“Where is she?” The coach asked to no one in particular, getting impatient.
The kids of the soccer team looked at him and then at each other. Some of them shrugged, but most of them just looked at Taichi.
“I don’t know” he said shrugging defensively.
They were on the school’s field, outside, after school classes had ended for the day, ready to practice and only Sora was missing.
Taichi looked at the other only two girls that were on the team. “They saw her last” he said, cocking his head towards them. The team was mixed, but the changing rooms were not.
“Ohh I don’t know, she should be here” said one of the girls while twirling a lock of her hair.
“Yeah, she even left before we did” said the other, looking at her friend with a wicked smile.
They were giggling and whispering in a way that rubbed him the wrong way, although he didn’t know why.
“Yagami just go find her” the coach said, pinching his nose. Taichi made an annoyed gesture but the coach ignored him and turned to the others “The rest of you start warming up”
Taichi turned around, and heard a "And hurry up!" from his coach, as he walked away.
One would think the coach would’ve picked a girl to look for her, but everyone knew that Taichi was the one she was closer with. And besides, Sora used to get along better with the other boys than she did with the girls.
He wondered what could be delaying her, she was never late and she hadn’t said anything to him about missing practice today. As he got closer to the school building, he realized he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to be looking for her. The school was mostly deserted by now, but either way, it wasn’t like he could just go into the girl’s locker-room.
But apparently he didn’t need to, because when he circled the building he saw her sitting in one of the outside benches. She had her back to him, but he recognized her unmistakable red hair. Taichi smiled to himself and jogged towards her.
“Hey! What are you doing here? We’re missing practice” he shouted as he approached her, and saw her shoulders flinched upon hearing his voice.
The smile on his face and his annoyance of being missing time in the field vanished the second he saw her face.
Her eyes were red and puffy. Her face had also a cherry color. Sora had clearly tried to wipe away her tears when she heard him, but her eyes were still watery. Her chin trembled as she tried to hide a sob in an attempt to look like she hadn’t just been caught crying.
“What's wrong?” Taichi blurted out, worried, but she just rapidly shook her head.
Taichi felt awkward standing there, not really sure what to do. He approached slowly, as if she were a baby deer that would run off away at the smallest movement, and sat next to her.
“What happened?” he asked softly this time.
“Nothing” she answered fast, but her voice quivered.
He didn’t know what to do; he wasn’t used to girls crying. Sure, he had seen and consoled Hikari crying a million times, but she was his sister, it wasn’t the same. Besides they were alone, there was no one else to turn to, he realized as the responsibility of the moment down on him.
“I’m not going to practice today” she said, pulling him out of his thoughts “You can go back”.
Sora wasn’t looking at him and she seemed uncomfortable by his presence. Which in turn made him uncomfortable.
She had her soccer uniform on, which meant she had meant to come to practice. He suddenly remembered the two annoying girls, and thought they surely had something to do with this.
“Did those two other girls did something to you?”
Taichi saw that Sora almost lifted her head to nod, but then shook it. And Sora saw that he saw.
“It wasn’t really them” she whispered.
Taichi looked at her, confused. A few seconds passed but she didn’t elaborate. So he stayed there, as the air around them became more awkward with each passing second. Sora didn’t want him there, but she also didn’t really want for him to leave. She could feel the tears forming up, and knew she wouldn’t be able to hold them much longer. After a shaky breath, she started crying again.
“I’m ugly” she cried with tears falling down.
Taichi blinked, taken aback. He hadn’t expected that, and didn’t know what to answer really.
“You’re…not” he ventured, not knowing what the best answer should be.
“Yes, I am, everybody thinks that!” she blurted out as more tears ran down her face. She wiped her face, but new tears appeared to follow.
Everybody thinks that. Taichi didn’t know what to think. Sora had never been as ’girly’ as the other girls, but he had always thought Sora was the most awesome girl he had ever known, cooler than some of the boys even. In the last year everybody’s bodies and faces had started to change. Taichi had been one of the lucky ones that barely had pimples on his face. Sora hadn’t been so lucky in that department. She also had gotten braces this year, but some other kids had too. Everybody thinks that. He couldn’t see her as ugly, but he also didn’t really pay that kind of attention to girls, yet. His interests and attention were pretty much divided in soccer, videogames and dumb jokes.
A part of him knew that he should tell her that she was pretty. It was what guys said to girls in movies and stuff, but it felt weird, he had never called a girl pretty before. Three years from now, he’d think that she was the most beautiful girl that walked the planet, but now she just was his ‘awesome friend Sora, not ugly’.
“Who said you were ugly?” Taichi asked timidly, not knowing how to approach the subject. He really didn’t know who this “everybody” was. He also felt a sudden urge to punch at whoever was responsible for.
A few minutes passed, tears were still running down her cheeks, but they were more spaced now. Her sobs had mitigated too. Taichi waited for her to answer.
“Last Saturday…at Izumi’s party…”
"Stupid party” Taichi thought, not for the first time these days.
Izumi was one of the most popular girls in their class, and last Saturday she had thrown a party at her house for her birthday. It was going to be the first party thrown with not only both boys and girls, but also her parents wouldn’t be home, for some reason he couldn’t now remember. It had been what most of the kids at their class had talked about the week prior.
Taichi hadn’t been able to go. His family had visited his grandmother that Saturday noon and something she had cooked hadn’t agreed with him. He had tried insisting his mother to let him go anyway, and had argued with her about it. It wasn’t until later that day when he had to go and sit in the bathroom at least three times that he had acknowledged that not going had been a good idea. He hadn’t admitted it to his mother though. Next Monday at school he had acted like not going hadn’t bothered him at all.
Sora sniffed and rubbed her face.
“We played spin the bottle…” she paused and for a second it seemed she’d cry again “and none of the boys wanted to kiss me when it landed on me because I have braces and stuff” she said fast, and when she brought her hand to her face to rub her eyes, she let it linger against her cheek more than necessary in a weak attempt to cover her face from him.
Sora looked so small and sad, and suddenly Taichi felt angry. Those girls were stupid, those boys were stupid. He had never kissed a girl, but braces and pimples were stupid reasons not to. And he didn’t understand what the problem about having braces was for some people, you had metal in your mouth, how was that not cool?
Mostly, it infuriated him that they had hurt her. That his best friend was sitting alone crying, missing one of the things she enjoyed doing the most, because some stupid boys apparently had awful taste, and some also stupid girls had decided to mock her about it later. If he had gone to that party he would have kissed her.
Sora sniffed again and turned to look at him “Wha-
All of a sudden Taichi leaned in and pressed his lips against hers. It caught Sora by surprise, and she stood completely still, with only her eyes rapidly blinking.
His lips were chapped but soft, and his nose’s breathing felt hot against her face. Her own breathing caught in her chest. Neither knew what to do with their lips, so pressing them against each other was all they did. It was awkward, and sudden, and quick…but nice. After a few seconds he pulled apart and opened his eyes.
“They’re cowards” Taichi said.
He was looking at her straight in the eyes and had that determinant look on his face. His cheeks had a slight tint of pink, and Sora felt hers a little warm too.
“What?” she whispered without thinking.
“They are stupid and cowards” he said again, now with a somewhat proud smile on his face.
Sora felt disconcerted as his words and confidence started to down on her. That catchy self-belief of his that always managed to make everyone around him feel it too.
“They are, aren’t they?” she asked, more to herself than to him. A smile slowly beginning to appear on her face.
Taichi mouthed a big silent “Yup” and a small laugh escaped her. He smiled at the sight of her, relieved, as if a huge weight that he didn't even know when it had appeared had suddenly vanished. And they both shared a complicit laugh.
They looked at each other as the laugh died out.
“We…we should probably get back to practice” she said, and Taichi realized that for a second he had completely forgotten about that.
They slowly got up from the bench and started walking towards the field. Sora playfully bumped his shoulder with hers.
“Maybe I’ll accidentally push one of the girls” she said, half joking. But Taichi laughed out loud, bumping her too.
“Yes! Do that!” he said, encouraging her.”Who else? I can accidentally push someone too”