It was a white Christmas that year.
Underneath the shadow of the enormous glittering Christmas tree stood a boy and a girl, the boy dressed in a black tuxedo, the girl in a sky blue evening dress, wrapped in matching white fur shawl unison the snow flakes that fell on them both.
"Before I head off to Vienna, I would like to know your feeling. Whether you felt the same for me?" Whispered the boy in a tender gentle voice that he was not known to possess. "I love you, Kahoko."
The girl blushed in joy when she heard the sweet confession from the boy she thought could not love, the boy that was known to be stern and harsh, incapable of expressing his feelings. Shyly lowering her head, the girl nodded as her answer to the boy's question.
"Thank you," The boy smiled in gratefulness, "Knowing I will soon leave for Vienna, you still answered my question. I know my choice was selfish, but music has always been a great part of my life. It was because of music that brought us together, it was also because of your music that I have fallen in love with you. Unfortunately, those who pursue music are always alone." With a soft sigh, the boy continued, the tone of his voice showed the hidden pain and struggle going through his heart. "I know music might perhaps lead me to the path of bitterness ahead. Yet I still believe if we were joined together by music in this fate, by continuing down this path together, one day we will be united again."
It was not the boy alone that tasted such sadness and sorrow for the fate between them. The girl understood and shared every view the boy expressed. However, the girl kept her mouth shut knowing if she had said anything, she would have asked him to stay. At the same time, that was the one thing, she knew the boy could not do.
"Durch Leiden Freuden…" The boy repeated the phrase to the girl and to himself. "True happiness lies ahead of the bitterness…." Gently placing his hand against the girl's soft cheek, the boy continued. "I seek for you, and I seek for music. The feeling beyond this must be the music I have been looking for. It was you that taught me this about music; your music touches people's heart and of course mine…"
Finally unable to hold in any longer, tears rolled off the girl's eyes as she called the boy's name softly. "Tsukimori-kun…"
Gently drying the tears off the girl's face, the boy smiled. "No more word is needed. Let's leave everything to the strings. Now I know I can finally perform this song with you, Salut D'amour Op.12, this song is our 'Love Duet'." Pausing, a lonely smile came onto the boy's face as he asked. "Would you play it with me?"
"Please do not forget, that no matter where and when, I am thinking of you, Kahoko"
A sweet, intriguing, heart-warming story indeed. However the real story begins three years after that snowy white Christmas for Hino Kahoko, the girl we referred to before as the girl in the blue dress. Three years was a very subtle period of time. It may be a period long enough for many things to change and of course, also periods not long enough for some things to be forgotten.
Hino Kahoko and Tsukimori Len did not contact each other since Tsukimori left for Vienna. It was a request made by Kahoko actually. She told Tsukimori that she could not wait that long for him. She lied and told him that she could possibly fall for another if he was not around. Deep within however, Kahoko knew it was because she could not handle Tsukimori's love that way.
If she remained in contact with him, her selfishness would take over; she would ask him to return to Japan. She would want Tsukimori beside her, to be in reach, to be the warmth beside her when she felt cold and the shoulder to cry on when she was sad. To be the person that celebrated her birthday with her, to be the person that she spent Valentine's, Christmas, or every memorable occasion together. Knowing how much music meant for Tsukimori, Kahoko could not allow her selfish ways to become an obstacle to him.
So life goes on for Hino Kahoko. After her graduation from Seiso Gakuen, Kahoko entered into the Music Faculty in Seiso University. It was rather ironic although Kahoko told Tsukimori that she could not wait for him, yet, she continued to go down this path of music. It was like a hidden desire that somewhere, somehow, like Tsukimori said, if music had brought them together, they would be able to meet again because of it.
"Hino-chan~" Waving at her was the one year senior, the cheerful trumpeter, Hihara Kazuki. After his graduation from Seiso Gakuen, Hihara too continued on into the Music Faculty of Seiso University. Running up to Kahoko with his bag carried across his shoulders, and his smile like the bright and warm sunshine, Hihara asked. "Are you on your way to the orchestra practice?"
"Yes," Kahoko nodded with a big smile too. "Want to go together?"
"Of course!" Upon Kahoko's invitation, Hihara beamed with joy and moved up closer to her, allowing him to walk next to her, side by side.
Kahoko and Hihara were both members of the Yokohama Symphony Orchestra, with Kahoko successfully promoted to the first seater for second violinists, and Hihara the first seater for trumpeters. The two always enjoyed their time at the orchestra practices; because it was there that they could see some of the familiar faces, although each and everyone have continued onto their own path after the graduation from Seiso Gakuen.
"Good afternoon, Hino-san and Hihara." Upon their arrival, while applying wax on his violin bow, a youth in golden frame glasses greeted with a warm smile.
"Hello, Ousaki senpai." Immediately both Kahoko and Hihara greeted in respect to the youth.
Ousaki Shinobu, the two year senior to Kahoko was the violinist that has won the music concur held annually in Seiso Gakuen, not only so, he had gone on further and won the first place in the International Music Concur held in Vienna the following year. He had always played the part of a mentor to not only Kahoko, also to the rest of the candidates that were selected to compete in the Seiso Gakuen Annual Music Concur.
Returning to Japan, Ousaki's career boomed. He was not only one of the most sought for composers in Japan, also the first seater of the first violinists in Yokohama Symphony Orchestra.
"Oh yeah, have you guys read the email from Shimizu?" Ousaki asked. "Sounded like both he and Tsukimori are doing really well in Vienna."
Upon Ousaki's mention of Tsukimori, Kahoko's face immediately turned white with uneasiness. Yes, Kahoko had indeed also read the updates from Shimizu, who also went ahead to pursue music in Vienna a year after Tsukimori. Unlike the relationship Kahoko had with Tsukimori, Shimizu kept in contact with everyone including Kahoko, updating all on both his and Tsukimori's progress and life abroad. Although Kahoko had no direct contact with Tsukimori, still, it was unavoidable for her to know how well Tsukimori was doing in Europe, and of course, this was all without her.
Not knowing of course, that Kahoko was uncomfortable with the topic regarding Tsukimori, Ousaki continued on. "Wow, Tsukimori had won first place three years in a row on the International Music Concur in Vienna. But of course, I wouldn't be surprised since he has been personally trained and instructed by Maestro Schinkel, the head conductor of Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Not only that, Maestro Schinkel had only personally trained three musicians in his entire career, and Tsukimori is one of them!" With a sigh, Ousaki added. "He is like in an entire different world to us now."
"Ah…Ousaki senpai!" Out of the blue, Hihara suddenly called, and scratching his head, Hihara asked quickly changing the topic. "Have you seen Kaji? Has he arrived yet?"
A little surprised with Hihara's reaction, Ousaki smiled and shook his head, "No, not yet. But I guess you can't blame him, it's already a miracle that he is still here at the orchestra considering how busy he was with study."
With Hihara's unrelated question, the awkward pressure Kahoko felt with the mention of Tsukimori was lifted. Not sure if it was accidental Hihara had asked the random question to rescue her, Kahoko lifted her head and took a look at Hihara. To her surprise, she found Hihara's eyes also looking at her; concerns and care showed through.
Upon such look, Kahoko felt her heart skipped a beat. Was she over-reacting and thinking too much? Could Hihara have noticed the past relationship she had with Tsukimori? Whatever happened that night under the Christmas tree was a secret only known to Tsukimori and she, Kahoko had not mentioned it to anyone, not even to her closest friends. However, was it coincidental or did Hihara really notice it?
"Sorry, I am late!" Entering the room running was a tall youth with a viola case in his hand. The gleam in his emerald green eyes lightened up the moment he saw the presence of Kahoko in the room. "Hino-san, nice to see you again, how have you been?"
Teasing, Ousaki approached the youth, "Kaji, only saying hello to Hino and not to us? Besides, you only just saw Hino-san at the orchestra practice yesterday right?"
"Ah, sorry, hello Ousaki-senpai and Hihara senpai!" Smiling the youth bowed quickly to the two seniors. "Well, I know I have only been parted from Hino-san for a day. But I just can not get over the fact that we are no longer in the same school, and the only chance I have of seeing her is at the orchestra practices."
Kaji Aoi the violist was the transferred student to Seiso Gakuen when Kahoko was a second year student there. Attracted and captivated by Kahoko's music, Kaji Aoi claimed himself as her number one fan. He was such a fan that he immediately transferred into the same school as her, hoping to be able to listen to her performance everyday. Unfortunately after his graduation from Seiso Gakuen, Kaji Aoi moved on into Keio1 University as a medical student per the will of his grandfather, hoping that after his graduation from Keio University, Kaji will be able to inherit the hospital his grandfather owns.
"What are you complaining about, Kaji? Keio University is like the super elite university for the top students in Japan!" Hihara asked in disbelief. "Out of all of us, only you and Yunoki managed to enter into such a prestige university!"
However with a big sigh, Kaji shook his head. "You don't understand, Hihara senpai. I would give anything to be able to be like you, you are in the same university as Hino-san, you get to see her everyday, where as for me, if I am not here in this orchestra, my connection with her would have ended."
"…Kaji-kun," Kahoko blushed and interrupted. "How can you manage to say all these without blushing? Even I am blushing for you…"
Grinning in response to Kahoko's question, Kaji replied. "Fufu…Hino-san, do not be embarrassed, I am just expressing my full admiration towards you. And your music is totally worth it!"
"Since we have mentioned Yunoki, the engagement party is tomorrow night right?" Ousaki asked.
Nodding, Hihara replied, "Yes, I can't believe Yunoki is getting married!"
Kahoko nodded too in agreement. Yes, who would have guessed out of the group, it was Yunoki that would be the first to get married? At the same time, Kahoko knew it was also only Yunoki that could possibly be the first to be engaged. With the thought, Kahoko asked. "But, wasn't the engagement family arranged? Like a decision made by Yunoki senpai's grandmother."
"It was," Kaji explained. "From what I know, I doubt Yunoki senpai even knew the girl. Most of all, on campus, Yunoki senpai didn't act like he was the happy 'waiting to get married groom'. He was still surrounded by his fan girls, popular as usual."
"I guess probably everyone knows the engagement was more a show than anything else." Hihara gave a sigh. "I feel for him, his family background was like a prison he was born into. He wasn't even allowed to continue music despite the fact that he was such a talented flutist."
Kahoko felt her heart ached with what Hihara said. Indeed through the years she had known Yunoki Azuma in Seiso Gakuen, she first thought he was a gentle, kind, and caring senior to her. However, as time progressed, when she became more acquainted to him, Yunoki revealed his true side only to her. He was actually not a kind gentle person deep inside, but a sadist, a mean cold person that really couldn't care less about those around. He would tease Kahoko, bully her, and yet be the kindest person when she was in need or the wisest person when she needed the right advice.
A few times Kahoko saw with her own eyes how Yunoki was treated by his family, she noticed the hatred and disappointment Yunoki had hidden within, but it was buried and concealed underneath that forever gentle smile of his. It was like, Yunoki had actually locked away his true self before people, for he had given up on his battle against fate, he was just a puppet performing on stage for other people's pleasure and entertainment.
"It is hard for him," Kaji justified for Yunoki. "I kind of know how Yunoki senpai feels. I once asked him why couldn't he fight for what he wanted, but now I know, I was actually the same. Sometimes life just isn't a fairy tale. I said I didn't want to inherit my grandfather's hospital, but when he had shown me the consequences, all the people's lives that could be affected because of my decision, so I too gave in…" Noticing how everyone's moods were down because of such a heavy topic, Kaji added quickly with a cheerful smile. "Ah, but don't worry! I am actually quite happy now with what I am doing! Besides, I am still continuing with my music right? Here I am still part of the orchestra! So I am sure Yunoki senpai must be happy in his own way too!"
With an understanding smile, Ousaki followed on changing the topic, "Good, I am glad too you are part of the orchestra. You are indeed a very valuable member here." Picking up his own violin, he asked. "Kaji, want to join me for tuning?"
After Kaji and Ousaki left to tune their instruments, Hihara turned and took another look at Kahoko. "Ah…Hino-chan, I…I was wondering,"
Kahoko lifted her head upon Hihara's call. "Yes?"
Blushing, Hihara scratched his head and turned away avoiding Kahoko's eyes. "I was wondering if you wanted to go to Yunoki's engagement party tomorrow together, I mean, like you know, since your house is on the way there for me…" Stopping, Hihara added quickly, "Of course, that is if you are not going with anyone already!"
Replying with a warm smile, Kahoko nodded. "Sure. How should we meet? At the train station?"
Jumping up in joy with Kahoko's answer, Hihara said quickly. "I..I will come pick you up at your home! I have just got my drivers license too! So I can drive! I mean, it's probably more comfortable for you right, since you have to wear a cocktail dress and everything."
"Wow, you got your license? Congratulations!" Not noticing the abnormal happiness and relief in Hihara's voice, Kahoko said. "In that case, what time will you be arriving?"
Whistling in joy and bliss, Hihara took another look at himself before the mirror. Hairstyle, check, outfit, check, wallet, check, car keys, check. Perfect, he is ready! Taking another look at his watch, it's about 3pm, Yunoki's engagement party starts at 5:30pm, and his meeting time with Kahoko is at four. Plenty of time, but Hihara just cannot help but wanting to fly out the door immediately.
Taking a deep breath Hihara told himself to remain calm. Although Kahoko had no idea, but Hihara had secretly been in love with her for over three years. Yes, it was from way back at the time when they were all competing in the Seiso Gakuen Annual Concur. Hihara originally thought Kahoko was only a great friend, but don't know when and how, he soon discovered that his mind was constantly thinking about her, his eyes followed her, he would smile when she smiled, and he would be upset when he saw Kahoko depressed. It was the first time in his life that he had ever felt this way about anyone. He wanted to protect Kahoko, he wanted to pamper her, and he wanted to do everything for her.
That Christmas night three years ago, after the Christmas concert, Hihara had finally decided to confess his feeling to Kahoko, however when he finally found her, she was standing underneath the big glittering Christmas tree…not alone.
"I love you, Kahoko. Do you feel the same for me?"
Hihara's whole body jumped when he recognised the voice to be the other violinist of the ensemble, Tsukimori Len. What struck Hihara and threw him into despair was when he saw the smile on Kahoko's beautiful face as she nodded to Tsukimori's question.
Hihara could not remember the details after that. All he knew was, Tsukimori was the one Kahoko loved. Although heartbroken and shaken, Hihara was ready to congratulate them and wish them the best, because…Kahoko looked so happy.
However, not knowing what happened. It was as if whatever happened between Tsukimori and Kahoko that night was an illusion, Kahoko and Tsukimori were not together like how Hihara had imagined. Instead, Kahoko mentioned this to no one, and Tsukimori too left for Vienna, cutting off his connection with her.
Although it has been three years now, everyone had moved on, Hihara continued to remain beside Kahoko. It did not matter that he was not the one she loved, all he knew was, he had desired to protect her and be her support, and he will continue to do so until she no longer needs him.
"Thank you for coming all this way, Hihara senpai." Standing and waiting at the front door was Hino Kahoko, dressed in a red and white floral pattern cocktail dress. Unlike usual, today due to the occasion, Kahoko put on some make up, making her already sweet countenance a hundred times more charming than Hihara remembered.
Gaping and stunned by the beauty, Hihara stood there like a robot sensing time had stopped around them. A little embarrassed by Hihara's reaction, Kahoko interrupted, "Hihara senpai, do I really look that weird?"
Quickly pulling himself together, Hihara shook his head and said almost immediately. "No way! Hino-chan! You look so beautiful today! Ah…!" Stopping Hihara quickly added. "I mean, you are always beautiful as well, but today is still very pretty!"
Kahoko chuckled at Hihara's words, "Alright, alright, Hihara senpai. I am just teasing. Shall we go?"
"Yes, of course!" Quickly opening the door of the passenger side, Hihara helped Kahoko into the car. Skipping in joy, Hihara walked around and stepped into the car through the driver's side. Noticing the beaming smile on Hihara's face, Kahoko asked. "You looked extremely happy today, Hihara senpai."
"Of course!" In content Hihara replied. "I have always wanted to do that, open the passenger door like a gentleman for a lady."
"In that case, I guess I will leave my life in your hands today. Please drive safely." Kahoko joked.
Although it was just a simple tease, Hihara felt his heart burnt when he heard the term, 'I leave my life in your hands.' I am really a dork, Hihara thought to himself, knowing Kahoko did not mean it the way he thought, still, it was enough to make Hihara smile like an idiot.
Driving along the highway, with the girl of his dreams sitting next to him, Hihara felt nothing could be better than this in life. He always really enjoyed his time together with Kahoko, they can always talk for ages without any stress and awkwardness.
This is good enough, Hihara thought to himself. Even if it meant Kahoko will never know his heart for her, as long as they could remain friends like this forever, and that was enough for Hihara. For if he had done anything, he could destroy this perfect balance he has with Kahoko.
"Yo, Hino and Hihara senpai."
The moment Hihara and Kahoko arrived, they saw waiting for them at the entrance to the venue was the familiar figure of the tall, built pianist, Tsuchiura Ryotaro.
"Tsuchiura! I am glad you made it!" Hihara greeted talking to the one year junior to him more like a friend than a senior. "How did you get out of work?" Holding onto his head in pain, Tsuchiura groaned. "Hihara senpai. Please just for today, can we not talk about my work?"
Seeing Tsuchiura's reaction, Kahoko and Hihara exchanged a look and grinned. Yes, indeed, the poor pianist before them was no longer the pianist that once competed in the Music Concur of a high school event. In the past, Tsuchiura argued with Tsukimori insisting that it was still possible to become successful and pursue music without having to travel to Europe. So Tsuchiura remained in Japan, endeavouring to be a most successful musician. Proving his own prospect to be true, Tsuchiura really became triumphant. Even though still a music student in Tokyo Music University, Tsuchiura's works had won numerous awards and already, he had endless contracts with music companies composing scores for motion pictures, musicals, anything you can think of.
"Alright, we will let you off today." Kahoko grinned and changed the topic. "Seen any familiar faces yet?"
"Yup, Kaji, Fuyumi, Amou, Ousaki are all here already." Tsuchiura replied as he gestured. "Shall we go? Yunoki senpai has been enquiring about you two already."
Just as Tsuchiura described, the moment Kahoko and Hihara entered the building, a youth with long beautiful flowing hair that matched his perfect stunning face approached them accompanied with a gentle smile. "Hihara and Hino-san, I have been waiting for you for a while now."
"Eh? Are we that late?" Hihara quickly took another look at his watch. "It's only 5:10, we are not late are we?"
Gently resting his hand against his chin in elegance, Yunoki replied, "Just kidding, Hihara. But since you are my best friend, shouldn't you be the first to arrive?" Pausing, Yunoki leaned close and whispered. "Made a detour with Hino-san before you came?"
Immediately upon Yunoki's question, all the blood in Hihara's body rushed to his face as he stuttered in embarrassment. "No, no, we came straight without detouring." Taking a deep breath, Hihara whispered back, "Stop teasing me, Yunoki…"
Yunoki chuckled seeing Hihara's reaction, slowly, his eyes moved onto Kahoko who stood behind Hihara not having the slightest idea what Yunoki and Hihara were saying. "I am glad you came, Hino-san."
For some reason, Kahoko immediately sensed a shiver up her spine when her eyes met up with Yunoki's. Although smiling gently as usual, Kahoko knew better than anyone here what Yunoki was truly like. Laughing dryly, Kahoko nodded to greet. "Nice to see you too, Yunoki senpai."
Not bothering to spend another second on Kahoko, Yunoki held out his hand and gestured to all towards the beautiful banquet behind him. "Help yourself to all the food and drink, I need to attend to other guests, but shall be back soon."
After Yunoki left, Kahoko secretly let out a sigh of relief. She must admit that out of all the people from this group, Yunoki was definitely the person whose presence always made an impact on her. It had always been so, Yunoki seemed to enjoy teasing her, bullying her, or play with her like his own toy.
"Hino-chan, do you want some drink? I will get it for you." As a gentleman, Hihara offered immediately.
"It's alright, I can help myself to a drink," Hino replied quickly. However shaking his head, Hihara insisted, "It's alright, it would be uncomfortable for you to have to squeeze through the crowd right? Besides, I am sure you have a lot of catching up to do with everyone." Kahaoko smiled and nodded finally as she watched Hihara took off with Tsuchiura and Kaji to get the ladies some food. It's amazing that such a kind and caring person like Hihara could be Yunoki's best friend. They are like the total opposites!
"Long time no see, Hino senpai." Still timid and shy as usual, Fuyumi Shoko, the only other girl selected to be one of the candidates of Seiso Gakuen Annual Concur. Although quiet and introvert, Fuyumi have always looked up to Kahoko. Now also a music student in Tokyo Music University, Fuyumi was also a candidate for the Youth Musical Scholarship in Hamburg, Germany next year.
"Hino-chan! Wow, it's like a high school reunion!" Calling out from beside her was the sexy, flamboyant news reporter, Amou Nami. As nosey as she always have been, well, according to her, that's what reporters have to do, Amou leaned close to Kahoko and asked with a grin. "You came together with Hihara senpai, are you guys finally dating now?"
"Eh??" Kahoko called in shock hearing Amou's question. "No, Hihara senpai said he was going to drive, so if I needed a lift, he could take me too. It's not like what you think!"
Unsatisfied with Kahoko's answer, Amou tilted her head and said. "I don't understand. Out of us all, you and Hihara senpai are the only two that still go to the same school, you are also in the same orchestra together…I mean, Hihara senpai is kind, caring, attentive, most of all, he is quite cute as well, and we are not children now, why aren't you guys going out yet?"
"Amou-san…" Kahoko gave a few dry coughs to stop Amou from going any further.
"Ah, unless…" Ignoring Kahoko's signals, Amou asked. "You already have someone else in mind?"
Immediately, Kahoko sensed a pricking pain in her heart with Amou's question. Someone else in mind? Kahoko smiled mockingly to herself when Tsukimori's name came to mind. She once had someone, but that was way too long ago. Tsukimori and her have now moved onto different paths, it was a choice made by the both of them, there was no one to blame.
However, if Kahoko have moved on, why does her heart ache every time Tsukimori was mentioned?
Luckily before Amou could dig deeper into her secrets, Hihara and the boys returned with the drinks. "Here you go, Hino-chan. Is juice okay?" Hihara asked passing a pink coloured drink in champagne glass to Kahoko.
"Thank you," With a smile, Kahoko received the drink, and amused with the beautiful colour, Kahoko immediately took a sip. To her joy, as beautiful as the colour, the taste of the juice was wonderful too. "Um, this drink is nice. It's not normal juice is it?"
"I think it's a kind of fruit cocktail," Kaji explained. "I knew you would like it so I recommended it to Hihara senpai."
Smiling in happiness, Hihara said quickly, "If you like the drink, I will get you some more!" Before Kahoko could stop him, Hihara took off once again to get her another glass of the fruit cocktail.
"See? I told you, Hihara senpai is a very kind and caring person!" Amou winked seeing Hihara running back and forth, bringing food and drink to Kahoko. Indeed, Hihara spoiled Kahoko too much. An hour into the party, Kahoko already drank about six glasses of the fruit cocktail Hihara got for her. For some unknown reason, maybe it was the joyous atmosphere how all of them were gathered in the same place after such a long while, but Kahoko was starting to feel afloat, and her cheeks burning hot.
"Hino, are you drunk?" Tsuchiura was the first person to point it out.
"…Hum?" Kahoko turned to look at Tsuchiura, finding it hard to focus. "Drunk…?"
"I think she is," Amou nodded observing Kahoko's reaction. "She is kind of slow, and not really here." Following her statement, Amou waved her hand in front of Kahoko's face. Shocked with what everyone said, Hihara took a look at the pink drink in Kahoko's hand. "But, this is only juice. How can she be drunk?"
"Ugh…" Looking guilty, Kaji explained. "Have I not mentioned, there is a tint of alcohol in the fruit cocktail…"
"What??" Hihara called in shock. Turning quickly to Kahoko, Hihara apologised, "I am sorry, I didn't know. Are you feeling sick?"
Shaking her head quickly, Kahoko replied. "No, really, I am fine. Just feeling a bit hot and faint."
"A bit of fresh air should freshen you up," Tsuchiura suggested.
"That's right," Hihara nodded quickly feeling responsible. "I will take her to the balcony for some fresh air."
Although the alcohol was making Kahoko's mind blurry and body heated, luckily as Tsuchiura said, the moment she sensed the cold night breeze against her face, she seem to have sobered up a little.
"I will go get you some water!" Hihara said quickly and once again ran off into the building. Seeing how worried Hihara was, uncontrollably a smile came onto Kahoko's face. Immediately she was reminded of what Amou said. Why wouldn't she fall for Hihara instead? Kahoko knew she would be lying if she said Hihara's kindness had not helped her pull through. When she was most depressed after Tsukimori left for Vienna, it was Hihara's care that warmed her up.
Taking another deep breath of the fresh air, Kahoko slowly let out a sigh. Yes, even right in the beginning, when she first joined the Music Concur, Hihara was the person that taught her music was a joy and supported her through the harsh treatment she received from jealous music students. However Kahoko knew she had taken Hihara's kindness for granted. Maybe she was spoiled that it just seemed so natural for Hihara to look after her. But…how long will this last? Blaming on the affect of alcohol, Kahoko realised she was becoming way too emotional as she closed her eyes and let out another sigh.
"Had a few too much to drink?"
Upon the voice, Kahoko's eyes opened immediately as she turned around sensing her body tensed up immediately with the presence of the intruder. Noticing the uneasiness from Kahoko, the person smirked and purposely walked up closer to her enjoying the affect he was having on her. "An hour into my engagement party, and you are already drunk, Kahoko…you sure have the guts."
Kahoko…It was always only when they were alone; Yunoki will drop the formalities and call her name, which was the priority2 only Tsukimori had. "I…I am not drunk!" Kahoko blushed and justified immediately although it sounded unconvincing since she found it hard to focus. Maybe it was the alcohol that's making her cheeks burning hot, or maybe it was the fact that Yunoki had successfully pinned her against the veranda with his arms over her shoulders.
"Yu…Yunoki senpai! Where…where is your fiancée? I think it would be polite if I greet her." Kahoko asked quickly reminding Yunoki of his 'inappropriate' action.
"Unfortunately I don't think she is here," Yunoki smirked knowing what Kahoko was hinting. Mildly, Yunoki added. "I guess I was not the only one that was forced into this. It's too bad the engagement will go ahead with or without her consent anyway."
"Yunoki senpai…" Kahoko whispered in concern knowing although Yunoki managed to speak the cruel truth in such a composed and smooth way, deep inside he must not have been as calm. "Why…why don't you fight for it? Wouldn't you want to marry someone you truly love?"
To Kahoko's surprise, as if what she just said triggered off something, she noticed a cold, defensive expression flashed pass Yunoki's eyes as he said coldly. "It was rather ironic that I had to hear that from you, Kahoko…" Pausing, a cruel smirk crept onto the edge of Yunoki's lips as he leaned in closer to Kahoko. Brushing her hair aside, Yunoki whispered by Kahoko's ear, his hot breathe making her body shiver. "When was the last time you heard from Tsukimori?"
Not sure if her ear malfunctioned, Kahoko's eyes looked at Yunoki in bafflement. However, she only found her heartbeat thumping harder in fear when she saw the mysterious smile on Yunoki's face. "Why…what do you mean?" Although knowing it was useless, Kahoko still justified quickly.
"That Christmas night, after the concert, I was…" Yunoki replied, the tone in his voice softened a little. However, as if he suddenly remembered something, Yunoki stopped and moved away from Kahoko instead, a look of icy coldness covered his face. "Let's put it this way, it was not just you and Tsukimori there."
With Yunoki's explanation, Kahoko felt as if all the blood in her body rushed to her feet making her even dizzier. So…so, Yunoki knew all along about her and Tsukimori? Seeing how shaken Kahoko was with his mentioning of Tsukimori, in an even merciless voice Yunoki asked. "Why have you cut off your connection with Tsukimori? According to your philosophy, should you not hold on to your true love?"
"I…" Unable to defend herself, Kahoko realised she was indeed a hypocrite like Yunoki said. She was lecturing Yunoki about his life when she too had given up on her own happiness. Slowly walking back to the balcony, Kahoko replied as her hands gripped onto the veranda tightly. "You were right, Yunoki senpai. I am a fraud. I cut off my connection with Tsukimori saying that I did not want to become the obstacle and distraction to his future. But honestly, I was just hurt…" Pausing, Kahoko found the secret she had buried for the past three years flooded out of her. "I was hurt that Len did not ask me to wait for him, he did not need me as much, and now without me, his life moved on, it's…" Kahoko sobbed feeling her heart in such agony. It must have been the alcohol, Kahoko blamed, for acting so emotional as she whispered in sorrow and bitterness. "…It's not fair, I was the only one who could not move on, and I was the only one that remembered that night. When I asked him not to contact me, I was actually hoping that he would disagree and tell me otherwise. That he could not live a life without me, and that he will need me…" Unable to continue further, Kahoko wept allowing all the bitterness, all the resentment she suppressed to come out.
After a long pause, Kahoko sensed Yunoki's hands stroked her hair so tenderly, so softly as he whispered. "If that Christmas night, had I approached you even just for one minute earlier, would life have been different?"
"Yunoki senpai…?" A little surprised with the question, Kahoko turned and looked at Yunoki.
As if he also realised the oddness and abnormality to his own statement, Yunoki turned away immediately. "I guess I too had too much to drink," Holding onto his head, Yunoki regained his composure very quickly as the cruel smirk returned to his face. "You are such an emotional wreck, Kahoko. Maybe you should lay off alcohol for a while."
Blushing with Yunoki's words, Kahoko quickly dried her tears and pulled herself together. What the hell was the matter with her? The secret that she had endeavoured so hard to hide, how could she let it all out like this? Most of all to the last person she had wanted to even be involved in a conversation!
Noticing Hihara coming back with the glass of water, Yunoki added coldly. "If you wanted to move on with your life, maybe all you need to do is take a step back and look closely at those around you."
Before Kahoko had time to understand what Yunoki was referring to, Hihara approached them and passed the glass of water to her. "Here you go, Hino-chan." However Hihara stopped immediately when he noticed the tear mark on Kahoko's face. "Hino-chan? Are you okay?"
"Hino-san is feeling unwell," With his professional gentle smile, Yunoki answered for Kahoko. "Hihara, maybe you should take her home."
"Really?!" In shock Hihara turned quickly to Kahoko. "I am so sorry, Hino-chan. It's all my fault. I shouldn't have given you all that alcohol."
Although it was Hihara that was apologising, Kahoko could not help but feel guilty for her own uncharacteristic behaviour. Most of all, with her mind all blurred and emotional, Kahoko was scared that if she remained any longer, she might end up saying and doing things that would make her regret. Knowing it probably would be best if she return home, squeezing out a smile, Kahoko said. "Hihara-senpai. Yunoki senpai is right, I will leave soon."
"Okay, I will go get the car." Hihara nodded.
"No, no, it's alright." Kahoko declined quickly. "You don't have to leave so early too. Besides, Yunoki senpai would probably need your support here on his big day…"
"I will be fine," Yunoki interrupted as he turned to leave. "Let Hihara take you home, it would be safer that way right?" Walking pass Hihara, Yunoki whispered. "Hihara, you have waited for more than three years now. If you don't make a move soon, you will regret."
"EHHH??!!" Hihara's whole body jumped with Yunoki's statement as blood rushed to his face in embarrassment. However, winking in encouragement, Yunoki waved goodbye and returned into the building.
Sensing his heart pounding hard, Hihara took a look at Kahoko. To his relief, it did not look like Kahoko heard what Yunoki said. Taking in a deep breath to calm himself, Hihara reached out his hand to Kahoko. "Shall we go?"
You have waited for more than three years now, if you don't make a move soon, you will regret.
The entire drive back, Hihara was haunted with the words Yunoki whispered to him. First of all, Hihara was embarrassed that Yunoki knew about how he felt towards Kahoko all along. Second of all, the determination Hihara had before about just standing aside and protect Kahoko was destroyed. Although he would be happy to just continue to be Kahoko's friend, but would he still be happy if she ended up in another's arms? Like Yunoki said, if he never made a move, he would probably regret it.
But, the person Kahoko loves is Tsukimori.
Hihara felt his heart sank into despair when he was reminded of the facts. Although three years have passed, Kahoko had never mentioned Tsukimori during the period, but maybe she still loves him. If Hihara had done anything, it would destroy this peaceful friendship he has with Kahoko. At the same time, what if Kahoko no longer feels same about Tsukimori? What if all she needed was for someone to help her move on?
With the thoughts warring inside his head, Hihara still managed to escort Kahoko safely home. Unfortunately, due to the effect of alcohol, Kahoko was unable to keep her balance and stand properly. As a gentleman, Hihara helped Kahoko out of the car and placing her arm around his shoulder for support, Hihara walked her to the front door.
"I am so sorry, Hihara senpai…" In embarrassment Kahoko apologised with her body leaning close onto Hihara's strong shoulders. "I have been nothing but trouble for you…"
Smiling in warmness, Hihara shook his head. "Of course not. I am happy to do all these for you."
Upon what Hihara said, Kahoko immediately felt her heart all fuzzy and warm. Looking up at Hihara, from the bottom of her heart, Kahoko replied with a sincere smile. "I am a very lucky person to have known you, Hihara senpai. Without your support, I wouldn't know what to do…"
Hihara felt his heart thumped hard when he encountered the look in Kahoko's eyes. Kahoko's beautiful pink cheeks and her natural fragrance that subtly travelled through the night breeze, making the blood flow in his body to head upwards to his face, and his heartbeat jumping rapidly. "Hino…Hino-chan!" Finally with courage, Hihara took a deep breath and let out his one desire. "Would…would you be my girlfriend?!"
Immediately regretting what he had said, Hihara stuttered in embarrassment. "Ah…ah! Forget what I said, you…you're not feeling well, may…maybe you should go to bed now!!!" Unfortunately not letting Hihara off, Kahoko continued to stare at Hihara in surprise. For some reason, Kahoko did not feel upset or uneasy at all with Hihara's request. Instead, she was reminded of what Yunoki said to her tonight. If she wanted to move on, she needed to take a step back and look around her.
Yes, all she needed was to realise that there was already a wonderful person beside her. Although not sure if her feeling towards Hihara was love, but she definitely enjoyed his company. Now seeing Hihara blushing and panicking before her, with an understanding smile, Kahoko replied. "Thank you, Hihara senpai. Is it okay if I consider your request?"
Not expecting that from Kahoko, Hihara's eyes widened as he looked back at Kahoko. When he saw the warmness in her eyes, an uncontrollable smile came onto his face. "Sure…sure! Take as much time as you want!"
Kahoko burst out laughing with Hihara's reply. Once again she was confirmed that knowing Hihara was definitely one of the many wonderful things that had happened to her. Maybe with Hihara, she really could move on…
1 Keio University is ranked one of the top universities in Japan, along with Tokyo University, Kyoto University, Waseda University. However Keio was also known as the "Obou-chan" University, meaning, those kids that are smart and rich at the same time. That is why both Kaji and Yunoki go there, because their families are rich.
2 In Japanese culture, only closest friends, lovers, families call each other by first name