1 day until the show
Friday—the day before the show…
Eight o’clock in the morning. At last, the first day of the school festival had arrived.
The halls were in chaos, crowded with students rushing around to make their final preparations.
“The number you have dialed cannot currently be reached…”
She had lost track of how many times she had heard this voice since yesterday.
He still wasn’t picking up…
In a corner of the hallway, Setsuna closed her phone, half in a daze.
The fear she felt yesterday had been immense. She had managed to shut down a desire to stop by the Touma house, spent a sleepless night, and still she hadn’t heard from him.
The housekeeper’s answering the phone had been the first and last time. Since then, she had called the Toumas’ home phone again, and even Kazusa’s cell, but neither had borne any fruit.
Why wasn’t he telling her anything? Tomorrow was the big day.
If tomorrow arrived without anything changing… What on earth was she supposed to do, up on that stage all by herself?
“I don’t want that… Haruki-kun!”
She trusted him. But. But.
Tears suddenly threatened to spill out of her eyes, but she desperately held them back.
“Oh, hey, there you are, Setsuna!”
Her friend came running over, stopped in front of her, and sighed.
“You need to get into your costume. I’ll help you get changed.”
“What? There’s still an hour before we start… Can’t we wait a little?”
“Nope. We gotta get everything done now that we can. The closer we get to opening time, the more stuff we’re gonna have flying at us.”
The look on Io’s face as she urged Setsuna was, indeed, restless.
Io had been strangely enthusiastic in the preparations for this exhibition, ever since it had been determined that “Taisho-era Hostess Café” would be the theme; still, Setsuna attempted to object.
“I already said no, several times…”
“Come on. We let you get out of doing the preparations, you at least have to step in for this much. And, like, if we do this teahouse without you ever showing your face, the whole school is gonna boo Class 3-A. Look, there’s already a line… I guess they heard that your shift was gonna be this morning.”
“…Why can’t you be a hostess?”
“Ah, no thanks. Not my style.”
All of the girls were scheduled to dress as waitresses at some point or another, except Io, who for some reason was purely in charge of food preparation. But Setsuna was well aware that her lively sociability made her quite popular with the guys.
“…Takeya told me about the Light Music Club. I get why you’re worried. But you shouldn’t let it eat you too much.”
Io put her hand on Setsuna’s shoulder, suggesting that today would be a good mental break for her.
“Sure…” She smiled weakly at her friend’s show of concern.
“Look, I always get super tense and nervous the day before a tournament, too. But on the day of, everything always comes together, and nothing else matters.”
“Comes together… But, Io, if I’m alone…”
“Well, yeah, if you were alone, that could definitely be kinda tough. But… You believe that that won’t happen, right?”
Just as Io said, she believed.
Kazusa would recover. They would all perform. The three of them would be able to smile and laugh together.
“…Why doesn’t he call me? I’m waiting… I’m trusting in him… Our performance is tomorrow… Why…?”
This unintended bit of venting was quiet enough that it only reached Io’s ears.
She felt like she might start crying at any moment, but clenched her fists to let the impulse pass.
“…Hey, let’s go, Setsuna. You’re a hostess today! Make sure to turn on that retro Showa charm, eh? Our sales today depend on you.”
“Io…” Io’s bright, cheery laugh gave Setsuna just a bit of relief. “Aha, I thought it was Taisho, not Showa?”
“Oh, right, right. Okay, try saying this: ‘Oh, my, Mister Student, it’s so lovely to see you again today!’”
“I-I have to be that exact about it…?”
“Obviously! The guys will weep with joy.”
The two of them headed toward their class, a bit of strain in their smiles.
Of course, thoughts of the show, and of him, weren’t going to vanish from her head.
So, when Io muttered, “C’mon, Haruki,” to herself, all she did was pretend not to hear.
It hit me like a truck at 8:15 that morning.
As I was waiting on the platform at Iwazu-cho station…
“My phone… is dead.”
Tracing back, the last time I had used it was when I asked Setsuna how to make rice porridge.
Which meant that I hadn’t looked at my phone for almost a day and a half in total. There was a lot going on, and I guess I was just focusing that hard on my practicing—nevertheless, it had been extremely careless of me.
But when it really got through to me was when I found Takeya, who had apparently been waiting for me at the school gate since he got there.
“Haruki! Why wasn’t your phone on yesterday?”
“Sorry, the battery was dead…”
“And you just… didn’t notice? You didn’t make any attempt to contact anyone?”
“Sorry… I literally just realized it. I mean it, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not the one who needs the apologies, idiot. Why the hell didn’t you call Setsuna-chan?!”
His face looked unusually serious.
“God… Look, knowing you, I’m sure you were doing everything you could to look after Touma. I get that. But Setsuna-chan’s been worrying about you this whole time. At rehearsal yesterday…”
“Rehearsal… Did something happen?”
“We couldn’t do anything—Setsuna-chan couldn’t do anything.”
As we headed for the school building, this information from Takeya left me at a loss for words.
She hadn’t sung at all—just stood trembling on the stage.
“She was completely pale. I’ve never seen Setsuna-chan looking like that. I guess she suddenly realized how different being onstage in front of loads of other people was going to be from practicing with her friends. All she did was stand there and shake.”
But it was just a rehearsal, I started to say… And then I stopped. Setsuna had been all alone at that rehearsal. She wasn’t the kind who liked the spotlight in the first place, and she had been pushed up onto that stage by herself.
Without me or Touma, unable to get in touch while she was wracked with anxiety.
To Setsuna, that must have felt like nothing less than being completely deserted.
“…I’m so stupid.”
“You’re just realizing that now? …What the hell do you expect to do tomorrow? Setsuna-chan’s dealing with what she’s dealing with, and, what, is Touma all better now? Can you play the ‘Sound of Destiny’ guitar solo yet?”
“It’ll work out… Setsuna, Touma, everything.”
Because all of it was my responsibility.
“It’ll work out, huh… Well, I guess all I can do as club chief is wait. I’m counting on you, man, seriously.”
I had made it this far. I would make this show happen. I would make it work.
“Hey, also, what were you just calling Setsuna-chan?”
“Huh? Se… O-Ogiso…”
“Bull. I already caught you, anyway. I don’t think she would just suddenly decide to start calling you ‘Haruki-kun’ for fun.”
“N-No, hang on, it’s not like that!”
He waved a dismissive hand. On some level, I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to keep it hidden forever, but… Urk.
“I don’t care what it’s ‘like.’ This isn’t like me calling her ‘Setsuna-chan,’ right? Be more careful.”
“…Yeah, I know.”
Takeya’s picture of the situation wasn’t quite right, but whatever.
The fact was that Touma and I were both something special to Setsuna.
“Hey.” Takeya stopped me as I continued walking. “Where are you going? Class E is back there.”
“I don’t really have any business with my class.”
“…That’s a hell of a thing for the class rep to say.”
“Leave me alone, it’s just this once—whoa, what’s going on there?”
For some reason, there was a huge throng of people in the hallway near my destination. Looking closer, they seemed to be forming a line…
“Class A. What else? They’re doing a Taisho hostess café.”
“People lining up before it’s even open… Wow. Why are there that many people, though?”
The students standing in line definitely numbered more than twenty or thirty.
“Well, word got out that Setsuna-chan’s only shift was this morning.”
“Huh? Wait, you mean… All of these guys are here for Setsuna?”
“Obviously. Look, I’ve been meaning to say this for a while, but I think you underestimate that girl. That ‘Miss Houjou High’ title isn’t just for show.”
I wasn’t underestimating her. After spending most of the past month with her, I knew her appeal better than anyone—how kind she was, how much she loved singing, how much she laughed and cared about her friends.
But… None of these guys knew that, and yet she had managed to draw them all here.
“The gym’s gonna be at full capacity while the Light Music Club is on tomorrow, too. You know why? It’s not gonna be for me, or you, or Touma… It’s because Setsuna Ogiso will be onstage. Everyone will be there to see her. You need to understand just how famous she is.”
Now that he mentioned it, I had known, but I guess I’d forgotten.
Around me, Setsuna wasn’t “Miss Houjou High.” Around me, she was a charming, ordinary girl, who showed all of her emotions openly, anger and sadness and laughter and joy alike.
“So, Haruki, you need to think some more, and not just about the show… Haruki?”
“…Famous, huh? Well… What about it?”
I took a deep breath.
“Setsuna is our vocalist. What do I care about any other roles she plays?”
Miss Houjou High was a label other people had given her. They had chosen to put her on that pedestal, that was all.
But her role as the singer for the Light Music Club was different. Setsuna had chosen that for herself.
So, I had to see to it that I didn’t disappoint that wish of hers.
“Haruki… Hey, what are you—?”
As I broke away with rapid steps, Takeya called after me, his voice dubious.
“I’m not letting anyone get in the way of the Light Music Club, or in Setsuna’s way!”
“Huh? Hang on, what are you doing?”
“What do you think? I’m going…”
With the bewildered Takeya accompanying me, I slipped through the line…
Catching the figure of a single teacher in the corner of my eye.
“To see my friend!”
After she had changed into the hostess uniform, consisting of a kimono and hakama, she helped Io with getting things in order before opening, which did help to distract her a bit.
But she couldn’t manage to cheer up completely. Her phone remained silent, and the sight of the line continuing to grow out in the hallway recalled yesterday’s anxiety to her.
As she came back to herself, she realized just how pitiful she was, here, doing this.
If Touma-san hadn’t caught that cold, how would I be feeling right now?
Setsuna began imagining things, pointlessly.
Would she be having fun, getting everything ready? Would she be laughing about how embarrassing it was, wearing this outfit? What mood would she have been in, waiting for him to stop by as a customer?
I’ll find the time.
His words were still vivid in her mind.
She wanted him to come. She wanted him to be here, while she was dressed like this, so they could smile at each other, both vaguely embarrassed somehow.
But, that was hopeless now—
She muttered his name, but there was no reply.
“Hey, you two! What are you doing?!”
As a shout rang out, Setsuna, together with the rest of her class, looked out at the hallway.
“You’re going to disrupt preparations here! Shouldn’t you be with your own classes, anyway?! Get going!”
It sounded like a teacher was ordering the line to disperse.
She recognized the voice. He didn’t handle Class A, but he was an English teacher, she was pretty sure.
“Oh, thank god. There were so many people here that even bringing my stuff in was a slog.” Io sighed and shook her head.
“Good, that should make things easier…”
“Of course, as soon as we’re open we’ll be crowded. Listen, Setsuna, just forget about everything else right now and focus on being a hostess, yeah? Okay?”
“Yeah… Thanks, Io.”
“Ahaha! Nothing to thank me for. All right, everyone, we’ve got fifteen minutes. Keep up the pace! Oh, hang on, Setsuna, I think you’ve got your kimono on wrong.”
“Huh? Oh, you’re right… I didn’t notice.”
That she would mess up something like that… Her concentration really was frayed.
She went back to the changing space at the back of the classroom, and as she was removing her sash, she heard Io saying something—it sounded like, “You… Huh? No, she’s here, but… Right now… Hey, wait—”
She wondered briefly what was going on, but her thoughts went straight back to him.
As she started questioning why she was even dressing like this if he wasn’t going to show up, the movements of her hands became sluggish.
With another sigh, she finally got the sash off and opened the front of her kimono, and that was when it happened.
It sounded as though the noise from outside had been getting steadily closer; then, suddenly, the curtain was thrown open, and someone appeared before Setsuna.
“Setsuna! I’m sorry about ye—”
Their eyes met, and they both froze.
It was him. The one she had been sure wouldn’t show up was standing right there.
But Setsuna was far from feeling happy.
Because she was right in the middle of removing her kimono.
“Wh—Waaaah! I’m so sorry!”
While Setsuna began panicking, unable even to scream, he hurried off, seeming to have realized that he was intruding.
“I told you to wait, you idiot!”
With Io’s bellowing, she understood that she had genuinely seen him just now, and not an apparition.
“Wh-Wh-What am I supposed to…?”
The whole thing had happened so abruptly, and so many emotions were blowing up and tangling together at once, that her head went blank.
She stood there, frozen, until she finally heard his voice again from outside.
“S-Sorry, Setsuna! I really didn’t mean for that to happen…” He was talking to her, his voice frantic.
“I’m sorry… But I had to see you, as soon as possible!”
“Setsuna, I’m so sorry about yesterday!”
“My phone was dead all day. I didn’t even notice until just a little bit ago. If I’d tried to get in touch with you sooner, this wouldn’t have happened…”
So, his phone really had just been dead…
“Takeya told me what happened yesterday. I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the rehearsal. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you at all. I left you alone… I’m truly sorry.”
His voice was so remorseful that she could tell what his face must look like, just from hearing him.
“When I entered the classroom just now, I was so determined to apologize to you that I couldn’t stop myself… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”
The one she had been longing to see this whole time.
He was right there, right out there, thinking of Setsuna, and only Setsuna.
After replacing her kimono, Setsuna stepped outside. And then, she noticed.
Yes, he was there. But he wasn’t looking at her.
There on the spot, he was facing her, with his head bowed. In all likelihood… he had been doing that the whole time. All for her.
He never did anything with the intention of betraying me. He didn’t want to hurt me. That’s why he came.
Setsuna spoke to him… and he slowly raised his face.
They looked at each other for a while, neither of them moving a muscle.
While the world bustled around them, they heard none of it.
At last, Setsuna began to speak again.
He straightened up just a little, pain in his face.
“I forgive you… Thank you for coming.”
She smiled, and nothing in it was superficial.
Because the first thing he had said, even before speaking of Kazusa’s condition, had been an apology to her.
The thing she had wanted to hear the most.
So, she forgave him.
Because he understood what she had suffered…
Once more, he murmured that he was sorry.
Io, who had remained firm up to this point, opened her mouth, seeming a little at a loss as to what was going on.
“That’s Haruki’s way of taking responsibility, leave him be… Though, I’m pretty surprised, myself.”
Setsuna finally noticed that Takeya was next to Io.
She had to laugh a bit at herself for noticing so little of her surroundings.
“So, Haruki-kun. How is Touma-san?”
“Ah… Well, Setsuna, about that…”
He looked like he wanted to say something, and was trying to find the words.
“What is it? …Is Touma-san really that…”
“Huh? Oh, no, sorry. Her fever’s gone down a lot. This morning it was 36.7.”
“Oh, thank goodness… Don’t scare me like that!”
“S-Sorry. What I mean is, um… Actually, can we talk about it later?”
She had no idea what “it” could be.
“And, by later, I mean somewhere that isn’t here…”
“…I understand that I’m about to cause serious trouble for the students of Class A…”
He took a deep breath.
“Let’s go, Setsuna!”
“Hweh?!” His hand gripped hers tightly. “H-Haruki-kun?!”
“Sorry, but I’m taking Setsuna with me! Run, Setsuna!”
She ran, letting him pull her by the hand, though she had no idea what was going on.
They rushed out of the classroom, leaving behind an air of general bewilderment, and took off down the hallway.
“H-Haruki-kun? Wh-What’s going on? What are you doing?!”
“We’re going to rehearse! We’ve still got more than a full day before the show, so why shouldn’t we?”
“B-But I—I have no idea what’s…!”
“It’s fine, I’ll explain Touma’s condition on the way! Right now, we just need to get out of the school! If the Class A students catch us, I’ll be publically executed!”
“I know, none of this is your fault, Setsuna, it’s all on me! You don’t have to worry about it!”
“That’s not what I mean! A-Am I supposed to go out in this…?”
“Listen to me, Setsuna…” He gave a small nod. “If we want to get out of here, you’ll have to.”
This was unthinkable to Setsuna, but by the time they had rushed down the stairs, put on their shoes, and flown out of the school building, every petty complaint had vanished from her head completely.
As they sped across the schoolyard and put the campus behind them, she simply enjoyed the sensation of his hand pulling hers.
She focused on running, letting her head go empty—save for a single worry that popped up along the way, wondering whether her cheeks had turned red.
This wasn’t because she was embarrassed to be seen in this outfit, of course… but Setsuna decided not to think too far beyond that.
And, before she knew it, the station had come into view.
“You know… At that moment, when I was standing up on the stage, I felt like I was somewhere completely unfamiliar.”
“Even though it was just a rehearsal, there was no one there, I was still thinking about their eyes… Thinking about how many people would be looking at me on the day of the actual show, and my hands started shaking, my legs got all wobbly, and I couldn’t sing.”
“I’m sorry for putting you into that situation by yourself, Setsuna…”
Setsuna, who had been looking away from me as she spoke, turned and looked at me, bright red in the face.
“I don’t like this situation, either!”
I couldn’t blame Setsuna for being embarrassed and upset.
It was nine in the morning, and while the rush had passed, there were still a fair number of people on the train.
Actually, it might have been better if it were rush hour. Since there was a bit of space between the passengers, people were genuinely going to take notice of someone in full Taisho retro garb, with her kimono and hakama. The flashy patterns didn’t help.
“I know, I’m sorry… If you yell like that, though, even more people will look.”
“Do you really have to be so sensible right now!”
I was just trying to be helpful…
“Augh, they’re all staring… I know nobody knows me here, it’s not like at school, but that’s actually even more embarrassing… They’re probably going, ‘What’s with that girl?’…”
Setsuna shrunk in on herself.
“I don’t have anything to change into because you just rushed me out… Ack…”
In truth, I hadn’t wanted to take such an extreme measure, either.
I had hoped to get her to sneak out before the café opened or something, stealthily, but when I saw her, I thought, We’re going to have to make a run for it.
By the time my head cooled down, I had dashed off with this hostess in tow, and brought her onto a train with me… Now that I thought about it, I had been holding Setsuna’s hand the whole time.
“A-Anyway, I apologize. Um, here, you can move over and hide behind me.”
I let Setsuna take shelter in the gap between me and the door, standing in such a way as to hide her.
This meant that we were facing each other, and while this was embarrassing in an entirely different sense, there was really no other way.
Our eyes met, and we both caught our breath.
Oh, god, this really was embarrassing. Setsuna’s face was so close…
I decided I could try to look away, at least, and that’s when it happened.
I suddenly realized that Setsuna was grasping tightly at my chest.
Then, she buried her face in my chest.
“S-Setsuna, um, I’m fine with hiding you, but this is… a little…”
I was sort of enjoying the sensation, sort of freaking out about it—and then…
Setsuna’s shoulders suddenly started to shake.
Setsuna was muttering, her face still hidden.
“I was scared… I was so scared…!”
“I wanted you to say something to me… I wanted you to tell me I wasn’t alone…”
Her voice was small, frail, and I felt ashamed for that moment of elation.
“What if I was alone for the show, too… What if you and Touma-san didn’t show up for me…” Her grip tightened further. “If… If I wound up all alone again, I would…”
“I was so scared… I was scared, Haruki-kun…!”
All of the attention in the train car was probably focused on us now, even more than it had been.
But I didn’t care about that any more.
How many times did I have to hurt Setsuna?
How many times did I have to cause my friend anxiety like this, before I stopped repeating the same thing?
Hopeless idiot that I was, I had no right to do anything for Setsuna except let her hide in my chest like this.
So, I apologized. It was the only thing I could do.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry, Setsuna.”
“I trusted you, I believed in you the whole time…”
“Thank you… I’m a huge idiot, and I know I caused you horrible anxiety. But I’m going to keep my promise. I’m not going to leave you or turn my back on you, not until you get sick of me.”
“Yes… You’re right, we made a promise… But, I just started freaking out…”
“It’s not your fault. All of it was on me. I’m sorry.”
To outside eyes, we must have looked like a couple.
But, really, it was nothing that nice—just me, an idiot, and a lonely girl who had believed in that idiot.
So, until the announcement that we had arrived in Iwazu-cho, Setsuna continued hanging onto my chest, even once she had calmed down—and for me, feeling a bit of happiness in addition to my shame, there really was no other word but “idiot.”
By the time we stepped out onto the platform, Setsuna had returned to her usual self.
Well, actually, I wouldn’t be sure whether to call turning bright red, flapping her hands, and saying “Please, please, forget everything that just happened!” Setsuna’s normal self. How much was I supposed to forget, anyway?
“Ugh… I let you see how tacky I am again.”
“H-Hey, it didn’t bother me at all, okay? This whole thing is my fault. There was something kind of fresh and interesting about seeing a hostess riding a train, though…”
“Ah! No, no, forget that, too! That was also your fault, Haruki-kun!”
She was still panicking. I wondered whether my getting to see her like this was a result of the outfit.
“Hmph… I wish you’d been in a Taisho schoolboy outfit, too…”
“I’m perfectly fine with my student outfit.”
It was just a uniform.
“Oh, the girls at our teahouse call the customers ‘Mister Student’… I could call you that, Haruki-kun.” Looking as though she’d just gotten an idea, Setsuna drew near to me, looking up at me from beneath her eyelashes.
“Oh, uh, y-you don’t have to.”
“…You don’t want me to?”
“H-Hey, what are you talking about? In a public place like this…”
“…Mister Student. What on earth is going through your head today, dragging me out so forcefully?”
I grew flustered at Setsuna’s sudden decision to play the part of hostess. There were a lot of people on this platform!
“I know you love the young lady who lives in the mansion…”
“Something happened, didn’t it? That’s why you came to me…” What? What?! What the hell?! “Ah, but I… I still… If this is what you want, even if I’m just a substitute for a wealthier girl…”
Her eyes pierced straight through me.
For a moment, I was so absorbed in her eyes that I couldn’t move.
“Well, let’s get going!”
Setsuna quickly switched back to her usual self, leaving me behind.
“Setsuna… Please don’t just throw that at me with no warning. I could barely breathe…”
“Heehee! That’s what you get for dragging me out in this outfit. See? Now everyone is looking at you, too.”
I glanced around, and, indeed, everyone on the platform was looking our way… Ack.
“L-Let’s go! Look at the time!”
“Oh, wait for me, Mister Student!”
Setsuna chased after me, continuing on in her little game.
Wasn’t she supposed to be afraid of other people’s gazes…? To think this was what she was capable of, when she wasn’t alone.
But, to look at it another way, if she had me and Touma with her, Setsuna would be able to display her true potential onstage. That much, at least, was a relief.
As unreasonable as I knew it had been, I was glad to have brought her out.
“Mister Student, don’t leave me here!”
“Please knock it off, Setsuna…”
Glad… Yes. Glad.
At that moment, right past the ticket gate, as I was looking behind me, I bumped into someone.
I just stumbled a little, but the other had fallen on her backside.
It was a girl in a sailor uniform. She looked to be about middle school age.
“S-Sorry, are you okay?”
I had meant to help her up, but she quickly stood up on her own.
“I’m really sorry, I should have been looking where I was going…”
“No, I wasn’t paying attention, either. That’s all that needs to be said.”
She was a very clear-headed girl, apparently.
“Oh… Is that uniform from Houjou High School?”
“Huh? It is. Why?”
“Haruki-kun, are you okay?”
The girl had been about to say something, but when Setsuna appeared, she stopped, blinking in surprise.
“Yeah, I just bumped into this girl…”
“So I see. Um, are you all right? Are you hurt at all?”
“Oh, well, um…”
She was staring at Setsuna (more specifically, Setsuna’s outfit), apparently struggling for words. Well, I couldn’t blame her.
At that moment, someone far away called out, “Koharu-chaaaan!”
“Ah… Well, my friend has arrived, so I’ll excuse myself now.”
After a small bow, she walked off in the direction of the voice.
“That girl goes to the same middle school as my brother, Takahiro. I used to wear that same sailor uniform.”
She explained that today was a day off, in honor of the anniversary of the school’s founding.
I looked carefully at Setsuna, wondering whether she had just remembered anything unpleasant, but there didn’t seem to be anything lurking beneath her words, so there was that, at least.
“She seemed very put-together, didn’t she? Very serious.”
“Yeah. I’m just glad she didn’t get hurt.”
“Hey, maybe she was at our school festival?”
Yes, a serious girl would probably wear her uniform to another school’s festival—it was possible.
“Maybe. But, for the three of us…”
“Tomorrow is the big day!”
Setsuna smiled, and I nodded.
And the two of us began the walk to our other friend.
“Touma-san! Thank goodness, I knew you’d be okay!”
With her other friend, the other source of her anxiety, back in action, Setsuna became so emotional that she flew into Touma’s arms.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t help. I’ll make dinner tonight. And don’t tell me we’re just going to have corner store box meals because there’s not enough time. It has to be something warm and tasty to give us energy.”
And in the face of this…
Touma’s eyes went wide, and slightly puzzled. For a moment she seemed unsure of how to react, but finally she spoke.
“…What’s with the outfit?”
“Oh, yeah, Touma…”
“Oh, yes, I was so embarrassed about it, but Haruki-kun absolutely insisted…”
“N-No, no! S-Setsuna, that’s the wrong nuance!”
“Mister Student, you ought to know when to give up!”
Give up on what?!
Touma’s eyes were getting more and more severe.
“Setsuna, I’m begging you!”
I didn’t see what there was to laugh about.
“Heehee. Sorry, sorry. Touma-san, what actually happened was—oh, my phone. It’s from Io… Ack, I completely forgot about my class! Sorry, I’m going to go make a call!”
With phone in hand, Setsuna scurried up out of the basement. Uh, hey…
“Kitahara, what did you make Ogiso do…? You think this is any time to play around…?”
“Wait wait wait wait, listen!”
I hurriedly explained the details to Touma, who was beginning to develop a murderous aura.
Setsuna… Do you have to get me killed right before the show?
Once she had all the information, Touma furrowed her brow.
“…You kidnapped her? You know you’re gonna get killed by all the guys in Class A tomorrow.”
Apparently I was doomed to die regardless.
“Well, kidnapper, you’d better square up and keep yourself alive until we’ve played the show.” Oh, thanks for the encouraging words. “Wow, though… Sounds like you got really desperate.”
“Desperate… I mean, I was pretty much out of options. God, if I’d at least noticed my phone was dead… I had no idea it was dead this whole time…”
“…Did you really think Ogiso would go the whole time without trying to get in touch with you? Idiot.”
“Nothing. Oh, my temperature is at 36.5 now. I’m pretty much back to normal.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear… Thanks for not giving up on this, Touma.”
“When I say I’m gonna get better, I’m gonna get better. There wouldn’t be any need for me to give up… The same goes for that, of course.”
She smirked, letting me know that the programming was finished.
“Oh, wow! That’s awesome, thank you!”
It was impressive that she’d managed to get to work this quickly, but not surprising, considering who she was.
I clenched my fists. It was real.
This thing that I had been dreaming of, picturing for so long, was going to be made real.
And… in such a perfect situation.
With luck like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if I were doomed to die.
“Oh, so you were able to get it up and running… That’s good, I’m glad—”
“It’s not good at all!” Setsuna’s words of relief were cut off by Io’s yelling. “Everyone in class started freaking out when you disappeared, the guys lined up started throwing a fit when they found out you wouldn’t be there, committee members and teachers had to get involved… And on top of that, who do you think had to step up and fill in for the absent Miss Houjou High?”
“…Sorry, Io. I wish I could have seen you in that hostess outfit, though.”
“This isn’t funny… I had already negotiated with everyone so I could be in charge of the advance work in exchange for not having to host anyone…”
Apparently, Io’s consistent enthusiasm for the prep work had been the result of a backroom deal.
“Sorry about that… Well, I guess that’s what happens when you try to slip out of things.”
“I don’t want to hear that from the one who slipped out at the worst moment! Why are we still this busy without you here, anyway? The line is just never-ending…”
Setsuna nodded to herself. Evidently, her view of Io had been correct.
“I’m sorry for sprinting out on my own. I’ll apologize to everyone later.”
“…Well, if it’s made you feel better, that’s enough for me. I do want to kick Haruki’s ass, but if you’re happy, I’m happy.”
“Aaanyway! You’d better kill this, got it? If you’ve caused us this much hassle only for the show to fall apart, I’m really gonna get mad.”
“Mm-hm. I’d probably better get back now.”
“Oh, thanks for taking the time to talk to me when you’re already so busy. You can do it, Io.”
“Same to you. Bye.”
“Bye… Oh, wait, Io. I want you to tell everyone something.”
“Tell them I’m working hard enough to make up for the trouble I caused today… and I want everyone to come and see the show tomorrow, if they have time.”
She meant every word of it.
It wasn’t that she just wanted them to come and see her.
She wanted everyone to see the Light Music Club, the performance itself.
This time and space that the three of them would create.
She wanted them to see her friends…
“New song…? Wait, what?”
Setsuna accepted the notebook that had just been handed to her, a blank look on her face.
The notebook contained handwritten lyrics, and sheet music, also handwritten.
“Yes. We’re doing a third song,” Touma muttered, as though it ought to be obvious.
“Third… Huh? What?”
The question mark remained on Setsuna’s face. It seemed she hadn’t digested the meaning of the words yet.
“We only have a day to rehearse it, since I got sick. But I think we’ll be fine. There aren’t a ton of chords for the guitar, and the synths are already programmed. Most importantly, I wrote the music to match your range, Ogiso.”
“Wrote… So, this is an original song?”
Setsuna returned her eyes to the notebook.
What must be going through her head as she looked over it?
“I-I mean, when did you…”
As Setsuna remained confused, I finally spoke up.
“Touma wrote it. I thought it would be impossible with so little time left, but she made it happen somehow.”
“Because someone insisted that I complete it. This was written begrudgingly.”
“Will you please…”
Well, whatever. The fact was, she had written it for me. Begrudgingly, but diligently, putting her best effort in to make it in time.
The question mark had disappeared, but now her face had clouded.
“You mean…” There was insecurity in her eyes. “I was the only one out of the loop, again?”
Shoot! Right, I hadn’t found the time to tell Setsuna yet… I mean, I hadn’t known until this morning whether it would even happen, but I could have told her while we were on our way here.
“W-Well, actually, um…”
Dammit, how much of an idiot could I be? How many times did I have to make Setsuna feel this terrible anxiety—
“Yes. We kept it a secret from you, Ogiso.”
Touma suddenly spoke up, as though mocking me for worrying over it.
Setsuna caught her breath. I was wondering what on earth had possessed Touma to say that, when…
“We kept quiet about it because we wanted to surprise you with it. I mean, I didn’t really care one way or another, but Kitahara insisted. He was really pushy.”
“…Huh?” Setsuna murmured, looking at me.
“Yes, Kitahara wrote the lyrics. With the lyricist absolutely demanding that I keep it a secret, I had no choice. So, if you’re going to get mad, yell at him.”
Touma chuckled. Whoa, whoa, where had that incredible cover come from?
The color of Setsuna’s eyes had changed.
“By the way, apparently he had you in mind when he was writing those lyrics, Ogiso.”
This was moving from praise into unnecessary embellishment… Thanks, Touma.
“Ah, well… I actually had the lyrics written already. But as I was imagining you singing it, I made some modifications to the language, the word choice…”
That was true.
Ever since I had discovered that my lyrics were in Touma’s notebook, I had been using breaks during rehearsals to make revisions. The composition was already finished, though, so I tried not to change the number of words too much.
“Haruki-kun… You already had lyrics written?” Setsuna was blinking over and over at me.
“Yeah. Well, um… I joined the Light Music Club in the first place because I wanted to make some memories for myself. But because my guitar playing was so bad, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to play in the show.”
I could barely even handle playing side guitar to Takeya. The fact that I was doing this right now was nothing short of miraculous.
“So, my hope was to write an original song that the other members would play, at the very least. Unfortunately, though, I can’t compose worth anything.”
In the end, I had been forced to abandon my attempts in that area.
“It’s not as though I were all that great at writing lyrics, either, but I just took it a little bit at a time, and managed to produce something. My plan was to have Takeya compose the music, but… then the rest of the members all left.”
Yes—the worst shock I felt from the club dissolving was in knowing that there would be no one to sing my song.
“But, then it turned out that I would be playing in the show… At that point, I figured it was fine to toss the song writing. I gave up on that, since we didn’t have the time…”
“But then I stepped in and made it happen, is the point,” Touma said, finishing my sentence for me.
“Exactly. I had a female singer in mind as I was writing these lyrics, partly because I love ‘White Album’ so much. So… If you were to sing this, Setsuna, I would be absolutely ecstatic.”
Setsuna gave the notebook one more long look.
“Understand? Kitahara wrote the lyrics, I attached music to them… This song is for you, Ogiso.”
At Touma’s statement, Setsuna’s eyes moved from the notebook to Touma, then to me, then back to the notebook, several times.
“Um, Setsuna?” What was the matter? “…Are you unhappy with it?”
I had to ask.
“No… I’m thrilled!” Setsuna beamed. “I mean, this is our song! I’m going to sing with everything I’ve got. I’m gonna sing it absolutely perfectly, I promise!”
“Come on, let’s do it! We’ve got one day left to rehearse together!”
Thank goodness Setsuna had smiled. Thank goodness we’d made her happy.
“Now, now, we can’t waste any time! Off we go! Touma-san, could you play it through once for me? I can’t read sheet music.”
“Yeah, sure thing.”
Touma, looking pleased at Setsuna’s enthusiasm, sat down at the piano.
“Here we go…!”
I amped myself up as well, picking up the guitar that sat beside me.
“Oh, by the way, Haruki-kun,” Setsuna said, a look of concern coming into her face, “how is the ‘Sound of Destiny’ solo coming along…?”
Ohoho, I’ve been waiting for you to ask that question!—Well, I wasn’t quite to the point of boasting like that, but…
“I managed to get through it with only one mistake this morning. Want to hear it before the new song?” I grinned.
And thus, the curtain rose on our final rehearsal, our final day.
Tomorrow was the day of the show.
My little selfish dream had been given form by Touma’s recklessness, and would leap about the stage with Setsuna’s efforts.
The day I had dreamed of was so close…
As she prepared dinner in the Toumas’ kitchen, Setsuna sang it over and over—their new song, its melody.
She never would have imagined that they would add a third song this far into things. And a Light Music Club original, at that!
She was so happy that she could barely contain herself.
That alone would have made her want to spend the whole day singing, but—even taking personal bias into account, since her friends had written it—the song was good!
The three of them.
No one else but the three of them could have brought this song into the world.
The smile simply wouldn’t leave Setsuna’s face. She wished she could perform it right this instant.
She was elated.
He had written the lyrics, Kazusa had added the music.
And she, Setsuna, was going to sing it. She wouldn’t have traded this happiness for anything.
She could never have done this without her friends.
Her joy was overflowing.
She peeled the vegetables, chopped them up, set the pot on the fire.
Even those little individual motions were enjoyable to her somehow, and her hands had a lightness to them.
Compared with cooking at home, this was even more—
“Oh, right, I need to call home!”
She had completely forgotten. No matter what the circumstances were, she couldn’t possibly stay overnight somewhere without notifying her family.
Even as she hurriedly took out her phone, Setsuna thought firmly to herself: today, of all days, no matter how her family objected, she was going to stay here.
She didn’t want to lose the time that remained before the show, time that the three of them would spend all together.
She knew how much fun it would be, how blissful, how incredible.
Because right now, still, all three of them wanted to be together.
She couldn’t possibly slip out on her own.