The gymnasium was overflowing with people of leisure who had heard the commotion. A crowd of spectators had formed in the gallery. I decided to ignore them as I heard “that’s the rumored one ……”. I wondered if they were anticipating an event that had just popped up in their daily lives. I would like to pretend to be a bystander like that. The problem is that I’m at the center of this commotion. Excuse me, can I go home? At the center of the commotion, it’s me, Yukito Kokonoe, who is yelling at people to go home.
I don’t understand why I, a member of the club that goes home, am being put in this situation here. My opponents are three regulars from the basketball club, led by Himura-senpai. Depending on how you look at it, I was the cocky underclassman who disobeyed my senpai. I want to live in peace, but why ……
The 3×3 game is played in 10 minutes with two five-minute rounds per period with alternating offensive and defensive shifts. Once the game starts, it is over quickly and easily, and there is no such thing as strategy.
“Then, if we win, you will join the basketball team, right?”
“Nothing okay! Can you please not decide on your own? Isn’t senpai being immature?”
“We don’t even know if we’ll win! If I had that much confidence in our basketball team, I wouldn’t have invited you.”
“Then, if we win, the basketball team will be disbanded.”
“That’s, that’s aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh?!”
The Senpai were in grief. It made no sense. Would any third-year student expect to be beaten by a first-year student from the very beginning? I don’t even know how well the fresh handsome guy can move, let alone Ito-kun who says he is a member of the basketball team.
“Besides, I have no motivation, so I honestly don’t care if I win or lose. ……”
“Yukito, let’s win for sure!”
“You guys, even though they’re our Senpai, they’re regulars, remember? Of course we’re going to lose.”
For some reason, the fresh and handsome man smiles at me.
“We’re going to win. There is no way we’re going to lose. Right?”
“Where do you get your confidence from?”
I never thought I would get to play basketball at school again. I thought I would never have such an opportunity again, but you never know how the world will turn out.
I glanced to the side and saw my sister in the audience waiting for me to come in. I wondered if she had come all the way out here to watch. She was probably there to watch me to make sure I didn’t cause any problems.
When I was in junior high school, I played basketball not for anyone else, but simply for myself. I was simply using basketball to shake off the shock of a broken heart. I didn’t care about the team’s victory or my club mates. That’s why I was always practicing alone. I wasn’t practicing to become a top player; I just wanted to move my body.
After the summer of my second year, there was a girl who talked to me strangely.
That was Shiori Kamishiro, the one who lied to me.
“Huh? Wasn’t he here last week?”
Saturday. I saw him practicing on the free court at the park. He was a member of the men’s basketball team, I believe. It was the second time I saw him at this place. I remember seeing him practicing alone at the same place at the same time last week. I didn’t pay any attention to him at that time, but perhaps because I also play the women’s basketball team, I was strangely interested in him the second time I saw him. He had a presence that seemed to attract me.
But for some reason, the atmosphere was different and he was just desperately trying to get things done.
The third time would soon come. I decided to see him properly at school for the first time. Even though the basketball clubs interacted with each other, we had never had much contact or talked to each other before. I wondered what kind of person he was. He even practices on his days off. He’s a very dedicated practitioner, I guess.
That was my first impression. He is different from me, who is not that enthusiastic about club activities.
The men’s basketball team is not that strong. So how can he work so hard? I was interested in him and started to follow him with my eyes.
Perhaps that was a mistake. When I finally began to pay attention to him, his abnormality was remarkable. He practiced in the morning, after school, and at night. Not with anyone else, but always alone. It was so unnatural in basketball, which is a team sport. What was the point of him practicing alone? What’s the point if the team doesn’t get stronger?
He was an idiot,……, but at the same time, somewhere in the back of my mind, I may have been dazzled by his figure.
He was becoming more and more prominent. No wonder. He has practiced that much. The members of the men’s basketball team were bewildered by his appearance. They did not know how to treat him. There was a clear difference in attitude toward club activities. They are doing it for fun, but there is one person who is very serious about it, and they feel like they are not part of the club.
However, he doesn’t mind being subjected to such an atmosphere. And he did not ask others to make the same effort as he did. Today he continues to practice alone.
I couldn’t help but be curious, so I finally spoke to him.
“Hey, how are you able to work so hard?”
When I spoke to him, he was just an ordinary male student. Or so I thought at the time. He was very easy to talk to and very kind.
In spite of my appearance, apparently I am popular. I have been confessed several times. I am tall and my breasts are growing well. I knew I was well-developed. I could feel the eyes of boys on my body.
If I were to say that I was self-conscious, I would be right, but he was different. He didn’t look at me that way. He didn’t even recognize me to begin with. When I first spoke to him, the first words he said to me were, “Who are you?”. I was a little annoyed by that and sulked.
I wondered how I could get him to be interested in me. I felt that he had little awareness of other people.
What is the point of continuing unrewarding practice alone?
What is reflected in his eyes? He was so deep, dark, and stagnant that I couldn’t help but think about such things. He was staring at something very coldly. And yet, his attitude and words were always kind. He was an unbalanced and strange existence that could not be left alone. That was Yukito Kokonoe.
He became a person who made me feel at ease. An important friend of the opposite sex. It did not take long for him to become more than that.
I started calling him Yuki, and he started calling me Shiori. I asked him to call me that.
The opportunity to make a big change in his presence within the club came. In the fall tournament of my sophomore year, the men’s basketball team defeated a strong school and made it to the top 16 of the prefectural tournament. It was a great accomplishment. The men’s basketball team, which usually loses in the first or second round of district tournaments, made it all the way to the prefectural tournament and achieved a result. He also received a commendation from the school. It was almost entirely his achievement.
But basketball is a team sport. No matter how great he is, there is a limit. However, this result will change the mindset of the boys.
If they could do better, they could aim higher. Such expectations were beginning to emerge in the men’s basketball team. If they improve, they may be able to achieve better results. Before long, the boys began to seriously devote themselves to basketball with a completely different attitude. He single-handedly changed the basketball team.
He did not say anything on his own. He did not force anyone to do anything. He changed his surroundings just by his own actions.
He was a classmate and good friend. At the same time, I had a strong admiration for his presence and his back.
And the heat and aftermath of the event gradually spread to the women’s basketball team as well. Everyone began to practice more seriously than before.
Around this time, more and more people around me began to pay attention to him. Some members were giving him hot glances. Of course. He is simply good looking. How could I not care about him with such dazzling brilliance and irrepressible darkness?
I had a slight feeling of superiority, but at the same time I had a sense of insecurity. I was still too much of a child to understand what that feeling was. I had been exercising all my life, and I was too inexperienced to know that it was love.
My relationship with him continued after that. By that time, I had already fallen in love with him. I was so excited that I clearly knew it was love. I enjoy talking to him. I wanted to be with him. These feelings swelled up.
And finally, unable to hold back, I told him that.
But I never thought it would turn out like that. ……
From that day on, my regrets began. I should never have told him. If only I had been more honest with myself.
“Yuki, you know what? There’s something I want you to hear today. ……”
“What’s wrong, Shiori?”
It was getting dark outside. Yuki spends until the very last minute practicing after school, and by the time he returns home, the sun has gone down. I choose to wait for Yuki and go home with him.
He doesn’t say anything in particular when he sees how nervous I am, but gently urges me on as usual.
“I love you, Yuki!”
His eyes flicker a little. A look of surprise in his eyes. I may have seen it for the first time. It is rare that I can see his emotions. I have never seen him express his feelings like this.
All I knew of him was either his gentle, everyday appearance or the way he devoted himself to club activities to the utmost of his strength. That is why his appearance filled my heart with emotion. I knew that even I could convey something to him. I stared into Yuki’s eyes and waited for him to say something.
“Sorry, Shiori. Can you wait until after the tournament for my reply?”
“I ……see. It’s the last tournament, isn’t it?”
His answer was contrary to my expectations. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to accept it either way, and I thought I had the determination and courage to confess my feelings. But what I got back was a third option, which was neither of the two. It was to “wait.”
Thinking about it, for Yuki, who had devoted himself so much to club activities, the final competition of his junior year was the culmination of all his hard work. He must have been very attached to it. The other members of the club were also looking forward to the tournament. They were eager to show what they could do. I understand that he wants to focus on that for now.
“Will you give me an answer when it’s over?”
“I promise I will.”
” …..I undestand. I’ll wait. But I don’t want to be sad!”
Unable to bear the awkwardness and embarrassment, I told him that and ran out. I had some hope that I might get a good answer. Because if Yuki didn’t like me, if he didn’t think anything of me, then he should have just told me right here and now. There was no reason to hold off.
And yet, he wanted me to wait until the convention. That must be the time Yuki needed to face me.
If that was the case, Yuki would surely give me the answer I wanted. With a bouncy feeling, I set off for home.
Some time later, I was being questioned by my friends in front of the girls’ restroom. The three of us were in different classes, but we had been friends since elementary school and were still good friends. It seemed that I had been acting strangely lately. This must be something wrong, they asked, grinning at me.
“Shiori, did you perhaps confess your feelings for Kokonoe?”
“W-Why!? There is nothing between us!”
“Then why are you so flustered?”
“You are showing too much of emotion. On the contrary, Kokonoe-kun has a poker face.”
“Aah. Spring has finally come to Shiori-chan.”
It was my first experience to be ridiculed and teased like that. My mind goes blank. This is my first love. This feeling is very precious and sweet. I want to keep it deep in my heart. I don’t want to hurt it, and I don’t want to be hurt by it. I don’t want to be made fun of, so I say things that I don’t even think about.
” Shiori is always with him these days, you know. It’s obvious if you’re giving off an aura of liking him so much, you know that, right?”
“No! Yuki and I are not like that. It’s not that I like Yuki–it’s just that he always seems to be alone and sad, so I’m giving him some attention! There is no such ……”
“So you don’t like him?”
“It’s not like that! I don’t care about Yuki—-“
I don’t know what I’m talking about. My friends were grinning at me as they watched me, and I was able to argue with them with a bright red face. The expression of my friends all stiffened up. Their gazes are behind me. I have a very bad feeling.
What’s wrong? I turn around and see Yuki coming out of the men’s room.
Eh? Why is Yuki here!?
I was wondering, but it was nothing to wonder about. Anyone would go to the bathroom. My mind was so disoriented that I didn’t even understand that immediately. Did he hear what I just said? To whom? Yuki? What did I say? I had confessed to Yuki, and now I was denying it. The thoughts continue to wander around in a corridor with no exit in sight.
“U-uhm Kokonoe-kun ……”
My pale, white-haired friend tried to speak to him, but Yuki didn’t seem to be bothered by anything in particular, didn’t even look at us, and walked away as if he didn’t even notice us.
“W-what should we do, Shiori? He might have heard us just now!”
“It’s our fault. We made fun of Shiori. ……”
“Are you sure you didn’t confess? If it’s a lie, deny it now or else I don’t know if it will get complicated.”
“Shiori, if you don’t be honest, you might be in big trouble. ……”
“Eh! Wait a minute. That’s –“
A tremendous sense of frustration. I have to do something, but I’m afraid to move my legs.
What should I do? What should I do? Do I tell him that I lied about everything?
Maybe he didn’t hear me. If so, I shouldn’t do anything unnecessary. But what if he did ask? I don’t know the answer. I only grew impatient.
A few days passed, and I still could not ask Yuki anything. On the surface, Yuki’s behavior had not changed at all. He was kind and good-looking as usual.
But somehow, I had the feeling that the distance between us had grown slightly. But it was not a change that I could clearly sense, just a minor change. Maybe I’m just being overly concerned about it, or maybe I’m just mistaken. Maybe it was just my insecurity and misunderstanding.
But the lies I had told were advancing without my knowledge.
“It’s almost time for the competition, isn’t it?”
Today I was going home with Yuki. We were approaching a pedestrian bridge. Nothing much had happened since then. So I felt somewhat relieved.
That was my mistake. If I had been honest about everything from the beginning, there would have been no misunderstandings or miscommunications.……
“I’ll be waiting for your reply then!”
I said that in a flirtatious mood, not considering Yuki’s feelings.
“Muu. You are not going to tell me you forgot about it, are you? The answer to my confession.”
Yuki’s expression suddenly makes me feel uneasy. Yuki is not the kind of person who would intentionally blurt it out knowingly. If he didn’t really think anything of it, he wouldn’t have responded the way he did.
“Aah. That thing. Shiori, you don’t have to hang out with me anymore.”
“It’s not that I’m lonely by myself. I like it that way. I’m alone because I want to be alone, so don’t feel sorry for me.”
“What are you…talking about……”
I didn’t know what Yuki was talking about. But something decisive–.
“Shiori, you don’t have to care about someone you don’t like.”
Yuki was the same as usual, even at a time like this. Nothing changed in his gaze or voice. But his words were filled with a definite rejection.
“I can’t believe you would do such a trivial thing as lying to me.”
Yuki was nonchalant, as if it was nothing.
I knew he heard us! I should have talked to him properly at that time instead of leaving it alone!
Such regrets are coming back to haunt me now. I hurriedly tried to tell him how I felt, but I couldn’t speak.
“If you want to hear my answer, I’ll tell you now. Shiori, the answer is no.”
“Noo! You got it wrong, Yuki! I didn’t mean what I said.”
“It’s also annoying for Shiori ……No, it is also annoying for Kamishiro to go home with a guy like me. So let’s end this today.”
Kamishiro? It was as if we had gone back to the beginning. Around the time of our first conversation.
I hate it. It’s not true! I really like Yuki, and I’m not lying—-!
I try to reach out my hand to Yuki, who is calmly moving forward, but in my haste, I lose my footing on the steps of the pedestrian bridge. The ground that should be there is gone. My tangled legs are thrown into the air, and my sense of balance is lost. My body followed gravity and fell to the ground.
He called my name. In such a situation, I am happy to hear such a thing. But my body did not stop. I found myself in Yuki’s arms. I fell down the stairs.
I checked my body. There seemed to be no danger to me. Someone was supporting me. Yuki was the only one who was supporting me. Yuki, that’s right, Yuki is!
Yuki is lying on the floor, protecting me. I could hear Yuki’s voice leaking out in bitter agony.
“Are you okay Shiori?…..!”
Thank God he’s conscious. Yuki is safe! In the short time I had to rejoice, I saw it. Yuki’s right hand was bent in an impossible direction. I also do sport.
I immediately knew at a glance what it meant.
Yuki’s right hand was broken. The tournament was just around the corner.
–Yuki could no longer participate in the tournament.
I don’t know what you would call my haircut, but I guess you could call it a scattered cut head. I don’t sound particularly civilized when I slap it, but the reason why I was playing basketball was because of a sense of shame. I wanted to forget the stupidity of my foolish and embarrassing mistake.
Because when I tried to confess my feelings for my childhood crush, she had a new boyfriend and rejected me. Well, it was a shock, I guess.
Soon after that, the relationship between Suzurikawa and her senpai deepened. When was the last time I held Suzurikawa’s hand? I don’t even remember. It may have never happened in the first place. Of course, we never kissed, and there was nothing more than that between us.
Maybe that’s why. I felt a sense of emptiness toward my childhood friend who easily crossed the line with the other person.
Ah, so this is how it’s going to be. …… I had given up on myself.
The void that opened up in my heart is widening day by day. I tried to fill it, but I couldn’t. It was like a bottomless bucket. Even if you poured water into it from above, it would not fill up. Emotions leaked out and wore away little by little.
There was no fear in these days. However, my rational mind was screaming that this was not the way to go.
That is why I devoted myself to club activities. I was committed to basketball. I was desperate to fill the void with something. And I set a goal.
I would use the last tournament as an opportunity to move forward. At that time, I still had feelings of “love” for Suzurikawa. But I could no longer reach it. There was no point in holding on to them forever. It was a goal I set in order to break away from such feelings.
Eventually, the feelings of “liking” and ” affection” for someone else would disappear. I found myself unable to understand. Every day I felt that I was breaking down. Wanting to deny it, I became even more absorbed in basketball.
There was someone who approached me. That person was Shiori Kamishiro.
Before I knew it, we had become good friends. One day after those days passed, Shiori Kamishiro confessed her feelings for me. Untruthfully, it was a lie. Even though I knew it was a lie, I didn’t really care. In fact, I was relieved. There was no need to be shocked.
Nothing would start until the last tournament was over. Unless I firmly erased the person inside me, Hinagi Suzurikawa and Shiori Kamishiro, I would not be able to face them.
That is why I held my answer in abeyance. Everything would not move forward until the tournament was over.
However, I broke my arm just before the tournament and did not compete. Everything was thrown out halfway through and left without any sort of resolution. That broke me a little bit again.
I wonder if something would have changed if I had participated in the tournament properly at that time. Would I have been able to get something back? I will never know the answer to that question, but at the very least, my relationship with Kamishiro should have been clearly resolved at that time.