2 days until the show
“Kazusa… try to understand.”
“Taking you along with me right now would be…”
I don’t want to hear… Huh?
Who…? No… I know this voice…
She opened her eyes slowly, her awareness slow and thick like mud, and found his face very close to her.
“Are you okay?”
‘Kitahara…? Uh… Whoa, what are you doing?!”
She quickly sat up, and saw that he was crouching at her side.
“W-Were you watching me sleep?!”
“No, no, wait! I just came to check on you, and you were tossing and turning…”
“And I spoke to you, without thinking about it… But I guess I woke you up. Sorry.”
Which meant that the voice she’d heard had, indeed, been his.
Kazusa gave a sigh of relief—yes, it was a relief—musing on how, even in her dreams, she couldn’t get away from him and his noise.
“…What about your practicing? What time is it…?”
“I took a short nap, but I’ve been practicing ever since. It’s eight in the morning.”
At this point, she noticed that it was light outside.
“Eight in the… Kitahara, what about school?”
“I’m not going, obviously. Oh, I should let the school know I’ll be absent… I think I left my phone down in the basement. Is it okay if I use your house phone?”
Before she could say anything, he called the school and informed them that he wouldn’t be attending today. The class rep with his perfect attendance, didn’t even think twice. She felt a tiny bit of guilt, realizing she had caused him to miss yesterday, too.
Anyway, what kind of person had the school’s phone number memorized? Maybe that was standard for class reps.
“So, how are you feeling? Any better?”
“I’m doing better… I think.”
“All right. Let’s check your temperature.”
The thermometer showed that, while her temperature was lower than last night, it still hadn’t fallen below 38 degrees.
“…All normal, then.”
“Don’t joke about that, please… It still hasn’t gone down, huh.” He gave a small sigh.
Did he have to look so sad…?
“What about breakfast? I have the rice left from yesterday, so I could make some more of that porridge. Are you hungry at all?”
After she’d gotten changed, eaten her porridge (which tasted the same as the night before—not half bad, considering he’d made it himself), and taken her medicine, her mood started to settle a bit, too.
“All right, back into your futon. I’m going to get back to practicing. Stay here and sleep.”
She’d thought her mood had settled… But something in his words stirred things up again. The dream she had just had mixed together with present reality, and suddenly set her mind racing.
Where are you going?
Are you leaving me behind?
“Hm? What’s with that look, Touma? Don’t worry, I promise I’ll stay right here until you fall asleep.”
He laughed. In all likelihood, there hadn’t been any hidden meaning to what he said, but Kazusa, feeling as though he had seen straight through her, growled, “Shut up!”
“Oh, no, no, I’m not making fun of you… Sorry. I’ll just be over here, I won’t say anything.”
So, he would stay here for a little while, at least.
But what about after she fell asleep?
What if she had another nightmare, and woke up again, only to find that he wasn’t there by her side?
Driven by this worry, Kazusa began to speak—
“…Hey, Kitahara. Play that guitar solo for me, so I can… see how far you’ve gotten.”
“Huh? Wh-What? Why? You’re not in any state to—”
“Shut up and play! Get to it, there’s no time to waste!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you have a fever. Just let me…”
She stopped him with a yell, grabbed his shoulder to steady herself, and made her way shakily toward the basement.
Maybe she was being pushy, but she really didn’t want to be alone…
“…You’re still making some serious mistakes.”
“Uh… in about… five places…”
Touma had forced me to play this guitar solo for her, but now and then she would lose track of what she was saying, or say the same thing several times—she clearly wasn’t in her usual form, and it was likely because of the fever.
“Anyway, this still isn’t good enough… I barely call that playing.” She sighed, which seemed to cause her a bit of pain.
“I know. I’m going to keep working on it… So will you go back and sleep in the living room?” I appreciated her concern, but she was still barely able to sit up straight. “Here, you can lean on me.”
And yet the invalid herself, whose voice showed no energy whatsoever, made a strange display of stubbornness.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“I’m staying here… I can’t just leave you be, with that crappy playing.”
“I’m fine, I promise. I can practice on my own. Come on…”
“I mean… I mean, we’ve only got two days left. I can’t not worry.”
“But you need to get some rest today.”
“No, I can’t do that… I told you. I told you I’d make it work, I’d get you into shape so you could play this part… So, I’m…”
Maybe all of this had slipped out because of her fever. But, somehow, that made me even more certain that she truly meant it.
How many people at school—or in the world, for that matter—knew that Kazusa Touma was such a sincere person?
Of course, that didn’t mean I could go along with what she was demanding.
“I appreciate it, but no. I want you to sleep.”
“Why? …You don’t care about the success of this show?”
“Of course I do. But if you don’t sleep, I won’t be able to relax and focus on my playing.”
I was sure that even Touma would back down at that. Surely…
“I’ll sleep here, then…”
It sounded like a joke. But Touma wasn’t in any condition to toss out jokes.
“I’ll settle down and sleep here… Then you’ll be able to play. Right?”
“I guess, but how will you be able to sleep with a guitar playing?”
Even if I had my headphones on, there was no keeping the guitar itself from making any noise whatsoever. I wouldn’t be able to practice as well with a mute on.
“No whining. This is for the show. You said you’d do what I told you.”
That wasn’t the problem…
“…Kitahara. Have you given up?”
Before I could ask, “On what?”, she continued.
“I haven’t. I’m gonna get past this cold and play, and I’m gonna make your guitar solo into something perfect. So… So, I…”
At that moment, as Touma looked me in the eye, something else seemed to cross her field of vision. Maybe she was picturing the view from the stage on the day of the show.
And, with that feeling in my head, I said—
“…You’re going to sleep. You will tell me if anything hurts, or if you start to feel worse. Understood?”
I knew it was wrong, but I brought the futon from the living room down into the basement.
Maybe I would catch Touma’s cold… But if it helped her recover, then I didn’t really care.
And so, we stayed cooped up in the basement together; but Touma showed no sign of sleeping.
It wasn’t the guitar keeping her awake—she was lying in her futon, staring at me, the whole time. I told her to shut her eyes at the very least, but when she looked at me with that frailty in her eyes and said, “I won’t interrupt, I’ll sleep as soon as I get sleepy, so just let me watch you, okay…?”, I couldn’t find it in myself to reprimand her.
Even after an early lunch, Touma continued to keep her eyes fixed on my guitar solo practice. Not teaching me anything, not sleeping, just staring. With her looking at me that way, I stopped pausing to talk in the middle of rehearsing, and just focused all my attention on the guitar.
By the way, this was Thursday, which meant the Toumas’ cleaning lady would be coming by, but I had completely forgotten about that. Actually, even if I had remembered, it still would have taken me by surprise.
In the evening, when I went upstairs to get a new ice pillow for Touma, I found the cleaner, an amiable-looking middle-aged woman, in the living room. In other words, a mystery auntie. We both jumped.
Apparently she had been there since the early afternoon. After talking with her for a short while, I returned to the basement and told Touma, who, it turned out, had also forgotten she would be there.
“Oh, yeah, I guess it’s Thursday… Perfect. I had a lot of laundry piling up.”
“From what you said, I assumed she was from some cleaning company. She said she lives in the neighborhood… Shibata-san, I think?”
Same thing, how? That made her more like a housekeeper or a maid. Touma really just couldn’t be bothered with details.
“I told her what was going on with you, and she got worried. She also said she would make dinner later.”
Cleaning was the only thing in her job description, but when I told her the situation, she had immediately declared that she would handle the cooking. She was nothing but friendly and obliging.
“She also said she would buy some groceries so you could have something other than rice porridge. Is there anything particular you want?”
“…Pudding… Jello… Something… Don’t care otherwise.”
After conveying the resident’s wishes to Shibata-san, I suddenly realized that it was just about time for rehearsal.
I had sent Takeya a message the day before, asking for his help, so things should be good on that front.
Then we remembered our vocalist.
“Come to think of it… I haven’t heard from Setsuna.”
She was probably keeping her distance because Touma was sick. I headed back downstairs, figuring I would at least send her a message, only to find Touma, red in the face, strumming at my guitar. I quickly took it from her.
I took her temperature, found that it was still over 38, lectured her to go to sleep… and, in the process, forgot to send Setsuna that message.
—It didn’t remotely occur to me what a mistake that would turn out to be.
“The number you have dialed cannot currently be reached. The phone may be in an area with no service, or may not be powered on…”
Setsuna, sitting in her classroom before class began, sighed in frustration and hung up.
The one she had been trying to call, of course, was him.
Maybe his phone had run out of power after their long conversation the night before.
“I could send a text, I guess…”
She decided to message him for the time being, assuming that he would respond once he noticed his phone needed to charge.
But, after that… Though she waited and waited, no contact was forthcoming from him. She tried calling the Toumas’ home phone just before noon, but no one picked up then, either.
Maybe the symptoms were still pretty serious.
Take care… Touma-san, Haruki-kun. I know this will clear up.
With that in her mind, trusting the two of them, she finished the school day.
“Wow… So Touma’s still up over 38.”
Takeya gave a long sigh.
There was a rehearsal for the show today. Setsuna and Takeya sat in the gym, listening to the other performers while waiting for their turn.
“Yeah. The housekeeper told me when I called earlier.”
There was still no getting through to his phone, but when she had called the Touma house a short while before, a middle-aged woman who came twice a week had answered.
“Man, Touma has a housekeeper? I’m not surprised. I feel like living by yourself would get kiiinda lonely at a time like this, though… Normally I’d think it would be nice, but…”
“I’m not sure Touma-san really likes living by herself that much, though.”
“You think? This is Touma we’re talking about.”
While she understood what Takeya was getting at, based on Setsuna’s own first-hand experience with Kazusa, it didn’t seem like solitude was what she truly wanted—though that might just be her own assumption.
“Oh, so what did Haruki say?”
“He’s been taking care of her the whole time. The housekeeper seemed pretty busy, too, so I didn’t ask too many more questions.”
“Hmph…. He’s really using up a lot of his luck here. That jerk.”
“I’m just wondering how long it’s gonna be before he realizes his phone’s dead. Man, I hope things work out in time. The show’s the day after tomorrow… less than 48 hours away.”
“It’ll be fine. Touma-san will get better.”
Yes. Setsuna truly believed that.
“Even if Touma gets better, it’s Haruki I’m really worried about. If he’s taking care of her, that means he can’t practice. That solo in ‘Sound of Destiny’… Think he’s gonna be able to play it?”
“Yes… Haruki-kun can make it work, I know he can!”
She trusted him. She could trust him. Because they were friends.
“The fact that Haruki’s got a girl who’ll talk about him like that, when I’m right here… I’ll never understand it…”
“Hm? Iizuka-kun, what’s wrong? You’ve been in a weird mood this whole time.”
“Nothing. Well, Setsuna-chan, if you believe that, then I will, too. We’ll make this happen, the day after tomorrow. The synths and I will be watching from the wings.”
“We have a bass and drums because of you, Iizuka-kun. Thank you so much. We’ll be counting on you for the show, too.”
“Setsuna-chan…! Rgh, the nicer you are, the more I hate Haruki!”
Just as Setsuna tipped her head in confusion, the committee member at the microphone called for the Light Music Club.
With Takeya’s urging, Setsuna climbed the gymnasium stage.
Seeing her there, a number of people started shouting.
“Hey, Ogiso’s about to rehearse!” “Go get everyone, Ogiso’s gonna sing!”
Pointing, staring rapt, hastily beckoning people from the entrance to the gym. In an instant, everyone was focusing on Setsuna as she stood on the stage.
At the same time, Setsuna…
“God, do they have to get so noisy over just a rehearsal…? Hey, Setsuna-chan? What’s up?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing…”
While she shook her head at Takeya, something had come home to her.
This was the stage where she would be singing the day after tomorrow.
Not at karaoke, or in the music room, or on the roof, or at Kazusa’s house, but here.
It was so big. She’d had no idea what the view would be like from here.
Right now, there were only scattered spectators watching her, but she couldn’t help thinking about it a little.
“Man, and this place is gonna be packed the day after tomorrow. I can’t imagine how high the energy’s gonna be.”
Takeya’s remark made her catch her breath.
Packed? This place, packed?
“Oh, yeah, Setsuna-chan, can you stick around a little after this? I’ve picked out some stage costumes for the show, and I want to see if they fit.”
Takeya’s words seemed to be coming to her from somewhere far away.
“I mean, I rented them, but… I knew about a few places, thanks to our last vocalist never shutting up, and I picked up a few things that I thought would suit two beauties like you, so why don’t you try them on?”
“It’s Thursday, so we can use Music Room #1—oh, shoot, I forgot to tell Io to come help. I wonder if I could get her out of working on class stuff… Setsuna-chan? Uh, are you listening?”
“Huh? Oh, s-sorry, I’m listening…”
“Hey, is something wrong? Don’t tell me you’re getting stage fright all of a sudden? Haha.”
“All right, start the performance…”
Setsuna’s ears failed to pick up the committee member’s voice.
“Setsuna-chan. Setsuna-chan. What do you want to do?”
“Huh? A-About what?”
“The rehearsal. All we have are synths. Do you want to try singing?”
“…Seriously, Setsuna-chan, are you okay?”
“Y-Yeah… I’m fine, I’m really fine… I… I mean, I’m not alone… I have friends, I can…”
She wasn’t saying this to Takeya. It was a desperate, feeble attempt to persuade herself.
She had come this far because she loved singing.
She had been able to come this far because she had people who praised her voice, who valued and needed her.
But the current situation seemed to be hounding her, mocking her and her heart.
“Hey, let’s get started, please!”
She heard someone’s voice, far away.
Start? Start what? The song? Singing? Here? Alone?
I never wanted to be alone again. Why is this happening? I’m scared. I’m scared. I don’t want to be here, I want to run away, I want to leave, help me.
And, for one moment, in the back of Setsuna’s mind, there arose a vivid image… of Kazusa lying prone, and of him at her side, taking care of her.
She failed to notice that her hands were shaking, as anxiety continued to build and swell somewhere within her heart.
Any more, and she would—
“…Ah, sorry, sorry!” Takeya called out. “We don’t have all our members here today, so we’re not performing, we just wanted to confirm the program!”
Setsuna looked up with a start. “Iizuka-kun…”
“We can test the outfits tomorrow. There should be some classroom somewhere we can use.”
Takeya smiled, as though it were no big deal at all; but this only made Setsuna feel guiltier, and she looked down.
Terror. The emotion dominating Setsuna had been reduced to that single word.
It had become very plain to her—she couldn’t stand on a stage like that alone. She had made it this far because she had felt that she wasn’t alone.
She gripped her phone tightly in her pocket.
She believed that he simply hadn’t checked his phone.
She believed that he simply hadn’t noticed that it was out of power.
But, what if that wasn’t it?
What if he had known, and was keeping his phone turned off on purpose?
…No, that was impossible.
He had promised that he would never leave her alone again.
What if I get shut out again?
She shook her head, stamping out that awful thought.
She trusted him. She trusted him.
Setsuna continued to do her utmost to convince herself…
Looking at the thermometer after dinner, Touma tightened her hand into a fist.
“Sweet. Look, Kitahara, I’m better now.”
“Your temperature has gone down. That doesn’t mean you’re better.”
“Always gotta get caught up in details…”
Touma huffed, throwing me a glance. Yes, she was headed toward convalescence, as she had said, but we couldn’t get careless.
“Keep resting. And make sure you thank Shibata-san later. She’s been worrying about you this whole time.”
“I know, I know.”
Shibata-san had prepared all sorts of easy-to-eat foods for Touma—rice porridge with egg, soft cooked beans, grated apple—and even made sautéed chicken for me. I don’t know whether she believed that Touma and I were just friends, but she was very kind.
“She said she was glad to finally get to cook for you again… Like she used to.”
And because she was so kind, she wound up telling me a good bit more than was probably necessary.
“Hey. She told me that she would come here every day, and make your meals and everything… And it had always been that way. Like, your whole life.”
“But something changed when you started living on your own, right? She said you cut off all the people who used to come here, not just her, but your piano teacher, the person who would come here to look at the instruments…”
“Sorry… Never mind. You’re free to live however you want to live.”
“…” Touma went silent for a few moments, then said, “I’m going to sleep.”
Her eyes had been open the entire time since we had come down into the basement. I had no reason to stop her.
I watched her quietly as she slipped into her futon.
“All right, good night. Let me know if the guitar is too loud.”
“I’ll change out your ice pillow later. Call me for anything you need. If I’m asleep, you can knock me awake. I’m serious. Tell me.”
“All right, all right… Pushy…”
“I won’t be able to help if you don’t tell me, okay?”
“Hmm… Okay… Can I tell you something?”
“Something you need? Sure.”
I was certain that Touma was about to tell me she was in pain somehow, or otherwise feeling unwell. But instead…
“…I was thinking about quitting the piano.”
Her eyes were fixed on me as she lay there.
“I was thinking about… quitting being her daughter.”
It had been roughly two years since the pianist Youko Touma had moved her base of activity to Europe.
For a pianist, operating in the place that was best known for its music was inevitable, and her daughter, Kazusa, certainly wasn’t going to object to such a decisive move on her mother’s part. In fact, she was proud of her mother for taking on the world in such a way.
But Youko Touma did not sell off the home where she had been living in Japan before jetting off to a new world. And it wasn’t so she would have somewhere to stay instead of a hotel when she came back to visit Japan. It was so her daughter could continue living there.
In other words, it was a measure taken in order to leave her daughter behind, instead of taking her along with her.
“She told me taking me with her would be pointless… That was the word she used.”
As she lay back on her pillow, muttering that maybe she had been abandoned for lack of talent, Touma’s eyes seemed to be looking at something very far away.
“I had been playing the piano for more than ten years at that point. Of course I didn’t hate the piano, or music itself. But, the fact that I had been able to keep going for that long… was probably because I had Youko Touma around, I think.”
“My nearest goal, the person who understood my piano playing the most. That was Youko Touma to me, lame as it may sound. But… I was barely anything to her. When she used that word, ‘pointless,’ I realized that.”
God, how much of a shock must that have been?
The reality of the person who had always been with her, always encouraged her heart, just dropping her and leaving.
“And the moment I realized it, everything became ridiculous to me. Everything I’d done, everything about the life I’d lived.”
I thought I might be able to understand that just a little better than most people. My father, scary but reliable, had disappeared. My mother, who had been kind and cheerful, became more distant than any stranger. My family having disappeared, I became desperate to protect my own heart. But I think what made things work out for me was that the Kitahara family had been slow in its decay. It took time for it to sink all the way into the swamp, which spread out the damage a little.
But Touma had had this reality slammed into her without warning.
What must it have felt like for her, at the age of fifteen, suddenly having this knowledge dropped on her?
This had been the one person Touma had seen as something special, when she couldn’t care less about other people otherwise.
“So I wanted to throw all this stuff away. Including the music department… Right at the beginning I played in a competition, out of habit, but after that I quit. My classmates and teachers all just saw me as Youko Touma’s daughter, and I hated them for that. I barely went to school at all. When I found out at the end of my second year that I could move over into the general course, well, I didn’t really care, but figured I could graduate at least.”
Of course, then she found this really annoying class rep, she added, and forced a laugh—but her eyes were staring into empty space.
“…Maybe she left me behind because she thought it was best for me, or something. But I don’t really know about that.”
That’s right—there was no knowing the truth. Touma didn’t know, which meant I couldn’t possibly know, either. I didn’t know Youko Touma to begin with, and I hadn’t heard her side of the story.
“I don’t know, I just… Nothing about it sat right with me. I didn’t remotely like it. That’s all.”
But there was one thing I did know.
Something that caused Touma’s pain, and her sadness.
Of that something, I was absolutely sure.
So, I told her.
“…You know, Touma, you…”
“You seem like something really incredible, but you’re actually a very normal person!”
“…Huh? What’s that mean?”
As I broke through the atmosphere of the room with a deliberately bright tone, Touma knit her eyebrows.
“I mean, your piano playing is incredible, and your mother is famous, and there is a lot that’s impressive about you. But, what I’m saying is, you’ve been worrying and brooding over a simple mother-daughter conflict. That’s normal.”
Anger was starting to come into Touma’s eyes—and I continued before it could.
“Which means… that you can think of it as something normal.”
“…Think of what?”
“Even if this is something that’s been causing you a lot of pain, from anyone else’s point of view, it’s normal. You should think of it that way. It’ll be a lot easier on you… And that’s how I managed to keep myself together.”
It seemed that Touma had remembered what I’d told her about my family.
“And, for what it’s worth, I need you, at least.”
Touma opened her eyes just a bit wider at this.
“I-I don’t mean that in a weird way… I don’t think there’s any way you can help worrying about what your mother thinks of you. But I don’t want you to think that’s everything.”
Why? Because she had us.
“You, Kazusa Touma, are an indispensable member of the Light Music Club. We want to play this show with you, together. Have you been enjoying the past three weeks? I have. I was really happy to have you there while I practiced.”
“Don’t you think that living life is better if you enjoy yourself? Come on… Let’s kick this cold, and have a blast on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it enormously.”
“…Jesus, you’re selfish.”
As bluntly as she spoke, something in Touma’s face—maybe I was just imagining it—looked a tiny bit happy. Just a bit.
“You’re just mentioning this now? I think you already knew I was.”
“Yeah, considering you just forced me to play the saxophone.”
“I’m looking forward to that, too. So I need you to sleep now, so we can both enjoy ourselves on Saturday.”
Her head still on the pillow, Touma gave a small nod.
“And, if your fever does go down, and there’s any little bit of extra time left…” I took a deep breath. “Let’s do that song, the one in the notebook. It’s… an original, after all.”
“…You’d better get that guitar solo into shape, then. I’m gonna get better, which means you’re the only problem we have left.”
“Yes, I’ll do it. I want this third song to happen, too. It seems like a good one.”
“It doesn’t seem, it is. I did pretty well, if you ask me.”
Though there was no saving the lyrics, she added, smiling with a bit of contempt. She really was a better person than she let on.
“All right… I’m going to sleep. Play as much as you need.”
“Okay. Good night, for real this time.”
After confirming that Touma had shut her eyes, I picked up the guitar.
Setting the volume to almost 0, I played the same phrases over and over, ironing out my mistakes.
I would play it right—so I could tell her, “Look, Touma, I was able to do this thanks to your help.”
And for that song.
“After the show’s over… are you gonna… go out with Ogiso…?”
“Huh?” The sound of the guitar was covering it up, but I thought I’d just heard her say something kind of strange. “Touma…?”
I wanted to hear Touma breathing, quietly, delicately, in her sleep.
So, for just a moment, I stopped my practicing.
It would probably be the next day by the time Touma woke up.
The festival was pressing closely in.
And my fingers…
The guitar solo in “Sound of Destiny”…