Stage Fright

Act 4 - The Final Curtain

After completing her brief scene, Akira now stood alongside Hajime in the wings during rehearsal the following day. They watched along with the rest of the cast as Takumi and Kyoko prepared to rehearse the play's final scene. As they began, Akira noticed that Hajime seemed kind of tense and that his hand appeared somewhat sweaty. He then clenched it into a fist when Takumi took a few steps closer to Kyoko.

"Is there something wrong, Hajime?" Akira asked with concern.

"Uh, no, not at all," he anxiously responded.

"Oh, okay. It's just that you seem kind of nervous."

Realizing that there was no point in denying it, Hajime confessed, "Well, the truth is I am a bit… wait a minute, you seem awfully calm and I know that you two like each other, so doesn't this scene bother you too?"

"Why would it?"

"Why? Well obviously it's because… wait, you don't know, do you?" Hajime realized. "Akira, have you even read through the entire script?"

"Um, not exactly. Since I just have a bit part, I only looked over my lines."

"And Takumi didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what? Hajime, what exactly is this scene about?"

"This is the scene where their characters reunite and kiss," Hajime bluntly informed her.

"Kiss?" Akira replied somewhat stupefied. "You mean Takumi and Kyoko-san…"

Hajime nodded, acknowledging her with a concerned look. She then quickly directed her attention back onto the stage, watching with apprehension as the scene unfolded.

With his arms now wrapped around Kyoko's waist, Takumi's reading sounded extremely heartfelt as his character declared his love for her. Gazing into each other's eyes, Kyoko's lips began to close in on his when suddenly Takumi's hand went up between them.

"Um, I'm sorry, but do you think it would be alright if we waited until the actual performance to do this?" Takumi requested.

"Oh, ah, sure. I guess that would be okay," Kyoko understandably replied.

Akira and Hajime, meanwhile, each breathed a huge sigh of relief as Takumi now made his way over to her, while Hajime went to talk with Kyoko.

"Rehearsal's almost over, Akira, so now might be a good time to…"

"What was that all about?" Akira demanded to know.

"What are you talk…" Takumi cluelessly began to ask, then suddenly realized, "Oh that."

"Yeah, that! Were you ever planning on telling me about it?"

"What's there to tell? It's all part of the act. It's not a big deal."

"Not a big deal?" she said in disbelief, raising her voice. "You call kissing her not a big deal?"

"Now see, this is exactly why I didn't tell you. I knew you were going to blow this way out of proportion. Akira, it's just acting. All we do is press our lips together. It means nothing; it's nothing like a real kiss."

"Well then if that's the case, why did you stop towards the end? Why didn't you just finish the scene and… press your lips against hers?"

"It's because…" Takumi hesitated, then realized that he didn't fully consider how she might have felt, "because I knew it might make you feel uncomfortable. Sorry, I guess maybe I should have told you earlier about that scene. Even though I may simply view it as acting, I failed to stop and think how you might view it. I guess I really can't blame you for becoming jealous."

"Idiot! I'm not jealous," she defensively shot back, then awkwardly remarked. "I… I just noticed that it made Hajime a bit on edge and became concerned for him, that's all."

"That's all, huh?" Takumi began to egg her on. "Are you sure you weren't feeling just a teensy bit jealous?"

Akira now became flustered, prompting her to turn her head off to the side and stammer, "Sh…shut up."

With an amused look on his face, Takumi looked over to where Hajime and Kyoko were talking and pondered, "Hmm, I wonder if they're having a similar conversation?"

"I think Hajime may have feelings for her," Akira observed.

"Oh I know he does. He just hasn't acted on those feelings yet," Takumi informed her. "Anyway, rehearsal's almost over and I'd like to start getting everyone together when I make my announcement. Setsuna-san should be here soon, so I just need you to go and get Ryusuke-san."

"With pleasure," she eagerly replied with a devious expression.

"Now Akira, be nice to him and don't make any trouble," Takumi called after her as she headed out, realizing full well that that may be asking too much.

"Good job everyone!" Kyoko complimented the cast and crew. "Let's stop here for today and…"

"I beg your pardon, Kyoko-san," Takumi interjected, "but there's something that I need to discuss with everyone before you send them home."

"Oh, sure," Kyoko obliged him as everyone began to gather around. "What's on your mind?"

"Well you see…"

"Hope I didn't miss any of the fireworks," Setsuna's voice came from the wings, now joining everyone else on stage.

"Oh, Setsuna-san," Takumi greeted, "thank you so much for coming, I really appreciate it."

"What's she doing here?" Kyoko demanded to know.

"I'm sorry, but I asked her to come. It's very important that we're all…"

Takumi was cut short again when he heard shouting coming from the aisle, which appeared to be getting louder.

"Let go of me!" Ryusuke demanded of Akira, forcing him along as she had his arm twisted behind his back.

"Akira, what are you doing? Let him go," Takumi insisted.

"Well you asked me to bring him here and that's what I did, " Akira contended as she brought him up onto the stage.

"Yeah but I didn't tell you to use force."

"Hey, there was no way that I was going to let him get away from me again," she declared, releasing him from her grasp.

"What is your problem?" Ryusuke protested, rubbing his injured arm. "And what do you mean get away from you again?"

"Oh I know it was you in that ninja outfit," Akira asserted.

"Ninja outfit? What are you talking about?"

"Okay, that's enough," Takumi interjected. "I'm sorry, Ryusuke-san. I hope she didn't hurt you, but I felt that you should be here since this concerns you too."

"Yeah well, your little friend here did say that you had something important you wanted to discuss with me. I would have gone with her if she had simply asked. Maybe you should reconsider about putting a leash on her."

An incensed Akira was prepared to attack him until Takumi stepped between them.

"Akira!" Takumi objected, shaking his head.

"Say what's this all about anyway," Setsuna inquired.

"Right, since we're all here then I'll get straight to the point," Takumi announced. "First I want to thank everyone for their patience on this matter. There have been a lot of rumors and accusations going around regarding who our saboteur is. But I'm here to tell you that that all stops here today."

"You mean you know who it is?" Kyoko was surprised to hear.

"I'll get to that in a few minutes, but first, I'd like to go over a few things with everyone. As you all know by now, this production has been plagued with numerous unexplained occurrences over the past two weeks. It started off small with a prop or set piece that mysteriously moved on its own, but then it became a bit more serious when backdrops started falling, culminating with yesterday's light fixture incident. Somebody obviously doesn't want this production to go on, and they're willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths to shut it down. And that person is among us today."

Several people then began looking at one another and talking quietly amongst themselves while Takumi slowly scanned everyone with his eyes and gauged their reactions.

"As serious as these latest events may be," he continued, "and the harm that each gave the appearance of being able to inflict, no one was ever seriously injured. Hajime's injury was merely a result of his reaction when he attempted to get out of harm's way. The fact is that he was never in any real danger from where he was standing. The backdrop that fell that day would never have hit him. The rate at which it fell was too slow and therefore easily avoidable even if he had been standing closer to it. No, our perpetrator never had any intention of harming anyone. His main goal was simply to strike fear into the hearts and minds of everyone here in the hopes that they would drop out, thereby bringing about the play's cancellation."

"But what possible reason could this person have for wanting to shut us down?" Kohei tried to comprehend.

"Actually, several of you here had a reason for wanting to see the show fail," Takumi implied, suspiciously eyeing everyone. "But of course only one of you actually followed through with their intentions. Setsuna-san..."

"You can't pin this on me!" she hastily reacted. "Sure I wanted this play to fail. I mean it's no secret that Kyoko and me didn't get along very well; that's why I left the club last year. She was always the perfectionist and was never happy with my suggestions. I merely wanted to help, but she always had to have her way and never took criticism very well. I just couldn't take it anymore, always being told that my ideas were no good."

"And that's why you quit the club?" Takumi surmised.

"That's right. You have no idea how much that hurt me," she distressingly stated, looking momentarily over at Kyoko. "That's why I wanted nothing more than to see her fall flat on her face. Maybe that would bring her down to reality so that she could finally see that she wasn't so perfect."

With a stunned expression, Kyoko looked on at her former club mate seeming genuinely remorseful.

"But I would never do anything to sabotage the play, I swear it! You've got to believe me!"

"Take it easy, kid," Ryusuke reassured her, coming over and placing a hand of support upon her shoulder. "No one's saying you did it. Heck, even I have to admit that I had wished for something to happen that would cancel this play. I'm not saying that I did it of course, but…"

"But you're not saying that you didn't do it either," Akira accusingly stated. "You even said that if Kyoko-san didn't change her mind about letting your band play here that you would take matters into your own hands. Sure sounded like you were pretty serious about following through with your threat."

"Listen, missy," Ryusuke defensively shot back, "I already told you that I don't make threats. What I meant was that if I couldn't get Kyoko to listen to reason, then I would be forced to present the matter before the student council to see if they could resolve the matter for us."

"Like they would listen to you," Kyoko snidely remarked.

"Awfully sure of your self, aren't you, sweetheart?" Ryusuke replied. "It's that kind of attitude that'll bring about your downfall."

"Excuse me? Why I'll have you know that I…"

"Oh boy, here it comes!" Asuna chimed in. "The 'I can do no wrong' speech."

"Asuna-san, please," Hajime pleaded, not wishing for her to get into an argument with Kyoko. "Can't we all just get along?"

"Oh please," Asuna said rolling her eyes. "Why are you always trying to defend her? And don't try and act all innocent just because you supposedly hurt your ankle. Yeah, that's right, I saw you yesterday without your crutches walking down the hall."

Akira looked wide-eyed at Takumi at hearing this revelation since she too had witnessed Hajime in a similar instance.

"Uh, I… I can explain," Hajime stammered.

"What's to explain?" Asuna reasoned. "You faked your injury just so you could get out of the play because you too were tired of putting up with Kyoko's arrogant behavior."

"No, that isn't true!" Hajime contended. "I mean, I admit that I was without my crutches yesterday when you probably saw me, but it's not because I was faking it. I kept hoping that my ankle would heal before the show opened that I became desperate. I practiced walking on it a couple of times without the crutches, ignoring the pain, to try and prove that I could still perform."

"Hajime-kun," a concerned Kyoko asked, "why would you do that to yourself? Takumi-san was doing just fine. Didn't you think that he could handle the part?"

"Oh he's doing a wonderful job," Hajime affirmed as he nervously tried to reason. "But that's not why I… Kyoko-chan I… I don't know how to tell you that…"

"I think I know," Takumi comprehended, giving his friend a supportive smile. "You were worried about the final scene, weren't you?"

"Well I…" Hajime bashfully uttered, eventually acknowledging him with a timid nod.

"Hajime-kun, why on earth would you be worried about that?" Kyoko failed to understand, when suddenly a bright red hue overtook her cheeks as she realized, "Oh."

"I'm sorry, Kyoko-chan," Hajime apologetically stated. "I know it's silly but the thought of you kissing someone else…"

"Hajime-kun," Kyoko compassionately replied, genuinely touched by his forthright admission.

"How touching," Asuna sarcastically remarked. "I think I finally know what went down. You were so concerned for your precious little Kyoko-chan, worried how all the stress from working on this play was starting to take it's toll on her, that you decided to rescue her from herself. So you sabotaged a few set pieces hoping that would scare some of us off. When that didn't work you faked your own injury figuring the play would have to be canceled since you were the male lead. But your friend surprised you when he offered to step in. Then you became really desperate when you realized that they would be rehearsing the final scene today, so you resorted to dropping that light fixture to try and scare him off."

"What?" Hajime was shocked at her accusation. "That's preposterous! I would never do anything like that."

"Don't you think you're overstepping your bounds, Asuna-san," Kohei attempted to defend his friend. "Besides, you're not exactly the angel of innocence yourself. As I recall, you were pretty upset when you didn't get the lead in the play. In fact, you were livid when you found out that Kyoko-san had taken the role for herself. You would have done just about anything to see that she didn't get her way."

"Takumi," Akira leaned over and whispered, "don't you think we should put a stop to this? They're all at each others throats."

Shaking his head, Takumi just quietly professed, "Exactly what I was hoping for."

Akira was completely dumbfounded by his response as he then redirected his attention back to Kohei and Asuna's argument.

"Yeah, well I could say the same for you," Asuna countered. "You wanted the male lead just as badly. You weren't exactly thrilled when Kyoko didn't even give you a part, making you stage manager instead. And being stage manager gave you a lot of control over things like set pieces, backdrops and lighting."

"Say, are you insinuating that I…"

"One moment, please," Takumi interrupted. "I have my own insinuation for you. Can you please explain how one of the costume department's ninja costumes came into your possession?"

"Ninja costume? How did you…" Kohei was startled at his knowledge of the fact.

"Oh, so you admit it!" Akira eagerly announced.

"N… No, I mean, sure it was in my bag," he nervously admitted, "but…"

"Wait," Kyoko was surprised to hear. "So you're the one that ran me over in the hall that day and also threatened Takumi if he didn't drop out?"

"No, sempai!" he vehemently denied. "I would never do that! I don't even know how it got in my bag. As soon as I noticed it I immediately took it back to the costume department. Someone must have planted it there."

"Yeah right," Akira accusingly remarked.

"I'm telling you truth!" Kohei defensively shouted.

"Just a moment," Takumi interrupted. "The ninja costume aside for now, can you tell me if you recognize this?"

Pulling the tape measure that he had discovered the night before out of his pocket, Takumi handed it to Kohei who seemed a bit surprised upon first sight of it.

"My tape measure. Where'd you find it?" he curiously asked.

"So it is yours?" Takumi tried to confirm.

"Well, technically it belongs to the school," he tried to clarify, "but I've been using it since we started rehearsals, that is until it disappeared about two weeks ago."

"Disappeared?" Takumi was intrigued to hear.

"Yeah. I looked all over for it until I finally just gave up and wound up getting another one instead."

"Notice anything different about it?" Takumi intimated.

"Different? Not that I can tell. Wait, what the…" Kohei was startled when he went to pull the tape out and saw nylon fishing line instead.

"Say, what's this all about?" Setsuna demanded to know. "Ninja costumes, tape measures with fishing line? What's any of that have to do with what's been going on lately?"

"Plenty." Takumi exclaimed. "But perhaps it might be best if I demonstrated."

Taking the tape measure from Kohei, Takumi went over to the wall where the rope locks were located and proceeded to tie the end of the nylon line onto one of the release levers, which had a padlock on it.

"Kohei-san?" Takumi requested. "Do you have the key for this?"

"Huh? Oh sure."

Taking a key from his pocket, Kohei complied and removed the lock for him, but wondered what he had in mind. Now unspooling several feet of the line, Takumi came back out onto the stage with the line unobtrusively trailing behind him along the floor.

"Hajime, is this about where you were standing on the day of your accident?" Takumi inquired.

"Um, yeah. That seems about right."

"Alright then. Now, everyone pay close attention," Takumi instructed as he then gave a tug on the fishing line.

"Takumi, look out!" Akira cried out as she noticed the backdrop starting to come down, getting ready to push him out of the way.

"It's alright, Akira. Just watch."

As the remainder of the cloth backdrop came to a rest upon the stage, Takumi then turned to face everyone and held up the tape measure, it's line now fully retracted.

"Well that was pretty gutsy, kid," Ryusuke commented. "You're lucky that it wasn't coming down any faster, otherwise it might have hit you."

"Luck had nothing to do with it," Takumi pointed out. "This was all carefully planned and laid out. With a basic knowledge of the stage rigging in this auditorium, our perpetrator was able pull all this off with just a simple flick of the wrist and the push of a button, thereby giving off the illusion of being in two places at the same time. In each instance, the suspect simply looped this line around an object that he wished to manipulate. Say, a table leg for example. Pulling on the line then made it seem like the table was moving on its own. Tugging a bit harder would then cause it to tip over. With the table legs now in a horizontal position, the line could easily slide off allowing the suspect to quickly retract it back inside the spool. The same technique was used to release the brake lever that held the backdrop. And obviously since the fishing line is clear, it made it quite inconspicuous to the naked eye. But as I've stated before, it was never the intent of the suspect to cause harm to anyone, merely to scare."

"How can you say that?" Asuna countered. "Especially after yesterday when that light almost hit you."

"Almost," Takumi emphasized. "While I admit that it may have been a bit too close for comfort, I was still a good ten feet away from where it fell. Also, the method that was used was somewhat different from before. Since the rope locks were now padlocked and everyone was a bit more mindful of them, the suspect didn't want to arouse any suspicion by removing it, even if he did have a key to it. Instead, he went to the trouble of going up on the catwalk and running the fishing line alongside one of the ropes and feeding it down behind the black curtain on the side of the stage. Tying a shorter piece of line around the light fixture, he fastened the longer section to it by using a simple slipknot. Then, all he needed to do to release it was give a quick tug on the line. He timed it so that it would fall when I was within a few feet of where it would hit. Unfortunately, after he released it his line got caught up somewhere up above and was unable to fully retract it. So he decided to leave the device hanging for the time being, figuring that no one would notice it suspended five feet up in the air and concealed within the pleats of the black curtain. But thanks to Akira's agile abilities and keen eyesight, we were able to obtain a crucial piece of evidence."

Shooting a quick glance over at her, Takumi acknowledged Akira with a wink and a smile while she stood proudly, flattered by the recognition.

"This last act was a desperate attempt to get me to drop out, seeing as how his previous scare tactic of dressing up as a ninja and threatening me didn't succeed."

"Why didn't you tell us that you had been threatened, Takumi?" Hajime was curious to know.

"I didn't wish for anyone in the cast to worry," Takumi replied.

"Oh enough of this already," Setsuna impatiently remarked. "Do you know who's behind this or don't you?"

"I do," Takumi confidently stated. "The fact is that I've learned quite a bit about everyone here today. Also, I've come to realize that if you let people talk long enough, sooner or later somebody is going to spill the beans. Well… somebody has."

Takumi stood silently for a moment as he looked out at everyone. Meanwhile, Akira had her eyes on Ryusuke, eagerly awaiting Takumi's announcement that he was the guilty party so that she could personally apprehend him.

"Takumi-san, I can't stand the anticipation," Kyoko anxiously said. "Who is it?"

"You… Kyoko-san," Takumi bluntly stated.

Everyone seemed shocked at his revelation, particularly Akira who had a complete look of disbelief about her as well as one of disappointment.

"Me? Why… you're crazy," Kyoko accused.

"You must be mistaken, Takumi," Hajime tried to reason. "Why would Kyoko-chan want to sabotage her own play?"

"Why indeed," Takumi reiterated. "I myself thought that it was a brilliant script. Unfortunately, the playwright herself didn't see it that way. Kyoko-san constantly made changes to the script, never fully satisfied with her work. Lacking confidence in herself by refusing to simply let the play stand on it's on merits, she decided to pull the script. But of course by that time it was too late to for the club to put on a different production since preparations were well underway for the current one. Afraid of failure, Kyoko-san became desperate and tried to find a way to cancel the play. So, she tried to scare her cast into quitting. That way she would have an excuse for calling off the play while at the same time avoiding any embarrassment. While not successful in her endeavor, she thought that she had caught a break when Hajime injured himself. What she didn't count on was when I offered to step in to take his place. That's when she borrowed the ninja costume from the costume department and used it, hoping that it would scare me into quitting."

"But, Takumi," Akira tried to comprehend. "The person that I was chasing down ran into Kyoko-san and knocked her down. How could it have been her?"

"You lost sight of her momentarily," Takumi pointed out. "That gave her enough time to ditch the costume in the girl's restroom. Remember, she was just outside of it when we found her."

"But there wouldn't have been enough time for her to change," Akira replied.



"Velcro," Takumi reiterated. "It's used quite frequently in the theater. It comes in rather handy when a scene calls for a quick costume change. All the performer needs to do is undo the Velcro straps and pull off the costume, wearing the next scene's costume directly underneath it. So it only took Kyoko-san a few seconds to remove the outfit, toss it into the restroom and then sprawl herself out on the ground, giving the appearance of being run over. Also, if you'll recall, her hair was mussed up when we found her. Wanting us to believe that it was due to her alleged run-in, the fact is that it was really the result of pulling the ninja mask from her head."

"That's quite a theory you've conjured up," Kyoko defensively remarked, "but you can't prove a word of it."

"On the contrary. Kyoko-san, earlier you mentioned that you had been knocked over by our mystery ninja right after he had threatened me."

"That's right. What of it?"

"How did you know that I had been threatened seeing as how I never told anyone?"

"Why I…" Kyoko now seemed at a loss.

"Only three people knew that I had been threatened: me, Akira and… the ninja. You!"

An eerie silence now befell upon the stage as all eyes now focused on the accused.

"No, that can't be!" Hajime refused to believe. "Kyoko-chan, tell him it wasn't you!"

"I'm sorry, Hajime-kun," a despondent Kyoko weakly admitted, "but I can't do that."


"There's no point in denying it any longer. Everything Takumi-san said was true; it was me."

"Kyoko-chan," Hajime uttered in disbelief.

"All I wanted to do was write an original play to prove to myself that I could someday make it as writer. I thought it was okay at first, but once I submitted it to the club for their input, I started having second thoughts and realized that certain parts of it were just too cliché. When they approved it and decided to perform it during the school festival, I figured I could just make a few changes to the script as rehearsals went along. But it didn't work out that way. On top of all my schoolwork, I had to produce the play, act in the play and then try and find the time to do rewrites. I just couldn't do it and wasn't able to devote enough time to it to really make much of a difference. Even with the few changes that I did manage to make, I still wasn't happy with it. I figured that if the play were to go on with such a weak script, no one would take me seriously as writer; it would be too embarrassing. Simply canceling the play because I didn't like the script would be like admitting to everyone that I was a failure as a writer. That's when I decided to take more drastic steps. That way, when it got canceled I would be spared the embarrassment."

"But you had nothing to be embarrassed about!" Hajime countered. "Everyone in the club loved it, that's why we decided to perform it for the festival. The script was fine just the way it was, why couldn't you see that?"

"Because she lacked self-confidence," Takumi indicated. "She had so little faith in herself and her work that she failed to see how truly wonderful it really was. To add to that, she was under a great deal of stress, attempting to juggle several different tasks at once, all the while worrying about what other people might think. In short, she was scared. And as a result she chose to run away from her fears by sabotaging her own play."

"Oh, Kyoko-chan," Hajime said with disappointment.

"I'm so sorry!" Kyoko cried. "I just didn't know what to do anymore! But I never meant to hurt anyone, least of all you, Hajime-kun."

"Don't worry about me, I'm fine," he assured her. "Right now I'm more worried about you. Despite all that's happened, I think you're the one who's been hurting the most."

Throwing his arms around her, Hajime proceeded to give Kyoko a hug of support.


"I should have stepped in sooner and said something," Hajime tearfully contended. "I saw the signs that essentially signaled a cry for help, yet all I could do was just sit by and helplessly watch while you attempted to do everything yourself. I'm sorry."

"Please don't blame yourself," Kyoko pleaded. "I have only myself to blame."


"Listen everyone," Kyoko announced, "I know what I did was wrong and I don't blame anyone if they never forgive me, but I intend to do whatever it takes to atone for my actions. And the first thing that I know I must do is to step down as president of the drama club and let someone who is more deserving of it take over the position."

"That's a very noble gesture," Takumi observed.

Kyoko then looked over at Setsuna and humbly asked, "Setsuna, I know we've had our differences, but I didn't exactly treat you fairly and I'm truly sorry for that. I know it may be a lot to ask, but would you consider coming back and leading this club to greatness as only I know you can? I would be truly humbled if you did."

Setsuna marveled at the change of heart that had come over Kyoko, wiping a tear from her eye as she happily remarked, "Idiot, of course I'll come back. I never wanted to leave in the first place, but I became so frustrated that you didn't exactly give me much of a choice."

"I know, and I'm sorry," Kyoko regretfully replied. "I was just being selfish. But I promise you that I'll never act like that again."

"Just promise me that you'll slow down and take things a bit easier," Setsuna requested. "There's no need for you to try and do everything yourself, and there's no shame in asking your friends for help either. We're still your friends you know, don't forget that."

"Thank you," Kyoko appreciatively replied. "That means a lot to me."

"So what's going to happen with the play now?" Kohei worriedly asked.

"The play will go on as scheduled," Takumi announced. "I see no reason otherwise, especially now that this matter has been resolved."

"Ahem!" Rysuke tried getting their attention, afraid that he may have been forgotten.

"Oh, there's just one other thing," Takumi pointed out, "and that's regarding Ryusuke-san's band."

"Right," Kyoko suddenly recalled. "I'm sorry for the way that I've treated you, and honestly I have no problem with your band performing either before or after us. However, that's no longer my decision to make, but I think Setsuna will be more than happy to work something out with you."

"Absolutely," Setsuna concurred. "And I see no reason why your band couldn't perform immediately after us. How's that sound?"

"Hey, that's all I ever asked for," Ryusuke contentedly replied. "Thanks."

"Oh, there is just one little thing that I ask of you in return," Setsuna requested in a somewhat scheming overtone.

"And what might that be?"

"After your band performs you have to take me to Takumi-san's cooking club's quaint little café," Setsuna sensually insisted, batting her eyelashes at Ryusuke.

"It'd be my pleasure, little lady."

"Excellent, then it's a date…" Setsuna purposely let slip. "Uh, I mean, I'll see you then."

As everyone now began to disperse, Ryusuke approached Takumi with a big grin upon his face, appreciatively expressing, "I owe you big time, man. You managed to get our band's gig moved to the auditorium and you set me up with that cutie."

"Well, I didn't exactly have anything to do with that," Takumi modestly stated.

"Hey, if you ever need a favor or if someone ever messes with you, just remember that I've got your back."

"Uh, thanks. I appreciate that," Takumi gratefully replied as Akira just rolled her eyes, feeling a bit uneasy since she always considered herself Takumi's sole protector. "Um, Akira, isn't there something you have to say to Ryusuke-san?"

"Not really," Akira stubbornly replied.


"Oh all right," she relented, then, with her head down she quietly confessed, "I'm… s… sorry that I accused you earlier."

"What was that?" Ryusuke playfully asked, holding a hand up to his ear. "I didn't quite catch that."

"I'm sorry, alright? Jeez!"

"Apology accepted. Now that wasn't so hard, now was it?"

"Shut up."

"Ooo, touchy," Ryusuke commented. "So, Takumi-san, you're still gonna stick around after the play to hear us perform, right?"

"As much as I'd love to, I really need to get back and help my club run the café."

"Well isn't there somebody else who could…" Ryusuke thought as he then looked to Akira and demanded, "Hey, why don't you fill in for him?"

"Oh, ah, I really can't ask her to do that," Takumi reluctantly said.

"Why not? I think it's the least she could do after all the hard work you've done. You deserve to chill out and listen to us jam. So how about it, missy? Help the kid out."

"I don't need you telling me what to do!" Akira shot back, rather irritated at his demands. "It just so happens that I had every intention of helping him anyway, despite what you may think."

"Akira," Takumi was touched to hear. "You don't have to…"

"Yes… I do," Akira insisted, then timidly added, "I… I want to help."

Takumi then reminded her, "But you realize that you're going to have to wear…"

"I know, I know! You don't have to remind me," she awkwardly stated. "But really I… I don't mind."

"I don't get it, what's the big deal?" Ryusuke couldn't comprehend. "What does she have to wear?"

"Well you see, this is a maid café," Takumi pointed out.

"A maid café? Then that means…" Ryusuke suddenly realized, now looking to Akira with a sinister expression on his face. "Oh this I gotta see."

"Yeah well too bad you're not going to be able to see anything once I punch your lights out," Akira angrily expressed as she prepared to lunge at him.

"Akira!" Takumi scolded, attempting to hold her back.

"Whoa! I sure hope your waitressing skills are better than your social skills," Ryusuke joked, taking a step back to avoid her attack. "Well, I'll see you guys later. And thanks again, Takumi-san. Looking forward to your maid serving skills, Akira. Hahahahaha."

"The only thing I'll be serving," Akira called after him, "is your head on a…"

"Akira! Why must you antagonize him? Can't you two just get along?"

"Takumi, you know I love you," Akira emphasized, placing her hands upon his shoulders and looking him squarely in the eyes, "but don't ask me for the impossible."

"Right, silly me."

"Table five, order up!"

"Oolong tea for table two!"

The atmosphere was filled with the hustle and bustle of activity on the day of the festival, particularly at the cooking club's maid café. Its female members all decked out in very short-cut maid uniforms each consisting of a black one-piece dress with an above-the-knee skirt while underneath they each wore a white ruffled petticoat. Complimenting it all was a white apron along with the traditional maid's headpiece. Even though they had converted one of the school's largest classrooms for its use, the room was still packed with festival goers and had a line that extended down the hall. Takumi, having just returned from Ryusuke's concert, stood behind a podium by the classroom's entrance as he hurriedly tried to accommodate every available patron.

"Table for two? Right this way," Takumi guided his latest customers to an available table, then called to one of the waitresses. "Maho, please take special care of our guests."

"Of course. How can I serve you today, master?"

"Wow, you guys are really busy," Ryusuke's voice was heard saying. "Of course it's easy to see why."

"Ryusuke-san, Setsuna-san, glad you could make it," Takumi happily greeted the couple. "By the way, your band rocked."

"Thanks. Glad you liked it." Ryusuke replied as he then began scanning the café for a certain someone. "So ah, where's…"

"Akira? Oh she's around here somewhere."

"Mind if we sit at one of her tables?"

"Uh, sure, I think I can arrange that. Only promise me that you won't cause any trouble for her. I don't want any fights breaking out."

"Hey, I give you my word," Ryusuke assured him. "I'll be on my best behavior."

"And I'll see to it that he keeps his word," Setsuna guaranteed.

"Alright, follow me," Takumi instructed as he then seated them by a window. "Akira will be with you in a moment."

"Looking forward to it," Ryusuke anxiously stated.

Approaching their table, Akira's head was still face down in her order pad as she greeted, "Welcome to the maid café. How may I be of service to you today mas… oh, it's you," she suddenly realized when she looked up.

"Well, hello to you too," Ryusuke offered.

"Akira-san, you look positively adorable," Setsuna complimented.

"Uh, th… thank you."

"Yeah, that outfit actually brings out your best features," Ryusuke remarked.

Extremely flustered, Akira quickly tried to change the subject as she asked, "So what can I get for you two?"

"Oh, right," Ryusuke replied. "Just bring us two strawberry shortcakes and some tea."

"Very good. I'll have your order out in a minute."

"Oh come on, you can do better than that," Ryusuke asserted. "You'll have it out in a minute… what?"

Glancing over at Takumi momentarily, Akira remembered her promise to him before turning back to Ryusuke, smiled and happily restated, "I'll have your order out in a minute… master."

"That's more like it," Ryusuke was glad to hear as he too then observed Takumi busily helping other customers. Thinking for a moment, he then called back over to Akira, "Hey!"

"What is it now?" Akira turned back to ask, then corrected herself, "I mean, is there something else I can do for you, master?"

"You're pretty lucky, I hope you realize that," Ryusuke seriously stated as he motioned with his head over to Takumi. "He's pretty amazing, so you make sure that you take extra special care of him."

"I don't need you to tell me…" Akira stopped herself as she then smiled and calmly retorted, "I know, and I will."

"Well, looks like we finally agree on something," Ryusuke commented.

"Humph, well don't get used to it," Akira retorted with a sly grin on her face.

As she went to get their order, Akira hesitated momentarily and then walked over to Takumi.

"Hey, Akira, what's up? I hope you're not causing trouble for Ryusuke-san."

"No, I'm not. So how are you holding up?"

"Oh, just fine. It's a bit hectic but…"

Takumi was startled when he suddenly felt Akira's warm lips upon his cheek.

"Whe… where did that come from?" Takumi said in wonderment.

"Just needed to remind myself of how lucky I really am. Well, better get back to work."

Takumi was in a daze momentarily as he just stood and observed Akira from afar.

"Hey, Takumi-san!" Ryusuke called over to him. Then with a wink he added, "No fraternizing with the help."