Houkago Tea Time was a band made up of five distinct girls, each one with their own strengths, their charms and their shortcomings. Ritsu Tainaka, the de-facto leader of the band, talked boldly about the great dreams she has for the group but rarely lifted a finger to push them towards those lofty goals. Mio Akiyama, the unofficial deputy, saw the weaknesses of their band – musically and as a school club – but didn't have the will to push harder on the others to address them. Tsumugi Kotobuki was dedicated to the club and plays the keyboard well but seldom contributed more than the tea and expensive treats she served at the clubroom. Yui Hirasawa both learned quickly and has an ear for music but she lived in her own world most of the time. Then, there's Azusa Nakano – bold and enthusiastic about musicality and all that jazz. She's frustrated at their lack of progress but cannot do anything once under the embrace of a certain guitarist.
No one knew these girls better than their teacher and mentor, Sawako Yamanaka. This was the band that she hoped to lead towards commercial success – the band she would field to show the world. She loved these girls as if they were her own sisters and the girls of Sakura-gakou definitely enjoyed them and their music… but what of the rest of the district? What about the rest of the world? Sawako held out a hope that somehow, their success at the school stage would have had tremendous effect.
However, a following like that wasn't easy to come by. That much became clear very quickly.
The dark skies above rumbled with thunder, illuminating the heavens in a bleak light. Sawako watched these skies as she leaned back against the brick wall of the back-alley of the Hatamoto Live Space, the most prominent live house in Osaka. Sawako had promised her friends that she would stop smoking, but the tobacco called out to her fiercely that night. Her hands trembled as she pulled the cigarette away, shaking from equal parts of nicotine and frustration.
This evening was supposed to be the debut of Houkago Tea Time in the Osaka music scene. Sawako had finally mustered up the influence to get the HTT a slot at the Hatamoto and they were going to be the opening act for a popular band visiting from Tokyo. On top of that, she had heard that there were going to be a couple of talent scouts prowling the live house that evening. It was the perfect chance, she thought.
The scouts were there, just as she had been told. There was a crowd of people who came up for the evening concert. Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui and Azusa came and arrived on time, albeit barely. Their sound-check went well and their instruments were hooked into the system without a hitch. However, as the time to perform drew near, there was a strange air hanging about the live house. It was an air completely different from their performances at the Sakura-gakou auditorium. It was an air that these girls have never played to before. Rather than the excited din of the students waiting eagerly for the performance, there was an ominous silence.
From the wings, Sawako took a peek behind the curtains and saw the crowd assembled at the audience area. Their eyes, though weren't aimed at the stage. They were just looking at their phones, whispering to one another – completely indifferent to the upcoming opening act. It was almost as if the crowd wasn't even there.
The opening act was introduced and the girls of the HTT walked onto the stage, but the crowd barely gave them more than a passing gaze before turning away again. Only a pocket of familiar faces at a corner near the stage were focused on the girls about to perform. Among them were the bespectacled Nodoka Manabe, Ritsu's brother Satoshi Tainaka, Jun Suzuki and her brother Francis and Ui Hirasawa, Yui's younger sister. These five people, though, were only but a spot in that large crowd of more than a hundred. All five of them could tell that the HTT was in trouble.
Yui put on her guitar and approached the standing microphone to start delivering her MC.
"Hello everyone! We're Houkago Tea Time!"
There was no reaction from the crowd at all. The girls behind Yui started to sense the indifference, but Yui maintained her course – oblivious to it all.
"You might have heard of us from the Western District. We're from Sakura-gakou, you see!"
Mio gingerly tried to whisper, but Yui went on and on and on as if the crowd were listening to her. It was painful to watch the guitarist speak like that in front of such a crowd, so Mio could only shake her head. Meanwhile, Ui watched the MC with horror in her eyes. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't believe that this was happening.
"This isn't good at all..."
Jun Suzuki whispered to Ui. The younger Hirasawa, though, didn't want to be reminded of that fact at all and stayed silent. The two boys with them were at a loss for words while Nodoka put a comforting arm over Ui's shoulders. This wasn't going to end well and they knew it.
Yui's introduction finally ended.
"Alright then! Here's our first song, Fuwa Fuwa Time!"
The guitarist started off with the opening riff, urging the others to start the song with her. Two bars of the opening guitar passed, but the rest of the band couldn't get into the song. Whenever they played Fuwa Fuwa Time, the crowd at the auditorium would happily clap to the beat. That would then ease Ritsu and the rest into the fold and the rest of the performance would write itself. There was no clapping of the sort.
"Do your best!"
Ui desperately cried out from that isolated corner, but her words fell on deaf ears and frightened hearts. She tried to get the others to show some support as well, but nobody listened. Not even those who had come with her had the heart to shout out. She shook her head with displeasure.
Only Yui's guitar rang through in that performance hall. Despite the gain on the amplifier, even the skillful wailing sounded empty. The performance hall was practically empty, but Yui kept playing. She doubled her effort every time she repeated that intro.
Eight bars into an extended intro, Ritsu and the rest finally got into the song. The drums kicked in, followed by the bass, keyboard and the second guitar – but their sounds had no life in them. Their melodies didn't intertwine like they usually did. Their performance was all over the place. Only Yui seemed to play the song perfectly. However, that only made the poorness of their performance that much more profound.
The rest of their thirty minutes on stage went on like that. Watashi no Koi wa Hotchkiss went by uneventfully. Curry Nochi Rice was laden with mistakes. Even Cagayake GIRLS fell terribly flat, no matter how hard Yui tried to flourish it. Those thirty minutes felt like eternity. The talent scouts who had come by even wrote it as such. As one of them would write and publish in the local paper, the performance of the HTT that evening was 'a waste of time.'
Just as their performance started with silence, the end of their segment was met with silence. Then, the next band took to the stage and replaced them. This band replacing them was greeted with modest applause. It was almost as if the crowd was glad that the HTT slot was over.
The girls of the HTT filed out to the backstage where their 'support team' was waiting for them. Ui and the rest of their group came rushing to check up on them. It wasn't a very pleasant encounter to say the least. Then, they heard a fierce rebuke.
"A WASTE OF TIME!?"
Sawako Yamanaka was with the visiting scout and was absolutely livid. The scout had come to her and jokingly whispered his critique to the teacher. Little did he know that the teacher was the HTT's manager. Little did he know that this woman had a ferocious temper. Despite her rage, the scout wasn't particularly moved.
"What do you want me to say about their performance tonight then, miss?"
The scout faced the teacher determinedly.
"Do you want me to say that they are the greatest band in the Osaka Prefecture? Do you want me to sing them the praises they do not deserve?"
Sawako couldn't speak. She did not know what to say. She didn't know if she had anything to say. The scout had a second look at Sawako. Then, he smirked.
"Oy… you're with that old Death Devils gig, right? I know you lot… never made it past Kansai… and damn, Natsufest was a doozy huh? You guys… no… you made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Damn. Now you're mentoring this… 'band' of yours, huh? What bad lu…"
A crisp slap echoed through the backstage. Sawako's hand swept past the scout's face, staggering the man back a bit. Everyone watched the commotion in absolute silence.
"Shut the fuck up or I'll make your life a living hell, asshole!"
"Oh, is that so? Remember who's holding the power here, Yamanaka. If a band doesn't pass our standards, they don't pass our standards. Music has to move people, you know… and sell records. This performance tonight was just crap. Nothing's going to change that – not even that switchblade you've got in your pocket."
True enough, the teacher did seem to be holding onto something in her coat pocket with her free hand. She gasped as she realized what she was about to do. Her body shivered as the impulsive thoughts that flashed in her mind became clear. She let go of the object in her pocket.
"I see the Devil of the Hatamoto still lives..."
"I don't go by that anymore..."
"So you say, Yamanaka - so you say."
The scout turned around and started to walk away.
"Now if you'll excuse me, I've got real musicians to appreciate. Farewell, 'Maddy Candy""
He disappeared, leaving Sawako utterly stunned. That man's words made her weak at the knees. She had to grab onto the walls for support.
Yui spoke with hesitation, not really sure if she should talk, but Sawako hissed and cut her off.
"I need some time to think. Just forget about what happened tonight, okay? The performance… this goddamned… ungh… everything!"
The teacher couldn't stand being there anymore and she stormed out to the back-alley by herself, leaving everyone in silence. No one came after her. No one could – not after what they had just seen. All of them wanted to go home. It was going to rain heavily that evening after all – they didn't want to get caught up in the downpour.
"What's gonna happen now, Ritsu?"
Mio asked, but she had a particular answer already lingering in her mind. It wasn't an answer that she liked. The de-facto president sighed.
"I dunno… but you heard Sawa-chan. Nobody says nothing, aight?"
Everyone agreed and headed out the door. Azusa was unusually silent on the way out and Tsumugi seemed eager to leave. All the while, Yui held onto her fretting hand. Her fingertips were hurting after all of that playing. Ui, though, stole a glance at the teacher as she stepped through the threshold.
Satoshi called out to her, noticing that she was still at the door.
The younger Hirasawa hurried to join everyone else. There were a lot of things going on in her mind. Watching the girls of the HTT in such a state frustrated her. She wanted to do something, but what could she do?
Leaning against the brick wall with that cigarette, Sawako heaved a heavy sigh. Rain started to fall, the sound of its pitter-patter filling the alleyway. The teacher spat out her cigarette and stomped on it to put it out. The last wisps of smoke rose up before her. In those wisps, she recalled those glorious old days with the Death Devils. She clenched her fists, wondering where those days have gone. What's happened to her? What's going to happen to the HTT?
Was all of this really just 'a waste of time'?
The music scene just rejected them in the same way they rejected her. What else awaited them in that cruel road? Was there anything left for them at all? Should she even bother to try? She still had work the next day, she told herself. She tried not to think about it. The sound of the rain flushed out her thoughts.
Maybe she should pick up some Sapporo on the way home.
The next morning, at the Sakura-gakou faculty lounge, Sawako sat at her desk with a copy of the morning paper in hand. The newspaper was turned to the entertainment section where the criticisms of the HTT's maiden voyage were nothing short of harsh. Sawako only skimmed through them all. She couldn't bear to read everything that was written there about them. Luckily, her outburst didn't make the news at all either. None of the teachers were giving her odd looks – that was a good sign, perhaps.
At class, the girls of the HTT acted normally – or as normal as they possibly could. They were still shaken up by what they saw and heard last night, but they tucked it away well enough for everyone else not to notice. However, none of them could talk to the teacher after all of that – not even Yui. The enmity that suddenly appeared before them took some time to get used to, but the day went on by rather peacefully. That was a surprise. A school day spent with these girls was almost always eventful, but everything was calm.
After fourth period, Sawako down the halls of the school and came across an unusual face – Ui Hirasawa. Apparently, the younger Hirasawa was looking for her. She didn't have anything to deliver to the teacher and really didn't have any business in the second year wing, but Ui took time off her lunch break to come and see her. By the determined air about her, this girl had already given her words some thought.
"Sawako-sensei… about yesterday…."
Sawako unconsciously rolled her eyes at the mention of it, but Ui kept speaking.
"Sawako-sensei, please don't give up on them. Onee-chan and everyone else… I know they can do better than that. Given another chance I'm sure they would impress the crowds. I know that onee-chan and the rest really can reach that goal – she was trying so hard. Everyone was!"
Looking back at the performance, Yui was the only straight arrow during that performance. She was consistent in her guitar and in her singing. Her eyes were set on giving a good performance, even if they played for a bad crowd. She didn't get bogged down by the crowd and she didn't complain about her band-mates being all over the place. It looked as if that was just because of her air-headedness from a distance, but the effort was definitely there.
The rest of the band did what they could too. Ritsu was more cautious, but she was looking after everyone else – adjusting her beat to try and guide everyone to synchronize with Yui. It didn't work, but she was trying too. Mio followed Ritsu's lead, disheartened as she was. Even if she made a lot of mistakes, she kept on playing as steadily and as calmly as she possibly could. Tsumugi's pace was thrown off since she tried to fill in for Mio whenever she slipped – leaving a good chunk of the songs without her keyboard's razzmatazz. Then, Azusa constantly tried to match Yui's intensity to the point that she got off track. There was method in the chaos – just not the right one. Thinking of it that way, Sawako smirked.
"So, Sawako-sensei... help them find another chance. I can't do much, but I want to be there to help them. Budokan is such a lofty goal, after all – they'll need all the help they can get."
"No kidding. The Budokan was where the Death Devils and I…"
Sawako's voice weakened.
"… were supposed to go."
The teacher gave off a sigh.
"I've heard the songs of the Death Devils, sensei. Your band was very talented, and your performances really got the crowds going. I know that you're trying to keep that part of you hidden, sensei, but that passion for music you had might give onee-chan and the rest that boost they need."
"… well, we were a freaking awesome band back then, the Death Devils and I. We brought it to the fucking man!"
Sawako suddenly flinched as her words slipped. Ui however just smiled. She seemed to be happy to hear her teacher speak with such vigor. Sawako realized this and was impressed with Ui's attitude. There was more to this girl than she had first thought.
"Well… I can see what you're getting at, Hirasawa-san. The five of them are good girls, and they've got the music in them – I can tell. However, why is it that you're the one so intent to get me to help them?"
"I want to see them all shine, sensei. I want to hear their music resound in the hearts of people, ringing clear to everybody willing to lend an ear. If you could ignite their hearts in the same way you did for the Death Devils, they might be able to reach wonderful places!"
As Ui spoke, Sawako saw a fire in the young girl's eyes – a fire that she feels she had seen once before, a long, long time ago. Her guess was right. It had been a while since she heard someone so serious about music – and she wasn't even in a band. During that performance, even as the crowd was harshly indifferent, Ui cheered them on and on and on again.
All this time, Ui Hirasawa was nothing more than Yui's younger sister to Sawako. This young girl was a stalwart supporter of the HTT, obviously, but she was in love with their music. For her to appreciate the Death Devils in this time and age, though, this girl must really love music as a whole. It was intriguing.
Sawako saw potential in the girls of the HTT, but she caught glimpses of it in Ui as well. She didn't care how stupid she looked that night being the only one cheering. She wanted to make the voice of her heart be heard. It looked almost as if she had the attitude of an actual performer. At the very least, her heart was in the right place.
"You make a hard bargain… but I'll whip those girls into shipshape in no time, whether they like it or not!"
"Thank you. Just… make sure that they're still alive afterwards, okay?"
"I know. I know… However, Hirasawa-san, I've been meaning to ask you for a while now…"
"Have you ever considered taking up music as well?"
Author's Notes: Hello everyone. I've decided to scrap the Full Court Press! Rewrite and write this one instead. Why should I go and rewrite a completed story – even if there is a lot to be rewritten – when I can start fresh? So this one's for you guys – my new series 'Okaeri!'. If I were to assign it an opening song, it would be 'Future Indications' by Eufonius. Hope you guys enjoy!