"C'mon everyone, pile on in! The more the merrier!" Tajima yelled enthusiastically, rolling down the passenger's side window.
"Ahhhh…so much better, I was so hot! Mom, are you sure I can't take my clothes off? Mihashi got to!"
Sakaeguchi rolled his eyes at Tajima as he slid over in the backseat. It was a tribute to Mrs. Tajima's patience that she responded with a simple, 'No dear,' before covering her mirth with a gloved hand.
"Say, Sakeaguchi. Shouldn't you be sitting bitch? I mean, you're the smallest between the three of you," Tajima said.
"It's fine," Suyama said as he slid in next to Sakaeguchi, shooting him a broad smile. "It's the same amount of bodies either way right?"
"Uhh…yeah," Sakaeguchi responded, returning the smile. Somehow Suyama always managed to make him calm. He seemed to have that way about him, especially when it came to the baseball team.
"Phew, sure is hot in here, eh Hanai?" Suyama turned towards the last of their carpool party, who had refused to ride with his own mother since she had called him Azusa in front of the entire team.
"Seriously, Mihashi is sooo lucky that he got to strip down in his car," Tajima blurted out before Hanai could answer Suyama. Hanai responded to Tajima simply by slamming the car door a bit more forcefully than necessary.
"Thank you very much Mrs. Tajima," Hanai said, bowing.
"Yes! Thank you!" Sakaeguchi and Suyama followed their captain's lead by bowing in unison.
"Oh-ho, you boys are always so polite. It's my pleasure after being able to watch such an enjoyable game," Tajima's mother said, shifting the car in gear. "Yuuichirou, fasten your seatbelt please."
"Oh yeah! Thanks mom! I forgot!"
Sakaeguchi suddenly felt the seat shaking and looked up to find Suyama covering his mouth with his hand and trying desperately to suppress his laughter. Surprised, the second baseman found a smile creeping across his face as well, and it was completely unrelated to Tajima, who was now trying to reach diagonally across from the passenger's seat to kick Hanai.
Pausing to study Suyama's face, Sakaeguchi realized that, although they were in the same class, and spent a lot of time together, he hardly knew anything about Suyama. Suyama was the Class One representative, Sakaeguchi thought, absentmindedly tracing the outline of his reflection in the condensation on the window. Suyama was always helpful and nice, lending out his notes in class or helping people study up on Shinooka's team reports. Or cheering people up when they were nervous, like he had earlier in the game against Tosei.
His finger paused, and he watched the droplet trickle from his finger, ever so slowly down the windowpane. Suyama's hand had been so warm at first, but had seemed to get a bit colder as time passed. Sakaeguchi blushed. Maybe he had taken all of Suyama's heat somehow to make that bunt. What if Suyama had struck out because of his selfishness?
Sakaeguchi shook his head and looked up at Suyama again. This train of thought would only lead to more self-doubt, and he certainly didn't want to end up a nervous wreck like Mihashi.
"You okay?" Suyama's voice interrupted Sakaeguchi's thoughts. Sakaeguchi blushed, hoping that Suyama didn't think he was weird for staring at him.
"Oh no! Sakaeguchi, you don't have nervous diarrhea again, do you?" Tajima chimed in.
Sakaeguchi colored, glaring at Tajima. "No I don't, you idiot! What the hell would I have to be nervous about right now?"
If he had been completely honest with himself, Sakaeguchi would have admitted to an odd twinge in the pit of his stomach.
"We're here!" Mrs Tajima announced.
"Thank you very much ma'am!" Sakaeguchi bowed his head quickly before eagerly opening the door. Somehow the heat had become stifling in the back seat and Sakaeguchi wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, he stepped out awkwardly and stubbed his toe on the ground, causing him to trip and fall forward.
"Watch out!" Suyama called out, grabbing Sakaeguchi's shoulder and pulling him upright.
"Wouldn't want to hurt yourself after playing so well today, right?" Suyama said, grinning from ear to ear.
'You think I played well?' was the foremost thought in Sakaeguchi's head, but what actually came out was, "Yeah, thanks."
"No problem, Captain," Suyama said in that easygoing way of his. Sakaeguchi opened his mouth to remind Suyama that Hanai was their team captain, before realizing that Suyama was referring to his position as infield captain.
"Uh, yeah," was the brilliant response that exited Sakaeguchi's mouth, leaving the second baseman to mentally berate himself for his sudden inability to communicate. Writing it off as fatigue from the game, Sakaeguchi shook his head, turning to Suyama with a smile.
"I'm going to need my arm back," he joked, noticing that Suyama hadn't let go of his shoulder yet.
"Whoops," Suyama said, his face coloring a bit. He quickly dropped Sakaeguchi's arm, and busied himself by dusting off his uniform.
"You gave some strange guy your cell number? What is wrong with you?"
Suyama and Sakaeguchi both looked up to see Hanai glaring at Tajima.
"Why not? He seemed cool," was Tajima's response.
"Right now no one knows about us, and that's a good thing," Hanai replied, sounding exasperated. "What if Rio just wants to pump you for information about Nishiura so he can tell the next team that faces us?"
Sakaeguchi rolled his eyes, he highly doubted that Rio was going to pump Tajima for information, and, putting that aside, Tajima was surprisingly close-lipped with baseball statistics outside of his own teammates.
"Just what information is he going to share, Hanai? How to masturbate properly?" Sakaeguchi whispered under his breath. He was rewarded by a snort from Suyama, who had fallen in step beside him as the four boys approached the dugout.
"Hello boys," Momokan greeted them with a broad smile. "With you four here that only leaves Abe and Izumi. While you all are waiting, would you like some oranges or lemons?" She relished a bit in the uneasy and somewhat terrified looks on her players' faces before chuckling and turning to her team manager. "Don't worry, Shinooka here soaked them in honey for you."
The uneasy looks were replaced instantly by audible signs of relief, and the seven boys swarmed around Shinooka, who smiled gently, setting a large tub of soaked oranges and lemons on the dugout bench.
"There's another tub if you run out," the team manager said sweetly.
"Awww…did we miss out on the party?" Izumi said as he and Abe rounded the corner.
"Say, doesn't Abe look a bit pissed to you?" Suyama's breath tickled Sakaeguchi's ear as he whispered into it.
"That's kind of how he always looks. He's probably just worried about Mihashi," Sakaeguchi said, shivering a bit. It must have been the breeze on his still-soaked uniform. "After all, don't you think Abe has kind of an unnatural obsession with Mihashi?"
"Just a bit," Suyama joked.
"Well, now that everyone's here, let's get this done as quickly as possible so you boys can go home and get some good rest," Momokan shouted, clapping her hands to get everyone's attention. The team very obediently sat in a semi-circle in front of the dugout. "This means no extra talking, got it Tajima?" she continued with a pointed glare.
If their cleanup hitter was at all upset about being singled out, he certainly didn't show it, and instead answered in the carefree attitude with which he approached everything in life.
"Got it Coach!" he yelled. It was muffled a bit by the three oranges that were currently stuffed in his mouth.
"Good," she nodded. "Well then, Hanai, would you like to begin with your observations on the game? Shinooka, make sure you get this all down."
Sakaeguchi began to drift in and out as soon as Hanai began talking, the pressure and exhaustion of the entire day finally catching up with him. Suddenly, he felt a large elbow jab into his side.
"Psst! You're up next!" Suyama whispered.
"Yeah…thanks," Sakaeguchi blearily mumbled, shaking his head a few times to clear it. Thank goodness Suyama was always looking out for him. Suyama was just one of those guys that was completely nice to everyone.
"Sakaeguchi, as infield captain do you have any thoughts?" Momokan asked.
"Uh, yeah, I do," Sakaeguchi said, standing up to address his peers. "Our pitcher really held his own. That's obviously why we won the game."
"That seems to be the general consensus," Momokan said wryly, studying Sakaeguchi for a moment. Sakaeguchi colored a bit. It was as if Momokan had known that he had been asleep for the majority of the meeting.
"Anything else?" she asked.
"Uhhh, yeah!" Sakaeguchi said. He scanned his eyes over the team until he found Tajima, Oki, and Suyama. "I thought the infield played really well today. There's definitely room for improvement, but the field conditions were sloppy, and just like Mihashi, we held our own out there."
Momokan smiled before turning to Suyama. "What about you? Anything you want to add?"
Sakaeguchi gratefully sank back down to the ground. He hated speaking in front of people, even if it was just his own teammates.
"Mihashi started to break down mid-game, but he pulled through to get the win," Suyama began. "Also, I thought the top of the order did really well at bat. Izumi was consistently on base, and Sakaeguchi pulled through with some amazing bunts. Actually," he continued, turning to Sakaeguchi. "If you were a bit faster, you could probably outrun a few more of those, it would play to your strengths even better."
Sakaeguchi immediately colored. He didn't think that any of those bunts had been particularly skillful, he'd just done what he had had to do.
"Interesting thought, Suyama," Momokan said. "I'll think about changing your training regimen, Sakaeguchi. Okay, last but not least, Nishihiro, what did you think?"
Turning to Suyama he smiled a whispered, "Thanks, I thought you played really well too."
"No problem," Suyama replied.
"And uh," Sakaeguchi continued. "Thanks for earlier."
Suyama looked at him, puzzled. "What about earlier?"
"Ahem, Sakaeguchi! Suyama! Out of all the people to prolong the meeting with unnecessary chatter, I wouldn't have suspected you two to be the culprits," Momokan said, shooting the two of them a stern glance.
"Sorry, ma'am," the two infielders mumbled in unison.
Shaking her head, Momokan smiled broadly and crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, we've all had an exciting and exhausting day. You guys all go home and get some rest. I'm really proud of each and every one of you."
"Thank you for all of your help Coach Momoe, we couldn't have done it without you!" Hanai said, standing up and bowing. The rest of the team quickly followed suit. Momokan looked pleased.
"Now get on out of here!" Momokan she said with a grin. The team burst into no fewer than ten conversations at once between themselves and the line of cars that had appeared around the edge of the baseball field.
"Shinooka, make sure that tonight you do the preliminary scouting report on our next opponent, we can't get soft after only one win."
"Abe, can you make sure to get these to Mihashi? I think he forgot them. Oh and here are the notes from the meeting so he can read them, you were planning on going over there tonight right?"
"I was planning on it but my family insists that I be home, give 'em to Hanai instead, in case I don't get to stop by Mihashi's place tommorow. I'll text him later to make sure he's eaten something, see if he still has a fever…I bet his joints are sore, so he's going to need to get stretched out…"
"Hamada sure did a great job with the cheering squad. I bet since we've won, we'll have even more people at our next game!"
"Nishihiro, can I borrow your notes for History tommorow? I was a complete goner last week."
"Tommorow's the Sports Festival, Oki."
"Azusa! Over here! You did such a great job today!"
"Alright! I can finally get out of these clothes!"
"What were you saying about earlier, Sakaeguchi?"
Sakaeguchi looked up to see Suyama's easygoing grin.
"You know earlier today," Sakaeguchi said. "Thanks for calming me down in the game. It really helped me out. I couldn't have made that bunt without you." The second baseman watched as Suyama's face suddenly became very red.
"You're a cool guy," Sakaeguchi continued, his face reddening as well. "You help everyone out when they need it. Even in class and stuff."
"Yeah well," Suyama trailed off, scratching the back of his head nervously. "Some more than others, I guess." Before Sakaeguchi could process this statement, Suyama spoke again. "Did you ride your bike here too?" he said, motioning to the two lone bikes at the bike rack.
"Yeah," Sakaeguchi said sheepishly. "I had to ride here and then catch a ride with someone, our car is in the shop."
"Well, if you're not doing anything, do you want to, uh, grab dinner or something? Talk about the game?" Suyama offered.
"I dunno, I kind of want to get out of these wet clothes," Sakaeguchi blurted out without thinking. Seeing the look on Suyama's face, Sakaeguchi suddenly felt horrible, and quickly replied.
"But, I'd love to hang out another time. You're a really cool guy, seriously." Sakaeguchi paused, and then threw caution to the wind. "Actually, I'd definitely like to, uh, spend more time with you and stuff."
"Yeah, I'd like that too."