Chapter 7:

Heart Practicing for Acceptance

Where The Sky Meets The Land

I watched him warming up before beginning his training. Or in his point of view, it was more to an exercise. He didn't seem to care that much, which conjectured me whether my apprehension was actually in vain. He did star jumps as a sum up to his warm-up session, and breathed in composure.

While he was preparing to start running, he took a glimpse of me. I saw that, and I rolled my eyes at him. He blinked in bewilderment and began running forward, leaving me dumbfounded at the starting point.

Our classmates have concurred together to put Sora in 100m running competition. Though it was a short distance, it was the only game that had no student wished to participate among our classmates. They preferred teamed games, and soccer was one of the most famous sports in our class.

I did some stretching when I noticed his figure walking slowly from afar. He looked kind of exhausted, which I shouldn't get shocked over but eventually I still did. I hurriedly ran to get him all panting.

"Sora, are you all right?" I asked, in concern.

Yet, he brushed it off with a giggle. "So you finally talked to me, Riku!"

I was astounded at his giggle. He was right. It has passed a week since the last time I talked to him. For the whole week, I refused to act affably towards him just to convey my regret because he didn't listen to me to not take part in any event. Eventually, I acknowledged his determination to do his best in running competition after it has passed a week of self-practice.

Should I be ashamed? Surely I should.

"I'm still sulking though," I pouted and back faced him. "Do you, by the way, feel painful somewhere?"

"You're way too troubled of me, Riku," Then he chuckled at my honesty. "I'm totally fine, thankfully. I bet you were so itchy to ask that, right?"

He was right. Bull's eye. Was I that obvious? As I've claimed beforehand, Sora had keen eyes, and his kindness aided him to know someone in better view. I sighed, unsure of what the reason. But I was deeply moved by Sora's recognition.

"So far, I've never fallen asleep while running. It's a good news."

We rested on the hill top facing to the clear orange-ish sky. We were too engrossed with Sora's practice that I've missed my normal timing. We should have returned home at this hour, yet Sora insisted to sit down first.

"Do you think my disorder has been cured, Riku?"

"Only when your doctor confirms it, Sora," I monotonously replied. It wasn't to break his spirit, but it was much better than assuring him vague result whereas he has only practiced running for one week. "But, do you feel anything on your body changed?"

"So far, there's nothing weird on me," Sora studied his arms, legs, and neck. "Do you see anything that I don't, Riku?"

Sora looked at me with hopeful eyes. He wanted me to examine him? "No, I don't."

He laughed while shifting to the clear sky again. "You're troubled too much, Riku!"

How peculiar. Although it was the end of the day with awaiting night time in a few minutes, I found out that Sora's face and eyes glittered in the sun rays. The light befell on us radiated his jolliness much better than normal lamp post or indoor lights. His glistering eyes seemed like in beads, and his smooth complexion unveiled his natural beauty. The mood he currently carried was merry and glad, therefore his smile shimmered the brightest.

I've never really watched him this keen. I knew he was a pretty boy. He acknowledged that himself too. This hill top was where I found him for the first time. Ever since then, we have been spending time here before parting ways to our respective houses. Sunset was truly the best moment to sit here and relax because it was the moment when he appeared the prettiest. Our location - The hill top - was strategically chosen as our spot.

It was a significantly precious memory. Every single evening that we have spent our time here, unknowingly, was the happiest hour of my life. Yes, I was his neighbour and his only friend in our class. His seat was right by the window, thus the blinding sun rays beautified him in a way. The contentment amassing in me bestowed me inspiration to stay with him. I could remain in my seat without going anywhere just to be by his side, so that he wouldn't fall asleep on anyone else.

Nevertheless, the hill top gave me different vibe compared to the classroom. Sunset did unmask his beauty, and it was the best part of the day. Our common hangout spot was the only place where I've never seen Sora shed his tears. He liked being there. He loved watching the sunset. He adored the colour of the sky when the sun slowly went down - No, the earth was actually revolving, but he wanted to take it like that.

"Sora, why did you lie?" I asked him.

He peeped me at the corners of his eyes and said, "I should say something they wanted to believe, shouldn't I?"

"That doesn't mean fabrication, Sora," I couldn't hide my nervousness over the issue. It would be different if Sora really had no health problem. Plus, of all sports, running competition? "To me, they're just pranking you."

"Even if they really are, I will still do it," Sora lowered his gaze from the appealing sky to the swaying grass to the wind direction.

It hurt me too much. I failed to protect him. I couldn't do anything back then. It has been haunting my mind, reimagining the me who stayed quiet due to massive guilt for not being able to shelter Sora. I tried constructing any possibility which might happen during the race, yet I couldn't. I couldn’t know when Sora would fall asleep which tarnished the little happiness we used to reserve during sunset like this. Nothing, I repeat nothing, could calm me down until the day of the competition and I could convince myself that Sora was going to be fine.

I couldn't even focus on my own training. I did join Sora for warming up, but that was it. I haven't played badminton for a long time, hence my skills must be staled already. Yet, I couldn't find anyone to play with me. Surely I wouldn't compete with a wall.

"Riku," Sora's gentle voice penetrated through my eardrums, erupting a messy tempo of heartbeat. I was startled, honestly. "You can stop being too kind to me."

My ears produced deafening ringing sound which bothered me from listening more. I frowned and gulped to wash it away. "Sorry?"

"I mean it, Riku," Sora's gaze was transferred to me. "Don't back me up from today onwards."

"Wh- What do you mean by that, Sora?" I stuttered, but it wouldn't hinder me from wanting to know the truth.

"You're so kind to me. I'm feeling edgy," Sora pulled his knees to his chest, restraining him from an outburst, "I don't want you to be hated by our classmates."

"About that-"

"I don't have to worry, right? But I can't," In his interruption, I noticed Sora's tone raised a little.

I glimpsed at his teary eyes. He averted, avoiding me. He wanted to be tough, but a part of him refused to let it happen. I waited for him to confess his heart out.

"I'm the newcomer in our class, while you're already in there before my arrival. You're supposed to be with your classmates more than me, and you must help them too. I don't want your friendship tarnish because of me."

Both his hands gripped on his arm sleeves, inhibiting his tears as he poured his heart out. This hill top was the only place he has never cried, nevertheless it seemed like he would eventually. There was nowhere else to cheer him up, which also meant his spirit has depleted.

I saw his twitching lips. I saw his slight shivers. I saw his welled up tears in his eyes. Even though he didn't face towards me, those features enticed me to hug him. I held myself because I thought it might not be the best solution to coax him from his misery.

"Sora," I controlled my vibrating intonation, "Listen. I don't know what your first impression to me since you came to our class. I admit that I was quite friendly to everyone, but they were not as close as how we are having now," I inhaled deeply as the breeze brushed against our face, "To them, I was cool and cosy to befriend with. But I never thought of getting close to anyone because I was once looked down for not having a mother."

Actually, it was unfair to divulge my past out of the blue. From what Auntie Junko has disclosed to me, I believed Sora was severely bullied too. However, I had the idea that Sora should know why I acknowledged befriending him, thus I did so. Furthermore, Sora knew less about me too, therefore I considered opening up was the best solution.

"I hated that particular period for the rest of my life. That was why I talk only when it was necessary, but the students in our school took it as 'cool', not 'snob'. This subconsciously relieved me, but I still refused to let anyone getting close to me."

Sora tilted his head on one side as he listened to my story tentatively. Like how I never intervened his confession, he did the same and even rested his chin on his arm. He was facing towards me, believably to gain better audio.

"I was afraid of mockery. I didn't want that moment to repeat itself too. But then," I glanced at his eager expression portrayed on the face, "I met you."

Fallen sakura petals flew along with the wind direction leaving traces on everywhere they passed by, including our hill top spot. Some of them landed safely on our hairs, yet the cooling breeze was comfortably chilling us. Our sweat has dried up too.

"You met me?"

Sora's soft voice inquired. Only then I realized I've spoken more than what I should.

"I'm glad that you never looked down on me. Maybe it's because you lost your father too. But to me, you're really kind."

The silence overwhelming us lasted for a few minutes. The sky was darker, thus I decided to return home. I rose from my seating spot when Sora called me out.


I watched him cleaning his pants and butt from dried grass and ground dirt. He fetched his bag when I grabbed mine. I knew he wanted to tell me something, hence I waited for him.

"I'll play badminton with you."

His dangling fringe exposed his smooth face, which usually appeared pale white but it wasn't at the moment. His reddish face denoted his rising body temperature, or he was probably embarrassed.

I raised my eyebrows. "Why?"

"Because you've accompanied me although you didn't talk to me."

His words pierced right into my heart. He was mean! I cleared my throat and made up my mind. "I just want to ensure your safety. That's all."

Sora giggled at my trueness. I faced away, pulling a pout. I never thought he would see that side of me.

"So you do act childish too, Riku!"

My pride was torn apart. How uncool! If I was alone, I might want to run away immediately.

"Well, you're the only one accepting me as a whole," I stated sheepishly. "I'll find my own opponent from the school. But I'll let you come along."

Sora pumped his fist in the air. He was authentically delighted. "Thank you, Riku!"

I began walking first. Fifty meters from this hill top, there would be a junction, and we would part ways there. I heard entailing footsteps behind me, which I assumed as Sora's. I purposely slowed down my pace so that he could match with me.

"Riku, I want to tell you something."

His footsteps seemed closer like how I've predicted. "What is it?"


The sudden halt in his line provoked my eagerness. With the mind expecting inspiriting Sora who would cheer for me, I turned around just to find out that he has fainted, lying on the bare ground. My alarm mode switched with my excitement, and I dashed to get him in my arms.

"Sora! Sora!" I vigorously shook his shoulders to wake him up. He didn't respond, but I heard soft snores from him. I face palmed. "Who fell asleep in the middle of discussion? Gihh!"

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