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"Ne, ima made kimi no ita bashou wa, donna fuu ni suteki datta no, un, sou da ne!" warbled Umi.
"Umi-san! Please! A little louder, how about it? Again!"
"Ne, ima made kimi no ita bashou wa, donna fuu ni suteki datta no, un, sou da ne!" The girl tried to make her voice a little louder.
"I still can't hear you.... Louder!" A bit of impatience now showed on Akutagawa-sensei's face.
"Ne, ima made kimi no ita bashou wa, donna fuu ni suteki datta no, un, sou da ne!" Umi's voice quavered now as she fought back tears of embarrassment. She could hear the rest of the chorus behind her, giggling.
Akutagawa shook her head. "Umi-san, this just isn't working. I know you're only in the chorus, but you have to work on your volume control. We'll work on it later on. Why don't you go out into the hallway and get a drink of water and come back later?" She shook her hand airily in the direction of the door, dismissing the girl.
Umi was glad of the chance to leave the auditorium. Even though Umi hated audiences, she had thought being in the choir would give her the chance to blend in, yet be doing something. It was expected to join some sort of club at this high school, and she had tried her hand at most of them. None of them were working for her. She considered dropping out of choir and trying something else... what was left to try?
Even through the auditorium door, which she leaned against, Umi could hear the strains of "Ne, ima made kimi no ita bashou wa," from other other choristers. They could sing loudly. They didn't get embarrassed when their voices were heard. They could even sing and dance at the same time and not get confused... all of a sudden, Umi felt very clumsy and awkward. She was like a mismatched piece in a wrong puzzle. She just didn't fit in anywhere.
The door moved slightly, like someone was trying to push it open from the other side. Quickly, Umi moved out of the way. "Gomen nasai!" she exclaimed, startled and frightened and on the verge of tears.
"Oi, oi, oi!" laughed a good-natured voice. "You're like a frightened bunny rabbit."
Umi looked up at the newcomer. Newcomers, actually... there was a tall man with rasta braids and a little short boy with messy brown hair. Both had strikingly similar fangs when they grinned.... Umi certainly felt like a frightened rabbit before predators.
Don't be silly, Umi! she scolded herself. Being frightened of a man and his son!
"I didn't mean to be in your way," Umi said softly, and tried to go down the hall. She was supposed to be getting a drink of water... perhaps she could fit in a good cry in the restroom, too.
But the man didn't seem to want her to go. He reached out and easily caught her wrist. He's strong! she thought, startled. Such a skinny guy....
"We want to talk to you, Umi-han" said the man. "The boy and I do."
"Yeah," echoed the boy, nodding. "We need to talk to you."
Umi glanced from one to the other. He had called her Umi-han. The guy had to be from Osaka. But his son had no trace of an accent.
"You know who I am.... who are you? And your little boy?"
The little boy seemed to bristle at being called such. "I'm not a kid, and I'm not his son. Ewwww!"
"Ewwww right back at ya," said the tall man, in an equally scornful voice. They looked at each other and grinned amicably. There were those matching fangs again.... They suddenly seemed more like brothers....
"I'm Joker, and this is Koganei... we've come here to make a proposition."
"Proposition... me?" squeaked Umi. Her mind raced. That didn't sound very good.... she wondered if they were going to try anything, and if she would be able to scream loudly enough for the choristers to hear her through that door. Hey... if I can scream loudly, why can't I sing loudly? Umi gazed thoughtfully at the door. "Of course I can sing loudly!" she exclaimed aloud. "I just have to really want to... and I can't be pressured... and...."
Joker and Koganei stared at each other blankly. "Huh?" the boy asked.
"I think she went off on a tangent without telling us," said Joker. "See... she's forgotten about us already."
The girl was pacing around, arguing loudly to herself. "And if I want to sing loudly, I can.... Ne, ima made kimi no ita bashou wa, donna fuu ni suteki datta no, un, sou da ne!"
Her two visitors jumped back at the sudden loudness of what had been a soft and wispy voice.
"Your singing voice is very nice," said Koganei, trying to be polite.
"And loud," added Joker helpfully.
"Yeah, it was, wasn't it!" grinned Umi proudly.
"Now, about our conversation..." said Joker. "We need you to take part in a tournament that will be taking place in a little time..."
Umi paled. "I won't have to sing the anthem?" she demanded suspiciously.
"Errr... no... we're not planning on singing the anthem...." said Joker, looking helpless for once. Dragon-girl had tried giving him problems, and he had breezily remained in control of the situation... but he hadn't expected any trouble from Rabbit-girl.
"Well... I guess I could sing the anthem. If I practiced hard," suggested Umi. She took a deep breath. "Kimi ga yo wa; Chiyo ni yachiyo ni sazare ishi no iawo to nare te koke no musu made!"
Joker and Koganei looked at each other again.
"You won't really have to sing. All you have to do is announce. And be a referee."
Umi tossed her hair back. "You think I can't do it?" she demanded challengingly. "Well, I tell you, I can sing the anthem!"
"Don't you even want to know the terms?" hazarded Koganei.
Umi laughed. "I was being so silly. So hare-brained, even. I know what I need and what I don't need. I don't need a drink of water at all. I just need a little confidence... I hope it lasts for a while. Sure, I'd love to help you guys out. Ja ne!" She waved her hand cheerfully at them and disappeared back into the auditorium.
Joker and Koganei stared at each other once more.
"Did you understand any of that?" inquired Koganei.
Joker shrugged. "I only know that she's agreed... and that's one more off our list, ne?"
"Yeah, I guess so," shrugged Koganei. They began walking towards the door. "But she was weird...."
*note: The lyric at the beginning is: "Tell me, what is it that makes the places you are so special? Of course. Since it's you we're talking about you've done your best to live heroically, right?" It's from "But-But-But", in Slayers... *^_^*
**note 2: I have no idea about the anthem's punctuation, but it means something like: "Thousands of years of happy reign be time; Rule on, my lord, till what are now pebbles by age united shall grow to mighty rocks whose venerable sides the moss doth line."