The school was empty, quiet and abandoned in preparation for the coming holiday. Even the clubs throwing Christmas parties had slowly trickled out, turning out lights and locking up their respective rooms. The halls were all cold, frost gathering around the edges of the windows. Though, the band room was still warm, or at least, the center where Mizore and Nozomi sat was warm enough. The little space heater beside them hummed quietly, filling the silence that lingered between lilting melodies. All the while, a string of fairy lights Nozomi had brought cast a pleasant glow over the room, strung up over their shared music stand.
“You know,” Nozomi started, holding her flute in her lap, “I’ve always really wanted to play this song.” She flipped the sheet music back to the front page, the words ‘Ave Maria’ written in neat script across the top. When she had seen the duet in the window of the music shop walking home from class one snowy day, lined up with all sorts of other Christmas songs, she couldn’t help but go in and pick it up. It wasn’t originally written for a flute and an oboe, but with a few modifications, it worked nicely.
“It is pretty,” Mizore agreed, reaching up to tuck a stand of hair behind her ear. For a while, she and Nozomi had been learning the piece, working out the more challenging parts together. It was coming together well, though it certainly needed some polishing. But that was to be expected, after only working with the piece for a few hours.
Nozomi’s lips turned up into a gentle smile, sweet and genuine. “I’m glad you like it too,” she answered, ponytail swinging to the side when she turned to look at Mizore.
Mizore was always struck by the light, by the life in Nozomi’s eyes. The beautiful, cerulean hue glimmered in the low light, the twinkle of the fairy lights reflecting back. And the edges of her eyes crinkled with her smile, kind and gentle. Her long, pretty lashes curled at the ends, dark against her fair skin. She was always beautiful, always Mizore’s light.
Feeling something warm and light bubble up in her chest, Mizore let a slight smile slip onto her lips. Though, realizing she’d been looking too long, she turned her attention back to the sheet music, a light pink dusting over her cheeks that she hoped Nozomi wouldn’t notice. Mizore positioned her fingers on her oboe’s keys, though, something stopped her from lifting it back to her mouth to play through the song. After a few beats of her heart, calm and steady, she realized that she didn’t want Nozomi to stop talking to her. The light, angelic tone of her flute was perfectly enchanting, almost dream-like, but nothing was as pleasantly alluring as the sound of her voice. Mizore clung to every word, even the simplest ones about the strawberry crepe she had in Tokyo or her delight about the snow flurries.
Sometimes, she wondered if her feelings for Nozomi weren’t quite what they should be. She worried that she felt more than she was supposed to, loved more than she was supposed to. Girls weren’t meant to feel that way about other girls. And Mizore didn’t want to give Nozomi the wrong impression. She didn’t want Nozomi to think she wasn’t satisfied with their friendship or that she wanted something more. And somehow, her relationship with Nozomi had always felt delicate, like it could shatter if she stepped too far or said the wrong thing. So, she kept her warm and rosy thoughts reigned in and locked away.
Still, Mizore wondered if all of the hiding and tempering might not be enough some day. Nozomi was brilliant, blinding, incredible. And sometimes, Mizore’s heart ached with it, with having to keep every soft, awestruck notion inside. Though, she had always guessed that Nozomi would slip away and fade out from her life before Mizore ever had the chance and the confidence to voice the things that laid behind glass in her heart. It all felt transparent to her, that Nozomi should be able to see right through her and see the selfishness, the possessiveness, the loneliness the grew like weeds around the little love she had to give away. Still, Nozomi didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she just didn’t care, and Mizore wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or disappointed.
“Mizore?” Nozomi asked, tapping the other girl’s shoulder lightly. Starting in her seat, Mizore turned her attention back to Nozomi, realizing she had been staring down at her oboe all the while.
“I’m sorry, I was just thinking,” Mizore replied quietly, shaking her head to refocus. Pulling in a breath, she ran a hand over her hair before repositioning her fingers on the polished, silver keys.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nozomi said, a cheerful smile back on her lips. “I was just thinking we should probably pack up soon anyway, since it’s getting late,” she added, watching Mizore to gauge her reaction.
Lowering her oboe back to her lap, Mizore let her gaze turn to the clock that hung on the wall. She hadn’t noticed time slipping away so fast, even while the sun set, casting a pale, orange glow over the room before its light faded away completely. Though, she supposed Nozomi was right. It was getting late and they should be getting home. Still, she didn’t have the heart to get up and walk away just yet. These moments were precious to Mizore. The times that were tucked away, just the two of them and the instruments they loved most, practicing and talking and enjoying the other’s company. They felt secret from the rest of the world, and Mizore treasured the time that she was given with Nozomi. She could only hope Nozomi felt the same.
“Though, maybe we could play it through once more,” Nozomi offered knowingly, watching Mizore’s eyes light up at the mention.
“That would be nice,” Mizore replied, bringing her oboe back up to her mouth.
Taking the reed gently between her lips, she waited for the first few light, airy notes of Nozomi’s flute. Soon, the song was carrying through the room, the loftier, gentle melody of the flute weaving in with the oboe’s richer tones. The room suddenly felt a little warmer, a little cozier, and the snow drifting on the breeze outside seemed just a little brighter.
And all at once, the warm, sweet atmosphere settled over Mizore. And in that moment, she couldn’t help but wish for things to forever stay just the way they were, with Nozomi at her side and music in the air.