Miki Kiyora seldom drinks but when she does, she drinks plenty. There's so much jubilation in the air, nobody is telling her to slow down, either. She's pretty sure this will be the best orchestra in the world. Everybody around her is so nice, even when she yells out in what is surely an obnoxious manner, "I need more wine."
"Here, here," somebody says and a wine bottle gets passed around until a boy with crazy, blonde hair re-fills her glass. She smiles at him and she's pretty sure she's seen him around somewhere, but the next moment she's too busy downing more wine.
Later that evening, she bonds with the boy over wanting the orchestra to play the same piece. They embrace and her vision's getting a bit blurry. When they later divorce and Chiaki announces the piece they'll play will include an oboe solo, not a violin one, Kiyora is no longer certain it was the same boy after all.
When people start leaving the karaoke room they've occupied for the better part of the AM hours, she finds herself leaning against him. The drunkenness is subsiding but she's becoming very, very tired.
"Masumi," she says, because she doesn't know who else to consider a friend yet, and the blonde boy next to her stirs.
"Masumi, Masumi," he repeats, and she realizes Masumi is asleep on the floor in front of them. It's all very funny to her, and when time runs out on the karaoke machine, they wake up Masumi and everybody remaining piles into a taxi.
She doesn't really remember anybody's names the next day. But she figures she will learn them all, with time.
Mine Ryutaro only claims affection for her skills as a violinist and yet she still feels flustered to the core. There's something peculiar and incredible about this open adoration he gives her, right there, in front of all the others, that makes her glow in a way she hasn't ever really even considered as something she might want. The feeling is new and it warms her skin far too quickly.
It's just so stupid. And yet she likes it.
He demands more from her than she demands of herself. But he also believes she can do more than she herself believes possible. This kind of odd passion in his voice and in the looks that he gives her, they completely catch her off-guard.
They make her fall even further in love.
When she doesn't win, because of that silly kink in her neck, all that worry knotting itself into a pain that doesn't go away, it breaks her. She's dealt with loss before, but not like this. Not when she was so confident, so sure she could achieve this.
Her teacher's blank expression is etched in her vision even through all of Ryutaro's words and all of her own tears. But there's an arm around her, and she knows she can build herself back together. She's got all the right pieces.
She's got Ryutaro, too, and that's when she decides to kiss him for the first time, and to pull him closer. Only she finds, it's not enough.
He seems very nervous and uncertain and excited all at the same time, when she drags him to the closest somewhat shady neighborhood she knows, where they locate a love hotel quickly.
"Do you think this is such a good--" he hesitates but she pulls him in for another kiss.
"Yes," she replies. "Come on."
If it's a mistake, it's her mistake to make. She knows how to build herself back up again.
She always thought she'd end up with -- if not Chiaki, then somebody very much like him. Very much like herself - collected and reserved. It never occurred to her it might be someone like Ryutaro, who makes a show of himself without trying, with his dramatic gestures and his sometimes explosive enthusiasm towards things he throws himself into. He's got a smartness to him, as well, but it doesn't always surface.
He's a little cheesy to her sometimes. He hugs her closer to himself and points out a particularly visible star in the night sky.
"The brightest of stars," he tells her. "Rising Star."
She wants to say, actual stars don't really rise. But instead she just breathes out. "Sure."
"You're going to shine even brighter," he says, and it's just stupid, and she likes that. There's no harm in it.
"It'll be a good concert," she agrees.
After the Christmas concert, the whole orchestra ends up drinking, but Kiyora makes a conscious decision not to go overboard. It doesn't work particularly well.
The next morning, she is hunched over a miso soup that gives off a weird smell. Ryutaro's father is looking at her with a very concerned expression.
"Trust me, this is the best hangover cure there is," Ryutaro assures her.
She has a sip, and then some more. It does help, amazingly.
Leaving is in no way easy for her, but she doesn't want to say it. She doesn't ever want to admit that sometimes being with him makes her want to stay.
She hopes sometimes he feels the same. She hopes he'll never say it, either.
One moment she's at the airport, phoning home to let everybody know she got there safely.
The next moment, months have passed by in a flurry of lectures and practise. She's happy to be learning so much, repairing her broken German, engaging with new people and going to amazing concerts.
She is happy to know he's home, working hard as ever. She's just happy.
She eats a big breakfast. In Europe, this means a number of things, fruit and granola and yoghurt, toast and tea and perhaps an egg. In Japan, she would sometimes eat rice along with miso soup, just to make herself feel full.
After breakfast she packs up and leaves for practise, and she practises late, late into the noon.
She doesn't have too many friends in Vienna, but the ones she does, often ask her about her drive to succeed. They say, "You're so good, why do you practise all the time?"
Kiyora doesn't know how to phrase all of her reasons for working so hard, so she simply replies, "Because I want to."
She gets messages from him. They don't always call each other, because of time difference, but sometimes she wakes up to the beep of her mobile phone.
"Do your best," the message reads.
She sends back, "You too."
When she wakes up again, there's another one. "That old line ... thank you."
After lunch, another one. "I love you."
She likes to think Ryutaro doesn't need her to do his best, doesn't need her to strive towards bettering himself. She likes to think she's the same way. That they're both like that, independent and capable and standing strong on their own, he with his attitude and passion, she with her precision and dedication.
But it does help, those messages, that shadow of support.
She misses him sometimes. Lying in her bed at night, she wraps the blanket tighter around herself, and breathes in and out a few times, very shaky breaths. She's fine, she's driven. She'll fall asleep and she'll wake up, and she'll have a big breakfast, because tomorrow's another day and she really needs to energy. She'll have an extra orange.
In the evening, she'll find that lovely small Chinese restaurant, probably the best one in Vienna. She'll have noodles there.
She falls asleep.
She returns to Japan eventually. She plans to return to Europe, too, possibly even tour there, if things work out as they should, but for now, she has missed Japan.
Ryutaro tells her he still wants to take her on as Rising Star's concert master, but "not now, not straight away," he adds.
He's improved so much, his style honed into something that's much more striking than previous but no less unique. She knows he really could take her on, and yet whenever she practises in his company or he sees her perform, his eyes are filled with the same wonderment as when he first saw her play.
She wonders which moments he would remember the best.
So she finally asks one evening. The evening follows a particularly long day, and he's so tired can't even open his eyes to answer her.
She watches him closely, even though she too feels the exhaustion. It's so rare that he lacks energy this much, that he's this calm and still against her figure.
"First you were amazing," he says. "Then you were amazing and this near to me."
It's stupid, and yet she likes it. She smiles to herself and moves her head against her own pillow.
She falls asleep.