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Mar 22, 2018 - 12:42 PM

Who I Am (14) ~ Endless Chain

Finally, this boring day of school is over and I can focus on basketball training again. The IH games are getting closer and I can feel the excitement and tension among the players. Even brother and captain Akagi obviously experience the pressure.

As I walk to the gym swiftly I see a very familiar figure at the entrance of the school. I can't believe my own eyes: is that Sendoh leaning at the fence? He friendly smiles to the people that walk by and says 'hi' to those who recognize him.

I walk in great leaps towards him and whisper angrily: "What are you doing here?" I avoid the looks of my schoolmates who curiously glance at us.

"I don't know where you live or where you used to hang out, this was my only lead. I came to apologize for what I said the other day. I didn't know it would upset you."

"I already forgot about it. Don't bother."

I feel my uneasiness grow. Why am I so afraid of him? Doesn't the feeling in my heart tell me I should get closer to him? I try not to glance at him and particularly try to avoid his eyes.

"Why are you so reluctant to me? You don't even know me, yet you already made a judgment."

I lightly push him in his back, away from the entrance to get out of the full attention. "What does it matter?"

The tall ace player hands me a folded piece of paper. "Don't worry, it's not a love letter. It's just something I want to say to you, which you won't let me."

He takes my hand and puts the paper in it and then gently lets go of me. My hand sparkled at the place he touched it and the flow of heat run through my veins all the way up to my cheeks.

"If I got anything on that piece of paper right, you know where to find me."

"Why are you doing this? I have no time for your games," I feel angry and uncertain because I just don't know whether I can handle this Genius. I lower my voice: "Why would you care about me, you can get every girl you want!"

"The thing is: I don't want every girl." There was no smile, just an intense look in his dark eyes.

"Will I ever be able to trust a charmer such as him?" I think as I watch how his tall gesture in dark school uniform slowly walks down the streets turning around the corner out of my sight.

Although the training of the team is the most important part of my daily routine I find it hard to concentrate on the lay ups and rebounds today. I scribble down meaningless circles and unknown words on the forms. I think about the note Sendoh handed me, which I left in the locker when changing. I try to slow my mind down and think it must have been one of the flirting tricks that he possesses.

"RUKAWA! You idiot! Can't you play normally? You stupid show off!" Sakuragi-kun's loud voice calls me back to reality at once.

"Hanamichi, there was really nothing wrong with that dunk," Miyagi-senpai says.

The cold rookie doesn't reply to the accusations and walks by sneering, which pisses off the red head even more. Captain Akagi calls a 5-minute timeout for everyone and the players sit along the sidelines moisturizing and wiping their sweat off.

"Ayako-san, I'll be right back," and she nods at me.

I go to the locker room and pick out the piece of paper. I take a deep breath and open it. His handwritings are neater than I thought...

"I knew you and Rukawa were not together,
you two are too much alike.
I don't know why I said what I said the other day.
It was stupid. I'm sorry.

Remember I told you that you were
one of the coldest people I've ever met?
I haven't told you yet, you're also
the strongest girl I've ever met.

Yet, every time I see you
the sorrow in your eyes has grown.
You're so full of regrets and sadness,
but why?

I know you won't tell anyone,
especially the ones closest to you.
I hope someday you'll be able to share
your stories with someone you trust.

And let me tell you this:
the past is something we cannot change.
Please don't let the past decide
the smile on your pretty face
or the sadness in your beautiful eyes."

Shortly after the training I decide to go home. My early leaving amazes brother and Rukawa. While brother asks me if I'm okay, the Super Rookie just speaks with a glance. I reassure them that I'm fine, just wanting a bit more rest.

As I ride home I recall the moments with the Genius, from the first meeting at the peer, the encounter on the beach to the recent incidents. "Sendoh Akira, who are you?"

At ten o'clock I finally hear a key in the door lock. "You're late, brother."

"Yeah, Rukawa challenged me for a one-on-one. Then that lunatic Sakuragi challenged Rukawa... So it took a little longer today." Brother replies while he throws his bag on the floor and lay down on the couch with a yawn.

Rukawa is very eager to beat everyone who might be considered a better player. I feel flattered that he challenged brother. I can't believe I missed their match up!

"So who won?" I ask in curiosity. For a moment I cannot decide who I want to have won and I impatiently wait for an answer.

"Who do you think, me of course." Brother answers with a big smirk on his face, "It was tough, he's a strong opponent, but not strong enough to beat me."

I don't know, but I think I'm happy and surprised at the same time. Surely, brother is a great, great player, but would Rukawa lose to him? I suddenly hear a doubtful sigh.

"Shizuri, I got this weird feeling inside. On one hand, I'm so looking forward to the IH games, but on the other hand I get more nervous by the day... I haven't experienced that in junior high, when I even was team captain."

"A normal dose of pressure will be good for your performance," I smile at him.

He silently sighs: "I think I might be worried about my physical shape. Back in junior high I used to have endless energy and I could do everything, but now I'm afraid for exhaustion before the end of the game."

I hear the crack in his pride and the uncertainty that is slowly taking over him. "Brother, the past is what made you but it's not what decides your future."

I respond to his startled look: "I read that, somewhere."

His lips made a tiny smile. "I know you're right, but sometimes it's hard not to look back and compare the present with history. I try not to think about the 'if-only... then scenarios' anymore. My focus is on the IH games."

"Good," I cheerfully say, "and I'm certain you'll have such a performance at the IH championship that no-one will ever forget."

Brother laughs at my opportunistic thoughts, but then his deep voice seriously speaks: "I've wasted a lot of time and I know I will never be able to make it up. But now I also know how to embrace every moment, every second that I have. Sometimes you just get stuck in a moment you can't out of and you're so blinded by the past. Sometimes you just need to learn how to let go."

I carefully listen to his words. His two years of absence have turned him into a bitter yet wise person. The lessons that he had to learn were hard and painful, but they probably also made him the mentally strongest person that I will ever know. You're so full of regrets and sadness, but why?

Yes, why?

"Hey, you okay?" The frown on his face and the hesitation in his eyes show his worries. Brother will always be the most handsome and bravest guy in my life.

"I am," I smile, "I think I know now how to embrace the present and let go of the past."

I jump on the couch and hold him tight as I lay on top of him. I feel his muscular body as my arms wrap around him.

"Hey, what is this all about?" he laughs.

"Thank you," I whisper, "for everything."

He softly rubs my head and whispers: "Silly girl, I'm your brother."

"And you'll always be..." I think with my eyes closed, embracing this very moment.

I remember Sendoh told me he wouldn't be at the fishing spot on Mondays and Thursdays, still, I'm sure I'll meet him on this beautiful sunny Thursday.

In my right hand I hold the white jersey tight while I walk on the long peer towards the fishing Genius. He looks over his shoulder as if he senses my presence, then stands up and puts the rod away.

He puts his hand in his side, with a disarming smile on his face winking at the jersey: "I've been waiting for you."

The sunrays playfully shine his smooth face and the summer breeze blows through my dark hair as I approach him.

"I think this belongs to you," I say as I hand him the jersey.

He takes a few steps closer to me and stands just inches away from me. My heart pounds heavily and I feel my cheeks redden at every beat. "I think it belongs to you," he pauses, "Will you keep it?"

I'm close enough to see the honesty in his eyes. Or, at least, that's what I want to believe.

For the first time in three years I feel that I want to be close to someone wanting to know everything about him. For the first time in years I know that I don't have to feel confused anymore.

"I don't know what happened to you and I don't know whether you trust me with it, but I do know I want to melt that icy wall around you. I want to make you smile every day..." He pauses with a smile but not being less serious, "Just like now."

I hope someday I will be able to tell him my full story, everything about the real me. Who I am? I'm Mitsui Shizuri.

~~ Though we can't go on living without changing anything, I want to hold you, so that I don't lose sight of our footprints, together. Let's walk together down the unending street. I believe in our endless chain. ~~


--> To the Epilogue.