Rin looked over to Kento with a certainty in her eyes. "Kento, I'm afraid that I'm not going to allow you to do the duet with me."

Kento stared at the girl who sat on the piano bench blankly for a moment before it connected. "What?! Why not?! I thought things were going well!"

"I suppose you would think that," she murmured, looking back to her hands which rested on her lap.

"Why?! I don't understand! You can't just let me go a week before the performance! I have nothing else prepared!" Kento snapped, a hand on his chest and eyes flaming.

"I understand that." She looked up to him coolly. "However, I have given you dozens and dozens of chances. In fact, every time we went through and practiced the song together, I was giving you another chance. Still, I have found myself unable to give you anymore chances. I'd rather do it on my own than with you."

Kento flinched as though he had been slapped. Was it really so awful, doing the song with him? It was true, Kento wasn't really the best singer in all of Gakuen Sakura, but he certainly wasn't the worst! What had he done each and every time that was so bad that she could forgive it no longer?

"What did I do wrong?" Kento did his best to keep his voice level, knowing that that was the best way to deal with her.

"Kento, you never put any emotion into your songs. They always fall flat because you can't reach inside of yourself to feel it. If you can't convey your emotions properly, then you'll be just another singer. If you want to get anywhere in this world, then you have to put all of your feelings into it," Rin murmured. "Please listen to the difference between how I play with and without the feelings behind it. Try to tell which one is which."

She turned to the piano once more, laying her fingers down. She began playing the notes, her fingers glazing over the keys beautifully. Her fingers easily found their right places, dancing across the white and black dance floor. Still… something seemed to be missing. It wasn't that the song wasn't gorgeous, it just… it seemed… somehow like a letdown? It wasn't as good as it could have been.

After finishing the first stanza, she allowed herself to stop for a moment. Then she started back up, right from the beginning. This time, she definitely seemed to be different. She closed her eyes, not letting herself be guided by the sheet music, rather by the flow of the song. She bent over somewhat, not even seeming to breath because she was so immersed in the sounds that cascaded from her fingertips.

The sound was completely different. It somehow let loose all kinds of tumbling emotions. The sadness, the pain, the worry, perhaps even… perhaps even that flicker of hope? It filled him with that loneliness that he had felt for so long, that loneliness that he had pushed down, that loneliness that was gushing out…

Rin stopped, her fingers still resting on the keys. The song echoed through the music room, somehow leaving Kento yearning for more, more, more! He needed to be able to hear more of that song… he needed to hear if it became a hopeful tune… he needed to hear if it would ever be a joyful one… he hadn't ever felt a yearning like this when it came to music. Rin really did know how to put her emotions into her music.

"Can you tell?" she murmured, eyes still upon the piano.

Kento nodded silently.

"Good," she murmured. "Then you must understand why I can't let you be a part of this duet."

Kento closed his eyes, feeling frustration welling up inside of him. He bit his trembling bottom lip before he slowly nodded, acknowledging that he simply wasn't on the same level of artistic ability as Rin. He may be able to sing well, but that did not make him an artist. It made him a singer, but not an artist. He gave no feelings. He simply couldn't keep up with Rin.

"Of course… if we can find that piece of you that cries out against the pain within, I suppose I could continue to allow you to sing for me," Rin muttered.

The brunette looked up in surprise, his face lighting up. "Really?!"

She nodded, looking to him with that expressionless face that she always had on. "Yes. But it won't be easy."

"I don't care!" Kento cried, placing a hand on his chest, right where his heart ought to have been. "I can't go on knowing that my music is so… so… so bland! You created such gorgeous music and I… I want to be able to do the same! I want to be able to make people feel things when they listen to my voice! I want to be able to properly convey my feelings!"

Rin slowly nodded. "I understand."

The dark skinned girl stood up, standing right in front of him. Kento looked down to her, blinking. She had a strange look on her face… a very sad one, as though she was at war with herself. As though she didn't want to do what she was about to do.

"Forgive me," she murmured before jabbing one of her thumbs right against where his heart would be while the other went to his forehead.

Kento let out a gasp as a thousand images rushed through his mind. Yuuta playing one of his sick mind games, Momoko watching on while doing nothing, his mother ignoring him, going to school only to go to music class, all those lonely days that he spent in the library, pretending to read while just really thinking constantly about how he could possibly escape...

And then came the final blow. Without knowing it, he began crying and trembling, overcome with a single image. His father. His father standing in the hallway, one hand on the door that led out of the house. He was trembling as he held onto the doorknob. Kento could hear his final words of farewell. He watched helplessly as his father exited his life by walking out that door.

Absolute despair overcame Kento. Everything that had gone wrong in his life had started with that singular moment. Yuuta, consumed by a jealous rage, had beat up on Kento relentlessly. His mother, who found him much too similar to her husband, refused to look at him from that day on. And Momoko… she had been so unable to do anything. She had no choice but to just watch the horror that was his life go on.

Now there was light.

How had that light begun?

How had he first begun to feel hope again?

How did he learn how to smile once more?

Oh, yes, of course.

Ichigo Oyamada.

That day at the bus stop that seemed like such an eternity ago… he had been contemplating suicide. He really had. There seemed to be no end to his misery. He was helpless to the gears of that fate he was bound by. He had been so certain that there was no escape that he had planned on throwing himself off the roof that very same day.

And then she sat down next to him. Kento had no idea what had happened to him that day. He looked at her and… and all that had been in black and gray and white before seemed vibrant and animated and colorful and wonderful and beautiful. He didn't know what she did to him until later. She had instilled hope and love within him, a feeling that he didn't know for such a long time. Suddenly, she seemed to be all he could think about and all he could care about.

He would live on for her.

He had tried to catch her as she tripped off the bus that day. He couldn't help but wonder if they could have been friends quicker if he had done that. Perhaps she would have fallen for him if he'd managed to catch her. Perhaps he would have already felt sure that they would be together. Perhaps he would be able to hold her tight, as much as he wanted...

Rin pulled her thumbs away, causing the visions of Ichigo to fall and shatter. Kento gasped for air and fell to his knees, trying his best not to collapse. He shakily looked up to Rin, finding it difficult to focus on her. Everything seemed to be spinning and blurring together like dribbling wet paint.

"Do you understand now?" Her voice echoed around inside of his head, almost as though she had not spoken aloud, instead within his mind.

The golden eyed boy hesitantly nodded. "Y... yes... I understand..."

"Do you think you can pull the emotions out now?"

Kento took in a shuddering breath before relaying his answer. "Yes. I think. Of course, there's only one way to be sure..."

Rin nodded and held out her hand. "Do your best."

He took it and pushed himself up with her help. The girl turned from him and sat upon the bench, scooting into the middle. She brushed her hair back, taking in a slow breath. She looked to Kento, who stood firm and awaiting her cue. She turned back to the piano and began playing the intro.

Kento bit his bottom lip as he listened to the clear notes, displaying every emotion so wonderfully. Every sadness, every pain, every tear... he wondered if he would be able to properly convey his feelings as well a she could. He balled up his fists, closing his eyes and taking in deep breaths. He would have to do his absolute best to stay in this duet. He would have to be able to fill his song with the depths of his heart...

Kento took in a deep breath before he began singing. It was somehow more difficult for him to be able to draw out that emotion... it was painful. It hurt to finally say those words that he felt. To sing a song about the pain he had felt for the past five and a half years of his life... what a difficult thing. His voice was so quiet and shaking that he was certain the piano overshadowed him. However, despite his failing in singing loudly, he was certain that his voice held every pain, every sorrow... although the words stuck in his throats and came out badly, he was finally singing with emotion.

Rin's fingers stopped part way through the song, but Kento could not. He found it impossible to not finish the song. Tears began streaming down his voice as the song became stronger and stronger. Although he was barely choking out the words, he gradually became louder, desperately trying to get anyone with ears to listen to his song. He begged within his heart that someone would hear and save him. To listen to him was to save him.

Kento's voice faded into echoes as he hit the last note. He trembled somewhat and rubbed his face in an attempt to brush away the water upon his face. He took in shallow breaths and sniffled a bit, trying to expel any depression that had hit him. The song was a joyful one at the end, but he didn't feel extremely joyful. He had yet to have someone say those words to him; those simple four words that would change his life... "It's all right now."

He blinked in surprise and turned as he heard soft clapping. Rin was looking up to him with the faintest traces of a smile. She allowed her hand to drop to her sides, looking up to him with a hint of-no, it couldn't be? But it was-pride.

"You did well," she murmured. "Now we need to work on controlling that emotion so you don't break down into a sobbing mess on stage."

Kento let out a weak laugh, his shoulders shaking. "Yeah. Lets do our best."

Rin nodded. "One more time?"

"One more time." Kento let out a grin at this. "One more time."

Jordon smiled as he took the final photo. There was definitely enough to chose from now. Now it would be just a matter of finding the one that really showcased the beauty that was Mary. That would absolutely be the more difficult part of this, because, honestly, he thought that Mary was gorgeous in every single shot that he took of her.

"How did it look?" Mary asked breathlessly, walking to him and looking over his shoulder.

"Nope," Jordon said, hiding it behind his back before she could put her glasses back on and see the photos. "I'm not gonna let you see any of them until I'm ready."

Mary pouted somewhat at this. "Why?"

"Because I want to make sure I pick out the right one that will make people see how pretty you are!"

Mary blushed fairly pink at this. "I- I'm really not pretty..."

"You are, though!" Jordon insisted. "You're almost angelic."

Mary was now red and couldn't find the words to answer. The boy couldn't help but let loose a teensy smile at that. She was really cute when she blushed. Usually she would get angry when she was embarrassed, but as of late, she seemed really calm and quiet as of late. It seemed like something had happened to her to make her a really serene girl, something he wasn't quite used to.

"Mary, how come you seem so much calmer?" Jordon asked, sitting on one of the tables that was in the cafeteria, which is where they had held the photo shoot.

She looked up to him in surprise. "… did you notice, then?"

"I notice everything about you."

Mary was unsure as to whether she should feel creeped out or happy by that statement. She brushed both feelings away, looking up to him. "My mother died."

Jordon's eyes widened for a moment before he took in a shuddering breath. His lips curved downwards and parted somewhat. His eyebrows scrunched together and a look of pain flashed through his eyes. "Mary, I… I'm so sorry… I honestly had no idea… I mean… you just-"

"You're all right." Her voice was quiet. The girl looked out to the sunset, the orange light filtering beautifully over her face and the white dress she wore. "I didn't really want anyone to know. It's not like I'm sad. My grieving has already been done. All I know now is that my mom is looking down at me from heaven, trusting in me to do what is right. To love people, to not judge until I know them, and even then, be kind to all that I know… my life was so full of hate before… I'm a Christian. I used to call myself that before, but what a lie that was." She laughed lowly. "Christ did not hate people. He never showed hatred. Only love. Now I must learn from His example."

Jordon watched her, trembling. "You know, I…"

She looked to him, slight questioning on her face.

He clenched his fists. "I'm really happy. I would have loved he regardless of whether you changed or not, but it makes me so happy to see that you're becoming a better person. This world needs more Christians who have learned to accept and love people as they are. No, this world just needs more people like that. And so… so I… I want to tell you a secret… something I haven't told anybody else…"

She turned to face him completely now, her look curious. "What… what is it, Jordon?"

Jordon squeezed his eyes shut and took in several deep breaths. It was terrifying, telling someone a secret that nobody else knew. The words seemed to stick in his throat. He wanted so badly to trust in her, to know that she wouldn't judge him, to know that they could still be friends… but it was so hard… !

"I'm in love with Kento."

Mary simply stared at him, a look of mild surprise on her face. To be honest, her heart had stopped in that moment. Her first thought was simply, "Huh?" Her next thought was that, the next time she saw Kento, she would have to punch him in the face. There was a mild (horrible) feeling of displeasure (agony) within her stomach, making it twist uncomfortably (contort painfully). She figured that she hadn't quite gotten over her homophobia, which was rather irritating, although not quite as annoying as Jordon loving Kento.

Her emotions were in a toss up. On one hand, she wanted to scream and kick and yell. On the other, she just wanted to go to her room and cry into her pillow. She had no clue what the name of this emotion was, but it was not a pleasant one. She knew that she had to brush it aside, though. She had to be happy for him.

"I'm so glad." She managed out her best smile, hoping that it didn't look like she was hurting. "Being in love must be nice, huh?"

He gave a weak grin at this. "it's not as great as you might think. He's so obviously in love with Ichigo… there's no way I'll win his heart."

But what about me? Mary thought. She quickly shook her head, trying to rid herself of those thoughts. Why would she think such a thing? It wasn't like she liked him!

"Yes, I- I suppose that's true," she said.

"What about you? Is there anyone you're in love with?"

It was such a simple question, but it was enough to break the dam that had held up her feelings. She found herself unable to stand, falling to her knees. Tears poured down her face, unable to stop themselves. She covered her face, breaking down in sobs. She could feel Jordon kneeling next to her, touching her shoulder in that concerned way, asking if she was okay…

She wasn't. She really wasn't all right at all.

She was in love with Jordon and he was in love with Kento.

She had constantly looked down at her friends for having crushes at such a young age, but who was she to judge when she had begun harboring one on Jordon? All those times that he hugged her, that he chased after her, that he beamed up to her… they had caused an unexplainable happiness to well up inside of her. And now none of it mattered.

She needed to repent. She was such a selfish being… she could not stand the idea that Jordon would be in love with someone else. It was too much to bear. She should just smile and be happy for him and tell him to do his best, but she could not. She simply could not. She wanted him all to herself, she wanted him to look at only her, she was… she was wrong…

"I do…" she choked out, clinging to him. "I love someone very much… ! But I can't have him! I can't! I just want to be by his side more than anything, but I can't!"

"I know… I understand that feeling…" His voice was gentle as he hugged her to his chest, eyes soft. "It's all right now…"

It wasn't all right. It would never be all right. Not as long as they were friends.

Nothing would ever be all right now.

Nicholai looked at the computer screen with weariness. Digital painting took so much effort… he was not used to staying up… how late was it now? His eyes traveled over to the clock on the computer and was shocked to find that it was nearly ten thirty at night. He couldn't remember the last time he had stayed up that absurdly late to finish something. Not only that, but he would have to leave in fifteen minutes to get back to his room before curfew… !

The blond boy was a procrastinator, a really bad one. Like, tomorrow was the day for final submissions for the Arts Festival. He had never felt more dread towards something before. He had been working on this since he had finished his homework. So, what was that? Probably around four? Six and a half hours of nonstop painting on SAI…

"Please help me, God, because I really need to get this submission finished," Nicholai prayed in a hushed tone, clasping his hands together and squeezing his eyes shut. "Oh, and please help me that Purin will miss it if she goes looking around the art gallery, because it would be super embarrassing if she saw it. Thank you lots."

The boy went back to his tablet, eyes fixated on the brush strokes. And that was when he saw it. He had made one layer invisible and forgotten about it. Which meant that all he had to do now was put it through a filter on Photoshop to get the effect he was going for.

"Thank you!" he squealed, looking up to the sky. "Thanks lots!"

After finishing and printing his image, he walked out, humming a soft tune. In the end, although he wasn't completely pleased with how it turned out, he was proud of it. He wasn't really used to digital painting, but they had just covered it in his art class, so he figured why the heck not try it out? His results had been more pleasurable when he wasn't quite so rushed during class, but at least he got it done.

He stepped outside and felt a thrill go through him. It was really cool and crisp outside, indicating the beginning of autumn. More thrilling than the weather, however, was the fact that it was really dark outside. Nicholai had yet to walk through the school grounds while it was dark, so this would be an adventure.

He walked down the stairs carefully. There was, of course, lampposts that illuminated some areas, but the darkness that was between those areas seemed to be much too far to the young boy. What if someone had broken in?! What if there was a murderer on the loose?! Was if a pedophile was out there?! Oh goodness, the possibilities were endless!

"Heeeey! Nicholai!" The boy looked up and was surprised to catch a Purin, who had flung herself at him for a hung.

"P- Purin! What are you doing here?!" he managed, trying to still the beating of his heart and calm his flaming face.

"Ehhh, I left my homework in the bushes over there," she said, straightening as she pointed offhandedly to a green bush.

"Um, why?"

"Because it seemed like a good place to put them at the time," she said with a shrug, wandering over to the leafy puffball, bending over to grab her notebook and books out of there. "Why are you here?"

Nicholai was very suddenly very conscious that he was holding onto a piece of art that he did not want seen by Purin. "Uhm, I was just finishing a project for the Art Festival."

Purin snorted at this. "You haven't finished yet? I got mine in last week."

The boy's cheeks burned at this. "I was… I was a bit slower, okay?"

"Whatever you say," she sighed. "Can I see it?"

"Uh, no! I- I don't want anyone besides the Festival Committee seeing it until the day of!" Nicholai managed, face flaming all the more.

"Laaaame." She pouted before fluttering his eyelashes up at him. "Please… ?"

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, she was way too cute! She could not make that face at him and expect him to say no! He forced himself to squeeze his eyes shut and look away. He simply could not let her see this, it would be way too embarrassing!

"S- sorry, no," he mumbled.

"Ahhhh, so mean," she muttered before straightening up. "I guess I really have to wait then, right?"

He nodded quickly. "So- sorry!"

"Stop saying that," she huffed. "No need to be sorry. But your embarrassment is really cute."

Nicholai's eyes shot right open and he looked to her, face flaming bright red. "I- I don't know what you're talking about!" he managed to stutter out.

Purin laughed wickedly. "Are you sure?"

"I- I- not- what- I- huh!?" he spluttered out, unable to form a coherent sentence.

"Hey, hey, princess, why don't I walk you back to your dorm?" she asked with a smirk, holding out her hand.

Nicholai flushed deeply as he looked to her hand, then up to her face, then down again. Part of him wanted to cry out against being called a princess, but… honestly… he really was kind of a princess. So, instead of denying it, he shyly reached out and took her hand.

"Perfect," Purin purred.

They walked together, hand in hand, down the cobblestone path. Nicholai's heart was thumping madly the entire time, looking to her through his eyelashes. It was only then that he realized that they were the same height. He felt certain that she would probably pass him at some point in time, making him an even more pathetic excuse for a man.

Still…

As long as he got to be close to her…

Who honestly cared?

Nicholai smiled. It was certainly not him. He silently gripped her hand a bit tighter. She looked to him in surprise, cheeks pinking. She let out a wide grin, though, and held on just as tight.

Maybe one day he would confess. And just maybe she would return those feelings.

A/N- There was so much emo crap in this chapter that I wanted it to end on a positive note. LOL I'm such a bad author… CONSTANT PAAAIIIIIIN 4 U. But, on another note, I'm on Fall Break! I'm hoping to be able to get another chapter out before the break is over and work more on the manga so I'm back to being a whole chapter ahead again! That's not too lofty of a goal, methinks, but I'll have to work for it. Thank you all for understanding my situation with school! And here's to more Cherry Blossoms! :D