A week has passed since I went out with Len-kun.
Since that day, I haven’t shown my face at the Light Music Club for a while.
Is it a teething fever, or is it a cold…… Anyways, I ended up confined to my bed and got stuck with not leaving the house.
When I explained the situation to Meiko-sensei in a text, Len-kun contacted me right away.
Since I don’t remember giving him my address, I think he probably asked Meiko-sensei for it.
[Things are all right here, so get plenty of rest without worrying–!
Ah, I don’t need you to reply, either]
Spoiled by Len-kun’s kindness, I ended up shelving everything until the day I returned to school.
(I need to at least thank him for the rainbow quartz……)
Inside the cooler bag, there’s a cake made with fromage.
He’s said so before that he wants to eat some, and it’ll be practice for the cultural festival, so I thought it would be just the right opportunity.
(Borrowing the Home Ec room’s refrigerator, I’ll take it out just before.)
And there’s one more thing.
The Sukikirai Riajuu Strap is in my uniform’s pocket.
Of course, there’s no deep meaning.
Since he wanted it so much, it’s only because of that that I’ll let him have it.
It’s okay if we can get even, on equal footing, with this.
“Ah, Otosaki Rin……!”
After passing through the school gate, someone called my name from behind me.
I turned around by reflex, but I regret it as soon as I see who the voice belongs to.
Haraoka-san and the others, every member of the Prince Fan Club, were gathered there.
(Argh, I’m getting glared at again……)
When I turn back ahead in a fluster, this time I could hear the whispering voices of the people all around me. As if I had been surrounded by an encircling net, I let out a small scream.
Among them were people I’ve never seen before as well, it seemed like first years and third years were also mixed in with them.
“Hey, is that rumour true? Was it seriously Otosaki-san who went on a date with the Prince?”
“Like, I’ve heard that someone saw the two of them walking around in front of the station……”
“So Len-kun finally got a girlfriend~”
To the words that were whispered by everyone, I quickly turn white as a sheet.
(No way, we were seen……)
We were just shopping for the club! We’re not going steady either!
I feel that I have to clear up the misunderstanding and say that, but my body won’t stop trembling.
(I just wanted to spend my days in peace and quiet……why……)
Stung by the gazes of the people around me like poisoned needles, it even brought back horrible memories.
It happened when I was in middle school.
Back then, I was even more ignorant about love than I am now, I didn’t really understand it. That’s why I was close with both boys and girls, and apparently that became a reason for them to criticize me.
Calling me things like flirt. Or everybody’s friend.
After being constantly showered by surprising words, I finally noticed.
That if I want to live in peace, I mustn’t stand out more than necessary.
That I shouldn’t carelessly get close to boys in particular.
“But it’s funny! That rumour, they obviously must’ve seen the wrong people.”
“Exactly, there’s no way Len-kun would go steady with a plain girl, right?”
Standing still while they pass by me, Haraoka-san and the others laugh as they deny it.
Getting hooked on it, other people also whispered things like “Now that you mention it….”
(I’m glad, it could’ve been worse……)
Was it really okay?
Just because the misunderstanding was cleared up here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rumour itself will disappear.
But, in that case……. I wonder what I should do.
I get the feeling that even if it’s the truth, repeatedly telling it to everyone will have the opposite effect.
(Is there no other method than distancing myself from Len-kun after all?)
Without reaching an answer, I headed towards the classroom, dragging my heavy feet.
Chika worriedly asked me “Do you still have a fever?”, but I couldn’t do anything other than ambiguously laugh and shake my head.
All along during homeroom, Haraoka-san and the others’ gazes pierced through me.
Despite that, since it doesn’t seem like they want to say anything either, I unnecessarily get scared.
I felt Len-kun’s gaze from the seat beside me, but oddly, he didn’t call out to me today.
It’s possible that he sensed the mood for once.
(In any case, I shouldn’t show my face at the Light Music Club today, huh…..)
I’ll have Chika and the student council members eat the fromage cake.
When the chime rang at the end of the school day, I ran to the Home Ec room as if I were running away.
The door suddenly opened as I was moving it to the cooler bag from the refrigerator.
Thinking it was the club president, I lifted my head, but unexpected people were standing there instead in an imposing stance.
“Do you have a minute? There’s something we have to talk about.”
The usual four people were standing behind her.
Plus, there’s also a group of people who are checking in on things from the hallway.
“Getting straight to the point, are you the one who’s spreading that rumour?”
For a moment, I didn’t understand what she said.
Neglecting me as I’m dumbfounded, the people from the Fan Club keep mouthing off one after the other.
“We warned you over and over again, didn’t we? The Prince belongs to everyone, so cut it out already.”
“Did you think you could make a good match with the Prince? Aren’t you getting a little too carried away?”
“Hey, since you said Meiko-sensei invited you, we’d let it slide that you joined the Light Music Club, too.”
“Actually, the Prince is the Prince, right? Why would a girl like you……”
“To be honest, Len-kun is kind of like a loser lately.”
“Ah, I know! Even though the cool and a little sadistic prince type is what’s popular–“
(Why……? Why are they talking about Len-kun, too?)
At that moment, I spoke up in such a loud voice that I even surprised myself with it.
“Don’t speak ill about Len-kun!”
“…..Hu-huuh? Isn’t it your fault in the first place, for clinging to the Prince?”
To Haraoka-san’s counterargument, the Fan Club’s people vigorously nod in agreement, too.
This time, I was at a loss for words.
(Uhm……? When did I ever cling to Len-kun?)
It’s possible that it won’t get across to these girls, no matter how I say anything.
I wonder if they ever had any intention at all to listen to what I have to say in the first place.
“Ahaha! What an incredible reasoning that is.”
Cutting through the oppressive atmosphere, Len-kun’s well-projected voice resounded in the hallway.
I realize that everyone present here is perplexed by Len-kun’s unusual behaviour.
Even Haraoka-san and the others, whose badmouthing got heard, went completely pale.
“I’m the one who wants you to cut it out already. Of course, I’m really grateful for your support of the band, and I do think that I want to live up to the expectations?”
Len-kun’s tone of voice suddenly became kind, he spoke to them while looking at their faces one by one.
Just as if he were being the MC at a concert.
“But, don’t they call this kind of thing private? Who I like, what sort of attitude I have towards someone, it doesn’t concern you people, does it? It’d be great if you could drop it.”
“Bu-but! Len-kun, didn’t you go steady with Miku-senpai in middle school?”
“You still like Miku-san, don’t you!?”
What was that just now?
Miku-senpai and Len-kun, they were going steady?
“Is that story true?”
Taken aback, Haraoka-san asked the first-year who was looking at the scene from a distance.
Firmly nodding, they informed her: “I heard it from my older sister.”
After that, things were thrown into utter confusion.
But all in all, it felt like the happenings of a distant world……
By the time I realized it, I had already ran away from there.
I heard Len-kun shouting for me to stop, but I couldn’t afford to turn around.
Really, it’s kind of ridiculous.
Like between boys and girls? I ended up seriously thinking about things like that……
Len-kun said it a lot up ‘til now, didn’t he.
That was just fooling around as friends.
He even went steady with someone like Miku-san, there’s no way he’d like someone like me.
The legendary diva, and the plain girl who can play the piano a little.
You can’t even compare the two.
“I have to hurry and reach Chika.”
The cooler bag that I put the fromage cake in felt awfully heavy.
Not a week has passed since the start of the new school term.
As usual, I can’t look at Len-kun’s face.
With the seat change, we got separated to the window side and the door side, I get the feeling that the outfield has also gotten quieter.
(But it can’t stay this way forever, can it……)
Regular classes start tomorrow, and club activities will properly resume.
For the new song, only the lyrics and arrangement were left to be done.
It’s a little bit early, but I think that it won’t be much of a hindrance if I leave the club now.
(But, for what reason? With what sort of expression, how should I say it?)
If I trace it back to the beginning, it’s since the time we went shopping for supplies during summer vacation that I’m unable to look at Len-kun’s face. Since he gave me the rainbow quartz pendant that day.
“Ah, again…… Isn’t the Prince always yawning?”
“He was fast asleep during SHR, wasn’t he? His eyes looked red, too, I guess it’s sleep-deprivation?”
On the way back from the school assembly, the girls in the class worriedly whispered amongst themselves.
I naturally end up listening attentively to just the parts that I’m concerned about.
“Perhaps he’s under the influence of the incident with Haraoka-san and the others’ assault……”
“That he’s going steady with Miku-san?”
“It’s just a rumour, but it looks like the Prince got dumped.”
“Eh, isn’t it still going on? That’s what I heard.”
Unable to listen any longer, I quietly left the line.
When I do so, Chika notices and runs up to me.
“Rin! Where are you going?”
“……I thought I should go to the infirmary.”
“Okay, I’ll go with you.”
“Eh! I’d feel bad about it. It’s fine, I can go on my own……”
“What are you saying, with such a pale face! I’ll go and tell the teacher, so just wait there.”
“Wait Chika, I really……”
“There’s something I want to talk about with just the two of us. Okay?”
Being told that by my best friend, I have no other choice than to nod in agreement.
As we head quietly towards the infirmary, the ‘Out of Office’ sign hung on the doorknob.
“Perfect. In the worst case, I was thinking of going somewhere else.”
“…….So it’s such an important matter.”
“Rin, don’t you get it? It’s about Kagami Len.”
Sitting down on the bed, Chika lightly patted the spot beside her.
Unable to calm down for some reason or other, I sit down leaving a bit of a bigger distance between us.
Without showing signs of being bothered by it, Chika speaks in a decisive voice.
“I won’t ask what happened. I bet it’s not something an outsider should interfere with anyways.”
“It’s not something you need to thank. Besides, there’s something I want to saybecause I’m an outsider.”
“About Len-kun and Miku-senpai.”
Aahh, just as I thought.
Chika noticed that things were awkward between us.
If I were to say my true feelings, the feeling of not wanting to hear it is bigger.
It was long exhausted already, and I don’t want to be hurt any more.
(Even so……. I get the feeling that if I turn my back to it here, I won’t ever be able to move forwards…..)
Making up my mind, I stare straight into Chika’s eyes.
“Please. Tell me.”
Facing me, Chika stares back without a word. As if she were trying to peek intently into the depths of my heart.
“–– Alright. Just, don’t forget this one thing.”
The past is the past.
What she told me after that preliminary remark was the story of Len-kun during his middle school years that I couldn’t even imagine.
“Len-kun and I went to the same middle school, right? Our mothers got along, it seems they went to places together and gave each other advice about their problems.”
“Apparently things were a little complicated in that family from the beginning, when Len-kun was a second-year, they eventually got a divorce…… While they were in the middle of discussing things with the lawyers, his mom passed away in a traffic accident.”
“You might not be able to imagine what I’m about to tell you, but Len-kun’s a crybaby. Miku-senpai moved here just after his mom’s funeral, she looked after him like an older sister.”
“Before long, the rumour spread that the two of them started going steady…… But when Miku-senpai was 17, she got scouted, right? The commonly accepted theory is that she had to go to the capital to make her pro debut, so things died out over time between them.”
What Chika told me was sad. It was painful.
But more than that, the truth that I finally found out wrenched my heart.
I thought that Len-kun was entrusted with ‘Crybaby Boyfriend’ because they knew each other.
But actually, it’s not that he was entrusted with it in the first place.
That’s a song for Len-kun and Miku-san’s sake.
The crybaby is Len-kun, the strong one is Miku-san.
(I wonder what kind of feelings Len-kun sang it with all along….)
He only performs it when it counts, too.
It stirs the hearts of the people listening to it so much, too.
All in all, that’s because it’s full of Len-kun’s feelings for Miku-san.
“I ran away……. It must’ve felt awful.”
The mumbling gradually turning into a tearful voice, the drops fell on my skirt and left a stain.
Selfishly misunderstanding, I ignored Len-kun as he called for me to stop.
And I’ve been avoiding him ever since…….
“Hey, Chika, you know what? I’m the worst.”
“I arbitrarily decided that Len-kun’s a playboy…… Having to make a song with him, even after I became able to talk with him like friends, I thought that it’s just another joke again anyways, I never took it seriously when he said something to me….”
“And yet, when we went shopping together and he asked me ‘Do you like me? Hate me?’, I took him seriously. And then when I heard Len-kun and Miku-san’s story, I selfishly felt betrayed…….”
“To tell truth, I…… Len-kun, I––”
After that, I couldn’t make a sound.
“……I get it, I get it. I noticed Rin’s true feelings.”
Quietly reaching her hand out, Chika strokes my head to comfort me.
“Do you remember what I said just now? The past is the past.”
“…….But, I don’t know what I should say.”
“Okay, I took away Rin’s ‘but’! If you don’t pay attention, it’ll become a habit, you know?”
Taking a deep breath, this time Chika’s hand lightly patted me on the shoulder.
“Hey, what if you took the plunge once in a while? It’s not really a big deal if you make a snap decision, and once you actually start running, it might surprisingly work itself out somehow.”
Seeing that I can’t answer, Chika keeps talking.
“Rin, even you think that things can’t go on like this, right?”
I mustn’t avoid Len-kun forever.
Forget about nothing changing, the situation will just keep getting worse.
No matter how Len-kun thought of it, I had fun being with him.
If it’s as friends, we might be able to get along even better.
After apologizing, with that I’ll tell him again.
Putting aside like and hate, we’ll make a fresh start from the beginning once more.
I’ll say ‘please become friends with me’.
“Thanks Chika, I gotta go.”
“’kay, good luck.”
The path to the AV room on the top floor of the north building had never felt so long before.
After taking several deep breaths, I slowly open the door so it won’t make a sound.
(Today Tsurumaki-kun is here, too……)
Sitting around one desk, he and Len-kun were looking at the score with serious expressions.
It looks like they had decided on the arrangement, a song title that I’ve heard at a concert before was flying around.
Len-kun hums, Tsurumaki-kun plays it again on the bass.
Without uttering a single sound, the song takes on a new form.
(Both of them are wearing incredibly serious expressions.)
The face in profile that I should’ve gotten completely used to seeing, it seemed like it belonged to a different person now.
Concentrating on the music, it looks like his world consisted of nothing but that.
(……Surely, he hasn’t even noticed yet that I came.)
I went as far as preparing myself mentally before I quietly slipped in, so I wonder why I’m feeling so lonely.
Selfishly distancing myself from him, selfishly feeling a ‘wall’ between us, it really can’t be helped.
“Len, you did it again.”
Tsurumaki-kun suddenly stopped playing and rapped on the score with his finger.
“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.”
Seeing Len-kun drop a forced smile, I felt dizzy.
As if the floor was crumbling, my feet suddenly……
Rattling the door I was holding onto, I ended up making a huge noise.
As expected, they noticed and our gazes met up perfectly.
“Rin! I’m glad, I thought you wouldn’t show up yet today.”
“Otosaki, did your summer cold get worse? It’s because Len dragged you around, isn’t it, sorry about that.”
“Huuh? Kanata, what are you acting like a good person for? I can apologize properly on my own, you know!”
“What, you haven’t apologized yet?”
From the odds and ends of the conversation, I find out about Len-kun’s consideration.
He skilfully covered for me as to why I didn’t show my face for club activities.
“Uhm, well…… I’m fine now.”
When I ambiguously laugh it off and tell him not to worry, Len-kun’s expression enthusiastically brightens.
“I’m glad!! Then hey, let’s finish up the new song, too. This time, we should do the double vocals, huh. Making the lyrics like a dialogue, will you sing with Rin and I?”
“Oi, I haven’t heard about that.”
“Yeah, it’s the first time I mentioned it.”
That’s totally Len-kun’s pace.
Putting aside my feelings, things proceed rapidly.
“I tried writing the lyrics partway through. Rin, would you put your parts into the empty spots?”
Without taking the score that he held out to me, I shook my head.
“……I didn’t say that I’d do it yet.”
The next moment, the atmosphere turned cold.
(I….. what did I say……?)
Surprising myself, I unconsciously cover my mouth with my hand.
Even though I came to apologize, it ran in the opposite direction at full strength.
The one who broke the delicate silence was Tsurumaki-kun, who had ended up caught up in it.
“See, that’s the normal reaction. Next time, be sure to tell things to people in advance.”
Standing up while saying that, he left the club room without time to stop him.
Leaving behind Len-kun and I.
In the AV room that was as silent as a grave again, we couldn’t even meet each other’s gazes.
After a while, Len-kun called out to me in his usual manner.
“What’s been going on lately? Meiko-sensei was concerned, too.”
“Ah, no, I don’t mean to blame you, you know?”
To me giving nothing but automatic responses like a robot, Len-kun lets out a sigh.
Scratching the back of his neck, he begins to talk, seeming awkward.
“It’s only a guess, but…… Were Haraoka-san and the others the cause?”
“Is it tough, being in the band?”
Len-kun’s questioning got at the heart of the matter, it froze the air of this place at once.
The moment I tried to speak out, Len-kun interrupts me.
“I sort of said it as I pleased, but Rin, you should act the way you did all along. It’s fine, I’m going to protect you. Rest easy and leave it to me……”
Cutting off Len-kun, I apologized on the spur of the moment.
For some reason, he doesn’t respond to it glibly like before.
(Even though I came all the way here to see him and ask him to start over again as friends……)
I realize that we can’t stay as friends anymore.
My heart, my entire body accused me of that.
“Sorry, for what? What do you mean by it?”
“…….I get glared at by the girls in the Fan Club, too, and I really hate it.”
I didn’t come here to say something like this.
But, I…… lost to myself. I ended up running away from it.
(It can’t be helped. We can’t stay like this forever, as friends……)
It’s better like this.
Is he talking to himself, or is he calling out to me?
After saying it with a sigh, Len-kun was silently standing perfectly still.
The smile I’ve gotten used to long gone, it’s as if a different person has come into sight.
(What should I do, perhaps I made him mad…..)
The blood draining from my entire body, my hands tremble slightly.
But what I heard next was a somehow gentle voice.
“–– Got it. It’s okay, I’ll sing it with ‘la la la’ in the worst case.”
Aah, I see. We were talking about the new song’s lyrics.
As I’m taken aback, Len-kun passes by me at a quick pace.
Ultimately leaving the score on the desk, he puts his hand on the door.
“Le-Len-kun! The score……”
My voice that finally came out was hoarse with nervousness.
“Do what you want with it, Rin.”
When he finally turned around, Len-kun was kindly smiling.
So it’s too much to bear, it pierced my heart.
(Aahh, really……. I ended it myself……)
I just silently looked after Len-kun, his back disappearing past the door.