Kei discovered music when he entered university.
That wasn’t entirely true. He’d been an avid music-listener since he was a baby and his mother would play the radio to get him to sleep at night.
He never left home without his music player and headphones, and he’d found comfort in the item often hanging around his neck. He didn’t have eclectic tastes when it came to music, he listened to anything that piqued his interest, his MP3 a mash-up of singular songs ripped from full-albums, and playlists as far as the eye could see.
He was known in school as the student who always wore headphones or was listening to music when on break or before volleyball practice.
So, saying he discovered music in his first year in Tokyo was a poorly worded statement. He discovered making music.
Living alone in Tokyo was quiet. Even though the hustle and bustle of the city was louder than Miyagi ever was on it’s most crazy day, there were no screaming volleyball players invading his space. He lived in a 1LDK one stop away from his university, which was a great location and he was grateful for the short commute, meaning he was able to sleep in a bit more in the mornings.
He didn’t join the volleyball team. He needed to focus on his studies, and as hesitant as he had been at the beginning of high school to improve, the sport had quickly taken over his life. He knew that if he continued to play, other than recreationally, in college, he would spend too much time with the game and neglect his studies. There was still a small part of him that doubted his abilities, knowing he couldn’t take his abilities to the main stage. He decided to leave that to Hinata and Kageyama and pursue his academic passion: history.
Yamaguchi stayed in Miyagi, going to a local university to study medicine. He seemed to be navigating university life fine, if his texts and tweets were anything to go by. Kei always made a point to respond, but he didn’t have anything exciting to share with his best friend.
It was very quiet.
Kei hated to admit it, but he was lonely. He was slowly making acquaintances with some of his classmates, especially those students in his major. And they seemed like genuine people, but it took a long while for him to get close enough to someone to invite them over to his place of privacy.
Classes and homework kept him busy for a lot of his day, but the evenings always felt like they were in want of something.
Kei actually accidentally found his way into the school of music one afternoon when one of his classes had gotten canceled. Kusou, a neighbor two doors down in his apartment building, had almost tackled Kei in the street that morning, less than a block from the train station. Kusou had shoved his apartment keys into Kei’s hands and asked (begged) him to please lock his door for him because he’d forgotten to after he left. He was in a rush, already late for class, and he was paranoid about someone breaking in and stealing his cat. Somehow, he knew Kei didn’t have class during first block, so Kei couldn’t really tell him no because he had no excuse.
So after walking all the way back to their apartment building and locking his neighbor’s door, he was now stuck with his keys.
The school of music building was right next to the school of education, and they were both identical (coined The Twins by the students) and improperly marked. Kusou was majoring in education and had texted Kei his class schedule for the day, saying he could bring him the keys whenever he had the chance.
Kei paced the hall of the building, looking for a room 254 and finding no sign of it. None of the rooms were labeled with even numbers. And when it started dawning on Kei that he might be in the wrong building, he heard something.
At the end of the hall were two large double doors, and music leaked out from underneath them. Intrigued, Kei walked up to the doors and peeked in to the window. Rows upon rows of occupied chairs faced away from the door, curving in a wide semicircle around a professor who stood behind a music stand, baton in hand as he jerked his hands about to the beat of the music.
Classical music was not a genre Kei had ever been exposed to nor did he expose himself to it, besides the obligatory amount he received during music education classes in musical and high school. He’d once watched, along with the rest of the school, the Karasuno Band perform a piece they were going to compete with. Suffice to say, they did not win.
But there was something different about this music. There were no hesitations, the orchestra played in tune and together. And hearing such music live for the first time sparked something in Kei. Just hearing it and watching the conductor instruct lightened his mood.
It was weird.
Kusou was jogging down the hallway, waving at him. He looked exhausted, like he’d been running around all day. Kei hoped for his sake his first class was the only one he had been late to.
“I thought you might have gotten the buildings mixed up, I do too. Thanks so much for this morning,” Kusou said as he came to a stop next to Kei. “I was panicking so much.”
Kei took the other man’s key from his pocket and passed it back. “It’s fine. Don’t make a habit of it.”
“I certainly don’t plan to!” Kusou declared with a laugh.
The orchestra behind them started up again, and Kei turned to look instinctively.
“You play?” Kusou asked after a beat, and Kei didn’t ask aloud why he was still there, but he was tempted to.
Kei shook his head. “No.”
“If you’re interested, as that professor!” Kusou pointed at the conductor. “He does private lessons for students for cheap, so I’m told.”
“Thanks,” Kei said, and turned on his heel and walked out, Kusou thanking him again loudly from behind.
“I think you’d look so professional playing the piano,” Yamaguchi told him when they talked that evening over skype.
Yamaguchi had dark circles under his eyes, but he was smiling and acting as normal. Kei probably looked just as exhausted, honestly.
“Piano?” Kei scrunched up his nose.
Yamaguchi laughed, and the sight, though granulated because of the poor picture quality of his crappy hand-me-down laptop, filled Kei with contentment. He really missed interacting with Yamaguchi every day. These calls kept him sane, if he was being perfectly honest.
“Okay, okay,” Yamaguchi stifled his laughter with a hand, trying to calm himself down, “maybe not piano. But picking up an instrument wouldn’t be such a bad idea, Tsukki. It could be your new hobby!”
“We’re in university now, Yamaguchi. I don’t have time for a new hobby.”
“Everyone needs to set aside time for themselves to do something they want to do, Tsukki. Maybe this could be your ‘you’ time because I know you aren’t pampering yourself without me to force you to.”
Kei milled over his words. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said, and then quickly changed the subject. “So, how are things going in Miyagi?”
If Kei closed his eyes, he could almost pretend that Yamaguchi was in the room with him, chattering excitedly about his day. He didn’t though, because Yamaguchi could see.
The next day, when he was back on campus, Kei found himself gravitating towards the school of music. Last night, after Yamaguchi’s insisting, he’d looked up the music professor he had seen and saw that he had office hours this morning before another orchestra class he taught. Though Kei wasn’t his student, he hoped the professor wouldn’t mind him taking the time. What Yamaguchi had said about time for yourself had resonated with him, and he’d hardly slept because he kept hearing those words over and over in his head.
After his first class, Kei decided to take the plunge and went to the professor’s office. He rapped his knuckles on the door and heard a voice telling him to come in a second later.
Sitting at the desk was a man that reminded Kei of Coach Ukai Senior, startlingly enough. He had darker hair, his face was pudgier, and he was shorter, but they both shared the same feeling about them. Strong, knowledgeable men.
“My name is Tsukishima Kei. I’m actually studying history here, I’m not a music student.”
“Then what brings you here?” the professor asked.
“I heard your orchestra class yesterday. It sounded really…I enjoyed listening to them play.”
Kei hurried on with his words. “And it made me want to learn how to play, too.”
“Play an instrument?” the instructor clarified.
The man hummed, leaning forward over his desk, elbows planted on the surface. His eyes roamed over Kei, like he was being evaluated. He tried not to twitch. “Well, you do have the long fingers for piano.”
“Not piano,” Kei said, a bit too loudly.
“Okay. Then what instrument are you interested in learning?”
“I don’t know,” Kei admitted.
The professor looked like he was evaluating him again, and Kei was starting to lose his confidence. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
“Why do you want to learn to play music?” he was finally asked after a long silent moment passed.
Kei sighed. “A hobby?” he asked rather than stated. The professor didn’t look impressed, so he tried again. “I’ve always enjoyed music, but I’ve never made any before.”
The professor hummed again, leaning back this time, bringing a hand up to scratch at his beard. “Well, if you don’t have an instrument you want me to teach you, then there is nothing I can do.”
Kei nodded, having assumed this would be the linekly response, and stood to leave, an apology for taking up the mans time on the tip of his tongue. But he was stopped by a raised hand. He took a seat again.
“So instead I will ask a different question. What kind of music would you like to play?”
Immediately, Yamaguchi came to mind.
“Music I can share with someone,” Kei said, voicing his thoughts aloud.
The professor cracked a smile. He had a small gap between his two front teeth, and it made him seem a little bit more human. “Good answer,” Kei was told. “Though the piano would still suit you well, I think something else in the strings family would suit you better.”
Kei nodded, not fully understanding, but realizing that this conversation was going in a positive direction. “So which one?”
“Let’s try all of them.”
Kei almost swallowed his tongue. “All?” he choked out.
The professor was giving him a wicked grin now, and that definitely reminded him of Ukai.
“Your person will be impressed if you know more than one, right?”
Kei just pictured the way Yamaguchi’s eyes would light up when he showed him what he could do, on multiple fronts.
Part of his brain reminded him that he’d dropped volleyball for a reason, so that he didn’t become so invested it took away from what was important. But he ignored that part, his gut telling him to take the leap.
Kei held his hand out for a shake. “When can we get started?”