She’s still dying and he’s still broken, but there are no lies in April
When Kaori was a little girl - four, maybe five, too young to realize just how morbid it was - she would play a game. She would pretend that the world was ending tomorrow - Armageddon, the Apocalypse, Ragnarok, any of the thousand world ending scenarios she had read in a book that she wasn't supposed to read- and she would do all the things she wanted to do before the world folded in on itself and disappeared. She'd play in the mud, sneak sweets from the bakery when her parents weren't looking, color outside the lines.
When Kaori was fourteen, she learned that her world really was ending.It wasn't a game. There were no prophecies foretelling this moment (besides a family history no one likes to talk about) and there were no dark omens paving the way (besides a weakness in her muscles that couldn't be explained away by youth). Kaori's world wouldn’t end with a bang or a blaze of glory.
It would end with a hospital room, unable to move or breathe on her own, tangled up in so many wires and tubes that she couldn't tell where she ended and the life support machines began.
So she let her hair down. She started wearing contact lenses. She stopped pretending to be full and started eating all the left over cake from the shop. She played her violin the way she wanted to and stopped caring about what old men long dead thought of her music and started caring about living forever in the hearts of those she leaves behind.
She looked at the boy who held her heart in his hands and didn’t even know it and she made a decision.
(That night she wrote a note. The next day she arrived at school early, shoved the note in his locker, and hoped the shaking in her arms was from nerves and not something deadlier.)
It’s all very cliché.
He finds a letter (well it’s more like a note; one sentence can hardly be called a letter can it? Meet me in your music room after school today!) in his shoe locker one morning. There’s no name and he doesn’t recognize the handwriting. For a second, he thinks the letter was given to him by mistake. His shoe locker is close enough to Watari’s and sometimes the soccer player shoves his shoes in Kousei’s locker when he’s feeling exceptionally lazy and won’t even bother to open his own.
But the note begins with his name and ends with a little heart so apparently there’s been no mistake.
(Or maybe there was. After all, who would fall in love with Kousei Arima when Ryota Watari is right there?)
He doesn’t know what to do. He thought about just ignoring the letter entirely, but that would have been rude. No decent gentleman would just ignore the summons of a cute girl who liked him.
Or, at least, that’s what Watari said after he snatched the note out of Kousei’s hand.
“You have to meet this girl!” Watari said. “Do you think she’s cute? I knew my charm would rub off on you eventually. Who do you think she is? Which girl did you accidentally seduce? If it’s Hikari-chan from 2-A I’m going to be so jealous!”
“What are you talking about?” Tsubaki had her shoes in her hand and a frown on her face. She glanced at the note in Watari’s hand (a common sight, nothing new there) and the light blush on Kousei’s face (that just downright strange, but a good strange).
“Kousei got a love letter. Some girl’s gonna confess to him in his music room after school today!” Watari cheered, shoving the note in Tsubaki’s face.
Something settled in her stomach. It's heavy and moves around in uncomfortable and incomprehensible ways. Maybe her breakfast didn’t agree with her. Maybe she was nervous about the game this afternoon. Maybe it was the test that Tanaka-sensei was giving her math class today. (It wasn’t any of those things, but Tsubaki doesn’t know that yet. )
“Maybe it’s not that kind of note.” Kousei protested weakly. “All it said was to meet this person after school today. It could be a guy for all we know. Maybe they just want to talk about…music or something.”
“No,” Tsubaki said, leaning closer to inspect the note closer despite the feeling in her stomach. “That’s definitely a girl’s handwriting. Boys are too messy. Also,” she gives the paper a sniff. “They sprayed it with some kind of sweet perfume. Smells like cake or something. It’s definitely a girl.”
“And it ends with a cute little heart!” Watari pointed to the offending shape. “Only cute girls with cute crushes draw hearts this cute! It’s a confession!”
“I have work today,” Kousei muttered, looking down. “So I can’t just hang around after school.”
“Kousei,” Tsubaki said. “That’s all you do.”
“I…” Kousei said, looking for a way to get out of this. It’s all so…awkward.
“Kousei,” Tsubaki said sharply. “Are you planning to just go and let this nice girl who likes you wait for you in the music room you practically never leave? What kind of insensitive jerk would do that?! Not even Watari would do that and he’s the enemy of all women!”
“Yeah! No, wait. What?”
“Kousei, you are going to meet with this girl or else!” Tsubaki’s eyes were shining, promising pain and softballs (that weren't actually soft at all, if you go by all the broken window) to the head if he didn’t comply with her wishes.
So that’s how Kousei ended up in the music room (though, truthfully, it really was his music room. Any other student who wanted to use it when it wasn’t being used for a class were easily intimidated the reputation of the pianist known as Kousei Arima.)
He didn’t even get the dignity of walking into the music room with his head held high and with a straight back (not that he would have done any of those things.) No, he was literally tossed in by those two jocks and landed on his hands and knees.
The first thing he notices, even before he gets up, is the sakura petals on the floor (god, he’s going to have to clean that up later), then he notices the soft breeze coming in through the opened windows. He sees a pink violin case covered with stickers propped up against the wall.
He sees the back of her head. She’s blonde, thin, and a few inches shorter than him. She’s taken off her blazer and folded it on the piano bench. He hears her humming and she’s playing something on the piano. Twinkle, twinkle litter star. She’s not playing it as fast as it should be played, it’s almost too soft, and she plays the wrong notes more often than she plays the right ones, but it’s still sound is still pretty. Maybe even prettier.
He doesn’t think she’s noticed him, which is funny because her noticing him is what got them into this situation in the first place.
“Um,” Kousei started, not wanting to delay whatever it was she wanted to tell him, but wanting this moment to last longer at the same time. “A-are you the one who gave me the note?”
She whips around, blonde hair whipping through the air. Her grey eyes are wide and the piano playing ends with sound of discordant notes.
“Oh!” She said. She looked scared, nervous, embarrassed. Maybe the letter was actually for Watari. And for the first time since he found the note, the thought wasn’t a comforting one.
“Um, I just want to make sure that this,” He waves the letter in his hand hesitantly. “wasn’t for Watari or something.”
“What?” The girl frowned, confused. “No, no, you’re Kousei Arima-kun. This is definitely for you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” The nervousness was gone, replaced by a kind of ferocity. Her eyes were shining. Her left hand was resting on the piano. Her right hand was pointing at his face. “Kousei Arima-kun! I am Kaori Miyazono from Class 3-B, I like you, and I want you to be my accompanist!”
“…What? Accompanist? I-I don’t-,” Kousei stuttered, holding his hands in front of his body like he needed protection from this energetic girl. “I-I’m not-”
The fire in her eyes faded into a softer glow. Her hand fell to her side and her gaze moved to the floor. “I’m sorry. That was a lot to spring on you. Let’s, ah, let's just forget all that stuff about me liking you for now. Okay?”
Kousei said nothing.
“I’m a violinist, you see.” She nodded towards her violin case on the floor. “And I have a competition coming up. Actually, it’s this weekend.” She chuckled. “My accompanist and I really don’t get along all that well and she told me that if I move on to the second round, I’d have to find someone new to accompany me.”
She looked back up at him, smiling so brightly it almost hurt to look at her. “I want that someone to be you. So please,” She bows at her waist, her hair falling in front of her face. “Please play with me.”
“I-I,” Kousei started. What could he say? I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I can’t play anymore. I can’t hear the notes. I’m not who you think I am. I’m useless to you. The truth probably hurt him more than it would hurt her, so instead he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t play anymore. It’s been so long since I touched a piano, I’d probably hinder you more than I’d help you. I’m sorry.”
He sees her hands twitch at her sides. He sees her shoulders shake. But when she stands up, her back is straight and her head is held high. The fire returned to her eyes. “Okay.” She pulls out a piece of paper from her bag and writes something down on the paper and shoves it into his hands. “If you don’t want to do it now, then you have to come watch me play at the competition. You can bring your friends if that’s going to make you more comfortable.” Her touch lingers on his hands for a second. He didn’t notice. She noticed just a little too much. “Come and watch me play. Please. That will convince you.”
She walks past him, picking up her violin in a smooth motion and stalks towards the door. She turns to look at him. “I’m not giving up on you.” Then she shuts the door behind her.
Images burned into Kousei Arima’s eyes forever:
His mother’s back as she carried Chelsea away from him.
His father’s car driving away again and again and again and again and again and…
Cherry blossoms blooming in the spring.
A girl in a pink dress with a melodica.
The tears in her eyes.
A white dress. A violin.
The same girl glowing under the stage lights.
“So what did you think?” Her hands are shaking. Her eyes are trained solely on his face. It’s like nothing else in the world matters.
There they are again, the shining eyes. How can grey eyes look so colorful? Do those tulips seem too red? Too yellow? How can the smell of the music hall and the dust feel so invigorating? His hands twitch at his sides. He thinks of the piano in his house, hidden underneath layers of dust, sheet music, and meaningless awards. He remembers the weight of the keys underneath his fingers. He remembers the ringing sounds of the notes and the roar of applause.
How could he have forgotten? How did she make him remember?
She’s wild and unpredictable. Brash and bold and irreverent. The fact that she played the Kreutzer that way at a competition is baffling to him, who had always been chained to the score. She’s beautiful and energetic and she brought colors back into his world. How can he put that into words?
He says, “I’ve never seen anyone get flowers after prelims” and hopes she understands what he’s saying. He’s never been good with words.
“So will you accompany me?”
The second the sound changed. The moment the Kreutzer stopped being Beethoven’s and became Kaori Miyazono’s, Kousei felt a weight lift off of his chest and settle in his gut. There was no way she would move on into the second round. Not here. Not at a competition. Not with the way the head judge was frothing at the mouth in rage at her performance. There was no way he was accompanying her because there was no way she was moving on.
But in that moment, he wanted to play with her.
He sees her name printed next to the words ‘audience choice.’ Of course she would. He should have expected that.
She sees a small smile grow on his face. Her heart beats so fast in her chest. “Will you accompany me?”
He turns to look at her, but he’s still looking down. Her heart sinks.
“So that’s the girl who’s in love with you?” Watari’s voice was loud in his ear. His arm heavy on Kousei’s shoulder.
There are flower petals in Kousei’s hair. A stem trapped between his glasses and his face. Kaori’s bouquet lies crumpled at his feet.
(“I’m not giving up on you!” she said, before walking away.)
“She’s really cute! Say, Kousei, if it doesn’t work out with you and her –”
“She’s not in love with me!” Kousei interrupted. “She just wanted me to be here accompanist in the second round of the competition! That’s all.”
“Let’s, ah, let's just forget that stuff about me liking you. Okay?” Her voice was stuck in his mind. He can’t get her out. He doesn’t know if he wants to.
“Well, are you?” Tsubaki asks. She’s been alternating between obnoxiously loud and oddly quiet ever since Kousei found the note in his shoe locker.
“I told her no.” He said.
(Tsubaki feels lighter when he says that. She’s not sure why.)
“But,” he clenches his fist at his sides. Behind him, someone takes a picture of their name on the finalist board. Another person cries silently, hoping no one notices. A third person shouts joyful exclamations into her phone that seems to be more charms than phone. “I want to.”
“Then what’s stopping you?” Watari asks.
Kousei smiles and looks at the ground. He feels as bitter as the people who lost.
They’ve been playing the same song over the speakers for a week now. His music room is plastered with sheet music. He sees Miyazono-san and Watari lurk behind him with tape in their hands. Tsubaki plastered the outside of her house with the sheet music.
Without his conscious decision, he imagines how to play the piece. How he would move his fingers and his hands, when he would press the pedals, how fast he would need to move.
He has an electronic keyboard in his room. He wipes off the dust and plugs it in. He sets himself up in the room that is the farthest away from Tsubaki’s house and he tries to play.
The notes disappear barely halfway through the piece. He imagines his mother, her wheelchair, her cane. He imagines her saying that this was his punishment.
He abandons the keyboard and runs out of his house, only pausing to pull on his shoes. He runs and runs from the notes that abandoned him. Her words echo in his head, making him run faster.
“I’m not giving up on you!”
He runs into her by accident.
He’s out of breath. His uniform is rumpled. His hair is a mess. He stares at her and he must look like a crazy person, but she looks at him like he’s whole.
“Hey,” she says. She still in her uniform. She holds her violin with both hands. The wind always seems to hit her just right. “There’s a café nearby that I’ve always wanted to try. Do you want to come with me?”
He doesn’t know what compels him to say “Yes.”
Things Kaori Miyazono thinks when she’s with Kousei Arima:
He’s a fool.
He’s a coward.
He’s so sad.
She loves him. She loves him. She loves him.
Her meal looks ridiculous. And delicious.
Kousei tries to hide the sound of his stomach grumble. He wishes he had the foresight to bring some money with him when he ran out of his too empty house, but he wasn’t in the proper state of mind to think that far ahead.
Kaori hears him anyway.
“You want some?” She asks. Her fork points towards him with a piece of waffle pierced at the end. It’s dripping with syrup, it’s got some wiped cream on it. The inside looks so fluffy, but the outside is crisp and golden. “I can’t finish all of this by myself.”
Kousei Arima is a weak man. And a hungry man.
He eats the waffle off of the fork without thinking about it. Then he thinks about it.
Kaori blushes, smiling at the red faced boy, and her heart beats out a melody.
Let’s just forget all that stuff about me liking you for now. Okay?
He can’t forget. How could he forget when his heart beats out the same tune?
Is this a date? he thinks hysterically. Am I on my first date and not realize it.
“Did you read the book Kimura-sensei assigned? I tried to but the first few pages made me fall asleep.”
He chuckles, relieved that she talks about something other than accompanying or the piano or why, exactly, he ended up in the state she found him in. “It gets better later on, but, yeah the first few chapters are difficult, to say the least.”
She takes another bite of the waffle. “Mmmm, it’s so good! Here, here! Try it with some of the fruit!”
If this is a date, Kousei thinks, I’m glad it’s with her.
They finish the meal together. They talk about school and the weather and the new song on the radio that everyone’s crazy for. They talk about everything except the accompaniment.
There are two girls sitting by the piano. One of them plays twinkle, twinkle little star.
He knows what’s going to happen before it actually does. Kaori makes the two little girls fall in love with her and then drags him into it. Resigned to his fate, he decides that if he’s going to be dragged, he might as well do it with dignity and not kicking and screaming.
(And maybe he wanted to show off, just a little bit. At least until the notes abandoned him.)
When he tells her he can’t hear the notes, her heart breaks.
This boy, this stubborn, wonderful, beautiful boy.
They were going to play together. Her dream would come true.
Even if it was the last thing she did
(With the way things are going, it just might be.)
“Please,” She cuddles the cat in her arms. She steps close enough where he can feel her breath on his face. She smells like apples and cinnamon and cake. The cat squirms in her arms and its paw swipes at his chest. “Be my accompanist.”
“I just told you. I can’t hear the notes. I can’t play with you.”
“But do you want to?” Kaori asks.
“Do you want to play with me?” Her eyes do not leave his face. He can hear children playing in the playground. Girls giggling on their way home. Two old men complaining about the youth they had which disappeared when they weren't looking. He can hear the rustling of leaves and flower petals in the wind.
He hears himself saying, “Yes.”
The smile on her face is blinding, searing. He thinks he can see tears in her eyes, but that may be just the light.
“Then be my accompanist. I don’t care if you can’t hear the notes. I just want to play with you.”
He says nothing. Just nods his head.
She releases the cat and grabs his hand. She’s warm. “Besides, we’re pretty awesome. It’s going be the greatest performance the world has ever seen!”
He walks her home and they talk about music. He’s never been more nervous. He’s never been happier.
The performance is a train wreck.
It can take weeks to learn a piece. Kousei may be a prodigy, but he barely had a day even if he was constantly surrounded by the music for a week.
The notes disappear, he drowns, he stops, she stops, she begins, he begins, they’re magnificent.
“Miyazono-san!” he yells and rushes to her side, pulling her into his arms. He can hear the audience muttering. A few people have stood up, even the judges.
A few of the ushers rush to their side. One of them kneels next to them. Another calls for an ambulance.
“Miyazono-san.” Should he shake her awake? Would that hurt her? “Miyazono-san, can you hear me?”
She twitches at his voice, but she doesn’t wake up.
The paramedics show up surprisingly quickly. She shows signs of regaining consciousness as they wheel her away on a gurney.
(The competition resumes half an hour later.
The winner is a little boy named Miike Toshiya.
No one seems to care.)
He’s sitting at her bedside in her hospital room and he can’t help but feel like he’s been here before.
“I must have been working myself too hard.” She chuckles. “They’re keeping me in here for some tests, but I should be getting released pretty soon. There’s really no need to worry."
“You should be taking better care of yourself, Kaori-chan.” Tsubaki scolds. “We were really worried about you.”
“Thank you for that, and for the sweets, but I really am fine.” Kaori says.
“And we’re really glad for that.” Watari says. He stands up from where he was leaning against the wall. “Come on, Tsubaki, we should really be heading back. We’re already late for practice.”
“What? But I don’t have-”
“Come on, let’s go!” He drags her out of the room despite her protests. “See you guys later!” He calls out to Kaori and Kousei.
They watch them leave and laugh.
“You’re looking down again.” Kaori says. “What are you thinking?”
“They don’t put people in private hospital rooms for two days just to take some tests.” Kousei says. “Are you really okay?”
Kaori’s face turns serious.
(There were no lies in April. Instead, Kaori Miyazono tells one in May.)
“Yes.” The smile returns to her face. She hopes it doesn’t look forced. “Now stop looking so sad. It’s really bringing me down.”
“Sorry.” Kousei smiles.
He hopes it doesn’t look too forced.
“Did you bring me anything?” Kaori asks, forcing lightness into her tone.
“What do you mean? We brought you-”
“No. Watari brought the cakes and Tsubaki brought me some candy. What did you bring me?”
“Oh!” Kousei says. “Ummmm…”
“…You didn’t get me anything?” Oh, god. She sounded mad. “You jerk! After all I went through, pouring my blood, sweat, and tears,"
“I’m so sorry, Miyazono-san!”
“into a performance that you ruined-”
“You wanted me to be there!"
“ then least you could do was get me a gift for my hospital stay.” Her voice broke when she said hospital. Oh god, oh god.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll get you a gift. Anything you want!”
She sniffled. “Anything? You promise.”
The atmosphere changed. Kaori gained a gloomy aura. There was an evil glint in her eyes and her smile spoke of triumph and joy united in evil. Damnit, this is what she wanted all along.
“Then enter a competition.”
The stage lights are warm on his face. His footsteps sound too loud to his ears. The weight of the audience’s whispers is heavy on his chest. “Hey, hey is that Arima?” “Kousei Arima, the prodigy?” “Arima-kun!”
The sensation of being on stage is paradoxically both familiar and foreign. The Kousei Arima of two years ago is gone and no more. How will this Kousei Arima perform?
He wonders if there’s any symbolism in the “Human Metronome” playing a song called ‘Wrong Note.’
Maybe it’s an omen. Maybe it’s his liberation.
Either way, his performance was a disaster. A train wreck that has surpassed the one before it. The Kousei Arima of two years ago would weep in horror.
The Kousei Arima of today doesn’t seem to care.
After all, only one person mattered.
The Kousei Arima of today had Kaori Miyazono.
“Which one are you in love with?” Hiroko-san’s smile is evil. Kousei doesn’t think he can even remember the last time he had seen such an evil expression on her face when she wasn’t talking about her husband.
“I-I’m not-” The words stick in his throat. Because the words, “I’m not in love with anyone”, are a lie. He’s looking right at that wonderful girl and he doesn’t think he can lie.
Miyazono-san likes him. That’s what she told him that day in April. She wrote him a note and confessed to him. The least he could do was tell her that her feelings were returned.
But later. Not in front of Hiroko-san or Koharu. Not in front of Watari or Tsubaki. Not now.
“I had you.”
The fireflies looked like stars floating around them. Warm, comforting light glowing in the darkness. It looked like a painting, a van Gogh, a starry night.
Was that a confession? It felt like one to him, but he was never good with words.
“Miyazono-san, I like you.”
Had she stopped breathing? It felt like she had stopped breathing. She had been waiting to hear those three words leave his lips for what was practically her entire life. She had never known that something that would bring her such happiness would cause her such pain.
This is what she wanted, but could she let him deal with the consequences. He wouldn’t have her anymore when she was dead.
But she was selfish and she was weak. She let herself fling her arms around his neck. Let his arms circle around her waist. He smelled like paper and dust and something sweet.
They were both broken, but maybe they could fix each other.
They have no idea what they’re doing.
They ask themselves how close they should stand. How much they should touch. Is it too much? Too little?
Watari was of no help when Kousei asked. Tsubaki hasn’t been looking at him in the eye. She told him she was dating her senpai. He told her that he was happy for her and he meant it.
They go out together sometimes, when Kaori found it in her heart to let them take a break from practicing for the gala concert.
(He does know that holding her hand feels like home.)
They figure out how to go on a date eventually.
She spends hours getting ready. She can feel her heart pounding in her chest. She’s shaking. She hopes it’s from nerves.
He changes his outfit five times before giving up and asking Tsubaki for help. She takes one look at him – he’s wearing mismatched shoes, three different shirts, and he’s not sure how, but he’s put on his pants wrong – sighs, and puts him back together.
(They talk about her and the senpai, the one she’s dating. He asks her if she ever feels this nervous before going on a date with him. She replies she’s never been nervous around him at all. To herself, she thinks that maybe that’s not a good sign.
They meet in front of the café where they shared the waffles. He smiles at her. She smiles at him. They walk inside together and their shoulders brush and for some reason they’re not as nervous anymore.
She wants to know everything about him.
What is his favorite class?
Does he have any anime that he likes?
Does he have a favorite composer?
How many times have you jumped off that bridge? Can we do it again?
He’s standing at the threshold of her hospital room, hair wild and panting like he had run all the way there.
She doesn’t know what to say.
He walks towards her bed and his legs are shaking. He looks at the bandages on her head, the IV bag connected to the flesh in the crease of her elbow, her pale skin, her flushed face. He looks at her and tries not to see his mother.
“I have another question.”
“That day when we went to the café and shared the waffles. Was that a date?”
“You’re so dense.” She smiles at him. “Of course it was.”
He smiles back.
He first kisses her in their music room. It’s a quick peck on the lips, but his heart pounds in his ears and he can’t differentiate that sound from the sound of the metronome still ticking in the background. Her heart beats the same rhythm and he can feel her pulse from where his hand cups her neck.
Her skin flushed. Behind her the sun sets and paints her hair with light. She looks at him like he’s something precious and Kousei is sure that his face looks the same.
She is the one to lean in this time and he savors this one. He can feel how soft her lips are. Her hair smells sweet, like sugar and strawberries. She smiles against his lips and his lips are left no option but to mirror their shape. She breathes against his skin and it sounds like a laugh and it sounds like music and he feels like he’s coming home.
She pulls away first. “Kousei,” she says. His heart stutters, stops, then starts again in double time. He likes the way his name sounds when she says it. He wants to hear her say it again. “I really, really, really like you.”
His smile is blinding. She wants him to smile like that always.
“I really, really, really like you too,” he hesitates for a second and she sees something like resolve settle in his eyes, “Kaori.”
She wants him to say her name forever.
Their last kiss is one the rooftop of the hospital where Kaori will die.
She’s so pale and so light, she reminds him of a ghost. Like she isn’t even there at all. Her lips are chapped. She smells like a hospital and her hair is scratchy from the shampoo they make her use here. Her skin is thin and he can feel her pulse, too quick and fluttery. Her heart beats like hummingbird wings, too delicate and so fast that it seems like it’s not beating at all.
But she’s beautiful. Kaori Miyazono will always be beautiful.
“Kousei,” she says and her voice is just as light as the rest of her. “I love you."
Kousei holds this precious, broken thing in his arms and let’s himself hope.
“I love you too, Kaori.”
What the person who performs after Kousei Arima feels before performing:
The anxiety of pre-performance agony.
Awe over Kousei's abilities. He's beautiful, the pianist's mind whispers amidst their frantic panic.
Despair over having to perform after Kousei Arima.
The scratchy texture of the dress they were forced to wear.
The weight of their father's eyes following them.
The stage lights searing their skin. Sweat forming on their brow. A lump in their throat. Their heart beating erratically. A sense of discomfort settling in their skin.
Drops of water on the piano keys. Tears?
He knows she’s gone before they tell him.
He runs to the hospital straight from the performance hall.
When Kaori’s parents see Kousei – face flushed, eyes red, wearing a suit that’s been wrinkled and dress shoes that have been scuffed – they pull him into their arms and they cry and cry and cry for this beautiful life that had been cut too short.
Their story ends where it always ends, where it always has to end – in a graveyard, with a letter and a picture.
Dear Kousei Arima…