Author's Notes: Song links will be in my profile page, as always in the 'Snowbanks' story description section! So, everyone, enjoy the finale!
"And they're done." Francis said as he placed a plate before Tsumugi, "Doughnuts, as fresh as they come. Would you care to try one, Kotobuki-san?"
"Don't mind if I do!" The girl replied in a pleasant tone, putting her hands together in anticipation. Francis then sat with the girl and the two of them took a doughnut each. "It's warm…"
The pianist and violinist were at the dining table in Francis' suite in the Montreal Marriott Residence Inn, a good half-hour before the next practice at the Philharmonic. It had been a while since the two of them hanged out by themselves since the practices began and Francis had to make good on his promise to make Tsumugi those sugar doughnuts he was so proud of.
Beyond the room's window, the scene of an escalating snowstorm could be seen. Strong winds blew and snow flurries blocked the view, intensifying by the minute and showing no signs of stopping any time soon. At that moment though, all that mattered to the half-Canadian was what the golden-haired girl thought of his doughnuts. He watched expectantly as the girl took a bite of the doughnuts.
Tsumugi squeaked with delight and Francis knew it was mission accomplished.
"So what do you think?" Francis asked, taking a bite himself, "It's good, eh?"
"It's better than good. It is amazing!" Tsumugi said, "And I mean amazing! I've tried many other pastries before, but this one takes the cake!"
"I can bake cakes too, just so you know." Francis said with pride
"Everyone at the orchestra will love this!" Tsumugi said, "You made another batch for them, right?"
"I did." Francis said, "I made enough for everyone… even that jerk."
"Even for what?"
"Never mind." Francis said, laughing dryly, "So let's get over to the practice now, shall we?"
"Right, today is the day you and Pierre teach the rest of us some French." Tsumugi said. "Are you ready for that Suzuki-kun?"
"Oh yes I am, Kotobuki-san." Francis said, showing Tsumugi his old, battered notebook, "I'm going to teach you… I mean all of you some damn good French. I'll make sure of it!"
"Je suis prêt! I'm ready!" Tsumugi said eagerly, "Let's go, Suzuki-kun!"
Taking the doughnuts with them, Francis and Tsumugi headed out of the hotel to go to the Place des Arts. Once they got to the foyer though, the snowstorm outside strengthened and it seemed like heading outside would be a bad idea. Some of the members of the orchestra who also lodged in the Residence Inn were standing out there in the foyer too, wondering whether or not they should brave the snowstorm. It was at that time that the maestro sent them a circular text saying that practice for the day was canceled.
"Well, so much for that." Francis said, "I guess we won't be…"
"And what do we have here?" A smug voice said happily, "If it isn't my assistant en français and his friend! The snowstorm trapped us in, eh?"
"Good morning Mr. MacDonald." Tsumugi greeted amiably, "Sadly, the practice today was cancelled due to the storm."
"Ah, the formalities." Pierre said, "Je n'ai pas besoin d'eux. We can do without them. Just call me Pierre."
"Alright then." Tsumugi said eagerly, "Pierre it is."
"Hmm," Pierre said looking around the foyer, "Since a good part of the orchestra lodges here at the Residence Inn, why don't we have that French lesson, oui? We don't want this day to go to waste… nor those doughnuts."
Pierre then gathered the members of the orchestra together at one of the meeting rooms in the hotel and had the lesson there. Since the Philharmonic had visited many English-speaking countries in the past, most of the members already knew how to speak English. Therefore, the goal that day and the days until the masquerade would be to give the orchestra members some basic conversational French. Putting the teaching part aside, however, the tutoring was basically a battle of wits and pride between the Quebecer and the Nova Scotian.
From the off-set, Pierre dealt the first blow and handled the seating arrangements in the meeting room. He had Tsumugi sit right next to him and Francis sitting on the far end of the table, much to Francis' irritation. The tutor said that such an arrangement would mean the two of them could help out as many people as they could but Francis knew all too well that there was more to it than that.
In response, Francis decided not to be confined to his chair and said that he would be going around assisting those who needed help. Francis also suggested that Pierre give up his seat and do the same as he did so that they could both help everyone as the need arose. Francis knew that Tsumugi was already well-versed in French and would hardly need any help at all, so that adjustment would actually work in his favor.
The same scenario played out the next day at the Place des Arts when the snowstorm ended. Francis took the initiative, saying that he would take responsibility for handing out any materials Pierre wanted to hand out. Pierre responded by writing his entire lecture on two separate whiteboards and not handing anything out.
In short, it was a silent battle of maneuver where one made sure that the enemy never had the advantage. It was just like Hanafuda, Francis thought, except that it would be Tsumugi at stake and he didn't want to lose.
"So basically, the two of you are fighting over Mugi-senpai." Jun said to her brother as he called her on the phone again
"No." Francis corrected, "He's the one fighting to get Kotobuki-san into his arms. I'm just keeping him from doing so."
"Is he an asshole or a Mr. Amazing?"
"A mix of both, Jun. That bastard is a mix of both."
"Really now… so who is winning, you or him?"
"Score's even right now, and that's a good thing." Francis said, "He's a sly one, that Quebecer. If I let down my guard for one minute…"
"And what is this, monsieur Suzuki?" Pierre said, appearing behind Francis, "I walk down the hallway and I hear you talking to someone on the phone about moi?"
"Hey sis, I got to go." Francis whispered to the phone, "I have… business to attend to."
Francis hanged up and Pierre shrugged, asking for an explanation – an explanation Francis couldn't give.
"You know monsieur Suzuki, I am not stupid oui?" Pierre said, "It doesn't take a genius to see that you are protecting mademoiselle Kotobuki."
"Well, it doesn't take a genius to know that you're trying to hit on her." Francis countered, "And I'm sure you can figure out that I'm not going to let that happen."
"Vous êtes audacieux, monsieur Suzuki." Pierre replied, somewhat amused, "Those are fighting words, but I do ask myself… why exactly are you doing this? Would you happen to be her petit ami? Her boyfriend, perchance?"
Francis' confidence and resolve then started to crumble. Somehow, he knew that he would play that card on him sooner or later. Despite that foresight, he was still silenced by Pierre's assumption for a moment.
"She was a complete stranger to me almost a week ago." Francis said, stringing something together, "Somewhere along the way, I grew to like her… as a friend."
"That's not a good enough reason to keep me away from her then." Pierre said with a grin, "Since you're not her boyfriend, you don't have the right to stop me."
"So you're just going to hit on someone you just met yesterday?"
"Actually, I first saw her two days ago here at the Place des Arts." Pierre corrected, "But yes, why shouldn't I do so? I've dated many other girls before. I've even asked girls out the moment I met them. Seize the day, kid."
Francis cringed at the thought of going out with someone just pickup lines alone, but he understands that things like that happen quite occasionally in the real world.
"So, like I said, you don't have the right to get between me and her." Pierre concluded, "Tomorrow night, at the masquerade, she'll be dancing with moi. Best buddies don't slow dance after all, eh?"
Pierre patted Francis' shoulder as if consoling him then walked away, humming victoriously. The young man he disdained was absolutely right. He wasn't Tsumugi's boyfriend, so he had no right to put a leash on the pianist. However, for some strange reason, Francis couldn't accept just letting Pierre walk away with the win. Was it pride or was it love? He didn't know. Taking a deep breath, he picked up a phone and made another international call to Japan.
"Jun, we have a relative who owns a clothier here in Montreal right?" Francis said, "How do I get to her? I need a mask, a damn good mask."
7PM on the day of the Masquerade. Francis laid flat on his bed with an arm over his temple. Moments earlier, the pianist came over to his suite all dressed up for the masquerade to ask him if he wanted to go to the Place des Arts together. Francis, who wasn't dressed up at that time, said that he wasn't really interested in gatherings like that and said that he would pass. Tsumugi would try to convince him, but Francis assured her that he was adamant on not going.
"So, do you want me to stay instead?" Tsumugi asked, "I can stay here with you, you know."
"Nah, I'll be fine." Francis said, "You on the other hand should go, unless you don't like masquerades."
"I don't dislike masquerades…" Tsumugi said, "But…"
"Go then." Francis insisted, "Who knows, you might just meet that Mr. Right on the floor."
The pianist hesitated but eventually heeded to Francis' insistence. They bid each other farewell and Francis closed the door. Tsumugi, a little bit confused leaned against the door to ponder for a moment and whisper the rest of her words to nobody.
"I wanted to go with you…"
To her surprise she felt the door budge a little bit – the half-Canadian leaned on the door as well. There was a lot going through his mind.
"What could he be thinking about?" Tsumugi thought as she leaned there. She couldn't seem to figure him out, no matter how much she wanted to. Not wanting to be late, the pianist got up and went on to the Masquerade as Francis stayed.
Back in the room, as Francis lay on his bed, he couldn't get the image of the dress Tsumugi wore out of his head nor did he intend to. Later that night, he would be searching for that dress again and keep Pierre away from her at all costs. He would dance with her if he had to. At the same time, he didn't want to be found out. For that reason, he and Jun contacted their relative who owned a clothier to lend Francis an outfit for the night.
The suit, slacks, shirt and shoes that Francis had brought with him for the Philharmonic were slightly tattered, worn but well-maintained, much like many of the things on Francis' person. The attire he would borrow that night however was sharp, elegant and brand new with a sleek black mask to boot. In that attire, even his sister Jun wouldn't be able to recognize him. It would serve the purpose he had intended it to.
Fifteen minutes after Tsumugi left for the masquerade ball, Francis left his suite and headed over to the clothier near the Place des Arts to claim the attire his relative had reserved for him. He dressed up there and headed straight for the Place des Arts. Normally, it would be strange for a man in a mask to walk through the streets of Montreal, but the Masquerade was a fairly large event and there were masked men and women at the courtyard of the Place des Arts so he didn't feel too out of place.
His breath fogged up as he made his way though the snowy courtyard and into the main theater where the Masquerade was being held. Blending in with the crowd, he sneaked past the guards at the entrance who were taking attendance and got into the theater. The half-Canadian was welcomed to the ball by Frank Sinatra's version of Blue Moon performed by a local brass band for the event. From where he stood, he saw Pierre dancing with a couple of girls on the floor, going from one girl to another. There were a lot of young girls attending the party, meaning Pierre would probably take his sweet time, but Francis didn't want to take a chance. He wanted to find Tsumugi that instant.
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own."
As the song played, Francis cut through the crowd, making sure that his mask stayed on. It was troublesome, having to look for one girl in a sea of masked faces, but he remembered her dress well. He would know her when he saw her. He believed he would.
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for."
Then he found a girl, standing there in the middle of the floor. She stood there as if lost in the crowds and looking for someone, the way he pictured she would back when they parted in the suite. It was Tsumugi.
"And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will hold
I heard somebody whisper 'Please adore me'
And when I looked, the moon, it turned gold."
He approached her, evading the other couples already dancing on the floor. The crowd thickened and he found it harder and harder to make his way through. Topping things off, Pierre was making his way to the middle as well. Pressing onwards though, Francis made his way through and appeared before the girl, extended his hand and offered to dance.
She was taken aback at first, thinking he was just another face in the crowd. This was the reaction Francis imagined she would have, but what came afterwards was what surprised him. Tsumugi smiled and accepted his offer then the two started to dance to the song.
Now I'm no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own."
Emotions swelled as the music did. Tsumugi held on to Francis' shoulder and Francis held on to her back as they waltzed in their little spot in the middle. All the while, they looked through the masks they wore and into each other's eyes. They danced on, well into the night. Sinatra's Blue Moon and the myriad of songs the brass band played had already passed, people were retreating from the floor and the ball was coming to a close. The two of them however were still together there, oblivious to it all.
"Who are you?" She asked as her eyes sparkled in amazement.
"I am no one important." Francis said, speaking in a husky voice, "Just a stranger who happened to pass by."
As he said this, the pianist looked at him longingly and her lips were starting to pucker. The hand she had on his shoulder slowly pulled him towards her and she closed her eyes. Just then, he realized that they were the only ones left on the floor and that the masquerade was over. A couple of guards were talking to each other, referring to their list of attendees, looking at Francis with suspicion.
"I have to go." Francis said
"Will I ever see you again?" She asked, not wanting to let him go
"Oye!" One of the guards then cried, "That lad's a party crasher, he is! Get him!"
"Sorry!" Francis gasped, letting go of the pianist and making a run for it. A handful of guards then came chasing after him. Left on the floor though, Tsumugi looked at the hand that had held Francis' fondly, put it close to her heart.
"You were Suzuki-kun, weren't you…?"
Meanwhile, behind the main theater, Francis sprinted for his life in the moonlight. The guards chasing after him just wouldn't give up. As he passed by an alley though, someone swiftly caught him and pulled him in.
"Shh, be quiet, asshole…" said the man who pulled him, "The guards will hear you."
Francis held his breath for a moment and the guards came thundering past the alley. He had ditched them. Now relatively safe from danger, Francis turned to the man who had pulled him out of there and was surprised to see Pierre MacDonald. He was disgusted.
"Hey, hey." Pierre shrugged, "I just saved your petit buttocks. You should at least be thankful."
Francis sighed and just dusted his rented attire. He was still in costume, so he figured he would just make some sort of thankful gesture and walk away without revealing himself. Pierre however wasn't intent on letting Francis go just yet.
"You pulled off quite a feat there, Mr. Mask." Pierre said, "Being a ladies' man myself, I must say I was quite impressed."
The masked Francis just grunted, asking him to get to his point.
"And what's with that silence?" Pierre laughed, "I know who you are."
Francis was shocked. Before he could react though, Pierre undid the strap of his mask, revealing Francis' face.
"Tsk, tsk, Monsieur Suzuki." Pierre said, "Playing with the mademoiselle's heart like that."
"Might I say the same about you, MacDonald?" Francis retorted, "How many girls did you dance with tonight?"
"Thirty-three on last count. Made out with them all."
"Well, they all know my name." Pierre counted, "I may be disgusting to you, but at least I'm honest. I have nothing to hide. You however cower behind that mask of yours."
"I pity you, boy." Pierre continued, "How long can you go through life wearing that mask? How long can you go hiding your true feelings?"
"My true feelings…? No, that's not it…"
"Your intentions for tonight were honorable – to keep a grease ball like me away from mademoiselle Kotobuki." Pierre admitted, "I was just planning to flirt around after all, nothing serious. However, you may also be the biggest asshole I have ever met in my life."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't know if you understand or not, but with the way things are going, you're going to hurt her… no… you're going to hurt each other."
"I just want to keep being her friend, and I'm sure she wants to do the same." Francis argued
"But how can you say that she thinks that way?" Pierre asked, "And how do you know that you're not meant for something more?"
Francis was silenced by his query.
"Well boy, I have to go and bid everyone farewell. I won't be with you guys beyond tonight." Pierre said, ruffling Francis' hair, "But you have to make yourself clear in situations like this. Do you love her or not? There is no in between. Think about that."
Pierre left Francis there in the alley, puzzled. The half-Canadian put his hands in his pockets and walked back to the clothier to return his attire. Though he tried to refuse, the relative insisted that Francis keep the mask. She wouldn't be able to sell a used mask after all. Francis accepted the gift and headed on back to his suite, hoping to get there before Tsumugi did.
He reached his place, changed into less fancier clothes and laid on his bed again with conflicting feelings in his heart. For a moment, he thought about giving his sister a call to help him sort things out but he decided against it. This was something he would have to deal with on his own, after all. Just then, there was a knock at his door.
"Who is it?"
"It's Tsumugi. I just got back from the ball, may I come in?"
Sighing, Francis peeled himself off the bed and opened the door for the pianist. She looked happy.
"So, Kotobuki-san." Francis asked, acting innocent of what he did earlier, "Did you find somebody to dance with?"
"I did." Tsumugi said with a smile, "He came up to me, a complete stranger, and offered me a dance. Though we had only just met, we danced the night away."
"He must be a lucky man." Francis said, referring to himself as someone else, "Did his dancing suck?"
"He wasn't an expert." Tsumugi chuckled, "But I enjoyed every bit of it."
"Do you know who he is?"
"He said that he was no one important." Tsumugi said with a sigh, "I never got to truly know him."
"Is that so…" Francis said, trying to keep the conversation going in that direction, "Well, I'm jealous of you! I should have gone to that ball, no? I might have met someone to dance with too."
"You should have!" Tsumugi said, playing along with Francis' game, "Gosh, you missed out, Suzuki-kun."
"I did, huh…"
"Don't worry though." Tsumugi reassured, "I can introduce you to some very interesting people back in Osaka. I'm sure you would love to make their acquaintances."
"Really? That would be awesome!"
The Tsumugi he had danced with on the floor of the theater of the Place des Arts and the Tsumugi he chatted casually with there in his hotel suite. If Francis were to choose that moment, he would be compelled to choose to be with the latter. There, sitting face to face at the dining table, neither of them had their masks on as their conversation quickly shifted to their usual nonsense. This was the fragile peace and certainty Francis wanted to keep, the reason why he fights so hard against the emotions that constantly well up in his heart.
Tsumugi too enjoyed the company of Francis as her friend. Unlike him though, she welcomed those emotions Francis fought against and slowly let them grow. Unlike him, she understood what she felt and understood that Francis didn't understand what he feels. To be with him like that however was enough for her and she just wanted the boy she liked to be happy.
Silently, the two of them decided to keep their silence about the matter. They would bask in that fragile peace and certainty while it lasted. As long as they kept steady footing, neither one would give in. However...
"Kotobuki-san!" Francis cried, watching as the half-Finnish girl slid through the sidewalk on the streets of Montreal
It was 9:30AM the next morning and Francis and Tsumugi had gone off on their own to walk to the Place des Arts for their final practice before the performance. The path they took however hadn't been salted yet and parts of the sidewalk were covered in sheets of ice.
"Oh my!" Tsumugi squeaked, "I've never skated on the sidewalk before!"
As Tsumugi was enjoying herself, the end of the road was fast approaching and a large snow plough was rolling through the main road. If the pianist kept going the way she was going, she would slam straight into the plough.
"I'm coming for you!" Francis called out, skating on the sidewalk as well and picking up speed.
The pianist and the violinist were adamant about keeping the things the way they were, as long as they had both feet on the ground. When they're sliding through ice though, when all friction is lost, their paths were meant to be intertwined.
Francis eventually caught up with the pianist and held on to her hand tightly. With a strong tug, he pulled the two of them out of the icy path and into a pile of snow, a snowbank. The two of them lay there on their backs and looked up to the sky, still holding on to each other's hands. Once they realized what had just happened, the two of them started laughing heartily.
"Can we stay here like this?" Tsumugi asked, "Just a little while longer?"
"Why not?" Francis sighed, feeling his back ache from the fall, "I need to catch my breath."
That crash would turn out to be Francis and Tsumugi's favorite anecdote to tell to all of their friends back in Osaka. Secretly though, it was a moment that showed them what the two of them were truly looking for. It wasn't the peace and certainty they had convinced themselves to seek – they truly sought each other.
They were both just afraid to admit it.