Satoru arrives to the past, appearing at a playground, the cherry blossoms in full bloom falling to the ground. It’s sunny, likely mid-afternoon and children’s laughter can be heard. Satoru is still adjusting from the travel and from the terrible vision he saw. He’s not sure he’s ever seen something quite that heartbreaking…outside the death of his family.
“Kousei!” Satoru hears a loud shout and turns to the direction he heard it to see a young girl, with almond hair and auburn eyes, dressed in a school uniform running towards someone. She jumps up and with a kick, knocks them over, snapping them out of the daze they seemed to be in. “Are you zoning out again? How could you just leave without saying anything, I was waiting.”
The boy stands, rubbing his side as he does, smiling and laughing, but Satoru can immediately tell it’s just a cover. He can see the truth of the pain behind his dull, blue eyes. Adjusting his glasses and moving a strand of his black hair from his forehead, he says, “sorry Tsubaki.”
“You should be! I told you before remember? I’m not going to leave you alone. I’m going to keep you straight! Got that?” He nods. “Good, let’s head back now then. Watari’s waiting.”
She grabs his arm and leads him along and he follows behind obediently. It’s easy to see that she’s very overbearing, but he also seems to be the type that isn’t very strong on his own and so needs the push. It’s also pretty clear that she’s trying to keep his spirits up in her own way. He recognizes them both from the vision he had. He saw their future and sadly it was not as bright as either may have hoped and recalling the events of that vision, if he’s correct, he knows where the turning point began. He should have arrived to the point in time where Kousei is going to be faced with a decision that will literally make or break his life and it’s up to Satoru to help him make the right choice. Though sadly, that will not bring her back…his Kaori.
Satoru knows what he must do, but he decides he needs to follow along for a bit and figure out the best approach. Discretely he tails them, but remains at a distance far enough that they will not be alarmed. They soon meet with a third person, a boy, with dark blond hair, orange eyes and a large ego. “Oh, there you guys are! I was waiting forever. I thought you may have left me.”
Tsubaki kicks him. “Shut it Watari, we should’ve left you behind. Anyway, we’re here now, so let’s get going. I’ve decided I’m making hot pot tonight for you Kousei. Not you Watari.”
“Eh! How mean Tsubaki! Kousei, you’ll share some with me right?” He has a playful tone.
Kousei laughs along and smiles, continuing to mask his pain. “Of course, as much as you want.”
“Alright! That’s why you’re the best Kousei!” They laugh some more and have fun together.
“Oh yea Kousei, the summer music competition will be soon right? Have you signed up?”
The change in tension of his shoulders can easily be seen, but he masks it well. “The music competition? Oh right, I’d almost forgotten…I think I’ll pass this time. I’m not ready for it.”
“Sure you are! We all saw your last performance in the Spring, it was the best and you won!”
“Yes, well that was all thanks to….” He freezes up for a moment. “Anyway, I’m not ready.”
“Don’t be an idiot Kousei, of course you are! You can’t give up just because of what happened. You know better than anyone that if Kaori were here she’d force you to sign up, she’d want you to. So even if you don’t do it for yourself, do it for her. She wouldn’t want you to just-.”
“What do you know!” His yell cuts her off. “You speak as though you knew her. You knew nothing about her! If she were here, I wouldn’t need her to push me to sign up. If she were here, I’d happily be signing up with her and we’d perform together, just like before. You have no idea how much I wish she could be here to call me an idiot and smack me and pester me into doing whatever she wanted. I’d give anything to have that again! But she’s not here. She’s not here and she never will be again, so don’t speak like you know what she’d want for me. Got it!?” He clenches his fists and then runs off as fast as he can.
“Kousei?” Tsubaki starts to run after him, but Watari grabs her hand. “Hey. What are you-.”
“Don’t. He needs time Tsubaki. It’s only been three months since she’s been gone. He needs time to grieve and accept her death. I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s too much for him.”
She snatches her hand away. “You think I like pushing him like that? You think I enjoy being so forceful on him knowing he’s suffering? I’m not that heartless Watari. I just…I don’t want to see him moping around and depressed anymore. It’s just the same as when his mother died, he was lifeless after that and stopped playing. I couldn’t break him out of that, no matter what I did. But then Kaori showed up a lit fire under him and he became himself again, no…even better. She did that, not me and now she’s gone. So now I have to do my best too, in her place, for him….”
Watari looks at her empathetically. “I know Tsubaki, I really do, but maybe that’s the problem.”
“Huh? What are you talking about? I don’t understand?” Watari chuckles and shakes his head.
“Nevermind. I’m going to go on ahead from here. Take care getting home Tsubaki.” He leaves.
“What are you talking about? You idiot….” She looks down and tries to stifle her tears, but fails.
Satoru decides to take this as an opening and approach her. “Uh, excuse me…are you ok?”
She’s startled, but quickly realizes there’s no threat. She momentarily stares at the man, for just a moment, he reminded her of Kousei, though looking closer now, he’s clearly too old. She wipes her eyes. “Yea, I’m fine. Please don’t worry about me. I should go, thanks though.”
She starts to walk away, but Satoru attempts to stop her by offering her support. “Uh wait!” She looks back. “I know you don’t know me and it may be strange, but I couldn’t help but over hear some of your conversation with your friends and I thought that maybe you lend you an ear and offer some support. I have no bad intentions; I just feel I may be able to help you.”
She seems a bit wary, as she should be, but she also can somehow feel that he means no harm and she can’t deny that she is feeling a bit unsure of the proper way to handle this situation. “Well, maybe I could speak for a few moments, but if you do anything shady, I’m out.”
“Of course, I completely understand. Shall we sit.” He motions to the bench at the side. They walk over to it, but before sitting down, he introduces himself. “Forgive me for not doing it sooner, but my name is Satoru Fujinuma. I’m visiting this town for a bit and happened to over hear your conversation. I didn’t intend to eavesdrop or anything.”
They shake and then sit down on the bench. “It’s ok, it’s kind of hard not to have overheard that big commotion. My name is Tsubaki, it’s nice to meet you Fujinuma-san.”
“Please call me Satoru and the pleasure is mine Tsubaki-san. Can you tell me what’s happened?”
She’s silent for a moment, seeming to reflect on it all herself, but then she finally speaks. “Well, you see, there was this girl named Kaori. She was a beautiful girl who almost seemed to come out of nowhere, though she had actually always been there, a fellow student in our school. None of us had ever noticed her really because she was quiet and kept to herself, but then one day she approached me and asked me to introduce her to Watari, who she claimed to like.”
“But that was a lie wasn’t it?” Satoru doesn’t want to blow his cover, but he also tries to guide the conversation along so they can get to the main point.
“Yes, that’s right. How embarrassing is that, a stranger could pick out the lie faster than we could in the many months we knew her? We never knew, not until the very end, but then it all made sense and both Watari and I felt like idiots. However, we were also happy, happy that we could see the Kousei we used to know and it was only thanks to her that we could see that. They were perfect for each other thinking back on it now, between their personalities and their shared interests in music. They would’ve been quite the duo, probably the very best and would’ve had such a wonderful life together. So perfect….” She looks as though she’ll cry again.
Satoru can read all her emotions through her face, though she tries to contain them. “You love him don’t you? You’ve always loved him, but didn’t have the courage to tell him. Then she showed up out of nowhere and stole his affections away, only to crush him and leave you to pick up the pieces. Now you can’t tell him, because that would only hurt him more and yourself.”
Her tears break through and start to fall down harder. “What are you, a mind reader or something?” She laughs through her tears. “You’ve seen right through me without trying.”
“No, I’m afraid I can’t read minds, but I am good at reading people who hide their true feelings, because I’m the pro. I’d been living behind a mask for the last four years of my life.”
“The worst part is that I can’t even hate her. I loved her as much as he and Watari did. We all loved her and she became our precious friend. The entire time, she knew her days were limited, yet she laughed and played with us like we would have forever. She never let it get her down. She was literally a ray of sunshine on all our lives, and did her best to avoid stepping on any toes in the process, which is why she never told him the truth until it was already too late. She was so selfless, acknowledging all our feelings, even mine. She too knew how I felt about him and did her best to avoid messing with that. The problem was it happened on its own, without her even trying. That’s why I’ve come to realize that I was never going to win as long as she was around. That’s why for just a moment, a terrible, sick moment, once she was gone, I felt…relieved. I’m such a terrible person. I don’t deserve someone as good as Kousei, but because I felt it was what Kaori wished and made a sacrifice for, I decided that I would stay by his side, even if I knew that I’d never win his heart. I knew she’d taken his heart with her, leaving me with no chance at all.”
“So basically, you decided to take on the burden of keeping him together and moving forward in her stead, as a way to allow her legacy to live on and to ease the guilt you were feeling for feeling that way once she died. You’ve resolved to keep your feelings inside and just be there in the way he could accept you, as his friend who gives him tough love. However, that stance is too much for him to handle in his fragile state and that’s why he exploded from your pushing.”
“Yea, that’s about the size of it. I thought this was my cross to bear, but I can’t even do this.”
“Then it’s just as Watari had said, that may be the problem. You’re trying too hard to be Kaori’s replacement for Kousei’s sake, but that’s not what he needs. He doesn’t want a replacement, he wants her. But of course, you can’t be her, so why are you attempting to do so? You should do what you actually can do. You should be his friend. The friend who’s always been there for him and who loves him in her own way. You should be you. Just be Tsubaki and no one else.”
Tsubaki looks at him in awe, as though he just told her the most philosophical thing ever. “I should just be me? Is that really ok? Is it ok for me to still want to be with him? Even though I know he loves someone else? Even when I feel terrible for being glad she’s gone?”
“You’re only human and jealousy is a human trait. What makes you a good person is accepting that you have it, but not letting it consume you. I’m sure that you’d never wish death on anyone and I’m sure you’re hurting from her loss too, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to find a sense of happiness in knowing that you may just have a chance again. You’re probably thinking that if you stay close enough to him and support him, then eventually he’ll turn to you. He’ll finally realize that you’re always there and settle. It’s a reasonable thought, but I have to tell you Tsubaki, it’s not going to lead to true happiness for either of you. You can’t help your feelings, but I think you can see that at least as of now, he holds no feelings of love for you, not like he did for Kaori. Rather than pushing it, you should support him simply because you’re his friend and want him to get better and find light somehow again, even if it’s not you who gives it to him. You need to accept that he’s never going to be more than your friend and that one day he may find someone else to heal his heart. When that day comes, you have to be ready and willing to accept that. That’s what it means to be truly selfless. If you’re aiming to be like Kaori and you idolize her, well that is the only way you will reach that level. You have to be willing to make a sacrifice of your own. You know that the competition is something he needs to do, so help him. Get him to do it as his friend and then allow him to spread his wings and find his song again.”
Finally cracking under the pressure and succumbing to her feelings, Tsubaki lets her tears fall freely and sobs. She cries for the pain of knowing that everything this stranger has said is true. She cries for the guilt that she’s harbored all this time about Kaori’s death. She cries for having the foolish hope that Kousei would come to love her, when she knew he did not and never would. That, above all was the worst of it, the biggest lie she never said, because saying it would make her realize just how much of a lie it really was. “I really am the worst aren’t I?”
Satoru places his hand on her shoulder in comfort. “You’re simply human, nothing more.” Satoru sits silently in that position, as she continues to cry for a while longer. He can’t help but think back on his own situation, way back when he saw Kayo again for the first time with Mirai. He can’t deny that for a moment, he was a bit heartbroken and jealous of Hiromi, feeling he could very well be living a life Satoru may have been able to have with her himself. But then he saw Mirai and realized that sometimes life goes differently than how you had imagined and that something even more beautiful is born from it. After meeting Airi again and having that happiness for himself, he can say with certainty that he would never trade it for the world, even if he could go back and be with her in another timeline. Things ended up as they were meant to.
After her tears have finally dried, Tsubaki pulls herself together and gets back to the task at hand. “I really do believe that he needs to do the competition, to allow himself to find that spark once again and see that even without Kaori, he can be great and that he can be his own sunshine. But I don’t know how to make him do it without having blowouts like the one we just had.”
“I agree with you and so I also think I may be able to help you with that, if you’ll allow me.”
“I’m not sure how you could, but I guess I’m willing to do whatever you think is best.”
“Great. Well, I think it’s going to require the help of Watari and maybe some others too. Do you know if there are any other musically inclined people that may be a good resource for him? Sometimes it’s easier for people to break out of their ruts when they are prodded by like-minded individuals, which is likely why Kaori was able to do it. He may need someone to do it again.”
Tsubaki thinks for a moment and then has an ah-ha moment. “Oh! Maybe Igawa-san and Aiza-san can help. They were his childhood friends in the music world before they lost touch.”
“That sounds perfect. Now, let’s discuss the plan.” They talk it over, ready to put it in motion.