“Oh, we moved it to the stage a few days ago,” the older woman answers me. “We’re almost done setting up for the recital.”
“I’m free for the most part. Is there anything I can help with?” I volunteer - partly because I want to, and partly because I know someone else
already moved the piano.
She takes a minute to consider, looking around the room. “I think the only thing we have left to move are the last two music stands. We’ll be meeting in the auditorium for the rest of the week at any rate. But enough about that, how are you doing?”
“Doing great. Almost never better.”
“That’s good news to hear. I’m glad you could make it back before graduation. Are you going to be coming to the recital?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. I think I convinced my parents to see it too.”
Mrs. Sakamoto’s face shows a bit of surprise when she hears this. “Ah, so they’re here the night before graduation, is that right?”
“I’ll make sure to get the three of you some good seats then,” she says, then turns to her protege. “Did you still want an extra seat for your brother?”
Saki’s face goes a bit dark at this, although she does her best not to let it show. She nods.
“Very well, I’ll change the reserved chart. Are you finally going to take your violin back to your room, or leave it here again for rehearsal tomorrow?”
Saki doesn’t do nearly as good a job hiding her dislike for this
question. “Ah, no. I’ll take it with me. I need to get something anyway.”
“Perfect! Hisao and I should be done moving the music stands by that point, so I’ll be able to give him back to you.”
Saki blushes a bit at this, the corner of her mouth turning into a wry smile that she can’t avoid making. Her teacher chooses not to notice, and I give her my arm to help her get to her feet. I think about telling her I can go with her if she wants, but decide it would be best I don’t.
I’m getting the distinct thought that Mrs. Sakamoto wants to talk to me alone - something that fills me with equal parts concern and curiosity.
“Do you just want to meet at the pool?” Saki asks me. “I’m grabbing my suit, so I can get back and change while you’re talking with Nurse.”
“Alright,” I say, shifting my bag on my shoulder. “I have mine with me, so I’ll catch up.”
“You still don’t want to stop by your room first?”
“I’ll end up back there tonight eventually.”
The corner of her mouth turns up into a playful smirk. “So, your room tonight then?” she teases in a whisper that I’m almost certain the teacher hears.
“Let’s...play it by ear,” I reply, and she nods.
“It’s those two, next to the stack of chairs,” Mrs. Sakamoto says, pointing towards the left side of the room to clarify. I quickly locate the two objects I’m looking for, and grab one by the silver tube that makes up its neck. Testing the weight, I’m a bit surprised by how light it is. I pick up the other one with my free hand, trying to position them to where I can comfortably walk without banging them against my legs. Once I give her some space, Saki moves past me to grab her violin case on the shelf, her lips set into a hard line.
“Everyone have everything they need?” the music teacher asks. When both of us nod, all three of us move to the door. Mrs. Sakamoto holds it open for us, and once we’re all through, I reassure Saki I’ll see her soon. She gives me a tight smile, and turns on her heel to walk back towards the direction of the dorms. I watch for a few seconds as she moves with her cane in one hand and the case in the other before Mrs. Sakamoto clears her throat slightly. I shake my head slightly to clear it and follow her around the side of the building towards the auditorium’s stage door.
“She hasn’t been taking the violin back to her room?” I ask.
She sighs “No. I brought it back from Shogo’s studio after Christmas, but the last few days she’s been leaving it here after rehearsals instead of taking it back to her room.”
I wince. Things happened so quickly that night, and with the immediate fallout of trying to sort the situation with Maeda and Saki, nobody thought to grab her violin. The last few months at home, she didn’t have it with her. She had an older one there, but she hadn’t played it for years and it wasn’t as good as her current one...and it just happened to be the same one she was playing when she had her mental breakdown...
“She’s been spending a lot of time the last few days getting ready for the recital, but only here in the band room.” she continues.
“What’s going to be happening with that now?” I ask. “Now that...well…”
Her face softens. “The two of them are still going to have to play together, if for no other reason than the fact we already printed the programs with their names on them. Saki will play her two pieces. Chisato will play her two, and then they’ll play one piece together.”
I’m shocked. Did the teacher decide this, or did they? Saki hasn’t said anything to me about it, but she’s also made it pretty clear it’s not a subject she wants to bring up..
“I hope that it goes okay. Chisato was…” I trail off, remembering her anger.
“She was the one that asked me not to change the program.”
I’m so startled by this that I almost drop one of the stands. “She did?”
Mrs. Sakamoto notices this and turns her head in my direction. “I spoke to her about it after we finished recording on Christmas. She said she wanted to keep it as it was.”
I have a few seconds to collect my thoughts as the teacher pulls out a set of keys to open the door. Chisato’s been angry, and from the handful of times I’ve talked to her, I would have assumed that the joint song during the recital would have been cancelled. To be fair, she never really brought it up either - more proof that all of us have just been trying to avoid the situation.
With a jangling of metal, the lock clicks and Mrs. Sakamoto pulls open the door. I can feel the heated air from inside pouring out, and step through quickly into the seating area of the auditorium. The concentric arcs of chairs begin near the top of the entrance, sloping down until they narrow in front of a raised stage. The room itself is spacious, with room for about a hundred and fifty students in total. The ceiling overhead is a jagged slope, broken apart by rigging for lighting and a few large speakers. What lights that are on are pointed at the stage, illuminating the risers and chairs already positioned there, along with the piano from the band room.
I’ve only been in here a handful of times for different assemblies, but I’ve been awed by the space every time.
Mrs. Sakamoto leads me down one of the side aisles, towards a set of stairs that lead up to the stage itself. The first few rows of chairs have signs on them, designating that they’re reserved for different staff members or for the families of students in the band.
“There’s a few open seats in the second row over by the piano. I’ll put a few signs on them to reserve them for you.”
I gingerly move to set the music stands down next to the rest of the equipment on the side of the stage by the podium. Turning back to face the “audience,” I have to squint a bit to see the chairs Mrs. Sakamoto is talking about. I’ve never been up on a stage like this before, and the amount of light simply washing out my vision is pretty disorienting.
Saki, Chisato, and everyone else actually play
while dealing with this? I can barely make out the front row, much less anything else further back unless I shield my eyes with my hand.
“First time on a stage?” the teacher asks, chuckling.
“Uh, yeah,” I mention, blinking back both the light and embarrassment. “Sorry. Chisato actually likes
“She likes nothing more, honestly. She put forth so much effort and time to be accepted to the school she wanted, and if she keeps going, well, there’s going to be a lot more for her to see than just this auditorium.”
“They both did,” I blurt out before I can stop myself. I regret the words as soon as they’re out, but Mrs. Sakamoto merely sighs as her expression turns sad.
“They did. And they’re still going to do a great job at the recital.”
“It’s just so unfair,” I say. “Because of what happened, Saki wasn’t able to record her part of the album, and now she’s not going to be able to use it to get an audition the way she wanted…”
She cuts me off by holding a hand up, her face pained. The head of steam I was starting to build fizzles out when I see how she considers me for a moment.
“It might not be over yet.”
I pause. “What do you mean, it might not be over yet?”
“Shogo and I have been thinking about what we could do for Saki and we have an idea.”
“What is it?” I ask, my mind starting to race.
The older woman shakes her head, and I can see a bit of regret in her eyes for having brought this up. “It’s an idea at this point. It might never be anything but
“But, if there’s a chance, then she-”
” she says, a little harsher than she probably means to. She relents a bit and her voice softens, even if it doesn’t lose any of its intensity. “Right now, there’s nothing she can do. I’m trying very hard to change that, but I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to get her hopes up in case I can’t. I won’t mention anything to her until I know for sure. I have to respectfully ask that you do the same and refrain from telling her I said anything to you, or she won’t be able to focus on the recital. Please,
I have no idea what she could be talking about, but the way she implores me to listen tells me that while I don’t understand at the moment, she’s not asking this without reason. I nod shakily.
“All right. I won’t.”
“Thank you,” she says, breathing a sigh of relief. Some of the tension bleeds out of her shoulders, and when she turns to inspect the stage, I see a change come over her. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Her eyes move from the piano to the risers, slowly letting her gaze wander over every spot where one of her students will be.
“You know,” she starts, her voice low. “Every few years my husband and I have a talk about when I’m going to retire. Every time, I tell him I’ll think about it.”
“Will you?” I ask.
She doesn’t answer me for a few seconds, instead taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly with a resigned smile. “No, I don’t think I will.”
I think of all the different faculty members I’ve met here at Yamaku. Teachers like Mutou and Miyagi. Nurse and his staff. Yuuko. Club directors and teachers like Mrs. Sakamoto and even Nomiya - one of the few things they and everyone else here in common have is how much they want
to be here; how much they want
to make a difference, at least in their own way.
It’s a shame that not all the students here let themselves see that.
I don’t know what she’s trying to do for Saki, but I absolutely believe that she’s trying her hardest at it.
“You said earlier that you needed to see the nurse, right?” she asks, shaking me out of my thoughts. “Thank you for your help, but you should get going.”
“Are you sure you don’t need any more help?”
“Not for now. Please, go enjoy the rest of the afternoon with your girlfriend.”
I only need to wait a second after knocking on the door before I hear the man on the other side beckon me to enter. When I open it and Nurse sees who it is, he stands up to greet me with a smile.
“Nakai, in the flesh! How are you?”
The door closes behind me. “Pretty good, all things considered. Dr. Toshinori said I should check in with you when I got back.”
He waves me off. “He let me know you’d be here. He wanted me to give you a standard checkup.”
“He didn’t mention anything like that when I talked to him the last time...”
Nurse moves with practiced ease to the filing cabinet where my records are stored, taking a few seconds to extract them. “I’m not surprised. He probably just wants me to see if you’ve been following his orders.”
I scoff. “Joke’s on him, I’m used to it by now,” I say, hopping up to sit on the exam table and remove both of my shirts.
He takes a few minutes to go through his routine, listening to the rhythms of both my heart and my lungs in half a dozen places. He pays extra attention to the new scar on my chest, examining it from two or three angles before he nods and makes a few notes on his pad. “Looks like the surgery went well. Any issues?”
I wince slightly as I pull my undershirt down over my head, taking a half second to catch my breath afterwards. “Not really. Just a little soreness but it’s getting better. Do you think the incision has healed up enough to go swimming?”
Nurse notices and takes an especially close look at how I continue to dress myself, no doubt noticing that I’m slightly favoring my left arm. “I don’t see why not, if your arm can handle it. Just follow the standard precautions you always have. Start slow and ramp up from there.”
“It will feel good to get in the pool again, for another day or two at least.”
He ends up sitting down in his chair, tearing off the sheet of paper he was writing on and inserting it into my file. “Are you going to keep up swimming after you graduate? It’s worked really well for you.”
“Yeah, I think so. I’ve learned to enjoy it.”
“Good,” he says, closing the file and rotating to face me, giving me his full attention. “What other plans do you have after graduation, if you don’t mind me asking?”