Don't Say Stop Believin', Ch.3Chapter 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
Don't Say Stop Believin', Ch.2Chapter 2: Don't Make Me Over
"The world," announced Sawako the next day, "loves an underdog."
She paused for dramatic effect. The club members waited, trying to hide their nervousness. As far as they could tell, Sawako hadn't even brought the glasses this time.
"Now, you're underdogs already because you never practice. But the audience and judges won't know that. Or at least they'd damn well better not."
All five girls shrank back from her glare. Azusa had to fight the urge to dig a hole and hide in it.
"But Regionals are only a month away, and even if you practice nonstop, you won't legitimately be the best band there. You're good, but not that good. So we need to score you some sympathy points give you a little boost."
"How do we do that?" asked Mio.
"We're going to create the impression of certain... weaknesses. The kind that aren't your own stupid fault. The kind people will sympathize with. We're going to make you a scrappy team of misfit
Don't Say Stop Believin', Ch.1Chapter 1: Gives You HellNone shall know the day or the hour, and Sawako Yamanaka was no exception.
The sound of the bell that day filled her with delight. She'd put in a hard day's work; it was finally time for her sweet reward. She tidied her desk, packed up her things, and headed for the door of the teachers' offices. She had almost made it when the hammer dropped.
"Oh, Sawako," said Principal Yamada, peeking out his office door. "Wait a moment, please."
"It's nothing important, I just thought I would come with you today. I have a little time and I've been meaning to take a look at this light music club of yours."
Sawako froze solid.
"You seem very happy with these students," continued the principal as he put on his suit coat. "They must be talented. I'd like to hear them play."
Just leave, Sawako told herself. If you're fast enough, he'll think you didn't hear... no, no, no good. I already answered him. Stupid!
"Shall we go?" he asked, shutting his
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 8The world gets smaller every day, but the Pacific Ocean is still wide. After-School Tea Time were in the air for nearly ten hours on their flight back from San Francisco. That didn't make much difference to them, though. After playing till 2 AM, doing three encores, and even making a special appearance at the afterparty (or "ho-kago party", as the fans insisted on calling it), the girls wouldn't have woken up if their plane had crashed into Mt. Fuji.
It didn't, of course. Only the finest pilots were trusted with Mr. Kotobuki's personal Lear jet let alone his precious daughter. The plane landed so softly that the birds in the next lane didn't bother flying off.
Tsumugi's internal clock, trained over a lifetime of global tourism, nudged her awake. She roused her bandmates, and together they disembarked.
Ritsu took a deep, satisfying breath. "Ahhh! The air of Japan! We're home!" She was no longer wearing the paper bag she hadn't dared ask Mio directly, but she'd removed it s
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 7On the final day of After-School Tea Time's San Francisco tour, the afternoon saw Yui, Ritsu, Tsumugi, and Azusa in one last practice session before the grand finale.
It was going as well as could be expected. Something was missing, and it wasn't just the bass line and lead vocals. The girls were playing just fine; after five years, they knew what they were doing. But emotionally, spiritually, they were drained.
They got through their usual numbers without incident, but silence fell when they finished playing. There was an awkwardness between them that this group had never felt before. No one quite knew what to say.
"Once more for each?" suggested Azusa halfheartedly.
Ritsu sighed. "What's the point? We're ready. We've done all we can without knowing Mio's plans, and who knows what those will be."
"If she comes," said Tsumugi sadly.
Yui was on the brink of tears. She couldn't stand seeing her friends like this. In the past, whenever one of them had a problem, the rest wou
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 6Dinner was finished, and the girls had to head home. Tsumugi had offered to pay for a cab ride, and Lil had gratefully accepted; Rai, who lived very close to the restaurant, had opted to walk instead. The three of them were at the curb saying their goodbyes.
"It's been awesome, Tsumugi," said Rai. "Thanks so much!"
"Think nothing of it," she said. Her hands were clasped in front of her chest; she seemed tense, as if expecting something big.
"So, uh... goodnight."
"Goodnight. Don't forget to say goodnight to Lil!"
"Right." She turned to her girlfriend. "Call you tomorrow, babe."
"You know it." They hugged, then separated.
Rai was already turning around when she felt Tsumugi gripping her upper arm. "It's okay!" she said. "Don't be shy! You two can be affectionate in front of me!"
"You're... you're hurting my arm..."
"Sorry." Tsumugi let go.
Rai looked at Lil. She shrugged, and the two of them kissed.
Tsumugi's eyes went wide.
And after a moment... her smile faded.
Mio didn't turn
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 5Evening was turning to night, and Mio was turning to despair.
She'd recovered shortly after getting back to her hotel room (but not before another stairathon... she'd be feeling that tomorrow). In the hours since then, she'd been wracking her traumatized brain for song ideas, but all she had was a blank page.
Hmm... blank page... something about paper...?
"There's no point!" she yelled, crumpling up the page. No matter what she wrote, no matter how innocent the subject, their "fans" would find a way to twist it. They were like conspiracy theorists. Show them a verified, authentic picture of the moon landing, and they would use it to prove the moon was a lesbian.
Mio slumped on the desk. What am I going to do?
A familiar ringtone interrupted her depression. She found where she'd tossed her phone on the way in and opened it up. "Hi, Yui."
"Hi! Feeling better?"
"Great!" She's not listening. Big surprise... "Is Ricchan with you?"
The name clenched Mio's fist. "She
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 4Mio slumped into a chair backstage, exhausted but satisfied. "I think we've finally done it," she said.
"We've definitely done something," Azusa replied.
"I like being a boy!" exclaimed Yui. "Big hands are so much better for holding the strings down!"
Azusa sighed. "For the last time, you haven't actually turned male."
"Are you calling me unmanly?" she thundered. "Ha! Watch me lift these boxes!"
Even the strongest believer in free will would have admitted that the events of the next few seconds -- namely Yui doing several hundred dollars of property damage and bruising her behind -- were predestined and unavoidable.
Tsumugi returned from the coat locker holding a headband. "Here you go, Ricchan."
"Thanks!" Ritsu slapped it back on her head. "That feels better. I don't know about Yui, but I'm all woman."
Mio burst out laughing.
"Hey!" yelled Ritsu. "Exactly what's so funny?"
"Sorry... it's just... all woman..."
"Stop laughing at that!"
Mio wiped a tear from her eye.
Tangled Up in Indigo, Part 3The next morning, Mio was face down in her hotel scrambled eggs.
"Guess it didn't work," said Yui, looking at the newspaper's music section. The headline said it all: "Lesbian rockers go super-femme."
Azusa sighed. "That's what the bloggers all said, too. Everybody figured we were being ironic."
Ritsu, nursing a hangover, just groaned.
The only one who seemed content was Tsumugi. She had brought binoculars to the concert. Whatever she'd been after, she must have gotten it, because she was back to her usual self.
Mio yanked her head up. "I can't believe this! I went to so much trouble writing those new girly songs! 'Girl Thing', 'I Love Kitty Cats', 'You and I are Like a Pair of Scissors'... how could they misinterpret all of that?"
"The one about purses was pretty good," contributed Azusa.
Yui whispered to Ritsu, "If I looked at Mio's desk, I'd see a purse, a pair of scissors, and something with a Hello Kitty sticker on it, right?" Ritsu nodded wearily.
Mio made a