@Koei: they make perfect sisters, imo. :3 and writing them as old ladies is fun~ as for Aika's wife, naturally, it's gonna be a while before I reveal that heheheh. Also, "Somebody That I Used to Know" is indeed a part of my playlist for this story, but I'm holding out on using it for the name of a particular chapter.
@mochi.rini: thanks for the kind comment~ pretty much have the same things to say here as I've said to Koei. Tho I'm just bad at responding to comments
Uwehhh this took me longer than it should have but things are getting more complex heheh enjoy!Chapter IV: Four Love Songs
The next day I arrived very, VERY late to my new job. Had my boss not been a childhood friend of mine, this might have been a terrible mistake on my part, but as it were, Junjun happened to be one of the most laid-back people I knew. Still, four hours later and I hadn't exactly stopped apologizing to her yet. It was a slow day at the Hello! Cafe, and so as soon as I had served the last customer waiting in line, I darted into the kitchen to find her supervising the other trainee, a girl called Linlin. Said trainee was absolutely screwing up an otherwise perfectly good batch of pancakes, but Junjun turned away from her when I entered, raising an eyebrow at me.
"How are you supposed to serve customers from back here?"
"I just wanted to apologize again, I really am sorry for being late... I don't want you to think I'm taking advantage of our friendship, Jun... Some really crazy stuff happened last night..."
The tall Chinese woman leaned against the countertop slightly, curiosity creeping into her eyes.
"Crazy stuff? Like what- Careful, Lin- you're burning that one..."
"Well, I joined a band..."
"Eh? Really? What band?"
The elder of the two Chinese women snorted at the name, while the younger looked up from her work, eyes widening appreciatively.
"Lin, the pancakes- definitely not slow to get yourself into trouble, huh, Reina?"Trouble?
I must have looked completely confused at that point, but whether or not Junjun noticed was lost because Linlin somehow managed to spill the rest of the batter all over the floor. I watched as the two women bickered with each other in Chinese, deciding that it was a good time for me to slip back out to the front. I would just have to ask my friend later about what she meant, but for now a line had formed in front of the register and I set my focus on work.
I was grateful that Junjun had offered me this job, really; I had been a waitress before so it wasn't entirely new territory for me. But that was just it. This was fine for now, but I didn't exactly want to work in cafes and restaurants forte rest of my life. It was much too easy, smiling and catering to people's needs everyday; I didn't find it beneath me, I just thought it was boring.
But last night's performance on the other hand... now there was something I could see myself doing over and over and never getting tired of it. I hadn't expected to feel that way, like it was the most natural place on earth for me to be. It was as if there was another person inside of me, and the stage was the switch that brought her to the front. The question is, though... What exactly have I gotten myself into?
I was so lost in my thoughts that i hadn't even noticed that she'd walked in. She was staring at me with a vaguely amused smirk on her lips, and I realized that I had no idea how much time I'd spent spacing out. For all I knew, she could have been standing there for a while... I felt heat rising to my cheeks and ears, embarrassed at having been caught off guard, and I adopted a scowl in order to save some of my dignity.
"Niigaki-san." I managed, the syllables coming out a bit clipped, "What brings you here? ...Actually, how did you know I was here? I didn't tell any of you where I worked..."
The bassist shrugged, pulling a slip of paper out of her back pocket. I recognized it as the one I had given to Takahashi last night, with my address and phone number scribbled hastily across the front.
"Well, I went to your place, but obviously, you weren't there. The kid told me where to find you, though, so here I am."
"And you want... what?"
She glared at me slightly, crossing her arms.
"You know, I get that maybe we didn't start off on the right foot, but this isn't exactly the way to build any kind of camaraderie with a bandmate, yeah?"
I thought about that a moment, tempted to point out that she had been the one to be sort of gruff with me all along, but I knew she was also right. Niigaki seemed to have some sort of chip on her shoulder, fine, that was her problem. I'd figure out what it was soon enough and learn how to avoid making it worse. I didn't want to spend a great deal of my free time making enemies after all.
"Fine. Reina is listening." I stated a bit petulantly, mirroring her stance. The bassist gave me a funny look before going on to explain her sudden appearance.
"Aichan asked me to come pick you up for practice... Whenever you're done here anyway. Though it doesn't look like you're all that busy..."
She was right, we weren't, but I still had a few hours until we closed up shop, so I wasn't really free to go either. I was about to sigh and tell her to come back later, when Junjun and Linlin finally emerged from the kitchen, the former still attempting to get bits of batter out of her hair as she approached me from behind. Strangely, she seemed to lock eyes with Niigaki as she moved closer, lazily slinging an arm around my shoulder. The bassist seemed confused, the first expression other than jaded irritation that I'd actually seen on her.
"Junjun? I didn't know you worked here..."
"I'm the manager now." The Chinese girl replied, not unkindly, but still firm enough to make me sense that something was going on. They knew each other? Okay so maybe it wasn't so far-fetched, the two living in the same city and all, but it seemed to me there was a familiarity there that would have classified them as more than acquaintances. Niigaki looked almost guilty now, but she was staring off to the side and picking nervously at the edge of her jacket, and Junjun said nothing else after that.Awkward...
"Reina, why don't you take off early today?" I looked up at Junjun, blinking, but her eyes remained on Niigaki, "I don't think we're going to have many more customers and even if we do, Linlin could use the experience more than you."
That statement elicited a bit of a pout from the younger Chinese girl, but neither one of us were about to argue with our boss.
"...Sure. I'll be here on time tomorrow, I promise." I replied slowly, still a bit distracted by the weird atmosphere. Nevertheless, I obediently made my way back into the employee restroom, slipping out of my uniform and into something way more casual. When I returned, Junjun had disappeared back into the kitchen and Linlin was already busy dealing with a customer, leaving Niigaki still standing off to the side, out of place. I guess I have a LOT of things to ask Junjun later... maybe I'll get her to have dinner with me or something...
I walked over to the bassist, slinging my bag around my shoulder.
"Well, I guess I'm ready to go now. Shall we?"
She nodded absently, seeming to finally shake whatever thoughts had paralyzed her out of her head with a grunt. I waved goodbye to Linlin and followed Niigaki out of the shop. She led me around the corner and I almost fell flat on my face when I realized what she was walking towards, watching dumbfounded as she began to fish for keys from her pocket.
"Niigaki-san... That's... Is that yours?!"
The bassist was leaning against a sleek black sportscar, and though I knew next to nothing about cars, I didn't need to to be able to tell that said vehicle was worth a pretty penny or two. Niigaki, however, seemed absolutely unphased, finally locating her keys. She moved around to unlock the passenger door, opening it and looking expectantly at me. The gesture caught me a bit off guard and I couldn't help but blush slightly as I got in the car, muttering quiet thanks under my breath. She soon hopped into the driver's side, starting the ignition, and I was going to question her again when she finally decided to speak.
"No, it's not mine. Well, not technically. I suppose it may as well be, but it actually belongs to Eri."
"Eri...? Kamei-san? How...?"
Niigaki easily pulled out of the space she had parked in and began driving through the streets; I noted with some relief that she appeared to be a cautious driver.
"Eri's father is some sort of... Well he's an investor. Plays the stock market game and all that junk."
"So she has a lot of money...?"
The bassist smirked faintly, keeping her eyes on the road.
"Well that's a bit of an understatement. I'll let you decide that for yourself when you see their home."
"Is that where we're going?"
"It's where we have most of our rehearsals. Sometimes Sayu convinces her boss to let us play at his club when it's not open, but that's never a reliable option... And then Aichan and I don't have any room in our apartment."
"Ah..." I murmured quietly, taking in this information. I definitely hadn't expected any of them to be insanely rich, but I supposed that if I were rich it wasn't something I would broadcast either. And then the matter of Takahashi and Niigaki living together... Realization dawned on me; maybe there was something serious going on there. It would have helped to explain Niigaki's aloofness around me, anyway. I made a mental note to study their interaction during practice.
For now, I would focus on the girl beside me.
"So how do you know Junjun?"
Niigaki stiffened, obviously hesitant to answer that.
"...I could ask you the same question. I thought you just got here yesterday. How is it you already know someone?"
Her tone was a bit accusing and it irritated me, but I figured that maybe if I answered her questions first then she would answer mine.
"Our parents were friends for a long time, so my sister and I grew up with her. They moved away when I was fifteen, but we always stayed in touch. So when she found out I was coming here, she offered me a job."
I watched Niigaki process my answer, the suspicion fading from her face and replaced with... relief? What exactly was she hiding? If I thought I could push and get an answer from her, I would have tried, but I wasn't that naive. Asking Junjun instead seemed like a much better idea.
We sat in silence for a while after that, and I turned to look out the window, realizing that we had left the city and were going down some pretty winding roads. I was beginning to wonder if she was lost, and then I saw it: just beyond the crest of a hill on my right was a gigantic mansion, bigger even than the ones I had seen on tv before. And we were driving towards it.
"What did you do to her, Gaki-san? She looks kinda pale..."
"She's just overwhelmed I think. Walking into your house for the first time is intimidating."
Niigaki had ushered me briskly through the mansion, directly towards what she told me was Kamei's personal wing of the building. From what I understood the strange girl had ten rooms or so that belonged to her alone, although the bassist was quick to add that the drummer only used one for herself aside from the room the band rehearsed in. This was the room we had entered, and it was definitely perfect for a band, complete with sound equipment and a small stage. Kamei was the only one there when we arrived, and she was quick to approach me, concern on her face.
"I'm fine... Niigaki-san is right," I managed, finally able to get over my shock a bit and gazing around the room, "You guys have everything you need right here, that's so awesome..."
"Yep. Compliments of my father..." Kamei replied, and even though she was smiling, I could still pick up on the disdain in her voice. When I looked at her more closely I realized that she looked a bit different than she had last night. She was more... alert, perhaps. Her eyes were clearer, but she seemed on edge as well. She began to move towards the door. "Gaki-san, I'm going to, uh..."
Something unspoken passed between them, and the bassist simply nodded as the other girl left the room. She moved up onto the stage after Kamei shut the door, kneeling down to begin taking her guitar out of its case. Before I could even pose the question, she started speaking.
"Nope. If she wants to tell you herself, she will, and in her own time. Though it's not like she can hide forever." She stood up, slinging the guitar strap around her shoulder and turning to look at me.
"There's a lot you don't know. For now, lets leave it at that."
"Fair enough..." I mumbled, awkwardly rubbing my arms and joining her on the stage. "So where are Takahashi-san and Michishige-san?"
The question seemed to strike a nerve and I watched as Niigaki very nearly dropped her bass, fingers slipping and accidentally plucking a sharp note into the air. She recovered quickly however, enough to scowl at me again.
"I don't know, I'm sure they'll be here soon..."
As if on cue, the door opened and the blonde leader and the dark-haired rabbit entered the room, both laughing and smiling. I watched Niigaki carefully, taking note of the way her frown deepened, adding more pieces to the puzzle in my head. Takahashi soon had my attention, though, making a beeline for me as soon as she realized that I was there.
"Ah, Reina-chan, how are you?"
"I'm doing fine. I'm ready to start rehearsing with everyone." Well, it was true, but really I didn't know what to say to the woman. She had an intense gaze and radiated confidence so it was safe to say she intimidated me. More than a little bit. And I couldn't help but be disarmed by her charming smile, either, and my answer had earned me one of those.
"That's good to hear, that's the kind of energy we need here."
I could only nod, smiling back at her as she ascended the stage and walked over to her keyboard. I then felt an uncomfortable prickling on the back of my neck and turned to realize that Michishige was coldly smirking at me. She moved closer, and I felt myself growing a bit light-headed as I tried to focus anywhere but on her cleavage or the amount of leg she was showing with her current outfit.
"It's nice to see you again, kitten~" She breathed, tracing a finger down my arm, making my knees grow weak. The warning sirens in my head were completely drowned out by her voice and I was helpless to speak. Fortunately for me, Niigaki seemed to notice my predicament and snapped at her.
"Sayu, leave her alone. She's not going to be able to sing with you trying to get in her pants before every rehearsal."
The rabbit pouted at that, feigning offense, but not once taking her eyes off me.
"I wouldn't do such a thing~"
"Yes you would," Niigaki responded, unamused, "Just so you could say you've slept with everyone in the band again."
"Well you know what they say," she began, and I could feel her warm breath on my cheek as she moved even closer, my eyes instinctively fluttering shut, "No song unsung, no wine untasted..."
"And I say leave her alone or I'll come over there and knock you flat on your back."
Michishige tore her eyes away from me to glower at Niigaki, who shot her an equally intense glare.
"Risa..." Takahashi's voice held a note of warning in it, and the bassist backed down first, muttering things under her breath as she went on to finish setting up her instrument. I sighed with relief, but it did not last, because Michishige's attention returned to me.
"Let's do well today then. We can always talk later." She gently stroked my cheek before stepping around me, sauntering over to where her guitar lay. I snapped out of it, once again unsure whether or not I liked the game she was playing or if I just felt violated by it. I wasn't exactly sure what the rules were anyway...
I glanced over at Niigaki- Risa, whispering a quiet thank you. She nodded, though her expression remained neutral; she disliked me less than she disliked Sayumi, that much was obvious and that was why she had stuck up for me. I was grateful nonetheless.
Kamei finally returned after a while, staggering slightly when she entered the room. For the most part she was walking normally, and smiling as always, but when she passed me on stage I realized that her eyes were glazed over with a look that told me she wasn't entirely with us. But she sat down at her drumset anyway, warming up and easily tapping off a few complex rhythms.Perhaps I'm imagining things...
In any case, Risa was right. There was a lot that I didn't know.