I’m really sorry, but I’m sick and not going to be better by Friday. I held out hope that I was going to be well in time for our performance, but I need to admit defeat and give you enough warning so that you can still find another pianist. I sincerely hope that you are able to do so and can still perform, because you’ve worked so hard for this opportunity and deserve the best.
Rise stared at her phone blankly before locking it and slowly letting her arm fall onto the couch. She then brought it back up to eye level and unlocked it again. The horrible email was still there.
“Rise, are you all right?”
Rise turned to Naoto with a look of blank despair. “Shuichi-san is sick.”
Naoto’s eyes widened and they moved across the room to sit next to Rise. “The pianist playing with you at that fancy club on Friday?”
“It’s not just a fancy club,” Rise bemoaned. “It’s La Baronne de Paris!”
“I’m sorry, I know you were really looking forward to that.” Naoto awkwardly put his arm around Rise’s shoulders. She sighed and snuggled closer.
“I’m not giving up. I’m going to try and find another pianist.” Rise stared at the blank TV on the opposite wall. “It’s just disappointing because I know Shuichi-san was really looking forward to it too. For him to get sick of all things… He must be so upset.” She sighed again. “It’s also hard to find someone willing to learn a bunch of music in less than a week.” She sighed again, louder. “It’s also surprisingly difficult to find someone who’s nice. Remember Ren Takahashi?”
Naoto scowled and pinched his nose with his free arm.
“Exactly. I refuse to perform with an asshole.”
“Quite prudent of you. You deserve the best, after all.” Naoto leaned over and kissed Rise’s forehead.
Rise smiled fondly. “Thanks, Naoto.” It was rather unusual for them to initiate so much physical contact. They were really making an effort towards trying to make her feel better. (And it was absolutely working.)
“Best of luck finding another pianist.”
You deserve the best, after all.
A slightly wicked smile spread over Rise’s face. Asking him to learn the music in a week would be kind of mean. But, just in case she couldn’t find someone else…
“Naotooo! I have an idea!”
Naoto raised an eyebrow, not lifting their gaze from their book. They didn’t need Rise to specify that she had an idea, as she was very clearly using her well-practiced “I have an idea that you might not like but please please please” voice.
Naoto, eyebrow still raised, looked up at Rise. “What is it this time?”
“Well….” Rise sat down next to them. “What if you played with me at La Baronne de Paris on Friday?”
Naoto closed his book and slowly set it down on the table next to the couch. “…It’s only Sunday. There’s still time for you to find a professional.”
“I spent all of yesterday and this morning looking, and there’s nobody. Everyone I know is booked.”
“What about the people you don’t know?”
“I know everybody!”
Naoto sighed. “So I’m your last resort?”
“No, silly!” Rise scooted closer. “I’ve tried to convince you to play with me before, but you’re always too busy or say you’re not good enough!” She took a deep breath. “And that second point of yours is utter nonsense! The piano part for the concert we did with the whole IT was not easy and you played it wonderfully!”
Naoto smiled despite himself. That concert was a lot of fun. “You’ve only told me that twelve times.”
“I’m not done! I heard you practicing in your study the other day and it was beautiful!”
Naoto’s eyes widened. “I thought you were in our bedroom and wouldn’t hear!”
Rise smirked. “The glorious sound of your keyboard permeates every room of our apartment, my dear Naoto-kun.”
Rise laughed. “No, I’m kidding. I heard it faintly from the living room and then sat outside your door listening.”
Naoto groaned even loader and buried their head in their hands.
“Your admirable humility aside, there is no one else I’d rather play with.”
“I’m not a professional, Rise. I’ll probably have to simplify some of the parts.”
“That’s fine! I really and truly couldn’t find another pianist though. I wouldn’t ask you to do this under such time constraints otherwise. I was planning on trying again to convince you to play with me after this performance, but, well.” Naoto could practically hear the smile in Rise’s voice. “An earlier opportunity has presented itself!”
Naoto lifted his head and was greeted by said radiant smile. He smiled back on instinct before groaning again.
“Fine. You win. You already know I finished my caseload early this week and I have Friday completely off. You also know I would never want you to miss this performance and,” Naoto coughed, “you know that I love you, and would love to play with you.” Speech over and New Year’s resolution to be more honest about feelings fulfilled, Naoto maintained eye contact with difficulty, blush becoming more and more apparent as Rise let the seconds drag on. Why were those three words still so embarrassing!?
Rise finally took pity on Naoto and leaned forward to kiss their forehead. “Sorry, that was just such a nice moment, I had to savor it. I love you too. I’ll go get the piano parts for you!”
And with one last beaming smile, she was gone.
Naoto watched her go. He hated half-assing things and had a long week of practicing piano in front of him, but on the plus side he was going to perform with his girlfriend again. And this time it would be just the two of them.
It was going to be just the two of them on that stage. What if he crashed and burned horribly? In front of hundreds of people? Thousands of people? Tens of thousands? How many people did clubs even hold??
No, stop, calm down. You’ll be fine.
Rise will be there with you, and she knows everything about this stuff.
It’ll be fine.
“Rise? Why on earth is Colorful in G FLAT MAJOR???”
“What, you don’t like it? It’s my favorite key!” Rise shouted back from the other room.
“Is it really? You couldn’t pick one with less flats??” Naoto played a G flat major triad on his keyboard. G flat. B flat. D flat.
Rise laughed, her voice coming from right outside Naoto’s study. Naoto jumped slightly and turned to see her leaning again the doorframe.
“Don’t blame me, I didn’t write that song,” Rise said, “And, you’re right, actually, my favorite key is A major.”
“Yeah, because all pop songs are in A major.” Rise nodded sagely.
Naoto stared at her flatly.
“I’m kidding, only a lot of them. It has to do with the open pitches of bass guitar strings. If you wanted, we could perform it up a half step.”
Naoto continued to stare at Rise blankly, trying to process her sudden topic changes. “Oh, play Colorful up a half step, in G major?”
“Yeah, if that would make it easier.”
Naoto shook their head. “No, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to be unfaithful to the original. I also wouldn’t want to make you suddenly have to sing the song up a half step from where you’ve been practicing.”
Rise shrugged. “I figured you would say that. Really though,” She wagged her finger at Naoto, “If you need to simplify anything, don’t hesitate to do so. I’ve got editable electronic files for the parts and I can change things and print them out again if needed. I don’t want this to turn into some horrible stressful thing I’m making you do.”
“Thanks, Rise. I’ll keep that in mind. …I want to enjoy this too.”
“Great! I’ll leave you alone then. Happy practicing! Let me know when you’re ready to rehearse with me.”
Naoto turned back to the keyboard and started playing. G flat major wasn’t that bad. All the notes were flat except for F. Easy enough to remember.
They groaned as they hit a wrong note.
A little bit harder to actually do.
Naoto trudged into the kitchen and made straight for the coffee pot. Today was Friday- they yawned loudly- and it had been a long week.
“Good morning, Naoto-kun!”
“Good morning, Rise.”
She was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a mug of… either tea or hot chocolate, knowing Rise. Probably tea, as it was only 9am.
“How are you?” Rise asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
“Oh, I’m fine.” Naoto turned to give her a reassuring smile for emphasis.
Rise raised an eyebrow in response.
“Okay, okay, I’m tired, obviously.” Naoto busied themself with pouring coffee grounds into the filter in the machine. “And I’m uh, nervous for tonight. Which I’m sure you know already.”
“I’d be surprised if you weren’t. I mean, I’m nervous too. But also super excited!”
“Mm.” Naoto sat down across from Rise at the table. “I’m actually kind of terrified,” he whispered.
Rise nodded. “About anything in particular?”
Naoto stared off into space. “All the unknowns. I don’t know how many people are going to be there, I don’t know what the piano there is going to be like, and it makes me nervous having never played it before…”
Rise nodded again. “Well, there’s probably going to be between 500 and 700 people there, considering the club's capacity is around 700.” She took a sip of her (probably) tea. “We’re going to start with an easier song to help us get used to the venue and how it sounds. And you’re going to be playing a piano. It’s not an unknown. You’ve played on an upright or grand piano before, right?”
“See? And your keyboard is one of the nice ones with good pressure sensitivity and all that,” Rise wiggled her fingers in the air above an imaginary keyboard, “so it’s really not going to be that different.”
Naoto nodded again, staring at the table.
Rise took another sip. “Oh, and Naoto-kun? Remember two days ago when we were rehearsing together and I asked you to turn the volume on your keyboard up?”
“Don’t be afraid to play out. You sound great. I want to hear you clearly, and so will the audience.” Rise winked at him.
Naoto smiled weakly.
Rise gave him a long look. “Do you want to hear something that’s helped me with my nerves?”
Rise took a deep breath. “So, I had a friend in the idol biz. She had a lot of experience, and when I was freaking out over a performance she gave me some really good advice. Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a philosophy. Or just another way of thinking about things. Anyway! It was about how you’re only nervous for performances because you care, and how nerves are just adrenaline, which is energy, which is excitement. My friend talked about how usually people interpret their adrenaline response as a negative thing and try to suppress it, and how she interpreted it positively as much as possible, and actually loved the feeling she got before performing. It really blew my mind. It’s not magic, obviously, and I don’t feel exactly the same as she does, but it’s always helped me feel better.” Rise smiled at Naoto again. “I hope that helps you at least a little bit.”
Naoto smiled back, more confidently this time. “That does help. Thanks, Rise.”
“I’m glad.” Rise pointed at the coffee pot behind Naoto. “I think your coffee’s ready.”
As Naoto stood up, he saw into Rise’s mug for the first time.
“Oh. You’re drinking hot chocolate.”
“Hey! I said I was nervous too, didn’t I?”
From the club’s dark backstage area, Naoto could clearly hear all the people in the main room talking and laughing. There were between 500 and 700 people in there. He gripped his folder of sheet music more tightly and glanced over at Rise. She was humming softly and staring off into the distance.
“Rise?” Naoto said tentatively, fiddling with their tie.
“Yes?” Rise stopped humming and gave Naoto her full attention.
“Is this one of those things where the music is kind of… background? Are people going to keep talking while we’re performing?”
Rise shook her head. “Maybe that’s what it would be like at a different club, but here the music usually gets people’s full attention. They hire live musicians every night and the regulars are known to be attentive listeners. They’ll have classical music pretty often, too. It’s that sort of place.”
“Ah.” That's probably part of the reason Rise was so excited to perform here.
“Hey, hey.” Rise slipped her hand into Naoto’s fidgety one and squeezed gently. “We’re totally prepared for this, and we have such awesome chemistry it would go great even if hadn’t practiced our butts off. We’ve got this.”
That would have definitely gotten a laugh if Naoto wasn’t feeling so anxious. Rise was right though. They really couldn’t have done much more practicing. Well, there were a few days you went to bed early…
Nope, wrong. Sleep was important. Rise understood that much better than Naoto did, and it was definitely thanks to her that Naoto wasn’t totally sleep-deprived right now. He glanced over at her again. Rise grinned, winked, and threw up a peace sign. Naoto rolled his eyes. Rise was either overdoing it to make him feel better or she really was that excited.
Nerves. Adrenaline. Energy. Excitement. Well, if Rise was as excited as Naoto was nervous, then it was quite possible that Rise was just that excited.
Naoto took a deep breath. Originally, they were mostly doing this for Rise, because she wanted it so badly, but over the last few days they’d started to look forward to it more and more. After all, it had been a while since Naoto had performed, and it was something they really enjoyed.
Nerves. Adrenaline. Energy. Excitement.
You can do this.
“Okay, I’m ready now.” Naoto gave Rise’s hand a squeeze. “Are we waiting for something in particular?”
“Yes, someone from the club’s staff will announce us, then we’ll go.”
Naoto should have asked more questions about what exactly was going to happen once the two of them got to the club. He was the type of person who liked to know everything in advance, and really didn’t like surprises.
Oh well. Rise was here and she knew exactly what was going on, and Naoto trusted her completely. That was good enough.
“Attention, esteemed guests!”
Rise perked up instantly at the loud voice coming from the stage. Naoto’s pulse skyrocketed. This was really happening.
“Tonight’s entertainment will be provided by Rise Kujikawa on vocals and Naoto Shirogane on piano, and feature several of Kujikawa’s original songs! Please join me in welcoming them to the stage!”
“Alright, let’s go!” Rise flashed Naoto another gleeful smile as the audience started applauding. This was really happening.
Naoto found themself grinning back. It was truly wonderful seeing Rise so happy. He gripped her hand even more tightly as they stepped onto stage together to the enthusiastic applause.