White Album 2 Omake/Story01/Chapter 3
 Chapter 3: "Fall"
"Yo, morning, Tou..."
"Hey, class rep! Kitahara!"
"Come to the staff room as soon as you can, we have something to distribute. We're actually going to need them back the day after tomorrow..."
"... when did you hear about that?"
"... well, never mind the details. Anyways, I'm counting on you."
"Well, I'll try and figure something out."
"Sorry for bothering you. Anyways, I'll be waiting. It's quite heavy."
Two weeks after the end of the summer break.
It's the middle of September, around the time the students and teachers pulled out of their holiday mode.
"Ah, Kitahara-kun, do you happen to have time during lunch?"
"What? Something wrong?"
"Yes, something serious... see, today's the mandatory meeting for the library members, right?"
"Ahh, speaking of which... huh? What happened to Harada-san...?"
"That's right... Hiromi's been out thanks to a cold, so we need someone to stand in..."
"We really need help on this one."
"Technically speaking, it has nothing to do with me, right?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"... even so, what's with that smile?"
"Hiromi has something really important to discuss today. Something about someone that would definitely come..."
"... in the library right now?"
"As expected of the class rep! Knew we could count on you in an instant!"
"I really couldn't care about that. Anyways, try to come up with something for the teacher if I'm late by about five minutes."
"Leave it to me! Roll call or whatever, I'll do it!"
"Please. Anything but that voice, please..."
Kitahara Haruki of class 3-E kept taking care of other things like always.
Like before as always, the representative's job is to continue and take care of tasks for the teachers for all of this year. Taking care of minor problems with the students was also part of it. And...
"Yo, Haruki. Let's get going today too~"
"We've got the homepage up, so we need to go around and ask for comments today..."
"Uh, well, can't the other committee members help with that?"
"Don't bother! They don't have the skills nor diligence. All of them just keep going, "Haruki would probably be fine with it", see?"
"... uh, I'm not a member of the executive committee this year."
And when the term started, he also ended up helping the executive committee with the school festival. He'd fallen into a trap where he no longer had any rest time even after school.
"Ignoring the upperclassmen, I really hated the past me from last year and the year ago."
"Well, it's the seniors' fault, don't you think? But you know, this year's..."
"Band practice? But you're not gonna even go up on stage, man. You don't really have to stick with them every time, you know."
"Maybe not but... maybe I might have to."
"Like Takeya would suddenly fall sick or something. I'd rather be stabbed by a girl."
"... do you really think he isn't going to catch something?"
"Come on, let's go, let's go! I can't get going without you around!"
"Ah, wait, let go! All right, all right already, so just wait a minute!"
"......... be careful on your way home, okay?"
"Come on, let's go, Haruki!"
Kazusa would gaze out the window beside her, then look, as if in interest, at the chatter Kitahara got himself in. He "wasn't really a member but main staff of" the school festival executive commitee, and Hayasaka had already pulled him out of the classroom after having asked him to help.
And several seconds later, it took a certain someone too much time to control their breathing...
Luckily, the sudden rumble of the desks by the window all falling over one by one didn't reach Kitahara as he walked down the hallway.
That day in the second music room, she began a violent recital with "a particular meaning". It'd been a while since she'd done this.
It was so loud it blocked out the sound of the wind instruments in classrooms down the hall. The members playing said instruments felt it was "musical satire", losing their motivation.
But today, the large echoes of the piano wasn't mixed with any kind of guitar solo.
Because Kazusa's performance was particularly fired up.
Of course, it wasn't to annoy such a terrible guitar, at least, nothing so forward...
"That goddamn yes-man! That scoundrel! That beetle!"
She played a fortississimo so that others wouldn't hear her cursing him.
The two hadn't exchanged any words since the break ended.
And that day had been a dramatic chance meeting, too.
She felt that the world probably had this idea in their heads that said, "Regardless of how kind the representative is, he should ignore such a delinquent girl altogether".
"Why aren't you here for practice?! Do you even know how much time you have left?!"
However the reality was, or rather, the reality inside Kazusa was the exact opposite. Kitahara seems to have been the reason for her having fallen into this cramp.
Certainly for the past several days, Kitahara had pretty much ignored Kazusa calling out to him.
But that wasn't because of anything like, "He's ignoring me regardless of what I say".
From her point of view, just about everything he's been doing has been wrong.
- I could care less about "good morning".
- Same goes for "farewell".
- As well as "did you do your homework".
- "I'd like you teach me how to play the guitar again..."
- Why won't he at least say something like that...?
"That's why you aren't going to get any better! You haven't got a clue!"
She'd been guiding him from the second music room for about 22 days, coming up against a brick wall.
She devoted her abilities in the piano, bass, drums, as well as all her qualities, sense and genius. However, as expected, that endeavoring genius still wouldn't show his strength in that string instrument.
She hadn't quite gotten a grasp on the limits of his ability, nor its potential, or how fast it would develop.
It reminded her of when since she was a child, her friends would slowly drop out of piano classes, and she slowly became frustrated with being unable to socialize with others.
Which was why Kazusa was growing even more irritated.
When she thought back on that past, perhaps she was pushing too much in the first place.
An instructor with not so much... rather, no perseverance at all.
Her experience doing this... or rather, her lack of communication skills brought on by miscommunication.
... besides, she hadn't made any appointments with him, nor does he know who this teacher really is. In that way, he's not even aware that this was a method of teaching him.
... and the more she pondered it, she felt he would have probably given some lecture like, "Come on, that's too much".
"You're such a rank amateur... you need a better sense of the trouble you're in...!"
Restless, she murmured such insincere words. Fearing that they might actually be reality, she threw herself into a vicious cycle bringing forth even more restlessness.
Of course, Kazusa hadn't realized.
That within her, great signs had begun to sprout.
She had ignored her restlessness, irritation, and anger over "someone else's problems" for the past several years.
"Morning. As always, you're five minutes late."
"And your eyes are red. Rare of you to stay up late at night, Touma. Did you sleep so much during the day that you couldn't sleep at night?"
"Ah, also next week will be the proficiency test pre... ah, sorry. Forget about that."
"Anyways, try hard today... hey, don't sleep so soon. What'd you come to school for?"
She had finally gotten through all the crap the homeroom teacher threw at her. Hearing him say those words without a second thought made her weary, throwing herself flat onto the desk in an exaggerated way.
"... you really are sleepy. What'd you do last night?"
- ――Whose fault do you think this is?
- Though I'm going to keep this grumble of mine in.
- Just like Kitahara pointed out, I couldn't sleep at all last night with these thoughts I'm not used to.
- He's so busy he can't practice, and even if he practiced, he can't get better. Even more, this is all about Kitaharathis class representative who's carefreehelpless, not caring about this triple handicap.
And yet Kitaharathis class representative who doesn't care about this at all is so carefreehelpless with this kind of triple handicap.
"Suwa will be in for first period. I think you should at least pretend to be awake for now."
- ――Do you even get it?
- You're not gonna make it to the school festival!
- Those modest "memories" you're looking for could disappear in an instant!
Kazusa kept thinking like this, ignoring the glance at her.
- ――I guess I have to tell him directly.
- I need to throw this reality onto him, just like the summer break...
Last night. No, yesterday afternoon. No, no, since this week, I've been more restless, angry, and going in circles than he is, so I can't get anything done.
- ――But isn't that just a bit too meddlesome?
- It's like I'm doing the same Kitahara is.
- Besides, why the hell do I have to do this anyway?
- What reason do I have to be helping this idiot...
"......... no, I do..."
"? Do what?"
"Shut up, it's got nothing to do with you."
"... all right, all right."
- ――Exactly how much crap have you gotten through to deal with this idiot?
- Shouldn't you at least return the favor to him?
Kazusa was very tired. Maybe it was because of that tiredness that her priorities got reversed.
- ――Yeah, I'll tell him.
- Point out each and every one of his problems.
- I'll tell him this in a nice, but really mean and shameless way.
- Since it's music. I can do that.
- Like I'm gonna fall behind this idiot because of studies.
- Yeah, that's right.
- I'll corner him so he'll never touch the guitar again.
To Kazusa, this idiot's goal of a live performance has no chance.
It was doomed to failure anyway, and to her it was a waste of time.
For over a month she hadn't gotten any sleep doing this special training of hers. No matter how tense or broken she was, or rather, no matter how many times she lost consciousness, her body would just react and start playing again to recall her experiences.
Up until two years ago that was normal. She didn't think it was hard or painful.
She was uncompromising and diligent with him when it came to just his guitar playing.
- ――Don't hate me, Kitahara...
- Both of us have bad luck, see.
That's what Kazusa told herself.
She wouldn't have gotten this involved if not for music.
She should have thrown away her pride from two years ago... actually, she just remembered it just now.
- ――If that's how it is, then this should be quick.
- I'll start this today after school...
"Hey, Touma, could you stay behind for a bit?"
And then, after school...
Kazusa was beaten to the punch.
"I have something to discuss... when no one's around."
"J, just the two......... of us?"
"Well, I guess so? You prefer that too, right, Touma?"
Somehow he managed to invite her without anyone noticing, or suspecting that the two would be alone. Kazusa was more flustered than she needed to be, being invited in such a grandiose way; especially since this took advantage of the fact everyone was all focused on lessons during class time.
"Ki, ki, ki..."
"Later, Haruki. Be sure to take physics notes for me tomorrow."
"Later... and hey, return the favor, would you?"
"Bye, bye~, Kitahara-kun!"
However, in spite of Kazusa's violent restlessness, the classmates ignored her and just passed by. They just waved at Kitahara, figuring he was used to this.
To them, they weren't jeering at her at all. They just figured the delinquent was ignoring the meddling class representative. That's what they perceived, smiling and gazing from a distance.
"Well, be sure to lock the door, class rep."
"Don't worry, I'll lock it. Take care."
In other words, they had no kind of misunderstanding.
Though Kazusa should have desired for someone to have pried a bit too deep for their own good. Somehow, she didn't feel quite satisfied, being in a difficult age where she'd feel just a tiny bit of humiliation.
Were they all confident in the class representative's personality, or did the delinquent's dislike of people just sink in...?
"Well then, what I wanted to talk about..."
And before she knew it, within those unsatisfied thoughts of hers, the two of them were the only ones in the classroom.
In other words, Kazusa followed his suggestion of "could you stay behind for a bit?"...
"I'm sorry for talking to you like this just after the break. Somehow I've been really busy..."
"!... I'm going home!"
"If your'e so busy, then there's nothing to talk to me about!"
- Besides, I had something to talk about too.
"Well sure I am, but it's just for a little bit."
"Shut up. I said I'm going home, so don't get in my way."
Even though him talking to her on the way home from homeroom should have been a godsend...
"Weren't you going to hear me out before you went home...?"
"What kind of delusion did you throw yourself into, you idiot? You should know I'm not one that listens to you, idiot. You really are a real idiot."
"Come on... look Touma, what about during the summer break...?"
"I'm not sure what you're talking about, okay?"
Kazusa was very impatient, having totally strayed from what she originally intended.
"Anyways, I'm really busy. Like I'm gonna be listening to whatever nonsense you're spouting. Get out of my way, already."
A scenario where she's alone with a guy in the classroom at evening was probably thousands of times too much for her, compared to anyone else, or rather, the guy in front of her...
"Look, I'm telling you this won't take too much time..."
"And if I told you to move...?!"
"Ah, there you are, Haruki~!"
An abrupt voice came within the silence of these two. She was so startled, her heart skipped a beat.
"Chikashi? Weren't you going home?"
If Kazusa had calmed down for a moment, she'd have noticed that Kitahara's good friend Hayasaka had barged in with a rather friendly voice.
"No way I can. Not until I take you with me, see."
And she would have noticed what his friend's goal was.
"Hey, come on, not again..."
"Look, I thought that idea yesterday was great, see? But the exec committee guys just started going on about this and that..."
"So just me saying yes isn't good enough for them...?"
"Come on, Haruki! You're the only one who can keep them from going on like that!"
"No, I'm not part of the committee..."
"This isn't the time to be saying that! The school festival'll be in trouble!"
"You don't really care that much about it, do you?"
And, Kazusa finally understood.
When it comes to this sort of development, Kitahara would most certainly say...
"Sorry, Touma... could you wait a little bit?"
"Who's waiting for whom?"
- I'll just be blunt like that.
"Look, I'll be done soon. Just give me ten minutes!"
"Yeah, yeah, this won't take more than five. Come on, let's go, Haruki!"
"L, look... Chikashi's calling me..."
"I'm gonna be back home in five minutes."
- Yeah, just blunt like that. In such a deadpan tone.
- I won't even show my anger at all.
"We'll just be gone for a bit and we'll be back before you know it! Come on, come on!"
"Where'd you come up with that... hey, don't pull on me! Look, I'll be back soon, so..."
"Come on already, Haruki!"
Kazusa had already started preparing to go home. She turned her back on Kitahara, the school festival executive committee "head, even though he's not". This was the second day in the row Hayasaka had tugged him away.
And then, several seconds later, a certain someone had taken far too much time to control her breath...
"......... I'm going home."
But, she was so tired, so all she did was drop her shoulders.
The time was now 5 PM.
The falling sun soaks the place in red, coming in at an angle from the window.
Kazusa had remained in her seat despite saying "I'm going home" an hour and a half ago. She laid down on the desk, staring at the evening sky in this room where silence remained.
She had spent time idling here; about nine times that of those "ten minutes", and eighteen times that of those "five minutes". The scene of the bright classroom being soaked in red burned into her eyes in real-time.
She wanted to leave the classroom so many times.
At one point she made it to the shoe rack and changed shoes.
Even so, for some reason she didn't go any further, and when she did head back in a hurry, she cursed her own feet many times.
Even without having had any sleep, she didn't even take a break.
She only kept wondering what it is that he had to "say".
Maybe he recognized his lack of skill, and wanted her to train him?
But if he felt that way, perhaps he wouldn't have been dragged to the executive committee?
Perhaps he discovered who the "Second Music Room Owner" was?
What would he say if he actually did?
What would she say if he asked her such a thing?
What kind of feelings would he hold towards her?
And as a result, what kind of words would he tell her...?
"......... like I know."
Strongly murmuring something that no one would hear, Kazusa felt so miserable being put in an impossible situation, continuing to wait for the male classmate in the evening classroom.
The time was now... 7 PM.
The slightly hastened sunset finally fell, and the first star began to shine in the darkened sky.
Like that, Kazusa had remained in her seat despite saying "I'm going home" three hours and thirty minutes ago. She laid down on the desk, staring at the starry sky in this room where silence, and now darkness, remained.
It'd become quite troublesome to move now.
The security guards had finally come around.
Even so, she made up a big lie as "Touma-san's daughter". Claiming that she was part of the remaining crew for the school festival executive committee, somehow she managed to continue waiting.
"........................... ha, haha..."
She laughed at how faithful of a dog she was to continue waiting.
- "I have something to discuss..."
Because she was told to "sit", she continued to wait sitting on the classroom chair.
- "Could you stay behind for a bit?"
Because she was told to "wait", she never left the school building.
The idiot class representative would treat her like a dog for behaving even a little modest only in times of need.
What was the most stupid about this was that she was a little more at ease here compared to other people who spend time at home.
"......... I'm going. I'm really going."
Even so, Kazusa swore to herself.
- "Just give me ten minutes!"
As long as he doesn't come back in ten minutes, anyway.
The time was now... 8:30 PM.
She wasn't sure exactly how the harvest moon picked its days... but the moon up in the sky was a particularly full circle.
Indeed, she wouldn't be able to see this kind of scenery if she hasn't waited at the classroom this long.
Which was why Kazusa reflected on this beautiful sight she happened to see by chance...
"What the hell is that idiot doing~~~~?!"
... well, she was supposed to.
Shouting, she kicked over some desks, the roars of which echoed down the empty hallways.
"I'm really sorry about yesterday!"
"......... I'm going home."
"Ahh!! Wait, wait!"
The following day just before classes.
Kazusa did spot the class representative at a distance, waiting for someone at the school gates. She could only return an unpleasant frown when he came over to apologize to her directly.
"Really, I'm sorry. It took a litle bit longer than I thought it would with Chikashi."
"Like I know. I went home right away."
"I, I see..."
Ignoring his excuses, Kazusa started walking away from the school campus.
In other words, talking with Kazusa meant that he was going to also be late...
"... I'm just wondering, but when did that end?"
"Ah, well... like I said, just a little bit."
"......... guess I'm going home."
"Ahh! Just wait, already!"
She knew that "little bit" was a complete lie.
But as she was "supposed" to have gone home straight away, she wasn't able to point that out as her own stress distancing her away from school.
"Sorry, that little bit was a bit of a lie..."
"Just be honest."
"Umm, it ended around 9."
Kazusa's disappointment led her to leaving at around 8:50 PM...
Her irritation only quadrupled at realizing she could have waited just another ten minutes.
"And, then I had to clean up the desks and seats, so I left the campus at about 9:30..."
"Seems... like an earthquake."
"With just our class?"
"Well, whatever the case, it's not my problem."
Which was why she swore to not apologize about that at all.
"Ah, I'm sorry to ask, but today after school..."
"No. Forget it. Waste of time."
And she moved to never hear a single word from this guy again...
"... was what I was gonna say, but could you spare some time right now?"
Though she had been firm in doing so, she was asked something that was hard to turn down, and again lost her words.
"The roadside or the park is fine. You mind listening?"
He was indeed cunning and sharp, and it was something she would forgive.
"You'll be late blowing time with me, won't you?"
"... then how about we start heading back to school?"
He was indeed irrational and stubborn, and it was something she found quite disgraceful.
"We can make it if we run after I'm done. That's how short this is."
"Besides, Touma, you came to school quite early today..."
"If you have business with me, then make it quick. Don't emphasize every little thing, you idiot."
In the end, she said nothing about the two consecutive sleepless nights she had over such anger, and couldn't help but yield.
"I know this is a bit late you see, but I wanted to thank you for your help during the summer break."
"... why do you have to come annoyingly chasing me over something so dumb?"
"Maybe it's that way to you, but it's not to me." "...!"
Taking a seat at a small park bench on the roadside, Kazusa felt that this felt like a little bit of a date. The words that Kitahara said also had that same kind of impact.
"I was really happy. I didn't think there was anyone who was that interested in me playing the guitar."
"Even I'm not interested. Just the noise was a bother."
"I think I told you before, but I started playing the guitar this year. And it was all self-taught. Like you said, Touma, I have some weird habits with it..."
"That's not a habit, I think that's just the limit of your abilities."
"Whatever it is, anyways I was happy, and you really were of help... thank you."
Her face was red.
Kazusa had never heard words like "I was happy" or "thank you" from anyone for the past couple of years. It was so embarrassing, her entire body started itching. It was another feeling she experienced for the first time.
"To be honest, I was in a bit of a bind. No matter how much I practiced during the break, I never felt like I was getting better."
- ――That's okay. That's not your imagination at all.
"But, since that day it feels like it's had an effect. Well, it was only a little bit, anyway."
- ――That's also not your imagination. You really did get a little better.
"A little more and maybe I can finally get it... maybe playing got a little bit interesting or something."
- ――If that's how you feel, then play more. Practice. You shouldn't rely so much on other people.
Yes, even though he has so many painful words to bear.
For some reason, she never felt the urge to interrupt him at all.
She was completely silent, only listening to him.
Listening to his praise.
Listening to how much she had been of help to him.
"That's why I'm grateful. I'm in your debt. I know it's annoying, but thank you."
Listening to the sweet words he had which weren't really that of a confession.
Because Kazusa loved sweet things like nameraka pudding...
And, with a blunt attitude, Kitahara Haruki brought out a paper package from his bag.
"Hopefully this would be of interest to you..."
Simple paper packaging that he would put together, but it contained his strength, nervousness, and sincerity.
... even if it were explained as the work of the devil, she had to accept it.
This time, his face was red.
The sweat on his face couldn't be seen as coming from the late summer heat.
"Umm, what, do you mean by this..."
"You'll know when you open it."
She couldn't believe it given his style and appearance...
This was the first time Kazusa was approached so directly.
Besides, she never felt like this at any time other than when she was practicing the piano.
She stopped feeling like this for people because she stopped facing the piano.
Which was why...
Even though she had provoked, rejected, or ridiculed people, she remained silent. Quickly snatching the package from his hand, she immediately opened it up with a serious expression.
Because this was filled with his sincerity, she also forgot the words she had to say to him...
"... so, what is this?"
"Green Leaf Publication's Sprouting Series 16, English Grammar Fundamentals."
The paper packaging... rather, the bookstore paper bag was crumpled up.
"I've been looking hard for it. It's not a major publication, so only small stores handle it, see."
It was a reference book.
"But the stuff in it is good. I used it during middle school. It was really useful even when I was taking exams."
And for middle school students, even.
"I hope you'd find it interesting..."
"Well then, let's get to school. We can make it if we..."
"Wait, let me ask you a question first."
"Why give me this...?"
Certainly it was a direct question. Though it was more of a hardball from a distance.
"Well you know, Touma. The day before yesterday, Takemura-sensei said you didn't have any English grammar foundations..."
- Not like it would be of much help to me.
- Besides, I'd just ignore it no matter how much they annoyed me.
- ... no matter which class.
"That's why after classes that day, I went to the northern parts of Onjuku."
"The day before yesterday..."
The day that Kazusa waited in vain in the second music room...
- The reason why he didn't always practice wasn't because of the school festival executive committee taking him in, but something like this...?
- Finding something useless like this...?
"Ah, I'm not trying to make fun of you just because it's meant for middle schoolers. You can't buy something average when it comes to something like this."
"Right now Touma, you feel as if you're saying, "I don't understand a thing". When that happens, you should go right back to the basics of basics. Once you get a grasp of it, you'll advance so much it's surprising."
"Well, yeah. Actually, what made me remember this was..."
"Are you... an idiot?"
It was dizzying.
"... I'd figured you'd say something like that, Touma. You shouldn't be ridiculing other people."
"Leaving your guitar practice aside just to look for reference books?"
She figured that his attitude not really caring for how tight it was going to be with the school festival wasn't something that could be helped.
His attitude was something you couldn't speak bad of for relying on others.
"I told you to play, didn't I? Play every day. Not for ten hours, but at least ten minutes, and don't even slack off."
The sound of that off-key guitar in the music room during the summer break.
"I told you you're not good enough because you aren't putting enough effort. Even if it's for a short period of time, as long as you practice seriously you'll get better."
"You haven't changed at all, Kitahara... do you plan on going like this to the school festival...?"
Regardless of her poor choice of words, but for him to have ignored even the words that were conveyed...
"No well, you didn't even listen to a single thing I said..."
"Next week's the proficiency test, you know?"
"So right now I have something more important to deal with than the guitar. This isn't the time to be worrying about how I'm..."
It was something he'd been telling her many times up until now.
Whether it was the athletic festival, summer break, or school festival, he'd always make sure to advise people of any lessons or exams.
"Come on... don't tell me you've been studying all this time for the exams, without practicing at all?"
"The main part of being a student is studying, right?"
A conviction that he would never break, no matter what happens.
It was not wrong in any sense at all. Or rather, in that way, it was an insistence of his that was far more correct than hers.
That's why Kazusa understood.
"I see, well we'd better get..."
"I'm going home."
- This idiot is...
- No, I figure I'll never understand this genius of his.
"Anyways, I'll take this thing. I'll be sure to use it."
"I, I see. That's go..."
"So... I'm fine now, so don't ask me to teach you anything again, okay?"
"H, hey, Touma...?"
Getting up from the bench, Kazusa no longer had any interest or business as she rushed off. Kitahara was dumbfounded, watching her leave.
"Wait a second... where are you going?"
"Oh yeah, be sure to tell the homeroom teacher this."
The expression she held had the exact same feeling she had for a while now.
"I'm going to be studying extra hard for the proficiency tests, so I'd like to stay home, okay?"
She was irritated with the frustration of not being able to understand him when she wanted to...
Of course, she didn't go home right away.
Kazusa couldn't stay in such a lonely place, even though it wasn't even the middle of night.
So she randomly walked around places in the Minamisuetsugu shopping district, wearing her school uniform on a weekday in broad daylight.
Sometimes she'd see clothes and accessories that she liked, swiping her card without even looking at the price tag.
Having money on hand, she spent about half of it at the arcades.
As a newbie at shooting and fighting games, Kazusa blew away 100-yen coins quickly in the span of several seconds. When she suddenly got better thanks to her sense, at some point she ran out of coins and had to go crane games. But then she realized both her hands were so filled with prizes, she couldn't move very well.
The day was pretty much over when she left the arcades, but she didn't feel like returning home.
Throwing her goods in a coin locker, she went about aimlessly on the streets again.
There were more students on the street at night than at day. Because of that and her beauty, there were more guys trying to ask her out.
Two guys at the station, two in the shopping district, one in the back alley...
Kicking away three guys, throwing vulgar abuses at one, and getting into an argument with another who was embarrassed at the people surrounding the scene.
Usually she'd have ignored the city altogether and avoided trouble, but Kazusa was a little more in a foul mood than she usually was.
In other words, she was ticked off...
In the end, she got home past 10 PM.
She lay down on her bed in uniform, and in an instant her head grew hazy.
Maybe having insomnia for the past two nights was finally kicking in, or maybe the five nameraka puddings she just had filled her stomach with had satisfied her...
- ――I'll definitely get sleep today.
- Even if it's morning, tomorrow, or any day.
- I'll just keep sleeping. I could care less about the proficiency tests.
- Because there's nothing more I have to bother with.
- No worries in my mind at all.
- No reason to worry about that guy at all...
Laying down with her brain and eyes half-closed, she stretched her hand out for the school bag she had just thrown on the bed.
There wasn't a lunch box. The things she bought were in another bag. Of course she wasn't going to do any homework.
But she hadn't a clue what it was she was looking for as she unconsciously opened her bag...
Even though the contents of her school bag hadn't changed, she suddenly felt out of place. Almost nothing was in this bag.
Just her handkerchief, her wallet, and candy.
Other students would have writing utensils or textbooks.
If there wasn't anything put in here in the first place, there wouldn't be a problem...
Even so, the unease built up in her.
She started thinking of the reason, going through her frozen mind.
First off, why was it that she opened her bag in the first place...?
After thinking for almost a minute, she finally found the source of her discomfort.
In this bag that wasn't supposed to have anything, there was something this morning that was supposed to be put in but wasn't.
- "Green Leaf Publication's Sprouting Series 16, English Grammar Fundamentals."
The bookstore paper bag...
"... oh, it's just that..."
Coming to that conclusion, Kazusa sighed in both disappointment and relief.
It wasn't any kind of loss like a discovery of the century or anything.
She had kept it out of her memory long ago anyway.
She let a painful smile break over being unconsciously worried over something ridiculous like that.
Besides, it was rather useless. She wouldn't be using it, though burning it would make her look bad. Second-hand bookstores wouldn't buy it, and throwing it out would be a pain.
If she dropped it somewhere outside, then it's saved her a lot of grief.
Besides, she didn't care about the global environment.
Which was why Kazusa once again closed her eyes without delay.
In the usual brilliance of her room.
Praying that tomorrow would be a bit of a better day.
... though she hadn't any intent to wake up tomorrow.
"Umm... we're going to be closing up soon..."
"Shut up, don't talk to me. I'm really busy."
The Minamisuetsugu Goodies Restaurant.
Kazusa was once again in this place, having eaten nameraka pudding here several hours ago.
But she wasn't here right now to order any meals, take a break, or kill time...
"If you want to go home, then show me it. It's this big of a paper bag. It had some logo of a bookstore from up north..."
"But miss, we've told you many times we haven't seen such a thing fall here..."
"Really? Not even under the seats? The kitchen? You sure you crouched and checked all the floors?"
"Miss, you're the only one who's doing that, aren't you...?"
"And you're supposed to be working here, too. You need to also look hard for it too."
"Sigh, I'm sorry..."
The employee had a nameplate that read "Satou". He had long gone past the attitude used to serve customers, instead speaking to her in a frank, miserable way.
He seemed like the kind of guy who would be the store manager, as if he were reflecting on the ridiculousness of being the last guy left behind tending to a customer's problems pushed onto him.
"Maybe it really isn't here after all..."
"Umm, is whatever it is you're looking for that important?"
"Not anything like that at all. What are you saying?"
"......... the same goes for you, miss."
She should have closed her eyes back then.
She should have forgotten about that book and about him without any grief or regrets, almost as if she were free...
"It's just that I couldn't get any sleep."
"Even I'm going to have trouble getting sleep tonight..."
Which was why this was, really, something she worried about.
The slightly bewildered face that he had at the time.
The bald-faced lie of a promise she made by saying "I'll be sure to use it.".
She worried that something just a little bad might stir up in her dreams.
- ――Anyways, I've finished what I came to do.
- I feel better just by looking for it anyway.
"We haven't received anything like that here."
"... I, see."
Having left the family restaurant, she was at the police box in front of the Minamisuetsugu train station.
- ――I was just checking to see if it happened to be there.
- Not like it was going to spend any time or anything.
Kazusa kept making these annoying excuses to herself, standing there in her school clothes while timidly speaking to a uniform policeman.
... a particular face came to mind that could even be in this profession in the future.
"If you happen to find it, please contact me. You have my phone number, right?"
The policeman responded to her in a more cordial manner than she would have expected.
He also checked the area around the police box, and confirmed that nothing had been found.
"But it's a reference book sold in a bookstore normally, right? Plus it wasn't dropped with anything else, it's just the book. I don't think there'll be anyone reporting it."
It's just that, she never forgot the severity of this reality revealed to her.
However, it was pretty much a comment that was quite natural.
And besides, even if she did find it herself, it wasn't like she was going to pick it up the moment she realized it was a book.
In other words, everything that Kazusa was doing right now was for naught...
"It's not even that expensive, so it's better you go and buy it again..."
"That's not really the meaning behind it."
"......... what I mean is, it's not necessary to go that far."
At that moment, Kazusa wondered whether she was interrupting the policeman, or if she was interrupting herself...
More than likely she didn't understand it herself, nor would anyone.
It finally started raining.
The skies might have started raining when she reached Minamisuetsugu a couple of hours ago, but it finally reached its limit and began pouring down.
It was pretty much the dead of night, growing late and probably the day would change soon. It wasn't at a point where the last trains for the day were about to leave. Kazusa stood at the edge of the arcade area, looking up at the rain.
She was supposed to have left the police box, toward the station, and back home. Instead, just like with the school gates this morning, she ended up in the exact opposite place.
She looked through her goods she stashed in the coin locker at noon, checked the inside of the arcades where she blew her cash, and kept pacing back in forth in the shopping district where she bought stuff.
But it was like looking for a single grain in the middle of the desert. Kazusa wasn't able to find it at all, even now.
"It really is getting late..."
That murmur of hers no longer had a sigh or any complaints mixed in it compared to before.
Every time those words of hers gave a nuance of having given up, the tone she had would gradually disappear.
Her body would remember the voice and expression she had that day when she abandoned the world. Even though she looked and went as far as talking to people.
Even though she went to the police.
All for a single book she hadn't even used.
For something she could buy if she went as far as Onjuku tomorrow.
"I'll head, home..."
She's pretty much had it with this stupid whim of hers that didn't even fit her.
Having walked for many hours since noontime, her body began to cry from running around.
It hurt. It was heavy. She was sleepy. She was hot, and cold at the same time. The sound pitch of the rain began to rise.
A welcome rain that cooled down her body from a bit of the late summer heat, as well as the heat from running around.
But if she stayed in it for too long, this rain would turn into something detestable, slowly snatching away her body heat.
That's why, this time, Kazusa...
- ――I wasted quite a bit of time, didn't I?
- But, it's fine now...
- This time I'm going home, taking a bath, sleeping and forgetting everything.
- Yeah, it's fine to forget it all.
- Because I tried my best.
- I did everything I could.
- That's why it's fine now.
- I can just forget about him now...
This time, she left the arcade and ran through the rain.
... indeed, she wasn't going in the direction of the station.
Instead, she was headed towards... the School of Houjou University.
- ――At any rate, I'm probably not going to be going to school tomorrow.
- So there's no problem in staying up a little bit longer, right?
The excuses she made to herself began growing more and more agonizing.
It had past 3 AM.
Even though the rain was heavy, she endured it.
"Why can't I find it....?!"
She screamed out with the deep resentment she had, but her voice was blocked out by the sound of water tapping hard against the street.
She spent many, many hours looking...
From the arcades to the the park where she parted ways with him.
From the park, to the school gates just to make sure.
From the school gates, to a spot where she might have dropped it at the station.
At the stores she shopped at. The arcade. The family restaurant.
... she kept rotating through these places many, many times.
The chances of her finding it were minute from the start.
She knew that.
But, even so, it didn't sit well with her.
That was why the anger she had was directed towards herself for what she did for the first half of the day.
Towards the fact that she traveled between school and home all the time. Towards the fact it was all she did except for today.
Towards how she treated the first present she received from him several hours ago.
Towards not knowing how much of a rebound this would have for being even a little careless.
She wanted to convey these feelings to her past self, for foolishly lying in the past.
- ――I'm such an idiot, aren't I?
- Why am I running around like this?
- Getting involved with him means I can't be like I always am...
The rain fell.
Without mercy, Kazusa pierced through the violent sound of water tapping countless times, through the school route that should have been silent in the middle of the night.
Even so, she glared at the skies and clouds with such a defiant attitude, taking in the painful and heavy pressure right in front of her.
She just looked straight ahead without flinching, as she pierced her head, her hair, her face, and even her own eyes through the rain.
That stimulus and pain... was explained by the red stain in Kazusa's eyes.
"... not yet..."
She dragged along her legs which could no longer run, and still, she would trace back her steps.
She would not give up.
Because if she did, that line would cut.
The line that connected two people.
Even though it was a line that she should have decided not to tie herself to in the earlier part of the day.
She's not sure whether he was aware of it. In addition, it was a line that she had continued to deny.
Even so, she was no longer really sure of this long, lingering feeling somewhere in her heart.
It was a rather complete accident.
In the small park along the way to school, where the two parted.
At the entrance, by the stairs that had just five steps.
And deep within it...
Deep within the bushes, as if taking shelter from the rain, was a paper bag whose faint marking from the northern bookstores was blotted out.
"Ahaha, haha........., it, it's here..."
She had completely missed this spot even though she had gone over it many times, only having noticed it because her feet were dragged down by the stairs.
And because at the time, as any person would, she used both her hands to support her as she collapsed.
She hit her knees. She grazed her thighs. Even her back, her chest, and with the exception of her palms, her entire body was in pain.
Such pain hadn't really registered with her until that moment, when her vision fell to ground level, catching sight of the bag.
For the first time in many years, she thanked the heavens for letting her be a pianist. She thanked them for engraving such a trait into her body, even now.
Kazusa lay down, not moving for a while. Finally, half her body rose to climb the stairs, grabbing the mud-enveloped paper bag, and holding it deeply against her chest.
Perhaps it was to protect it from the rain, but as she was soaking wet, one couldn't even imagine that was the reason.
While she understood this well, she continued to treat this inanimate object with such love.
Because to her tonight, this inanimate object was the thing she sacrificed everything for.
"You see that... I found it, Kitahara..."
For a while, she timidly opened the paper bag that touched against her chest.
Though one would say that the shrubs protected it, indeed it was no longer in good condition, the paper bag being soaked in black, and the book text itself having blotted away.
But, that wasn't something Kazusa was concerned about.
Because the book being in good condition meant nothing to her.
It was just something "that would be nice if she found it"...
"......... what's, this?"
She stopped as she turned the pages to confirm something.
She found a piece of paper slipped within it. In handwriting.
It was meant for the person who wasn't even going to be using this book. A message that had such little chance of reaching her.
Even though he was attentive, he didn't even give it enough consideration.
Even if one thought of it as trying to look cool, in the end it was far too embarrassing, and getting in the way, nothing would be conveyed.
The stupidity of that idiot class representative made Kazusa break into a laugh.
All the anger, her impatience, and irritation gushed out from her heart naturally.
"You're an idiot... you really are an idiot, you know...!"
Even so, she wanted to continue smiling today for now.
Because, she accomplished something.
She found a grain in the middle of a desert.
An event so great that it could be considered even a miracle...
Well, to Kazusa, it was so great it made her comfortable with believing in fate.
The next day. Kazusa laid flat down on her desk in the classroom, not moving an inch.
"U, umm... Touma, well, it's about yesterday..."
"Don't talk to me right now."
The class representative tried to find a moment to talk with her once she came, but that lightning-quick work of his ended up being one step behind.
What happened yesterday.
Not knowing what happened with her, why it was that she was angry.
Even if it were his fault to begin with, there was no logic behind her skipping classes.
And he had a timid but powerful will to try and mend his relationship with her somehow.
"Just... just for a minute, would you listen?"
He had too many things to ask, that he wouldn't take no for an answer.
That's why he stubbornly tried to talk to her like he always did, knowing that she would hate him even more...
"I'm sleepy, talk to me next week."
"Just let me sleep for today. Don't dare wake me up, okay?"
And out of the blue, she added a condition to talking to her, just like that.
Dodging his questions with an attitude, as if nothing had happened.
In the numerous and various emotions he carried in regards to her, the pain would be one caused by being far too happy.
"All right... good night, Touma."
"Is it okay for you to say that?"
But he didn't know the truth.
Why it was that Kazusa came here in particular.
Or the fact that last night, or this morning, she came home late at night.
Or the fact the moment she came out of the shower, her relief, fatigue and lack of sleep attacked her at once. Or the fact that if she even closed her eyes for an instant, she'd collapse.
Or the fact that the choice to collapse came to her mind many times.
Or the fact her entire body was in pain from those wounds, and took her another thirty minutes to get to school.
... or the fact that she could sleep in peace only for today right beside someone.
......... or the fact that, of course, it couldn't just be anyone.
That's why he didn't know. And probably he never will.
He'll never learn of faithful dog Kazusa's great adventure last night...
One week later, the School of Houjou University had finally finished up the proficiency tests...
Of all five subjects, Touma Kazusa scored the worst in four of them.
It was much easier to spend time in that closed classroom compared to summertime. She didn't have to turn on the air conditioner; just opening the window was enough to bring about a pleasant atmosphere.
With exams over, the club activities regained their liveliness within the school, and a familiar musical instrument's sound echoed.
Kazusa looked down below from the window behind the curtains as they blew back from the wind. She then returned to the piano, and seated herself well, taking her usual stance.
And as always, she'd wait quietly for 5 PM to pass by.
The evenings would come much more quickly within the first ten days of October.
With exams over, the club activities regained their liveliness... on the first Tuesday.
And it happened to be ten minutes past five.
Kazusa evaluated its performance without even having listened to it for more than a second.
She had waited so long, she wasn't even waiting to listen to the sound.
Simply put, the guitar solo that came ringing through the window was "WHITE ALBUM".
Her fingertips reacted much more quickly than usual the moment it hit.
She changed her rhythms and musical intervals from having played classical etudes so far, immediately taking on such an old, popular tune.
And, as if to signal that he should get it together already, she immediately began playing to accompany the guitar.
Perhaps this was selected from the repertoire of songs to dispel the resentment caused by the exams up until now.
It'd been a while since "WHITE ALBUM" carried itself along the winds. The melody was so lively and played so clearly, she could almost imagine his enjoyment in playing it. Though it was as if it had degraded, not matching how the lyrics conveyed a painful romance.
But only today, Kazusa threw away such corrections like, "Don't play it like that", instead matching her partner's speed, strength, and enjoyment.
- This is fine for just today.
- It's fine if we have fun. It's fine if we're happy.
- It's fine if the two of us are playing...
Kazusa brought up her tempo, and her partner would follow.
So if she started playing quickly, he'd also be desperate in catching up.
However one would think of it, it'd be too much effort, and result in a massive failure.
Only the worst performance would be brought out, and nothing would remain of the original melody.
Kazusa's expression sparkled like never before.
Because this was far different from usual.
It was so fast, and so strong...
And yet, he didn't even miss a single note.
"What do you mean studying being the main thing... you liar..."
Two weeks later, Mr. Guitar... Kitahara Haruki's abilities had risen since the exams.
Like always, he'd never gotten rid of his habits such as getting too caught up, or dragging around other people. But this important playing ability of his was something he had definitely picked up.
It was obviously a technique that couldn't improve unless one practiced every day.
And it was something you couldn't master unless you got the basics of basics...
- ――You idiot... you're just the same like me, then.
- You're more honest with your melody than you are with your words.
- You practiced during exam time, didn't you?
- You became interested in the guitar even while studying, didn't you?
- Instead of reading a reference book, you were reading "that book", weren't you...?
The one memory that was clear to Kazusa was the one late at night in the rain.
The one memo that was placed within the pages of that soaked reference book.
I bought the practice book you told me about, Touma It really was so simple to understand, maybe now I can get better Thanks to you Touma, now I understand the most fundamental and important thing Having said that, I hope this book proves to be the most useful to you At least please listen to what your studying seniors say Only a little longer until the school festival, and until we graduate, so let's work hard -Kitahara
- "Kaisaku Publications... Expert Series?"
- "It's a practice book geared towards novices, so I'm pretty sure it'll work out for you, Kitahara."
- "Did you get better reading this book too, Touma?"
- "Of course not. I just have my ability."
- "Ah, I see."
- "I'm kidding. It wasn't with the guitar, but it did help quite a bit."
- "You play things other than the guitar?"
- "... that doesn't matter right now."
- "Come on, hurry up and play. I don't have that much time."
That day during the summer, she casually brought up this book's title while teaching him the guitar.
She read it when she started on the piano... in other words, once she had gotten enough experience, Youko had bought her this piano compilation as a gift.
Certainly her mother had given her only books with kanji characters for three-year olds, but as a brazen young girl who saw fit to show her genius, she'd immediately understand the symbols written in them.
In terms of her reading comprehension, or rather her music comprehension, she was better than anyone in her generation... in other words, a child prodigy.
And those fruits came to bear from such a deep history, from the memories that her motherTouma Youko engraved into her...
"You missed~! Too bad~!"
Right at the end, when reaching the last verse, the guitar went off-key. Kazusa erupted in laughter with such a scornful smile at this player.
That night, Kazusa stayed up all night like she did a week ago.
But that was not for practicing the piano, nor contemplation, and certainly not studying...
But it was something that one would consider appropriate as night work... it was sewing.
She was working on a large stuffed animal from within the drawer.
The birthday present that Touma Youko sent her two years ago.
A symbol of the estrangement between her and her mother, having been left alone in such a torn-up state.
Kazusa worked hard to stitch up the openings she caused.
When she first started, she kept pricking her hands.
But, as they were hands forged by the piano, they soon picked things up, and as her pace gradually increased, the stitches became much more consistent and tidy.
Even so, she would keep her pace steady even when it was about to get quicker, being cautious about getting too caught up. She wanted to have it sewed up so cleanly such that the stitches wouldn't even be seen.
It wasn't to forgive her mother.
It wasn't to accept the world.
Even so, the stuffed animal... the dog wasn't at fault.
It was because it was certainly her own doing...
The sewed up stuffed animal was a little bit bent and warped.
But its awkward form pulled on her heartstrings.
Because it was so much like a faithful dog that would continue to wag its tail, its feelings never reaching its master.
Which was why Kazusa would check the time it took her to reach school, and sleep within the remaining thirty minutes she had.
It was quite heartwarming when she embraced it.
"I'm heading off."
And just thirty minutes after...
She left her room, saying those words to "them". Them being, the faithful dog on the side of the bed. And in its chest was a book of the name, ""Green Leaf Publication's Sprouting Series 16, English Grammar Fundamentals."
It was a "greeting" she hadn't said for two and a half years.
Her eyes narrowed at the pouring sunlight from above as she left the house.
The sky wasn't as powerful since it was in the middle of fall, but as she had been up approximately all night, she wanted this gentle sunlight to be a little easy on her.
"I really don't want to go to school..."
Up until now, or at least until last year she never wanted to attend school like this.
But now, her body didn't listen to her grumbling, heading straight to the station.
And her mind, as well as her body reacted with such a pleasant feeling.
"It's such a pain..."
As expected, the only thing left was her defiant mouth. There was no one else within her left for it to be with.
And the clear, fall skies spread above her.
Touma Kazusa... never really hated the skies in the first place.
- Literally, this was a reference to the Amanojaku
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