Against all odds, they did it. The once barely known Brass Band Club played at Fumon Hall all together, in the A division. The once first years now third, the club had gained a huge amount of publicity after placing well in the B division. With plenty of strong members, the instruments played loud and powerful, demanding attention from the audience. It truly was a beautiful and bright performance, especially with the talented Kusakabe-senpai gracefully conducting the group.
The bus ride home was like a dream. Everyone was elated, holding the golden trophy up in the air, cheering and laughing.
Haruta sighed. “What a way to leave, huh.” He concluded. They won, he was overjoyed, but this was the end of their journey. No more practices on top of the school roof, glances at Kusakabe-senpai (he’s matured, not focused on crushes, he’s told himself), or Brass Band Club.
Chika hummed in reply, sliding down in her seat. A little pause, and then a punch to his shoulder. “I know what you’re thinking, but you could at least not dampen the mood!” She scolded, pouting.
Her expressive eyes, however, held concern. Are you okay?
Haruta gave her a grateful smile in return. “I’m glad, really! Imagine all of the funding we’ll get from this publicity. Tons of new people will want to join the group next year!” Another sigh. “I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Chika smiled. “We’re going to have to check up on them! You know what kind of trouble the second years got into this year. Now they’re going to be role models!” She joked, but behind it there was meaning.
I’m gonna miss this too, Haruta, so mope for the both of us.
The coach bus cruised down the highway, the air between them bittersweet.
It was a little rumour the two heard, having nothing else better to do than walk around town for the day.
“Did you hear that Kusakabe-senpai is getting married?”
“No way! Who’s the lucky girl?”
“Ahh, can’t remember. Who cares anyways, I can’t believe it! Everyone’s got at least a little crush on him, so I bet it’s probably just a rumor to upset them.” The two girls walked passed them as Haruta and Chika stopped.
Their heads whipped over to look at each other, wide eyes and slacked jaws. Did you hear that too?
The two ran over to a nearby bench to discuss. “It’s just a rumor, right? There’s a chance it isn’t real!” Chika said hopefully, trying to reassure herself.
“It’s… a really specific rumor. It’s suspicious to know why someone would make that up…what would someone get out of upsetting people anyways?”Haruta said quietly. His eyes were still wide, lips pressed in a firm line.
Chika bit her lip, narrowing her eyes at the ground. They both thought one thing.
What would I do if it ends up being real?
Picking a college to go to was harder than it seemed. Of course, with Haruta’s grades, he got plenty to choose from; Chika was another story. As long as it was close to home, she was fine with whatever college she could get (as long as it had a brass band club). Haruta was the same. However, as they got their colleges picked out, Haruta’s being a prestigious school but not too far away, and Chika’s being a 10 minute walk from home, it was time to ask their past teacher the important question weighing on their minds (and hearts). Chika dialed her friend’s number, waiting a couple rings before an exhausted “Hello?” answered.
“Haruta! When are you gonna find time to meet up?? I’ve been waiting this whole week for you to find a day and you haven’t even called!” She yelled.
“Sorry Chika-chan...my professors are not going easy on me.” He moaned. “I want to know as much as you do but… I think you should go by yourself and find out for the both of us…” He mumbled, voice slowly fading away in uncertainty.
Chika growled. “Like I would ever do such a thing as that! Don’t be a coward, Haruta! We’re going together! Tomorrow!” She demanded.
“No excuses, Haruta! It won’t take long, so you can go back to studying your boring subjects then!”
Haruta sighed in defeat. “Alright...but you’re picking me up from my university.”
Chika grumbled. “Fine. But you’re coming.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Haruta laughed. “See you then.”
The car ride back home was tense. Chika waved a little to Haruta as he entered, Haruta giving a small smile back. Chika’s mother did her best to ease them with small talk, but ended up keeping quiet as she pulled into the high school.
“Good luck, you two!” Chika’s mother called, her bright attitude infectious as the tense mood was lifted as they walked into their old school. Wanting to get as much information as they can and leave as soon as possible (the last thing they needed was to get behind in their studies), Haruta and Chika dashed up the school stairs, the school eerily quiet as class was occurring.
Luckily (or not), the two saw Kusakabe-sensei playing the piano in the music room. He immediately stopped playing and greeted them with a wide smile.
Chika took the reins as she looked over at Haruta’s suddenly pale face. “Good morning Kusakabe-sensei! How’s the club? The third-years stepping up to their role, I hope?” She easily started conversation.
“They're doing great, but not as good without you, Haruta and the others taking the lead.” Kusakabe-sensei replied, reminiscing about the many mysteries Haruta was able to put together and the friend magnet Chika was, managing them to get many new members.
“That’s…” Haruta started, his complexion a brilliant shade of red. “I’m just glad it’s still doing well.” he finished lamely.
Chika was giving Haruta a look that screamed Get it together! and Kusakabe-sensei was oblivious.
“So, what has brought you two here today? Something important, I hope?” He joked, but there was a edge of curiosity to it.
“Ah, right! We were wondering...are you getting married?”
“Chika-chan!” Haruta interjected harshly. “You can’t just say-”
“I am, actually.” Kusakabe-sensei smiled. His eye contact didn’t falter, but it felt like he wasn’t really looking at them anymore. “You’ve met her before. Makoto Yamanobe.” They didn’t look at each other, but instead plastered smiles on their faces.
“That’s great!” Haruta forced a tight smile. “I’m glad for you two.”
“You’ll have to bring her sometime when we’re around! Well, I’m always around, but Haruta got in one of those fancy prep schools!” Chika jabbed her elbow into Haruta’s side, causing him to yelp in surprise.
Kusakabe-sensei laughed. “Of course.”
Haruta wouldn’t look up from the concrete. Chika just walked beside him, towards her house, with Haruta staying for the night. She knew that words wouldn’t help. So, before the two went inside, Chika gave Haruta a hug. He didn’t struggle. “Are you okay?” Chika said softly. A moment passed. Chika waited.
“...I will be.” Haruta finally replied. “You’re hurting too, right?”
Chika smiled. Forever thinking about others. “I’ll be fine. Let’s watch some comedy movies and eat junk food, okay? No thinking about romance or crushes tonight!” She threw her fist in the air exaggeratedly, like she was ready to take on a challenge.
Chika’s mother gave the two a careful smile as they entered in. “There’s snacks and blankets upstairs for you two. Make yourself at home, Haruta.” She said softly, noticing the dark cloud hanging above his head.
Haruta felt terrible. His throat was clogged, lips threatening to tremble, and his voice felt like it could give in at any minute.
“Here. Got you some ramune soda, your favorite.” Chika handed him the bottle, watermelon flavored.
“...Thanks, Chika-chan.” He practically whispered in reply. “Could...could you turn the lights off?” When he saw Chika give him a concerned look, he added “It makes the movie better.” hastily.
She knew that it wasn’t the reason. Crying is harder to spot in the dark.
They ended up watching silly anime that did get a few chuckles out of the two; Haruta’s being watery laughs though. Chika knew he was crying, so she gathered the many blankets surrounding the two and wrapped Haruta in them. He obliged, and then a few tears streamed slowly down his cheeks. “Sorry for the trouble. I don’t want it to…to make it-” Haruta hiccuped. “seem like I’m the only one hurting. I’ll...make it up to you, Chika-chan.” He faintly finished, hastily trying to wipe the tears and snot away with his sleeves.
“Look, Haruta.” She got tissues for him and handed them to him. “Your crush on Kusakabe-sensei...was actual love. I loved Kusakabe-sensei, but you did more. I saw the fond looks you would give to him during practices, how you would stare into his eyes as he critiqued our performances. I knew how much you committed yourself towards practice to prove to him you’re capable. Just to get a ‘well done!’ from him would make your whole day brighter, so don’t apologize. You committed your time and love to him, and if I really loved him that much, I could’ve done as much. You’re amazing, Haruta, alright?”
Haruta smiled, honestly this time. He let the seemingly endless tears fall. “Thank you, Chika-chan...so much.” He hugged her tight, and Chika would be lying if she said her own tears didn’t escape her as well.
The hug lasted for what seemed like hours, but neither minded as the movie’s animated chatter faded into murmurs and thoughts of pestering crushes and unrequited loves dissipated from their minds, if only for a little while.