Hey all! I can't believe it's been two months since the last update... I'm so sorry. Good news is this: I've been doing work on the story on and off, but between starting a new job and helping my SO get ready to move cross-country, it's all been a little haphazard. Thankfully, now, I'm able to start to write in earnest again. I'm hoping to update bi-weekly from here on out, obviously exceeding that goal if I get the chance. Hope you enjoy the chapter!
Scene 17: Open to Interpretation
The rain smacks angrily against the window of the bus. So hard, in fact, that I'm afraid the flimsy glass panes separating me from the deluge won't be enough if the storm decides to up the ante. The drops are large and splash like oversized globules of syrup—if syrup seemed like it could turn into hail at any moment—all over the bus and the road ahead, which is leading us, albeit slowly, to the city.
I survey the few passengers around me. The middle-aged man in the back, who was already riding the bus before I got on, hasn't unstuck his right hand from his phone the whole time, not even when the thunder was pretty intense a few minutes ago. The two old ladies up front, who got on right after the rain started, are still wringing their jackets and sleeves into the aisle, much to the chagrin of the driver, who seems too polite to say anything.
The girl who boarded the bus at the same time I did and is now sitting across from me is dressed in a Yamaku uniform. She looks like an underclassman: short hair in pigtails, an excess of bracelets on her right wrist, and her iPod adorned with cheap plastic jeweled stickers. Her head is steadily bobbing in time with what could be any number of popular J-pop songs. I think about waving, but considering I've changed out of my uniform, an unsolicited greeting would be at best awkward. I let out a small sigh and turn back to my window, pressing my face and nose to the glass.
I watch the rain for a while, feeling the vibrations of each drop through the window as they explode against the exterior of the bus. It's a stark contrast to the weather of the past few days—and even this morning—which have all been sunny and relatively cloudless.
I hope it stops raining before the bus arrives in the city. It figures that today would be the one day I should have listened to Kenji.
"Dude, if you're going into the city, you've gotta remember to take an umbrella at all costs!"
"Why, is it going to rain today?"
"Hell if I know. I'm talking about for protection from the radio waves they transmit from the roofs of the buildings. Gotta keep your head clear, man. Don't want all those preprocessed pro-feminism thoughts clouding up your judgement. Who knows what they'd make you do?"
I briefly considered explaining to him that an umbrella wouldn't do much good as far as protection from radio waves goes... but I was already running late, and on the off chance he had a lead-lined umbrella readily available, I didn't want the conversation to continue for much longer. Looking back on it, how he was able to choose today for that specific tirade is beyond me.
Maybe he's a weather savant as well as a pizza savant.
Now that I think about it, I should have asked him about Iwanako's letter; it still hasn't turned up even though I've done one or two thorough scourings of my room. I silently curse my forgetfulness. I guess it'll have to wait until some other time.
For now, there's just me, the bus and the rest of its passengers, the rain, and the road that's taking me to the city to see Kagami. I'll be honest; I was mildly surprised it wasn't Emi when I received a phone call as early as I did today.
"Mm, hello? Oh, shit, sorry, I totally slept in," I stammer.
"Hisao? What are you talking about? It's Kagami," I hear through the earpiece.
"Hey Kagami. Sorry, forget I said anything. It's a little early for a phone call, don't you think? What are you doing up?" I ask, trying to deflect attention from my gaffe.
"Weirdo," she responds curtly. "Anyhow, it's Saturday, and I was wondering if you'd join me in the city again after my orchestra rehearsal."
I break into a sleepy smile. "That sounds great! Same time as last week?"
"If I said 4:30 last week, then yes. I'm heading into the city early to do some errands, so I wanted to make sure I caught you before I left."
"I'm pretty sure you caught me early enough," I say teasingly, yawning.
"Cut it out, faker. You've got class until afternoon, so morning is the best option for a call, obviously. Besides, I know you were running with Emi today. Don't try to pull one over on me."
I swear I can hear her wink through the phone.
"Actually, that's what I was talking about earlier. I slept in today and missed our run. Emi's gonna be pissed off," I remark.
"Uh-oh. Sorry I kept you up so late last night." Kagami says, seeming genuinely apologetic.
"Not at all your fault. I enjoy talking to you, too."
"Well, as much as we like our late-night talk-a-thons, it's time for you to get ready and go to class."
"Makes it sound like you aren't going," I say.
"I'm not. Like I said, I'm running errands today before rehearsal."
"Do you ever go to class?" I inquire sarcastically.
"I go enough," she huffs.
"Sure," I reply in the same sarcastic tone. "I suppose I do need to get ready, though."
"Ok, go be studious. 4:30, don't forget!"
"I won't. Bye, Kagami."
"See ya later, Hisao."
A particularly loud crack of thunder separates my mind from the memory of this morning and pulls me forcefully into the now. We must be getting closer to the heart of the storm; I subconsciously remember seeing a flash of lightning not a few seconds ago. I watch for more lightning for about half a minute before a vehement sneeze from one of the old women up front makes me give a small jump.
Relaxing back into my seat, I pull out my phone and check my new messages, of which there are none. The conversation with Emi is still in the state it was this morning: a lone unreplied-to apology text hovering next to my name and the word "sent". I wonder why she hasn't responded yet. That's very unlike Emi, who wouldn't miss the chance to immediately razz me for missing our run, and then make me feel terrible about it with that puppy-dog look the next time she sees me.
I'm becoming less susceptible to its influence as time goes on. It's either losing its charm or the morning runs have started doing their trick and somehow improved my mental as well as my physical stamina. I can run almost two miles now without feeling like I want to throw up, so I guess that's progress... however slow it may seem to be coming.
Come to think of it, though, that's how my life's been going recently. I'm becoming more comfortable in my classes—well, except for English—and I seem to be forming a few decent friendships despite only having been here a couple of weeks. To a normal high school kid, those things might not mean that much, but for me... well, it's progress enough to make me feel good about it.
Apparently I'm making progress with Kagami as well. I couldn't believe it when she told me she remembered me a few nights ago. Even if it's only a feeling.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. I'm glad that I'm special to her, but at the same time, I'm not entirely sure what she wants from me. From our discussions—at least the sober ones—she's made it clear she's not quite ready for a relationship. But she certainly isn't afraid to be physical, even when she hasn't been drinking. The last few nights have been full of what could only be described as flirtatious gestures: hands gently placed on knees, that sort of thing.
I guess I'm just as confused as she is.
But for some reason, I can't help but feel a strange sense of positivity about what's to come. It's similar to a feeling I once had in a snowy field on a winter afternoon... even though that seems like it was years ago.
Hell, if I'd have been asked even a few weeks ago whether or not I could ever start to feel like that again, I'm not sure how I would have answered. Now, though...
Progress. I suppose that's the theme of the day.
Apparently, that's not the theme of this bus ride, however. The rain is pouring so heavily that the driver has slowed the bus to a near-crawl along the now four-lane road. Other cars are passing us quickly, some honking in frustration at our speed. This fazes the two elderly ladies in front slightly, but the driver seems undeterred.
But we are getting closer. The dark outlines of buildings have steadily been looming larger and larger, obscured to an almost-black by the torrential downpour. It doesn't look like the rain is going to let up, which means that I'm going to get soaked on the walk over to Kagami's orchestra's rehearsal space. Damn you, Kenji.
We pull into the bus stop, but no one seems to be getting off here except me. Thankfully, I'm able to fashion a makeshift umbrella from free publications sitting near the front of the bus. As I step out into the rain, however, the newspaper becomes quickly soaked, dissolving into a pulpy mess and coating my fingers. The bus driver shoots me a pity-filled glance as I finish my disembarkation onto the sidewalk.
Since I skipped my morning run today, I suppose a brisk jog to Kagami's orchestra rehearsal space can't hurt.
My feet splash wildly amongst the various puddles and streams that are forming stochastically along the streets and sidewalks, soaking my pants and socks up to the ankles. I'm not sure there's a worse feeling than wet socks.
While the thought crosses through my mind, a rather sporty-looking sedan roars past me just as I finish crossing the street, soaking my entire backside with a wake from the particularly large puddle I just vaulted over. The blonde woman inside the car—at least, I think it's a woman; she's got rather short hair—looks back quickly and gives me the same look of pity the bus driver did.
That's right. There is a worse feeling than soaked socks. Namely, soaked underwear.
I arrive at my destination in a rather sorry way: soaked to the bone and with newspaper pulp covering my right hand, the offending publication having been dropped in a wastebasket on the way into the building. Although it probably did more harm than good as an umbrella for the last few minutes of the trip. I quickly peer through the window into the rehearsal space to see... oh good, they're still practicing. Instead of venturing inside, I detour to the bathroom to attempt the rather impossible-seeming task of getting myself to a drier state. Hopefully Kagami has an umbrella that she's willing to share; I don't want to dry off only to get soaked again in ten minutes.
I attempt to contort myself underneath the hand drier for a few minutes before giving up and resigning myself to being damp for the foreseeable future. Whoever thought taking paper towels out of bathrooms was a good idea should be shot, or at least be made to walk around in wet underwear once every few days.
Apparently the orchestra rehearsal finished up while I was inside the bathroom, as the members are all filing out of the rehearsal hall, all pulling on raincoats and readying umbrellas. The students with larger instrument cases in their possession look especially nervous to venture into the storm.
In stark contrast to the rather grim congregation, a trademark red braid comes bobbing through the crowd, not looking sullen in the least. Kagami flashes a large smile in my direction and waves. Her normal black tank top and jeans have been supplemented by a garishly yellow pair of rain boots and an umbrella that looks like it could shelter a small village. She saunters over to my position, gently swaying her violin case back and forth at her side as she walks. As she looks me over, her expression becomes full of an amused concern at my rather soggy state.
"Uh, Hisao? You're all wet," Kagami says, giggling.
"Wait, what?" I respond sarcastically. "I'm w- so I am. Well, this is some news, isn't it?" I stick my tongue out for emphasis.
"Don't be an ass," she responds, winking. "Did you forget an umbrella? Or any rain gear whatsoever?"
"It was sunny when I left Yamaku," I respond halfheartedly. I suppose that's no excuse for not checking the weather, as there are computers and a television in the common area of the boys' dorm.
"Didn't expect a cloudburst during rainy season, huh?" Kagami says slyly. "It's fine. This umbrella is too big not to share anyhow."
"Whew. For a second there, I thought I was gonna get wet," I reply, mock-wringing my sleeve onto the ground.
"You can walk to the bus stop by yourself if you keep that lippiness up, mister," she laughs. "Ready to go? There's this little teahouse around the corner I looked up earl-"
"Takahashi! Hold up!" I hear a slightly familiar voice boom from behind us. Kagami and I both turn to see Ito, her conductor, striding quickly toward us. His long black pea coat flows out behind him, accentuating the white and blue patterned dress shirt and brown corduroy slacks that seem to fit him almost too well. He immediately recognizes me.
"Ah, Nakai! What brings you all the way down here on a Saturday?" he asks, even though his face reveals he knows the answer quite well.
"Just meeting Kagami after rehearsal."
Kagami interjects. "Wait, you two know each other?"
"We talked about it the other- oh, sorry," I say, catching myself mid-gaffe. I blush, as does Kagami.
Ito, thankfully, steps in quickly. "Yes, we met the other day when I was at Yamaku to pick up some music," he says, pausing for a split-second before completely ignoring the rather awkward exchange and continuing. "Now, then. Do you two have any specific plans for the rest of the evening?"
Kagami and I both shake our heads simultaneously.
"Excellent. Then, if you don't mind the intrusion, Nakai, I'd like to go over some additional bowings and stylistic changes with Ms. Takahashi while I'm still in the city. In exchange for your time, I'll buy you both tea. Or coffee, whichever you prefer. There's a small teahouse around the corner that I believe is the perfect venue for such an endeavor."
Kagami stifles a small laugh. Apparently she and Ito have similar tastes in restaurants.
"If you're ok with it, Hisao?" she asks leadingly.
I shrug. "Sure, why not?" I say. Ito doesn't seem to be such a bad guy. And who knows, I might actually learn something about music. And free coffee is free coffee.
"Excellent," Ito says, brimming with excitement. Apparently bowings—whatever those are—really get his engine revved. He clasps his hands together and rubs them expectantly. "Shall we be off, then?"
"Yes sir," Kagami replies, unfastening the small velcro strap on her umbrella. She deftly opens the door with her backside and opens up the large blue-and-white striped canopy, waiting for me to join her under its protective shield. Ito buttons his coat, steps through the adjacent door, and turns his collar up against the rain, which has lessened in intensity somewhat, but still doesn't seem to be showing any signs of letting up completely.
We make our way to the teahouse in less than a minute; I guess it really is right around the corner. It's a small part of a larger building—a skinny navy-blue facade tucked into an otherwise grey concrete behemoth. The small bell dings brightly as the door opens and we step inside. It almost reminds me of the Shanghai. However, the similarities seem to end there. While the Shanghai seems to have a rustic, dated feel, this place seems new and modern.
For one, there are people here. It's acceptably quiet, but the teahouse is most definitely abuzz with pleasant chatter from the patrons.
The room itself has hardwood floors, as well as wood paneling running about a quarter of the way up the walls. The soft azure lighting coming from fluorescent strips built into the paneling gives the room a cooler feel overall, while the minimalist stainless-steel lamps hanging from the ceiling brighten the individual tables. The tables themselves are dressed in neat, white tablecloths, surrounded by sleek-looking chairs, which have wooden seats and stainless steel legs. There's a small amount of luminescence coming from the fish tank over by the coffee bar, where a waitress dressed in a black apron is waving to us.
It looks... expensive. I'm glad Ito is buying.
We approach the bar and Ito places an order for some tea and sandwiches, as well as some coffee. The waitress smiles politely and scurries back to the kitchen, informing us that she'll bring us our order when it's ready. Satisfied with the current situation, Ito excuses himself to the restroom while Kagami and I seat ourselves at a nearby corner table.
"So, what do you think?" Kagami asks quietly, nudging me in the shoulder.
"About?" I respond.
"Ito, dummy. You've met before, so what do you think of him? He's pretty cool, right?"
I falter visibly. Kagami obviously doesn't remember that our argument a few days ago—which ended in rather nasty heart episode—was spurred partly by me spilling the beans about my conversation with Ito. About her.
"Y-yeah. He's great," I say smally.
Kagami giggles and puts her hand on my knee. "Easy, killer. No need to be so forceful." She winks.
I manage a nervous smile. It seems I'm in the clear, although I feel fairly guilty about it.
"Seriously, Hisao, don't freak out. He's not as intense as he seems. Besides, he likes most people—he did just buy you coffee, remember? And I promise this will go quick, ok?"
"It doesn't really have to go quickly," I say, having regained most of my composure. "I planned for us to go to the park today, but that doesn't seem like much of an option now. I'm kind of at a loss for what we'd do otherwise."
"Hm," Kagami says, placing her thumb and forefinger across the bottom of her jaw and scratching gently. "Well, I thought we would hang out here... which is what we're doing anyway, so I guess it all works out anyhow."
"I guess so," I say, chuckling and feeling a little more at ease. Kagami squeezes my leg gently. "So, what is it exactly that you and Ito are going to go over today?"
"Just some bowing stuff. Some of the presto sections have some strange slurs, so we're gonna see about getting them to be a little less awkward while still ending cadences on down bows," Kagami rattles off.
"Um... I understood literally none of that," I say, slightly dumbfounded.
"Ha, sorry. I don't talk to many people about this stuff that haven't ever been around music before," she apologizes. "Presto is a tempo marking—it means you play pretty fast."
Receiving my acknowledgement, she continues excitedly. "Slurs are two notes tied together by a single stroke of the bow—they're used to improve phrasing—and cadences are sort of the end of phrases, but not really, and-"
"Kagami," I interrupt.
"I seriously don't understand a word you're saying."
"Really? Dammit," she swears, resting her chin on the palm of her hand and placing her elbow on the table. "I guess I'm not very good at explaining this stuff, am I?"
"Well, to be fair, you're explaining it to the least musically-oriented person in the world. It's like... explaining calculus to a kid who's barely learned how to multiply."
"Nice analogy," Kagami pouts. "Well, try to not get too bored with Ito and me when we get into it."
"I'll have my coffee," I say. "You guys do what you need to."
"Okay," she replies, pausing for a moment before adding, "Thanks for coming along, Hisao. I really do enjoy your company."
"Well, it's not like I had a choice. You're the one with an umbrella," I tease.
"Oh, I see how it is. You only like me for my rain gear, is that it? I'm shocked at your audacity," she says, crossing her arms in mock disdain.
"What can I say?" I reply, shrugging. "I love a great pair of... boots."
Kagami immediately breaks up into a laughing fit, causing me to lose my composure and begin guffawing as well.
"Wow, Hisao. I had no idea you were into that."
"Hey," I object with an overzealous wave of my hand. "I appreciate the fine craftsmanship of waterproof footwear. Get your mind out of the gutter."
"Oh, sure, I'm the dirty one," she says, rolling her eyes.
We continue chuckling for a few seconds before Ito approaches the table and takes the seat opposite me, placing a rather thick volume of sheet music in between Kagami and him.
"Now, Nakai. How familiar are you with Shostakovich's 5th symphony?" Ito asks as he pulls his chair in.
I shoot a deer-in-the-headlights look at Kagami. She shrugs and raises her eyebrows.
"It's not a trick question, I promise," Ito says, smiling.
"Ok, I'll bite. I know absolutely nothing about it," I say, wondering what Ito's game is.
"Excellent," the conductor says, clasping his hands together. "Shostakovich is considered one the great, if not the greatest, Russian composers of the 20th century. During his life, however, he constantly butted heads with the relatively new communist government—his music was very political."
"Classical music can be political?" I ask, not really buying Ito's premise.
"This," Ito says, pressing his index finger against the tome in front of him, "is not classical music. At least not in the sense that you're used to. What you consider classical music was long-obsolete by this point in history."
I find myself leaning forward in my seat. There's something about the way Ito talks that naturally makes me want to listen to him.
"This music... this is angry, sad, manic music, meant to be a direct critique of the way the government operated and treated the Russian people. For as you see, in the newly formed United Soviet Socialist Republic, most artists were directly conscripted by the government to create propagandist material. The goal was to mollify the Russian people with music that was hopeful, joyous, and—most importantly—reflected the state in a positive light."
"But Shostakovich didn't do that."
"You're damned right he didn't. Instead, he created music with a double meaning. What he told the government differs drastically from the piece's actual intended interpretation. The first two movements, which contain slow, plodding, heavy undercurrents, punctuated by a manic waltz movement were described to the government as the 'plight of the Russian people before the glorious light of communism'. The third: a slow, sorrowful lamentation, 'the cry of the people for change'. And the fourth, a violent whirlwind, followed by a triumphant fanfare, representing the Russian revolution and 'rejoicing of the people'.
"How could that get misinterpreted?" I ask.
Kagami nudges me in the arm. "He's getting to that," she whispers.
"I am indeed. Now, where is that...?" He flips through the pages of the music in front of him for a few moments. "Ah, here it is. Now, Nakai, tell me what you see here," he says, pointing at a specifically busy patch of music.
"Um... I'm not sure what you mean," I reply, a little overwhelmed at the mass of information on the page in front of me. The strange notations and markings are as foreign to me as English.
"Specifically here, the violin part. See this note right here?"
I stare intently at where Ito's finger is indicating. Looks like that note gets repeated a lot. For quite a while, actually.
"There's an awful lot of that note," I say rather inanely.
"Don't remind me, ugh," Kagami says exhaustedly. "My arm gets tired just thinking about it."
"What Ms. Takahashi means," Ito interrupts, "is that this note is repeated ad nauseum for about two minutes near the end of the symphony. It's a constant, grating layer placed underneath what would be a very triumphant horn fanfare."
"Why would that be in there?"
"Excellent question, Nakai. Most music experts agree that it represents the constant oppression of the state, forcing the Russian people to rejoice at their ruling under pain of... unpleasantness. In fact, there are several more undercurrents within the symphony, indicating that something is very wrong with the picture that's being presented. It turns the entire piece on its head. What once was a standard propaganda piece extolling the virtues of socialism has now been turned on its head to become one of the most subversive and diabolical pieces of social commentary ever."
I pause for a moment, a little speechless. How could one piece of classical—er, not classical—music have such a deep and important meaning? Ito sits back, waiting for my reaction.
"You said 'most experts'. Is this not how you think as well?" I ask, somewhat pleased with my observation.
Ito seems to have prepared for this possibility. "I was hoping you'd pick up on that. I certainly agree that there's a layer of social commentary hidden within this masterpiece. However, I think there's something more raw at the core. Something much more viscerally human."
"Can't you guess?"
I look over at Kagami for help, but she places her hands up in a defensive pose. "Nope. You're on your own for this one."
Hm. Something 'human'. I wonder...
"It... it wouldn't be about Shostakovich himself, would it?"
Ito smiles widely. "Perceptive, Nakai. I'm surprised you got it that quickly. Most need a helpful nudge in the correct direction," he says, glancing furtively in Kagami's direction. She doesn't seem to notice.
"I believe, at its core, this piece is a cry for help from Shostakovich himself. It's a journey through his grief... his anger at the government for forcing his creative impotence, his deep depression at seeing what's become of his beloved country, and his being forced to write cheerful, triumphant music for the sake of the government, all the while its oppressive breath upon his neck."
Ito sits back into his chair, appearing a little worn out from his explanation.
"In essence, I believe it's something we all go through, although not to the great extent that he did. We all have our own problems, we're frustrated by them, we grieve for our losses, and we're forced to carry on with a smile, sometimes by others, sometimes by ourselves. All the while secretly hurting on the inside. It's part of the human condition."
"Wow," I respond, unable to form a more coherent response.
"Seems like a little heavy of a discussion to be having over afternoon tea, isn't it?" Kagami asks, apparently trying to lighten the mood.
Ito gives a small chuckle. "I suppose you're right. It's probably a little much for you to absorb at once. I've loved this piece for many years, and every time I listen to it I still hear new depths, new intricacies."
The waitress comes to fill the small pause in the conversation, fulfilling our order of coffee, tea, and sandwiches. Seems like Ito ordered a small feast.
As we eat, Ito and Kagami discuss various interpretations of the symphony in front of them. Their discussions veer wildly back and forth between violin parts, percussion parts, the loudness of the whole orchestra, and other topics I don't quite understand. It becomes apparent that Ito trusts Kagami's musical ear very much. They almost seem more like colleagues than teacher and student.
After we finish the sandwiches in an almost embarrassingly short amount of time, Ito and Kagami begin making markings in Ito's book, which Kagami copies over to her own sheet music. I sit back in my chair, sipping my coffee and letting my thoughts wander.
Why did Ito go into such a long-winded explanation about Shostakovich? From what I've seen, he doesn't seem the type to give a soliloquy like that for no reason. I find myself occasionally glancing in his direction, wondering for what reason he wants me here.
After a while, Kagami excuses herself to use the restroom, leaving Ito and me at the table, silently sipping our coffees. The man across from me breaks the silence first.
"Nakai, I was wondering something."
"Okay, shoot," I say, looking up from my cup.
"You and Takahashi seem to have gotten to know each other pretty well since you and I last met."
"I suppose that's true," I reply.
"Has... has she ever talked about her family? Her relationship with her parents?"
I balk for a moment, but I quickly realize that Kagami has told me very little about her parents. Certainly nothing that Ito shouldn't hear.
"No, she hasn't really. She doesn't seem to get along with her father very well. That's about it."
"Hm, curious," Ito says thoughtfully.
I pause for a moment, waiting for him to continue, but he never does. I decide to press the issue. "Why do you ask?"
"I'm not entirely certain. Although..." Ito stops for a moment, forming his next sentence. "I've never seen either of her parents at any one of our concerts. In fact, I've only ever met her uncle, at auditions her first year in the orchestra. I realize we're a little further away from where she grew up, but it's not a ludicrous proposition to assume that at least one of her parents would come."
"Hm," I respond in an equally pensive manner. "Her father's a lawyer, or something in that profession. I can't imagine he can get away from his work very easily. Kagami told me she was always closer to her mother."
"Was?" Ito asks.
I had never stopped to consider the possibility, but now that Ito's mentioned it... Kagami always does speak about her mother in the past tense. However, that could just be a byproduct of her memory loss.
"I suppose that's just because of... well, you know," I say sheepishly.
"Perhaps," Ito says, tracing the edge of his finger around his cup. "Perhaps."
"You think there's more to it?"
"Nakai, were you not listening to anything I was saying? About Shostakovich? There's always more to it. People, events, everything- they're all multifaceted; everything and everyone has their own story, just as rich and colorful and heartbreaking as anyone or anything else's." Ito brings his cup to his lips, but doesn't drink; instead, he sighs and places it back onto its saucer. "And sometimes it's not always obvious."
"You think there's something going on with Kagami's parents?" I ask with a slightly incredulous tone. I find Ito's assumption to be a bit of a stretch.
"I daren't say for sure," Ito responds, sensing the disbelief in my voice. "But I've seen enough to know something isn't right. Just..." He stops short, closing his eyes and furrowing his brow.
Before I have a chance to ask what he means, Kagami comes back from the restroom, and the two continue marking up the music as they did before, leaving me stewing in thought. It's a long while before Kagami addresses me again.
"Hisao, what do you think?" Kagami asks, bringing me out of my introspection.
"Huh? What?" I say stupidly.
"Haha, I was asking you if this section should start up bow or down bow. In order to emphasize the accents on these notes," she says, pointing with her pencil.
"Um..." I say, raising one eyebrow slightly.
Kagami smiles. "Kidding. Just wanted to bring you back from la la land. We're done with the markups."
"Nice," I respond. "That didn't take very long."
Ito glances at his watch. "Per se. This place seems to have a habit of sucking away the hours faster than they seem to pass. It's nearly six-thirty."
"Wow, really?" Kagami asks.
"Really," Ito responds matter-of-factly. "It's actually time for me to be off. I have a dinner date tonight I shouldn't be late for. Before I go, however, I'd like to extend a formal invitation to you, Hisao, to attend our end-of-year concert in... well, I suppose it's in a little more than a month and a half. We'll be playing the Shostakovich, as well as a few others. Also..." he says, reaching into his bag, "we'll be performing something I believe you've heard before."
He gently taps the glossy dark blue booklet in his right hand against the table.
"What's that?" I ask, beginning to fit the pieces together in my mind. I feel like I've seen that booklet somewhere before...
"It's the Bruch Concerto Number One in G Minor..." he pauses, smiling at Kagami, whose eyes are widening by the second, "...for violin."
"Y-you mean..." Kagami stammers.
"I do. Congratulations," Ito says as he smiles warmly.
"Oh my god! Thank you thank you thank you thank you~!" Kagami exclaims as she leaps from her chair to embrace a now-standing Ito. She buries her face into his chest, thanks still pouring out of her mouth.
After several seconds of this, Kagami pulls away and faces me. "Hisao, I won! I won the concerto competition!"
"I gathered. Congratulations, Kagami. You deserve it," I say as Kagami beams with pride.
"The judges finished up their deliberations earlier this week. You blew them away. We'll be starting rehearsal with this in two Saturdays after the long weekend off, so give it some extra prep time this week. We don't have much time to get this up to performance shape. Okay?"
Kagami still seems to be shocked. "O-of course! I'll be ready."
"Good. I have every confidence we'll have an amazing show, then." He looks at Kagami, whose mouth is still gaping open. "Something you need to say, Takahashi?"
"U-uh... I... I'vegottagopee!" Kagami blurts out as she makes a mad dash for the bathroom, no doubt just to regain her composure.
Ito chuckles to himself. "Don't be too shy, now," he says to no one in particular as Kagami quickly moves out of sight.
"Ito," I say, asking the question that's come to the forefront of my mind, "when did you say the judges made their decision?"
"Why do you inquire, Nakai?" Ito says slyly. I think he knows what I'm about to ask.
"That's the same music you ordered from Yuuko, isn't it? The music you picked up a few weeks ago."
Ito raises a hand to his chest in mock indignation. "Why, Nakai, I would never order music for the orchestra unless I was entirely sure that it was needed. To order music for the winner of the concerto competition without knowing the judges' decision would take a very confident man, indeed."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Didn't I?" Ito says, winking.
Kagami comes trotting back from the bathroom, apparently having just splashed some water on her face. Although she could have just stepped outside to do that.
"Ito, thank you so, so much. I really appreciate this."
"Nonsense. You've earned it. Take this," he says, handing her the dark blue booklet. "Consider it a gift from the orchestra. Now, I really must be going. You two enjoy the rest of your evening together."
Ito turns to walk through the door, but stops sharply before digging into his pocket and extracting a few bills from his wallet. "I almost forgot. This should cover for the food. Takahashi, if you would be so kind as to take this up to the register for me, so as to settle our bill, I'd appreciate it."
Kagami salutes, gives a "Yes, sir," and grabs the money from Ito before heading up to the register.
Ito stops at my shoulder as he makes his exit from the restaurant.
"Nakai... about what I said earlier. Take care of her, please," he says quietly.
"U-uh, I'm sorry?"
Ito turns to face me. "The way she looks at you—I've seen her look that way before, but not at anyone else. She's going to need you more than she knows, I think, very soon."
"Is it... what we were talking about before? How do you even know?" I ask, recalling the discussion of her parents.
"Call it intuition, or an educated guess. The result of studying human nature for most of my life."
Ito pauses for a moment, once again turning his visage upon the door.
"Lord knows Shostakovich wasn't the only musical genius that ever hurt, or that needed help. Take care, Nakai."
And without another word from either of us, Yasahiro Ito steps outside into the rain and vanishes into the evening.
Kagami nearly runs back from the register, gripping her new music tightly. "Oh my god, Hisao, can you believe it? I actually won! I didn't think I had a chance; they never pick violinists!"
I smile warmly, attempting to shake what Ito just said to me out of my head. "Congratulations, Kagami. Although I can't say I'm as surprised as you. You probably completely nailed that audition, just like you're gonna nail it at the concert."
"You're gonna come, right?" Kagami asks, expectantly.
"Of course I'll come. Not that I have much of a choice after an invitation like that, but I'd be there regardless."
With that, Kagami near-throws her new music back onto the table and wraps me in a tight embrace, pressing her face against my shoulder.
"Awesome. I can't wait."
"Me neither. I'm sure it'll be an amazing concert."
"It's totally gonna be! We're playing the Shostakovich, and now this, and..." Kagami keeps chattering excitedly about the upcoming concert, telling me about the pieces to be performed and what they're like as we gather ourselves and prepare to head outside into the rain, which has lessened to the point of a steady drizzle.
We decide to just catch an early bus back to Yamaku; seeing as how there's nothing we can do outside and we already ate, it's our best option. The bus arrives shortly after Kagami and I make it to the station, and before I know it, she's asleep on my shoulder, the hum of the bus' engine having lulled her to sleep.
The rain stops about ten or so minutes into the trip. Although it's still cloudy, there are barely a few rays of light peeking through as the sun settles upon the horizon. I think the days are starting to get shorter again. A sigh slinks audibly past my lips, and Kagami stirs for a second before settling back into a slow, steady breathing rhythm.
The rain's gone, but we've got a long way to go before we get around these clouds.
I'm left wondering what Ito could have meant by his last statement. Could Kagami be just as troubled as he says? She seems pretty... together, at least to me. And the matter of her parents... well, I'm not going to assume that I'm in the position to know anything important. Hell, there's a good chance Kagami doesn't even know. In any case, I'm starting to think that long discussion about Shostakovich wasn't just a history lesson. It's possible there's more to this than I—or even Kagami—could know.
I glance down at the girl resting on my shoulder. I think... no matter what may or may not be coming... I want to be there for her.
And for now, that's enough.
End Act 2.