Soccer practice was over and the boys were walking out of the field feeling exhausted, sore, but with that happiness you get when you’re still high on the adrenaline boost. They were in the middle of summer, radiant heat pressing down on them as if it meant to squash them. Some were feeling their skin warm and red, and not just because of the exercise. Sweat drops trickled down their necks and backs, and strands of hairs clung to their heads.
They entered the locker room talking animatedly and jokingly pushing each other. It had been a pretty good practice with no incidents or accidents, just fun and healthy competitiveness.
Taichi heard his name being called by their coach as he was about to untie his soccer cleats on the bench. The grown man called him from the door of his small office, and motioned a “come here” with his fingers.
“uuuh Yagami is in trouble” one boy teased and Taichi punched him muttering a “Shut up” while laughing.
Taichi entered the small office as his teammates finished undressing and headed to the showers.
“Close the door” his coach told him, and he did. Taichi tried thinking what he could’ve possible done wrong today or the last practices. The man didn’t tell him to sit on the chair in front of him, so he didn’t and just stood there waiting. “You’re doing pretty well on the field, Yagami” the coach started, leaning in his chair and Taichi felt relieved. So this wasn’t a bad thing.
“Thanks” he said shifting in place. He knew he was good, but tried not looking too cocky in front of the grown man.
“And you get along well with everybody.”
Taichi smiled not sure if or how he should respond to that.
“When you guys begin ninth grade some changes are going to be made here. I’ll still be your coach, but I won’t be calling all the shots, you guys need to have more independence as a group, still, one of you needs to lead”
Taichi tried suppressing a smile, figuring out where this was heading.
“I think it should be you” he said, and Taichi almost squealed. “Interested?”
Taichi nodded enthusiastically, and the coach chuckled “So are you going to sit or not?” said the man with a small laugh.
Taichi sat rapidly, knowing he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm more than this.
For the next ten minutes minutes the coach roughly explained to him about how he wanted to test his leadership skills, and that he’d need to start trying to resolve conflicts when they’d arise. He told him the decision wasn’t official yet, but that he was the best choice and he was hoping he wouldn’t disappoint. That he had a natural leadership attitude, and he also was good-natured and they all respected him. Taichi nodded at everything, barely containing his excitement.
The coached finished by telling him it was best if he didn’t say anything to his teammates yet, not at least until he announced it first in a couples of weeks. Taichi nodded, he could keep a secret.
“Okay, you can go now”
Taichi got up and stopped before opening the door. “Thank you” he said wholeheartedly “This means a lot-
“Yeah yeah” the man said, already busy with his clipboard. “Now go, you stink” he said, waving at him to leave. Taichi smiled one last time before opening the door.
The rest of his teammates were already finished changing into their clean clothes.
“What did he want? Did he finally force you to cut of your hair?” asked another teammate as he tussled Taichi’s hair.
Taichi waved his hand away “He just wanted to brag about how he did your mom” he mocked and his friend punched his arm as the others around them laughed.
He opened his duffel bag to pull out his towel, when he realized that everybody was almost finished. He was too excited to stay alone, even if he couldn’t share it yet. He wanted to move, to walk and talk with his friends. So he closed his bag.
“Aren’t you gonna shower?” asked one.
“He doesn’t want to jerk off alone” joked another one from a few lockers away, and Taichi flipped him off.
Twenty minutes later he was walking down the streets with two of his teammates. They had stopped to buy some ice cream sticks on their way to appease some of the heat away. They were discussing video games when Taichi hear his named being called from behind his back.
The three of them turned around to Sora standing at the door of her mother’s flower shop, looking somewhat troubled.
Taichi shrugged to his friends, made head gesture so they could continued without him, and walked back towards her.
“What’s up?” he asked as he played with the stick of his finished ice cream.
“My mom had to go help out a neighbor with something and” she said gesturing towards the store “I’m all alone doing everything, could you help me? Just one bit” she begged with her palms together.
“Sure” he said and he entered the store with her “Where’s her assistant?” he asked looking around.
“He is sick, some kind of allergy, I was helping covering for him this week actually”
The pleasant smell welcomed them, the delicate fragrance of the various types of flowers, mixed with the earthy smell of fresh watered plants. It felt nice inside the store, given the flowers and their daily watering, it seemed like the air had gotten a couple degrees cooler.
There was an old lady inside, looking at some of the flower arrangements. Taichi followed Sora behind the counter where she gave him a clipboard.
“Could you crosscheck this inventory with those on the computer?” she gestured toward the monitor on his right “You just need to see if all that are marked with an X are listed on that list” he nodded understanding “I need to finish this” she said as she turned to the arrangement on the counter next to him.
It was quiet and comfortable. Every once in a while Sora eyed at the old lady, who seemed like she was about to buy a house instead of flowers for all the time she was taking.
“Coach said I could become captain next year” Taichi suddenly said.
“Really?!” Sora turned to him with a big smile.
Taichi smiled, feeling even more proud than before, knowing that none of his teammates would ever smile at him like that upon hearing it.
“That’s so awesome! Congratulations!”
“Thanks” he said, blushing a bit.
Taichi liked spending time with Sora. He had been a little mad at her at the beginning when she had quit the team to focus on tennis, although the team had been divided into boys and girls shortly after that, and they wouldn’t be together anyhow. But her quitting had had another effect he hadn’t foreseen, because to compensate for that, they had started to spend more time alone together. And in a way he had found himself liking that more.
They eight of them had different classes, schedules, activities and friends, so meeting with any of them had gotten harder as time went by. They both shared some classes with Yamato, but lately the blonde one spent more time with some other kids that also were deep into music and played instruments. So when they missed each other -although none would call it that- it was mostly only the two of them than hang out together. Taichi had always attributed it to their apartments been the closest together, but something deep inside him told him it’d be the same it they’d lived far apart.
He knew some of his friends envied him for that too. It wasn’t usual for a boy and a girl to be so close friends at that age, unless they were a couple, which was a thing that had started trending this year with a few students. There were rumors about the things those couples were doing, but the reality was that it was nothing more than make out.
At first it had bothered him when some boys used to mock him saying she was his girlfriend. Now he only acted like it bothered him when it happened, inside he had taken a like to it. It made him feel more mature somehow, been able to maintain a closer relationship with a girl.
Sora gave him a small pat on the shoulder.
Another customer had arrived, a man in his forties, and the old lady seemed to finally have decided on what to buy.
“Could you charge her please?” she asked him as she went around the counter to meet the man that had just arrived. “It’s ¥1200”
“Sure” he said as he moved a few steps to where the cash register was. He had helped Sora a couple of times before at the store, so he knew how it worked. “It’s ¥1200” he said to the her in case she hadn’t heard Sora just now.
The old lady looked at him disapprovingly before looking inside her purse for her wallet, and again when she took it out.
“Would you want a bag?” he asked her, getting annoyed at her look.
Okay, so his clothes were a little muddy, but the old lady had been in the store when Sora had asked for his help. It was obvious he didn’t work there, and was just there for a quick help.
The old lady nodded.
Taichi gave a little head tilt towards the flowers “They are pretty” he said, suddenly feeling the need to make a good impression.
She looked at him narrowing her eyes, then looked at the flowers and then at him again, scrunched her nose, and as she made eye contact with him, said: “They smell nice”.
Taichi furrowed his brow, confused, he didn’t know why, but the way and tone in which she had said it had sounded like an insult.
“Mm sure, that too” he said, not knowing what else to say. And when he brought his hand to take the money, the old lady left it in the counter. That pissed him off, and he had to suppress the need to snap at her, his lips a thin line.
Taichi watched her go as Sora came to stand next to him to charge the men who had only wanted a small bouquet of roses.
“What?” she asked him when the man left, and saw his confused face.
“I don’t know, some rude old hag”
Sora hadn’t witness the encounter but laughed as if she agreed, trusting his judgment. “She took forever to choose” she said, wanting to say something negative about her too.
They both stood behind the counter, and sat on the chairs when they realized no customers were coming in. Taichi looked at his dirty soccer cleats.
“Wanna go to the arcade next Saturday?” she asked him.
“Sure!” he said happily, and for a second wondered what his friends would think of this situation, if they saw how casually she could ask him to hang out. For the first time he wondered how couples agreed to go on dates, and whether they did it the same way friends did. And for a brief second he also wished Hikari wouldn’t tag along this time.
The bell rang as new customer entered, and they both looked up. There were a mother and his little kid. Sora stood up to greet them but stopped dead in her tracks, and cursed under her breath. She grabbed her head and then gestured towards some boxes and small flowerpots in the corner.
“I totally forgot about those. Could you please put them in the back? The boxes go under the table and the little ones up in the shelves” she asked as she went along to the woman. Taichi nodded waving at her to go.
The back of the store consisted of two large tables and many cupboards and shelves surrounding the walls, it was full of loose flowers and half made arrangements, as well as bags of soil-small and big-, and various wrapping papers and decorations stuffs. One of the walls was covered with small stick notes with dates and stuff.
He took everything there, first putting the big boxes under one of the tables. This was his first moment alone after his coach had given him the news, and he took advantage of it to continue with the mental self gloating about being captain, giving himself the space to smile like an idiot.
Closer to the wall, he grabbed some of the flowerpots, one in each hand, and lifted the one on his right to put it on the upper shelf. It was in that moment, with his arm extended upward that he caught the whiff and froze.
He almost let the flowerpot drop, but slowly put them both on the table again.
Taichi stood still, eyes focused on nothing in particular and nose adjusting to the smell that now had become impossible to ignore. Arms stuck to his sides, not wanting to check what he already knew. He closed his eyes and gulped, and slowly lifted one of his arms up enough to turn his head towards his armpit. He didn’t even have to sniff.
Embarrassment was the only emotion his mind could process. He stank of BO.
He hadn’t noticed before because he had been walking outside, and then his nose had been too numbed by the smell of flowers. But the old lady had smelled him, and now smelling it was all he could do.
He almost jumped at Sora’s question. He wasn’t sure how long he had stood there not moving. Taichi turned to look at her, instinctively crossing his arms high enough to cover his armpits.
“Y-yes, everything fine”
“Need any help?”
“No!” he said, louder than intended and Sora blinked at him. “I’m almost finished, no need” he said softly this time.
“Oh okay” she chuckled and went back to the front.
Taichi exhaled a shaky breath, now suddenly scared to go with her. God, had she smelled him too?
He tried thinking of some kind of solution but couldn’t, the only thought in his mind being the regret of not showering before. On autopilot Taichi put the rest of the flowerpots on the shelf and with each one he lifted, a wave of regret and self-loathing hit him every time he smelled himself.
Taichi knew he had to go back to the front with Sora eventually. He tried telling himself that maybe it wasn’t that bad, that it only smelled like that because he was closer to himself than anybody. But deep down knew it wasn’t true, the old lady had smelled him. And this wasn’t the first time this had happened, when he skipped showers at home, his family could always tell. And Sora had been in the same range of proximity. She had to have smelled him.
He stood next to the door, right next to the wall so she couldn’t see him from where she was. The sun was hitting her face through the glass windows, and she was humming some song he didn’t have the capacity to tell right now, but she was smiling and she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and he thought she looked cute. Taichi bit the inside of his cheeks. Maybe Sora was so used to the smell of flowers she couldn’t smell anything else while she was in here. He knew that was probably ridiculous, but he held onto that thought as he crossed the door to the front.
“All finished” he said, palming his thighs. Trying not to make any move that require him to lift his arms.
“Great, thank you” Sora smiled at him as she finished some arrangement in the counter. She looked, probably wondering why he was just standing there and hadn’t come over to sit next to her where he was before.
Taichi smiled at her nervously. “Um uh, do you mind if I open that window a little bit? It’s kind of hot in here” he said, hoping she couldn’t tell he was lying, the temperature inside was just fine.
“Sure” she said without looking, concentrated on the flower arrangement.
He tried studying her face to make out her reaction. Was it a “Sure” as in “No problem, I don’t mind” or as in “Yes please open it; I can’t breathe with you here”? Logic told him it was the former, shame, the latter.
He went to the window and opened it, and when he saw she wasn’t looking, he opened it all the way. But it was so hot outside that not even a breeze came through.
Taichi closed his eyes, trying to compose himself, and mentally thanked whoever picked the dark blue and green colors for the design of the soccer’s jersey. He felt dirty all over, but at least the sweat stains on his armpits –that he now knew he had– weren’t showing.
“So how long do you think your mom is gonna take?” he asked her, standing near the window. Maybe the wind wouldn’t aerate the place, but maybe some of his smell could leave through the window.
“I don’t know” Sora said and looked guilty “I’m sorry, I don’t want to hold you. Y-you can go if you want. I thought it’d be more costumers and I freaked” she chuckled nervously.
Now it was his turn to feel guilty. In any other situation he’d love to stay just the two.
“N-no, I can stay, there’s no problem. I was just curious” he said and tried a smile.
The bell rang and an old man entered. Taichi took two steps backwards when Sora passed by him to go and greet the man. Just to be cautious he went to stand in the other corner.
As Sora was talking to the old man, he tried standing near some flowers that had a sweet citrusy smell. Hoping that if he brushed against them enough they would transfer some of their fragrance onto him.
Every time he looked at Sora he buried himself more into the flowers on his back, careful not to ruin them. Taichi wanted to leave as much as he wanted to stay. Most of all he hated the realization that he surely wouldn’t feel this way if it were any other girl, even Mimi who had always been so princess-like.
For some reason he found himself thinking of their next hang out as a date, even if he had no idea how those were.
Sora was gesturing to the old man, she pointed to the back, talked some more, and after a polite smile he left without buying anything.
“Bummer” he said.
“Oh no, he wanted an arrangement with orchids, but I don’t have one ready, so he is coming back later. Actually, would you mind helping me bringing some of the stuff to do it back here? In case my mom runs late, I can work it from here”
“Sure” he said softly, cursing every step he took away from the flowers.
He helped her carry some of the things, not wanting to look at her giving the close proximity they were in, but also desperate to look for any sign of discomfort in her face, a curl of the lips, a scrunch of the nose, any indication that he smelled bad.
Once he had a dream where he had found himself suddenly naked in the classroom, and everybody had turned to laugh at him. He had woken up so embarrassed that had to check if in fact he had clothes on. This felt at least ten times worse than that.
All of a sudden Sora looked worried and brought a hand to her face “Do I have something in my face?” she asked, slightly blushing.
“No no” he said and gulped, trying to think of an excuse “I-I just thought I saw a bee”
“Oh” Sora chuckled and looked around, lightly waving a hand near her face just in case “Yeah, we have some of those around”
Taichi chuckled too, not sure why he felt guilty.
Sora then sat in one of the chairs behind the counter, leaning on her elbow against it.
“So what did the others say?” she asked
“The rest of the team”
“Oh”. Sora was looking at him, probably expecting for him to sit down on the other chair. He didn’t want to get too close, but just standing there was weird. And if Sora really didn’t smell him, this would just draw more attention to himself, so Taichi approached the chair in the most casual yet self-conscious way imaginable, and sat down. “They don’t know yet. I have to wait for coach to announce it a few weeks I guess”
Sora nodded understanding, and then her head pepped, beaming “Wait, so am I the first to know?”
Taichi hadn’t thought about it that way, and scratched his head, suddenly embarrassed for completely different reasons than before. “Yeah, I guess you are” he said and chuckled.
The bell rang again and when they both looked up saw that it was her mother. Taichi stood up, feeling a wave of relief run through his body, until without any warning felt her arms around his neck. A flash of fear and flusteredness struck him, and he almost pushed her away, but Sora quickly let go.
“I’m really happy for you” she said with a big smile.
Speechless, Taichi nodded with a misplaced stupid smile, feeling a thousand emotions all at once.
“I-I need to get going now” he finally managed, and grabbing his bag, with a quick hello-goodbye to her mom, left the store.
When he got home he showered, scrubbing aggressively, but it didn’t matter how much he scrubbed or how much soap he covered himself with, the damage was done. He was never ever, ever, going to put off a shower again. Ever.
That whole afternoon his mood switched between proud and excitement about the possibility of becoming captain, and the shame and self-consciousness of Sora thinking he was off-putting.
Sitting on the floor of their room, he was reading some manga, while Hikari was doing some drawing for homework on the desk next to him, when his phone beeped.
It was text from Sora.
“you left so quickly I couldn’t even thank you for the help. So thank you! Hahaha” He smiled without realizing while reading it. Something about Sora completely ignoring the subject made him feel better. Either she hadn’t smelled him, or had but didn’t care.
“that neighbor cooked mom some daifuku. A lot! I’ll give you some tomorrow! <3”
Taichi felt a weird but pleasant tingling in his chest as his eyes fixed on the “<3” heart emoticon, and suddenly it was as if nothing had happened.
“What?” Hikari asked him, curious at his dumb smile.
“Nothing, everything is fine” he said, laying aside his cell phone.
Everything is fine.