Chapter 12:

Masked Emotions

The Sound of Love

The vivid colors of the surroundings enveloped us, creating a palette that came alive before us. The sounds of our instruments weren't mere notes; they were musical embraces within an animated aura.

As we neared the end of the music, my eyes caught the expressions of the others. It was like deciphering invisible marks left by the melody on their faces, a way to understand the impact of our harmony.

Our bodies, witnesses, and instruments of the music, displayed signs of fatigue; we were breathless and sweaty. Nonetheless, joyful smiles seemed etched on our faces.

The eyes of Haru, Airi, and Kurokawa shone, recounting tales of emotion. Through the notes, we shared a deep language, connecting directly to our souls. In that moment, barriers between us vanished; the harmony was not just musical, but emotional.

Fatigue seemed overcome by the desire for time to stop, holding onto every second. It was as if eternity was within reach, and each played note became a link to immortality.

As I strummed the final chord, my fingers hesitated to leave the strings, as if they wanted to hold onto the sound for a moment longer. The reverberation of the lingering sound blended with the stillness, echoing not only in the room but also through time.

Gradually, the energy of the music faded, but the memory of our shared effort remained, a gentle echo in our hearts. We looked at each other, with a silent understanding that the moment wouldn't be forgotten; the notes would become part of the soundtrack of our lives.

"It's been a while since I felt like this," Haru said, pushing strands of hair away from his face.

"It's a strange feeling, I'm tired, but at the same time, I'm not. As if my body wants to stay here a little longer," Airi spoke as she stood up from the chair.

The desire to prolong the magical moment was mutual among us, a connection we didn't want to let go of. The sweat on Haru's forehead bore witness to our collective effort, while Airi fetched water for everyone.

"I need to push myself harder to keep up with you guys," Kurokawa admitted, sitting on the couch.

"You're doing great, Akane," Airi replied, grabbing some snacks from the table and sitting next to Kurokawa.

"Even with a few mistakes, I think it went well," I added.

"Here comes Yuuji's critical mind. Let's just enjoy the moment," Haru added, approaching.

As we sprawled on the couch, surrendering our tired bodies to comfort, we shared the snacks and sweets scattered on the table.

Allowing them to nourish our minds, a calmness settled in. During this brief interval, I observed my friends. Taking on the role of a contemplative observer, I felt a contagious energy emanating from them.

Their relaxed postures and the atmosphere of relaxation were expressed through laughter and playful banter between Airi and Haru, culminating in Kurokawa's delightful laughter.

Unbeknownst to me, a sense of belonging blossomed. It was as if I was embraced in a secure hug, enveloped by the people I had chosen to share intimate moments with. I felt not a hint of regret for this choice, only gratitude for having them by my side.

As I lost myself in the magical scene before me, a harmonious chorus of light laughter and conversations, I didn't notice Haru calling my name.

"Yuuji, Yuuji, what do you think?"

"Hmm? Can you repeat that, Haru?"

"About Kurokawa singing next weekend? Not that you sing poorly, but I think Kurokawa's voice would suit these songs, don't you think, Airi?"

"Of course," Airi replied, with a brief and straightforward tone.

Despite agreeing with Haru's suggestion, something in Airi's response intrigued me.

A certain discomfort seemed hidden behind her words, a subtle shadow that challenged the disposition she had previously shown. It was as if something had changed in Airi, subtly affecting her state of mind.

"Are you okay with it, Kurokawa?" I asked.

"If it's okay with everyone, it would be an honor to sing," Kurokawa replied.

"Then it's settled. I'll pass on the lyrics for you to practice."

Kurokawa taking on the role of vocalist seemed like a natural progression. Since her debut, she had quietly fit into this role, especially after her impressive performance that day.

It was as if she had found her place in the group, adding her unique voice to the musical symphony we had created. The choice seemed logical, almost obvious.

But even as Haru and I appeared enthusiastic about Kurokawa's role, Airi was grappling with something. Her smile, although present, seemed to mask an underlying discomfort. The subtleties of her behavior didn't go unnoticed, and it made me reflect on what might be bothering her.

♪ ♫ ♪

Our lunch on the school terrace had become a delightful routine. The gentle breeze and the blue sky welcomed us on sunny days, creating a perfect setting to share moments.

The white clouds floated in the sky like balls of cotton, inviting us to find shapes and meanings in their appearance. Haru, always the humorist, pointed at one of them, evoking a collective smile.

"That one looks like a panda."

"Only if it's a limping panda because it's more like a tanuki." I laughed and shrugged.

"I don't know where you guys are seeing that. It's clearly a kitten," Kurokawa commented with her hand on her mouth, giving a restrained giggle.

We turned our heads, looking from different angles, trying to see what each of us saw. But the truth was that our imaginations weren't aligning this time.

"You must have had too much green tea, Kurokawa. I can only see a tanuki." I said, still looking at the sky with curiosity.

Haru chuckled. "It's not just Kurokawa who's hallucinating, Yuuji. How can you not see the panda there? It's even eating bamboo!"

While we got lost in this silly and nonsensical discussion about cloud shapes, I noticed that Airi was lost in her own thoughts, oblivious to our conversation. She seemed to be in a parallel world, distant from the playfulness. Her eyes wandered the horizon as if trying to decipher something deeper than the cloud shapes.

When Haru approached her, Airi's gaze remained distant, as if she was mesmerized by something in her mind. Her face was fixed, and it seemed like her thoughts were immersed in some kind of complex puzzle.

Realizing her detachment, Haru made a gesture in front of Airi's face, as if trying to bring her back. Finally, her eyes refocused on the present.

"What's the matter, Haru?"

"What's your take on the clouds? A tanuki, a panda, or a kitten?"

Airi seemed confused for a moment but then responded spontaneously. "What do you mean?"

"I want to know what you see in the clouds."

"Oh, sorry. I was thinking about something else. I'm not paying much attention."

Her voice was weak, almost devoid of energy, and there was something odd in her expression. The three of us noticed, and the lighthearted atmosphere that had filled the terrace was replaced with a more tense mood, as we were all aware that something was amiss with Airi.

"Do you want to talk about something, Airi?" I asked.

"No, it's okay. I just didn't sleep very well last night, I think that's why," she said, shaking her head quickly.

As Haru made an effort to start a conversation, an attempt to bring her back to the moment, the first tears traced gentle paths down Airi's face. She wasn't sobbing, but her eyes were silent witnesses to her emotions, like small raindrops trickling down her face.

She didn't allow the tears to dominate; instead, her hands moved urgently, pressing against her damp skin as if trying to dispel any trace of vulnerability. It was as if she wanted to erase every sign of fragility as if she could undo the visible display of her emotions.

"I'm going to the infirmary," she said abruptly, getting up even before we could articulate a response.

"Airi!" Haru's voice echoed. However, she was already moving away, descending the stairs in a hurry.

Haru didn't hesitate, standing up with determined resolve, and following her with quick strides.

And there, on the terrace that had once been a stage for our laughter and play, Kurokawa and I found ourselves alone. Our gazes met, filled with uncertainty and concern. Silence carried weight, imbued with the enigma that hung over us, leaving us perplexed as to what was unfolding with Airi and what it might indicate.

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