A buzzing next to his ear abruptly woke Souda from his nap. Blinking lights on his phone signaled he was receiving a phone call. Drowsily, he wondered who could be calling him, and snagged his phone to flip it open. The caller ID read 'Sonia.' Crap, he was late! Nearly decapitating himself by launching off his bed into his bookshelf, he swore and answered the phone.
"I'm s-sorry! I'm so sorry! I forgot to set my alarm! Y-yeah, I'll be over right away!" he stammered as he struggled to pull on a fresh pair of sweatpants and shirt. Earlier in the morning he'd been working in the garage on his latest customer's truck and he reeked of oil and car exhaust. A spritz of cologne and a stick of deodorant later, he felt spruced up for his date. "I'm leaving now, I'll pick you up in front of your house!" His thumb jammed down on the button to end the call and hightailed it out of the door.
Incredibly nervous despite that they'd been dating for a month now, Souda powered up his rusty truck and spluttered away down the street. Today's date was at a baseball game for Sonia's research on commoner activities. That and she claimed there was a famous baseball player she wanted to research there as a potential band member for Ibuki. Frankly, Souda had no interest in baseball, but if it made Sonia happy and he could spend time with her, he didn't mind. His old clunker of a truck creaked to a halt in front of Sonia's apartment; she rented one during her time off in Japan.
"We must hurry if we are to make it before the gates close!" Sonia chattered as she hopped into the passenger seat. "Step on it!" In compliance to her wishes, he agitatedly stomped on the gas pedal, swerving out of the driveway and almost into an incoming car. This pleased Sonia and she gave an extensive lecture on recent major traffic accidents in the world as they sped towards the baseball stadium. Distractedly, Souda nodded whenever her bright eyes glanced towards him, concentrating on keeping them safe rather than the gory details of accidents. When he finally powered off the engine in the baseball stadium parking lot, she abruptly stopped her conversation and tugged on his arm excitedly. "We are here! You are quite an incredible speeder, Souda!"
He scratched the back of his head and faintly blushed. Sighing sheepishly, he escorted her through the ticket line and wound through the crowd to find the refreshments table. He bought them a bag of buttered popcorn to share and two lemon lime sodas, then they navigated their way to their seats. Right on time too, Souda noted, as the opening ceremony began. Each of the players was introduced, but no one received as much applause as the last player to be called, Leon Kuwata. Girls everywhere screamed as he swaggered onto the field, and he was waving and winking towards some of the girls on the lower level of the stadium.
"That is him! Ibuki said he was looking for a music career that he could juggle between playing baseball," Sonia murmured to Souda, pointing towards Leon's figure. Slurping up his soda through a straw, Souda pretended to examine him with thorough interest. If baseball didn't interest him, this baseball player sure didn't either; in fact, he vehemently made a point to ignore such flashy guys. With Leon Kuwata's fiery red hair, flirtatious behaviour, and confident pose, flashy was definitely the word for him. Another angry gulp of his soda, he imagined Sonia falling for his smooth-guy act. It burned him up. He had worked hard to finally muster up his guts to ask her out.
Both of the teams greeted each other and then jogged to their respective dugouts. After a quick gathering of their equipment and a team huddle, the fielding team began their warm-up. Souda initiated a conversation about his new toolbox to Sonia, unsure about what else to talk about. They didn't have particularly anything in common, but when Sonia went on a tangent she could talk for the both of them. During the game, however, her mouth clamped shut and she focused intently on the game. Pouting a little bit, Souda was forced to watch the game; he even tried to throw a little bit of commentary on the game her way in desperation to talk to her. Her replies were basic at most, but her fanatical cheers for the home team when they scored made up for it. Souda was pleased she was enjoying herself, even if he would rather be working on the demolished truck that was just brought into his workshop.
"That's the game!" the announcer called after what seemed like a hundred years for Souda, blinking him out of his daze. "Now it's time for the event everyone's been waiting for! One lucky person will get the chance to meet the home team's ace, Leon Kuwata! Our winner will be chosen randomly on the screen, so keep watching!" The entire crowd was breathless as they stared at the blank screen, waiting for it to flicker to life. Slowly, the screen focused in and out until the blurry image sharpened into a solid figure. A slap on his back accompanied a shout from the wide-eyed Sonia.
"It is you, Souda-kun! You won!"
Against his protests, she shoved him towards the stairs leading down to the field. Nearly tripping in his rush, he safely made it down in one piece and the guards unlocked the gate to the field. His sneakers treaded on the luscious turf, incredibly soft compared to the filthy cement of the stairs. The entire field was gorgeous, from the open convertible roof filtering in sunlight to the free air circulating around him. Breathing became easier down here away from the stench of grizzled hot dogs and brats, and the noise of crying children and cheering fans diminished. It was the feeling of pure freedom. Yanked roughly out of his euphoria, Souda noticed the red-headed baseball player striding towards him.
"Yo, I'm Leon Kuwata!" the man stuck his hand out, and when Souda reached out to take it he whipped it away again. "Too slow!" He grinned at Souda's dumbstruck face, until eventually Souda started cracking up with him. Holding his hand out for a high five, Souda congratulated the man on his ingenious trick. Leon slapped it wholeheartedly and escorted Souda off the field through the locker room doors.
"You've got good taste, dude. You wanna sit beside me during the autograph session? I need something interesting to pass the time, and you fit into the playing field," his contagious smile beamed at Souda, and his cheeks warmed up a bit. Even though he was technically here for Sonia's research, it wouldn't hurt for him to stay with Leon. Sonia was standing in line for an autograph anyway, so what was the harm?
"I-I wouldn't mind," Souda stammered, noting the peculiar stench of the locker room as the other baseball players changed out of their sodden uniforms. It was quite a contrast to the glorious field air, but they passed through the room quickly enough so it didn't matter to Souda. He was used to odd smells from working in the garage all day. One time he found a roasted rabbit in the hood of a car, and his clothes stunk for days, even after washing them.
"Hey, what do you think I should write? It'd be boring to just sign my name," Leon thoughtfully hummed, and Souda silently agreed that he did have some pretty sick vocal cords. They settled down behind a long table, ushers holding the crowd of fans back.
"I-I don't know, maybe we could come up with some really cheesy baseball lines?" Souda suggested, scratching the back of his head. The two of them turned to each other eagerly and began conversing, while the ushers let a trickle of people through to get some things signed.
"I've got a good one! Write 'You're my angel in the outfield.' That was in a movie once," Souda gushed in a whisper to Leon, and the baseball star gave a thumbs up in reply. Time continued to pass like this, with Souda and Leon haphazardly whispering cheesy baseball pickup lines to each other, some not even age appropriate. Whenever they thought of a good one, Leon would write it on his next autograph, chuckling under his breath with the pink-haired mechanic. They did this for about an hour before Leon was allowed a quick fifteen minute break.
"Man, I'm beat!" Leon complained, stretching his arms behind his head. Souda gave him a watery smile and sneezed in reply. Leon's eyebrows knitted together in concern. "Dude, you don't look so hot. I mean, you're as cold as ice. Here, you can borrow this." Wriggling his arms out of his baseball warm-up jacket, Leon draped it over Souda's shoulders gently. "Make sure you don't catch a cold." A slight nod of thanks came from Souda, who gripped the jacket tightly to him.
"I-I'm sure I'll be fine," Souda wheezed, just as the usher returned and beckoned them back to the autographing table. After a few minutes of their usual routine (and extra concern from Leon), he spotted Sonia a little ways down in the line. Surprisingly, she was near the end of it. Hesitating when she approached them, he casually said, "Hey, how was the line?" He nearly smacked himself in the face for being so insensitive. Here he was having a great time, and then he had to shove it in her face after she waited alone for over an hour. Luckily for him, Sonia had her eyes glued on Leon and was busy pestering him with a lot of questions. After he signed her autograph book and left her satisfying answers to her questions, she whirled around and waved to Souda.
"Souda-kun! I will be waiting for you at the truck!" she called, then skipped off, anxious to decipher Leon's signature and message. Leon's gaze slid sideways to his new friend, but he didn't comment on his brief meeting with the regal-looking girl. Finally the line dwindled after a few minutes to a few more people, much to Leon's pleasure as he shook out his sore hand. Souda and Leon joked around as the last few fans stepped up shyly, and then they threw their hands up in the air together and shouted, "Woohoo! We're done!" Beaming from one ear to the next at each other, their smiles faded as they realized it was time to part ways.
"Souda..." Leon murmured as he escorted him outside, awkwardly shuffling his feet. "I don't know how to say this, but you're cool. Can we still hang out and stuff?" he pleaded, nervously tugging on his goatee. A faint red tint spread across Souda's cheeks, and he only stuck out his hand in reply. with the other hand, he dug deep into his pocket for a Sharpie.
"We can exchange numbers," he mumbled, his face scarlet now. Either he was overheating from the warm-up jacket or from his embarrassment that someone he had disliked for no reason a few hours ago had now become someone important enough for him to be gifted with his number. Taking the black marker, Leon scribbled his number onto his hand, and then Souda did likewise.
"I'll give you a call soon! Don't you dare ignore me, alright?" Leon shouted to him as he jogged back towards the stadium, his eyes flickering back to see him every few steps. Souda mournfully gave one last jaunty wave before dragging his feet back to his truck. He knew he was in for a long car ride home listening to Sonia's 'research' from the game while having his thoughts split by thinking about Leon. Buckling himself in with his seatbelt, Souda sighed and began to drive, not speeding quite as fast as this morning, but enough to make the trip shorter. Dropping Sonia off at her house, he graced her with a goodbye and then parked his truck outside of his garage at home.
Yawning from the hectic day, Souda found he couldn't concentrate on fixing the broken truck at all. Fanning himself-his body extremely hot-Souda discovered he had forgotten to give Leon his warm-up jacket back. Collapsing onto his couch, he folded up the jacket and hugged it tightly to his chest. Breathing in the scent, Souda was reminded of the same smell that floated in the stadium's field. The smell of freedom. He wanted to see Leon again, because that's exactly the feeling he gave Souda. Freedom.