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Suki Kirai - Volume 1 - Chapter 11


(Three days…… Three days……!? What should I do, there’s only three days left until the cultural festival……!)
No matter how many times I check my cell, there’s no way that the date would change. 
After school, in the reserved AV room, I let out a sigh to my heart’s content.

Len-kun’s preposterous statement was in present progressive form, it’s inviting an unbelievable development.
Why! It was decided that Miku-san and Len-kun, and then me as well, will be holding a mike.

(Why did something like this…… Even though I said ‘It’s absolutely impossible!’……)
Len-kun didn’t listen to what I had to say in the least, somehow Meiko-sensei was keen about it, too. 
Of all things, even the manager Megurine-san said that it ‘sounds interesting’.
What’s more, Miku-san smiled at me and said ‘I look forward to it’––

I wonder if there’s someone who could reject the person they admire after being told that so happily.
No, there isn’t!

(……All I wanted was just to see Miku-san’s concert, though……)
But I was warmly welcomed to stand on that stage, together with Len-kun. 
It was a good thing beyond expectation that I would participate, too.

Ever since I jumped in to participate in the concert at last year’s festival, it wasn’t once or twice that I sang at local live music clubs. In its own way, their numbers piled up, and people who supported me also appeared. 
But that was just on an amateur level and nothing more.
(It’s better for Len-kun who’s serious about making music, for me……. it’s impossible……)

Miku-san had already sent the new song’s data, and independent practice has begun, too. 
I was supposed to meet up with Len-kun and the others today as well, but they were in the middle of shopping because some guitar strings broke.
I was the only one left behind, because I wanted to get at least a little bit of practice in……
(But in the end, when I’m alone, my thoughts start going circles and I don’t make progress……)

Lately, it’s been bothering me that my pulse keeps being irregular.
When Len-kun sings Miku-san’s new song, my heartbeat abruptly speeds up, it reminds me of a crackling sensation that seems to burn. This being the first time it happens, the truth is that I simply started worrying about it. 
(Really, I wonder what’s causing it……)

“What’s making you sigh?”
“Actually, tha-aaaa!? Hatsune-san! No way, the real thing?”
“I thought so before, but Otosaki-san sure has volume, huh?”

I’m happy that she praised me. I’m happy, but I feel like I’m about to die.
My eyes meeting Miku-san’s, who had suddenly peeked her head in through the door, it feels like my heart is about to leap out.
Wearing jeans and a casquette, with red-rimmed glasses. 
Perhaps it’s for a disguise, it gave off a different atmosphere than Miku-san’s usual appearance.

“Uh, uhm…… Len-kun and the others are……”
“Nope, I came to see Otosaki-san today.”
“Me? Mi….. Hatsune-san did?”
“Miku is fine. Can I call you Rin-chan?”
“I-i-i-it would be an honour……”

Miku-san mischievously smiles as I keep expressing how grateful I am.
“Hey Rin-chan, let’s go on a date!”
“A date? When you say date, uhm….. aah!?”
That’s as far as I got in asking when she yanked my arm.
Like that, I become a shadow trailing behind Miku-san as she walks briskly.
“It sure has been a while since I went to hang out with friends. I wonder where we should go first.”
(……So it’s been a while. I see, she must be busy, after all.)

Last year, Miku-san did the Arena tour, and she was invited to overseas festivals, too. 
In between, she released three singles and one album. She appeared in commercials and magazines as well, even my parents say ‘this girl, we see her often’, it seemed like they naturally remembered her name.

A person like that, though it is her alma mater, is coming all the way to sing at the cultural festival’s concert.
What’s more, she’s prepared a new song and says let’s stand on stage together.
(I mustn’t run away and keep using things like being nervous or feeling awkward as an excuse forever.)
She went to the trouble of making time, so I have to shorten our distance here!

“Miku-san, do you like sweet things?”
“Yeah, I like them a lot.”
“Then, shall we go to a crêpe shop? In front of the station, there’s a really delicious place.”

*****

After eating crêpes, we decided to walk around the shopping mall.
I had Miku-san look at western-style clothes for me, it feels like my fashion sense has gotten better just after today.
By the time the day was ending, I got completely used to being called ‘Rin-chan’.

“We just walked around stores, but my feet are already aching.”
At the cafe we stopped by to replenish our sugar reserves, Miku-san rubbed her feet with a wry smile.
“Ahaha. We did walk quite a lot.”
“Are you okay, Rin-chan?”
“Meiko-sensei has made me complete runs around the perimeter and muscle training, so……”
“I see–. I gotta try my best, too.”

(……Huh?)
It felt like Miku-san’s expression had suddenly gotten cloudy, I end up fixedly staring at the seat across from me. 
“Wha–at is it, Rin-chan? Something’s stuck on my face?”
“Ah, no……”
I’m glad, it looks like it was a misunderstanding. 
Hurriedly scooping the parfait into my mouth, this time Miku-san stared at me intently.

(I wonder what happened….. Ha! Did I open my mouth too wide?)
“Your expression just now, it’s exactly like Len-kun’s.”
“Eh……”
“Len-kun likes sweet things, too, so we often went to cookie buffets together.”

*prick*
To the sensation that felt like the depth of my chest is burning, I swallow my breath.

“Hehe, how nostalgic.”
Miku-san’s voice and expression both convey that that’s how she felt from the bottom of her heart.
(Even Len-kun, that’s how……) 
During their reunion in the AV room, the gaze he sent towards Miku-san was like looking at the sun.
So bright that you can’t keep your eyes open. But you’re dying to see it.
It seems like I hear a voice like that asking……

“–– Why did you two break up?”

The voice that simply spilled out, was mine.
(Woah, it can’t be true, why now……)
I put my hand over my mouth right away, but the words that have already spilled out won’t return.
Unable to meet Miku-san’s gaze, who was just as surprised, all I could do was silently cast my eyes down.

It was the first time that there was silence between Miku-san and I since the two of us have been together on our own. 
My head starts hurting from what a thing I ended up asking, to the point that I calm down.
She’s a performer, and above all, I’m some person she just met. 
(No matter how many times she’s said that we’re friends, something like this……)

I have to apologize. I’ll take back what I said.
My head finally turned around, it was about time for me to lift my face. 
When I did so, my eyes met Miku-san’s serene expression.

“Rather than break up, in the first place we…… how should I put it…… Aah, it’s no good. It seems like I could only say things that are convenient for me, so could you ask Len-kun instead?”
“A-ah…… but……”
“It’s fine. Rin-chan, you’re going out with Len-kun, aren’t you?”

At that time.
I don’t know why, but I couldn’t reply to Miku-san’s question.

*****

Miku-san said ‘I’m the one who invited you,’ so she paid at the café for me.
The mood that I ended up making awkward, she corrected the orbit without hesitation.  
After that, when we went to a karaoke bar, she told me about things like tricks for singing a new song and failure stories from her tour. It looks like she saw through it that I’m way nervous about co-starring at the cultural festival. 

“I wonder if this is what it would be like to have an older sister.”
“I’m glad! Me too, I’ve always wanted a little sister like Rin-chan.”
“…..Huh, did I say that out loud?”
“Loud and clear. Rin-chan, you really are honest, huh?”
Miku-san’s clear laughter echoes in the shop’s parking lot.
Since the people passing by look at us with great interest, I casually move over.
(Until Megurine-san comes to pick us up, I properly have to do my job as a guard dog.)

Not long after, Miku-san got a call on her smartphone.
I think it’s Megurine-san, but it seemed like they were talking about something sort of complicated. 
“Rin-chan, do you have a little more time? The data I was supposed to get by tonight won’t be here until tomorrow, if it’s possible, I was thinking that I’d like to discuss the new song’s arrangement like this.”
“Ah, yes. Of course.”
“That’s great! Then, it’s decided. Luka said she’ll be here in five minutes.”

Len-kun was also at the hotel where Miku-san and Megurine-san were staying.
Megurine-san had called for him and by the time we arrived, he had already spread out the score.

“It’s just a suggestion, but what if we played around with the chord a little?”
I’m startled by Len-kun’s sudden suggestion.
(Saying something like that to a pro……)
But it didn’t seem like Miku-san took it the wrong way, she quickly went to peek at the part Len-kun was pointing at.
“Which one, which one? Was it sort of weird?”
“That’s not it, the end of the high note and such, Miku does them relatively similarly, no?”
“Ah–…… Yeah, maybe.”

It was an exchange that I’ve heard somewhere before.
While I’m retracing my memories, something that happened during the preparations for last year’s cultural festival comes back to me.
(If I remember correctly, that was between Len-kun and Tsurumaki-kun……)

“The chord at the end of the high note, it becomes the same as the one before it. Actually, isn’t that Miku-san’s habit?”
“Ah–…… Yeah, got it.”
“You weren’t aware of it? Sheesh, pay attention.”

*prick*, *prick*…..
Aah, there it is again. The usual sensation shows up.
Instead of the sounds around me disappearing, I heard the sound of my own heartbeat awfully resounding.

“Thanks for telling me. You can’t really notice your own habits.”
“You’re welcome. I realized it after Kanata – ah, that’s our bass player – told me. It seems like I somehow caught Miku’s habit.”
“Eeh, it’s my fault? Len-kun and I’s senses really are similar, huh.”

When I thought that the sounds have returned, my heartbeat heavily leapt from the conversation I heard. 
(Miku-san said that their senses are similar……)
More than that, I think that the two of them are looking at the same direction.

What if they were dating even now?
What if they started over once more?
I wonder what would happen, I can’t stop thinking of it as if it’s another person’s affairs like that. 

“You guys are a great combo, huh? Speaking of which, I heard from Meiko-sensei that Kagami-kun isn’t planning on going on to university? 
Megurine-san, who looked at them seeming to be pleased, spoke as if she had just thought of something.  
Even while he looked at her wonderingly, Len-kun nodded without hesitation.
“Yes. I’m thinking of going to Tokyo and making it big with one song.”
“Eh, is that so?”

(So it’s the first time Miku-san’s heard about it, too.)
I don’t have any basis for it, but it was unexpected because I always thought he had already told her. 
It looks like Len-kun is more distanced from Miku-san than I thought.

“That’s just perfect.”
“……Luka?”
Miku-san suspiciously looks at Megurine-san.
Facing her, Megurine-san seems to be really enjoying herself somehow.
“What do you say, Kagami-kun, what if you came to America with Miku?

America––.
That is certainly what Megurine-san said.

It seems like Len-kun heard it like that, too.
Dumbfounded, he mumbled “America?”, parroting back her words.

“Luka! Isn’t that still off the record?”
“It’ll be announced tomorrow at noon, and you trust the two of them, right?”

Again, the sounds become distant.
My heartbeat is so much faster than before that it hurts.

(Miku-san is really going to America…….)
To tell the truth, the rumour has been going around for a while now.
She was very popular at the overseas festivals and Miku-san herself had been making ambitious comments in the interviews, so I think that the fans would’ve vaguely noticed it.

“Miku’s incredible, overseas huh…… Even so, Megurine-san is clearly joking, right!”
Len-kun laughs loudly, as if to thaw the time he spent frozen.
Extremely naturally, as if to smooth things over. 
But his voice slightly wavering, it sounded false.

“Oh my, it’s not a joke. I’ve checked the sound of your singing and the videos. The popular topic of conversation, the vocals for a high school band, Kagami Len-kun?”
Megurine-san spoke while looking at Len-kun as if she were testing him. 
Facing her, Len-kun opened his eyes wide, then he laughs as he’s gritting his teeth. 
“Talking about me like that…… I’m delighted.”

“Len-kun and I’s senses really are similar, huh.”
“What do you say, Kagami-kun, what if you came to America with Miku?

Miku-san’s and Megurine-san’s words were on an endless loop in my head. 
It doesn’t even need to be said, this is a big chance for Len-kun.

At a time like this, what I can do––.
How should I say it––……

“A-anyways! We don’t have much time, let’s settle on the arrangement for the new song.”
“Right…… Rin-chan, what do you want to do with the keyboard part?”
The ball suddenly getting passed to me, I couldn’t make an expression right away.
Len-kun and Miku-san worriedly looked at me.

“……Um, before that, why don’t we make tea?”
It was just a spur-of-the-moment idea, the installed electric kettle visible from the corner of my eye.
But Len-kun and Miku-san clapped their hands, even their breaths perfectly matched.

“Oohh, as expected of Rin! When you think of what’s missing, it’s that, it’s that.”
“Right, let’s have a little break. What would you like: macarons, cookies or marshmallows?”
“Eeh, why do you have so much stocked? Miku, just because you’re not the type to get fat easily–“
“The same goes for you, Len-kun! Just because your body type is naturally a liiitle like a model’s! Isn’t that so, Rin-chan?”
“…… It’s true. He’s the enemy of girls, isn’t he?”

When I backed up Miku-san, Len-kun started pretending to cry in a strained manner.
While Megurine-san was preparing the tea, she quietly said “Perhaps he would be better as a performer. I’ll introduce him to an office.”
The room was wrapped in a lively and friendly mood.

(I wonder if I’m laughing properly?)
There was a huge dresser by the window, but I was afraid to make sure of it to the end.

Interlude

The room that Len-kun and Rin-chan went home from was spacious and quiet.
For the first time in a while, the sensation of ‘lonely’ came back again.

I’m gazing outside through the window, but it’s too dark so I can’t see the two of them.
Only the indescribable expression shown on my face is being reflected.

“Luka, why did you tell them about going to America?”
“Because I thought you wanted to tell it to those two directly.”
“……. I guess it’s better than finding out from the news.”
“May I ask something? I know that you came back here to visit your hospitalized father. But why did you go so far as holding a concert at your alma mater? And preparing a new song for it, too.”

Asking that now, after so long?
Why, when she didn’t say anything while she busied herself about adjusting my schedule? 
Those were my honest feelings.
Unable to fathom her true motives, I’m staring at Luka, but she returns the searching gaze, too.

“It felt like I had to do it.”

It’s not because there’s something in particular that all I can give is a vague answer.
It’s just that I myself don’t know the truth.
Perhaps Luka expected that to be the case, she returned a small, wry smile.

“By the way, Luka––– Are you serious about Len-kun?”
Even though I wasn’t planning on mentioning it, it suddenly slipped out of my mouth.
Surprising myself, I’m about to be at my wits’ end, thinking that I’ve really done it now.
“I’m serious.”
Luka’s voice resounded with a heavy thud, like it was some sort of court decision.
“To be precise, I’m serious about ‘Len-kun’s talent’.”
For some reason, I started feeling gloomy and I let out a sigh in an effort to conceal it.

I probably–– It’s painful to see Len-kun next to me, who’s being forced to make the same decision as I did back then.

Afterwards, it was as usual.
Having reconfirmed tomorrow’s schedule, Luka goes back to her room next door.
After soaking in the bathtub and doing some muscle training and stretches, I lie down in bed.

What’s different from usual is that my eyes closed immediately. 
Then, for the first time in quite a while, I had a dream.

*****

(Ah, this is a dream……)
What made me realize that is that Len-kun and I were there.
The sight from the summer festival before my 3rd year of high school rolls before me like a movie.

But he seems so full of himself.
I think Len-kun was attached to me.
At that time, because his appearance was like a puppy’s, when we passed by friends from middle school, I remember that they mocked us by saying “Taking him for a walk?”.
He always ran straight to me after that much.

I was happy because it was like I got a little brother, it was more reassuring than anything else. 
There’s no doubt about it, what supported me at that time was Len-kun’s smile.

 When I became old enough to understand, my family was in a state that’s called ‘in-home separation’……
To my parents, me getting scouted became the trigger. 
When they found out that Luka was from a major music office, the custody dispute suddenly began.

Heading towards the debut, it was an important period that I had to use for the sake of making songs. 
My home was no longer a shelter, I started staying out until the sun went down.

Before a month had passed since I moved, I found a favourite place for myself.
A small overpass, connecting the residential area and the park.
In the evening, people mostly don’t pass by there, it was just right for singing.
After the Light Music Club’s practice ended, I took up the habit of heading there straight away.

(That’s where I met Len-kun.)
At first, I just went past him.
Len-kun was at the overpass before me, I slipped by and went to the park, feeling a little regretful.
As I passed him by and unintentionally glanced at him, Len-kun’s eyes were bright red.

I realized that he came here to cry, too.

 “Maybe I’ll go, to the cultural festival……”
“If it’s a cultural festival you’re looking for, how about the one at Aisaka Academy?”

I remember the first time we talked like it was yesterday.
The truth is, I was sure that he was ‘Kagami Len-kun’ before I called out to him.
‘The boy at the overpass’ was always on my mind, when I accidentally grumbled about it to Kaito-senpai, from all sorts of pieces of information, we discussed that it could be Len-kun.

“First I’ll text Miku, then I’ll send it to Len, too. If he reacts to it, then it’s him.”

Then just as Kaito-senpai said, I met Len-kun.

After that, it passed by in a flash. 
He came to the cultural festival and we became friends.
Winter passed by, spring came––.

Before summer came around, I decided to walk on the path of music.
All alone, without even telling Len-kun about it.

The very moment that Luka found me, everything other than music left my conscious. 
Though I knew that I still had to push away my instable ‘little brother’, I couldn’t stay beside him.
As I was hesitating over when I should tell him, I stayed silent until the very end.

I think there were countless other methods that were better and wouldn’t have hurt him.
In the end, I was the dearest to myself.
By immersing myself in music, I wanted to be saved.

After a while, a single e-mail arrived from Len-kun, to my PC address.
The name of the attached file was ‘RE: Crybaby Boyfriend’.
When I clicked on it with trembling fingers, his reply flowed from the speakers.

“Thank you.”

I listened and listened, repeating that word……
I decided that I won’t turn back any more.

*****

The next morning, Luka exceptionally had music playing while she drove.
What’s more, a song that’s not mine.
“……That’s Len-kun’s, isn’t it? Didn’t you already listen to it before?”
Seeing that we stopped to wait on a red light, I call out to her in the driver’s seat.
“It was after you that I listened to the demo tape and thought of wanting to meet him.”
From the back seat, Luka’s expression reflected in the rear-view mirror seemed like she was about to start humming any moment now.
“Meeting him directly and hearing his voice live, I became sure of it. Kagami Len, that boy is changing.”
“……I understand your feelings, too, Luka. But…… isn’t this a bit too soon?”
“Says the girl who debuted at eighteen.”

Luka says it without hesitating and no sarcasm either, giving off the air that that’s to be expected of a capable woman. 
She’s the one who taught me about things like having resolution as a pro and pride.
As a manager, and as a competent producer.

I believe in Luka’s ear for differentiating between music and her sense of smell, and Len-kun’s songs gets me excited, too.
It’s a bright sound, filled with possibilities.

“But……”
Unable to find a continuation to my words, I drop my gaze.

I wonder why I’m feeling so heavy-hearted about it.
Len-kun’s smile as he laughs together with Rin-chan crosses my mind––.

“The one who has to reply is Kagami-kun, not you.”
To Luka’s words, I deeply sank into the seat.

*****

Having finished the arrangement for the new song, it was completely dark outside by the time we left Miku-san’s hotel room. 
(It’s a little bit chilly to be in short sleeves today……)
In the southern sky, I can see autumn’s Great Square of Pegasus.
It’s a little bit different from the night sky I gazed up at with Len-kun during summer break.

“What do you say, Kagami-kun, what if you came to America with Miku?”

Megurine-san’s words are still burned into my ears. 
(Len-kun, I wonder what you’re thinking now?)
He’s walking beside me, staying at a distance not too close and not too far away, not saying a word ever since we left.  
Since I occasionally feel his gaze, I think he might be figuring out the timing to start a conversation. 
(But, it’s already…… I can’t wait for that anymore.)

“I decided! I’m going to stay here and master the way of sweets!”
I said that cheerfully on purpose, to blow away the uncomfortable mood. 
“……Eh? Rin, why are you saying that all of a sudden?”
“You know earlier, I thought of it as I was listening to Miku-san and Len-kun’s conversation. That I want to master what I’m capable of, too. So……”

Though there’s still something crucial left again, my voice trembled.
Tightly gripping my hands, I take a deep breath.

“So, let’s walk our own paths.”

“…………I don’t want a long-distance relationship! Absolutely impossible, I’m gonna cry!”
“Don’t say that before you try it.”
I wanted to convey it properly to Len-kun, who’s laughing it off and fooling about. 
I stared intently into Len-kun’s eyes.

“In the first place, we’re only seventeen years old? A lot of things will probably happen to us from here on out, we don’t know what’s ahead of us. I want Len-kun to make his dream of music come true.”

It seems that this time, I properly conveyed it to Len-kun that I’m saying this seriously. 
Perhaps he thought that he can’t make fun of it anymore, for a while he searched for the words to say.

“–––– I believe in Rin.”

I didn’t understand at first what he meant by that.
My feet stopping before I knew it, I look up at Len-kun in a daze, with the stars behind him.

“So Rin, too, believe in me.”

What of mine is it that he believes in?

What of Len-kun’s should I believe in?

Unable to ask him directly, we parted in front of the station that day as well.
While feeling Len-kun’s gaze on my back.


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