Introductory Chapter 1
5 days until the show
Because of this major event that had taken place—becoming closer to Ogiso than before, starting to call her “Setsuna”—I had completely forgotten one thing.
It was on Monday morning that I remembered, when I ran into Takeya by the school gate.
“Yo, Haruki. You look tired. Have a good time last night?”
“Shut up. You know I didn’t.”
Though, in a certain sense, he was right. My mood was swept up so high after the aforementioned major event that I had barely slept.
“I’m kidding. Well, I know you’re working hard. The big show’s on Saturday.”
“Your eyes are pretty damn red, too.”
“Yeah, I’m getting my own work done. Based on where I’m at now, I think I should be able to have pretty much the whole thing done by tomorrow.”
“Already? Man… You’ve really come through for us.”
“After I heard you guys all playing at Touma’s place, of course I got motivated. Gotta have all my behind-the-scenes stuff done before Thursday’s rehearsal, right?”
He grinned reassuringly. Right, there was going to be a rehearsal on Thursday.
“…Hey, Takeya. With that being the case, could you start doing the guitar now? Once the programming is all done, you should be able to rehearse, I assume.”
Takeya shook his head at this. “I told you, man, I’m not going onstage. The Light Music Club is yours now, not mine. You’re the only one who needs to be out there. The show’ll be a lot better if I stay backstage.”
“Don’t mention it. Ha, I’m kinda looking forward to hearing everyone laugh at the ‘Sound of Destiny’ solo.”
He laughed. Did he really have to remind me…?
“So, I notice you didn’t come to school with Touma today.”
I stiffened. I hadn’t expected this.
“…Wh-When have I ever come to school with Touma?”
“Last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The whole way here from the station, you were clearly deliberately walking three steps behind her.”
“You saw that…?”
Shit, I didn’t think he would see… Huh?
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Not even Setsuna-chan. Anyway, Haruki, today at lunch…”
It suddenly came back to me, and I gave a yell. Dammit, I had completely forgotten—Yanagihara.
I hadn’t talked to Ogiso about the contest thing.
“Whoa, whoa, calm down! What, does Setsuna-chan already know?”
“No, that’s all settled. But I’m… Oh, god.”
Yes, I had apologized to Setsuna for staying over at Touma’s house, so that was all square. But if Yanagihara told the whole school about it, it could turn into a massive problem, even though she didn’t have any proof.
“Hey, I don’t understand any of that. Will you just explain what’s going on?”
“Ah, actually—” I almost said, “Yanagihara blackmailed me.” “…Actually, it’s nothing.”
Takeya’s expression was, understandably, dubious.
But this was Takeya. If I told him what the deal was, he wouldn’t shy away from storming in and shouting her down.
While I appreciated the sentiment, that would probably make things even worse, which I absolutely didn’t need.
“Weirdo. All that rehearsing must be frying your brain. Oh, shoot, I have to go meet up with a freshman girl. Seeya.”
I watched Takeya as he changed his shoes and disappeared off to the first-year floor. As far as I could tell, I had managed not to make him suspect too much.
But what was I supposed to do about Yanagihara?
“Good morning, Haruki-kun!”
My mind was elsewhere as I reached the third floor, where a voice suddenly greeted me.
“O-Oh, good morning, Ogi—”
“L-Look, there are lots of other people around.”
“…Good morning, Setsuna.”
“Yes, good morning. Why so quiet, though?”
Because I was embarrassed.
“Hopeless, Haruki-kun. I’ll allow it for now, but next time, I expect you to say it with your full voice.”
She had a way of saying terrifying things while smiling sweetly.
“Please be lenient with me until I get used to it…”
“Heehee, maaaybe… Oh, there’s the bell. I’ll see you at lunch, then. Enjoy your classes, Haruki-kun!”
“Yeah, Ogi—Setsuna, do your best with your classes, too!”
She chuckled at my last-minute save as she left. That was close.
“…I’m about to go through hell, aren’t I?”
“Didn’t you bring it on yourself?”
“Waaah!” I jumped at the voice from behind me. “Uh—Touma?”
“Mm-hm. ‘Haruki-kun.’” She smirked at me.
“Y-You heard that…?”
“You were the one talking about it. And make sure you call her the right thing next time.”
“Is that how you’re paying for yesterday? You got off pretty easy. That’s just like Ogiso, though.”
“…You know, if you did the same thing, it would cut my embarrassment in half.”
“What obligation do I have to make your life easier?”
Shrugging in exasperation, Touma headed off for our classroom.
If only Touma would call her “Setsuna,” too. It would be a lot simpler than me calling her “Kazusa”… No, that would probably be one hundred percent impossible.
“Playing some air guitar?”
“Huh? Oh, no, my fingers just… I didn’t notice.”
Lunchtime, the cafeteria…
I realized, when Setsuna pointed it out, that the hand I held my spoon with was moving on its own.
“Your mind is just completely focused on the show, huh? Well, then, you can have one of these chicken dumplings as a present for working so hard, Haruki-kun.”
“Ah, thanks… Well, it’s the guitar solo that I’m focusing on, specifically. Oh, right. I washed your thermos and brought it with me. I’ll give it back to you after school. Thanks for that. Tell your mother thanks for me, too.”
“Sure, I will… Actually, I haven’t told my family much about what went on yesterday.”
As Setsuna smiled sheepishly, the usual small lunch box sat in front of her.
As always, there were distant gazes fixed upon us from those all around, but Setsuna didn’t seem to care, so I also continued eating my curry, somewhat defiantly.
“So, what’s Touma-san doing?”
“I don’t really know.”
I had invited her to have lunch with me and Setsuna, but when lunch time rolled around she disappeared. She was probably in Music Room #2.
That aside, what I really didn’t understand was what Touma had been up to the whole morning in class.
She had been writing furiously in her notebook—but she didn’t show any sign of looking at the chalkboard (granted, Touma never really paid attention in class anyway). She even seemed to be enjoying herself a bit, humming now and then. None of this was anything I’d seen before, and I tried to ask what she was up to, but she just glared at me and told me to shut up and go away.
“I’ve never seen Touma writing in a notebook before.”
“Hmm, I’m sure it was something to do with the Light Music Club. Maybe she was coming up with arrangements?”
“You don’t think she was just studying, either?”
“Huh? N-No, I wouldn’t say, ah, ahaha… Here, you can have a rolled egg, too. How about that?”
“How about what?”
I accepted the rolled egg, even though I could feel the murderous impulse all around increase every time Setsuna gave me something.
Seriously, though, what was Touma getting up to?
I didn’t know she was capable of doing anything with that much effort. Even though she hadn’t told me when I asked, I couldn’t help thinking about it.
And there was one more thing on my mind… With all that time she spent helping me rehearse, was she getting enough sleep?
“Anyway, all we have to do now is make a straight line for the show!”
“Yeah. That’s all the school festival means for us. Well, I guess you have the Miss Houjou contest, b—”
It hit me again. Yanagihara.
I wasn’t sure whether to tell her, or what to do—stuck in a different way from how I’d been with Takeya.
I didn’t want to heap any more worries on Setsuna.
Maybe it wouldn’t be that big of a deal for her to back out of the contest, but—
“Well, if it isn’t Kitahara-san!”
With a jolt, I turned to look.
“We’re just seeing so much of each other lately! But you did save me time finding you.”
Yanagihara had simply happened to waltz up to us, while everyone else was keeping their distance. She smiled contemptuously as she spoke to me.
“Sooo, about yesterday… Oh?” She gave an exaggerated show of surprise. “Well, look who’s here with you! You’re eating lunch with Setsuna Ogiso-san!”
Setsuna tilted her head questioningly at Yanagihara’s gaze.
“In that case, Kitahara-san, I assume you’ve already convinced her?”
“…That’s what I thought,” Yanagihara muttered, dismissive in the face of my hesitation. “You’re the dilly-dallying type, Kitahara-san. You spend allll this time thinking, and then you never actually say anything.”
I had no retort to make.
“So, I did some thinking of my own. I know what I said yesterday, but… I’ve decided to change tactics, juuust a little bit.” She smirked.
“Listen, Ogiso-san.” Setsuna, who had been observing our conversation with a question mark on her face, had finally spoken up, but Yanagihara cut her off. “Kitahara-san spent the night with a black-haired beauty last Thursday. I saw them at the corner store together in the middle of the night. He’s very popular!”
I started to get flustered, wondering where she was about to take this, but then—
“Oh? Yes, I know about that.”
Setsuna’s nonchalant response left Yanagihara gaping.
Right. I had started freaking out instinctively, but Setsuna did already know about that.
“You were out in the middle of the night, Haruki-kun? You shouldn’t drag a girl out that late, you know.” Setsuna grinned as she spoke to me.
“Yeah, good point. I won’t do it again.”
Meanwhile, Yanagihara had lost her accustomed sneer.
Now, it was her turn to get flustered, in my place.
“B-But you were buying underwear—”
“He was just buying them because he hadn’t brought any, right?”
Of course, I nodded. As Setsuna had said, that was it. Nothing weird about it.
Yanagihara clenched her teeth, at a loss for words.
“Um, so, who are you? Are you a friend of Haruki-kun’s? Do you know Touma-san, too?”
Faced with this placid smile, Yanagihara recoiled, plainly in shock at this progression of events.
Her plan had probably been to tell Setsuna about Thursday, and so throw the Light Music Club into chaos. A plan to set us against each other, make the club fall apart yet again… Hoho, too bad for Yanagihara. She didn’t have that kind of control any more.
Yanagihara glared furiously at me.
For one instant, I thought she might have quietly acknowledged her loss.
“Fine… Fine! Just watch. I’ll make you regret this!”
With this parting word, Yanagihara spun on her heel.
What, was she unwilling to admit defeat?
At this stage, how could she possibly make me regret… Oh, dammit! She must be about to tell the school!
“H-Hey, wait, Yanagihara—”
“Hey there, Tomo!”
Takeya appeared to block Yanagihara’s path of retreat.
“Oh, nothing, really. I just got here, and I don’t know what you were talking about. But… Well, not that I care, but don’t try to pull anything too big.”
Takeya smiled meaningfully.
“We’ve all got things we don’t want too many people knowing, eh, Tomo?”
A sour look came to Yanagihara’s face, and she ran off.
“Good grief. Hey, Haruki, what the hell have you got yourself into?”
“…Sorry. Thanks for that.”
I guess I could have predicted this. Takeya knew his own.
If I’d known it would be like this, I would have told him everything this morning.
“Um… I’m sorry, I don’t really know what’s going on, but who was that girl?” Setsuna looked genuinely curious.
“Yeah, Haruki, I don’t know what’s going on here, either, so if you’d explain—hang on, you’re eating lunch with Setsuna-chan?”
“Ah, well, um…”
I was glad for the moment that nothing had happened with Yanagihara, but… Where did I begin?
As it was Monday, the club was unable to use Music Room #1.
So as to avoid disrupting Setsuna and Touma during after-school rehearsal, I sat in the corner of Music Room #2 and played my guitar with headphones on, as usual. I was solely focusing on that guitar solo, so I was fine with doing it that way… That said, I was about to cry from how difficult it was. Touma had said she would do something about it, but was I really going to be able to play this thing?
And, at eight o’clock, the Light Music Club finished up its rehearsal and headed for the station.
“There were a lot of people still there. That’s how you know this is the week.”
“Yeah, this week… we’re getting down to it.”
Today was Monday. The school festival would be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but Saturday was the day of our show. That being the case, we had rehearsal on Thursday after school as well.
At last, our decisive moment was drawing near.
“Oh, yeah, what’s Class E doing for its exhibition?”
“Typical haunted house. I’m on the committee, so I’ll have to help out with preparations for that, but I asked everyone to let me do this rehearsal today.”
“You did? I’m glad they agreed to let you do it!”
From the moment I decided to join the Light Music Club, I had been laying the groundwork with everyone else in class.
But, since Setsuna had joined, everyone had started telling me, “Just make sure you make Ogiso look good at the show.” I guess they were all looking forward to it, which I was happy about, but I was also feeling a little pressure.
“What about Class A?”
“We’re doing a café thing… A ‘Taisho-style Hostess Café.’ It’s a weird name…”
“That’s awfully… specific…”
The one who had proposed it was a guy, no doubt.
“They let me get out of prepping for it, so I don’t know much about it. But everyone is hard at work sewing the costumes. Io is running around like crazy to get things ready. Oh, apparently the guys will be dressing like Taisho-era schoolboys, too.”
“The guys, too?”
They were really getting down to the details… Maybe there were girls involved in making the plans as well. Whoever it was was surprisingly into this.
“Of course, I wasn’t able to get out of working the café. I’ll be there during Friday morning, by the way. You should come and say hello.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll find the time.”
Yes, I would. Of course I would. I was too embarrassed to say so to her face, but for some reason, I wanted to see what kind of outfit Setsuna would be wearing.
“You know, though, Haruki-kun, I think you would look pretty good in one of those schoolboy uniforms, too. Why don’t we all wear costumes for our show?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that… R-Right, Touma?”
I passed the ball to Touma, who had been silent for the past while as she walked with us.
“…Yeah…” she muttered in reply.
“Aw, I think it would be great! Let’s dress up, Touma-san.”
Setsuna and I looked at each other.
It seemed like she hadn’t been hearing a word we said… What was going on?
Before long, we spotted the station, and Setsuna split off.
Touma’s eyes finally found me, as though she had suddenly snapped back into herself.
“…Oh, Kitahara. What, you need something?”
“No, I was just… Are you okay? You’ve kind of been… spacing out this whole time.”
“Me? Not really… Oh, where’s—did Ogiso already leave?”
Hm. Maybe she was worn out from not sleeping enough?
Or… maybe she was worrying about something, like Setsuna had been the day before.
“Hey, if something’s up, you can tell me. I’ll listen.”
I decided to put this out there in advance, just to be sure. But then…
“…Yeah, you know, if a certain someone managed to improve his guitar playing a bit more, it would put my mind at ease.”
Maybe Touma didn’t need my help.
“Granted, I was the one who said I would make you play better. I’m going to drive you even harder, starting today.”
“E-Even harder than now…?”
Touma gave a small smile, as though that much ought to be obvious.
Even supposing she were tired…
She probably wouldn’t sleep if I told her to. She wouldn’t take a break if I told her to take a break.
In which case, the least I could do—
The least I could do was work hard enough to match the favor Touma was doing for me.
That was the only way I had of repaying her for her fatigue.
Beyond that… I could buy her some pudding or jello from the corner store. I didn’t want my sweet-toothed teacher to collapse from hunger.