I raced past lampposts and sidewalks alike, frantically waving my hand at the group in the distance. The wintry wind whiplashed my face, leaving it and the wide smile that had wormed its way to my lips, slightly numb.
The path along the sidewalk, as well as everything else in my vicinity, was doused in snow. The sun hung bright in the sky, so even on one of the coldest days of winter, it was enough to bring me happiness all the same.
I repositioned the large bag I carried just as I came to a halt outside the park where the members of the Film Club were waiting.
Koyuki approached me first. Aside from his coat and sweats, his blond hair was styled differently, a little more on the dishevelled end which succeeded in bringing out his eyes. Since it was the weekend he probably didn't take his time styling it like always.
"Teruhashi, you're late," he said. "I was worried you weren't coming."
"Sorry." Extending the bag I carried, I winked. "I was working on something a little special, hoping we could all eat it later when we take a break from filming."
He hesitated in accepting the bag from me. I could see it in his face, the seeping paranoia.
"Do I even want to look inside?" he asked aloud.
Miko joined us, laughing. She snatched it from his fingers. "I'll keep it with me. You'll be too busy with the camera."
He released a breath of relief. "Thanks for coming even though you didn't have to, Sakurauchi."
"How could I not? Kotori insisted she needed me."
"I do." Pouting, I latched onto her arm. "You're my moral support."
"I thought you said you were used to acting?" Koyuki asked.
"I am, but I've never played the role of one of the main characters." I reached into my coat pocket and surfaced the rolled-up script he'd graced me with two days ago. "Speaking of which, I'm glad to be the main character's best friend and all, but why does she have to be so moody? Usually, best friend characters are the happy-go-lucky ones, stringing the main character along to over-the-top parties and events."
I flipped to one of the scenes and showed it to Miko.
"This one just hates life and constantly wants to die from the stress high school brings. She's your basic teenager."
"Stop questioning the script. It's too late to change it." Koyuki gripped me by the shoulders and whisked me toward the group he'd left behind him. "Let me introduce you to the rest of the club."
I found myself staring at four people. Two guys and two girls.
"First of all, we have Sumio Tadakuni, the producer. He's responsible for approving script changes, casting, shooting locations, production schedule... Basically, he's supposed to make sure the shooting goes as smoothly as possible."
The boy in spotlight adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "I approved of your participation, by the way, Teruhashi. Your looks fit perfectly with what I've envisioned for the character you're playing."
I smiled widely. "Thanks. I'm glad to be apart of this too."
"Next is the production designer, Chiaki Setoguchi," Koyuki went on, pointing to the boy next to Sumio. "He's responsible for the visual concept of the film. Making props, costumes, whatever you can think of."
He had lengthy brown hair that hung by his shoulders as well as a large black duffel bag slung over his shoulder. His eyelids were slightly droopy, as if from exhaustion, but his exposed irises were a striking shade of green, finishing the deal to his incredibly handsome face.
"'Sup," Chiaki said, raising his hand in greeting.
"'S-sup?" I responded, mimicking his action.
He went to shield an upcoming yawn with his risen hand. His eyelids crinkled like a child's until they shut for a moment. When they did open again, he aimed his focus far into the distance. It was almost as if he was in his own little daydream.
"Chiaki, stop falling asleep," Koyuki rebuked as if to answer my thoughts.
The boy blinked as slowly as you could imagine before rubbing at his teary eyelids. "It's... not my fault." His way of talking was slow as if he were struggling to produce the right words. "It's early... and I'm tired."
"We all are so stop complaining," Koyuki said.
Chiaki's lips curved down into a pout. His chubby cheeks added to his cuteness. "Then... treat me to ice cream."
Ice cream? In this freezing weather? And weren't they just talking about falling asleep?
The other members of the Film Club didn't seem bothered by Koyuki and Chiaki's exchange, as if it were the norm they were accustomed to. I looked over at Miko to find she was equally intrigued by the strange interaction. Somehow, I couldn't believe this lethargic boy was responsible for making the props and costumes.
"Anyway," Koyuki said loud enough to return everyone's focus. He gestured to the petite girl of orange hair standing beside Chiaki. "Aoi Ninsei is our film editor. Her job is to edit any and all the footage we shoot."
The small girl shrunk away a bit upon the attention brought to her. She ducked her head in a timid bow. "I-It's a pleasure to meet you, Teruhashi."
I hurried to return a bow. "Same to you." They were so polite. Were all these members younger than us by chance?
When I picked myself up, Koyuki was already introducing the last female in the group.
"Hanae Isoshi is our scriptwriter."
Utterly impassive, the girl bobbed her head in greeting.
"Honestly," he went on, scratching his cheek, "I pitched in a lot of the ideas, but the final version of the script you're holding right now is because of her stringing them together."
I squeezed the thick booklet in my hands. So she was the one...
I sidestepped over, holding it up for her to see. "So about this script, Isoshi. Does the main character's best friend really have to be so gloomy—"
"I already said it's too late to change the script!" Koyuki called out, silencing me in my tracks.
I made a face.
Shaking his head, Koyuki reached for the large video camera Sumio held and brought it to his eye, aiming the lens directly at me. "I'm sure you already know but, I'm the film director. My job is to both shoot this entire film and make sure it comes together in the best way it possibly can."
He zoomed the camera closer to my face. I forced a smile, raising a peace sign at that.
"Sounds great," I said. "So? Where exactly are the actors and actresses?"
"Since we expected we'd be waiting here for quite a bit, I told them to head on to the filming location first," Sumio spoke up, readjusting his glasses. He slung his backpack over his shoulder then surfaced his cellphone from his jeans. "We should hurry if we want to catch the train there."
"The train?" I echoed and grinned at Miko. "Don't tell me we're leaving the city?"
"It's not going to be too far off," Koyuki responded, retreating the camera from his eye. "There's just a really good location for this film that Sumio secured for us."
"So exciting," I whispered to Miko.
"Settle down," she told me in return. "Remember why you're doing this in the first place."
I zeroed in on Koyuki. He stiffened at once. Nonetheless, I couldn't stop the relentless cackles that teemed from my mouth.
"Tamura will belong to me after this..."
I covered my mouth but to no avail. My malicious laughs definitely reached the rest of the group members. And whether it be from the gloominess of the sky or not, Koyuki's already pale complexion seemed to lose even more colour.
"T-Tamura, are you sure we should've cast Teruhashi as one of the main characters?" Aoi stammered through an anxious whisper.
Koyuki gulped hard. He took the lead, issuing for us all to follow closely behind him. "Trust me, I'm starting to regret it myself."
Miko patted my shoulder, pressuring me to stop my witch-like cackles. Nevertheless, nobody said another word as Koyuki led us all the way toward the subway entrance. And truthfully, it didn't matter. As soon as this filming was done and over with, I'd have secured the very first member to my club.
Koyuki Tamura—he would be mine!
Exactly as Koyuki had said, the train ride there didn't take too long
Exactly as Koyuki had said, the train ride there didn't take too long. We arrived at our stop a good few hours before noon and Sumio led us, as well as the five other students acting in this play waiting for us at the train station, deep into a snowy forest. I was assured we were walking to our doom and kept a close hold on Miko, but we eventually stumbled upon a clearing where an aged cabin stood.
Sumio explained it was his cousin's guest home and that he had allowed us to use it after asking for permission. Once inside and having warmed by the fireplace, we each took turns in getting dressed in the costumes Chiaki prepared for us in the various rooms.
Each was surprisingly well-made, with cotton as the main fabric; a really good insulator considering the chilly weather. Then we all took turns hanging numerous props inside and outside the cabin, to seal the deal for this entire film.
By the time we'd gotten everything together, the sun had risen to the middle of the sky, signalling noon. One of the actresses, a third-year named Yua, had gone out of her way to make us some sandwiches, knowing the struggle we'd have going out to find food elsewhere. They were really delicious, and after gobbling up a good two or three—I'd honestly lost track—we got to filming.
As the main character's best friend, I was acting right from the beginning. Supplied with a fake pair of blue spectacles, I was required to lower my hair from my bun and have my bangs shield over my face in a gloomy manner. And amidst the freezing weather, my character followed the main one as she went spiralling around in grand circles in the fresh snow.
When the time came for me to speak my pessimistic lines, I could hear a couple hushed 'wow's' originate from the crowd watching. Despite their awe, I didn't have the leisure of being distracted; I only continued doing the best I could.
Koyuki standing at the tripod where the video camera was recording shouldered heavy precision and accuracy when calling for scene cuts. Whether it was to change camera angles or remind us to carry a certain emotion with our acting, he did so very kindly. Regardless of whether you were apart of the Film Club or not, he made sure everybody gathered today was included in the production. To help with the lighting or asking for unanimous advice about various issues; his enamouring charisma was like a refreshing spring breeze in the stark of January.
"Everybody take ten!"
The words were practically a sweet bliss that crossed my ears. Most likely everyone else's too, as nobody wasted even a single breath to scurry back into the cabin for warmth.
Most huddled by the fire while others stopped by the table in the centre of the room for more sandwiches. I was one of those who stopped to grab more food. For how well everyone seemed to mingle, raving about their excitement for the film, you wouldn't have believed this was the first time any of them had met. I guess we had Koyuki to thank for breaking the ice.
I pivoted on the heels of my boots to face the source. Grinning wide, Koyuki bounded toward me from the entrance. I shoved the sandwich into my mouth as he arrived.
"Your acting is amazing, Teruhashi! You're capturing the character of Sayaka the way we all envisioned. You could even call it a perfect fit! And I don't even have to remind you of any lines or to ignore the presence of the camera or us in the background. You have yourself together better than the rest of us here."
The way he was running his mouth, carrying a lot more vigour than I was used to, could only make me smile through my chewing. When I finished the half slice, I chuckled, brushing my bangs from my eyebrows and tucking its curls behind my ear. "Impressed?"
"Very," he concurred. He extended a water bottle for me. "It's seriously like you're a different person."
I graciously tipped a gulp of the refreshing liquid down my throat, its coolness leaving me content.
Koyuki pressed on, "If you have talent this good in acting you should've stayed in the Drama Club."
"And if you have talent that great in baking, you should have never left the Cooking Club," I returned.
Silence promptly fell over us. Koyuki averted his gaze for a moment while I twirled the cap onto the water bottle.
"Tamura," I said when the cap was on tight. "You said this script was formed by your suggestions, right?"
"Uh, yeah," he said with careful blinks. "I pitched the main ideas and Isoshi strung it all together."
Humming, I pushed the fake glasses upwards until it pushed my bangs back like a headband would.
"Do... you not like the story it tells?" he hesitantly asked.
"Of course I like it. It's very inspiring."
"There are many ways people can be creative," I responded. "But more often than not, they end up revealing parts of themselves that would otherwise remain hidden in the works they create."
I rotated his way. As expected, Koyuki was attempting to decipher my words.
I grinned. "I learned more about you through this film, Tamura."
He shrunk his body, eyes darting elsewhere for a distraction. Unfortunately for him, nobody was in the area. "A-and?"
"It made me want to do my best."
Shocked, Koyuki craned his head down, eyebrows elevating on his forehead. I giggled at how puzzled he appeared.
"It's obvious you really, really care for the success of this film. Miko was right when she said you were gifted at directing. Instead of making this feel like a chore or an unimportant asset to our deal, seeing you so pumped up is getting me and everyone else excited. I'm genuinely having fun."
My smile was poking into my cheeks before I realized it myself.
"That's why, all equivalent exchange aside, I'll do my best to make it a success. I want to make you proud. So, trust me. As long as I, Kotori Teruhashi, have taken the job, you can best believe I'll see it through to the end!"
Koyuki reacted after what felt like ages. Instead of responding in the shocked, gaping manner I was accustomed to, I watched as he carefully ran his fingers through his hair, gripping at the messy strands. Lips caved inward, he momentarily couldn't meet my eyes. This time, I could only guess it stemmed from immense bashfulness.
I admitted it was kind of cute, not having him be so fearful and afraid of me for once. As the skin-crawling quiet continued to wash over us and I believed it would never end, Koyuki finally parted his mouth. "Teruhashi—"
The piercing shriek caused my heart to leap to my throat. My limbs rattled, as did a once paralyzed Koyuki. The two of us exited the dining room in a flash, dashing into the main room where it had originated.
Although grand theatrics came with what we were working on today, what lay before our eyes wasn't a work of fiction.
Sumio Tadakuni's body was sprawled across the floor. And he wasn't moving.