CHAPTER 3: The Official Backstory Chapter
The weekend passed by in a blur, but it was very well spent. I've managed to make it up with Anna, Nonoko and by some miracle we were able to drag Hotaru with us. We had a girl's night out in Central Town on Saturday and had a sleepover at Nonoko's dorm right after. The only thing that sucked about it was I spent it procrastinating, so come Sunday evening, I faced my mortal enemy. Homework.
That Saturday evening, when we were all huddled around Nonoko's bed with our face masks on, I've forgotten all about Reckless Heart. I didn't worry about the deadlines or the media. I was just hanging out with my closest friends. I could tell Hotaru was enjoying it too, even though she didn't have a face mask on saying that she might get an allergic reaction. Hotaru never once checked her phone the duration of the night.
Don't get me wrong, it has been such an awesome year for the band, if we could exclude the part wherein we tend to make up excuses to our friends about recording sessions, meetings, and practices. I wouldn't trade Reckless Heart for anything in the world.
The few weeks after we released Can You Keep a Secret was utterly nerve wracking. I had zero hours of sleep on its release date. Silly thoughts invaded my mind.
What if they don't like it? What if it sucks? What if. What if. What if.
The public's reception mattered, a lot, if not the most. You'd know where to go from there. To change course, to go back and start again, but to stop and quit was never an option. There was no turning back.
But hell, they liked it. People actually liked it. We were the "controversial band", the "who are they really band" of last year.
I was walking with Koko to practice a few days after the first single came out and we passed by a couple of girls who were a year older than us humming a familiar tune.
I felt Koko grab my arm and like robots, we made a turn and followed them.
"How does the chorus go again?" one of the girls asked.
The blonde girl beside her dished her phone out, checking the lyrics online. "Can you keep a secret? Promise you wouldn't dare. No time for threats or regrets. I swear I'm not going anywhere."
By that time, Koko was squeezing arm so tightly that my hand was turning white from the lack of blood circulation. But I didn't care. Somebody just sang our song. Those were Natsume's words. I made a mental note to remind him about this. We spent so many sleepless nights working on that song, polishing it, making sure the arrangement was perfect. I wanted to cry from sheer happiness.
And when our EP dropped, all hell broke.
I sat up from my bed glanced around the room, not having anything to do. Classes had just ended and I went straight to my dorm. I almost didn't have time to finish my Geometry homework last night but thank God everything pulled through. I can still picture Mr. Jinno's surprised and rather condescending look when I handed my paper in. I hated it when people underestimated me.
Dinner wasn't until a few more hours so I decided to lazy around a bit.
My eyes stopped wandering and I found myself staring at the acoustic guitar tucked away in my currently open closet. It was propped up nicely in a stand.
The Fender was my dad's, I've had it since I was six. It was way too big for me then and I had no clue on how to play it, but I remember I was having a tantrum. I was crying as if there was no tomorrow. This was about a week after dad died. It was when I finally realized he was never coming back. Mom carried me to dad's office at home, she took dad's guitar and for the life of me, she played it.
I remembered how I sat there on his big old office chair, tears streaming down my eyes, my nose filled with snot, staring at my mom as she played the guitar. I'd stop crying by this point. I sat there, frozen in shock and amazement. My mom was a lot of things. She was a professional model, she baked the best chocolate chip cookies, she was always away for photoshoots, but she was not a musician like my dad.
"That was the song he played when we first met," mom said her eyes looking intently into mine, unsure if this was something she should tell to her six year old daughter. "He taught me how to play it on our first date. And second and third. We danced to that song at our wedding. It's the only song I know how to play." She laughed at the memory as she failed to keep the tears at bay. She handed the guitar to me. My hands were shaking when I took it from her. It was heavy and it was almost as big as I was. "It's yours now. Your dad would want you to have it."
It was the only time I witnessed my mom cry.
I rarely used my dad's Fender. I've always thought I shouldn't play it. It was his. I was scared that I'd break it. It was one of the only few of his things I have to remember him by. But the very first time I used it was when I was eleven, six years ago.
Our music teacher then, Ms. Serina, decided that for our final exam, instead of the usual written exam, she announced that we should be able to present a song with the instrument of our choice to our teacher. With our partners.
I wanted to bang my head on the table when the words reached my ears because I was lucky enough to have the most stubborn partner in the entire Academy.
Look on the bright side, at least the presentation isn't in front of the entire class.
I just wanted to pass. I needed to pass. Minus my karaoke sessions with my dad, I wasn't musically talented at all.
Good thing our teacher informed us at the beginning of the semester which meant that the class had months to prepare. I was surprised that my other classmates took our final presentation seriously. For weeks, I've been trying to get Natsume to cooperate with me. I was annoying the hell out of him but the guy wouldn't budge.
It was nearing the end of October when I decided that I'd do the presentation by myself. To hell with Natsume Hyuuga and his perfect grades. I watched every single online tutorial and I practiced whenever I could. I was determined to learn. A huge part of me wanted to make my dad proud.
There, in my usual spot at the Sakura tree, trying my best to understand how to play the guitar when a voice called out, "That's not music. That's noise."
I didn't even look up but I groaned. Why did I not notice him there? I've been cursing for the past five minutes, it was embarrassing.
"Yeah? Like you know how?" I challenged, looking up. He was laying in of the tree's branches. I probably ruined his nap. Good. "You're the one who always cuts Music class."
Natsume grunted and jumped off the Sakura tree, landing softly on his feet.
How does he do that?
Arms crossed, he eyed me carefully. I suddenly felt conscious.
"What's that supposed to be?" he asked.
"That chord," he replied nonchalantly gesturing to my dad's guitar.
I tugged the guitar closer to my chest. "D-minor?"
"You sure about that?" he smirked which annoyed the hell out of me. I thought he was only here to mock me but to my surprise he sat down on the grass facing me. Without saying he took the instrument from me and positioned his fingers on its chords.
He didn't even check the guitar's neck to make sure (I did. All the time.)
"This is a D-minor." He handed it back to me. "Now you."
"Like this?" I managed to ask like a kid who didn't know a thing. I was mostly still in shock because Natsume Hyuuga was helping me?
He nodded. "Now strum it."
And I did.
Natsume raised both his eyebrows.
It sounded awful.
"It's not tuned," he said, running a hand through his hair, messing it up even more. "I'll get mine. Meet me at the Music Library in…" He checked his watch. "Ten minutes. The acoustics are better there."
Alice Academy wasn't the best boarding school in all of Japan for nothing. It had a building with three levels beside the actual library dedicated solely to music. It had sound proofed booths on the third floor where students and teachers can practice. I was too embarrassed to go there since I was a noob.
"You have a guitar?" I asked, sounding surprised. I realized how stupid that question was since it was obvious he knew how to freaking play the instrument.
He smirked again and this time it wasn't that annoying. "Yeah, Polkadots. And you might want to wear shorts, especially when you're going to sit like that." He got up and walked to the boy's dormitory.
My face reddened, understanding his words. "You are such a pervert!"
For the first time ever since I entered the Academy, Natsume Hyuuga was actually doing something what a partner would do. Better yet, what a friend would do. He was helping me.
He didn't admit it then though.
This went on until the day before our exams. We met up every day once classes were over at the Music Library. We never talked about meeting up for lessons. We sort of knew, an unwritten agreement of some sorts, that he'd help me play the guitar.
When we both received our grades, Ms. Serina was wide eyed at our presentation.
What I never told anyone, except of course Hotaru and my mother, was that Ms. Serina wanted to have a word with me after our presentation.
"I've noticed how much you've improved in this semester alone," she said. "Your determination is something I've never seen in the longest time."
I wanted to tell her that the determination came from not wanting to fail another subject, but I understood what she was telling me. I loved playing the guitar. It was slowly becoming an extension of myself.
Ms. Serina continued, "If you're serious with continuing, I'd be happy to give you lessons outside of classes. I'm tutoring other students as well, we have booths reserved at the Music Library or sometimes here in the music room."
I accepted the offer without second thoughts.
And in those four years, I have never thought that I'd fall in love with music even more. Around this time, Nonoko and Anna knew about my guitar lessons. I never missed a single one, all through middle school and freshman year of high school. I practiced until the tips of my fingers bled (literally). I had band aids all over at first until they've slowly roughened through time.
So there I was, in the empty music room in the elementary division, waiting for Ms. Serina for another one of our lessons. We met thrice a week. We started with the guitar and later moved on with the piano two years ago, but I still had a soft spot with the guitar.
I shifted my Martin in between my feet. I got it as a birthday gift from my mom. I cried when I got it. I finally had my very own acoustic guitar.
I was giddy and nervous. Ms. Serina was late which was unusual. I finished writing a song the previous night, and I wanted her opinion about it. It was the first song I've ever written.
And this was where it all changed. I decided to go over the song while I was waiting.
"We are falling and oh, oh, oh,
it isn't the kind of fall that we ever expected.
I can sense it, my darling,
how strong gravity really is as it pulls us down.
How the feel of the wind
against my skin stings like pins and needles
and I know I'm not the only one."
I never had the chance to finish the song because there was a very audible gasp from behind me. I jumped, startled. I was too engrossed with the music, I didn't even hear the door slide open.
When I turned I found myself looking at Koko with his signature grin plastered on his face. We were never close friends, he and I, but we were in the same class that freshman year. He was childhood friends with Sumire, she was my seatmate. I've been classmates with Sumire in middle school but we never talked as much then. And boy, now that I was seated beside her, did she talk a lot. She's okay, we got a long pretty well.
"I, uhm… I-" I stammered, embarrassed. Oh God. He heard me sing. He heard me sing my song.
"Was that an original?" Koko asked. He was bouncing on his heels. "You wrote that? Composition and all?"
I couldn't find my voice, he asked so many questions, so I nodded. This was probably our longest conversation, even if I wasn't participating as much.
His smile widened, if that was even possible. "Stay there, alright? Just wait. Ten minutes max." And with that, he dashed out of the room.
So I did. I wanted to leave because I had no idea what was going on, but my curiosity got the best of me. And I didn't want to miss a lesson, just in case Ms. Serina was only late. I checked my phone, no text or calls. Well, she didn't cancel today's lesson so-
"I'm telling you, the search is over."
I turned towards the open door abruptly, Koko's voice echoing in the empty hallway. He was two minutes early. Koko and whoever it was he was talking to weren't here yet, but they were drawing closer, from the sound of their footsteps.
"You can't be serious," said a familiar voice, it was obviously male. He laughed. "You're just getting impatient that we can't find a-"
"No! Just you wait. She-"
"Hold on. She?" asked another voice in rude tone.
My eyes widened and I stood, calculating whether I still had time to escape. I knew that voice. I knew that rude tone.
"Oh. I didn't tell you, did I?" Koko asked as his figured appeared in the doorway. He gave me a wink as his other companions joined him. "It's Mikan."
I blinked, head titled to the side. Huh. Koko knew my name. That was a surprise. Three pairs of eyes were on me and I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I shifted my feet and raised my hand. "Mikan. Yep. That's me."
Koko was switching his gaze from Ruka and Natsume to myself. He was back to bouncing on his heels again. He was like an excited puppy.
When I didn't get a response, I glanced at Koko. "What's going on?"
"You see, uh, how should I-"
Koko wasn't able to finish what he was saying because Natsume asked. "You still play?" He gestured to the guitar I was holding.
Through the years, Natsume and I have formed a… weird sort of friendship. He was no longer my partner since we're already in high school. Heck, we weren't even in the same class. We weren't the best of friends, but we talked. Or maybe I mostly talked and he mostly listened. We usually found the other at the Sakura tree where he showed me what a D-minor was. Sometimes he had his guitar with him and he'd strum random chords and make wonderful melodies. I complimented him once, he didn't say anything in return. We still argued, the usual bickering, but nothing major. I think we both knew we respected each other.
I met Natsume's gaze and the grip I had around my guitar's neck tightened.
"I never stopped."
I couldn't read his expression but it seemed like there was a mix of amazement and respect. It made my stomach flip. "And what are you doing in an empty classroom?"
I didn't liked his accusatory tone. I wanted to return the question but instead I said, "I'm waiting for Ms. Serina."
"What?" Koko took a step towards me. "You're Ms. Serina's 4PM every Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays?" He didn't even wait for my answer because it was already obvious. He turned to Ruka and Natsume. "You understand what this means, right? She's the one!"
Ruka must have noticed how confused I looked because he rolled his eyes at his two friends and gave me an assuring smile. "Hi, Mikan."
I grinned and shook my head, trying to make sense of the situation. Always the one with the manners, this guy. "Thanks for properly acknowledging my existence, Ruka."
"Of course," he said.
"So what's up?" I asked before I narrowed my eyes. "Wait a minute. Koko, how'd you know my schedule?"
"She told us. She's my aunt," was his simple answer.
That didn't make any sense, but I nodded. "And I'm the one," I used air quotes. "Because?"
"You might want to sit down," Ruka suggested.
I raised an eyebrow before I sat down to my seat. Ruka and Koko grabbed their own chairs. Ruka sat down properly while Koko turned the seat around, the backrest facing front and he sat, straddling the chair. Natsume chose to stand, he was back to not talking.
"Alright. Let's cut to the chase," Koko started, clasping his hands together, as he took a deep breath. "We want you in our band."
"What?" Two voices raised that question. Natsume and myself.
I looked at him, eyes wild. "Why do you sound so surprised? And whatthehell. You're in a band?"
He ignored me, he was very good at doing that, and faced the guys. "We never agreed that we want Polkadots in the band."
I glared at him at the sound of the nickname he'd given me all those years ago.
"Natsume, she's the student Ms. Serina was talking about."
"She's right here and she can hear you." I pointed to myself. I felt a little bit betrayed that Ms. Serina was said things behind my back. "Why'd Ms. Serina talk about me anyway?"
"We've been looking for a rhythm guitarist for months now," Koko explained. "I told Ms. Serina about this last week since I remembered she was giving lessons to students. And she told us that her 4PM every MWF is the bomb dot com." He paused. "She didn't exactly say the bomb dot com. I think it was, what was it, Ruka?"
"Utterly phenomenal," Ruka supplied.
Koko beamed. "All good things. And you're singing is A plus."
"You sing?" Natsume asked, curious. An eyebrow raised.
"Stop judging me," I countered.
"It was an original," Koko added.
Koko was starting to be my least favorite person in the room. And that's saying something since Natsume's also present.
At this, Natsume looked at me, really looked at me. A second later he said, "Sing it again."
Koko raised his fist into the air. "Impromptu audition! I like this!"
"No," I shook my head. I've never sang in front of other people. And Natsume was probably the last person who'll ever hear me sing. "I never agreed to any of this."
Koko's face fell. "But…" he struggled for words. "Your voice, your skills… YOU."
I was really shocked at how Koko believed in me. I wasn't exactly amazing at the guitar and my voice was very much untrained. I only sing in the fucking shower for crying out loud.
And as quick as Koko's face fell, he was grinning once again. He took his phone out. "Never fret. I recorded the whole thing."
Before I could react he showed the video to Ruka and Natsume and pressed play. The next thirty seconds were one of the most embarrassing thirty seconds of my life. I wasn't sure if the video's quality was clear, but the audio sure was, because I could hear myself perfectly. I sunk lower into my seat, wanting it to engulf me. I was stunned into silence. I wanted to cover my ears. Oh wait, I did cover my ears.
When the video ended I said to Koko in the coldest voice I could muster, "That was an invasion of my privacy."
"All for the greater good," Koko responded, he turned his attention back to the guys. "So?"
I failed to notice that Ruka was smiling at me. "Join the band, Mikan."
They really want me to join? My heart was beating out of my chest. I wanted to join. It was a good experience. I've always wondered what it was like to be in a high school band.
"It has to be a unanimous decision," I said looking at Natsume. "Do you want me to be in the band?"
Natsume was eyeing me but I held his gaze, challenging him to admit it.
He sighed, broke eye contact, and nodded.
I smiled. Victory. "Okay. I'll join."
Koko and Ruka high fived each other and to my surprise Koko gave me a huge bear hug, thanking me over and over.
"Koko," I wheezed. "My guitar."
"Oh right. Sorry," he said, stepping away. "Well that was easier than I expected. You will not regret this, Mikan. We'll go over the contract with you and-"
I gaped at the word 'contract'. "Hold up. You guys are signed?"
"Correction, we. We're getting signed."
I blinked. Stunned into silence for the second time around.
"My dad sort of works in the music industry and he sent our demo to some people."
"Which label?" I found myself asking Koko.
"Holy shit." G-clef was big. A lot of famous musicians were signed to that label. "Holy fucking shit."
"She's in shock," Ruka said, sounding slightly worried and amused. "I've never heard her swear before."
I shook my head vigorously, as if to prove a point. "I can't. I can't do it. You have to find another person."
"Hey now, you can't just-"
"No, really. I can't. I thought this was just a club sort of band. For fun, you know? But G fucking clef? That must have been one hell of a demo if they want to sign you."
Ruka shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal. It was a huge deal. "Natsume wrote all the songs."
Natsume looked annoyed, at myself for backing out or at Ruka for putting him on the spotlight, I had no clue. "You helped."
The blond laughed. "Yeah, with like three verses."
Natsume cleared his throat and stared me down. "It's a risk, Polka. We all know it. But it's also a once in a lifetime opportunity. It might not end well or it might be a dream come true. And that video? That was pretty damn good music."
Oh God, nobody has ever complimented me like that before. I felt my cheeks grow warm.
I bit my lower lip. This was getting complicated. "You don't understand. I want to. I really do. I love playing and the opportunity is right in front of me." It was true. I've always dreamed what it would be like. Singing in front of an audience, hearing your song from the radio, connecting with complete strangers through my music. "But I can't." My shoulders sagged. "My mom doesn't want that life for me. She saw what it did to my dad, and-" I stopped, already saying too much. They knew who my dad was, they knew what happened to him. It was all over the news.
Ruka's eyebrows knitted, genuinely worried. "But this is your life. Don't you think you should get to live it the way you want to? Music is in your blood."
"But if my mom finds out that I'm a band, she'll lose her wits. She'll probably force me to quit."
"Then compromise," said a whole new different voice. The three guys all turned around towards the door to find my best friend, Hotaru, leaning at the doorframe. "If you want something, there's always a way."
"How long have you been listening, Imai?" Natsume asked.
This girl has mastered the art of the resting bitch face at such a young age. "Long enough." She walked inside the room and said to me, "You were supposed to meet me at the bus stop ten minutes ago."
I cursed inwardly. I totally forgot about the time.
Before I could apologize to her, Natsume probed, "What do you have in mind?"
Smart people. I will never understand them.
"Keep the band a secret," she said like it was the most evident thing in the world. "It's a win-win situation. Mikan's mom won't find out or she won't find out right away at least. She's too busy anyway. She's where right now?
I wasn't even sure. "Europe?"
Hotaru nodded. "And you get to keep your private lives all to yourselves, temporarily, as you're starting. Plus, the public wants a little mystery. Not knowing who's behind the music might give a boost in the field."
Silence followed. All of us registering what Hotaru had just said. It actually made sense.
"That sounds perfect," Koko mumbled.
"Of course it is. It was my idea," Hotaru said.
"We'll do that. What do you say, Mikan?"
I looked between the guys and Hotaru.
Natsume, sensing my indecisiveness, asked, "Hey, Imai?"
"Have you ever managed a band?"
There was a pause. Was he asking Hotaru what I thought he's asking? She gave Natsume a sideways glance, but she was looking at me when she answered, "Keep in mind I'm only fifteen." She shrugged. "But I guess there's always a first in everything. I'll learn the ropes."
"What just happened?" Koko wondered out loud.
Ruka chuckled has he patted Koko's back. "I think we have a manager now."
Hotaru remained silent. She neither confirmed nor denied it. But I knew this girl like the back of my hand. Silence meant yes when it came to Hotaru.
She never broke eye contact, urging me. I've been annoying her about music since I could remember. Ever since I was a little kid but I never thought it was achievable and here it was, right before my very eyes. And to top it all off, my best friend will be right along with me.
"We can't keep our identities a secret forever," I reasoned. A loophole.
"Until you're eighteen then. These three," Hotaru gestured to the three boys, "Have no problems whatsoever. Once you're a legal adult, your mom won't have a say." She looked me in the eye and further added, "She's not the main bad guy in this equation, Mikan, and you know it."
She was talking about me. I was the main bad guy. I've always doubted myself, which I believe is fucking normal. That's why you have friends who tell you otherwise.
"Are you okay with all of this? Waiting for three years before letting the public know?"
"Sure," Ruka agreed. "It's additional suspense."
Koko crossed his arms. "Plus, if people think our music's trash. At least they don't know-"
"Oh they'll like your music," Hotaru said nonchalantly.
Ruka quirked an eyebrow. "Have you heard our songs?"
"Nope. But I'm managing you and I've never failed at anything before."
"My voice is untrained," I interrupted.
"We'll get you a coach. Or Natsume can help you practice."
"If there's a will, there's a way, Mikan. You're only making up excuses. You already said you wanted this. The answer's right there."
Koko gave me a tight smile as he raised his shoulders. "Final verdict?"
I placed a hand on my forehead. My life was going to change by just answering that one question. "This is happening all too fast."
To my surprise, Natsume suggested, "You can sleep on it if you want."
Ruka and Koko nodded in agreement.
"No pressure," Ruka said. "The whole thing is overwhelming after all."
"Are you sure though?" I found myself asking. "You want me?"
"You match our sound. No wonder why Ms. Serina told me to come here."
My eyes widened, realizing it all just now. "She's not coming, isn't she?"
Koko grinned in response.
I've told Ms. Serina what I've never had the guts to tell to my own mother. My silly old dream of performing in front of a crowd of thousands. It was insane. I was aiming way too high but here it was, so freaking close I could almost grasp it.
"She set this up," I concluded. "She wanted this to happen."
Koko nodded. "Yeah, she knew we were looking for another member. Ms. Serina's pretty awesome."
I pursed my lips. Oh wow. I owe Ms. Serina big time.
It might not end well or it might be a dream come true.
Sorry, mom. Don't hate me.
I took a deep breath.
The sound of my alarm clock jolted me back to reality. I gasped, eyes wide. It was already time for dinner. I was so lost in my thoughts about the band that I didn't notice the time. I sat up from my bed and smiled to myself.
So far, these past two years with Reckless Heart have been nothing but a dream come true.
With one last look at my dad's old Fender, I left my dorm and made a beeline to the dining hall.
A/N: All song lyrics in this story are mine (unless otherwise stated). They're originally posted on my prose and poetry blog.
Ah and, Koko being related to Serina-sensie is canon (Thanks for informing me, Nissa!)
Lastly, if you need a sort of timeline since this chapter is super informative then…
Age 6: Mikan's dad died
Age 10: Mikan transferred to GA
Age 11: Music presentation. Natsume taught Mikan the guitar.
Age 11-15: Music lessons with Serina-sensie
Age 15: Mikan joined RH
Age 17: Present setting
All the love,
meriyaaat (Revision 2.0: August 3-5, 2017)
PS: To LN, hi there! Thanks for reviewing! You left a guest review so this is the only way I could respond. Thank you for pointing out the typo, I fixed that one up already. I've never heard of that manga (I don't really read as much lately) but it must be pretty awesome since it's music related. I'm simply reposting/revising old chapters from the fic I wrote eight years ago lol, but I'm sure it's normal for the general plot to be similar with a lot of other stories since it is a common one. Thanks again for taking your time to read and review! You made my day. :)
PPS: Thank you all for the lovely reviews! I'm not sure when my next update will be since classes have already resumed. *tears* I'll try to write when I have time!