“Mihashi has been acting awkward lately.”
Upon thinking this, Abe Takaya almost wants to reprimand himself for such an obvious remark. Yes, of course Mihashi has been acting awkward - that is his second nature, after all. However, that probably isn't exactly what his brain meant when the thought hit him, no, but that he had been acting even more awkward than usual. Such a thing sounded almost impossible, but on Tuesday, it was almost as if Abe was being outright avoided, judging by Mihashi's lame excuse to avoid practice (on the day they were supposed to practice together the most, no less!); and, by Thursday, he was barely looking Abe in the eyes. "Yeah, whatever." Abe forced himself to think at first, but that wasn't cutting it. Something was certainly different from the usual. To such an extent that Abe himself wasn't sure if he should probe or yell at Mihashi for that, as his vibes were just a different kind of awkward, and he wouldn't want to make the boy fall apart in case there was something serious going on with him. "That would be too much of a hassle", Abe told himself. Eventually it occurred to him that Tajima might have a clue about that, and maybe it would be alright to ask so as to avoid losing anymore practice days.
On Friday, right after class, Abe hurriedly drove towards the door to the nineth classroom. From there, he could peek at Tajima and Mihashi talking and packing their bags to leave. Unlike Mihashi, who had his back turned to the door, Tajima noticed Abe and waved at him; and, unlike Mihashi too, he didn't seem sad or startled at the presence of the older student. For an answer, Abe signaled that he'd be waiting at the door, and laid his back on the wall outside. "I must have done something bad to him again...", Abe thought.
After what seemed like a lot of time, Mihashi and Tajima left the classroom, both of them noticeably frantic. As they did, Abe turned to them.
- Oh, hey, Mihashi, Tajima.
- Hey, what's it? - Tajima asked bluntly, and Mihashi looked kind of... happy? Eager? And just the usual awkward. Nothing too off. He had planned on asking right away if there was something going on with Mihashi and, particularly, if he himself had done anything wrong this time to the awkward light-haired boy. But there wasn't anything too wrong about the way Mihashi was behaving, no (just weird, maybe) and he even seemed to be in good spirits today, so Abe chose to go with plan B and ask to meet with Tajima elsewhere so that they could discuss the matter without disturbing Mihashi's apparent peace of mind.
- Are you in a hurry? You're going to practice today, right?
- Um. Yeah, we are. Right, Mihashi? - and Mihashi just nods.
- Ah, okay. Is it alright if we see you there later, Mihashi? I wanted to talk to Tajima about something... regarding practice... - He notices his argument probably sounds weak, but that was too late. - But we will be there shortly, really.
- Oh, um, okay. - Mihashi looked a bit startled, and maybe a bit lost. He glanced at Tajima, who seemed to be just as puzzled, nods and answers before dashing off.
- I'll be waiting for the both of you!
- I- We'll be there soon! - Tajima screams at Mihashi, and then turns to face Abe with a serious face. - So, what's wrong?
Abe makes sure Mihashi has left already before speaking to Tajima, almost whispering, and makes a movement with his finger so that both start walking together to the opposite side of the corridor.
- That's what I should be asking. What is going on in Mihashi's brain now?
- Huh? What do you mean?
- I mean... You know. He skipped practice on Tuesday. He seems to be more ticklish than usual, is all.
Tajima smirks slightly at Abe's remark, making him even more confused. - You sure do know him well, huh?
"That's a first", Abe thinks.
- I mean, it's really apparent.
- Well... - Tajima folds his arms in front of his chest, closing his eyes, and makes a self-assured expression before speaking. - If you really want to know, maybe you should ask Mihashi himself. - Abe twists his eyebrows as if wondering if Tajima isn’t just dismissing it, prompting him to finish his sentence. - I mean, there is something he wants to talk to you about... And you have to promise to not, like, yell at him or anything like that.
"Oh? That’s rich, too. Mihashi wants to talk about something?", Abe thought. He had planned on taking Tajima to the courtyard; however, instead of following Abe there, Tajima stopped midway, looked around to make sure it was a quiet place, and breathed in before speaking to the taller guy, who had just noticed he wasn’t being followed anymore. But Tajima speaks seriously, even though Abe doesn’t yet gets any of it.
- Do you promise you won’t yell at, curse at or attack Mihashi for it?
- Oh, sure. I won't do any of that. - "Why does he ask? Well, as long as this will fix things, that's okay", Abe thought. But then, if it wasn't his own fault, maybe... had Mihashi done anything so terribly wrong that he refused to look Abe in the eyes? Of course, Abe thought it was probably something very silly anyway because he knew who they were talking about. Maybe Mihashi had borrowed a spare anything from Abe's locker.
- You won't? Promise?
- Yeah. I, uh, promise I won't. - "Am I that violent on the daily?", Abe couldn't help but wonder, but... oh well.
- Fine. Then, just wait here, I'll go fetch him.
Tajima immediately turned around and rushed back to where they had just come from, as if knowing exactly where Mihashi ought to be now. And Abe, of course, still had no idea as to what was going on. In a short while, the boy who clumsily found his way to the spot where Abe stood... wasn’t accompanied by Tajima at all. He came on his own, fidgeting and looking downwards at first, but then raising his head, which seemed to be beaming with joy, as he found Abe standing just where Tajima had told him.
- Oh, hey Mihashi. “For someone who is going to admit to his wrongdoings, surely Mihashi looks kinda... happy.”, Abe thinks, and just as he does, Mihashi stands excitedly in front of him. Hands crossed in front of his body, feet close together, he throws his best gawky smile at Abe’s face, who finds the way he shimmers blinding.
- So, um, what I wanted to tell you... Please don't be mad at me. - Mihashi is containing a smile, sparkling, but clearly very embarassed too. Abe feels like there is something he should already have figured out by now, but his brain doesn’t seem to make anything of it in particular, so he just nods blankly.
- I won’t.
- That’s... - Mihashi stares downwards for a second, but then his eyes drift upwards, eyeing Abe’s chest and neck and sending him into a gulp, until finally fixating on his eyes. - I- l-l-like you.
- You what?
Something inside Abe almost freed a snicker, but he restrained and sent that urge right back at his brain. “What does that mean? ...We are a battery, aren't we? So isn't it a given that we should like one another?” and Abe didn't even want his thoughts to wander to that one place, that place he avoided whenever the topic of "unwanted batteries based on a mutual unappreciation" came to him. Sure, even more so if comparing to that, he liked Mihashi too. But then what? Go ahead.
- Uh... Cool? I mean, I like you too.
Mihashi's eyes flung open for a fraction of a second and, as they did just before Mihashi quickly lowered them to stare into the depths of the underground, Abe realized his cheeks and ears were noticeably redder than the usual. It wasn't like he had just come back from practice or anything, so maybe he was... flustered about something? “Is he seriously trying to pacify me before delivering the blow and it was something a lot more serious than borrowing-” at that, Abe's train of thought is interrupted by Mihashi's strained, embarassed voice.
- Do you, Abe? I mean, I like... like you. - as Mihashi said that "like", dragging one syllable, still giving his best to stare at Abe but now less confidently so, he hoped to see more of a reaction from the older boy. However, Abe had simply narrowed his eyes at that, the undeniable emphasis on the like. Like,... like. “Like like”. Um. Now Abe had actually snickered, but he didn’t even know what for. What’s “like like”? That sounds funny.
- What are you trying to tell me, Mihashi? Just say it.
At this point Tajima, who had been (very clearly, but not to Abe it seems) hiding in the small shadow behind a column in the pathway, shows up and stands by Mihashi's side. Putting an arm around his friend's neck, he eyes Abe and, as if it should be anything blatantly obvious even to the birds chirping, says it coarsely. - Hey, Abe. He means he likes you as a boyfriend. - and blinks, completely stone-faced. That quickly turned into a doubtful face, and Tajima corrected himself. - I mean, that he would like to date you.
“... Date?” If it wasn't for their blunt expressions and the clear statement, perhaps Abe would have misunderstood again, or thought that was a practical joke or something. But that word was unmistakable, and they looked pretty serious. Even so, he glanced at both boys back and forth just to make sure. That wasn't a joke? No? At this point, his brain echoed "date..." with every glance, but he didn't even hear that. All he perceived was a sound confusion. His cheeks were probably blushing at the whole situation as well, but he didn't even feel that.
- ... Sorry, what? - His face looked pretty weirded out and, surprising even himself, Tajima had the urge to pet Mihashi's head so he wouldn't even try raising it now. Not that he would.
- What, “what”? What part you don't get?
Tajima sighed heavily, looking pretty displeased at that remark. "How about all of it for starters?" came to Abe as a passing thought, but he felt that wasn't an adequate way to react to that scene, and spit out his next thoughts.
- I, I think, uh, - "oh, come on, I'm sounding like this idiot" he thinks before breathing heavily and resuming. - What does this mean, exactly? Since when?
Abe thinks that’s not really what he wanted to ask, but still, he had to know how serious that was anyway. As Mihashi didn't make any motion indicating that he might want to answer or even raise his head, Tajima just kept speaking on his behalf, switching from glancing down at Mihashi to looking straight at Abe. In turn, he noticed Tajima now wore the most candidly annoyed expression he had ever seen on that face, which made the whole situation even more uncomfortable.
- Since forever, I think. There hasn't been a day since he met you in that his feelings wavered in any way. Isn't that right, Mihashi?
Tajima asks, again glancing at the boy who now had both hands in front of his downturned face, flush completely hidden by hands and arms and messy orange hair. And he nods slightly. At this point, Abe's jaw drops. And he's looking at Mihashi, hoping that any thoughts will come to him, but none do. A total blank. Tajima, finally noticing the strangeness of the whole situation and thinking that perhaps he had made a bad move, takes his arm away from Mihashi's shoulders and scratches the back of his head. But, of course, he doesn't know what would be "making a good move" right now.
- I mean, that's- just what he told me! Actually, I- we thought you wouldn't be so weirded out about it. Sorry if it surprised you that much.
Tajima kept staring back and forth at dumbfound Abe and ostrich-becoming Mihashi, sort of not really getting what should be so weird or surprising about it all, and about to say something in the vein of “Haha, man, that’s really...” when Abe suddenly spoke up.
- No! That's not it, but... - "Come on, Abe, that's exactly it. What are you gonna say now, 'I was just surprised is all blahblah'?" Abe was kind of annoyed at himself, but even more so at the whole situation. Come on, did he really have to be put through this? And with Tajima around of all things? - Sorry, I uh, think it wasn't... I wasn't expecting it. - he tumbles in his words and turns his embarassed head to the left as Tajima lets out a small chuckle.
- No, it's okay. As long as you're not too weirded out by it, I guess it’s fine. Right, Mihashi?
- Um. - Mihashi nods awkwardly once more, before peeking from the top of his lowered to check just exactly how mad Abe looked. And yes, he was somewhat annoyed, but his look surely was more one of confusion at it than annoyance. If anything, Abe thought that it was annoyance at himself for how confusing things had become, and that maybe was his fault somehow. “What? Is that why Mihashi had been skipping practice and avoiding me? Is that really it?”
- Sorry, it’s just... - biting his lips, the sideglancing Abe was still feeling more of a lightheaded dizziness than anything else, as he couldn’t make sense of the many of thoughts that hit his head like a small ship sailing adrift in a thunderstorm. Finally, it was Mihashi’s turn to raise his head and speak up, looking straight inside Abe’s eyes.
- Sorry, don’t take it so hard on yourself. - Mihashi threw an embarassed, half-sad and half-understanding look at Tajima, and both nodded.
- Yeah! Just... pretend it never happened, okay? - Tajima smiled exhasperately, and Mihashi looked satisfied... before he resumed - But, well, ... maybe you should consider it?
- What? I won’t, but thanks. - a very confused Abe blurted out in a rather angry voice, looking exactly as irritated as he would if Mihashi had just thrown a ball right at the bat, and in turn, Mihashi shivers and looks as if he is about to cry. That’s when the final realization really came to Abe, who still wasn’t really sure what was going on: okay, maybe they hadn’t been playing Truth or Dare or anything like that. Maybe that really had been a love confession. - Sorry, I didn't mean it like this either.
Abe is really annoyed at himself too, but hey. What was he supposed to say. "Haha, sure, I will!"? He had never dealt with any of this before, and, even if he had, he still wouldn’t know how to react this time. As if simply being bad at dealing these... things, wasn’t enough... Well, it’s Mihashi, and that made it all the more difficult. He couldn’t even outright reject him or anything. He was really skating on thin ice here.
- No, it’s okay. Forget it. I don’t think you could deal with that either. We’ll see you later in practice. - Tajima threw a vexed glance at Abe just after throwing his arm around Mihashi again and walking away with his friend. - Hey, forget it. Let’s just go get an ice cream! Woohoo! - Mihashi nods to that, throwing a conflicted look at Abe and lowering his head as both of them walk away.
And Abe is still standing there, dumbfounded.