Chapter 8:

Sacrificial Love Might Work

Where The Sky Meets The Land

Half of my heart still declined this idea, but half of it encouraged my whole body to move forward. The entrance to the school gymnasium stood right before my eyes, which disturbed the inner peace I've always obtained from club avoidance. I only participated in indoor club such as book club, cooking club, and many more. I wouldn't get myself engrossed in sports, let alone joining a competition.

I only this for the sake of my source of courage. He thumped my back with his both palms, grinning ear to ear and slightly pushing me forward. He was the one inspiring me to take this as a part of my growth spurge.

Taking in a long inhalation, I breathed out in relaxation. I could sense the emergence of unbounded happiness from behind, and even without turning around I knew right away. Sora couldn't stop smiling ever since we departed from our class. It was heart warming to see his smile though.

"What are you waiting for, Riku?" He gently pushed me repetitively. "Not going to play?"

"I've promised you, so I must fulfil it," I said as I began walking to the entrance.

Once I've stepped into the gym, I was welcomed by the diversity of scents from everywhere. I inhaled the smell of cooling spray, new balls, polished floor, and a tinge of sweat which I believed coming from the students of respective clubs. As how I was told by the teacher, there should be three clubs using the gym in one day. Badminton club would train on Monday, together with ping pong and futsal.

I scanned and located the presence of anyone playing badminton, but to no avail. I didn't want to believe my own eyes, yet even Sora voiced his curiosity out.

"Where's the badminton club?" He asked right behind my ear.

My shrug was my answer. I had no idea that there would be no one playing badminton in the gym. I did see ping pong and futsal where the source of diversity of scents emitting from, but I never thought I wouldn't see badminton players among them.

We exchanged look, utterly puzzled. I skimmed around to find anyone I could inquire, then I spotted one student sitting on a bench. He was alone, throwing his view affront, but to me he was watching the futsal. My curiosity triggered as I saw him sighing.

"What if you go meet him? I think he must know something," Sora suggested to me. So he too saw the same person I've been wondering his identity.

As if he heard we were talking about him, we saw him shifting focus from the futsal team to us, still standing at the entrance. His expression flipped instantly as he saw us awkwardly bowed at him whereas we were so far away to each other. He waved at us to come to him.

"Do you think he heard me?" Sora hesitantly asked me.

My shrug was my response again, thus frowned him a little. We led ourselves towards that person with beaming smile and delighted.

"I'm the president of badminton club!" We haven't reached him that near, but he has already introduced himself. "I'm Nobu, a third year. You came to play badminton, am I right?"

"Do you, by any chance, have a mind reading ability?" I undoubtedly inquired. This Nobu guy guessed correctly, which bothered me a little. Could it be that he really has such power?

The Nobu guy frowned at us in confusion. "Why did you bring a badminton racket with you then?"

The shame I've caused myself into was hugely embarrassing. I could feel my blood gushing to my head, pounding me to the level that I might bang my head against something to calm down. Sora chuckled halfheartedly and nudged at me with genuine annoyance.

"I'm sorry, Nobu-san. This guy is in mess because he has left badminton for quite a long time. His skill is rusting, but he joined a badminton competition for the sport festival," Due to massive humiliation, I turned mute and fidgety on the spot, which caused the most composed guy at the moment named Sora replied for me instead.

The Nobu guy erupted a laugh. A genuine laugh. Not sure whether he was entertained by Sora's answer or by my stupidity unveiled before him, but I didn't feel teased by his chortle. In fact, I was about to giggle too.

The atmosphere around us was stunningly heart soothing despite the noisiness filling across the gymnasium. There were two other teams conquering the place, yet it didn't really affect the three of us. The Nobu guy was warmly behaved, kind hearted and open minded, didn't have a hint of doubt in his pair of small eyes. I could misunderstand him to have the same age as ours because of his intimacy towards us.

"All right. Then we'll practice from scratch. Do you mind?" The Nobu guy suggested, pasting a twinkling smile.

Perhaps I could let my guard down against this Nobu guy. Nobu-san didn't seem to treat us differently. He patted our shoulders and grinned widely. Judging from his emotion portrayed on his countenance, I could tell that he was purely contented.

He reminded me of the Sora I found during our first encounter. The Sora that appeared cheerful and a bit self-centred. Honestly he wasn't. It was how he acted towards someone he could sense as trustable.

I shook my head. Lately, I was easily swayed by my own emotion. It wasn't bad, but it bothered my focus.

"Eh, how silly of me!" Nobu-san who has already picked up his badminton racket chuckled. "I forgot to ask your name. You two." His index finger motioned from left to right. "What's your name, tall boy?"

His hand casually tapped my shoulder. Tall boy? I got that pretty often. But the way he treated us meant he acknowledged us as juniors even though we were taller than him. "M- My name is Riku, a second year."

"Second year eh? Uh-huh," His bouncy head showed his slight excitement. "How about you, another tall boy?"

I had the urge to poke Sora at the waist because Sora shyly lowered his eyes and fidgeted with his hands. "My name is Sora. I'm also a second year. But I don't play badminton."

"It feels like I'm having two new members for my club!" Nobu-san clung his arms around us on each sides. "This badminton club receives the least members because of certain issue. It spread since I was a first year, so I guess you know what it is about. Other than me, there are also another two third year students, but they are currently doing cleaning duty."

Nobu-san's enticing gaze pierced right into my eyes, giving off reassuring vibe along with convincing hope. I peeped at the enthralled Sora at his other side, which pasted me a broad smile too.

"So shall we start?" Nobu hoisted his badminton racket high in the air.

Some eyes were attracted to him. However, I could distinguish it as unpleasant. I wondered why the ping pong team looking at us weirdly, and the death glares emitted from the futsal team somehow intimidated us a little. The way they perceived us once we stepped into the provided badminton court was like we were criminals.

The atmosphere between us and Nobu was splendid, but not our small group to the other sport teams. I could sense the uneasy sensation oozing from outside the court, which shouldn't bother me but eventually it did. Possibly because Sora and I have experienced almost the same treatment in our class, hence it felt rather traumatic to me.

I glanced at Sora. Sora did not bother to look around at all. He was all smiles, bringing shuttle cylinders and court net with him while chattering non-stop with Nobu-san. They got along pretty fast, which at least reduced my worry.

"Riku, you cannot hold your racket that way!"

"Shouldn't you concentrate your force on your shoulder then?"

"How about if you try swinging your racket faster?"

"Riku, focus on your shuttle, not your opponent!"

"Remember, Riku. This is a No zone. Do not let the shuttle hit this box."

"Let's change sides, Riku!"

"You did great, Riku! Keep it up!"

"Riku, I'm so proud of you!"

Two hours straightaway went by without us realizing. We only stopped when the school janitor called us out because he was about to shut the entrance of the gym. We apologized for being too preoccupied with our training and quickly packed our things up.

Somehow, the practice was well-performed. As a senior, Nobu-san really took care of us. He could notice where my weaknesses were in my play, differentiate between my habit and my skill, and teach me many information about rules in badminton. Nobu-san himself was a skillfully gifted badminton player, equipped with fast response and strategically thinking. The President title undeniably suited his talent.

"Say, Nobu-san."

Both Nobu and I shifted to Sora.

"What is it, Sora?"

"Can I know what the rumour was all about?"

That was it! The most unpredictably bravest Sora has come out! He was asking Nobu-san, our senior, but I was the one having palpitation due to unstable heart beat. It felt like I was busted for maliciousness. I peeked at Nobu-san's complexion just to witness his calmness.

"Of course you can, Sora. You too, Riku."

I flinched as I was abruptly dragged into the discussion. We stopped by a bench in the school compound, resting ourselves and taking our time to listen to Nobu-san.

"The former president of badminton club was into men," Nobu-san kicked off his revelation shockingly, "His preference was discovered by other students when he was at his third year. Since then, he was severely abused and slandered for sexually harassing other male students. The truth was he never did all those. The only members joining the badminton club was his lover, a first year."

The divulgence was utterly petrifying Sora and I. We both gawked in disbelief and fell into deep silence due to the amusing news. Nobu-san saw our altered impression, but he never commented anything.

"After he has graduated high school, the club was left to the lover. A club will be dismissed if it has less than two members, therefore that lover pleaded his classmates to join for the sake of the club. It maintains until today."

I nodded, understanding the dramatical school life. To me, as long as one was satisfied with whatever he had, it would be more than enough. Gratefulness didn't come easily, but we as humans should always try being thankful.

"Well, it's getting darker. What if we depart home by now?" Nobu-san suggested while throwing his view to the sky. "I'm afraid we can't reach home if it's raining."

"I agree."

The atmosphere enveloping us perceived as strangely mesmerizing. We didn't play. We just walked and talked leisurely like good friends conversed about school homework. Nobu-san was way too kind than our classmates, which comforted me so much.

We left the school compound, but we still strolled together. According to Nobu-san, his house was around the corner, so it didn't hurt to walk home together with us. Therefore, our conversation kept on going over various issues, with the main topics focused on the sport festival and third year examination.

It went on smoothly until I almost choked by Sora's straightforwardness.

"Nobu-san, can I ask you one more?"

Both Nobu-san and I shifted to him. Again. Yet this time, I sensed Sora would frankly assume on something. Which then I found myself betting correctly.

"That lover who maintains the badminton club up till today. He's you, right?"