Author's Note: Summer is a great time to grease up those rusty writers' hinges. I wanted to write something that might be considered laid-back but I ended up getting frustrated at revising this over and over again, and cringing at my faults. If you can spare the time, feedbacks, reviews and critics are always appreciated! ;; But above all, I hope you'll enjoy reading this piece!
The locker room was cramped and stuffy, with limited ventilation contributed by the low-rise ceilings and often reeking pungently of sweat. For Taichi, it was perfect. Most of them were eleven, and although a few boys were already undergoing their fateful growth spurts, they fit comfortably in the room in terms of size and space, and intimacy. The locker room to Taichi was a Happy Place because the room brightened whenever his team mates arrived, often in high spirits, to start a game, or re-entered it greatly heartened by the accomplishment of winning a victorious match. Taichi liked it very much; though not as much as the actual soccer field.
Despite this, there was one boy he noticed the team was rather delicate with in terms of forming a bond. Taichi felt it, too.
Many new kids joined the soccer team each year, so a new member was not quite a novelty as it was a constant pleasure. However, the voluntary entrance of the redhead into the team surprised Taichi – it surprised him because he was convinced the kid had been an absolute bookworm, and an uncompetitive team-player by the way he made himself a recluse with his study books at lunch times. No, that was a harsh exaggeration – Koushiro Izumi had friends, and with his study books he can be seen contributing to what sounded like casual conversations between them. His name was familiar because he was renowned through the little elementary school as the Fourth-grade Genius.
Still, Taichi was the team captain. There was to be no discrimination whatsoever between team members. His assumptions quickly dissipated to shame when he had been approached, with boundless naivety and politeness, by Koushiro, and were given the words, "I am trying my very best to improve myself for the team, even though I know I'm not the greatest player. Thank you for taking me under your care, Yagami-senpai – I'm hoping to learn a lot from all of you."
Taichi would remember the sheepish smile that accompanied these words. Or, at least, what felt like a sheepish smile. The ten-year-old stood remarkably firm and as tall as his height would allow (he was rather petite), outline hardened by a well-developed mind and a resolute heart. What seemed like a bashful demeanor may have in actual fact been a form of humility, encompassing a default sense of respect towards those of higher positions, combined with a genuine feeling of acknowledging one's weaknesses (looking forward to improve on these) and relatively new position in the team.
The captain grinned broadly at the introduction. "You're gonna find yourself well at ease here. We have a friendly bunch!"
"Yes," Koushiro replied, "I can sense that."
In Koushiro's first match, Taichi made some peculiar observations regarding the way the newcomer played. Firstly, there was an automatic quality in his playing – so much that it seemed stiff and mechanic. Koushiro understood the rules; understood what was qualified as an off-side, the different ways in which you can get penalized, the different ways you can pass and shoot. He was not a bad player, but he wasn't the best. Sometimes he stood still in his position and observed the passing of the ball, often letting it pass right by his side ("I was busy calculating the probability of the number of goals we could score if the situation was so and so…"). He never got angry the few times he had been struck by the ball, but got seriously ticked off whenever a member of either team managed to kick the ball at such precise angles and heights that it seemed to defy, with meticulous calculation, the laws of gravity. Taichi assumed this was because Koushiro knew theoretically how this was achieved, but more often than not failed at proving them in practice.
That was it! Taichi concluded. Koushiro was a boy built of theories, but lacked the kinetic skills to demonstrate them in real life.
Nevertheless, Koushiro proved to be a useful goalkeeper and attacker. This was due to the fact that he was familiar with angles and probability, and had a fairly good judgment in strength. The whole team applauded him for being an excellent generator of tactics and formation plans. Taichi decided that spirit and a fiery passion for the sport can be kindled some games later on.
One day after a session, Taichi walked out of the changing room to accompany Koushiro back to class. He inquired, out of pure curiosity, "Koushiro, why did you choose to play soccer?"
"Why?" The younger boy repeated. He contemplated on this for a moment, before deciding in a final tone, "I needed to participate in a form of sport to fulfill my academic requirements. You know – as a balance to studying."
"I suppose so."
Both boys could sense that Taichi had expected more, and very quickly Koushiro's face reddened to a deep shade of umber, looking somewhat shamefaced. He explained, "Sports isn't my best field. I'm really sorry, I know you feel very different towards it than I do."
"No," Taichi intercepted, feeling suddenly guilty; "You don't have to apologize."
"I don't hate it – in fact, I've come to enjoy playing soccer more these days. I'm trying my best to improve. I don't know if it shows, but I am learning!"
Taichi was startled by the sincerity in his voice, and by how those ebony eyes twinkled with determination underneath the glare of the sunlight. He gave an understanding nod, a reassuring smile, and a gentle ruffle through the boy's red hair.
"Hey, I know you are," Taichi smiled. "You're a pretty good player, y'know. It's just that, sometimes when I see you play…"
Koushiro asked sharply, "What happens when I play?"
"When you play," Taichi continued, with tender encouragement, "I see that you know how to do things, but they're very… bookish. I don't know if that makes any sense? I think it's good that you come to all of our sessions because then you get to show them off instead of simply reading them – which is okay, too, 'cause I think if it helps you, then that's pretty useful!" He paused to let Koushiro answer, but was only replied with a series of attentive nods. He pursued, with a bit more spirit, "Also, you shouldn't be afraid to be more vocal during games. You're doing well, but remember that this is a team sport – you count as much as the rest. Be in a good position, call for it, and we'll hand the ball over to ya!"
Koushiro gave a spontaneous 'Oh!' having been lifted by Taichi's consoling advice and feeling the appreciation of receiving some informative feedback. He nodded more furiously now, but his lips had curled upwards in a wide smile.
"Thank you very much for the feedback, Yagami-senpai." Koushiro spoke in such a manner that Taichi had half-expected the proffer of a grateful bow.
"What's up with that?" Taichi laughed, "Call me Taichi. Doesn't have to be Taichi-senpai – just Taichi."
Taichi liked it whenever he offered his name to his members in such an intimate way. It made him feel like a good Captain.
Koushiro hesitated slightly. Then his eyes twinkled in a particular way and he gave an appreciative nod once more. "Thank you, Taichi-san."
For a while, neither boy displayed any significant form of acquaintanceship except for the obligatory captain-player communication. Koushiro was making steady improvements in playing soccer; this at least Taichi noted down. During breaks, if there was an empty space beside Taichi, Koushiro would quietly reside by his captain and speak mostly only when spoken to. Taichi supposed there was no one else Koushiro felt any particular attachment towards, besides the all-accepting Sora Takenouchi, who was the only girl in their all-boys soccer team. No one from Koushiro's circle of friends was in the group. In the changing room, Koushiro was one of the first to exit, having been engaged in little or no conversations with the other team members. Once, when Koushiro had left the changing room, Taichi could not help but think out loud, "What do others think of Koushiro Izumi?"
He did not mean to make it audible but his team members had heard. They immediately shifted their focus on to the young redhead.
One boy said, "He's… okay. I think he's a nice kid, and he's brilliant at coming up with tactics. But personally, I find him pretty strange."
"He's a special case."
"It's hard to connect with him."
"Hard to connect?" Taichi questioned.
"Yeah," some other kid – a boy named Hideaki – said, "It's as though he's cooped up in his own world. I mean once you chat with him he can hold a good talk, but it's the way he speaks."
The captain raised his brows. "What about the way he speaks?"
"He's so formal!" chided in a bulky defender. "Where does he get it from? Every time I speak to him I feel so dumb. That's not how fourth-graders should speak."
Taichi smirked. "Are you sure it's not just you?"
"You feel the same way, too!"
Taichi cried out 'Hey!' reflexively, but with a laugh. Maybe sometimes, it was hard to understand the kid.
"And it's not just the way he speaks," shook the head of Hideaki, "I guess we don't know him enough to know what he likes to talk about. He doesn't seem to like sports that much. He just knows it well."
The defender snorted. "No, I know what he likes. He's into complicated, science-y stuff. I overheard his conversations once with his friends. He can talk about science. That boy's a downright geek."
He was met with a look from Taichi, and he added, "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with liking science! I just never saw him so alive speaking about other things. It makes me wonder whether he likes any of us here at all."
"What!" someone else cried out, "We like science, too!"
"Yeah, but the easy stuff. That kid talks about the wacky space-time theories and hi-tech stuff and all that – something you won't understand."
The conversation took a swift course towards a debate about science and Taichi left the room hurriedly to let the topic slide. He wondered what it was like to hear Koushiro Izumi speak so passionately about something. In the back of his mind, something was repeating itself, reminding him constantly of how lucky it was for a person to be somebody someone can spill the contents of their hearts to without the need for second thoughts. This was all he could think about as he made his way to class.
It was lunchtime and the playground was unnaturally deserted. May was drawing to an end. The heat was beginning to rise, along with the white noise of the cicadas that announced faithfully the arrival of summer.
The lonely creak of a single swing broke through the static sound of summer. Taichi kicked the dirt below him and curled his fingers around the warm steel chains of the swing, rocking himself slowly back and forth.
His face throbbed. There was a deep gash across his lips and he had acquired a burning nose, which had bled profusely after getting into a fight with his friend. He had bruises and cuts all over his legs, his back, his arms. Worst of all though, were the furious spinning inside of his head, the seemingly perpetual sinking of his heart, and the sting in his eyes from having failed to suppress the hot tears that escaped in pathetic streams after parting with his opponent. Now he was exhausted, and sought refuge from the soporific motion of the swing. The warmth of the young summer sent soothing tingles through his sore body. By the swing-set, the cicada-infested casted a dappled shadow, cool and relieving, over the desolate playground.
The scraping of shoes against gravel erupted out of the heat. Taichi bolted up in alarm.
"Taichi-san?" The voice that floated through was barely above a whisper. To his right, Taichi recognized the small outline of a child, standing out of the shadows and under the blinding sunlight. He was shading his eyes with his hand and was looking across at Taichi curiously.
"Hey, Koushiro." This time, Taichi only managed a faint smile. "What's up?"
The younger boy probably had felt intrusive, and in truth, Taichi was not so enthused as to invite him to engage in a conversation. Koushiro stood, glistening with sweat, lips parted in unspoken words. He said, "I didn't mean to disturb."
"You're a mess."
"I know," Taichi replied briskly. He could sense that there were a hundred things Koushiro would like to ask, but was only too polite to press further. Taichi felt a rush of gratitude for common sense. Unwilling to brush the boy off rudely, he asked, out of courtesy, "Why are you out in the heat?"
"I was listening to the sound of the cicadas. I want to learn more about their means of communication and analyze the different frequencies of their noise, and what that may tell you about the individual or what the different calls represent." Taichi supposed Koushiro caught the automatic quality of his response because he continued with a timid smile, "I think the sounds of cicadas are amazing."
Taichi noticed how the sun reflected off the redhead's figure, illuminating him as though he were some form of spectacular celestial being. He decided a Martian would suit him well.
Seeing another person being scorched underneath the parching summer heat caused Taichi great discomfort, so he relented into inviting the boy to come take the neighboring swing. Koushiro's heightened inquisitive sense must have been nearing its limits for he took the chance to ask, delicately, "Do you mind if I ask what happened?"
Taichi clenched his jaw. "It's nothing."
Koushiro stared back at him, unconvinced, brows scrunched in an expression of genuine concern. Taichi's breath rattled as he exhaled.
"I got in a fight with my friend," he mumbled. "It was really stupid. We argued about something small and started calling each other names, and then… and then he said something ugly about my sister and we came into a fist fight." Taichi paused and looked at the sand beneath his feet, wincing. "I didn't want a fist fight."
A long pause followed. Koushiro murmured a sincere, "I'm sorry," before receding back to a thoughtful, apologetic silence. Taichi shook his head dismissively. He wondered if he was making the boy feel uncomfortable.
Koushiro began again, softly, "Do you still want to be friends with him?"
Taichi seemed appalled by the suggestion of any thoughts in the negative. "I do! He's a good kid and I know he didn't mean what he said. I know he's sorry – I shouldn't have egged him on. He's been a great friend to me. I don't want things to finish this way."
A breeze lifted, and for a moment the fragrance of the flowers in full bloom drenched the atmosphere.
"I think," Koushiro spoke slowly, "If you guys are truly friends, this won't be the end." Taichi kicked off softly on his swing, swaying back and forth like a dying pendulum. Koushiro continued, with a saddened air, "I've never been in a fist fight before, so I don't know much about fighting or how fast things in situations like these get fixed. Especially with a friend. However, I don't think things will end this way if both of you still want to maintain your friendship."
Taichi smiled. "You think so?"
"That's what I think."
Taichi's swing slowed down to a gentle halt. "To tell you the truth, this isn't my first time getting into a fight with my friends."
The older boy shrugged his shoulders lightly. "I've been through a couple of fights. I'm thankful to have been able to fix most of them. I'm not afraid of fighting. It's losing the people I'm fighting against that I'm afraid of."
Koushiro raised his hand. From the corner of his eye, Taichi thought that Koushiro was about to reach out and rest it on his shoulder, or hand, or arm – it retracted slightly and gripped the metal links of the swing.
"It's okay to be afraid. It's okay to feel sad, or angry, or at a loss, for a while. I think it is brave," Koushiro murmured, "To let yourself feel anything at all."
This was it. Taichi could not explain what occurred at that current moment, but there was something about the way specks of sunlight filtered through the gaps between the leaves to form a scarlet halo on the boy's head. There was something about the way Koushiro's toes lightly brushed the ground, the swing being set a little too high; or the way his gaze lowered on the ground, timidly, doubtfully, as he spoke the magic words. What impressed Taichi further was how Koushiro then broke into a guilt-ridden smile and said, "I'm sorry if I seem like I don't know what I'm saying. I'm not very good at dealing with matters like these."
"Koushiro, you are a load of soap!"
Taichi delivered an affable slap on Koushiro's back to knock off the look of perplexity on the younger's face. This was when Taichi inquired the boy if he was doing anything in particular this summer. There was a summer camp program to be held in August, and if he hadn't signed up yet, would he like to come? At that moment, it felt like the most natural thing to extend an invitation to the boy, whom he suddenly felt a strong sense of gratitude and familiarity for.
Koushiro shook his head. "I don't think I can come. I was planning on attending a computer camp this summer. Thank you very much, though, you're very kind."
"A computer camp?" Taichi repeated, somewhat awed.
"Yeah," Koushiro smiled. "Computers have become a part of... a part of my interests. Learning about the evolution and progress of technology - they've become a sort of hobby for me, so I'd be very glad if I were able to take on this opportunity!"
The older boy could not help but smirk. "Wow, Koushiro. I never knew! That's so… so different." To his horror, Koushiro's smile faltered to make way for a more disheartened expression, and he quickly continued, "But I guess it's a good different. I haven't met any fourth-graders yet with such an interest in computers and science. If this is what you really want then by all means, chase it."
"I haven't confirmed with my parents about it, though," Koushiro rushed to add. "I might change my mind."
"Yeah?" Taichi beamed. "Do whatever you think feels right. It would be awesome to have you with us. You can be in my group – Sora will be there, too. Your friends might come along-"
"I still want to go to computer camp, though."
Taichi nodded. He might not understand the kid's feelings towards computers, but all feelings of passion were the same, whether it was for soccer or science.
Koushiro said he heard the bell rang and that it was about time they returned to their own classes. He had proposed to take Taichi to the nurse, but the older waved him off, stating that it would put a flaw in the boy's attendance record if he did so. So they parted, both exchanging broad grins, thankful for the summer sun.
About two weeks later and straight after a late practice session, Taichi bid a brief 'see you' to his friends when they offered to walk home together. There was someone he was planning to catch up with – he thought he might have seen him snoozing beneath the tree over there, up on that mild hill on the far side of the soccer field. So that was what he did.
Ascending the hill, he saw that the boy was only partly under the shade – his legs jutted out of the shadows and were coated with perspiration. He was only wearing knee-high soccer shorts.
Taichi began, with jest, "You're gonna be half-tanned by the time you get home."
Koushiro glanced at him sideways, a sleepy smile forming on his face. He had been aware of the fifth-grader approaching and did not seem the least bit surprised by his presence. "It's alright. This might be the coolest day we're ever going to get for a while. Let's enjoy it."
The older settled down beside him, careful to let his entire body under the shade. "It was a good session," he said.
"What are you thinking about?"
"I'm thinking about vapor. There is water everywhere thanks to its molecular properties. They are in the seas in their liquid state, which we're perhaps most familiar with; they blanket the top of Mount Fuji as flakes of ice in winter; they hover in the air as water vapor or clouds. Today," Koushiro paused observantly, "There are lots of clouds."
Taichi couldn't see Koushiro's face, but he imagined the boy scrutinizing each passing cloud with great intensity, possibly trying to decipher what the various outlines told him about the weather. He chuckled. "Koushiro, I swear to God you're so weird."
"Really?" Nothing in his tone hinted offense, so they watched the clouds roll in comfortable silence. From the corner of Taichi's eye, Koushiro's arm had suddenly shot upwards. "That cloud looks like a cockroach."
"No way!" Taichi piped up. "It looks more like a hot dog someone's probably stepped on. That one over there looks like a cotton candy."
"Taichi-san, all clouds look like cotton candy."
Both boys exploded into hearty laughter, which ended with both emitting content sighs.
Once more, Koushiro began, "I've decided to go to summer camp."
"What?" Taichi immediately propped himself up on an elbow and searched Koushiro's face. He had been convinced that the boy would have opted for the other choice, but his face at that moment only seemed complacent; decisive. "You sure about this?"
"Pretty sure. I've already signed up. I've talked about it with my parents and they fully support me going off to camp. I think they were even encouraging me to go."
"I'm really glad, Koushiro, I really am – but you don't have to force yourself."
Koushiro tilted his head around to face Taichi and shot him a stern look. "Taichi-san, this was my choice. I'm choosing to go to summer camp. I've already signed up and now I'm going, and I'm looking forward to it."
Something had sparked in those dark brown eyes at that moment; Taichi couldn't describe what. Anyway, he was satisfied with Koushiro's answer and settled back down, a pleased smile spread across his face. "I just want to know – why?"
The younger boy already had his answer prepared. "Because I can learn more about technology some other time by some other means. This summer, I would like to spend it with friends – with you, and Sora-san, and everyone else. I will still learn many things along the way, but maybe only very little about technology, you see?"
Taichi closed his eyes. He could swear he heard a smile in his companion's voice.
"Also, I'll be bringing my laptop along, so all is well."
"Oh, right." Taichi felt the grass prick the back of his neck. "It will be fun."
"I hope so. I'm certain it will be."
"Who knows, you know? Maybe it will turn out to be an adventure."
"Maybe," laughed Koushiro. "I might like that."
A Great Summer Adventure. Taichi liked the sound of that. He toyed with the idea in his mind as the two conversed amicably – naturally – beneath the tree, until the sky turned a calm blend of cream and lilac and both knew that it was time to go home.
They brushed the earth off each other's backs and walked together until the first cross-road. Then the two wished their polite but fond goodbyes to the other and, in parting, carried with each other the lingering warmth of good company, like a familiar scent.
A/N: A short reminder that, in canon, Koushiro had only attended summer camp under Taichi's invitation and was in the same soccer team as Sora and Taichi. (I know this is pretty unnecessary but I really only found out about that fairly recently and thought it was cute.. yuy)