Are there still people out there who read La Corda Fan Fiction?

I asked myself this days ago after reading the first seven chapters of La Corda d'Oro Daigakusei-hen, the continuation of Kahoko's story in Seisou College.

Hmm, I kind of want to know, so...I tried my best to wrench my password from my uncooperative mind and reaccess this account to find out if people will.

One of the reasons I wanted to post this fic is that I think it's in keeping with Len's perspective in Daigakusei-hen (i.e., Music is what keeps him and Kaho together; he believes that's enough). This fic contains what I think is a plausible reaction if Kaho suddenly confesses to Len... The prologue you'll read below was written mainly to flesh out that scene, but it's set in the original La Corda- before Len leaves for Vienna. Initially, this prologue was called "Ten Things" and was a retelling of Chapter 67 of La Corda (where Kaho learns about the exact date of Len's departure), but it morphed into something else and has other incarnations. It can be read on its own (as a retelling of 67), but I am posting it as a part of "Back To You".

Please review. :) I think I need the help (constructive criticism and maybe encouragement).

...

Summary:

The night before her competition, Kaho gathers her courage and confesses her feelings to the person she loves. Len feels the same but believes he can't pursue their relationship and so, reveals to her that he is scheduled to leave tomorrow- on the day of her performance. Their final encounter becomes their worst, leaving Kaho lonely and brokenhearted.

Nine years later, Kaho is in Korea helping Shimizu with his compositions. She wants to make playing the violin and composing songs her day job but has to stick with the work that actually pays the bills: her role as guardian and assistant to Yunoki Miyabi, famous actress and sister to one Yunoki Azuma. When Miyabi decides to join the cast of a new movie, Kaho unexpectedly reunites with her former classmates from Seisou, including one Tsukimori Len.

...

Prologue – Part 1

Ten Things

Ryotaro Tsuchiura, sixteen-year-old sophomore from Class 2-5 of the Seisou General Education department, was an average guy whose actions and thoughts were pretty much confined to the ordinary. According to him, he was just like every other second-year high school student who had schoolwork and the looming inevitability of college applications to stress about in due time (third year wasn't far away...). According to his peers, he shouldn't be so modest; he was the star soccer player and Gen. Ed pianist who'd competed against the best music students in Seisou; Ryotaro was allowed to brag a little because he had, after all, shocked both departments by being an athlete and a musician.

"What made you think you could do both?" they'd asked. According to his classmates, he didn't get any weird ideas.

After the concours (why'd they have to use the French term) was over, Ryo had decided to look back on both the prejudice and the good-natured ribbing with a chuckle and a small shrug of his shoulders- even if his responses had sometimes been less than friendly in the heat of the moment. Besides, how different was he from the others? Like his friends and like the other students in Seisou, he had had his small share of victories and defeats; he knew what actual weird meant.

He knew where his mind was supposed to make camp. In the soccer field. Up on stage...

Indefinitely...not permanently...maybe? But I guess...

Still indefinitely...

So...

How weird could he get anyway?

At the moment, he had a future in music to contemplate, a competition he should be concentrating on and his feelings to think about; he had no time to worry about something that didn't directly concern him. But he couldn't help himself. He shouldn't be doing this and yet...

He was still going to meddle in Tsukimori's and Hino's weird (there's that word again...), 'off-the-mark' courtship.

Tsukimori and Hino had never dated- not each other and not anyone else. And he wasn't going to encourage them. But despite his determination to ignore them, they were frying his brain cells; they were making him crazy. Tsukimori annoyed him so much he itched to spring into action and put things into perspective for his lost, inexperienced schoolmate. Scratch thatfor the two lost, inexperienced violinists. It wasn't as if he planned to push Hino and Tsukimori to date, but he wanted them to at least think about their actions: her tendency to run towards him, his tendency not to notice, etc.

They were definitely not self-aware. And Ryo definitely wasn't Tsukimori's wing-man. But their not knowing irritated him more than anything.

That's why he had this hairbrained idea to coax Kaho into actively thinking about Tsukimori. With an intentional scowl and an almost smirk, he'd told her he couldn't think of a single good attribute that Tsukimori possessed, and he'd challenged Kahoko, who'd tried to defend the annoying perfectionist, to think of some good qualities other than Tsukimori's extraordinary musical talent. He told her he wanted to be "nice" (charitable, maybe?) and think well of Tsukimori before the stuck-up violinist could be a stuck-up musician in Vienna.

He'd said to no one in particular that he was tired of both of them. There wasn't any harm in making his request, was there? It wouldn't change Tsukimori's situation or alter Kaho's hero-worship. They needed to know.

It was for the best. It would give him a sort-of closure and give Hino and Tsukimori a new starting point to think about. It could, maybe, give him the opportunity for a new beginning, too. He thought about these possibilities as he watched Hino walk to her classroom after break.

Let's see where this goes...

Satisfied that he'd done his part, Ryo patted himself on the back and reassured himself that he'd set into motion the events that would lead to his peace of mind.

Hino Kahoko, sixteen-year-old sophomore from Class 2-2 of General Education, had a strange assignment to complete: It wasn't a new piece she had to learn on the violin; it wasn't homework given by her teacher or a cram school instructor. Instead, it was a dare from a friend who'd asked her to try and change his mind. Tsuchiura had called it a thought experiment and suggested she pick a nice, comfortable area in the school library or, better yet, in the school gardens to think about the 'assignment'. She'd decided to work on his challenge while sitting on a bench overlooking the amber-colored waters of the Seisou lagoon.

This task wasn't supposed to be that difficult. She knew the person she had to write about. She admired him and even looked to him for guidance on occasion.

Ok, if I'm being honest, it's on most occasions...

She knew how to describe him and could do it in a million different ways: determined, strict, focused...

He demanded from others what he expected from himself- never more and never less. He always promoted a high standard in whatever he did. He was intimidating; he could be rude and standoffish; he didn't concern himself with other people's feelings unless they compromised the level of music he aspired to reach. He could...

Where was she going with this when she was supposed to write ten things she liked about him?

He's never intentionally mean, she thought. In fact, she'd decided he was more socially awkward rather than smug or self-infatuated. In the past, she felt that people as talented as he was could be as self-infatuated as they were charming. But he wasn't.

Charming? Or self-absorbed?

She took a deep breath. Ten things I like about Len Tsukimori...

She started by cataloging his features, as though tackling this was the thing to do before she could dig deeper; it seemed like the first step in a process: describe the surface before she could think about the things that really mattered. She didn't want to miss anything and maybe by starting with his looks, she could ease herself into actively thinking about him...

It wasn't as if she'd tell Tsuchiura that she appreciated Len Tsukimori's good looks but...

Tsukimori's appearance wasn't something she consciously paid attention to. It registered once in the back of her mind that his features were above-average and yeah... appealing. But that had only happened because they'd physically stood in each other's way; or, to be more accurate, because she and Tsuchiura had been blocking the door to his homeroom. If he hadn't opened his mouth, she could have studied him like a painting. He was attractive enough to have his picture hanging from a gallery...

But, of course, she wouldn't hang a picture of him on her wall...

Why would she?

Kahoko assumed that when it came to people, she could only really pay attention to someone as good looking as Tsukimori if she already knew them.

She scribbled a few descriptions on her notebook:

Number1. Tsukimori Len is 5'8" ...which is a good height. He has clear golden eyes and long lashes...

Huh. She'd never thought she'd be describing Tsukimori's physical appearance in writing.

It was weird that she'd only been able to confirm to herself how good looking he was after knowing what he was like as a musician and as a...

Well...Friend of sorts.

"I doubt that he thinks of me as a friend," she said with a sigh.

She bit her lip and mentally pinched herself for voicing her thoughts aloud; she knew she'd freak out if he'd suddenly appear out of nowhere and asked to explain what she'd just said. She snuck a peek behind her shoulder and stopped herself from looking up the trees.

No sign of the guy.

She crossed out her first entry and wrote:

Number 1. Tsukimori Len is ….

Tsukimori Len is...

She sighed and stared at her feet. Tsukimori Len is attentive.

It was recent so she couldn't help but gravitate toward a particular memory as evidence...

Despite her effort not to, she'd still managed to keep him waiting- it was the consequence of choosing fashion over comfort, of agonizing over dark serviceable flats vs. heels with pretty bows. She knew which pair would look better with her dress, but she hadn't considered the comfort she'd need when she had to move fast and had had to dash through the city to arrive on time for the performance. She apologized to him as he sighed and held the door to the venue open for her. They'd almost missed one of the duets but...

If it hadn't been for her poor choice of footwear...

She wouldn't be having another moment with Tsukimori.

There was no sign of embarrassment or hesitation on his face as he tended to her foot. He was so casual about touching the ankle, the sole and the tops of her toes; he'd bought bandaids which he was now carefully placing over her blisters.

It was a chilly evening, and she expected an icy touch...but his hands had been warm and (out of nowhere) she imagined him warming them up inside his coat so he wouldn't shock her skin with cold fingers.

He probably wasn't even aware that he was giving her a Cinderella moment.

It had happened gradually; she started to picture him doing things like that for her. She had little extra scenarios in her head that made her believe in the caring side of him– as if his sweet side was actually the foundation behind his 'practical-no-nonsense-lets-get-it-over-with' exterior. He valued her, so he didn't want her to be uncomfortable...

If he could hear her thoughts...

Oh no, Kaho. She shook her head and placed both palms over her warm cheeks. Could she really call him sweet if he didn't mean to be?

To be honest, she liked his practical nature too.

Number 2. Tsukimori Len is a practical-no-nonsense-type of guy. He will tell you directly how bad you are at playing the violin; he'll inform you what has to be done or corrected. He'll let you know when you sound like a drunkard and never sugar-coat his criticism...

"He'll tell you..." And then in her most Len-like voice, she said, "This has nothing to do with me."

Again she checked her surroundings for his sudden appearance. Ugh. Maybe I should add that to the things I dislike about him. He really does come out of nowhere sometimes...

Anyway...

Well, he really didn't have to involve himself or care over-much about her feelings or her plans. Again the words: 'This has nothing to do with me' echoed in her head.

When I get the chance, I'm going to tell him to avoid that line...

She bit her lip again; she was thinking about it too much. Would he avoid saying the words just because she had asked?

But...

If he cares...

If the sweetness underneath would come out...

Then maybe...

She almost didn't want to write it down. She was feeling itchy as if a bug had crawled up her uniform and invited other insects to take the same route, but she wanted to add the next item to her list before she lost her courage. It was as though writing it down would grant her the proof she wanted instantly.

Number 3. Tsukimori Len cares...

She was hesitant to add, 'about me' but she couldn't help but be glad that he had made time to tutor her and provide constructive criticism for her performances. She knew she needed it. He also cared enough to walk her home after their sessions.

Gah...The idea that he'd been intentional and that he'd cared made her chest constrict in an unfamiliar but not unpleasant way.

Number 4. Tsukimori Len is surprising...

He walked her home after practice. She teased him by calling him her 'sensei'. They'd had meat buns together...

He was sweet.

He was sweet to her.

Was she surprised? Did she look forward to his sweetness? Did she believe it was inside of him...waiting for...

Waiting for what exactly?

Inspiration?

She felt this odd push and pull inside of her; she would think one way and then try to dislodge the thought the very next moment and then go back to thinking it.

"He's nice to me," she said aloud as if she was determined to make the thought permanent. He doesn't even act like it's anything out of the ordinary. He's just being himself...and well I...

"I like him just as he is," she said softly.

She shut her notebook. Did I actually write that down?

I like him just as he is.

Well, that's not surprising. She'd gone from making a mental grocery list of his attitudes into some honest reflection and now...

I like his music. I like him. And I've never really had to explain it before. She gripped the notebook in her hand and stared at it with a fierce expression, "No, Kahoko. It's just a list."

She leaned tiredly against the bench and let her gaze drift to the horizon. The sky was flirting with a palette of blues, reds, and oranges; it was twirling in different swaths of color, trying them out before it would inevitably don black. The autumn leaves hovered and glided in the air before they were swept off to less familiar places. Combing her hair with her fingers, she fixed the tangle that the wind had made.

Slowly, she rose to her feet. She had never consciously thought of the things which made Len attractive. And now, she had to acknowledge, this list was making her do it.

It was getting dark, and she should be going home, but she suddenly had the urge to look for him. She just had to, it seemed. Without really examining her feelings, she got up, collected her things and walked towards the building of the Music Department.

.

.

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Tsukimori Len was about to leave for home when an unusually strong gust of wind opened the window of his practice room. He turned on his heel, picked up the stand the wind had knocked over, and went back to the window to lock it properly. But while he was still adjusting the latch, he was surprised when he caught Hino Kahoko's reflection staring at him through the door. He turned, and she ducked.

He'd already seen her and yet... She actually ducked. He sighed, strode to the door, and let her in.

"I'm sorry, Tsukimori-kun. I swear I'm not spying on you," Kaho said, gripping the edges of the notebook she was carrying. He assumed that she had questions she wanted to ask and wondered if those questions were related to the notebook she had in her hands. He could tell she was anxious about something.

"Are you all right Hino?" he asked, making her rest by the window.

"Eh? Oh, um, yes," she said, placing the notebook on her lap and holding up her hands. "I'm ok, really."

He sighed. He was concerned about her—that was the norm now. But the difference from long ago was that he no longer wondered why. She looked tired.

"Here, drink this," he said, offering her his unopened bottle of water. "You look dehydrated. Are you taking care of yourself? You have a competition coming up, remember?"

When her gaze dropped to the floor, he sighed and said: "It's just water. It's no trouble at all."

He had to admit that he liked being useful to her.

Useful, huh?

She took the bottle from his hand and removed the cap. He watched her neck while she swallowed and his eyes followed the trail when a drop of water had escaped from her lips onto her chin. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and, with that same hand, pulled the edge of her dark skirt. Her hair was slightly disheveled– wind-blown, he concluded. He leaned forward to remove a leaf that got caught in her hair.

"Is it windy outside?" he asked casually, watching her face. He had been, for a moment, close enough to see her eyes. Her pupils were dilated.

She cleared her throat. "I tried to fix it...," she said. She passed her palms over her hair, trying to feel for any wayward strands.

She narrowed her eyes, "You look like you want to search my head for lice."

He blinked. "I'm sure that's not it."

He shifted his focus to the window and let the silence settle between them as he picked out the colors in the trees. Red, golden, warm and glowing...The season reminded him of her. He was quiet, but a brief glance in her direction assured him that she wasn't bothered by their lack of conversation.

"I like this season," she said suddenly. "It's...I don't know..." she trailed off. "It's always felt so crisp and new to me."

There was something to it- that perspective of autumn being about new life instead of the end of the old. He remembered that she'd chosen Tristesse, a song of farewell, as her piece for the theme of new beginnings during the first selection. For her, it had meant the beginning after a departure.

"Like a second spring," he said, as he watched red and orange leaves fall slowly from the trees. "A springtime when every leaf is a flower."

She smiled. "That sounds lovely."

"It isn't mine," he replied, thinking of a French philosopher who loved autumn. It was puzzling how he'd suddenly remembered a quote like that.

Who said it?

But she was right, the season was lovely. He watched strips of light pass across her features; she had her hand on her chest, and he knew that underneath it, there was a strong heartbeat. He wanted to study the rhythm like a piece of music. He wanted to understand her.

He wanted this – her satisfied smile, the glow of the afternoon's farewell, the space between them that held his feelings; he wanted the moment expressed in notes and measures so he could revisit it when his memory wasn't enough to recreate its magic...

He sighed as if to expel these thoughts. They were unusual to him; he was getting carried away.

Before I leave...

"What is it Tsukimori-kun?" she asked.

He hadn't noticed that he'd been staring at her. She still had her hand over her chest.

If he couldn't get a perfect retelling of this moment, he would just have to make more memories.

Maybe...

He looked at the clock. Maybe...

"Ano, Tsukimori-kun," she said, interrupting his thoughts.

"Yes? What is it, Hino?"

Her brows were knit as they often were when she was determined to do or say something, which, he predicted, would puzzle him or distract him or... He exhaled. He was getting ahead of himself; she was probably going to ask about practice or a piece of music. She surprised him with: "I wanted to see you. I just came to see you, that's all."

She'd become shy and had looked away, but her face was something, even in profile. She was smiling.

"If that's the case then..."

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Prologue – Part 2

He had asked her out for cake or drinks, and without her really noticing, Len had led her from the school to a new cafe that had popped up recently in town. The menu behind the counter was a large, gold-framed chalkboard with the items written in apple green and strawberry-colored chalk. The table they'd picked was in a corner where tiles of colorful post-its made a blank brick wall more festive. Messages in different penmanships, some tiny drawings and doodles decorated the notes. One bright blue post-it said: "Shut up and be mine." It had a smiley face on it too. Beside it, the reply was: "I thought you'd never ask..."

She hadn't noticed before taking her seat, but there was more than one happy, lovey-dovey couple in the cafe. They were laughing, holding hands, and looking at each other as though the world had fallen away.

Len walked to their table with their order: a strawberry yogurt drink for her and lime flavored one for him.

"Did you have something to ask me, Hino?" he said without preamble as he sat across from her.

"Er...well I..."

It was more of like stuff she wanted to say to him. How should she begin anyway? She was too impulsive...

"To be honest, I..." she trailed off.

He followed her gaze to the spring-bound notebook she had carried to his practice room. It seemed an easy enough thing to do, so he casually grabbed it from the table. But she was lightning fast and nearly ripped the cover when she tried to pull the notebook from his hands. It fell to the floor near his chair.

That's when he saw it...

Number 1. Tsukimori Len is attentive...

His expression told her everything. She bit her lip, almost hoping the action would stop her cheeks from blushing. Too late...

He picked up the notebook and silently read every line. It didn't take very long.

Number 2. Tsukimori Len is a practical-no-nonsense-type of guy. He will tell you directly how bad you are at playing the violin...

Number 3. Tsukimori Len cares. He cared enough to walk me home when it was already dark.

Number 4. Tsukimori Len is surprising...

I like him just as he is.

Number 5. Tsukimori Len is attractive, just as he is.

"I don't think you meant to show this to me, did you?" he asked in his usual cool tones.

"Um, actually," she began, "it's supposed to be a list of ten things I like about you...an assignment...from uh...Kanazawa," she lied.

His brow furrowed. "This is an assignment?"

"Uh, yeah. It was supposed to be an informal essay. I was writing down some key points..."

Right...Kanazawa isn't an English teacher.

"There are only five items," Len pointed out. When it looked as if she wasn't going to catch on, he said: "You said ten things not five."

She couldn't reply to his teasing. Len placed the notebook back on the table.

"He will tell you directly how bad you are at playing," he read aloud.

"I didn't mean any of it..." she said. Tsukimori raised an eyebrow.

"No!No! I mean, I didn't mean that particular line negatively."

She licked her lips and tucked her chin. He shook his head. "Hino," he began slowly, "I realize I haven't told you how much I think you've improved. I know that you're self-motivated and that you're always willing to work hard, but I also think it's important that you hear encouragement." He paused and looked into her eyes, suddenly wishing he'd embellished his words with more...softness. He almost sighed. He wished he wasn't himself.

"You're doing well," he said sincerely. "Your hard work is paying off."

He handed her the notebook. "Music is your path," he said with complete confidence.

Her mouth had opened a little in surprise. "Thank you."

She smiled and added, "Thank you for encouraging me that night."

"That night?"

"Do you remember? You said you wanted to see how I would improve."

She'd meant that night –the night he had told her about his departure. And yet he hadn't yet revealed the precise date...

"That was enough for me."

He wondered what she would think of as too much...

He wanted to know what else she would be contented with.

A duet?

A symphony?

For him, the prospect seemed hard to resist. But...

He was all about resisting, wasn't he?

"I really can think of ten things," she said shyly. "But I think I already wrote down what was most important..."

His eyebrows rose. She continued, not breaking eye contact, "I like you as you are.."

He smiled. It wasn't a full grin but a soft smile that made her heart skip a beat. In Len's mind, he concluded that Kaho probably didn't understand how good it felt to hear her say those words. And so...should he hesitate?

"I like you too," he said. "Just as you are."

She blinked once or twice before he added: "You're brave and passionate. And I'm thankful that you were patient enough and stubborn enough to work with me. I don't think I've acknowledged this before, but I know how difficult I am. It matters to me that you think well of me and..." He hesitated. "I..."

"I think we've become close, you and I."

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.

.

Something about the way he looked at her made her want to push for the literal meaning and bridge the distance between them. Her eyes fell to his fingers. She wanted to touch his fingertips...

Just his fingertips...

Just...

.

.

.

She'd touched the fingers of his right hand...

Len's eyes widened and his mind, as if programmed to do so, played the incidents that led them to touch hands in the past. He remembered all of them.

"We've held hands before," he said, keeping his eyes on their fingers. Her hands were small, feminine, pretty...

He had this sudden thought about their hands knowing each other and looking for each other: The pads of his thumbs, their palms, the tips of their fingers, were worlds of their own that met over and over again and had the wisdom to keep colliding.

He shut his eyes. Why was he thinking like this?

What is happening to me?

He had to lighten the mood. "Do you remember the Horror House?" he asked, trying to spark her memory of the incident. "You grabbed my hand and pulled me to the exit."

He quickly felt the loss of her warmth when she raised both her small hands to her cheeks in embarrassment. This had broken the spell only for an instant– the relief that suffused his chest lasted mere seconds because her hand had searched again for his. She said his name.

"Tsukimori-kun, you offered your hand that day."

Her fingers moved to his wrist. His eyes found the neon-colored post-its above her head. Shut up and be mine...

But she hasn't said anything...

Oh, but he'd felt it- her light touch over his wrist.

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At the Park

Kaho wanted something she couldn't describe; she wanted the feeling that had fluttered like wings inside her when they were in the cafe and their fingertips had touched.

It had been magical.

She couldn't help but imagine what being near to him could do; she wanted to hold his arm and touch his lips, and she wondered if this, being near someone, was the sort of thing that could summon a storm. She didn't know, but she was sure there was something between them now.

I like you too, just as you are.

She couldn't keep calm. She couldn't let this pass her by. They'd left the cafe and were, once again, walking side by side in the park. The night, with its token half moon and starless sky, had caught up with them. A cold wind moved past the streetlights that flanked their path. She stole a glance at Len and waited until he had walked a few steps ahead of her.

"Tsukimori-kun," she said, clenching her fists.

"Yes?"

"Len," she said with finality. "I'm calling you Len from now on."

Len stopped walking. "What?"

You heard me right. Hadn't he called her brave and passionate?

"Len, you can call me Kahoko."

They'd been walking for a while now; she spotted the bench he'd knelt in front of while placing bandaids over her blisters. A lampost glittered shyly behind it.

"Or Kaho, if you prefer."

Len was quiet. He looked up at the moon before giving his off tangent reply: "It's another half moon."

Was that his way of saying, 'you're being strange'? He might be confused, but she was determined; she would make him understand; she moved a step closer.

"Len, I..."

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.

.

When she had said his name, it was as if she had touched him: physically placed a hand on his arm, or connected their fingers as she had done in the cafe. But this was worse. He could feel his pulse racing as he tried to work some saliva into his mouth– it had gone dry in the few seconds it took for her to rattle his nerves. He took a step backward– it was a step away from her as much as it was a step to keep the anxiety from building inside his chest. He realized he hadn't thought ahead. But could he have predicted this?

"I'm leaving on the day of your competition," he said abruptly. He was being impulsive; he didn't know if telling her his secret would be a step towards his self-preservation.

But he was being stupid.

She should know what she's getting herself into.

He was leaving...He couldn't...

I can't...

He took another step backward. He had been wondering, hadn't he, what she would be contented with?

Not a duet...not a symphony...

What was too much?

When did she get so close?

She grabbed the front of his coat and lifted her face to his. He hadn't consciously cataloged their height difference and...

He felt a light pressure against his lips and realized...

She had just kissed him.

He was ready to breakdown.

"I almost lost my nerve," she said, not letting go of his coat even after she'd pressed her lips against his. She was so close he could see the different shades of gold in her eyes.

"But I wanted to let you know how I feel."

He told her that he would be leaving tomorrow, but it hadn't deterred her.

He was dumbfounded; he half expected her to spit fire at him. He took in her features, her determined stare, and balled up fists. Was she biting her lip to hold back more confessions? Was he ready? Could he even escape it?

.

.

.

Knowing his secret made it easier for her to do what she wanted.

"I'm not sorry," she said in a steady voice."I only want you to know how I feel," she said again. "I just want you to know...how much I feel for you."

He ran a hand through his hair, "I...This is really unexpected."

She took his hand and led him to the bench. "I don't think it is," she said honestly."Will you please say something?"

"Len, please look at me. I know I can't force you to do or say anything but please..."

He'd indulged her enough in the past hadn't he? She nearly bit her lip in excitement. This is going to work...

It had good timing, the wild idea in her head. "Can I ask you for one last thing before you leave?"

He squeezed her hand. That was all the encouragement she needed.

"Len, I want to know how you feel about me."

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Tsukimori Len, sixteen years old, from section 2-A of the Seisou Music Department, was a little lightheaded. Hino Kahoko was sitting too close to him; his hand was in hers, and her eyes shone with hope and encouragement.

Why did he assume that he could avoid his feelings and never factor in hers? He was in an unprecedented situation with no knowledge of a standard to follow or a right path to take. It occurred to him that he could try to defend himself, but he also knew that he was already at a disadvantage when it came to her and that his arsenal, if he could call it that, consisted of words that when strung together would make her think she was an inconvenience he was trying to avoid. In short, he was helpless.

He took a deep breath. She wasn't an inconvenience, not really. But...

"I don't want things to change..."

He was content with knowing she would keep practicing while he was abroad. He'd felt secure in his convictions and in hers. But he couldn't ignore the hopeful expression on her face. He knew that he had been holding back but if she found out how he felt about her...

It didn't matter.

It didn't matter because he hadn't hoped she'd return his feelings. And even if he thought she would, would he have confessed? Not while they were in their current situation, no.

He didn't want to. There was nothing to talk about because he didn't want things to change between them. He hadn't expected anything but her attention– directed at studying and not at him. He hadn't tried for anything more than the promise she'd already made. He looked at her, at this impulsive girl who made him impulsive too, who confused and kissed him and...

He closed his eyes and pressed two fingers to the bridge of his nose.

Why do I feel too old for this?

His head was throbbing– that was why he wasn't thinking correctly. He didn't feel as if his usual 'practical-no-nonsense-lets-get-it-over-with' self would come to the surface and rescue him.

And now she had asked for one more thing...

"Len, I want to know how you feel about me."

He was nauseous. He couldn't lie to her. He had to face this unstoppable storm that would hurtle him toward his future.

He said the first thing that came to mind:

"I want to avoid becoming a distraction to you," he said with more frustration than he'd planned. "It was enough for me to hear you promise you would continue to play the violin. I want...I want to stay with you but I can't" he said desperately.

He couldn't look at her. "I don't want it to change. I hadn't planned on changing our relationship."

.

.

"What do you mean?" she said, her voice rising. "It's not as if you can..." She stopped mid-sentence and shook her head. "No, I'm wrong. I'm wrong because I know how you make your decisions. Once you've made up your mind, there's no going back. But you can't just tell me that you hadn't planned on changing our relationship. Because I..."

Quietly she said, "I want more from you."

It was more than that. She expected more from him.

He can't discard me like this, right?

She persevered, "You and I... I just know we have something worth keeping. I want to understand it, like the notes on a score. I..."

"I want to know how to express myself in the best way but..."

She entwined her fingers with his, "I want it just like this."

"Don't you understand? You're a decision I've made too. I want to hang on to you and depend on you like I do my violin."

He had to speak at that moment: "But even without me, you can still..."

She didn't give him the chance to finish; his eyes widened when she placed a finger over his lips. She saw the panic in his eyes and finally realized her mistake: Her feelings couldn't get through to him.

She'd failed.

She'd failed to stir his emotions...

She'd failed to convince him to care...

An unwelcome shock reverberated through her entire body: Her confession hadn't made him happy.

Why did I...

She didn't freeze. Instead, she took her hands off him and stood quickly, anticipating her legs would be useless and petrified if she waited any longer.

"I want to go home," she said softly. "Tsukimori-kun, I want to go home."

She tried to smile as he stood to meet her gaze. "This is where we separate, Tsukimori-kun," she said, trying to sound normal, even cheerful. But she turned away before he could see the tears fall from her eyes. She wiped them with her sleeve.

I'm not weak. I'm not impulsive, she told herself as fresh tears clouded her vision.

"Let's go then," he said without hesitating.

She turned to face him. His brow was furrowed, but he didn't look anxious. Should she even be surprised? He actually looked determined.

He's determined to take me home.

Determined to sweep this night under the rug...

Determined not to have a relationship with me...

He was probably still in control of his emotions while she, on the other hand, was ready to burst.

She almost wanted to laugh."Will you say that this has nothing to do with you? I won't let you."

She was embarrassed and disappointed and, on top of all that, she was heartbroken. But it was unlike her to be harsh. She didn't want to make him unhappy even though he had hurt her. It wasn't like her to take revenge.

"I don't want to hurt you. But I don't want to hurt myself either. Please Tsukimori-kun, don't take me home."

I want to be alone...

"We both need time to be alone," she said evenly, voicing her thoughts. "We have to think about what we've said and...and I want to be strong, so, tomorrow, we can get over this tomorrow. Or I can decide to get over this tomorrow."

She hated that she was babbling. "We'll be fine tomorrow," she said, not caring she'd said 'tomorrow' too many times. Tomorrow. I'll be ok tomorrow.

She closed her eyes. "I have a competition to think about. You have your papers for abroad to take...care...of"

Her hands shook, and her voice was unsteady. She was filled with disbelief and disappointment. And sadness too because she knew him well enough to know that he didn't understand how his decision had hurt her. She had dreamt of him...

He hadn't realized that he'd been part of her dream.

Maybe I'm just not part of his...

Oh yes, she could belong to his world of music, but she wouldn't be the girl he wanted beside him.

"Good night, Tsukimori-kun," she said, trying to smile."I won't bother you again."