Beads of sweat rolled off Hino Kahoko's forehead as she ran through the corridors of the Music Department building, occasionally bumping onto other students. She could only inwardly apologize as she went past the offended music students and hurried off toward the music room located at the farthest end of the building's east wing.
Earlier that day—much to Hino's surprise—Fuyuumi Shouko, a shy friend of hers and a fellow competitor in the recent musical contest in Seiso Academy, paid her a visit in the General Education Department and informed her of a meeting set by their previous advisor, Kanazawa Hiroto, later in the day. Hino was both ecstatic and excited; it had been a long while since she and the rest of the competitors in the concours last assembled together.
Much to her chagrin, however, she was running late.
When the redheaded amateur violinist caught sight of the forking paths toward the different parts of the Music Department building, she did not think twice in taking the left corridor. The path was so familiar to Hino that she could make her way toward it blind.
Her steps slowed down as she wiped off her perspiration with the back of her hand and eyed her surroundings warily. Upon coming across the door that led to the venue of their meeting, she took a comforting deep breath and turned the knob she had grown accustomed to in the past few months.
Hino tentatively poked her head in and almost found it so comical when her friends simultaneously turned their heads toward her direction. She shot them a sheepish smile as she finally let herself into the music room and greeted, "Hi, guys! It's been a while."
"Great!" said Kanazawa while clapping both of his hands together and giving everybody from the concours a huge, lazy grin. "Now that we're all complete, we can finally start this meeting."
Hino took that as her cue to hurry off and sit beside the only other girl in the group, Fuyuumi. She looked around and lightly chuckled upon seeing Hihara Kazuki, the resident trumpeter, wink at her direction.
"I know that this is too late an announcement, given that summer break is in two days, but the school has decided to give you a gift," Kanazawa began. There was silence for a while, and Kanazawa took the little time to observe the young group. Everyone had his and her own eyebrows raised, obviously surprised.
"A gift?" asked Hihara, undoubtedly voicing everyone's thoughts aloud.
Yunoki Azuma, the flutist in the group, asked, "Does this have something to do with the past concours?"
Kanazawa hummed to himself and held his chin with his hand. He replied, "Actually, it may have something to do with your recent participation in the concours, but generally, this is just a thank-you-gift from the school board."
Eyebrows seemed to shoot higher to each teenager's hairline, and Kanazawa could have laughed at their faces had he not been too preoccupied with the meeting at hand.
It was Tsuchiura Ryoutaro who asked, "Thank-you-gift?"
The teacher shrugged. "Apparently, the concours had been a full-blown success, and you guys didn't just offer competition, you subsequently gave high-end music that the school in general had thoroughly enjoyed."
No one in the group spoke after that. Kanazawa decided to continue.
"Since it is this special time of the year that all students appear to enjoy, the school admin thought to give you a one-week vacation to Okinawa. You'll be going there through a simple cruise instead of flying." He gave each teenager a lazy smile. "It's just going to be pure fun, fun, and more fun!"
Apparently, Hihara still could not get the gist. That, or he could not believe what he was hearing. "And that means?"
The group's teacher shrugged. "That means a one-week vacation that is free of charge. I assembled all of you this afternoon because I would need to know if all of you are all right to join the arrangement."
"I want to, so I guess I would," Hino piped in with a laugh. She felt like she was being overbearing and annoying with suddenly voicing her intentions in going, but she wanted to spend happy time with her friends. Every pair of eyes turned to look at her. "It will be fun, sensei said. I wouldn't want to miss any of the fun it can give."
"I-I think I would go, too," stammered Fuyuumi. When Hino beamed at her, she smiled back.
Kanazawa's laughter rang throughout the room. "That's the spirit, Hino and Fuyuumi. Good, good. We now have two people ready to join, but"—he turned to the rest of the group—"how about you?"
Hihara and Yunoki exchanged looks and shrugged. "We'd go," they said together.
Everyone looked at the usually sleepy Shimizu Keiichi who surprisingly looked alert and happy that time. "I want to . . . go as well," he said.
At the statement, Hino felt the instantaneous excitement. There were only two more people left to decide. One of them was their resident pianist, Tsuchiura.
Six pairs of eyes looked at the pianist intently. Tsuchiura squirmed from where he stood by the window and looked down at the floor. He cleared his throat.
As though he grew aware of the enjoyment the suspense of his answer could give, Tsuchiura smirked and waited for a few more moments before saying, "I would not want to miss the chance—as you place it—would I?"
"That's great, but you didn't have to stall," grumbled Kanazawa. He light-heartedly glared at the young lad who shrugged his shoulders in return. Kanazawa's eyes then zeroed in on the blue-haired Tsukimori, and even Hino found the urge to look at the male violinist expectantly. "What are you planning, Tsukimori?"
Hino felt her heart sink when Tsukimori Len glared and said, "No."
Hihara created sounds of incredulity while the others raised their eyebrows. Tsuchiura, on the other hand, crossed his arms and scoffed. Hino, however, felt as though the given answer of the blue-haired violinist was already expected, no matter how it disappointed.
"Why? Look on the positive side. You'll enjoy!" insisted Kanazawa. He cocked his eyebrows in disbelief.
"No," repeated Tsukimori. He tilted his head to the side and folded his arms across his chest. Cockily, he stated, "It's an utter waste of time."
"It will be a waste if you don't come along, Tsukimori-kun," commented Hino slyly. If it took humiliating and making fun of herself to get the young man to join the free vacation gift, Hino was willing to. She knew that there was a thin line between idiocy and strong will, but she was more than ready to cross it. "This will be the first thing we'd get to do together since the concours ended, and it will honestly be a waste if you can't be with us."
The redhead watched as Tsukimori gazed at her inviting smile (she vaguely wondered if he saw through her apparent idiocy) then to everybody else's expectant smile. Tsuchiura was glaring, but Tsukimori was going to take it either way.
The blue-haired young man sighed and slowly nodded, and Hino was positively delighted.
"All right!" exclaimed Kanazawa. He pulled straightened up. "You will leave the day after tomorrow, at nine in the morning, and meet up at the port."
Kanazawa picked up a stack of papers from the windowsill and gave one for each student. "That's a waiver that your parents or guardian have to sign. Regardless whether you're of age or not"—he sent the two seniors a knowing look—"you still need the guardian's consent. This is simply a precautionary measure the school board has to take in case something grave happens."
When each teenager got a piece of the waiver, Kanazawa straightened and mock saluted the group. "I believe I have clarified everything that needed explanation. Should you have any other concerns, consult with me maybe tomorrow. You know the drill."
Kanazawa was already in front of the music room's door when, as though the thought had just suddenly occurred, he added as an afterthought, "Good luck."
The young group heard the door open and then click closed, the sensei leaving the group deep in thought about the one-week vacation in Okinawa and the cruise itself. Although Hino knew that there were a few from the group—namely Yunoki, Fuyuumi, and Tsukimori—who, perhaps, had already been to Okinawa before, she still believed that it would not decrease the level of fun that the gift promised them.
The redhead could already imagine the crashing sound of the waves hitting the large boundaries of the isle, the cool breeze of the sea during summer, the beauty of red hibiscuses, and the pale-colored sand of the shore. In Hino's head, she could already feel the cool sensation brought about by the clean salt water of the ocean . . . the feeling of great harmony and peace.
She and the group had decided to talk about their plans and their parental permits, and chose to leave afterwards, bidding each other good-bye.
It was Yunoki and Hihara who had left first, claiming that they still had to fix some things concerning their final year of high school. Tsuchiura, who swore he had soccer practices to attend to, soon followed them out. Fuyuumi and Shimizu left next, leaving only Tsukimori and Hino alone in the confinement of the music room.
"Aren't you leaving yet?" asked Tsukimori with his trademark frown, realizing that Hino was the only one left with him in the room. The orange glow of the setting sun from the outside illuminated through the walls of the music room, casting shadows all around them.
"Er . . . how about you, Tsukimori-kun? Not yet leaving?" asked Hino. She blushed a deep shade of red, likewise realizing the situation.
It had been a while since she had last been alone with Tsukimori in the confinement of the same room. It was not really a big deal for her—he was her violinist of a teacher, really, and she swore that nothing more could go on between them—but she could not fight off the awkward feeling bubbling inside of her whenever she thought about herself and Tsukimori together.
Hino did not quite get what Tsukimori was trying to imply. "Eh?"
"I need to practice so better leave now," Tsukimori said, still keeping his cool. His eyes narrowed down on her. "You're just going to be a distraction."
Hino frowned at the young man's statement and stomped out of the practice room without further ado. She closed the door hastily and stood along the hallway adjacent the room.
"'Need to practice!' 'Better leave now!' 'You're a distraction!'" Hino blurted out, her face burning red in frustration. "Did he really have to say those words in a harsh way? That Tsukimori Len!"
She stopped dead, her red face quickly paling, when the door opened, revealing a Tsukimori Len with a deeper scowl etched on his face.
Sometimes, Hino wondered how someone so anti-social could be handsomer when angry.
"Shut up, Hino," the male violinist said and then proceeded to close the door.
This time, when Hino's face colored with red, it was because of embarrassment.