Kogure was still in the empty gym.
Sitting on the bench alone, in the gloom, he was thinking about what had happened the day before: Hisashi Mitsui had entered the gym with his violent companions and he had tried to mess up the basketball club. It was just thanks to Hanamichi's “Guntai” that the situation hadn't gotten worse... well, not too much, at least. Nobody had had any permanent damage.
Apart from him, maybe.
But he was used to hide his own feelings: a four-eyed bookworm learns fast how to become invisible.
From the first time he had seen Mitsui, almost two years before, he had recognized his great potential. And it wasn't just about basketball: Kogure was right away convinced that he was facing a soon-to-be man of great spirit. The enthusiasm he put in every challenge, the strenght that had the power to drive his team mates even when they were torn and discouraged.
Then, the injury and what came with it: the boy who was the team's soul seemed to have lost his own and had transformed into a hooligan with no purpose in his life.
Watching him cross the gym's doors had for a moment turned Kogure's hope back on, then it had broken his heart when Mitsui had shown to want nothing more than their distruction.
“Today was gonna be the day
that they're gonna throw it back to you.
By now you should've somehow
realized what you've got to do”
Oasis were perfect, played at a low volume in the secret of his earbuds and of the empty gym. It was him, Kogure, who had reproached Mitsui everything that happened: an act that he still didn't believe he actually dared to perform. He just wasn't the kind of person to raise his voice, blame with such rage, spam other's businesses in front of the public. And today, after meditating about it for a whole sleepless night, he still couldn't understand if it had been worth to something, or if Mitsui had asked to be taken back in the team just because of Coach Anzai's arrival.
Maybe it was just this, he thought with his usual defeatism, he had just appeared as an histerical faggot, and right in front of the bullies that had tormented him for two years.
“I don't believe that anybody
feels the way I do about you now.”
So, what was he feeling towards Mitsui? There had been days, shiny spring days, two years before, when he had been sure he loved him. And there had been other days, darker days, when he had tried to force himself to hate him for what he had become, for what he had thrown away along with basketball.
He hadn't been able to.
“Backbeat, the word was on the street
That the fire in your heart is out
I'm sure you've heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt.”
For two years he had tolerated to be occasionally bullied by Mitsui's friends, without reacting in any way, with his heart beating hard in his throat, sure he would suffocate, hating that part of himself that was grateful to Mitsui for being the only one in that group of criminals not to bother him. “He never attacks me personally, maybe this means he loves me a bit”, he thought, ashame of that very thought.
Obviously, if Mitsui had loved him a bit, he would have stopped his “friends”.
During countless sleepless nigths, he had decided that the fire burning in Mitsui's heart was out, but Kogure still insisted to find some survived embers and lulled himself in classified fantasies where he was the one to shake him somehow, metaforically killing the beast and bringing him back to life, the good old, strong, spicy Mitchi.
Obviously, none of this happened: everytime he had found himself in the same room as Mitsui, Kogure was too busy running away with his tail between his legs to avoid the bullies, or too busy picking up books that had been thrown to the ground from his arms, or wiping up some fruit juice that had been squeezed from his box by a rude hand, always with Mitsui in a corner, leaned carelessly against the wall, one leg bent and his arms folded on his chest. That was how Kogure dreamed of him, in frustrated nightmares where he screamed at him and went to beat him up, only to see him transform into rubble at the very touch of his hand.
“I don't believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now.”
And now, what did he feel for Mitsui? Was it still worth it to feel anything for him? Kogure's rationality, a very relevant part of his mind, forced him to be cautious: and he had the reason to be so. But a part of him, maybe that long-suffocated instint, maybe the part that twenty-four hours before had pushed him to stand up and speak, just wanted to throw himself into Mitsui's arms and welcome him back.
But his rationality told him that this was his little broken heart speaking in the drunkenness of unreturned love.
“And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don't know how...”
Winding roads. Blinding lights. That way Kogure felt, as a deer caught by the lights of an upcoming car on a lonely street, blocked by the sudden distortion of the situation and uncapable of doing anything, unable to understand if something had to be done, and if so, how and when.
Coach Anzai had taken Mitsui back in the team, and now he had to live with the obstacle of acting as if nothing had happened, and he just didn't know how to behave: did he have to show the joy that a part of him felt, the hate that he tried to feel, a well-built façade of indifference?
He had always been a peaceful kid, satisfied if left with a book on a rainy day, or with a friend and a chessboard, and when in doubt he had always chosen not to do anything: this was why he was now alone, in the only place where he had felt fully accepted, even if he was nothing but a four-eyed nerd.
How many things he would have loved to tell Mitsui, the day before, but he dindn't know where to start.
“Because maybe, you're gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you're my wonderwall”
A sudden need to burst into tears took Kogure off-guard. He had never heard about Oasis until Mitsui had made him listen to their Greatest Hits, during one of Kogure's visits in his hospital room. Listening to Wonderwall, Mitsui had said, almost casually: -This song could be written for you. You're the only one that came to visit. Maybe, you'll be my wonderwall. You remind me of what I have to fight for.
“Today was gonna be the day
But they'll never throw it back to you
By now you should've somehow
Realized what you're not to do
I don't believe that anybody
Feels the way I do, about you now”
The night before, getting up to drink a glass of water, Kogure had wondered what would have happened that day, if they would have turned their back on Mitsui when he arrived. He didn't worry about Akagi, he was a grumpy giant but with a heart of gold; he worried about those two troublemaker, Miyagi and Sakuragi, and about the unreadable Rukawa.
But the three had apparently decided to accept Mitsui into the team, to give him the benefit of the doubt.
And what about him? Well, he had felt his heart melt in his chest. He was proud, of Mitsui and the others. Of his friends. And then he had made what he hoped was a smile and had drank a sip of water. He had used the trick of the water bottle quite a few times, and it had obviously caused him some collateral effects like the constant need to pee. For once he had been happy of Miyagi's jokes, who had begun with a serie of rethorical questions about his prostate's health, because they allowed him to spit out that hysterical laugh that he constantly felt in his throat: at least he had a valid context to justify an explosion of embarassing giggles.
“And all the roads that lead you there are winding
And all the lights that light the way are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don't know how...”
Being beside him without knowing how to read inside him would be a challenge. The possibilities that the ex-hooligan would come out to say he was sorry were scarce: he wouldn't have done it before, he was only outgoing when it came to basketball. He had only outbalanced once to (almost) tell him that he loved him, (almost) dedicating him a song.
Well, Kogure was ready: even if it would take him his whole life, he would have tried to understand who Mitsui was now. Not the criminal, probably. But neither the old Mitchi. He would have discovered day by day this new Hisashi, but he still didn't know if his purpose would have brought him to rediscover happiness in having him around or to drown in a salty sea of tears.
Kogure was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't notice that someone was watching him, and listening him singalong an old song without noticing.
A song that seemed to come out of an old time capsule, along with a basketball and a pink wave of cherry tree petals.
Someone was standing at the edge of the gym and observed the light from a streetlamp reflect on a bob of chocolate hair and on the lenses of a pair of glasses that had been thrown on the ground by a slap in the face right the day before.
“It's when you give up that the match is over.” Coach Anzai had told him, nearly a thousand years before.
What he hadn't said was that the most important games, those that didn't include balls and three-points shots, were the hardest to play. Because a coward voice inside his head told him: “If you don't don't take the field, you can't lose.”
“Never lose hope. It's when you give up that the match is over.”. And in the end, wasn't refusing to take the field an implicit surrender?
But how could he dare to? For almost two years he had ignored him, at the best, a few times he had bullied him, too. Or, better, he had been staring while Tetsuo bullied him, which was even worse: the truth was that he felt so empty, without basketball, that it didn't seem relevant. So, he had watched a thousand slaps throwing books on the ground, juice boxes being spattered, lunches being soaked with water... after a while, Tetsuo had stopped, because Kogure never reacted: he didn't fuss, didn't burst into tears, didn't give any offence back, he didn't hide if he saw them coming. He just stared at Mitsui, with a light delusion darkening his eyes, and then he went on, he picked up his books, he dried the juice or saved what possible of his lunch.
Feeling his legs as if they were made of dough, Hisashi Mitsui took the field for the most important match of his life, without any warm-up and completely sure he wasn't ready at all.
-Kimi.- Mitsui forced himself to say. Kogure lift his head, once again feeling like a deer on a dark road. For a brief, awful moment, he thought he couldn't hold the scream that was coming out of his throat: he would have punched his nose and then run away, and run until he would have collapsed.
-H... Hisashi.- he blabbered, faking a gentle tone of voice, putting a question mark at the end of the word to encourage the other to talk. But Mitsui had seemingly finished what he had to say. Two syllables, the nickname he had given the friend, and how many times he had made Kogure smile calling him so on the basketball court, when all the others called him “Hey, You” or “Four-Eyes” at the best. Kogure was short with words, as well, and the situation was getting a bit embarassing.
But not completely.
Because he and Mitsui had always found at ease in silence, too, with everyone's marvel.
Mitsui was an umpredictably good chess player, and they had spent uncountable afternoons challenging each other, in complete silence, in the school grounds before and then in the cold light of his hospital room.
All the rationality, the meditations, the brain wankings disappeared, and Kogure smiled. It was his usual smile: spontaneous and tender.
Mitsui stood still, as if struck by lightning: now, after two years going through his harassment and his indifference, Kogure didn't just avoid to tell him to fuck off, but he also smiled at him! Where did he find all that strenght and that kind-heartnessness?
Mitsui still felt himself blush recalling those gazes of burning delusion that Kogure had pierced him with in the past, and catched his own frowned reflection in the lenses of the friend's glasses.
For a handful of seconds, silence still reigned, only interrupted by some mysterious echo rebounding on the gym's walls. Kogure's stare had darkened again; Mitsui knew he had to say he was sorry, but how coud he ask for forgiveness for trying to win the award for the Shit of the Year at the expense of the only person who had shown him some affection?
Banality. Go with the banality, Hisashi, you're a banal idiot, you don't want to be inconsistent, don't you?
Mitsui opened his mouth to talk; in that very moment, Kogure did the same: -Listen, I wanted to say I'm sorry.- they both said, almost in a single voice. Mitsui was the first to recover from the shock: -What? Sorry? Sorry about what?- he asked, briefly realizing he now understood the true meaning of being surprised.
-Well, it's...- Kogure began, watching his hands as he clunched them in embarassment, -I spammed your businesses in front of all the others, yesterday... I shouldn't have, it was unfair.- He raised his chocolate eyes in Mitsui's, with a so sincerely sorry gaze that it sould have been comic.
But it wasn't.
Oh, no, it wasn't.
Mitsui tried to hold back, he really tried, but tears flushed, traitors, from his eyes, wetting his cheeks and his hand, that had raised to shut his mouth and avoid him to sigh loudly. He wast't able to stand Kogure's stare and closed his eyes with violence; he let himself fall on the bench and there he stayed, emptied and with his heart broken.
-Hey, Mitchi...- when he heard Kogure calling him with his old nickname, Mitsui started to hit his own head with his fists, without even noticing; he wanted to hurt himself, punish himself for all the pain he had caused in that boy that was so gentle, so sweet, so...
Two hands grabbed his wrists, forcing him to stop.
-Stop, Mitchi, what's the matter?- Kogure gently asked. Mitsui raised his gaze and again caught his devastated reflection in his friend's glasses: his face red, with a running nose and puffy eyes, like he was a cannabis user.
-What's the matter?- he asked, his voice no more than a whisper: -What's the matter? For two years I watched as Tetsuo bothered you, bullied you, I almost destroyed the club no more than twenty-four hours ago and you say you're sorry?- Mitsui set himself free from Kogure's grip and he stepped away, turning his back to him while trying to put himself together.
-I...- blabbered Mitsui. Kogure wanted to help him, to say something, but his heart was beating so fast that he was afraid it would have jumped out from his mouth if only he had dared to open it. Mitsui had to find the strenght to go on alone: -Actually... thank you for what you did yesterday.- Kogure's eyes got bigger behind his lenses.
-What?- Mitsui slowly turned to face him, with a solemn expression.
-You... you reminded me of who I am. Hearing your voice reminded me how I felt alive playing basketball... playing with you.- was it really him talking? This new Hisashi crowded Kogure out. If he'd asked him the same question that he had asked one day at the hospital, “why do you keep coming to see me?”, this time he couldn't escape shrugging his shoulders and with some fake carelessness. That time he had blatantly hesitated, he limited to move the horse on the chessboard; but this time there wasn't a game to separate them, and they weren't two shy rookies anymore. Kogure would have had to confess, and how would this new Hisashi react? With a slap? With a laugh of scorn? With a gentle but definitive answer? Kogure stepped back, trying to fight the instinct to run. He felt like a zebra caught at the pond by a big, fast predator. Mitsui seemed to feel his fear and opened his hands as to show he carried no weapon.
-I'm trying to find that person again.- he said, spitting out the words, one by one, as if he was testing them while pronouncing them. He took a deep breath and went on: -I don't know how much of me is left, I tried to burn everything. But if something is still there, then I have to ask for your help. Because I don't know if I can find the road alone.
-”All the lights that light the way are blinding”- Kogure quoted, feeling somehow encouraged: in the darkest moment, Oasis always helped him to cry, to dig in the infected wounds to let ot everything that hurt. Well... almost everything.
-Yeah...- Mitsui answered with a sad half-smile, -”But maybe you're gonna be the one that saves me... after all, you're my wonderwall.”- he still had his arms opened, the palms of his hands facing forward, and Kogure decided to take it as an invitation. He let act a side of his personality that he had for so long suffocated, he took a step forward, then another, that tasted like a natural act: it wasn't courage, not quite, it was more like an instinct. The quiet water of his soul had become a river in flood, and wasn't he like this with basketball, too? Almost useless for the most of the time, he could suddenly save the situation, taking arms without slowing down and thinking.
He threw himself in Mitsui'a arms and he immediately felt like coming home when he perceived his friend reciprocate with enthusiasm and hold him tight. Mitsui's arms grabbed his shoulders in a strong, firm grip. Kogure sighed, like he was at the end of a long journey, and he leaned his head on the other's shoulder; Mitsui's collar bone seemed to be built precisely for the purpose of hosting him there, and the hug was complete when Kogure felt the weight of his friend's head leaning on his own. A breath after another, he felt Mitsui's body relaxing against his own.
And then, Mitsui asked him a question, not the one he had asked him back at the hospital, but something much better and much worse at the same time: -Kimi, do you thin you can love me again?- his heart tried to escape from the ribcage. Kogure realized that Mitsui had understood everything that has to be understood from his shoulders shredding and his “horse in H5”. And he didn't sent him away...
Mitsui was holding him in a hug that seemed more the grip of a drowning man. He was waiting for an anwer, the one that was buried in a dusty box that Kogure kept in a corner of his heart that he tried to avoid at all costs.
Now nothing, he just wasn't able to lie, let alone lie to him.
-Hisashi... I never stopped loving you.- he answered.
-That's good. Because I just think I love you too, Wonderwall.