Chapter 18:

Eyes Wide Open (2)

Grace Dances Upon the Clouds

There it was again, the sudden closeness, the dropping of ‘-kun’ for extra impact. Haru felt that question looming. But despite dwelling upon it all day, it took a quarter rotation for his answer to fully form, and another quarter for his lips to move. Just like the peak of their ride, there was nowhere to go but down, regardless of how he said it.

“I think it’s a bit early for anything between us. At best, I think we get along as friends.”

There it was again, the nasty word. Only friends. Haru felt like a jerk for saying it, but to his surprise, Kasumi merely dropped her gaze to the ground.

“That’s a shame. And here, I was thinking that we clicked pretty well together.”

Her disappointment seemed mild, like she had only been testing the waters. But then again, what did Haru know about girls aside from Grace? And even she was an enigma. All he could do was string together excuses.

“Sorry, I’ve been eyeing someone else for a while. I can’t exactly betray that feeling.”

Haru couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take that chance on someone ‘real’. He covered his insecurity with a half-truth instead.

A look of understanding crept onto Kasumi’s face, along with a bite of the lip. Her eyes continued to dissect every bit of his statement. Perhaps, it was the frustration that she didn’t catch him first. Or maybe, she found it hard to believe. Haru wouldn’t say anything more. He couldn’t. Even at the cost of that friendship.

The door slid open, ending the awkward silence. They both rose and stiffly exited the cabin. The operator quickly knew to mind the air around them. It wasn’t the first time he had seen a confession fail. Drifting toward the exit again, Haru felt like he needed to break the ice forming between them.

“It was fun though, today. I really appreciate you seeking me out. I really appreciate you doing stuff with me. I know it’s not the answer that you’re looking for, but it needed to be said.”

Kasumi spun around. Her neck craned to see if he had anything further to say. She drew closer, making Haru’s cheeks flush nervously. The way she cutely looked up at him gave him regrets.

But for now, Haru could think of nothing but the gentle voice floating in the clouds. The light steps tracing the skies. And how nothing would have happened if it weren’t for Grace. It felt like he owed her.

Even if Grace was a dream, he wanted to see it to the end. He wanted to give something back. And to do that, his heart couldn’t be led astray. Grace had become real to him. Even if no one else could understand it, the experiences in his head had changed him for the better.

“I’ll see you at school, Haru-kun. Thanks for the date.”

Kasumi walked off, leaving him to stare at her retreating form. He wouldn’t chase after, but at least, he would let his gaze linger. As she blended in with the distant crowd, Haru tasted the air and let the ambient noise drown out any flame left kindling.

It was painful. Like when he ate too much cake. He knew he couldn’t just play both sides. Kasumi deserved better than that.

Haru finally started walking toward the train station. Hopefully, some music would change his mood.


Haru had just enough time to make it to the live. He checked the address on his phone and then up at the brightly-lit sign. The Spiffy lounge had an arrow pointing down a flight of dark stairs that gave Haru a slight chill despite the late spring air. It seemed like an ominous place for a casual person walking by, until a hand grabbed him by the arm and tugged.

“Yo, Harucchi. Glad you could swing by.”

Koichi’s voice allowed him to breathe once again. With his friend leading, Haru could traverse the abyss. The guitar strapped to Koichi’s back was a comforting tool to dismiss any hesitation that they didn’t fit in there.

Haru was met with a surprisingly normal room at the bottom. The crew on stage made a few clangs as they shuffle heavy equipment across. The jostle of ice cubes from the nearby bar caught Haru’s attention, but the bartender shot him a quick glance that spoke volumes.

None for you. Unless it’s kiddie juice.

Of course not. He wasn’t here to drink.

Haru’s eyes turned back toward the stage, where he found the other members of BUST. Kazuo tested his keys for a sound check. Ren smashed an imaginary drumroll in the air. Mephisto was checking himself with a hand mirror.

Koichi walked up on stage, set down his guitar, and the others turned to him. It was like they were waiting for a full set. Haru felt like it was the wrong time to interrupt. The air between the band members felt much like Haru and his friends right before a challenge.

All Haru could do was hang back and let them do their gig first. Maybe he would get that ‘kiddie juice’ after all. By the time he retrieved his watered-down cola, grabbed some kaki-no-tane and wasabi peas, the lights in the room had dimmed and a smooth track lingered in the air.

People were starting to fill in, enough that Haru had to crane his neck to see the stage. But then, a guitar rift split the air, and arms flew up. Cheers erupted. Haru had to cover his ears as the room shook from the echo.

A flood of people rushed to fill in wherever they could. Haru decided that it was now or languish in the back. He slammed back his drink, stuffed his cheeks, and ninja-weaved between the crowd.

“Welcome everyone, we’re BUST!!!”

The sudden mic echo sent a wave coursing through the unsuspecting Haru. The ground shook from the beating of shoes. Haru half wondered if he would get trampled. But he sucked it up and moved forward.

“Excuse me.”

A simple apology was all that was needed for butting his way through. He made his way to the front, keeping his head low amid the older strangers – people that wouldn’t care that some brat was poking around like a mouse.

Cymbals smashed Haru’s eardrums. A bass guitar followed, somehow soothing over the ringing in his ears. Mephisto came into his vision, his bass playing sending shivers down his back. And then, he opened his mouth.

A smooth voice, absent of all laziness, screamed at the crowd. All at once, Haru was sucked in. He melted with those words. His body swung with the rhythm. His feet lost the ground.

A glance toward his friend, Koichi, and Haru’s eyes widened. Koichi didn’t seem at all like the typical high schooler at all, his guitar pouncing on the notes in a fever. Even Ren and Kazuo had taken their kid gloves off, passion imbued in every note.

Haru had only ever seen them during practice. It had been nothing more than playtime that they showed off. The crowd behind him whooped and hollered like they had known that for ages. Only Haru had been left out.

Alone in his room, Haru had been satisfied with his assumptions. But now that he saw it for himself, a fire seemed to grow within him. A desire that he didn’t know before erupted.

But for the moment, he was wrapped in a vibe. He blended with the crowd. He pointed to Koichi, who shot him a cheeky grin. One that said look what you’ve been missing out!

The songs flew by. The night flew by. Adrenaline kept Haru from passing out.

And all Haru could ponder as he rocked out with everyone was…

If only I could do that with Grace’s song, would it be enough?
Lucky / Glenn
Mario Nakano 64
Steward McOy