Their eyes were still swimming from the glare of the stage lights. The loudest cheers and applause they'd ever heard were still ringing in their ears. None of them could keep from grinning. They were helpless to fight their excitement, their sheer giddy exhaustion.
It was unanimous: in five years as their manager, bringing After-School Tea Time on tour to San Francisco was the best idea Ms. Sawako had ever had.
"Incredible! I can't believe how loud Americans are!" yelled Ritsu, whacking the side of her head as if to jostle the noise out of her ears. Look who's talking, Mio thought, but only for a second - she was too thrilled to be snarky.
Azusa nodded five or six times. "And there were so many of them! I don't know how they all fit inside!"
"Ms. Sawako was right!" said Tsumugi. "We really do have a lot of fans here!"
Ritsu nudged Mio, winking. "Especially you! Did you see all those signs with your name?"
Mio blushed, but it was just a reflex; she was on top of the world, far beyond embarrassment's reach. "It was unbelievable!" she exclaimed. "Our best concert ever!"
"And we've got three more before we go back!" added Azusa.
Ritsu's eyes lit up. "Let's make them even better than this one!" Enthusiastic agreement all round.
The girls started putting their instruments away, still trading inanities: "That was awesome!" "Wasn't that great?" "Oh wow!" Once the string instruments were in their carrying cases and the rest was in the roadies' capable hands, they headed out together in the general direction of their hotel.
Ritsu waved and shouted to random passers-by as they walked along. Azusa, bouncier than Mio had ever seen her, pointed out all the unfamiliar things on these American streets. ("The right side! They're driving on the right side!") Tsumugi listened with great interest and snapped photos of everything Azusa indicated.
Mio just smiled, enjoying their company and basking in the afterglow of that sensational performance. She was in heaven. Something did feel a bit off, but she couldn't put her finger on it, so it surely wasn't very important.
Not until they entered the hotel lobby did Mio realize what was wrong. Everybody else was hopping up and down with glee... so why was Yui of all people being so quiet?
"Hey, Yui," said Mio. "Wasn't that a great concert?"
Yui looked up, and the strangely thoughtful expression she'd been wearing disappeared. "Yeah! It was huge! I can't wait to tell Ui and Nodoka and Sawa-chan!"
There's our Yui, thought Mio, relieved.
"Hmm what?" said Ritsu. "Hmm nothing! It rocked! We were the best ever!" Azusa nodded vigorously.
"Oh, I know!" said Yui. "It was great! Hmm."
Everyone was paying attention now. "Hmm what, Yui?" asked Tsumugi.
No one made a sound.
"I'm just thinking. Did any of you see any boys in the crowd?"
Raised eyebrows surrounded Yui. Of all the things that might have been on her mind, nobody had expected that.
"I dunno," said Ritsu. "I don't have a good view from where I play."
"Neither do I," said Tsumugi, looking puzzled.
"How 'bout you, Mio?"
Years ago, the bassist wouldn't have been able to answer that question either; her stage fright had been so powerful she had to pretend not to see all those people staring right at her. Mio was doing much better these days, so she had no trouble recalling what tonight's audience had looked like. But try as she might... "You're right, Yui. I don't remember seeing any boys there."
"That's funny," said Azusa. "I wonder why."
Tsumugi smiled. "Well, we are a girl group. A lot of the boys who listen to us would probably be embarrassed to admit it."
"But none at all?" Azusa countered. "Even the girliest pop bands get some boys at their concerts. You'd think a few of the girls would at least have dragged their boyfriends along."
Yui perked up and looked like she was about to add something, but Ritsu spoke first. "C'mon, this isn't so strange! We used to play for all-girl crowds all the time!"
Mio flicked Ritsu in the temple with her finger. "That's because we went to an all-girl school."
Wincing, Ritsu gave Mio a look that said It was just a joke! Mio responded with one that said You KNOW it'll confuse Yui anyway. As far as Ritsu was concerned, that fell under acceptable casualties, but she let it go.
"Hmm," said Yui again.
This time everyone turned to look at her immediately. "Yes?" Azusa prompted.
"Well... didn't those girls in the audience seem very affectionate?"
There was a pregnant pause. Tsumugi, looking a bit startled, asked "How so?"
"A lot of them were holding hands. And standing really close together. And acting all couple-y."
"...You mean like you do with me?" asked Azusa.
"Nah. It was more... serious, I think."
Ritsu laughed. "Now you're just being crazy, Yui! Hey Mio, she's crazy, right?"
Mio called up that mental image again. This time she started to register details she hadn't paid attention to before. Girls who were clearly dancing with each other, not just with the mob. Girls with their heads on other girls' shoulders. Girls off in the corner being very... cozy...
No. Those two surely hadn't been k... ki...
"Huh," said Yui. "I guess we're a gay band. Did you know we were a gay band, Mio?"
There were people as far as Nevada who heard Mio scream.
A/N: This'll be about 6 parts. The writing's actually almost done, but I'm gonna stagger publication, so look for the next part in a couple of days.