The final bell of the Sakuragaoka High School rang. The hallways and rooms of the high school were lonely and empty, devoid of all activity and color, except for the Light Music Club. Their song had been traveling throughout the melancholic school, providing it with a mere semblance of colour and vibrancy. Houkago Tea Time began practice after all the other students, barring the five members and their club advisor, had left Sakura High.

Rather, they started after they were goaded by their bassist, Mio Akiyama.

Often the voice of reason within the band, Mio often goaded the others to take the Light Music Club seriously, yet be victim to her bandmates' antics. She would like herself to believe she was a mature and sensible person, although really, she is as frail and easily scared, frightened by even the least grotesque of things.

After they finished their practice session, the band members went to put away their instruments and to sit at their table, while Tsumugi Kotobuki went over to grab one of the tea sets.

Azusa Nakano took a sip from her cup. "I still can't believe you two actually decided to listen to us and practice on your own accord."

Yui Hirasawa pounced from her seat, hugging Azusa. "It's because we wanted to make you happy, Azu-nyan!" Yui said. She and Ritsu both decided to brush their mischievous antics off to the side temporarily. It was their decision to have merely done something productive for the Light Music Club.

Azusa pushed her away and crossed her arms, taking a haughty and mature pose not unlike the older and sensible Mio. In a way, she was emulating her. "Well, you didn't have to…"

"Well, we do need to take The Light Music Club seriously, sometimes – if we don't we might not play as good as we want to. I mean, what about Budokan?"

"Ritsu, would it kill you not talk with your mouth full?" Mio berated her.

Ritsu Tainaka put down her fork. "It will, actually. In fact, I'd probably come back to haunt you, until the end of your days."

Mio shuddered. "A ghost?"

An idea started to develop in Ritsu's head. "Even better is if I come back as something you can even touch and smell – What if I came back as a zombie?!"

"Mio-sempai?" Azusa meekly asked her senior. "Are you alright?"

The bassist turned her head – and her attention, away from Ritsu and towards her underclassman.

Mio hesitated for a second, but nodded. "Of course, Azusa. You don't need to worry about me."

As soon as Mio looked back to face Ritsu, she had worn a zombie mask on her head. Even though it was obviously fake, the mask frightened Mio, enough to have almost fainted, only to be saved by the timely intervention of Azusa and Mugi. All they could hear from her was a simple and frantic mantra, "I don't see it, I'm not scared."

Ritsu startled cackling. "Looks like I've stolen your spirit once again! Instead of becoming a zombie, I've claimed it as part of my bounty, as a ghost pirate! In fact, I may have stolen your panties while I'm at it! All hands, on deck! We've got plunder of particular value!"

Ritsu's comment was only met with a swift karate chop to the head – an easy target for the taller Mio. "Every time you do this to me, you take it a notch too far."

Mugi giggled, drying her tears of laughter. "It really does feel like you two can't live without each other, doesn't it?"

Both girls started to stammer. "What's that supposed to mean?!"

Before Mio and Ritsu could join forces and divert their attention from themselves and confront the new threat upon them that is Tsumugi Kotobuki, their clubroom door noisily squeaked open.

"Well, I can see that the Light Music Club is the same, as ever." It was the voice of their Clubroom Advisor, Sawako Yamanaka.

"Good afternoon, Sawako-sensei." Mugi respectfully addressed her. "Is something wrong?"

Sawako shook her head. "Not really. I just dropped by to see how everyone's doing. Sadly, I should head back to the faculty office to take care of some paperwork I've been missing. Anyway, how are you girls doing?"

Azusa stood up from her seat. "Oh, we're doing very well, Sawako-sensei. We've just finished practice, so we're hoping to unwind and relax before we all go home. I'm hoping the others will keep up the effort."

"Eh, no promises, though."

"Ritsu!"

"I'm sorry Mio, but you know me - if it's all work and no play, half of us might have died from boredom!"

Mio huffed. She attempted to salvage whatever cool and aloof image she still has, after Ritsu shattered it. "And here I thought you were shooting for Budokan…" She muttered.

"Mugi, do you mind if I take a pastry to eat on the way?"

"Not at all, Sawako-sensei. Take what you need to the faculty room."

"Thank you, Mugi. Now, I should head back. Take care, girls." Sawako bid the girls farewell.

Once their faculty teacher had left, The Light Music Club was left to their own devices, and temporarily, the room, and to an extent the whole school lost its color and life.

It was the usual behavior of Houkago Tea Time; a ditzy Yui Hirasawa, a mature Azusa Nakano, a prim and proper Tsumugi Kotobuki, an energetic Ritsu Tainaka, and a frail Mio Akiyama. This time, Mugi had noticed something different from Mio. She kept shooting looks at Ritsu over the past few days, but instead they weren't looks of irritation. Rather, it was more of a melancholic, concerned and worried look, an if an anxiety had befallen her. In Ritsu's case, it was something she very rarely carried on her face. An inquisitive Mugi tapped Mio on the shoulder.

"Can we talk outside?" She asked her.

Mio glanced around the club room, before reluctantly nodding. As soon as Mugi saw her confirmation, she took both the dark-haired girl and herself out of the room. They were whispering throughout the conversation, careful not to alert the others.

"Mio, is there something wrong?"

Mio shot her a confused look. "What do you mean by that?"

"I'm saying that whenever it's quiet, you've been acting strange just recently. What's wrong?"

Mio turned away from the blonde girl. "Mugi…" She hesitated. "This is a personal matter to me. – It's something I need to take care of myself, and something I shouldn't tell everyone about."

"You know you can trust me. You can tell me why you're even more fussy over Ritsu."

Mio started blushing to the point where her pinkish-red face contrasted with her ebony-black hair. "What do you mean by that, Mugi?!"

Mugi smiled. "Mio, you make it so obvious, yet you and Ricchan aren't together-together. I can tell that there are a handful of feelings that you need to get off your chest now."

Mio's eyes narrowed. "If you think I'll just fork over my feelings for Ritsu, then you've got another thing coming, Kotobuki."

Mugi's eyes lit up. Ritsu herself had once dubbed the phenomenon as Mugi wearing her 'Yuri Goggles'.

"So, I was right. Is that what this is all about?"

Ever since they were children, Mio wanted to find a way to show her gratitude to Ritsu for supporting her, all through her life. To her, it must not be a petty gift, since overcoming her fears, for several years, was a gift that she cannot afford, no matter how rich and wealthy she is. She was not able to retreat to her corner – her survival, her salvation, even though she herself is already cornered.

Mio looked down to avoid facing Mugi, but her hand perched her shoulder. "Mio, the others don't know this at all. They won't find out. trust me."

"When Ritsu was being too irritating for you, I was always there to listen for you. Why have this problem now?" Mugi asked her. Her soft, warm azure eyes persuaded Mio to reveal her inner thoughts. "Alright, fine, Mugi. If you want to learn about it, then so be it." Mio said. "Ever since Ritsu said she didn't want to play the drums anymore, I worried for myself. She had never let go of the drums. She'd always wanted to play the drums all her life. I've been meaning to tell her for a while, but I've never had the courage to. And so, if Ritsu had the possibility letting go of the drums, even for just a second, then what chance do I have?"

Mugi stood in silence. "Can I tell you something? I love my parents dearly, but they can get very frustrating at times, when they want to control the life I want to live. Whenever that happens, I would go to one of my servants, Sumire, and tell her how I feel about them. I don't expect her to give me advice, or for her to comment on it, but I expect her to listen and understand. If you are going to tell her, then at least keep this in mind. Personally, telling her up front is the best way to do so. You two could stay behind in the club room, after the rest of us leave."

"I see. Thanks for the pep-talk, Mugi."

"Now, we should head back inside. The others might start to worry about us."

Mio followed her order without hesitation. Aside from Azusa, Mugi was the only other person within the Light Music Club that she could trust anything with, ever her own life, dearly – Ritsu would often be foolish and irresponsible, especially with her duties as the club president. The same could be said for Yui, although she is more childish than foolish. Even Sawako herself becomes very eccentric within the Light Music Club, revealing herself to be a lazy, yet still responsible teacher, often attempting to stuff them in ridiculously raunchy cosplay.

When they opened the club room, they found the sight of Ritsu and Yui returning to their usual activity of conjuring absurd plots and stories. This time, First Mate Yui Hirasawa was under the command of ghost pirate Captain Ritsu Tainaka.

"Hoist the main sails! So, that the tides of fortune may carry us to glory! Commandeer the cannons, to defend ourselves against those who stand in our way!"

"Aye-aye, Captain Ricchan!"

With a face that carried a pout, Azusa was hunched up with her arms crossed, sitting at the bench that faced the doorway.

"Azusa," Mio called over to her. "Why don't you lighten up just a bit? It's not like we're going anywhere."

The junior took notice of the bassist. "I know this club isn't all music, but I can't help but fret, Mio-sempai. I'm sorry. I was waiting for you two to come back to the room. Anyway, what were you two talking about?"

"Um, It's… It's nothing, really!" Mio stammered, before maintaining her straight posture. She cleared her throat. "Well, I accept your apology, Azusa."

Noticing Mio's anxiety, Mugi raised her hand. "Does everyone want to have one more run at Fuwa Fuwa Time for the afternoon? I think it's getting late."

Yui's eyes started to widen, akin to a puppy's. "Aw, and I thought we were going to be ghost pirates for a little longer."

Ritsu yawned. "You know, I'm kind of tired too. Why don't we just call it a day after that?"

"You've betrayed me, Ricchan… your own crew member?

Mugi reached into her bag. "Yui, if you let us practice one more run of Fuwa Fuwa Time, I'll let you have the cake I saved."

"Please, Ricchan?"

Knowing that even Yui herself would have a price in sweets, Mugi bartered. "Two cakes and a cookie."

The guitarist's bright brown eyes lit up. Her disposition towards one final session had suddenly changed. "Alright, everyone! Let's get to it! This is our encore! Let's play Fuwa Fuwa Time at least one more time!"

Ritsu sighed. "It really does take a bunch of sweets for her to do something…"

As the sound of Houkago Tea Time's instruments skillfully blend together, Yui and Mio's voices converged into a harmony as the chorus journeyed throughout the school once more.

And then, Sakura High was filled with color once again.

"Mio…"

"There's something I need to tell you." Ritsu confessed.

Mio's heart skipped a beat. "What is it, Ritsu?"

"Let's face it, Mio, we've known each other since forever, but I'm still keeping you in the dark about what's going on in my life."

Mio was getting weary.

All she could hear was her own name, before she drowned in her own thoughts and fears. Not petty horrors that should often be susceptible to, but rather legitimate anxieties. She feared losing Ritsu.

"Hey, Mio? Hello, Earth to Mio Akiyama, you still there?"

Her daydream, or daytime nightmare was brief, as it was interrupted by a familiar sight. A large forehead only maintained by a bright yellow head band, and a pair of confident, hazel eyes, complimenting her shoulder-length hair. The path they were walking along was familiar. And then, she remembered. they were walking back to Sakura High.

Mio shook her head out of the clouds, and nodded.

Ritsu sighed in relief. "Good, I thought you were going turn into Yui for a second."

Mio smiled. "If you keep that up. I might just have to give you another tap on the head."

Ritsu laughed at her. "Is scaredy-cat Mio trying to threaten me? I'm sure you don't have what it takes. No, you don't have the guts to hit me. I'm pretty sure we can open you up and we'll find none, except for nine pints of blood."

The drummer was disproven, as she herself was temporarily used as a percussion instrument by the once again flustered bassist.

"You never listen, do you?" Mio regained her callous façade from yesterday. "Anyway, I have something to ask you. Could you do a favor for me?"

"Alright, Mio, what is it this time?"

"Can we stay a bit longer in the club room, after the others leave?"

Ritsu gave her a confused look.

"It's personal. I don't want the others to hear about it."

"Something wrong, Mio?"

Mio tried to keep a straight face. "No, not particularly. But it's something I need to tell you."

"Instead of telling me soon, why not tell me now?" Ritsu asked.

"Because we're going to be late, Ritsu Tainaka. I overslept." Mio scolded her.

"Well, that's a surprise." Ritsu snarked. Although she would hate to admit it, Mio knows she's right. The diligent and punctual Mio Akiyama to have suddenly woken up late, to be tardy at school, is a rare occurrence.

"Compared to the faces we'll get when we barge into class?" Mio shuddered, before continuing. "Pick up the pace, Sawako-sensei's going to have our heads at this rate."

"I think it's time to call it a day. Good work, everyone." Mio dismissed the Light Music Club.

"Sempais, are you not coming with us?"

"Nah, Mio and I are staying back. We've got something that we need to take care of."

"Whatever it is, I hope it turns out the way you want it."

"Don't worry. You guys know us, we'll be fine. See you guys later!"

Before they left, Mio caught a glance of Mugi saying something to her, from how her lips moved, it was along the lines of "Go ahead," "Good luck," or "You can do it!" Regardless, she was urging her. A supportive sight like that gave Mio enough courage to at least make the effort to confess to Ritsu.

After making sure the three were completely out of sight, Ritsu closed the doors to the Light Music Club.

"Now it's just the two of us. What do you need, Mio?"

"Well, I need to talk to you about someone."

Ritsu's eyes widened.

Mio jumped. Ritsu's curiosity mitigated the effect Mugi's words had. "It's… I've known them for a very long time, but it feels like they would suddenly leave me. They wouldn't have much of a problem doing so."

Ritsu spoke up. "Wait a minute, Mio, is this about me?"

Mio was unable to control her speech. "Yes! No! I mean, maybe! I don't know, Ritsu. Just help me out."

"Mio. I'm not going to leave you. You, and not to mention the drums, are the only two things I would never let go of. You know that."

Mio was in a frenzied panic. "That's what I want to hear, but there's something more than that!"

"Mio, after all this, we're still going to be best friends. I won't leave you. It's not like I'm going anywhere, right?" Ritsu assured her.

"It's not about that, Ritsu!" Mio started to hesitate and stammer, her conscience informing her of her choice.

"Then what is this about, Mio Akiyama?!" Ritsu demanded.

Her knees started shaking. Her heart was beating at a higher rate, even more so than the other times she gazed at Ritsu. She knew she cannot lock away those feelings any more.

She had to free them.

"Fine, I'll tell you the whole story. You know I was a quiet kid, never had any friends." She began her monologue. "I was there, off in my own little world. Until you showed up."

"I never wanted anything to do with you." She went on. "I just wanted you to go away, and leave me alone. But you helped me with reading my composition. That, I'm eternally grateful for. Since then, even if I didn't like it, or it didn't help much. You've always been there for me, every day of the week, down to every second of the day. You were always looking out for me. There's a reason why you're my first friend, and my best friend."

"But, you're more than that to me. I can't afford to lose you at all."

"I love you."

The music room fell silent. While they were sheltered inside the room, the setting sun was still pouring down upon them. It was quiet enough that they could hear nothing, except for the chill autumn breeze pushing against the windows, and their own breathing. It was oddly calm, yet, the tension made it hard to note the serenity.

Both parties could only gawk at the taller girl's outburst. Since they were children, they had no idea what this feeling was to them.

Ritsu widened her eyes. The girl that is confessing to her right now is that same girl she had helped in overcoming her shyness in kindergarten. This was the same girl that she had been friends with for all her life. For a moment, Ritsu's own façade had shattered.

For Mio Akiyama, however, it felt like an eternity.

Ritsu looked at the other girl. Her gray eyes were welling with tears, real tears, ready to break down at any moment. She knew she had to say something.

"Mio, so this is what you wanted to say to me?"

Her tears were becoming more prominent. "Ritsu, I just… I don't want you to leave me. I'm sorry." She choked.

But before she could completely process what she said, Mio crouched into a slump, having her back turned towards Ritsu. Having retreated into her corner of woe, Ritsu could hear her friend sobbing.

"Mio." Ritsu tried to get her attention. She continued to sob.

Ritsu, with every step she took, called out to her. "Mio…"

"Ritsu, I don't want you here right now."

"No, Mio, it's alright."

She soon was at arm's length of Mio. All Ritsu had to do to match her height was to crouch down. "Mio, please, look up."

She turned her head and looked up at Ritsu, tears still trickling down her face. Ritsu leaned back in surprise. It had been a while since she had witnessed her best friend cry. She would only break down if Ritsu had pushed her too far. Her tears sparkled in the afternoon light, giving them an insight into the real Mio Akiyama. Ritsu regained her composure, and started to grin.

"You are such a cliché, you know that?"

Mio was taken aback, baffled by the words that came out of Ritsu's mouth. "W-What?"

"Asking me to meet at the clubroom, so it's just the two of us, just so you can confess to me? I was half expecting another letter or something showing up in my shoe locker, or you'd tell us to meet at some cherry blossom tree you planted at your house."

"What are you saying, Ritsu…?"

"Look, the point is," She explained. "That I have something to tell you too."

Mio's heart skipped two more beats. This scene looked familiar, as if, she was experiencing déjà vu.

"R… Really?"

Ritsu had her stand up. "Yes, and I'm pretty sure it's good news that you're dying to hear."

Mio braced herself for Ritsu's announcement.

"The truth is… I've had feelings for you too… I… I love you, Mio Akiyama." Ritsu confessed.

Mio was unable to hold back her tears any longer. It was overwhelming that Ritsu reciprocated those feelings. It was not unrequited love. She started crying, pulling Ritsu into a hug and sobbing into her sleeve. Within a few seconds, it was already drenched in tears.

"Hey, you're going to make my uniform dirty…" Ritsu lamented.

She only secured her grip on Ritsu, tighter than before, turning into a bear hug.

Ritsu struggled to breathe. She started gasping for enough air to form a coherent sentence. "Okay, Mio, this is starting to hurt now…"

Mio chuckled. "Oh, sorry… I was just caught up in the moment." She loosened her hold on Ritsu. "But do you really mean it?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing."

"I'm serious when I say that I have feelings for you."

"Glad we're on the same page, then."

Both girls slowly released themselves from their embrace, but Ritsu's right arm remained on Mio's shoulder. "Listen, I'm not comfortable with this, either." Ritsu reassured her. "But I can handle this. We can handle this. I don't care if it takes forever to work, we'll take it one step at a time, together."

Mio tried to crack a smile.

"I'm an idiot for not telling you sooner, aren't I?"

Mio's arm came down on Ritsu's head. But instead of a closed fist, it was an open palm that ruffled her light brown hair. "You really are. You had no idea before I told you, didn't you?"

Ritsu grabbed her bag and walked to the doorway, where it sheltered the passageway, the staircase to the club room. It still had that familiar hare and tortoise railing that told the classic story of the tortoise winning against the hare, against all odds.

"Looks like you still need a minute to get yourself together. I'll be right outside, waiting for you. Are you going to be okay here?"

"I'll be fine, don't worry."

"Alright, but I'll be there if you need me." Ritsu told her, as she shut the doors, offering Mio some well-deserved privacy.

Mio walked over to one of the windows and gazed into the diminishing sunset, dwelling on the turn of events that didn't exactly fall in her favor. She finally told Ritsu her feelings that harbored inside of her throughout her entire life. She needed a place and a time to clear her thoughts and empty her mind once more. The empty clubroom was a perfect place. She still didn't know why or how she managed to expose that secret without fainting, but one thing that she is confident about, contrary to her usual personality, is that she is content with the life she is living, and the direction it will be heading thanks to the revelation. She glanced over to the book that was propped up next to her bag, and her bass. It was hardcover, with at least four hundred pages – one fine piece of literature. It was another romance story – detailed with likable and charismatic characters. She liked reading those kind of stories, but now, she's living in one, with Ritsu Tainaka, her first ever friend. Her best friend.

Now that she had pondered long enough, Mio retrieved her belongings, opened the doors to be met by an eager, and overjoyed Ritsu. She was more chipper than before.

"Are you ready to get going?" She asked.

Mio stood straighter, more confident than ever. "With you? More than anything."

Despite being happy with the outcome, both girls refused to talk to each other while they walked, preferring to merely enjoy each other's company. When they had finally started to engage in conversation, the sun already set, and they were halfway home. The streets were littered and peppered with lamplights, but could not compare to the girls themselves, who offered more comfort and protection to each other to an otherwise frightening starry night.

"You know…" Ritsu mused. "It finally makes sense on your choice in… Poetry."

Mio pouted. "At the time, they were good lyrics…"

"It was more of a love letter, to be honest."

"Ritsu…"

"It really was though!"

"So, do you think I look better without the headband?"

Mio stammered. "Well, I supposed you do, then."

"Oh, really now?" Ritsu teased the taller girl.

"I'm serious, you look better when you have bangs."

"And you would look better if you cut your hair short."

Mio flicked Ritsu's forehead in retaliation from her comment.

"I was just kidding, Mio!"

Mio smiled. "You never change, Ritsu Tainaka."

The two momentarily walked in awkward silence.

"So, what do we do about us being together?"

"I know! We should tell the others!"

Mio was prepared to deliver another smack to Ritsu's head.

"Kidding, kidding! I know you're not going to like it, so why not just take it slow? We'll keep it a secret from the others, at least until you're comfortable."

Mio lowered her arm. "Right. A secret. From the others."

"Are you still scared?"

Mio nodded.

Ritsu reached for the taller girl's hand and held it firmly. "Don't worry. Remember, we're going to do this together."

Mio pondered on those words, before repeating them, so it would be of significant value to her. It would be the only thing that mattered to her in the world.

"Together."