“Before I tell you everything, I'd like to ask you something... Did Tsukimori ever tell you anything about his plans for the future?”
Kahoko stared back at him, like it was the first time she'd seen him. ‘Strange. Since when did Tsuchiura-kun worry about Tsukimori-kun's plans? Now that's definitely strange...’
He noticed her weirded-out look, and decided to press his case. “Answer first, then I’ll explain.”
She hesitated, and then said:
“Well, no... You know, when I’m with Tsukimori-kun, I’m the one who speak most of the time. Oh, of course I do that when we’re not practicing the violin...”
She smiled at the detail. She had never really given much thought about Tsukimori-kun's patience with her, until now.
At the sight of her wistful smile, Ryoutarou guessed that it would definitely be hard for him to tell her what he had to say, but he decided to get on with it anyway.
When Kakhoko noticed him sigh, she asked him naively:
“But why are you asking me? He would become a world-renowned violinist without any doubt. He would then go on world tours, ne, Tsuchiura-kun?”
“And that leads us to what I wanted to tell you...” he broke off, hesitant to go on.
Confused and curious at the same time, she decided to ask :
“What is it with Tsukimori-kun?”
“Hino... You see... The reason why Tsukimori wasn’t at school these days is...”
He turned on his heel and she stared at his broad back. The feeling of fright and worry that something bad might have happened to her friend made her heart twist, and she fidgeted on her seat. She had to ask if he was alright, whether he—
“... that he’s not in Japan anymore!”
He’d said it in one shot, one breath, a little louder than expected. He slowly turned around to face her and his heart ached at the sight of her face.
Kahoko was petrified, mortified even; she could have imagined everything but that possibility.
‘But... he didn’t tell me anything! Where did he go? And not even a word of goodbye? When shall I see him again?’
She caught sight of Tsuchiura's worried face, and she composed her expression into something that should have conveyed a calmness she did not feel during that time. She struggled to smile and Tsuchiura spoke again, this time even more softly.
“He left to study abroad in England. He'll probably attend a University there. I was...hoping he would tell of his immediate plans before his departure...”
Kahoko smiled a painful smile and looked away.
“Why should he tell me? We're not...really that close. It's not like he owes me anything--not like he ought to tell me everything. Besides, that is so like Tsukimori-kun, right? Keeping things to himself. I'm grateful that he took the time to help me, though. And...he probably thought it best and unnecessary to tell me...”
Her voice lowered at the same time as her head. A feeling of irritation coursed through her, and she tried to swallow only to find her throat blocked, she claimed:
“And what does his being here or not do with anything? Nothing's changed, right? Anyway, you really didn't get along with him well. And me...I was just a petty Gen-Ed student who's wasting his time. It's not like I'll miss him or anything, with that icy attitude of his!”
“Hino... You’re crying...”. He said as he just stated the obvious.
Then she noticed it. Several minutes ago, her vision had blurred but she didn’t felt the tears running on her cheeks until now.
‘Eh... Eeeeh? Why the hell am I crying? Why do I feel so... sad?”
“What the... Why...?”
She felt the pianist’s big hand on her head, patting gently as he tried to console her, and he whispered:
Kahoko raised her head and looked at him with eyes still blurry from the tears that wouldn't stop coming.
“Cry, Hino...” he continued, “Don't hold your feelings back. Come on, cry, I don't mind. I honestly understand how you feel. And if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, I'll be there. Always.”
As she couldn’t hold it anymore, the red-haired violinist started sobbing hard in his arms and she kept repeating the same questions.
“Why did he leave?”
“Why didn’t he tell me anything?”
“Why do I feel hurt when I think that perhaps I would never see him again?”
With a little hesitation but in all sincerity, Ryoutarou said softly:
“Idiot... isn’t it obvious?”
Perhaps he never would have the chance to love her like a man loves a woman, but one thing he knew. He would protect her like a big brother protecting his precious and frail little sister.