He gazed at her while she, on the verge of tears, stared at the ground.
They were standing in the covered walkway between two of the school buildings, near the end of lunch. They were alone; all of the other kids were still inside.
A breeze blew by, ruffling their hair and clothes.
Abe sighed and continued, "Look, I'm sorry that I, uh, that I can't return your feelings. It's just that I'm too busy to . . . to have those kinds of feelings. I mean, there's school and baseball and everything else. Also," and here he smiled, hoping to cheer her up with a joke, "Mihashi keeps me pretty preoccupied with his carelessness and all."
Her breath hitched. Tears started to splotch the sidewalk, peppering the ground with dark grey spots.
Abe frowned, confused. Well, that backfired.
After a moment, Shinooka gathered herself and softly whispered, "You really like him, don't you?"
A strong wind gusted by, causing Abe to momentarily shield his eyes. When he lowered his arm, Shinooka was gone. The bell rang.
Abe stood there, bewildered, as the other students poured out from the buildings, swirling around him with their carefree chatter.
He didn't notice them, though, lost in the stream of his own thoughts.
Like him? Who, Mihashi?
His heart skipped a beat as Mihashi's smile briefly flashed in his mind. He blushed. Then blanched.