Chapter 17:

Yellow Pages


1 year agoBookmark here

As the teacher entered the class, everyone hurriedly took their seats. Except for a boy, who kept standing near another seat and talking to his friends.Bookmark here

“Maekawa? Please sit down.”Bookmark here

Reluctantly, the boy turned around and slowly walked towards his seat. By the time he sat down, whispers were rising from different parts of the class, mostly from the girls.Bookmark here

Yukio observed all of it.Bookmark here

In Nakagawa International High School, Maekawa Yuichi was a well-known name. Not only was he good at studies, he was also a really talented baseball player; all in his first year at school. Unsurprisingly, he was popular among his peers, and even the teachers usually turned a blind eye to his misdemeanors.Bookmark here

Maekawa suddenly looked at him, forcing him to quickly turn his head.Bookmark here

The rest of the class commenced peacefully. When it was over, someone pulled a chair and sat down beside Yukio. He didn’t have to guess who it was.Bookmark here

“Takanashi, right?”Bookmark here

Turning his head, he slowly muttered, “Yes.”Bookmark here

“Knew it!” Maekawa looked amused, “You’re the boy who did that strange intro!”Bookmark here

With an embarrassing smile, Yukio dropped his gaze.Bookmark here

“It’s okay!” patting his shoulder, Maekawa let out a hearty laugh, “Man, it was funny though. Anyway, what happened to you?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean…” Yukio tried to sound casual, but failed.Bookmark here

“Do you think no one has noticed? You used to be normal, talked with people, and if I’m not wrong even tried to join the baseball club. What happened? Why did you suddenly become a hikki?”Bookmark here

It was true. Yukio was never someone with lots of friends, but that was partly because of that intro he mentioned. Otherwise, he was a normal student who came to class in time, studied, and usually kept his head low. It was only recently that his behavior was starting to resemble that of a hikki.Bookmark here

Yukio didn’t know what to say. The most popular boy of their class, and possibly the entire school, was concerned about him? And not only that, he also noticed that Yukio had become reclusive lately?Bookmark here

“I… It-it’s not like that…”Bookmark here

With another laugh, Maekawa patted his shoulder once again. “Relax,” he said, “I’m the last person you should talk to in case you want to, you know, let it all out. I guess Naomi will be better suited for that. Anyway, if you ever want to just hang out and chill, come meet us after our practice.”Bookmark here

Getting up from the chair, Maekawa waved his hand and went to his seat.Bookmark here

So cool.Bookmark here

That was the only thought in Yukio’s mind at that moment.Bookmark here

As the next class started, he glanced towards Maekawa once more.Bookmark here

I’ll definitely talk to him after school, he thought.Bookmark here

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That was how Yukio got involved with the baseball club and its members.Bookmark here

After the baseball practice session was over, and Yukio escaped from the calligraphy club, he met up with Maekawa and his friends.Bookmark here

“Hey!” Maekawa smiled, “So you did come!”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Yukio was unaware that he was blushing like a girl.Bookmark here

Most of the people with him were seniors, yet they treated Maekawa with more respect than even their teachers. Their practice was over, and they were returning home together. Their interactions looked like something straight out of a movie screen; people laughing, shouting, arguing with each other, hands on each other’s shoulders. Bursting with life.Bookmark here

As Yukio observed them, he realized this was the place where the ‘star’ of their school behaved like a human the most. His eyes trailed Maekawa, but he had since gotten involved in a discussion.Bookmark here

He stayed at a corner, occasionally offering tidbits. Although he wasn’t a part of them, just being near them, just talking to them made him more alive than he had felt for a long time.Bookmark here

“Hey, aren’t you that boy who came to join us?” Eventually one of the seniors remembered him.Bookmark here

It was more like Yukio was forced to come. Onee-san was a big fan of baseball, and they used to play catch in their garden for as long as he remembers living in Fujimi. Like every other guardian, she also thought Yukio had a real talent to be a baseball player. As per her demand, he applied, and didn’t get selected. His pitch was nowhere near as fast as she imagined.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I am…” he muttered, scratching the back of his head.Bookmark here

“Hey, I remember you!” another senior was suddenly beside him.Bookmark here

As Yukio was staring at them with a flustered face, Maekawa turned towards them.Bookmark here

“Yes, he wanted to be a pitcher. Too bad the coach wanted every newbie to throw like Ogawa Senpai, haha.”Bookmark here

Everyone started laughing, and Yukio had to join them as well. After that, they started asking him all kinds of questions; where he was from, what was his dream, did he like baseball, etc. He tried to answer them as honestly as possible, but had to lie at the third question. He doubted they would behave the same way if they learned he had no particular interest in baseball.Bookmark here

“You can try joining us again!” Someone suggested.Bookmark here

“Yeah!” It was quickly met with approval by the others.Bookmark here

“Our new coach is much better. If you really want to join us, try again!”Bookmark here

“I will try…” Yukio whispered.Bookmark here

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They went to a restaurant that day, where Yukio learned an unpleasant truth.Bookmark here

Maekawa didn’t remember him just because of his intro.Bookmark here

Their conversation, or the lack of it, continued throughout the time they ate. Yukio didn’t like the image of someone talking with food in their mouth, so he concentrated on his burger the whole time. After everyone was done, a senior said to Maekawa, “Come on, pay up! It was your treat!”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, I know…”Bookmark here

With an embarrassed face, Maekawa browsed through his wallet. Then he turned to Yukio.Bookmark here

“Takanashi?”Bookmark here

“Hmm?” Yukio didn’t expect the call, as ever since that remark about the coach, Maekawa acted like he wasn’t there. Also, he was busy chewing the last piece of the burger.Bookmark here

“It seems I don’t have enough money. Can you please pay?”Bookmark here

After a few of them voiced their disapproval, Maekawa raised his hand and announced, “Don’t worry, it won’t be a problem for him.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

Yukio didn’t like the curious eyes one bit. If possible, he wanted to just get up and leave. But that wasn’t an option. So he said, “Okay. No problem.”Bookmark here

Maekawa flashed him a smile, and got up. The others followed suit. It was at least 10 people, Yukio thought. If they on average ate worth…Bookmark here

Before he could finish the calculation, the bill was served to him.Bookmark here

He had never spent that much money on anything. With a sigh, he took out a card from his wallet.Bookmark here

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The initial hesitation he felt was soon gone, and within a week he was regularly joining them while returning home. He didn’t mind paying for their food, and on one occasion he even paid for the tickets when they went to see a movie. Although he knew the reason they let him hang out with them, he didn’t care.Bookmark here

This is what he had always wanted.Bookmark here

One day, at a restaurant, Yukio was just relaxing and watching the others have a passionate debate about a trivial thing. One of the students, who didn’t look like a senior, approached him.Bookmark here

Asano. Yeah, that was his name.Bookmark here

“Do you still want to join us?”Bookmark here

Yukio had completely forgotten about his promise of joining their club. No one breached the topic again, and it didn’t help that he also disliked physical activities.Bookmark here

“Ever since the new coach joined us, we have been playing separately from the seniors. Other than Maekawa, of course. Anyway, we don’t have enough players. And I mean there’s just three of us from the first year. So, if you could join…”Bookmark here

Taking a glance at Maekawa, who was busy narrating an incident, Yukio said to them, “Does that mean I’ll have to practice every day?”Bookmark here

“Yes, but you can just be yourself. We want the coach to pay more attention to us, and for that we need more players.”Bookmark here

It was clear that the boy wanted him to join the club no matter what. Reluctantly, he agreed.Bookmark here

Later, much later, he would realize that it was a big mistake.Bookmark here

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The new coach of the baseball club was a really nice person. Or at least, that’s how he appeared at first. It didn’t take Yukio long to understand that he was just… lazy.Bookmark here

This time, Yukio’s throws were even worse than the last time. Which wasn’t surprising, considering he hadn’t practiced pitching for quite some time. But the coach was just concerned about his throws reaching the other side. After catching the third one, he patted Yukio’s shoulders half-heartedly and said, “Bring your application tomorrow.”Bookmark here

And just like that, he was an official member of the baseball club.Bookmark here

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At first, he didn’t practice much. The truth was, the only reason he joined the club was because he wanted to be more than just a purse to them. Most of the days, he was paired with other students of his grade to practice pitching. All of them were better than him, but not by a huge margin. Also, the fact that their coach didn’t care how much someone improved, and only whether they came to practice or not, also helped his case.Bookmark here

And why wouldn’t he come to the practice? The seniors were really nice. Every day after the practice, they returned home together, and during that time Yukio never felt alone. It wasn’t like he became friends with all of them, but just by being beside them, he felt content.Bookmark here

A feeling that was absent from his life ever since Onee-san left for America.Bookmark here

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Days flew past. Yukio could no longer be called a hikki; he started talking with his classmates again, participated in class discussions, and started getting glances outside his class as well. His transformation was also noticed by the teachers, who weren’t particularly bothered by it.Bookmark here

Asano, who was also his classmate, soon became friends with Yukio. He had a group of friends that mostly consisted of people from his previous school, and Yukio somehow also became a part of it. They ate lunch together during the break, and Maekawa also joined them sometimes.Bookmark here

His transformation was also noticed by his uncle and aunt, but they didn’t comment on it; neither did they ever ask him why he was spending so much money. Megumi san was the only person who was happy for him. Other than Onee-san, of course.Bookmark here

After she left, occasionally they used to talk on the phone. She was ecstatic when she learned that Yukio joined the baseball club. In her mind, he was already getting ready to play for the Saitama Beisu Tigers.Bookmark here

Yukio could not lie to himself. Even though she wasn’t there, he was living the best part of his life. He had actual friends. He was part of something real.Bookmark here

He had a place where he belonged.Bookmark here

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Now, if it remained like that, it’s possible that Yukio’s school life would’ve been great. Even when he joined college, he would’ve been in touch with his friends. They would occasionally meet at malls and restaurants, go to movies, baseball games, etc., and reminisce the pleasant memories.Bookmark here

Something that’s slowly forgotten, but leaves a sweet aftertaste.Bookmark here

Something you write down in your diary, and revisit when the pages have turned yellow.Bookmark here

If he didn’t make a mistake.Bookmark here

If he didn’t try to be better.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.