I Hold Your Voice Alone, Under The Starry Sky
“Any other thoughts?”
The class representative called from in front of the teacher’s desk.
Things like cafe, play, haunted house, and arcade were written on the board.
The cultural festival was approaching. Once it came to light that our class may not decide in time, this half-hearted meeting was called right after homeroom.
I was quietly watching over the proceedings. Members of humanities clubs at our school weren’t deeply concerned with the classes’ offerings because they were far busier with those of their club.
Some schools would have offerings from sports clubs, but ours didn’t. Inevitably, the classes’ offerings focused on the sports club members and the going home club’s. Of course, us humanities clubs would help, but the main focus, and thus the students that were busiest were from those two categories.
“I’ll take the final vote from these, raise your hand for the one you want to do most.”
I raised my hand at the cafe, but the class as a whole voted for the play.
“A play, huh?”
“It’ll be fun though.”
“I’ll be villager A.”
My classmates began chattering about the play.
“Next then, we’ll decide what play we’re doing.”
Normally, something would be used for inspiration, like Cinderella, Snow White, or some fairy tale because it made things rather quick to arrange. The students were amateurs and would struggle to memorise the lines too, so I thought a full play would too difficult.
With my mind occupied with various thoughts, I didn’t open my mouth. I would have a minor role in the end, and everyone chose the best ways they could help.
“It’d be nice to have an original script.”
At the girl’s suggestion, the class’ focus shifted to an original script. I guess they were all getting excited about the cultural festival because it only happens once a year. But I worried if this would be okay. I thought a completely original script would be difficult. In the first place, what would we do about making the entire story?
But of course, I didn’t say a word. This was an opportunity for everyone to give their opinions, I didn’t want to rain on their parade before we decided anything.
“Who’ll write it though?”
“I’ve never written.”
“We have anyone in the drama club?”
“Who’ll do it then…”
The students were all looking back. I had a feeling they were looking at me…
“That’s right, we’ve got Yagi-kun!”
A girl that had spoken to me maybe three times pointed at me.
“Me? I can’t write you know?”
“Why, you’re in the literature club right?”
“Being in the literature club doesn’t mean I can write.”
The class started booing at me and Sakai started cackling in a corner because he knew that I couldn’t write stories.
I glanced at the seat next to me and President Minekawa was glaring at me with a frown. What, even she thought I should be writing it.
“It’s something I can’t do.”
I refused to write it, so we ended the day just having decided to do a play and with the understanding that each of us would think over what kind of story we wanted. It was a rather grim outlook.
Eina: Good evening, Shuu-san. How are things going?
Shuu: I’m editing.
Eina: Ah, for the cultural festival edition? You managed to get submissions this time.
Shuu: It’s the third years’ last chance, so they always contribute.
Eina: Huh, Shuu-san, you seem down today.
I was taken aback. My feelings were in the writing? Was that a thing?
Shuu: There’s just an annoyance. It’s nothing big though.
I told her about the class meeting after school.
Eina: They booed you for not writing a script? That’s awful!
Shuu: I shouldn’t have given them expectations.
Eina: You didn’t do anything wrong.
Shuu: Thanks. I wonder what we should do. If we go with an original and get ideas from everyone, I don’t think we’ll make it in time…
Writing it itself was hard enough, but the problem was after that. The lines would need to be memorised and rehearsed. We’d have to make props and costumes…
Eina: Shuu-san, this is just a suggestion, but…
Eina: Shall… I write… the script.
Shuu: …Would you?
Eina: Yes, I’ll give it a go!
Shuu: You must be busy though, right?
I said that, but I realised then that I knew nothing about her everyday life.
Eina: I’m not. I don’t go to cram school and I’m not in a club. I’m free every day, so I think writing would be much more useful.
Shuu: Really!? That’s great!
The next day after school, I stood in front of the teacher’s desk.
“Oh, Yagi, decided to write the script?”
One of the boys said to me.
“I’m not, but I know someone who will. Eina, the one that wrote that story for the literature club.”
When I said that, the classroom filled with noise.
“I read that, it was interesting.”
“The person that wrote that should be able to write us something good, right?”
“Okay then, everyone who approves of having Eina-san write the script…”
The class representative took a vote, the majority of the class voting to do so.
“Thanks. So, what does everyone want from it? Requirements will make it easier to write, so give me any ideas you have,” I asked.
“I want romance!”
“A happy end!”
“A bit of mystery!”
I took notes of what everyone was saying.
“I wonder what kind of story it’ll be!?”
“I hope it’s an interesting one!”
I could tell the class was getting their hopes up. In honesty, so was I.
I would be able to read Eina’s next work. I was looking forward to that on its own, but it’d be made into a play for the class, I couldn’t help but get my hopes up for that.
I guess I am helping the class a lot this year, I thought.
The literature club had more members than me, when they gave me the materials, I could focus on the class’ offerings. The third years were also studying for exams, so all of them would pull together for their classes, it was a mutually beneficial relationship.
And because of that, I had sole discretion over how the literature club’s preparation was done. The club would need to print the booklet, bind it and place them for distribution. It was okay, I could do the editing at home. I could do the binding after the classwork was done in the clubroom. And if I did my best the day before, I could get the decoration done too.
“Shuu, come here,” Sakai whispered into my ear, “Is Eina-san in our class?”
“Why do you say that?”
“I mean, people wouldn’t write a script for another class, right?”
Sakai puffed up his chest at his insight.
“I wonder about that,” I dodged the question.
With that kind of questioning, you couldn’t answer with a yes or a no. That itself would give him information. A no would at least let him know that she wasn’t in our class.
“Kuh, you won’t fall for it, huh?”
“Of course not.”
Sakai tutted in annoyance.
“You’re really tight-lipped, Shuu. Too tight-lipped to have your best mate in the newspaper club.”
“It’d be dangerous to be your friend if I was loose-lipped, you’d be able to write about anything.
“I know what I should and shouldn’t write about.”
He was glancing my way, but I had no intention of talking about Eina.
Besides, I didn’t know anything about her to tell him.
Suddenly, my heart twinged. What’s this feeling…
The next day:
Eina: Shuu-san, how did today go?
Shuu: I did the normal editing stuff. I got the illustrations and cover design from Ruka-senpai so I’m compiling the data.
Eina: Oh! Do your best!
Shuu: What about you? How’s the script?
Eina: I’m drawing up a plan!
Shuu: Okay, let’s both do our best!
Three days later:
Eina: Shuu-san, good work.
Shuu: You too.
Eina: What kind of day did you have?
Shuu: I went to school, then did editing afterwards, same as always. I’ll want to help the class before the cultural festival, so I thought I’d get the literature club’s work done now.
Eina: You’re a hard worker, huh?
Shuu: I’m not, I only work hard at things I like.
Eina: That’s still pretty amazing.
Shuu: Thanks, so what’s the script like?
Eina: Uhh, it’s getting there.
Shuu: Everyone’s looking forward to it. So am I. Do your best.
One week later:
Normally, I’d always be getting messages from Eina, but I hadn’t received any in the last three days. That’s why I sent a message myself after school that day.
Shuu: Hi, how are you?
There was no response.
What was wrong, I wondered, usually I’d get a response immediately.
Maybe she was busy with her own school’s festival?
At the thought, my phone buzzed.
Eina: Hi, how did your day go?
Shuu: I finally finished with the data for the booklet. Now I just need to buy paper and print it.
Eina: That’s really quick!
Shuu: Yeah, now I should be able to help properly with the class. So, about the script…
Eina: Umm, ah, umm… I’m doing my best.
Shuu: When do you think you’ll be done.
The replies paused again, and the next message was that evening, before I slept.
Eina: I think it’ll take a little longer.
Shuu: I see…
I guess writing a script and a story really were different. I’d thought that she’d be able to write a full book in about a week seeing as she’d written a short story in a single night, but it might be a little difficult.
However, there were only two weeks left until the festival. If we didn’t start making props and costumes soon, we wouldn’t make it. The actors would need to learn the play too…
Actually, we needed to decide who had what role.
Shuu: Could you send what you’ve done so far? If you do we can make props and costumes and decide who’s playing who.
Eina: What I’ve done so far… Umm, ummm… Actually…
And then, Eina sent a shocking message.
Eina: I still haven’t written a single word.
I shouted in my room.
Not a single word? Why?
No, I don’t have time to find out the reason.
This was serious. I doubted she could write the play within the fortnight remaining, besides, then it would be too late.
My eyes span as my thoughts whirled.
I’ll talk to Ruka-senpai. She might know someone that did a play with their class. If we can borrow the script from them and perform it… Besides, a script would be prepared by the whole class…
Eina: Shuu-san? Shuu-san?
Another message appeared from Eina and I realised I had left it marked as read without replying.
Shuu: Sorry, Eina. I forgot to reply. Okay, then I’ll tell everyone it’s too much and that it’s too hard to write an entire play in time, I’ll find something else.
Shuu: It’s okay, they’ll understand. You were a volunteer in the first place.
My phone gave two long vibrations.
It was a call from Eina.
《Shuu-san… I’ll do my best, I’ll do my best, so…》
Eina was crying. Her voice was shaking, she was sniffling, and weeping over and over again.
I was flustered, maybe I shouldn’t have sent the refusal all of a sudden. She might have thought I was angry.
“Eina, I’m not angry at all, you don’t need to worry. We were the ones that pushed this on to you, so if you just go at your own pace, that’s fine.”
《Shuu-san, don’t say that… Please, let me write the script!》
《Talking with you is the only thing I live for. I don’t want to break it off, please don’t break it off, I’ll work harder…!》
I frowned. She was misunderstanding something. It was almost like…
“Eina. I don’t speak with you because you write novels or plays you know?”
“Obviously, I think it’s wonderful that you do, but it wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t. I can’t write after all.”
《You won’t be disappointed.》
“Why would I? Whether you write or not, you’re yourself, my precious-”
My precious what?
I couldn’t find the right word.
“Anyway, you don’t need to push yourself.”
《Then why do you speak with me?》
“Because it’s fun… I guess.”
This time I managed to speak. I truly meant it. It was really fun speaking with Eina. That was why I was sad when I didn’t hear from her for the past three days. At some point, chatting with her had become part of my life.
Eina sounded like she wanted to yell, and burst into tears on the other end of the phone.
“What’s wrong!? Did I say something I shouldn’t!?”
《You didn’t. I’m happy. It’s been… so long… since someone said something like that to me…》
《Shuu-san, can I… break the rules? Can I talk… about myself?》
The rules, to avoid knowing as much about Eina as I could. So I couldn’t narrow down who she was.
“Yeah,” I nodded.
I wanted to know about her too.
《I don’t have a mum or dad. I did, but they died.》
My breath caught in my throat.
《So now I live with my mother’s sister, with my aunt and uncle, but we don’t get on. Even Onee-chan, my cousin, bullies me… You remember when I suddenly hung up? That was when she came into my room to yell at me for being noisy.》
“Is it safe now?”
《Yes, I’ve got my head under the covers.》
I could imagine it, a girl hiding in the covers on the phone.
《I don’t… have any friends. I’m cut off and alone at school.》
《I like being alone. Having to be with everyone all the time at school is difficult, but when I said that, no one would be my friend… It’s sort of painful being alone at school. Mum and dad would have said I didn’t need to force myself to go to school, but my aunt and uncle say I have to, and get angry if I don’t.》
She likes to daydream.
She was different from the people around her, but at school, little differences could be treated as heretical. You could call it bad luck, no one understood Eina at school.
So that’s how it was.
She was always alone.
The smartphone creaked in my tightening grip.
I wanted to go right over to her and hug her.
But I couldn’t. There were five years separating us.
But at least I could make her understand.
“I’m on your side. Always and forever.”
《Hic! Thank you!》
She burst into renewed tears.
She really did cry a lot.
But… it might be for the best to let her cry. It was fine to cry when you were happy at least, right?
I remembered her saying ‘What if I’m dead after five years?’
Eina understood. Understood that you never knew when your happiness would be destroyed.
That’s why you had to treasure the happiness you had.
She had stopped crying, and Eina’s voice whispered in my ear.
《About the script.》
“That’s right, we were talking about that.”
《Can I… write about you?》
《I think I can write it now. Obviously, I want to just write it as-is, I’ll take my happiness at what you said, and how nice it feels to talk… and if I use that as my inspiration, I think I’ll be able to write it.》
“Got it. I’ll tell everyone to wait a little longer.”
“Don’t push yourself, alright? If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to talk to me about them.”
I couldn’t have seen her face.
But still, I felt like I could see her smile.
When I woke up that morning, I’d gotten a message from Eina.
It was the script.
My entire body flushed with heat.
Shuu: Thanks, now we can start preparing for the play. Sorry for rushing you.
Eina: I just couldn’t stop once I started writing!
Shuu: Eina, you really do have a talent for this.
Oddly, I didn’t feel jealous. I was just happy to be able to read what she had written.
Immediately, I transferred the file to my laptop and printed a copy. Reading something in depth really was better on paper. I put the script in my bag and headed to school, sat in my seat, and immediately began to read.
As they arrived, my classmates and friends gave greetings and struck up conversations, but their voices seemed to come from far away.
The script was interesting.
Perhaps because she was conscious it was a play, it was completely in the fantasy genre. You could call it a fairy tale.
The protagonist was a teenage girl, bullied by her mother and elder sister, with no friends, living in despair. At the hopelessness of her own life, she went to end it.
However, a wounded demon suddenly appeared before her. He had been persecuted by humans, and the kind-hearted girl instinctively treated his wounds.
The demon said that he would grant her wish in thanks, and that she must pass three trials.
The first trial was to go alone to a cave in the mountains and retrieve a treasure chest.
The second was to go to her terrifying mother’s room and steal the key.
And the third, the third was to use the dagger in the treasure chest and offer a sacrifice to the gods.
At that point, the demon offered his own life to grant her wish, saying:
“I am on your side. Always and forever.”
And placing the dagger in her hand. However, the girl refused.
“I can’t think of a life without you. I want to be with you.”
“Then there is no choice.”
Using magic, the demon controlled her hand, and made her stab him in the chest.
The grieving girl thought of using the wish to resurrect the demon. If she did that, she would have the same life as before. No, it might even be worse, but even so… the girl resurrected the demon. Upon his resurrection, the demon was transformed into a human.
He was actually a cursed prince, and the girl’s kindness along with the prince’s feelings had caused a miracle, breaking the curse.
The two of them swore to love each other forever, and exchanged a kiss…
I raised my head and the English teacher was looking down at me. I’d not noticed him approach at all.
I could hear the other students laugh, apparently the lesson had started before I’d noticed.
“It’s good that you’re working for your club, but pay attention to your lessons too.”
I hurriedly took out my textbook. But, what was I supposed to do?
“Page ninety, translate the second line,” came a voice from my side.
It was the President. She was looking at me in almost a glare, with a frigid expression. I gave a shiver and opened the textbook.
Fortunately, the English wasn’t too hard and I translated it without incident. The teacher moved on to the next student and I returned to Eina’s script. This time with a red pen to correct it.
Finally, I had read over the entire thing at least twice.
When I raised my head, I met the eyes of the third period’s maths teacher.
“Yagi, are you finished with your side-job? Then answer this question.”
The class dissolved into gales of laughter.
“Man, you really are the type to ignore your surroundings when you’re into something, huh?”
“I am?” I asked in return.
“Don’t you realise it?” Sakai shrugged. “Didn’t you notice everyone greeting you this morning? They were saying stuff like ‘awesome, the script’s here!’ or ‘we’ll have to thank Eina’. And then you just blanked them all.”
“Wah, really? I’ll need to apologise later…”
“It’s okay, everyone knows you were reading the script seriously.”
While we were talking, the class representative appeared in front of the teacher’s desk and the class meeting had begun. The script had arrived so we were genuinely beginning preparations for the play. I’d printed the script during the lunch break and given everyone a copy.
Today we would be discussing who had what part. That of course referred to the characters, but people would also be assigned to costumes, props, the set, everyone in the class should have something to do. People with nothing to do for a while would probably help with things that weren’t finished, but it was still important to assign responsibilities.
People would put themselves forward and the roles would be decided. The costumes, props, and set were all filled without issue and all the supporting roles had been decided.
I was helping with the set. I wasn’t particularly skilled with that kind of thing, but I figured I could help with the physical work.
All that was left was the lead role and her opposite, the demon prince.
It was probably because the script had a straight up romance between them, so everyone was embarrassed and didn’t want to do it. There was even a kiss scene. Though obviously they wouldn’t do it for real.
Then, I heard a chair move back next to me with a clatter.
The President had stood up straight and then she said.
“If no one else wants to, I’ll play the lead character.”
The class grew noisy.
“The President in the lead role…”
“She fits perfectly, right?”
It was unanimous. I thought she worked for the protagonist too, her beauty fit the impression of an ephemeral girl perfectly.
“I have a condition,” she followed, before saying something outrageous, “I nominate the literature club for the prince’s role.”
The class began to clamour.
“Yagi as her opposite?”
“Does he have acting experience?”
Chatter came from all over the room. I realised everyone was looking at me, and I was so surprised I couldn’t say a word.
“He’s the one that talked with the author, so he’s the one in the class that understands the play the best, and so he should have the prince’s role,” said the President, looking down at me with cold eyes. It almost seemed like she was saying it was my duty.
“If she puts it like that, why not?”
“What she’s saying makes sense.”
“Do your best, Yagi-kun!”
The class all started to fall in line with her opinion. I couldn’t refuse in that situation, and I could only nod.
Sakai slapped me on my back on our way out of the school gates.
Sakai was practically skipping while I trudged along.
“It’s the truth, right? The President nominated you herself, yeah?”
“What on Earth was she thinking?”
I said, before letting out a weary sigh.
“Exactly what she said, she’s the type to say everything truthfully.”
“Yeah, she always has a fair argument.”
That itself was why I was worried. Fair arguments weren’t always kind to people.
“If I had to say, I’d worry about her using you to get at a jealous guy.”
“I’m not, she’s the most popular amongst the guys at our school isn’t she?”
“Eh, she is?”
I did think she was pretty, but I hadn’t thought she was that popular.
“You didn’t know? Well, you’re not the type to evaluate the girls I guess,” Sakai gave a sarcastic smile, “She’s fairly popular just from being the student council President, then there’s her looks. It’d be stranger if she wasn’t popular. If we had a beauty contest, she’d easily take first.”
“She’s pretty scary though, right?”
“Of course, some of the people like my boss and part of the class that have interacted directly with her say that her candidness is scary, but on the whole I think people look at her enviously.”
I was getting more and more depressed. If I acted too poorly, I’d be killed socially…
“Well, do your best. I’m cheering for you. You’ve got a thing for her too, right?”
I wanted to think that my face heating up was my imagination.
When I got home, I messaged Eina about what had happened today. About how her script was received, and about how I’d come to have the prince’s role…
Eina: You’re the prince! Waaah, that fits perfectly!
I could tell from just the text that she was excited, but I didn’t really get what she meant.
Shuu: I’m just a normal high schooler though?
Eina: It’s a perfect fit. I mean, I modelled the prince after you, so having the real person play him makes me really happy.
If Eina’s going that far, I’ll do my best, I thought.
I immediately took out the script and read it aloud. Just reading it wouldn’t let me know if I was doing well or not, so I used my phone to record myself.
Once I finished reading through, I checked the recording…
“This… is awful.”
I was so bad you couldn’t have even called me a ham actor.
“I’ll go buy a book on acting.”
I cycled off to a bookstore that was open at that time of night.
After school the next day, we had the initial rehearsal. My study was in vain and my acting was still tragic. Actually, it was about the same level as those in the supporting roles, so it was probably about normal for someone without experience.
But I had a leading role, so this was awful.
“There’s still time, you’ll manage, right?” Sakai said to me, but it was no consolation.
The President was absent, apparently she had to do some work with the cultural festival as a whole. Disappointed, I headed to the literature club’s room. The end of the day was approaching, but I wanted to do some preparations for the literature club. We planned to have the room open on the day itself and distribute the book, so I had to decorate the room.
However, I couldn’t move my mind from the acting and didn’t get much done.
“Literature club.” I started in surprise at suddenly being spoken to.
The President was standing in the doorway.
“Sorry, I’m going home now.”
I apologised reflexively. It was already long past the end of the school day.
“Am I really that scary,” the President sighed. She seemed to be a little down, and I felt slightly guilty.
“No, I just don’t want to risk losing our room again.”
“I can overlook something like this. I don’t follow the rules to the letter. I know you’ve been preparing for both the class and your club.”
I might have misunderstood what kind of person she was.
“Hey, literature club. Do you have some time now? If you do, would you rehearse a little with me?”
What do I do?
At that moment, I was alone with the President, walking through the twilight. We couldn’t stay in the school, so we were heading to a nearby park.
We didn’t talk much, since she would only say what she had to.
It was supremely uncomfortable.
I glanced at her. As usual, she was frowning. She really was amazing for managing to look beautiful even with that expression.
But would we actually be able to practice in this atmosphere?
A metaphorical life-ring was thrown out to me as we arrived when my phone vibrated with a message from Eina.
Eina: Evening, how are the cultural festival preparations going?
Shuu: Good timing! Are you free now? Can I call?
Eina: You can, but why?
Shuu: I’m actually about to practice with the President, but… it’s uncomfortable.
Eina: Uncomfortable? Why?
Shuu: It looks like the President hates me.
Eina: You’re practising together even though she hates you?
Shuu: Yeah. I’m not good at acting, and she was busy with the student council. She’s not the type to mix personal feelings with business.
Eina: She sounds serious.
Shuu: Yeah, but she can’t hide her bad mood, so could you listen to us practice and give some comments. It’d be easier than doing it on our own.
Eina: Got it!
“Literature club, what are you doing?”
“I was talking to the writer, she’ll listen to us practice. Only over the phone though, that okay?”
“It is. I’d like to hear an objective opinion too.”
I called Eina and put the phone on speaker mode.
《Good evening. It’s nice to meet you, President.》
“It’s nice to meet you too, Eina-san. I suppose that works?”
《Yes! I hope we get along!》
I put my things and phone on a bench and faced the President with the script in hand.
“Let’s go from the top then, first is the girl’s appearance…”
Suddenly, her expression changed.
“It’s painful, so painful. Maybe it would be easier if I was dead…”
Her expression changed to one of heartbreak. As if she were about to cry, but was desperately holding back the tears.
She was just looking downcast and haltingly saying her lines, but her sadness and pain really were conveyed.
《It’s your turn, Shuu-san.》
I came back to myself at Eina’s voice from the phone.
“Ah, sorry. ‘Young lady, might I ask of you a simple favour? Would you lend me your hand? My leg has been injured and I cannot stand.’”
We finished the scene and the President looked steadily at me.
“I know what you want to say, I think it was awful too.”
《Not at all! It felt very you, I thought it was good!》
Eina’s kindness actually felt all the more painful.
“Well done. You’ve learnt the lines properly, you’re thinking about the right gestures too. All you need now is to practice and refine the rough edges.”
The President telling me that calmed me down a little.
《You were amazing though, President.》
“Do you have acting experience?” I asked, but she shook her head. “Are you a genius then?”
“…It’s because I practised a lot.”
She looked away.
Did she mean she stayed up all night? She should be awfully busy as the festival approached.
“Let’s go through each scene. I’ll give you an example so use that as a reference too.”
An hour later:
“Let’s take a break,” I suggested, “I’m going to get a drink, do you want anything?”
“A cola,” she murmured in response.
I left my phone on the bench and walked to a nearby shop. Because it was dinner time, the cashier was crowded and it took longer than I thought to buy the drinks. Once I was done, I ran back to the park.
The President was sat on the bench talking to my phone.
“I know he’s not a bad person. He’s a hard worker and everything, I just get nervous when we talk.”
Rather than her usual dignified air, the President seemed like a normal girl, which was a new experience for me.
《Well then, Shuu-san. I’ll be going now.》
“We’re not going to keep practising?”
《Sorry, something urgent came up! I’m really sorry! Make sure to walk the President home, okay?》
Wait a minute, go home together? With the President?
Wouldn’t that be really uncomfortable? But Eina had already hung up.
“What are we doing, President? Want to keep going?”
“I need to get home too. I’ve got a curfew.”
“Are you really going to walk me home?”
“Well, it is late.”
“…Thank you,” she muttered.
We walked off, drinking from our cans.
“What did you talk about with Eina?”
“School and things.”
We both fell into silence.
Damn, this was indeed really uncomfortable.
I didn’t know what to talk about, and as usual, she didn’t seem like she was about to speak to me anytime soon.
Why did Eina say I had to walk her home. We’re not lovers or anything. The next time we spoke ended up being when we arrived at her house.
“Huh, is this…”
I couldn’t help but start to ask.
We had arrived at an orphanage. It was a small building that looked like a small school on the face of it.
“Are you surprised?” She asked.
“Don’t make that face.” What kind of face was I making? “I chose this for myself. I had some problems at home. I much prefer this lifestyle. Well, it’d be a lie to say that there wasn’t anything I dislike about it, but it’s much better than it was before.”
“What will you do about university?”
“I’m planning on taking the exams for the nearby university. If I pass then I can be exempt from tuition fees because of the household income, I should be able to get a scholarship with my results as well. It has dorms, so I should be able to deal with living costs. I’ll work to make up the difference and do my best until I graduate. It will be hard to pay it back, but I really do want to go to university.”
The President looked at the orphanage building as she spoke. Her face was strong, refined, and above all, beautiful.
I really don’t know anything about her.
“Literature club, do your best in the festival,” said the President, with a much gentler face than usual.
“And… thank you, for walking me home.”
The President disappeared through the door.
Her last words were nearly soundless.
I smiled, thinking I wanted to know more about her.
Night had fallen and I was relaxing in my room after a meal and a bath when a message arrived from Eina.
Eina: Shuu-san, did you know? Fufufu…
Shuu: Know what?
Eina: That the President doesn’t hate you at all?
Eina: We talked about a lot of things when you went to get the drinks, but it seems that the President treats you harshly because she’s nervous. Haha, being popular sure is tough!
My face flushed with heat.
Eina: This is a confession event! When you’re going home from the festival or something! It’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s like you’re bound by fate with your co-star.
What is this feeling…
When I was told the President might not actually hate me, and that she might even like me, I was started panicking, confused.
And then I realised. I was panicked that Eina would misunderstand my feelings. Eina thought that I liked the President, and was honestly supporting me in it.
But that seemed too lonely to me.
I was shocked, why did I think that? I hadn’t even seen Eina’s face, and she lived five years in the past, and we couldn’t even meet…
Shuu: I just look up to the President. She’s pretty, but I don’t think I exactly like her, so I won’t confess.
Eina: Eh? I-I see… that’s good.
Eina: Ah, nothing.
We both stopped messaging for a while.
Shuu: Let’s go to sleep.
Eina: Let’s, good night.
The next fortnight flew by. That morning, I went to school early and we practised for the play.
I was half asleep through class, and after school, we had another rehearsal. While we rehearsed, our classmates were around the room making costumes and props.
Suddenly, a huge crash sounded along with the noise of breaking glass. The sound team were picking out music and sound effects.
There were even people making spotlights with torches and cellophane.
This kind of scene was happening all throughout the school. The entire place was getting into the swing of the cultural festival.
To use a common saying, they were fulfilling days.
But for some reason, I felt dissatisfied.
I didn’t know why. I had an odd lonely feeling, like a small hole had opened up in my heart.
However, there was so much to do that I didn’t even have the time to think about it. I had to spend any free time I had binding the books for the literature club.
And then it was the day before the festival, Friday.
After school, I figured that the class could do without me for a while and headed to the clubroom to decorate it. It was already completely dark outside but for today only, the teachers wouldn’t say anything if we were here late.
When I arrived, Ruka-senpai was already there.
“Good timing! Shuu-kun, can you get this?”
She was on top of the desk, trying to hang decorations on the blackboard, but she couldn’t quite reach. She was stretching out so far that it looked like she might fall.
“Leave it to me, Senpai.”
I switched places with her on the desk and hung out the decorations.
“Where are the other two?”
“They already left. They’ve got prep school. I wish their prep school would read the mood though.”
“It’s unavoidable, the exams won’t wait. Will you be okay?”
“Hmm, I actually have prep school soon too.”
“Then go. I’ll finish the rest.”
“Are you sure? I can skip…”
“It’s okay, it’s just the decoration left.”
She didn’t look too happy about it, maybe she’d been hoping I would give her the excuse to skip.
“Yeah. Thanks. Oh yeah, I’ll definitely come watch the play tomorrow! Good luck!”
“Thank you, but what will we do here then?”
“I’ll ask Kobayashi-sensei to cover for us, she is our adviser, so it’s fine! See you!”
Ruka-senpai left with the flopping of her footsteps.
“Now then, let’s finish up quickly.”
The others had mostly finished already, I just had to create the venue.
I put several desks together like a bar, lay a cloth over the top of them and arranged the bound books on top of that.
It wasn’t just the books for the festival, we also put out older books too for anyone interested.
I finished and let out a long breath, looking out of the windows.
The school had already fallen quiet, most of the students had probably gone home.
The sky was pitch-black, with stars dotting it.
I wonder if Eina is looking at the same stars, I thought idly.
The Eina I talked to was the Eina from five years in the past, so she couldn’t be looking at these stars. But… what about the current Eina?
Was she, on the same planet, at the same time, looking up at these stars.
I took out my phone. I’d not had any messages. I was really busy at the moment and couldn’t reply much, so Eina and I hadn’t talked much recently. Sliding my finger over the touchscreen, I called her.
It rang once and she picked up.
《Hello, this is Eina.》
《Good evening. It’s the real thing tomorrow, are you already home?》
“No, I’m still at school.”
《Wah, that’s tough.》
“Well, I’m about to go home.”
《It sounds like a fulfilling school life!》
Eina was completely right. Recently, my life had been surprisingly fulfilling.
“Yeah, it is. Practising for the play and preparing for the literature club is fun, but,” having heard Eina’s voice, I knew why I felt lonely, “I’m sure it’d be more fun if you were here too.”
Eina wasn’t here. I didn’t know her face, her name, or even her age, but I still felt that she should be next to me. I wanted to meet her.
But we couldn’t meet.
Because she lived five years in the past…
If we were just a long distance apart, we could still meet. I could get the train, or even a plane.
But the interval in time was insurmountable.
《…I would want to meet you if we could,》her clear soprano entered my ears, quiet and lonely, 《I wanted to prepare for the cultural festival with you, and to practice the play with you.》
I thought that maybe Eina felt the same as me, and I quietly held her voice in my heart.
“Thank you, Eina.”
We were silent for a while, utterly wordless. But my heart was at ease, maybe because I knew I was connected to her through my phone.
She wasn’t beside me, but I didn’t feel alone in the slightest.
《Umm…》 we spoke together before falling into silence waiting for the other to continue.
《Uhh, When is your birthday?》
“Saturday next week.”
《Eh, it’s that soon!? What do I do…?》
“What do you do?”
《Uh, ah, I was talking to myself. Ah, that’s right, then why don’t we go out together next Saturday?》
“Go out together?”
I didn’t understand what she meant.
《Of course, we won’t be able to meet. But if we go to the same place, it’s sort of like we’ve gone out together.》
“Ah, let’s do that.”
I checked my watch.
I really did have to head home soon.
“I’m hanging up then, I have to go home.”
《…Um, aren’t you hanging up.》
“I was waiting for you to.”
We both laughed.
《Then on three?》
Our voices mixed with the electronic tone as we hung up. Even after hanging up, my gaze lingered on my phone for a while.
It was the day of the festival. I did some preparations for the club and then headed to the classroom.
The classroom was a tumult of noise as people bustled about doing makeup, preparing costumes, and coordinating lighting equipment.
I searched for the President, wanting to go over things one more time, but I couldn’t find her.
“Is the President still with the student council?” I asked Sakai.
He made an unusually serious face as he answered.
“She still hasn’t come to school. I asked the student council too, but they haven’t seen her either.”
I made a mixed noise of shock and doubt.
“Hasn’t she contacted you?” He asked me.
“Nah, I don’t have her number…”
“President! You’re a bit late!”
A girl cried out from the door. I looked to see the President slowly entering the room. But she only gave the girl a glance and didn’t answer.
No, she did, her mouth moved.
However, her voice didn’t reach me. I had a bad feeling about this.
“President, are you okay?”
She approached and I could faintly hear her voice.
But it wasn’t her usual clear soprano, her voice was hoarse, and if I hadn’t seen her speak, I wouldn’t have known whose voice it was.
Her eyes were swollen and her cheeks were flushed. She obviously had a fever. Even the way she walked looked more like she was being dragged along.
“You’re obviously not.”
“Sorry, I didn’t sleep last night and I’m tired. It looks like I caught a cold as well,” she confessed.
“You didn’t sleep, why?”
“I got nervous when I was thinking about the performance today.”
“So you get nervous too…”
“Did you think I was a robot or something?”
She frowned in displeasure, puffing out her cheeks,
“No, just because you’re always so at ease addressing everyone during assemblies and such.”
“That’s because I’m always trying my best,” she managed to get out, before breaking into a hacking cough.
What should I do? It didn’t seem like she couldn’t speak, but acting with that voice would be quite difficult.
“We’ll have to use a substitute. Is there anyone…” the moment I began to speak, the girls all looked away, “Oi, this is an emergency.”
“Obviously none of us want to,” one of the girls stepped forward as a representative, “one of us stand in for the President? Everyone’s coming to see her, aren’t they? If one of us went out they’d go like ‘what’s with this ham’ or something like that, no way.”
“That’s right! They’d shout at us for wasting their time if some other girl came out!”
Immediately afterwards, he was dragged away by the girls.
“Then we’ll have to have you do it, but it’s too tough with that voice.”
“Hey, literature club, can you contact Eina-san?” The President asked hoarsely.
“Today’s a Saturday, so I should be able to.”
I called Eina, just as she asked.
《Hello, Eina here.》
《…Who is it?》
“It’s the President,” I told her.
《Ehh!?》 She let out a confused noise. 《What happened to your voice!?》
“I caught a cold. And so, I have a request…”
《If I can do anything to help, let me know!》
The President’s expression seemed to ease as if Eina’s words put her at ease.
“Thank you. Then would you do the voice for the lead role?”
She said with a calm expression.
We said in unison.
“Wait a minute, when you say just the voice, you mean have her do it by phone?”
“That’s what I mean.”
“Won’t she obviously get found out?”
“That’s fine. What about, the protagonist was injured, and mute, so the demon uses magic so we can hear her?”
《I don’t think it would seem unnatural that way…》
If the original author said so, then that would work within the fiction.
“Thank you. Then we’ll have the narrator say that later.”
《Right, wait, that’s not the problem! I can’t act!》
“I told you when we were in the park with literature club, didn’t I? ‘You try practising too.’”
《You did, but I’m no good at all…》
“No, you can do it. Or more accurately, no one but you can do it. The protagonist is you, right? You don’t need to act, just say the words.”
《But… I might end up speaking in a monotone…》
“That’s fine. She’s lacking in feelings and suffering. I know that you can do it,” the President said, before she started to choke.
“Eina, you can hear how she is, will you do it?”
《Okay, I’ll do my best!》
“And we’re ready. Right, you look cool, Yagi-kun.”
The girl in charge of costumes and makeup slapped my shoulder.
“Are you nervous?”
“I seriously am.”
“Geez, use the President as an example.”
I took a sidelong glance at her.
She was already dressed up as a shabby girl and looked ephemeral, as if she might disappear at any moment.
Even dressed up in such torn up clothes, she was still charming.
She was there quietly, with her eyes on the script, going over her last checks.
“Eina, it’s almost time, are you ready?”
I spoke to my phone where it had been placed by the sound system.
《I am! Leave it to me!》
She returned energetically with a voice containing no hint of nervousness.
I can’t be the only one nervous.
I let out a long sigh and straightened myself.
“Right, we’re starting!” Came the class representative’s yell as the President ran on stage from the wings.
A cheer greeted her onto the stage.
Eina’s line echoed throughout the hall.
《It’s painful, so painful. Maybe it would be easier if I was dead…》
Even though her voice was going through a sound system, it was still beautiful.
It was a perfectly clear, lovely soprano that was nice on the ears.
And then I headed onto the stage.
The classroom had been remodelled into a hall and was filled to capacity and I was overwhelmed by the greater number of spectators than I had expected.
“Young lady, might I ask of you a simple favour? Would you lend me your hand? My leg has been injured and I cannot stand.”
I was then on the stage for the rest of the play.
Throughout the first and second trials, the President and I, along with Eina, played our parts… with no major mistakes.
And then, finally, it was the third trial.
“I am on your side. Always and forever.”
As I spoke my line, I handed over the dagger prop to the girl, to the President.
The President’s mouth opened.
However, I couldn’t hear Eina’s voice.
Silence fell over the hall.
I glanced into the wings, and our classmates were panicking.
The audience didn’t seem to have realised anything was wrong yet.
What’s wrong, Eina? Why aren’t you saying anything…?
I went to speak but suddenly gave up. I shouldn’t think of Eina’s feelings, I should think of the character on the stage’s feelings.
What would the girl be thinking?
She’d be happy wouldn’t she? At feeling his love.
And then it came together. She was so happy she couldn’t get her feelings out.
“I… am on your side.”
No sooner had I repeated the line, tears welled from the President’s eyes. Those tears might have been an illusion I was under. It was as if Eina was in front of me, standing with me on the stage.
I felt sorry for the President saying it like that, but I saw the President as Eina.
《I can’t think of a life without you. I want to be with you.》 Eina gave her line in response to mine.
Now we were heading straight for the happy end.
“Man, that was brilliant.”
Once the play had ended, Sakai came bounding in from the wings.
“Yeah, the audience were really into it. Also here, the recording.”
Sakai handed over an SD card.
“Thanks, you’re a saviour.”
Sakai had recorded the play on his phone. He was a reporter for the newspaper club, so he had to watch it himself, so I had him record it at the same time.
“Oh yeah, why’d you not get Eina-chan to come? It would have been better in person, wouldn’t it?” Sakai asked. He was probably asking such a leading question because he wanted to know who she was.
“As tight-lipped as ever, huh. You’re not going to let anything slip.”
“Of course not.”
Even if I would, I don’t know anything about her.
“I’m going to the literature club for a while,” I said and left Sakai behind.
I rushed towards the clubroom to shake off the heart-rending loneliness.
On the way, I sent the recording to Eina.
After a while, I got a reply.
Eina: That was amazing, I’m so impressed! It’s incredible to see something I wrote on stage! I’m a bit embarrassed my voice is in there too though…
Shuu: Was it not how you imagined?
Eina: It was exactly like I imagined it! No, it was even better! Since…
Eina: I saw your face like this.
That’s right, this was the first time she’d seen my face.
Shuu: Did I ruin your impression?
Eina: Not at all! It was sort of… exactly like I thought… It was just like you!
At that Eina-like comment, I felt my heart warm.
It was the last day of the festival.
Our school had an after-festival, limited to current students. They used a stage in the gym, had a volunteer band and a pro-wrestling show in the hall.
I wasn’t the type to go and party, so I was sipping a drink in the corner of the hall, absently watching the festivities. There were many others doing the same, so I didn’t feel alienated.
“Literature club.” Someone clapped me on the shoulder, it was the President.
“Is this okay, aren’t the student council managing this?”
“It’s not like I do all of the work,” she replied as loudly as she could. The band was booming through the hall, so I felt kind of sorry for her.
I gestured outside with a glance and she nodded. We left the gym and went behind the hall.
The night wind was pleasant.
“I’m really sorry,” the President started as we walked, “I should have paid better attention to my health.”
“Don’t worry about it, you were busy. Besides, you managed to do the play even in that condition, you’re amazing.”
The President had ended up performing twice, the morning before and that afternoon. On the second time, her voice had gotten much better so she had spoken her lines herself.
“Yeah. You didn’t bother anyone, and even Eina seemed like she had fun.”
It was unfair to the President, but I was glad to be able to participate in the cultural festival with Eina, and she was happy for it too. It was a lucky break for us. Of course, I wouldn’t say that to the President, I couldn’t tell her that her getting a cold she had to struggle through was a ‘good’ thing, and it would have been rude to her acting too. But I really did want to let her know that she hadn’t caused any trouble.
“Thank you for your amazing acting, you really did well,” I said, and she looked away, her face slightly red.
“That goes from me too. Will you give my thanks to Eina too? I’ll be going now!”
The President ran off as if hiding her face.
She is cute sometimes, I thought.
I didn’t go back into the hall and instead stood in the night wind for a while.