Chapter 11: Wind and water

It wasn’t often that the tea shop was rented out to other people, but Miyo had quickly made an exception for this particular pair. She had been a fan of Wind and Waves since her days as a specialist, having found comfort and strength in their songs as she had struggled through her certification training. It was a bit surreal to have the duo in the tea shop, sipping cups of tea as they practiced and talked in the small space to the side of the counter.

 

Yuzuru had explained the album’s concept as a collection of their best songs, stripped down to just them, their instruments, and the place where it had all begun.

 

“Master Daiichi had you playing piano here?” Miyo asked, interrupting Yuzuru’s story with a look of confusion.

 

Suzu laughed, a soft sound that echoed the clink of her teacup against the plate. “I’d meant it as a joke, to be honest. It was always so quiet here and one day I told him that he needed some music. He said I could come by anytime.” She tucked her long hair back over her ear as she adjusted the height of her keyboard. “And during one of those ‘anytimes,’ Yuzuru came along.”

 

“And completely made a fool of myself trying to impress her,” Yuzuru said with a self-deprecating grin.

 

“No, I was amazed at how she made my silly songs sound so much better with her guitar.” Suzu gave Yuzuru a fond smile, but Yuzuru ducked her head, the chin-length strands of her hair sliding down to cover her face.

 

A concerned frown crossed Suzu’s face, but it was so brief that Miyo thought she may have imagined it. “It’s crazy that it’s already been 10 years,” Suzu said into the silence just as bordered on stilted.

 

“It went by fast. We had a lot of good times,” Yuzuru agreed, her voice soft. She shook herself and a grin that was too perfectly placed by Miyo’s standards came across her face. “Let’s try and capture them in this recording, yeah?”

 

*

 

Miyo wasn’t surprised to hear the music stop in mid-phrase, the last notes on the keyboard and guitar left awkwardly hanging in the air. Most of the songs had been recorded quickly, some even in one take, but this particular song, “From sunrise to sunset,” was proving difficult.

It wasn’t that they were making mistakes, however. The music flowed from them easily, both their hands and voices moving with a fluidity that was evidence of their years of working with the material. After all, it had been their debut song.

 

The difficulty was in how the music moved between Yuzuru and Suzu themselves. To Miyo, even though they were both playing the same notes, it felt like they were each playing completely different songs.

 

It was why she wasn’t surprised when Yuzuru had them stop playing. What Miyo didn’t expect was for Yuzuru to stand up to stop the recording altogether. “Let’s take a break,” she said, giving Suzu a tired smile. “I think I need to get new strings from the Aragakis anyway.”

 

Suzu nodded slowly, confusion furrowing her brow. She stayed at her keyboard, studying the keys intently, not seeing how Yuzuru paused at the doorway with an unreadable expression before getting into the car parked outside.

 

As the roar of the car’s engine faded away, Miyo carried over a tray to Suzu, who took the tea cup balanced there with a murmur of thanks. Her clouded expression brightened at the first sip. “I think this was the tea we had when we first here.”

 

Miyo gave a surprised laugh. “That’s so interesting! Whenever I drink this tea, I always think of Wind and Wave’s music – strong, refreshing, always striving for something more,” Miyo said fondly as she took a sip from her own cup. “It’s what got me through the my certification training, really.”

 

“My cousin was a specialist.” Suzu peered at Miyo with respect in her eyes. “He said that the certification was the hardest thing he had ever done.”

 

Miyo hummed in agreement. “That’s what I thought too. That is, until I went on the pilgrimage.” Her gaze turned inward as she thought back. “I think what makes the pilgrimage so hard is that you’re all by yourself. At least during the certification training, there’s other people with you at the school. There’s teachers to guide you, friends to support you, even rivals to challenge you.” Her soft chuckle faded. “On the other hand, during the pilgrimage, you don’t have any of that.”

 

Suzu nodded. “That’s how I felt like when I did that solo album last year. Yuzuru kept telling me I should do it, but I just felt so miserable.” Her bangs puffed away from her forehead as she sighed. “It was nothing like when Yuzuru and I make music. When we’re together, it just feels like we’re having a conversation. It’s always been that way, even when we first met here in this shop.”

 

Suzu bit her lip as her gaze swept around the room. “I don’t want this to be the last thing we record together. There’s still so much we haven’t done yet…”

 

Miyo frowned. “This is going to be your last album together?”

 

Silence was her answer for a long time as Suzu gazed at Yuzuru’s guitar. “I think that’s what Yuzuru wants it to be,” Suzu said quietly. “I can feel it, in how she plays. Especially this song. She doesn’t have to say it, but to her, this is the ending of our story.”

 

Miyo sucked in a breath, finally understanding the dissonance she had caught before. “But you’re playing it as if it’s just the end of a chapter,” she said slowly, feeling her heart twinge painfully as Suzu gave a tremulous smile.

 

But then the memory of Yuzuru’s expression floated back into Miyo’s mind. “Maybe there’s more to the story than we think,” she murmured.

 

“Come again?”

 

Miyo shook her head. “It’s nothing. I um, just remembered that I have to deliver something to the pastry shop. While I’m gone, could you do something for me?”

 

*

 

Yuzuru took her time coming up the stairs, letting the memory of the first day she had met Suzu wash over her. It was just a vague impression now but she could still feel the mix of giddy excitement and nervous anxiety that had balled up her stomach all those years ago. Yuzuru patted the railing fondly. She was glad she was able to experience it one last time.

 

“Hey.”

 

Yuzuru blinked at Suzu, who was standing behind the counter. “What are you doing there?” She glanced around the shop but Miyo wasn’t in sight. “Is Master Miyo all right?”

 

Suzu gave a small shrug. “She said that something had come up, but that we could continue using the shop.”

 

Yuzuru sat down tentatively at one of the tall stools. “So you decided you wanted to be a tea master for a day?” she asked with a teasing grin. Though if Yuzuru were honest, she had no doubt that Suzu could probably become a tea master as well if she wanted to.

 

“Something like that.”

 

Yuzuru studied Suzu closely. There had been a note in Suzu’s voice that Yuzuru had only heard once before, when they had first talked about going on hiatus. Or rather, when she had told Suzu the band would be going on hiatus. Suzu hadn’t said anything outside of a quiet “Okay,” accompanied by a flimsy imitation of a smile.

 

With a grim feeling lurking in her gut, Yuzuru folded her hands on top of the counter. Perhaps it was her turn to be on the receiving end of such news.

 

“Miyo showed me a ceremony that I wanted to do with you. It’s quite simple, really.” Suzu took up a simple looking teapot and placed it on the counter. “The tea here represents the memories of our 10 years together. Please think of them as you drink.”

 

Yuzuru locked her jaw and tried to keep a blank expression on her face as Suzu poured. Those words could only mean one thing – the end of their time together. Yuzuru was sure of it.

 

As she sipped the tea, Yuzuru remembered with sudden vibrancy when they had sat here at this same counter for the first time together after agreeing to partner together as a band. As the hot tea had soothed her throat, a quiet melody had risen from the silence.

 

Then Yuzuru had realized that the melody was coming from Suzu herself. She was humming softly, her eyes half-closed as she smelled the tea in her cup. Rapidly, without thinking, Yuzuru had slid off the chair and unstrapped her guitar.

 

“Do that again,” Yuzuru had said, her fingers already on the fretboard.

 

Suzu had given her a bewildered expression but began humming again. Yuzuru responded with the guitar, following Suzu’s hesitant melody until it became stronger. Within moments, Suzu had her keyboard set up as well and they went back and forth, their instruments and their voices melding together in song.

 

Yuzuru had never felt the music flow so naturally like that before. And as the memory faded, she realized that she would likely never feel that way again.

 

Suzu’s voice lifted from the quiet. “As you near the end of your cup, this represents you coming towards the present day.” She paused and Yuzuru saw that her hands were shaking.

 

“This part of the ceremony is your choice,” Suzu continued softly. “If you leave some tea in your cup, this means that you’d like to create more memories.” Suzu swallowed and lowered her gaze. “However, if you empty your cup completely, this means that the memories you have taken in have been enough, that you have no need to make anymore from here on.”

 

‘Which does she want?’ Yuzuru tried to find some sort of hint in Suzu’s face but found none, her down-turned face covered by the shadows of her hair. Yuzuru sat back in her seat, feeling tears pinch at her eyes.

 

Memories clamored for attention as she stared at the last drops of tea in her cup. There were the first years of doing gigs at every possible venue, for anyone who would listen. Then getting stopped on the street for an autograph for the first time. Being asked to guest at a music event on another island. Finally doing their own concert.

 

And through it all, Yuzuru had watched Suzu become more and more self-confident, attracting more and more attention as her talent became even more refined, pushing past the limits she had thought she had.

 

The final limit, Yuzuru knew, was Yuzuru herself.

 

As she lifted the cup, she caught the sight of their instruments on their stands. Yuzuru had wanted for a long time to see their keyboard and guitar together again.

 

But what Yuzuru wanted more than anything, was to see Suzu gain the fame and accolades that she deserved.

 

She set her cup down back onto the plate, empty.

 

A broken sound reaches her ears and she looked up to see Suzu with a hand to her mouth, tears in her eyes.

 

“It’s for the best,” Yuzuru said thickly, her mouth barely able to move around the words, feeling as if they were not her own. “You can’t make it to number one if I’m there holding you back.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Suzu said, her voice a harsh rasp. “You’re not holding me back.”

 

Yuzuru shook her head sadly. “You don’t see it, do you? There’s so much more you can do. If you continue solo -”

 

“I don’t want to go solo.”

 

The sharp finality in Suzu’s voice made Yuzuru pause. In Suzu’s teary eyes there was an eerie calm.

 

“If I can’t make music with you, Yuzuru, then there’s no point in making music at all.”

 

Yuzuru looked away, gritting her teeth against the way her heart leapt at the words. But she couldn’t ignore the soft touch atop the back of her hand.

 

“Yuzuru. I’m going to ask you one question. Will you promise to answer me honestly?”

 

Yuzuru nodded, not looking at Suzu. But the grip tightened around her hand. “Promise me.”

 

“Yes,” Yuzuru forced out, closing her eyes tightly. The touch on her hand left and she heard Suzu take in a shaky breath.

 

“Do you still want to make music together?”

 

The words floated suspended between them. Yuzuru could feel the weight of Suzu’s gaze, heard her take in a breath and hold it. Yuzuru opened her eyes, facing their instruments once more. The fading sun glimmering over the keys of the keyboard and the strings of her guitar, as if it was the memory of their younger selves playing them.

 

It came down to trust. Suzu had trusted her all those years ago to join together as a band. Now it was time to return the favor.

 

“Yes.”

 

Yuzuru’s answer was stark, an abrupt beat in the middle of the silence. Suddenly, she felt a touch at her cheek, and she realized Suzu was wiping away tears she hadn’t even known were falling.

 

Suzu gave a small laugh. “Look.”

 

Yuzuru followed her gaze down to the cup. At the bottom now lay several tears. Yuzuru chuckled as well, both in relief and in joy. “I guess there’s still more memories we can make,” she said quietly. New memories where she could leave behind her uncertain self, and trust in Suzu’s courage.

 

*

 

Several weeks later, a cool breeze with a hint of spring rustled through the tea shop, prompting Suzu to hold back her long hair from her tea. A smile played on her lips as she watched Miyo eagerly flip through the CD booklet. On the cover was Yuzuru and Suzu, holding a picture of themselves from their debut between them. ‘Not between,’ Suzu thought, ‘Joining.’

 

“Thank you,” Miyo said with a wide grin that Suzu could tell she was trying to control but kept breaking forth like the sun through a cloud. “I’m really curious about the 10th anniversary version of “From sunrise to sunset.” You recorded that while I was out?”

 

“Yes,” Suzu said, straightening in her seat. “Actually, about that. I researched that ceremony you told me about. You said it was from Star Island?”

 

Miyo suddenly began cleaning some of the teaware on her work table. “Yes, I’m fairly certain that’s where it’s from.”

 

“That’s strange because I couldn’t find anything about it.” Suzu’s eyes narrowed slightly. “It’s almost as if it was made up.”

 

Miyo blinked at her with a mild expression. “I apologize – I must have been mistaken.”

 

Suzu held her gaze for a few breaths then a slow smile stretched across her lips. “I didn’t know tea masters also took artistic liberties with their work.”

 

Miyo kept her expression for a moment longer, but then broke out into a quiet smile. “Sometimes it’s only through a bit of art that the truth has enough space to come through.”

 

A laugh bubbled up from Suzu and she raised her cup in acknowledgement. A car pulled up to the shop, revealing Yuzuru at the door shortly thereafter.

 

“I’m afraid we must be going now,” Yuzuru announced with a tone of regret aimed towards Miyo. But Miyo could also hear the excitement thrumming just underneath the words, which Suzu responded to with a smile of her own.

 

“I hope the tour goes well,” Miyo said as Suzu rose from her chair.

 

Yuzuru grinned. “We’ll make sure to come by for the next one.” Suzu glanced up at Yuzuru in surprise. Yuzuru gave her a shy smile, as if in askance.

 

“Yes, there’ll definitely be a next one,” Suzu said, with a laugh in her voice. She joined Yuzuru at the door and waved at Miyo before turning back towards Yuzuru. Miyo watched them walk down the stairs side-by-side, reassured at seeing how their glances at each other were now both edged with a shared energy.

 

She tapped the CD case lightly. “I wonder how their 20th anniversary album will sound like,” Miyo mused as she watched them drive off.

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