Summer comes every year but same summer never comes twice.
Right after the bell rang signalling the end of his classes, Haru stood up and gathered his things. His movements were slow and laborious, far different from his energetic classmates who hurried outside the classroom. After all, they did not want to be late for their club activities. Lectures may be over but for them, there was another thing that they needed to excel. Haru, too, was like them before.
The best part of going to school was the after school activities. Haru would always run to reach the pool right away. He wanted to submerge in the water, to become one with it even if he had just stayed in his tub in the morning. The excitement he felt was like meeting someone whom he had not seen in the longest time. Those were the days and those days were long gone.
He sighed. There was no point in reliving the past now. Haru left the classroom and walked down the corridor. Before turning in a corner near the stairs, he heard a familiar voice calling him.
“Ah! He’s there!” He flinched knowing full well that that voice must have belonged to Rei. “Haruka-senpaiii!”
“Haru-chan!” The high-pitched, cheerful voice could only belong to Nagisa. Haru wondered what could his friends wanted from him. If they would pester him about going back to the club, then he would walk out immediately.
The two ran towards him, almost bumping into a student or two in the process. Haru sensed an ominous presence on their faces. Their news, whatever it was, he was not going to like it.
“What do you want?”
“That’s so cold Haru-chan! Rei-chan and I haven’t seen you in the longest time and that’s how you greet us!?” Nagisa whined and pouted at Haru’s indifferent tone.
“That’s right Haruka-senpai! You don’t even appear in our club,” Rei chimed in.
“There’s no point in going there. Besides, shouldn’t you be busy for the summer tournaments?”
“Well…” Nagisa and Rei side-eyed each other uncomfortably. The dark-haired guy realized what they were getting at and he already decided on that matter. He would never compete again.
“No. I told you I don’t want anything to do with the club,” Haru said.
“We haven’t even said anything,” Rei said in a dejected look.
“How about this Haru-chan, before the tournament the three of us will have a mini summer training camp!” The enthusiastic Nagisa announced surprising both Rei and Haruka.
“Didn’t I tell you—”
“Think of it as a summer vacation. We’ll go to an island and the two of us,” pointing at himself and Rei, “will practice while Haru-chan can do what you want.”
“Just a moment Nagisa-kun, what are we talking about again?” Rei asked.
“Actually,” the blonde guy pulled out a piece of paper from his bag and showed it to the other two. It showed a map and a training regimen, “I found this in the club’s room. I think our seniors from decades ago have used this to increase their stamina. They swam long distances in the ocean on deserted islands. Hence, they called this Summer Training Camp from Hell on a Deserted Island!”
“De-deserted island!?” Rei exclaimed. “But the ocean is a good change of pace don’t you think Haruka-senpai?”
“Come on Haru-chan, you’ll never know what this summer vacation will bring you,” Nagisa smiled.
Somehow Nagisa’s statement felt like some sort of prediction but Haru decided to ignore it. He refused again and headed home.
He was standing in front of a stadium full of faceless spectators. There were Iwatobi school officials watching in the crowd. They wished him goodluck earlier. But Haru knew that those had secret messages as if saying, This is important for the school. Don’t screw up .
Mixed in the swarm of people were the scouts from different universities. There were reporters in there as well. A certain red head he knew once said that these were important people if they wanted to continue swimming after high school.
The longer Haru stands in the starting block, the more the oppressive feeling in his chest grew. It was painful like every minute the oxygen was getting sucked out of him, making him dizzy. The stare of these spectators, their cheers, everything in this stadium felt wrong. Just give the signal already. I’ll feel better in the water. He thought.
The sound of the signal echoed in Haru’s ears. All the swimmers dived into the water, so as Haru. Once in the water, the oppressive feeling was still there, haunting him. He could not swim freely like there were invisible shackles binding his limbs. The water which was crystal clear at the start grew murkier as Haru waded across it. It was as good as swimming in the mud. Haru struggled maintaining an even breathing. Before he knew it, he gasped for air and tried going to the surface to catch a breath. He swam and swam but he did not seem to be getting close to the light. Instead, he was sinking in the deepest part of the dark water. Slowly, he closed his eyes and …
Haru woke up with a start. His shirt was drenched with sweat and he was panting as if he had run a marathon. He stared at the ceiling, lying still on his bed. The room was dark so he figured it must be around midnight.
“A dream…?” He balled his fist on his side while clutching a handful of his blanket. He got up and went to the kitchen to grab something to drink.
Haru replayed the dream in his head. Every night he had the same dream of his tournament before he quit the club. Ever since he was a child, he was called a swimming prodigy. He always had the affinity with water. Being with water brought him infinite joy. He joined and won countless times in tournaments but he had little care about those. They were mere extras, not the very reason Haru was swimming.
He continued swimming until high school. Iwatobi High School Swimming Club was struggling then and when he came, they started winning once more. By this time, Haru gained special yet unwanted attentions. People started pushing their expectations to him. When he competed in his first swimming tournament in high school, he felt like he was swimming to win, to please and answer the expectations of people around him. Their feelings were nothing but a burden. It was suffocating.
His last tournament was in a national competition. Half-way in his lane, he stopped. He just could not continue anymore. This was not the kind of swimming he loved. Everyone was disappointed afterwards but he could care less. Haru was so done with swimming.
A few days after, an incessant sound of the doorbell woke Haru up. He got to the door only to find his friends on the other side carrying bags.
“I don’t remember agreeing to your plans, Nagisa.”
“I heard there was some kind of festival in that island to honor their mascot Shimashima-chan,” Nagisa said, wearing that coaxing smile of his.
“Shi-shimashima-chan!?” Haru’s eyes widened when he heard of the mascot. He could not explain it but he had a penchant for mascots. He had to see Shimashima-chan at all cost!
An hour later, they were in Coach Sasabe’s boat heading towards the island.
They arrived past noon and Nagisa would not shut up about swimming already. Their training starts the next day so they had a free time for now. As soon as they were done packing, his two juniors went out to check the beach. Haru remained in their hotel and after a while, decided to walk around the area, anywhere but the sea.
At dinner, they had a simple meal in the hotel’s restaurant. Nagisa narrated animatedly their adventures at the shore. The duo expressed how they would have wished Haru was there with them. Haru pretended he did not see the pleading look in the eyes of his friends.
It was almost eleven when he woke up and could not go back to sleep. Unable to rest, he decided to jog. He ran around the area until he realized that his feet brought him to the sea. The air was cool and damp and the smell of sea breeze filled his nostrils. The sound of the waves called out to him, enchanting him to take a dip and he did. With tentative steps, he approached the water apprehensively. The feel of it in his feet was calming him, his previous listlessness flowing out of his body. He then removed the remaining of his clothes. Perhaps due to years of swimming, he had not removed the habit of wearing his swimming trunks underneath.
“I’ll swim for a while,” he said to himself. He took a breath and dived in the water.
A while turned hours and Haru did not know anymore how long he stayed there. He was happy to be with water like this again. He swam and until he was exhausted before returning to the hotel.
A tall guy with brown hair sat on the sand not so far away from Haru. Until the arrival of Haru, he had been watching the ocean and the darkness beyond it. The sound of the waves was music to his ears. The beauty and enigma of water captivating him.
He sat there for who-knows-how-long until a guy, not so far from his age came to the shore. It was rare for a person, especially a teenage guy, to come here at this late hour. With curious eyes, he followed the movements of the mysterious guy. This person was cautious in approaching the water as if the ocean was some kind of a wild animal.
When he finally swam, the brunet was amazed by his swimming prowess. It was lovely. He was fascinated in an instant, like the guy was one with the water. The brunet watched as the other guy padded through the water full of grace. He could not keep his emerald eyes off the dark-haired guy. In all those nights that he came to the sea, today seemed to be special to witness such a rare sight.
He was disappointed when the other guy left but it was getting cold out there. He wondered who this person might be for he was not a familiar face. The guy piqued his interest and most of all, he wanted to see him swimming again.