A/N: Minna-san! Sorry for updating so late. I've been on hiatus for a while because my schedule in school is so jam-packed, but that isn't an excuse! _ Anyway, here's the… treat? And for the rarest (or maybe only) time that the character's are going to have their own POV's. And to make up for my very delayed update, here's a long chapter. Enjoy!
P.P.S. Thanks for the reviews! And to the people who added this story on their alerts/favorite list, thanks a lot! You people are so awesome! And even to my silent readers who still read the story, thanks a lot! Comments and reviews are very much appreciated :D
DISCLAIMER: I do not own La Corda d' Oro. It belongs to Kure Yuki and its legitimate owners.
CHAPTER SEVEN||Innocence and the Ice-cold Virtuoso
At long last, the day I had dreaded—and both excited about—had finally come. I sat on the backseat of my manager's car with Kaji-kun, Manaka-san taking the wheel in the driver's seat.
"Relax, Innocence. You'll be fine."
I heard Manaka-san say and caught a glimpse of her peeking at me through the mirror. She must've noticed that my grip on the violin case tightened. Indeed, I couldn't stop thinking what this day would be like when I'll finally perform on the same stage with him. It would be delight for me, I know, yet there was something inside me that kept reminding me that things were different this time around.
"Because it's you, I'm sure you'll manage," Kaji-kun's voice interrupted my thoughts, which somehow, I'm grateful for. "After all, you are Innocence and no one else."
I know he was trying to be sweet, and he always was. Aside from Tsuchiura-kun, Kaji-kun's got my back ever since and did a lot of things for me. And when all this happened, he helped me up, together with Manaka-san, in this chaotic world of show business. But still, sometimes I couldn't help but feel guilty.
I didn't deserve all these. Innocence isn't great because of me. She's great because of the people around her. Though few people know that I'm one with her, still I couldn't help but feel so inferior to this masked lady. Because the truth is, I am not her and she isn't me.
I'm just Kahoko Hino who wants him back.
"Thank you." I managed to say despite my troubled self. They were really doing their best to encourage and strengthen me, but none of their words seemed to help me. The thought of performing with Len just made me feel so weak. Yes, I will be standing together with him, but not as the person he knows I am.
But maybe this is all for the best. If he'll know that it is I who'll be playing, I doubt any of these would even be possible.
And here I was, about to have a showdown with the guy I love, and not to mention, sure to lose!
I never wanted any of this.
I never wanted to be Innocence. To me, she was just some kind of 'bonus' I found along the road.
In truth, I just wanted to be me. The me that surely isn't a somebody to this world, but definitely has a lot of friends; the me that could be earnest with her feelings, and; the me who's a simple girl wanting to be loved back.
I sighed inwardly.
How did I get here? All I ever wanted was Len.
I gulped and clung harder to my case as Manaka-san's voice came to my ears. Kaji-kun, probably sensing my tenseness, held my hand for reassurance. There weren't any screaming fans at the back part of the venue but it was better to be precautious. I wore large sunglasses and a big hat over my head, then scurried inside the vicinity.
Upon reaching the room, my manager helped me change, of course with the absence of the male. He's off somewhere, perhaps talking with the organizers. See, the other thing that made me nervous was the fact that this was the first time I—I mean, Innocence—was going to meet with The Len Tsukimori. We haven't met even just for practice! They said it was for the challenge, though I don't think it was necessary.
I changed into the beautiful sparkling white gown that my manager ordered for me. It was decorated with beads and sequins, with white roses on top of the gown. It was really nice of her. She helped me put on some make-up then told me to take a look in the mirror.
Manaka-san smiled as she placed her hand on my shoulder. "Beautiful," she said. "Just one more thing and you're all set." She handed me a white half-faced mask, silver and white beads and sequins decorated just below the eyeholes.
I stared, for the last time, at the reflection that belonged to me, before putting on the seemingly harmless façade that robbed me of my identity. And right as if on cue, the door opened and Kaji-kun appeared.
"Shall I escort you, Hino-san, I mean, Innocence?"
"Yes." I replied and noticed Manaka-san give off a teasing smile. I held Kaji-kun's hand and he helped me up.
As we turned around and started for the door, the door suddenly opened and caused my heart to beat so wildly. I was staring wide-eyed at the panting blunette who had just come in.
As his features appeared in front of me, I felt as if I was wearing no mask and just my bare face.
"Len..." I silently whispered to myself.
For a couple of seconds, everyone remained silent as if to recover from shock. Manaka-san was first to speak.
"Tsukimori-san, is something the matter?"
From surprise, Len's expression turned to disappointment. Does he have something against my manager?
"Nothing." He said, his voice firm and cold, void of all emotions. Somehow, it brought a slight pang in my chest.
"Oh, well then. It may be short notice but I'd like you to meet..." she turned to me before she continued with her words. "Innocence, your co-performer for today."
Len's gaze landed on mine and our eyes met. I couldn't help but feel so helpless and confused. What should I do? My heart's throbbing fast and my mind was starting to be cloudy when I felt Kaji-kun squeeze my hand. The only thing I was able to do was smile and bow at him while wondering if what I was doing was right.
His expressions softened, but he didn't smile. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Tsukimori-kun." It was Kaji-kun. "I wish you the best for your performance today. And also, congrats on your engagement."
My eyes slightly widened in shock, and once again I was reminded that Len's heart was no longer mine but someone else's.
"Everyone's dying to meet your mystery girl, Tsukimori-san. When will you ever introduce her?" Manaka-san asked and I started to tense. But no, I shouldn't. If I will, I should not let him notice. I was Innocence on the outside, but deep inside me was the Kahoko Hino who wished that his bride would be her.
"When the time is right, you will all meet her. Now, please excuse me."
I stood bewildered in Kaji-kun's grasp and stared back at the door where he once appeared. Placing a hand over my chest, I tried to calm my rapidly beating heart.
No, it's not possible. I know what I heard.
I'm completely aware that I haven't heard it in such a long time, but still I'm sure I could recognize it anywhere.
It was no doubt Kahoko's voice.
As I eagerly opened the door where her voice came from, I felt my expectations and hope crumble to pieces when my eyes told me otherwise. There was no sign of her, just two ladies and a blonde male. I flinched at the sight of a masked petite brunette who was held by the blonde who happened to be Aoi Kaji.
I didn't know if it was just me but I thought I saw a resemblance. Sure the girl's hair was brown, but her body size and the way her gown clung to her just made me think of Kahoko.
I have been fooled by my heart yet again.
After being soaked under embarrassment and placed on the hot seat for a couple of moments, Mori-san called as she ran towards me and informed me of my manager summoning me.
Good. A distraction was all I needed... perhaps.
Without the long brown wig I was wearing, Innocence might've been finished right then and there when he walked into the room. It was thanks to my disguise that my cover was not found out by Len, although undeniably, a part of me still wanted to expose myself to him.
We were at the backstage now, and I could feel the energy around everyone else. The media were there, our managers and the producer of this mini concert.
Both Len and I will be doing solo performances, so it's not exactly like a showdown just like I earlier thought, which a good thing is. After doing my finger exercises, I stayed at a corner and simply observed him keep his violin.
"May I interrupt your sight-seeing?"
Startled at the voice, I looked up in front of me and saw Mori-san's teasing face. Did she just catch me staring? Well, obviously, right? Still, I shook my head heavily and she giggled. How it broke my heart.
"I'm Manami Mori, Innocence-san. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." She extended one hand and I stood up to take it. "Kaji-kun has told me about you."
About me?! I thought it was a secret!
"He told me how hardworking you are, so it's no wonder you're able to catch up."
I felt myself relax. So that was what she meant. I stared at her and she continued. "Oh, we go long way back. Kaji-kun and I were friends, so there's nothing really going on between us. No need to worry, Innocence-san."
Huh? I never said anything about anything. I lifted my hands in mid-air, as if denying the words she said. Once again, she just giggled. When her laughter finally died down, she said something that almost made me throw away everything I had right now.
"You know, as strange as it may seem, but you remind me of someone. She was a good friend of mine, and a violinist, too. I haven't seen her in a while now and I really miss her."
I wanted to shed tears as I watched her face become melancholic. If only she knew that I'm closer than she thinks I am… my heart ached, too, for another reason. Both of us were in love with the same man. At least, that's what I think. That's what my instincts tell me. And no matter how hard I try to deny it in my head, my heart tells me another thing.
"Okay, everybody quiet please! The show's about to start in five minutes! Innocence-san and Tsukimori-san, please stand by!" one of the organizers announced as he clapped both his hands for attention. As soon as everyone heard him, only a small group of journalists was left at the backstage with us and our managers gave us some last-minute reminders and some briefing.
Sigh. This is it.
The show went by smoothly and both of us were able to perform the pieces we prepared. Len had some performances with Mori-san as his accompanist. I thought it odd, though. Shouldn't she also be introduced as his fiancée and not merely just a pianist?
Anyway, I also had some duets with Kaji-kun, though most of the time I was doing solos. The show was nearly ending and my energy was starting to wear off. But for the sake of the audience and for the charity, I should endure.
"Innoncence, you're next. Stand by."
I head the organizer say to me as he instructed the backstage crew on the subtle changes on the stage as soon as Len's turn was over. Not too long after, I was called in and soon faced the multitude of audience screaming my name and clapping for me.
I was anticipating a female voice over to be played on stage while I ready myself, saying something like 'My next song will be entitled…' and the like, but none came. Instead, the people's evident chanting of 'Duet! Duet! Duet!' was all I ever heard of. But of course, it wouldn't exactly be made real because Len and I never really practiced together, at least as Innocence and himself. Besides, it wasn't part of the deal... right?
"And now, let's welcome Len Tsukimori!"
The people cheered as they heard the MC announce his arrival.
I looked beside me and there he already was, a few inches from me. It must be delight for the world to see The Len Tsukimori and his supposedly female counterpart perform something together. I froze on my spot as I saw his figure remain still beside me. Suddenly, he looked towards my direction and nodded. I nodded back in acknowledgement. 'Follow my lead,' he mouthed at me discreetly and faced the audience for a bow.
And indeed, I did follow his lead.
As soon as we both placed our violins on top of our shoulders, my heart began to race. It beat so wildly that I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. However, I also couldn't help but feel extreme joy overwhelm me. At least at this moment, on this stage, Len's music and mine can be one.
He played a melody and my violin played the "second voice". It was wonderful. When he changed the song, I stopped playing and simply stared at his face. I wanted so badly to caress it, but I should hold myself back. After him, I instantly followed. We went on like that for a couple of measures and it really seemed like a mash-up. I don't know how it happened, all I know was that the moment was beautiful.
The people clapped their hands for our performance. However, Len wasn't finished yet.
'For the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with, I give all my heart to propose.'
Those were the words that resounded in my mind as I began to play the tune that became close my heart.
I closed my eyes and felt the song create ripples inside my chest. I heard the audience's claps die down as my song progressed.
If you're listening, this is for you. You may not think it is, but this belongs to you.
I don't know how I got into this situation when everything I did was offered to you and is for you only. I don't know how I stupidly got things wrong and accidentally ended our relationship.
But the truth is… I love you. I love only you.
I didn't originally want to 'test' you, but with the mishap I created, I might as well go with it.
Me and my huge pride has become a barrier and it's all my fault.
The heavens know how badly I want to be with you.
I slowly opened my eyes when I heard another violin playing with me. And that's when I realized that I was not alone on this stage. I looked beside me and saw Innocence, closing her eyes and gliding her bow above the strings. Her expression was solemn, with a small smile on her face that I couldn't help but smile inwardly to myself.
This rival of mine actually reminded me of the girl I love.
Could it be possible that both of them are actually one?
No. That'd be ridiculous.
What was I thinking? I miss her too much that I'm actually thinking of senseless things.
At last the concert ended. It was a relief that everyone who came were satisfied. After our performances was a picture-taking session with our fans and of course, autograph-signing. I was inside my changing room when I heard noise outside my door.
"Len Tsukimori nii-chan!" a little girl cried out and rushed towards me as soon as the door swung open.
"We're sorry, sir. We weren't able to see her come in. We'll take her out at once." One of the crew said and was about to carry the little girl.
"No, it's fine. Just let her be. She's just a kid."
The man looked slightly embarrassed and just nodded. Not long after, he left.
"Len Tsukimori nii-chan, please sign this! My big sister is a big fan of yours and she couldn't be here because she's sick." She gave me a CD and I stooped down to level with her. This is ironic. Usually, it'd be the older ones to come here and let their CD's be signed for their younger loved ones, but this is different. This girl must really love her sister.
"Nee, where's your mom? Don't you know it isn't safe to wander alone?"
"She's just outside." She replied confidently.
"Oh. You shouldn't have left her side. She'll be worried if something happens to you."
"You're here inside. Nothing bad will happen."
I gave a sigh of defeat and took out a permanent marker. "What's your name?"
I scribbled my autograph on the cover and wrote some notes on it, something inspirational, maybe. Next, I handed it to the girl named Hana and she gleefully received it. Soon, she was jumping with so much joy and raised two CD albums in the air; one was mine, the one I just signed, while the other belonged to Innocence.
"Arigatou, Len Tsukimori nii-chan! My sister will be very happy about this!" I tried to smile but when she tiptoed to peck on my cheek, I was rather shocked. I didn't have time to react because she immediately dashed out of the door and screamed her mom's name.
I stayed glued to my spot. Is it really her this time?
No. Maybe this is just another one of my hallucinations.
"Thanks for helping me out! You're the best!"
A giggle. "You're welcome. You should hurry up now, your mom's probably waiting."
"Okay. Bye nee-chan!"
"Bye! Take care, okay?"
Instantly, I stood up from my chair and rushed to the door. Now I'm sure that it was her, just outside my door.
And for the second time, I was wrong.
It was the masked porcelain doll. "Innocence-san."
I panted so hard that my chest rose and fall severely. My heart was drumming so fast at her voice, and only to find the wrong person again. Was this some kind of joke? This is impossible. It was her voice. I know it.
I saw Innocence about to open her room when I rushed to stop her.
She halted and looked towards me.
"I'll only ask this once so I hope you'll fulfill my request."
She didn't utter a single word and only stared at me as if she was waiting what I was going to say next.
"Will you please remove your mask in front of me?"
"Will you please remove your mask in front of me?"
Please don't tell me he's found out about me! But how did his suspicions rise? I haven't uttered a single word nor taken of my disguise when he's around.
But here he is, wanting me to take it off. Should I?
I want to reveal myself, tell him how far I've gotten thanks to him.
However, something's telling me that the time isn't right.
I simply shook my head and turned to twist the knob of my door.
His hand stopped me.
"I know it's rude of me, but please."
I didn't look at him. If I would, I know I might yield without me noticing. I ignored his hand and tried to twist the golden knob of my door.
The next thing I know, I was already pinned to the wall, my other arm in his grasp. My heart beat wildly with his action. And as I stared into his eyes, I saw despair, confusion, desire… longing.
I closed my eyes shut and imagined what he was about to do. His hand was reaching for my mask and soon we'll find ourselves in an awkward position. My identity will be revealed and he'll hate me forever.
"Sexual harrassment. Invasion of privacy. Violation of rights." A voice interrupted his trance. "Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Strictly forbidden especially for the likes of you, Tsukimori-san. It'll be such a waste for your pretty face to just end up in jail."
Both of us turned at the source and saw Manaka-san standing behind him. She had this taunting look I've never seen before.
She walked towards our direction and swatted his hands from my wrist. "The next time you're going to do this, I'll be sure to make some proper actions. Ah no… I'll make sure there won't be any next time."
I stared at Len who looked so much in despair. My heart ached with the fact that I couldn't— shouldn't— do anything.
"I'm sorry." He turned away and whispered so softly it was barely even audible.
"And as for you, I advise you not to let your guard down. It isn't time yet. You ought to be careful now, Hino-san." Manaka-san said as she made her way toward me. When we were safe inside the dressing room, I took my glittering mask off and pulled the brown wig from my head.
"Yes… yes I will, Manaka-san. I'm sorry. It was all my fault."
She sighed. "You can't afford to make your identity known, at least not yet."
I felt my chest tighten but all I could do was exhale.
"Hey." I felt her pat my back. "Congratulations on the concert. You and Tsukimori-san both did a good job together."
I smiled a bittersweet one. "Thank you, Manaka-san. It's all thanks to you. Thanks for making this happen."
"Anything for you, dearest. Come, we should go."
A/N: There you have it, minna! I guess that's the best I could squeeze from my mind and schedule. Comments, suggestions, and most especially, violent reactions are pretty much appreciated. Thanks all and have a jolly good day! :)