Chapter 3:

Foe's Strategy

Spring Flower on the Sidewalk

I'm lying on my bed and staring blankly on the ceiling of my room. I agreed with Akane-san to continue my challenge but I don't know where to start. Bookmark here

Akane-san said that she will help me practice, but how exactly? Can she really help me? Bookmark here

She's the reason on why I'm struggling with my inner self now but I don't regret anything. You see, I just don't want to see her crying face again. Bookmark here

How can Hachisaki-kun resist the cute Akane-san?Bookmark here

Well, if it was me, I can't endure her that much. I've grown attached to her now so I'll deal with my doubts whether she was a real friend or not, in the future. Not now, okay?Bookmark here

I took a sigh and stood from my bed. Bookmark here

I stretched my limbs to prevent strain. It hurts if it became numb, trust me.Bookmark here

I took a seat in front of my study table. I better start doing something now. I opened my laptop and started searching details about my opponent in the internet.Bookmark here

This is the disadvantage of having the spotlight, your competitor can read you easily like a book.Bookmark here

Fufufufufu.Bookmark here

I started typing: Hachisaki Haruki Bookmark here

It showed articles about how a prodigal child violinist started making an uproar in the professional world of music.Bookmark here

He started playing the violin at the age of six, made his name known and even entered an international competition.Bookmark here

When he was about to enter middle school, his fame started going down the drain. He became a no-show violinist. He was never seen in any competition ever again.Bookmark here

I continued reading more in hopes of finding out his reason to quit being a violinist but I found nothing. Bookmark here

"Hmmm... why did you quit, Hachisaki-kun?" I asked more to myself while continuing scrolling up and down on the search results.Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

Maybe... I can't use this internet to read him like a book after all. Bookmark here

There are things hidden in the book. A secret page where no one can read.Bookmark here

Hachisaki-kun is a mystery that I can't decode.Bookmark here

Crap! Why is there nothing related? Is this on purpose? Or maybe he just felt like he doesn't want to play anymore and quit it y'know?Bookmark here

I continued reading more when I came to one of the videos where he performed on a competition.Bookmark here

Hmmm.... I think it won't hurt to watch this.Bookmark here

Maybe if I'm lucky, I can understand what he's saying about my flawed playing style.Bookmark here

I rubbed my temple as I tiredly pressed the play button.Bookmark here

At that time, I blinked to ease my eyestrain. It's getting irritating and I don't want to have poor eyesight like that Hachisaki-kun so it's better to take a break like this.Bookmark here

While my eyes are closed, the music from the video started playing.Bookmark here

And when I opened my eyes...Bookmark here

It was as if...Bookmark here

I was watching him personally. It was as if I was there.Bookmark here

This playing... There's no mistaking it! This is an enchantment... A magic casted by Hachisaki-kun!Bookmark here

My eyes widened in shock, this is how great he is! He took me in his own world!Bookmark here

Looking at his small figure of a child, I can't help but think twice if he was really a child.Bookmark here

His movements where graceful. You can't spot anything unsightly about him as he was giving his all in playing his violin.Bookmark here

No matter how amateur I am in music... I can feel it, he was talking to me...Bookmark here

"Listen to me..." Is what his music speaks.Bookmark here

The look on his face was really different than the Hachisaki-kun that I met in school.Bookmark here

The face of this child performing in front of this crowd with violin in his hands was without a doubt, showing how much he love playing the violin.Bookmark here

Even though he's performing with such a serious face... I can feel that he's smiling in the crowd.Bookmark here

He's smiling by his music.Bookmark here

He's a real enchanter!Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

I slumped my face in front of my laptop. I'm just an amateur... How can I prove myself to this genius?Bookmark here

There's no way a no-name person like me can compete on the same stage as him.Bookmark here

This is a poor matchup!Bookmark here

It was like a human, me, was trying to fight a powerful magician, Hachisaki-kun. No matter what I do, a powerless human can't win this time.Bookmark here

I muffled a scream of frustration under my slumped face on the desk.Bookmark here

This is hopeless...Bookmark here

I was thrown back in reality when I heard knocks coming from the door of my room.Bookmark here

"Coming..." I tiredly said as I approached the door.Bookmark here

I opened it and Oba-san greeted me.Bookmark here

"Tsu-chan, there's a call for you. You should answer the telephone on the living room." Oba-san said with a smile.Bookmark here

I'm not exactly sure who in their right mind is going to call at this hour but I better answer it now. I just really want to take a sleep now.Bookmark here

"Hello?" I tiredly said with a small yawn.Bookmark here

"Moshi moshi, Harada-san!" A cheerful voice over the line said to me.Bookmark here

I came back to my senses in that instant. How did Akane-san managed to have overflowing energy at a time like this?Bookmark here

It was 11:30 at night and we have classes tomorrow!Bookmark here

Yes, that was Akane-san. No doubt.Bookmark here

"Akane-san, what's up?" I asked her.Bookmark here

I really want to sleep now. Let me have my sleep Akane-san!Bookmark here

I secretly wept on my mind since I'm fighting with sleepiness right now.Bookmark here

"Oh, good thing you're in there Harada-san! I thought you're already asleep."Bookmark here

"Well, I was supposed to."Bookmark here

Not actually. I just felt tired from watching Hachisaki-kun's performance on the internet and it drained my energy drastically.Bookmark here

"Sorry, sorry! Okay, I'll make this quick. You noticed that Haruki-kun was absent on our afternoon classes, right?"Bookmark here

"Yes."Bookmark here

"Well, he was practicing on music room that time. And when he was not there, some students said that he was practicing on the theater hall." She explained.Bookmark here

"So? And what's that supposed to mean?" I asked her. My mind was having hard time processing what she's saying so I'll let her do the talking.Bookmark here

"Come on Harada-san! If Haruki-kun wasn't going to play the violin, he's aiming for playing something!"Bookmark here

"Hmm?"Bookmark here

"He's going for the piano! There's only two grand piano in our school, in the music room and in the theater hall. Given that he's also practicing in theater must only mean that he's going to play piano."Bookmark here

My eyes were half-opened, I can't really make up what's Akane-san saying on the other line.Bookmark here

"I'm sorry Akane-san, let's talk about this tomorrow."Bookmark here

"H-Hey! Wait!"Bookmark here

I end the call and go to my room to take my sleep. Bookmark here

What was Akane-san saying again? Oh well, I'm just going to mind that tomorrow.Bookmark here

_*_Bookmark here

"Harada-saaaaaaan! Let's take a break!" Akane-san whined while loafing around in the floor here in Music Room.Bookmark here

I seriously gave her a glance. Is she for real?! She was the one who said that I need to practice for crying out loud!Bookmark here

Classes are done and I decided to practice with Akane-san. She was pretty useful just a while ago but she easily loses interest just like now.Bookmark here

"Akane-san, you're the one who told me to practice, remember?" I asked her in disbelief.Bookmark here

I was sitting in front of the piano and staring intently in the music sheet. I'm getting the basics for reading the music sheet since I personally asked Hiro-sensei to give me the gist of things.Bookmark here

I'm not bragging but I can say that I'm a pretty fast learner! Hehe.Bookmark here

Anyway, I don’t get Akane-san! Bookmark here

She also managed to teach me some basics and I think I can play Little Star decently. But now that she's acting like this, I don't think that I can focused now.Bookmark here

Taking a deep sigh, I faced her.Bookmark here

"What do you think about my playing just now?" I asked her.Bookmark here

I'm not expecting her to praise me anymore. I also asked her a while ago to not lie about her opinion.Bookmark here

Watching Hachisaki-kun's great performance made me really anxious.Bookmark here

There's a pang of guilt deep inside me. I can't really explain it but I think I need to do something for him. Not just as Akane-san wished but also, to personally helped him.Bookmark here

"Hmm... Let's see, you played decently." She said as she stood from the floor and dusted herself.Bookmark here

"Is that enough?" I said seriously as I closed my eyes in frustration.Bookmark here

Of course it's not enough! Who am I fooling?Bookmark here

"Listen, to be honest with how you play now is good enough to at least pass the preliminaries in a piano contest but... The way you played first time was different." She explained obviously.Bookmark here

Huh? My first time playing?Bookmark here

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked her in confusion.Bookmark here

She took a sigh and smiled at me. "When you played the piano that time, it feels like you are a different person... You're... a reincarnation of a talented musician."Bookmark here

She shift her gaze away from me while her face flustered.Bookmark here

I want to say something but I can't find the right words. I don't know how to respond to this kind of situation!Bookmark here

"T-that's absurd!" I retorted back at her. "How can you say that?!" Bookmark here

She looked at me without saying anything. Her expression was something that I can't explain. Bookmark here

Her face was just normal but her aura was different, it felt like she is looking deep inside my soul and evaluating me.Bookmark here

I felt uneasy with her gaze. Bookmark here

I'm not scared but she's emitting a weird aura that's making me feel tensed.Bookmark here

"Would you believe me if I say that I can see through a person?" She seriously said.Bookmark here

?Bookmark here

She took a deep sigh and goes back to her cheerful side.Bookmark here

I can't really understand how can she switched so easily.Bookmark here

"To make it short, I'm a keen observer~! I can find raw talents just by observing them." She cheerfully said while raising her hands in the air.Bookmark here

I deadpanned at her cheerfulness.Bookmark here

Okay, I get it that she's some kind of keen observer comparable to those skilled detectives. But when she said that she can saw raw talents, does that mean that I have talent?Bookmark here

I looked down in disheartenment. I don't think I really have a talent.Bookmark here

Compared to those talented people whose future is decided with a path they must take, I stood there with a barricade to making me not able to take a step forward.Bookmark here

After all, a talentless person like me doesn't have a goal to achieve. Bookmark here

I'm not a dreamer. Bookmark here

I snapped back in reality when Akane-san shook my shoulders in a somewhat outrageous manner.Bookmark here

"Harada-saaaaaaan! Harada-san, fight the evil spirit possessing you!" She shouted at me worriedly and shake my shoulders more.Bookmark here

Huh? Bookmark here

"Hey, hey Akane-san! I'm not possessed!" I said at her but she doesn't seem to hear me.Bookmark here

"Harada-san! Hold on! I'm gonna call the exorcist in the class next door."Bookmark here

"Akane-san! I'm not being possessed!" I responded and I also shook her shoulder to snap her back in reality.Bookmark here

"Waaah! Harada-san, I'm glad that you are not possessed!" She said as she clings to me, feigning tears.Bookmark here

I just let out an awkward chuckle. Akane-san never failed to entertain me.Bookmark here

"Come on, come on, stop crying already. Let's call it a day for now." I said as I patted her head.Bookmark here

She nodded with a smile.Bookmark here

_*_Bookmark here

While walking down the silent hallway, all I can hear was our footsteps. The sun has already set, we just stayed overtime in school today. I'm glad that the school permitted us to, because you know, not all schools are permitting students to stay in school longer. Bookmark here

Akane-san suddenly stopped on her tracks which also made me stop.Bookmark here

"What is it Akane-san?" I asked her.Bookmark here

"Uhm... I know this is sudden but..." She started fidgeting as she faced me. Bookmark here

She seems uneasy about something, what might that be?Bookmark here

I gave her a confused look and she started fiddling her fingers.Bookmark here

"C-can I... Can I call you Tsubaki-chan?" She said timidly.Bookmark here

I blinked in disbelief.Bookmark here

She blinked waiting for my response.Bookmark here

"S-so... It's okay if you don't---" Bookmark here

I cut her off mid-sentence and gave her my response, "Of course you can!"Bookmark here

"T-thank you, Tsubaki-chan." She said shyly. "You can also call me Mitsuki-chan."Bookmark here

I gave her a small smile. "Mitsuki-chan it is."Bookmark here

She beamed at me and clings to me again. But then again, she stopped on her tracks for the second time.Bookmark here

"Aka--- Mitsuki-chan, what's wrong?"Bookmark here

Phew! I almost called her Akane-san again. Bookmark here

"Did you hear that?" She said as she looked around us.Bookmark here

Well, the school is really different at a time like this. I don't know if I was to be scared that Mitsuki-chan was hearing something that I can't. Bookmark here

Maybe she's not just a keen observer but also attracted to supernatural? Crap! What are you thinking, Tsubaki? We're on the era of science, paranormal activities are just made up!Bookmark here

"I don't hear anything." I voiced out.Bookmark here

"No, there's something here." She declared as she dragged me on where she heard something.Bookmark here

I don't like where this is going... I'm supposed to go home now or Oba-san will be worried. Bookmark here

Uhmmm. But now that I remember Mitsuki-chan giving a call to my home just a while ago made me think that Oba-san might not be that worried.Bookmark here

She will be most likely, "Oh, Tsu-chan, you finally made a friend for yourself! I'm really happy for you. Invite them here sometimes, I'll prepare a good tea."Bookmark here

Yeah, yeah, my oba-san is really carefree and I'm pretty sure that Mitsuki-chan will get along with her. Bookmark here

They will be an iconic duo, that's for certain.Bookmark here

I continued going along where Mitsuki-chan said she heard something. I'm not really sure about what she heard but I hope that she's not hallucinating.Bookmark here

"There. I heard something there." She pointed out the building outside.Bookmark here

Huh? But that's far from where we stood a while ago.Bookmark here

Okay, she might also have some pretty good hearing.Bookmark here

"Let's go there." She pleaded to me.Bookmark here

"Okay. But just for a while." I can't help but agree with her.Bookmark here

She's one curious girl. If something caught her interest, she won't be satisfied until she discovered the reason behind.Bookmark here

We entered the building and when I think about it...Bookmark here

This is the theater hall!Bookmark here

I think she mentioned something about this last night but I can't really remember since I'm really sleepy at that time.Bookmark here

"So what did you actually heard, Mitsuki-chan?" I asked while looking around the theater.Bookmark here

Empty audience seats and dimly lit hall. There's no assurance on what we're about to see her. Bookmark here

What if we witnessed something illegal? Like a murder or smuggling? And the culprits found that we are here then threaten our life because we're eye-witnesses? We're doomed!Bookmark here

"Mitsuki-chan... I think it's better if we leave now." I whispered to her in a low voice.Bookmark here

"Tsubaki-chan..." She called my name while her eyes are fixated in one direction.Bookmark here

When I followed her line of sight... Bookmark here

My gaze fell on something extraordinary.Bookmark here

A guy was playing the piano here in the dimly lit theater hall. He was producing beautiful sounds with every touch of the keys. Bookmark here

I almost shrink on where I am now. Bookmark here

I was taken aback by his outstanding playing...Bookmark here

When Mitsuki-chan said that I might stand a chance against Hachisaki-kun with him playing an instrument that he's not used to...Bookmark here

I honestly thought that I can do this...Bookmark here

But now...Bookmark here

Watching him playing the piano as greatly as this...Bookmark here

I just want to apologize to him this instance.Bookmark here

I clutched my chest as I continued to watch him, he was this great. I can't believe myself for thinking that I have a bit of hope.Bookmark here

I felt so stupid...Bookmark here

Unconsciously, I didn't realize that a tear escaped from my eyes. I hurriedly wiped it with my hands.Bookmark here

When he was done, he still looked so wonderful. He stood from the piano bench and stopped in front of the audience seats.Bookmark here

We heard a clap from the front, so me and Mitsuki-chan perked up to see what's going on.Bookmark here

"That was a splendid performance, Haruki." Another person said.Bookmark here

Judging from our distance from them, they are in the very front seat.Bookmark here

Hachisaki-kun gave a long stare to the guy. "Is that all, Reiji?" He replied as cold as ever.Bookmark here

"What am I supposed to say, Haruki?" The person called Reiji said blatantly to him.Bookmark here

"This isn't good." Hachisaki-kun monotonously said.Bookmark here

What's not good, Hachisaki-kun? That was even beyond my greatest imaginations and you're saying that it's not enough? Are you kidding me?Bookmark here

I clenched my fist in irritation. This guy... what's wrong with him?Bookmark here

I gave a glance to the girl beside me, Mitsuki-chan, who was still mesmerized by the performance she just witnessed.Bookmark here

But looking at her face now... I can't really say that she was admiring Hachisaki-kun’s performance.Bookmark here

"Hey, what's wrong with you, Haruki? You just asked me to watch you practice and now you're saying that it's not enough? Are you still on your mind?" The Reiji-person stood from his seat and leaned closer to Hachisaki-kun.Bookmark here

Hachisaki-kun fell silent for a moment but when he spoke, I’m not really expecting him to say something.Bookmark here

"It's not enough. Watching Harada-san who played the piano on our Music Class made me feel so pathetic!" Hachisaki-kun retorted to the guy.Bookmark here

I left frozen for a moment. Bookmark here

Eh? Bookmark here

Is that how he feels about my playing? Bookmark here

"I... I've never seen you act like this since you quit the violin three years ago." The guy said in utter disbelief.Bookmark here

Hachisaki-kun looked away from him.Bookmark here

I stood from where I was hiding. Bookmark here

Mitsuki-chan was shocked that I showed myself to them and the two guys were dumbfounded.Bookmark here

I slowly made my way to the stage, hearing several appeals from Mitsuki-chan who is now panicking.Bookmark here

"Hachisaki-kun." I said seriously as I was in front of him.Bookmark here

He and the Reiji guy didn't said anything while Mitsuki-chan catches up with me as she grabbed my hands and trying to pull me away from them.Bookmark here

"Tsubaki-chan, let's go home." She pleaded.Bookmark here

... Bookmark here

I didn't waver as she finally let go of my hands the instant she read the uptight situation.Bookmark here

I took a step forward to get closer to Hachisaki-kun.Bookmark here

And then...Bookmark here

I slapped him, really hard.Bookmark here

Mitsuki-chan and the Reiji guy was shocked to what I did. Hachisaki-kun was rubbing his cheek to ease the pain.Bookmark here

"WHAT'S WRO----" He was about to yell at me when I beat him to it first.Bookmark here

"Is it painful, Hachisaki-kun?" I asked with a stern look.Bookmark here

"T-Tsubaki-chan... W-what are you..." Mitsuki-chan was trying to hold me back.Bookmark here

I gave her a look, trying to say that she must not plan on holding me back.Bookmark here

I don't know if I went overboard now but I'm not planning on backfiring at Hachisaki-kun.Bookmark here

She shrink away and just looks down in agreement.Bookmark here

"Now, Hachisaki-kun, what's your answer?" I said with a dead serious voice.Bookmark here

"Tch." He grunted and looks away to me.Bookmark here

I gave him a glare that was supposed to pierce him dead and kill him this instance but I can't seem to do that right now so I'll just stick with a regular glare.Bookmark here

"I don't know you that much unlike Mitsuki-chan, but that emotionless face of yours really pissed me!" I yelled at him.Bookmark here

He finally decided to gave me a look. I didn't waver with his cold glance unlike before that I'm easily freaked out.Bookmark here

Now, I can muster my courage to face him fearlessly.Bookmark here

He still won't answer huh.Bookmark here

"I don't know the reason why you quit the violin either and I'm not in the position to judge you... But at least, don't play the piano with that stoic face!" Bookmark here

He was taken aback by those words and the astonishment was evident on his face.Bookmark here

I can even hear Mitsuki-chan gasping in the background.Bookmark here

"Don't talk like you know everything!" He snapped at me.Bookmark here

I was also caught off guard by his reaction but I managed to held on. Bookmark here

"Didn't you hear me?" I replied sarcastically. "I already said that I know nothing..."Bookmark here

"Then why?! Why are you talking like that?!" He closed his eyes in exasperation.Bookmark here

I took a sigh and shook my head in disappointment, "Let's just say that I can't help but feel envious about the child enchanter that casted a spell on me with his music... The one that smiles using music."Bookmark here

I turn my back to him and started saying something.Bookmark here

"You might think that the piece you played just now was not enough... But I personally think that it was great. However, that's not the sound that you want to make, right? You're longing for the sound of violin, Hachisaki-kun."Bookmark here

I grab Mitsuki-chan's hand and I took a step away from them when Hachisaki-kun stopped me.Bookmark here

"Why... Are you doing this?" Hachisaki-kun asked one last time, his voice was evident with pain.Bookmark here

"I'm not a professional musician like Hachisaki-kun, I’m just an amateur but I think that music was about showing your emotions and not about concealing them..." I faced them with a smile and took a step away further, dragging Mitsuki-chan with me.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

With that, under the curtains of the dimly lit theater stage...Bookmark here

I can say that I never regretted that I did and said those things. I want to show Hachisaki-kun my best, I'm not going to hold back!Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.