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A few hundred faces all had their gazes fixated in the same direction. In the plaza, the air carrying the swirling heat colored the cheeks of the young maidens red. Kumiko breathed out slowly, trying to calm herself. Lub-dub, lub-dub, the throbbing sounds of her heart pounded in her ears. Sweat clung to the palms of her tightly clenched hands, and crescent marks were made in those palms as the tip of her nails bit into them.
"I might just die from this tension."
Azusa, who seemed unable to stand it any longer, muttered in a low voice. Me too, Kumiko replied as she opened her eyes wide.
Kyoto prefecture concert band competition.
Those simple words were laid out on the erected signboard. This was the third time she had been to this hall since she entered junior high. She had been coming here with the thought of aiming for the Kansai regionals each year. Kumiko's fists unconsciously became tighter and tighter.
A sound escaped from someone. Men carrying a large piece of paper appeared as they moved forward slowly. Everyone's gaze was fixed on them. Her heart was jumping around like a flea in her chest. It seemed like she would faint from the heat swimming in her head. Pressing both her hands against her flushed cheeks, Kumiko too looked hard at that piece of paper.
The piece of paper was slowly unrolled by the men. Names of the junior high schools were laid out on it. The words, 'Gold', 'Silver', 'Bronze' were written beside those names. And beside her junior high was...... before she could finish her thought, Azusa's cheer rang out.
Seemingly infected by her cry perhaps, high-pitched screams rang out from everywhere. We did it! It's gold! There were schools that went abuzz, and schools that remained hushed. The severe reality called 'results' struck before her eyes. Kumiko turned her eyes to the neighboring students from another school which seemed to be carrying a funeral-like atmosphere, and hesitated for a moment in her rejoicer.
"Kumiko! Why're you spacing out! It's gold, I'm telling you, it's gold!"
As a result of Azusa's sudden embrace, Kumiko too, finally let out a smile.
"...... yeah, that's great."
"I'm gonna go let Asami know. That girl's so nervous that she shut herself in the toilet."
"Got it, don't be late for our departure."
After an energetic reply, Azusa started running off into the hall. Her black ponytail swayed along, matching her movements. Kumiko opened her tightly clenched hands and once again turned her eyes back to the piece of paper on which the results were written. There was no doubt that the gold award was imprinted beside the name of her junior high.
Even though it was a gold, it was really a dud gold whereby they were unable to proceed to the Kansai regionals, but still, a gold award was passable. Kumiko took a glance at their adviser, who had clapped his hands together with a satisfied looking face. Thank goodness, it's gold! The reality gradually sunk into Kumiko as well. Whew, as she breathed out a sigh of relief, her strength left her knees. That was nerve-wrecking, she thought once again.
It's great isn't it? Just as Kumiko was about to say those words to those who played the same instrument as her, she thought she saw something out of place within her field of vision. As her eyes roamed to search for its cause, they unexpectedly met Reina's eyes. Without a shred of a smile, she merely stood rooted to the spot, her hand grasping her trumpet tightly.
"Are you overjoyed to tears?"
Kumiko asked timidly, to which Reina shook her head wordlessly in response. Within those large determined eyes of hers, a thin film of tears formed.
When Kumiko queried again, Reina repeated her words audibly.
"It's frustrating. This frustration's killing me. Why is everyone pleased with just a gold? Aren't we aiming for the nationals?"
Droplets of tears overflowed from those eyes. As if she were trying to escape, Kumiko promptly averted her eyes. Her face felt hot as if it were on fire. She was ashamed of herself for feeling relieved at getting a gold.
"...... did you really think that we can go to the nationals?"
Reina wiped her eyes with her hand roughly and sniffed. Her pale pink lips quivered in agitation, as if to rebuke Kumiko.
"Don't you feel vexed at all?"
Her bitter words pierced right through Kumiko's heart.
"I'm vexed. Extremely vexed."
Those choked out words were unpleasantly engraved into Kumiko's mind.
Whenever Kumiko thought of her last competition in junior high, she would remember those eyes of hers. And each time she recalled them, she would get an intense urge to flee from that summer.
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