Chapter 18:

The Present's Embrace

The Sound of Love

The sunlight streamed through the window, warming the room with its intensity. Outside, the melodious chirping of birds created a soundtrack for the unfolding day. As I lay sprawled on the floor, gazing at my hands above me, I felt the sun's rays dance gently upon my skin, like musical notes caressing my senses.

A gentle breeze, carried by a newly acquired fan, swept through the room, relieving the heat. Each gust seemed to carry with it a secret of nature, a charming whisper that rustled through corners and spaces, murmuring words of comfort.

The tranquility of the moment was interrupted by my mother entering the room, bringing with her a mix of familiar sounds and comforting aromas. The rustling of bags filled with groceries sounded like a harmonious chord that deviated from the afternoon's silence. She looked at me with an attentive and questioning gaze.

"Yuuji, I just got back. Didn't you hear the noise downstairs? And what's all this mess around you?"

I took a deep breath and sat up slightly to meet her look.

"Sorry, Mom. This heat has drained all my energy."

She gave me an understanding stare, but concern was not hidden.

"I know it's hot, but aren't you supposed to meet your friends today?" Her voice sounded curious and somewhat anxious.

She was right. Our Saturday musical gatherings were a regular tradition, but recently, that tradition had been disrupted. I looked up at her and shrugged.

"The end of the school year is approaching, Mom. Airi and Haru are focused on studying for their college entrance exams, and Akane is busy with her modeling job."

My mother settled beside me, her expression a mix of concern and affection.

"I understand things are changing rapidly, Yuuji, especially during this transitional period. But you also need to occupy your time."

I sighed, acknowledging that she was right and that my thoughts couldn't remain stagnant.

"I know, Mom. But honestly, I just don't have the motivation to do anything right now. It feels like everything's shifting, and I'm not quite sure where I fit into all of it."

Her eyes reflected tenderness and wisdom as she observed me.

"It's completely normal to feel that way, especially with the end of school approaching. Remember that you have the power to face whatever changes come your way. Just don't stay still."

With her words as a guide, my mother left the room, and I remained there, lost in thought. My eyes wandered over the scattered notes around me, and a piece of paper caught my attention. Grabbing a pen, I started jotting down some ideas, but at some point, memories of conversations I had with Akane started infiltrating my mind.

With renewed determination, I picked up my guitar and began to strum, exploring different chords and melodies. Each sound seemed to bring forth emotions that had been pent up within me. Memories of Akane, as well as Airi and Haru, prompted me to delve deeper into the music, letting it transport me to an introspective state.

Hours passed as I surrendered to the notes, experimenting with various progressions and chords. The sense of freedom and catharsis the music provided was incredibly revitalizing. Amidst this creative flow, the cellphone beside me vibrated, interrupting my immersion. It was Akane.

"Hey, Yuuji. Are you busy right now?" Her sweet voice resonated through the phone.

I glanced at the instrument in my hands and smiled. "Actually, I was just enjoying some free time."

She chuckled softly on the other end of the line. "I'm finishing up my photo shoot and wondered if you might want to do something later."

The chance to spend more time with Akane warmed my heart. "Of course, I'd love to. Where are you?"

She gave me the address of her location, and I eagerly made my way to the building where she was working. What awaited me was a hive of activity, each person immersed in their role in the production.

As I walked through the hallways, I caught glimpses through partially open doors of various professionals, including photographers and makeup artists, all working with focus and dedication. My curiosity led me to a room where I saw Akane posing before the camera's lens. Her posture was a blend of grace and confidence, each movement calculated to capture the lens' attention.

Yet, at times, I could discern a glimmer of disinterest in her eyes. Her smile seemed somewhat forced as if she were following a script that wasn't entirely hers. On other occasions, her gaze would wander for a moment. A slight furrow of her brows or an almost imperceptible sigh, a different Akane from what I was used to seeing.

As the shoot drew to a close, Akane finally spotted me, and a smile illuminated her face. She walked toward me with energy, her eyes locked onto mine.

"Yuuji, sorry for making you wait. It took longer than expected."

Her presence immediately warmed my heart. "No problem, Akane. I was watching you work, and you were amazing."

She laughed softly, her eyes reflecting gratitude. "Well, I'm going to change quickly, and then we can head out."

While I waited, I overheard some people commenting on Akane, her talent as a model, and what her future could hold, with opportunities for prominent brands and even international gigs. My mind wandered, contemplating the uncertain future that lay ahead. Airi and Haru also had clear life goals, but what about me? I didn't have grand plans, not like theirs. Akane returned, and together we left the building.

As we strolled along the bustling city sidewalks, my mind was still filled with restless thoughts. A question began to form on my lips.

"Akane, have you ever thought about what you want to do in the future?" I asked.

She smiled softly, her gaze resting on the distant horizon. "Honestly, Yuuji, I haven't thought much about it yet."

"And what about your modeling career? I overheard some people talking about you having an international career."

She brought a finger to her lips, contemplative. "People always talk about me without really thinking about what I truly want. Right now, it's not something that concerns me. I'm focused on enjoying the present and being by your side."

Though her words sounded firm, I caught a fleeting flicker of discomfort in her eyes, a passing shadow that suggested her journey as a model wasn't as straightforward as she made it seem.

Her response caught me off guard, but I couldn't help but smile at her honesty. The conversation then turned to me.

"And you, Yuuji? Do you have any solid plans for the future?"

I scratched my head, pondering the question. "Actually, I really enjoy my job at the instrument store. I plan on sticking around there. It's something that brings me happiness."

Her smile was genuine and warm, seemingly lighting up the entire surroundings. "That's so you, Yuuji. I'm sure you'll do great no matter which path you choose."

The conversation continued as we explored our aspirations, uncertainties, and dreams. Her words always carried a contagious optimism, and as time passed, I realized that although the future might be uncertain, the present was what truly mattered.

"I know we're all busy with our own paths now, but I thought of scheduling a rehearsal for next weekend. Will you be free?" I asked, eager to share more musical moments with her and the group.

A mischievous twinkle appeared in her eyes. "Airi and Haru aren't focused on studying? I remember them saying they wanted to focus on that until the college entrance exams."

"It's just one weekend. I have something planned, but it's a surprise," I replied, smiling.

Akane gave me a skeptical look but eventually said she'd consider it, depending on Airi and Haru's responses. As the afternoon continued and we walked together, I realized that the future didn't need to be fully unveiled in the present. Each step we took was an opportunity to create memories, embrace the present, and nurture the bonds that united us.

The warmth of the sun mixed with the warmth of our smiles, and I was determined not to let worries about tomorrow overshadow the brightness of today.

As we continued our walk, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the moment and for the people who were part of my life. The sun was setting on the horizon, painting the sky with shades of orange and pink. Akane glanced at the sky, her eyes filled with wonder.

"Yuuji, look at that. It's amazing how nature can create so much beauty, isn't it?"

I gazed at the horizon, marveling at the ever-changing colors. "You're right, Akane. Sometimes, it's easy to overlook the simple beauty that surrounds us."

As we watched the sunset together, I felt a profound connection to the world around me. Music, friendship, and the beauty of life intertwined in a magical moment, a reflection of the journey we were all undertaking.

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