Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu:Volume2 Chapter5
 Chapter 5
The summer holidays were finally here.
Another name for the summer holidays is the studying-at-home time from the end of July all the way into August.
Although it's a long holiday, but since I won't be doing anything special during the holidays, it doesn't really affect me.
I'll be wasting time at home like a Koala Bear, or I'll be ordered around to run errands for Ruko, or I would be dragged around all over the place by Nobunaga. Such normal, boring days continued to go by until it was already the thirty-first of August when I looked at the calender. Which is why summer holidays is merely a cummulation of weekend holidays to me.
...This was what I had thought until last year's summer holidays.
This year's summer holidays was a little different.
Because for the whole of August, I was assailed by all kinds of sudden situations, making my originally boring summer holidays into one that was fresh and exciting.
And the reason? There can only be one reason.
For me, there is only one difference between this year's summer holidays and last year's.
That is, I got to know Haruka.
She's pretty and extremely clever at the same time, and has a fan club whose members number in the hundreds, is nicknamed the 'Nuit étoile', and she also happens to be the daughter of a rich family.
That someone as amazing as Haruka would actually be friends with an average joe like me, was solely because of the incident that happened four months ago. Ever since I came to know of Haruka's secret, the relationship between us has become deeper and more complicated. In these four months, many things have happened regarding Haruka's secret, and also the people that we've come into contact with. Notable incidents include the 'The incident where half of the school libarary was destroyed', 'Our first shopping trip', 'Studying at the Nogizaka residence', and the 'Exposed magazine incident'. Every exciting thing that I never had the chance to experience seemed to be queueing up for me to experience ever since that incident four months ago.
Ever since I got to know Haruka, the boring days of my life have indeed changed rather drastically.
'Change' seems to be the word of the season for the summer holidays.
The first monday of August.
The Cicadas outside my home were singing as thought their lives depended on it, so much so that it was more of a 'Cicada Storm' than a 'Cicada rain'. To be honest, I really felt like running out of my house to spray the garden hose at those pesky little insects whose singing was preventing me from sleeping. This year's summer was unbearably hot.
I spread myself on the sofa as I watched television.
This must be how the rich madames who are so bored that they spend most of the day fussing over their pets feel.
It has already been two weeks since the summer holidays started. Apart from the trip to Haruka's house on the first day of the holidays, I haven't done anything interesting for the rest of the two weeks.
As for my recent activities, they basically revolve around being dragged around by Nobunaga, the person whom I practically grew up with to buy games, manga, Dvds...That's weird, why does all my summer holiday activities involve Nobunaga?
Summer holidays shouldn't be like this right?
Shouldn't the summer holidays be about exciting, youthful events such as going to the beach with girls, attending festivals and watching fireworks?
I really thought so, but all talk and no action obviously isn't going to get me anywhere.
Which is the reason why I spend eighty percent of my summer holidays being dragged around by Nobunaha, doing household chorse and taking care of my family's pet turtle (named BIG CAMERA after a certain famous turtle-like monster in a famous Japanese movie), it's kind of sad to be saying this about my own life, but my life is really boring...Haruka hasn't contacted me ever since I went over to her house either. But I'm probably reading to much into it, since Haruka is the 'Nuit étoile', the daughter of a rich family with both brains and beauty in abundance. Even if it's summer holidays, she's probably too busy to have time to contact me.
I yawned again.
Compared to the sauna-like conditions outside, the air-conditioned living room seemed like heaven.
As per normal, the television stations had arranged for some programme about unbelievable phenomenon at night again, as the middle-aged host spewed saliva all over the screen as he talked about the possiblity of UFOs.
"--It has also been said that in America, anyone who comes into contact with an alien will be visited by a group of special agents and have their memories wiped almost immediately--"
And at that very moment...
Cluck Cluck Cluck~~Cluck Cluck Cluck~~
A strange clucking suddenly sounded in the entrance hallway.
It was something that never feels to make you feel stupid.
...Although it's embarrassing to admit it, but that's the sound of my home's doorbell. My sister had ordered me to change the doorbell after she had the idea that 'I'm sick of this generic-sounding doorbell, let's have the sound of a foreign chicken clucking'...I really don't know what she has in that head of hers! And also, if she really wanted to change the doorbell, shouldn't she have done it herself?
But then again, now is not the time to be talking about family gossip.
Because I'm the only one at home right now.
Because my parents are busy with work, they rarely spend time at home. And the person who forced me to change the doorbell had run off to a certain music teacher's place in the morning.
Cluck cluck cluck! Cluck cluck cluck!
Which is why I have to shoulder the responsibility of answering the doorbell. Of course, I could just ignore the person if it's a salesman, but it could be a delivery, so I have to go take a look.
Cluck cluck cluck! Cluck cluck cluck!
Just when I was thinking about whether I should get up to answer the door, the stupid-sounding doorbell sounded again. Ah! It's really irritating! Fine, I'll go open the door now! Please stop pressing the doorbell!
To achieve my goal of walking towards the entrance hallway, I slowly got up from the sofa like a polar bear who've had too much to eat.
The door to my living room suddenly burst open.
I was completely stunned as I watched my living room door fly right into my television before falling down on the ground.
"Good afternoon! You must be Ayase Yuuto-sama right?"
Following the cheerful voice, a...shades-wearing maid (her normal appearance) appeared at the gaping hole that was once my living room door. She also happened to be holding a huge hammer in her hands.
"Looks like you've been obediently waiting at home~Nanami's here to pick you up!"
"I rang the doorbell a lot of times but no one answered the door, so I had no choice but to open it a little roughly!"
A little roughly...How can that be 'a little roughly'! You blew my door off its hinges!
The maid-san (wearing sunglasses) looked at me.
"Hmm...You should know why I'm here right? I apologize for any inconvienience caused, but I'm here to fetch you."
"...Why are you here?"
What on earth is going on? Even though I know that my memory's as good as a chicken's, but I can unequivocally confirm that I do not know why a maid-san (wearing sunglasses) whom I have never seen before would break into my living room like this. And to make matters worse, this maid-san hasn't said a word at all about tearing my door off its hinges.
Looking at my reaction, the maid-san (wearing sunglasses) slanted her head slightly as though she couldn't understand why I was acting like this.
"Ah, this isn't how I expected you to react, did something go wrong? Oh well. Because we're on a tight schedule, you have to come with me right now!"
The maid-san (wearing sunglasses) snapped her fingers, summoning two dark figures from her sides. Black dresses with white aprons...They're maids too...something which really shocked me. In the next moment, the two maids stepped forward and propped my entire body up into the air. I don't know what grappling technique they used, but I was completely unable to resist.
"The tar...target has been apprehended! Na...Nanami-san, what do we do now?"
A long-haired, shy-looking bespectacled maid-san (A), asked the first maid-san (wearing sunglasses).
"Hmm...Send him to the car politely."
"Yuuto-sama, we're sorry for the inconvenience."
The other maid-san (B), who had her hair in a ponytail, expressed their apology before moving me away like a piece of luggage.
What is going on? A kidnapping? They can't be MIB can they?
Just like that, I was brought (carried) to a--
--Black Rolls Royce.
This car probably cost more than a hundred times as much as the one that Ruko drives. This would also probably be the top of the list of cars that you would want to scratch with a 10 yen coin (my own rankings).
"Please get in!"
The maid-san (wearing sunglasses) opened the shiny black door of the Rolls Royce and bundled me into the car without waiting for my reply. Just as I fell into the interior of the car, the Rolls Royce started to move off with a light rumble of its exhaust.
It only took three minutes for the maid-san to break into my living room and bundle me into the car.
Such kidnapping efficiency was extremely frightening.
I was unable to comprehend the situation that I was in.
"Onii-chan, good afternoon~~"
Suddenly, someone started speaking to me.
"It's been almost a month since we last met. How have you been?"
This slightly muffled voice was very familiar.
I looked back and saw--
The second daughter of the Nogizaka family winked at me as she giggled.
"Hmm? What's wrong? Why do you look like a priest who has just seen Count Dracula walking around in broad daylight? Hmm..I know that you're really happy at seeing cute Mika, but don't you think this is a little too much?"
---Why is Mika here?
Mika completely ignored how I was still struggling to comprehend the situation I was in as she continued to talk.
"I've heard all about it! I know all about how you were alone in onee-chan's room when I was hunting in Nara, and how the two of you had a really good atmosphere going on. Ah! Onii-chan is really~good at this!"
"Looks like the day that you'll officially become my brother-in-law isn't far off! Ah, right, this is a present I got you from Nara."
Mika stuffed a bag of Nara's famous Shika Sembei into my lap...Shika Sembei? (TL note: Shika Sembei are deer crackers that tourists in Nara buy to feed deers)
"Hmm..Onii-chan, shouldn't you thank the person whom you've just received a present from?"
"...Ah? Ri...Right, Thank--Hang on, that's not the point!"
I managed to recovered in time to avoid falling into Mika's trap.
I finally realized that Mika was the chief perpetrator of this kidnapping (including the illegal break-in and destruction of personal property). How could she even expect to appease me with a bag of Shika Sembei after she sent her maid-sans to kidnap me from my own living room!
But there was no hint of guilt in Mika's gleeful expression.
"Hmm? Do you really need to be so excited? I never knew that a single bag of Shika Sembei could make you shout for joy! Hmm...I was trying to decide if it'll be better to buy Yatsuhashi instead for close to an hour. Looks like I made the right decision in the end!"
"...I think that you should have just bought Yatsuhashi instead."
Something like that shouldn't take more than three seconds to decide.
"Is that right...But Shika Sembei tastes really good too!"
"That's not he point...Wait a minute, please don't tell me you've already tried eating it?"
"Yes, because it looked really tasty."
Mika beamed with happiness as she confirmed my worst fears
I suddenly had a mental image of Mika fighting for Shika Sembei together with a herd of deer in a random park in Nara...Which part of that forms an image befitting that of a daughter from a rich family?
Ugh, looks like I'm going off topic again. That wasn't the question that I wanted to ask.
"Why did you suddenly do something like this?"
Objectively, this really did look like a kidnapping.
Mika seemed to find my question really strange, as she answered,
"Hmm...I don't what onii-chan's talking about, I'm just here to pick you up so that we can go attend onee-chan's piano competition together!"
A piano competition that Haruka's taking part in?
"That's right. I'm sure Oni-chan would want to go support Onee-chan as well right?"
So Haruka's going to take part in a piano competition! If I had known that Haruka was going to take part in a piano competition, I would surely put down everything I have to do to go and support her.
In short, there wasn't any problem with going to support Haruka, but...
The only problem was that...I only knew about it here (in the Rolls Royce), and now (on the afternoon of the competition), which is a little too sudden, even for me. Shouldn't I have been informed about this at least three days in advance?
Mika puffed up her cheeks in response to my complaints as she looked a little surprised.
"Hmm? But I did! If I remember correctly.....I should have called your house the day before yesterday because Onee-chan was too busy."
"The day before yesterday?"
I should have been out with Nobunaga in Akihabara looking for something called the 'Shy Triangle Second Season Limited Edition Catgirl Figurine First Episode DVD' (This name's really long...) the day before yesterday.
"Yes, but because Oni-chan wasn't home, Oni-chan's sister took the call, so I asked her to pass the message that 'Onee-chan's going to take part in a piano competition the day after tomorrow, so we'll come and pick you up at noon~'"
"Yes, she speaks like a samurai."
"...That's definitely Ruko."
But even though I've seen her yesterday night and this morning, Ruko didn't mention anything like that. The whiteboard in the kitchen that's supposed to hold reminders was also blank--
Ding ding ding~
At that very moment, 'The Ride of the Valkyries' sounded on my handphone, and the contents of the message was--
"I just remembered that someone's coming to pick you up today."
This...is too late!
I had the urge to throw my handphone onto the ground. That stupid sister of mine!
And that sister still doesn't know the person who called. She's worse than a kindergarden kid at taking calls. But...how did someone like her become the secretary to the president of a large corporation? Is the industry that short of manpower?
That wasn't the worst part of the message.
"PS:I want to eat crab hotpot tonight, and it better be Matsuba crab. Because Yukari's coming, so you have to get everything ready by seven o'clock."
This really riled me up. It's the middle of summer! How does she expect me to get crabs?
Seeing how I was shaking from anger, Mika could only say,
"Ah...Oni-chan leads such a hard life..."
I've been pitied by a middle school kid. And the expression on her face really gives the impression that she's looking at something really pitiful. Sob...
"Well, let's put that aside first."
Mika mimed pushing an object aside.
"In any case, we're going to Onee-chan's piano concert now, right?"
That's right, there's no use wallowing in self-pity. Since everything ended well, I guess I'll just forgive my sister.
...To be honest, if I don't think like that, I won't be able to take it.
15 minutes after I was bundled into the Rolls Royce.
"--Speaking of which, who's this?"
I looked at the cheerful maid-san who was sitting beside Mika, who also happened to be one of the perpetrators of my kidnapping.
"Ah, that's right, Oni-chan hasn't met Nanami-san before right?"
Mika clapped her hands together lightly.
Right, she did introduce herself just now, but because the only maids that I've ever seen are the cat-eared maids in Akihabara and the quiet head maid of the Nogizaka family, I didn't know who she was.
"Hmm...She's Nanashiro Nanami--"
"Ah, perhaps I should introduce myself again...Ayase Yuuto-sama, let me introduce myself. I am Nanashiro Nanami, and I am the third-ranked maid in the Nogizaka family."
This maid-san didn't care that the car was still moving as she twirled around with the folds of her maid costume billowing out around her before bowing...Eh? Maid rankings?
"I always hear Haruka-sama, Mika-sama and Hazuki-san talk about Yuuto-sama."
The maid-san said as she giggled. What have the three of them been talking about me? To be honest, I was quite interested in that.
"Nanami-san usually acts as Hazuki-san's second in command. She's also one of the more experienced maids in the family, as she has been with us for a long time. Hazuki-san went out with Onee-chan yesterday, so Nanami-san's here with me."
Mika paitently explained.
Even though she looks a little careless, but she seems to be quite the character.
"We'll be seeing each other quite often from now on, so you can relax. Just call me Nana-chan."
"...Please take good care of me Nanami-san."
It's impossible for me to address a girl who isn't much older than myself with a '-chan'. Even when I'm referring to a certain music teacher, I would still add a '-sensei' after her name.
"Hmm...Yuuto-sama, you're a stubborn one! It's good to stick to your principles, but if you don't maintain a certain level of flexibility, you won't have any luck with the girls!"
She smiled teasingly.
I could feel that Nanami-san was an extremely friendly maid-san, the completely opposite of the head maid, whose facial expression wouldn't change even if she was spraying bullets around while robbing a bank.
"Oni-chan, you're too serious about things! Although that's not a bad thing...Ah, let's eat some Shika Sembei! We seem to be quite a distance away from our destination, is there anything to drink?"
"Yes there is, everything from sugared water to Romanee Conti."
Sugared water? Who's going to drink sugared water? And the main problem is, is Mika really going to eat the Shika Sembei?
"Then I guess I'll have some Coke. Because the Shika Sembei's more on the salty side, so a sweeter drink should go down well."
...She really does look as if she's going to eat the Shika Sembei.
"What about Oni-chan?"
"...I just want some tea."
I'm definitely not touching the Shika Sembei.
And just like that, the three of us passed some time that had Shika Sembei as the main dish.
"--Ah, speaking of which..."
I suddenly remembered something, as I whispered to Mika,
"...Does Nanami-san know about Haruka's hobby?"
I suddenly thought about Haruka's hobby.
'That thing', which also happened to be how I got know Haruka, was something that most people would never think of when looking at Haruka. I had to know if Nanami-san was in on this secret before deciding on how to interact with her.
This was also the reason why I was asking Mika in such a serious tone. However...
"Yes, she knows about it."
Mika nodded her head lightly before turning to Nanami-san,
"Hmm? About what?"
"About Onee-chan's secret hobby."
"Ah, right, I know all about it."
Nanami-san nodded her head vigourously.
"Hee hee, Haruka-sama's really cute!"
"To be honest, it's impossible for Onee-chan not to be found out. Even grandpa knows about it. I should think that everyone who works in the house knows about her secret hobby. Father and mother should be the only ones who haven't noticed it...Although Onee-chan still think that she has a well-hidden secret."
...I see. Once I thought about it, Mika was right. Even though Haruka wants to hide this from everyone, but because she's doing things that do not contribute to her keeping of the secret, it's no surprise that she's unable to keep her secret a secret (that's a really hard-to-understand sentence there...). It can only be seen as a miracle that she has been able to keep her secret under wraps at school all this while...Looks like I'll have to be more careful so as to prevent Haruka's secret from getting out from now on.
I looked out of the window with a new perspective on the matter.
I realized that the Rolls Royce had left the highway while I was busy talking to Mika and Nanami-san.
The Rolls Royce weaved in and out of the traffic as it roared towards its detination with amazing speed.
...Where is it moving towards?
I started to get a bad feeling about this whole thing.
I had thought that the piano competition was going to be held comewhere in the city, but looking at the current situation, I was more inclined to think that the competition was going to be held in another city. If it's really like that, then it'll be quite a stretch to try to get back home within a day. The two hungry puppies (they aren't that cute in real life) will still be at home tonight, so I still hope to be able to get home before dinner.
"Hmm, where is the piano competition going to be held?"
"Eh? Didn't Onee-chan tell you?"
Mika blinked as she happily munched on a piece of Shika Sembei.
The next moment, Mika gave a smile that was almost a carbon copy of how Haruka would smile, as she replied,
I would have never thought that I would experience my very first trip overseas, my very first first-class flight experience in home casual wear and a pair of slippers...I really hope that I'm dreaming.
The first-class cabin is a place where even the air is high-class.
Looking over at the other occupants of the cabin, I could only see either well-dressed gentlemen or classy rich ladies. I guess I'm the only one who would dress so casually to take a flight in the first-class cabin. Even the clothes that the rich ladies dog was wearing looked more expensive than the clothes that I was wearing, which made me feel really uncomfortable.
I really didn't feel like I belonged in this place.
"It's alright, I think that Oni-chan's dressing is really unique!
Mika probably saw that I was a little too sad, as she tried to comfort me.
"Yes, your style looks really unique, like a French Bulldog in the middle of a crowd of Chiwawas."
That did not make me feel better, how is being a French Bulldog going to make me feel good about myself...
There was another question that I wanted to ask Mika.
Normally, no matter if a person wanted to go overseas for a holiday, or to emigrate to another country, that person would need a passport. As I've never gone overseas before, I don't have a passport.
But for some unknown reason, I was holding a passport in my hands, and it had a photo that I don't remember taking.
Other than the mystery of the passport photo, it would take at least two weeks of red tape to obtain a passport, but...
I asked Nanami-san about it.
"It's a corporate secret."
That was how she replied me. So...What exactly is this corporate secret...
"It's a corporate secret."
"It's a corporate secret."
"It's a corporate secret."
"...I get it."
I guess that's all I'm going to get out of her.
Looks like the maids of the Nogizaka family have an unspeakable grey area.
We landed at London's Heathrow Airport shortly after my conversation with Nanmi-san before going towards London in yet another of the Nogizaka family limousines.
Mika also took the chance to tell me more about London's iconic landmarks as we passed them.
"That's the famous Tower Bridge on River Thames, a certain masked superman got the name for his ultimate attack from here. That's the British Museum, the famous Rosetta Stone is in there. And that's Buckingham Palace..."
"You're really familiar with the city..."
Mika's familiarity with London would embarrass many a tourist guide.
"I'm not that familiar with the city! This is only my eleventh time here!"
Mika replied nonchalantly.
My god! That's about the same number of times I've gone on tourist trips in Japan (including graduation trips)...
"I've been to many other countries too, I've been to Italy fifteen times, France twelve times, Germany nine times, Australia nineteen times...Ah, and thirty seven times to America, also--"
Mika (fourteen years old) was happily counting off the countries that she had visited.
Well, I guess that's too be expected of a daughter of the Nogizaka family. She's only fourteen, but going to a foreign country is like shopping at the local grocery store to her.
--And speaking of travelling, I still cannot believe that I'm actually here in England.
I thought to myself as I looked at the view outside the limousine. A few hours ago, I would never have imagined that I would be in a limousine, looking out at the very sights that I had only been able to see on television or postcards. Ever since I got to know Haruka, I've been overwhelmed with these new experiences, but I'm enjoying these new experiences.
The piano competition was to be held at Victoria concert hall, situated right in the heart of the city.
The massive concert hall looked more like a palace as it hulked over us.
Just for your information, it took us a grand total of fourteen hours to get here from Japan.
But all these still felt surreal to me...And I guess that was probably...no, definitely because I was still dressed the same way that I would normally dress for a trip to the local convienience store.
"This way please."
We followed Nanami-san into the concert hall.
Even though I was already prepared for how grand the concert hall was from its exterior, I was still caught off-guard but the grandeur of its interior.
Whether it was the high ceiling, or the vast amount of seats in the concert hall, the luxurious renovations, the fluent english that everyone conversed in, or the celebrities and rich people in formal wear, everything had absolutely no connection with me.
We were brought to the most high-profile seat in the concert hall, the vip seats.
"Wow, this is great..."
The vip seats were situated on a balcony on the third storey of the concert hall, overlooking the entire hall.
"Oni-chan, your seat is beside mine."
Mika pointed at a row of three seats that were placed together like what royalty would sit on. I gingerly sat on the luxurious seat as I got a first-hand experience of how soft it was, as though there were ten blankets worth of down feathers in the cushioning.
"If you can't see the stage properly, we also have telescopes.
"I'm alright! What about you, Oni-chan?"
"I don't have any problems either."
Even with my short-sightedness, I could still see the piano on the stage very clearly, these really were the best seats in the concert hall.
"Yuuto-sama, would you like anything to drink?"
I leaned over the railing to look down as Nanami-san asked me a question.
"Hmm? There are drinks provided?"
I was under the impression that pets and food and drink were not allowed in a concert hall like this.
"There are. It's not allowed, but because these seats are EXSSS, there's a private bar situated here!"
"E...Executive Triple S?"
"Yes, it's Executive Triple S."
I never knew that there would be a row of seats with such a long name, and I still can't believe that I was sitting on one of these seats.
I looked around the concert hall once more as I waited for the surreal feeling to disappear.
It wouldn't be too much to say that these seats would really be hated by the normal citizens in the standing area.
I probably won't get another chance to sit on such a seat for the rest of my life right? Then I should really enjoy this feeling of being king as much as possible right now. I placed my elbows on the handrests as I crossed my legs proudly. Wow, even the world looks different.
After going milking the moment for all its worth (short-lived happiness)...
I suddenly noticed something.
"Ah, Nanami-san, won't you sit down?"
Actually, I've noticed that this energetic maid-san had been standing beside Mika ever since we came in, with no intention of sitting down.
Hmm, why doesn't she want to sit on such a nice seat?
"It's alright, it's basic manners for a maid to not sit beside her master.
Nanami-san smiled as she replied.
"...Is that right?"
"Yes, that's how it is."
Is it really like that?
To be honest, I really don't recall Hazuki-san ever sitting down in front of Haruka. I see, that's a basic rule of being a maid.
But at the same moment, another question popped into my head.
"--Hmm? But if Nanami-san's not going to sit down, then there's one extra seat right?"
"Because...Because there are three seats here...Ah, is Haruka coming too?"
"Hmm...I don't think she's coming."
Mika twirled a strand of hair around her finger as she shook her head.
"Onee-chan's taking part in the competition, so she has her own dressing room. Hazuki-san should be with her in the dressing room."
There's a problem with the number of seats?
If Haruka's not coming and Nanami-san's not going to sit down, then two seats will be enough for Mika and me.
But there were three seats.
I suddenly had a bad feeling about this.
It was like how the weather forecast only predicts rainy days correctly...Anyway it was the kind of feeling that's never right about good things, but always right about bad things. And what made this worse was the fact that in my case, this bad feeling had a hundred percent success rate.
"Oh, that's Oto-san's seat."
Mika responded to my question as casually as how she would say 'It's a sunny day today'.
"Right, our oto-san, which is, OUR FA~THER."
I don't know why she had to repeat it in english, but I still thought about the meaning behind that word. Oto-san...
Oto-san means father, and Mika's father is also Haruka's father, and then Haruka's father is...
--It can't be! That person that Haruka had once talked about...that he's going to be here...
This was something big...At least, now wasn't the time for me to be crossing my legs like a rich man.
"Mika, you're already here?"
Just as I finally realized what situation I was in. A voice sounded behind me.
"Nanami, thank you for your hard work."
It was a voice that was low and powerful.
--This...It can't be...
I turned back stiffly, feeling like a broken down robot, and what I saw was -- A tall, well-built man with piercing eyes, his hair combed back, making it hard to gues his actual age.
"Ah, you must be Ayase! I've heard about you from Hazuki and the others."
This man looked at me with the eyes of a thunder god and offered his muscular hand to me.
"It's good to see you. I am Nogizaka Gentou, Haruka and Mika's father."
Haruka's father was standing right in front of me.
From the direction of the stage, Mika was sitting between her father and me (Nanami-san stood behind her.
Even though I felt lucky that Mika was sitting in the middle, but...I was still very nervous, feeling like I had just walked into the cage of a carnivorous beast with fresh meat in my hands. One wrong step, and I could possibly be a floating corpse in the straits of Dover by this time tomorrow.
That is why the most intelligent thing to do now was to act like a stray dog who has just lost his territory, just quietly...wait for the time to pass! At least with Mika between us, I don't think Haruka's father would point his spear of questioning towards me (hopefully).
However, just as I breathed out in relief at the thought of Mika shielding me--
"Ah, I'll go look for Onee-chan!"
--Mika surprised me yet again.
"I'm a little worried about Onee-chan, and since there's still a bit of time to go to the start of the competition, I think I'll make a trip down to the dressin room."
"Then I should go too..."
"Ah, Oni-chan, you should just sit here and rest! You're our guest after all!"
Mika cut me off with a smile before she left her seat, Nanami-san following after her.
Don't...Don't leave me here! You could have at least noticed the awkward atmosphere here...
My soundless cry for help fell on deaf ears.
"Oni-chan, I'll see you in a while!"
"Please take care of yourself!"
And just like that, the two of them disappeared into the other side of the stairway.
Of course, the only ones left on the seats were Haruka's father and me.
The atmosphere in the viewing balcony was as heavy as a bear who has fattened up for hibernation.
I felt as though something extremely heavy was pressing down on me.
...This...What should I do about this?
I really felt like crying.
I prayed silently to some unknown god in this hellish silence as I wished with all my might for Mika (in such desperate times, even Hazuki-san or Nanami-san will do) to come back.
I don't know how long this situation lasted.
Objectively, I guess it should only have been about five to ten minutes. But to me, it was like eternity.
"...You're Ayase-kun right?"
Haruka's father started to talk in a serious tone.
"There's something that I would like to talk to you..."
Ring ring ring ring ring!
But just as he was about to continue talking, his phone convieniently (or should I say, inconvieniently?) rang.
"Excuse me, I have to take this call."
Haruka's father put the phone to his ear with an irritated expression on his face.
He spoke in a low but powerful voice as he talked to the person on the other side of the conversation.
"What? You don't need to ask me about something like that, just do it yourself!"
"Yes, that's right. If it's going to be useful then just strike it off (from the list). Have I not always said that we need only to leave the ones that are useful to us?"
...This...Is he telling the other person to kill the peolple that aren't useful to them?
"You're asking me how you should take care of the remains? Just throw it anywhere you like (in the corner of the warehouse)!"
Throw...Throw it anywhere you like? Is he referring to Tokyo bay?
"--That should be it, don't bother me about this anymore."
Haruka's father breathed out heavily as he kept his cellphone.
"I'm sorry, there seems to be a bit of confusion over in Japan."
...Are they fighting over territory? I didn't dare to delve deeper into the problem.
We lapsed into an uncomfortable silence once again.
The good thing was that the awkward silence didn't carry on for long.
"---You're Ayase-kun right?"
Haruka's father looked at me with the eyes of an ancient artifact expert who was trying to ascertain whether a certain artifact was real or not.
"Yes...Yes I am."
"There's something that I want to ask you--"
Haruka's father was once again cut off by a sudden voice.
It was Mika.
When did she come back? She hopped over like a feisty rabbit as she pulled on the sleeve of my shirt,
"Oni-chan, Onee-chan's calling you--Eh? Oto-san, were the two of you talking about something?"
Haruka's father shook his head in reply.
"It's nothing...Haruka wants Ayase-kun to go over?"
"That's right! Onee-chan's really nervous about going on stage, but she seems to want to see Oni-chan to help calm herself down. The dressing room's off-limits to outsiders, but Oni-chan won't have a problem...Because you're not an outsider, right~"
Mika looked at me as she spoke suggestively.
"Hee hee hee, because Oni-chan's the only candidate to be my brother-in-law!"
My...My god...It was horrible to be the target of a death-stare from Haruka's father.
"Oni-chan, hurry up! Let's go!"
Mika was literally hugging me as she dragged me from my seat. My waist came into contact with something soft, and the sweet smell of Mika's hair wound it's way into my nostrils...
And then, Haruka's father's stare became even sharper, as it shot towards me with the force of a railgun.
...Perhaps I won't be in the world of the living anymore tomorrow morning.
Haruka's dressing room was the last one in the corridor that was one floor below the stage.
Under the guidance of Mika and Nanami-san, I immediately saw the familiar expressionless maid-san, who stood outside the door to Haruka's dressing room like a neon sign.
"Hazuki-san, I've brought Yuuto-sama here!"
"...Yuuto-sama, it's been quite a while."
Hazuki-san bowed with her usual expressionless face the moment she saw me coming. Her expressionless face was made even more obvious by the contrast between her and Nanami-san, who was stading beside her. Contrary to her appearance, she's actually quite a nice person.
"It's been quite a while since I saw you too, Hazuki-san. Haruka's looking for me?"
"Yes. Haruka-sama says that no matter what, she wants to see Yuuto-sama before she goes on stage. Haruka-sama seems to be really nervous..."
"She's always been like this."
Mika shrugged. "Onee-chan is the type of person who would think a lot about any kind of activity before doing it. She's the kind of person who would only be able to sleep soundly after making sure that she is prepared for everything that the activity could possibly require. The 'shopping guide' from a while back was also the result of her character, which is why Onee-chan'll always be nervous about such a competition. Even though she doesn't even need to be at her best to win a competition like this."
I understood what Mika was trying to say. In other words, Haruka always puts in her best effort for anything. To put it nicely, you could say that Haruka'll never slack on the job. Even though she seems to be a really smart girl, but in reality, she's rather unflexible when it comes to such things.
"However, Onee-chan seems to be more nervous than usual today. She seems to be thinking more than she usually does about the competition, which makes her even more nervous. But since it's Onee-chan, this competition shouldn't be a problem for her."
Mika nodded as she continued,
"But I really don't understand why Onee-chan's so concerned about this competition."
I don't understand that either. Just what is the reason behind Haruka's abnormal behavious?
No matter what the reason is, the only thing that I can do now is--
"Well then, I guess I'll just go and talk to Haruka to try to get her to relax?"
Hazuki-san nodded her head.
"Then we shall be going back to the third storey first."
"Oni-chan, you're the chosen one!"
"It's so hot in here! I'm so jealous! Somebody lower the temperature in here!"
Mika and Nanami-san teased me simultaneously...I suddenly realized that the two of them were very alike.
"Please don't do anything strange just because the two of you are alone in the room!"
"Because there are cameras in the dressing room!"
How could I do something like that!
Just as I was going to walk into the dressing room while ignoring the exaggerated teasing from Mika and Nanami-san, Hazuki-san called out to me.
Hazuki-san bowed deeply to me with a serious expression on her face.
"I leave Haruka-sama in your hands."
Haruka bounced towards me with the energy of a puppy running towards its mother the moment she saw me.
"Thank you so much for coming all the way to London today."
She clutched my hand tightly.
"Sorry for not contacting you recently, I was extremely busy with piano practise for the competition...I actually have a lot of things I want to talk to you about."
Haruka, whom I had not seen for two weeks, was wearing a white evening gown.
Probably because she was practising on the piano before I came in, Haruka's face was red. Also, for the sake of easier movement of her hands, her evening gown (I heard that it was specially tailored for the competition) did not cover her shoulders, and the front of the gown was designed rather elegantly...Hmm...How should I describe it, it was a little sexy!
My heart started to pump...No, if this goes on, I won't be able to dismiss Mika and Nanami-san's teasing.
"Hmm...Is there something wrong with my appearance?"
Haruka leaned her head to one side as she looked at me.
I'm the one who's acting strangely.
"An...Anyway, don't mind me."
I looked away from Haruka to survey her dressing room.
The dressing room was about twenty tatamis in size.
There was a long mirror on the left wall of the room, with a grand piano placed in front of the mirror.
"Wow, that grand piano looks really expensive."
"Hmm? Ah...Yes it is."
The tone with which Haruka replied to my question implied that she probably thought that I just asked a strange question.
Other than the piano, there was also a cupboard and some other cabinets for Haruka to put her personal stuff.
And then, I saw a very familiar object.
It was placed on top of a large stack of music scores. From the direction of the piano keys, it was right in front of the player.
The object was a small figurine of about 10cm in height of a girl with blue hair who held the hem of her dress with the tips of her fingers as she bowed. I remember that this was...
Haruka immediately hid the figurine away after she noticed me looking at it.
"This...This is...I brought it over here as an amulet..."
For some unknown reason, Haruka's face was beet-red.
"That's...That's why...There's no special meaning...No, I can't say that there's no specialy meaning, actually..."
"I know, because you really like this...what was it called...the 'Shy shy pose'? You brought it here because you really like this figurine right?"
This was probably what Haruka always does! It's quite normal for someone to want to have something that they like nearby when they're in such a tense enviroment. This is a personal characteristic, so Haruka really didn't need to explain!
Upon hearing my explanation, Haruka's expression suddenly became very complicated.
"...It's not just that, because you...It...It's nothing"
Haruka shook her head wildly.
"An...Anyway, don't mind this, please don't think about this anymore!"
I have no idea why Haruka's so nervous about this.
I sat down on a foldable chair that was placed in a corner of the room.
Haruka was more energetic than I had thought she would be, and she didn't seem to be very nervous. I guess I won't need to worry too much about her right? She should be alright.
--But almost immediately, I realized just how wrong I was.
Five minutes later.
"Ah, hmm, it should be like this..."
Haruka sat in front of the piano as she started to groan like a mangaka who's going to miss a deadline.
"This...this part should be like this..."
Haruka's beautiful fingers wavered uncertainly over the piano keys.
Haruka had began warming up before I came in, but...from what I could see, she didn't seem to be in a very good condition.
Even someone who doesn't know anything about music like me could hear that she was playing some parts of the song wrongly, and furthermore, her movements were extremely stiff, like a metal toy that hasn't been oiled for a long time.
"Eh? Eh? How should this part be? Ah...This..."
Haruka's eyes were completely unfocused as she attempted to find the right keys. Is...this really alright?
"Don't worry, even though Onee-chan's always like this before she goes on stage, she always manages to win the competition."
Even though Mika had said that, but looking at Haruka's current condition, I was extremely worried.
To alleviate Haruka's nervousness, should I tell her a joke? Or perhaps I should imitate a gorrilla (when I was in primary school, Ruko had forced me to do that)? But just as I was trying to decide on the best way to get Haruka to relax...
"I'm sorry, Yuuto-san, but could you get those scores for me?"
"Hmm? These ones?"
"Ah. Yes, all of them.
There were a few books of scores piled up in another corner of the room. As they were all wrapped up in book covers, their titles could not be seen. I grabbed those scores and passed them to Haruka.
"Sorry for making you get it for me.."
Just as Haruka was about to place one of the scores onto the piano stand--
Haruka suddenly screamed shrilly, sounding like a girl who had just bought a hamster from a friend for 2000 yen, only to find that its actually a rat.
"i...I brought the wrong score."
I looked at the music stand on the piano, and saw that the title of the score was 'The Shy Triangle BGM Collection' (There was also a hand-drawn picture of a blue-haired girl whose pose had clearly exceeded the limits of the human body...Hmm...About the drawing, I don't think there's a need for me to elaborate on its origins).
Even I could see what had just happened. It was obvious that Haruka had brought the wrong 'music score'.
"What...What should I do?"
Haruka looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
"Is it a very bad thing to be without your music score?"
"No...Not really, I've actually memorised it, so there shouldn't be a problem. I'm just a little worried about the introduction of the piece..."
...Looks like it really is a very bad thing to be without the music score!
"...Haruka, what is the title of the music score?"
"Complete Collection of Transcendental Etudes..."
It was the set of epic-sounding pieces that I once seen in Haruka's room.
"I get it, Haruka, wait for me here."
"Eh? Yuuto-san? Where...Where are you going?"
"I'll be right back!"
I rushed out of the dressing room.
I decided to go and discuss the problem with Hazuki-san, Nanami-san and Mika first, as they might have brought an extra set of scores. If they haven't, then I'll go and look for a music shop. Although I don't have much confidence in my english, but...they should understand body language!
I better look for Hazuki-san and the others first.
Hazuki-san had said that she was going back to the vip seats on the third storey, so Mika and Nanami-san should also be there.
I rushed through the corridor to get to the staircase, but just as I turned the corner of the first flight of stairs...
A girl wearing an evening gown suddenly entered my field of vision.
I tried to avoid her, but due to the laws of physics, the speed at which I was going dictated that I would be unable to stop in time.
Which means that...
I ran straight into the girl, who fell backwards onto the floor, the object that she was holding flying out of her hands.
"It's really painful...You...Why did you suddenly run around the corner!"
The girl sat up as her eyebrows wrinkled in pain.
"It's unbelievable that anyone would run around the corner of the stairwell like that!"
It was exactly what I had just dont...So I should just apologise.
"I'm sorry, I was in a hurry...Ah, no, that's not what I should be saying..."
I only realized that I was in England, not Japan halfway through my apology.
"I...I AM SORRY...HURRY UP..."
"Huh? What do you mean by 'hurry up'?"
"Ah, No...Not that!"
Just for your information, my english standard is grade three. Grade three, out of a possible ten grades.
"Ah! What should I say in a situation like this? HOLD UP...Eh? No, that doesn't sound right either..."
"Yes, that isn't what you should be saying."
"That's what I thought. Then I should...Huh? You're speaking Japanese?"
I suddenly realized that the girl was speaking in Japanese (too late).
"You...You're Japanese? Ah!"
The girl looked at me with a surprised expression on her face.
"Could it be...that you're either a friend or family of Nogizaka-san?"
"Ah, just as I thought. I had guessed that the two of you knew each other after I saw you walk into her dressing room. What's your relationship to her? You can't be her younger brother can you? The two of you don't look alike."
The girl was starting to ramble. Is she...a friend of Haruka?
I asked her about it.
"Ah, no. Because Nogizaka-san's a very famous person, so I know her, but she doesn't know me."
The girl replied.
"Right, I'm Shina. Amamiya Shina. What's your name?"
"Hmm? Me? I'm Ayase Yuuto..."
"I see. Hmm...I guess I can call it fate for the two of us to collide here? Can I call you Yuuto? Please take care of me."
The girl shook her layered short hair as she giggled and offered her hand to me. She's the first person I've meet who calls a person whom she's just met for the first time in her life by his full name. She seems to be a very friendly girl.
"Please take care of me too."
I shook Shina's hand before helping her to her feet. Shina smiled with a satisfied look on her face.
"Shina, are you here to take part in the competition too?"
"Hmm? Of course I am. Why else would I be wearing an evening gown here if I weren't taking part in the competition."
She pulled on the hem of her gown as she mischievously winked to me.
"To be honest, I'm more surprised to see you dressed like this here. There really isn't another person in this concert hall who'll walk around in slippers and casual clothes!"
"There were some inevitable factors behind this..."
I described what I had gone through to Shina (Kidnapping + Straight to the airport + Sitting in first-class + Straight to Victoria Concert Hall).
"Hahaha! You're really funny!"
But all I got for it was such a reaction from Shina...Oh well! I should have expected that.
"Speaking of which, Yuuto, what were you in such a hurry for?"
I suddenly remembered what I was supposed to be doing after Shina reminded me about it. Now wasn't the time for such casual conversation, I have to find Hazuki-san and the others to solve the problem--
"I'm sorry, but I have to go now...Eh?"
I suddenly realized that this friendly girl was also taking part in the competition. Hmm...Maybe she'll--
Since it had come to this, I decided to give it a try.
Which was why I asked Shina about the score that Haruka needed. And then--
"Yes, I have it, is it this one?"
Shina took out a set of scores from the pile that was scattered around on the floor.
"So you were looking for this?"
"Hmm...Do you want to borrow it from me?"
Shina smiled as she looked at me.
"It's for Nogizaka-san right?"
We've just met! Is it because she's really intuitive, or is it written all over my face?
Now's not the time to talk about this. I didn't think that she would believe me if I lied, so I just nodded my head. Shina merely looked at me as she said 'I see!' before giving me a knowing smile.
"Alright, I'll lend it to you."
Shina passed the book of scores to me.
"...Is this really alright?"
"Yes, this isn't the piece that I'll be playing for the competition."
Shina's taking part in the competition, which makes her one of Haruka's competitors. Normally, I would be a little suspicious of why she would lend her scores to me so easily. But since I was one who asked for her help, I had no reason to be suspicious.
"It's alright, just take it. If I'm unable to win just because I lent a competitor my scores, then it merely shows that I was never good enough to compete."
Shina waved her hand in front of her face.
"And furthermore, it's not everyday that I get the chance to lend my scores to Nogizaka-san."
She spoke as though I was overreacting.
"--Since you've put it like this, then I shall borrow it from you. Thank you very much."
"Haha! No problem!"
Shina giggled as she replied.
This girl was a really good person.
"Thank you once again."
I thanked Shina once more before hurrying back to Haruka's dressing room.
Haruka looked at me, the lonely look in her eyes giving the impression of a bird who has been left behind by its flock. Ah...I shouldn't have left you here by yourself, but I had no other choice!
I passed the scores to Haruka, whose eyes widened in surprise.
"What...What is this about?"
"I borrowed it, everything's fine now right?"
"Ye...Yes. But, how did you..."
"Well, it's a long story..."
It's not a good time to tell Haruka that I borrowed the scores from one of her competitors as that would probably make her even more nervous.
"Anyway, don't worry about little things like that?"
Haruka thought about it for a little before finally nodding her head in agreement.
"...I'll listen to you. I won't think about this for the time being."
"But to be honest..."
Haruka looked at me.
"--Yuuto-san, you're really reliable. You're always here to help me whenever I'm in trouble, just like...a knight in shining armour."
"You...What are you talking about..."
Haruka looks so cute when she smiles like that...
No matter what Haruka seems to have relaxed somewhat.
For some time after that, Haruka practiced her piece, practised her stage entrance, and also chatted with me occasionally.
Until there 45 minuties before the beginning of the competition...
"I'm really sorry, but we have to start preparing for the competition. Yuuto-sama, I'm afraid you'll have to go out."
After Hazuki-san made that request, I walked out of the dressing room and sat down on the chair that was closest to the dressing room, flipping through the programme as I waited for Haruka to finish preparing for the competition.
There were eight participants for today's competition, and Haruka would be the fifth one to go on stage. I had thought that there would be more participants....Looks like they've already gone through several preliminary rounds before today's competition.
"That's right, there would surely be more than eight competitors at the beginning of the competition..."
Because this competition isn't on the same level as some random chess competition for kids held at a department store! Just as I confirmed my stupidity once again...
I heard Hazuki-san's voice coming from the dressing room.
"We're ready, Yuuto-sama, you can come in now."
The first thing I saw when I walked back into the dressing room was--
Haruka in all her competition finery.
Her hair was braided up as a nice scent floated across the room to me. Some accessories had been added onto her white evening gown, and they glittered under the light of the dressing room.
But the most important part was Haruka herself.
The blushing Haruka that I had seen before was also very nice, but...A relaxed Haruka with makeup on was even more stunning.
My heart started to beat with the velocity of a bullet train again. MY HEART! Slow down!
"Haruka-san, I will be waiting outside."
Was Hazuki-san trying to leave Haruka and I alone together?
After Hazuki-san closed the door behind her, the dressing room lapsed into an awkward silence.
"Because I rarely braid my hair, so I don't know how I look..."
"It...It really suits you."
I'm so nervous precisely because Haruka looks really good with her hair braided.
"Re...Really? Hehe, I'm so happy..."
Haruka smiled as she lightly turned her upper body, allowing me to have a better look at her evening gown.
"Look at this, the frontal design of this gown's really interesting, and the design of the back of the gown's really cute too."
Just as Haruka twirled around to show me the back of her gown...
She stepped on the hem of her long evening gown.
Haruka spun in mid-air as she was thrown off-balance.
I instinctively lunged towards Haruka as she fell towards the ground, managing to catch her just in time.
"Ah, that was close..."
I managed to keep my balance as I breathed out in relief.
"As long as you're--"
I didn't get to finish my sentence.
I didn't do this on purpose.
There's a very innocent reason for the current situation.
Me catching Haruka, Haruka getting caught by me, the situation brought about by these two actions was--
Haruka looked at me with the eyes of a new-born deer before realizing the position she was in.
Haruka, who was lying in my lap like a princess, immediately lowered her head as she blushed furiously. Because her reaction was so cute, the rate of my heartbeat started to increase again...
The two of us froze.
Ugh...What in the world are we doing?
Half-lying on the ground in such a position, and then suddenly freezing in place like an ancient computer that suddenly hangs after 10 years of usage. One was an average person in casual clothes and slippers, while the other was a dignified lady from a rich family in her stunning concert attire.
Objectively, we must look really weird.
Haruka's face was right in front of my eyes, I suddenly realized that we've never been so close to each other before.
I could clearly feel Haruka's warmth and the softness of her skin, and my nostrils were full of the scent of her hair. I felt as though I could literally hear my own heartbeat pumping furiously. And then, my self-control withered like a slug covered with a think layer of salt...
I shook my head violently as I desperately tried to control myself.
--Calm down and think about what I should do!
I thought of three choices in this situation.
1: Pretend that nothing happened, help Haruka up and ask 'Are you alright'?
2: Maintain our current position and wait for time to pass.
3: Hug Haruka.
...Firstly, the third choice is definitely out of the question. If I were to do something like this right before the competition, Haruka would surely be affected by my actions. If something happens to her performance later because of my actions, then I would be a criminal.
Which is why only the first and second choices remained.
The second choice didn't seem very viable to me, while I would already have chosen the first choice if I were smart enough.
--Suddenly, all three choices disappeared.
This is bad.
This is really bad!
...I suddenly realized that something like this always happens the moment I'm alone with Haruka.
I snuck a peek at Haruka.
Haruka hadn't moved at all.
While I was desperately trying to decide on my course of action, Haruka, whose face largely resembled an Italian tomato, continued to lie in my arms.
Only her eyes was looking straight at me--
For a moment, our eyes met.
Our gazes locked together, the distace between us a mere ten centimetres.
I saw myself, stiff and awkward, reflected in Haruka's large eyes, while a blushing Haruka was reflected from my glasses.
This continued for about ten seconds.
And then, Haruka slowly closed her eyes.
...How am I supposed to interpret that action?
If it was any other girl, this action would probably mean 'that' right? But because it's Haruka, the chances of misinterpretation is very high. If I were to act without thinking about the consequences, then that action might result in a lifetime of regret (Haruka screams + Haruka's father appears + I get thrown into the straits of Dover).
But my heart spoke differently.
Under such circumstances, Haruka had no other reason to close her eyes than for 'that'. There were only two of us in the room, time seemed to have stopped, the girl has just closed her eyes. Every single condition had been fufilled. It's not possible that Haruka closed her eyes at this moment because she was sleepy...Which means that it'll be rude for me not to do anything? But...
My god! What should I do!
Could it be...that we'll get to that level today...
After a lifetime (at least, it felt like a lifetime) of internal struggle, my overheating neural system overpowered my weakened self-controlled and plunged towards the third choice--
"I'm very sorry to interrupt such an important moment."
A voice that was as calm as the surface of a lake roughly pulled Haruka and I back to reality.
I looked back and saw Hazuki-san standing behind us.
"...I'm used to such a reaction already, so I don't think you'll require an explanation."
I really don't like this...How is it possible that this person is always able to appear behind Haruka and I without either of us noticing! She's like an assassin!
Seeing the disappointment etched into my face, Hazuki-san gave me an apologetic look as she said.
"...I'm sorry, I really didn't want to interrupt, it's just that...it's almost time."
"Yes, the third competitor has just finished. Haruka-sama will have to go onstage in a short while, so it'll be better to start preparing backstage..."
Is it that time already? I looked at the clock on the wall, and saw that there was indeed only seven minutes to go until Haruka was scheduled to go onstage.
Objectively, the time that I had just spent with Haruka wasn't as short as I had thought it was.
"Ah, yes, I understand."
Haruka stood up hurridly as she attempted to tidy up her evening gown.
"I'm sorry, but I have to go now..."
"It's alright, I'll be supporting you within the audience."
I prepared to leave the dressing room after saying that, but Haruka stopped me.
I looked back and saw Haruka with an extremely serious expression on her face."
What is it that's so hard to say? I wondered before Haruka walked to me and held both of my hands tightly in hers.
"Please listen to the song carefully. Because...Today...I'm playing for Yuuto-san."
The only word that could describe Haruka's performance would be that it was brilliant.
To be honest, I was really worried that she would fall down when Haruka walked out from the side of the stage with unsteady steps. But any worries that I had quickly dissipated with the beginning of Haruka's performance.
Even the tone of the piano keys sounded different when Haruka was playing.
The previous competitor, was probably quite a good player too, having progressed through the preliminary rounds, but when compared to Haruka's playing, the previous competitor was like a Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle competing against an African Giant Rhinoceros beetle, looking as though he had wandered into a different weight category. Although it's not a very nice thing to say, I really couldn't believe that Haruka was using the exact same piano as the person before her.
"It was brilliant..."
That serious expression on her face.
Her fingers that flew across the keyboard with the intensity of a tornado.
The uninterrupted string of notes coming from the piano.
I was completely entralled by Haruka's playing.
I was seeing a Haruka that I had never seen before.
Speaking of which, this was the very first time that I've seriously looked at Haruka playing the piano...At this very moment, I felt that I could truly appreciate just how good Haruka was.
The programme clearly stated the three pieces that Haruka was performing.
"Piano Sonata #2 in G (R. Schumann)"
"Mephisto Waltz #2 (F.Liszt)"
"Transcendental Etude No. 4 in D minor, "Mazeppa" (F.Liszt)"
Right now, Haruka was playing her third piece, which was also her last piece for the competition. Everyone's focus was on this piece now that Haruka had played her first two pieces perfectly.
That's a really strange name, does it have a special meaning?
"Hmm? Oni-chan, you don't know the story behind it?"
Seeing that I was looking at the programme with a frown, Mika started to explain the origins of the name behind the piece.
"Mazeppa was Russian Cossack hero of who lived in the 17th Century. After his affair with the wife of a high-ranking official in the palace was found out, he was tied to a wild horse and dragged all the way to Ukraine. This story's really famous! Don't you think that this part of the piece sounds like the sound of a horse running at full gallop?"
It really did sound like a horse galloping through the countryside, but...I really couldn't see why he was a hero. From my limited knowledge of his exploits, I think he's quite useless...
Putting the Mazeppa's heroics aside (honestly, I really didn't care about what happened to him in the end), the piece sounded really epic.
It felt as though every note was strong and laden with weight, and even though Haruka had a delicate and small frame, I was really impressed by how she could express the overpowering aura of the piece.
For the length of the piece, the entire concert hall seemed to shake with galloping of a thousand horses.
Although Haruka's third piece wasn't as long as the previous two pieces, but it's impact on the audience was definitely as large as the previous two pieces.
And then--The performance was over.
Haruka gently stood up from the piano as she walked over to the front of the stage to bow to the audience.
Thunderous applause erupted from the audience, as shouts of 'Bravo!' filled the concert hall. Many people (actually, most of them) even stood up to give Haruka a standing ovation.
Haruka had a slightly awkward expression, as though she wasn't used to such attention, before walking backstage.
Although her footsteps made me feel that every step was a disaster waiting to happen, I felt absolute confidence emanating from the way Haruka carried herself.
--As expected, Haruka won the competition.
Haruka looked really glamorous as she went onstage to receive her trophy (Even though she almost tripped on the hem of her gown on the way there), like the brightest star lighting up the darkest night.
How should I put it?
Looking at such a glamorous Haruka...My feelings were a little complicated.
"Hmm, of course, this was expected."
Haruka's father looked at the prize presentation on the stage expressionless as he said,
"Haruka could have won such a competition in her sleep...But, please tell Haruka that she did very well."
Nanami-san nodded her head. She was like a domesticated Iriomote Cat around Haruka's father, which was a huge contrast from what I've been seeing of her.
"Oto-san, you're not going to see Onee-chan?"
"I would love too, but I don't have the time. I'm almost late for an appointment with some one from the British Intelligence Agency."
"Hmph, I see."
Mika replied unhappily.
Disregarding the reason for not going to meet Haruka (seriously thinking about it would only make it even scarier), but since you're here, shouldn't you at least meet your daughter before going?
Haruka's father didn't seem to notice my feelings as he quietly stood up and walked towards the exit.
However, he turned around and walked back.
"Ah, I almost forgot...Ayase-kun."
Haruka's father walked back and patted me on the shoulder with one gigantic hand.
"I would like to talk to you alone one of these days."
That very night.
At the party organized for the participants, judges and other personnel involved in the competition, held at the hotel that was next to the concert hall.
"Yuuto-san, you have to attend this party."
Obviously I wouldn't turn down Haruka's invitation, but...to be honest, I'm regretting the decision to come.
Of course, one of the reasons was the fact that everyone looked at me strangely (I'm still wearing my casual clothes + slippers combo), but that wasn't the main reason.
I looked towards the liveliest part of the party.
Haruka was there, having changed out of her concert attire to a more formal evening gown.
She was surrounded by people of all ages and gender.
Some of her admirers looked like judges as they twirled their mustaches arond their fingers, there were also middle-aged men who looked like they belonged to the very top of the social ladder, there were gentlemen in tuxedos, foreign middle-aged women with hairstyles so exaggerated that a parrot could probably build a comfortable nest in it, and also other participants.
They were all talking to Haruka, and Haruka replied to every single one of them with a smile.
I know that this is the attitude that a winner should be adopting.
But looking at Haruka surrounded my her admirers, I felt a little sad. Because that reminded me of the distance between us.
Although I've almost forgotten about this, but Haruka's the daughter of a rich and powerful family, a celebrity among piano enthusiasists, the most popular girl in school with her own fan club, the 'Nuit étoile', and
I...I live in a completely different world from her.
I walked out to the balcony that overlooked the Thames River and sighed deeply.
I felt that I had finally acknowledged the 'reality'
Haruka and I were separated by an unseen, unscalable wall.
I had originally thought that the distance between us had shortened through these few months of interaction, but right now, Haruka felt as far away from me as she first did. I felt as though I had merely moved forward by three steps when I was pushed back eighty-one steps.
Perhaps this was the reason why I felt that Haruka was so far away when there was only a glass window separating us.
Suddenly, someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind.
"Oh, Hello again."
I looked back to see the friendly, short-haired girl, Shina.
"Wow! This party's great, that middle-aged man is a famous musician from Germany! And that's the famous new-age cassanova from Italy. And that's the..."
Shina told me more about the people who were around Haruka, and as I had expected, they were all famous people. The middle-aged woman who looked like she had a bird's nest for hair was actually known as the 'Queen Mary of the Piano World', looks like you really can't judge a book by its cover.
"As expected, Haruka-san's really too good. Even though hard work is also a very important, but no amount of hard work can make up for a lack of talent. Even though I don't want to admit it, but Haruka-san's on a completely different level."
"No, Shina, you're also..."
"It's alright, you don't have to say anything! You don't need to comfort me like this. It's not like you remember how I played, right?"
She was right. Because of Haruka's overwhelming performance, my memories of the other participants' performances have completely disappeared, even the performance of Shina, who had gotten second place, wasn't spared.
"Thank you for caring, but I know that with my current ability, I can't compete with Nogizaka-san."
Shina smiled sadly.
"To be honest, Nogizaka-san's ability is way beyond her age group. I don't think that anyone under the age of twenty, no matter how famous, can be better than her. No wonder they call her the 'Lumière du Clavier'."
In Shina's eyes, Haruka seems to be a very special person. As for the 'Lumière du Clavier'...This is Haruka's second exaggerated nickname that I've heard. But, thinking about it, who's the first one who thought about such a nickname?
"I may not be anywhere near her level of ability. Even though I'm so far away from her, but...I will not admit defeat. It may not be possible now, but perhaps one, two years later, or maybe even later, but one day, my performace will be better than hers."
At that moment I saw the iron will that was burning in Shina's friendly amber eyes. Looks like both Haruka and Shina were very serious about the piano...
After that, I talked to Shina for a while longer.
"Ah! I have to go now. I still have to talk to my teacher and the judges."
Of course, I would have liked her to stay and talk to me for a while longer, but since she has other things to do, I couldn't exactly force her to stay with me.
"Well then, Yuuto, I'll be going now!"
"Ah, right, thank you very much for lending me the scores."
"It was nothing! Goodbye!"
Shina waved at me before disappearing into the crowd.
Alone once again, I looked towards the Thames River that was flowing by under the balcony. In the day, the river was extremely beautiful, but at night, it was just a dark mass of flowing water.
--It's time for me to go back home.
I had looked forward to a party where I could enjoy myself together with Haruka. But Haruka had been surrounded by her admirers since the begninning of the party, depriving me of the chance to even congratulate her, among the other things that I had wanted to tell her.
However, looking at the current situation, I don't think that's possible.
I walked into the ballroom and looked towards Haruka. Right now, a few blonde guys around my age were talking to Haruka--They're probably participants too right? To be honest, I don't remember the faces of any of the participants apart from Haruka and Shina--To me, those guys looked like hungry wolves rounding on a lost rabbit, as they moved towards Haruka with fake smiles on their faces.
One of them even looked like Sasaoka, which made me really angry, but I can't possible grab the ice sculpture of a piano (1/8 the size of the real thing) sitting on the table and throw it at him can I? But since Hazuki-san's beside Haruka, those guys shouldn't dare to do anything strange right? Just when I was (forcibly) persuading myself, preparing to leave the party...
Haruka turned and saw me looking at her.
Haruka's expression suddenly became really lively as she ran towards me with the speed of a bullet and latched herself onto my arm.
Every single human male in the vicinity turned to us, their eyes shooting daggers in my direction. Even though I didn't really understand what they were saying, but I still understood words that were full of violence and hatred like 'F**k!', 'Damn!' and 'Kill!'.
"Yuuto-san, I finally found you!"
Haruka happily looked up at me, completely ignoring (or rather completely oblivious to) the angry mob that had began to gather in our vicinity.
"I've been looking for you since a long time ago. But because there were so many people who were trying to talk to me, I wasn't able to find you..."
Right, Haruka's the famous idol, and she's been surrounded by her hordes of admirers since the beginning of the party.
"I was really nervous, because I didn't know any of them! But...I'm not nervous anymore, not that I've found you."
Haruka smiled happily. Ugh...She's so cute.
I forced down the urge to hug Haruka as I noticed that Haruka had been looking at me as though she had something to say.
"Hmm? What's wrong?"
"Ac...Actually, I have something I want to discuss with you..."
Haruka tiptoed as she straightened her body to whisper into my ear.
"Actually, I saw a 'Clumsy Girl Aki-chan UK-version' figurine in the shop next to the hotel, and it was really cute...I want to go and buy it now, so if you don't mind, would you go with me? I don't dare to go by myself..."
"...Clum...Clumsy Girl Aki-chan?"
"Yes, and it's the UK-version."
Haruka held her hands together tightly, looking as though she was ready to move out any minute.
Looking at the serious expression on Haruka's face, I felt like laughing, but at the same time, I also breathed a sigh of relief.
--That's right, no matter what, Haruka is Haruka.
Although the glamorous person with brilliant piano skills who's always surrounded by a horde of admirers is also Haruka, but right now, the girl whose smile is finally looking like that of a high school student's, her eyes shining with happiness as she talks about a Made-in-England Akihabara figurine is also the real Haruka.
"Eh? Did...Did I say anything wrong?"
Haruka reacted with a confused expression as she blinked. This was the innocent Haruka that I know.
"No, You didn't say anything wrong."
Haruka became even more confused.
"I don't really understand what's going on...But, let's just..."
"Alright, let's go."
I answered without any hesitation, because I had no reason to reject her.
"Great! Let's go! Now! Now!"
Haruka dragged me towards the exit as she squealed like a little kid, but I stopped her.
"But before we go, I want to tell you something."
"Hmm? What is it?"
Haruka leaned her head to one side like a young bird.
No matter what, this was something that I have to tell her.
"Right--Haruka, congratulations on winning the competition."
Haruka reacted with a blank expression at first, but then she grinned at me while nodding furiously as she understood what I had just said.
Haruka's smile was like a flower in full bloom.
--Even though many things have happened today, but as long as I get to see Haruka's smile, everything has been worth it.
I think...that this should be the end of today's events.
Even though I have the feeling that I'm forgetting something.
A strange feeling was tingling in my mind.
But no matter how much I tried, I couldn't remember what I was forgetting.
...Oh well, since I can't remember anything, then it shouldn't be anything important!
"Yuuto-san! Hurry up! If we don't hurry up, it's going to be sold out!"
"Alright, let's go."
Because of Haruka's incessant hurrying, I stopped trying to remember what I was forgetting to follow Haruka out of the hotel.
Twenty-six hours later.
"Sob...My crabs...Are my Matsuba crabs ready yet..."
"...We're starving to death...Yuu-chan..."
Returning home (the strange thing was, the door and television that had previously been broken were miraculously fixed by the time I got home), I found two young ladies (Occupation: Secretary and teacher) who weren't able to cook for themselves lying on the floor of my living room like zombies, before finally remembering what I had forgotten twenty-six hours before.
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