Don't Trust Them
In our first year of high school, Rin and I were put in the same homeroom class. It was the first time that we'd shared a classroom since our elementary school days, so Rin made sure to abuse every privilege he had. Although we still didn't walk to and from school together, due to Rin's schedule, we saw each other every day in class, and we continued eating lunch together the way we used to in middle school. Though it probably irked some of his fans how much closer we'd become since coming to high school, they had the decency to respect that Rin and I were best friends, and I had the right to hang out with him as much as I wanted without incurring their wrath. Even the fans that still believed Rin and I were dating (which we weren't) left me alone.
Though, Rin deserved a fair amount of credit for that. Despite how much his popularity had sky-rocketed since returning from Nationals and the subsequent U-17, he stayed humble, and kept his fans even humbler. He steered me cleared of unnecessary spotlights, and called fans out when they overstepped their bounds. I couldn't help but think that Rin's time away from Okinawa had enabled him to mature considerably, and although I would never admit it aloud, I was proud of him. In only a matter of years, he'd evolved from an energetic kid who loved tennis to the damn good player that wiped the floor with his opponents at the district tournament. I'd seen him win love game after love game, match after match with my own two eyes — and even then, I couldn't really believe that he was the same person as the classmate that whined to me on a daily basis how much prettier I'd be if I dyed my hair.
"You're surprisingly very good." I said after we left the game and hit up the favourite fruit parlour to celebrate his team winning the district tournament.
He clutched at his heart. "So cold, ! Just how little faith d'ya have in me?!"
"I don't put my faith in delinquents like you." I joked, and he called me an ice queen in return. "But really — you made it look so easy. Just how much strength training did they make you do?"
"We do a lot of trainin' on the beach — the sand's a good workout for y' legs, y'know? An' we don't have fancy trainin' gear like the schools in Tokyo do." He paused, and for a moment, I was clued into thinking that he would suddenly start cursing the opponents that they'd lost to in Tokyo last year. He took me by surprise when he said, "Tokyo's got some real strong players. You wouldn't be sayin' half the stuff y' are now if y' went to Nationals."
"Just what are you hinting at?"
He grinned. "I'd play so much better if my best friend came 'n' cheered me on at Nationals!"
"Don't sound so exasperated — I don't have that kind of money, so it's not going to happen." I said. To mark a change in the subject, I reached out and patted him on the shoulder. "Anyway, don't be so quick to dismiss your losses in Tokyo. You guys were a dark horse in Nationals last year, right? You can't just glaze over those kinds of successes so flippantly."
He considered this. "You're right, — I am pretty cool."
I drew back my hand. "Don't get conceited, though."
He sniffed. "So cold."
When night fell, we left the fruit parlour, and Rin walked me back home. He said that if I couldn't come to watch him at Nationals, then I should at least come to watch him at the Kyūshū Tournament. He even offered to pay for (some) of my expenses, but I politely turned him down. I reasoned that one of us had to stay on top of their study game to prevent the other from flunking out of high school. He begrudgingly agreed to stop pestering me about coming to see his more distant games.
As Rin stayed behind later and later each day at tennis practice, I once again slipped into the habit of going to the library after school and studying with the two same classmates that I'd befriended in middle school. None of us were in the same class, but we each had strengths in different areas, and we worked well together. Like Rin, the three of us stayed back later and later each day to get all our assigned work out of the way. Occasionally, when we caught ourselves studying well into dinnertime, we would leave the library and hit the town for some food. Uchimiya, one of the girls, introduced me to coffee, explaining that it would help me stay up light to finish work if ever I found myself in an academic pinch. She started me off on café au lait, but eventually, I was able to stomach straight shots of espresso (and the occasional doppio on truly awful nights). Somewhere along the line, I think I started to genuinely enjoy the taste of coffee — enough to start ordering it whenever I ate out with family and friends.
After Rin returned from the Kyūshū Tournament — once again victorious — I treated him to parfaits as a way of apologising for not being able to go and watch him play. Out of habit, I ordered a coffee with my parfait, catching Rin off guard. The look on his face suggested that he'd been completely unaware of my growing caffeine addiction; after all, I never really drank it at school, and as of late, we'd rarely hung out together outside of school.
"When did this happen?" He asked out of genuine curiosity, pointing to my coffee after the waitress who'd brought it over had left.
"Hm? Oh, Uchimiya introduced it to me. Recently, I've been studying late into the night a lot, so I started a coffee habit." I said, taking a sip of my latte. Rin looked at it, doing his best to mask his disgust; he'd never really been a fan of bitter foods, and ever since he came back from Invitational, he looked extra-fearful every time I went over to his house for dinner, and his mother put goya chanpuru on the table. "You'll understand just how hard I've worked when you see how refined my notes are. Prepare yourself for a world of pain when you cash in your next study date."
He frowned. "I believe you — y' don't need to show me. And anyway, why're y' workin' so hard? Exams aren't for weeks yet. Don't y' ever go places 'n' relax with your friends? Or y' boyfriend?"
I nearly spat out my coffee. "I barely even have friends! What makes you think I have a boyfriend?"
"A girlfriend's alright, too — I'll respect your choices no matter what, !"
"What the — I don't need one! Geez, why are you suddenly bringing a conversation like this up?"
"Cos you always look so lonely without me — "
"Don't get conceited!"
" — and I dunno what I'm gonna do when I go away to Nationals and you're here all by yourself!"
I looked at him incredulously. Was this the reason he'd been so insistent that I make friends lately? "As much as I appreciate your concern, people on academic probation don't have the time or brain capacity to be worrying about other people."
He completely ignored what I said and, rather uncharacteristically, grew serious. "I mean, even with those two girls that y' always hangin' out with, y' talk to them like they're strangers — callin' them by their surnames when they call y' by y' first."
"We're not that close." I said. "We study together occasionally, and sometimes we'll go to dinner, but that's really it. Rather than friends, they're a little more like study buddies."
He looked as though he didn't believe me. Very slowly, he began a spiel that caught me completely off guard: "Y'know, , there's a lot that's changed about y' since we first met, but y' still so cold." He paused to reconsider his choice of words." Well, maybe not cold, but y' so distant. I've known y' for years, but every time I think I'm gettin' closer to you, y' just... close up."
I wasn't sure how to respond to his sudden (albeit truthful) assessment of my personality. In the end, I said, "On the contrary, you haven't changed at all."
The look on his face suggested that he hadn't been expecting me to turn the conversation on its head like that.
"But I've always been grateful for your consistency." I went on. "It's been really easy on my heart."
In an attempt to stave off the discomforting solemnity that was weighing down our conversation, I laughed — but Rin didn't. He was giving me a strange, dazed look that I couldn't quite read. Was he dissatisfied with my answer? Or had he taken my words in a completely different way? By the look on his face, I seriously doubted that we were on the same page, but I didn't have time to ask what he was thinking. Before I got the chance to prize open his mind, he jumped into a conversation about the weather.
- x -
On Thursday, Rin and I were eating lunch together, discussing whether we should stargaze at my house or his house later tonight when, out of nowhere, he said, "Y'know, , you should try to hang out with those two girls that you're friends with more often."
I stared at him. "How did we even get onto this conversation?"
"And you should stop callin' them by their surnames — it breaks my heart every time they call you so affectionately 'n' you trample all over their pure feelings by callin' em Uchimiya and Tsubaki."
"Excuse me, mom? Are you feeling okay today?"
I reached out to feel his temperature, but before my hand could connect with his forehead, the door to our classroom slid open, and Tsubaki slipped in. She did her absolute best to mask her shyness with a smile, but she had a hard time making eye contact with me when she spoke. "H-hey, — um, I know we usually study together after school, but... tonight, one of Aiha's friends is playing a gig in this really cool joint, and I was thinking that m-maybe you'd... want to come, too?"
Although it sounded like a nice break from studying, I was reluctant to cancel my plans with Rin. Even though I had been careful not to promise him that we would stargaze tonight, blowing off someone with whom I'd made plans with first just didn't sit right with me. As I pointed to Rin, I explained, "I'm sorry — it sounds really cool, but I promised this guy that I'd go stargazing with him."
Rin feigned innocence (rather well, too). "Huh? I didn't make any plans with you."
I stared at him. "You traitor — are you cancelling on me?" With a dramatic toss of my head, I said, "That's it, we're breaking up."
"Wait, , no — please don't leave me!" He lamented, playing along. "I still love you!"
Turning to Tsubaki, I said, "You know what? It sounds like fun. I'd love to go with you guys."
"R-really? Are you sure?" She looked worriedly back and forth between me and Rin, obviously not picking up on the joke.
"Sure." I said, sparing Rin an amused look. "The sky's not going anywhere — right, Rin?"
"It'll probably be there tomorrow night." He said, shrugging obligingly. "But you owe me big time, !"
"Excuse me — you're the one that's cancelling on me."
"I don't care! If your mom doesn't cook kaki-meshi for dinner, than I won't come over!"
By the look on Tsubaki's face, she didn't seem to know how to back out of the conversation, so I saved her the pain of having to do so. "I'll meet you at the lockers after school?"
A smile stretched across her face. "Y-yeah! See you then, !"
I opened my mouth, about to wish her goodbye, when I noticed the look that Rin was giving me. We made eye contact, and — stifling a sigh — I turned to Tsubaki with a smile and said, "Thanks for inviting me, Noriko — and tell Aiha I said thanks, too."
Tsubaki went red in the face, and Rin swore to God that she was shedding tears of joy as she turned and bolted from the classroom. I was taken aback by her abrupt departure, but Rin was grinning from ear to ear.
He looked very pointedly at me, his grin still firmly in place. "See what happens when y' show people a li'l warmth?"
I avoided eye contact with him. "Shut up."
- x -
Rin came over to my house the next day with a telescope that he'd borrowed from his friend Eishirou, and we set it up on my back veranda. He was trying to look at the stars while wearing my glasses; at the same time, he attempted to divulge information from me about how my evening out with Noriko and Aiha had been yesterday. Unable to hold back amusement, I recounted how they tried to hide their smiles every time I called them by their first name.
"It shouldn't be a big deal, but for some reason it is — to them, anyway." I said, tossing out the empty container of my third pudding for the night and starting on another one.
"Well, you've been holdin' back for — what, three years now? You can't blame 'em for bein' so excited that they melted the heart of the infamous ice queen."
"Shut up and give me back my glasses." I said, pushing him away from the telescope and claiming it for myself. He put the glasses back on my face and asked me to point out constellations for him.
We stargazed until it was late, and Rin decided to go home at around eleven. He usually woke up early to go to tennis practice on Saturday mornings, and then he did strength training on the beach in the afternoon, after the sun bled beneath the horizon and the temperature dropped to a bearable level. Almost as soon as he'd finished describing his Saturday ritual to me, he perked up and said, "You should come strength trainin' with me, ."
"It'll replace our old rally dates." He said — and he had a point. We were both well aware that, if I played a match against him, he would wipe the floor with me. "C'mon, I'll help whip y' back into shape!"
I looked down at myself. I couldn't argue with the fact that I needed to be whipped into shape. Lately, the only exercise I got was walking from home to school, or from school to town, or from my room to the fridge — and those measly walks could hardly be considered exercise. "Is this your way of telling me that I'm putting on weight?"
He frowned. "No, but lately when we've been climbing stairs, you start wheezing like an old man. I think your mom's getting kind of concerned that you're not exercising enough."
"Stairs are a big deal."
"...? But it's only one flight?"
Upon Rin's insistence, I agreed to go running with him. He grinned from ear to ear as he packed up Eishirou's telescope, and he told me to meet him at the beach tomorrow afternoon.
The sun was still burning bright when I arrived at our designated meeting spot the following day, and Rin walked me through his routine. He told me that the sun never really went down until seven, so he would often swim until the sand cooled down enough to run on. I trained with him until the sky started going purple, at which point he invited me to come back again early tomorrow morning to do the same thing. I found myself meeting Rin at the beach on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning every single week without fail (excepting the times that Rin had to go away for tournaments, practice matches or training camps). When summer came around, we spent a little less time training and a little more time taking spontaneous dips in the ocean. When the temperature cooled down on a Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves lingering on the shore until nighttime, our clothes soaked through and our eyes stinging from the salty breeze. Something in the air made us want to have conversations that were slightly different to our usual lunchtime chatter: we talked less about material objects; we didn't joke as much about how people thought we were dating; we argued less about why I should dye my hair strawberry blonde, and instead, we talked more about our thoughts and our past. Part of me felt that Rin really enjoyed our weekly heart-to-hearts: whereas he was an open book, I rarely talked about myself or what I was thinking.
One Saturday afternoon, we dragged ourselves up onto the sand after taking a dip in the sea. Rin stretched himself out, try to divulge as much heat as possible from the sand beneath his back, as he asked me if the beaches in Hachinohe were as nice as the ones in Okinawa.
"They weren't anything special." I said, curling my toes in the sand. It stuck to my still-wet feet. "I never really went to the beach a lot before we came to Okinawa."
"...? Even though it was a port town?"
"Yeah." I said. "The beaches there were never really as nice as the ones here."
There was a momentary pause. "D'ya miss it?"
"Not as much as I used to." I said — and I meant it. "When my dad first moved us to Okinawa, I hated it. I hated school, because I didn't understand what the other kids were saying, and vice-versa. They called me names like outsider, and they made me wish and wish that I was just back on the mainland with all my real friends. Sometimes I thought that if I wished hard enough, maybe I'd be able to go to bed one night and wake up in the morning, and leaving Hachinohe would have just been a horrible dream."
Rin was under the impression that there was more to the story. "An' then?"
"What do you mean?"
"Y' said not as much as y' used to."
I tried to shrug off my rising embarrassment. "Well... by some stroke of luck, I met a bunch of really cool people They were kind and welcoming, and for the first time since moving, I felt like I had a group to call my own." I averted Rin's steady gaze. "There was one boy in particular who stuck by me for many, many years. He was patient and encouraging when others weren't, and I'm, well..."
From the corner of my eye, I saw him tilt his head at me.
"I just — thanks, okay?"
When I plucked up the courage to glance at him, I found that he was already staring right at me, surprised by my sudden forthrightness — but he didn't seem fazed by the words that I'd been dying to get off my chest for so long. His vacant expression slowly melted away into a grin, and he said, "What're best friends for?"
I couldn't help but smile back.
- x -
For months, we continued to run and talk on the weekends, no matter how busy our lives got. Even though running in the summer heat was unbearable, I couldn't find it in myself to complain. The more I ran with Rin, the more I began to re-discover my love for movement — my love for being active, the way I'd been when we were children. But the fact that I'd lost touch with exercise for so long made me question whether I really had a right to fall back into it or not. Although I'd been thinking long and hard about what I was going to do for university, it wasn't until recently that I'd even considered studying something like sports science. How was I supposed to justify wanting to go into something that I'd been estranged from for so long?
When our second year of high school came around, my homeroom teacher started pushing us to hurry up and decide what we wanted to do after graduation. He quickly noticed how fickle and indecisive I was about what I wanted to do in the future, and thus made sure to schedule meetings with me as often as possible to discuss my options. I dreaded those meetings with him — I dreaded hearing him say the words, "For God's sake, , what're your plans for the future? What're your interests? Hobbies? Seriously, I'm at my wit's end here"; I dreaded having to say back each and every time, "I'm sorry, but I have no idea."
The more my homeroom teacher pushed me, the more reluctant I became to tell the truth; the more reluctant I became to tell the truth, the more troubled I visibly became. Rin quickly picked up on how uneasy our homeroom teacher was making me with his constant concern for the well-being of my future self, and tried to cheer me up by bringing pudding to school for me. While I was tucking into the cup he handed me one day, feeling more content than I'd been that morning, Rin abruptly started a conversation with: "You doin' okay?"
I reached for my barley tea to take a sip. "What are you talking about?"
"It just seems like Shimano's been botherin' y' a lot. About grad plans?"
I choked on it. "... Right. I guess he has been a little unbearable lately, but I understand that he's concerned for my well-being and everything. I guess."
"D'ya have any idea what y' wanna do?"
"If I did, do you think I'd be having weekly meetings with Shimano?" I wasn't ready to admit to Rin that I'd been considering a future in sports science; I had yet to justify why or how I could enter that field, so I refrained from telling him until I could come up with a suitable reason. "I haven't though about it in depth yet. All I know is that I plan on getting a stable job that gets consistent income, so that I don't have to worry about losing my job when trends change. Speaking of trends," I went on, deliberately changing the subject, "what are you going to do when you graduate? Fashion and tennis are the only two things you talk about these days, so I'm gonna guess... a model for sportswear?"
If he was discomforted by the fact that I'd thrown the conversation back on him, he didn't say anything — he just rolled with it, accepting that I wasn't prepared to talk about my future just yet. He was a true blessing sometimes. "Nah, I can't see myself doin' anythin' except playin' tennis. I'm in too deep to get out now." He said, grinning only for a brief moment. "But I was thinkin' — not everyone can be a pro. I've seen how the guys in Tokyo play, and if I can't compete on a national level, then an international level's just a fevered dream. Still, even if it's a dream for me, it might not be for someone else, y'know?"
I blinked, surprised by how level-headed his answer had been. "Are you trying to tell me that you want to be a coach?"
His grin found its way back home. "Sorta. I was thinkin' that it might be fun to be a sports teacher — y'know, for elementary school kids, or maybe middle school kids."
"You'd have an excuse to play around all day." I mused. "You just live to be free, don't you, Rin?"
"That's what life's all about, !" He turned his softening grin on me and said, "Even if y' don't know what y' wanna do just yet, just give it some thought, alright? It'll come to you, and when it does, we could try and 'n' coordinate our universities. Then we wouldn't have to think about how to keep in contact after we graduate."
For a moment, Rin reminded me very faintly of my father — the man who always encouraged me to think about what I wanted to do and tried to make me promise him that I would (eventually) find something that I liked doing. Although I was careful not to make any promises that I couldn't keep, I was comfortable enough assuring Rin that I would give it some thought. He gave me a look that suggested he was as satisfied as he could be with an answer as half-hearted as mine.
- x -
In the summer of our second year, Rin's sister moved overseas for a year-long internship, and he laid claim to her bedroom while she was away. It was more spacious, he reasoned, and it had a big mirror on the wall that he'd always wanted in his own bedroom but couldn't be bothered to move. The most attractive feature of his older sister's bedroom was the window that opened out onto a flatter part of the roof. Rin insisted that I come over at the end of the summer to watch the fireworks, telling me that the roof outside his window was safe enough for the two of us to sit on, and high enough that we would get a good view of the exploding colours.
I went over to Rin's for dinner, and after he and I helped his mom cleaned up, we went up to his room, and he helped me out onto the window. We sat on the roof, and at around seven-thirty, the summer fireworks display light up the night sky in a flurry of explosions and myriad colours. I was under the impression that we were going to watch the fireworks in silence, but midway through the display, Rin said, "Y'know, the fireworks kinda remind me of you, ."
"Of me?" I echoed. "What makes you say that?"
He didn't look at me when he said, "I think they're really cool, but they're so damn far away."
I tried to force laughter. "I feel like we've had this conversation before."
Rin side-eyed me.
I resigned to a sigh. "It's nothing personal — it's just more of a habit, you know? I'm not someone who places trust in other people so easily."
"So what else do I gotta do to earn y' trust?"
The annoyance in his voice made me turn to look at him in surprise. "What are you saying? You're one of the people that I trust the most."
"Get outta here! Y' don't trust me — y' rarely open up to me, even now!"
"That's just my personality, okay?! I don't like opening up to people."
"Why? D'ya just not like trustin' people?"
"I've learned my lesson about trust, alright?" I said, the sudden coldness in my voice making Rin fall eerily silent. Neither of us realised that the fireworks display had drawn to a close mid-way through our argument. "I've learned that you have to be careful about who you trust, because a lot of people don't follow through with the promises that they make. I'm sorry if it's been frustrating you, but it's been sitting with me for so long that it's not so easy for me to just... grow out of the habit of not trusting people."
He had nothing to say to me in response. Part of me was expecting him to ask, "Why?" and force me to tell him just who had failed to keep the promises they'd made me — but he didn't. I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but his uncharacteristic silence disturbed me. Though I was reluctant to do so, I (very slowly) started filling the silence between us with a time-old anecdote.
"When we lived in Hachinohe," I said, "I loved going to school. I lived really close, so getting up early was never a problem; I had lots of friends in my class, so I was never alone; I had a great teacher, so learning was never very hard. My dad could see how happy school made me, so he made a promise to me that we would stay in Hachinohe until I graduated high school — but he went back on his word. Before I finished sixth grade, he told me that we were moving to Okinawa for his job. Without consulting me, or without even showing any remorse for breaking his promise, we just upped and moved."
Rin was silent, taking great care to listen to my tale.
"I'd always known that he was one of those people who made promises and never kept them, but up until sixth grade, they'd only ever been minor things." I said. "I think that, after we came to Okinawa, I started becoming hyper-aware of the way people promised things and never delivered. My friends back home promised that we would keep in contact, but to this day, I haven't gotten a single letter from them. My dad promised me that, if I was good, maybe we could go back and visit Hachinohe one day — but even though I always tried to be on my best behaviour, my dad never kept his word. I think my mom was tired of seeing me so disappointed all the time, so she taught me not to hold people to their promises. To help me get over the fact that I was never going to go back to Hachinohe, she taught me that distance is something you grow fond of."
"Seems like you've grown too fond of it, though." Rin muttered.
"Maybe." I said. "But my mom was right, for the most part. Now I don't think twice about why I never got a letter from my friends, or why we never went back to visit Hachinohe despite the fact that I've been on my best behaviour every time my dad is around. It's just easier this way."
Although I'd seen just how carefully Rin listened to my story, I began to wonder if he'd actually heard a single word I'd said when he held out his pinky and looked me in the eye. "Y'know, , not all people take the promises that they make so lightly. I get that you've had a pretty rough time tryin' to find people who y' can hold to their promises, but it won't always be like that." He said, his sudden seriousness catching me off guard. "When I say things like I'll always be here for you when y' need me and we'll always be together, I mean it. I know that it might be hard for you t' believe, but you can trust me. Cos y' know me, right? Y' know that I'd never go back on my promises."
I stared at his pinky, overwhelmed by his sudden declaration.
The faint hopefulness in my voice made my chest tighten. "Promise that we'll always be together?"
My hesitance told me all he needed to know. When I didn't meet him halfway, he dropped his pinky and he looked away. Something about his gaze seemed so unbearably sad.
"I get it." He said, trying to mask his disappointment with a faltering grin. "You don't want to make promises you can't keep."
- x -
After that night, Rin stopped making promises. I never heard him say "I promise!" or "I swear!" again. Instead, whenever he wanted me to hold him to his word, he firmly grasped my shoulders, looked at me in the eyes and said, "Alright? I'll do it — y' know I will, right?" I had to reassure him three or four times that I believed him before he would back off.
It intimidated me every time he did it, but at the same time, it was endearing. I was glad that he wasn't (completely) put off by how reluctant I'd been to pinky promise him, and I was glad that he respected me enough to stop making promises. Although I knew very clearly that Rin wasn't the type of person who made empty promises in the first place, it was touching how far he went to make sure I knew how serious he was. He was the first person who'd ever made such an effort for me. When I said this too his face at lunch one day, he gave me an incredulous look and (jokingly) yelled at me for two minutes straight about how faithless I was. He finished his rant with, "We're best friends! What makes y' think I wouldn't do somethin' like this for you, stupid?"
"I don't want to hear that from you."
As many jokes as I made about Rin's grade, we managed to get him off academic probation before our third year (thanks to my notes, and the collective efforts of me, Noriko and Aiha). With a lot of hard work, effort and late nights in the library, we managed to bring up Rin's academic performance in his weaker subjects to an acceptable level. He thanked us over and over again for helping him, repeatedly saying, "I'll make it up to y' guys! Y' know I will — right, ? Right?" He gripped me by my shoulders and start it to shake me. Noriko and Aiha just stood back and smiled as I tried to get Rin off me.
As third year pressed on, Shimano forced me to have weekly meetings with him about what I was going to do after graduation. He came back every week with a new suggestion for me based off how I was doing in my subjects and where my class teachers felt that I most excelled.
"It's hard to tell where y' stand since y' do so well in all y' subjects, ." He said, scratching his head as he looked over my academic transcript. "But with your grades, y' definitely want to be goin' to uni. If y' wanted to, y' could easily get into a good uni on the mainland."
Shimano had been hinting for a while that my academic record had to potential to grant me entry into a number of decent universities outside of Okinawa. Perhaps it was his way of motivating me: maybe he figured that, if I was given free will to go to any university I wanted to, I would make more of an effort to go out and research good potential future universities, as well as the courses that they offered. If I'd never met Rin, I'm sure I would have taken the bait and aimed for a university outside of the prefecture — but in the many years that I'd been in Okinawa, I hadn't noticed how reluctant I'd become to leave my adoptive home.
"Actually, I was thinking about staying in Okinawa." I said.
Shimano looked excited — mostly because I'd finally given him a piece of information to work with. He left me briefly in the meeting room and returned with papers from his desk. He talked me through the courses offered at each of the twelve different universities on the island and recommend a few that I check out. "If y' get even an inkling as to what field y' wanna go into, let me know right away. We could prob'ly find a work experience placement for... whatever it is y' wanna do."
He dismissed me not long after that, so I went to the rooftop. Rin was waiting for me there with two lunch boxes, packed to the brim with leftover kaki-meshi that his mom had made the previous day. I told him all about my meeting with Shimano, and when I brought up work experience, he turned his full attention to me.
"I was thinkin' about doin' work experience, too." He said.
"At an elementary school?" I asked.
"Nah. There's a recreation centre in town that I went to with the boys the other day," he said, referring to his fellow teammates, "since we don't have fancy trainin' equipment like the guys in Tokyo do. I was thinkin' that if I wanted to be a sports teacher, it might be a good place to familiarise myself with different sports, y'know?"
"Yeah, that makes sense." I said. "Good for you, though — it sounds like fun."
I'd only meant to sound like an encouraging friend, but I knew that as soon as those words left my mouth, Rin would take them the wrong way. And he did. His eyes lit up, his grin widened, and he said (rather insistently), "You should do it with me, ! Shimano keeps pestering y' to do work experience, right?"
It didn't sound like the worst idea he'd ever come up with (not like the ideas he had about me dyeing my hair, anyway) — and it wasn't like working at a recreation centre didn't interest me. On the contrary, going there with Rin might give me a reason to justify why my heart started to swoon every time I thought about pursuing sports science after graduation.
"Alright then." I said. Rin seemed surprised that he'd won so easily. "I'll go with you."
Shimano looked like he was going to cry when I told him that I wanted to do work experience at a recreation centre. In between prayers of thanks to Buddha, he told me to report back to him after my day of work experience and let him know what I thought. "There aren't many universities in Okinawa that offer sports science, but I can think of a few to recommend to y' — Meio's prob'ly the best, though. They're based in Nago, but you should go and look at their program if you're interested." With a gusty sigh, he said, "If I don't get a student with grades as good as yours into a good school, , y' class teachers'll never forgive me."
Rin and I organised to do work experience at the recreation centre on the following Friday. Rather than getting the fun jobs, we were mostly asked to clean the equipment used for various recreational activities, but we tried to make our time productive. While we were pumping up flat volleyballs, we watched a match from afar, and Rin explained the the game to me, pointing out when players performed sets, digs, spikes and dumps. When we were polishing bats and balls, Rin was explaining to me the differences in training between baseball players and tennis players. When we got onto the topic of pitching, Rin started talking about the yips.
"There's a weird rumour that one of the boys from Seigaku got the yips." Rin said. "I always thought it was a thing that happened more in golf."
I looked at him thoughtfully. "It seems kind of interesting, though, don't you think? It's weird how people can just suddenly lose their ability to do seemingly basic things, like putting or throwing accurately."
"Interesting?" Rin echoed. "I guess so... but I'm not really interested in sports psychology, y'know?"
For a moment, he stopped talking. Then he audibly gasped.
", are you interested in sports psychology?" His voice was so loud that a couple of batters turned to look at us, wondering what the ruckus was all about. In a more hushed voice, he went on excitedly, "Did y' finally find y' passion?!"
I coughed pointedly. "To be honest with you, I've been thinking this over for a while. I just... wasn't sure I could justify wanting to go into something like sports science after falling out of exercise for so long."
Rin stared at me. "... are you stupid?"
"Shut up! I don't want to hear that from you!"
A grin broke across his face. "Y' don't have to justify anythin'. No one's expectin' you to have a clear idea of what y' wanna do from the day you're born, y'know? If you enjoy doin' it and if it interests you, then that's enough."
For some reason, our conversation put him in a good mood. Even after we migrated from the baseball cages to the gym, where we were told to wipe the sweat off the equipment (undoubtedly the worst job in the entire centre), he kept humming as he worked. I side-eyed him until he turned to look at me. "Okay, what's up with you? You've been acting really weird this past half hour."
His grin grew wider. "I was just thinkin' how rare it is to see you get excited about somethin'."
"Excuse me — old man? I think you need to get your eyes checked." I motioned grandly to the equipment in the room and waved my cloth at him.
"No, I mean, when we were talkin' about the yips before." He reminded me gently. "These days, y' never really seem excited to do anythin' except eat. It was real cute when you were gettin' all excited 'bout the yips 'n' sport psychology stuff."
He laughed when I struggled to make eye contact with him.
"I've always liked being active, but the life of an athlete was never really for me. When I found out that sports science was a thing, I started to feel like... maybe it was okay to pursue a career in sports without having to be a pro athlete or anything." I said, trying to shrug off my embarrassment. "I'm still conflicted about it, though. Shimano told me that the best place to do sports science is in Nago, and that's... kind of far."
Rin considered this. "Nago's not so far. If one of us learned to drive, it'd be about an hour, so if we went to Meio, we'd be able to commute ev'ry day if we wanted to."
"Aw, don't be so cold, ! I told y' that we'd always be together, right? And if we both wanna do somethin' in sports science, it makes sense, right?" Then he stopped talking so abruptly that I wondered if he was having flashbacks of the night we watched the fireworks from his bedroom window, where I refused to pinky promise. Instead of looking sad, however, he gripped me by the shoulders and shook me back and forth. "Could it be that y' weren't takin' me seriously? I mean it: I'd never leave y'! We'll always be together, okay?"
"Okay, okay, I know — I believe you!" I said, trying to disentangle myself from him.
He seemed satisfied with my answer, and resigned himself to a grin.
I sighed. "Well, I'm kind of glad that you're willing to come to the same university as me. I'd probably have a hard time making friends."
He looked at me incredulously. "What're y' sayin'? Y' made friends with Uchimiya and Tsubaki, right? Y' doin' just fine on your own."
"Mind you, I had a little help." I said, looking pointedly at him.
"Still." He said.
He sounded a little wistful, and I couldn't figure out why — but I tried not to dwell on it. Although we both knew that it wasn't necessary, I was touched that Rin was making the effort to stay close me, even though I'd hadn't pinky promised him on the night of the fireworks. Thankfully, he didn't seem sore about it, but I couldn't help but wonder if my reluctance to promise him had caused him to start acting unnecessarily in order to prove to me that he would keep his word and stay by my side.
Privately, I hoped he wasn't: it made me uneasy when I thought about how far Rin was going just to prove to me that he was worthy of my trust.
- x -
When I went back to school the following week and reported to Shimano that I wanted to study sports science at Meio next year, he broke down into tears of joy. He kept going on about how proud I'd made him and the rest of my class teachers, and I tried to humour him by smiling periodically throughout the meeting. After Shimano had finished having his little moment, he went straight into business, giving me fliers for Meio and giving me tips on how to get admitted into their sports science program. He said that it might be problematic that I'd never done any sports clubs, despite my degree of choice, so he recommended that I find a way to get as much sports club activity on my high school transcript as possible before graduation.
As painful as it was, I ended up asking Rin if the tennis club needed any helpers. I told him that I didn't necessarily need to be part of the tennis team: all I needed was some experience that I could put on my transcript. Even unofficial managerial work would suffice. But Rin, of course, was ecstatic, and — contrary to my wishes — he used nepotistic means to get me into the club. He gushed about how, after six long years, we would finally be able to start walking to and from school together again, like true best friends should.
I sighed at his exuberance, but privately, I shared his sentiments. It was nice feeling, waking up early in the morning to Rin's annoying and insistent messages, and going home with him, Noriko and Aiha late in the evening after the four of us studied our way to splitting headaches. Then, when summer came, Rin and I went to Tokyo for my first (and his last) Nationals tournament. Although he spent a lot of his free time playing practice matches against his teammates, he still (somehow) managed to spend an obscene amount of time with me. During the day, when he did strength training or he needed to warm down, he made me join him. After practice every day, he came over to my room for a chat, and then forced me to tag along with him when he decided that he needed to the convenience store for a second dinner. We snacked on our pudding outside and, if we had time, we'd squeeze in a light rally (in which Rin always crushed me) before bed.
Shiranui, one of Rin's teammates (who didn't intimidate me), always seemed surprised when he saw Rin talking my ear off. While we were watching a practice match together one day, he commented, "I've never seen Hirakoba talk so much before."
"Really?" I said. "I've never seen him talk so little before."
"He's a bit of a lone wolf, so it's rare t' see him interact with people the way he interacts with you." Shiranui said. "In previous years, when we came t' Nationals, he always kept t' himself."
"That... is not the Rin I know." I said. "If I so much as refuse to listen to his problems, he gets kind of... whiny. Do you know how many years he's been trying to get me to dye my hair strawberry blonde?"
On the tennis court, Rin sneezed.
"We hang out so much that even our classmates have started thinking that we're dating." I said.
Shiranui looked surprised — well, as surprised as he could be. "Y' mean you're not?"
"You thought we were?"
"I mean... he talks to you so easily, and he's always hanging around y'... what were we supposed to insinuate?"
"We're not dating." I insisted. "He's just my... super clingy, and... super whiny best friend."
Rin sneezed again. Shiranui didn't look convinced, but he decided not to say anything further when Chinen conveniently walked past.
Although (in my opinion) Rin's team was incredibly strong, they lost in the quarter-finals to a "super powerhouse Tokyo school that had so much money it'd put y' dad's hard work to shame, ". Many of the Higa tennis club members wanted to stay behind to watch the "stupid, rich boy school" get crushed by another team, but when their coach threatened to leave them behind in Tokyo, they found the motivation to pack up their bags and board an aeroplane bound for Naha.
When they returned, Eishirou passed the leadership of the tennis club onto Aragaki, the only second-year varsity member in the entire club, and all the third years gracefully retired. Rin and I fell back into the habit of going to the library almost every day after school to study with Noriko and Aiha. Since I was still keen to get more experience for my transcript, I asked Aragaki if it was alright to keep helping out by making training menus and doing other such managerial jobs, and he was quick to agree. Rin often tagged along, but rather than helping me out, he enjoyed playing rallies with the new varsity members and giving them advice on how to improve. When some of Rin's former teammates — namely, Eishirou, Kai and Shiranui — got wind of what Rin was doing, they showed up occasioally to help train the new varsity team, much to the relief of Aragaki.
Before we knew it, our final year of high school came to a close, and graduation day was upon us. After the ceremony finished, Aiha and Noriko came to find me and, tearfully, asked if I wouldn't mind keeping in contact with them, given that I (technically) no longer had any obligation to spend time with them any longer. I said to them, "Of course we can. We're friends, aren't we?"
They stared back at me, on the brink of tears.
Rin spent the majority of his final day on the receiving end of tearful and heartfelt thanks from his former teammates — especially Aragaki and the other new varsity members. They thanked him for coming back to help them, even after they retired. To my surprise, they even turned to thank me for all my hard work as a manager. One of them said that they wished I'd joined the tennis club years ago.
"That's what I've been tryin' to tell her for years!" Rin exclaimed, giving me an exasperated look.
"Don't look at me like that." I said. "I was turning it over in my head for years."
", you liar! I gave you seven club admission forms every year, and you never turned in a single one!"
"Shut up! I never had an incentive to join until Shimano said to me, ', you'd better get some club experience to put on y' transcript, or else!' "
"Doesn't that make it sound like he was threatenin' you?!"
Before we went home, Rin met up with the other seniors from the tennis club. We listened to them reminisce about how different their high school graduation had been to that of middle school. Eishirou suggested that they all go out for one last meal, to celebrate "their last years as young men together."
Rin tried to back out. "I dunno... it sounds swell and all, Eishirou, but 'n' I are movin' to Nago on Monday, 'n' I haven't finished packin'."
"But Hirakoba-kun, that's exactly why we should be celebrating." Eishirou reasoned. "And, -kun, in exchange for all your help this year, would you do us the honour of accompanying us to dinner this evening?"
"Thank you for the offer, but I'll be okay. This guy can join you in my place." I nudged Rin forward, and he looked back at me, a little bewildered. "It's fine — you're too slow at packing, anyway. Message me what needs to be put away in boxes, and I'll pack it for you."
"But — "
"Oh my God, Rin, I'm literally going to see you tomorrow. Just go and have fun with your favourite people, and celebrate your years as young men together." I said, shoving him into the custody of his former teammates.
Although Eishirou insisted that there was a place for me at the table if I wished to dine with them, I politely declined his offer, reluctant to intrude on their team dynamic. I said my farewells to the group, thanking them for letting me join the tennis club so late into the year, and — in turn — they thanked me for my hard work and spirited participation. As they departed, Rin looked like he wanted to whine at me for flaking out on him, but he didn't. In the end, I suppose he wanted to spend his last day as a high school student eating with his teammates of five years just as much as everyone else in the group wanted to.
After stopping by my own house for a snack or two, I went to Rin's house and greeted his family. I told them that he was out eating with his friends from the tennis club, and that I'd come over to help him finish packing. His grandmother offered to beat Rin up a bit when he got back, but I assured her that it was alright, since I was the one who told him to go with his friends, and since I was the one who offered to pack for him in the first place.
As a token of their thanks, Rin's mom sent me up to his room with barley tea and an assortment of snacks. Once she'd left me to my devices, I checked my phone and found a message waiting from Rin. He berated me for not coming along, and then detailed a list of things that he wanted packed. Laughing a little at the inconsistencies in his tone between conversation topics, I sent a confirmatory reply before setting to work.
I spent the majority of the afternoon folding up Rin's clothes and packing them neatly into boxes. After that, I moved onto cleaning the floor of the closet, which had boxes filled with useless junk. Rin had specifically stated that he only really wanted a couple of the boxes: one of them, he said, contained my photocopied school notes that helped him to pass high school; the other, I discovered on my own, was filled with photo albums.
After making myself comfortable on Rin's bed, I decided to take a little break and look through his photo albums. He had never been the most organised person, but he had put a surprising amount of thought and care into organising his memories. When I opened the first album, I was immediately met with pictures him as an elementary school boy, wearing a stupid yellow hat and shouldering a brand new rucksack. As I flipped the pages, I began to see pictures capturing him, Tobio, and the rest of kids in the dodgeball gang against various backdrops.
Eventually, I came to discover the pictures he had of us.
The very first picture of us together was the day that we went on an excursion on the river, and our teacher had taken a picture of him and I watching a couple of ducks squabbling on the bank. At that time, I supposed I'd never really considered that any of my elementary school friends would become a long-term investment, so I never saw the need to buy photos; Rin, evidently, thought differently. As I continued looking at page after page, album after album, I saw milestones in Rin and my friendship that I couldn't believe I'd forgotten. In our first year of middle school, Tobio had taken a photo of me and Rin dancing at the school festival. I recalled the memory with a bit of a laugh: Rin wanted to dance, but he didn't want to look like a loser and dance by himself, so he made me dance with him. Although I'd tripped a fair few times, Rin's prowess was able to compensate for my inability to dance well. There was the time in our second year of middle school when my mother, gushing like I was some kind of spring bride, took a photo of me and Rin on our way to the school Christmas party. It was the first time that Rin had seen me in a dress, so when I came outside, decked out in the fanciest clothes that I could find (and afford), he stared at me for such a long time that I'd uncomfortably demanded, "What?"
His response had been, "Are you wearing a dress?"
"... Yes? Have you got a problem with me wearing dresses?"
"No, I just never see you wear 'em! Y' look real pretty in a dress, ." He had said, grinning from ear to ear and laughing when I shifted uncomfortably.
There were several photos of me and Rin on the school trip in our third year of middle school to Hiroshima, but my favourite was one that a classmate of ours had taken of Rin and me in Momijidani Park. I'd been wearing a singlet and shorts, owing to the fact that I was a true northerner, while Rin was wearing a light jumper and track pants. He had an arm thrown around my shoulder, and I had an arm thrown around his waist, since I'd never quite managed to be taller than him. The both of us were grinning broadly. The sight of Rin grinning, of course, was fairly standard, but I'd been told by many of my classmates that seeing my smile had been a momentous occasion. Even Rin had captioned the picture in his album with a disbelieving, "-'s smilin'?!"
In our first year of high school, Rin insisted that we take a picture in front of the cherry blossoms near my house to commemorate the first time that we'd first walked to school together in a long time. It was a little bit blurry, since we'd been running late for school that day, but I could see why he'd decided to keep it when I saw that he'd captioned the photo, "A new year, a new start — maybe 'll notice me this year! (LOL)".
When we were in our second year of high school, Rin suggested that we go to the Tanabata festival and hang our wishes on the bamboo tree in the middle of town. He'd neglected to mention that I should come wearing a yukata, putting me in an uncomfortable position when we walked around — him wearing a yukata, and me wearing jeans and a shirt. The entire night, Rin referred to himself using feminine pronouns, and made non-stop jokes about our backwards gender roles.
"-kun, can you buy me a soda?"
"Oh my God, Rin."
"So cold, -kun! Why don'cha call me Rin-chan, like y' always do?"
I hadn't realised how long I'd been on Rin's bed, going through his old photo albums, until the door to his bedroom opened, and he walked in with a plastic bag bearing the mark of the yakiniku restaurant that he had (most likely) gone to with his teammates. He opened his mouth, perhaps to announce that he'd brought food back for me, but then he noticed that I was sitting on his bed, looking through his photo albums. His opportune silence gave me the chance to speak before him.
"I didn't know that you were such a romantic," I joked, "Rin-chan."
He almost dropped the takeaway on the floor when I called him by his childhood nickname. "-?! Are y' feelin' alright?! You didn't hit your head or anythin', right?!"
"I'm fine, stupid — I'm just trying to be wistful." I said, waving him over to join me as I walked down memory lane. "I was a little surprised to find that you were the kind of person who liked to document memories this meticulously."
I shuffled over to make room for him, and he sat down next to me, dropping some barbecued meat in my lap and mentioning briefly that it was a souvenir — in the words of Eishirou — from "the odyssey" that he'd undertook with his fellow young men. After that brief exchange, we sat on the bed for a good hour or more, looking and laughing about photos, and reminiscing like old men. After I called him sentimental trash for the umpteenth time that evening, he said rather indignantly, "Cos you're important to me, stupid! Of course I'd wanna keep stuff like — wait, turn the page back; I think I saw somethin' funny."
But I wasn't listening to him. My mind had stopped processing his words after his abrupt declaration of my importance. While it didn't surprise me that Rin had declared his thoughts with such ease, what I didn't expect was him to answer my jibe so naturally with, "You're important to me, stupid!" I'd always been aware of how cold I sounded every time I answered his affable declarations of friendships with colder responses or by changing the subject, but saying anything otherwise had always come so unnaturally to me. I didn't have as easy a time as Rin evidently did, expressing his fondness for his friends and keeping pictures of memories that he shared with them — but perhaps that was what kept me so drawn to him. Perhaps he thought that his infrequent announcements as to how much I meant to him made me feel uncomfortable; on the contrary, he never knew just how much it moved me every time he said it.
Rin broke me out of my thoughts by waving a hand in front of my face. ", you okay?"
For a moment, I was silent. Then I looked up at him and said quietly, "Thanks, Rin — for being my friend."
The grin on his face slowly faded from sight. "I hate how y' always take things like this so seriously."
"Y' don't have to thank me for something like that, stupid — y' don't ever have to thank me for things like that." With a low-key exhale, he swept on, "Y'know, I've always wondered if y' ever considered us best friends. Even when I hear y' say it with your own mouth, I don't know whether t' believe you or not."
"You should believe me." I said, my sudden firmness catching him off guard.
"Y' don't make it easy, though."
"I know... I'm sorry."
"Y' don't have to apologise for things like..."
He trailed off completely when he saw me holding my pinky out in his direction.
I gave him a lopsided smile. "You've been patient and you've been kind, so let me make it up to you." I wiggled my pinky in his face. "Here's a promise to say that we'll always be together."
The mesmerised look on his face was truly something to be hold.
Very slowly, he raised his pinky to shake mine.
And, just as I was about to pull away, Rin surged forward and engulfed me in a tight embrace.
Friendship always seemed to come to Rin naturally, but still, he knew and respected that it wasn't my forte; perhaps that was why he understood just how much a promise that I was willing to make meant, and perhaps that was why he'd been so moved by it. I slowly wrapped my arms around him in response, and for moments on end, we stayed like that. Tucked in his embrace, I couldn't help but recall all the times I'd compared Rin to my father. Whereas my father always gave me quick, one-armed hugs, Rin embraced me with the strength and warmth of a bear. Whereas my father always left me to assume whether he truly loved me or not, Rin always made it clear how important I was to him. Whereas my father was never genuinely sorry for all the promises that he'd made and broken, Rin always found a way to make up for his mistakes.
As I grew older, the shreds of faith tied me to my father had slowly begun to tear; to this day, I no longer held anything that he said to me in high regard. Every White Day, I accepted his obligatory roses; every birthday that he remembered to call me, I listened to his obligatory words with detachedness and an empty heart; every New Year's Day, I tuned out when it was his turn to state his obligatory resolutions.
But with Rin, he gave me more and more reasons to tie new bonds of trust with him every single day. Every White Day, he showered me with gifts and declarations of his platonic love for me; every birthday, he dragged me and my mother to his house and threw a big celebration for me that involved obscene amounts of food, karaoke, and presents; every New Year's Day, he would tell me his goals for the future of our rivalry ("I'm gonna mop the floor with y' at tennis every Sunday!"), and then his goals our friendship ("I'm gonna by y' such a swell birthday present that it'll melt y' ice queen heart and you'll be crouched at my feet in tears!"), and then his goals for our best friendship ("I'm gonna make y' acknowledge me as y' best friend this year, !").
I smiled into his shoulder.
My dad, in more ways than one, had never really been a good man.
But Rin, I felt, might have been a little bit different.
I asked my father over the weekend what his plans were for Monday. He'd been reading a newspaper at the time, but lowered it when I started speaking to reveal the surprise on his face.
"The same as usual, . Papa will have breakfast with his lovely family, and then go to work." He said, smiling. "Why do you ask?"
"Rin and I are leaving for Nago on Monday." I informed him. "This weekend is the last time I'll be home until summer break—probably."
My father set down his newspaper and looked thoughtful. "I see. What time are you leaving?"
"About six in the morning. Rin's dad offered to drive us."
"I see." He said. "Then, Papa will be here on Monday to send his baby girl off to university. It's a promise."
I don't know why I was so disappointed when he didn't keep his word. When, on Sunday afternoon, he got a call from a superior, telling him to go and resolve a problem in the Goshikami branch company immediately, he left in a hurry and quickly apologised for not being able to see me off properly. As I stood in the entryway, watching him put on his shoes, he ruffled my hair, wished me "good luck" and left the house.
As I sat with my mother at the dinner table that evening, part of me continued to wonder why it always had to be him that travelled so much around the country—why him, and not someone else? What was so urgent that he couldn't stay for another few hours to wish me off for the next six months? What was so urgent that he didn't feel the need to sincerely apologise for breaking his word for the umpteenth time?
To spare herself the agony of seeing the disappointment on my face the very day before I was set to leave for Nago, my mother shook her head at me that evening and gently reprimanded me for being so hung up on it. She tried to reassure me that, no matter how muddled my father's priorities seemed, he wasn't a bad person. "Your papa is a busy man, . The company that he works for values him very much." She chided me gently. "He's awkward, and not very good at expressing how he truly feels, but he does his best to show how much he loves and cares for you in a different way. Why do you think he puts so many hours in at work? Why do you think he's so focused on earning money? He wants you to have a good future, cherub—a better one than him."
"But doesn't it bother you?" I sprung the question with such tenacity that my mother looked taken aback. "He doesn't prioritise you at all. How come you're okay with that?"
Slowly, she warmed up to a smile. "It's a funny thing, : when you marry someone and you live with them for... thirty odd years, you start getting used to the things that they do and say." She said. "I've known your papa for a long time, and he has yet to lose my trust."
My chest tightened. "Even though he doesn't keep his promises?"
She cast a fond look at her hands, which were resting on the table. "There's one promise that he has yet to break, though."
When Monday finally came, I went to say goodbye to Rin's family. His mother gave me a hug, and his grandmother made me promise that I'd keep her grandson in line, giving me free will to beat him up whenever he stepped out of line. When we made the deal official with a pinky promise, Rin made an over-dramatic, sentimental display about how much I'd changed for the better, exclaiming, "My 's all grown up!" as he pretended to wipe away tears.
After all of his gear was packed away in the trunk, and after he'd given his family enough hugs to last them six months, Rin's father drove us over to my house, where I threw all my belongings in next to Rin's. When all the preparations for our trip north was done, my mother held me for a solid five minutes. She told me to come back every time I had the chance, and I assured her that we'd be coming back for regular visits as soon as either Rin or I got our driver's licence. Though she was reluctant to part with me, she grudgingly came to stop back when Rin tapped his watch.
"It's borderin' six o'clock, ." He called. "We better get goin' if we wanna beat the traffic."
My mother made sure to give Rin one last hug before letting him and I leave her sight. After I promised to call regularly, the two of us bundled into the car and set off for our new home.
By car, Nago was a little over an hour away. In no time at all (partly thanks to Rin's incessant chatter about how this was the year to dye my hair), we arrived at what would become our home for (probably) the rest of our time at university. It was a small apartment complex—certainly—but it was close to Meio and the rent was affordable. We spent the majority of the morning taking turns to help one another move in: Rin helped shift boxes into my apartment, and I did the same for him. When his father's car was positively free of our belongings, he treated us to a hearty breakfast, imploring us to come home every once in a while, before returning to Naha alone in his car.
Rin and I unpacked our belongings until we finished, after which we decided to hit the town and do a bit of exploring. The both of us were eager to find substitutes for the places that we'd left behind, such as a new fruit parlour to enjoy parfaits at, and a new beach where we could train.
Nago, we quickly realised, wasn't so different from Naha. Being the capital city, it was—of course—much bigger and much more crowded than the latter, but the changes between the cities were few and far. As the two of us walked through the city that fruitful day, I couldn't help but feel like a tourist. I was wearing a large sun hat with even larger sunglasses that Rin insisted looked good on me, taking photos of landmarks on my disposable camera, and Rin was trying to navigate his way through the city using an old-fashioned map.
"I'm tellin' y', , it's this way."
"How old is that map?" I scrutinised the map, peering closely at a stain in the corner of the paper. "Where did this grime come from?"
He snatched the map away from me. "This is my old man's treasured map!"
"Let's just find a convenience store, hijack their WiFi, and Google Map it."
"Stop! You're ruinin' the experience for me, !"
"What, the experience of being an authentic tourist?"
At the end of an exhausting day, we treated ourselves to yakiniku for dinner. Keen for a challenge, I suggested to Rin that we should compete and see who could eat more plates than the other. Rin suddenly went quiet, and looked at our first plate of meat with disgust (offending the waitress in the process). He looked as if the very idea of barbecuing and grilling meat would make him ill.
"Y'know, , maybe you should go ahead and eat by y'self after all."
"What are you saying, stupid? We haven't gone grocery shopping yet, and there aren't any convenience stores close enough to our house for you to go on a midnight wander. If we go home and you don't eat anything, you'll starve until morning."
"There's a general store really close to where we live, though."
"... Really? I didn't even notice it."
"Hmm, even academics can be stupid, huh, ?"
"Shut up! Stop whining and start eating!"
"Alright, fine—but no playin' dirty! If I see you put koregusu anywhere near my sauce I'm gonna end you, ice queen!"
"I'll eviscerate you."
After dinner, we paid for our meals and bantered all the way home. Rin pointed out the general store that he mentioned over dinner, but it (understandably) was closed. Evening was well and truly under way by the time we arrived at the apartment complex, discomforted by the amount of sweat dripping from us. Both of us were itching to take a shower, but before we entered our respective rooms, we loafed around, not quite sure what the protocol for seeing one another off for the night was. In seeing that it was our first night as university students living away from home, we had yet to develop habits to fall into.
In the end, Rin decided to take the intiative. He scratched the back of his head and said, "Well—g'night, ."
"Yeah, um—good night, Rin."
It took us a while before we started developing a routine that we could comfortably follow. When our first semester at university started, we started caring more about our grades and our extracurricular activities than how we should act around one another. Whenever it came to studying, Rin always came over to my apartment: we did our homework together, and I spent an extra few hours making sure that he understood every fragment of content. For that reason, he started keeping his textbooks in my apartment—to the point where I didn't really have the space to do anything there except study. To compensate, I usually went over to Rin's when it was time for meals (since we bought our groceries together); we cooked and ate dinner there on the nights that we realised we couldn't afford to keep spending money on food outside.
Not long after the semester began, Rin decided to join the tennis club to fill the void in his soul, and I found a part-time job as a kitchen hand at a nearby family restaurant. On my very first shift there, the store manager asked if I could stay back past close to help clean the kitchen and prepare ingredients for tomorrow, and since all my classes were after ten, I had no reason to refuse. It was nearing midnight by the time I rode home on my bicycle, and I found Rin waiting up for me in my apartment. He was freshly showered and reading a magazine on my futon.
"Oh, , you're back real late today." He said.
"Don't we usually do this in your room?" I asked, pointing on at the magazine. "And don't you have tennis practice early tomorrow morning? Why are you up this late?"
He avoided giving me a direct answer. "If you're gonna be finishin' this late again next time y' work, y' can call me if you want a ride, alright? It must be exhaustin' for you to pedal after workin' all day long."
"You must be tired, too." I pointed out. "You go from classes to tennis practice, and then to driving school. I'm not the only one who's tired."
"Friends before exhaustion, right?"
"No such idiom exists. Are you stupid?"
Rin told me to let him know every time he was close to finishing. He didn't explicitly mention that he would come and pick me up every time I did, I implied what he meant. Every night, when my boss gave me the heads-up that my shift would be finishing in ten minutes, I messaged Rin with a, "Go to bed, stupid."
He messaged back, "Alright, —I'm on my way!"
"I'm serious go to bed." After that, I would abandon my phone and finish up my closing duties.
When, at last, my shift was over for the night, I would check my phone and find a text waiting from him. "I'm outside, ~ Bring some leftovers home again today!"
I would find him waiting just outside the door of the restaurant, his bike all ready to go. I would hop on behind him, and we would talk about our days all the way home. Usually, I would talk about a particularly hilarious or a particularly rude customer that came in that day, and Rin would complain about his perfectionist of a driving instructor or about how much he dreaded reverse parallel parking. Each and every time, it surprised me to hear about just how much Rin went to driving school.
"Why are you so determined to get a licence before summer?" I couldn't help but ask him. "Naha's only two hours away by train—it's not like we wouldn't be able to go back home if we wanted to."
"There're plenty o' reasons." He said, looking thoughtfully at the dark road ahead of him. "If we had a car, I could easily move the stuff from place my in Naha to my apartment here."
"Give up, Rin—your sister's mirror won't fit in your apartment."
"Let a guy dream!" He rebuked me, and then continued with his reasons. "Anyway, if we had a car, we wouldn't have such a hard time goin' grocery shoppin'. Also, if we had a car, I could pick y' up from work and it wouldn't take so long to get home."
I blinked, a bit surprised that such a reason for learning how to drive was so high on his list. "What are you saying? My exhaustion is a cupcake compared to the cost of owning at car."
"So cold, ! Is this how y' repay me for bein' a concerned and thoughtful friend?"
"... I mean, I guess it would be a plus if you could actually see the road when we're going home at night."
When I became a more proficient and valued employee, the chef, Souma, quickly warmed up to me, and he allowed me to take leftovers home after our shift. I gave them to Rin, as thanks for always picking me up from work, and insisted that he eat them on his own. He, of course, accepted the takeaway container every time and told me to thank Souma on his behalf, but after heating up the food, he always split it into two bowls and made me sit down at the table to eat (an extremely late) dinner with him.
- x -
I couldn't help but feel that, as time went on, something changed in my relationship with Rin. It might have stemmed from the fact that, somewhere in between graduating from high school and living away from home as university students, the both of us had changed. Even though he was still as energetic as ever, Rin seemed calmer and a little more mature than I remembered him being. He was honest, but he knew how to keep things to himself instead of wearing his heart on his sleeve all the time. He had always been considerate of me, but lately, I was hyper-aware of how much care and delicacy he treated me with.
There were occasions that I forgot Rin and I were simply best friends—not quite family, but not merely friends; nothing more, nothing less. There were occasions when people mistake Rin and I for being more than friends, and I couldn't be bothered to correct them. When Souma found out that Rin came and picked me up every shift, he assumed that the two of us were dating, and decided to make a little more leftovers than he usually did for the both of us to take home. I couldn't entirely call it "abusing the good will of another human being", in that I didn't really see where Souma was making a bad call. For years, people had made the mistake of thinking that Rin and I were dating*—nd honestly, it was coming to the point where I kept thinking we were dating. When Rin looked my way a little longer than he should have, I never thought to break eye contact; when we walked so close that our fingers started to brush, I never thought to stray a little further away; when he hugged me for a gift of such mediocre kindness, I never thought to question why he felt the need to overreact to this degree.
Occasionally, I took the time to wonder what it would have been like if we were dating. Rin was the type who liked to spoil those close to him (I'd been on the receiving end of it far too many times), so I expected that the number of gifts I received on a daily basis would only increase two fold. He was the touchy-feel type—and the brave touchy-feely type—so I didn't doubt that he'd be reaching for my hand or throwing an arm around my shoulder or leaning down for a kiss every spare chance I got. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that—in the even that Rin tried to perform any of those manoeuvres on me—I either wouldn't know how to (or wouldn't want to) push him away.
"I'm a little traumatised." She said. "You have no idea how grateful I am that you and Hirakoba aren't like that."
She looked even more confused. "Are you two... not dating?"
"Probably not." I said.
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"I don't think so?"
", why aren't you giving me a straight answer?"
"Sorry—recurring gag. Rin and I are childhood friends."
"That tells me absolutely nothing." She said, her eyes narrowing. To my relief, she let the matter go with an exasperated sigh. "You guys sure act like you're dating—honestly, the way he looks at you turns my stomach a little."
That caught my attention. "What?"
"I'm just kidding!" She said, starting to laugh at the genuine shock on my face. Then she sobered. "But no, really, it's gross."
We went to class together and joined up with the rest of our group for our morning lecture. After classes were done for the day, Rin left for tennis practice, and I went home, eager to enjoy my day off work for the week and get ahead in my studies. I didn't realise that I'd lost myself in my books until Rin poked his head into my room, calling, ", it's dinner time—y' comin' or what?"
I left my books behind and followed Rin into his apartment. He heated up the leftovers that I'd brought back from work last night, and we sat down in front of the television, watching the news like dutiful adults should until our bowls were empty. After we cleaned up the dishes, Rin sat at the dining table, sifting through a magazine about the latest fashions, while I sprawled out on his futon, browsing through a cookbook that our kitchen-savvy friend Tadano had leant to me. The comfortable silence that settled over us was broken when Rin coughed pointedly.
"Yes?" I answered, not looking up.
"So... I was talkin' to one of the boys today," he began slowly, "and they seemed to think that you were my... um, well, girlfriend?"
I lifted my face to raise an eyebrow at him. "... Oh, really."
"Don't sound so unimpressed! It just got me thinkin', like... people have always thought we were datin', ever since we were in middle school." He paused, trying to think of an intelligent way to asking me what my opinion was on the matter. "What's up with that?"
"Kaede said the exact same thing." Then I paused. "Actually, to be more precise, she said it was gross."
Rin hard a hard time looking at me. "So what d'ya think?"
About what? "What do you mean, what do I think?"
"What d'ya think we are?"
I stared at him. "I don't know, best friends? Childhood friends? Rivals? ... Incompatible people who have been hanging out with each other for too long?"
He was too deep in thought to grin. "I wonder what it'd be like if we were?"
"I don't know." I said, shrugging. "But obviously it wouldn't be very different to what we're doing now, or people wouldn't keep assuming that we're dating."
It took me a while to realise what I'd said. When I finally did, I looked at Rin to discover that he was already staring at me, surprised by the words that had so unconsciously left my mouth. It didn't take us long to realise what we were doing and subsequently break eye contact with one another, colouring rapidly as we tried to return to our literature of choice.
- x -
By the time it was June, Rin and I already had a solid habit. In the morning, he would go to morning practice while I went to coffee with Kaede, swapping stories with her about what kind of customers came to our respective workplaces the following evening. Sometimes we would meet up with Rin for breakfast, but more times than often, I wouldn't see him until we went to classes. After our lessons were over, Rin went to tennis practice, and I either went home to study or I went to work. On the days that I worked late, he always came to pick me up on his bicycle, and on my days off, I always studied at home and waited until he got back from driving school before we had dinner. Lately, we'd taken to going on long walks after finishing our evening meal: sometimes we went exploring, and other times, we just did circles around the neighbourhood. It was a nice break for the two of us, being able to forget about finals and our other responsibilities in favour of an absent-minded walk.
On one of our more aimless Wednesday night walks, Rin and I chanced upon a tennis court, not far from our apartments. They were slightly old and not in the best condition, but they were still good enough to play a casual game. Since we didn't have any equipment with us that evening, we came back on my next day off to play a light rally (on the condition that Rin went easy on me). It had been a while since we last played tennis, and although I hadn't completely lost my touch, I was definitely rusty. Perhaps because he valued my companionship over winning a watch, Rin went easy on me. We played well into the evening, hitting the ball back and forth as we had a leisurely discussion about the latest fashion trends, losing track of the time until the exhaustion in my bones and in my head told me that it was nearly one in the morning. Rin wasn't as tired as I was, but the both of us were still worn down and a little wobbly from varying forms of exhaustion.
Like always, we walked side-by-side, our fingertips brushing occasionally from being in such close proximity of one another. A couple of times, Rin caught my eye and grinned, but his embarrassment prevented him from producing that wide grin that I'd come to know so well.
As we continued to walk, we gravitated so close to one another that the backs of our hands started to brush. There was something unapologetic about the way that neither Rin nor I refused to back down, and at some point, we'd started walking so close together that our hands started to catch one another. Eventually, Rin just decided to take my hand.
He claimed that it would spare us "the annoyance of havin' them keep catchin' each other the way they were." Weeks of wondering what it would have been like to hold his hand (among other things) didn't quite compare to the reality of him doing it, I thought: I'd never thought to imagine the temperature of his hands, or how they felt, or how large they were in comparison to mine. In actuality, his hands were warm—a little sweaty from the humidity in the air; they were calloused, owing to the hours and hours of practice that he did every day. But rather than being large and enveloping, Rin's hands were—humorously enough—nearly the same size as mine. I couldn't help but make fun of him.
"Your hands are tiny." I said.
"An' your hands are too big." He countered.
To show that he was joking, he gave my hand a gentle squeeze. I smiled.
I didn't have to look at him to know that he was grinning from ear to ear.
- x -
They started off as accidents—a brush of our fingertips here, a thoughtless arm around the shoulder there—but they rapidly evolved in more deliberate and unapologetic actions. Soon enough, Rin didn't even need a reason to be so affectionate. He stopped making such a big deal about reaching for my hand when we walked home from a light rally at the tennis courts close to our complex; after he came to pick me up from work (at some point, he'd started coming inside the shop to thank Souma for always giving us free leftovers), he would always throw an arm around my shoulder as he walked me out; after we finished reading magazines in his room at night, he naturally gravitated to giving me a good night hug.
But as time went on, I noticed an unusual change in Rin's demeanour. Moments before gracing me with a gesture of affection, I saw a faint look of panic in his eyes. Every time he locked hands, I couldn't help but noticed how sweaty they became in such a short amount of time. Whenever we made eye contact, he never seemed to be able to hold my gaze for more than three seconds before forcing himself to embarrassedly look away. It was the kind of nervous behaviour I'd only seen a couple of times in Rin—mostly whenever he'd done something wrong, and desperately wanted to hide it from his grandma, who would most certainly give him a beating for his wrongdoings.
I tried to get to the root of Rin's problems. Usually, he was quick to tell me what he'd done wrong (on the condition that I didn't tell his grandma), and often asked for my advice on how to proceed. This time, however, he was very adamant about keeping the problem to himself.
"Are you okay?" I asked as we walked out of the restaurant. Rin had come inside to report to Souma how delicious last night's leftovers had been while I finished mopping the floor. When we left, he put an arm around my shoulders—but his touch was ginger and carefully thought about, quite unlike the way he used to casually spring his limbs onto me.
He didn't look at me when he responded. "Yeah? Why?"
"You seem kind of... not yourself?"
This time, he turned to stare at me. "...? What're y' talkin' about, ?"
"You just seem kind of... distant lately." I didn't know how else to put it. "You're giving me a run for my money as the original ice queen here."
He cracked a grin, but it was devoid of its usual genuineness. "Aren't y' overthinkin' it?"
"I don't want to hear that from you."
Rin, I quickly came to realise, was planning on suffering through his predicament in silence—but no matter how much I prodded or pestered him, he tried to hide the conflicted look on his face and insist that nothing was wrong with him. Instead of using my free time more productively, I dedicated every spare second to cracking Rin's mind open—and just when I was starting to give up hope, my mission started to bear the fruits of success.
We were studying for finals in the library together with a couple of our other friends in the library when Rin started spacing out, and didn't snap out of his reverie until I slapped him upside the head with my notebook.
"Concentrate." I said, gesturing to the mock exam in front of him.
His head dropped onto the front over, and he sighed loudly. "Do finals for me, ."
"Are you a child? Do them yourself."
"There's no way I'm gonna pass this semester."
"Not with that attitude you're not."
"My brain isn't workin' today. Go on without me, ."
"I'm actually going to hit you."
He wasn't paying any attention to me. ", I want y' to know that you were always my best friend, and—"
"If you're trying to sabotage my academic prowess by cutting into my study time, then you're doing a really good job of it."
He went silent after that. For a long time, he didn't speak—and at first, I thought it was because he'd given up on trying to distract me and was finally letting me get my work done, but when he didn't speak a word for a solid twenty minutes, I grew concerned and decided to look over in his direction. He still had his forehead pressed against the papers, but he had his eyes wide open, so he couldn't have been asleep.
Then it occurred to me. "Rin? Are you... sulking?"
"No." He mumbled, quite clearly sulking.
I let out a long, exasperated sigh and closed my test book. "I'm going to step out for a caffeine break. Does anybody want anything?"
A few people asked me to pick up energy drinks for them and handed me some money.
When Rin didn't say anything, I walked over to him and kicked his chair. "Come with me—if you sit there like that for any longer, you're going to fall asleep."
He got up wordlessly and we left the group in a hushed silence as we left the library and made our way to the nearest vending machine. It didn't look like Rin was going to say anything, so I decided to take the initiative.
"So, are you going to tell me what's wrong?" I asked, jabbing buttons on the vending machine. "It's not like you to be so down."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Should y' really be worrin' about me when finals are so close?"
"Then stop giving me reasons to worry about you, stupid!"
Rin scratched the back of his head, a faint grin tugging at the corners of his lips. It was nothing like his usual ones, but it was a start, at least.
I sighed. "You're not helping anyone—least of all yourself—by shouldering whatever burdens you're carrying on your own. How am I supposed to help you solve your problems if you don't let me help you?"
He looked away. "... It's prob'ly not somethin' you can help me solve."
"That never stopped you before." I pointed out. The look on his face suggested that he didn't believe me, so I recounted situations where Rin had definitely asked for my unqualified advice. "Remember when some girl in Kite's class confessed to you behind the gym? You knew that I'd never been in a situation like that before, but you asked for my help anyway. Then there was that time that you thought you overheard your parents talking about getting a divorce, and you came and asked me what I should to, even though I had absolutely no clue what do you. Then there was that time you asked me how you get closer to your fellow teammates, and I literally am not qualified to you that kind of advice."
For a while, all my spiel did was leave him speechless. Then, slowly, he said, "I've just been thinkin' about... somethin'."
"So I've noticed." I said.
"But it's not somethin' I can talk 'bout freely." He swept on, an uncharacteristically serious edge to his words. "Least of all to you, ."
For a long time, neither of us said anything. Minutes must have past before I could think of something to respond to his words. "If you don't want to talk about it, then I won't push you." I said. "But surely you, more than anyone else, should remember just how frustrating it is to earn someone's trust and get them to open up to you. I don't know if you remember making promises that you'd always be there for me when I needed you, or that we'd always be together, but I want you to know that this isn't a one-way street."
I coughed awkwardly. Usually it was Rin who made embarrassing declarations of platonic love.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is... you can trust me."
"I know." His answer was gentle. "That's why I don't wanna say anythin'."
I didn't what else to say to him after that, but Rin seemed to think that nothing more needed to be said. We returned to the library, an uncomfortable silence hanging over the two of us; when we wordlessly sat down at our tables and passed around the drinks, the others recognised that something strange had happened between the two of us and had the decency not to bring it up. We studied until late, but most of them went home much earlier than I'd expected. I suppose they just couldn't find it in themselves to be productive in the presence of such a disquieting mood.
Rin stayed until I decided to pack up and go home for the night, even though he didn't have to, and went home together in silence. When we made it to the complex, he stopped out the front of his apartment and lingered for a moment. Usually, he would walk right on into his apartment and hold the door open until I followed him in. No matter how late it was at night, we would always spend half an hour or so reading magazines on his futon. Tonight, though, he didn't seem like he was very interested in keeping me company. I decided not to push him on the matter.
"Good night, Rin." I said, stepping in with the intention of giving me a hug.
Before I could, he reached out and ruffled my hair. "G'night, ."
Then he didn't stop to look at my face before retreating to the safety of his apartment and closing the door behind him.
If it had been a one-time thing, perhaps it wouldn't have bothered me so much, but the fact that Rin stopped absent-mindedly reaching for my hand or throwing a casual arm around my shoulder or sending me back to my apartment at the end of the night with a good night hug bothered me. At some point, I realised that the reason his change in behaviour kept me up at night thinking was because I genuinely missed his gestures of affection. Part of me began to think over the days that Rin felt the same way. Sometimes (when I was subtle enough about it), I witnessed Rin reaching for me, and then catching himself before he did anything brash. For the first time in weeks, I was starting to develop an inkling about just why he was so reluctant to let me in on what had been troubling him for some long. I didn't want to say anything about it—just in case I was wrong—but privately, I felt that Rin should have just said what was on his mind. Things might not have gone as terribly as he thought they would've.
- x -
I didn't see much of Rin after finals week. When all our exams were over, Rin busied himself with tennis practice, and I fell back into the routine of working at the restaurant. Now that summer was officially here, we'd managed to secure a few more employees, meaning that I wasn't constantly doing overtime or finishing later than I should have been. A lot of the time, I found myself getting home before Rin was finished with practice for the day (his lights were always out when I got home, and since ten o'clock was usually dinner time for him, I seriously doubted that he would have gone to sleep so soon).
The fact that Rin no longer came to pick me up anymore, however, made Souma very curious. The very first night that I finished my shift and Rin was nowhere in sight, he looked around curiously and asked me, "No boyfriend tonight?"
I gave a long, exasperated sigh in response. It wasn't in my best interest to burden a co-worker with my personal problems, so I joked, "I haven't seen him in a while. He might be dead."
Souma laughed, and then sobered. "No, really."
From then on, Souma sent me home with three containers of leftovers every night.
Despite always being given so many leftovers after every shift, I never saw Rin often enough to give him food, and he never came by often enough to come and take it from me (I was usually asleep by the time he got back). Since the both of us had spare keys to one another's apartments, I usually let myself into his abode while he was at practice and left a few sets of leftovers in his fridge. I made a habit of noting the expiry date of each container on an obnoxiously-coloured sticky note, along with a motivational quote like "Don't overwork yourself if you can't afford health insurance" or "Don't practice too hard or you'll die, stupid". Every day or two that I came to replace his leftovers, the previous batch always seemed to be gone, so I had a reliable source telling me that he was eating and (probably) sleeping properly.
About a week into my summer vacation, Rin's absence was starting to take a toll on me. It wasn't like I was being deprived of human company—I got my fill of that from talking to co-workers and the occasional customer—but I missed being able to talk with someone who knew me as well as he did. I missed our banter and our inside jokes; I missed our aimless evening walks around the block, and the occasional rallies we had when we remembered to bring our tennis equipment; I missed him rebuking me for working too much or studying too hard, and I missed him trying to convince me to change my hair colour. Not having him around was beginning to dampen my spirits.
I dialled the number for home, and after only a couple of rings, someone picked up the phone.
But it wasn't my mother who answered. "... Dad?"
"? Is that you?"
"Um... it's Friday, right? Why aren't you at work?"
His laughter rung out on the other end of the line, and it surprised me just how much I'd missed the sound of it. "Very well played, ." He said, clearly amused. "Believe it or not, Papa's taking a bit of time off work."
"Really. Papa's had ten hours of sleep in the past four days, so the company decided to give Papa a bit of time to recover from the crisis at the Ginowan branch company." He said. "But enough about me. How are you, ? Your mama tells me that you've just finished finals."
"I finished last week, actually." I corrected him.
"Oh? If that's the case, why don't you come back to Naha next week? It's been a while since all three of us have been at home to celebrate your Mama's birthday."
The thought of returning to Naha for a bit to see my family hadn't even occurred to me. Until now, I'd never really thought of asking for more than one day off a week. "I can come back for a few days, but we're really understaffed at the restaurant, so I shouldn't stay any longer than that. I could ask my boss off for some time next week."
"Hm? What restaurant?"
"... Did mom not tell you? I have a part-time job at a restaurant."
He laughed again, more gently this time. "You make your Papa so proud, : you study hard, you're earning money... it's so hard to believe just how quickly Papa's little girl is growing up." He sounded a little wistful. "But make sure that you're taking the time to look after yourself, okay? You won't be helping anyone if you're overworking yourself, you know."
"Don't worry, I'm not." I said.
"The restaurant you're working at—you mentioned that they're understaffed. Are you sure they're not giving you too many shifts?"
He could be strangely perceptive when he wanted to be, I reflected. "It's nothing more than I can handle—and they've never been unreasonable about their demands. They give me regular days off, and during finals week, they didn't ask me to work until all my exams were over."
That put him at ease. "Well, it would certainly be wonderful if you could ask your boss for a few days off next week. We can all sit around the dinner table and eat hot pot, like we used to when we lived in Hachinohe—just the three of us."
It was a warming thought. "I'll ask my boss about days off next week. I'll let you know when I'm coming down, okay?"
"Okay, . But make sure to email me your schedule—it won't be a surprise unless your Mama doesn't know you're coming!"
We talked for a little while longer about nothing in particular. The one thing I loved about conversations with my father was that they rarely ever meant anything: instead of talking about anything personal or emotionally harrowing, we talked about the weather; my father recommended some good places to eat at in Nago, and I brainstormed ideas for my mother's birthday presents.
As I was beginning to enjoy our conversation, it wasn't long before my father, mid-way through a sentence, cut himself off and whispered, "Oh no, , your Mama's coming home! Papa has to hang up now, lest she discover our secret plot." His words were alive with laughter. "We'll talk again soon, okay?"
I agreed to contact him again via email. And then we hung up.
When I went to work the next day, I talked to my boss about getting a couple of days off to go and see my family, and she decided to give me four days off work in a row. "I keep telling myself that I'm overworking you, ." She explained. "Consider this my appreciation for how hard you've been working for us."
In the days leading up to my return home, I got an unexpected call from Kaede. I hadn't seen her since classes had let out for the summer, so it was nice to hear her voice for the first time in so long. We made a bit of small talk before she strayed onto the point of the call.
"Some of us are going down to the beach on Wednesday next week to go and watch the fireworks." She told me. "Do you want to come?"
I politely declined her offer, explaining, "I'm going back to Naha for a few days next week. It's my mom's birthday, and my dad thought it'd be nice if I came back home and surprised her."
"Oh." She said, bravely masking her disappointment. "That's a shame—I really wanted to see the fireworks with you."
"I'm sorry." I said. "Maybe next time, though."
She was silent for a moment. "Yeah. Next time."
The day before I left for Naha, my boss gave me the rare opportunity to work the morning and lunch shift; although she didn't admit it out loud, Souma told me that it was because she didn't want to be responsible for my exhaustion when I went back Naha tomorrow morning. Though I was touched by her low-key kindness, I couldn't help but remark how unnatural it felt to finish work at three o'clock in the afternoon. When it was time to leave the restaurant, my co-workers sent me off with warm wishes, and Souma sent me off with three containers of leftovers, telling me to come back soon. I told him that four days would go by in the blink of an eye, but he just shook his head in disbelief.
Unexpected though it was, I ran into Rin at the entrance of our complex on my way home. He looked just as bewildered as I felt. "Oh, —you're back real early today."
"I could say the same for you." I said. "Did practice finish early today?"
He scratched the back of his head, looking a little sheepish. "I came back for dinner. I was gonna head to the courts again after that, though. D'ya, um, wanna come?"
"Thanks for the offer," I said, "but I plan on hitting the hay a little early tonight."
"Hm? Is somethin' special happenin' tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I'm going back to Naha for a couple of days. Apparently my dad's got work off for the next couple of weeks, and since my mom's birthday is on Wednesday, he asked me to come back and surprise her." I told him.
He seemed surprised. "Why didn't y' say you were goin' back to Naha?"
"I literally haven't seen you since finals."
"Y' could've left me a message or somethin'."
"I know," I said, "but you been so... weird and broody lately. I thought I'd give you some space to deal with—well, whatever it is that's been troubling you so much."
He grew momentarily quiet. "Thanks, ."
"You don't have to thank me for things like that, stupid."
The beginnings of a grin cracked at his face. "How're y' gettin' back?"
"The bus, probably. I can catch it from the front of the government office." I said. "I was thinking of taking an early one tomorrow morning—maybe around seven."
"Alright. I'll come with y'."
I frowned. "Don't you have a tournament coming up?"
He shrugged. "My parents told me that m' sister's comin' back from Taiwan soon, an' she says if I don't move my stuff back to my own room by the time she gets back, she's gonna throw it in the trash."
"Oh." I said. "Well, okay, um—come by after breakfast?"
He agreed to honour the rendezvous. After exchanging a quick "good night," we turned away from one other and retired to our respective apartments.
- x -
I wasn't expecting Rin to be much of a conversationalist the following morning, but he made a surprising amount of small talk on our way to the bus stop. He caught me up on what he'd been doing after finals. Not only did he spend an obscene amount of time at practice, he told me, he went to the driving school during his spare time to get his licence. I asked him if he was any closer to getting one, and he took me by surprise when he told me that he already had it. He'd had it for a couple of days now.
"My pops said I could take one of our family's cars back to Nago once I got my driver's licence." He said. It suddenly clicked why he'd wanted to come back to Naha with me. "What—y' didn't think I'd pass my test?"
"That's part of it." I said, making him say a 'hey!' in protest. "I'm a little more surprised that you found the time over the semester to actually go to a driving school."
He shrugged. "I went while you were at work. I racked up plenty o' practice in no time at all."
We talked all the way to the government office, at which point we sat down to wait for the bus. Eventually, our conversation circled around to the topic of my father.
"So how come y' agreed to go back to Naha at the request of y' pops?" He asked, genuinely curious. "The last time y' talked about him, y' had steam comin' out y' ears."
"Yeah. On the way to Nago for the first time, y' vented for an hour about how y' dad promised to send y' off to university, and then flaked out on y' for Goshikami."
"... Oh." The memory of hearing that my father had left for Goshikami in favour of sending me off played fresh in my mind, and I couldn't help but wince. "It's not like I've forgiven him for breaking his promise—or any of his promises, really—but sometimes he does or says things to make me realise that there's someone behind that man who likes to play loose and fast with words. It's taken me a while, but I think I've grown up enough to realise that he really does try to care—he just does a terrible job of showing that he does."
Rin grew suddenly quiet—but rather than seeming disquietingly silent, he seemed... mystified. "I've never heard y' say anything nice about y' pops before." He pretended to tear up. "Is my li'l growin' up?"
The familiarity of seeing the fake-crying Rin for the first time in so long warmed my face up to a smile. "Don't get ahead of yourself, old man." I said, nudging him. The sound of our genuine laughter filling the air was nostalgic, and it'd been so long since I'd last seem him with his guard lowered that I'd almost forgotten how he looked like without it. Since we were young, I'd always been able to see a Rin who was always so free-spirited and open around me. I never understood what my classmates had been talking about when they talked about how surprising it was to see Rin as me as he did when he was around me, or how much he acted without thinking when it was with me. Even Shiranui talked occasionally about Rin's status as a lone wolf in the tennis club; every time he brought it up, I couldn't help but wonder how they'd come up with such an unfitting nickname.
Rin brought me back to reality with a handful of wistful words. "I missed talkin' to y' like this."
"Me too." I agreed. "But I was never the one who asked it to stop being like this."
His face grew a little sombre. "It's not like I want this to stop either." He said, gesturing between the two of us.
In the silence that ensued, we heard the distance rumble of the approaching limousine bus. Rin and I exchanged a look, our unsaid words getting lost somewhere in the distance between us and falling short of reaching one another. For a moment, I was convinced that the bus had successfully managed to kill the reflective mood we'd worked so hard to get going—but then Rin reached out a hand and ruffled my hair. It was a cupcake to the affectionate gestures he'd been gracing with for the past few weeks, but it'd been so long that Rin had so much as patted me on the shoulder that it stirred a bit of warmth inside me.
"You've been real patient and real kind with me these past few weeks, ," he said, his works evoking a sense of nostalgia in me, "and I appreciate it. Don't worry, though—things'll go back to the way they used to be before. I promise."
He gave me a smile that seemed strangely sad and aloof. I didn't know what to make of it.
On the bus ride back home, Rin listened to music as he flipped through magazines, and I passed the ride with a good book. Even when we got off at the station and started walking home, very little was said between us until we reached my house.
"Well, this is me." I said. "Do you want to come in and say hi?"
He scratched the back of his head. "I'll come by later. I should go 'n' see my own family first."
"True." I said. "Well, come by whenever you feel like it, okay?"
Just as I was about to leave him at the front gate, Rin stopped me. "A-are y' doin' anythin' later tonight?"
I blinked. "No, I don't think so. Why?"
"There're s'posed to be fireworks tonight." He told me, all the while avoiding direct eye contact with me. "Wanna come over and watch them while we still have the roof to ourselves?"
"Sure." I said. "It's been a while since we hung out."
"... Yeah. I s'pose it has."
For a moment, the two of us loafed around awkwardly, not quite sure how to say goodbye. Rin opened his mouth to say something, but after some hesitation, he closed it again. He looked like was about to turn and leave when I said, "Do you, um, want a hug?"
He looked surprised—even a little star-stuck—that I'd offered. "... Do you?"
I gave him a long look. "Why would I offer if I didn't want one?"
"... Okay then." He said, stepping in to wrap his arms around my shoulders and give me a quick squeeze; it was quite unlike the enveloping bear hugs I'd gotten so used to receiving from him. Without looking me in the eye, he told me that he'd come by later to pick me and turned to leave. "Bye, ."
"Bye." I said, watching him hastily jog away before retreating inside my house.
My mother broke down into tears when she saw me walk into the house. As she engulfed me in a hug, she berated me for not calling before coming home. She started to fret about not having enough ingredients to cook dinner for all three of us tonight (and swept over something that sounded like "We've been using your bedroom as a storage cupboard") when my father swept into the room and rested his hands on her shoulders, trying to calm her down in between laughs.
"You fret too much, Mama!" He said good-humouredly. "How about you go out grocery shopping while and I move the junk out of her room?"
My mother peered curiously at my father. Then she looked at me, and back at my father. "Papa, did you know about this?"
"Of course not." He said, moving close enough to me that he could wrap a loose around around my shoulders. " and I don't have any reason to plot behind your back like that. Right, ?"
"Right." I agreed. My mother stared at the two of us, clearly not fooled; she knew that distance had never been enough to mend the frayed cords tying my father and I together, but she decided not to press the matter. Heaving a sigh, she agreed to go our grocery shopping. She asked if we wanted anything from the grocery story; my father smoothly listed off the ingredients that we would need to make hot pot for dinner and a birthday cake for dessert, as well as balloons and coloured paper. Whether or not it tipped my mother off as to what we were planning, she didn't say anything about it. She left the house with her wallet, and spared my father and I one last exasperated look before she left us standing by the entryway, waving her goodbye.
She returned not long after with all the ingredients that we'd requested, and by that time, my father and I had finished moving the junk in my room to various places around the house. Very pointedly, my father suggested that I take my mother out to a nice café and catch her up on what life had been like in Nago. "While you're doing that," he said, "Papa might stay home and do a little bit of relaxing. It's a nice afternoon for baking."
"I don't know, dad—the bus ride was kind of tiring. Why don't you take mom out to a nice café instead?"
"Hm? But , it's only a two-hour journey for Nago."
"It's been a tiring week." I reasoned. "They've been giving me lots of hours at the restaurant this week. Tell you what—why don't I give you my credit card, and you two go on a little bit of a shopping spree?"
Even though we were in plain sight of my mother, my father covered his mouth and whispered to me, ", what are you doing? Papa doesn't remember this being part of the plan."
I covered my mouth and whispered back, "What am I doing? Do you even know how to bake?"
"Sure! Papa did a lot of midnight baking when he was in university!"
"I think you're a little past your prime, Papa." I dropping my hand to pat his round stomach. "Leave the baking to the kids."
Though he declined the offer to take my hard-earned money, my father agreed to take my mother to a nice café in town. He bid me good luck before taking my mother by the hand and leading her out of the house. As the door click shut behind them, I set to work.
- x -
My mother began to tear up for the second time that day when she returned to find balloons and coloured paper chains strung around the living room, and the hot pot all ready to go. She pulled both my father and I into a tight family hug, and we both wished her a happy birthday through our bashful laughter. My father set down their shopping bags from their little date by the entryway, and the three of us settled down to start an early dinner.
Although we were eating hotpot in celebration of my mother's birthday, we spent a lot of time talking about what I'd been up to for the past six months. Calls weren't enough for my mother to gauge whether or not I'd been taking proper care of myself, and I quickly lost count of how many times she berated me for not coming home on weekends. I told her that, ever since getting a job, I couldn't really afford to make time to come and see them quite so often. "They're really understaffed," I explained, "so they need all the help they can get."
"But you have to make sure you're looking after yourself properly, okay?" She chided. "You are your first priority."
"I know." I said. "But I'm fine—really. The chef gives me free leftovers at the end of every night to take home, so I've been saving a lot of money on food."
"Speaking of money," my father began, looking at me thoughtfully, "what do you plan on doing with the money you've been saving, ?"
I blinked, having never really thought about what I wanted to do with the money I'd been earning. "At first I wanted to save up for driving school, but I've been working so much that I don't really have the time to go. I guess I'll save it for a little while."
"You could go back to your hometown for a visit—if you wanted to." He said.
It took me a while to realise that, by hometown, he meant Hachinohe. "Oh. I mean, I guess I could, but I've never really had the incentive to go back." I didn't know how to tell my father that I didn't miss it as much as he seemed to think I did.
"Really?" As perceptive as he could be sometimes, he wasn't very up-to-date with my feelings. "When you were a little girl, you kept saying that you'd leave for Hachinohe as soon as you had the money."
I frowned. "I don't remember saying anything like that."
"It's true, though." My mother said. "You were very hung up about graduating from high school in Hachinohe with all your friends, and you were so upset when your father brought us to Naha."
My bitterness from those days seemed like such a distant memory. "I mean, I guess I hated it when we first moved." I said, more to my father than anyone else. "I was a little resentful when you went back on your promise to let me stay in Hachinohe until I graduated from high school—and I don't agree that it's right to make promises that you can't keep, but I like to think I've moved on. As much as I hated Naha to begin with, I've found things here that are important to me."
I coughed pointedly.
"What I'm trying to say is... I don't agree with your policy of making promises that you can't keep, but it'd be wrong to condemn you for putting me in a situation like this. I found the silver lining of moving to Naha, and ever since then, I haven't regretted leaving Hachinohe." For a long moment, I was silent. "Thank you, I guess—for moving us here."
They smiled at me knowingly.
After dinner, my father and I encouraged my mother to go ahead and take a bath with the lavender oil that they'd bought today while he and I washed the dishes. For the most part, it was a silent affair: he washed the dishes in a tub of warm, sudsy water and rinsed them off; I dried them and put them away. I didn't feel the need to fill the space between us with any unnecessary words, but my father appeared to have something that he wanted to get off his chest.
"..." He began, but trailed off, looking unsure of himself.
"... I'm sorry."
I nearly dropped the plate I was holding.
"I'm sorry," he went on, "if I ever got your hopes up."
It was a weak apology by most standards, but I reminded myself that hearing an apology from the lips of someone as evasive as my father was a rare opportunity. "What's done is done. Let's move on."
Usually, he would have been glad to take my words to heart. He would have gladly swept on and laugh away the conversation we'd had, but he seemed strangely reluctant to do so tonight. At first he was hesitant to go on, but when he plucked up the courage, he continued: "You've grown up so fast, . Soon, you and Papa will be going separate ways, and..." He coughed pointedly. "I don't want you to carry any burdens that I've caused you into adulthood."
I looked at him in amazement. "It's not like I was wasn't planning on it. I've found ways to dispose of needless thoughts, so it's not something you need to concern yourself with." I said. "So just... don't make promises that you can't keep anymore, and I won't have any reason to harbour any misgivings when we go our separate ways."
For a moment, there was a drawn-out silence. Then, out of nowhere, he blind-sided me with: ", do you think I'm a bad father?"
There were so many things I could have said to him. I could have said that, although he had a track record for disappointing me, there were things about him that I would always love. I could have told him that he'd never done anything bad enough for me to ever hate him. He had technically given me free reign to say whatever I wanted about him, but all I could bring myself to say to him was: "In the scope of things... no."
A slow smile crept up on my father's fact. It was neither happy nor sad—it was purely content.
Rin came by our house a little later that day. My mother swept him up in a hug, once again in tears, and then stepped back to survey him. She looked a little puzzled as she scrutinised him, making him tense up and look around in a slight panic.
"Something's change about you, Rin-chan." She said, narrowing her eyes when Rin refused to make eye contact with her. "I think you got taller."
Rin let out a long, gusty sigh of relief.
He chatted with my parents for a little while about what he was doing, but he excused us when it was nearly seven-thirty, explaining to us that the fireworks would be starting soon. My parents gave each other a knowing smile and told us to have fun.
When we arrived at Rin's house, his mother pulled me into a bear hug and started fussing over me, not so unlike what my mother had done to Rin. She pulled at my cheeks and poked at my stomach and took a step back to survey me. "You've lost so much weight, -kun! Have you been eating properly? Have you been sleeping enough?"
"I'm fine." I said as Rin's grandmother toddled into the room. She gave me a hug, and then turned to Rin with and barked, calling him a "stupid grandson who couldn't even look after his precious friend properly."
Instead of yelling back at her like he usually did, he fell eerily quiet. The impromptu silence that hung over our conversation was interrupted by a faint popping sound, and it took Rin and I a couple of seconds to realise that it was the start of the fireworks display. Without sparing each other a second glance, we tripped out way up the staircase and hustled into Rin's sister's room, squeezing out onto the roof top and sitting ourselves down to watch the rest of the display in hushed awe. We watched colours explode against the backdrop of Naha's starless sky, remaining quiet and stationary in the summer air until the distant popping sounds began to fade, and the display drew to a close.
The magic of the moment faded back into the silence of sleepy Naha, and it wasn't long before Rin and I found ourselves easing our backs against the wall with our legs stretched out and our heads tilted slightly inwards. I was in the process of reasoning with myself why I shouldn't let my cheek connect with his shoulder when Rin decided to start making small talk.
"Y' ma looked like she'd been cryin' a lot today." He said.
"Yeah." I agreed, and counted the times that my mother had cried on my right hand. "Let's see... she cried when I walked in the door and lectured me for not telling her I was coming; she cried when dad took her out, and she came back to find the house decked out in birthday celebrations; she cried when we ate the birthday cake I'd baked for her; she cried when she saw your face... she's kind of an emotional wreck right now."
He grinned. "Seems like y' getting' on well with y' pops, too."
"I don't know if it's just me or not, but something has changed about him." I said. "I know he's never been very good at expressing his emotions, but when I talked to him today, he spoke like he'd given the matter a lot of thought."
"Maybe he did." Rin said.
"Maybe." I agreed. "Whatever happened to him, I'm not ungrateful. I've never really had the chance to talk to my dad about anything when it came down to what I thought or how I felt about him, but I'm glad I managed to get it off my chest. I feel... lighter, I guess."
He ruffled my hair, grinning from ear to ear. "Seems like you've freed y'self from the burdens that you've been shouldering all these years, ."
"Speaking of shouldering burdens," I said, decidedly ruining the moment, "what about you?"
He turned his gaze away. "What about me?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about." I said, giving him a pointed look. "Lately all I've seen you do is drag your problems around. You don't talk about them, but you've been doing this for weeks now: you don't look at my face when we talk anymore; when we're in the middle of a conversation, I'll say something and then you'll just go quiet; you've got more defences up than China had against Mongolia during the invasion, and it's driving me crazy. Have I done something wrong?"
Slowly, Rin turned to meet my eyes and held my gaze with such seriousness, I couldn't find it in myself to pull away when he spoke: ", d'ya remember the promise we made a few months ago—before we left for Nago?" A pause. "We said that we'd always be together... d'ya remember?"
"So... no matter what I say right now, we'll always be best friends?"
It was the closest I'd ever gotten to Rin telling me just what had been bothering him for this long with his own mouth, so I was reluctant to say anything other than a sincere, "Of course."
He opened his mouth, looking extraordinarily conflicted. He looked like he was about to reconsider telling me anything, and he was halfway there to shaking his head dismissively before I spoke up.
In the calmest voice I could muster, I said, "Rin—do you trust me?"
"...? I think so?"
"Then tell me what's up with you."
In the silence that followed, Rin broke my gaze and began to talk. "We've been... kinda close lately, right?"
I assumed that he was referring to his affectionate gestures. "Yeah. And?"
".. At first, it was real nice—in a different way, y'know? Up until now, I've only ever felt close to y' when it's just the two of us and we're talkin' like this." He said, gesturing between me and himself. "But then I hugged you for the very first time in April, and... I dunno. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. I felt like I transcended somethin'."
I stayed quiet, not sure where he was going with his tale.
"I didn't realise what it meant until we went away to Nago, an' a couple of the boys were convinced that you 'n' I were... a thing, I guess." He swept right on. "I told them that we weren't—that we were just best friends—but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like... just bein' best friends wasn't enough for me anymore. An' I told myself that I was wrong, but the closer I got to you, the more trouble I had convincin' myself that I didn't like you that way."
He took a breath.
"But I do."
Throughout his entire story, he couldn't bring himself to look at me. Perhaps he was afraid of what he might've seen there, and I couldn't blame him for thinking that way. But hearing him recount his adventures from the past few months so regrettably was heart-breaking. It was like he was already bracing himself for the inevitable rejection.
"Why didn't you say anything before?"
The surprise spread all over his face. It wasn't the question he'd been expecting hear me ask. "W-well, I couldn't tell what you were thinkin'. I didn't know if you'd understood what I was tryin' to say, or if you were just... goin' along with me." He hesitated. "I couldn't tell what you were thinkin' at all—that's why I didn't wanna say anything to you until I was sure that y' felt the same way."
A faint smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
"For a while, it was a little depressin', y'know? But then that day at the library, you reminded me of somethin' really important." He sounded wistful. "You reminded me just how long it took me to earn y' trust, and I started thinkin' to myself that it didn't really matter whether or not I liked y', cos confessin' wasn't worth the risk. I... felt that always bein' together was more important that needin' to be, y'know... a thing."
His quiet declaration was so genuine that it brought a smile and a bit of warmth to my face. "Why are you so sure that it wouldn't gone so badly?"
He whipped his head around to face me, completely speechless for a moment or two. "If I'd said somethin'... would you've said yes?"
"Why don't you find out?"
Colour infected his cheeks. "... wanna go out?"
"B-but do y' mean it? You're not just doing this, well, just because, right?!"
Without warning, I leaned forward and kissed him. The overwhelming joy on his was a little too much for my heart to bear when I pulled away and said, "Do you know me at all? Am I really the type of person who does things just because to you?"
His voice started to waver. "Did you mean that? Did you mean what you just did?"
I sighed, looking away from his widening eyes. "You know, Rin, there are some people in this world who mean it when they make promises." I told him.
And then, for the first time in months, I saw Rin grin that splitting grin I hadn't realized I'd miss so much. It was his turn to lean in and press his lips to mine. In comparison to months of shy hand-holding and good night hugs, it felt far warmer and tasted far sweeter.
Part of me empathised with Rin. He'd mentioned not a moment ago that part of him wanted to stay silent in order to preserve the bond of trust we'd fostered since we were children, and I couldn't quite blame him for not wanting to lose all the hard work and effort he'd poured into getting me to open up to him. My childhood bitterness was only a faint memory, but it was vivid enough for me to recognise the value of letting people into my mind—for trust, where correct placed, could reap truly beautiful things.
Princo & Ribbon
December 13, 2015.
Kyūshū Tournament: I've been a little inconsistent in my tournament names, but the Kyūshū Tournament is basically the prefecture tournament for the Kyūshū region. I felt like I should clarify this since I've been using "district tournament" and "national tournament" against "Kyūshū Tournament".
Goya chanpuru: According to Wikipedia, goya chanpuru (ゴーヤーチャンプルー) is a stir-fry of bitter melon, tofu, egg and sliced pork. Apparently, it's also Kite's favourite food. If you want more information, then — as always — just ask Princo... after she recovers from finals. (Princo: Ribbon did a good enough job explaining it, but I translated a recipe if anyone wants to attempt making it [link].
Uni: I've never heard anyone outside of Australia refer to university as "uni", so it might be slang, it might not be. I don't know. For the sake of my curiosity/cultural awareness, tell me if you refer to university as "uni" and you live outside of Australia!
Yips: According to Wikipedia, it's "the loss of fine motor skills without apparent explanation [...]. Athletes affected by the yips demonstrate a sudden, unexplained loss of previous skill." Depending on the athlete, they may be able to recover from it, compensate for it in another way, or they may be unable to recover from it and then be forced to retire. From what I recall, both Tezuka and Miyuki (Chitose's little sister) are both said to have had the yips, though I think it's more common in sports like golf and baseball.
Shiranui and Chinen: Apparently, Shiranui's pretty bad at dealing with Chinen LOL.
Momijidani Park: According to Wikipedia, Momijidani Park (紅葉谷公園) is a maple leaf valley park, located at the base of Mt. Misen in Hiroshima.
Tanabata: According to Wikipedia, Tanabata (七夕) is a festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime annd Hikoboshi, which I guess are said to be like the Japanese Romeo and Juliet. It's usually celebrated on July 7, but some places hold it on other days between July and August. If you want more information, go to Wikipedia or ask Princo LOL. (Princo: Additional important note is that at the festival, people write their wishes on paper strips and hang it onto a bamboo tree with decorations.)
Yukata: According to Wikipedia, yukata are a Japanese unisex garment that you generally wear during the summer, since they tend to be made from cotton or synthetic material, and they're unlined, making them lighter and/or cooler and/or more breathable I guess. If you want more information about it, ask Princo LOL. (Princo: It's basically a better kimono.)
Yakiniku: If you guys watched the Nationals arc, then most of you should know what yakiniku (焼肉) is, but if you don't, it's kind of like Korean barbecue. Basically you grill meat and stuff by putting it on this mesh thing over a direct flame and God I'm so bad at explaining things JUST ASK PRINCO LOL.(Princo: Grilling meat and then you use sauce; the two most common are yakiniku tare (varies but typically has miso, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, etc...) and salt/lemon. You don't use them interchangeably, it differs by the type of meat you order.)
Koregusu: This thing (コーレーグース) is the hot sauce that Chinen was using to spike the sauce of enemy players in the OVA 20 (where all the players went out to eat yakiniku). I don't know much about it, so if you want to know more, ask Princo LOL. (Princo: I don't really get it much either, but I asked my dad to simplify the description on Wikipedia and to translate his words: "It's a liquor called awamori (strong Okinawan liquor distilled from rice or millet). It's similar to shochu (spirit distilled from sweet potatoes, rice, etc)." Not sure what Chinen would be doing with that, but it looks like they use that and add in hot peppers, and probably dillute it? Idk lmfao.)
Ribbon: I'm never writing a conventional romance fic EVER AGAIN.
Princo: My head hurts too much to write a proper note.