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Overlooking the Sidelines

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Have you ever felt invisible in your life? I mean, even just once, did you ever think that your very existence is of little importance to the world?

Well, I feel that way now.

Don't get me wrong, I do have people who care for me. My family and, of course, my two best friends. Haruko-san is practically the sweetest and most cheerful girl I have ever met in my life. Matsui on the other hand is, well, just plain Matsui: friendly yet cynical. Their personalities might be worlds apart, but that didn't stop the blooming of friendship that the three of us are sharing now. Sometimes, I can't stop wondering how I had become their friend. After all, I never really had any friends in the past. For as long as I can remember, I have always been by myself until I had gone to Junior High where I first met the two of them.

Haruko-san and Matsui-san came from the same middle school and were also childhood friends. I didn't really get to know them at once, though I often saw them in the corridors, especially Haruko-san who was the school's basketball team manager.

In my last year in Junior High, they became my classmates. Haruko-san was the one who approached and asked me to hang out with her and Matsui. At first I was evasive with their attempts to get my trust, though it really didn't take that long to finally regard them as my true friends.

Matsui-san is sort of a big sister for me, even if we are of the same age while Haruko-san is such a darling that one can't help but like her at once.

Yes, that's the very statement: No one can help but like Haruko-san's cheerful aura.

I know I have to be grateful to have a friend like her. In truth, I really am proud to have a friend like her. But sometimes, a strange feeling of jealousy gnaws at me whenever she appears cheerful to everyone.

I wish I can be like her, but I just can't bring myself to be like that even if I really want it badly. But those feelings all go away whenever she looks at me with her dark brown eyes and asks in worry, "Are you okay, Fujii-san?" I always nod my head and smile in response, for that single statement never fails to soothe my restless being, especially when it comes from her.

I have my two caring best friends that are always by my side, so how come I feel invisible? I had never felt like this even before I had met Haruko-san and Matsui-san. I don't really care if I had been alone and ignored before.

But then I never thought I would fall in love with someone, and be completely ignored in return.

I could still remember the day I first saw him as if it were yesterday. It was my first day in Shohoku High and I came to school very early. There were only a few students like me who were already there. Even Haruko-san and Matsui-san hadn't arrived yet, so I went to find my room all by myself. When I arrived by the first year corridor, I saw him standing beside one of the windows, staring blankly outside.

I stopped on my tracks, unable to resist the urge to gaze freely at his tall form. I didn't know why my heart suddenly beat faster than normal. I was so confused to why I was mesmerized with the sight of his fiery red hair waving with the swift movement of the wind and his sad brown eyes gazing to the horizon. There was something in him that I am able to associate myself with. Yes... it was the aura of loneliness that was surrounding him.

I was still looking at him when he turned his weary face to me. Again, there came the strange sensation when I first saw him and my heart skipped a beat when he started walking towards me. When he was getting nearer, I couldn't help but panic.

What if he asks what am I doing there? What will I tell him?

And you know what happened? He just went past me, as if I was not there at all.

And for the first time in my life, it bothered me to be ignored like that.

I was more quiet than usual the whole morning and it so happens that both Haruko-san and Matsui-san were not my classmates that year, which added up with the depression I was feeling. I've been lonely in the past, but it never bothered me like this before. Maybe because I wanted so much to have someone by my side and tell my feelings that moment.

When it was lunchtime, Matsui-san came to fetch me in our class.

"Hey Fujii, let's go! Haruko's still in her class so we're just going to fetch her," Matsui said to me and I just nodded dully in reply.

We walked in silence, well in my part at least. Matsui-san occasionally waved hellos with some people we passed by the corridor while I kept quiet, suppressing the urge to tell her what happened to me that morning. It was silly anyway. I probably wouldn't cross the redheaded guy's path in the future. 'Even if I do see him around,' I told myself, 'our close encounter... or rather... MY close encounter with him that morning might be the last time for the rest of my stay here in Shohoku High.'

But of course, fate has its way of prying into people's lives.

The guy who bothered my senses the whole morning was actually standing there in front of Haruko-san, his face beet red. Haruko-san on the other hand was telling things to him that he should join the basketball club with the height he has. And then he started boasting about being athletic and gave out a childish laughter, which rang throughout the whole corridor.

A blush slowly crept up my neck and was threatening to invade my whole face. When I saw him that morning, he looked handsome even if he was wearing a sad expression. But seeing him all happy like this, I decided, made him look even cuter. I felt Matsui's gaze suddenly turn to me that I immediately tried to fight down my blush. But then I knew it was too late because she had already seen it before I could hide it. My only relief was that she never questioned me about it. Maybe because I gave her the impression that I don't want to talk about it for now.

After that scene with Haruko-san, the guy, whom I later knew as Sakuragi Hanamichi, tried all sort of things just to be let in the basketball club. He did it even if he didn't really know the sport just to impress Haruko-san.

Yes, as I've said before, no one can help but like Haruko-san's cheerful aura... and he's not an exception. It was very obvious that he has a crush on her.

I would really give anything just to fill her place that sometimes I couldn't help but feel a bit of disappointment on her. She is so naïve that even if all the people around her know that Sakuragi-kun has a crush on her, she will only know it if someone tells her straight in the face. She is too busy admiring another guy who is none other than Rukawa Kaede, the one they call super rookie.

He is well known throughout the campus because of his undeniable outstanding skill in basketball. His blue fox-like eyes matched his enigmatic character, a quality that added up to his charms.

Most girls in our school, including Haruko-san, swoon over him. It seems that Matsui-san, Ayako-sempai, and me are the only ones who are not attracted to him. Maybe there are also others like us out there, but I'm quite certain that three-fourths of the girl's population in our school have a crush on him. I don't know Ayako-sempai's reasons but as for Matsui-san, maybe it's because of her cynical nature. My reason is simply that I don't find him attractive at all. Oh I must say that he is indeed very handsome, but I don't like a person with a mysterious nature for I myself is like that before, or maybe until now.

But I think there is something in him that might disappoint his admirers. It's not only having mysterious and quiet aura that we are alike. It's the fact that we're both in love with the same guy.

I know because it takes one to see one.

I do envy him though, because even if Sakuragi-kun bickers with him all the time, at least they have shared a conversation, bad as it may be. Sakuragi-kun even has a nickname for him, 'Stupid Fox' because of his fox-like eyes. While me... well... even if he always sees me with Haruko-san, I doubt if he knows my name.

So I secretly long for him at the sidelines, hoping against hope that someday he will notice me. Whenever I see him happy, I also feel rejoiced. Whenever I see him sad, I also feel blue.

I cried secretly when he cried in their game against Kainan High. I wanted so much to hug and comfort him that day. But of course I couldn't, for I am just nobody to him.

I am invisible.

In a way, I have accepted the fact that my situation with him will never change. But it has never failed to give me a pang of jealousy whenever I see him swooning over Haruko-san. I am close to him, but not quite. He knows me as one of Haruko-san's best friends, but that ends there.

Sometimes I wish that I have never fallen in love with him so that my life would have not been complicated like now. I never knew that loving and not being loved back was this painful.

If Haruko-san would just return the love he's giving her, then it wouldn't be so difficult for me. Seeing him hopelessly wait for a girl who already loves another only adds up to the burden I'm carrying already. If I know that he is happy and content, I would be happy and content too.

This charade continued everyday. I was hiding it so well that no one ever suspected that shy-type Fujii was in love with loudmouth Hanamichi.

Well, that's what I thought.

One afternoon, I was walking towards the gym, thinking that Haruko-san and Matsui-san were already there, when the most unlikely person to approach anyone for that matter intercepted me. That person was none other than Rukawa-kun himself.

I was so awed that I just stood there in silence. I could feel his cold gaze on me while I just stared down the floor. It was difficult to look up to him, not only because he's too tall, but also I was somehow scared of what I might see there.

"Look at me," he said in his usual monotone, but there's a hint of order in it that I was forced to look up. The look of disdain in his eyes was so intense that my knees started to shake.

"Don't even think about it," he said coldly then turned towards the gym.

Anyone who might have overheard our conversation, if you can call it a conversation, would think that it's kind of weird. But of course I knew what he meant by that. He was clearly ordering me to stay away from Sakuragi-kun, removing my right to love him.

I never felt angrier in my entire life. Who does he think he is anyway, acting as if he owns Sakuragi-kun?

I was so angry that my whole body shake from it and I felt all my blood go up my head. I didn't even notice that Haruko-san and Matsui-san were already by my side.

"Fujii-san! I can't believe it! Rukawa-kun really talked to you! What did he tell you?" Haruko said excitedly that fumed me even more. I fought down the urge to shout at her and say 'All you ever think about is that arrogant beast!' Matsui-san noticed my discomfort and placed her hand on my shoulder.

"Are you okay?" she asked me worriedly. Haruko-san also noticed my unusual behavior that she too became worried at once.

I took a deep breath, forced a smile and said, "It's nothing, don't mind me." I sounded calmer when I continued; "Anyway, I just went here to tell you both that I won't be watching the basketball club's practice today 'cause there's something I have to finish first. I'll just see you tomorrow. Bye!" After saying that I immediately turned around without waiting for them to reply and ran away fast. I could faintly hear Haruko-san's calls but I didn't bother to stop and turn back. What I needed badly that moment was just to run away as far as I could and be alone for a while.

I stopped in front of a cherry tree and there I sat down and let the tears fall down. I cried and cried until my eyes couldn't shed any more tears. I wasn't sure how long I have been sitting there, but it felt really good finally letting out all those pent up feelings.

I sit here drying up my tears and contemplating my pathetic situation when suddenly I hear footsteps near my place. I wipe my face and try to compose myself because the last thing I ever want is for anyone to see me like this.

When I am sure that I look okay, I start to walk away from the tree, only to stop at once to see that it's Sakuragi-kun walking there as if looking for someone.

At that exact moment, he turns to me. He immediately recognizes me and starts jogging towards me with a smile on his handsome face. I freeze at the sight of him actually approaching me.

"Hey, aren't you one of the girls who are always with Haruko-chan?" he asks.

"Y-y-y-yes…" I answer and mentally scold myself for stuttering.

"Have you seen her?" he inquires more eagerly.

I nod then reply, "She... she's with M-M-Matsui-san and t-t-they're already in the gym..." I know I sound pathetic with the stutter, but I couldn't help it. Not with my heart beating so fast that it felt like my chest will burst out any moment

"Oh I see. So Matsui is the name of the other one, nyahahahaha!" He laughs then shakes his head. "Hey, forgive this genius' bad manners. What's your name?"

"M-m-me?!" I can't believe my ears. He's actually asking for my name!

"Nyahahahaha! You're so funny. Of course you! Who else do you think I'd be referring to?" he tilts his head, which makes him look cuter.

I smile shyly at him. "I'm... Fujii..."

"Ah... Fujii," he smiles at me and continues, "Thank you. Aren't you going to watch us practice today?"

I blink, realizing that he is still waiting for my answer. "Yes, I'll be there shortly."

"Okay! So I'll just see you there, Fujii! See ya!" he waves at me then starts to jog away.

"Bye!" I shout back and watch him go until I don't see him anymore. I can't explain the feeling of happiness I am having right this moment.

He finally noticed me. So now I'm not invisible anymore.