4 days until the show
Regardless of my worries, Touma’s momentum showed no sign of flagging.
She drove me hard and thoroughly until the middle of the night, then laid a blanket over me when I passed out around four or five in the morning.
However, when I woke up around seven and went to the living room, I found her already at the table, notebook open. It was plain that she had stayed up all night, but she insisted that she had just woken up.
When she asked, “Do you really have enough time on your hands to worry about other people?” I had no answer to give.
Thus Tuesday began, and Touma continued to focus on her notebook.
I really was a bit worried about her—but it was in third period that a serious issue occurred.
“We’re having a quiz today. Don’t slack off just because the school festival is coming up.”
At this over-serious admonition from our English teacher, who assured us that our results would reflect on our grades, everyone sighed and began tackling the long-form reading comprehension test—but, before even five minutes had passed, the incident took place.
“…Hey, Touma! What are you doing?!”
I flinched at the volume of the teacher’s sudden shout, then looked over at the seat next to mine.
There she was, the one student in the class who hadn’t given a single look to the printout in front of her.
“Who gave you permission to do something else during this test?!”
The gaze of the entire classroom was turned on that seat.
There on the desk was her notebook, as usual, and… Hey.
It had been foolish of me to think that she would at least pretend to care while a test was in progress.
“Unbelievable. You’re always ignoring the lesson, or sleeping… and the one time you’re awake, you’re doing this! Do you have any intention of taking this test?!”
His bellowing echoed through the silence of the classroom.
This wasn’t the first time he had given Touma a warning. In fact, it was a constant thing.
Touma’s policy when it came to teachers’ lectures had always been “Don’t hear, don’t listen, or ignore,” so most of the teachers had given up on scolding her—and, actually, maybe they had been trying to avoid provoking her, since she was Youko Touma’s daughter. The one exception, who continued reprimanding her directly after half a year, was this English teacher, who also served as a guidance counselor.
“Are you aware of the state of your grades? Keep this up and you’ll have to repeat the year.”
This is a problem, Touma, you could at least pull your act together for this test, however small it may be—I tried sending this message mentally to my neighbor, but then, I heard something truly rare.
“…Sorry,” Touma muttered.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never known her to apologize to anyone. Where on earth had this change of heart come from?
The English teacher must not have expected a simple straightforward apology from Touma either, and for a moment he seemed completely taken aback, before saying, “…Just take the test,” with a slightly suspicious look on his face.
“I’ll take this notebook, too.”
The teacher quickly shut her notebook and returned to his desk.
Touma’s eyes flew wide open.
“Give that—” Her chair clattered as she stood.
I started to panic, wondering whether she was about to rush the teacher, but instead…
Touma, of all people, had managed to restrain herself, even after all of that.
Her policy with anyone, even teachers, had been either to ignore or to snap, and yet she was behaving so admirably now… How? Why?
“Hmph…” Bewildered though he was by this streak of uncharacteristic behavior from Touma, the teacher spoke again. “You don’t need it right now, anyway, do you?”
“I’m going to hold onto it for now. You can come and pick it up in the staff room after school.”
“The rest of you, focus! You’re taking a test!”
And that was where Touma’s endurance failed.
She left her desk, swaying slightly, seeming not to hear what the teacher had said. Her eyes were fixed on a single point.
“Hm? What was that, Touma?”
“Give it baaack!”
With a powerful yell that rivaled the teacher’s from earlier, Touma made for the front desk.
“Wh-Whoa, what are you doing?!”
This sudden, complete shift in Touma’s manner sent the teacher into a panic.
“Stop, Touma, don’t do anything stupid…”
I stood up, a few seconds too late, and attempted to stop my neighbor’s rampage, but I was in such a rush that I fell flat on my face before I could catch her.
“Wh-What, Kitahara, what are you—hey!”
While the teacher’s attention was focused on me, Touma snatched her notebook back.
“Touma! You can’t just—”
“This is mine! Don’t mess with me or my stuff!”
With the fury now on full throttle in her voice, she clutched the newly recovered notebook to her chest…
And she briskly left the classroom.
Left behind were the other students of Class E, gaping, and the teacher, who muttered, “I don’t have the first idea of what’s wrong with her…”
“Um, excuse me, sir!”
“Oh, Kitahara… Are you all right?”
“I’m all right. Actually, no, I’m not… I hurt my foot a bit, so I’m going to the nurse’s office!”
As the teacher yelled after me, I, too, rushed out of the classroom, at full tilt.
And I suddenly remembered—the air that Touma had just taken on.
It was just like the way she had been when I first met her. Prickly, like a stray cat facing everyone it came across with violent animosity… I hadn’t seen her fly off the handle like that in a very long time.
The difference now, though, was that her fury had a clearly defined source.
“…What on earth is in that notebook?”
If just having it confiscated could awaken that much rage… What could it possibly be?
When I arrived at Music Room #2, having figured she would be there, I found a truly tempestuous piano recital in progress.
She seemed to be letting her anger carry her performance, and yet she maintained the bursting rhythm and power that came from her outstanding technical prowess.
For a while I simply stood and listened, overwhelmed by this storm and unable to interject, until finally…
“What are you doing here. Go away,” Touma called out, only barely slowing the movements of her fingers.
“Oh, well, I… I hurt myself a bit when I fell down just now. I was on my way to the nurse’s office, but I found myself wanting to listen to some music instead.”
“What’s this I’m hearing? Mister perfect-attendance honor student is skipping class?”
“Yes, I am. Will you let me stay here? I’ll just listen, I won’t interrupt.”
“No. Go…” Touma cut herself off. “I can tell you to go, but I’m sure you won’t.”
“Correct. I guess you’re starting to understand me, Touma?”
“You’re the guy who keeps showing up at my house and refusing to leave until the morning.”
That was… certainly one way of wording it…
“…Hey.” I listened to her relentless melody for a few moments more. “What’s the deal with that notebook? …Is it really that important?” I asked flatly.
“…It’s just scribbles,” she answered, equally flatly.
So, instead of asking further, I changed the subject.
“Not that you don’t know this, but… Man, Touma, your piano playing is seriously astounding.”
I had heard it so many times as we played together, but every single time this thought was renewed.
“Anyone could play this. It’s not even good, it’s just fast.”
“If the person listening thinks it’s astounding, that’s good enough… Anyway, while I’m here, why don’t you play something classical? Anything you might think of.”
“Why would I…”
“Why not? You won’t be struck down for taking a fan request.”
“I don’t consider anyone a ‘fan’ who hasn’t paid for a ticket.”
“What, you want me to pay?!”
Wasn’t she already rich…?
“Fine, I haven’t fallen so low as to take money from a pauper like you. But… All right, I have another condition.”
“The show. If it’s a success, I’ll play as much for you as you want.” Touma smiled calmly. “That includes playing the ‘Sound of Destiny’ solo properly, of course.”
From what she said, it sounded as though she were forcing me.
But I knew now that it wasn’t that—it was Touma’s way, now that she had regained her habitual pace, of cheering me on.
“…All right. I’m going to make this an unbeatable show! So you’d better keep that promise!”
As Touma made a big show of shrugging, telling me to give it my best, I couldn’t help smiling.
A little while later, the bell rang, signaling the start of a break—and then the bell rang again.
“…Kitahara. Fourth period just started.”
“I know. I’m thinking I might skip that one, too, since my foot injury is so serious.”
“You’re not injured, you never even went to the nurse. Look at you, skipping all this class. You’ll have to repeat the year.”
“This, from you? No worries, though. My grades happen to be excellent. I’ll be fine.”
“Ugh… If you’re gonna be like that, go grab your guitar from the classroom and practice here.”
“Oh, yeah, about that—” At that moment, there was a knock at the door. “Well, speak of the devil.”
I headed for the door, ignoring the puzzled look on Touma’s face.
“…What’s the password?”
“’This is her house’…”
I opened the door to find Setsuna, just as expected.
“Ogiso? What are you…”
“‘Sir, I have a bit of a headache, I’m going to the nurse’s office.’ Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever pretended to be sick!” She chuckled, seemingly enjoying herself.
“I texted her during the break just now… I was afraid of what would happen later if I didn’t tell Setsuna about something this potentially fun.”
“That’s true! I’m not letting you keep me out of the loop any more!”
“That doesn’t mean you should cut class… Everyone’s going to find out what their princess is really like.”
“I don’t care. The princess has already finished her role. I’m the singer for the Light Music Club now. And, I’m your friend. How could I keep myself away from this?”
Touma sighed tiredly.
“Oh, I stopped by Class E. Here!”
I accepted my guitar from Setsuna, thanking her.
“…Touma. After school, you should go to the staff room to apologize. I’ll go with you.”
“I didn’t ask you for that.”
“I’m the one asking. Maybe you don’t care, but that guy is one of the head teachers. If he suspends the show over this, we will have lost everything.”
“I’ll go, too! You can relax.” Setsuna smiled brightly, like a mother would at her child.
“You two…” Touma sighed. “You won’t look too good, showing up with me.”
“You think we’re worried about that at this point?”
Setsuna and I both laughed.
“Actually, it’ll be the opposite. Setsuna and I will change the way everyone looks at you, Touma.”
“That’s right. You could even be seen as a model student!”
“Uh… You know there’s doubt over whether I’ll even graduate?”
“No need to worry about that. We’ll make sure you graduate.”
“After the festival is over, we can all study together! I’m actually better at English than Haruki-kun.”
“…You two are exhausting.”
Touma did look irritated, as she said, and yet—somehow, she seemed to be enjoying this, too.
Seeing this, Setsuna and I smiled at one another.
“All right! Now that we’re all here skipping class, let’s do this!”
As I hoisted up my guitar, Setsuna applauded her agreement.
“What a pair of slackers. Unbelievable”
In spite of her scolding, Touma made no move to leave the piano.
After plugging the microphone and guitar into their amps, we automatically signaled to one another with our eyes.
“…Now, please enjoy ‘White Album,’ performed by the Light Music Club!”
With Setsuna’s adlibbed introduction, the music room began to ring with the strokes of the black and white keys, and the electricity of steel strings.
Of course, we were going to get in massive trouble for this later—but until then, we continued performing our dancing melody, playing to the school, to the world.