WA2 Light Novel – Volume 1, Session 14


SESSION 14
7 days until the show

Haruki’s Piece

“H-Here? Really?”
“What the hell… Man, being rich must be nice…”

When Saturday arrived, Ogiso and Takeya both spent a good while gaping at the exterior of the house. Precisely as I had before. Well, it certainly did make an impression.

As we moved from the front door to the basement, I did my best to act just as surprised as they did, while they remarked upon every little thing.

“How can a normal family own stuff like this?!” Takeya exclaimed, incredulous in the face of all the instruments lying around in the basement. I had said almost the same thing.
“This is your rehearsal space, Touma-san? Wow…”
“The previous owner built it. I’m just using it.”
“Whoa, whoa… Was the previous owner some kinda musician, too?”
“Eh, I wouldn’t know. Now let’s get set up.”
“R-Right…”
“Haruki…” Takeya whispered to me as I brought out my guitar. “We’re really just commoners next to her, huh.”
“…Yeah.”

I hadn’t wanted to bring myself down by saying too much, but, yeah, the house was pretty astounding.

“Let’s see, gotta hook up the synths… Hey, is there an outlet somewhere?”
“Oh, yeah, under this shelf—Ow!”

The moment I tried to point Takeya to the outlet, Kazusa stomped on my foot.

“Oh, whoops. Sorry, Kitahara.”
“N-No, it’s fine…”
“…What’s with you two?”

Takeya’s expression was dubious.

Shoot, I had almost just blown the secret. Had to be more careful.

“Ah, what should I do with my coat?”
“There’s a hanger rack just over h—gaaah!”
“My bad, Kitahara. My bad.”

…Ow.

°

“All right!”

Having finished playing, I clenched my fists.

The three of us (plus one) had constructed a melody. After allowing the final chord to resonate through the room for a few moments, I gave Takeya a look to ask how it had sounded.

“Damn. That was ‘White Album,’ all right…”
“Better than you expected, Takeya?”
“Yeah… I don’t think even the god of the guitar would have expected you to get this good at it…”

Had I really been that fatally bad before?

“Yeah, that was perfect!” Ogiso beamed. “Touma-san, weren’t the synths perfect, too?”
“The drums were good, but the sax needs some fixing. I’ll handle that fine-tuning myself… But the bass sounds good, too, so decent overall. Nicely done, chief.” Touma gave a small nod.
“Whoa, really? That was okay? Whoof, I’m glad. All that key-pecking paid off.”
“You’ve done a lot of work, Iizuka-kun. Thank you.”
“Setsuna-chan…! Man, I’m so glad to be alive. I turned down a whole lotta dates with girls to work on this, y’know.”

I was finding it hard to give the guy any praise.

“But, oh my god, I just got a compliment from Kazusa Touma. I’m in her house, I’m behind the scenes, aha…”
“…You say something, chief?”
“N-No, no…” Apparently the nervous twitch hadn’t quite left.
“We’ll say we’ve got the first song finished now. Next we have to decide on the second song, and start rehearsing it today.”

We all nodded. I’d almost forgotten that this wasn’t the end of it.

“I wish we could do two more, actually… Maybe if we had more than a week left.”
“I feel the same, and I bet the other bands will also have three songs prepared. But we haven’t even been working together a month, so there’s not much we can do.”

Touma was right. If we got too greedy, that would probably only invite errors.

So, one more song.

“What do we do, then? Any requests?”
“Hmm… Now that you’ve asked, I can’t come up with anything…”
“If it’s anything with a really hard guitar part, Haruki’s gonna cry. Hahaha.”
“Shut up, Takeya.”

I didn’t like how right he was.

“Oh!” Setsuna suddenly spoke up. “I just got an idea… Maybe?”

Her smile was that of someone who had just come across a hidden treasure.

“If our first song is ‘White Album’…”

Then, it hit me.

“…’Sound of Destiny’?”
“Correct, Kitahara-kun! Wow, how did you know?”
“Oh, I just… had a feeling you might say that.”
“Sound of Destiny.”

Another massive hit, released the same year as “White Album.” It was sung by a different female artist, but it was another favorite of mine.

It didn’t have the seasonal feeling of the snowy “White Album,” but it was a classic. Most people, old or young, male or female, whatever generation, would probably be aware of it.

“Well, just to put my own two cents in, why not? It’s a good-sounding song, and I like it a lot, too.”
“Really? That’s great!” Ogiso grinned at my agreement.

Now, when it came to the other two…

“…’Sound of Destiny’?”
“Wait, really?”

It wasn’t an especially enthusiastic reaction.

“What? Do you two not like that song or something?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that… But, Kitahara, are you sure about this?”
“Why not? It’s at a nice tempo, the mood is good, and everyone will have heard it.”

I figured it would be absolutely ideal for playing live.

“That’s not the problem, Haruki… Have you been listening to me?”
What was this about? What were they trying to say?”
“Oh, um, I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“No, nothing wrong… Pff, ff…” Touma suddenly started laughing. What the hell? “…No, actually, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. Like Kitahara said, it’s a solid song. It’s a vocalist’s dream, in fact… Sure, let’s do ‘Sound of Destiny.’ …Heh, heheh.”
“You’re being really weird… So, if we’ve decided that, then let’s—”
“Haruki, you… Well, it’s not my hell to go through, but…” Takeya looked worried. Touma looked like she was about to crack up.

Ogiso and I looked at them with heads tilted, in some confusion, until—

“Ah.” The next moment, I remembered. “…Shit.”

Takeya shrugged and shook his head at my sudden comprehension.

“Sound of Destiny” ended on a guitar solo. A very cool, very difficult, shredding guitar solo.

“No… No, never mind, I can’t do that.”

I was certain that no amount of work could get me to the point of playing that.

But there was one person who disagreed.

“Let’s do it, Kitahara-kun. I want to see you playing it!”
“Uh? H-Hang on, Ogiso…”
“You’ll be fine! I know you’ll be able to do it well.”

Ogiso gazed at me, grinning. Was she joking?

“If you can play that at the show, everyone will go crazy. You’ll look so cool!”
“I appreciate your confidence in me, but I… I can see myself turning into a complete laughingstock onstage.”
“What’s wrong with a few little mistakes? If we mess up, they’ll laugh at all of us together.”
“I don’t think it would just be a ‘few little mistakes’…” And, given that this was a solo, I would be the only one they were laughing at.
“Nope. I want ‘Sound of Destiny.’ You’re going to play that guitar solo, Kitahara-kun.” Ogiso’s tone was cheerful, but clearly allowed me no choice in the matter.

Wait, what? Had some kind of switch been flipped?

“…I didn’t know you were so pushy, Setsuna-chan. Wow, so this is the kind of girl you are…”

Even Takeya was thrown by this display of selfishness. Well, this was the true Ogiso, the way she was when she didn’t polish herself up at all… But, still…

“Kitahara-kun, you said yourself that we’ve decided, remember? No take-backs!”
“Y-You can’t be serious… Hey, Touma, will you say something, please?”

Touma took a moment to compose herself, shifting from her grin back to her usual expression, and turned to face Ogiso.

“Ogiso. Are you serious about this?”
“Yep! And I seriously think that Kitahara-kun can do it.”
“Uh-huh…” A small nod. “Actually, I agree.”

There, she agreed with—huh?

“Yes! That means we’re doing it!”
“Wh-Whoa, hey, Touma! Where’s the strictness you always have with me?! Where’s your rationality?!”
“I have both. I’m speaking from those.”
“You’re kidding. I could never pull something like that off, at my level…”
“I don’t care whether you think you could or couldn’t. You’re doing it. Remember what you said when I joined the Light Music Club? You said you’d do whatever I told you.”
“B-But this is impossible…”
“Stop. Listen to me. Make the impossible possible. You will get yourself to the point of playing this. That is all.”

Touma clapped her hands together, as though declaring the discussion over.

“Now, let’s get going. We’ve only got a week left, as you know.”
“No, wait—”
“That’s right. We can do this, guys!”
“Um…”
“To start, Ogiso, sing it through with me once. You know the lyrics?”
“Of course!”
“…”

As the girls got into it, I sat stupefied.

I mean… seriously?

I couldn’t see any remote possibility of making this happen… What were they thinking?

Takeya set his hand on my shoulder and shook his head.

Touma’s piano began moments later, and eventually Ogiso added her voice. The harmony was beautiful, but at the same time, it came home to me that I had nowhere to run.

°

“Allll righty, then, I’ll head home and start programming.”
“Takeya… Do you really think I can play this?” I asked, as he slipped his shoes back on at the front door.
“Nah, no way. You’d better be ready for them to laugh.”
“Yeah…”
“But so what? Setsuna-chan said she’d be right there with you while they laughed, you lucky jerk. Granted, I’ll just be messing with the synths off to the side of the stage during the show, so no one’s gonna laugh at me, but anyway.”

This punk… The leader of our club, everyone!

“Honestly, it’s no big deal to me how it turns out. I may technically be the leader, but you’re the one who made the Light Music Club what it is now, Haruki. You’ve made it this far, you can do what you want.”

He smiled, reminding me that he would be handling things behind the scenes.

“I was thinking while I listened to you play today, this is gonna turn into an excellent show, seriously. It’ll be a lot better than it would’ve been when I was playing the guitar. So, go for it. Run with it.”
“Takeya… Yeah, I will.”

My life in high school for the past three years had been nothing special.

Excellent grades, perfect attendance, this year’s class representative—my days had been diligent, perfectly normal, and boring.

So, at the very least, I wanted to have something to remember right before I graduated. I wanted to put everything I had into it.

Even if people laughed at me for it.

“Don’t let yourself lose heart. This is your first and last chance… The chance of a lifetime for Haruki Kitahara.”
“I wouldn’t call this the chance of a lifetime…”
“Why not? I mean… Your life has been wild ever since you managed to pull Setsuna-chan into this. You’re using up all of the good luck you’ve been given for the rest of your life, right now. And Touma, too… God, how the hell?”
“It wasn’t luck that got those two to join the Light Music Club, it was my begging them to do it. Well, it helps that they both like music. I guess that was lucky.”
“…And look at you. I feel sorry for those two, their luck is terrible… Not to mention their taste…”
“Huh? What?”
“Nope, not telling. You’d have to kill me first. Anyway, I’m—oh, right.”

Just as he was heading out the door, Takeya turned.

“What are you gonna do about, y’know… that?”
“…Why are you bringing that up now?”
“It came back to me while I was programming… Sorry, it genuinely completely slipped my mind.”

I figured as much.

“I’m really sorry. With the club breaking up I completely forgot. Isn’t that the reason you put up with Tomo being on vocals for so long?”
“It doesn’t matter now, though. We only have a week. I mean, since we’ve got Ogiso instead of Yanagihara now, if I could pull it off, it would be amazing… But we don’t have the time, regardless.”
“I guess… Still, man, I’m sorry. I know you really wanted to do it.”
“It’s fine. Go and take care of that programming, chief.”
“All right. I really should’ve done something about it, and I’m sorry. See you.”

Takeya gave me a wave and left.

“It’s fine,” I muttered to myself and the deserted entryway. “It’s fine.”

I had already been blessed enough. Asking for more would be too greedy.

I returned to the basement, trying to get that through my own head.

Unable to entirely shake off a certain feeling of disappointment.

°

As probably goes without saying, the guitar is present throughout the whole of “Sound of Destiny,” not just for the solo.

That being the case, while Touma and Ogiso were doing their intensive practice, I decided to focus on practicing everything that came before the solo on my own. So as not to disrupt them, I slipped on my headphones and moved to a corner of the room to start my picking.

As I was in the midst of it, I suddenly found myself unable to keep from thinking about the solo, and every time that happened I made an attempt, but I could handle maybe five seconds at most. From the beginning, my fingers’ movements refused to line up. Whether I tried playing the solo on its own, whether I started from the intro and tried to come at it with the momentum of the whole song, the result was the same.

Once dinner (corner store box lunches—Ogiso had offered to “whip up something simple,” but Touma shot her down and told her to practice instead) was over, I continued on in my attempts, but I failed to breach the seven-second wall even once. I tried forcing my way through it, with no regard for mistakes, but that just exhausted me. Seriously, how was I supposed to handle this?

I looked at my watch, wondering when Touma would start working with me… and found that it was 11:30 at night.

“Hey, Kitahara.”

When she called to me, I took off my headphones to answer.

“Oh, are you going to listen to me rehearse?”

Finally, I thought, but that was only for a moment—and then Touma said something I didn’t expect.

“No, come over here. We’re all going to play together.”
“Huh? Already?”

After all the practicing she had made us do before we tried “White Album” together?

“Get over here.”
“All right, all right.”

I headed over to the piano and plugged my guitar into the amp.

“Sorry, Ogiso. I can still barely play this, so I might get in the way of your singing…”
“Um… Kitahara-kun, do you really think that?”
“Y-Yes, I do! Why?”

Did I look particularly proud of myself, or something?

But Ogiso didn’t answer, instead exchanging a meaningful look with Touma.

“Well, Touma-san…”
“Yeah. Just like you, Kitahara.”
“What are you two talking about?!”

Still bewildered, I followed Touma’s cue and gripped the neck of the guitar.

Using the piano melody before the intro as a guide, in place of a count, I plunged in with the guitar.

The drops of sound tapped out the song’s nimble tempo, like a flight of stairs, and it began. After the bouncing rhythm resolved itself, it burst open yet again, and at that same moment, the voice came in.

I had heard Ogiso sing so many times. I had heard “Sound of Destiny” itself plenty of times, in fact, while I was at karaoke with her.

But, for some reason…

Just because my own guitar was part of the picture now, the sound that reached my ears felt different, somehow.

“…”

Her voice passed through the microphone and flowed out of the vocal speaker.

The piano continued to beat out its rhythm with unparalleled precision.

And the steel strings, between their two lavish companions, continued to wail away.

And, finally, the vocals reached their end, and the ultimate climax arrived—

°

—And it was a disaster.

“Ggh… Dammit…”

I had hoped I would be able to force through it with the combined momentum of all three of us, but it hadn’t been that generous.

It stuttered all the way through, and at one point I stopped being able to tell whether I was playing with the pick or my fingers.

“Um…” Ogiso glanced between me and Touma, looking like she wanted to say something.
“Sorry, Ogiso. See? That was terrible, just like I said…”
“Um, Kitahara-kun?”
“That must have been hard to sing, I’m sorry. Man, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do this…”
“Stop, Kitahara-kun. You played it just fine. It was super easy to sing with.”
“You don’t have to be that considerate, seriously.”
“Ugh, you’re way too humble, Kitahara-kun… Touma-saaan…”

With the ball in her court now, Touma looked at me. Surely she would be straightforward with me.

“…Kitahara. The solo part was terrible. It was a complete mess.”
“Urk…” Just as I thought, nice and honest.
“You were making mistakes all over the place, you weren’t keeping up, you gave up on too many parts. It would sound better if we just played the CD. However… Apart from that, you actually kind of managed it. At the very least, you didn’t hinder Ogiso.”
“Huh?”

I hadn’t remotely expected this assessment.

“You played it, Kitahara-kun. You played very well!” Ogiso grinned.
“I think you were only focusing on the solo, Kitahara.”
“I, well… Huh?”

I hadn’t realized until she pointed it out. Had I… made it through the rest of the song without any mistakes?

“Even while you were rehearsing with your headphones on, you were playing it right. I’m no expert, but I could tell just from hearing how the strings sounded. You played it all the way through a few times, remember?”
“I guess I… B-But, how did I…”
“Heh. That’s why I told you to practice for ten hours a day.”

Touma chuckled. Did that mean…

“Kitahara-kun, you’ve gotten good at this. You can memorize the simple parts easily now.”
“…Seriously?”
“If you make a mess of the scales, you won’t improve. Understand?” Touma grinned.

Was it because I’d laid that groundwork? Now that I thought about it, somewhere along the way, my fingers had learned how to handle the chords on their own, even if my head didn’t comprehend them.

“Oh, wow… Thank you, Professor Touma!”
“Stupid. It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Touma gave a shrug of exasperation.

That’s right. No matter how good the rest of it sounded, if I wanted to perfect this song, there was a major hurdle left to clear.

“So, it’s just down to the solo now. You can do it, Kitahara-kun.”
“I’m not all that confident…”
“Do it anyway. I’ll watch you.”
“All righty.” Ogiso stretched her arms. “I’ll go take a bath, then.”
“I told you where the bathroom was before. You can use whatever shampoo and stuff you need.”
“Thanks. Touma-san, why don’t you come with me? We’re finally spending the night together and all.”

What did she mean, “Finally”?

“Nope. If one of us doesn’t keep an eye on him, Kitahara will peek.”
“I… What the hell, Touma?!”
“Without me here, Kitahara will come and look in on you while you’re in the bath, Ogiso.”
“…Will you?” Ogiso peered at me. It looked like she might be blushing slightly.
“N-No, no, no, I wouldn’t, I swear to god!”
“How am I supposed to feel, with you insisting like that?”
“What am I supposed to say?!”
“Just be honest and say you’re dying to look.”

Why did she have to declare what my “honest” feelings were?

°

“…Dammit.”

Now that Ogiso had gone to take a bath, I started practicing the solo with Touma. But I could only manage five or six seconds of it, at most. The solo was almost a minute long…

“You’re rushing. Give me that.”

Touma’s fingers went through the first ten seconds over and over. Her pick handling was perfect.

“Like this. Try it slowly to start.”
“…You’re really something else.”

With Touma right there, I started to feel as though my efforts were in vain.

“This is nothing big. I’ve just been working with the guitar for longer than you have.”
“Yeah, but still… You’re just different from me, I feel like.”
“Idiot. Of course I am. I’m not you.” Fair enough. “And it’s true the other away around. You’re bad at the guitar, but your grades are good. I’m closer to the bottom than the top by a long shot.”
“That’s not really anything to brag about… Anyway, that’s from a simple lack of studying, isn’t it?”
“I could turn that back to you, word for word.”
“…Good point.”

If I didn’t try, I would stay as I was. If I did, the possibilities grew.

“Yes. That’s what comes after talent.”
“Yeah. …You know, you’re really cool, Touma.”
“What’s that, a compliment?”
“Eh, I’m tired. Could just be sleep babbling.”

Touma shook her head in exasperation, but still smiled. “If you’re tired, to go sleep. You can start practicing tomorrow morning.”

“I can do a bit more. I want to be cool, too… Yeah, right.”
“…You can.” I had laughed it off, but Touma looked hard at me. “If you can play that guitar solo, you’ll be cool. If that’s what you want… I’ll make it happen somehow. I’ll whip you into shape so you can play it.”
“Touma…”
“After staying here this whole past week, you’ve reached the point where you can play ‘White Album.’ You’re getting results.”

She went on. “Stay over here for this coming week, too. I’ll go even harder on you than this past week… I’ll work you to death practicing every day. On your own you might not have any hope, but with me, either you’ll die or you’ll learn to play it.”

With the understanding, of course, that I would do everything she said. Touma smiled.

Though the fact that she was letting me spend all these nights so readily made me think she wasn’t really acknowledging me as a guy, which was a little frustrating. Just a little.

But I didn’t have a single reason to refuse.

“…I’m in your hands, Professor!”
“Hm… You’re leaving it to me? Here, if you’re going to keep playing, do it.”
“All right!”

I took hold of the neck again, and let the first chord ring out.

 

Setsuna’s Piece

“Da-dah, la-laah-laah…”

She shrugged off her cardigan, mindlessly humming the tune of “Sound of Destiny” to herself.

The size of the Touma house was far beyond ordinary.

The changing room, with its washstand, was a size apart from that at Setsuna’s home. It was the same for the bathroom, and the automatically heating bathtub could probably fit three people easily.

Setsuna may have been a pampered young lady in image, but Kazusa outstripped her by far in that department. She found herself smiling at the thought.

This was fun. How many years had it been since she’d enjoyed herself like this?

She had completely forgotten this feeling. In all of her time as a high school student, she hadn’t once had a blast like this in the company of someone else.

Everyone facing the same direction, running at full speed, raising a racket, together, though they might deviate here and there. Setsuna adored that feeling of unity with her friends.

She’d had friends in middle school. Friends she loved, friends she did everything with. Friends who had all crammed together into Setsuna’s far narrower bathtub with her. Every day was fun, laughing together, enjoying life together.

But…

“…” At some point, she had stopped singing.

She still couldn’t understand why all of that had been an illusion.

But, with no desire to experience it again, Setsuna had changed herself. She had kept her distance, determined not to become deeply involved with anyone else.

That was the life she had chosen for herself in high school, even though it was nothing more and nothing less than lying to herself and everyone else.

And, somewhere along the way, she had gained this perception as a “pampered young lady” from those around her. Wealthy, well mannered, reserved, perfect.

And what was the point? She smiled bitterly. Her real self was a perfectly ordinary girl, the kind you could find anywhere.

Sure, the lie had been successful, you could say, but it made her feel strangely lonely, too.

The Setsuna Ogiso everyone treated so specially, sang the praises of, adored, was a simple sham.

And the fact that she couldn’t tell anyone this, the fact that she was playing this sham role, made her feel lonely.

Always, always.

But, then, he had appeared.

The one who looked at her differently from everyone else.

Even once he knew her secrets, he remained considerate of her wishes, kept it all shut away in his heart.

He wasn’t seeing the pampered girl, or Miss Houjou High—he just saw Setsuna, pure and simple. He had praised her singing, the one thing she could rely on. And he had done everything to become her friend.

When she heard him talk about his goals, she couldn’t help but enjoy the idea. She had developed something of an interest in him, too.

And so—Setsuna decided to let herself get close to another person again. And it all came back to her. The joy and delight that she could never experience alone.

Even when she became aware of an unexpected miscalculation, there was no turning back. In fact, she realized she wanted to get closer to her, too.

The time the three of them spent together had become something irreplaceable to Setsuna.
Of course, she knew what was ultimately awaiting them.

But she wanted things to stay this way, just for a bit.

She sighed quietly.

As she was removing her hair ties, preparing to bathe, her hand banged into the sink shelf.

The impact knocked the cabinet door completely open.

“Ow… Ack, it opened!”

She hadn’t meant to look.

She was just bending down to pick up her fallen hair tie before shutting the door. If it weren’t for that—if she hadn’t been running her eyes up and down…

“What…”

She would never have seen the men’s razor, lying inconspicuously at the very back of the bottom shelf.

°

“I’ll make it happen somehow. I’ll whip you into shape so you can play it.”

“After staying here this whole past week…”

“Stay over here for this coming week, too. I’ll go even harder on you than this past week… I’ll work you to death practicing every day…”
“I’m in your hands, Professor…”

There was light spilling out through the crack beneath the basement door. Voices, spilling out.
Setsuna couldn’t open the door.

She climbed the dark stairs, and returned to the changing room.

The moment she shut the open cabinet, all the strength went out of her legs, and she sank to the floor.

After a few moments, she muttered to herself, “So that’s how it is.”

He, who had shown such miraculous improvement all on his own.

She, who had said things were going according to schedule, even though there was so little time.

So, that was how it was.

“…Aha.”

The friends she was working so hard with.

The precious friends Setsuna had decided to let herself trust in again.

All running toward the same goal, the three of them.

“Aha… ha…”

The three of them…


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