Chapter 3: Defying Gravity
Dawn hadn't quite broken, but Sawako was already at school — with Tsumugi, whom she'd asked to come in early for a special meeting.
"So that's my idea for your gimmick," finished Sawako. "Now be honest — would doing this upset you? If so, I'll understand."
Tsumugi was silent. Sawako could see her eyes starting to well up with tears.
Uh oh, the teacher thought. "I'm sorry! I won't make you do it. Forget I even —"
The blonde shook her head firmly. "I'm... I'm just so happy..."
"This is something I never even dreamed could happen. I've never been so touched..." She rubbed the tears from her eyes. "Of course I'll do it, Teacher! It will be an honour!"
In every life, there are key points of decision — moments when our future hinges on the choice we make. Sawako didn't realize it, but she had just hit one of those moments.
She could tell that something about Tsumugi's reaction was... off. The girl was far too enthusiastic about a proposal that would have outraged Ritsu and sent Mio screaming from the room. Sawako wondered if she should ask Tsumugi why she was so excited.
She chose not to look a gift horse in the mouth. She would regret it.
"When can I start?" asked Tsumugi eagerly.
"Not for a couple of days. We need to do this gradually. In the meantime, there's something else you can start on."
Tsumugi patted the large carrying case beside her. "Is it related to your request that I bring this?"
"Exactly. Here's how it's going to work..."
Mio watched as Ritsu vanished into the clubhouse. "I can't believe this is still here," she said.
"Of course it is!" Ritsu called back. "We got that lock for the door, remember?"
"Not the chair. The clubhouse. We used to play here what, ten years ago? It still looks just the same."
Ritsu emerged, decked out in her wheelchair and casts. "I guess there aren't any kids the right age around here. Or maybe we left a little of our spirits behind and they've been hauntin' the place. Wooooo..."
"Stop that!" Mio wrapped her long black coat a bit tighter around herself.
"Ha! Why should I? You can't hit a handicapped girl. I'm safe forever! I can even call you fa—"
Mio disillusioned Ritsu. Twice.
"Ow. I'm reporting you for disabled-girl abuse."
"That should be interesting, what with you abusing disability itself."
They resumed the walk/roll to school. Ritsu took a curious look at Mio. "So what's with the coat?"
The bassist sighed. "If we have to play these roles, I guess we may as well play them convincingly. A shy girl would want a big coat to wrap herself in, right?"
"Not really. It would draw attention."
"...Well, I'm just wearing this because it's cold."
Ritsu smirked. "Didn't think it through, did ya?"
Before long, they reached the school gates. A hush spread through the crowd of students as they passed; faces froze in shock. Some of the first-year girls even pointed, forgetting politeness in their amazement.
"Move along, ladies," said Ritsu. "Nothing to see here. She's just wearing a big coat." Mio glared at her.
Tsumugi met them at the stairs. "Good morning! How are you on this beautiful day?"
"Uh, fine," said Ritsu. "Aside from the obvious."
"Good! I'm so glad we're all happy! What a day! What a world!"
The other two traded a look. Even by her standards, Tsumugi was glowing today.
"We ready?" asked Ritsu, gesturing at the stairs.
"No!" said Mio. "Not until Azusa gets —"
"Morning," said Azusa, appearing behind Mio. "Can you believe we're going to do this? I can't believe we're going to do this."
"I can't wait!" said Tsumugi. "It'll be fun!"
Azusa nudged Mio and muttered something she couldn't quite hear. "Pardon?" she said.
"Glmssms," muttered Azusa slightly louder.
"Oh!" Mio dug out Sawako's glasses case. "Why didn't you say anything, Ritsu?"
The drummer shrugged. "Am I your glasses' keeper?"
"Let's start!" said Tsumugi, moving closer to the wheelchair.
Azusa did the same, but Mio didn't move; she just glared through the glasses at her friend. "Well, Ritsu?"
"Get off your rear and help us lift this thing!"
All three girls stared at Mio.
"Oh," she said, blushing with embarrassment... which was immediately replaced with anger. "We're lifting it with you in it?"
"We have no choice," said Tsumugi. "People are watching."
"It was hard enough getting it down the stairs with her help! How are we supposed to —"
"Let's just get this over with," said Azusa, taking her position. "Hesitation looks suspicious."
"But we had four people before! How's Mugi supposed to lift her side alone?"
The rich girl rolled up her sleeves. "We can do it, Mio! Let's go!"
Mio scowled. She took her post beside Azusa with great reluctance.
Ritsu took out her drumsticks and tapped them. "One, two, three, four! Heave!"
The three musicians lifted the wheelchair by the handles so it wouldn't tip over. Grunting with the strain, they managed to slowly carry it up the stairs. Their efforts were helped neither by the gawking crowd of students nor by Ritsu's occasional shouts of "Mush!", but somehow they made it.
Mio and Azusa both fell over, exhausted. "That was awesome!" said Ritsu. "It was like being a queen in a sedan-chair!"
"You would make an excellent queen, Ricchan," smiled Tsumugi.
"Oh ho ho! Definitely! What do you think, servant Mio?"
"I think..." said Mio, getting to her feet, "that I am not doing this again."
"NO." The bassist glared right in Ritsu's face, eyes ablaze with fury. "Never again! This is crap and I won't do it! Buy an elevator! And then kill yourself!"
Mio stormed off to her class.
"Huh," said Ritsu. "That was actually scarier with the glasses."
Ms. Kawasumi didn't like letting another teacher step in during her homeroom class, but this situation was unique. "Class," she said, "Ms. Yamanaka has come to speak to you briefly. Give her your full attention."
Sawako stepped forward and gave her best motherly teacher smile. "Well, girls," she said, "I'm sure you have a few questions this morning."
They certainly should, thought Ms. Kawasumi, glancing around the room. As if Tainaka weren't enough of a spectacle, there were Hirasawa and her sister. And what was that big black thing Kotobuki had brought with her?
After a moment, one student raised her hand. "Where are your glasses, Ms. Yamanaka?"
"Er... I'm trying out contact lenses for a while."
Another hand went up. "Are they comfortable?"
"Very. I hardly notice they're there."
"How much did they cost?" asked a third student. "I've thought about getting contacts, but the good ones are expensive."
"There are disposable ones too," said the girl next to her. "But they're probably not as good."
"Lately they've been making contacts that are just for changing your eye colour," added another student. "Remember when Yuiko had pink eyes as part of her Hallowe'en costume?"
"That was so weird!"
"I could never wear contacts. Putting something right on your —"
"RITSU! Oh no, Teacher! What happened to poor Ritsu?" shouted Ritsu.
The class turned, slightly embarrassed, to look at the drummer.
Sawako cleared her throat. "Yes. Class, I'm afraid there was a terrible accident on the weekend. The light music club was coming in for extra practice —"
Everyone gasped. "Really?" "Extra practice?" "That light music club?" Ritsu sighed, thanking her lucky stars for once that Mio was in another class. This reaction would have mortified her (and guess who she would have taken it out on?)
"It's true that we have sometimes been undisciplined," explained Tsumugi. "But that's not the case anymore. We are very busy preparing for Regionals."
This news excited the class too, at least the music fans. "That's awesome!" said one girl. "Good luck!"
"We'll cheer you on!" said another.
"Do your best! Fight!" said a third.
"You'll lose," muttered Ichigo, fiddling with a lock of hair.
Sawako waited for the fuss to die down and then resumed her story. "As I was saying, there was a practice on the weekend. Yui decided to come in early —"
"Really?" "Early?" "That Yu—"
"AHEM!" Dead silence. Sawako realized that in her annoyance, she'd forgotten to use her Sawako voice. "I mean, ahem. So Yui came in early so she could surprise the others. Unfortunately, her plan was to jump down from the roof to meet them."
Ritsu rolled her eyes. Big improvement over the trying-to-fly story.
"You see, Yui is very innocent, and she believed thinking happy thoughts would let her fly down to —"
"Oh, come ON!"
"And Ritsu," said Sawako with a pointed stare, "tried to save Yui. But she paid a price for her heroism. When Yui landed on her, her legs broke from the impact. She'll be in a wheelchair until they heal. It's going to take some time — at least a month."
The class made noises of distress and sympathy.
"As for Yui, she bounced off and fell into a bush. Thanks to Ritsu, she didn't break anything... but one of the branches poked her in the eye and damaged her optic nerve. She'll be unable to see for the next little while. At least a month."
More commotion. One dismayed girl asked, "It stabbed both her eyes?"
"Long branch. Anyway, that's why Ui is here."
Yui's sister, sitting at right angles to her, nodded firmly. Her face was determined and optimistic, but it was easy to see she'd been crying. Ritsu raised an eyebrow. Surely Yui didn't forget to... nahhh.
"Now, Ritsu and Yui have it rough right now, and I know you'll all do your best to help them. I don't want to hear anybody making fun of them or gossipping. They don't need any more problems to struggle with."
Huh, thought Ritsu. That's a nice gesture, Sawa-chan.
Himeko raised her hand. "Does that mean we shouldn't tell our parents about this?"
"Exactly. That's very important. Especially if your parents are friends with the Tainakas or the Hirasawas. They, um, deserve their privacy."
Ritsu sighed. Of course. Ulterior motive.
"This is so sad!" said Eri. "Poor Ritsu and Yui!"
"And Mio," said Yui. "She caught a little of what I've got."
"...Injuries are contagious?"
Everyone leaned as far away from Yui as possible.
"Just kidding!" shouted Ritsu. "Right, Yui? That was a joke. Mio is really just trying out glasses for a little while."
"At least a month," added Sawako.
Yui was about to say more, but Ritsu shut her down with an angry glare.
"Well, that's not so bad," said Eri. "But I feel terrible for you two! And all this with Regionals coming up!"
"Aw, don't be upset," said Ritsu. "We'll be all right. We don't want anybody being sad over us." You know, since it's a pack of lies and all.
"That's right!" declared Tsumugi, standing up suddenly. "Every dark cloud has a silver lining, and we'll find it together! We still have the most important thing of all!"
Everyone stared at Tsumugi as she picked up the large carrying case she'd brought to class. With one swift motion, she whipped it open and took out...
"Your keytar?" said Yui.
Tsumugi tossed the strap over her shoulder and turned the instrument on. Without warning, she began playing.
The tune sounded familiar, but Ritsu couldn't quite place it. She wondered what it was, and she really wondered why Sawako wasn't putting a stop to this. In fact, the teacher was leaning against the blackboard with a satisfied look. (Ms. Kawasumi, on the other hand, was clearly shocked.)
And then Tsumugi started singing.
"There's nothing you can do that can't be done," she began, making her way to the left side of the class. "Nothing you can sing that can't be sung... Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game... It's easy!"
Standing by Yui and Ui, she sang the chorus straight to them. "All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love, love... Love is all you need!"
The sisters smiled at each other. Sawako gave an approving nod. Ritsu was starting to wish a meteor would crush the school with them all in it.
Tsumugi went into another verse, this time approaching Ritsu. "There's nothing you can know that isn't known... Nothing you can see that isn't shown... Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.. It's easy!"
The blonde whipped out a photo of Mio and put it on Ritsu's desk. "All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love, love... Love is all you need!"
"C'mon, meteor," whispered Ritsu. "Any time now."
Tsumugi went into an instrumental bridge. As she played, she wandered around the class, giving approving smiles to her classmates. She always did this two at a time; apparently she'd sorted the class into pairs by some mysterious metric she alone understood.
At last Tsumugi moved to the front of the classroom for the final chorus. As she sang, her eyes never left Sawako. "All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love, love... Love is all you need!"
The class cheered for Tsumugi. Any awkwardness had worn off — her playing was too good not to enjoy. A couple of students shouted things like "That was amazing!"
"Thank you," said Tsumugi with a little bow. She returned to her seat.
"Excellent performance," said Sawako. "We should all take your message to hea—"
"What the hell was that?" shouted Ritsu.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ritsu. I didn't realize you were so eager to get to work. I'll turn you back over to Ms. Kawasumi."
Ritsu meekly turned to Tsumugi. "...Encore?"
In the lunch line, Jun was practically exploding with surprise. "Regionals? You're going to Regionals? You?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Azusa, picking out a bun.
"You're in the light music club! It's the least serious club in school! Even the Cheese-Tasting Club has more dedication than you guys!"
Azusa bopped Jun on the head with her bun. "What you mean to say is that you thought we weren't dedicated, and now you know better."
Her friend gave her a sly look. "Hmm... no, I don't think so. What I mean to say is that you're up to something."
"Don't be silly."
Just then, the cafeteria crowd started buzzing. Jun looked to see what everyone was so excited about. Azusa didn't bother — she could guess. The light music club had entered the building.
"Make way!" said Ritsu needlessly, as the crowd had already made more than enough room for her wheelchair to pass. Behind her, Tsumugi and Ui helped Yui along. Mio in Sawako's glasses brought up the rear, blushing and clearly wishing she were anywhere else.
A first-year girl stepped forward. "R-Ritsu! Ma'am! May I sign your cast?"
"Sure," said the drummer. "Long as you don't address it to 'Ma'am'."
"Thank you!" The girl took out a pen and looked for a good spot to sign. Ritsu waved the rest of the band ahead, and they proceeded to their usual table. As they walked, Yui swept her cane back and forth in a pattern that seemed calculated to detect obstacles, but on closer inspection was completely random.
Ritsu's first-year fan continued examining the cast. "Who's... Mugitsu?" she asked.
The drummer sighed. "Tsumugi's evil twin sister."
"Oh." She looked elsewhere. "And who's Gitsumu?"
"Her other one," said Ritsu, sighing again.
"Should... should I sign with a fake name too?"
"Hey, might as well. I don't actually know your real one."
Back in the lunch line, Jun was staring at Azusa like a judge stares at a delinquent.
"Oh, stop it," said Azusa.
"Not up to something, huh?"
"Well, I'm not," she clarified. And oh, how she wished it were true.
"No, you're the cute one," whispered Sawako into her cell phone.
"...Well, yeah, I do work out. ...Yeah, those are good points. But I'm still going with you.
"We can fight over it tonight at dinner. Or maybe back at your place, hmmmm?
"...Oh, still being cleaned? My place then. No problem.
"Let's say 5:30. I have a feeling those brats will be whiny again today. You have no idea how annoying they are. I swear, if I ever get those photos back from Ritsu, I'm cutting the whole bunch of 'em loose.
"...No, light music, remember? I don't know anything about journalism.
"Okay. See you then. You t—
"Shhh! I'm at work! Save the naughty talk for when we're alone. Okay, bye for now."
The teacher hung up her phone and sank into her seat, grinning like the cat that caught —
She spun to see her boss right behind her. "Principal Yamada! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
"That would be tragic. I apologize."
Please, please don't let him have heard that phone call. "So, uh, hello, sir. How have you —"
"Speaking of tragedies," the principal continued, "I see that your light music club has experienced several."
"Y-yes. That accident on the weekend was very unfortunate."
"And so poorly timed. After all, we had just made our arrangement about Regionals. If the girls had been been hurt more seriously, we might have had to call it off."
Mentally, Sawako kicked herself six times. Why didn't I THINK of that? It's perfect! Maybe I could still shatter Yui's —
"I would then, of course, have had no choice but to go straight to re-evaluating your faculty position."
"But the girls were fortunate. Their injuries are such that they can still play their instruments. Perhaps there was an unseen hand guiding events."
The fact that he hadn't specified a divine hand was not lost on Sawako. "Uh, just good luck, I guess."
"Indeed. I look forward to seeing their progress. Keep me informed."
The principal headed off, but turned around in the doorway. "By the way, Sawako... you are familiar with our policy about making personal calls while on the clock?"
Oh no. "Yes, sir. It's discouraged."
"I would like to mention that this policy goes triple for calling sex lines."
Sawako went incandescent red. "But! But I —!"
"Oh, don't get the wrong idea," said Principal Yamada, the picture of innocence. "I'm mentioning that to everyone today."
The Jazz Club held onto the last chord of "Stompin' At the Savoy" for a good five seconds. Finally, they got the signal and released (aside from the wind players, who had already run out of breath). They lowered their instruments, pretty pleased with themselves. This was the first time they'd made it all the way through without losing anyone.
Their teacher, Megumi Yamasu, sighed deeply. Somewhere across the Pacific, Benny Goodman was surely swingin' in his grave.
She had loved music once, hadn't she? Ms. Yamasu found it harder to remember every day. It wasn't this specific jazz group that had broken her down, nor any of the past years' ensembles... no, the fault was her own. She had let herself hope that something produced by high school students could actually be music.
"Not bad," she said, hating herself for the lie. Of course it had been bad. It had been bad the way murder was bad.
"Thanks!" chirped a couple of the first-years. It didn't really matter which.
"I think you have the main piece down," continued Ms. Yamasu. As down as you ever will. "Now who wants to try soloing on this one?"
All the girls started glancing around, hoping someone else would volunteer. No one did, of course. No one ever did. These kids weren't here because they had the spirit of jazz in their souls, eager to get out and get funky. They were here because the word "jazz" sounded neat.
"We'll decide later," said Ms. Yamasu. "Let's move on to... to..."
She couldn't do it. None of their numbers deserved this treatment.
"Never mind. I'll let you go a little early today." She would just have to let her endurance build back up before conducting these girls again. Right now, she couldn't stand the sight of them.
The students started packing up their instruments. "Thanks, Ms. Yamasu!" said a couple of them, blissfully ignorant of the reason for her generosity.
The teacher retreated to her office to look for some aspirin. Mere moments after she closed the door, someone knocked. Ms. Yamasu closed her eyes and let herself picture, just once, using the student's head to do some real knocking. Then she fought back the satisfying image and opened the door.
"Hey Ms. Yamasu!" It was the bassist, Jun. "Can I come in? I have some important information!"
The teacher let her in with the greatest reluctance. It wasn't a good sign that she knew this girl's name. All the other first-years were interchangeable, mediocre but harmless. Jun was the only one annoying enough to distinguish herself.
"I've found out —" Jun began, then paused to close the door just in case. "I've found out the light music club is up to something!"
"The light music club! Our rivals!"
Ms. Yamasu closed her eyes just long enough to roll them. Rivals? A toddler banging on a garbage can is out of this jazz band's league.
"I have contacts in the group," continued Jun, "and trust me, something fishy is definitely going on. They're going to Regionals, but there's more to it than that. We've got to find out the details so we can plan a counterattack!"
"Yeah! Their success is our failure! We have to undermine them!"
Ms. Yamasu rubbed her temples. She was starting to remember what this light music club was, and that annoyed her. She wanted the conversation over before she had to pretend to care any further. "Jun, I can see that you're really on the ball. Why don't you take the lead in dealing with this problem?"
"Yes. I'll leave it in your capable hands."
"Thank you so much, Ms. Yamasu! I won't let you down! In fact, I already have a plan to —"
The teacher raised a hand. "It's okay. I don't need to know the details."
"...Because if you don't know, you won't have to lie!" said Jun, putting zero and zero together. "Brilliant!"
"Right," Ms. Yamasu lied. "Now go get started."
With a salute, Jun took off.
Ms. Yamasu found her aspirin bottle and stared at it for a minute. Then she put it away; for this headache, she needed stronger medicine. At least four shots of it.
"Explain again," said Mio.
"Do it better," said Ritsu.
"And make it not crazy this time," said Azusa. "Uh, Teacher."
The three of them, arms crossed firmly, were staring down Sawako. With Mio in the centre, they looked a bit like an Olympic podium.
"Come on, I was perfectly clear the first time," replied Sawako. "Yui, you understood, right?"
"Yeah. It sounds like fun! Sort of."
"Exactly," said Mio. "If she likes the idea, she obviously missed something. Explain again."
Sawako sighed. "If I must. You girls have a severe shortage of live experience. You've only played for crowds a couple of times. Azusa never has."
"Not with this club," corrected Azusa. "I've had other —"
"Your cat doesn't count."
"Hey! I —"
"— will keep getting insulted until I stop interrupting. That's what you were going to say, right?"
Azusa shut up, but her expression made Yui think of a puffer fish.
"So, to prepare for our live at Regionals, you need as much experience as possible. You also need to be in music mode all the time, even in class. Otherwise those hours are wasted."
"No no no!" said Yui, surprising the others. "We have to study in school!"
"Or sleep?" asked Ritsu.
Behind her dark glasses, Yui blinked. "Is that bad? Don't things you hear in your sleep still reach your brain?"
"No!" said Mio, aghast.
"Are you sure?"
Yui turned to her sister for help. Holding back a laugh, Ui patted Yui's shoulder and said, "We'll run some experiments when we get home, okay, big sis?"
"Don't get me wrong," resumed Sawako. "Classes are important, but this month they have to come second. Music mode, 24/7. With me so far?"
The girls nodded.
"So that's why you're going to sing in class from now o—"
"CUT!" shouted Ritsu.
"That's where you lose us," said Mio. "We're not singing in class. Not a chance."
"Is that so?" asked Sawako. "Tsumugi seems to disagree with you."
"E...even so." Mio glanced at the rich girl awkwardly. Tsumugi was a good friend, but Mio never really knew what was in her head... and whatever was in there lately made the bassist very uncomfortable.
"Tell 'em," said Sawako. "You didn't mind singing in class, did you?"
"It was delightful," said Tsumugi, and her face left no room to doubt she meant it. "Sharing my thoughts musically was a wonderful experience. It's fun, Mio! Let's all try it!"
Mio lowered her eyes. "Sorry, Mugi. I don't want to disappoint you, but this is one stunt I'm not doing."
"So that's final, is it?" asked Sawako.
"No chance you'll change your mind?"
"No! Absolutely, definitely, totally none!"
"I see. Thirty push-ups."
"Drop and give me thirty. Right now."
Mio looked all around, uncomprehending. "Push-ups? Why?"
"Because I told you to. See, you girls have come to fundamentally misunderstand our relationship. It's my own fault, really — I've been way, way too easy on you. You've forgotten that I don't have to be."
Ritsu winced. She'd been dreading this turn of events for a while.
"Your relationship?" said Yui. "You mean with that guy?"
"No! What guy? There's no guy! How did you find out?"
"We watched you out the window."
Ritsu gave a thumbs-up. "Nice catch, Sawa-chan. He's a babe."
The teacher blushed. "Yes. Yes, he is. I'll introduce you sometime. But stop distracting me! Where was I?"
"Not having to be easy on us," supplied Tsumugi. Azusa noted absently that she hadn't flipped out this time.
"Right. I am a teacher at this school. What does that make me?"
"...A teacher?" Ritsu tried.
"It makes me your GOD, that's what it makes me!" yelled Sawako. "If I tell you to do something, you do it twice on stilts! My wish is your command! And you never, ever, EVER get to say no to me!"
Yui looked stunned. "But... but you're one of us! You always share our tea..."
"The gap between us is so wide, not even the best tea in the world can cross it!" (Tsumugi beamed.)
"I... I..." Yui's dismay was boundless. The guitarist had never really thought of Sawako as a teacher; to her, this was like losing a friend.
Ritsu gave her a sympathetic pat, but out the corner of her eye, she was watching Azusa. This could go one of two ways, she thought. She could share our terror of Sawa-chan in command mode, or —
"I'm with you, Teacher!" declared Azusa, standing at attention. Ritsu sighed. That's the other way.
"Good little Azusa," said Sawako, smiling. "I knew you would understand."
Ritsu muttered, "Twerp."
"Hey! I love this club, but it's always needed more structure. Leadership is the first step."
"Good girl." Sawako patted Azusa on the head. "Now give me thirty push-ups."
"You don't look any tanner today."
"It's the middle of winter! It'll take —"
"But I —"
Fuming, Azusa got in position. Ritsu smiled. She had a feeling the junior's authority-worship wouldn't last long.
"Well?" said Sawako to Mio, pointing down. The bassist lowered herself, her face fighting between embarrassment and rage. It looked to Ritsu like rage was winning, but the glasses made it harder than usual to tell.
Yui watched the forced exercise fearfully. "We'd better not do anything wrong, Ricchan!" she whispered.
"Good idea," Ritsu replied. "You should start by going back in time and not being the one to recognize Mugi's keytar."
"Why shouldn't I have... oh!" Yui blushed. "Sorry! Don't tell!"
Sawako narrowed her eyes at the whispered exchange. "Do you have something to report, Yui?"
"Uh, yes! I saw a TV show last week about marine biology!"
"They showed how an octopus can squeeze its whole body through a little crack!"
"I see. Thanks for filling us in."
"I will keep you posted of any further developments!"
Azusa stood up, panting. "That's... that's thirty."
"Nice time," said Ritsu. "You kids today are energetic." Mio, who was still at 18, tried not to pay attention.
"Okay, girls, get your instruments out," said Sawako. "We're already late starting."
The four band members not otherwise occupied began gearing up. As they did, Sawako continued, "I know this is all pretty overwhelming for you. Just do your best, and don't forget that I believe in you. As long as you put in your best effort this month, I know you can win at Regionals."
With a final effort, Mio pushed herself up, counted "Th-thirty," and collapsed on the floor.
Sawako gave her a contemptuous glare. "You think this is hard? Try being a kamikaze pilot! That's hard!"
Someone knocked on the door.
"Who could that be?" said Tsumugi, speaking for everyone.
The knob began to turn. Sawako spun around. "Ritsu!"
The drummer was already leaping into her wheelchair. She snapped her casts shut just as the door swung open — and Azusa and Ui gasped in surprise.
Sawako cleared her throat. "What can we do for you?"
"You can make a little room," said Jun, bass case in hand. "I'm signin' up!"