I have a message from another time...
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
by Benjamin D. Hutchins
© 2014 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"It's Only Rock 'n Roll"
A sunny Tuesday, and the Light Music Club members were just sitting down to their afternoon tea when there was a knock at the door; a moment later it opened and Azalynn put her head in.
"'Scuse us!" she said with a cheery smile. "May we come in?"
"C'mon in, everybody's welcome," said Ritsu with an expansive gesture. Then, as Azalynn entered the clubroom with Ui behind her, the club president added conversationally, "Have I mentioned that it's kind of weird you're still pretending you're an underclassman?"
"Don't you want me for your kōhai any more, Ritsu-senpai?" asked Azalynn with a wide-eyed, innocent look, causing Mio to come perilously close to snorting tea.
"Oh, hi, Ui!" said Yui brightly as she noticed that her sister had come in with Azalynn. "What's up?"
"Um... well... I don't want to intrude on your meeting - you must be really busy..." said Ui a bit hesitantly.
Not long before, Azusa would've stifled the bark of laughter that remark caused to well up inside her, but now she just let it out, startling both Mio and Ritsu slightly.
"We always have time for you, Ui-chan," said Mugi kindly. Rising from her seat, she gestured to it and said, "Sit down, I'll get you some tea."
Ui reddened a little. "Oh... no, thank you, Mugi-senpai, I... I won't take up a lot of the club's time. I just wondered... if I could ask for a little advice."
"Please," said Mugi firmly. "I insist."
Ui regarded the blonde for a moment, considering the look in her deep blue eyes, and then, almost meekly, took her seat.
"None of woman born may resist Mugi's hospitality," said Ritsu sagely. She tipped her chair back, hands behind head, and waited until Ui had been provided with a cup of tea and a cupcake, then went on, "So what can we do for you?"
"Well... um... I'm not sure if you know this, but, since Big Sis started playing the guitar last year, and I saw how much she loved it, I've kind of wanted to try it myself," Ui explained. "I mentioned it to Jun-chan back at the beginning of the term... she's in the Jazz Club, and she fixed it with one of her senpai so that I could borrow one of their spare guitars for a while, so I could try it out and decide if it was really something I wanted to do."
"Don't you play keyboard too, Ui?" asked Azusa.
"Not very much," Ui replied modestly. "I took some lessons when I was little, but I haven't really kept up with it. But..." She hesitated, then got a determined look in her eye and said decisively, "I like playing the guitar too. And I have some money saved up, so I want to buy my own." Her statement made, she became a little hesitant again as she went on, "So... I was hoping... maybe you could give me some advice on what to look for."
Yui gave her younger sister a puzzled, faintly hurt look. "Why didn't you just ask me?" she wondered.
"Yui, you don't know anything about guitar shopping, you just bought the first guitar you saw," Ritsu pointed out.
"One that's way too heavy for you and has a neck that's too big for your hands, so that now you have a hard time playing any normal guitar," Azusa added.
"And it would've cost 3000 yuan if Mugi hadn't intervened," Mio chipped in.
Yui pouted. "You guys just don't get it. Gīta and I were meant to be together. We're soul mates."
"Well, look, be that as it may," Azalynn put in, "maybe you can meet in the middle. You guys can give Ui-chan some practical advice, and then Yui can..." she made a vague gesture. "Consult the spirits."
"Ooo, I'm like a rock 'n roll miko," said Yui with a wide-eyed nod. "I like that. I think I just found my next stage costume!"
"Oh, good grief," said Mio fondly.
"Right then," said Ritsu decisively, banging her chair's front legs down and rising to her feet. "Club field trip!" She pointed grandly to the clubroom door. "To the music store!"
Ui blinked. "Wh-what? No, no - I don't want to cut into your time like that, surely you have things to..."
"Hey, part of the Light Music Club's purpose is to promote a love of music in the whole student body, not just the club membership," Ritsu said. "Mostly we do that by performing, but there's nothing that says we can't do it in a more hands-on way."
"Well... are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure! Let's get a move on, people! Time's wasting!"
On the way downstairs, they ran into Jun, who was prowling the second-floor hall looking for Ui, and Kaitlyn, who was just coming out of the staffroom after finishing up her paperwork for the day. Both of them were cheerfully swept up on the club's trajectory, the latter as their advisor and the former just in the name of hospitality.
When the group arrived in the lobby, there was a dark-haired, bespectacled girl in the blue tie of a second-year student changing her shoes at one of the lockers, getting ready to leave for the day. At the sight of her, Yui grinned and seized her arm in a hug with a cry of "Nodoka-chan! Come to the music store with us!"
Nodoka Manabe blinked behind her glasses and gave her childhood best friend a puzzled look. "Uh, why? I'm not a club member."
"Because it'll be fun!" Yui said. "And we haven't hung out together in ages. And after we'll all go get ice cream!"
"Uh... OK," said Nodoka, shrugging. She had nothing really pressing on that afternoon, and besides, Yui was right - they hadn't hung out in a while.
As the little crowd of them walked downtown, Nodoka reflected on just how long it had been. Certainly they hadn't spent nearly as much time together in high school as they had previously. Before she started high school and joined the Light Music Club, Yui hadn't had any close friends besides her sister and Nodoka. She had always been friendly and outgoing, and well-liked by her classmates, but she was too scattered, too unfocused, to form any really strong bonds besides the one she'd found, more or less by cosmic accident, with Nodoka in kindergarten.
Looking at her now, surrounded by her bandmates, her sister, Jun (who had been drawn into the club's orbit by both Azusa and Ui), and the visitors from the "big universe", Nodoka felt a surge of pride tempered with a little bit of wistfulness.
Yui really doesn't need me any more, she thought, and it made her happy and sad at the same time. The happiness won out as she reminded herself, But she still wants me around. Yui's faddish turn of mind, it seemed, did not extend to the things she truly, deeply loved; she hadn't lost interest in music, for example, and showed no sign of ever doing so. The thought that she herself was also in that category gave Nodoka a pleasant feeling of... of accomplishment, almost. Like in delivering Yui through the haze of middle school to this happier, more purposeful future, without being forgotten in the process, she had achieved a victory.
As she completed that train of thought, she came back from her reverie and noticed that Mio wasn't taking part in the chatter and banter of the rest of the group; instead, she was giving Nodoka a speculative little smile, as though she'd read it all on her face as she was mulling it over. Nodoka smiled back, reddening a little as if caught doing something embarrassing, and the moment passed as the group entered the shopping arcade where the Light Music Club's music shop of choice was located.
Upon entering 10GIÄ, the ten of them trooped straight to the basement, which was where the instruments lived (the ground floor being taken up mostly by records and sheet music). While a couple of members of staff looked on with indulgent smiles, the gang of them prowled the Wall of Guitars and discussed Ui's many options.
Ever the practical one, Mio asked a few probing questions about the budget the younger girl had to work with. This was well-defined, Ui being a careful and meticulous sort: she had ¥500 to spend on the instrument itself, and another 50 for incidentals.
Azusa took over then, gauging Ui's size relative to her own and discussing how that could affect her choices.
"Your hands are bigger than mine, and your reach is longer," she noted, "so you don't necessarily have to go with a short-scale guitar like Muttan; but you're not so big that you'd have a hard time with one either, if that's what you decide to go with."
"Yeah, you don't have man hands like Mio," said Ritsu, and then, "Ow."
"You thought Gīta was a little too big for you when you tried him out," Yui pointed out.
"Well, Gīta's technically too big for you, senpai, and your hands are bigger than Ui's," said Azusa.
"Unlike certain other parts," Ritsu muttered, and then (as Mugi, Azalynn, and Jun all snickered), "Ow."
"I've never heard of this Fang brand before," Azalynn remarked, "but they look a lot like Ibanezes."
"What kind of guitar have you been borrowing from the Jazz Club, Ui-chan?" Kate asked.
"It's a copy of a Stratocaster," Ui said. "Made by this same company, as a matter of fact," she added, indicating one of the Fang guitars Azalynn had noticed earlier.
"Do you like it?"
"It... well, it's not very well-made," Ui admitted, sounding reluctant to speak ill of the school's equipment. "Only two of the pickups work, and it's hard to keep in tune. I do like the shape, though. It's comfortable."
"Well, if you like a so-so copy well enough that you're sure you want to be a guitarist, then maybe that's a place to start," said Kate.
"And you're not exactly stuck for choices," said Jun wryly, indicating the good quarter of the wall that was covered in Strats and Strat clones.
Ui stood regarding the rainbow of different finishes available, her expression deeply thoughtful. Then she turned to Yui and asked, "What about you, Big Sis? What do you think?"
Yui stood next to Ui and considered the wall with her for a few moments, then turned a cheery smile to her sister and said, "Pick the one you love!"
That's not going to help, Mio said to herself; but a moment later, Ui's pensive expression cleared, and, with a smile, she reached decisively to the wall and took down one of the Stratocasters. It helped! Mio thought.
"Hmm," said Yui, her face taking on her Serious Look, as she leaned in over Ui's shoulder to consider her choice. "Can I?" Looking puzzled, Ui handed her elder sister the guitar. It was a brand new item, its chrome parts gleaming; the body was painted a rich minty green color that Azusa, a Fender owner herself, remembered was called Surf Green, and the fingerboard was the same pale maple as the rest of the neck.
Still frowning thoughtfully, Yui turned it over in her hands, examining the back cover and neckplate with every sign of critical concentration, then ran her hand gently up the neck and scrutinized the headstock before brightening and handing it back.
"OK, this one's for real," she said happily. She pointed to the Fender logo near the tuning machines and explained, "You can always tell the bad knockoffs because they say 'Made on Zipang' here. People from Zipang never say 'on Zipang', they say 'in Zipang', because they think of it as their country first and a planet second."
There was a momentary silence.
"Sometimes, Yui, it truly amazes me what you do and do not know," said Nodoka.
Yui put a hand behind her head and smiled bashfully, blushing. "Aw, shucks. Thanks, Nodoka-chan."
"I don't think that was a compliment, senpai," said Jun.
"Actually, it kind of was," Nodoka said.
"Excuse me," said Ui to one of the hovering staff members. "I'd like to try out this guitar, please."
Half an hour later, they left 10GIÄ in a happily chattering little flock, all gathered in a congratulatory way around Ui, who carried a brand new gig bag on her back. Full of good cheer, they adjourned to the ice cream parlor at the other end of the shopping arcade to celebrate.
"So," said Ritsu once all their orders had arrived. "How long before you two finally join the club?"
Jun coughed, nearly spitting a mouthful of her root beer float over Azusa, and had to spend a little while getting everything squared away respiration-wise.
"Wouldn't we just get in the way?" Ui wondered.
"Yeah, I mean..." Jun gave one last hack to clear her airway and tried again. "You five are already an amazing band. You don't need a couple of beginners cluttering up the place..."
"Hey, whoa there," said Ritsu, spreading her hands. "I'm not asking you to join the band, totally different thing." She paused, scratching her head sheepishly. "Wow, that sounded way less elitist in my head. Lemme try again. See, the thing is, I've been thinking about this lately, and... well, the Light Music Club and Hōkago Tea Time don't have to be the same thing."
Mugi nodded, catching her drift. "When Sawako was a student, there were quite a few people in the club who weren't members of Death Devil. We know one of them - Miss Kawakami, who manages the Livehouse."
Ritsu gave her a sidelong glance. "So she's 'Sawako' to you now?" she inquired. "Verrrry interesting."
Mugi gave her back a cheery little smile and said nothing, so after a moment, Ritsu returned to the topic at hand: "Remember what I said before we left the clubroom? The Light Music Club should be open to everybody who loves rock. We've been assuming that the club was the same thing as our band, because for the first year it was, and this year we only got one recruit, who fit right into the lineup," she added with a grin at Azusa, "but it ain't necessarily so."
"It can't be so indefinitely," Mio agreed, "or it'll disband again when we graduate. I don't want to see that happen."
"Heck, you guys could start your own band," Ritsu said.
"Just the two of us? What would we play?" Jun wondered.
"Well, you could take up drumming," Ritsu suggested; then she grinned a little evilly and added, "You wouldn't be very good at first, but that would just make you guys a more convincing Red Triangles cover band."
Mio snorted, rolling her eyes, as Mugi, Azalynn, and the Hirasawa sisters giggled.
"You should join too, Nodoka-chan," Yui put in.
"I'm a little bit busy being on the Student Council," said Nodoka dryly. "Besides, you know the only musical instrument I can play is the tambourine."
"We could teach you to sing," Mugi suggested. "I'll bet you would have a lovely singing voice."
"I'll... think about it," Nodoka said.
"So whadya say?" Ritsu persisted. "You know if you stay in the Jazz Club, the upperclassmen are just gonna keep you down for another year and a half. We don't operate like that in the Light Music Club! Equal opportunities for all!"
"Says the girl who was just encouraging me to reinvent myself as the next Megumi Red," replied Jun, deadpan.
"It was only a suggestion!" said Ritsu. "Anyway, c'mon. We've got the best clubroom atmosphere in the school. You know it. I know it..."
"Wouldn't we upset that balance?" Ui wondered.
"Yeah, I don't wanna mess up your feng shui," Jun agreed, only half-sarcastically.
"Well, why not give it a try for a few days?" Mugi said. "If you're uncomfortable, you don't have to stay."
"Yeah!" said Yui. "Let's try!"
"What do you means 'let's'?" Mio asked her. "You're already in the club."
"I meant all of us together," Yui said. "To see if it works."
"Maybe we should check with our faculty advisor," Azusa suggested, and they all turned to see Kate at the end of the table, contemplating them all with an affectionate little smile.
"Membership matters are entirely up to the club's own discretion," she said.
"Well..." Jun looked at Ui, who looked back at her, and they both shrugged slightly. "OK, we'll try it. Just... you know, for the rest of the week."
"Yay!" cried Yui, leaning over and doing her best to hug both of them (but mostly only getting Ui). "What about you, Nodoka-chan?"
"I told you, I'm really busy already," Nodoka said, but then, after seeing the change in Yui's face that presaged an epic pout, she added, "But I'll see if I can't stop by for a visit now and then."
"You won't regret it," said Ritsu with a grin. "And please don't suspect for a moment that you keep getting the best cuts of the cakes because I'm trying to bribe you or anything."
"Perish the thought," said Nodoka dryly.
"Oh, that reminds me," said Mugi, and, digging in her school bag, she came up with the extra tickets to the Death Devil show on Friday. After explaining what they were for, she offered one to each of what Ritsu dubbed the "provisional members". Nodoka surprised Mio a little by accepting hers cheerfully - even eagerly.
"Well, ladies," said Kate as they all left the ice cream parlor, "I'm going straight from school to the airport after classes are over tomorrow, so for practical purposes, I'm afraid this is goodbye for now. I don't want to hear about any wild parties in the clubroom with your new members while I'm gone," she added with a wink.
"Oh, don't worry, Kate-chan-sensei," said Ritsu airily. "You won't... hear about any..."
"Have a good time in Nanisivik, sensei," Azusa put in.
"Yes, enjoy the festival," said Mugi. "I've been to the winter solstice festival in the North once before, but never to the South Pole's. I'm told it's quite something, especially on the third night."
"Um... say hello to Corwin for me," said Mio, blushing a little. She glanced sharply at Ritsu, as if daring her to say anything, but for once - to her surprise - her best friend had no remark to offer; just a little smile that was completely without challenge or sarcasm.
"I'll do that," Kate promised. "I'll see you all next week. Oh - Ritsu, could I speak to you for a moment before I go, please?"
Ritsu blinked, glancing curiously at the others, then said, "Uh, sure. I'll catch up, you guys."
Once the others were out of earshot, Kate said, "I just wanted to say I was pleased by what you said about the club - your thoughts about what it's really for. That's a step, and a risk, a lot of people with such a solid group dynamic already in place wouldn't be willing to take." She smiled. "You're all maturing as musicians... and as friends. It makes me feel good. Like I'm making a difference. And it reminds me... of older times."
"Eh heh heh... oh, stop," said Ritsu, red-faced, her hands behind her head. "I'm just makin' it up as I go along... we all are."
"I know," said Kate with a knowing wink. "But that's rock 'n roll." She clapped the younger musician on the shoulder. "Rock on, Ricchan. I'll see you all next week."
"See you," said Ritsu. "Have a good time."
As she walked away, heading back toward the school, she made it as far as the next corner before she was surrounded by all the others, clamoring to know what Kate had said to her.
"She said..." Ritsu paused, then grinned. "She said 'Rock on.'"
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Features Future Imperfect
The Order of the Rose: A Duelist Opera
The Federation Lives Forever!
Chapter Seven: "It's Only Rock 'n Roll"
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Team
Based on K-On! created by
E P U (colour) 2014