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The Panicing Tomato

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“The performance of this song will be a bit different then in the past, but we hope you like it!” Honoka yelled to the crowd enthusiastically, as they all got into position on the stage.

µ’s was halfway through performing for a benefit concert tonight in front of a crowd of over 10,000 people, despite having disbanded months earlier. However, for this concert they had come up with the idea to have Maki play “Aishiteru Banzai” on piano while the others performed. Outwardly, Maki gave her friends the impression that playing in front of a crowd wasn’t a big deal. What they didn’t know though was that the only time Maki played for a crowd was at Eli, Nozomi and Nicos graduation, which had been for 200 people the most. When Maki began playing she felt her heart beating hard in her chest, her fingers shaking slightly as she played the opening notes. She tried to push her nervousness away, but she felt her finger slip and heard the wrong note ring out. Maki cursed herself and continued to play, but her nervousness only increased the more she messed up. She glanced out at the crowd and felt herself go dizzy and her chest tighten. Then, without warning, she stopped.

The silence was deafening, and for a few very long seconds no one knew what was going on. The girls stopped dancing and began looking around at each other with surprise, wondering why the music suddenly cut out. When they turned around to look at Maki, they were shocked to find the usually calm and composed 2nd year staring out at the audience with her eyes filled with tears. There was a mix of sadness and terror on her face as she sat frozen at the piano. For a very long second no one knew what to do. Maki never messed up when playing piano, and when she did she never showed it. Yet here she was near hysterics on stage in front of thousands.

Eli was the first to react. She had many years of experience being around ballet dancers and seeing the same thing happened to them, so she was quick to notice that the redhead was on the verge of a small panic attack.

“Maki,” Eli whispered before bolting up the short flight of stairs toward Maki. Once Maki saw Eli running up the stairs, she stood up quickly, her legs shaking beneath her. Eli grabbed the younger girl and quickly pulled her close to her, wrapping her arms tightly around her. Maki quickly covered her face with her hands and shoved her head into Eli’s chest.

She wasn’t sure why she was reacting so strongly to simply messing up. She tried to ignore it and move on, but she began feeling her chest tighten with dread at the idea of making more mistakes. Then her mouth went dry and her chest began to hurt, like she was having heartburn, and her vision blurred. When Eli embraced her, she completely fell apart. She was sobbing uncontrollably and visibly shaking, barely able to open her mouth to speak. She didn’t want to feel helpless though, she didn’t want comfort. She just wanted it all to stop.

“Get off me,” Maki sobbed punching Eli’s chest weakly, but the blonde kept her firm hold on the young composer. Nozomi quickly appeared at Eli’s side, to help in comforting the girl and to shield Maki from the audience. “G-g-get o-f-ff.” Maki whimpered, her punches slowly starting to cease as an overwhelming feeling rose from the pit of her stomach, forming a lump in her throat. Nozomi rested a hand on Eli’s shoulder and started rubbing Maki’s head softly, pressing her nose into her red hair. “I-I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry.” Her voice was barely a whisper, but the two college students understood. She brought her hands down and wrapped them tightly around Eli, mainly for stability reasons since Maki suddenly felt like she could collapse at any moment and needed something, or someone, to keep her steady.

“It’s fine, we’re not mad,” Nozomi whispered in her ear. Her tears were subsiding, but Nozomi and Eli could hear Maki still hyperventilating. “You’re okay Maki, me and Eli are here.”

“Deep breath Maki, nice and slow,” Eli told her in a calm voice as Maki did what she said. taking deep breaths in and out slowly.

At the bottom of the steps Kotori and Umi were holding Honoka tightly with their arms wrapped around her waist. It was both to stop themselves from running up to Maki and to comfort each other. Rin was holding Hanayo tightly, both girls had tears running down their cheeks and looking longing at their friend while Nico was staring up at the three girls in disbelief. As much as the six wanted to go up and comfort Maki as well, they knew they couldn’t overwhelm her anymore than she already was. All nine of the girls though had tuned out the audience, not bothering to listen as they began chanting Maki’s name in support.

“I-I’m ok,” Maki hiccupped, removing herself from her friends comforting arms. Nozomi and Eli nodded their heads and lead Maki back to the piano bench. Nozomi continued to rub the girls back as Eli quickly dabbed her cheeks with a small towel.

“You ok to start over?” Eli asked, noticing that Maki’s hands were still shaking. The redhead nodded and the two older girls went back down the small flight of steps to the rest of the group. They wordlessly got back into position and performed the song as if nothing ever happened, though the eight girls could still hear that Maki’s playing was still slightly off.

Once the song was over the stage faded to black for a few moments, when the lights came back Maki, Eli and Nozomi were all missing from the stage. The rest of the girls began talking to the audience and joking around for a minute or two until Eli and Nozomi came back on stage, although Maki was still missing. Although the rest of µ’s was very concerned about Maki and wanted to know what was going on, they didn’t say anything. Instead they announced the next song and performed it like nothing happened.

Ten minutes later the members of µ’s, minus Maki, knocked quietly on the door to their green room. They had successfully finished their concert with little to no mistakes, despite being one member short, and were now hoping that Maki was doing better.

“Come in.” They heard Maki call out weakly. They entered the room and saw Maki curled up on the couch with a blanket wrapped around herself, already dressed in her casual clothes.

“Hey everyone, did the concert go ok?” Maki asked quietly.

“What happened?” Nico asked firmly. “One minute we’re performing and the next you stop playing and breaks down in tears.”

“You never break down like that in front of anyone Maki-chan. I mean, you barely cry in front of us, and we’re your best friends. What happened, nya?” Rin asked the redhead, a pout on her face.

“She had a panic attack,” Eli explained simply, sitting down beside Maki. The redhead looked away from the group, a pink blush tinting her cheeks.

“A panic attack?” Honoka asked. They all looked at Maki expectantly, but it was clear from the way she was staring at the floor that they wouldn’t be getting any explanation from her.

“Yea,” Eli said and nodded. “I can’t speak for her, but I’m assuming she felt scared about messing up, but she kept making mistakes as she played and it probably really upset and overwhelmed her. That alone is enough to warrant a panic attack, not to mention the nervousness she must’ve felt about playing piano in front of such a large crowd.” Eli said quietly. The other girls began sitting down around the room and Nozomi took a seat on the other side of Maki

“How are you feeling now Maki?” The spiritual girl asked.

“My chest hurts, but I’m ok now,” Maki whispered looking down at her hands.

“I know Maki, just relax and take it easy.” Maki didn’t protest when Nozomi wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. She was so exhausted, both physically and emotionally, that she found herself leaning against Nozomi as she looked around at the concerned look on her friends faces.

“You really scared us Maki,” Hanayo voiced quietly. “We decided to cut the rest of the set list in half to cut time because we were so worried about you.” Maki shifted in her seat and muttered an apology.

“Why didn’t you tell us how nervous you were?” Kotori wondered. Maki lowered her gaze to the ground and swallowed hard.

“I thought I could handle it on my own.” She muttered softly. “It was just nerves, why would you guys need to know?”

“Maki, we’re your friends, you’re supposed to tell us these things. If we had known you were nervous, we would’ve changed the plans and had you dancing with us instead of playing piano alone.” Eli explained.

“Changing plans because I’m nervous is stupid.” Maki protested loudly. “I can’t believe you guys didn’t perform half of our set because of that, you are all a bunch of idiots for caring too much.” Maki huffed, pulling away from Nozomi. She began twirling a strand of hair around her finger and looked down at the ground, a light blush on her cheeks appearing.

“Thank you for being idiots.” The words tumbled out her mouth before she could stop herself and her face instantly turned as red as her hair. Nozomi and Eli squished her in a joint hug and Maki looked around and saw her other friends giggling and smiling at her.

Maki wasn’t wrong, the girls of µ’s could be a bunch of idiots sometimes, but they were her idiots and she wouldn’t have it any other way.