The strains of a violin began filling the sakura grove with a series of fun and short warm-up songs. Then it moved into something more substantial. Nakamura Haruki thought it sounded beautiful. He hated it.
Kaji Akihiko stood up from their tarp and slipped his shoes on. “I'm going to have a cigarette. Be right back.” He disappeared into the shadows of the sakura trees.
Haruki was torn. Part of him wanted desperately to follow Akihiko, tear the cigarette from his lips and replace it with his tongue. The other half was frightened that if he did find Akihiko, he would be with Murata or pining over Murata or deciding he wanted Murata after all.
He turned to look, couldn't help himself. There was nothing to see, of course. Nothing but darkness beyond the small circle of light from the fire they were seated beside.
“Haruki, don't,” Mafuyu said.
Easy for Mafuyu to say, lying back against Uenoyama's chest, held in his arms. The two of them were totally content with each other, absorbed in each other. Something had finally changed between those two and Haruki knew what that meant. It had taken Uenoyama long enough.
“Don't what? Don't go after him because he's chasing Murata? Don't worry about it? Don't torture myself with idiotic fears? I can't help it – I'm an idiot.”
“Don't do any of those things. Listen.”
Haruki waited for Mafuyu to say more but he didn't. “Listen to what?”
“To Ugetsu. To his music. You're a musician, aren't you?”
“I can't not hear him,” Haruki snapped. “And what do you mean about being a musician? I'm not classically trained, if that's what you're asking.”
“When you play with us, what do you hear? How do you decide what to play when we're improvising? What is your role?”
Haruki finally realized Mafuyu was going somewhere with this. “I hear you. All of you. I listen for the empty places and try to fill them. That's what a bass does, 99% of the time. We support the main melody, we keep the rhythm, we fill in the blanks, we sometimes echo the melody in a lower register or try to complement it somehow. I'm background noise.”
“Without the bass, the guitars are too loud, the drums are too sharp, there is no harmony, no depth. It sounds cheap and shallow and like something is missing. The bass holds us together, makes us all blend better. The bass is necessary. You are necessary.”
“...” How did Mafuyu come up with these things? He's usually so quiet!
“What does a violin do?” Mafuyu asked next.
“A soloist? Soars above the rest, carries it all. Tells the story, makes everyone listening feel the story. Like your voice when you sing. It's shines.”
“What story is Ugetsu telling us tonight, with all of that on his shoulders?”
Huh? The first long piece had ended. After a short pause, a new one began. Akihiko wasn't back yet. Listen? Haruki listened.
“It's happy, this music. Romantic, playful, energetic. Hopeful, maybe? He's in a good mood. He loves playing the violin and knowing we're listening to him. It's springtime music.”
“It's a new love,” Akihiko said, appearing suddenly. “He's in love with someone.” He sat beside Haruki and took his hand, rested his head on Haruki's shoulder.
“What? How can you tell? You talked to him?” Haruki didn't know if Akihiko was glad or sad. He kept his voice too neutral and Haruki couldn't see his face.
“I didn't need to talk to him – I can hear it. I'm happy for him.” Akihiko suddenly raised his head and forced Haruki to meet his eyes. “You - were you worried? I told you, that's in the past. For me, and for him as well. I wasn't sure how he was doing, but now I know. He's telling us all. He's shouting it to the night. And to his new partner.”
“Who is his new partner?” Uenoyama asked.
“Ehh? Really?” Uenoyama looked at Akihiko and thought about it. “He's nothing like you.”
Akihiko snorted. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I don't know. I thought he had a type or something.”
“Types are for casual hook-ups. I said Ugetsu was in love, not that he found a new fuck buddy.”
“And you're okay with that?” Haruki was still suspicious. Mafuyu looked curious to know as well.
Akihiko shrugged. “It's bittersweet, I guess? A reminder and a stab. I haven't heard joy in his playing for a very, very long time. That someone makes him happy is a good thing. That it isn't me...hurts just a little.” Akihiko smiled at them all. “I ruined that between us but I learned from it. I won't make that mistake again. Promise.” He lifted Haruki's hand and kissed it.
Haruki blinked in surprise, then felt his face heating up. Akihiko could toss out deadly romantic moves at the most embarrassing moments. The hand-holding had been discreet and no one was around to overhear, but anyone might have seen that hand kiss!
“S-stop that!” Haruki tried to snatch his hand away. “You're not drunk, are you? You only had a couple of beers-”
Akihiko tackled him to the ground. “I love you. You. Stop worrying so much!” He kissed Haruki, pinning him.
Damned tongue ring! But Haruki only struggled for a few seconds before kissing him back. Akihiko was irresistible - big, stupid, warm, sexy...
“That music did create a certain mood, didn't it?” a smooth voice said, off to the left.
Oh shit! Who was that? Haruki didn't recognize the voice. Akihiko raised his head to look, but Haruki buried his face in Akihiko's chest. “Seemed a shame not to take advantage of it. Ow!”
Whoever it was chuckled while Haruki began pounding his fists against Akihiko's sides. Uenoyama and Mafuyu were giggling.
“Shy, is he? Too bad. I heard all four members of Given were handsome devils and wanted to see for myself.”
“Oh, you don't want to see Haruki now. He's probably red as a tomato,” Mafuyu piped up.
“Mafuyu!” Haruki yelled, accidentally revealing himself. “You brat! I'll kill all of you!”
“Hmm, red-faced, but still adorable!”
Haruki turned to look and his mouth dropped open. It wasn't one guy, it was four men standing there looking amused. One was...Asami Ryuichi? Fuck, he's intense in person! But he hadn't been the one speaking.
The one who spoke was a man with shoulder-length auburn hair, wearing a white fedora that only he could get away with. Because he was...glamorous. Not just his perfectly tailored clothes, his perfectly styled hair – his whole aura spoke of wealth and pampering and comfort and culture. Yet there was nothing standoffish about the man, no sense of distance created by the difference in their status or age or anything else.
“Naru, stop teasing.” Behind Naruse (Naruse Aito, the name sprung into Haruki's head – he'd seen the movie premiere news like everyone else) stood another tall, dark man. This one had glasses and an arm wrapped around Naruse's waist. Usami Haruhiko. And the last one, at Asami's side, was the photographer Takaba Akihito.
Talk about four handsome devils! Haruki wanted to die on the spot. I can't die lying under Akihiko! He shoved at the drummer frantically. “Get off me!”
Akihiko sat up, pulled Haruki up as well, then tried to straighten Haruki's clothes while being slapped at.
“Nakamura Haruki, bass player and film major, twenty-four, just graduated?” Naruse stated more than asked.
“Uh, yeah?” How does he know all that about me? I haven't even told the band I graduated...
“You graduated?! Like, you're done with school? How could you not tell us?” Akihiko demanded.
“I just didn't think this was a good time to make a big deal about it. It's not like I found a real job...Anyway, it doesn't change anything, really. Um...Naruse-sama, why do you ask?”
“Oh, I get bored and I research people I've just met or hope to meet soon. Tacky of me, I know. But listen – what exactly do you want to focus on within the film or TV industry?”
“Well...someday I'd like to be a director. For now, anything is good. I think...I think the café where I work is going to close.”
Akihiko smacked him. “Another secret? Damn it, Haruki! Why don't you tell me these things?”
“I just found out! I would have said something tomorrow, not at a party! Jeeze!”
“What about production, producing?” Naruse ignored the antics.
“Ahh? Yes, the production side is one way to learn more about the entire process. I've been more focused on studying each of the major positions – cameraman, lighting, gaffer, sound...”
“That's good. You know Usaka Kazuomi?”
“Know him?” Haruki squeaked. “I know of him – he was famous even before the latest movie! Ooh, you – and Usami-sama. Well, all of you – were at the movie premiere. You know him?”
“Haruki, darling. If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a meddler and nosy and I like to interfere. So here, take this,” Naru held out a business card, “and call him Monday morning at 9 am. He's expecting to hear from you.”
Takaba spoke up while Haruki was gazing at the card with stars in his eyes. “Aki told me you aren't going to do a website for the band just yet, but when you do – or if you need promotional pictures – let me know.” Takaba handed Akihiko his business card.
“Mafuyu, if you can answer phones and write appointments down, I highly suggest you talk to Aki now. Ah, not now as in this minute – I expect he's a bit preoccupied. But this weekend. He's in desperate need of a receptionist. I'm certain you could figure out how to do that around your classes.” Naruse seemed to know everything.
“Don't ask,” Usami told them. “Naru does as Naru pleases. The rest of us just obey his every whim.”
“Speak for yourself, Usami,” Asami said dryly.
“I haven't seen you argue with him,” Usami pointed out.
“His suggestions have had merit. So far.” Asami wasn't about to concede more than that.
Naruse laughed. “You boys are part of our circle now. We take care of our own. Good night!” The four handsome devils strolled off, leaving four gaping young men behind.
Someone howled like a wolf. Then another person answered. What a weird night.