9 days until the show
A basement is a scary thing—with no windows, one’s sense of time can get completely distorted.
As I strummed at the strings, assuming it was still the middle of the night, I suddenly realized it was five in the morning. I hurriedly set my phone alarm and lay down, and somehow managed to rest my brain for two hours.
A bit past seven, I entered the changing room (making certain that Touma wasn’t there this time) and washed my face in the sink.
I had spent two nights here in a row… Though I had slept on the floor.
Just as I was pulling out the toothbrush from my travel set, grateful that I had thought to buy it, the door behind me opened.
“Oh… You’re up.”
“Good morning, Touma. Were you going to take a bath? Sorry, let me just brush my teeth.”
“Ugh. You’re getting way too comfortable here…”
Touma watched me in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, looking tired, and yet strangely as though she were enjoying herself.
“…Phew. That’s much better.”
“Done? Get out.”
“All right, all right. And no peeking today, I pro—”
“I-I’ll just go eat my breakfast, then!”
Yet again, I’d said too much. Stupid.
As I sat in the living room, gnawing at the bread I’d bought the day before, Touma appeared, clothed in her uniform.
“Wow, you actually eat in the morning?”
“It’s just bread. This is normal. You should eat something, too. I have some jello, if you want it.”
At this offer, Touma, for all her talk about “not eating anything in the morning,” showed a small reaction.
“Um… Do you not want it?”
“…F-Fine, if you’re gonna be so pushy, I’ll eat it.”
She stuffed her cheeks with the jello, muttering about not wanting it to go to waste, and looking happy, somehow.
So, she did have a sweet tooth.
“Wh-What are you laughing at?!”
As I watched her, Touma huffed at me.
Evidently, she was allergic to letting anyone see how she actually felt… Well, that had been apparent already.
As today was Thursday, I spent my usual time in Music Room #1, grappling hard with the guitar until around eight p.m.
After that, I once again got off the train at Iwazu-cho, and entered Touma’s house.
…Actually, my plan had been to leave early and make a stop at home to grab another change of clothes, but a sort of mania came over me as I was practicing and I couldn’t stop.
“Wonder if I’ll actually go home on the last train today,” I muttered to myself, in the now-familiar basement studio.
“I told you to finish up your practicing early.”
Touma shook her head, exasperated.
She no longer said anything like, “Obviously, you’re gonna go home, even if you have to take the last train. Idiot.”
“Oh, will you let me use your washing machine—wait, I don’t know whether things will have time to dry if I put them out to air now…”
“…We have a dryer.” Oh, really? “But I don’t know how to use it… Or the washer.”
This girl was living alone. Sure, she could buy food, but how was she able to live in general?
When I asked, she told me there was someone who came twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, a sort of cleaning lady. Somehow, that made sense.
“Ugh, fine. Since I have laundry to do today, I’ll wash yours, too—hang on hang on I’m joking please don’t kick me—”
“Christ… You’re having way too much fun.”
Touma sighed heavily.
“Forget about everything else, just focus on improving your skill. We have… just over a week until the show. You understand that?”
“Urk… Y-Yes, I understand, I’m doing the best I can…”
“As I’ve already told you, it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get results.”
Practicing—practicing was where all my focus had been.
I had firmly believed that I would be able to pull it together in time… But it struck me that I had yet to think practically about whether it would actually work out.
If my lagging behind ultimately made us unable to play the show, in spite of the promise I had made to Ogiso…
“Touma… Am I not actually improving?”
“If you aren’t, will you give up?” was her cold reply.
As I failed to give a response, Touma silently sat down in front of the piano.
“We’ll know when you try.”
And so, as we had countless times before, we began to play “White Album” together.
“Well, there you are.”
“H-Hey, Touma, did I just… manage to play that decently…? No, maybe I’m wrong.”
“You’re wrong… Or so I’d like to say, but I suppose you did get through that without any mistakes.” Touma gave a small chuckle.
“Well, you were already able to struggle through it. Then, with ten hours a day of free practice, and me supervising you and teaching you this way… It’d be a scam if you didn’t improve.”
“Tomorrow… We can play it together. All three of us.”
I couldn’t help pumping my fist.
I had actually improved… All of my hard work had paid off!
“Thanks, Touma… Thank you so much!”
“Ugh, shut up.”
Even as Touma made a big show of sighing at me, all I could feel toward her was gratitude.
“Anyway, it’s too early to celebrate. There are still problems with your rhythm, so we’re going to get those sorted out by morning.”
“Suddenly you’re chomping at the bit… God, you’re exhausting.”
Though she slouched her shoulders, Touma remained at the piano. For all her talk, she continued working with me.
“…Let’s play it again.”
The melody of “White Album” resonated once more through the basement.
“Touma, have you always used that piano?”
Late that night—just before midnight—we were on our way to the corner store.
As it had become clear that I would stay the night again, I wanted to buy a pair of underwear at least, and Touma came along.
“Eh, since I was old enough to reach the keys,” she said casually, walking beside me. “…Every single day, for over ten years. More than ten hours a day, since elementary school.”
She had been doing what I was doing now, since she was that young… Of course she would be amazing.
“But now you’ve quit…?”
By the time it occurred to me that this might be prying too far, I had already asked the question.
But Touma didn’t yell at me, or tell me it was none of my business…
“…I was abandoned.”
She had just muttered something. A few words.
“…Let’s move faster.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry…”
It was plain that she wanted to end this discussion, so I kept walking without asking any more questions.
I hadn’t been able to catch what she said very clearly—it struck me that I still didn’t know why Touma had left the music department.
Did it have anything to do with why she was living alone in that enormous house?
I shook the thought out of my head. I shouldn’t try to pry any further.
Right now, I ought to try to forget about all of that.
The corner store lights had just come into view.
“Just a second. I won’t be long.”
While she waited for him to make his purchase, Kazusa stood outside the corner store, gazing up at the night sky.
It was a cold, clear, cloudless sea, glittering with countless stars.
They were beautiful, she thought. As she had spent most of her life to this point barely paying any attention to the stars, this was a strange feeling.
She wondered, with a wry smile, whether this might also be because she had joined the Light Music Club—but sighed, realizing she had just made a mistake.
Those few words she had allowed to slip out of her mouth.
For some reason, when she was with him, she wanted to start talking. About her family… About her mother. And about herself.
Even though Kazusa herself had been the one to tell him not to think about extraneous things.
This change in her state of mind must also be because of the club.
As she watched the thin white trails of her breath float up toward the sky. Kazusa realized that someone was looking at her.
Three girls were walking past. She happened to lock eyes with one of them.
For only a moment, she wondered whether it had been someone she knew. The girl passed by Kazusa, with her two companions, and vanished into the store.
Who had that been? Maybe their eyes had just met by accident? She hadn’t learned the faces of any of her classmates in the music department, so there was that possibility.
Well, whatever. Kazusa sighed once again. It didn’t really matter who it was.
So she forgot all about it, shaking all the clutter out of her head, and simply stood there, waiting for him to come back out.