Chapter 5:

Friendship

Hope-Colored Spring


"10... 9... 8...," Hayama quietly taps his finger on his desk everytime the clock ticks.

His hair is fashionably styled as always. He is just as tall as Yoichi, but not as popular. As he waits for the bell to ring, his eyes droop and his head resting on one hand, not paying attention to the teacher at all.

"3... 2... 1..." The Westminster chime resounds across the campus. It's lunchtime.

Samie, who is seated far front from Hayama, immediately stands up and runs to Koutarou's classroom. This is the everyday scene in the class once the bell rings.

Hayama turns to Akari who is seated behind him tidying up her stuff, "Akari-chan. Wanna go for lunch together?"

"Sorry, Itou-san. I have practice," Akari apologizes as she stands up.

"Practicing violin again? Come on. You practice every day at lunch and after school. You should take a break once in a while," Hayama convinces Akari with a playful tone.

Akari takes a bow and heads out carrying her lunch box and violin case.

"Trying to hit on another girl again, huh?" Mori, the guy sitting beside him, says after giggling.

"Don't make it sound like I'm a bad person, Mori," Hayama replies with a sincere smile. "I just think Akari-chan is quite cute."

"She doesn't look all that interested in you, though."

"She's just busy. Let her be." Hayama stands up and lightly slaps Mori's desk. "Come on. Lunchtime. Lunchtime."

-----

Akari enters the empty music room. Brightly lit by sunshine and filled with the faint noises of students footsteps inside and outside of the building. The undisturbed air flies little particles of dust around the room.

She walks towards the piano. She touches the keylid as gently as she can as if it's going to break if she applies pressure to it, then --very slowly-- she starts sliding her hand. She's looking at with such pitiful eyes.

She hears a group walking towards the music room. She turns towards the door, stands still holding the violin case in front of her. Yoichi opens the door. He is followed by Danzo, then Samie who is holding Koutarou's arm on one hand, and her lunch box on the other.

"A-Amayama-san?" Akari looks at Samie surprised.

"Oh! It's really Akari-chan!" Samie waves at her. "These guys said you know them. I didn't believe them at first. I'm surprised."

"Why would you not believe us?" Koutarou asks.

"Well... Akari-chan always seems busy with her own stuff. I've never seen her talk to anyone in class unless necessary, so I thought it was pretty unlikely that she'd talk to guys from another class."

"You could say we are pretty approachable," Danzo brags.

"Sorry, Kujou-san," Yoichi talks to Akari. "They wanted to eat lunch here with us. I hope you don't mind."

"No. I don't mind at all. I'm the one who should be excusing myself," she replies as she puts down the violin case to open it. "Shall we begin?"

"Let's eat first, Akari-chan," the Samie walks up to her and grabs her hand. Akari is startled. "You'll need energy before practice. Right, Yoichi?"

Akari looks at Yoichi.

"I suppose," Yoichi says with a smile. 

Akari replies with a whisper. "...Okay"

They form a circle on the floor and brings out their lunches. Samie is between Koutarou and Akari, and Yoichi is between Akari and Danzo.

While eating, Samie tries to interact with Akari to keep her from getting bored and feeling out-of-place.

"I heard you asked Yoichi-kun to perform with you in a competition?" Samie asks Akari.

"Yes. The upcoming summer classical competition."

"That's exciting. I want to go see it. But why so sudden?"

Akari freezes for a second before answering. "This might be my only chance to win a competition." Everyone is suddenly intrigued. They all look at her waiting for an explanation.

"Only chance? Why is that?"

"There is this pianist named is Nakamura Ise. He is amazingly good. He likes to join national competitions, and he wins every single one of them since his debut. But he disappeared all of the sudden. Some said he retired, others said he's ill. Whatever the case may be, he's unlikely to join the summer competition." Her grip on her lunch box tightens as she continues. "For the first time in a while, someone other than him would hold the top 1 spot. People will surely be fighting for this once in a blue moon opportunity. Even me. I will...," she lifts up her head.

Everyone is staring at her, paying close attention to everything she says.

"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ramble," she shies away and continues eating.

"That's fine," Samie comforts her. "I was just surprised that a quiet girl like you would be so competitive. It's kinda cute. Did you want to become a professional violinist?"

"Yes, I do. I strive to become the best. I want to be as recognized as Nakamura Ise, if not more, in the field of music," Akari happily answers Samie.

"Nakamura Ise-sama, huh," Koutarou looks at the ceiling then closes his eyes before saying, "That's gonna be hard."

"What? You know him?" Danzo asks Koutarou.

"You don't?!"

"No," Danzo answers.

"I've heard of him before," Yoichi comments.

"Crap," Samie slightly cowers.

"You guys!! How can you not know him?! He's so famous! He's everywhere!! His works are so great! So romantic!!" Koutarou starts shouting. Samie quietly eats beside him knowing Koutarou is a big big fan of Nakamura Ise. Koutarou continues his passionate preaching. "Nakamura Ise-sama is a god! A music god! To think that you can beat him in his craft is blasphemy!!"

"Kou-chan!" Samie is about to scold him. Koutarou realizes why she interrupted him and looks at Akari.

"No, it's fine," Akari says. "Koutarou-kun is right. I look up to Nakamura Ise and I know it's going to be very tough catching up to such a prodigy. Even so, I want to at least try."

"W-Well," Koutarou sits down. He crosses his arm trying to think of a way to cheer her up. "You know what they say. With hard work, anyone can reach their goals... or something... I guess."

"That's... uhh," Yoichi touches his nape letting out a sorry smile. "That's quite a responsibility now that I think of it. I don't think I'm the right person for this job."

"That reminds me," Danzo looks at Akari. "You said you wanted to perform with Yoichi. Is that allowed?"

"Yes. You can perform up to a trio in the competition," she turns to Yoichi. "Shirosaki-san, you were amazing. The piece you composed is perfect. It's me who needs to improve," She bows slightly. "Please, Shirosaki-san. It has to be you."

"How can I say no when you look at me like that?" Yoichi chuckles. "I'll do my best." He loses his lunch box. "Shall we?"

Akari smiles. "Yes."

Yoichi and Akari stand up to prepare their instruments for their practice. 

"Kou-chan, I know you are a big fan, but you shouldn't say insensitive things like that," Samie softly scolds Koutarou.

"I know. I'm sorry," Koutarou apologizes. "But still, I didn't know Nakamura Ise-sama is ill. This is quite a shocking news."

"And I didn't know you were a big fan of a pianist," Danzo says. "On top of reading a lot of romance novels, you're also a big fan of romance music. You really are a hopeless romantic, Koutarou." He laughs. 

"I don't want a pervert telling me that," Koutarou retorts.

"What did you say?!"

"Okay, okay. Behave, kids," Samie stops Koutarou and Danzo from fighting. "Hurry and help me clean up already."

Yoichi starts playing the piano as they clean up. Samie, Koutarou, and Danzo serve as the audience for their practice.

After the introductory piece, Akari starts playing the violin. Much like how Yoichi reacted the other day, the three freezes in awe as she plays.

All the background noises fade away -- the footsteps, people shouting outside, the birds, the cars, everything. All they can hear are the sound of the piano and of the violin.

Not a single word. Not a single movement. They stay still until the end.

With the last stroke of the bow, Akari finishes the piece.

"I can never get tired of hearing you play it. You've improved your piece a lot since yesterday," Yoichi compliments Akari.

"Thank you very much. There are still some parts I'm unsatisfied with, but I'm starting to get a hang of it," Akari smiles.

Koutarou is slowly walking towards Akari. When he's right in front of her, he grabs her hand holding the bow.

"Akari-chan," Koutarou whispers.

"A- E-Eh?" Akari is puzzled.

"Akari-chan!" Koutarou repeats. "Can I please get your autograph? You were so good, Akari-chan!"

"Uhm. Thank you."

Koutarou continues to shake Akari's hand while complimenting her.

"Wow. That was wild," Danzo comments. "I've heard Yoichi play that piece many times already, but I almost didn't recognize it when Akari-chan started playing."

"Right? That was my first reaction as well," Yoichi agrees.

"For real, that was amazing, Akari-chan," Samie walks up to her. "You're gonna win that competition for sure!"

"Thank you, everyone!" Akari is overjoyed by the praises she's hearing. "I'll do my best!" She lets out the bright smile. 

-----

Lunch break is over.

Samie and Akari enter their classroom together. Samie waves at her as she walks towards her seat way up front.

"You look happy, Akari-chan," Hayama turns around and sees her smiling. "Did something good happen?"

"Ah, no. It's nothing," she opens her textbook and looks down trying to contain her smile.

"Oh?" Hayama stares at her with a serious face for a few more seconds before facing forward.

James K.
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Totomam
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