6 days until the show
“What? What are you talking about, Kitahara?”
Kazusa’s brow furrowed at his sudden proposition.
On the second day of their stay, as they were eating the corner-store box lunches following morning rehearsal, he had spoken up.
“Come on, let’s do it. Everyone will be stunned.”
As he grinned like a child, Kazusa hunched her shoulders.
“Why is that necessary? We can’t make a change like that with so little time left.”
“Time isn’t a problem for you, though, is it?”
“Don’t try to force this on me by pretending to have confidence in me. It’s annoying.”
The proposition was that Kazusa should play the saxophone part in “White Album.” Not all the way through, though—she was to switch from the keyboard to the saxophone for the end.
It could be possible if they simply adjusted the synth programming for that part, but she still didn’t understand why.
“Well, as things are now, you don’t get to show off at all. Ogiso has her vocals, which I hardly need mention, and even I have that solo for ‘Sound of Destiny.’”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Oh, you too, Ogiso?”
She sighed heavily.
It was true that, unlike the other parts, the keyboard wasn’t really an instrument that ever came to the forefront. But Kazusa didn’t care about that.
“You’re already struggling with your own showcase… I’m not all that interested in standing out.”
“Don’t say that. Why don’t you do it?”
When she gave him a questioning glare, he answered, looking slightly flustered. “Maybe I’m just being selfish about this, but I want to show off for everyone. I want them to know just how excellent we are. I want to show them that we have a truly formidable keyboardist.”
She knew he didn’t mean it that way.
God, this guy was annoying. And she was stuck with him.
“Or, would that not be possible, even for you, Touma?”
Disgustingly annoying… And yet, some part of her could accept that.
So, Kazusa stepped up to this simple challenge.
“I never said it wasn’t possible.”
“That’s an OK, then? We should try practicing it with the saxophone this afternoon.”
“I said I could do it, not that I… You know what, whatever. Fine…”
She shook her head with a tired look on her face. A show of having been overwhelmed.
Really, they were already out of time—she had received something from the club chief the day before—but she also didn’t want to deal with this pushiness any more.
If he was going to insist this far, she might as well do it.
In her mind, Kazusa muttered, “Cripes.”
After lunch, Setsuna brought in two cups, declaring that she had made tea.
“I brought a few teabags with me. I thought it might be better than coffee.”
“Thanks… Where’s Kitahara?”
“He said he was going for a walk to help him digest.”
After adding a heaping spoonful of sugar to her tea, she sipped it quietly. The aroma of Darjeeling filled the room.
“Oh yeah, Ogiso, did you get enough sleep last night?”
“Huh? …Why do you ask?”
“Your voice has barely been there since this morning. I thought you might be tired. It’s all small and tight, without its usual bounce.”
Maybe he hadn’t noticed, but to Kazusa, who had heard so much of Setsuna’s voice, it had been clear immediately.
“You didn’t notice? Well, we did rehearse a ton yesterday, and sometimes that can happen with a change in environment. I’m not worried, but let me know right away if you think you’re hurting your throat.”
Setsuna quietly dropped her eyes.
She had noticed one other thing this morning—that Setsuna was speaking a lot less in general than she normally did.
Just as she was on the point of asking her question, Setsuna spoke over her.
“He’s gotten really good, hasn’t he? He’s improved a lot.”
“He’s a little better. But the second he gets careless he makes a mistake, so he can’t relax just yet. He’s got that solo, too. Compared with your singing, there’s insecurity all over the place.”
“And that’s why you’ve been keeping an eye on him? …To the point of having him sleep here, this whole time?”
“I’m not keeping—”
She started to react.
Then, it hit her.
“…What did you just say?”
“Last night wasn’t Kitahara-kun’s first time staying here, right? It’s happened before… He’s probably spent the whole past week practicing here every night, right? Here with his teacher. That’s why he’s improved so much.”
Setsuna’s eyes were fixed on Kazusa. It seemed as if everything had been found out.
“…I wasn’t trying to hide it from you, or anything. Even if I didn’t mention it.”
That was true. If he didn’t want to bring it up, she was fine with that… She just hadn’t felt especially inclined to talk about it, for some reason.
“But you kept quiet about it. Isn’t that… what you would call ‘hiding’?”
“Well… If I had said so, it wouldn’t really…”
“Wouldn’t really change anything? I guess so… It’s none of my business, anyway.”
“That’s not what I mean, I just…”
“What do you mean, then?!” Kazusa reflexively shrank back. She had never heard Setsuna yell like this before. “The fact that you two have been having secret rehearsals together isn’t because it’s none of my business?!”
“This whole time, I thought that Kitahara-kun was practicing all by himself, all day, every day, as hard as he could, so I—ah…”
Setsuna looked away, as though she had regained control of herself.
“Sorry… I’m sorry, Touma-san.”
“No… You don’t have to apologize, Ogiso…”
“Why… Why am I like this? I hate it.”
As she muttered that it wasn’t supposed to go like this, Setsuna’s gaze seemed to be fixed on something far away.
“I shouldn’t have said anything, I know. But, I just couldn’t get it off my mind… I’m sorry.”
“Seriously, why are you apologizing? I’m the one who—”
“No, it’s okay. I know I’m being childish. I… If you could just say something, I…”
She had never seen pain like this in Setsuna’s face before, and it left her at a loss for what to do.
She never imagined that keeping quiet about the whole thing would cause such a shock to Setsuna.
“I’m so dumb. I didn’t need to say any of that.”
“…Hey, Ogiso, um—”
“Wait… I’m sorry, Touma-san, for making you talk about all of this and feel like you had to apologize.” Setsuna exhaled deeply. “I want to apologize for ruining the mood, too. I know this is selfish of me, but please don’t think about anything I just said. I’m going to make sure I sing properly this afternoon.”
“Yep, I can do this. I’m just… going to wash my face.”
Setsuna’s smile as she left the living room definitely carried some loneliness in it.
Whatever the circumstances might have been, the fact was that Kazusa had been the reason for that look on her face.
Yes. Whatever the circumstances.
“…I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, Ogiso.”
There was no one to hear her murmured apology.
Our afternoon rehearsal wasn’t bad at all.
There were no errors in “White Album,” with its newly added saxophone performance by Touma, and while practicing my guitar solo, I managed to extend my limit (just the tiniest bit) by about two seconds.
It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great, either, for some reason.
Individual practice aside, when we all played together, something felt different. On the surface it seemed normal, and it’s not as though any bad points stood out in any of our respective parts.
But Ogiso’s voice seemed to be missing some of its luster—and even Touma’s playing seemed to lack its usual solidity.
“That’s good for today.”
When Touma cut rehearsal short before night fell, I had to assume that had something to do with it.
Since it was close to dinnertime, we held a small closing party of sorts in commemoration of our weekend at a diner nearby, but I was the only one getting excited, while the two of them seemed awkward.
I could have just assumed that they were tired, but something was plainly different from how it had been in the morning. But seven o’clock arrived without my managing to ask about it.
“It’s pretty cold out.”
“…W-We worked pretty hard this weekend, huh?”
“I-It must have been pretty hard doing all that singing, Ogiso.”
“No, not really.”
“Oh, yeah? Huh.”
As Ogiso and I walked to the Iwazu-cho station, the atmosphere between us felt a little strange.
We just couldn’t keep up a conversation. Normally Ogiso would be talking all over the place, but now she seemed to cut off every thread of discussion. Just like Touma had, once.
My ultimate failure to find a successful topic made me realize just how small my conversational repertoire really was.
When I looked next to me, I found Ogiso, with her usual smile, but something felt unnatural.
“…Um…” I was a little unsure, but I decided to speak up. “Is something wrong?”
“Why? There’s nothing wrong.”
Ogiso’s tone seemed normal enough. If I hadn’t known anything about her, I might have simply believed her.
“I think there is.”
“Sorry if I’m prying too much, but… something is just bugging me.”
The time we had known each other thus far might be short, but that didn’t mean our acquaintance was shallow. There was no way I wouldn’t notice her being this distant with me.
Ogiso always seemed to be enjoying herself around me. She let me see how she really was, unvarnished.
If something was troubling her, I wanted to help.
“If you think you’re prying too hard, then why ask? What would you do if I told you?”
Ogiso kept her gaze ahead of her.
I didn’t know what had led her to ask me this, but I decided to answer honestly.
“Well, if something is bothering you, then I wanted to know if I could help.”
Ogiso fell silent. I started wondering whether I’d embarrassed myself, and kept talking to cover it up.
“I mean, we’re friends, you know? We’re bandmates, working together. You can tell me any… Ogiso?”
I could see the lights of the station, and the stairs to the ticket gate—but Ogiso had stopped.
“…I had thought the same thing…”
What she had muttered was unclear, but she didn’t go on.
“…Ah, what’s wrong with me? I’m sorry, Kitahara-kun, I’ve been weird with you this whole time.”
After a moment, Ogiso suddenly looked up, smiling apologetically.
“I’ve actually been feeling a little off since this afternoon. Maybe I’m just tired. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid of worrying you.”
“Yep. Sorry if I did. I promise it isn’t anything serious.”
“Well, if you say so…”
She began walking again, saying no more.
Just tired? Really?
It hadn’t sounded like she was lying. As she walked beside me, Ogiso’s face seemed different from before, too.
But would things really feel this far off from normal with her, if that were all?
Why was I feeling more sadness coming off of her now?
“Listen, Ogiso, I really…”
Something still wasn’t sitting quite right, and I tried to ask, but…
“Give me until tomorrow.”
“By tomorrow… I’ll be fine. I promise.” Ogiso looked as though she were trying to convince herself as much as me. “Bye, Kitahara-kun… See you tomorrow!”
She suddenly took off running, climbed up the stairs, and then her small form vanished through the ticket gate.
What was going on? Something was definitely weird.
Was she worried about something? Something she couldn’t tell her bandmates? Something unrelated to the Light Music Club?
Or… maybe she just hadn’t told me because she didn’t feel like she could turn to me.
Feeling lonely and pathetic for not being able to be there for her, I headed for the ticket gate myself, for the train in the direction opposite to Ogiso’s, when—
A familiar voice made me jump, and I turned around.
“Wowww, what a coincidence! We just saw each other the other day, too!”
“Yanagihara…” Again? Why did I have to keep running into the last person I wanted to see?
“I saw that just now, you know… You, with Setsuna Ogiso.” Yanagihara gave a delighted smirk. “So, Kitahara-san, you do have an interest in girls! Though I can’t say much for either of your tastes.”
“…Hey, don’t misinterpret this. Ogiso is…”
“She’s the new singer for the Light Music Club, my replacement, right? Everyone’s been talking about it… Honestly, I’m pretty annoyed. The whole plain was my idea, and she’s taking it over. Clearly, she’s also desperate for attention.”
“That’s not what Ogiso is in this for. It has nothing to do with the contest.”
“Oh, really? Then… Will you tell Setsuna Ogiso to drop out of the contest, please?”
“What? Why on earth would I…”
“Come to think of it, I saw you at the corner store on Thursday, too, I think? It was pretty late at night, though.”
“…? I didn’t see… Huh?”
Thursday, late at night?
“Oh, right, I guess I just spotted you. With a girl who wasn’t Setsuna Ogiso.”
Someone had seen me… with Touma?
“Yes, I’ve been visiting a friend of mine who lives in this neighborhood a lot, recently—just did today, in fact… Oho, that reaction is all I need.”
“A boy and a girl going to a corner store late at night, buying underwear? I mean, I can’t think of any other possible way to interpret that.”
“Yanagihara… She’s also a member of the Light Music Club. Don’t say another word!”
“Dating two members of the Light Music Club at once? I had no idea you had it in you, Kitahara-san. That one girl the other day, Setsuna Ogiso today… I don’t think you have any room to criticize me.”
“Stop. We were rehearsing that day, and today too, and that is all. Our rehearsal space is in this neighborhood, and we all gathered there…”
“Blah, blah, blah. Why don’t I tell the two of them about Thursday and today, then?”
“Oh, you don’t look too happy about that. Well, well, what to do?”
There was derision in Yanagihara’s eyes. I didn’t care if she told Touma about today… but Ogiso didn’t know about Thursday. If someone dropped that on her…
“Don’t even joke about this.”
“Come on, I’m serious! Oh, now that I think about it, forget about today… If the school were to find out that you took a female clubmember with you to buy underwear late at night, I imagine that would cause you a teensy little bit of trouble.”
“I forgot to take any pictures, so I don’t have proof, but, if I were to pretend to be a nice diligent student and talk to some teacher or another, maybe, just maybe, they would listen… Maybe the guidance counselor? That could impact the Light Music Club a little.”
She had the look of one who knew her opponent was weaker.
“…You want to play that show, don’t you? If so, then make her retire from the contest. You may be cheating on her, but you are her boyfriend, after all.”
Wretched beyond words. How could anyone want to win the Miss Houjou High competition this badly?
“Sooner rather than later, please, Kitahara-san. Otherwise, I’ll have to find some teacher who’s likely to make a fuss.”
Shouting at her, or even hitting her, wouldn’t resolve anything. It was my own mistake, not being more cautious that night.
I was so caught up in getting to go to Touma’s house, having her undivided attention on my practicing.
I should have made sure no one could find out—
No one could find out?
“That’s all for now! Heeheehee.”
I wasn’t able to respond as Yanagihara left. Something else had completely taken over my thoughts. My head was full of what I had just realized.
Something I couldn’t tell anyone.
Not even to Ogiso—in fact, Ogiso was the last person I ever ought to tell…
Now that Yanagihara had unexpectedly brought up this doubt, there was no making it go away.
If this was indeed true, then it was no wonder Ogiso was in such a weird mood.
But, in that case… How badly had I hurt Ogiso? To the point of just cutting me off in so few words, the way she had been…
I stood there on the spot, frozen.
What was that about “friends”? What was that about, “You can tell me anything”? What was that about, “I want to help”?
It never would have been settled without my knowing. Because I was the one who caused the situation myself.
What now? What was I supposed to do?
I thought for a moment, then hit upon something.
How had I invited Ogiso to join the Light Music Club?
Had I put together some kind of little trick to reel her in? Had I won her over with lies and smooth talk?
No. I had—
I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
I found the number I was looking for in my address book, and pushed the call button.
“…Hello… Yes, it’s me. Kitahara. Um, there’s something I’d like to ask you…”
She didn’t know where she was walking, or how she was getting there.
Even so, before she knew it, she was standing in front of her own house.
After giving her family a halfhearted greeting, she shut herself up in her room.
I’m so stupid.
I didn’t want to do that.
I didn’t want to say any of that.
Not to him, not to her… But I…
She had lost it again.
She never wanted to experience this again, and yet here she was, feeling the same thing.
I’m so stupid.
No one will ever…
Her phone rang.
After the ringtone bounced around the room for about a minute, it hung up.
Her phone rang again.
This time, the ringtone played for about ten seconds longer than before, and then hung up.
The phone continued to call for its owner, over and over.
It wasn’t as though she couldn’t see the display.
She wasn’t going to turn off the phone.
It wasn’t as though she couldn’t hear “White Album,” playing instead of her usual ringtone.
As badly as she wanted to talk, she wanted equally badly not to talk.
She had no idea how to handle this any more.
How to handle him, the one calling her…
Anyone would be justified in saying I had no regard for anyone else’s convenience.
I kept calling and calling her, roughly every five minutes.
I had been at it for almost two hours, increasing the time I waited before hanging up little by little.
Surely there was a limit to how persistent I could be. But I felt no inclination to give up.
Because there was no other way. I had the sense that, by tomorrow, it would already be too late. I wanted to apologize to Ogiso before the day was over. So, even if she decided to set her phone to silent and leave it, I couldn’t stop. At worst, even if it passed midnight, even if the dawn broke, I knew I couldn’t stop until she picked up. I had that responsibility.
I went through the same serious of actions yet again.
Pressed the call button, counted the dial tones. Ten, twenty, thirty. What to do this time? Maybe I could try waiting through five more—
“Oh my god, when are you going to stop!”
The voice caught me off guard, and I nearly dropped my phone.
“Ah, s-sorry. Um, it’s me, it’s Kitahara…”
“I know that. I can see it on my phone.”
“R-Right, yeah. Sorry… And sorry for calling you so many times.”
“…If you were that sorry, you could have stopped.”
“Yeah, sorry… Ah.”
“You just apologized again.”
“No, I… Well, yeah. I called you so I could apologize.”
In an instant, it felt like the atmosphere on the other end had changed.
“I’m sorry for being such a nuisance. But could you give me just a moment?”
“…” Silence for a few moments. “…You haven’t done anything to apologize for, Kitahara-kun.”
“Yes, I have. I mean, today, I…”
“I told you, I was just feeling a little unwell today. I also told you that, tomorrow, I would be fine.”
“But, right now, it’s still today.”
“I don’t want to listen to you split hairs.”
“…It was my fault you were feeling weird, wasn’t it?”
Ogiso said nothing, so I took a deep breath and continued.
“I’m sorry, Ogiso. I actually stayed over at Touma’s house last week. Three nights, starting on Tuesday.”
“Touma supervised my rehearsal until morning. I was coming to school from her house. And I… didn’t tell you. I kept it a secret from you. I’m really sorry.”
No tricks. No lies or convenient fabrications.
Just saying how I truly felt, honestly.
“…How did you… Did Touma-san tell you?”
“I heard about it from her on the phone. Touma didn’t tell me herself, I asked her about it. I wondered whether that might be the deal.”
“…So, you noticed, Kitahara-kun,” Ogiso mumbled. “That’s no good. I’m terrible at this.”
“So, Touma-san told you what a tacky, clumsy thing I did… Getting angry for no reason, saying nasty things for no reason, then having the nerve to get depressed over it.”
“No, Touma just said you’d ‘found out’…”
“…Oh. Well, that was considerate of Touma-san.”
She sighed, remarking that she was just making herself look worse and worse.
“Ugh… Why do I act like this? I never wanted anyone to see this ugly side of me.”
I could tell, even through the phone, that Ogiso was depressed.
So, I spoke up—honestly.
“Actually, I’m happy that I get to see that side of you, Ogiso.”
“I don’t hate the ‘ugly’ side of you… I like it quite a bit, actually.”
“Wh… Whaaat?! …Ow!”
“Oww… I’m fine, I just smacked my foot… B-But what do you mean, you’re happy about it?”
“Well, um… There are plenty of people who only know you as this sheltered princess, but on the other hand, we’re the only ones who know about your ‘ugly’ side. You act like your true self when you’re with us, without pretending to be anyone else. Right?”
“So, I’m happy.”
“And, what you said about… liking it…?”
“Well…” I was a little sheepish, but I spoke earnestly. “I simply mean that spending time with that side of you is more fun. Ordinary, always laughing, letting me ask all these favors of you, and… loving to sing. I want you to be that Ogiso, even if it means being a little tacky.”
“But, I’m the one who betrayed you just when you had started to consider us friends. I can explain—I missed my chance to tell you at the beginning, and after that, it just got harder and harder to say anything. But, to you… I’m sure it just felt like you were being alienated. So, please let me apologize. I’m so sorry for hurting you.”
Ogiso went silent for a moment. But I knew she was still there, so I too went silent, and waited.
Soon enough, her voice came trickling back through the speaker.
“When I was… in middle school…”
“When I was in middle school, I got along with everyone. I had tons of friends, people I loved and cared about. I was super clingy, really kind of annoying—I didn’t put on any kind of act.”
“We stopped at shops and things on the way home every day, spent every holiday hanging out, got together and had sleepovers like yesterday… I was always happy. I loved all of them.”
“But, as close as I got to them… the tiniest little thing could make them leave me suddenly.”
“I really loved them… They were my friends…”
She spoke haltingly, as though she didn’t want to say any of this, but she continued nevertheless.
A group of five friends, formed in their first year, constantly together.
Autumn of ninth grade, after a summer vacation spent running around all over the place as a group…
The captain of the basketball team, wildly popular with all of the girls, had asked Ogiso out.
But the leader of that five-girl group had always had unrequited feelings for this boy.
So, of course, Ogiso turned him down. But even that was something the girl in question found unforgivable.
After that day, Ogiso lost her four friends, over something that hadn’t even remotely been her fault. No matter what she said, how much she apologized, she was never able to repair that relationship.
They never did anything to Ogiso. Just ignored her, completely. The friends that she had laughed with, day after day.
Even when autumn turned to winter, when the new year began, on graduation day…
“So, when I got to high school, I changed the way I interacted with people. As long as I didn’t get involved too deeply with anyone, and kept that distance, I wouldn’t have to feel that way again.”
So that was why…
The Miss Houjou High thing was just a side effect.
“Of course, I was lonely, having to play this fake version of myself. But I didn’t want to hurt again, so I made myself get used to it. Before long, that was just my everyday life… and it gradually stopped bothering me.”
A reproachful note came into Ogiso’s voice.
“…This is your fault. For finding me, and doing what you did.”
“Not telling anyone after you found out about my part-time job… Pretending you hadn’t noticed me working, even when you invited me to join the club. Maybe to you, there wasn’t any need to bring it up, but for me—it meant you had kept my secret. I was so happy about that.”
It really hadn’t been that big a deal at all. Even so, Ogiso had felt this way the whole time.
“And this person praised my singing… invited me to be part of a group, to work together on something. Brought me this concert as a goal, brought me new friends. So… Well, I remembered. I regained the version of myself that I had been back when I really enjoyed life. I had been so close to forgetting all about it, and you—”
I never thought that a simple whim on my part would have such a massive impact on Ogiso. I felt guilty—but there was also a tiny bit of some other feeling.
“Ugh… Now I’ve gone and told you all of that, too.”
“Sorry for dragging it out of you. But… Thanks for telling me.”
“…Aha. And now you’re thanking me.”
Her voice was dry—but I could tell she was smiling.
“Whew… I don’t know what I want. I still don’t know myself very well. I like both you and Touma-san a lot… I should be happy that the two of you are spending time together, since I’m a part of your group, too…”
“But, but something about me not being there… Something about it not being the three of us just…”
It hadn’t been the three of us.
We were all supposed to be a group, but two of us were rehearsing secretly, staying overnight secretly.
In other words, it was two and one. Thinking from Ogiso’s point of view, it could only be a re-tracing of the painful experience she had had before.
“…Hey, is it midnight yet?”
“Midnight? Uh… No, it’s ten.”
“Okay. Two hours left… Remember how I said I’d be better tomorrow?”
“Sorry for blabbering on about all of that. I’ll be completely normal when we see each other tomorrow. This burdensome version of me… I’m putting an end to it today. So…”
“Hang on. You don’t have to put an end to anything.”
“You don’t need to end it. You’re good exactly as you are. Burdensome, ugly, whatever. In exchange… I want you to stay with us, just like you have been.”
There was no lie in what I said.
“I’ve really enjoyed being with you, Ogiso. If you weren’t here, none of this would have gone anywhere. I want us to keep—”
“Going together—huh? O-Ogiso?”
“I don’t… I don’t want this, Kitahara-kun… I don’t want to be alone any more. I want to be with my friends forever. But I can’t be shut out of the group any more! I can’t stand it…!”
Her voice was fragile, weak, but making its appeal from the bottom of her heart.
“I don’t want it, I’m scared… I start thinking that you and Touma-san might leave me some day, and I get so anxious I can’t move… This is why I can’t have friends…”
“H-Hang on, Ogiso.”
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry, Kitahara-kun… Goodb—”
At that moment…
I took a deep breath.
“I will never, ever leave you, Ogiso!”
“…Did you hang up?”
“I didn’t hang up! I’m still here! I am!”
Ogiso’s voice was flustered. Come to think of it, there hadn’t been a hang-up sound anyway.
“Wh-What did you mean by that, just now?!”
“Er, well… Wait, Ogiso, you’re suddenly very—”
“Just explain it! Don’t keep repeating yourself!”
Ogiso’s voice suddenly had a good deal of energy, as though she were angry, or in a hurry.
“I mean… From now on, I’m never going to shut you out of the group. Until you get tired of me and leave on your own, I’m not going to leave you. I promise.”
“…” Ogiso seemed to be thinking for a moment. “…Really?”
“Really. Even after the show, after we graduate, I’m going to be with you, until you get sick of me.”
“You… really, really mean that?”
“Yes, I swear it.”
“…I’m going to believe you. If this is a lie… I’m never going to recover, okay?”
“It’s all right. I’m never going to let you feel that way again.”
“So… Ha, ha-choo!”
I sneezed. Very smooth.
“Wh-Whoa, that startled me… Are you okay, Kitahara-kun?”
“Sorry, Ogiso, I’m just a little cold out… Ah.”
“Huh?” Shoot. By the time I caught myself, it was too late. “Kitahara-kun… Are you not at home?”
“I am, my heater is just on the fritz…”
“If you’re lying, I’ll cry.”
Oh, for crying out loud.
“…Sorry. I’m actually—”
Ogiso came rushing out, her expression completely different now, and shouted when she saw me.
“Don’t give me that! Wh-Why… Why are you in front of my house…?!”
“Ah, sorry. I know it’s kind of stalker-ish, ahaha.”
“That’s not what I mean! It’s cold out! Why…”
Yes. I was currently… on the street running past the Ogiso house.
“You’ve been talking to me from here the whole… Wait. Kitahara-kun, how long have you been here?”
“Oh, I just got here—”
“…For about two hours. Since the first time I called you.”
After Ogiso and I parted ways, I had called Touma, then spent some time thinking about what to do.
And, ultimately, I wound up here.
“Why, why would you…”
“…I thought this was the only place. When I thought about how you were feeling as you went home, how I had made you feel… I decided that, if I didn’t at least do this much, then I had no right to apologize to you.”
Of course, if someone had thought to report me as a suspicious person, it all would have been over.
“B-But you could catch a cold! The show is next week! How can you…”
“Well, I… Ah?”
Ogiso’s hand approached my own, ungloved hand, and lightly wrapped around it. I could feel the gentle warmth coming through each of her slim, pale fingers… Wait.
“You’re… so cold…”
I was glad for the warmth, but… Even though there was no one around to see, having someone hold my hand in the middle of the street was extremely embarrassing.
“I’m sorry… If I’d just picked up sooner, you wouldn’t have…”
“Huh? N-No, this isn’t your fault at all, I just decided to do it.”
“It’s okay. I’m just glad that you picked up.”
I smiled at Ogiso, who suddenly looked as though she were about to cry.
“You kept your phone turned on. That much is enough. Oh, I’m hoping you might let me finish what I was saying before, if that’s okay.”
“Tomorrow, I want you to keep working with me, as a dear friend, as a part of this group. Please.”
“Kitahara-kun…” She continued to hold my hand. “…I’m a burden, you know.”
“I know. Come with us anyway.””
“Maybe even more of a burden than Touma-san.”
“Ha! Is that really what you think of Touma? Don’t worry. I don’t care how much of a burden you are, I won’t leave you.”
I didn’t want Ogiso—this amazing girl—to be hurt any more.
“…All right. Tomorrow… Let’s keep working together.” Ogiso finally gave me the smile I knew so well.
I started to pump my fist… but couldn’t. Um, Miss Ogiso, how long are you planning to hold my hand?
“Oh, also, I meant what I said—you can tell me about absolutely anything that’s bothering you. Of course, it’s fine if you don’t want to, but I’ll do anything I can.”
“Well, I know I might not be able to be that useful, ahaha… Ogiso?”
For some reason, Ogiso’s face had suddenly turned serious.
“You said you would do anything you could.”
What was this feeling in the air? …What was she going to make me do?
“Then… I want you to call me ‘Setsuna.’”
For a second, I didn’t register what she had said.
“That should be easy, right?”
“No, hang on, hang on! F-Forgetting about whether I can or can’t do it… Wh-Why?!”
This was the last thing I had expected her to ask of me, and I was completely taken aback.
“Well, up until middle school, everyone, boys and girls, called me that. I… want my friends to call me that.”
I couldn’t really come up with anything to refute that…
“That includes tomorrow, too. Even when we’re at school.”
“We’re friends… aren’t we?” Please don’t look at me like that! “You’ll say it, won’t you?”
Urrrk… I had declared that I wouldn’t turn by back on Ogiso. I had asked her to stick with us… I had to say it.
This is fine. Calm down. I call Io by name all the time—not that that compares with this, even remotely!
“W-Well, okay, then… I’m going to say it.”
As she grinned at me, her hand gripped mine just a little tighter.
…I may have been red in the face.
“W-Well, I’d better head home, then. See you tomorrow…”
“Ah, wait! You’re so cold out here… I’ll get you something from the house! Actually, you should come in!”
“N-Now, calm down, Ogiso! It’s late, I don’t want to…”
“Ah… Calm down, Setsuna.”
Through a delicate bit of negotiation, I managed to get out of intruding in the Ogiso house. If I were to see her parents now, I might collapse (from nerves)…
“All right. Here’s a disposable pocket heater, and some hot tea in a thermos.”
Everything was handed to me in a plastic bag.
“Oh, no, I can’t take all of this…” I could just buy something at the corner store.
“Don’t you dare! Will you please acknowledge your importance to the Light Music Club? You can just give the thermos back to me later. Oh, and… this.”
My hands were gently slipped into a pair of light-blue mittens.
“They’re mine, so they might be a little small, but… I’ll let you borrow them.”
Mittens? Hers… What?! Whoa, this was massively embarrassing!
“H-H-Hey, I don’t need…”
“Quiet. It’s cold out. Now, make sure you return them in good condition.”
Suddenly, I felt as though I were under a good deal more pressure than before…
Well, I’d done what I’d meant to do, so it was time to go home.
“All right, see you tomorrow, Ogi—”
“S-See you tomorrow… Setsuna.”
“Yes. See you tomorrow, Haruki-kun.”
I started to walk away, then froze.
“…What did you just say?”
“I said, ‘Haruki-kun.’”
“Oh, uh, but…”
“It wouldn’t be right if I was the only one being called by my first name. And, you know, I call Io ‘Io,’ so…”
She looked up at me from beneath her eyelashes, in a way that ought to be considered foul play.
“Anyone here who objects?”
I couldn’t exactly raise my hand. My mitten-clad hand.
“All right. You’re Haruki-kun, then.”
“Whatever you want…”
I was suddenly anxious… Had I rushed something?
“You’re Haruki-kun. And I am…?”
And Setsuna, smiling brightly, leaned in close to whisper in my ear, even though there was no one around.
“From now on, forever.”
“Good night. See you tomorrow.”
God only knows what look I had on my face as I watched her trot away, back into her house.
There beneath the starry sky, the mittens kept my hands faintly warm.
He and she had sent her messages within roughly the same time window.
Even the contents of the messages were similar, and she slumped her shoulders and sighed.
Why did they both have to be such a nuisance?
Even as she sighed, there was some sense of relief mixed into it.
She left her phone on the floor of the basement, pulling a clearfile out of her bag and removing the single sheet of loose-leaf it held. Takeya had slipped it to her, just in case she had the time.
“Okay, let’s see, let’s see… Pff!”
As she ran her eyes over the paper, Kazusa suddenly burst out laughing.
He had come up with this?
“Doesn’t seem like him… or… heh.”
She kept reading, chuckling, and once she reached the final line, she stretched out her arms, worn out from practicing.
She was sleepy. The fatigue was even greater after supervising the other two’s rehearsal, on top of her own. Not that it would show in her face.
Still, it was a comfortable sort of fatigue. It had been so long that she had forgotten—or, maybe, she had never before experienced the fulfillment that she felt in those twenty minutes.
When had this turned into something fun for her? Suddenly she was eager to play as a band, at the school festival, of all things.
“Well… I guess I’m not complaining,” Kazusa muttered self-deprecatingly to herself.
The sense of racing with someone toward a shared goal was also completely new. It seemed foolish, but it wasn’t bad.
And, that meant all the more that there was no time for standing around.
She had passed out after the other two left, until their messages woke her up, but no one could possibly call that a sufficient amount of sleep.
Even so… She couldn’t keep sleeping.
“…This gonna work in time?” she asked herself.
But she already knew the answer.
She would make it work in time.
She would bring it into shape.
To make this show the best it could be.
To make his wish come true…