0 days until the show
Even after the last reverberations had died away, for a few moments, no one spoke a word.
My head was completely empty… But, the next instant, I looked up, and locked eyes with Setsuna, who had an identical look on her face.
And, after looking at each other for a few further moments—
In unison, we said, “We did it?”
“We… We did it!”
I couldn’t help but shout.
“We did! We did it!” Setsuna was practically bouncing up and down with joy. “That was good, wasn’t it? That was amazing!”
“Yeah, that was perfect! Right, Touma?!”
In the face of our overflowing energy, Touma calmly replied, “You’re getting too excited. We managed one successful play-through, that’s it. You shouldn’t be this happy.”
To Touma’s deliberate brusqueness, Setsuna replied that she ought to celebrate a little more, beaming.
“I mean… We actually pulled that off.”
Here in the afterglow, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief.
It was Saturday, the second day of the Houjou High School Festival.
In other words, on the morning of our show, we had finally successfully performed our third song.
We had begun our rehearsal the morning before. It was about half past noon now, which meant we genuinely had been practicing for about twenty-four hours… I knew we had been short on time, but that really was some impressive speed. Normally, I would have laughed at the idea of attempting something so extreme.
“You sound awfully relaxed, Kitahara. You do understand that we haven’t actually played the show yet?”
“Yes, I know. But can’t we celebrate just a little?”
“He’s right! We just played our song! Our own song!” Setsuna said, with heartfelt enthusiasm. “I feel like, with the three of us, we could do just about anything!”
“I kind of doubt I could produce that level of concentration too frequently…”
The past twenty-four hours had been, I could confidently declare, the most densely packed day of my life. The fact that I wasn’t feeling any exhaustion was probably proof of the perfect high my brain was experiencing. I had tried to take a power nap or two, but hadn’t been able to drop off—none of the three of us had—so we just kept on practicing.
“Like I said, we haven’t played the show yet. Our real need for that level of concentration begins now.”
Touma sighed in exasperation.
“Nothing to worry about! After all that, I can’t imagine us making any mistakes! Right?”
“Maybe for you and me, Ogiso.”
What was that supposed to mean?
“Sheesh, Touma-san, you’re so hard on Haruki-kun.”
“I’m just stating the truth. There’s nothing you can do about a lack of talent.”
“Oh, sorry I can’t change the truth!”
How many more times did I have to hear her say I lacked talent? For crying out loud…
“You can make up for it with effort, though, yeah?”
“Anyway, there’s no time left.” In answer to my return question, Touma changed the subject.
…Had she just acknowledged my guitar playing? Maybe a little?
“Oh, whoa, we really are out of time.”
We wanted to be at school at two o’clock, which meant we had to leave here around 1:30. Dammit… I had wanted to practice more.
“Right. Oh, what do you want to do for lunch?”
“I want to rehearse a bit more… but I don’t want to be short on energy, either.”
I was a bit hungry.
“M-hm. So, we keep rehearsing until the very last minute. Before we go to school, we hit up a corner store, and eat our bread or whatever while we walk. That work?”
Setsuna and I nodded.
“That was so much fun, though, seriously. The past twenty-four hours… The last time I enjoyed myself that much was… Actually, I don’t know that I ever have before.”
“Yeah, it was fun.”
The three of us had faced a single goal—to master this song—and run through it together. But it wasn’t all pain and struggle, not in the least—we ate, got swept up in trivial conversation at some point each hour… Maybe calling us “comrades in arms” would be a bit of an exaggeration, but I felt I had truly learned the meaning of spending time with one’s friends.
I might be feeling that even more intensely after what a trial this week had been (incidentally, the most recent measure of Touma’s temperature had given 36.4 degrees. A pretty remarkable recovery, considering).
“I’m never going to forget about this time. And all of it is thanks to you two. Thank you.”
“…Like I just said twice, we still have the show to do.” Touma sighed yet again.
“I know, I know! Come on, though, let’s—oh!”
Setsuna appeared to have recalled something.
“Setsuna? Something wrong?”
“I just realized I don’t have my uniform… How am I going to get to school?”
Oh, right. Setsuna’s uniform was still at school. Because I had dragged her out still in her waitress outfit (right at the moment she was borrowing some of Touma’s clothes).
“Well, what’s wrong with going in your Taisho period outfit?” Touma suggested. “This is a cultural festival, so the school probably won’t complain, and what’s the problem with a Japanese person wearing Japanese clothes?”
“There’s a huge problem! That outfit is just a costume… Everyone was staring at me yesterday.”
“Ogiso, how do you plan on going onstage if you don’t like people looking at you?”
“Those are two different things! When we’re playing, I won’t be alone…”
This previously delicate topic had, within the past twenty-four hours, become something we could discuss openly.
“It’s not like you’re gonna be alone on the train, either. So what’s the deal?” Touma shrugged. “I mean, I won’t be standing next to you, but…”
“You’re so mean, Touma-san…”
“Touma, quit being ridiculous.”
“Oh? Are you saying your little kidnapping act yesterday wasn’t ridiculous?”
Urk. So mean, Touma…
“A-Anyway, you have a spare uniform, right? Can’t you let Setsuna borrow that?”
“No. Making Ogiso show up at school dressed like a waitress will be funnier.”
“Wouldn’t you like that better, Kitahara?”
Touma pointed out that I had been the one to make her do it in the first place.
“Augh, Haruki-kun, you’re so stupid!”
The fact that it took us further time to hit upon the obvious solution—just dressing in normal clothes, and pretending to be visitors to the festival—was undoubtedly because we were all so high on the music that our brains couldn’t wrap themselves around anything else.
As Setsuna said, we had just spent an extraordinarily enjoyable twenty-four hours together, the three of us bound together by music. We couldn’t really help it.
The school festival at Houjou High School had nothing on the sheer scale of that of Houjou University, on which it was modeled. The university festival pulled enough of a turnout to draw reporters for local TV channels; but while it was clear that a simple high school festival couldn’t compare to that, the fact that both festivals were held on the same days proved helpful.
The university and the high school were practically right next to each other, so some people who had come for the university festival would accidentally wander over to the high school instead, or they might be summoned over by various means, and every year we managed to attract a decent crowd.
And so, in the midst of our little fraction of the university’s crowd—
“Hey, what about this?”
“Then, how about this one?”
“Are you joking?”
“Um, ummm, then how about…”
Voices were spilling out of Music Room #2. I stood out in the hallway with Takeya, listening.
“Hey, Takeya… When did you have time to go get these outfits?”
“Well, I had some spare time since I was just programming, haha.”
Takeya laughed, plainly enjoying himself.
We had arrived at school just before two.
As Touma had pointed out, the big event was yet to come… But, before that, there was another event, this one unanticipated.
Yes—right at this moment, Setsuna and Touma were trying on outfits.
What outfits? Their outfits for the stage.
“And, with those two about to be onstage, I couldn’t possibly not get them some costumes.”
“You’re the impossible one… Why do they need costumes? They’re not Yanagihara.”
Urk… I could feel another unpleasant memory threatening to return.
“What are you talking about? I know you wanna see, too. The two of them, playing in real outfits, not just their uniforms.”
“I… Well, yes, you’re right, but…”
Of course, those two would be plenty capable of exciting an audience even in their uniforms.
That said, if we were going to be drawing attention anyway, we might as well throw all of our power both into our performance and our looks, as if to shout to the audience, “How’s this?!”
…Still, it had already been about twenty minutes since the two of them (and Io, to assist) had vanished into Music Room #2.
There were forty-five minutes left until showtime…
“Oh, by the way, I picked out a nice boring suit for you, Haruki.”
“I don’t need to stand out, so that’s fine with me. But…”
“Maybe I’ll go with this one. How about this for you, Touma-san?”
“Y-You expect me to wear this?!”
“Yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice contrast with Setsuna’s.”
“…How much longer is this going to take?”
“I mean, it’s pretty well known that girls take a while getting dressed, haha.”
This was no time to be laughing!
“Really a shame, though… We’ve got Setsuna Ogiso and Kazusa Touma getting dressed in there, why does the door have to be locked…? Dammit!”
Why? Because Takeya Iizuka was here, obviously.
“Man. They could let us peek a little, at least.”
“I can hear what you’re saying, criminal.”
At that moment, I heard Io’s voice on the other side, saying, “If you’d like to die, I’d be happy to open the door.”
“…Haruki, there are some times when a man just has to take the plunge, even knowing it’s a trap—”
“Stay where you are and shut up!”
Finally, with half an hour remaining, Io opened the door and said, “You can come in now!”
“W-Wait! Stay out, Kitahara!”
“Touma-san, you need to know when to give up.”
“You can’t tell me to stay out with this little time left! If you two had decided a little…”
I strode in, starting to voice my objections, and…
“A little… quicker…”
Lost the ability to speak completely.
On one hand, a perfectly form-fitting white dress, with an audaciously leg-baring pure white miniskirt.
On the other hand, a black miniskirt and black stockings, but with only enough fabric up top to cover the chest—a truly gravure-like outfit, that inevitably drew the eye to itself.
Setsuna in white.
Touma in sharp black.
Their contrast was so thoroughly perfect that I couldn’t find any words.
Meanwhile, our club chief managed to find something to say immediately.
“Whoa, you two look incredible! I gotta say, I really picked well with these outfits!”
“Shut it, Takeya. You two do look really great, though, dang.”
Io nodded approvingly.
“I’m a little embarrassed to be wearing something like this, but I think it’s cute… What do you think, Haruki-kun?”
Setsuna tilted her head at me. I still couldn’t find anything to say.
“You’re aware that we’re almost out of time?” “Takeya, why didn’t you consult me about this?”
All these thoughts that had composed my brain had completely vanished.
I mean… This was completely unfair. Setsuna Ogiso and Kazusa Touma, dressed like this, standing right here in front of me.
The best way I could describe it—with full awareness of how corny it would sound—was like a lovely, snow-white angel, next to an aloof, jet-black demon.
As I stared at each of them in turn, in a daze, Touma turned bright red and yelled at me.
“K-Kitahara! What are you gawking at, you creep?!”
“C’mon, even Haruki’s gotta get an eyeful of this.”
“Shut up, chief, you’re also a creep. Pulling out a bunch of shit like this. What are you gonna do if I catch another cold?”
“It looks very good on you, though, Touma-san.”
“I… I’m not in the same position as you, Ogiso. You’re the vocalist, the audience will be focusing on you.”
“Don’t worry! Once the show starts, plenty of people will be focusing on you, too.”
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Io agreed.
“That’s not funny… Screw it, I’m playing in my uniform!”
“No, no. We’ve come this far, you have to embarrass yourself right along with me, Touma-san.”
“No damn way…” Touma turned her attack on me. “Kitahara, for christ’s sake, say something!”
“Oh, you also want to hear Haruki-kun’s impressions, Touma-san?”
“No! I want him to say I don’t have to wear this ridiculous outfit…”
“…Touma.” I finally spoke up. “I’m sorry, but that’s impossible.”
“Huh? …Th-There, see? Even Kitahara thinks it would be weird for me to wear this…”
“No, not that. It would be impossible… for you not to wear it!”
Touma looked baffled for a moment.
“See? Just like I said. What do you think, Haruki-kun, does it look good?”
This time, I was able to give Setsuna a decisive nod.
“It does… You both look amazing. I can’t allow you not to wear these outfits onstage!”
This was perfect. Beyond perfect. The show was guaranteed to be a massive hit now.
“Y-Your eyes look weird right now, Kitahara…”
“Ahaha. They’re a little bloodshot.”
Let them say what they would.
When I saw something good, I said so. Right now, at least.
On top of that, I was realizing anew exactly what an outstanding duo I had managed to form a band with.
“With you two looking like that, I almost feel like I’ll just be in the way…”
“No, no, Haruki-kun, you have to be onstage with us, too. The Light Music Club is the three of us. And, of course, Touma-san will be wearing this outfit.”
“…Then, what am I…”
Takeya, our phantom fourth member, muttered something to himself, but Touma passed it by completely.
“I told you, I’m not going to…”
“You’re still saying that? Haruki-kun, will you say something to Touma-san, please?”
“Please, Touma! Play the show in that outfit!”
“H-Hell no. I’d just embarrass myself.”
“If you don’t, I’m not going on that stage. I’m not interested in being the only one embarrassed if I mess up my guitar solo.”
“That doesn’t make any sense… You don’t get to declare something like that!”
“Then stop declaring that you’re not going to wear the outfit, Touma-san. Settled!”
“Nope! Come on, Haruki-kun agreed that we look good in these.” Setsuna chuckled.
“What have I done to deserve this…?”
Touma, perhaps having realized that she was no match for Setsuna at this moment, slumped her shoulders in resignation.
I felt a little bad for her, but I wasn’t about to back down, either.
I wasn’t about to tell the one in question herself—but I wanted the whole school to see how amazing Touma was.
In the music department she was avoided; in the general education department she was an exceptionally poor student.
But I knew what a truly good person she was, what an impressive person she was. The past few days had demonstrated that all the more strongly. So, I wanted to do something. I wanted to show that Touma was superior to those who had derided and dismissed her.
Of course, the performance on its own would be more than sufficient to put that across, but I wanted to boast a little over how astounding our friend was. This outfit would serve that purpose instantly.
And so, in this particular moment, I could offer Takeya a little bit of praise.
Io threw a glance at the clock. “Shoot, look at the time! You guys need to get ready.”
“Oh, hey, Haruki, you need to get into your suit. C’mon, strip, there’s no time.”
“What?! H-Hey, whoa, don’t pull my clothes off! At least not my pants!”
S-Setsuna was here! And Touma! And Io, for that matter!
Setsuna was covering her face, peeking out through the gaps between her fingers, while Touma was staring outright, fury in her face.
Wait, why did they have to look at me?!
“…This club is completely impossible, huh.” Io gave a strange little sigh.
Could she not just stop Takeya, please…?
And, while this foolishness was going on, the countdown to the big moment continued.
“Dammit, I’m late…”
Everyone else had gone on ahead while I was changing into my suit, and I was running behind, so I shouldered my guitar and hurried toward the gym.
As I left the building, I suddenly realized how many people were here. Maybe they had wandered over from the university, but there seemed to be a bit of an imbalance in terms of gender and age range.
And, evidently, they, too, were headed for the gym.
On top of that, I was hearing a lot of the phrases “running late” and “Miss Houjou High.”
…Were all of them university students, here to see Setsuna?
Sheesh… Setsuna really was enormously powerful.
Anyway, there was no time for musing, so I took off running; then, I heard—
“…I don’t understand! Why do I have to watch…!”
A certain someone’s voice, which caused me to stiffen up instinctively.
“You’re still complaining, Tomo? You know you brought this on yourself.”
“Well, I’m the one who came up with the idea of singing with the Light Music Club to get attention! Why did Setsuna Ogiso of all people have to be my replacement?!”
“Uh, because she’s also in the contest, Tomo?”
“Rgh… Hmph. Well, her singing will probably be lousy. I’ll make sure to laugh nice and loud!”
“Yeah, pretty sure that would lose you votes. God, look how crowded it is. I’m glad we got seats saved for us.”
…Urk. I wished I hadn’t heard that…
So, Yanagihara was here… I was still a little bit anxious, but there was nothing to be done about that.
“Say, you there.”
“Gwaaah?! Ah, s-sorry… Yes?”
Someone had suddenly called out to me, taking me completely by surprise. I hurriedly turned toward the voice, where I found a woman I didn’t know.
“Are you a student here? I’m looking for the gymnasium. Could you tell me where to go?”
“Oh, umm…” I guessed it might be a bit rude to say, ‘Just follow the flow of people.’ “Here, I’ll show you.”
“Sorry to trouble you.”
“Oh, not at all, I’m headed there myself.”
“…Oh? That guitar… Are you about to perform?”
“You must be in a hurry, then. I’m sorry I stopped you, go right along. Don’t worry about me.”
She looked to be around thirty, and something about her face, with its small smile, was familiar somehow, like I’d seen it before… No, no, that wasn’t remotely possible.
“Sorry… Um, if you don’t mind, if you follow along with the flow of people here, you’ll end up at the gym.”
“Oh, wonderful. Thank you.” She gave another small smile. “Best of luck with your performance.”
“Ah, yes, thank you very much.”
I made a dash for the gym.
This was no time to be worrying about university students, or Tomo Yanagihara.
I checked my watch.
There were less than twenty minutes left.
“You’re late, Kitahara!”
“Thanks for the warm welcome, Touma…”
I met up with everyone else waiting in the wings of the stage, and gave a small sigh.
The band right before ours was in the middle of their performance. Almost time.
“Haruki-kun, did you look at the audience?”
“Yeah, when I got here. There are a ton of people.”
The gym was laid out with all the folding chairs there were available, but it was already almost full. At this rate, some people might have to stand.
“Right? And they’re all here to see us,” Setsuna murmured.
Thoughts of what happened at the rehearsal must still be lingering in her mind.
With a glance at Setsuna’s condition, Touma threw a meaningful look my way. I understood.
“Setsuna. Are you nervous?” I asked gently.
“…I would be lying if I said I weren’t,” she replied, after seeming to think for a moment.
“But, I’ll be okay. It’s completely different from the nervousness I felt at the rehearsal, and… I’m not alone now.”
As she smiled, telling me there was no need to worry, her face seemed genuinely unclouded.
“All right… Let’s do this.”
“Yep! We’ve come this far—”
“There’s nothing else for us to do,” Touma said, finishing Setsuna’s sentence.
“Can you do it, Ogiso?”
“…Of course! My heart’s racing a little, which I think is understandable, but apart from that, I’m feeling perfect.”
The moment Setsuna smiled, applause erupted from the audience.
“Ah… Sounds like they’re done,” Io muttered. As the curtain lowered, the previous band returned to the wings.
“Light Music Club, get ready.”
At the committee member’s cue, we all looked at one another and nodded.
“All right, let’s get set up.”
At our leader’s command, we carried our instruments onto the stage. Since the synths were attached to Takeya’s laptop, which he would be operating from the wings, that just meant my guitar and Touma’s keyboard. Setsuna fussed with the height of the microphone stand for a moment before Touma calmly pointed out, “You can just hold it while you sing, can’t you?” to which Setsuna laughed and agreed.
After plugging my guitar into the rental PA, I hoisted it up and strummed a few chords, checking its sound. Its reverberations blared out from the speakers to either side of the stage, and I shuddered reflexively.
“Getting spooked?” Touma smirked at me.
“…No, of course not.”
To be honest, I was a bit scared, but if that had been enough to stop me here, I never would have revived the Light Music Club.
As Setsuna tested the microphone, cheers and screams erupted on the other side of the curtain.
“Wow, even without looking you can tell there are loads of people out there.”
“I mean, we did already know that.”
Takeya sighed a little as he replied to Io’s remark.
“Phew… Okay, I’m all ready.”
“Me, too. Any time.”
The white and black princesses looked at me and nodded.
“Okay. Should we go for it, then? Oh, chief, do you have a word or two?”
“Me? Not really. I’m only the leader in name anyway. Haruki, you should say something. This is your Light Music Club.”
“Yeah, I guess, but…”
As I hemmed and hawed, Setsuna said, “Why not Touma-san, with her abundance of experience?”
“Me? …All right. Just one thing.”
She cleared her throat lightly.
“…All of you are completely underestimating the music.”
A look of bewilderment spread through the group of us.
“When you broke up a month before the festival, you had already failed. That was because the chief underestimated it. When you reformed it, Kitahara, you underestimated it even more.”
Takeya and I reacted in unison.
“We haven’t practiced nearly enough, we’re ragged because we haven’t slept. And adding another song the day before the show? There’s only so much bullshit you can pull. In every possible way, you have underestimated this. There’s no other way to put it.”
I didn’t really have anything to respond with, but… Why did we need to hear this right now?
Then, Setsuna smiled and replied, “But, you know, I think we’re going to make it, somehow. Is that also underestimating it?”
Touma gave a small nod. “Unfortunately, I feel the same way. Which means we’re all underestimating it, which works out perfectly, don’t you think?”
The smile that came to Touma’s face was very faint, and yet she looked as though she could not possibly be enjoying herself more.
“Touma… All right, then. Let’s put everything we have into underestimating this music!”
Touma smiled wryly and shrugged at my attempt at a cheer.
“I’m counting on you three! Just leave the synths to me.”
“I’ll be watching from the wings! You guys are gonna kill this!”
Takeya and Io returned to the side, and informed the committee member that we were ready to begin.
“Now, for our next act: the Light Music Club!”
At this announcement, a roar arose that completely eclipsed that of moments before.
“Here we go… Sorry for bringing in such a huge crowd, you two.” Setsuna smiled impishly.
“Well, if you’re confident enough to say that, I suppose we won’t have any problems… You two, if you get lost, just listen to me. I’ll pull you along to the end. I’ll get you back in rhythm.”
Touma looked at Setsuna, and at me.
At that moment, my heart truly understood.
I was standing here, doing this, because in the past month, I had used up my entire lifetime’s worth of luck.
Maybe the god of music had shown me some favor on a whim. That was another possibility.
Of course, that god was actually a goddess.
“Oh, right, my mom said she would be here with Takahiro to watch the show.”
“God, your family is so…”
Touma shook her head as Setsuna winced slightly.
I was very glad that these two had become friends.
“Both of you, thank you. For coming this far… Playing along with my selfish idea. Thank you so much.”
“You can say that when we’re done. For god’s sake, you are hopelessly stupid.”
“Let’s do it. And let’s enjoy it as much as we can! The third song is all ours, so we can pour on some extra energy with that one. This is our stage!”
Once again, the three of us looked each other in the eye.
These incredible band members were wasted on me.
But I would make it through without holding them back.
“Okay… Let’s do it!”
We nodded, and gave Takeya the signal.
The plan was to have the intro to “White Album” start before the curtain opened.
Setsuna in the middle of the stage. Touma and me, to the left and the right.
We all faced forward, staring at the curtain.
In the last three weeks, we had done everything we could do. I had practiced enough that I could proudly declare it the greatest effort I had ever put into anything. And that wasn’t all—I’d spent nights at my neighbor’s house, hurt Miss Houjou High, taken care of Kazusa Touma when she was sick, kidnapped Setsuna Ogiso in full Taisho romantic garb.
All of these impossible experiences I had come through were for the sake of the next twenty minutes.
I gripped the neck of the guitar. I took a deep breath.
And, in the most literal sense, the curtain rose…
To be continued in the next volume
Lives on mist.
Key illustrator with Aquaplus.
Usually draws for an adult audience.
Feeling some nervousness over being given such valuable work. Type B.
Main fuel is alcohol.
After assisting with the original game, was put in charge of the illustrations for this work.
Some designs may have mixed with those of other works, so please be lenient… orz…