke again.
“Please, Touma-san. If you have even the tiniest concern for us, lend your strength to the Light Music Club. We’ll make music together that can’t be made alone.”
“…I don’t want to.”
Touma’s voice as she answered was frail, her eyes cast down.
“Think of it as helping.”
“Why do you want me? It doesn’t make any sense.”
I almost cut in, praising her piano playing, but Touma’s gaze pierced through me, all but ordering me to be silent.
Ogiso, observing this with a strained smile, continued.
“That’s not true. We’re just being honest, while you aren’t, Touma-san.”
“Honest with what?”
“…What? I have no idea what that means.”
“If you join the Light Music Club, you might understand.”
I wasn’t entirely comprehending this conversation between the two of them. Maybe Setsuna had told me to leave the persuading to her because they shared something that I wasn’t aware of.
“…” After a moment, Touma suddenly looked at me. “Hey, Kitahara.”
“What’s your plan after bringing me into your band?”
“Uh… My plan? Well, we’d like you to play the keyboards for us, of course.”
“That gives you two guitarists, one keyboardist, and a vocalist with no instruments. What about a bassist? What about drums?”
“We’ll… have to look for—”
“There are three weeks until the show. When do you expect to find someone, if you start looking now? You’ve been looking around all over the place for this long, and you haven’t found anyone. What makes you think someone will just pop up with perfectly convenient timing?”
“Um, do you mean I should play an instrument, too…?”
“You can’t make a novice into anything that’s worth anything in three weeks. I guess you could do the triangle or something, if you wanted.”
Ogiso looked a little dejected. Sorry, I wanted to say. This isn’t your fault.
“Am I getting through? Your outlook is way too optimistic. Where are you gonna find anyone stupid enough to get on your mud boat?”
Oh, a mud boat?
I appreciated Ogiso’s help, but I couldn’t let the “mud boat” remark slide.
“I have no intention of sinking. I’m racing to make this show a success.”
“That’s just what you want. That whole ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ mindset is bullshit. Bringing me in at the last minute like this won’t help, and you know it.”
Maybe Touma’s argument was fair. But I wasn’t about to bow to it, no matter how she pressured me.
“I’m not necessarily saying, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ But is it any better to give up without trying at all? Yes, sometimes your best efforts will still end in failure. But if everyone worked under the assumption that they would, then nothing would ever go anywhere.”
“Recklessness. This is a pattern with you, Kitahara.”
“I know this is reckless. I… I did think of withdrawing at one point. Because I convinced myself that finding new members at this point was impossible. But then I found Ogiso’s singing voice, completely by accident. I realized that I could keep going forward.”
“If there really isn’t anything at all we can do, then we’re stuck. But if you join us, Touma, that means we’ve taken one step further. If we keep taking those steps, we’ll make it to the finish line.”
It was hard to figure out the expression on Touma’s face as she listened to me.
“…You really want to play that badly? Why?”
“Well, because this is our last year of high school. What’s wrong with trying to end with a bang? We have a chance to do that, right here in front of us, and no reason not to chase it. It’s a lot better than just letting things decay.”
“And, even if it ultimately doesn’t work out, we won’t have lost anything. Maybe the time put into rehearsing, at most, but even that wouldn’t be a waste, because it was time spent working hard toward something together.”
As I made my speech, Touma’s eyes dropped.
I couldn’t be certain what she was thinking about, but somehow it wasn’t hard to imagine.
I didn’t know Touma’s reasons for moving from the music department to the general course this year.
Nor her reason for squandering her exceptional talent at the piano on sessions with me, rather than in competitions.
Those reasons could well be something unfathomable to anyone else.
But these facts of Touma made me all the more certain that she would help us.
“Let’s do it, Touma. Let’s do this together.”
“I just said I didn’t want to!”
With this loud rebuke, Touma headed for the door.
And, just like that, she left the room… Wait, what?
So… It hadn’t worked?
As I was dithering over whether to run after her, Ogiso said, “I’ll go,” and trotted off.
Left alone, I heaved a sigh.
Things really were determined not to go smoothly… Dammit.
Setsuna caught up with Kazusa’s quick steps, then walked beside her.
“Did we really make you that mad? I’m sorry.”
“I don’t need to hear any of that from you. First of all, Kitahara is the one who pissed me off.”
“No, today was my idea. So, if you got mad, it was partly my fault, too.”
“…I don’t care. Just go away.”
Kazusa hmphed sullenly.
Setsuna gave a strained smile in return, yet again lamenting Kazusa’s refusal to be honest.
“Hey, but it was just like I said, right? Kitahara-kun genuinely wants to do this with you, Touma-san.”
“You actually want to do it, too, but you can’t say it straight to Kitahara-kun’s face… Something like that?”
Kazusa sighed, releasing a white puff of air.
“I told you, you’re too optimistic. All the effort in the world won’t mean anything if you don’t get results.”
“Then let’s put enough effort in to get results. Why don’t you lead the Light Music Club in whatever way you think is right, Touma-san?”
“What? Your whole premise involves depending on me? There’s a problem already.”
“Yes, Touma-san, it is based around you. To be honest, it frustrates me a little, but there’s that.”
A strange look crossed Kazusa’s face at this.
“Anyway, Haruki-kun and I both believe we can make this work. And for that, we’ll need you.”
“You can’t just drag me in—”
“Actually, to tell you the truth, the Light Music Club is lagging because of me right now. I have to convince my parents to let me stay late rehearsing every day. I think having another girl in the band would make that easier.”
“…Uh-huh. And I’m supposed to care about that?”
“Isn’t there any way I can get you to help us?”
It was Setsuna’s turn to sigh. There was only one thing left to do.
“…I didn’t want to pull this card, but you’ve left me with no other choice.”
She gave a mischievous smile.
“If you refuse to join, Touma-san… I’ll just have to tell Kitahara-kun all about our little conversation on Saturday.”
Kazusa’s angry steps ceased, and she froze, her expression changing in an instant. She looked completely taken aback.
And, the next moment, she was scowling at Setsuna, a sharp glint in her eye.
But Setsuna kept smiling, lowering her voice to a whisper.
“Should I take that as a ‘yes’?”
It was like a fight between an adult and a child. Kazusa appeared to want to object, but couldn’t say anything.
Kazusa gave a sigh of resignation. “Ugh, fine, whatever,” she spat over her shoulder. “What do I care?”
“Oh, wonderful! Thank you so much, Touma-san!”
“Don’t thank me yet… What are you really inviting me in for, anyway?”
The look in Kazusa’s eyes changed just slightly as she asked this.
“…Hm, that’s a good question. I’m not totally sure myself, honestly.”
Kazusa shook her head. But it was true, so there was no use objecting.
“Oh, I’ll just tell Kitahara-kun…”
Setsuna pulled out her phone, then suddenly stopped.
An idea had struck her.
“What? What are you doing?”
“Um, Touma-san… Are you free after school tomorrow?”