Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

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Razoredge
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Re: Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

Post by Razoredge » Fri Mar 19, 2021 9:58 am

**Pretends to discover the chapter**

This is a good chapter, I have to say. I'll look your music mistakes for the next chapters :twisted: But this is a good chapter, as I told you, and I wonder what Hisao would give to the band with his current level, there is a good perspective of evolution for him here. And give Ritsu some love, she deserves it. I can't wait for the next chapters, there was a good scene, it can give a good perspective of evolution for Hisao, and I wonder if Mao will kill him soon or tolerate his presence for some time.

Go write your Secret Santa now :mrgreen:
Lilly = Akira > Miki = Hanako > Emi > Rin > Shizune

Stuff I'm currently writing : Beyond the haze : A Lilly Satou pseudo-route, Lullaby of an open heart : A Saki pseudo-route & Sakura Blossom : A way with Hisao

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Chatty Wheeler
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Re: Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Mar 28, 2021 5:36 pm

Hello Talmar!

It would seem that I've been a bit quiet on the Katawa Shoujo forums lately. Much like you, I've been working on my own project that I'm trying to finish before posting anything else, but I think that Switching Dynamics is worth making an exception for. :wink:

With that said, let's dive into this new scene!

————————————————————

Scene 10: Revival

——————————

I just want to come right out and say that this scene knocked it out of the park. This is a gripping scene with so much to unpack and speculate about. It feels we've reached a milestone in Hisao's journey. All of the plot development and events from the past nine scenes came back in some fashion during this scene, and I think that the payoff, while subtle and modest in its execution, was very impactful.

——————————

The ‘inciting event’ of the scene comes in the form of Hisao approaching a sleeping Ritsu after class and contemplating on whether or not to wake her up. It’s a simple setup for dramatic tension. The stakes aren’t too high for Hisao, but Talmar still made good use of this time to throw in a little character development for Hisao, a little tension for the reader, and even a little foreshadowing for overzealous analysts like myself:
Talmar wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:33 pm
“Don’t mind her,” Mutou continues... “She needs [the sleep].”
She ‘needs’ it? Hmmm... Interesting. Perhaps Ritsu is struggling with insomnia as a result of her treatment... Wait a minute! That should sound familiar, shouldn’t it? Insomnia as a side effect of medications is something that Hisao struggles with as well. The more and more we find out about Ritsu, the more and more that her struggles and hardships seems to echo Hisao’s. I think that these two will find that they have a lot in common when they get to know each other a little better.

But most importantly...

I mentioned earlier that Hisao has to make choice on whether or not to wake up Ritsu, but that’s actually false. Hisao never actually makes the choice himself. Instead, Mutou steps in and makes the choice for him—telling Hisao to let her sleep. Hisao accepts this—seemingly relieved that someone stepped in to take the load of that choice off his shoulders. Now, Hisao doesn’t have to worry about the consequences of the choice...

Everything that transpired in the beginning of this scene is part of a larger pattern at play, and this pattern is what launches us into the next section.

——————————

After Hisao exits the classroom and heads into the hall, Hisao is presented with possibly the scariest choice for a someone of his age: “what do I do now?”

What follows for the next half of this scene is an introspective journey inside of Hisao’s mind. While I previously complained in scene seven that this kind of long introspective journey harms the pacing for the reader, I think that Talmar addressed all the complaints that I had then. For one thing, Hisao isn’t just thinking and thinking and thinking, he’s also performing actions, and there are natural interruptions to his thought process to give the reader a chance to breathe. Second of all, rather than solely recollecting on old information, we’re being given a lot of new information and new insights to what has happened. Also, the introspective monologue is much shorter, streamlined, and focused here than it was in scene seven. All in all, a major improvement.

So, what revelations actually come from this monologue? In two words: indecision and distrust.

—————

Indecision:

When Hisao leaves the classroom, he can’t make up his mind as to what he wants to go do next. He aimlessly wanders around the school, subconsciously hoping that something or someone will call out to him and give him something to occupy him. After all, this is what always happens, isn’t it?

This is the ‘pattern’ that I was talking about earlier. Up until now in Switching Dynamics, whenever Hisao is faced with a choice, someone always steps in to make it for him.
  • Shizune and Misha nudge Hisao in the direction of joining a club, they invite him to have lunch with them, they encourage Hisao to help out with the festival, and as always, they try to get him to join the student council.
  • Saki gets Hisao to help out with the music club, and she draws a map to encourage Hisao to go explore the nearby city.
  • Shouhei nudges Hisao into eating lunch with him, and indirectly offers Hisao a place in his band.
  • Tsubaki encourages Hisao to join a club like the astronomy club.
  • Mutou trying to get Hisao into joining a club, among countless other smaller encouragements throughout the week.
  • Nurse encourages Hisao to keep an eye on his health and to stay in decent shape.
This is all to say that in this scene, for the first time since arriving at Yamaku, Hisao is left completely alone. Not in terms of being physically alone, but being without influence from others. Hisao has spent a week in the nest, but now his time’s up, and he has to leave the nest and fly on his own. He has to make a choice all on his own, but now that no one is there to help him do so, Hisao regretfully comes to realize how crushingly indecisive he is. Even after Hisao thinks that he’s made a decision, he’s constantly second-guessing himself—such as how he walks right up to the door of the astronomy club before deciding against the idea at the last possible moment.

Hisao’s battle against indecisiveness... is one that I can fully relate to. I’m quite similar in age to Hisao. I can remember that battles waged in my mind as I tried to decide which colleges to apply to; which classes to take; what future career to pursue. Even after I thought I had it all figured out, something that an online article, or a friend, or a teacher, or a family member said would tip the scale in another direction.

Being indecisive and knowing it... sucks. It’s absolutely demoralizing. I mean, how can you possibly hope to trust yourself when your opinions and mindset can change on a whim?

...Surprise, surprise... guess where that leads us...

—————

Distrust:

Why is Hisao so indecisive? It’s because he is distrustful.

For the past few months, I have been theorizing that much of Hisao’s struggles stem from his distrustful feelings toward other people. However, this scene has started to make me doubt my previous assertion. Yes, I think it’s clear by now that Hisao struggles to trust other people, but is it possible that the source of his distrust runs even deeper than simply his hesitance around others?

Like I stated earlier, Hisao spends this scene bouncing all around the school looking for something to do, but right as he's about to make his decision, he backs out. He backs out because he's afraid of messing things up in front of other people:
  • He's afraid that he'll accidentally insult or offend someone disabled.
  • He's afraid that he won't know what to do or say even if he makes friends with some of the other students.
  • And most critically, he's afraid that he'll overexert himself and risk embarrassing himself by having a heart attack in front of his friends, repeating what happened with his old friends.
Notice how in these three examples that I just listed, Hisao isn't afraid of other people, he's afraid of himself, and that's where I will write my new thesis:

Hisao won't be able to trust others until he trusts himself.

Hisao doesn't trust himself. He hasn't trusted himself for this entire story. His lack of confidence is what truly disables him, not his heart. But don't get me wrong; his heart absolutely plays a role in Hisao's lack of confidence. In theory, Hisao could die at any moment of his heart decides to give way. No matter how much Hisao recovers, he'll have to somewhat live on edge. It just so happens that Hisao, still newly grappling with his disability, is much less willing to trust the cards that life has dealt him—as anyone would be—and I think that Hisao is starting to realize all of this on his own:
Talmar wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:33 pm
...I cannot trust myself to be responsible for the entire school.

I can’t even trust my own self sometimes.
See? Talmar sums it up nicely with these two sentences. I didn't even need to do all of that writing! :lol:

—————

Finally, after all of this contemplating, Hisao makes the decision to go to the music club. It's important to note that Hisao isn't fully confident with his decision. It doesn't even really seem like he knows why he's going to the music club—motivated more by instinct than by any planning—but for once, Hisao is making a decision completely on his own. In terms of his character arc, that's pretty big. Is his character arc done? NO. Not even close. Hisao still has a long way to go, but the first steps are always the hardest, and even if Hisao's first steps were as disorganized and uncertain as a woozy drunkard making their way down the sidewalk, he did do it. You could say that this is a revival of sorts...

*Looks at title of the scene*

Oh, wait!

——————————

Next up, Hisao enters the music room and tries out the electric guitar. This entire section is about testing Hisao's choice to give the guitar another shot. He's made his choice, but is his resolve strong enough to stick to it? As it turns out, yes... barely.

The first obstacle in Hisao's way is actually asking Mrs. Sakamoto for the chance to play the guitar in the first place. When he does get his hands on a guitar, he has to play in front of everyone—meaning that he has to risk failing in front of them all. Not to mention he has to run through both songs while under constant scrutiny by the threatening stare of Mao. Speaking of which...

Mao is great. I really like Mao. She seems like the kind of person who wouldn't give you the time of day of you just plan on goofing off all day, but I get the feeling that she really respects people who try. She's also a perfect foil for the energetic and bouncy Shouhei. I expect lots of humorous scenes will come out of these two bickering.

Furthermore, in terms of story structure, this is the perfect time to introduce Mao. Now that Hisao has made his decision, Mao is there to put his decision to the test. Her no-nonsense attitude and her annoyance with indecisiveness puts Hisao on the spot more than once, forcing him to prove that he will stick with his decision.

——————————

With the introduction of Mao, I would like to mention something that has me slightly worried about Switching Dynamics as a whole: the cast is getting pretty large.

I'm not sure how many more characters Talmar plans to introduce, but right now, we've got...
  • Hisao
  • Ritsu
  • Hisao's Old Friends: Takumi, Shin, Mai
  • Shouhei And His Friends: Tsubaki, Taichi, Chihiro
  • Saki
  • Mao
  • Shizune
  • Misha
  • Emi
  • Mutou
  • Nurse
This is a large cast of characters. So far, Talmar has done a good job of juggling all of these characters, but if the cast gets much larger, I worry that it will be difficult to keep up. Some characters might end up getting sidelined, which is fine, but the point is that I don't really know which characters are going to be sidelined and which aren't.

I don't really know who our main characters and who our side characters are supposed to be. Obviously, Hisao is our main character protagonist, but Ritsu, who is supposed to be a main character... has had less than ten lines in ten scenes. If I hadn't been previously told that Ritsu was a main character by Talmar, I would have assumed that she was just a side character. She doesn't really give off the sense that she's a main character if one were to look at the text in a vacuum.

Outside of our main duo, we have Shouhei, who I'm pretty sure is going to be a main character. But then there's a character like Tsubaki... for a hot second I thought that she was going to be a main character, but now I'm not so sure. What about Chihiro and Taichi? Are they side characters? What about Shizune and Misha? Emi? Saki? Mao? I don't really know who I'm supposed to be focusing on.

What I'm trying to say is that we're now ten scenes in to this story, so establishing a focused cast of main characters should be coming soon... right? I feel like we're getting there, what with Hisao meeting Mao and joining the band (for now, at least...), but if Talmar keeps introducing new characters... I might start to get a little overwhelmed.

Again, this isn't a problem now, but I feel like we've hit a comfortable character limit. In the future... I just hope that Talmar doesn't plan to introduce, like, twenty more side characters. :wink:

We've got a good cast here, Talmar. Don't pop the balloon. :D

————————————————————

Prediction time! Hisao mentions that he will never again meet up with his old friends from Tokyo. As far as he's concerned, those relationships have been severed. Later on, when Hisao joins the band, Mao asks Hisao where he guitar is, and Hisao mentions that it is still in Tokyo. This is pretty smart. In order for Hisao to go back and get his guitar, he has to go back to Tokyo and confront his past. In order for Hisao to move on in the future, he has to return to his past and make amends.

With this in mind, I am predicting that at some point in this story—possibly dozens of scenes down the line—Hisao will have to go back to Tokyo and make amends with his friends.

————————————————————

Typos:

——————————
Talmar wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:33 pm
Snapping awake from my distracted reverie with the shuffling of feet and chairs being pushed back under their tables I return to reality to find that school day is already over.
I think there needs to be a comma before "I return".

——————————
Talmar wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:33 pm
Alerted I drop my bag and rush over...
There needs to be a comma after “Alerted".

——————————
Talmar wrote:
Thu Mar 18, 2021 11:33 pm
I look back at the girl, who’s standing there staring back at me with only her smile.While it looks friendly, she’s obviously forcing it.
I think there is a space missing before the word "While".

————————————————————

Wow. That was a long post. In truth, I've actually been working on this post for close to a week now. It took me a few days to sort out my thoughts and come up with my discussion topics, but I think I'm at a good place to stop now.

Again, this is an excellent scene. So good. Really freaking good. I'm really excited for the next one. Fun fact: I recently picked K-On! back up. I’m about halfway through the first season. Having a good experience. It's a nice show when I just want something to relax to and not have to analyze and overanalyze.

As always, take your time on writing the next scene, Talmar. I hope that university treats you well and that you stay happy and healthy.

Take care, everyone!

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Talmar
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Re: Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

Post by Talmar » Sat Aug 28, 2021 9:25 am

Okay, just to bump this up for the first time in months. I'd like to open with a massive apology.

I'm really, really sorry I haven't uploaded in a very long while. Especially you, Wheeler. I'll get to fixing the errors and typos, and I'd just mention that your deduction is as always on point with what I have in mind. But I'm really sorry I haven't been active at all for the last couple of months. There's been a lot of issues; hospitalizations, life shattering revelations about this thing in my head, semester finals and last but not least, the eventuality of the inevitably traumatizing visit from my parents. For those who aren't familiar, I am ... well, I had bad memories with them. And they appear to be caring about me but I know, I know they're using me to make themselves look good in front of others. Which makes the revelation even harder to tell them.

I was ... early in April, I went to the state hospital's psychiatric department to fulfill the appointment that was a year late thanks to pandemic lockdown, concerning my lack of ability to focus, amnesia, and the nonstop headaches. Psychiatrist determined there's nothing wrong in my mental faculties and the headaches are concerning so she transferred me to neurology. In my neurology appointment in May, they determined, based on my testimonies of symptoms and such, and for how long it had been with me, that there's something wrong with my brain. Initial hypothesis was autoimmune encephalitis, thanks to my and my father's histories of autoimmune conditions, but after I was put into the hospital ward for a tripartite check-up in June (CT scan, lumbar tap, EEG), followed by an MRI scan when I was released, they deduced that it's not that. CT scan didn't reveal anything big (crossing out possibilities of aneurysm or cancer or the likes), nor did the test on my cerebrospinal fluid from lumbar puncture (crossing out possibilities of autoimmune disorders). The EEG test however did show results; focal seizures, bilateral epileptic discharges in the temporal lobes.

That, explains a lot. The headaches, the uncontrollable amnesia, the lack of ability to focus. It even explains the little jerking movement I, for most of my life, thought it's nothing serious and just a habit (or so my mother said; she gets irritated whenever I do that and always told me to stop it because it makes me look weird, which brings up the question, how long has this thing been with me?) It all stems from my brain frying itself by putting neural activity on overdrive in the temporal lobes, occasionally spilling out into other parts of the brain. It's not the classical general seizures, commonly depicted in media; you know, collapsing and uncontrollable movements and eventual fall into unconsciousness. Me? I'm aware of the experience, throughout, and I'm slowly adapting to its presence and making routines whenever there's an episode (find my bed, lie down, don't get up).

This has explained a lot about my problems since the start of this year. My failing academics, inability to focus on assignments, forgetting crucial things, and most of all, I'm slowly, and all the while aware, forgetting how to write simply because I can't remember what's a good word to use. It gets even worse whenever my parents, or even just a simple notification from WhatsApp, pops up. Throughout the latter half of 2020, I was constantly and incessantly berated by my parents to study and move out of my aunt's house (which I've been living in since getting kicked out of university dorms thanks to insufficient extracurricular activities - no shit I have insufficient of that, there's a pandemic going on) and WhatsApp is the primary venue of communication my parents use. It's the primary venue of communication for literally everything to be honest; Malaysians are addicted to this app, and I hate it. It came to a point where a simple beep triggers my fight or flight response, and I sorely want to throw the phone out of my window at the 31st floor. But I need it; most off-lecture discussions are here, and so are assignments. But at the same time, it is eroding my sanity, and every time it beeps my headaches gets incrementally worse. Phonecalls are even more damaging, enough that I don't want to elaborate. It really doesn't help either that late June and early July was the semester finals, as well as the time I was tossed into frenzy as my lecturers, who had only been informed recently about my seizures due to the late diagnosis, gave me a chance to finish the assignments I've accidentally missed. At the same time as the exams. Needless to say, I did bad in the exams.

I am writing this in a bout of sanity; just got my vaccine and is in a short period of peace. My parents are coming though, to help with my little sister's admission to university, and I don't know how to deal with it. But I'll handle it when the time comes; in the meantime, I really, really want to apologize for the lack of new SD chapters for the last 5 months. I am slowly recovering my ability to write, while trying to juggle both the inevitable confession about my seizures to them, as well as trying to rebuild things. I am however slowly whittling through the next chapter of SD, and while I cannot promise it'll be done soon, just know that it is being written. Slowly.

Damned headaches. Feels like electricity coursing through the inside of my head. And damn this fever; I know it's probably from the vaccine, though, so it's necessary. But still.
"They say, the best way to improve yourself is to believe in who you are. You are but a blip in the lives of many you pass by, so why worry? Be yourself - life is too short to worry about the minor altercations here and there.

"So, get out there. Break the chains that holds you back - and embrace the freedom ahead of you." - me

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Re: Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Nov 26, 2021 12:12 pm

Keep in mind that your health is the most important thing.
If you think writing can help you get better that's good, but remember you don't owe us anything, so do everything at your own pace.
Hope the meeting with your parents went well and you're feeling better now.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Talmar
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Re: Switching Dynamics - A Ritsu Pseudo-Route (Properly)

Post by Talmar » Tue Nov 22, 2022 11:37 pm

Hello, hello! It's been, over a year, I think, since the last chapter update. As I posted earlier - apparently, because I don't remember that; I'll chalk up to holes in my memory to this thing in my head - I'm slowly but progressively learning on how to circumvent the obstacles Lady Fortune has cursed upon me, and, while this chapter is quite short for a year-long wait, it's mostly a new chapter that varies from the previous edition of SD thanks to me and Razoredge deciding to collaborate; in return for him using Mao, I know have access to his unique characters. Namely, Kaori. And no need to worry; our stories are very different continuities, so there's no need to read both of our pseudoroutes for completion's sake.

After this are all the pre-written drafts that I've already made during the four time rewrites this story has undergone a long while back, so you'll see them in rapid (as rapid as chapters can get in this thing) succession. Anyhow, welcome back to any who's still around. And mighty thanks to Elle, Razor and NuclearStudent for helping me proofread this.

Scene 11: Uncompromising

In short, I have succeeded in joining the band, and was given the option of leaving it once we have performed our part in the festival. I suppose this is for the best; I’m still not sure what really held me back. I had my motivations all in place; to repay the favors I owe Shouhei and Tsubaki for trying to get me involved in this school’s activities, despite my initial impressions of the prospect being disinterest at best. It is also for myself; no doubt I still love music, but when I was given the approval and opportunity to join, I found myself reluctant.

Nevertheless, part of me is glad that the admission was not that much of a hassle. However, it does feel like I ended up souring Mao’s first impression of me. Whenever she turned to me while she was berating Shouhei for slacking off instead of tidying up the place as she told him to do, I can almost feel the disdain.

Or is it something else? I’m not sure.

I don’t know enough about her. But no matter how much I want answers, I feel like I shouldn’t ask too much, what with their, or rather our, performance coming up in less than a week - a few days even - and they still have not found a replacement drummer. I can understand Mao’s frustration and desperation. Maybe this performance is meant to be part of her end-year extracurricular activities record for graduation? Assuming this school operates with a similar structure as my old one. If we both share the same commitment to performance, I would definitely do that too - if I had not ended up here, at the very least.

Anyhow, as Mao continues to explain to me my roles here, I slowly realize the full scope of the burdens and responsibilities of the previous lead guitarist, whose role I now have assumed. As Mao retells the story, with additional details Shouhei considered it to be fine to skip, or he did not know them himself, as I help him clean up the mess, my predecessor was called Ryou. He was the leader of the band and her classmate, before he was interred to permanent hospitalization, earlier this year. She said it was a disastrous heart attack that was saved too late, and now he is permanently brain damaged. Ryou currently lives in his hospital ward, dependent on life support. The doctors stated they’re not sure if he is conscious, or is aware of anything, if at all.

I can only offer condolences. It seems that she and Ryou were close; it is recognizable that she’s hurt in some ways when she talked about him; there was slight warbling in her voice. Mao does however quickly regain her sternness whenever Shouhei pops back in her line of sight. Regardless, Ryou had left the band in a difficult state to resume their duties and activities; the song they made, Sunset, was composed with the intentions of him as the lead singer. Mao did not ask me if I can sing or not, and frankly I am none too pleased with the prospect of testing out my own singing voice again. I don’t recall assuming the lead singer’s role back then, as that was Mao’s job.

After Mao was done explaining, she was going to sit down and watch us, or him, as if to ensure he does his job this time around, but then her phone buzzed and the next I saw her she’s hastily leaving with her folder, returning downstairs.

Once she was out of earshot, Shouhei and I continue to clean up the mess this room is in, and chatted a bit along the way, talking about me changing my mind and joining the band instead of opting to stay out, the piles of boxes sitting around, and his proficiency with the keyboard - of which, he admits, he’s still practicing to better himself. We both split up the task at hand; he handles the storeroom and the mess in there (including the stuff that fell on Mao’s head) while I handle the bandroom proper. To be frank, I have no idea where any of these things are supposed to be, so I just organize the boxes and their contents based on their labels, while also trying to make some more space to walk around. Underneath all this clutter are a lot of dust and the occasional cables here and there that seemed to be there since the last decade. I try to make an effort to sweep up the dust and dump them in the nearby dustbin with every few boxes removed and reorganized, as Shouhei makes a mention why he was pilfering through the storeroom to begin with. Turns out, he spotted something shiny through the window earlier this morning on the way to class, from the outside, and he got curious.

I think the expression I had when he told me that gave him enough of an idea of what I was thinking. He assured me that whenever he’s not running around looking for suitable candidates or people offering to take the job, he’s been practicing and the song we are going to play is already muscle memory to him.

I sure hope so, or this will be trickier than I thought.

I pause from sweeping for a moment, leaning on the broomstick. Oh who am I kidding, I might be the one to mess it all up. The momentary break made me notice the humidity of this afternoon heat, in this cramped room, even with the floor fan spinning at full speed. I head over to open all the windows, but it will take a while for the humidity to dissipate.

Maybe one day we can get an actual table and sofa in here, or something. God this place feels ancient. There are even papers in one of the boxes that dates back to 1980!

As the sun dips into its final crest, and the afternoon turns into evening, we finish up cleaning what can be tidied up. In the end, there is one big cube of stacked and arranged boxes in the corner, next to the storeroom door. The labeled boxes whose content I cannot ascertain where they should be sit by the door frames still, and that particular pile is still too large for my taste. Oh well, at the very least there’s more space around the makeshift tables and instruments to move around, and I found a couple of plywood to toss over to the stalls should they ever come up here looking for them. When I finally sit down, halting the fan’s automated sweeping to focus on me, and take a sip of water. Shouhei pops around the corner. “Hisao.”

I turn to face him, still drinking. “Hm?”

“What do you think of joining us for dinner at the town down the hill?”

What? Surprised, I put down the bottle and wipe my mouth before replying. “What why?”

Shouhei disappears again behind the corner, and I hear a box being put down. He then pops back in, leaning against the wall facing me as he shrugs. “I mean, why not? Was sorta thinking of like a celebratory occasion for you joining us!”

My heart sinks. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I agreed to do this only temporarily, and how I’m not sure whether I’d stick around after the festival. “Um …”

“Also, you’re hungry too, right?”

I don’t know, to be honest. “I mean, I am, but …”

“Perfect!” He disappears back into the storeroom. “Let’s finish all this up before Mao comes back.”

I flatten my lips. I don’t feel like I deserve this much of a welcome to be quite honest. It would be rude, however, to turn it down, so the only way I can say no would be Mao refusing to come along. To add to that, I have no idea if she would. Although, then again, this does present me an opportunity to get to know how the band works exactly, and since we will be working together in the festival, I suppose I don’t have much of a choice. Sighing, I get back to the pile of unsorted boxes to pull one out and empty its contents to sort them.

Also, it’s Shouhei, my arguably only friend here. I’m not familiar with his friends yet to consider them as such, and neither do they, I feel.

After some time in the silence of this stifling evening heat, still stuffy despite the breeze coming in from the open windows, the door creaks open as Mao enters. “I hate paperwork,” she mutters, grumbling, as she goes to sit on one of the makeshift box-chairs in front of the floor fan. She doesn’t seem to even notice me on the floor sorting out the clutter.

“Oh Mao’s back?” I hear Shouhei asking loudly, still stuck in the storeroom.

“Yes, I’m back. What do you want.” … that doesn’t sound good.

“Mao, I got an idea.” He pops back into view, leaning against the same patch of wall. “Why don’t we go down to that restaurant you guys brought me to a while back?”

Mao puts her glasses back on, responding to the proposal with somewhat of an exasperated glare. “Why?”

“I mean, to celebrate! We finally got a lead guitarist, Mao, thanks to Hisao here.” He points to me, and Mao turns to me as if she just remembered I exist here in this point in time and space. “Why not wind down for at least an evening?”

She pauses, turning to the fan for a moment, before turning to me, and the organized piles of boxes around me. “…maybe. I guess I can agree with that. I do need a break. Hisao, what do you think.”

...fine. “Sure, I guess.”

“Before that, though,” she states sternly, interrupting Shouhei’s cheer, as she turns to me, and then him. “I see you’re nearly done with the boxes. Good. Shou, what about you?”

“Oh I’m nearly done too don’t worry about that hahaha~.” He stammers out quickly before retreating back into the storeroom. Mao looks at him with a raised eyebrow before turning to me. I can’t help but laugh.

----------

“Before we go, though,” Mao speaks up.

Halting in our tracks, Shouhei and I turn to her. We are on our way down the stairs and I was asking him about the two-decade old music sheets I found earlier. Despite us both towering over her, Mao maintains the dominant position in our little band effortlessly. “…Shouhei, you can go ahead to the gates,” she continues, turning to him before turning to me, “but Hisao, I want you to go get Ryou’s guitar from the music hall storerooms.”

“Will do!” he pipes up cheerily, complete with a salute, before continuing onward. I stay, though, to ask.

“...why?” I ask.

Mao clears her throat before she replies. “His guitar was tuned to the song we were going to perform. The one we’ll be playing this Sunday. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s the same red guitar you used earlier.”

“Oh.” Somehow I feel like I should have known that, seeing she was looking for someone who can play that thing. “Sure,” I nod, continuing. She tags along with me.

“On top of that, you will need the cleaning and tuning equipment he had stowed somewhere in the other building.”

“The one next door? The performance art center?”

Mao looks at me with an eyebrow raised, but she seems more surprised than shocked. “Oh, you know where it is already?”

I shrug. “Figured from what Saki told me on how the music club here works, you guys gotta have some place bigger than that hall.”

She nods, approving. “True. We mostly use that hall for meetings and simple lectures.” Mao pauses. “If you decide to stick around, you can come along if you want.”

I look at her momentarily, and look ahead. If, she said. It feels like there’s something she thinks may dissuade me ahead. And if there is, then I’m not sure how to deal with that. I shrug. Oh well, I’ll think of it later.

“By the way, do you have your own amp?”

Ah. I pause, intentionally, before admitting. “Uh, no, sorry.”

Mao stares at me, somewhat annoyed. “…okay, we’ll find a mini amp somewhere in there.”

…Shoot.

I’ll file that under my “to get and carry back here” list for this summer vacation.

We make our way to the first floor, and enter the hallway. A couple of hours earlier it was bustling with activity as other clubs were working on their projects and stalls for the festival. Now, it is by and large quiet, populated by only the few who remained to work a little longer. The rest I assume have either gone home, or gone downtown to get dinner - not unlike Shouhei’s plan. I and Mao walk past whoever were shuttling through - I nod as we pass by them and they nod in kind - and we reach the music hall doors. I step ahead to open it for us.

The hall is largely empty, with only three students remaining. While the other two are at the back of the hall tending to their businesses, the third however stands out like a sore thumb. Quite literally even; as tanned as one of my farmer cousins from Gifu, even as she is sitting on one of those stools she towers over everyone else. Her dark brown hair is tied up into a ponytail behind her head as she wipes a piece of cloth around the neck of the evidently red guitar Mao just mentioned.

I look at Mao. She seems much less enthused about the plan now, as if she is not looking forward to asking this titan of a girl. With quiet determination she steps forward to the tall girl, “Kaori.”

She seems to barely respond, caressing the guitar as a jeweler would handle a fragile fragment of shattered ruby. Her reply is barely a whisper. “What is it.”

“Where is Saki?”

Kaori looks up at her. “At the courtyard. More importantly, however,” she continues, her tone growing harsher with every word, as she stands up and turns to place the guitar gently on the table-mounted guitar stand. “Why was Ryou’s guitar sitting at the front of the hall when I came back?” She turns to Mao, wearing a vicious glare as her hands ball up into fists. “Has someone been playing around with it. I thought I told you to take care of it while I was outside helping with the construction crew.”

Seemingly not intimidated as she stands up straighter in response, Mao answers bluntly. “I gave it to this person behind me for a tryout.”

What?

Kaori screams.

I take a step back as the other two in the hall turn to her. What the hell?! Why did she just shriek like that?! Kaori reaches forward to tackle me but Mao stands in her way, stopping her. Instead of pushing her aside she grips on Mao’s shoulder, and she winces. “Why, in hell’s name,” Kaori seethes, raising her voice until she’s screaming in Mao’s ear, “did you just HAND IT OVER, TO A COMPLETE NOBODY?!”

Mao tries to pry her fingers off her shoulders to no avail. “He offered to fill in the position I was looking for,” she replies, her bluntness wavering as if she’s gritting her teeth. “I just wanted to see if he could play it for the performance.”

Kaori snaps at me, the fury in her eyes unbridled. The short instant she vicious scowl lands on me is enough to make me regret coming here, somewhat. But she’s not shoving Mao aside. Is she tired? Mao reaches for the guitar but Kaori slaps her hand away. She jerks back, but tries again. This time Kaori stands in the way, shielding it from her. “Kaori,” Mao hisses, gritting her teeth, “just give me the damned guitar.”

Kaori directs her glare at Mao. “No. Not after you betrayed my trust and broke your promise that you’ll take care of it.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do then?” Mao sounds like she’s losing her cool. “One, there wasn’t anyone else with the guitar at the time. And two, Ryou would’ve wanted this.”

Kaori stomps her foot in protest. I can see her eyes glistening slightly. “That guitar is the last thing we have of him, Mao! DON’T JUST GIVE IT TO ANY RANDOM PERSON THAT ASKS FOR IT!”

“I mean,” I blurt out to correct her, and immediately realize this is just going to get me punished for no fault of my own. Ah hell, I’m here already. “I didn’t ask for it. I was given that guitar. Hell, I didn’t even know you! This is the first time we meet!”

Mao points her at me. “I was the one who gave it to him, don’t get him involved.”

Kaori’s eyes flit between her, and me, back and forth before she closes them and ruffles through her hair and scratch her head intensely, frustrated. “ARGH! JUST GET OUT!”

“Not without that guitar, Kaori!” Mao snaps back.

“WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO IT?!”

“BECAUSE RYOU MATTERS TO ME AS MUCH AS YOU, IDIOT!” Mao yells back.

“STOP IT BOTH OF YOU!”

Out of nowhere the double doors slam open and a girl with glasses burst in. “YOU TWO, STOP IT!” she shouts at the two of them. I take a step back to not get in the way.

Kaori and Mao look at her. “Umi. What are you doing here?” Kaori asks, their altercation interrupted and with it any emotional baggage lost, now that there’s someone else in the room.

“I - we - we heard you scream earlier and I KNEW that’s NOT GOOD. What’s going on?!”

Kaori points accusingly at both me and Mao. “These idiots here tried to take Ryou’s guitar!”

Mao stiffens, indignant. “I did what I HAVE TO DO! IT’S OUR PERFORMANCE, NOT YOURS!”

Kaori shoves Mao on her shoulder. “AS IF I CARE! THE GUITAR IS--”

“ENOUGH!” Umi stomps ahead and pushes both of them away from each other, keeping them at arms’ length. I step aside so as to not collide with Mao. “Enough, both of you!”

In the middle of all this I am left behind here, in an awkward spot. What the hell have I gotten myself into. “Kaori,” Umi chides, “control yourself. We only got three days left of practice and Ikumi would really appreciate some help over in the rehearsal hall.” She turns to Mao. “And Mao, you too. You know how religiously she takes care of that guitar.”

Mao stares back, adamant with her decisions, but she decides against continuing the argument. Kaori too seems exhausted to keep up as she grabs for the stool to sit down. “Alright, you two good now?” Umi asks, “Cuz I just sent Sara to go look for Saki in case I couldn’t stop you two.”

The two former opponents stare at each other, and then at Mao, wide-eyed. “Oh no,” both of them whisper, alarmed, before rushing out of the hall, dragging Umi with them before she could protest.

I watch as they leave me and the other two unnamed students at the back alone in the music hall. The two of them and I stare at each other awkwardly, unsure on what to make of the scene that just unfolded as the chaos vanished as quickly as they came. After a moment, I pipe up. “Uh, you two know where the maintenance stuff is?”

One of them points at the door behind the teacher’s desk. I nod my thanks and excuse my way in.

----------

I thanked the other two in the music hall and steps out with the maintenance equipment bag shoved in my book bag. Now what? There’s not a sign of those three, and I’m not sure whether Mao would want me to stay so she’d know where I am. I have no idea where they went in their search to intercept Saki. Just as I was thinking of heading to the gate to find Shouhei, I hear the side door slam open, and Mao turning around the corner, her heavy footfalls clearly indicating that she’s furious about something. On her back is a black guitar case.

“Oh Mao, what--” I want to ask, but Mao comes up to me and shoves the guitar case onto me before dragging me along with the other hand. I fumble to hoist it over my shoulder and bemusedly follow along down the hall, towards the entrance lobby. Instead of answering me, Mao asks, her voice barely keeping the lid on some pent-up anger.

“Found it?”

I pat my book bag under my arm. “Yeah.” I hold off from continuing. She’s not making it obvious, but I can hear the low rumbling noise she’s making. I’m not sure if I should point it out, but at the very least she does not seem to want to share what happened either.

As we keep walking, her pace slows down, allowing my sore arm a reprieve and lets me take a breather. “…Hisao,” she speaks up.

I stiffen at her saying my name like that. I really shouldn’t have made it obvious that was my weakness. “Y-yes?” I ask, turning to her. She seems perplexed, as if she’s angry and somewhat guilty at the same time. Is she not angry at me? Or is she expecting me to react differently?

Mao sighs. “Keep an eye out for Kaori.”

I purse my lips. “...why?”

She seems to hesitate. “I … have a feeling she doesn’t like you.”

I knew it. I’m trying to not think of what happened back there, and she’s not helping. I’m already uncertain about even sticking around here any longer, let alone staying in the music club after the festival, for Shouhei or not, that not only does one of them know how to skillfully control me, another one hates my guts. And with how she sticks around down there and immediately hurry with Kaori to stop Saki from raising the alarm, both are likely influential in the club too if they are concerned that much with the opinions and decisions of Saki, the club president.

Seriously. The only positive here is Saki, and maybe Rika and Umi, but I know too little of the latter to make any judgment, and Saki feels like she’d stick her nose in my issues, where it does not belong. There is of course Shouhei, but I can hang out with my arguably only friend here outside of the club like his friends. A part of me is considering making my points and thoughts clear to this person standing now in charge of me, but the other half is arguing a valid point: don’t argue with authorities.

I catch her glancing at me. Oh screw it. “…oh yeah?” I reply, raising an eyebrow as I plant my feet in place. She stops as well.

Mao looks at me. “…okay,” she says, turning away now as if realizing she did something wrong. Oh she did alright; she knew that guitar was Kaori’s and she got me involved anyway. “Look, this isn’t the best welcoming party, I know, and Kaori’s dogmatism and insistence against practicality, I can guess, does you little favor.”

I stand up straight, and nod. She frowns, and keeps her gaze averted. “…yeah, actually.” I say out loud. This is bullshit. Here I am joining the music club completely voluntarily, after judging that it can be beneficial for both me and Shouhei’s band, but that chaos back there is a giant tirade of signs telling me to reconsider.

She purses her lips, before sighing again. What’s up with that. “I’ll tell you this,” she replies, taking a more solid tone, “she may seem fierce, and she may not like you, but she appreciates passion. Given that we’re not acquainted, I can’t yet ascertain whether you’re passionate about music--”

I nod, not completely because I agree, no. Enough is enough. The only reason I am even here is that this is all I know, and I figure the best way to start rebuilding my life is to start with what I’m familiar with. If she’s looking for passion, she’ll find it some day, but I don’t feel obliged to demonstrate whenever she pops in. If she uses her influence over Saki to force me out after the festival, so be it. I’ll just go back to Tokyo, get my guitar, and come back here to play for myself, by myself. Mao seems surprised to see me nod, as I break from my thoughts.

Did she figure it out? Am I showing something on my face again? I hope so, this time around.

She takes a moment to continue. “…well. All I can say is,” the bespectacled girl says, slightly uncertain, “give her time to adapt. She and Ryou were close once, and where you stand right now is where he once stood. Give her time.”

Mao turns around to continue, pulling me along, and I follow, with my thoughts behind me. Well, she did not get it, but her revelation struck a chord. That is true; I can empathize with that, somewhat. It’s a reasonable reaction, I would imagine: she lost someone she held dear, and all of sudden, a replacement, a pretender, popped up to take that person’s place. And worst of all, in her eyes that pretender attempted to seize the throne - Ryou’s guitar.

Sounds like something out of one of the classic soap opera dramas. Not sure why I’m living it, though. I don’t recall signing up.

We enter the entrance lobby. I feel the weight of the guitar on my back, wondering whose else did they take out of storage and handed it to me, just to give me a place in the band. With that, all of sudden my determination to keep marching forward on familiar grounds paints me as the bad guy.

And once again, I am back in square one.

Noticing my silence, Mao continues. “In the meantime,” she speaks up, her voice echoing somewhat in the soaring hall that is the entrance lobby, its increasingly empty halls lit by the evening light shining through tall windows. “Practice with that guitar, alright? I know it’s a tall order, but try to convince her you’re your own person, and not someone trying to usurp Ryou’s place.”

Mao does not know when to stop, does she. I know she cares, too, but my silence should have said something. I shift the guitar case to my other shoulder to alleviate the annoying soreness. I don’t even know what kind of guitar they just pulled out of storage, but if this is my lot, so be it, I’ll adapt.

“Oh?”

She suddenly comes to a halt, nearly crashing me into her as I was casting glances at the guitar case on my back. Sidestepping I turn to the gates, where she’s staring at; alongside Shouhei by the gates as he waves at us coming down the stairs to approach, is a familiar face.

Tsubaki.

She has changed her outfit in between when I last saw her and now; instead of a closed blazer like earlier in the afternoon, she’s now wearing a hooded sweater underneath her now open blazer, and her hair is now tied into a ponytail. As we notice each other, a part of me is saying I should heed Mao’s advice about practicing with the guitar, but in the privacy of my dorm room instead, but as we come close, I have a feeling she’ll pull me if I try to make a run for it.

“Hey~,” Shouhei speaks up, still jovial as I last saw him earlier, “you’re finally here! Heard a banshee scream earlier, that wasn’t trouble, was it?”

Mao waves him off. “Just Kaori. Anyhow, Tsubaki,” she turns to the girl, surprising her, “you’re coming along?”

Her question breaks her out of a daze. She seems to remember the awkward moment earlier afternoon after the run-in with Emi, as well as my faux pas crossing the line asking her something I shouldn’t have, and like me, she’s uncertain how to take my presence. I have to admit, the feeling is mutual. “Oh, uh,” she stutters, “yeah. Shouhei asked me of I wanna come along, and I honestly don’t mind. I think.”

Mao looks at her, puzzled, but waves it off as she leads us to the gate. “…alright, I don’t mind either. It’s getting late; we should get this done before curfew.”

“Right!” Shouhei exclaims in agreement.

The three of them walk on forward, following their leader. The look on her face as she noticed me gave me second thoughts. Perhaps I should go along, not only with the benefit of getting to know these two better, but also, I should do something positive today. My admission to the music club as it stands does not count. Here though, I can clarify things, and do something right for once.

Enough unknown factors; that spelled the end of my time back in Yokohama, that I know. I should learn something, and making up with Tsubaki can be a good place to start. Another friend won’t hurt … right?
"They say, the best way to improve yourself is to believe in who you are. You are but a blip in the lives of many you pass by, so why worry? Be yourself - life is too short to worry about the minor altercations here and there.

"So, get out there. Break the chains that holds you back - and embrace the freedom ahead of you." - me

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