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13 September 2015 @ 06:58 pm
1/3  
Title: Island
Pairing: Nanase Haruka/OC
Rating: PG-13
Summary: When graduation is right around the corner...
Note: This is the first part of the fourth installment. You may find the previous installments here:

Coastline
Soup-Port
Harbor







Though Christmas vacation has already started, Makoto can’t help but feel that Haruka isn’t getting in the holiday mood that everyone else has adopted. After all, the schools have shut down until the start-up of the semester next year, which means that Haruka can only soak himself in his bathtub until spring comes. The local swimming club’s pool is under construction as well and it’s too cold to take a dip at the beach. Makoto is used to this by now, really, and this time around he has someone to share the worry with.

“Haru, let’s go and—“ Makoto starts but stops immediately as soon as he opens the door to the bathroom and sees his best friend standing in the tub, his hand gripping Miharu’s own as the girl probably helped him up.

“Oh! Good morning, Makoto-kun!” Miharu greets happily.

This doesn’t happen often so that whenever Makoto witnesses such a scene, the surprise still renders him speechless. Even though Haruka has a habit of wearing his swimming trunks in the bath and Miharu doesn’t seem at all fazed by seeing the quiet boy like so, it still isn’t every day that Makoto sees Haruka’s girlfriend in the bathroom with him.

Haru’s girlfriend…

“What?” Haruka mutters, having let go of Miharu’s hand as he gets out of the tub completely. The girl proceeds to Makoto’s side.

The taller boy looks at Miharu next to him and then back at Haruka. The first few times that he had found himself in this situation, he would notice Haruka’s cheeks turning evidently red with embarrassment but lately, the rosiness there has been disappearing little by little. They calm him down, these tiny yet observable changes in his best friend’s life.

Smiling, Makoto turns to usher Miharu outside. “Shall we prepare breakfast for you?” he asks over his shoulder but Haruka shakes his head. Makoto nods at this and guides Miharu to the den where the two of them sit around the kotatsu to warm themselves up. Still in his swimming trunks, Haruka disappears into the kitchen, making both Makoto and Miharu smile wryly to themselves.

“By the way, Nagisa and the others are coming over in a while.” Makoto pauses as he adjusts his legs under the table. “They said they didn’t have anything to do today so they wanted to hang out.”

“That’s really nice. I haven’t seen anyone seen Christmas vacation started,” Miharu replied.

“Oh yeah. You just came back from Tokyo, right?”

“Yup! My parents and I went to fetch my sisters. They’re studying in universities there, you see,” she shares, chuckling. “That’s why it’s so noisy at home nowadays.”

“You’re the youngest in the family aren’t you, Miharu-chan?” Makoto says with a smile, remembering his own siblings at home.

Miharu nods. “It can be stressful being the youngest though…”

“Hmm?”

“It’s nothing,” the girl replies hastily. She looks toward the direction of the kitchen and decides to stand up, straightening her dark green sweater and her black skirt. “I’ll go and prepare tea. Would you like sweets to go with it?”

Makoto smiles before he shakes his head. “I’m okay. Just tea would be fine.”

With that, Miharu disappears into the kitchen as well. It’s quiet now as Makoto rests his arms over the table, his head propped atop them. He’s slowly getting used to the feeling of having Miharu help Haruka in the kitchen, having her over at his house and simply seeing her right next to the quiet boy. Although he starts to worry from time to time, their last year in high school spread in front of them in plain sight. The time for the three of them to decide their future is nearing and he still doesn’t know what he wants to do when it comes. He doesn’t know about Haruka’s and Miharu’s plans either despite wanting to talk to them about such.

Closing his eyes, Makoto listens to Haruka cooking and Miharu taking out cups and dishes from the cupboard. These sounds calm him down.

Ah… Maybe I can stay in this moment for a little while longer…

Before he could doze off completely, Makoto sits up at the sound of the doorbell ringing. Knowing that Haruka and Miharu are busy, he takes the liberty to go to the front door and welcome the guests.

“Mako-chan! We’ve come to play!” Nagisa sings as he skips inside the house.

“Nagisa-kun! Do not cause a ruckus!” Rei scolds lightly as he follows the shorter boy. Behind him, an unexpected friend appears, easing a fond smile on Makoto’s face.

“Gou went shopping with her friends and she sent me in her place,” Rin informs, joking at that last bit. He follows the others into the den where Haruka has begun setting his breakfast and a bowl of sweets for everyone to munch on. When he sees Rin emerge from behind Makoto, he pauses and tilts his head slightly.

“Rin,” Haruka mumbles while Rin takes his seat across from his own, holding a hand up.

“Yo.”

“Isn’t this nice? I feel like it’s been so long since I was last with you guys,” Nagisa comments happily after popping a candy into his mouth.

Rei shakes his head in disbelief. “You were just at my house yesterday and the day before that you asked Haruka-senpai and Makoto-senpai to accompany you to the market to buy groceries and the day before that—“

“Oh, Rei-chan! It’s still different when I hang out with all of you at the same time!” Nagisa counters lightheartedly.

While Nagisa eats more sweets and Rei warning him about possible stomachaches, Haruka, Makoto and Rin exchange looks of nostalgia. For a while there, Haruka almost forgets to return to the kitchen but before he could stand up, Miharu has already stepped out with a tray of cups. She’s smiling at the sight of visitors but he catches a glint of nervousness in her eyes for a split second before she goes to distribute the cups. Haruka wonders about that.

“Miharu-chan! When did you come back from Tokyo?” Nagisa asks eagerly as he takes his cup from the girl.

“Just last night. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to tell you,” she replies apologetically. She passes the last cup to Rin, who takes it politely and quietly.

“Do not apologize, Miharu-senpai,” Rei says, smiling. He has learned to be less formal with the girl for the past few weeks which really made Miharu glad. She can never get used to being one of the oldest in her group of friends at all.

“Tokyo?” Rin decides to ask.

Miharu settles down behind him and Haruka, who has begun to eat his usual mackerel breakfast. “My older sisters study in universities there but they wanted to spend the holidays here so I went with my parents to pick them up.”

“Hm,” Rin hums as he takes a sip off his tea. It’s light and fragrant, very delicious.

“So you’re the youngest in the family, Miharu-chan?” Nagisa asks and grins when the girl nods at him. “I have older sisters, too, and I’m also the youngest in my family! No wonder you and I get along so well!”

“I don’t think that has got to do with anything…” Rin murmurs against his cup.

“If I may ask, what are we supposed to be doing today?” Rei questions as he looks at his friends. The others look at one another then back at the team’s theorist.

Scratching his head, Nagisa mumbles, “I said I just wanted to hang out so I’m not really sure…”

“Shall we watch a movie?” Makoto suggests but Rin shakes his head.

“The movies showing today aren’t good. Gou told me just a while ago,” he says.

As the four boys think, Haruka quietly finishes his breakfast and tea, standing up to go to the kitchen again. Makoto decides to help clean up so he follows the raven-haired boy while Rin excuses himself to go to the bathroom. Nagisa and Rei are still deep in thought when Miharu takes the last few sips of her drink.

“I just remembered,” says Nagisa, looking at Miharu.

“Hm?”

“Miharu-chan, do you know how to swim?”

She nods almost hesitantly. “I do.”

“What is your favorite style then?” Rei smiles. “May I assume that it is the Butterfly? It is such a beautiful stroke, after all!”

“No no! Miharu-chan seems to be the type to like Freestyle more!” Nagisa declares, winking teasingly at the girl who almost instantly blushes upon realizing what the younger boy truly means.

“That is right! That is probably it,” Rei agrees wholeheartedly although it seems that he didn’t get what Nagisa was implying at all. “I only recently learned how to swim but I think Miharu-senpai has known how to longer than I have.”

“Um—“

“But your Butterfly is really beautiful, Rei-chan!”

“Of course it is! Otherwise, I would be really disappointed in myself.”

“It’s really hard to master that stroke since it takes up so much strength. And to think it’s the first style you’ve ever learned how to do! You’re really amazing, Rei-chan!”

“Oh no, not at all!”

Miharu giggles to herself as she watches this exchange between Nagisa and Rei. The way they act suddenly makes her feel old though yet she continues to smile at them anyway.

“But really, Miharu-chan, what’s your favorite style?” Nagisa asks a little seriously this time after taking a detour from their initial conversation.

Looking down at her cup which is encased snuggly in both of her hands, Miharu smiles a tiny smile to herself and shakes her head. “I don’t really have a favorite style, honestly.”

Rei blinks. “Why is that?”

“Ah, well…” she mumbles, uncertain. “I know how to swim, sure, but I don’t really know how to execute proper strokes.”

“Did you have swimming lessons?” Nagisa ventures.

“I learned on my own, actually.”

Stroking his chin, Rei suggests, “Would you like us to teach you then? Each of us has our own style so it would be advantageous for you to learn the strokes faster.”

“That’s a great idea, Rei-chan! I’m sure Haru-chan and Mako-chan would be willing to teach you, too! If you want, we can also ask Rin-chan to help you,” Nagisa goes on very enthusiastically, almost jumping to his feet if only it isn’t so cold then. “After the holidays, we can go to Samezuka Academy and borrow their pool and then—“

“Y-You don’t have to do that,” Miharu stutters though she didn’t intend to interrupt Nagisa. “I’m sure everyone is really busy and I couldn’t possibly bother you.”

“But we insist, Miharu-senpai!”

“Rei-kun…”

“Besides!” exclaims Nagisa confidently. “The lessons are for free. You don’t have to worry about being a bother. We wouldn’t suggest this in the first place if we knew it would bother us,” he adds reassuringly but their kindness and consideration seem ineffective to Miharu’s resolve. Quietly, the girl shakes her head and offers the two boys a small smile.

“Like this…” she whispers before a chuckle escapes her. “I’m okay like this.”

Both Nagisa and Rei don’t know why but, at that exact moment, Miharu’s earlier cheerful aura suddenly changes to that of enigma and vacancy. They watch her finish her tea before she stands up and goes to the kitchen, at which interval Makoto comes out with a plate of cookies.

“Miharu-chan brought this over and— huh?” Makoto looks at Nagisa’s and Rei’s frowns created by confusion. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, it is nothing, Makoto-senpai,” Rei answers.

“It’s not ‘nothing’, Rei-chan!” Nagisa whines.

“You can tell me,” Makoto reassures, seating himself in his place, offering his two teammates cookies.

Nagisa and Rei look at each other then back at Makoto. They whisper their concerns to their captain and before long Rin has returned from the bathroom as well as Haruka and Miharu from the kitchen. The subject matter doesn’t reach Haruka’s and Rin’s ears and Miharu doesn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary so they go on to talk about their day’s plans.

“We can play games at Makoto’s,” Haruka suggests nonchalantly.

Rin narrows his eyes. “Hey—“

“LET’S DO IT!” Nagisa shouts with even more energy and excitement that he makes the others feel suddenly exhausted.

“Is that okay, Makoto-senpai?” Rei asks worriedly to which Makoto smiles.

“I don’t mind. No one’s at home today so—“

“LET’S GO!” Finally jumping out of the kotatsu, Nagisa races everyone to the entrance although the others don’t seem to have the same enthusiasm, sighing in defeat.

“Nagisa-kun! Hold on!” Rei shouts after the hyperactive boy, following him out of the house.

Rin sighs exasperatedly and looks at the girl from across the table. “Are you tagging along?”

Realizing that she would be the only girl there, Miharu suddenly feels embarrassed and, unconsciously, shakes her head vigorously. “I-I don’t—“

Haruka looks at the girl next to him, earning her attention. “You’re not?”

Miharu looks away from Haruka’s deepening gaze and stares down at her lap. “It’s… It’s just…”

Witnessing this scene, Rin can’t help but clench his fists under the table. There’s an unfamiliar glint in Haruka’s eyes that’s only ever apparent when he looks at Miharu and just a glimpse of the girl’s blushing face whenever Haruka looks at her somehow irritates him. Ever since he heard from the others that there was some tension between these two, he couldn’t stop himself from being anxious and, worse, because he doesn’t know why he feels so. And then, out of the blue, he hears from Gou and Nagisa a few weeks ago that his childhood rival finally bared his feelings to the girl and that the tension between them disappeared. After that, he just couldn’t get himself to ask Haruka or Miharu about it.

Talk to Miharu-san?

Where did that thought come from? Rin does away with his anxiety and keeps silent as he waits for the other three’s decision.

“Will you be going home now then, Miharu-chan?” Makoto asks as he stands up, followed by Haruka. “Shall we walk you home?”

She looks up at the two boys, her lower lip quivering just a little for lack of immediate reply. “That’s not necessary—“

“I’ll walk her,” Haruka interrupts. Without saying anything else, he takes off his apron en route to the corridor to go to his room to change into proper clothes.

“I’ll come with you,” Rin says as he stands up as well, pocketing his hands in his pants. Just before Haruka leaves the room completely, he and Rin glance at each other and share gazes for just a second before the former goes on.

By reflex, Miharu looks at Makoto as if in distress. The tall boy chuckles before smiling at her as he offers a hand to help her up. “Don’t worry. They offered to walk you home.”

“But…”

“I’ll tell Nagisa and Rei that you went ahead. It’s okay,” he reassures, patting the girl’s head to let her know that she really isn’t being a bother to both Haruka and Rin.

When Haruka finishes changing, he lets Miharu walk out the door first before him and Rin follows with Makoto tailing closely behind. The three descend the stairs and Makoto watches them go, crossing his arms worriedly.

“Will they really be okay by themselves?” he muses aloud.

Meanwhile, as Nagisa and Rei wait for Makoto, the two boys begin to wonder about Miharu’s resolve against learning swimming styles. For the reason that the others returned as soon as they finished sharing their concerns with Makoto, the captain wasn’t able to comment on the subject.

“You know, Nagisa-kun, we should refrain from forcing people to do our bidding.”

“We’re not bidding on anything! We offered, didn’t we?”

“No, I mean—“

“But, Rei-chan! This isn’t about wanting to teach Miharu-chan proper strokes. Aren’t you worried?”

Rei adjusts his glasses as he thinks. “I am. Her reaction toward the matter was too peculiar and I cannot help but notice a mystery shrouding her afterwards.”

“Whoa, Rei-chan! Your observation skills are amazing, too!”

“Now you are just teasing,” Rei retorts, sighing. “Really, though, should we be worrying? Maybe she just really dislikes the idea of being a bother to us. After all, we will be training again soon.”

Nagisa bites his lower lip. He can’t seem to let it go, that sad smile on Miharu’s usually cheerful face. “Maybe you’re right, Rei-chan. Maybe we’re just overthinking…”

At the sight of Nagisa’s sagging shoulders, Rei frowns, patting his comrade’s back to console him. Makoto catches up to them soon enough, telling them that Haruka and Rin walked Miharu home. It’s not like he’s suspicious of Rin’s intentions because, well, he just offered to walk the girl home with Haruka and what could Rin possibly do aside from tease them along the way? Sometimes, though, Makoto catches Rin frowning to himself whenever the two are together with them.

Maybe he’s still trying to adjust to the changes.

Walking alongside the beach now, Haruka stands in between Miharu and Rin. It’s awkwardly quiet, not that Haruka’s going to do anything about it. He remembers Rin confronting him about Miharu before and how, after that, he didn’t talk to him about her anymore. When he got wind of the news, Rin simply grinned, not saying anything at all. Right then, he looks at both Miharu and Rin at his sides. Miharu’s the closest to the beach so she has her attention to the clear blue waves while Rin looks at the buildings on his side, probably trying to recall the times he had passed by them when he was still a kid.

Haruka looks up at the blue sky now, for a minute, before looking ahead again and seeing a kid riding a bike toward Miharu. It’s not that the girl is in any remote danger but he, at that instant, rather let her walk in the middle so he grabs her wrist and tugs her to change places with him, the girl losing her balance for a bit and then resulting to Rin steadying her by the shoulders.

“Oi, Haru!” Rin grunts angrily. He pauses to help Miharu regain her balance while Haruka watches them both.

Caught in a weird situation, Miharu jolts and turns to bow to Rin. “I’m—“

But the words never flow out from Miharu as the silence abruptly returns. Rin stares at Haruka’s hand over Miharu’s eyes at that moment, somehow blindfolding her so that she won’t see Rin anymore and ultimately making her turn to him instead.

“What—“

“Are you okay?”

“O-Of course I am!” Miharu says in a protesting voice, almost pouting. She sighs. “But you surprised me, Haru.”

“Sorry…” Haruka mumbles as he starts to walk ahead of her.

“Wait!”

It isn’t the exchange of words that happened between the two that made Rin stop there. He looks ahead of him and sees their backs, their steps matching and arms slightly bumping against each other’s. It’s Miharu’s voice that glues him there, in that spot that suddenly seems so far away from their world.

She called him ‘Haru’.

Breathing in deeply, Rin looks down at the ground. He doesn’t know how long he’s been like that but he figures it’s long enough for the other two to leave him behind but when he finally looks up, he sees Haruka looking over his shoulder to watch Miharu walk back to him. She stops in front of Rin and holds her hand out, smiling.

“You said you’d walk me home, right?” she says as she holds on to Rin’s hand. She must have set aside her embarrassment, Rin thought, and collected enough courage within her to go back to him and now starting to tug him toward Haruka. “So let’s go home!”

“W-What—“

“Let’s go,” Haruka says when Miharu finally matches Rin to their line, facing forward as he begins to walk again. “Rin.”

Still confused, Rin falls into step with Haruka and Miharu once more, the girl encasing both his and Haruka’s hand in hers, swinging them back and forth like how a child would do. He was so sure that the two of them would go off into the distance and would rather do so than to keep him as a third-wheel but they go and do the exact opposite, even being offered a smile from Miharu, whom he had somehow intimidated some time ago in Haruka’s kitchen.

And then, suddenly, Rin begins to think that it’s been a while since he felt another girl’s hand wrapped around his own. It has always been Gou or his female classmates back in kindergarten and elementary school. Beyond these circle of people, in their respective timelines, there isn’t one other girl during his middle school years and early freshman year in high school, and most especially after having enrolled in Samezuka Academy (of course, with only boys littering the campus) who has ever held his hand. His thoughts come to a halt.

Why am I getting self-conscious about this now?! It’s no big deal at all!

He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know why the softness of Miharu’s palm makes him anxious. He doesn’t know why he can’t read both her and Haruka’s minds; their actions, the way they make him feel so conflicted even just by being in the same room. As the afternoon sun begins to shine, Rin glimpses a small, contented smile on Miharu’s face and the whole cycle of confusion repeats and repeats.

New Year came and went. The return of the semester is well on its way through spring. Everyone has advanced to their respective year levels, the days somehow becoming shorter and shorter, with several surprises popping up one after another, as well as nuisances and blunders. On that day, for example, the Iwatobi High swim team and some of Samezuka Academy’s swim team members have just finished competing in a little event for the reopening of the local pool with the new name, ‘Iwatobi SC Returns’. Although Miharu didn’t get to watch the event itself because of certain family issues to solve, she’s able to catch up before the pool closes, just when Rin formally introduces to the others his best friend back when he studied in Sano Elementary School, Yamazaki Sousuke.

“I’m sorry for—“ Miharu tries to say first before she stops in her tracks by the entrance of the building where the others had gathered around. The second she sees unfamiliar faces, she clams up and stiffens in an awkward pause.

Sousuke, the tall, dark brown-haired and somehow intimidating boy standing right in front of Miharu, glances at Rin beside him. The latter looks at the panting girl before them for a while before he pulls his attention away almost hesitantly, directing it to his phone. Being his best friend, Sousuke knows that the newcomer’s presence bothers Rin just from a mere glance.

“Miharu-senpai! This is Yamazaki Sousuke-kun. He’s a friend of onii-chan and mine from way back,” Gou introduces cheerfully.

Feeling embarrassed for her ‘disheveled’ entrance, she bows to Sousuke, who tilts his head slightly. “It’s nice to meet you, Yamazaki-kun. I’m Hasegawa Miharu.”

As Gou begins to giggle, Miharu straightens up in a panic and looks at her. “You’re so formal, Miharu-senpai!”

“Ah, but—“

“Nice to meet you,” Sousuke cuts in just in time, looking down at the short girl with his calm yet piercing eyes. Miharu finds herself frozen in place.

A somewhat short yet friendly-looking boy standing next to Nagisa steps forward. “Hello there, Hasegawa-san! I’m Nitori Aiichirou,” he introduces politely. Miharu bows to him courteously as well.

“You can call him ‘Ai-chan’!” Nagisa chimes.

“H-Hey!” Aiichirou starts to protest but Nagisa ignores him.

“Too bad Momo-chan already went ahead. He wanted to eat so badly, he already rushed to the train station,” Nagisa shares then adds, quite in his playful way, “He would’ve liked you a lot, Miharu-chan!” The remark makes Rei choke as he drinks from his water bottle and Miharu tilt her head cluelessly while the others simply sigh.

After the introductions, Miharu looks around the group for Haruka but she can’t find him anywhere so she looks at Makoto, who notices the confused expression on her face, returning it with an apologetic smile.

“Haru—“

“He went home,” Rin continues. Despite the disappointed smile on Miharu’s face then, he catches the tiny movement of her shoulders sagging and it just annoys him how she can still bring herself to smile even when it’s obvious that she’s upset. Unconsciously grinding his teeth, he turns around and waves a hand to the people behind. “We better get back to the dorm, too. Later.”

The others greet the Samezuka boys a safe trip back to their school as they, too, turn around to go home. Walking behind Aiichirou and Rin, Sousuke looks over his shoulder, seeing Miharu walking behind the rest. He knows that he and Rin need to catch up some more because the last time he checked, it was only Haruka who distracted his best friend and he doesn’t like anyone else to be added to the list.

Not again.

At the end of the day, Haruka sends Miharu an email with a simple “Sorry” to which the girl replies with an “It’s okay. I’ll see you at school!” And when they do meet at school, on a sunny Monday, Miharu finds out that Sousuke had actually competed in a race against Haruka during middle school and that Sousuke lost to the quiet boy. Makoto shares this story with great nostalgia plastered on his face and though he wants to tell Miharu more stories from the past, he doesn’t, considering the look of disapproval on Haruka’s face flashing at him like a red light.

During a quiet Sunday afternoon, Miharu is sitting inside a café. She has just finished visiting her favorite bookstore, one paper bag by her feet as she looks out the window. She’s actually easily contented with books and writing materials, as well as art materials and just anything that would let her give life to her imagination. As she happily recalls her purchases in her head, she glimpses two familiar faces right outside the window and, looking up, she finds these two staring at her as well.

The next scene just so happens to be spent with the Matsuoka siblings.

“We just finished a bit of shopping today. I had onii-chan tag along because I can’t carry all of the groceries by myself,” Gou explains as she stirs her sundae lightly. “Were you shopping as well, senpai?”

Miharu shows her a smile. “Yeah. I just had to get out of the house.”

“Oh? Did something happen?”

“Not at all!”

Quietly listening to the two girls chatting, Rin adjusts his legs under the table so he can sit more comfortably but he hasn’t noticed the bag under there so he accidentally kicks it over. He ducks to return it to its proper place and as he does so, collects the materials that have spilled out. He notes them mentally, the pencils and paint brushes, two boxes of charcoal bars as well as a medium-sized canvas and some sort of metal spatula. Miharu has ducked over to help the boy as well but the latter has collected everything and has already returned them in the bag.

“Sorry,” Rin mumbles as soon as he sits upright.

“It’s okay,” Miharu replies just as quietly.

No one speaks for a while after that. While Rin looks out the window, his sister stuffs herself with a strawberry parfait and Miharu finishes her blueberry waffle. There really is no awkwardness nor is there tension, at that moment. If Rin had to be honest, the silence is calming and almost too natural to be true.

“Do you paint?” The words have poured completely out from his passing thoughts and realizing late that the question was heard by both Gou and Miharu, Rin refrains from attempting to cover it up with some lame excuse. He’s going to embarrass himself if he goes through with it, he just knows.

“I do from time to time but I’m not really good at it,” Miharu answers honestly, having decided to humor the boy.

“What kind of paintings do you usually make, senpai?” Gou asks.

“Nothing really in particular but as much as possible, I try to paint by memory.”

“By memory?” Rin repeats skeptically.

Gou nods in understanding. “People usually paint with visuals right before their eyes, don’t they?”

“That’s in order for them to paint in great detail,” Miharu explains. “I’m just a beginner so painting by seeing is really difficult for me. I haven’t even found my style yet.”

Style…

“That’s understandable, Miharu-senpai.” Gou suddenly beams at her. “But you have to promise me that when you get better, you’ll paint something for me!”

Miharu chuckles, agreeing. “All right then. What do you suppose I should paint for you when the time comes?”

“Muscles.”

Gou’s answer is so immediate and straightforward that it catches Miharu off guard. Rin, on the other hand, knows his sister too well so her reply doesn’t really surprise him. He’s surprised of the blush on Miharu’s face though, even wondering why she looks as red as a tomato.

“Right. Muscles,” Miharu confirms awkwardly.

“You can use Haruka-senpai as your model!” Gou adds excitedly.

Rin chuckles sarcastically. “Yeah. You should do that.”

“Or I can let you borrow onii-chan.”

“What?” Miharu and Rin reply in unison, one in a tone of confusion and the other in disbelief. They glance at each other before they look away to different directions. From this, Gou has successfully albeit unknowingly established the awkwardness that both Miharu and Rin had been avoiding.

Having left the café together, Gou suggests letting Rin walk Miharu home because the older girl’s house is nearer than the train station and the afternoon is already on the verge of evening. At the time, Miharu thought Rin would totally protest or just walk off on his own, ignoring Gou’s request but to her surprise, he doesn’t do those things and waits for her so they can walk side by side. With that, Gou decides to take the train home by herself.

The boy’s actions completely came out of nowhere that Miharu feels twice as awkward as she did before they left the café. Aside from that one time in Haruka’s kitchen, Miharu has never talked to Rin alone. Just a few days ago, when Rin volunteered to walk her home, Haruka was with them so she didn’t have to feel totally awkward. She even managed to muster up a few minutes of insane courage to hold his hand all throughout their trip! Of course, she held Haruka’s hand, too, but still. Right now, somehow, she has forgotten how to interact with Rin even when she had finally opened up to him just a little bit.

“How’s Haru?”

“He’s okay. The others have been training a lot lately.”

“Of course.”

Miharu adjusts her hold on her paper bag. “I’m sorry for having you walk me home, Matsuoka-kun.”

“Rin.”

“Rin… Rin?” Miharu repeats confusedly, her steps slowing as she wonders why she just said Rin’s name. She stares dazedly at Rin, who has stopped in his tracks to turn to her and upon understanding her situation, she blushes.

“What’re you blushing for?” Rin asks, pretending to be irritated even as he grins mischievously at his companion.

“Sorry…”

“If you’re going to apologize, start calling me by my first name.”

“A-Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t tell you this if I wasn’t.”

“Yeah, but—“

Rin sighs. “Miharu.”

Somehow, time goes into standstill. Rin calling her name like that reminds Miharu of the first time Haruka did the same, on that day when their feelings had intertwined. The warm feeling in her chest ultimately makes her chuckle but she doesn’t mean to confuse the boy. It’s just that the feeling of being accepted always overwhelms her.

“It’s funny how Gou’s the manager of the swim club. She doesn’t even know how to swim,” Rin shares openly as they begin to walk again.

“But Gou-chan gives her all to the team. She works really hard,” Miharu replies in defense of the younger Matsuoka sibling.

“How about you? Aren’t you part of the swim club?”

“I’m not.”

Rin scoffs in surprise. “Really? I was sure you’d join as a manager because Haru’s there.”

Haha,” Miharu says sarcastically.

“But you do know how to swim, right?”

“I do.”

For a moment, Rin tries to wonder why Miharu doesn’t want to join the swim club but nothing seems to be enough of a reason as to why she shouldn’t join. “Then why don’t you join the club?”

“I just…” While waiting, Rin glances at her and sees a tired smile spread on her lips. “Don’t want to.”

What a reason.

“But have you swum in any competitions?”

“I haven’t.” Miharu pauses. “And I don’t think I can.”

The road before them is still stretching, the street lamps lighting up one by one. Beside Rin, Miharu is looking up at the evening sky with a child-like admiration for the stars that are slowly coming into view. He thinks about how similar Haruka and Miharu are; how their minds are hard to read; how their expressions have this cluelessness and innocence mixed together and how scary it is that both of them give him a feeling of calmness and nostalgia, sometimes of silent displeasure but that’s normal. To him, they’re mysteries that he can’t possibly fathom by himself; mysteries that move freely into people’s lives without them even knowing that they have this aura surrounding them that makes other people want to take care of them. He has known Haruka for years now but Miharu simply popped out from left field and he’s still trying to figure her out. He knows that there’s something about her that unsettles him and it’s not what she thinks it is; it’s not about her getting in between Haruka and the others but something a little more complex, a little more like a reason that makes him feel like he doesn’t want to get too close to her because he starts to feel like running away.

“Why is that?”

With her eyes closed as she listens to the howl of the sea breeze, Miharu replies, “I don’t know how to swim like you and the others.”

“Like us?” Rin asks.

“To you guys, it’s as if swimming comes off as second nature. Your movements, your breathing…” Miharu chuckles. “I can’t swim if I think about all those.”

The boy scratches behind his neck. “You just need to practice.”

“Practice, huh…” she mumbles. Rin glimpses a melancholy shine in the girl’s eyes that almost immediately disappears when she starts to smile. “Shall I tell you a secret?”

“A secret?”

Nodding, Miharu takes in a deep breath. “Why do you swim?”

Memories from childhood up to the recently concluded swimming competition flash in Rin’s mind. He wants to become like his father who had wanted to become a professional swimmer before he died at sea. He wants to experience everything his old man felt when he was swimming and most of all, he wants to achieve the dream his father didn’t get the chance to. There are more reasons but those are what he can think of at the top of his head. He doesn’t know how to answer Miharu’s question because he can’t just enumerate them like stuff written on a grocery list. They’re precious to him and they piece his dream together, not just his father’s.

My dream…

“I…” Miharu looks at Rin beside her. There’s this determination shining in his eyes and for some reason, it makes her feel relieved. “I have a dream I want to fulfill,” he answers confidently.

“I see,” Miharu says calmly.

“Then what about you? Why do you swim?”

A momentary pause follows as she considers her thoughts, checking with herself if she can truly tell Rin her reason, then deciding she can. “Like I said, it’s a secret so don’t go telling people about it.” Miharu coughs to clear her throat. “And don’t laugh.”

“Is it something I might find strange?” Rin muses aloud, grinning.

“Just don’t laugh.”

“Okay, okay. So? Let’s have it.”

Just like before, Miharu takes in a deep breath. She holds it in as she counts until ten and then lets it out. Up above, the stars are watching over them intently, as if they’re saying “We’ll keep your secret, too!” and though it’s a childish little thought, it comforts Miharu greatly.

“I swim because I’m ridded of everything when I do,” she confesses. “I don’t have to think about anything at all. Just being in the water clears my head. I swim recklessly but, you know, as long as I don’t drown, I don’t really mind.” She looks down at the paper bag in her arms, peeking at the materials within. “I swim for myself.”

Miharu’s words echo in Rin’s mind and as he closes his eyes, he sees himself back when he was a kid, in a beach at Australia, screaming his lungs out at the waves that came and went. Then there’s Haruka, a younger version of himself, swimming in the old Iwatobi Swim Club pool, without a care in the world. When he reopens his eyes, he can see the intersection where they need to part ways a little distance away.

I get it now.

“It’s silly, isn’t it?”

“No.” Rin shakes his head. He remembers Haruka’s own reason for swimming and, indeed, finds them quite a pair. “It’s your reason for swimming. It’s not silly at all.”

Hearing Rin’s answer, Miharu smiles a little to herself. “Thank you,” she whispers, not knowing that the boy actually heard her say that.

She swims to be free.

Rin doesn’t say this to Miharu but finally knowing why she swims, he’s reminded of himself when he was struggling in Australia all those years ago. He lost track of what he was swimming for and whenever he got into the water, all he wanted to do was swim far away, as fast as he could, back to Haruka and the others. He had lived those days putting up a strong front because he didn’t want to go back as a loser. He decided he’d swim until he got better so that when he was ready, he could return with an achievement and new found strength to face his friends. Before long, swimming had become Rin’s escape from the world and being in the water then made him both realize his dream more and suffer for it. It was a feeling that was hard to explain in words so that now, hearing someone who has felt this same kind of feeling, makes him more worried than relieved. For reasons beyond him, he fears Miharu might be experiencing the same kind of struggle he had before and, like him, she has no one to listen to her so she swims, in the silence that keeps her at bay but when she emerges from there, what happens then?

Haruka’s face during that winter day flashes in Rin’s mind abruptly.

Haru will…

“Well, this is it,” Miharu says, pulling Rin back from his thoughts. They’re at the intersection now.

“Yeah…”

Miharu smiles. “Thank you for walking with me. Take care on your way home.” And with that, she bows to Rin, turns around and walks away.

In his place, Rin watches Miharu as she walks further and further away from him, disappearing into the darkness. Once she’s gone, he grits his teeth in frustration, annoyed out of his wits at the thought of Haruka and the possibility of him making the same mistake he did when they were kids; at the thought that maybe, someday, Haruka would watch Miharu drift away from him without saying anything to make her stay.

“Damn it!” Rin mutters to himself as he furiously walks back to the train station. “This isn’t my problem!”

It really isn’t his problem but thoughts of it still pop into his mind from time to time, destroying his focus in class and sometimes during training. As Rin’s best friend, Sousuke has observed these moments and he doesn’t like it one bit.

Naturally, Sousuke pays close attention to Rin’s reactions whenever he’s with him so that he’d somehow understand more before he confronts the boy about whatever is up. So far, he knows that Rin tends to get really competitive about anything whenever Haruka is around but recently, he has noted that Rin reacts quite strangely whenever he sees Haruka with Miharu. Sousuke noticed this during random times when he and Rin would be out in town to buy groceries for Gou because the girl had other plans to take care of. During few of such times, they had chanced upon the guys from Iwatobi together with Miharu. They said that it just so happened that they bumped into Miharu while they were out to buy some equipment for the club while the girl had to run errands for her mother or her older sisters. The mere look on Rin’s face whenever Haruka was near Miharu was something Sousuke had never seen before.

It got worse one time when the boys went off to buy ice-cream from this small stall next to the sports equipment shop and Rin and Sousuke had to stay with Miharu to watch the stuff they had bought and so that the girl wouldn’t walk off under the sun. Rin and Sousuke had heard once from Gou that Miharu has awfully sensitive skin so that whenever the sunlight reaches her, her skin burns easily. That time, not wanting to risk Miharu’s ‘welfare’, Makoto told her to just wait in the shade and that he’d buy a cone for her. Sousuke didn’t want ice-cream at the time but he was partly sure that Rin wanted to get some but his best friend didn’t leave, not even remotely showing any signs of wanting to but Sousuke knew. He listened to Miharu and Rin talk about Gou at first and then if Miharu had been painting lately (which Sousuke found out later on, from Rin, that she is actually an artsy person, being fond of literature and paintings and whatnot) and then shifting completely to school and the swim club and other mundane matters. The first to go back was Haruka and he was holding two cones, one of which he passed to Miharu, who accepted it with a slightly shy smile. Right at that moment, when Sousuke glanced at Rin, he saw an almost sad yet more ominous glow in his eyes. Rin even had to look away when Haruka nonchalantly wiped a smudge of vanilla on the girl’s nose.

These new reactions Rin has been unconsciously showing made it easier for Sousuke to deduce the possibilities of what is truly bothering him. It takes him a while to understand whatever is between Haruka and Miharu and once he did figure that out, for a time, Sousuke didn’t want to believe it. Looking back on all those moments when Haruka and Miharu interacted with each other in front of Rin and Rin behaving awkwardly all the while, Sousuke has no other choice but to lay the problem down before him.

Hasegawa Miharu.

To Sousuke, Haruka is enough of a distraction to Rin, the quiet boy being a known rival of since childhood. And he knows Haruka is someone other swimmers should be wary about, in the water most especially. Miharu, on the other hand, is just a girl. Sousuke doesn’t think of Miharu in any particular way; he doesn’t even have a proper description of her. She’s just some girl that Haruka seemingly cares about, in his own quiet and very subtle ways; a girl Sousuke happens to know a bit about through passing conversations he hears from Gou and Rin whenever they talk about school and that time when Rin had asked about Miharu’s painting. Why does she, being with Haruka, affect Rin at all? Sousuke is a keen observer, really, but he just doesn’t understand why a girl who happens to be close with his best friend’s rival makes the best friend in question react in such odd ways. He knows Rin doesn’t need another distraction. It’ll be too much.

“You’ve been out of your game lately,” Sousuke tells Rin in their shared dorm room one night after their training. Rin has just gotten back from the shower and is now standing by the door as he ruffles his hair with a towel. Sousuke watches him from the lower bunk, a notebook on his lap.

“Yeah, well, don’t remind me.”

“What’re you fussing over now?”

Rin glares at Sousuke before he goes over to take his chair by his desk and sits on it in reverse, his arms propped over the surface of the backrest. He leaves his towel over his head as he sighs. “Just study. Is that English? Do you need help with it?”

Sousuke closes the notebook and sets it aside. “It’s Nitori’s water flea observation journal.”

“What the hell?”

“So? What’s bothering you?” Sousuke injects smoothly. He has always known that Rin has a bit of a habit of purposely changing the subject whenever something troubles him. Over the years he has known the boy, he has mastered the so-called ‘art’ of preventing the boy from straying from the matter at hand.

Resting his forehead against his arms now, Rin covers his face so that Sousuke doesn’t see the troubled look dancing in his eyes. “It’s nothing. Leave it be.”

“But you’re about to tell me.”

“Am not.”

“Rin,” Sousuke calls in a tone Rin is awfully familiar with. It’s the certain tone of voice Sousuke always uses when he really wants to know something and to hear it is very rare, coming from a guy who is stoic and cool and who usually isn’t bothered by anything.

Peeking carefully from against his arms, Rin sees Sousuke staring at him, obviously waiting for an answer he knows he’s going to give him. It’s ridiculous how Sousuke can be so confident and intimidating at the same time and how, despite all that, he’s the person who understands him the most. Rin simply can’t hide anything from him and no matter how much he tries, in the end, he still breaks down. Sousuke wishes for that night to be the ‘end’.

“You’re…” Rin starts but he forces out a laugh, standing up to return his towel in his cabinet and then proceeding to push Sousuke a little to make space on the bed where he can lie down. The other boy simply looks over his shoulder to his still-laughing companion. The smile on his face is barely a smile at all. “Hey. I need to get some shut-eye. We have morning training tomorrow since it’s our day off. Scoot.”

As Rin pushes Sousuke out of the lower bunk, the latter takes Nitori’s journal from the side and tosses it to his own desk, walking toward the door to turn the lights off. “Fine,” Sousuke says coolly as he climbs up to his bed. “You better wake up earlier than me then.”

Rin turns on his side and scoffs. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Whatever,” Sousuke retorts.

“Go to sleep already.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

The following day, after morning practice, Rin tells Sousuke that he has to go to Iwatobi to help Gou with some matters concerning the swim club.

“You can come along if you want,” Rin says to Sousuke on their way out from the gym.

Sousuke nods. “Sure. I’ll think about it.”

After lunch, long after Rin had gone to Iwatobi, Sousuke decides to follow his friend. It’s not like he has anything good to do so he just went. From the train station, he uses his leftover knowledge of directions in Iwatobi Town and walks around until he stops in front of Iwatobi SC Returns where he competed against Haruka in one of its opening day’s events a few weeks ago. He’ll never admit it but Sousuke really doesn’t have a sense of direction so instead of asking for the routes to the school, he wanders around the vicinity, following a particular path that may or may not take him to his destination.

Soon enough, Sousuke finds himself walking alongside the beach. Fascinated by the sound of the waves, he passes down a few steps to finally set foot on sand. He walks further toward the water, leaving an allowance of some meters to stand next to a figure hunched over just a little away from where the waves could reach, an umbrella held up. Probably sensing another presence within that little area, the figure looks to the side and then upward, to lock gazes with Sousuke.

“Yamazaki-kun.”

Sousuke looks away.

As she stands up, Miharu straightens her blue undershirt then her loose, long-sleeved and seemingly oversized blue polo over it. She looks at the sea as she adjusts her grip on her umbrella while her other hand tugs slightly at the hem of her jean shorts. Sousuke notices that they’re the only ones around. “Are you visiting someone?”

“Rin went to help Gou with something.” Sousuke pauses as he realizes that Miharu isn’t at school. “Don’t you have class?”

“We have the afternoon off today. There’s a faculty meeting,” she answers, holding her hair down with her free hand as a strong breeze sweeps by.

“I see.”

There really isn’t anything else to talk about or so Sousuke thinks for the meantime. The silence that slips in between them is covered by the sound of the waves and the chirping of the sea birds that fly about, trying to catch fish in the distance. Right beside him, Miharu looks far into the horizon. He isn’t sure but her eyes don’t seem to be focused on anything in particular. After all, there’s only water, the sky and the visible distance in between them. If Sousuke had to say something, Miharu’s attention is probably in that space in between.

“Listen.” The girl turns to her companion. Sousuke is calmly watching the sea before he turns to her, his eyes indifferent. “I have no idea what your intentions are and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but,” he starts with a warning tone, unknowingly intimidating Miharu as his eyes look over her sharply, “I won’t let you distract Rin.”

The waves crash strongly against the sea boulders at the side and momentarily drown out reality. Sousuke has already turned away but the threatening look in his eyes still burn on Miharu’s skin, his intense gaze freezing her in place like the first time they met. It takes a long while for her to gather every ounce of courage she has left at that instance and uses it to offer Sousuke an apologetic albeit nervous smile.

“I’m sorry.”

The boy stares at her until she looks away, her umbrella covering whatever emotion sprawled across her face. Having said what he wanted to, Sousuke pockets his hands and turns around to leave. He doesn’t look over his shoulder but when he closes his eyes for a minute, he can see a lonely silhouette of a stranger and her small umbrella, shrinking into the backdrop.

On the way back to the local pool, Sousuke bumps into Rin. The other boy explains that he has been there with the others all along because the school was closed and they didn’t have any means of sneaking into the pool. Sousuke goes home without seeing Haruka and his teammates, just getting the details of the visit from Rin. Before returning to the dorm, they stop by at a small store to buy ice-cream.

“I saw that girl a while ago.”

“Who?”

“Hasegawa.”

Rin stops by the entrance.

“She was at the beach.”

Memories from the past flash in Rin’s mind again. He recalls that evening, Miharu walking in the distance, disappearing into the darkness. He can see the very same silhouette of her retreating figure at the beach, by the waves that could have pulled her in if she had walked too far toward the sea and then her disappearance. And no one is there to stop her. Haruka isn’t there to stop her.

“Sousuke.” The taller boy turns to the call of his name. Rin looks up at him with the same sad and ominous look in his eyes that Sousuke isn’t used to seeing. “I’ll tell you.”

They finish their ice-cream and walk back to their dorm without exchanging words. It’s in the confines of their room where Rin finally settles Sousuke’s wonder.

“I don’t think I can say much about my time in Australia in detail but you know, don’t you? That I went through a lot there,” Rin says solemnly as he lies down and stretches on his bed. Sousuke listens from his seat by his desk. “I’m sure this might sound strange to you but that girl… She reminds me of myself at that time of my life. And, you know, it just fucking pisses me off if Haru doesn’t realize it sooner. Someday, it’ll be too late.”

Yes. Yes, Sousuke knows Rin’s hardships in the past; how he struggled in Australia but never let anyone know. Yes, Sousuke’s curiosity has been put to rest. Yes, Sousuke finally understands why Rin has been acting weird lately but he also thinks that his best friend is worrying too much about trivial matters; matters that shouldn’t really concern him, like Miharu.

“I know why she swims and it’s really…” Rin trails off, letting out a deep breath that somehow emphasizes his frustration.

Sousuke takes everything in, like how he always does. Rin has always been worrying about others, oftentimes he even worries about them more than he does for himself. It’s an admirable trait, Sousuke will admit, but he knows Rin shouldn’t be swayed so easily like this especially since it’s their last year in high school and he needs to do better to reach nationals. More than anything, he wants to see Rin achieve the dream he’s been boasting about since elementary school and he’d gladly help the boy in any way he can along the way. He would like to think that talking to Miharu earlier is him doing his part but as he closes his eyes to sleep that night, Sousuke can’t help but see Miharu’s lonely smile and think about how that curve was the creation of his words.

Somehow, I feel a little guilty about that.

Little did Sousuke know that he wasn’t the only one who fell asleep uneasily that night.





Part 2 >>>



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