The heavy drops fell on his head and dripped down his face. But the boy didn’t clean them. He didn’t even care. All he cared was the girl running away from him. Don’t let her go, don’t let her go, Taiyou told himself.
He clenched both fists so hard his knuckles lost its color. Go after her… call her… Go after her! The boy opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He didn’t even move. All he did was stay where he was, watching the back of the girl he liked going further and further from him in complete silence.
I’m an idiot, he cursed himself. Even though he knew he was wrong, Taiyou didn’t move his legs after Tsukiko. Why did she have to say that… about the upperclassmen… and about… about him… The rain poured down his face without a break, but despite the cold water, the boy felt warm as the tears came down his cheeks. Why… why…
The heavy and hard silence filled the locker room. There were more than thirty people in the Teikou’s soccer club, but nobody spoke anything. No one dared to break the silence and make reality come crushing down over their heads.
That wasn’t the only reason. Even if there was no way to change the reality of their elimination, Taiyou knew everyone felt the same. No one in there had any idea what to say. Even their coach and supervisor was the same. He had a dejected expression as he stared at nothing, without even sighing.
Taiyou was the same. With his mind blank, all the boy did was stare at the floor, his chest going up and down as the emptiness and numbness grew inside him. He had no idea how much time had passed. Could be ten minutes, could be an hour, he didn’t know nor care. Because the moment anyone spoke or left the locker room, that team that worked so hard for so long would never play together again.
As if breaking the collective trance, the coach took a deep breath that echoed in the locker room. He kept his head down as everyone turned to him. He leaned forward but before he stood up or said anything, the captain looked at him. They exchanged a long and full of meaning glance. Then the teacher nodded and sat back on the chair.
The captain looked around the room, meeting the eyes of those who didn’t avert their gazes, before taking a deep breath. “We lost,” he almost shouted in one breath, as if to get it out.
Taiyou winced and almost cried as the harsh reality of those two simple words hit him. But he didn’t look away. The captain wasn’t crying, though everyone could tell he was holding back the tears.
“We lost,” he said again, “but we shouldn’t lower our heads. Not even for a second. They were, no, they’re better than us, and might even go to the national again. We knew that from the beginning, but we fought until the very end.”
Taiyou kept quiet like everyone else. Because he knew what the captain would say next. Please, don’t… The boy couldn’t stop the tears this time.
“Even though we lost… we should be proud of ourselves…” The captain could no longer hold the tears now, but he never closed his eyes. Even the coach lowered his head and hid his face with a hand. “Never forget this!”
“Captain…” the students’ voices echoed in the locker room.
The other third years looked between themselves, cleaned their tears and walked to the captain. They stood side by side with their hands behind their backs. “We’re couldn’t be prouder for leaving the future of Teikou in your hands!” No one in the locker room could hold the tears now. Even the coach couldn’t keep his composure. “Thank you for everything so far!”
“Captain… guys… ” Taiyou’s voice joined the others through the tears.
Even though they still had games on the second semester, the third years wouldn’t play anymore. They would stop their club activities to focus on the studies for high school exams as of tomorrow. Teikou soccer club would lose almost half the starting players. But that loss wasn’t the reason for the tears.
Taiyou and the rest of the students who would stay had to say goodbye to the upperclassmen who helped and supported them for almost half a year. How many times they inspired us? How many times when we were exhausted, but they’d still keep training? Without them, who’ll we turn to? Without them, we…
The boy looked at the floor. He knew that was coming. Everyone knew. It was inevitable. It was meant to end sometime. Even though they had prepared themselves to some extent, they weren’t prepared at all. We were lucky… the third years had to go through the same last year much sooner…
Taiyou barely remembered what happened next. The coach and the captain said something about the winter cup. Yes… we’ll go on. We’ll play again… without them. It was obvious. The boy had experienced that himself in his last school. We’ll have… to show them we can go on… so they can graduate with pride of us.
After more words from the coach about the next training, everyone joined the small groups according to their position inside the club. The captain gave some encouraging words to the forwards. The three middle-field of the third years said something about them not being worried because the team was in good hands. “You mean feet,” someone said, yearning some tired laughs.
Taiyou stood alone in the corner, waiting for the only other left back player, the third year, come to talk to him.
“Fuyuzora,” he called the boy with a tired voice. He wasn’t tall, but to Taiyou, his skill made him a presence in the field. “There’s a lot I could say, but knowing you, you’re already aware of it all. You’ll be the startup from now on. The responsibility might be too much at first, but I believe we’ll have no problem with you.” The third year showed a forced smile that was meant to hide his tears.
Little by little, everyone left the locker room. Taiyou was one of the last.
Tsukiko was waiting for him outside with a warm smile. He went to her, but barely listened to what she said as he walked by her side. The boy accepted her invitation for dinner, though he knew there was no way he could be a good company at the moment.
But he went with her anyway, because he liked just being by her side. But he ruined everything. He tried to keep his feelings to himself, but when he heard her talking about Kobayashi, he couldn’t keep the dejection inside him anymore.
We’ll never play together again, he thought as Tsukiko’s back grew smaller until it disappeared. Everything ruined in a second, in a single play… if only I had stopped Kobayashi on the play before… they wouldn’t have that throw-in and then corner kick and would’ve never scored… It wasn’t my fault… I know that, but if only I had stopped him at that time…
Taiyou sat on the bench in the park for a long time. Though his clothes were already drenched, he waited for the rain to stop. Each breeze was cold and made him shiver, but he didn’t mind. His head was too empty to register those things.
Why did she have to say those things? Why… I know she didn’t mean any harm, but there was no ‘play again’ for that team… that was the end… Once again his tears mixed with the water coming down his face. He didn’t clean them; it made no difference.
When the rain became thinner, he forced himself to stand and headed to his home. Though it was much faster, he didn’t take the train, nor the bus. Despite his exhausted legs, he wanted to take the long path home. Maybe it’ll make me calmer. But that was harder than he thought. I never thought I could be so angry… especially with Tsukiko…
He stopped before his building. Is she already back? He wondered. But when the pang crossed his heart, he had no idea if he wanted to see her right now. He could feel the anger in him, but even so, she was his friend. No… she’s more than a friend… She said those things… but how can I be mad at her when I like her. No, I… even in his mind, he couldn’t admit he loved her.
The regret filled him as he thought of Tsukiko, who always had a smile for him, crying. All Taiyou wanted was to say sorry. She would say the same, and everything would get back to normal. Yes… everything will be fine when I apologize. I must be the man and take charge. I can’t just wait for her…
When the elevator’s door opened and he walked down the hallway, he realized he wasn’t alone. When he raised his head, he saw someone standing on the door of the apartment before his. At once he recognized the girl.
Tsukiko! His heart pounded faster as he walked towards her. But when she heard his footsteps, she turned her head. When she looked at him and met his eyes, she averted her gaze with a strange expression.
The boy felt the pain stabbing his heart at once. Why… why are you making that face, Tsukiko? I’m gonna apologize, so please, look at me. Are you ashamed of what I did? There’s nothing wrong. I was wrong. Please, let me apologize, he thought, halting in the hallway.
But the girl kept her head down, not looking at him again.
Taiyou felt cold, and there was nothing to do with his drenched clothes. Fine, he thought, with such furiousness he never thought he had in him. He held back the tears and walked past her without saying a word, pulling his keys from the pocket. When he heard the soft cry coming from behind his back, Taiyou hesitated, the keys slipping through his fingers. He bended over to pick them up.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a low whisper that almost drowned in the sounds of the rain.
He hesitated mid-way to the floor. Both anger and relief coursed through him as he picked up the keys. He stood still without any idea what he would say. He both wanted to scream his apologize and yelled at her.
But when Taiyou saw the tears in her eyes, he forgot everything. He didn’t swallow his anger, nor suppressed it. He just let it go as he looked the girl he loved crying.
Tsukiko grabbed his shirt and rested her head on his chest, letting all her tears on him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered again.
“Me too,” Taiyou said, caressing the top of her head clumsily. That made her cry even more.
Instead of talking, all Taiyou did was hug Tsukiko as she cried to her heart’s content.